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Journal of the Eighty-third Regiment.
on our advance from Lisbon, many brigades were oftentimes uncertain, which was the road destined for them to march upon.
No one will surely assert that guides could not be procured, in a country where the great mass of population was not only in our favour, but exasperated to the highest pitch against the enemy; where no change of position could be effected, without legions of peasantry hovering about our flanks and rear, persons capable of directing the march could surely never be wanted, had inquiry been made for them; or admitting even that volunteers did not offer for this duty, it would have been no difficult matter, and perfectly justifiable, to seize on some individuals capable of acting in such capacity. This neglect of distributing guides to the different'columns, when unity of action was of such essential importance, was, to say the least of it, a great oversight, and might have brought on melancholy consequences. But as the unintentional quitting of its route by this division, proved a cause of success, nothing further need be said; especially as Sir Arthur Wellesley thought it a "well timed movement by which General Murray turned the enemy's flank."
The heights of Grijo, which are of an argillaceous and mica state, connect themselves with a high close chain of steeper hills, extending far up the banks of the Douro, by Lamego. They are seen in the extreme point'of the horizon, even from Aveiro, but become gradually of smaller elevation as they approach the sea. The two villages of Grijo and Corvo, are in Entre Minko e Douro, a small part of which province lies south of the latter river, where, notwithstanding the natural barrenness of the soil apd the mountainous face of the country, a better cultivation begins to appear. In the vallies, flax, and maize are grown; on the hills flourish fir woods. The enclosures are formed of good hedges, whence arise some luxuriant timber trees, around the branches of which the vine interlaces itself.
Carvalhos.—At Carvalhos is a very large estalagem or inn. The road hence to Oporto is rough and fatiguing, but in return it is commonly shaded by venerable and majestic looking trees; sometimes it crosses a tract of cultivated corn fields edged with trees and rich vines. The villages also through which it leads, though at first bad, gradually improve and become more frequent and populous, while numerous scattered houses are seen in every direction, the female inmates of which were chiefly occupied in spinning flax, which they afterwards weave into coarse linens.
The army moved forward very early on the 12th, and, eager to rejoin my brigade, I made no small haste to gain the front, as the different divisions now began to close. About nine o'clock A. M. the waving outline of some' distant hills in the north-east, discovered my near approach to the Douro, while the high grounds to the southward gradually disappeared from the horizon. By eleven o'clock A. M. I found myself on the heights, forming the l«ft bank of the Douro, and saw some brigades already making for the edge of that river. General Murray had been previously dispatched with a brigade of the German Legion rather towards the right, in the direction of the
river Aada, with orders to secure all tbe boats in. that neighbourhood. m had the good fortune to find some, and hastened to pass them down the river, to a spot at the foot of the convent of Serra de Villa Nova, pointed out by Sir Arthur Wellesley. A steep, narrow, and rugged path, was the only means of communicating with the place of embarkation. The 3d, 48th, and 6Glh, regiments being the advanced brigade, hastened from the convent to the point fixed upon, and threw themselves into the boats. About the same moment a brigade of horse artillery arrived and was placed in battery on a small tongue of land at the end of the convent garden ; here, masked by fir trees and a stout palissade, the guns were completely hidden from the enemy until ready to open their fire.
By the time I reached this spot, where I fully expected to meet the brigade, the passage of the river had been attempted. Four small boats were the only means of transport. A part of the Buffs had embarked in these and were consequently the first British troops which reached the Oporto side. These instantly pushed forwards; and two companies after reaching the summit of the cliff, by a zigzag path, having attacked and driven the French from the landing place, immediately occupied a large unfinished stone building, destined for the future residence of the bishop. Under this cover, and protected by our artillery posted upon the south bank, these two companies found means of retaining possession of their post until reinforcements arrived, and as more boats were now continually descending tbe stream and repairing to the point of embarkation, the transport of General Hill's brigade was soon completed.
