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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Peninsula 1810

This this is part of the  club 1810 Peninsula Campaign and fought in 1991.

An unbiased report of the battle (see map at end) tells of a flurry of moves and counter moves with surprises for both sides and an eventual marginal victory for the Emperor's legions over the mercenaries of King George III.
The Franco-German garrison of Badajoz was in a veritable panic, when it was discovered that the major part of Marshal Beresford's Anglo-Portuguese army was cutting its umbilical cord with French Spain. No sooner did Beresford come into view, though, than those peering over the battlements were relieved to observe the phalanxes of red-coated soldiery being surprised by a large relieving force under the command of the Iron Marshal, Louis-Nicolas Davout, Prince of Eckmuhl. The Prince's prowess in battle has been proven many times. He is endowed with phenomenal powers of concentration and drives his men like Captain Bligh, though he is hardest on himself. His Chief of Staff, General Baron Thiebault has said: “To serve under him is truly a serious matter.” He wished to celebrate his 40th birthday with a victory and indeed this has occurred. Davout’s cavalry attacked Beresford’s from their rear and sent them reeling into their supports. Beresford’s despondency, well known to the Viscount Wellington, came to the fore and his bacon was saved only by the fortuitous intervention of his Spanish allies, Captain-General Cuesta and the Marquis de la Romana.
At the days end, Badajoz held and the Allies withdrew to patch their wounds.

Rapid Concentration of Forces
The arrival of the French relief force was predictable, but de la Romana’s intervention and Cuesta’s abandonment of the strategic fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo were not. It is feared that this will give rapacious Massena and that wild hussar Murat a free hand in Central Spain to the detriment of the female population and the Church’s.

Meanwhile, nothing has been heard from the Andalucian front. Cadiz still flies the Royal flag of Ferdinand II and the Royal Navy sojourns in the bay. Recently, a French frigate was spotted on the horizon and was quickly chased off by one of the British third-raters whose speed was not quite up to the pursuit.

The battle began with a massive bombardment of the British positions by a large battery situated on a rise in the French centre. At least six companies of artillery were involved and although something was lacking in their accuracy, the noise they made was tremendous and would have made a Peninsular veteran tremble. Fortunately, the Iron Viscount (men of iron were prolific in those times of yore) was present at the scene and any moral effect of the cannonade was balanced by the salubrious effect of His Excellence on the “scum” whom he commands. Indeed, not many of the “scum” were present on this day as the line was held primarily by gentlemen of the yeomanry interspersed with some nobility, to whit, a mass of British cavalry and horse artillery (see map).

Roland of the Army
The Roland of the Army, Marshal Lannes, was present to command the force sallying out from Coimbra. As he rode up to the position resplendent in his full dress uniform, mounted on a chestnut charger, hurrah's swept the blue-coated columns. His presence on the field is worth 10,000 men. Lannes has received more wounds in battle than any other soldier in the Grand Armee. His last injury, at Aspern-Essling, has given him a permanent limp. This has not encumbered him one little bit and he is said to be as valiant as he was at Ratisbonne, where he seized a scaling ladder and was prepared to lead the grenadiers to the top of the battlements.

The (perfidious) British presented the French with only 4 infantry battalions and 9 regiments of cavalry in sight, plus a couple of batteries. The situation dictated caution, especially as the Viscount Wellington recognized as being present.
“Where are the rest of them Senarmont?” Michel Lannes asked his artillery commander. “I don’t know Marshal, but he is either refusing his left, or concealing his infantry in the woods and behind the ridge. Either way, the situation requires caution.”
“Smoke him out, then!” The Marshal clicked his telescope shut and turned to his aides to give orders for a reconnaissance in force over the Mondego bridge. Simultaneously, General Senarnont signalled the artillery to begin firing. The colonels waved their swords and the ball began.

Young Guard Wild Goosed
General Cambronne, never one to be backward, led the Brigade of Young Guard across the West Ford toward the clump of trees on the army's right flank. His brigade was preceded by Polish and Dutch Lancers of the Imperial Guard, and supported by the “Favoured Children,” the Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard. The cavalry rode purposefully around the perimeter of the petite bois. The green-coated woodsmen comprising the Flanquer-Grenadiers, fanned out cheerfully at the bugle command and proceeded to scour the wood for the enemy skirmishers. None were found. Cambronne dashed his sword on the turf in exasperation: the whole manoeuvre had been a farce created by Wellington.

