Well past his prime was the wrong wording. Not physically ready for the campaign would be more accurate. I don't have Pelet's account with me at present, which I believe has a more thorough narrative of the situation. This is from Donald Horward's 'Massena and Napoleon: Abandonment in Portugal,' which is an indictment on Napoleon's command structure in Iberia and his failure to deliver on his promises to Massena at the start of the campaign.NO Marcha;ll had a secure command, nor did most Geerals in this Period. High command was very political. At 52 Massenna was hardly aged. Napoleon and Massenna himself fought many older men.
What actual evidence is there that Massenna was past his prime?
Certainly at the zenith of his military glory, Massena hoped for an extended furlough. Suffering from the complications of a respiratory malady and bruises from a fall from a horse on the Island of Lobau, Massena remained at his estate through most of the winter of 1809-1810. In April he was summoned to Paris to attend the Emperor's wedding to Marie-Louise; there he learned he would soon be given another command. Some rumors placed him in command of an observation corps in Germany, while others indicated he would become Joseph's military director. On 16 April 1810, he received a letter from Berthier, his long-time enemy, announcing that he would assume command of the Army of Portugal as soon as he could pack his baggage and leave for the peninsula. Before Massena could object, an Imperial Decree was issued announcing the es- tablishment of the Army of Portugal, composed of the 2nd, 6th and 8th Corps of the Army of Spain commanded by Reynier, Ney, and Junot, respectively. Massena visited Berthier's quarters immediately, protesting that he had not recovered from the rigors of the last campaign; moreover, he was most apprehensive about the personal qualities of the corps commanders. Berthier listened unsympathetically, and his response left no latitude for discussion: "The Emperor's orders are definite and do not take personal considerations into account." Informed of Massena's attitude, the Emperor summoned him to his quarters before he left for Spain. When Massena arrived, Napoleon accused him of isolating himself in a world of pessimism; he chided him for fabricating imaginary problems and he scoffed at his reasoning. He observed that the warm climate of Portugal would restore his health. Concerning resources, Napoleon promised, "You will lack nothing in supplies. In Portugal you will be your own master and you will make all the preparations to begin the campaign. Do not speak to me of insufficient means." Until Napoleon reduced their conversation to a personal level, Massena remained obstinate. "Who will I send to Portugal to restore my affairs, compromised by incompetency? Can I leave Paris now?" Napoleon admitted that Ney and Junot were "impetuous and passionate," but this was insufficient reason to replace them. Certainly neither would oppose Massena, knowing that they would incur his wrath. Declaring that "with prudence and firmness the obstacles you fear will pass away," Napoleon cautioned Massena as the interview ended, "Do not forget that you represent me."
Indeed, Massena could not forget that he represented the Emperor nor that he had only three corps totaling less than 70,000 men for the invasion of Portugal. At the beginning of October 1809, when Napoleon had been planning to command the campaign himself, he had begun to assemble an army of over 100,000 men; but once he realized he could not forsake the center of his Empire for the most remote area in Europe, he began to recall his troops.6 Yet this interminable war in the Peninsula, which sapped the strength of the Empire, would have to be ended. Napoleon's only alternative was to appoint one of his marshals to command the invasion, one who possessed qualities of leadership, initiative, judgment for independent command, tactical ability, and the experience to compete with the victorious Viscount Wellington; for him the only choice was Massena. Thus Massena, not fully recovered from the previous campaign, now found himself in command of an army he did not want, destined for a campaign he dreaded.
Yeah my remark on 'Massenna's lack of a secure command' was referring to Napoleon's poor and unclear command structure, and the ability for jealous marshals to refuse to cooperate to the fullest. It wasn't just Bessieres. Ney had to be relieved because he refused to carry out his orders. Soult ignored the plight of the army of Portugal when it was at Santarem, despite Napoleon's orders, and decided to besiege Badajoz. As for Bessieres at Fuentes de Onoro, the Baron de Marbot (who was the liaison officer between Massena and Bessieres) records in his memoirs that not only were Bessieres troops late, he brought far fewer men, guns, and supplies than he promised. Additionally, mid-battle, the guard cavalry were unable to be deployed due to Bessieres' bizarre actions. Marbot:Hardly treason. He did not bring all teh troops he could have, but what otehr considerations were there? Would more troops have taken longer, seeing he brought only cavalry.
Napoleon lack of a command structure between Marshalls, or overall command in Spain was the man responsible if anyone. There was no effetcive line of command, Napoleon encouraged squabbling and never decided precedence issues.
Charles Oman found that this account is supported in other sources: "Of this episode, only hinted at by Fririon, and not mentioned at all by Massena in his official dispatch, we have a vivid description in Marbot, which might be doubted if it were not borne out by hints in Napier and Thiebault and by the direct statement of Marshal Jourdan in his memoirs." Of course whether Massena would have won had the other marshals been more cooperative is a different question, but it seems clear that Massena did not have united command that Napoleon promised him.Marshal Bessieres, to prove outright that he cherished no grudge against me in regard to the quarrel between Marshal Cannes and himself on the battlefield of Essling, in which I was so innocently involved, received me very kindly. Complying with Massena's reiterated request, he promised to send several regiments and three batteries of field artillery as well as abundant provisions. In such haste was I to report this good news to Massena that I started back after a few hours' rest...
Meanwhile, Bessieres' promised reinforcements not having arrived by the 21st, Massena, reckoning only on his own resources to make his way to Almeida, concentrated his army on the 26th at Ciudad Rodrigo...Great was the joy of our soldiers, who, though they had
lived some days on half rations of bread and less of meat, were yet eager to fight, when, on the morning of the 2nd, they saw a weak column of Marshal Bessieres' troops approaching, and took it for an advance-guard. But the reinforcement so pompously announced, and so long awaited, was confined to 1,500 cavalr}^, 6 guns, and 30 good teams. Bessieres was bringing neither ammunition nor provisions. It was a regular hoax. Massena was horrified, but very soon grew angry at seeing that Bessieres was himself in command of this feeble succour. Indeed, the presence of that marshal was calculated to annoy him. The Army of Portugal was, it is true, in a province subject to the jurisdiction of Bessieres, but it was independent of him, and solely under Massena's orders, nor was there any reason, because Bessieres was lending a few soldiers, that he should come in person to control in some measure his colleague's actions...
[mid-battle account on the French turning movement]
Montbrun hastened up, but the enemy's square had been re-formed, and, in order to attack it, he would have to re-form his own squadrons. While he was thus engaged, Massena sent an aide-de-camp to General Lepic, in command of the reserve cavalry of the Guard, with orders to charge. But Lepic, biting his sword-blade in desperation, replied, with much regret, that his immediate chief, Marshal Bessieres, had forbidden him to take the Guard into action without his order. Ten aides-de-camp went off in every direction to look for Bessieres ; but he, after being for some days always at Massena's side, had now disappeared. This was not owing to any want of courage, but of set design, or from a jealousy which made him unmindful of the interest of France and unwilling to send a single man under his command in order to secure a victory the credit of which would fall to his comrade. At last, after a quarter of an hour, Bessieres was discovered at a distance from the field of battle, wandering on the further side of the marsh, and examining the construction of the fascines which had been used in the morning. He hastened up with a show of earnestness, but the decisive moment had been missed, through his fault, and did not recur. The English had recovered from the disorder caused by Montbrun's charge, and had brought up a powerful artillery which was playing our squadrons with grape, while their men were recapturing the prisoners whom we had taken. In short, Lord Wellington's change of front was completed, and his army in its new position on the plateau, with its right resting on the Turones, its left on Fuentes d'Onoro.