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Royalist attack on Chaves

The following article refers to the pro-Royalist attack on Chaves, Portugal in 1912

Paiva Couceiro and Heroic Chaves

During the period of political change in Portugal in 1910, when the Republic was proclaimed, there was one man who stood out as a defender of the old regime. He was a tall blond officer, the lean type, who did everything he could to repress the rebellion against the monarchy. Once his cause was lost, he revoked every word of promise, abandoning the army and leaving the country in 1911. His name was Henrique Paiva Couceiro. In Africa he had obtained great fame as a soldier and as an administrator. In exile he became the caudillo of the emigrated royalists, who with the discreet complacency of the government of Afonso XIII, in Madrid, armed themselves and concentrated in Galicia.

Couceiro’s First Incursion (October 3, 1911)

In 1911 occurred the first attempt of penetration. Led by Paiva Couceiro, about a thousand men, in groups of 60 to 70, lacking everything except for their faith in restoring the monarchy left the town of Verín, 12 kilometers from the northern border, and marched towards the border. Most of the men were from the region of Tras-os-Montes. They were of diverse social classes and skills. There were more than 100 priests in the group. To arm the men there were only 400 ancient rifles, a few Winchester rifles and Mauser pistols adapted to rifles, to which were added a score of automatic pistols, daggers, and swords. All crossed the border after a long march in the mountainous region between Bragança and Vinhais, near the present-day Montesinhos National Park. The garrison in Bragança stayed waiting for an attack that never came. The royalists had changed plans and now marched on Vinhais, much smaller, and with only eighty infantry, cavalry and border guard. These forces left the small town and concentrated on a hill nearby. Negotiations were begun but the military commander refused to join or to surrender. He gave Paiva Couceiro two hours to abandon Portuguese territory. Meanwhile he sent messengers to Chaves and Bragança asking for reinforcements. But when day came and he saw the large group of rebels camped nearby, he knew that he would have to retire and he did so. Together with the soldiers only two Republicans the town mayor came. The road open, the monarchists conquered Vinhais. With great emotion they hosted the white and blue flag of the monarchy and proclaimed the end of the Republic. Priests of neighboring villages and a band of villagers cheered them on and used the Republican flag for target practice.

But soon the Monarchists could see that no revolts had occurred to help their cause. Most people came to see, but without the happiness or fervor expected, perhaps only out of curiosity. On the nearby mountain the Republican troops remained and at any moment reinforcements were expected to arrive from Chaves.

Soon the Monarchists abandoned Vinhais heading for the border. The Vinhais garrison had meanwhile retreated towards Chaves where they met the troops coming in their support. When they arrived in Vinhais the Monarchists had already left. Crossing the rugged mountains north of Vinhais, and reduced to about 600 men after desertions, the rebels made their way back into Spain. The companies that still remained formed nine groups, some staying near Xinzo de Limia and Ourense, but the bulk of the column concentrating nearer the border in Verín. They hid their weapons and, grouped around Paiva Couceiro, they heard his words: “I don’t want to say goodbye to anyone. I hope, God willing, that it will be only a separation for a few days.

These were the few words of the commander, as was his habit, and he went away slowly, but decidedly. He would keep his word soon.

The Second Incursion (July 8 1912)--Chaves defends the Republic

After a hard winter in exile the refugees were eager to fight again. In February Paiva Couceiro joined them in Galicia. It was hoped that the towns in the north, now more than ever, would come over to their side. They now had more men and material. The original plan was to cross the mountains of the Barroso, west of Chaves, and link up with followers of a pro-monarchist priest in Cabeceiras de Basto. We don’t know the reasons that later would make the monarchist forces take the direction of Chaves, but many authors consider that only reasons of the moment, like the sudden departure of the regular troops, would have motivated the final attack directed against Chaves.

The army was divided into three groups. One tried to capture the fortress of Valença do Minho across from Spanish Tui. This endeavor ended in resounding defeat and retreat back into Galicia. The second group, of 200 men, was to enter Portugal via Vila Verde da Raia and create a diversion for Couceiro’s larger plan. The third group, the main column, commanded by Paiva Couceiro, had about 450 mean, “a handful of people that fit into a heart.”

