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Saturday, April 27, 2013

The poplar outcry in the 2nd French Invasion – II


While during the 1st of the 3 French Invasions of Portugal, the population was told to quietly accept the occupation ('non-retaliation' in political terms), during the 2nd one the scenery was completely different. So here we were, at the signing of the Sintra Convention (meaning capitulation of the Napoleonic troops) and soon after Napoleon ordered Soult to invade Portugal again. There was a large section of the Portuguese military that didn't agree with the “slap on the wrist” policy at the Convention, believing that it didn't harmed the French enough not to retaliate. And they were true.
As soon as the news of the arrival of the French at the border hit the country, people took their defense into their own hands. The Portuguese military was still not organized, the Brits took of to Spain, lost the battle of Coru and there was still no King occupying the throne. This time around, Napoleon's officers would feel the wrath of the discontent and their revenge! There would be no 'non-retaliation'!
*
Taken from the book “Aqui não passaram! - O erro fatal de Napoleão!”, by Carlos de Azeredo, Civilização Editora, Lisboa, 2005, pp 73 – 286, for the bicentennial of the French Invasions, (1st edition published in the Military Museum of Porto in 1984 under the title “The population's North of the Douro and the French, in 1808 and 1809”)

Part 2

On the 25th, Soult decides to march onto Porto which he arrives at the 27th of March. A town in panic since they heard of the capitulation of Braga on the 22nd. The British troops were nowhere to be seen. 6.366 troops, 25 horses of the Royal Police Guard, 3.000 militia (most of them only with knives), 10.000 ordenanças (an old Iberian military title), of which half didn't had weapons and to add to this over 20.000 civilians who had come to rescue the city. A extended defense line of 8Km, with 35 batteries made out of obsolete cannons.
It was known that Soult had sent spies into the city. 3 Portuguese diplomats were mistaken for them and rescued of the population's rage and certain death. The same happened here as in the rest of North of Portugal: Houses were burned down, people were killed for having the slightest suspicion of having anything related to France. Even military would be captured for the people not agreeing with their defense strategy of the city. Streets were covered in blood; the population cried in terrifying joy. The bodies, or even half living “prisoners” would be dragged down the hills of the city, to the river and thrown into the water, sometimes half-alive, only to end up at the beaches closer the the ocean.
The 29th of March, the Battle of Porto happens and even said as being quick, the violence only stopped at the 1st of April. Everyone in their path were killed and a permit of 24 hours of plundering was given to the troops. Churches were striped of their icons, not because of their religious value, but of their precious gems and gold. The statue of Holy Mary of Campanhã was taken, but the population managed somehow to retrieve it and place it back. 10.000 Portuguese died, civilians and military, in opposition of 500 dead and wounded on the enemy's side.
But now Soult was isolated: the British troops were marching up from Lisbon, Silveira had won Chaves back, Vigo and Tuy were won back by the “insurrection” of Galicia and the blockade by Silveira of the Tâmega river made it impossible for Soult to escape.
As soon as Sir Arthur Wellesley approaches Porto, the population joins the allied army. It was only when the 'Brits enter Porto that Soult decides to leave through Amarante and Penafiel. Panic sets in the French army and in Amarante Loison leaves the town and the remaining Soult's army sooner then the rest.
All the gold and loot they took was now a heavy load difficult to transport through the muddy roads. A trail of stolen goods, coins, furniture, fabrics a.s.o. was being left at the side of the roads as the troops kept marching on. As the following regiments passed these abandoned goods, they would not pick it up, not interested in being held back by it's weight while fleeing. Many of theses were then destroyed on purpose by the Dragoons of La Houssaye in a big explosion heard miles away.
One thing that helped the French troops: the rain that falls in Portugal during the months of April. Although making the travel more difficult, it also kept the Portuguese indoors. In an attempt to keep the militia at bay, Soult decides to let Loison, much hated by the entire Portuguese nation, march with his troops in the front. And in the meanwhile, Wellesley stops for a day in Porto to finish Soult's lunch.

«Above: Soult abandons the city of Porto. Historical Military Archives, Lisbon.» Taken from the book mentioned above.

