The force at Fuente Guinaldo decamped after dusk, leaving the Light Division and the 1st Hussars K.G.L. to keep up the bivouac fires along the whole line till midnight. Marching in two columns, one by the direct road by Casillas de Flores and Furcalhos, the other by a secondary path through Aldea da Ponte, the whole reached the positions in front of Alfayates where Wellington was ready to make his real stand. On the morning of the 27th the main body was joined by the 5th Division, which came down from Payo in the Sierra de Gata, having found no enemy threatening the passes in that direction. The 7th Division also arrived from Albergaria. Meanwhile Graham, with the 1st and 6th Divisions and McMahon’s Portuguese, had arrived at Bismula and Rendo, and so was at last in close touch with the main body. The whole of Wellington’s 45,000 men were concentrated, and, well knowing the strength of the position which he had now reached, his mind was tranquil. The front was hidden by a strong cavalry screen, Alten’s brigade covering the right, De Grey’s and Slade’s the centre, and Anson’s the left, where Graham’s divisions lay.
[p. 577]Marmont was so far from guessing that his adversary would abandon the position of Fuente Guinaldo, that he had ordered his own army to retreat towards Rodrigo, at the very moment that the Allies were absconding from his front. During the early hours of the night of the 26th-27th, the two adversaries were marching away from each other! But at midnight Thiébault, who was in charge of the rearguard, noted that the fires in Wellington’s
lines seemed few and flickering, and that his sentries had got out of touch with those of the British. A reconnaissance soon showed him that there was nothing left in his front. Prompt information was sent to Marmont, and the Marshal had to reconsider his position. He determined to follow up the retreating enemy, not with the fixed intention of bringing him to action, but rather that he might be ready to take advantage of any unforeseen chance that might occur. But the pursuit could not be rapid or effective, for during the night the bulk of the Army of Portugal had been marching back towards Ciudad Rodrigo. Montbrun’s and Wathier’s cavalry were still at the front, but only two infantry divisions, those of Souham and Thiébault, both belonging to the Army of the North. The Marshal dared not press his enemy too hard, lest Wellington should turn upon him, and find that only 11,000 infantry were up on the French side. While the countermarch of the other seven divisions was in progress, the vanguard must not commit itself unsupported to a general action.
Accordingly Wellington’s retreat was not seriously incommoded. Montbrun, followed by Souham’s division, took the road by Casillas de Flores and Furcalhos: Wathier, with Thiébault’s infantry in support, that by Aldea da Ponte. Montbrun ran about noon, against the Light and 5th Divisions and Alten’s horse, drawn up in position in front of Alfayates, and considered them too strongly placed to be meddled with. Wathier, on the western road, was stopped in front of Aldea da Ponte by the pickets of the 4th Division and of Slade’s dragoons. This village lay outside the intended line of battle of the allied army, but so close in front of it that Wellington had resolved not to let it go till he was pushed by a strong force, since it was the meeting-place of several roads and well placed for observation.
Wathier halted facing Aldea da Ponte, till Thiébault came[p. 578] up and assumed the command, being senior to the cavalry general. Seeing that the village was worth having, Thiébault resolved to attack it, and drove out the light companies of the Fusilier brigade by an advance of the three battalions of the 34th Léger, one of which cleared the village while the other two turned it on each flank. Wellington, observing that the enemy had only a single division on the ground, refused to allow Aldea da Ponte to be so lightly lost, and sent against the French the whole Fusilier brigade in line, flanked by a Portuguese regiment in column. This advance forced Thiébault’s first brigade back from the village, and thrust it northward some way upon the road. Here the French rallied upon their second brigade, and formed up with Wathier’s horse in support. Wellington would not push them further, and contented himself with having recovered Aldea da Ponte and the junction of the roads.
At dusk, however, Montbrun and Souham came up and joined Thiébault, with the column which had followed the Furcalhos road. Souham determined to try again the attack in which Thiébault had been checked, and assailed Aldea da Ponte just as the light was failing. The Fusiliers were driven out of the village, and Wellington refused to reinforce them, or to allow them to make a second counter-attack, because he did not wish to get entangled in heavy fighting in the dark, or to expend many lives upon keeping a place which was outside his line, and formed no essential part of it. There had been much skirmishing all through the afternoon between Slade’s two cavalry regiments and Wathier’s chasseurs, in which neither party had any appreciable losses, nor gained any marked advantage.