Italians Hold the Line
On the left flank, the Italian Brigade of General Lecchi was instructed to force the South Ford. The pasta eaters went to it with great gusto. There had been an extra helping of Bolognese that morning and they felt particularly invigorated thereby. (It is remarkable how tasty pasta is on the day after; it seems to have absorbed all the sauce). This threat caused the British to line the ford and deny the Italians passage. Typically, before the exchange of fire, the two colonels swapped pleasantries.
“Good morning Colonel Campbell. Will you let us pass today, sir?” The enquirer was Colonel Scozia di Galliano of the 2nd Reggimento di Linea, who had recognized his opponent from his university days, as an exchange student at Oxford.
“Certainly not, old boy. The Viscount has entrusted my good self with this position and you shall not pass today, God willing,” was the amused but firm reply. He added:
“What was that you were cooking this morning? It wafted over our side and I lost my appetite for my porridge.” Scozia's eyebrows arched decorously over his brown windows to his soul and he gallantly said:
“I shall write you the receipt personally in your tent, tonight, Campbell.” His quick rebut:
“As a prisoner, my dear fellow.” They saluted each other with their swords and retired behind their lines to give the inevitable orders for the conflagration to begin in earnest, in their quarter. The skirmishers potted at each other first, then the 2nd Linea came on in serried ranks of white, their drums beating the march-attack. The mortal wounds inflicted on these brave fellows were almost inconspicuous on their scarlet facings. Their lines were impeccable; it made the Scots Guards opposing them envious. They kept coming on in the same old style and were repulsed in the same old way.

“Cuirassiers are you going in, again?”
That was the question asked of the horsemen of the 3rd Cuirassiers as they charged for the third time across the East Ford only to fall gloriously at the foot of the opposite bank of the Mondego. The men of the Dalmatian Regiment who asked it marvelled at the devotion to duty of these great, big-hearted fellows, encased in armour, on enormous horses 16 hands high. Colonel Dornez, a huge cavalier with a thick, black moustache, lectured them before the charge:"Give point, boys, and turn your wrist one quarter, once your blade is in your opponent. It rips him open, and you don't see him again." That cheered them up and they were ready for anything.

The 3rd was shattered as a fighting force by the accurate musketry and grape of the redcoats before their brigadier, General St-Germain, gave the order for them to desist.

Bridge Captured by French In the centre, the Advance Guard cavalry brigade, (4th Lanciers and “Jerome Napoleon” Hussards), thundered across the stone bridge spanning the river, only to be met by the Union Brigade and routed. The Scots Greys themselves were in turn routed by the Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard, coming up from the right flank. Their general, Ponsonby, was killed by a Major Benigni of the Guard Chasseurs. His decorated snuff box is kept at the Invalids, in Paris. It was up to the Advance Guard infantry to hold up the honour of their formation and of France, in that place. The Croatians furiously rushed across the bridge and threw themselves at the 1st Royals, assisted by the Converged Grenadiers of the absent 15th Ligne. The charge was successful, though the Croatians are rumoured to have lost their Colours, as well as their Regimental Artillery.

Coimbra Attacked
The French tradition has always been to march toward the sound of the guns. When a distant cannonade was heard from the direction of Coimbra, a league away, (approximately 3 miles), it was natural for Lannes to experience the urgency of its call. He turned to his Aide de Camp, Major Marbot and, pointing, said:
“Go to that hill yonder and let me know what you see, Baron.” Marbot rode lickety split down glade and up colle. Even before he reached the crest, a mud-spattered aide from Suchet, governor of the citadel, confirmed the worst: an allied flanking force was approaching the town, threatening the army’s line of supply and communication. Lannes immediately despatched the reserve, comprising all the Old and Middle Guard elements under his command, to the assistance of the Duke of Albufera. Until he found out more, the hero of Montebello was perplexed as to the strength and intention of this new threat. He knew Viscount Wellington was a clever fellow not to be underestimated.

