During the Napoleonic Wars the French invaded Portugal three times,on each occasion being repulsed by Arthur Wellesley, duke of Wellington. The third is the most famous, and saw Massena almost reach Lisbon, before being stopped the Lines of Torres Vedras. The first saw Junot occupy Lisbon and force the Portuguese court to flee into exile in Brazil, before Wellesley's victories at Rolica and Vimeiro convinced Junot to negotiate terms of surrender. Both of these campaigns are fairly well known, but the second invasion, which saw Marshal Soult invade from north-western Spain and occupy Oporto, in theory as part of a two-pronged invasion, is less familiar. Once again Wellesley was responsible for repelling the French, forcing them out of Oporto after undertaking a risky daylight crossing of the Douro upstream of the city, catching the French by surprise.
We begin with a look at the earlier careers of Wellesley and Soult. Although they had similar backgrounds, they both rose to prominence because of their military abilities (Wellesley's career was helped by his family connections, but it was his achievements in India that gained him his first appointment to Portugal, and his victories there that saw him return to the country). We then move onto the earlier phases of the Peninsula War, before reaching the second French invasion. Buttery follows the story from both sides, so we follow Soult on his way in, Wellington's reaction, and both sides during the long retreat through the difficult mountains of northern Portugal.
The main account is followed by an examination of the aftermath of the campaign, the long term careers of both men, and their meeting in London many years after the wars were over.
This is a useful history of an important, but sometimes rather neglected, campaign, which showed Wellington at his most daring, while Soult's conduct of the retreat saved large parts of his army from destruction. The campaign is filled with interesting episodes, most notable being Wellesley's daylight crossing of the Douro or the French assaults on crucial bridges as they retreated, but the lack of a major setpiece battle perhaps helps explain why it doesn't always get the attention it deserves.
1 - Under Threat
2 - The Duke of Damnation
3 - Invasion from the North
4 - The Fall of Porto
5 - A Change in Command
6 - The Marshal Who Would be King
7 - The Bridge at Amarante
8 - The Passage of the Douro
9 - Harried Through the Mountains
10 - Fortune Favours the Bold
Author: David Buttery
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military