The Peninsular War
The Collapse of Massena's Invasion
Over the winter of 1810-1811, Massena had faced an impossible situation. He could not force his way through the Lines of Torres Vedras, yet his army could not remain indefinitely in a hostile country. As supplies dwindled, his army began to starve. Although Napoleon sent reinforcements, these did not even replace those who had already been lost during the autumn campaign of 1810.
In March 1811, he admitted defeat, withdrawing back towards the Spanish-Portuguese border. As Wellington’s army advanced after them, they found the country had been devastated by the French soldiers, who had murdered and raped civilians, and destroyed their homes and livelihoods.
By April, Wellington’s troops had driven the French back across the River Coa and out of Portugal altogether. On 7th April his army blockaded Almeida, however, in the meantime, the strategic situation on the border had changed. In March, the fortress city of Badajoz was captured by the French, meaning that three of the four major fortresses in the region were now in French hands. Wellington was frustrated when he heard this news, which reached him in mid-March. He had planned to march to relieve the city, and knew that re-capturing it would be a huge task. He detached two divisions of his army under Marshal Beresford, along with the Portuguese troops to try take the town.
Map of Spain in 1811
In the meantime, the French had not been idle. After regrouping and resting his army, Massena now sought to relieve the blockaded fortress of Almeida inside the Portuguese border. After recovering with remarkable speed, the French advanced with 42,000 infantry, 4,500 cavalry and 38 guns. Wellington’s available force had been reduced to 40,000 men, after detaching forces for Beresford’s contingent and the blockade at Almeida. Of those, just 23,000 were British, the remainder being Portuguese.
Wellington therefore occupied a strong defensive position at Fuentes D’Onoro, determined to stop the French from relieving Almeida.
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