Battle of Evora 1808

The Battle of Évora (July 29, 1808) faced a French marching division under GD Louis Henri Loison against a combined Portuguese-Spanish force led by GenLt. Francisco de Paula Leite de Sousa, recently appointed by the newly created Portuguese Junta. Encountering General Leite’s smaller division outside Évora, the French easily brushed them aside and went on to storm the city, which was held by poorly armed townsmen and militia, supported by some of the retiring regulars. The French butchered the Portuguese defenders and brutally sacked the town, then marched to Elvas. That sums up the Evora 1808 battle situation but there was more occurring in the Portuguese heartland and later near Lisbon to complete the Evora story.

By the spring of 1808, GD Junot’s position in Portugal was relatively secure. He had been reinforced by 4,000 troops which more than replaced the men who died during the hard marches of the invasion. Of the three French-allied Spanish divisions that had supported GD Junot’s invasion, General Solano’s Spanish troops had returned to Andalusia. However, General Caraffa Spanish stayed in the Lisbon area with 7,000 Spaniards and General Belesta occupied Porto (Oporto) with 6,000 more Spanish. Portugal remained quiet because her army was totally disbanded or integrated into the new French Portuguese Legion sent away from Portugal to fight for Napoleon, her ruling class had mostly fled to Brazil with the Royal family, and her civil authorities submitted too readily to the French military yoke.

Because Portugal’s ports were closed by the British blockade, her wines could no longer be sold to England nor could her goods be traded to Brazil. Casks of port and wine barrels stacked up around the docks or warehouses. The French tried to assist, putting 10,000 persons to work in the arsenal and shipyard, but Lisbon soon filled with large numbers of unemployed people who thronged the streets begging. A communication dispatch from Napoleon arrived in May ordering Junot to send 4,000 troops to Ciudad Rodrigo to support Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières in the north of Spain, and 8,000 more to link up with GD Pierre Dupont de l’Étang in Andalusia. Seems these were the last Imperial instructions to reach Portugal from Paris or Napoleon.

The Spanish Dos de Mayo uprising against the French completely altered the situation. When news of the revolt reached Porto on June 6th, Spanish General Belesta seized as prisoners the governor of the city GD François Jean Baptiste Quesnel, his staff, and his 30-man cavalry escort. The Spanish general assembled the city of Porto’s leadership and urged them to form a junta government to resist the French occupation. Loyally obeying the orders of the new northern Galician Junta, General Belesta marched his corps (division) away to join the northern Spanish armies. For a week, after the Spanish troops left, Porto’s young Junta leaders did nothing. Some even sent secret letters to GD Junot, professing their loyalty to the French occupation force, or like the French empowered military governor, took down the Portuguese national flag flying from the Porto citadel. But nearby, finding the French occupation forces gone or marched away, Trás-os-Montes province rose in revolt between June 9 and 12. At the city of Bragança, retired Portuguese General Manuel Jorge Gomes de Sepúlveda was selected as the regional revolt commander, while Colonel Francisco Silveira was chosen to lead the (re)forming Portuguese battalions at Vila Real, having been disbanded when the French took control in 1807.

General Sepulveda and Portugal revolt 1808.

Informed of General Belesta’s actions then defection on June 9, GD Junot planned to disarm General Caraffa’s Spanish division in central Portugal, before they could join the Spanish or Portuguese armed revolt. Sent orders to arrive at GD Junot’s headquarters, the Spanish general was placed in military custody. Caraffa’s troops were either directed to appear at French military reviews or to shift garrison positions. While marching to carry out these orders, they were encircled without warning by French troops and made prisoners of war. Only the Reina Light Cavalry Regiment, when its colonel disregarded his instructions, escaped northward to Porto. Detachments of the Murcia and Valencia Infantry Regiments also got away, fleeing eastward to the spanish city of Badajoz. But GD Junot caught the vast majority Caraffa’s 6,000 soldiers and put them aboard prison hulks in Lisbon’s harbor. French officers in charge of the forts had orders to sink the vessels if the prisoners tried to escape. The Spaniards were only released after the signing of the Convention of Cintra.