The Anglo-Portuguese casualties in this rearguard action were just 100, of which 71 were in the Fusilier brigade, 13 in the Portuguese battalions which had covered its flank, and 10 in Slade’s cavalry. Thiébault says that he lost 150 men, a very[p. 579] probable estimate; he adds that the British lost 500, and that he was engaged against 17,000 allied troops—which, considering that he fought no one save the three battalions of the Fusilier brigade, one regiment of Portuguese, and Slade’s horse—3,300 sabres and bayonets—seems sufficiently astounding. It may serve as a fair example of his method of dealing with figures.
Next morning Wellington’s line was drawn back into the position in which he had determined to fight, with the French column at Aldea da Ponte lying two miles in his front, on the lower ground. This position, which was about seven miles long, was covered on either flank by the ravine of the Coa, which here makes a deep hook or curve, with the town of Sabugal at its point. The right wing was formed of the 5th Division, holding the village of Aldea Velha on a steep hill by the source of the Coa. The right-centre, which projected somewhat, was composed of the 4th and Light Divisions ranged in front of the town of Alfayates, close by the convent of Sacaparte. From that point westward the line was taken up by Pack’s and McMahon’s Portuguese brigades on each side of the village of Nave. Finally, the left consisted of the 1st and 6th Divisions under Graham, reaching from near Rendo as far as the bridge of Rapoulla. This wing was covered in front by the ravine of a torrent flowing into the Coa. The central reserve was formed of the 3rd and 7th Divisions with De Grey’s and Slade’s dragoons, drawn up behind Alfayates. Alten’s light cavalry brigade was with the Light Division, its pickets thrown out on the Furcalhos[p. 580] road; Anson’s brigade was placed in front of Nave and Bismula, with its advanced vedettes watching the French in Aldea da Ponte. The position was well marked, high-lying, and masked by woods and ravines. Its only fault was that the Coa ran round its rear, with only two bridges, those of Sabugal and Rapoulla da Coa, though there were at least six or seven fords in addition, and the stream was low, and passable almost everywhere for infantry. A defeat, however, would probably have meant much loss of artillery and impedimenta, though Wellington had sent great part of his baggage over the Coa, and detached all his Portuguese horse and the Portuguese brigade of the 6th Division to cover its retreat. No position is perfect, but Wellington did not think he could possibly be evicted from this one, which was as strong as Bussaco and not nearly so long. ‘He wished to be attacked, being confident of success,’ wrote Graham three days later.
But his adversaries would not oblige him. After coming up to Aldea da Ponte, and rebuking Thiébault and Souham for engaging in a profitless skirmish on the preceding day, Marmont took a long survey of the position of the allied army, and refused to advance any further. The reasons which he had given for not attacking at Fuente Guinaldo on the 26th, when he still had a good chance of accomplishing great things, were doubly valid on the 28th. After reasserting to Dorsenne and the other generals that Wellington’s army was concentrated (which was now quite true) and that his position was far too strong to be meddled with, and adding that, even if there were a successful action, he could not pursue Wellington into the mountains for want of food, he gave his final orders for retreat. The main body of the army, which had not come further forward than Fuente Guinaldo, began to retire that same night towards Ciudad Rodrigo. The two infantry divisions at Aldea da Ponte[p. 581] and the cavalry of Montbrun and Wathier brought up and covered the rear. By the morning of the 29th the crisis was over, and Wellington was dictating orders for the breaking up of his army and its distribution into cantonments.
After retiring to Ciudad Rodrigo Marmont and Dorsenne parted company on October 1st, and each dispersed his troops into cantonments. The Army of Portugal recrossed the Sierra de Gata, and was distributed by divisions in the same regions of New Castile that it had occupied in September. On returning to his head quarters at Talavera, Marmont received the report of Foy, commanding the only section of his army which had not taken part in the recent campaign. That general had been ordered to demonstrate from Plasencia against Wellington’s rear during the revictualling of Ciudad Rodrigo. With six battalions and a regiment of light cavalry, about 2,800 men, he had taken the direction of the pass of Perales. He reached Moraleja at the foot of the mountains, near Coria, on September 27th, the day of the combat of Aldea da Ponte. Next morning he started to ascend the Sierra, and his advanced guard got to Payo on the 29th. There it was discovered that Marmont and Dorsenne had abandoned the offensive, and started on their retreat for Ciudad Rodrigo on the 28th, so that no French troops were anywhere in the neighbourhood, while Wellington’s whole army was near Alfayates, only fifteen miles away. Fearing to be discovered and overwhelmed, Foy returned to Plasencia by forced marches: his demonstration had been some days too late to be of any use. If he had appeared in the Perales pass on the 25th, while the 5th Division was still holding Payo, Wellington would have had to keep that force detached to protect his flank, and could not have withdrawn it to join the rest of his army on the Alfayates-Rendo position. But Foy came up only when the campaign was over, and his movements had no effect whatever.
