The Spanish Campaign of Napoleon
In less than five weeks from the time when Napoleon first placed his foot upon the soil of Spain he was master of more than half the kingdom. Sir John Moore, with an army of about 30,000 Englishmen, was marching rapidly from Portugal, to form a junction with another English army of about 10,000 men under Sir David Baird, who were advancing from Corunna. It was supposed in England that the co-operation of these highly-disciplined troops with the masses of the Spaniards who had already fought so valiantly, would speedily secure the overthrow of the French.
But when Sir John Moore and Sir David Baird learned that Napoleon himself was in Spain, that he had scattered the Spanish armies before him as the tornado drives the withered leaves of the forest, that he was already in possession of Madrid, and would soon be ready to direct all his energies against them, they were both greatly alarmed, and, turning about, fled precipitately back to their ships. A deputation of about twelve hundred of the notables of Spain called upon Napoleon, to confer with him respecting the affairs of the kingdom. He informed them very fully of the benefits he wished to confer upon Spain by rescuing the people from the dominion of the old feudal lords, and bringing them into harmony with the more enlightened views of modern times. He closed his remarks to them by saying,
"The present generation will differ in opinion respecting me. Too many passions have been called into exercise. But your posterity will be grateful to me as their regenerator. They will place in the number of memorable days those in which I have appeared among you. From those days will be dated the prosperity of Spain. These are my sentiments. Go consult your fellow-citizens. Choose your part, but do it frankly, and exhibit only true colors."
General Moore was treating toward Corunna. An English fleet had repaired to that port to receive the troops on board. On the 22nd of December Napoleon left Madrid, with 40,000 men, to pursue the flying foe. The Spaniards, instead of rallying to the support of the English, whom they never loved, dispersed in all directions, leaving them to their fate. "The Spanish insurgents," says Napier," were conscious that they were fighting the battles of England. To restore Spain to Ferdinand, England expended one hundred millions sterling ($500,000,000) on her own operations. She subsidized Spain and Portugal besides, and with her supply of clothing, arms, and ammunition, maintained the armies of both, even to the guerrillas."'
By forced marches the Imperial troops rushed along, threading the defiles of the mountains of Gaudarrama in mid-winter, through drifts and storms of snow. Napoleon climbed the mountains on foot, sharing all the toil and peril of his troops. Such a leader any army would follow with enthusiasm. In one of the wildest passes of the mountains he passed a night in a miserable hut. Savary, who was with him, writes:
"The single mule which carried his baggage was brought to this wretched house. He was provided with a good fire, a tolerable supper, and a bed. On those occasions the Emperor was not selfish. He was quite unmindful of the next day's wants when he alone was concerned. He shared his supper and his fire with all who had been able to keep up with him, and even compelled those to eat whose reserve kept them back."
General Moore was straining every nerve to escape. The weather was frightful, and the miry roads almost impassable. The advance-guard of Napoleon was soon within a day's march of the foe. General Moore, as he fled, blew up the bridges behind him, and recklessly plundered the wretched inhabitants. His troops became exceedingly exasperated against the Spaniards for their cowardly desertion, and reproached them with ingratitude.
"We ungrateful!" the Spaniards replied; you came here to serve your own interests, and now you are running away without defending us."
So bitter was hostility which thus arose between the English and the Spaniards, and the brutality of the drunken English soldiers was so insupportable, that the Spaniards often welcomed the French troops, who were under far better discipline, as their deliverers. Sir Archibald Alison, in his account of these scenes, says:
"The native and uneradicable vice of northern climates, drunkenness, here appeared in frightful colors. The great wine-vaults of Bembibre proved more fatal than the sword of the enemy. And when the gallant rear-guard, which preserved its ranks unbroken, closed up the array, they had to force their way through a motley crowd of English and Spanish soldiers, stragglers and marauders, who reeled out of the houses in disgusting crowds, or lay stretched upon the roadside, an easy prey to the enemy's cavalry, which thundered in close pursuit.
"The condition of the army became daily more deplorable; the frost had been succeeded by the thaw; rain and sleet fell in torrents; the roads were almost broken up; the horses foundered at every step; the few artillery-wagons which had kept up fell, one by one, to the rear; and being immediately blown up to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy, gave melancholy tokens, by the sound of their explosions, of the work of destruction which was going on."