This larger group crossed the border near a small village called Sendin, north of Montalegre. 23 soldiers and some customs police defended the town. Contacting Chaves of the danger, these men retreated to a nearby hill south of the town. Chaves was convinced that Couceiro would attack Montalegre and head south towards Cabeceiras de Basto.

Nevertheless, the rebels raised camp at dawn and moved east towards Chaves. In Padornelos a few people came out to greet them and offer their allegiance to the king and the holy Church. Vilar Perdizes was the next village, where the priest knelt to kiss Paiva Couceiro’s feet.

Meanwhile, the military command in Chaves, Augusto Ribeiro de Carvalho, not knowing of Paiva Couceiro’s move across the north, had decided to send the main part of his forces with machine guns towards Montalegre to stop the rebels’ passage to the south. Another group of 100 men was sent to the border to resist a possible incursion from the small group of Royalists that were in Feces, across from Vila Verde.

The people of Chaves were apprehensive to see their best troops leave. The atmosphere was a difficult one of rumors, suspicions and strange incidents. All communications with the rest of the country had been cut off, perhaps by a Royalist sympathizer.

On the morning of July 8 the rebels, marching in silence, broken only by the steps of the hooves of the horses and the heavy sound of the two artillery pieces, appeared just outside of Chaves. No one had expected this attack, since the last news had the rebels just outside of Montalegre. They hadn’t even paid attention to the warnings brought from the customs guards who had fled the northern villages.

It was a very hot day when the first bullets rang out. Chaves was under attack. Quickly, lieutenant colonel Carvalho, hurried to call back the troops that he had sent out a day earlier. But the people of Chaves responded to the call to save the Republic. One hundred fifty volunteers, trained briefly months earlier, hurried to help the authorities. The regular soldiers numbered around 100. The battle was one of scattered firing with small arms and casualties were light. The rebels could not penetrate the defences, nor could the garrison venture out to attack them.

Meanwhile, the rebel group on the border, in Feces, had remained in its position, until they could hear the sounds of gunfire coming from Chaves. They crossed the border and managed to raise the Monarchist flag over the customs house. The small detachment of regular troops had meanwhile moved south to take up a better position. This group of rebels, nevertheless, never made it past the border.

In Chaves the heat of the morning seemed to have put the two forces to sleep. Then the monarchists opened fire on the town with their two artillery pieces. The military had never imagined that the royalists had heavy artillery. Worse their own guns had been taken to defend the road to Montalegre. The rebels had found new courage and thought victory was in sight, when in the afternoon the regular forces finally arrived in Chaves and set up their artillery, on a hill called Alto da Forca, south of the town, from which they could fire at will on the rebel forces.

The Royalists are defeated

The Royalists could not respond with fire and their morale was at an end. The total rout of the men of Paiva Couceiro had begun. By the end of the afternoon shouts could be heard in the town celebrating the victory. The streets were full of people, now free of the nightmare, which cried and laughed in each other’s arms.

Paiva Couceiro’s column had disappeared. In the fields remained only the groans of the wounded and around thirty dead. Further away, near the border, a rebel soldier, not hiding his tears and rage, responded to someone who offered him a glass of wine: “Why do I want wine? What I only wanted was the Monarchy in Portugal.

After the final dispersion of his men in Spain, Paiva Couceiro published a manifesto explaining his reasons for the defeat and saying that his struggle was over. But it was not as later events would show.

Sadly, Chaves gained little from this heroic stance. There were excursions from the south and much public homage but little material benefit. In Lisbon a street was given the name “Defenders of Chaves”, and Porto another street was given the name “Heroes of Chaves.”

Today, when the city celebrates its birthday few know that the date chosen was the day that the Republic defeated the Royalists in Chaves.

External Links

 Ray Vogensen's Monarchist Incursions in Chaves