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TURN 11 - Early November 1808

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TURN 11 - Early November 1808

Post  Mr. Digby on Mon Feb 02, 2015 12:16 pm

Winter Weather Approaches! Snow and Rain in the Highlands. Heavy Rain in Low-lying Regions Turns Roads to Mud! Armies Continue to March and Fight in Appalling Conditions!

Cataluña

All is quiet in north-east Spain. The well-stocked citadel of Gerona has been hastily repaired with fresh stonework gleaming atop the buttresses and bastions of the main walls and new outlying forts dug on Santa Maria Hill that dominates the town. The strong forts of Capuchins and Monjuich are packed with eager volunteers to withstand any siege.

General Vives and his Army of Cataluña awaits any enemy attack along the line of the Ter. This time his cavalry and light infantry patrols have ensured that no bridge or ford is unguarded. How will Saint-Cyr assault the city now? None can comment and the French general keeps his own counsel.

The Ter is swollen by early rains and frequent storms dampen the defenders but they are ready.

Across the Pyrenees a great deal of activity at Perpignan is reported. Are fresh invaders on their way?

Lerida and Mequinenza

A ragged and near-starving column of what were once troops has arrived at the small lowland township of Mequinenza. The worn and filthy uniforms and faded flags announce this is - or was - a Spanish army but for now the men can only rest and bind their wounds and need food badly. This is a column of Palafox's Army of Aragon, cut off from all supply sources in the middle Ebro valley and forced to flee across country, abandoning all its baggage. The once-proud General Casa Solano, one of the architects of the victory at Calahorra is reduced to riding a mule and his guns are pulled by his men, their oxen having been slaughtered for food.

The Division of Casa Solano was welcomed at Lerida but the formation will need a good deal of rest before it can attempt military operations again.

Saragossa

"Sire, all is complete! The chief quartermaster announces the stores are ready, the buildings and compound are secure and the first provisions have been issued to the men - bread, bacon, potatoes, onions, wine, ball and powder. Some new uniforms have been procured from textile mills in the city and the corps is ready to march!"

"Excellent."

Marechal Moncey, Duc de Conegliano saluted the ADC and calling for his horse, mounted up outside his headquarters - what had once been the mayor's villa in a fashionable street off the Place d'Arms in the centre of Zaragosa.

The marechal turned to his entourage.

"You have your orders gentlemen, let us hide within Zaragossa's walls no longer. This foetid hole of Catholics disgusts me. I wish to stay not a minute longer among their beads and incense and mystic nonsense! We march!"

In Zaragossa the destroyed Spanish supply depot that was lost in the recent storming of the city has been rebuilt at the cost of Spanish blood, farm produce and toil. Leading his men like a demon, Marechal Moncey had the place rebuilt and restocked as well as the battered walls of the medieval town repaired. Now his corps is at last ready to resume operations.

However as he rode his horse towards the main gate a first flurry of snow filled the air. Pulling up the collar of his heavy riding coat, the Duc de Conegliano considered carefully the merits of marching. Zaragosa at least offered excellent winter quarters...

Calatayud

The upland Aragonese town nestles in a steep valley against a curve of the Rio Jalon as that river tumbles from the north flank of the Iberian Chain of mountains. Down in the natural hollow of land is a micro climate of sheltered warm air. In this comfortable place the troops of General de Division Grouchy had been occupying defensive posts for many weeks. To Grouchy's surprise, two battalions of Swiss infantry arrived at his outposts towards mid-November. Their officers proclaimed these were battalions of the 2nd and 4th Swiss regiments that had until recently formed the garrisons of Somosierra and Aranda. One had come from General Dupont's old corps and the other was from General Verdier's corps. With news cut off from both north and south and being aware that Madrid had fallen and Burgos was invested, the commanders of the two battalions agreed to march out east over the Aviza pass. Their journey had been long and arduous and several times they had been forced to hide in caves and groves of sparse pine trees to avoid Spanish cavalry patrols on the mountain roads.

General Grouchy welcomed the officers and brave men of the two battalions into his small ad-hoc corps. The news was good - food and ammunition wagons had just arrived from Zaragosa for the first time in six weeks and his troops were back in supply. The Swiss were fed and rested and both formations added to Grouchy's defence.

These events came not a moment too soon as within a day or two of the Swiss arrivals Spanish cavalry were seen in growing numbers on the high ground to the west, south and east of the town! It was thought that at least a brigade of horsemen were operating in each direction and the enemy had clearly arrived via both the Madrid and Cuenca roads. Grouchy knew that behind cavalry patrols, more would always come. He readied his troops for defence.