General Edward Paget, who crossed in one of the first boats, formed the troops as they reached the summit of the height, in front of the intended Episcopal Palace. Hitherto no troops had reached the northern bank saving General Hill's brigade, which consequently had alone to sustain the attack of the enemy's whole force during a couple of hours. This delay in passing over reinforcements occurred from Sir Arthur Wellesley's apparent desire to give the Guards an opportunity of sharing in the honours of victory. This last brigade at length arrived, and was detached in double quick time, together with the 29th regiment, 1st battalion of detachments, and 1st battalion lfilh Portuguese regiment, with instructions to force a passage lower down the river, as near the ferry of Villa Nova as possible; but notwithstanding tbe greatest alacrity and zeal, those corps were unfortunately too late to have any influence on the action, which the 3d, 4Sth, and 66th regiments Bad supported in so brave and creditable a manner, and which General Hill can justly boast, was gained without the actual aid of any other brigade than that which had the good fortune to be under his immediate command.
The conduct of the French in their defence of this city amazed many: it ■was expected they would have made a much more vigourous stand, particularly as their numbers were far greater than ours. In their army were calculated 25,000 effectives, while, including the Portuguese, we hardly amounted. ■ . - , —
Journal ot the Eighty-third Regiment.
to 10,000. In this statement, however, I have not comprised the brigade detached towards Tras os Muntes, under General Silson, nor that towards Alcantara with General Mackenzie, who was charged to watch the defiles leading from Spain, along the Tagus, into Beira; a quarter which Marshal Victor threatened.
All military men know that the passage of a river demands from the assailant an unusual share of precaution and capacity, especially if the stream be broad, rapid, and defended by a vigilant or experienced foe; that in order to ensure success, it requires no less secrecy than talent in the general who attacks, to keep from his enemy's knowledge the spot where the passages is intended to be forced. Independent of these considerations, it is necessary to weigh the time required to pass over to the opposite bank a body of troops sufficient to keep the enemy in check, ai»d prevent him from moving an overwhelming force against that portion already established. Nor should any General attempt to force a river without ascertaining the strength, and reconnoitering the disposition of the troops placed by the enemy to defend the passage, as well as the obstacles he may have to meet with after gaining the opposite side. The French had therefore very great opportunities of making a successful opposition to our attacks on this town, and "had they availed themselves of all the advantages which they undoubtedly possessed, perhaps we should have found it both a tedious and difficult task to dislodge them, as it did appear that Sir Arthur Wellesley himself had very little positive information of their mode or means of defence. For Sir Arthur certainly had imagined that the whole of the French army, excepting General Loison's brigade, was within Oporto, and that Marshal Soult, in person, directed the defence; neither of which, however, was the fact.
That General Hill, with his brigade only, could withstand the superior force of the enemy is hardly credible, when it is remembered that he had with him but the following regiments, viz.—
1st Battalion, Sd, or Buffs 700
2d Battalion, 66th 500
2d Battalion, 48th 650
A Company 5 th Battalion, 60th 70
It is true, however, that the enemy saw other brigades at hand to reinforce our men in case they became hard pressed; as General Stewart's, General Langworth's, General Sountag's, and General Cameron's brigades were collected on the heights, south of the Douro, almost as soon as were the regiments engaged. These corps forming an effective force of 8000 men, if sent across the Dourot the instant they came up (instead of remaining idle spectators of the engagement until two o'clock, P.M.) would, without doubt, have totally annihilated or taken the rear guard of the enemy:—at all events the capture of Oporto would have been more brilliant, and the loss in General Hill's brigade much less, than it proved; as it was, the enemy had abandoned Journal of the Fig/ity-third Regiment.
the town and taken the road to Yal Longn, and the prisoners were secured in the main guard, under charge of Ensign M'Carthy, of the 66th regiment, before the brigade of Guards reached any part near the scene of action in Oporto. The information given Sir Arthur, that Marshal Soult, in person, commanded at the defence of Oporto must be incorrect; as it was a fact well known to all the inhabitants, and the prisoners universally confirmed U, that the Marshal had withdrawn and taken the main body of his army on the evening previous; besides we ourselves very distinctly saw the enemy after the action, crossing the heights of Val Longo, and the body so seen was evidently the rear guard of the army only, which had remained solely to check our advance, as the number appeared to be within S000. Had Sir Arthur thought proper (or could he have found boats) to transport across the river, the several brigades as they respectively came on the ground, it is more than probable the rear guard would not have escaped so cheaply: at least, many brigades would not have regretted their late entrance into the ploughed fields, near Oporto, on the furrows of which some passed the night; whereas" the brigade of Guards had nothing else to do but look out for comfortable quarters. It is also not unlikely, that had dispatch in passing the army been used, we should not subsequently have had to pursue the flying enemy through those rugged, narrow, and miry roads, nor ruined villages, where our troops • suffered more from inclemency of the weather and want of provisions than will readily be imagined; while the enemy, from the time of his abandoning Oporto to his arrival in Gallicia, Scarcely lost 500 in killed, wounded, and prisoners, though he was in the earliest stages compelled to leave behind a very large proportion of his artillery and ammunition, Soult taking with him only his battalion guns, and a few pieces of slight cannon. Of his cavalry horses I do not recollect seeing more than 100 that were either killed or captured between Oporto and Monte Alegre, in the neighbourhood of which town our brigade (which -was one of the advanced) was ordered to give up tha pursuit.
