12 May, 1809
Battle Tour Guides
the inquiry into the distasteful Convention
of Cintra behind him, Sir
Arthur Wellesley returned to the
Peninsula and again took up command of British forces
French still threatened that country through armies under
Marshal Soult and Marshal
Victor and so Wellesley decided to go on the offensive
and remove the danger.
decided to attack Oporto, situated on the far side of the
deep River Douro, despite the presence of Soult's troops
in the city and the fact that the only bridge had been destroyed
by French engineers. To add to his difficulties, Soult had
removed all of the city's barges to the northern - French
the early hours of the morning of the 12th, local Portuguese
assisted British troops in recovering four wine barges from
the north bank and, upon their return to the British side,
they were loaded with the redcoat advance party.
target for the 120 or so men was the strongly built seminary
to the east of the town. It was a perfect position for defending
crossing the river in daylight, the British were not initially
spotted by French sentries - who later mistook them for
Swiss troops - and within half an hour had several hundred
men preparing defences in the seminary.
by artillery batteries from a convent on the southern bank,
the seminary would be a tough nut for the French to crack,
as the local commander General Maximilien Foy discovered
when he moved to throw the British out.
an initial assault with three battalions at about 10.30am,
Foy's men came under ferocious fire from cannons firing
shrapnel. Several assaults were beaten back and by midday
more reinforcements had arrived for the British under the
command of General Sir Rowland
addition to the crossing by the seminary, Wellesley had
sent a large force six kilometres to the east to flank the
French forces and it began its deployment via ferry.
an ever-increasing supply of boats being taken to the British
by the local inhabitants, Soult decided his outnumbered
force would not be able to hold off greater numbers of enemy
troops and so he ordered a hasty withdrawal.
troops now went on to the offensive and pursued the French,
who would have been trapped had it not been for slow work
by the force sent to control the flank.
was a brilliant tactical effort from Wellesley, whose force
succeeded in the highly daring venture with the loss of
just over 120 men. Soult's men suffered up to 600 men and
a further 1500 were captured in the town's hospital.
night Wellesley and his staff sat down at the former French
headquarters and enjoyed a meal prepared for Soult and his