On the 2nd of January Napoleon's advance-guard had reached Astorga. Notwithstanding the condition of the roads, and all the efforts of the retreating foe, an army of forty thousand men had marched two hundred miles in ten days. It was a cold and stormy winter morning when Napoleon left Astorga, in continuance of the pursuit. He had proceeded but a few miles on horseback, when he was overtaken by a courier from France, bearing important dispatches. The Emperor alighted by the roadside, and, standing by a fire which his attendants kindled, read the documents. His officers gathered anxiously around him, watching the expression of his countenance as he read.
The dispatches informed Napoleon that Austria had entered into a new alliance with England to attack him on the north, and that the probability was, that Turkey, exasperated by Napoleon's alliance with Russia, would also be drawn into the coalition. It was also stated that, though Alexander personally was strong in his friendship for Napoleon, the Russian nobles, hostile to the principle of equal rights, inscribed upon the French banners, were raising an opposition of such daily increasing strength, that it was feared the Czar also might be compelled to join in the new crusade against France.
To conduct the war in Spain, Napoleon had withdrawn one hundred thousand of his best troops from the Rhine. His frontiers were thus greatly exposed. For a moment it was said that Napoleon was staggered by the blow. The vision of another European war, France struggling single-banded against all the combined powers of the Continent, appalled him. Slowly, sadly he rode back to Astorga, deeply pondering the awful question. There was clearly but one of two courses before him. He must either ignobly abandon the conflict in favor of equality of rights, and allow the chains of the old feudal despotism to be again riveted upon France, and all the new governments in sympathy with France, or be must struggle manfully to the end. All around him were impressed with the utter absorption of his mind in these thoughts. As he rode back with his retinue, not a word was spoken. Napoleon seldom asked advice.
Soon his decision was formed, and all dejection and hesitation disappeared. It was necessary for him immediately to direct all his energies toward the Rhine. He consequently relinquished the personal pursuit of the English; and commissioning Marshal Soult to press them with all vigor, he prepared to return to France. Rapidly retracing his steps to Valladolid, he spent five days in giving the most minute directions for the movements of the army, and for the administration of affairs in Spain. In those few days he performed an amount of labor which seems incredible. He had armies in France, Spain, Italy, and Germany, and he guided all their movements, even to the minute details.
On the first day of the year Joseph had written to Napoleon, and, in the expression of those kindly sympathies' which the advent of a new year awakens, had said, "I pray your Majesty to accept my wishes that, in the course of this year, Europe, pacified by your efforts, may render justice to your intentions."
Napoleon replied, "I thank you for what you say relative to the new year. I do not hope that Europe can this year be pacified. So little do I hope it, that I have just issued a decree for levying one hundred thousand men. The rancor of England, the events of Constantinople, every thing, in short, indicates that the hour of rest and quiet is not arrived."
The Emperor, having finished his dispatches at Valladolid, mounted his horse, and set out for Paris. Mr. J. T. Headley thus describes this marvellous ride:
"In the first five hours he rode the astonshing distance of eighty-five miles, or seventeen miles the hour. This wild gallop was long remembered by the inhabitants of the towns through which the smoking cavalcade of the Emperor passed. Relays of horses had been provided on the road; and no sooner did be arrive at one post, than he flung himself on a fresh horse, and, sinking his spurs in his flanks, dashed away in headlong speed. Few who saw that short figure, surmounted with a plain chapeau, sweep by on that day, ever forgot it. His pale face was calm as marble, but his lips were compressed, and his brow knit like iron; while his flashing eye, as he leaned forward, still jerking impatiently at the bridle as if to accelerate his speed, seemed to devour the distance. No one spoke, but the whole suite strained forward in the breathless race. The gallant chasseurs had never had so long and so wild a ride before."
Napoleon had acted a very noble part toward his brother. The masses of the Spanish people were very ignorant and fanatical. The priests, wielding over them supernatural terrors, controlled them at will. There were certain reforms which were essential to the re-generation of Spain. But these reforms would exasperate the priests, and, through them, the people. Napoleon, anxious to save his brother from the odium of these necessary measures, took the responsibility of them upon himself. He issued a series of decrees when he entered Madrid as a conqueror, and by virtue of the acknowledged rights of conquest, in which, after proclaiming pardon for all political offenses, he introduced the following reforms.
The execrable institution of the Inquisition was abolished. The number of convents, which had been thronged with indolent monks, was reduced one-half. One-half of the property of these abolished convents was appropriated to the payment of the salary of the laboring clergy. The other halt was set apart to the payment of the public debt. The custom-houses between the several provinces of the kingdom, which had been a great source of national embarrassment, were removed, and imposts were collected only on the frontiers. All feudal privileges were annulled.
