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At the Court of Inquiry held subsequently, Sir Arthur expressed himself cautiously on this point, but we see his real opinion in these words:
'And I doubt much whether Sir Harry Burrard ever reported what he did on that evening, which I consider to have been fatal to the campaign. . . . . I never saw such desperate fighting as we had on the 17th August, or troops receive such a beating as the French did on the 21st; and it is unfortunate that I was not allowed to carry my own measures into execution after the action of that day. If I had, we should have destroyed them entirely. As usual, I had an unanimous army, who would have undertaken anything for me; and I took care that the troops should be well provided with everything they wanted.' (Vol. vi. pp. 162. 176.)
The Convention of Cintra, and the inquiry on the conduct of its authors, were the only results of this campaign, which, although not entirely unsuccessful, fell far short of what might have been accomplished. So far as regarded the principle of the Convention, Sir Arthur Wellesley was in favour of it, on the ground that, after the blunders committed, the French might retain their hold on Portugal, and this too was Napoleon's opinion. For the part Sir Arthur took in this negotiation he was exposed to a storm of ignorant obloquy. It is characteristic of his nature that when thus assailed, and ungenerously dealt with, he should have steadily refused to publish a single line in his own vindication :
'I shall adopt no illegitimate means of setting them right, and shall neither publish anything myself, nor authorise a publication by anybody else; nor shall I, in order to raise myself in the public opinion, state circumstances respecting the difference of opinion between Sir H. Burrard and myself on the 20th and 21st August, although those circumstances led to the expediency of allowing the French to evacuate Portugal.' (Vol. vi. p. 168.)
In the next campaign, from which we should date the real commencement of the Peninsular war, the strength and weakness of the rival powers were displayed in the clearest manner. In the winter of 1808, Napoleon had crossed the Somosierra, had entered Madrid at the head of his armies, and had set in motion a formidable force to chase the leopard into 'the ocean.' He was summoned away by the attack of Austria, yet left in Spain such a military power as seemed to set opposition at defiance. At first the progress of the marshals was irresistible; Sir John Moore retreated to his ships; the Spanish levies were repeatedly overthrown and swept behind the Sierra Morena; and the French arms advanced in triumph to the foot of the ranges bordering on Portugal. The only visible elements
of opposition were the garrisons of Saragossa and Gerona; the numerous bands of partisans who gathered around the track of the invader, and a feeble remnant of the British army which still held the rocks around Lisbon. The French emperor confidently expected that Soult from Oporto and Victor from the Tagus would soon meet in the capital of Portugal, and though the Cabinet was forming plans of rescuing Spain with a few divisions, and was squandering millions on Spanish subsidies, Sir Arthur Wellesley did not fail to comprehend the nature of the danger :
'The plan of operations for the French will be to move Victor's corps from Badajoz to Abrantes; then cross the Tagus; and as soon as that corps is ready to move on towards Lisbon, to bring on the other two weaker corps from Oporto and Salamanca; and the whole to join in the neighbourhood of Santarem; unless, indeed, they should be certain that Cradock cannot move, in which case they will move down according as they may find it convenient.
'As soon as the junction and co-operation of the three French corps shall be secure, they will detach from 5,000 to 10,000 across the Tagus to the southern bank, where we have not a man, either British or Portuguese. They will post this corps upon the heights of Almada, which, you will recollect, are opposite Lisbon, and in their continuation command the harbour. As soon as they will have possession of this ground, the Admiral will find out that he cannot remain there with his ships of war; and the General, that he cannot embark his troops; and by this manœuvre alone the French will obtain possession of Lisbon most probably before I shall arrive there.' (Vol. vi. p. 227.)