The best commentary on this five days of man?uvring between El Bodon and Alfayates is that of the war-tried veteran Graham. ‘It was very pretty—but spun rather fine. Had the enemy behaved with common spirit on the 26th, we should not have got away so easily from Guinaldo. I should have preferred, after it was ascertained that the enemy’s force (54,000 infantry and[p. 582] 6,000 horse) was too formidable to be attacked beyond the Agueda, drawing back our infantry to the ultimate position (Aldea Velha, Alfayates, Rendo) which could have been made infinitely stronger during the interval. There would have been no risk whatever, nor any appearance to the troops of retreat. The enemy, as you can see, might have amused us before Fuente Guinaldo, and, by a night march from Ciudad Rodrigo, have massed at San Felices, and so have crossed the river in force by the plain of Fuentes de O?oro. Then, pushing on rapidly by Nava de Aver, he would have tumbled us back in confusion. I thought this would have been his course, from his superiority in cavalry and artillery—all that country is like Newmarket Heath for galloping across. However, all is well that ends well!’
The fact is that Wellington on the 25th made one of his rare slips. He judged that Marmont would not advance beyond Ciudad Rodrigo, and so left his troops dispersed along a vast front. When, contrary to his expectation, his enemy fell upon the 3rd Division, and pushed it back to Fuente Guinaldo, the chosen concentration point of the Allied army, he was for twenty-four hours in the gravest danger. For if Marmont had struck hard again at noon on the 26th, there was no mass of troops collected to oppose him. Craufurd and Graham would have been driven off sideways on eccentric lines of retreat, and the 3rd and 4th Divisions must surely have suffered considerable loss in the hasty retreat to Alfayates which would have been forced upon them. For on the 26th Marmont would not have been handicapped, as he was on the 25th, by having no infantry at the front to assist his numerous and daring cavalry. It may be added that, if the army had failed to concentrate at Alfayates, Almeida would have been in danger, and what was still more important, Dickson’s great siege-train at Villa da Ponte would have been exposed—unless indeed Graham, driven away from his proper line of movement, might have moved westward and covered it. But speculations as to the merely possible are fruitless.
SECTION XXIX: CHAPTER III
THE END OF WELLINGTON’S CAMPAIGNS OF 1811.
ARROYO DOS MOLINOS. SEPTEMBER 1811
The moment that he had satisfied himself that the French were all in full retreat, and were clearly about to disperse to their old garrisons and cantonments, Wellington also broke up the army which had been lying on the Alfayates-Rendo position. On the 29th September Graham received orders to retire with the 1st and 6th Divisions to regular winter quarters in the interior of Beira, about Guarda, Celorico, and Freixadas. The 7th Division was sent southward to Penamacor. But the 3rd, 4th, and Light Divisions returned to the frontier of Spain, to establish the same sort of distant blockade (or rather observation) of Ciudad Rodrigo, which they had been keeping up in August and September. The Light Division once more crossed the Agueda, and occupied its old position at Martiago and Zamorra. The 4th Division watched the Agueda from Gallegos to Barba del Puerco; the 3rd Division, in reserve behind the other two, was cantoned at Aldea da Ponte and Fuente Guinaldo. The three light cavalry brigades of Anson, Alten, and Slade took in turns the charge of covering 长沙桑拿水会 the front of the Light and 4th Divisions along the Agueda; the two brigades not on duty were kept twenty miles to the rear, about Freixadas, Goveias, and Castel Mendo. De Grey’s heavy dragoons and the head quarters of the cavalry division were close behind, at Alverca. Soon after the line of observation along the Agueda had been taken up, Wellington found it possible to send cavalry pickets forward to Tenebron and Santi Espiritus, on the other side of the Agueda, so as to block the road between Ciudad Rodrigo and Salamanca. But these were mere posts occupied by half a troop—there was no intention of risking any serious force in such advanced positions. Meanwhile a more effective[p. 584] hindrance to communication between Rodrigo and Salamanca was provided. Julian Sanchez and his guerrilleros were pushed forward to their old 长沙桑拿可以选 haunts along the Yeltes, and overran the whole country-side. Carlos de Espa?a’s Spanish infantry brigade also recrossed the Agueda, and took up a forward position facing Ledesma.