On June 16th, the rebellion spread to the south, when the Portuguese town of Olhão in Algarve province rose against the French. On the 18th, the citizens of Faro followed suit. The French governor of Algarve, GB Antoine Maurin was seized in his sick-bed and, together with 70 French soldiers, bundled on board a British warship as military prisoners, some noted, to save their lives. Colonel Jean-Pierre Maransin gathered the one battalion each of the Légion du Midi and the 26th Line Infantry Regiment that served as the garrison of Algarve. With these 1,200 men, GB Maransin withdrew to Mértola. The local insurgent mobs did not pursue but no doubt claimed their victory and toasted with the excess wine.

Interior courtyard of the Museu Militar de Lisboa, the former Portuguese Royal Arsenal site. Well worth a visit if in Lisbon. there are halls of equipment, cannon, portraits, and research documents covering many eras.

One advantage that GD Junot had over the Portuguese revolt Junta was that he occupied the nation’s only major city and more importantly, its only military arsenal. Lisbon only could equip a field army. GD Junot’s position was somewhat complicated by the presence of a French-allied Russian naval squadron under Admiral Dmitry Senyavin anchored in Lisbon harbor. The Russian admiral vowed to defend himself if the British fleet tried to enter the port, but he refused to land Russian marines or assist in any way. Senyavin advised out that his nation was not at war with Portugal. Meanwhile, the French were required to feed his sailors, consuming some of Junot’s limited military stores.

Portugal revolts in north, leading to Teixeira July 1808 battle, and outside Evora in south. Local Portuguese sieges at Almeida and Elvas afterwards. (Osprey Vimiero 1808)

Trying to follow Napoleon’s last received orders, before the trans-Iberian courier service was interrupted, GD Junot dispatched GB Jean-Jacques Avril and his 3,000 troops toward Badajoz in Spain. GB Avril reached the frontier to find his force faced by a formed force, with emplaced artillery and Spanish militia behind the Guadiana River. Hearing that GB Dupont, marching on Seville but never got beyond Córdoba, and that Badajoz was held large numbers of Spanish troops, the French general backtracked to Estremoz in Alentejo province. On June 12th, GD Louis Henri Loison marched east from Almeida fortress, in isolated Beira province, with a brigade of infantry. He cleared the Spanish garrison from Fort Concepcion and reached the environs of Ciudad Rodrigo in Spain. At this time he received intelligence that the city held a considerable Spanish garrison, Spain was in total nationwide revolt, and Marshal Bessières was out of reach or communications. Returning to Almeida on the 15th, he learned that Porto was teetering on the edge of rebellion. Taking 2,000 men from the Almeida garrison and a few cannons, he set out across northern Portugal for Porto but on June 21st stumbled into a hornet’s nest of militia, guerillas who sniped at him, rolled boulders down from the heights, and finally confronted by some newly raised Portuguese battalions under General Silveira at Texiera. GD Loison decided that his small force was overmatched and withdrew to Almeida, chased by the Portuguese. [WR wrote about Battle of Texiera 1808: Battle of Texiera 1808]

Note: Since many fortresses are mentioned in the Portugal Peninsular war, here is a blog on them: Towers, Castles and Fortresses of Portugal  For the Figueira da Foz Forte de Santa Catarina fortress sample plan below. Figueira da Foz (Mondego Bay) was the initial British army landing location on the Portuguese coast.

Figueira da Foz fortress plan. See the Towers, Castles, and Fortresses blog mentioned above.