Up in the hills the Spanish horsemen watched, their officers carefully counting tents and campfires through their spyglasses. Soon couriers were sent off south to report the information.

Madrid!

At last all is peaceful in the city. The damaged Artillery Park is being rebuilt and restocked and troops drill and train in the main plazas. There has been an outbreak of police work in the city and several pro-Bonapartist rings and gangs have been broken up, their members hanged for treason or imprisoned as befits their part in these anti-Borbon cells. It seemed most of the Bonapartists fled with King Joseph and now that Capitan-General Castanos 'rules' Madrid those few not captured and exposed have gone deep underground, their activities suppressed.

The Army of Andalucia remains at Madrid training and re-equipping, daily more recruits flock to the colours although the recruiting machinery to assimilate large numbers of new soldiers is not up to the task. Already the arsenals are out of muskets and the few hundred serviceable pieces taken from the Monteleon defenders were quickly handed out.

South-east of the capital Spanish armies march away towards Murcia and Valencia for destinations unknown, but to the north and north-east of the city, dusty and damp columns of troops converge on only one place - Burgos!

Toledo

The siege here proceeds slowly and is a grim affair. The once beautiful and imposing Alcazar is now filthy, badly damaged and pitted with bullet pocks and the scrapes and holes of cannon shot. Several times the flag post flying the French colours has been shot away but each time it is raised again. The defenders know not when they are beaten.

The streets around the Alcazar are a war zone with rubble, timbers, roof tiles and dead animals filling the streets. The proud heart of Toledo is bleeding. Priests, escorted by Spanish soldiers, have gone into the two or three closest churches to the Alcazar and emptied them of priceless relics, chalices, crucifixes, paintings and other goods but the damage to some buildings is terrible. The ancient stained glass cannot be removed and daily French cannon shots shatter more 1,000 year old irreplaceable panels.

Several blocks around the siege area have been emptied of civilians and the besiegers brigades occupy the houses, tavernas, shops and factories using them as kitchens, barracks and storehouses.

Earthen, timber and stone barricades have been erected across streets and from behind these artillery pour shots into the great building above the city.

Still the Alcazar stands high above, defiant and almost innocent in the smoke and blood that trails around its shoulders and drips at it's feet.

On the 11th of the month there was great surprise and delight as a column of very smart, very clean and beautifully mounted horsemen arrived along the road from Talavera. General Conde de Belvedere's men had never seen such magnificent animals, each as black as night and gleaming with good health, powerful and beautiful. Some of the hungrier Spanish troops saw them as so many tender juicy steaks!

The commander of the cavalry entered Belvedere's headquarters and introduced himself with a flourish and bow as Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Charles William Vane Stewart, a Scot in the British Army. He commanded the cavalry brigade attached to Lord Wellesley's 'Army of Portugal' and his 700 troopers of His Majesty's 18th Light Dragoon regiment had orders to pass through Toledo, conduct military liaison with the Army of Extremadura and then ride on to Madrid and seek an audience with the famous Capitan-General Castanos.

Stewart advised, through an interpreter he had with him, that Lord Wellesley's army was on the road from Portugal and had crossed the border and was rapidly marching east. Wellesley had 20,000 men with him and 40 guns including Mariscal de Campo Pedro Morejón Girón y Ahumada's Spanish division which was being held prisoner in Lisbon by the French but had been released and re-equipped by Senor Hookham-Frere and the Commander of the Portuguese Army, Sir William Carr Beresford.

Stewart rested his men for one day and then took his leave on the road north to Madrid.

As his fine brigade rode out, behind him the dull boom of artillery shots resumed.

Burgos!

Here too the grim task of siege and counter siege goes on. Men dig and burrow like ants, men snipe and scout and patrol, sleep, eat and die. It is a terrible form of warfare. It does not respect rank or birth, nor age or gender. Inside the citadel the townsfolk suffer greatly from starvation and other unspeakable privations at the hands of the defiant garrison. General Verdier's men have taken all that is edible for themselves and the citizens of the place are reduced to eating cats, dogs and vermin. How much longer must this man-made hell be endured? How much longer can Verdier's corps hold out? His men are ragged and hungry but at least they have shelter - those parts of it they have not burned as firewood to keep warm!

Outside in the hills above Galmonal and the city, General Blake's Spanish army suffers worse. Here there is even less to eat and less for shelter but at least daily supply wagons rumble in along the road from Leon and the men are finally receiving blankets, new hats and some shoes all stamped with British manufacturers army marks.