2 measures he took, before following the enemy. In a written proclamation, Wellesley urges the people of Porto not to harm the wounded and imprisoned French soldiers and that the population should remain peacefully in their homes. He says that all the French soldiers are under his protection and that no one should harm them in the same way as the Northern Portuguese Population has suffered; May the 13th, 1809.
While Wellesley was waiting for supplies that should arrive from Coimbra, Soult continues the march to the Portuguese border. He starts at the 14th from Guimarães, while Wellesley reaches Vila Real at the 17th. And the poplar “hunt” of the French still maintained in the same way as during the invasion: The ill and tired where easy prey.
One of the war stories that most horrify who saw it, was what happened at the bridge of Misarela (Vila Real). In trying to pass over a half destroyed bridge, the horses and mules of the II Corps made it difficult being afraid of the abyss. All the artillery was also too heavy to be crossed over and the men where tired and in panic. Also the landscape on the other side of the bridge forced a slower passage, making whoever wanted to start crossing the bridge to stop and wait. Hearing the guns of the allies closer and closer, the troops started to rush in an attempt to escape and pushed the ones in front. Soult, who had crossed it already, couldn't help in what was about to happen. The animals where pushed alive over the bridge or shot 1st, many of the weaponry was ent into the abyss too and the entire confusion and pushing threw a lot of the soldiers into the valley and river Rabagão under the bridge.

«Above: The bridge of Saltadouro. Bottom: The bridge of Misarela. Paintings by Henri Levèque, by Charles Heath. London 1812, 1813. Historical Military Archives, Lisbon.» Pictures taken from book mentioned above.

The next day, as soon as the allies arrived, a true scene of holocaust was in front of them: dead, and some mutilated, animals and humans, luggage, artillery, loot and everything else associated to it laying in a pit of bloody remains. Descriptions say that the rocks had turned red and the bodies turned into flowing reeds. Many of the surrounding population and of the military too saw this as a good opportunity to get some of the French looting.
The infamous II Corps, the one that was undefeated in many of the European battles, saw in North of Portugal it's destruction. Attacked and humiliated not only in war games, it lost a 2nd attempt to gain Portugal for napoleon. But it didn't stopped here.

*

Although very close, this wasn't the end of the 2nd French invasion but about that you can read in any Google research. My purpose was to show a bit of the population's reactions.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The poplar outcry in the 2nd French Invasion - I


While during the 1st of the 3 French Invasions of Portugal, the population was told to quietly accept the occupation ('non-retaliation' in political terms), during the 2nd one the scenery was completely different. So here we were, at the signing of the Sintra Convention (meaning capitulation of the Napoleonic troops) and soon after Napoleon ordered Soult to invade Portugal again. There was a large section of the Portuguese military that didn't agree with the “slap on the wrist” policy at the Convention, believing that it didn't harmed the French enough not to retaliate. And they were true.
As soon as the news of the arrival of the French at the border hit the country, people took their defense into their own hands. The Portuguese military was still not organized, the Brits took of to Spain, lost the battle of Coru and there was still no King occupying the throne. This time around, Napoleon's officers would feel the wrath of the discontent and their revenge! There would be no 'non-retaliation'!
*
Taken from the book “Aqui não passaram! - O erro fatal de Napoleão!”, by Carlos de Azeredo, Civilização Editora, Lisboa, 2005, pp 73 – 168, 239 - 286, for the bicentennial of the French Invasions, (1st edition published in the Military Museum of Porto in 1984 under the title “The population's North of the Douro and the French, in 1808 and 1809”)

