Also known as “The Crossing of the Douro”, this battle was one of the utmost most daring. In January 1809, Soult, invaded Portugal from the north after forcing the British to retreat to Corunna and Wellesley marched quickly on Oporto with an Anglo-Portuguese force of 24,000.
We see the site where Soult blew up the bridge of boats on the 11th May, having destroyed every boat on the south bank. He deployed his troops to the west of Oporto, convinced that Wellesley could only land from the sea. However, from his vantage point at the convent of the Serra do Pilar, on the south bank of the river Douro, Wellesley selected the Bishop’s Seminary to the east of the city on the north bank as a strong point from which to launch a surprise attack, having been informed of the existence of four wine barges that had been hidden from the French. We stand close to the site of the legendary crossing, where Hill’s brigade was ferried across to the Seminary, 30 to a barge, in broad daylight, undetected by the French for at least an hour.
We also visit the Seminary, the scene of fierce fighting and end the tour by visiting Soult’s headquarters, where Wellesley famously sat down to eat the dinner that had been prepared for Soult!
The French retreat north was a bloody affair, with reprisals on both sides but, despite two engagements, they narrowly escaped to the relative safety of Galicia. Portugal had been cleared of the French for the second time.
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