The combat of Redinha of 12 March 1811 was the second rearguard action fought during Masséna’s retreat from the Lines of Torres Vedras in the spring of 1811. Having held off the British at Pombal on 11 March, Marshal Ney and the French rearguard had retreated to Redinha. Here he took up an apparently vulnerable position, with Mermet’s division on a plateau south of the village, and Marchand’s division north of the village on the far side of the Ancos River, linked by a narrow bridge, but Wellington was aware that he was close to much larger French formations, and proceeded very carefully.
Only at two in the afternoon, when the Light Division, Pack’s Portuguese Division and Picton’s 3rd Division had been joined by the 4th Division, with the 1st and 6th Divisions close behind, did Wellington begin his attack. The 3rd Division attacked around the French left and the Light Division around their right. After twenty minutes Ney’s flanks were both threatened and he ordered Mermet to retreat back across the river. This order was given just in time, for the French suffered heavy casualties while crossing the bridge, but managed to escape in good order.
While the British were slowly crossing the stream, the two French divisions were able form up in a new line two miles beyond the village. Once again Wellington attempted to turn both flanks, and once again Ney retreated once his flanks were in real danger, this time pulling back to the village of Condeixa.
Ney has been praised for his handling of the rearguard. For the loss of 229 men he had held Wellington up for an entire day, giving Masséne the time he needed to force his way across the Mondego River. Unfortunately for the French Masséne failed to take advantage of that chance. At the end of 12 March the French were still to the south of the river, and in danger of being trapped by Wellington. The only alternative route open to Masséne was to retreat east towards the Spanish border, and the only road available led east from Condeixa. With the British close to that village, on the morning of 13 March Masséna began the long costly retreat back into Spain which marked the complete failure of his great invasion of Portugal.
|A History of the Peninsular War vol.4: December 1810-December 1811 - Massena's Retreat, Fuentos de Onoro, Albuera, Tarragona, Sir Charles Oman. The main focus of this fourth volume in Oman's history of the Peninsular War is the year long duel between Wellington and the French on the borders of Portugal, which saw the British make a series of attacks across the border, most of which were repulsed by strong concentrations of French troops. Despite the apparent lack of progress, this was the period that saw the French lose the initiative to Wellington.|
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