These measures, of course, exasperated the priests and the nobles. Unfortunately the people were too ignorant to appreciate their full value. As Joseph returned to Madrid, under the protection of the arms of his imperial brother, though the bells rang merrily, and pealing cannon uttered their voices of welcome, and though the most respectable portion of the middle class received him with satisfaction, there was no enthusiasm among the populace, and the clergy and the nobility received him with suspicion and dislike. The Emperor, upon his departure, had confided to Joseph the command of the army in Spain. But the great generals of Napoleon, ever ready to bow to the will of the Emperor, whose superiority they all recognized, yielded a reluctant obedience to Joseph, whom they did not consider their superior in the art of war.
Sir John Moore continued his precipitate flight, vigorously pursued by Marshal Soult. "There was never," says Napier, "so complete an example of a disastrous retreat. Abandoning their wagons, blowing up their ammunition, and strewing their path with the debris of an utterly routed army, they finally, with torn, bleeding, and greatly-diminished columns, escaped to their ships."
The new coalition in Germany against Napoleon rendering it necessary for him to withdraw a large part of his troops from Spain, greatly encouraged the foes of the new regime. The British Government, animated by its success in inducing Austria again to co-operate in an attack upon France, and sanguine in the hope of drawing Russia and Turkey into the coalition, which would surely bring the armies of Prussia into the same line of battle, redoubled its efforts in Spain and Portugal. Emissaries were sent everywhere to rouse the populace. Gold was lavished, and arms and ammunition were transmitted by the British fleet to important points.
A central junta was assembled at Seville. It issued a proclamation, calling upon the people everywhere to rise in guerrilla bands. The whole male population was summoned to the field. Death was the penalty denounced upon all those who, by word or deed, favored the French. Twenty thousand troops in Portugal were taken under British pay, and placed under British officers, so that, while nominally it was a Portuguese army, it was in reality but a British force of mercenaries. Numerous transports conveyed a large body of troops from England under Sir Arthur Wellesley, which was landed in Lisbon.
Where the French army had control, there seemed to be a disposition, especially among the most intelligent and opulent portion of the people, to accept the new regime of Joseph. The bitterest foe of Joseph will not deny that the reforms which he was endeavoring to introduce were admirable, and absolutely essential to the regeneration of Spain. The British Government wished to restore the old regime under Ferdinand; for that Government was in sympathy with the British rule of aristocratic privilege. The French Government wished to maintain the new regime under Joseph, because that Government would bring Spain into sympathy with France, in her defensive struggle against the combined despotisms of Europe. Popular opinion in Spain seemed now to be upon one side, and again upon the other, according to the presence of the different armies.
"At Madrid," says Alison, "Joseph reigned with the apparent consent of the nation. Registers having been open for the inscription Of those who were favorable to his government, no less than twenty-eight thousand heads of families in a few days enrolled themselves And deputations from the Municipal Council, the Council of the Indies, and all the incorporations, waited upon him at Valladolid, to entreat that he would return to the capital and reassume the royal functions, to which he at length complied."
At Saragossa, on the other hand, Joseph was opposed with persistence and bravery, which has rendered the siege of Saragossa one of the most memorable events in the annals of war. A very determined leader, Parafox, with about thirty thousand men, threw himself into that city. A proclamation was issued, declaring that no mercy would be shown to those who manifested any sympathy for the reign of Joseph. Suspicion was sufficient to doom one to mob violence and a cruel death.
"Terror," says Alison, "was summoned to the aid of loyalty. And the fearful engines of popular power, the scaffold and the gallows, were erected on the public square, where some unhappy wretches, suspected of a leaning to the enemy, were indignantly executed.
"The passions of the people were roused to the very highest pitch by the dread of treason, or any accommodation with the enemy. And popular vehemence, overwhelming all restraints of law or order, sacrificed almost every night persons to the blind suspicions of the multitude, who were found hanging in the morning on the gallows erected in the Corso and market-place."