Meanwhile, more mob trouble broke out in Lisbon during the annual celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi on June 16th. GD Junot reluctantly permitted the festival to take place, but concentrated 15,000 French soldiers in the city to prevent a mob riot. Nevertheless, as the religious procession made its way through the streets of Lisbon, a panic caused the population to surge through the lines of French soldiers. Just as the primed artillery was ready to fire on the mob (shades of Bonaparte and his whiff of Parisian canister), GD Junot coolly rode into the crowd and ordered his men to refrain from firing their levelled muskets. He ordered the population to clear the streets, spoke calming words to the people, and then insisted that the religion procession continue. Though Junot’s quick level-headed action averted a headlines massacre, Lisbon’s population remained restless with wild rumors on news events in Spain and Portugal. True to the Royal Navy being on scene a British naval expedition under General Brent Spencer hovered off the coast. General Spencer commanded 5,000 trained troops but GD Junot had no way of knowing this for the moment as French naval telescopes can only see so far.

Antonio de Sao Jose de Castro – Bishop of Porto 1808

Finally on June 18th up north, a popular riot broke out in Porto which forced the dithering Portuguese authorities to declare in favor of the armed rebellion. A Supreme Junta was set up and the Bishop of Porto, Antonio de São José de Castro was selected as its chief. The lesser Juntas formed at Bragança and Vila Real deferred to the Porto Junta’s authority. The Supreme Junta quickly went to work, re-establishing the 2nd, 12th, 21st, and 24th Infantry regiments, the 6th Caçadores, and the 6th, 11th, and 12th Cavalry regiments. The Junta was only able to find weapons for 5,000 regular soldiers that were assigned to General Bernardim Freire de Andrade to command. In addition, 12,000 to 15,000 ill-armed pike militia flocked to join the cause covering the northern hills of Portugal with small bands of militia. Many would see some action at Texiera days later.

At council of war on June 25th, GD Junot and his generals decided to retire French forces towards Lisbon, leaving garrisons in the major fortresses, and only defend central Portugal. Leaving Portugal also deemed too risky by marching / retreating across Spain as no one knew where to find the French army in Spain. So holding the three major fortresses of Almeida, Elvas, and Peniche, and concentrate the majority of the army around Lisbon proper became the French plan. Orders went out to GD Loison at Almeida, GB Avril at Estremoz, GB Maransin at Mértola, and GD François Étienne de Kellermann at Elvas. Even before receiving the new communication, GB Maransin foresaw the need and move for Lisbon. On June 26th he arrived before Beja and found it defended by its townspeople. His infantry easily chased off the amateur soldiers and thoroughly looted the city. On June 22nd, GB Avril marched on Vila Viçosa where one company of the 86th Line was besieged by the ill-armed population. The French again easily routed the Portuguese, killing many, and plundered Vila Vicosa. GD Kellermann left one battalion of the 2nd Swiss Regiment and four companies of the 86th Line, a total of 1,400 men, in garrison at Elvas fortress and returned west to Lisbon. On the way, he was joined by GB Avril’s force at Estremoz and GB Maransin’s force approaching Évora. Leaving behind a brigade led by GB Jean François Graindorge at Setúbal, the French arrived at Lisbon without further incident.

After receiving his orders, GD Loison made up a 1,200-man garrison for Almeida by culling all the French soldiers who were not fit for campaigning and a long contested march. With his force chosen, he left Almeida fortress on July 4 and reached Abrantes a week later. His troops were harassed on the entire route by Portuguese militia, taking pop shots at the column, while the French voltigeurs extracted a blood trail of Portuguese bodies.. At Guarda, the citizens resisted, so the place was pillaged and put to the torch. Some 200 French soldiers became casualties, including stragglers who were done to clubbed to death by the peasants. Because his troops’ path was marked by a line of wrecked villages, GD Loison acquired the name Maneta (One-Hand) and he was cursed for years afterward by the Portuguese, especially the population of Evora soon.

By the end of June, the insurrection had spread to Coimbra. A local student, Bernardo Zagalo led armed civilians to Figueira da Foz where it captured a small French garrison in a coastal fortress. The impact of this move and success later becomes the initial landing port for the British Portugal expeditionary army in early August at nearby Mondego Bay. Soon after the students seized the fortress and captured the garrison, General Freire brought his 5,000 raw troops south to the line of the Mondego River and halted. GD Junot had sent a 3,000-man force under GB Pierre Margaron northwards that stamped out the rebellion south of the Mondego River by July 5th. Note that General Freire didn’t wish to test his ill-trained army against the veteran French soldiers so neither side tested crossing the Mondego River. Further south, GD Junot by now or soon afterwards had 24,000 French troops concentrated near Lisbon into the second week of July.

