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Item:  BSL - Trant - 1813-09-26










Foz near Oporto
26 Sept 1813

My Dear Sir,

     Mr. Tyndale a Merchant of this Town & who is on his return from England embarked in a vessel which sailed from Portsmouth on the 18th - writes to his Correspondent here from off Viana dated at one o'clock yesterday - that "Dantzic & Rostoc have fallen and Bonaparte is in Dresden surrounded by the Allied Forces" -

     I give you this news such as I have just now rec'd it. The wind is Southerly & the arrival of a Packet at Lisbon may be delayed. -

     I avail myself of this opportunity to mention that I had promised to the St. Jago family of the Marquess of St. Estavaō (Brother in law to the Marquis of Campo Sampado) to write to you a Letter of Introduction. - They passed through here a few days ago and it is probable are now arrived at Lisbon. - They consist of the Marquis - his Brother a Captain in the Navy - his Sister & two daughters of his - the three young ladies all recommend themselves - & I shall only add that they are fond of dancing Boleras - & Walsos.

     I have the honor to remain dear Sir
                                          faithfully Yours

                                                   N. Trant


     Foz is the town of Foz do Douro (known locally simply as Foz) and lies at the very mouth of the Douro River just west of Oporto (Porto) Portugal. Most notable of its structures is the famous Castello de São João da Foz. As this is where ship's launches might land while the main vessel waited for the tide, it is likely that Trant's information was indeed here "just now rec'd".
     Viana is Vianna an anchorage north of Oporto near the Spain-Portugal Border just south of the mouth of the Minho River.
     Dantzic and Rostoc are the Baltic port cities of Danzig and Rostock in Northern Germany and which had been held by Napoleon for most of a decade.
     We have not yet identified the St. Jago Family or the Marquis of Campo Sampado.

     This letter is particularly interesting from a timing point of view. Glover in his The Peninsular War notes that in late August 1813 Wellington was sitting in the Pyrenees trying to decide if he should pursue Marshal Soult back into France, but was concerned that if the Armistice of Pleischwitz (which had been extended to August 17th) had resulted in Russia and Prussia making peace with Napoleon that he would find the full weight of the French Imperial Army directed back towards him. That being the case he resolved to invest and take the two frontier fortresses of St. Sebastian and Pamplona to cover any retreat he might have to make back into Portugal. In the event, not only did Russia and Prussia not sue for peace, but Austria also declared war against Napoleon and the war was back on in Germany. As Glover further notes, "This news reached London on 27 August. Elaborate arrangements had been made to pass the information quickly to Wellington, but the winds in the Channel were persistently adverse."  Wellington finally learned of the news on September 11th through captured French newspapers.
     Here it was September 26th and the news was just reaching Portugal with Trant's note that "The wind is Southerly & the arrival of a Packet at Lisbon may be delayed." Trant presumably sent this letter by overland post. As an aside, Napoleon scampered out of Dresden, but the end was near.