The priests summoned the peasants from all the region around, so that soon there were fifty thousand armed men within the walls, inspired by .as determined a spirit of resistance as ever possessed the human heart. The siege was commenced about the middle of December with thirty-five thousand men, according to the statement of Napier. It is generally understood in warfare that one man, acting upon the defensive within a fortress, is equal to at least five men making the assault from the outside. But in the memorable siege of Saragossa, the besieged had a third more men than the besiegers. Alison thinks Napier incorrect, and makes the besieging force forty-three thousand. This gives the besieged a superiority of seven thousand men. It surely speaks volumes for the courage and skill of the French army, that under such circumstances the siege could have been conducted to a successful issue, especially when the determination and bravery of the people of Saragossa are represented as almost without a parallel.
The scenes of woe which ensued within the walls of Saragossa no pen can describe, no imagination can conceive. In addition to the garrison of fifty thousand men, the city was crowded with women and children, the aged and the infirm. For fifty days the storm of war raged, with scarcely a moment's intermission. Thirty-three thousand cannon shots and sixteen thousand bombs were thrown into the thronged streets. Fifty-four thousand human beings perished in the city during these fifty days—more than a thousand a day. Many perished of famine and of pestilence. When the French marched into the town, there were six thousand dead still unburied. There were sixteen thousand helplessly sick, and many of them dying. Only twelve thousand of the garrison remained, pale, emaciate, skeleton men, who, as captives of war, were conveyed to France. When we reflect that all this heroism and bravery were displayed, and all these unspeakable woes endured, to reintroduce the reign of as despicable a monarch as ever sat upon a throne, and to rivet the chains of despotism upon an ignorant, debased, and enslaved people, one can not but mourn over the sad lot of humanity.
The rank and file of armies is never composed of men of affectionate, humane, and angelic natures. It is the tiger in the man which makes the reckless soldier. Familiarity with crime, outrage, misery, renders the soul callous. There is no rigor of army discipline which can prevent atrocities that should cause even fiends to blush. The story of the sweep of armies never can be truly told.
As all the physical strength of the region for leagues around Saragossa had been gathered in that city, its fall secured the submission of the surrounding country. Lannes was called to join the grand army in Germany. Junot, who was left in command of the troops at Saragossa, prepared for an expedition against Valencia. City after city passed, with scarcely any resistance, into the hands of the French. The campaign in Germany rendered it necessary for Napoleon to withdraw all his best troops, leaving Joseph to maintain his position in Spain, with a motley group of Italians, Swiss, and Germans, who were by no means inspired either with the political intelligence or the martial enthusiasm of the French.
The Spanish peasants, depressed by failure, and inspired, not by intelligent conviction, but by momentary religious fanaticism, threw down their arms and returned to their homes. There was but little integrity or sense of honor to be found in Spain, long demoralized by a wretched government; and the immense supplies which England furnished were embezzled or misapplied. The Spaniards are not cowards. The feeble resistance they often made proved that they took but little interest in the issues of the war. Ferdinand had done nothing to win their regard. But he was a Spanish prince, in the regular line of descent from their ancient kings. Joseph Bonaparte was a stranger, a foreigner, about to be imposed upon them by the aid of foreign arms. It was easy, under these circumstances, to rouse a transient impulse for Ferdinand, but not an abiding devotion.
General Duhesme was in Barcelona with a few thousand troops, cut off from communication with his friends by the English fleet, and a large army of Spanish peasants which was collected to secure his capture. General St. Cyr, with about sixteen thousand infantry and cavalry, marched to his relief. In a narrow defile, amidst rocks and forests, he encountered a Spanish force forty thousand strong, drawn up in a most favorable position to arrest his progress. St. Cyr formed his troops in one solid mass, and charging headlong, without firing a shot, in half an hour dispersed the foe, killing five hundred, wounding two thousand, and capturing all their artillery and ammunition. The next day St. Cyr entered Barcelona The Spaniards were so utterly dispersed that not ten thousand men could be re-assembled two days after the battle.
But the English fleet was upon the coast, with encouragement and abundant supplies. After a little while, another Spanish army, twenty thousand strong, was rendezvoused at Molinas del Rey. St. Cyr again fell upon these troops. They fled so precipitately that but few were hurt. Their supplies, which the British had furnished them, were left upon the field. St. Cyr gathered up fifty pieces of cannon, three million cartridges, sixty thousand pounds of powder, and a magazine containing thirty thousand stand of English arms. Lord Collingwood, who commanded the British fleet, declared that all the elements of resistance in the province were dissolved. These events took place just before the fall of Saragossa.