General Count Grenier's lackey had no sooner removed the General's dusty boots, then a "Who goes there!"was heard from the battlements, heralding the entry of a mud-spattered patrol of Berg Lancers, who had ridden up from the banks of the Coa. The General's face took on a quizzical expression. His duty officer, a Captain Dombrowski, understood the unspoken question and strode to the window. Impatient, still in  stockinged feet, Grenier followed him to the window and both looked down into the courtyard. The group of horsemen had entered the gate and was dismounting, amongst a noisy, curious crowd of residents and Polish fantassins of the 4th Pulk (Regiment). Grenier motioned and Dombrowski turned on his heels and left the room for the courtyard. The General returned to his Almeida Governor's chair, removed his stockings and plunged his tired feet into the tub of warm, salted water which had been prepared for him. A sigh of relief escaped his lips and a beatific smile adorned his visage. He closed his eyes.
Presently, an officer of the Lancers of Berg was ushered in and Grenier was told, breathlessly, that he had only just beaten a force under the Duke of Brunswick into the security of the deserted fortress of Almeida. Soon, Brunswick would be knocking on the gates. Preparations for the defence had to be made.
Within fifteen minutes, the room was a bee hive of activity. Officers were coming and going; maps were laid out and a group of field officers were conferring with the Count. Grenier's force was small but experienced and the fortress was first class. The senior officers were confident that they could repulse an attack by four times their number. Indeed, Grenier's two full-strength battalions (4th Pulk and Neuchatel - 792 bayonets or 24 figures each) and one strong squadron,(225 sabres - 9 figures), supported by regimental and garrison artillery (7 pieces), were opposed by four Brunswick battalions (16 figures each), two half-battalions of jaegers (8 figures each), two British battalions (16 figures each), the Combined Regiment of Brunswick Hussars and Lancers (18 figures), a battery of foot and a battery of siege artillery (7 pieces). (Thus, 75 versus circa 170 figures).
The black-clad columns toiled uphill toward the grey, silent fortress flying the French tricolor. From its lofty bastions, the garrison watched the besieging army manoeuvre, making many critical and uncooth comments regarding its deployment and demeanour. An officer would point his gloved finger at this or that formation and comment; a marechal de logis would suck on his clay pipe and swear that he had seen better organized troops than these dour Germans and better led. A green youngster was all for potting at the enemy, now, why wait? Discipline prevailed in both armies. The Brunswick Corps was allowed to make its mistakes undisturbedly and the garrison was allowed to look on peacefully.
The deployment complete, (see map), the good old Duke of Brunswick rode up to the gate, under a flag of truce, a delicate, brilliantly white, silk, lace handkerchief tied to the end of an Uhlan's lance.
The young recruit whose impatience was evident before, levelled his Charleville musket and took aim. At this moment, General Count Grenier approached the gate-tower, with a martial stride. A corporal, seeing both the novice and the noble simultaneously, elbowed the former across the cranium, toppling his shako over his eyes, as he presented arms to the latter. Honour and Brunswick were saved.
The Duke offered terms which were rejected with an economy of vocabulary characteristic of the soldier. Having had a good, close look at the formidable position of the besieged and received the pithy reply to his offer, Brunswick and his escort rode back to their lines.
Soon, the morbid boom of the heavy cannon was heard and the first stage of the siege was on. Eventually, the guns having created a breach, the Brunswick infantry swung into action. The contest was fierce, but the besieging force was too weak to force the capitulation of Grenier's garrison.
Consequently, they withdrew, possibly to return in greater numbers. The losses, in figure terms, were not great for the French : 6 infantry figures and 3 gunners. For the Brunswick Corps, their loss of 50 figures constituted 25% of their force.
Somewhere in Andalucia, near the sleepy, little town of Utrera, a battle took place between Lieutenant-General Stuart's Corps and the Army of Andalucia under Marshal Augerau, Duke of Castiglione. A stunning victory resulted, all the more surprising as the Duke had not performed well since saving Bonaparte's bacon, in 1796, at Castiglione. A proud bandit, he is a looter in the mould of Massena, whom he dislikes. Notwithstanding his victory, the Emperor, seeing the confusion that two such characters would cause in the same country, has given in to his elder brother's request and replaced Augerau with Marshal Marmont, Duke of Ragusa.
General Stuart's force was so soundly beaten that they stopped their precipitous retreat only at Cadiz. Presumably, they did so because the Atlantic Ocean made further progress on foot difficult and the Fleet had no orders to take the army aboard. General Stuart is desolate and has been spied wiping a tear from his eye. If Marmont, now in command, decides to advance to Cadiz a victory would not be so certain. A narrow isthmus is the only approach to the city and the Royal Navy is anchored in the Bay (see map at end).


