Reviewing the timeline of Soult’s invasion of Portugal to the capture of Oporto, there are a number of key events that would make interesting scenarios, yet how best to treat them is another question to ask. One option is to create a campaign starting with Soult’s crossing the frontier and ending with his entrance into Oporto on the 29th of March. This has a certain appeal but requires a considerable amount of time to design as well as the commitment of players to maintain game momentum. A better option is to select four or more conflicts highlighting the march to Oporto and play them as separate scenarios. This would avoid a long term commitment from players and allow the rotation of the role of attacker – defender.
From the timeline I gleaned the following as possible candidates and you will note some events take place after Soult’s entrance into Oporto.
March 4, La Romana’s rear guard action at la Trepa.
March 10-11, the Portuguese defence of Chaves.
March 20, the Battle of Braga.
March 27, the capture of Vigo by the British and Spanish.March 29, the Battle of Oporto.
March/April, the uprising in Galicia.
April, the combat at Amarante and the defence of the Tamega River by the Portuguese.
To gain a better understanding of the situation confronting Soult one must also look at the geographical region the invasion had to negotiate through. This is well covered in volume III of Oman’s classic work detailing the military geography of Northern Portugal, but I will highlight a few key items.
One, maps available to Soult in January of 1809 most likely held the bare minimum of information i.e., the great Spanish rivers (Douro, Tagus and Guadiana) and smaller rivers emptying into the Atlantic. The major rivers divide Portugal into four significant regions.
Two, of these four, the northern most, Entre Douro et Minho, is described as mountainous with few roads serviceable for heavy transport.
Three, to reach Oporto on the date set by the Emperor, Soult would campaign in the middle of the winter season and if the Portuguese did not contest his advance, the weather surely would.
Four, the ability to ‘live off the land’ would be severely disadvantaged as the region offers scarce resources forcing the French to transport its supply.
One could conclude Soult was dealt a ‘bad hand’ but the Emperor was aware of the urgency for Soult with support from Victor to seize Lisbon from the British. After the consolidation of Soult’s corps and Ney’s forces securing Galicia, Soult began his march south. Victor was not to move into Portugal until Soult was ready for the final phase, the march on Lisbon.
In the weeks ahead I will post a number of scenarios so club members can become acquainted with the history surrounding the battles. These are rough drafts but supply enough information to play test each. In between the research and writing, the painting of figures will continue as I have two orders of miniatures that will be arriving soon.
Marshal Soult’s Invasion of Portugal, 1809History of the Peninsular War, C. Oman, vol. II