First combat of Sobral, 12 October 1810

The first combat of Sobral of 12 October 1810 was the first of two skirmishes around the village of Sobral that would turn out to be the only French attacks on the Lines of Torres Vedras, the strong defensive position built to protect Lisbon. The first French troops to discover the existence of the lines had been Montbrun’s cavalry, on the morning of 11 October 1810. Montbrun reached the lines close to the village of Sobral, which was actually outside the lines, but on 11 October was held by the picket line of Sir Brent Spencer’s 1st Division.

British and Portugese Divisions at Torres Vedras
British and Portugese Divisions at Torres Vedras

Although Montbrun’s supporting infantry brigade clearly outnumbered the defenders of the village, he could see that the hills to the south were lined by fortifications, and was aware that if he attacked Sobral there was real danger that his force would be overwhelmed by superior numbers. That night the village was actually abandoned by Spencer’s men, but by the next morning they had been ordered back into place.

During 12 October Montbrun moved east, towards the Tagus, and was replaced by the first part of Junot’s 8th Corps, Clausel’s division. This time the French decided to push the British outposts back. At least six battalions of Clausel’s division moved into Sobral, and forced the pickets from Erskine’s and Löwe’s brigades to retreat 300 yards, crossing a ravine that separated Sobral from the lower slopes of Monte Agraça, the highest point on this part of the line. There the British formed a new picket line. Two days later Junot would launch a second attack on the British outposts, which would turn out to be the most serious attack that the French would make on the lines.

A History of the Peninsular War vol.3: September 1809-December 1810 - Ocana, Cadiz, Bussaco, Torres Vedras, Sir Charles Oman. Part three of Oman's classic history begins with the series of disasters that befell the Spanish in the autumn of 1809 and spring of 1810, starting with the crushing defeat at Ocana and ending with the French conquest of Andalusia and capture of Seville, then moves on to look at the third French invasion of Portugal, most famous for Wellington's defence of the Lines of Torres Vedras.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 April 2008), First combat of Sobral, 12 October 1810 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_sobral1.html

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