In the middle of February of this year, 1809, St. Cyr had twenty-three thousand men concentrated at Villa Franca. Forty thousand Spaniards were collected to attack him. Almost contemptuously, he took eleven thousand of his troops, surprised the Spaniards, and scattered them in the wildest flight. He pursued the fugitives, and wherever they made a stand dispersed them with but little effort or loss upon his own side. There was no longer any regular resistance in Catalonia, though guerrilla bands still prowled about the country.
Thus the wretched, desolating warfare raged, month after month. Nothing of importance toward securing the abiding triumph of either party was gained. Whenever the French army withdrew from any section of country, British officers entered, to re-organize, with the aid of the Spanish priests, the peasants to renewed opposition, and British gold was lavished in paying the soldiers. Junot was taken sick, and Suchet, whom Napoleon characterized at Saint Helena as the first of his generals, was placed in command. We have not space to describe the numerous battles which were fought, and the patience of our readers would be exhausted by the dreary narration. The siege of Gerona by St. Cyr occupied seven months.
Joseph was still in Madrid. As we have said, the more intelligent and opulent classes rallied around him. Sir Archibald Alison, ever the advocate of aristocratic privilege, while admitting the fact of Joseph's apparent popularity in Madrid, in the following strain of remark endeavors to explain that fact:
"Addresses had been forwarded to Joseph Bonaparte at Valladolid from all the incorporations and influential bodies at Madrid, inviting him to return to the capital and resume the reins of government. Registers had been opened in different parts of the city for those citizens to inscribe their names who were favorable to his cause. In a few days thirty thousand signatures, chiefly of the more opulent classes, had been inscribed on the lists. In obedience to these flattering invitations, the intrusive King had entered the capital with great pomp, amidst the discharge of a hundred pieces of cannon, and numerous, if not heartfelt, demonstrations of public satisfaction; a memorable example of the effect of the acquisition of wealth, and the enjoyments of luxury, in enervating the minds of their possessors, and of the difference between the patriotic energy of those classes who, having little to lose, yield to ardent sentiments without reflection, and those in whom the suggestions of interest and the habits of indulgence have stifled the generous emotions of nature."
The great defect in Joseph's character as an executive officer, under the circumstances in which he was placed, was his apparent inability fully to comprehend the grandeur of Napoleon's conceptions. Instead of looking upon Spain as an essential part of the majestic whole, and which, by its money and its armies, must aid in sustaining the new principle of equal rights for all, he forgot the general cause, and sought only to promote the interests of his own kingdom. Napoleon, having secured the reign of the new regime of equality in France, in antagonism to the old regime of privilege, immediately found all Europe banded against him. France could not stand alone against such antagonism. Hence it became essential that alliances should be formed for mutual protection. The genius of Napoleon was of necessity the controlling element in these alliances.
In that view, he had enlarged and strengthened the boundaries of France. He had created the kingdoms of Italy and Naples. He had, impelled by the instinct of self-preservation, bought out the treacherous Bourbons of Spain, and was endeavoring to lift up the Spaniards from ages of depressing despotism, that Spain, under an enlightened ruler, rejoicing in the intelligence and prosperity which existed under all the new governments, might contribute its support to the system of equal rights throughout Europe.
England, Russia, Prussia, Austria, and the aristocratic party throughout all Europe, were in deadly hostility to the principle of abolishing privileged classes, and instituting equal rights for all. They were ever ready to squander blood and treasure, to violate treaties, to form open or secret coalitions, in resisting these new ideas. Regarding Napoleon as the great champion of popular rights, and conscious that there was no one of his marshals who, upon Napoleon's downfall, could take his place, all their energies were directed against him personally.
Thus we have the singular spectacle, never before witnessed in the history of the world, never again to be witnessed, of the combined monarchs of more than a hundred millions of men waging warfare against one single man. And therefore Napoleon called upon all the regenerated nations in sympathy with his views to rally around him. He regarded them as wings of the great army of which France was the centre. In combating the coalition, he was fighting battles for them all. They stood or fell together. In the terrific struggle which deluged all Europe in blood, Napoleon was the commander-in-chief of the whole army of reform. He was such by the power of circumstances. He was such by innate ability. He was such by universal recognition.
When therefore Napoleon regarded the sovereigns appointed over the nations whom his genius had rescued from despotism but as the generals of his armies, who were to co-operate at his bidding in defense of the general system of dynastic oppression, it was not arrogance, it was wisdom and necessity that inspired his conduct. Louis in Holland, Jerome in Westphalia, Eugene in Italy, Murat in Naples, Joseph in Spain, all were bound, under the leadership of Napoleon, to contribute their portion to the general defense.