A fresh breeze has blown through the Spanish Campaign of 1810 contingent. The armies were a little battle weary, the plumes droopy on their shakos, the dice were forever coming up snakes' eyes and the Umpire was invisible.
Sitting solitary in his room: "What to do?" the Organizer asked himself repeatedly. Then, suddenly, the electric lights began to dim to a faint glow. A cold shiver shook his (relatively) muscular frame (relative to an ant). In apprehension, he was about to rush into the wardrobe to don his karate gi and Black Belt in self defense, when, in a faraway corner of the now dimly lit room a figure materialized. At first, the outline seemed peculiar, then it took on a recognizable form. With enlarged pupils in his eyes, the Organizer looked. A large, tall, manly figure, erect and martial belying his ancient years. A corrugated complexion and huge, long moustaches, curling up, horribly kaiser-like; a red scar from a sabre cut decorating luridly the left eye. He stood there in fore-and-aft, plumed bicorne, blue-black Attila adorned by gold eppaulettes with silver bullion fringes, wine-red breeches in black great-boots to the thigh. A huge, cavalry sabre hung from his left hip. "I know you!" the Organizer exclaimed, smiling in relief. The fantasm, (for that's what he surely must have been, dear reader), clicked his heels in military salute and announced: "Field-Marshal Heinz Gertrude Wellstein of the Blue Army, victor of Hook's Farm!" Of course! Recognition was now complete.
The Field-Marshal unrolled the map that he was carrying under his arm-pit and explained what the Organizer needed to do to revive this tired campaign. It was easy. Later, the Organizer uncorked a fine 1987 (he would have preferred 1887) Cabernet Sauvignon in thanks. They subsequently parted, Heinz (for they were on first name terms from the third glass onwards) promising to return should he ever be needed. The lights returned. The map remained.
To the relief and continued pleasure of the Players, namely Don, Mark, Robert, Steve, Ben, Steven, Geoff, Anthony and Yours Truly, as well as other hangers on, such as Trevor and Kenneth (where has he been?) the Campaign goes on. This time, with a new Umpire! Gwynne Jones, late of the History Department of The University of Sydney, Gloria in Aeternum: a most appropriate and welcome choice.
Thus, the story goes on, and on and on ...
Treaty of Baylen
The Treaty of Baylen, signed by Murat, who was keen to get out of the Iberian Peninsula, and the Prince of Peace on behalf of the Spanish Throne, was effectively a truce from 30 May 1810. When the Emperor saw it he went into one of his extraordinary rages. (he was no ordinary man). Napoleon tore up the Treaty, punched and kicked the nearest man-servant, laid rough hands on the closest maid and refused to eat anything for lunch. Then, he had second thoughts. He would use this time to replenish the Iberian arsenals, build up the stores, forge new cannon and bring the Gallic armies up to strength. What a good idea! Bonaparte immediately kissed the abused man-servant on the forehead: "There, there," he said with great bon-hommie; he laid rough hands on the maid, ordered a spot of lunch and glued the Treaty back together. At least, that's what a retired butler who was very proximate to the whole incident, said had happened.
In Spain, Lannes and Massena (Bruno), commanding V and IV Corps respectively were ordered to work harmoniously together, as were Bessieres and Soult (Bruno) commanding the elements of the Imperial Guard still in the Peninsula. New, fresh forces were sent to their aid. A system of permanent garrisons was established. Marshal Ney (Ben), Braver than the Brave, was given command of VI Corps in Estremadura, replacing the balding Davout. The Great Man's elder brother, Joseph, and his Chief of Staff, Marshal Comte Jourdan, (Mark), were sent to Madrid to take over VII Corps. In Andalucia, Marshal Mortier, "The Big Mortar", (Steve), commanded a revitalized VIII Corps.
Torres Vedras, sitting on a drum in an improvised field office, the Viscount of Wellington tapped the point of the quill on his lips, feeling the soft tickle of the feather, as he mused on the respite the French had given Albion's hosts. He had a great idea. He would urge the Spanish to honour the Treaty, and in the meantime, build up his depleted forces back to fighting mettle! Then ...
Thus, on the Anglo-Portuguese side of Portugal and Anglo-Spanish side of Spain the forges were running hot turning out implements of war. "Ploughshares into guns!" was the universal cry - except from the poor farmer, (what a whinger!) Wellington (Don) commanded a considerable force in Portugal. In Galicia and Asturias, the Marquis de la Romana had assembled a division of refugees from the Danemark. In Estremadura, Beresford (Robert) was trying to be optimistic at the head of numerous fresh cohorts. In Central Spain, Cuesta and Redding (Steven) paraded their rainbow uniformed militias. And in Andalucia, General Stuart (Anthony) surveyed the majestic Atlantic from the battlements of the fortress of Cadiz, as the Royal Navy slumbered to the "flip, flop" of the waves, at anchor in the Bay.

1 July 1810: We find the Treaty being used widely and appropriately in the small outhouse behind the big house, by all concerned. Indeed, Europe is reverberating to the symphony of broken promises, and having cleared their political consciences adjusting their belts, the decision- makers prepare for war.

(The story of that battle shall be told in the next Newsletter).

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