Part 1

Portugal was deeply wounded after the 1st French invasion. Supporting the invading army financially, having it's maritime trade closed, having an exiled king, not having a strong military organization, that after the 1st invasion was set to ruin, and seeing all the country’s richness being plundered, the economic and emotional state of this country was set back deeply. Many of the surviving Portuguese soldiers had fled and the British allies had moved on to Spain, over 30 thousand men under General Sir John Moore. But one thing Napoleon didn't took account of and that was the character of the Iberian population: having won Madrid and occupying Lisbon “peacefully” one time didn't meant a timeless victory.
The II Corps of Soult's army for the 1809 Campaign (Portugal) had 58 cannons, 18.820 infantry men separated into 4 divisions, 3.300 horses in 2 cavalry divisions and another light cavalry division with 1.400 horses, 160 sappeurs and 30 sailors, besides, officers, addition of troops of the VIII Corps under Junot, engineers, geographers, services, administrative, medical staff, couriers, etc.
In February, less then 1 year after the capitulation, Soult and his army where back. This time the 2nd invasion was going to be through North of Portugal, but it wasn't going to be easy: the same badly build roads that were a handicap to the Portuguese economy, were now Soult's worst nightmare. It made it very difficult for the troops to move and an easy target for militia attacks.


Passage through the Douro in Régua and combat at the Padrões da Teixeira, Baião. Oil on canvas, shows the poplar resistance against the forces of Loison (detail), by João Baptista Ribeiro, Military Museum of Porto. Picture taken from book mentioned above. A clergiman leading the population.

In Porto there had been a popular outbreak in late 1808 and which maintained the disgruntle general state. An addition to the national regency government was set in this city: the Provisional Junta of the Supreme Government of the Kingdom, which never intended to rule over Portugal, but would become the central nervous system of the military and political help during the remaining French occupation. It helped in controlling the population, organization the troops and keeping close contact with our British allies. Soon, as in every political/social structure, problems arose and it's efficiency was seen as not in great estime by the general population, specially after the nomination of General Bernardim Freire de Andrade e Castro as head of the armies of North of Portugal (you can read more about the life and misfortunes of this amazing man in another post. He was one of the few critics of Portugal's military and diplomatic state and wasn't afraid in saying his opinion. This made many other illustrious people uneasy).
After the loss of the Coruña campaign by Moore, the British finally decided to help Portugal, since it meant that now the French had free access to the border.
At the 13th of February, a few of the french troops tried to cross over to Portugal through Vila Nova de Cerveira by boate and soon after the entire population was awakened by the church bells. The lack of river knowledge of the sailors and the darkness of nighttime, made it possible for he population and a few soldiers to capture 34 French men, 1 Captain and 4 Sergeants. 2 days later they tried invade Portugal again an failed. According to the hsitorian Charles Oman it showed how unprepared the French army was and how much they relied on prestige instead of loss of men.
The mainstream of the II Corps walked along the river Minho to try to enter through Chaves and was closely followed by the Portuguese guerrilla who became more and more aggressive. Most of these guerrillas were lead by religious men like the abbot of Couto, friar Giraldez, abbot Queiroga, etc.
Bernardim Freire de Andrade had sent out orders to destroy any boats that could help the French cross the river and for the populations to leave their towns. The 1st one was done, the 2nd one not so much; the population of many towns believed they could take on the French and arguing logically with them wasn't easy.
Arriving at the abandoned city of Orense (Spain), the II Corps saw a terrifying scenario: the heavily mutilated and rotting bodies of the elements of the VI Corps that had been left behind after the campaign against Moore. The soldiers known to have plundered and raped were captured by the population and tortured to death. In the General Fantin des Odoards' journal, on March 13th of 1809, Chaves, he writes: «blood will be washed with blood; we will have a war of extermination.» And further on: «The enemy attacks us from everywhere but we cannot find them anywhere».
On March 4th, Soult initiates his advance on the Portuguese border again; this time through the valley of the river Tâmega. His orders from Napoleon where to enter Porto on the 5th (!!!).
Chaves capitulated the same month, 8 days after the French crossed over. The Portuguese General convinced the remaining population to leave the city since it's artillery and army was broken down. But soon after, the church bells rang and a mutiny arose, lead by some young captain that thought he could fight of the French, but with the advancing army, Brigadeiro Silveira (another strong officer who lead the Portuguese army to victory) changed these few poplars and military minds not to do that.


Passage through the Douro in Régua and combat at the Padrões da Teixeira, Baião. Oil on canvas, shows the poplar resistance against the forces of Loison (detail), by João Baptista Ribeiro, Military Museum of Porto. Picture taken from book mentioned above. Poplar attacking a French soldier without fire weapons.