Very strangely, Joseph seemed never to be able fully to comprehend this idea. He was a man of great intelligence, of high culture, and a more kindly, generous heart never throbbed in a human bosom; and yet, notwithstanding all Napoleon's arguments, it seemed impossible for him to comprehend why he should not be as independent as the King of Spain, as Napoleon was in the sovereignty of France. Fully recognizing the immeasurable superiority of his brother to any other man, and loving him with a devotion which has seldom if ever been exceeded, he was still disposed to regard himself as placed in Spain only to promote the happiness of the Spanish people, without regard to the interests of the general cause. Instead of being ready to contribute of men and money from Spain to maintain the conflict against coalesced Europe, he was continually writing to his brother to send him money to carry on his own Government, and to excuse him from making any exactions from the people. He was exceedingly reluctant to deal with severity, or to quell the outrages of brigands with the necessary punishment. His letters to the Emperor are often filled with complaints. He deplores the sad destiny which has made him a king. He longs to return, with his wife and children, to the quiet retreat of Mortfontaine.
Napoleon dealt tenderly with his brother. He fully understood his virtues; he fully comprehended his defects. Occasionally an expression of impatience escaped his pen, though frequently he made no allusion, in his reply, to Joseph's repinings.
The Duke of Wellington is reported to have said that "a man of refined Christian sensibilities has no right to enter into the profession of a soldier." A successful warrior must often perform deeds at which humanity shudders. Joseph was, by the confession of all, one of the most calm and brave of men upon the field of battle. Still, he was too modest a man, and had too little confidence in himself to perform those hazardous and heroic deeds of arms which war often requires. Napoleon, conscious that his brother was not by nature a warrior, and also wishing to save him from the unpopularity of military acts in crushing sedition, left him as much as possible to the administration of civil affairs in Madrid. His statesmanship and amiability of character could here have full scope.
To his war-scarred veterans, Junot, Soult, Jourdan, Suchet, the Emperor mainly intrusted the military expeditions. Still, to save Joseph from a sense of humiliation, the Emperor acted as far as possible through his brother, in giving commands to the army. But the marshals, obedient as children to the commands of Napoleon, whose superior genius not one of them ever thought of calling in question, often manifested reluctance in executing operations directed by Joseph. At times they could not conceal from him that they considered their knowledge of the art of war superior to his. Joseph was king of Spain, and was often humiliated by the impression forced upon him that he was something like a tool in the hands of others.
During the year 1809 Joseph remained most of the time in Madrid. There were innumerable conflicts during the year, from petty skirmishes to pretty severe battles, none of which are worthy of record in this brief sketch.
The latter part of April the Duke of Wellington landed in Portugal, with English re-enforcements of thirty thousand men. With these, aided by such forces as he could raise in Portugal and rally around him in Spain, he was to advance against the French. Napoleon had been compelled to withdraw all of the Imperial Guard, and all of his choicest troops, to meet the war on the plains of Germany. Marshal Soult was on the march for Oporto. With about twenty thousand troops he laid siege to the city. The feebleness of the defense of the Portuguese may be inferred from the fact that the city was protected by two hundred pieces of cannon, and by a force of regular troops and armed peasants amounting to about seventy thousand men. Soult, having made all his preparations for the assault, and confident that the city could not resist his attack, wrote a very earnest letter to the magistrates, urging that by capitulation they should save the city from the horrors of being carried by storm. No reply was returned to the summons except a continued fire.
The attack was made. The Portuguese peasants had tortured, mangled, killed all the French prisoners that had fallen into their hands. Both parties were in a state of extreme exasperation. The battle was short. When the French troops burst through the barriers, a general panic seized the Portuguese troops, and they rushed in wild confusion through the streets toward the Douro. The French cavalry pursued the terrified fugitives, and, with keen sabres, hewed them down till their arms were weary with the slaughter.