All eyes watch to the north-east, towards Miranda. The failed attack of the Army of the Asturias means Napoleon must surely now come south this way and drive Blake away. But can he? Has even the Master of Europe enough skill and men to take this place? Daily and weekly General Blake's force grows stronger as contingents of other Spanish armies arrive, rested and well-fed, from Madrid. Soon an army like no other yet seen in Spain will be prosecuting the siege at Burgos. How great an army must press against it to drive it away? Surely a battle of titanic proportions must occur!

In the North! Santander, Reynosa, Miranda, Bilbao!

The battered and demoralised Spanish army of General Acevedo once again fell back along familiar tracks into their mountain fastnesses. The trails to Reynosa were familiar ground but each time his men passed this way it was after a defeat and the place and inhospitable terrain lowered his men's mood even further. This time his retreat was not to be so easy. Behind Acevedo none other that the Bravest of the Brave, Marechal Ney, Duc de Elchingen, was authoring the pursuit. The weather and rocky ground conspired to oblige both armies to forsake the use of cavalry and artillery; Acevedo sent his on ahead, Ney ordered his left behind. The race to Reynosa became one of infantry columns and skirmish parties, with the cruel acts of this tragic performance played out amid harsh ravines, tumbling streams, small upland farms and ungrateful ridges. All the time rain and sleet stung the faces of the soldiers and despite the entreaties of their officers some succumbed to the need to curl up under some rock to snatch a few minutes sleep...

By the middle of the month the leading French division of Lagrange had reached and secured Reynosa, though the men were exhausted. North from there Acevedo's broken army scattered down over the pass and reached the coast road some 45 miles west of Santander. Lagrange also noted a mountain track running south from Reynosa that probably entered the valley of the Rio Carrion towards Saldanha.

At Santander it is now known that a powerful corps of English troops have been landed ashore and are garrisoning the city and setting up defensive positions to the east. Lieutenant-General Sir David Baird is in command and he has much experience in fighting in the rugged uplands of India. A student of Sir John Moore, Baird knows the value of well-trained light infantry and it's rumoured he has a strong corps of green jacketed riflemen in his divisions.

For the last two weeks or more British light cavalry have been disputing the coast road east of the city with French dragoons commanded by General de Division Latour-Maubourg. Sir John Slade's fine hussars have experienced a shock at finding the Spanish countryside so inhospitable. They were told it was a country of plains, wheat fields and vineyards, yet this god-forsaken landscape may as well be the moon! The terrain is quite unsuited to any mounted operations and even artillery is limited to the area of the coast road itself. Latour-Maubourg brought up guns and light infantry and by mid-month his voltigeurs had pressed in part of the British skirmish line and were in view of parts of the port. It seems however that the English are here to stay and determined to hold their ground. The French have slackened off their assaults and are now content to conduct offensive patrols and try to capture prisoners to interrogate.

At Bilbao more French columns wend their way westwards. Reservist formations are arriving to take up garrison duty to release brigades from Ney's VI Corps for service at the front. It is reported that Ney is also sending his dragoon brigades to do garrison duty in order to release more of his infantry for combat in these rugged coastal hills.

At Miranda His Majesty the Emperor has arrived with his famous guard and a large escort of courtiers, ADCs, advisors and other interested parties, including many fine ladies and gentlemen. The court of an Emperor cannot move around Europe quietly! Many French troops are now gathered at Miranda. His Majesty presided at a special ceremony to award the Lt-Colonel of the Portuguese Legion with a title and a pension of 500 livres for his gallant defence of the town in the recent battle.

Now Napoleon's gaze must surely be turned towards Burgos. At night in his headquarters the lamplight burns brightly and ADCs frequently come and go clutching leather despatch cases. All is being planned...

Portugal

In Lisbon several Portuguese regiments newly resplendent in blue uniforms provided by the British, drill and train. Daily outside the city in the hills to the north towards Torres Vadres the rattle of musketry can be heard as the men master their new weapons. Here and there companies, battalions and brigades attend field camps and are taught to skirmish, forage, draw maps and keep their weapons and uniforms clean.

Sir William Carr Beresford has been appointed to the rank of Lt-General in the Portuguese army and is overseeing recruiting and training of the small but promising force. He has not made many public comments but we are aware that he believes the Portuguese army units will be ready for service by the late spring, and possibly before.

===============================================================================

Please note that from the next turn, late November, winter weather campaigning conditions apply.

_________________
The other Martin - Charles Reille, le dernier Maréchal de France.

"Any hussar who has not got himself killed by the age of 30 is a jackass." - Antoine Charles Louis Lasalle, commander of Napoleon's light cavalry, killed in battle at Wagram 6 July 1809, aged 34.

"I had forgotten there was an objective." - Generallieutenant Mikhail Borozdin I
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