The further South Soult went, the more resistance he would find from the population and the closer he would get to Braga (arrived there at the 14th) the more aggressive it would be. From everywhere groups of people lead by priests holding the crucifix high would emerge, also a few noblemen with their old swords. The towns would be barricaded and the church bells wouldn't stop ringing. The top of the hills, the backs of trees and rocks and isolated houses would show a spotted landscape of people observing and attacking the troops. The wrath gave them courage to fight a well prepared army. They would attack the last soldiers in line. Villages were abandoned, fire would destroy the rest.
The hatred was so big that the population of Braga started a “witch hunt” on everything “French”: they killed entire families, prisoners and even the town judge had to flee. The mutilated bodies would be left on the streets. 20 thousand people left the city deserted and destroyed so the french couldn't ransack it. Over 2.000 dead, the entire artillery destroyed and only 400 prisoners survived.
We cannot forget that the defenders of Braga, even being equals in numbers with the enemy, only 5.000 of them had rifles and 3.500 of them only had 3 rounds!
Many of these occurrences where testimony in memoirs or journals of French officers, like the Quarter-master Le Noble.
Getting closer to Porto, the easier the roads became, fewer houses and the more people they would meet and the harder the marching on became. Soult's even says that the march from Chaves to Braga was a continuous fight, that he had to handle with an entire nation, men women, children, elderly and priests; that these fanatics would throw themselves in the middle of the marching columns only to find their death.
*
Continuation follows.

Defense of the bridge of Amarante (detail). Oil on canvas, by João Baptista Ribeiro. Offered by hte Counts of Amarante to the Military Museum of Porto. Picture taken from the book mentioned above.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

600 skeletons found in construction work in the convent of Saint Francis



600 esqueletos encontrados em obras no Convento de São Francisco - Cultura - Notícias - RTP
 
French diplomacy is alert to the investigations of the necropolis found in Coimbra. 600 skeletons buried in common graves were found during the construction work in the convent of Saint Francis. It is estimated that they are, in majority, Gaul military that died during the French invasions.

Necropolis in Coimbra
Skeletons could be of French military killed during the Napoleonic Invasions
December 18th, 2012

Carolina Ferreira, Jornalist (J) «It was in fact a necropolis what was found. There was no historical record of the 600 skeletons and the type of burial doesn't match the Christian regulations, as it were expected.»

Maria Teresa Ferreira, Anthropologist (MTF) «There are a series of common graves with several individuals in the area of the common graves and were they were buried all at the same time. In other areas the graves were already re-used.»

Mónica Corga, Archeologist (MC) «All of that, associated to the archeological findings, like the remains of the clothing, metal and wooden buttons, are repeatedly found in 3 or for types in most of the individuals.»

MTF «Adults, young but adults, about the ages of 20 and 30 years old, very robust, with indications of having had intense physical activity.»

J «And found almost by mistake during the archeological investigation at the beginning og the construction works in the convent of Saint Francis. In the same place were now an auditorium for the new congress center is being built. Analyzing all the indications, it looks like they are military who died at the beginning of the 19th century during the Peninsula Wars and History seems to agree with it. During the French Invasions, the Gauls injured in the battle of Buçaco were hospitalized in Coimbra. When Massena's troops moved South, they were left behind. What happened next is told in contradictory stories: the population of this Mondego city might have taken the chance of revenge.»

MC «The French side tells that there was a massacre of the soldiers left in the hospitals and that there died about 600 to 800 people. In the English reports around the same time, it is said that there was an exaggeration, that the people were angry and that they reacted only against 6 to 8 people.»

J «If those men, in fact, match the found skeletons, that is still under investigation. Following the findings, the French Embassy has contacted the Town Hall of Coimbra, with recommendations that match the position of the Town Hall.»

João Paulo Barbosa de Melo, Mayor of Coimbra «As soon as the studies are completed, we wish to give the dead decent destination, evidently. Let us not forget that they are 600 people who died fighting for a cause.»

J «Each skeleton has been stored in one of these boxes. The investigation is undergoing using old and new technologies. It will show more about the finding and to shed a light on the doubts around this part of the History of Coimbra.»