Thus the posture of affairs on the frontiers of Leon was restored to the same aspect that it had displayed in the early autumn. It was clear that when Ciudad Rodrigo again needed to be revictualled, it ought to be necessary for the French to make another great effort, and to concentrate once more an army of 50,000 men. Marmont had thrown a great convoy into the place, but his calculations as to the time that these stores would suffice to feed the garrison had been wrecked, by the fact that his own army and that of Dorsenne had lived on the magazines of Rodrigo for five days, and had consumed more than 200,000 rations. It had been intended that the 长沙桑拿信息 convoy should feed Rodrigo for six months, but only two months’ food remained for its garrison of 2,000 men after this enormous deduction had been made. Meanwhile Wellington thought that there was nothing to be accomplished in the north for some time. His ultimate design was to make a serious blow at Ciudad Rodrigo, when he should learn that the disposition of the armies of Dorsenne and Marmont rendered such a blow practicable. As long as they lay so close together as to make their rapid concentration possible, he did not intend to press matters. But two indispensable preliminaries for the regular leaguer of Rodrigo were being perfected. Dickson’s great siege-train was being completed at Villa da Ponte, and the repairs to the walls of Almeida were at last finished. It was Wellington’s intention to transfer the siege-train to 长沙桑拿 Almeida when that fortress was absolutely secure against an attack. Placed there, it would be in a position to move up against Rodrigo in two days, when the time for action should come. But it was not till November was far spent that the order to move forward reached Dickson; meanwhile the roads between Villa da Ponte, Pinhel, and Almeida were put in good order, by a corvée levied on the local peasantry.
[p. 585]The dispositions of the enemy remained the all-important factor in the situation, and for the next two months Wellington was scrutinizing them with the greatest care. The Army of Portugal, after it had recrossed the Sierra de Gata, had been distributed by divisions in much the same cantonments that it had occupied in September, save that no force was sent to the distant southern post of Truxillo, to keep up 长沙桑拿洗浴休闲 communications with Drouet in Estremadura. Foy’s division, which had held that town during the early autumn, was reduced to such a state of dilapidation, by its late march in the mountains, that Marmont sent it to rest at Toledo, in comfortable cantonments. He replaced it at Plasencia, its later base, by the troops of Brennier. The 2nd Division (Clausel) occupied Avila and its province; the remaining three divisions (Ferey, Maucune, Sarrut) settled down at Almaraz, Talavera, Bejar, Oropesa, and the intermediate places. Montbrun’s heavy cavalry remained near head quarters at Talavera; the light cavalry was placed with Brennier, along the line of the Alagon, to watch the frontier of central Portugal.
Dorsenne meanwhile executed a similar dispersion of his army. He left at Salamanca only Thiébault’s division, strengthened by some light 长沙桑拿论坛体验 cavalry, and one brigade of Souham’s. The other troops that he had taken to Ciudad Rodrigo in September were sent back to Valladolid, Benavente, Palencia, and other posts in the valley of the Douro. The Army of the North ceased to threaten either Portugal or Galicia: but there was one task that it had to execute in order to replace itself in the position that it had held in the summer. Napoleon had protested at the time against the evacuation of the central Asturias and Oviedo by Bonnet’s division, and had ordered that this region should be reoccupied as soon as was possible. The troops told off for its invasion were the same which had held it during the last twelve months, the division of Bonnet. To support their movement through the pass of Pajares, Dorsenne took to Leon one of his two divisions of the Guard, placing 长沙桑拿洗浴中心 the[p. 586] other at Valladolid. Thiébault’s and Souham’s divisions alone were left in front line, facing towards Portugal and Galicia. Bonnet’s expedition against the Asturias was executed with complete success; indeed it met with hardly any opposition. General Losada, who had occupied Oviedo after its evacuation, with the 1st Division of the Army of Galicia, judged himself too weak to fight. He abandoned the pass of Pajares after a mere skirmish, and made hardly a greater effort to defend the passage of the Nalon, withdrawing westward towards Galicia as the French advanced. Bonnet occupied Oviedo on the 6th of November without any fighting, and its port of Gijon on the 7th. Finding that Losada had retreated behind the Narcea, he sent a brigade under Colonel Gauthier to pursue him. This column reached Tineo on November 12th, 长沙桑拿休闲论坛 but soon had to retire, for the Spaniards had scattered themselves in small bands among the mountains, and had turned back to attack Gauthier’s line of communication with Oviedo, as well as that between Oviedo and the pass of Pajares. Bonnet found that to maintain himself in the central Asturias was all that was in his power. He could not at the same time provide garrisons for Oviedo, Gijon, and the neighbouring places, and also put in the field a force strong enough to menace Galicia. In fact his fine division of 8,000 men was practically immobilized in the district that it had seized. It is more than doubtful whether the Emperor was wise to