And yet at this time we see from these volumes that the French armies were wholly unable to complete their conquests. There is little justice in Napoleon's complaints that the inactivity of Soult and Victor in the early part of 1809 was the cause that they did not advance to Lisbon. The following passage from an intercepted despatch of Soult shows how the system of military exactions had aroused an insurrection in Gallicia, and trebled the peril of a movement on Portugal:
'Cette province est toujours en état de fermentation. Les ménaces de mort et d'incendie qu'employe La Romana; les nombreux agents qui agissent en son nom; les exécutions qu'il fait; les dévastations qui ont inévitablement lieu par les fréquents mouvements des troupes; la ruine de la plupart des habitants; l'absence de toute autorité qui représente Votre Majesté; l'influence des prêtres, qui sont très-nombreux, et la grande majorité opposante; l'argent que les Anglais répandent; la détresse des généraux Français, qui, faute de moyens, ne peuvent souvent payer les émissaires qu'ils employent; toutes ces causes contribuent à augmenter de jour en jour le nombre des enne
mis, et à rendre la guerre qu'on fait dans ce pays très-meurtrière, infiniment désagréable et d'un résultat fort éloigné." (Vol. vi. p. 311.)
In consequence of the same system, which made the subsistence of the French armies depend entirely on the resources of the districts in which they happened to be quartered, the force of Victor was also paralysed, as we see from the following significant letter from that marshal to King Joseph:
'Je peindrai difficilement la peine que j'éprouve. Ma position est affreuse. Je touche au moment de voir la dissolution du Ier Corps d'armée. Les soldats tombent d'inanition. Je n'ai rien, absolument rien à leur faire donner. Ils sont au désespoir. Je ne vois pas sans effroi les effets de cette détresse; ils seront funestes à notre gloire. Ils le seront à Votre Majesté. Je n'y vois aucun remède que celui que j'ai eu l'honneur de lui proposer par ma lettre d'hier. Encore en l'adoptant sera-t'-il trop tardif. Je suis forcé par cette circonstance de me replier sur Talavera la Reyna, où il n'y a pas plus de ressources qu'ici. Que devenir au milieu d'une telle calamité? Des secours prompts nous seront indispensables, mais où sont ils? Qui peut nous les fournir? Si Votre Majesté m'abandonne dans le cas malheureux où je me trouve, honneur, service, tout est perdu pour moi. Je ne serai pas la cause du désastre qui menace mes troupes, néanmoins j'en porterai la peine. Je serai demain à Talavera de la Reine, où j'attendrai les ordres de Votre Majesté.' (Vol. vi. p. 298.)
In this state of things we now know what England might have accomplished in 1809, had her real powers been employed in the Peninsula. General Napier maintains that 90,000 men might have been easily spared for this service; and had this force, well found and equipped, supported by a national insurrection, and with the impregnable base of the sea, been landed either at Lisbon or Cadiz, it is not improbable that it might have driven the French armies behind the Ebro, and thus anticipated the triumphs of Vittoria. Yet, although the time was singularly propitious, for the great bulk of Napoleon's force was held in check on the plains of Germany, no effort of the kind was even contemplated; and the strength of the empire was idly wasted in a series of isolated and disconnected operations which, in one instance, ended in disaster, and in none were productive of real advantages. Twelve thousand troops were employed in Italy, and withdrawn completely from the theatre of war, in an expedition evidently useless. A magnificent army perished at Walcheren in an enterprise both ill-timed and ill-managed. And, although in Portugal, and even in Spain, Sir Arthur Wellesley, with an insignificant force, under 30,000 British soldiers, contributed much to the honour of our arms, his efforts were baffled at the close of the campaign, and, after the battle
of Talavera, he was wellnigh crushed by superior numbers. Instead of achieving positive success, the only results of the campaign of 1809 were to leave us Portugal as a base of operations, to prove the excellent character of our soldiers, to make our great commander acquainted with the real state of affairs in the Peninsula, and to give him an opportunity of maturing those deep-laid plans of strategy and policy which at length crowned our standards with victory. These results in the long run were important, but fell far short of what might have been accomplished by the great strength and resources of the empire at a much earlier period.
