quarta-feira, 12 de junho de 2013

The Side Door

In its Memórias Arqueológico-Históricas do Districto de Bragança, the Abbot of Baçal (Francisco Manuel Alves, 1865-1947) references a curious occurrence with which he illustrates the passage of the Anglo-Portuguese allied army trough the lands of Miranda do Douro: an inscription, in cursive characters, on the side door of the Mother Church of Malhadas:

Gen. Lecor
Maio 24, 1813

Mother Church Malhadas (photo taken
from http://miranda_do_douro.voila.net/malhadas.htm)
The same notable historian says that it was general Lecor himself who wrote it.

This detail from History, seen through a magnifying glass, is about the then Marechal de Campo (Major General) Carlos Frederico Lecor (1764-1836), commander of the Portuguese Brigade of the 7th Division, made up of the Infantry Regiments n.º  7 and 19 (respectively, from Setúbal and Cascais) and the Caçadores Battalion n.º 2 (from Moura). The brigade, which in July of that year will be numbered as the 6th, 2,102 strong (according to data of the previous month, had just arrived at Malhadas, located about 10 kilometers from Miranda do Douro, where all the 7th Division, commanded by Lord Dalhousie, had been sent.

Moving away the magnifying glass, letting us see the bigger picture, this brigade had set off from Moimenta da Beira, in May 14, together with the 3rd Division, after having there their winter quarters following the end of the 1812 campaign. The orders, transmitted the day before by the Marquis of Wellington, or “Douro”, as he was known among our soldiers, gave orders to all the army to group in two large troop agglomerates; one, under the command of Sir Rowland Hill, around Ciudad Rodrigo, making for the right wing, and another, larger, to the care of general Sir Thomas Graham, in the Portuguese Northeast frontier, in the district of Bragança, with the ambitious goal to fulfill Wellington’s plan for 1813.

The concentration in the northeastern border was done in three distinct points:
- Bragança, to the North (with the Spanish Galician Division to the left), made up of the Anson’s and Ponsoby’s heavy cavalry brigades, coming from Braga and Guimarães, which they left the 13rd and the 17th of May, the 1st Infantry Division (exclusively British), from Viseu and Mangualde on the 23th, and the Pack’s independent Portuguese brigade (future 1st Infantry Brigade), from Penafiel also on the 13th. These units arrived between the 22nd and the 23rd of May;
- Vimioso & Outeiro, to the center, made up of D’Urban’s Portuguese light cavalry brigade and Bock’s German heavy cavalry brigade, from Santo Tirso on the 14th May, the 3rd and 5th Infantry Divisions [1], from Moimenta da Beira (on the 16th) and Lamego (14th), through São João da Pesqueira, where they crossed the Douro; and, finally, Bradford’s Portuguese independent brigade (future 10th). According to the Supplementary Dispatches, their date of arrival to Vimioso and Outeiro occured between the 21st and the 24th of May;
- Miranda do Douro e Malhadas, to the South, formed by Grant’s Hussards brigade, the 4th, 6th and 7th Infantry Divisions [2] coming from the areas of São João da Pesqueira [3], Seia and Moimenta da Beira. The last two divisions departed their winter quarters on the 14th of May and arrived to their sdestinies on the 23rd and 24th, crossing the Douro in the barge of Pocinho. The Hussards Brigade, as referred in the Orders, arrived at Miranda either on the 26th or the 27th, with no indication of origin.

Most of the artillery allocated to the left wing of the army, not belonging to any division, like the 18 pdr. Portuguese Brigade or the Reserve Brigade, or the Pontoon train for the crossing of large rivers, moved to Miranda do Douro.

Having arrived to these points, all this left wing of the army, made up from the vast majority of all the resources of the allied forces, was ready to, in three columns, each departing from the areas described before, penetrate in Spanish territory and fulfill Wellington’s Plan. On the 26th of May, all these troops began their march, with their respective cavalry in the vanguard.

Coming back to our beginning, I am nor sure of the intentions of one of its brigade commanders, when he wrote his name and the date, or had it written, on the side door of the  Mother Church of Malhadas, a simple temple, of gothic design, dedicated to Our Lady of the Expectation, in that day of the 24 May. This door is hidden by a porch and gives direct access to the only nave of the church; a simple identification would not have been the objective; it was highly unlikely that he would place there the brigade headquarters. I can only imagine that it was a promise, ‘encomenda da alma’, the request to Our Lady for intercession. If that is the case, it seems only fitting that it was made to the facet f the Marian cult that celebrates the future, what will come, the expectation.

[1] Each one of these divisions had a Portuguese Infantry brigade: In the 3rd Division, Power’s Brigade (future 8th Brigade: Regimentos de Infantaria n.º 9 e 21 & Batalhão de Caçadores n.º 12), and in the 5th, Spry’s Brigade (future 3rd: Infantaria 3 e 15 e Caçadores 8).

[2] Each one of these divisions had a Portuguese Infantry brigade: in the 4th, Stubb’s Brigade (futura 9th: Infantaria 11 e 23 e Caçadores 7); in the 6th Madden’s Brigade (future 7th: Infantaria 8 e 12 e Caçadores 9), and in the 7th, Lecor’s Brigade (future 6th: Infantaria 7 e 19 e Caçadores 2)..

[3] The several sources I've consulted cannot permit to locate the exact place where the 4th Division quartered for the Winter, but Oman places it close to the river Douro, somewhere around Moimenta da beira and São João da Pesqueira. Anyway, and still according to Sir Charles Oman, the headquarters of this devision was located in São João da Pesqueira, by early December of the previous year.


- Supplementary despatches and memoranda of Field Marshal Arthur, duke of Wellington, K. G (Volume 14), John Murray: Londres, 1872;

- Abade do Baçal, Memorias archeologico-historicas do districto de Bragança : ou repositorio amplo de noticias chorographicas (vol. 4), Coimbra : Imprensa da Universidade, 1911-1918;

- René Chartrand, The Portuguese Army of the Napoleonic Wars (v. 3) (Col. Men-at-Arms, n.ºs 343), Oxford, Osprey Pub., 2000;

- Sir Charles Oman, A History of the Peninsular War (Volume VI), Green Hill Books: Londres, 1996 (1922).

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