direct that the central Asturias should be once more occupied. He deprived the Army of the North of one of its five fighting divisions, and left the force holding Leon and Old Castile too weak to restrain Wellington, when it had at the same time to contain the Army of Galicia and to hunt all the Spanish irregular forces. Julian Sanchez in the plains of Leon, and Porlier and Longa in the mountains of Cantabria, were enemies whom it was impossible to neglect. If left alone they executed feats of great daring—it will be remembered that the former had surprised and captured Santander in August, and though his ventures in the autumn were less fortunate, they kept many hostile columns busy. Sanchez, on October 15th, executed a very ingenious coup de main. The garrison of Ciudad[p. 587] Rodrigo possessed a herd of cattle, which was habitually sent under guard to graze a mile or two from the ramparts. Watching his opportunity, on a day when the governor, Renaud, was inspecting the beasts, he swooped down on him, and carried him off with his escort and his cattle, though they were barely out of cannon-shot of the fortress. Thiébault, who commanded in the province of Salamanca, had great difficulty in getting into Ciudad Rodrigo General Barrié, whom he chose as Renaud’s successor (November 1st, 1811).
Between the Tagus, therefore, and the Bay of Biscay matters had come once more to a deadlock after the short campaign of September 24th-29th, 1811. For the following three months neither the Allies nor the French made any serious movement, with the exception of Bonnet’s invasion of the central Asturias. The main armies on both sides were dispersed. Wellington, with his troops distributed into cantonments, was waiting his opportunity for another and more effective blow at Ciudad Rodrigo; Dorsenne was striving to put down the guerrilleros, by hunting them ineffectually with many small columns—a task which he found more difficult now that he was deprived of Bonnet’s powerful division. Marmont, with his troops dispersed from Plasencia to Toledo, was practically waiting on Wellington’s movements, and showed no signs of wishing to take the offensive. His quiescence was not in the least affected by an Imperial dispatch sent from Compiègne on September 18th, which reached him shortly after his return to the valley of the Tagus. In this document a most ambitious plan of operations was proposed to him. Berthier explained that the Emperor took it for granted that Ciudad Rodrigo would have been revictualled for three months before October 1st, and that the Army of Portugal would have received the cavalry drafts which General Vandermaesen was bringing from the north. When these had arrived Marmont would have 41,000 men present with the colours. Let him march with this force into[p. 588] Estremadura, pick up Drouet and the 5th Corps, which should be placed under his orders, and lay siege to Elvas. Soult should be asked to find him 3,000 cavalry, and he would have a force of 57,000 men, which would be more than Wellington would be able to face. For if the English general hurried to save Elvas, a course which he was almost bound to take, he would probably leave two divisions in front of Almeida to ‘contain’ Dorsenne and the Army of the North. Though he would pick up instead the corps of Hill, which had so long been lying in the Alemtejo, yet he would still have no more than 45,000 men of all nations, even including Casta?os’s Spanish levies. This would not be enough to cope with 57,000 French: if Wellington fought he would be beaten; if he did not, he would lose Elvas, the most important fortress of Portugal. ‘This is the only movement, M. le Maréchal, which can bring back honour to our arms, free us from the defensive attitude in which we lie, strike terror into the English, and take us a step forward to the end of the war…. The prospect of capturing a great fortress under the eyes of the English army, of conquering a province of Portugal which covers our Army of the South, of uniting to your forces 25,000 men of that army [the 5th Corps and the cavalry] should serve you as incentives for glory and success.’ Berthier then grants that it is just possible that Wellington may refuse to march to the relief of Elvas, and reply to the menace against that fortress by invading Leon and falling upon Dorsenne, who would be too weak to face him. If he does this, the Army of the North may retire first to Salamanca, then to Valladolid, then even to Burgos. At the latter point, having called in all its detachments, it would be 50,000 strong, and able to ‘contain’ the allied forces, even if Wellington had brought forward every available man. But Marmont might take it for granted that his adversary would do nothing of the kind: he would hurry south to save Elvas and cover his base at Lisbon. If he left no troops behind him on the Coa, Dorsenne should dispatch 15,000 men of the Army of the North to Estremadura, and bring up the force before Elvas to a total of 62,000 men, a number which Wellington could not possibly resist. Elvas must infallibly fall. Only one caution was added to this scheme of[p. 589] campaign: Marmont must be sure that Wellington had not a siege-train at Almeida, or any other place near Ciudad Rodrigo. For if he were to answer the French movement on Elvas by laying formal siege to Rodrigo, Dorsenne would not be strong enough to prevent him from taking it, and the Army of Portugal would have to turn back to the rescue from its distant position in the Alemtejo.