A bridge crossed the river. Crowded with the frenzied multitude, it sank under their weight, and the stream was black with the bodies of drowning men. Those in the rear, by thousands, pressed those before them into the yawning gulf. Boats pushed out from the banks to rescue them, but the light artillery of the French was already upon the water's edge, discharging volleys of grape upon the helpless, compact mass. Before the city surrendered, four thousand of these unhappy victims of war, torn with shot, and suffocated by the waves, were swept down the stream. Though the marshal exerted himself to the utmost to preserve discipline, no mortal man could restrain the passions of an army in such an hour. The wretched city experienced all the horrors of a town taken by storm. The number of the slain, according to the report of Marshal Soult, was more than eighteen thou-sand, not including those who were engulfed in the Douro. Multitudes of the wounded fled to the woods, where they perished miserably of exposure and starvation. But two hundred and fifty prisoners were taken. The French took two hundred thousand pounds of powder, a vast amount of stores, and tents for the accommodation of fifty thousand men. They captured also in the port thirty English vessels loaded with wine. The loss of the French in capturing Oporto, according to the report of the general-in-chief, was but eighty killed, and three hundred and fifty wounded.
It is heart-sickening to proceed with the recital of these horrors. Similar scenes took place in Tarancon, where General Victor destroyed the remains of the regular Spanish army with terrible slaughter. A band of about twelve thousand men were cut to pieces by General Sebastiani. Again the Spaniards met with a fearful repulse upon the plains of Estremadura. The Spanish general, Cuesta, with twenty thousand infantry and four thousand horse, was attacked by General Victor with fifteen thousand foot and three thousand horse. As usual, the French cut to pieces their despised foes, capturing all their artillery, inflicting upon them a loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners, of ten thousand men, while the French lost but about one thousand.
While these scenes were transpiring, Joseph, at Madrid, not only occupied himself with the general direction of the war, so far as the instructions which he perpetually received from Paris enabled him to do, but labored incessantly, as he had done in Naples, in promoting all needful reforms, and in forming and executing plans for the happiness of his subjects. He caused a constitution, which had been formed at Bayonne, to be published and widely circulated, that the Spaniards might be convinced that it was his desire to reign over them as a father rather than as a sovereign.
Napoleon, speaking of his brother Joseph to Dr. O'Meara at Saint Helena, said:
"Joseph is a very excellent man. His virtues and his talents are appropriate to private life. Nature destined him for that. He is too amiable to be a great man. He has no ambition. He resembles me in person, but he is much better than I. He is extremely well educated."
"I have always observed," O'Meara remarks, "that he spoke of his brother Joseph with the most ardent affection."
The fickleness of the multitude was very conspicuous during all these stormy scenes. Joseph made a short visit to the southern provinces. Everywhere he was received with the greatest enthusiasm, the people crowding around him, and greeting him with shouts of "Vive le Roi." Deputations from the cities and villages hastened to meet him with protestations of homage and fidelity. Joseph responded, in those convincing accents which the honesty of his heart inspired, that he wished to forget all the past, to maintain the salutary institutions of religion, and to confer upon Spain that constitutional liberty which would secure its prosperity. Joseph and the friends who accompanied him were so much impressed with the apparent cordiality of their greeting that they were sanguine in the hope that the nation would rally around the new dynasty. On the 4th of March the King entered Malaga. The enthusiasm of his reception could scarcely have been exceeded. The streets through which he passed were strewn with flowers, and the windows filled with the smiling faces of ladies. He remained there for eight days, receiving every token of regard which affection and confidence could confer.
But in other parts of the country where Joseph was not present it seemed as if the whole population, without a dissenting voice, was rising against him. His embarrassments became extreme. He not only had no wish to impose himself upon a reluctant people, but no earthly consideration could induce him to do so. It was his sincere and earnest desire to lift up Spain from its degradation, and make it great and prosperous. The emissaries of Great Britain were everywhere busy recruiting the Spanish armies, lavishing gold in payment, supplying the troops abundantly with clothing and all the munitions of war, and giving them English officers. Guerrilla bands were organized, with the privilege of plundering and destroying all who were in favor of the new regime. The friends of the new regime dared not openly avow their attachment to the government of Joseph, unless protected by French troops. It was thus extremely difficult to ascertain the real wishes of the nation.
The Duke of Wellington was upon the frontiers, with an army of seventy thousand English and Portuguese. If Joseph remained in Spain, it was clear that he had a long and bloody struggle before him. If he threw down the crown and abandoned the enterprise, it was surrendering Spain to England, to be forced inevitably into the coalition against France. Thus the existence of the new regime in France seemed to depend upon the result of the struggle in Spain. Joseph could not abandon the enterprise without being apparently false to his brother, to his own country, and to the principle of equal rights for all throughout Europe.