Portuguese Army 1808-12


Loyal Lusitanian Legion 1809.


3rd Cacadore Battalion 1810.


Fusilier, 8th Line Infantry Regiment 1810.

Disbanded in the wake of the French invasion by General Jean Andoche Junot in December 1807, the armed forces of Portugal were re-formed under the command of Sir William Beresford, a British general created a marshal in the Portuguese Army, and fought with the British in all the major campaigns of the Peninsular War, forming between a third and a half of the Allied forces that defeated the French.

Since 1640 the Portuguese army had been composed of regular troops, militia (known as troops of the Second Line), and the Ordenança, a form of home guard based in the areas from which the recruits were drawn. Junot disbanded this army in December 1807 after his occupation of Portugal. Some units, numbering 8,000 men, were reformed into the Portuguese Legion, which fought for Napoleon under the Marques de Alorna and General Gomes Freire de Andrade at Wagram in 1809 and in the Russian campaign of 1812. An uprising took place in northern Portugal in June 1808 that was followed by a partial return of disbanded Portuguese soldiers to their colors, and in July the British encouraged the formation of the Loyal Lusitanian Legion, which was placed under the command of Sir Robert Wilson and operated in conjunction with the leaders of the northern rebellion. After the withdrawal of the French army from Portugal following the Convention of Cintra (signed 31 August 1808), the new British commander, Lieutenant General Sir John Moore, marched out of Lisbon en route for Spain at the end of October 1808, leaving Portugal virtually defenseless.

Meanwhile the Regency Council began recruiting a new army, raising six battalions of light infantry (caçadores) and some cavalry regiments. After the evacuation of Moore’s army from Corunna in January 1809, and with the prospect of an imminent French invasion from the north, the regency asked for the appointment of a British officer to train the new Portuguese Army. In February 1809 Beresford, who had commanded British forces in Madeira and had been instrumental in reorganizing the island’s defense forces, was appointed. He reached Lisbon in March and was appointed marshal to give him seniority over all existing Portuguese officers.

Ably assisted by Dom Miguel Pereira Forjaz, who became secretary to the Regency Council, a new Portuguese army was rapidly raised and trained. By May Beresford had 19,000 men ready to take part in the campaign against Marshal Nicolas Soult in the north where, after the murder of General Bernardim Freire de Andrade (brother of Gomes who had joined Napoleon), they were commanded by General Francisco Silveira. In 1810 the Loyal Lusitanian Legion was incorporated into the new army, and in September 1810 Portuguese forces made up half the Allied army that defeated Marshal André Masséna’s forces at Busaco. Under the overall command of Arthur Wellesley, Viscount Wellington, with Beresford as his second in command, Portuguese forces fought at Albuera (1811), the storming of Badajoz (1812), Salamanca (1812), and Vitoria (1813), where they made up a third of the Allied forces. Led by Beresford the Portuguese fought at the final battle of Toulouse and entered Bordeaux to receive the future Louis XVIII in 1814. After the flight of Napoleon the army marched back to Portugal through northern Spain.

Beresford reorganized the Portuguese Army along British lines. A new officer corps, appointed and promoted on merit, was recruited, and British regimental officers were appointed to work alongside the Portuguese. A total of thirteen of the fifty-six general officers were also British. Beresford himself became marshal and commander in chief, with Wellington assuming overall control of all the Allied armies as marshal general. The regiments were armed with British weapons and were provided with accoutrements and uniforms from Britain. During most of the campaigns Portuguese regiments were brigaded with British, and to create an effective unified army the soldiers were taught to answer to commands in English, to practice British arms drills, and to deploy in two lines rather than in columns. Beresford communicated with his army through Orders of the Day (Ordens do Dia), which he had published.

The army, initially recruited from volunteers, maintained its manpower by conscripting all men between eighteen and thirty-five. The Second Line militia and Ordenança were also re-formed and played a key role during the French invasions. Beresford brought the numbers of the regular army from an initial figure of around 20,000 up to 55,000 men, 30,000 of whom were paid for by a British subsidy. The Portuguese Army was largely made up of infantry and artillery. A shortage of horses prevented the formation of a strong cavalry. A Quartermaster General’s department was established under Benjamin D’Urban in 1809, and Beresford provided for the army by developing a training depot for recruits, a central commissariat, hospitals, magazines, and cavalry studs. A Corps of Mounted Guides was formed for intelligence gathering.

Although the Portuguese Army had played a major role in the defeat of the French in 1813-1814, the regents refused to allow the army to be sent to the Netherlands for the Waterloo campaign in 1815. Beresford remained commander in chief of the army until the Revolution of 1820. Units of the army were deployed in Brazil in 1815 and 1816 and took part in the campaigns in the Rio de la Plata region in the south under General Carlos Lecor, a veteran of Busaco.

References and further reading Chartrand, René. 2000. The Portuguese Army of the Napoleonic Wars. 3 vols. Oxford: Osprey. Livermore, Harold V. 1999. “Beresford and the Reform of the Portuguese Army.” In A History of the Peninsular War. Vol. 9, Modern Studies of the War in Spain and Portugal, 1808-1814, ed. Paddy Griffith, 121-144. London: Greenhill. Newitt, Malyn, and Martin Robson. 2004. Lord Beresford and British Intervention in Portugal 1807-1820. Lisbon: ICS. Partridge, Richard, and Michael Oliver. 1999. Napoleonic Army Handbook. Vol. 1, The British Army and Her Allies. London: Constable and Robinson. Pivka, Otto von. 1977. The Portuguese Army of the Napoleonic Wars. London: Osprey. Rousseau, I. J., ed. 1930. The Peninsular Journal of Major General Sir Benjamin D’Urban. London: Longman. Vichness, S. E. 1976.”Marshal of Portugal: The Military Career of William Carr Beresford.” Ph. D. thesis, Florida State University.

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