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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Spanish Campaign of 1810-July

The Battle of Leiria: 14 July 1810
by Bruno Just
Published 1992
HILL= Don      BRUNSWICK= Sean

Leiria is a churched town poised on the slopes of a range of hills overlooking a gurgling brook which runs merrily to the Atlantic Ocean four leagues away to the North-West.
During the early morning of the 13th July, advance elements of Marshal Massena's IV Corps d'Armee entered the town from the North, causing the populace to rush indoors, close the shutters and lock their daughters away in wardrobes. Conversely, the señoritas of the local bordello freshened themselves  and displayed their wares  unabashedly by the water pump, in the town square. Taking little notice of them, the business-like, leading section of scouts from the 10th Hussars rode by at a trot and took up position on the edge of the slope, on the southern end of the town.
First-Lieutenant Angel Deguerre did not need a spy-glass to notice the ranks of British scarlet and
Brunswick black lining the banks of the stream below. He immediately gave orders which sent riders galloping lickety-split back to the main body. At 10am, Marshal Andre Massena was surveying the antagonistic dispositions from the steeple of the church. Obliquely opposite, General "Daddy" Hill was also observing his opponent, but with the air of someone who is unconcerned at the unfolding pageant, because he knows something more to which this was merely the first act.
Turning to his Chief-of-Staff, Colonel Pelet-Clozeau, Massena remarked: "The English don't seem to be in a disposition to move, Colonel. If that remains so, let's give France a victory, tomorrow on Bastille Day." And to his son and Aide-de-Camp Captain Count Prosper d' Essling, he added, by way of  instruction: "Captain, the enemy is either showing only part of his force, or Marshal Lannes will have a fight of it on the road to Thomar." How true his words were shown to be.
Having made his dispositions for the coming battle, Massena retired to the Municipal Palace wherein he had his billeted lodging, with his companion, whose slender feminine curves were easily disguised by hussar dress. Unfortunately for the rest, the Corps was in a state of high alert and would remain so until the morrow, so the daughters of Leiria were safe and the residents of the bordello unemployed.
Duke of Brunswick
As the golden orb peeked over the Eastern horizon, inundating the sleepy hills and valleys with its brilliant morning rays, it was evident that the Allied defence was very well established (see Map). Their right was held by the Duke of Brunswick with four battalions of infantry, (Leib, 1st Line, 3rd Light, Rifles of the Oels & Jaegers), and 1 regiment of cavalry, (the Combined Hussars & Lancers). A half-battery of artillery was in support. The left consisted of four battalions of British Foot, (23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers, 27th Inniskillings, 33rd Yorkshire [Wellington's], 52nd Oxfordshire Light Infantry), and two regiments of Light Dragoons, (13th and 15th). Another half-battery of Brunswick artillery was placed in the centre.[1]
Massena's IV Corps, depleted by a constant drain of units for protection of their lines of communication and supply, could muster only twelve battalions of infantry, albeit of good quality, four regiments of cavalry, (including the attached II Cavalry Division similarly understrength), and three companies[2] of artillery, plus two regimental artillery sections and a company of genie.[3] General Junot's II Division and Latour-Maubourg's Cavalry Division held the right and centre. General Duhesme's I Division was on the left flank, supported by Montbrun's brigade  of cavalry, massing for the attack.
At 8 am., Marshal Massena gave the signal for the battle to begin. The cannon placed to the right and left of Leiria spoke and a hail-storm of roundshot and shell curved its way toward the British lines. From the Allied positions, they seemed like a series of dots in the distance, moving slowly at first, then accelerating rapidly, finally disappearing into explosions or geysers of dirt. "Daddy" Hill waved his bicorne to the Brunswick half-battery nearby and they gave an appropriate  reply to the French opening argument. Almost immediately, two French siege pieces[4] were destroyed by the accurate counter-battery fire. Colonel Villeneuve, the French siege artillery commander, bit his thumb in frustration! "Rotten luck!" exclaimed Massena to his Aides.
