Thursday, May 31

Passage of the Douro, 1809 may 12

(...) Then Sir John Murray, with the British cavalry, was sent off to cross the Douro some miles further up; and at dawn of day on the 12th of May, Sir Arthur with his staff, partially concealed from the unsuspicious french outposts by a bend in the river, was eagerly searching for means of crossing to the other side.
The eye of the British general rested upon a large unfinished building on the opposite shore, called a seminary. Could he find or contrive means of crossing, it would, he saw, afford a strong point d’appui for the passage of the troops.
At this moment, Colonel Waters, a zealous and adventurous staff-officer, brought the welcome intelligence that, having met a poor barber crossing in a skiff at some distance up the river, he, aided by the influence of the prior of Amarante, had persuaded the barber not only to lend his boat, but to return with them to the other side, and assist in unfastening and bringing across three barges.
This was great news. The barges were quickly reported ready, and a brief ‘Let the men cross’ gave the order for this daring enterprise.
The first detachment landed unobserved, and took quiet possession of the unfinished seminary; the second and the third were equally fortunate; but before the fourth could cross, the quick firing of the French sentinels, soon followed by the hurried roll of Soult’s drums, announced that they were discovered; and the British troops, who had hitherto been kept out of sight, crowded to the banks of the river, and greeted the French – who presently poured out of Oporto in order to attack the seminary before its defenders became too numerous – with loud shouts of exultation and defiance.
The struggle at the seminary soon became furious – deadly. Paget was wounded. Hill succeeded him, but so doubtful at one time appeared the issue that Sir Arthur, but for the remonstrances of his staff, and the reflection that Hill would do all that man could to maintain the position, would himself have crossed over.

in Chambers's Papers for the People
By William Chambers, Robert Chambers
Page 19