Biographical Note


     Nicholas Trant was born in 1769, coming from an Irish family originally of Danish origin. He was educated at a military college in France, but in consequence of the French revolution, entered the British army and was commissioned as Lieutenant in the 84th foot on 31 May 1794. He served with that regiment at Flushing, and went with it to the Cape of Good Hope in 1795. Returning to England, he obtained a company in one of the regiments of the Irish brigade, his commission bearing date 1 Oct. 1794. His regiment was sent to Portugal where he took part in the expedition under General Sir Charles Stuart, (father to Sir Charles Stuart, British Minister in Lisbon during most of the Peninsular War and to whom this letter was written) which captured Minorca in November 1798. There Trant was appointed Agent-General for Prizes, and helped to organize the Minorca regiment, in which he was made Major on 17 Jan. 1799. He served in the expedition to Egypt, and his regiment was in support of the 42nd and 28th in the battle of Alexandria. It was disbanded after the peace of Amiens, and Trant left the army. Following the resumption of hostilities Trant re-enlisted as an Ensign in the Royal Staff Corps on 25 Dec. 1803. He was promoted Lieutenant on 28 Nov. 1805 and was sent to Portugal as a Military Agent in 1808, being given the local rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
     When Sir Arthur Wellesley advanced from the Mondego in August of 1808 to challenge Junot in Lisbon, Portuguese General Freire with his 6000 man Portuguese Corps remained behind but permitted Trant to accompany Wellesley with a Portuguese battalion of fifteen hundred foot and 250 horse. At Roliça Trant was employed to turn the French left; at Vimeiro he was in reserve with Craufurd's British brigade. Following the Convention of Cintra, Trant returned to England but was soon sent back to Portugal. Early in 1809 Trant raised a corps from the students of Coimbra University.
     After the Portuguese defeat at Braga and the French capture of Oporto, fresh recruits flocked to him. With a force of about three thousand men he boldly maintained himself on the Vouga River south of Oporto until May. He took part in the advance of Wellesley's army to the Douro, and was made Governor of Oporto when it was recovered. He was promoted Captain in the Staff Corps on 1 June 1809, but soon afterwards was told that he would be removed from that Corps unless he gave up his employment in Portugal. He was saved from this by Wellington's intervention, who wrote on 9 May 1810 : “There is no officer the loss of whose services in this country would be more sensibly felt.” By this time he held the Portuguese army rank of Brigadier-General.
     In the autumn of 1810, while Wellington was falling back on the Lines at Torres Vedras, Trant twice showed his “activity and prudent enterprise” as Beresford described it. On 20 Sept., with a squadron of cavalry and two thousand militia, he surprised the French train of artillery in a defile; he took a hundred prisoners, and caused a loss of two days to Massena. On 7 Oct he marched suddenly upon Coimbra, where Massena had left his sick and wounded with only a small guard and carried off five thousand prisoners to Oporto. He also held off Massena's attempt to retreat  across the Mondego and re-provision, causing Massena to abandon all and run for Spain [see below]. It was “the most daring and hardy enterprise executed by any partisan during the whole war” (see Napier). A letter of acknowledgment addressed to him by some of the French officers who were taken is printed in the appendix to Napier's third volume, and sufficiently refutes the charges made against him by some French writers on account of the misbehaviour of some of his men. In October 1811 he was made a Knight Commander of the Portuguese Order of the Tower and Sword, and later the Conde de Montellegre.
     In April 1812. when two French divisions were about to storm Almeida, he succeeded in imposing on them a ruse de guerre by a show of red uniforms and bivouac fires, inducing them to retire. On the 13th he was at Guarda with six thousand militia and laid a plan for surprising Marmont in his quarters at Sabugal; but on that night he himself narrowly escaped being surprised by Marmont in Guarda. Wellington, while praising his action in the emergency, warned him not to be too venturesome with his troops. Late in 1813 fresh difficulties were raised about his drawing pay as an officer of the Staff Corps while in the Portuguese service and he obtained leave to go to England. Wellington wrote strongly in support of his claim, expressing once more his sense of Trant's services and merits, saying that he had been employed in a most important situation for the expenses of which his allowances were by no means adequate (Wellington Despatches, x. 417). He seems to have had no further part in the war, but suffered much for the rest of his life from a bullet in his side. He died on 16 Oct. 1839 at Great Baddow, Essex.

It is worth noting a section of Michael Glover's, The Peninsular War as to Trant's heroics at Coimbra in March of 1811:
"The fate of the campaign, and probably of the Peninsula, was decided in those five days. It was not the Light Division which decided it but Colonel Nicholas Trant. Massena did not intend to retreat into Spain but to cross the Mondego and wait, on the unravaged foraging grounds north of Coimbra, until help reached him. Wellington had no regular troops north of the Mondego but Coimbra was held by Trant with six weak battalions of militia and six guns, at Penacova, the southern end of the Busaco ridge, were four more battalions of militia. in all there were 5,000 partially trained men to defend the river line. Trant had orders to retire as soon as he was seriously threatened, and as early as 8 March Wellington "concluded" that he had done so. he was, however, a literal minded officer and determined to stay until the last possible moment." Trant held out for four days until Wellington could catch Massena's rearguard and turn him to Spain.

Document Specifications:  A fine handwritten ALS letter signed by Nicholas Trant as Brigadier General in the Portuguese Army and Governor of Oporto, in Foz do Douro and dated 26th September 1813. Folded letter measures 8½" tall x 7¼" wide (225mm x 185mm). On one folded sheet (forming four pages) of wove paper, watermarked "SELL & CO 1810", with spotted toning and one small oxidized ink burn-through at the end of Dantzic. Writing on three pages as shown. General Trant's signed War date letters are not common in the market. The fact that this is datelined Foz near Oporto and contains fresh intelligence on Napoleon makes it a desirable piece from a rather colorful Irish-Danish character. From the Stuart Correspondence.

 Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd

End of Item - BSL-Trant-1813-09-26

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