BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely


The Bhagavad Gita

Anonymous


Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley


The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde


A History of the peninsular war

by Charles Oman

Excerpt:

PREFACE

THIS, the third volume of the History of the Peninsular War, covers a longer period than either of its predecessors, extending over the sixteen months from Wellington's arrival at Badajoz on his retreat from Talavera (Sept. 3, 1809) to the deadlock in front of Santarem (Dec. 1810), which marked the end of Massena's offensive campaign in Portugal. It thus embraces the central crisis of the whole war, the arrival of the French in front of the Lines of Torres Vedras and their first short retreat, after they had realized the impossibility of forcing that impregnable barrier to their advance. The retreat that began at Sobral on the night of Nov. 14, 1810, was to end at Toulouse on April 11, 1814. The armies of the Emperor were never able to repeat the experiment of 1810, and to assume a general and vigorous offensive against Wellington and Portugal. In 1811 they were on the defensive, despite of certain local and partial attempts to recover their lost initiative. In 1812 they had to abandon half Spain—Andalusia, Estremadura, Asturias, La Mancha, and much more, —despite of Wellington's temporary check before Burgos. In 1813 they were swept across the Pyrenees and the Bidassoa; in 1814 they were fighting a losing game in their own land. Rightly then may Massena's retreat to Santarem be called the beginning of the end—though it was not for a full year more that Wellington's final offensive commenced, with the investment of Ciudad Rodrigo on Jan. 8, 1812.

The campaign of Bussaco and Torres Vedras, therefore, marked the turning-point of the whole war, and I have endeavoured to set forth its meaning in full detail, devoting special care to the explanation of Wellington's triple device for arresting the French advance—his combination of the system of devastation, of the raising of the levee en masse in Portugal, and of the construction of great defensive lines in front of Lisbon. Each of these three measures would have been incomplete without the other two. For the Lines of Torres Vedras might not have saved Portugal and Europe from the domination of Napoleon, if the invading army had not been surrounded on all sides by the light screen of irregular troops, which cut its communications, and prevented it from foraging far afield. Nor would Massena have been turned back, if the land through which he had advanced had been left unravaged, and if every large village had contained enough food to subsist a brigade for a day or a battalion for a week.

The preparations, the advance, and the retreat of Massena cover about half of this volume. The rest of it is occupied with the operations of the French in Northern, Eastern, and Southern Spain—operations which seemed decisive at the moment, but which turned out to be mere side-issues in the great contest. For Soult's conquest of Andalusia, and Suchet's victories in Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia only distracted the imperial generals from their central task —the expulsion of Wellington and his army from the Peninsula. Most readers will, I think, find a good deal of new information in the accounts of the siege of Gerona and the battle of Ocana. The credit due to Alvarez for the defence of the CataPREFACE vii

of correspondence, I may refer the reader to pages 399-400 of this volume. Unfortunately, when the two militia generals were in actual contact, their correspondence naturally ceased, so that the series of letters has many lacunae. But they are nevertheless of the highest value.

Thirdly, I have to thank Sir Henry Le Marchant for a sight of the private papers of his grandfather, the well-known cavalry brigadier, General John Gaspar Le Marchant, who fell at Salamanca. He did not land in the Peninsula till 1811, but during the preceding year he was receiving many letters of interest, some from his own contemporaries, officers of high rank in Wellington's army, others from younger men, who had been his pupils while he was in command of the Military College at High Wycombe. Some of the seniors, and one especially, were among those downhearted men—of the opposite type to Benjamin D'Urban—who were consistently expecting disaster, and looked for a hasty embarkation at Lisbon as the natural end of the campaign of 1810. The younger men took a very different view of affairs, and invariably sent cheerful accounts of the doings of the army.


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