On the flanks, the French drums began to roll the pas-de-charge. The regimental flags were magnificently unfurled and flapping in the tepid morning breeze. The field officers atop their horses, shouldered their swords, and the Generals of Brigade waved theirs toward the red and the black lines. Colonels or Majors gave the shouted orders to advance. The lines of blue moved forward en masse, as the cannonade continued. The adrenalin pumping in their veins, the soldiers were glad to be in motion: it gave some relief to their aroused organism.
10th Hussars
Massena was pensively watching the advance of the dragoon brigade on his right, and then noticing the sudden surge forward of the 10th Hussars on his left, through the grey-white puffs of smoke. "If we win this one, Colonel," he declared to Pelet-Clozeau, "we won't have enough cavalry to pursue." Turning to his son, he ordered: "Go to Duhesme and tell him to bring back the 'Jerome-Napoleon' Hussars into general reserve!" Having taken the pencilled note from Pelet-Clozeau, Prosper galloped off toward the ridge, 1500 paces away, upon which a knot of horsemen were standing.
Roland "Daddy" Hill
General Hill, having observed and analysed the French progress, turned his head to the bevvy of Aides behind and about him and stated: "They're coming on in the same old style. We'll have to receive them in the same old style." The junior officers laughed - a little nervously, perhaps, but heartened by their commander's confident words and demeanour. The field officers nodded,  some cleared their throats, all said nothing. Same old style or not, it wasn't going to be easy. The French had a knack of making their opponents pay dearly whether in victory or defeat.
The measured volleys of the 27th Foot (Inniskillings) thinned out the ranks of the 6th Dragoons, eventually forcing them to retire. Sadly, it was here that General Arrighi di Casanova lost his life, as he was gallantly attempting to organize a charge, amidst the intense musketry of the Irishmen. The 6th's place was taken by the fantassins of the 7th Leger and the French 1st Battalion of Spain's Royal Guard. The latter forced the 52nd Light Infantry to retire, but could not cross the stream due to the fire of the Welch Fusiliers who had been brought up and the threat of the 15th Light Dragoons behind them. The 2nd (Italian) Dragoons "Napoleone" attempted to cross the stream at the bridge and were thrown back by an impetuous charge of the 13th Light Dragoons with the advantage of the slope.
Neither did the French infantry on the other flank have any success in crossing the well-defended rivulet. Although the French 14th Ligne lining the stream gave as much as they got in the ensuing firefight, they were glued to their side of the obstacle for the whole day. On the other hand, the cavalry, specifically the 10th Hussars, took the tiny torrent in one leap. These brave cavaliers looking resplendent in their sky-blue uniforms, overthrew the Brunswick skirmishers and overran the Brunswick half-battery behind them. Having sent them packing, the 10th turned to the Brunswick Hussars and put them to flight for good measure. Had not dusk descended suddenly upon them at 8pm., they would surely have captured the Duke of Brunswick and his headquarters, as well as have fallen on his infantry's rear. It was not to be.
Nevertheless, General Hill believed himself sufficiently punished to order a retreat, having lost more than 40% of his force.[5] Massena was overjoyed and judging that his decimated cavalry was not up to a pursuit, ordered a rest day on the morrow, followed by a pursuit on the day following. BUT the smoke on the battlefield and the stream of retreating troops obscured the surprise in store for him on his hoped-for rest day.
(It is suspected that Don has kept a large portion of his force in reserve, off-table, to be brought on fresh just as the French settle down to breakfast. This could be the Second Battle of Leiria).

[1] A total of 206 figures.
[2] The French called their  batteries "companies".
[3] A total of 408 figures.
[4] One piece on the table represents two guns; one infantry figure, 33 men; one cavalry figure, 25 horsemen.
[5] The losses were 86 figures and two pieces for the Allies, and 118 figures and two pieces for the French.

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