The French repeated their attacks with great gallantry, but all met with the same fate. On the ground I could realize the reason why. The ridge rises 800 feet above the valley; the average gradient of the slopes up which the French columns struggled was 1 in 3, and the elevation of the crest was such that their field-guns could not afford them adequate supporting fire. In the late afternoon, disheartened by the terrible casualties suffered by his two best corps, Masséna broke off the battle, although he still held in reserve a division of Ney’s Corps and the whole of Junot’s Corps. As one French military writer says: `Masséna showed neither boldness nor foresight.’ The French had 4500 casualties in the battle, the British and Portuguese only 1252 in all-626 each, so honours and losses were evenly shared between the allies.
Many factors contributed to the victory, including the shadowy presence of Madame X, but we may say that the decisive ones were the geography of northern Portugal and the genius of the leader who so brilliantly turned it to account.
Apart from its attractive and varied landscapes, this rolling country between apartments to rent in Paris and the serviced apartment London makes a special appeal to those who, like myself, cherish the records and traditions of the British Army. One can still see the site of the bridge over the Coa, near Almeida,
where Craufurd’s Light Division attacked more than four times its number of French, but in doing so drew down Wellington’s wrath on their commander’s head for losing three hundred men to no purpose. The frontier villages have changed but little, so it seemed to me, since Wellington made his headquarters in them throughout that summer of 1810, when, covered by his cavalry picquets and Craufurd’s gallant riflemen, he watched carefully every move made by Masséna. In spite of a certain amount of afforestation and the construction of one railway line and some new roads and bridges, the countryside has scarcely altered. A uranium mine has sprung up at Canas de Senhorim, but it is well tucked away in the middle of a pine forest. The forests consist mainly of pine and eucalyptus, with a few chestnuts and cork-oaks; vineyards and olive-groves clothe the hillsides, and the valleys are green with maize and orchards. Squat little white windmills crown the hill-tops and enormous waterwheels, introduced perhaps by the Moors, scoop up water from the rivers for irrigation. The roads are excellent, and the comfortable Urgeirica Hotel at Canas de Senhorim, halfway between Celorico and Bussaco, makes a convenient centre for exploring the topography of Masséna’s approach march. As I was able to discover, the British traveller is always assured of a warm welcome in this friendly country, with which our own has been allied for so many centuries.