This last caution was, in effect, a fatal block to the whole plan. For Marmont, during the El Bodon campaign, had heard of the existence of Wellington’s siege-park at Villa da Ponte. And he had also found in the cantonments of the 3rd and 4th Divisions a stock of gabions and fascines, whose preparation could only mean that the British had been contemplating regular siege operations at some future date. The wood and wickerwork had been burned, but there was nothing to prevent Wellington from replacing it at short notice.
Yet even if Marmont had not been aware of the existence of Dickson’s guns, the plan proposed to him was not so tempting at a second as at a first glance. He was well aware that such parts of it as depended on the loyal co-operation of his colleagues might not work out easily. Would not Soult find some excuse for refusing to send the 3,000 cavalry from Andalusia? Could Dorsenne be trusted to dispatch 15,000 men to the Alemtejo, if he discovered that Wellington had left no serious force on the Coa? And even if he did show such an unwonted self-abnegation as to detach two of his divisions to such a distant destination, would they get up in time for the crisis? For if Wellington marched promptly with his whole army, by Alfayates, Castello Branco, and the bridge of Villa Velha, he would be at Elvas many days before Dorsenne’s detachment, which would have to take the circuitous route by Bejar, the bridge of Almaraz, Truxillo, Merida, and Badajoz. Supposing that the whole allied army came down from the north, and picked up Hill and Casta?os, it would consist of well over 60,000 men, and the Army of Portugal when joined by Girard’s corps would only make 57,000 men if Soult sent his cavalry, or 54,000 if (as was more likely) he found some excuse[p. 590] for refusing his co-operation. Could 54,000 men lay siege to a first-class fortress, and at the same time provide a covering force strong enough to fend off 64,000 of the Allies? If they tried to do so, would not the covering force be beaten in all probability? And it was probable that Wellington would come to save Elvas with every available man, for he knew that Dorsenne was not able to make any serious irruption into northern Portugal. The Army of the North could not collect more than 27,000 men for field operations (as the late campaign had shown) and such a force, destitute of stores and acting at short notice, would not get far into the wilderness of the devastated Beira, much less threaten Lisbon.
These arguments, in all probability, must have occurred to Marmont, but we have no proof that he used them. In his reply to Berthier, written at Talavera on October 21st, he takes another line—he reports that the difficulties of supply are so great that he has, after returning from the relief of Ciudad Rodrigo, dispersed his army from Plasencia to Toledo. He is beginning to collect great central magazines at Navalmoral, near Almaraz, which will serve for his army when next it is massed either for offensive or defensive purposes. Meanwhile, till the magazines are formed, he asks for the Emperor’s leave to wait with his troops in their present positions. Wellington, he thinks, can do nothing serious for want of numbers, and the dispersion of his army into cantonments has been caused by the difficulty of feeding his men in the highlands, from which he has just retired. If, nevertheless, he tries some forward movement into Estremadura, the Army of Portugal is well placed for falling on him in the valley of the Guadiana. As for offensive plans, nothing can be done till magazines are formed, but he hopes to submit a scheme of his own to the Emperor when leave has been granted.