It has been said that the Walcheren expedition, which withdrew our force from the Peninsula at this juncture, was well conceived though ill executed. This was not the opinion of the Duke at the time, as we gather from the following sentence:
'I find by a letter from Lord Castlereagh of the 4th that they did not expect to be able to do more than take the island of Walcheren, which I think they can't hold, and, at all events, they will not get the fleet.' (Vol. vi. p. 337.)
General Napier has shown with his usual clearness the peril which menaced the British army when, after the battle of Talavera, three French corps appeared on its flank, while Cuesta exposed its front to Victor. The Gurwood Despatches hardly disclose the extent of the danger, although it is plain that Sir Arthur Wellesley was well aware of it.
The day before yesterday General Cuesta abandoned Talavera, and arrived on the morning of the 4th at Oropesa, on the ground that Soult and Ney, joined, had come through Plasencia, that I was not strong enough for them, and, moreover, that he was threatened on his left flank and in his front. Soult was then at Navalmoral, and the bridge at Almaraz was taken up. In my opinion there remained for us but one line to adopt, General Cuesta's intelligence being correct, and that was to withdraw across the bridge of Arzobispoa, reestablish as soon as possible our communication with Seville and with Lisbon.' (Vol. vi. p. 325.)
The real use of the campaign of 1809 consisted in the experience which it gave the English general of the character of the contest. He had been made aware of the strength and the weakness of the French armies in the Peninsula; and this had led him to the conclusion that, however formidable they were in the field, they might, nevertheless, be kept out of Portugal, from whence as from an impregnable outwork, disastrous blows might be levelled at them. In this trying campaign he had also been disabused with respect to the character of the Spanish juntas and of the regular armies of Spain, while he fully appre
ciated the powerful aid which might be derived from the national insurrection.
'Their government is a miserable one, deficient in every quality which a government ought to possess in these days. Their military establishment is very defective, and they have neither general nor inferior officers of any talents, nor sufficient numbers of troops; and these last appear to me to be worse as soldiers than their general officers are as generals. The troops have neither arms, clothing, accoutrements, discipline, nor efficiency: there are no magazines, and no means of collecting from the country the supplies which all armies require. There is no plan of a campaign, either for carrying on the war, or for continuing the contest; and the efforts of the rulers appear to be directed, in the first instance, to keeping their own situations, and, in the second, to exciting and keeping up in the country a kind of false enthusiasm by which it is supposed that everything can be effected; and they endeavour to effect both these objects by the undertaking of little operations with little means by the circulation of false intelligence, by the exaggeration of little successes and the concealment of great disasters. In this consists the secret of the government. . . . At the same time they are cordial haters of the French, and I think, whatever may be the result of the military contest in the Peninsula, much time will elapse before the French can establish a government in Spain, and still more time before they will derive such advantage from their influence in that country as they did before they invaded it.' (Vol. vi. p. 388.)
A new direction in accordance with these views was given to the contest from this period; and Wellington - he received a peerage in consequence of the battle of Talavera-though often thwarted and ill supported, was allowed to mature the elements of success by keeping to his own course of action. The whole of Portugal was organised for defence; the militia of the ordenanzas were called out; the inhabitants were instructed so to waste the country as to cut off supplies from the invader; and the impregnable lines of Torres Vedras were made as a last refuge of the independence of the Peninsula.' The British armies were withdrawn from Spain, not to enter it for a considerable time; but every encouragement was given to the insurrections which smouldered or blazed in all parts of the country. By these means an impenetrable barrier was raised against the aggressions of the French; they were harassed by a consuming warfare; and the greatest possible advantage was taken of the weakest point of their military system, their inability to support their armies except by a method of organised rapine. Meanwhile, though ill understood at home, the diplomacy of England at Lisbon and Cadiz was admirably conducted by the British general with Sir Charles Stuart and Sir Henry Wellesley; and great as were the difficulties in their way, in consequence of