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ARRIVAL OF SIR ARTHUR WELLESLEY. [1809.
ATTACK AND CAPTURE OF OPORTO BY THE BRI
in the war.
On the twenty-second of April, Sir ArApril.]
thur Wellesley reached Lisbon, and was invested with the supreme command in Portugal. From the period of that event a new era commences
His appointment gave unity of action and purpose to the British and Portuguese forces, and at once put a stop to those unfortunate jealousies and distractions, which had already occurred but too frequently between the leaders of ihe allied armies.
The forces of the enemy, against whom he was to act, were on the other hand divided. Soult had concerted with Victor a combined attack on the unconquered provinces of Portugul. The former was preparing to advance through Coimbra upon Lisbon, while Victor was to co-operate by marching from Alcantara on Abrantes, and, having secured that fortress, to continue his progress to the capital.
Many delays occurred, however, in the execution of this project, which, had it been promptly carried into effect, must, in all probability, have caused the embarkation of the English army, and given a new aspect to the war. But Soult remained long inactive at Oporto, influenced at once by the dread of committing his army by an unsupported operation, and by the increasing embarrassments of his position. The bridge of Amarante was in possession of
April.] ATTACK ON THE BRIDGE OF AMARANTE. 123 the Portuguese, and thus his only line of communication with Spain to the east had been cut off.
A body of six thousand men, under Delaborde and Loison, were accordingly despatched with orders to gain possession of the bridge, at any sacrifice. General Silveira was at Penafiel, from which town he withdrew on the approach of the enemy, and fell back to the Campo de Manhufe. On the two following days some skirmishing took place, and Silveira deemed it prudent to fall back to Amarante, and limit his efforts to defending the passage of the bridge. The town, which stands on a declivity on the right bank of the Tamega, was instantly attacked and carried by the enemy. Every effort was then made to gain possession of the bridge; but so firm was the resistance of the Portuguese troops, and so strong were the works by which it was defended, that the enemy were uniformly repulsed, and at length driven from the town. In this affair Lieut.-Colonel Patrick, an English officer, who had recently accepted a commission in the Portuguese service, was killed.
On the day following, the French regained the town, and a fortified convent in front of the bridge. The Portuguese, however, still kept possession of the suburb on the other side of the river, and their batteries commanded the approach. Delaborde, despairing of success from the heavy loss he had already sustained, had issued orders for the construction of a wooden bridge at some distance from the town; but an officer of engineers, having proposed the construction of a mine, the experiment was tried with success. A breach was effected in the works, which the French infantry successfully assaulted ; and the cavalry, having crossed the river, drove the Portuguese from the suburb on the opposite bank. In these engagements the native troops behaved with distinguished gallantry and resolution.
The reader must now be aware of the general
124 PLAN OF SIR ARTHUR WELLESLEY. [1809. state of affairs in the Peninsula, when Sir Arthur Wellesley landed in Portugal. He at once perceived that the numerical superiority of the enemy was neutralized by the separation of their corps; and while the movements of Lapisse and Victor were cautious and hesitating, he determined, by a prompt and rapid advance, to attack Soult, and drive him from Oporto. This resolution was communicated to Cuesta, who was requested to content himself with keeping Victor in check, until the return of the British from Oporto, when the two armies might act in combination on the south of the Tagus.
In pursuance of the project thus ably conceived, a division, commanded by General Mackenzie, and a brigade of heavy cavalry under General Fane, were left at Abrantes, to watch the movements of Victor; and the rest of the army was put in motion on Coimbra. In that city, the whole British force was assembled on the fifth of May; and on the ninth it continued its advance. The division of General
Hill was directed to embark at Aveira for May 9.]
Ovar, in order to take the enemy in flank, and force them back from the Vouga ; and Beresford, with a strong detachment, chiefly composed of Portuguese, moved upon Vizeu, to cut off the retreat of Soult by Amarante. The main body proceeded by the direct route ; and on the tenth encountered the enemy's advanced posts, which were driv
en back. On the day following, two diMay 11.)
visions, strongly posted on the heights above Grijon, were dislodged from their position, and pursued with success till nightfall, when the British army halted with their advance, on the heights beyond Cavalleros, about two leagues from the Douro. During the night the enemy continued their retreat.
In the meanwhile, the object of Sir Arthur Wellesley in these movements, could not be supposed to escape the penetration of Soult. He saw the danger of being speedily enclosed in the north of Portugal;
May.) RESOLVES TO CROSS THE DOURO. 125
Had the calculations of Soult been realized, with
THE DOURO IS PASSED, [1809. those who first landed, till sufficient numbers should have crossed the river to enable them to advance on the town. To protect
To protect the passage, several guns had been planted in the garden of the Convent.
By aid of the inhabitants, two boats May 12.]
had been procured from the opposite side of the river, and in these, three companies of the Buffs immediately passed the river. Other boats were speedily despatched by the zeal of the people ; and the embarkation of the troops was rapidly continued. General Paget was among the first detachment; he immediately took possession of the unfinished building already mentioned, and defended it with great gallantry, till the arrival of the fortyeighth, sixty-sixth, and a Portuguese battalion, when the contest was continued on more equal terms. Early in the engagement General Paget lost an arm, and the command devolved on General Hill, who was still warmly contesting the ground, when the brigade of Guards and the twenty-ninth regiment appeared on the enemy's right; and in the opposite direction the troops were seen approaching from Avintas.
Under these circumstances, the enemy's columns fell back in confusion. The British charged up the streets of Oporto, making many prisoners, amid the most animated demonstrations of joyful welcome from the inhabitants. Handkerchiefs were waved from the balconies and windows,-blessings were breathed on the brave deliverers of the city, mingled, on all hands, with shouts of joyful and triumphant greeting.
Confusion and disorder had spread through the whole French army. The panic seemed even to increase when they gained the open country; and Major Harvey, with a single squadron of the fourteenth dragoons, charged through three battalions of French infantry, marching in a hollow road, and brought off