Battle of Evora, 29 July 1808

The battle of Evora of 29 July 1808 was a French victory during the Portuguese rebellion of 1808. A French army under Marshal Junot had invaded Portugal in 1807, and quickly overrun the country. Over the winter of 1807-1808 the French appeared to be in a strong position, but in the spring of 1808 the Spanish uprising began. Junot was soon cut off from the remaining French armies in Spain, while his forces were weakened when his former Spanish allies returned home, leaving him with 26,500 men to hold down the entire country.

As the news spread around Portugal a limited uprising began. The Portuguese were in a much weaker position than their Spanish neighbours – the French held most of the main fortresses, and the Portuguese army had been disarmed – but despite this a revolt did break out around Oporto in the north of the country. Junot responded by concentrating his scattered garrisons in the south of the country to avoid the risk of having them defeated piecemeal. While this did mean that he soon had 24,000 men under his direct control, it also gave the rebels control of a large part of Portugal. What the rebels lacked was the strength to take on Junot’s powerful army.

As in Spain, a series of separate juntas were formed in different parts of Portugal. To the east of Lisbon was the junta of the Alemtejo, with its headquarters at Evora. Its small army, under the command of Francisco Leite, threatened Junot’s lines of communication with Elvas and Badajoz, his escape route if he had to evacuate Portugal. Accordingly, at the end of July Junot sent out a 7,000 strong flying column, under the command of General Loison. His orders were to attack the junta at Evora, and then march on to Elvas.

Leite now had a force of 3,000 men. His own forces amounted to a battalion and a half of newly formed infantry and 120 cavalry. He had also been joined by a Spanish force which contained a similar number of infantry, one regiment of regular cavalry (the Hussars of Maria Luisa) and seven guns, all under the command of Colonel Moretti. He also had a large number of poorly armed volunteers.

As the French column approached Evora on 29 July, Leite decided to offer battle outside the city walls. This was an inexplicable decision. It exposed his weak, inexperienced force to an attack by a French army twice its size, and meant that he could make no use of the volunteers, who were used to man the walls of Evora.

The battle was over in minutes. The first French charge drove away both the Spanish cavalry and General Leite. Most of the infantry retreated into Evora and attempted to defend the town, but the French broke through the walls at four or five places, overwhelmed the defenders and sacked the town. The Portuguese and Spanish were said to have lost between 2,000 and 8,000 men in the battle and the sack, while French casualties amounted to 90 dead and 200 wounded. Loison spent three days at Evora before marching on to Elvas, where he lifted a blockade of the place. He was then prepared to move towards Badajoz, when orders reached him recalling him to Lisbon. A British army under Sir Arthur Wellesley had landed in Mondego Bay, and the French army in Portugal was in real danger.

History of the Peninsular War vol.1: 1807-1809 - From the Treaty of Fontainebleau to the Battle of Corunna, Sir Charles Oman. The first volume of Oman's classic seven volume history of the Peninsular War, this is one of the classic works of military history and provides an invaluable detailed narrative of the fighting in Spain and Portugal. This first volume covers the initial French intervention, the start of the Spanish uprising, the early British involvement in Spain and Portugal and Napoleon's own brief visit to Spain.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 February 2008), Battle of Evora, 29 July 1808, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_evora.html

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