Mid-July 1808 there was a lull in which neither side made a move. Towards the end of the month, GD Junot decided to send GD Loison to send out a flying column and clear a path to Elvas and its fortress. He provided GD Loison with a force that included the 4th and 5th Provisional Dragoons (1,248), two battalions of converged grenadiers (1,100), 12 companies from the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 86th Line (1,667), 1st Battalion of the Hanoverian Legion (804), and the 3rd Battalions of the 12th Light (1,253), 15th Light (1,305), and 58th Line (1,428). Though the numbers add up to 8,805, historian Charles Oman notes that 1,200 men need to be subtracted accounting for the detached grenadier companies. This force counted at least 7,000 trained and veteran Frenchmen and was supported by eight artillery pieces. Energetic Loison set out from Lisbon on July 25th and the opening marches for the Battle of Evora are set in motion.

While GD Junot and Loison organized their forces at Lisbon, the Junta for Alentejo Province made its headquarters at Évora. The Junta named General Francisco de Paula Leite de Sousa as its commander, but he had difficulty arming more than a small force. Per Oman….”There was such a dearth of military stores in the south that very few men could be properly equipped with musket and bayonet. GD Junot had long before called in the arms of the disbanded militia, and destroyed them or forwarded them to Lisbon. In the southern provinces the lack of weapons was even worse than in the valley of the Douro, there was practically no armament except a few hundred muskets hastily borrowed from the Spaniards of Badajoz and Seville, and a small depot of cavalry equipment at Estremoz which GB Avril had forgotten to carry off.””

They are back again in history….. it’s the Run Away Maria Hussars (Maria Luisa). Remember them at Arronches in 1801? At Evora again they bolted for the rear again.

On July 29 1808, GD Loison’s troops reached the outskirts of Évora to find a Portuguese-Spanish force deployed across their path of advance. General Leite led one and a half battalions of new-raised Portuguese regular infantry and 120 cavalrymen. From Badajoz, Spanish Colonel Moretti brought an additional one and a half battalions of Spanish infantry, the Maria Luisa Hussar regiment, and seven (6 maybe?) field guns (horse artillery it seems). Behind them, manning the ancient walls of Évora was a motley collection of townsmen and peasants armed with bird guns, pistols, pikes and a rare musket. Standing outside the city walls, the allied Spanish-Portuguese regulars totalled about 2,900 men.

Interesting map but terrain doesn’t match modern maps. The orientation should be twisted left…. about 45 degrees, or the right upper pointed corner as top of page North. Road to Lisbon marked on map is modern N114. Sao Bento and windmills are located on raised rough ground.

Alto de Sao Bento or Moinho de Vento windmills. (Photo by Christian Mello)

Convento Sao Bento de Castris. (Photo by Pedro Vale).

Evora battle sketch map: Scheme of the defense of Evora in July 29, 1808, according to a drawing done by J. C. Baker, published in the “História Popular da Guerra Peninsular” by J. J, Teixeira Botelho.

Leite and Moretti would have been better advised to put their soldiers behind Évora’s crumbling walls (since repaired in modern times for the photos). Informed that an Iberian allied regular force stood deployed before Evora, the French formed three columns of advance with French voltigeurs leading at the front. After clearing away any Portuguese skirmishers near Sao Bento convent what happened next is untold in the accounts. Did the French infantry stay in their battalion columns or deploy to give musketry? GD Loison had been at Texiera just last June, faced by Portuguese “regulars” and had been repulsed in column after climbing the steep ground, so they may have deployed in linear formation, gave volley fire, then charged with the bayonet. Their companion in arms. the provisional dragoon regiments, certainly charged home on the Allied weak left flank cavalry, which included the Maria Luisa Hussars. The Allied battle line buckled under the impact of GD Loison’s charges after musketry or saber. The Spanish Maria Luisa Hussars, following true their “Run Away Maria” nickname, fled at once and General Leite galloped off with unseemly haste towards Spain. Most of the Allied regular infantry were more resolute, fell back in disorder but rallied behind the town wall. However, the pursuing French burst into the town in several places, the Porta da Alconchel for example, and massacred the badly armed town defenders. Many non-combatants were probably killed as well, as monks are discussed in the fighting accounts. Having disposed of the armed opposition, the French subjected the unfortunate town to a brutal sack.

