Second combat of Sobral, 14 October 1810

The second combat of Sobral of 14 October 1810 was a skirmish south of the village of Sobral that would turn out to be the most serious attack the French would launch against the Lines of Torres Vedras. The first of Masséna’s troops had discovered the lines on the morning of 11 October, and on 12 October Junot’s 8th Corps had made the first tentative attack on the Allied position, driving the British picket line out of Sobral. The British had only pulled back 300 yards, and had formed a new picket line on the southern side of a ravine that separated Sobral from the lower slopes of Monte Agraça, where they built a barricade to block the high road.

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

On the morning of 14 October Junot decided to push the British outposts further away from his lines around Sobral. After a short bombardment, Junot sent the compagnies d’elite of the 19th of the Line to attack the British outposts, that day manned by the 71st Foot. The French attack forced the British pickets to abandon their advanced line, but the rest of the 71st then launched a counterattack, which forced the French to retreat back into Sobral. The British pursued as far as the village, before being themselves forced to retreat by the presence of Ménard’s brigade. Junot did not press his attack, and the British were able to reoccupy their original picket line. This skirmish cost the British 67 casualties and the French at least 120.

While this skirmish was taking place, Masséna finally made his first visit to the front to view the Lines of Torres Vedras. He arrived at Sobral in time to see the failure of the French attack, and to decide not to press the attack. This was perhaps the key moment of the campaign. Seeing Wellington’s army fortified in a strong position, and remembering the losses he had suffered at Bussaco when attacking an unfortified position, Masséna decided not to risk attacking the Lines, and instead on 15 October the French settled down outside the lines, remaining there for the next month. During this period no more serious attacks were made on the Allied outposts, and on 14 November Masséna was finally forced to retreat to Santarem by a lack of supplies.

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), Second combat of Sobral, 14 October 1810 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_sobral2.html

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