Great credit is assuredly due to the officers and corps of artillery for their services during the day. The position that force occupied proved so judiciously chosen, that it not only effectually protected our troops during the ferrying of the river, but likewise completely commanded by ricochet fire the whole of the opposite shore. Had an English army been stationed with similar advantages to those the French enjoyed, I cannot think it would have yielded a post by nature so important, as that of Oporto, without a severe struggle. Indeed a person, having reflected on the situation of Oporto, must be astonished at the enterprising and courageous spirit manifested by our soldiers; which they, however, have invariably displayed, when led by officers they esteemed, and commanded by a General in whom they confided. Oporto is divided into two parts by the River Douro; that portion of it known by the name of Villa Nova, is situated on the southern bank, while the city of Oporto itself, is built on the northern shore. The river, w hicli
Journal of the Eighty-third Regiment.
exceeds 300 yards in width, flows through a channel, confined by high, rugged, and steep rocks. The current is very strong, and the bed deep'; the shores on both sides are remarkably elevated and bold, though gently sloping towards that spot where the bridge of boats had been; but the ascent to the Serra Convent of Villa Nova, which is perched on the brow of a lofty precipice, is excessively difficult. In the fir plantation, beyond the garden walls of this monastery, which both from its form and situation has more the appearance of a barrack than of a religious building, Sir Arthur Wellesley and his staff took post, near to the battery of artillery; hence, through the. palissaded entienchment, led the winding path to the water edge, which our troops could gain only by Indian files, and whence they were after some delay ferried across. Having effected the passage of the river, an acclivity rather less rugged, but equally long, led up the northern cliffs, on the point of which was the unfinished structure before spoken of, besides a stone wall more than breast high. Had the French availed themselves of this last as a breast work, they would have been somewhat covered from the galling fire of our artillery, and might easily have prevented our ascending the winding way, by throwing grenades, &c. among our ranks. Some unaccountable circumstance blinded them to the advantages derivable from the position, and they suffered themselves to be driven from the only place whereat they could hope to make any effectual resistance. It is true, however, they did attempt to oppose our entrance into the town, and a sharp skirmish actually took place in the neighbouring streets, as well as in the adjacent gardens, and in the olive grounds which skirt the east extremity of the town. The result of the action was (besides giving possession of Oporto, and command over the whole north of Portugal) the capture of 56 pieces of cannon, three howitzers, two mortars, some military stores, and, including sick in hospitals, about 3000 prisoners.
Oporto had the honour of inciting the remainder of Portugal to shake off the Moorish yoke, and restore the Christian faith. Henry of Burgundy, its first sovereign, having married a daughter of Alphonsus the Sixth, King of Castile and Leon, received, as dowry with his wife, this city and its environs, to which his father-in-law added the title of Count of Portugal, with permission to annex unto his dominions all such countries as he might conquer from the Moors, between that city, and the river Guadiana. Henry was successful ; and, after a glorious reign of twenty years, died in 1112, and was buried in the Cathedral of Braga.
Oporto is a large, but ill-built town; and, owing to its situation, the street, have the defect common to most ancient cities, being irregular, narrow, crooked, and continually ascending or descending. A town situated among rocks, on the slope of an escarped hill, adorned with numerous churches and steeples, while gardens, houses, and a convent, placed on the point of a rock crowned by a forest of firs, a fine river with much shipping, the tumult arising from our sudden attack, and happy capture of the place, presented a