But meanwhile Napoleon’s mind had swerved away from the scheme for an attack on Elvas and the Alemtejo, which had been formulated in the Compiègne dispatch of September 18th. Just a month later Berthier writes, by his orders, from Amsterdam, to lay down a wholly new plan. This dispatch of October[p. 591] 18th contains the germ of the great central error which was to make possible Wellington’s sudden offensive move of the following midwinter, and the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo—the exploit which was to be the turning-point of the whole Peninsular War. Suchet had now started upon his long-projected march on Valencia, with which we shall deal in its proper place. He had made a good commencement, but had been brought to a stand before the walls of Saguntum. The Spaniards had begun to reinforce their eastern armies, and the Emperor realized that Suchet needed support. Therefore the army of Wellington ceased for a moment to be the central point on which his attention was fixed. ‘Le principal objet aujourd’hui est Valence,’ writes Berthier in obedience to his master’s changed opinion. And he thereupon instructs Marmont that the Army of the Centre will have to stretch itself eastward to Cuenca, to support Suchet, and that in consequence the Army of Portugal will have to ‘facilitate the task of the King of Spain,’ i. e. spare troops to occupy those parts of New Castile from which Joseph must withdraw men for the expedition to the Valencian border. This was but the beginning of the scheme, which was to end by distracting a great body of Marmont’s host to the shore of the Mediterranean, out of call of their commander. As we shall see, the Duke of Ragusa was finally ordered to make such a huge detachment to aid Suchet, that Wellington at last got his opportunity to strike, when the Army of Portugal was so lowered in numbers that it could not hope to restrain him. The first hint came in the above-cited orders of October 18th; in the second crucial dispatch, that of November 21st, Marmont is told not only that he will have to ‘facilitate the task’ of King Joseph, but that he must select a body of 12,000 men to march at once on Valencia, and set aside 3,000 more to keep up the line of communication with the expeditionary force. ‘We are informed,’ continues Berthier, ‘that the English army has 20,000 sick, and barely 20,000 able-bodied men with the colours, so that they cannot possibly try any offensive enterprise.’
[p. 592]This is a typical result of the endeavour to conduct the Peninsular War from Paris as head quarters. On the wholly false hypothesis that Wellington’s army is reduced to a skeleton, and can do nothing, the Emperor orders his lieutenant to detach a third of the Army of Portugal beyond the reach of recall. But the English, though indeed there were many sick, had not 20,000 but exactly 38,311 men with the colours at that moment, not to speak of 24,391 Portuguese, of whom the Emperor (as usual) took no account in his calculations. Wellington had been patiently waiting for months for the moment when the Army of Portugal should no longer be able to ‘contain’ him. The Emperor was obliging enough to provide the opportunity in December 1811, and when Montbrun had marched with two divisions of foot and one of horse to the other side of the Peninsula, Wellington struck, suddenly and successfully. ‘The movements of Marmont’s army towards Toledo, to aid Suchet as is supposed, have induced us to make preparations for the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo,’ wrote Wellington on the 28th of that month. On the 9th of January, 1812, the place was invested; on the 19th it fell; and then followed in rapid succession all the triumphs of 1812. There were other circumstances, to be mentioned in their due place, which facilitated Wellington’s advance: but the departure of Montbrun’s 15,000 men for Valencia, by the Emperor’s direct command, was the main governing fact. It is impossible to deny assent to Marmont’s bitter criticism on the orders that kept coming to him during the autumn and early winter of 1811. ‘Napoleon was at this period living in a non-existent world, created by his own imagination. He built structures in the air, he took his[p. 593] desires for realities, and gave orders as if ignorant of the true state of affairs, as if the actual facts had been purposely hidden from him.’ It was no use to tell him that magazines were non-existent, that numbers were low, that roads were impracticable, that communications were intercepted, that he had undervalued the enemy’s forces; he continued, with all serenity, to ignore tiresome hindrances, and to issue orders grounded on data many weeks old, often on data which had never been true at any moment, but which it suited him to believe. And so the catastrophe of 1812 came nearer.
We have now taken the operations of Wellington and his chief adversaries, Marmont and Dorsenne, down to the winter of 1811. But there still remains to be told the story of the autumn months in the secondary fields of operations in southern Spain. The doings of Soult in Andalusia have been followed no further than July and August, when, returning from the relief of Badajoz, he freed Seville from the menaces of Blake, and forced the Murcian army to take refuge with undignified haste within the boundaries of its own province. Nor has anything been said about the operations of Hill in Estremadura, where he lay opposite Drouet and the French 5th Corps from August to December. With these subsidiary affairs we now have to deal.