MASSENA Andre - Letter Signed 1810 sending a reconnaisance party to Santarem
Andre MASSENA (1758-1817)Letter Signed (“Massena”) to General Loison ordering him to send a reconnaissance party to discover the state of affairs at Santarem.
1 page folio in French, Torres Novas, 18 November 1810.
Trans: “Please halt the 6th regiment of light infantry of Marchand’s division which should pass at Golegao until further orders. Send a large patrol tomorrow morning along the Tagus and if you discover anything new about what is happening in Santarem, you will let me know. You will have the 6th regiment of Dragoons ready tomorrow morning at Golegao, and I will send them the order to proceed towards Santarem together with the 6th Light Infantry is that should be necessary. General Reynier has before him the enemy guard: the General thinks it possible that the entire army might be there, which I do not believe. Be prepared, on your side, with all your men to manoeuvre as necessary, either to repulse the garrison of Abrantes if it should make a sally, or to fall back on the bridge to the right bank should you receive the order.”
Massena had assumed command of the Army of Portugal in April 1810, but did not begin his march to Lisbon until September of that year. With insufficient supplies and very little to loot, Massena was pitted against Wellington’s well-supplied troops, as well as having to evade the vicious attacks of Spanish guerillas. Napoleon expected Massena to cross the Tagus, but Wellington had anticipated this with the fortifications of Torres Vedras. Faced with these fortifications, Massena succeeded in holding his position for a fortnight longer than Wellington had deemed possible, but on 10 November was forced to order a retreat on Santarem, with the men who had not deserted him now in rags and starving.
Oman relates, in his History of the Peninsular War, that by 18 November General Loison’s troops were near the Zezere river, where Massena had succeeded in building a bridge in order to facilitate his communications with Soult’s army. On the same day, Wellington, with 16,000 men, marched on Santarem, which was held by General Reynier with 13,000 men. Both the English and the French mistook the other’s strength and intentions. Wellington assumed that the force at Santarem was only a rearguard, the main body of French troops supposedly marching towards Abrantes. Reynier, as Massena reports here, feared that he was faced with the entire British army.
Massena did not finally reach the Spanish border until April 1811. His tenacity and his tactics won him the admiration of Wellington who, meeting him when the war was over, told him that he (Massena) had cost him more sleepless nights than anyone else.
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