Combat of Grijon, 11 May 1809

The combat of Grijon of 11 May 1809 was the second action during Sir Arthur Wellesley’s campaign in northern Portugal of 1809. The target of the campaign was Marshal Soult’s army at Oporto, which had fallen to the French on 29 March. After failing to capture Soult’s advance guard at Albergaria Nova on 10 May, Wellesley now faced the first serious test of his army. The French had 4,200 infantry and 1,200 cavalry, under Generals Mermot and Franceschi in a strong position on a ridge

Marshal Soult
Portrait of Marshal
Jean-de-Dieu Soult

Wellesley had Edward Paget’s division (the brigades of Murray and Richard Stewart), Hill’s brigade and Cotton’s cavalry, a total of 7,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry, with Hill’s men some way to the west of the battlefield.

Wellesley’s first move was designed to find out if the French intended to stand and fight. The light companies from Stewart’s brigade were sent to attack the French skirmishers in the woods in front of the French position, and were soon repulsed.

Wellesley then decided to launch three outflanking manoeuvres. Two miles to the west, Hill was sent along the coastal road from Ovar to Oporto, a move that threatened the entire French position. At Grijon itself a battalion from the 16th Portuguese Regiment attacked around the French right, and two battalions of the King’s German Legion attacked on the left. This was the first time Wellesley had seen the Portuguese troops in combat, and he was reassured by what he saw, for the 16th was one of the best of the new units, and it made good progress against the French right.

When they saw that their flanks were threatened, Mermot and Franceschi ordered a retreat across the farmland between Girjon and Oporto. This was a area of small fields divided up by stone walls, which made it unsuited to a cavalry pursuit, although the 20th Light Dragoons did catch part of the 31st Léger, capturing 100 prisoners and inflicting nearly as many casualties. After spending most of the day moving north, the French reached the southern suburb of Oporto on the evening of 11 May, and that night crossed into Oporto, destroying the bridge behind them. Soult now believed he was secure in the city, for he believed that he had removed all the boats from the southern banks, and began to prepare for a leisurely retreat. Much to his surprise, on 12 May Wellesley crossed the river above Oporto, and forced the French to evacuate the city.

 A History of the Peninsular War vol.2: Jan.-Sept. 1809 - From the Battle of Corunna to the end of the Talavera Campaign, Sir Charles Oman. Part two of Oman's classic history falls into two broad sections. The first half of the book looks at the period between the British evacuation from Corunna and the arrival of Wellesley in Portugal for the second time, five months when the Spanish fought alone, while the second half looks at Wellesley's campaign in the north of Portugal and his first campaign in Spain. One of the classic works of military history.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (12 March 2008), Combat of Grijon, 11 May 1809, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_grijon.html

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