1762 - Siege of Almeida
The siege lasted from August 5 to 25 1762
Description of Events
The Portuguese fortress of Almeida was strategically located on the northern border with Spain. It guarded the passage of the Coa river. Indeed, Almeida was the only important fortress guarding the northern border.
Preparation for the Siege
On February 3 1762, Alexandre Palhares Coelho de Brito, an 81 years old officer, was promoted sergeant-major and governor of Almeida.
By March 5, governor Palhares was already at work at Almeida to strengthen the defences of the place. His engineer in chief was the marechal de campo Joao Alexandre Chermont. He did not seem to have a very good relationship with Palhares. The garrison of the place consisted of Almeida Infantry (2 bns), Almeida Cavalry, a detachment of artillery and an auxiliary terço (battalion) for a total of about 2,000 men. The fortress was well supplied with artillery, ammunition and provisions.
On May 5, Chermont, who had asked to be removed from command because of differrence of point of views with the governor, left Almeida. The captain of infantry Antonio Carlos Andreis replaced Chermont as engineer.
On August 4, a Spanish force appeared in front of Almeida.
Initial Siege Operations
On August 5, the Spaniards began the siege of Almeida.
During the following days, the Spaniards not pressing the siege, soldiers from the regular regiments as well as those of the auxiliary unit started to desert. No serious measures were taken to stop desertions who increased daily.
On August 7, realizing the strategic importance of this fortress, the count of Lippe-Bückeburg commanding the Anglo-Portuguese army, wrote a letter to the governor of Almeida, instructing him to resist until the enemy had opened a breach wide enough to allow the passage of 30 men abreast. These instructions were delivered by captain Dawson, a British engineer sent to supervise the reinforcement of the defences of the place.
The Portuguese tried to replace the old governor by brigadier Jose Antonio Freire de Andrade but he found no way to penetrate into the fortress. which was now completely invested. Indeed a Spanish army of 32,000 men with 200 artillery pieces (not counting mortars) was besieging the place. This army was soon reinforced by 8,000 French.
When the Spaniards opened the trenches, they were opposed by lively fire from the Portuguese artillery. A Spanish general noted that if such a fire continued, the Spaniards would be forced to return to Spain or would all remain on the field. Nevertheless, the Spanish army pressed the construction of siege works and the fire of the Portuguese artillery gradually decreased.
The count of Lippe-Bückeburg instructed the governor to evacuate civilians to spare their lives and to prolong the resistance of the place. He estimated that, if governor Palhares evacuated the civilians, he could resist until September 14. However, the old governor did not possess the courage to confront the besiegers and, even though the Spaniards were still working on their first parallel and that his artillery had suffered little damage, Palhares summoned his officers in a war council where they decided to surrender. Colonels Fernando da Costa de Ataide and Francis MacLean voted against capitulation.
On August 25, the capitulation was signed. From August 18 to 25, the garrison had lost only 40 men...
On August 27 at 8:00 AM, according to the first article of the capitulation, the Portuguese garrison evacuated the fortress of Almeida by the Cruz gate with the honours of wars: drums beating, colours flying and 2 cannon accompanying it. It then marched towards Viseu. Palhares sent the capitulation document to the secretary of state Dom Luiz da Cunha Manuel from Viseu, accompanied with a letter explaining that it had been impossible to keep the fortress of Almeida longer.
In Portugal, the capture of Almeida was considered as unavoidable. However, everybody expected the place to resist much longer. On August 31, when the news of the fall of Almeida reached the Anglo-Portuguese headquarters in Nisa, the count of Lippe-Bückeburg immediately cancelled the planned incursion into Spain. On September 2, Lippe-Bückeburg informed the count of Oeiras of the bad news. On September 4, the garrison was cantoned in the Besteiros valley. Shortly after, it marched towards Lisbon.
The former governor Alexandre Palhares was imprisoned in Coimbra for a short period before being transferred to the prison of Limoeiro in Lisbon where he died on October 18 1771
The capture of Almeida was celebrated in Madrid with great joy.
Burnham, Robert, The Siege of Almeida, Portugal: 24 July - 28 August 1810 in Napolean Series, July 2000
Pereira Sales, Ernesto Augusto; O Conde de Lippe em Portugal, Vila Nova de Famalicao: Publicacoes da Comissao de Historia Militar, 1936
Manuel Ribeiro Rodrigues and Joseph O'Neill for the material submitted for this article.