Modern day view of the Evora old (but repaired) city wall. This is the northeastern side of Evora.

The Porta da Alconchel which the French stormed to enter the city. The modern roadway certainly removed the narrower gateway.

After passing through the Porta da Alconchel, the Rua Serpa Pinto goes direct to the city plaza center. Nossa Senhora da Ajuda off photo at left.

According to Maximilien Sebastien Foy, the storyteller of the Peninsular war, the Portuguese and Spanish lost 2,000 men. Paul Thiébault claimed that the defenders suffered 8,000 casualties, which Oman found unlikely. French losses were 90 killed and 200 wounded per most records. On August 1st, GD Loison continued his march to Elvas fortress where he drove off a large number of ill-organized militia that were besieging the border fortress. At Elvas he received a courier dispatch from GD Junot directing him to return at once to Lisbon. A British expedition under Sir Arthur Wellesley had landed on the coast up at the Figueira da Foz seaport, currently controlled by the Portuguese revolt. GD Loison immediately turned around and headed back to Lisbon. On the way, he dropped off the Hanoverian Legion to hold Santarém. Entering Lisbon, his troops joined GD Junot, preparing to march and confront the British under Wellesley.

After the 1st initial British army landing at Figueira da Foz, the majority of the British Portugal Expedition landed at Mondego Bay on August 1, 1808.

Modern day view at Mondego Bay, Portugal with a modern-day 95th Rifles reenactor standing guard


Evora tabletop battle scenario: Gaming this battle is truly a lopsided effort on the tabletop. Most rule sets would have a hard time to represent the small historical Portuguese / Spanish units, their capabilities… or lack of, and engaging veteran French infantry on the open ground will quickly lead to disaster straight from the pages of history. So… WR is game and here is his basic outline for a scenario…. move the French battalions and cavalry forward, charge home, the Iberians totally run away, and its scenario over. Or you can try the following written scenario for fun:

Evora 1808 Scenario notes file (.doc):  Evora 1808 Scenario notes

Evora 1808 French roster file (.xls):  Evora 1808 French Roster

Evora 1808 Iberian roster file: (.xls):  Evora Iberian Allied Army Roster

Evora scenario map scaled to 600 yards to map square.

Evora 1808 scenario map with command counters in initial deployment positions. French upper left corner, The Iberian Allied army map center. Evora city wall is located at map right edge.

YouTube scenario AAR Part I on the battle found on the internet. So someone else has tried to make a scenario from this lopsided battle. Evora YouTube AAR

Cheers from the warren. Now to the winter terrain project report and Vimiero 1808 scenario.


Oman’s Volume One, Section IV, Chapter I, pages 207 to 219 covers the initial Portuguese Revolt during 1808. for the actual battle of Evora, the chipped pages 217-218

JJ Teixera’s book on the Portuguese Peninsular war.

The O bau da historia blog has interesting article on the battle, mostly taken from the old “História Popular da Guerra Peninsular” by J. J, Teixeira Botelho above with Google translation (.doc) file:  O’ Massarce da Evora and O Massacre de Evora translation

For the easy money, a basic source is the Vimiero 1808 Osprey book which covers all the events leading up to the Battle of Vimiero, including the revolt beginnings, the British landings, French situation cut off from France (Spanish revolt), and the Battle of Rolica.

Osprey Vimiero 1808 book

3 thoughts on “Battle of Evora 1808

  1. Pingback: Battle of Evora table top and terrain musings… – James' Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wargaming Blog 1792-1815

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