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TURN 16 - late January 1809

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TURN 16 - late January 1809

Post  Mr. Digby on Sun Apr 26, 2015 6:38 pm

Weather in the Peninsular

The spring thaw is upon us. Snow melts in high hilltop regions and the rivers are roaring with melt-water. In lower lying regions the rains are easing off and roads beginning to dry out. In a few weeks the main highways will be practical again for all manner of traffic.

Off the coasts the storms and contrary winds in the Bay of Biscay have abated allowing shipping traffic to dock and leave ports with greater safety. A freak storm off the Valencian and Catalonian coasts has driven shipping either into port or far off the coast for the time being. Seas are choppy and winds fresh in the Gibraltar Strait and off Cadiz and Lagos.

Lerida invested!

A French infantry division with an attached cavalry brigade has thrown up entrenchments around Lerida and invested the fortress. Communications with the place are closed. The French have emplaced a battery of cannon in a redoubt covering the bridge across the Rio Segre east of the town. There has been a formal call upon the garrison to surrender which has been equally formally and politely declined.

Further east towards the small town of Cervera a second French column of infantry and cavalry with some guns has boldly pressed through bandit-infested hills and woods to secure the place but after a stiff running fight to get into the town the French under General Rigaud are now cut off by the large bands of roving guerillas which swarm about the place in the hilly country. The taking of Cervera does however threaten a side road that leads over the mountains via Valls to Tarragona, a track the French had previously been unaware of.

We have no news of any response from Barcelona and General Llamas to this worrying development. The French in the middle Ebro region under the command of Marechal Moncey seem to get bolder with each passing week.

Gerona!

The French troops of General St Cyr still rest easily in their damp encampments near the city with cavalry scouts watching every highway and byway for news of approaching Spanish - none are reported. The city's communications remain open to the south and Barcelona but there is no reported response from the Spanish. Are they asleep?

Further north many guerilla patrols are scouring the regions of northern Cataluna for news of the whereabouts of the Corps of General Junot. This large formation was known to have left Perpignan some time ago but it has vanished! The guerillas can only send reports of no sightings of this force. This is extremely curious since 20,000 men and fifty cannon cannot be spirited away into the ether!

The Mediterranean Coast. A Spanish Response?

At Valencia the city is excited at the news of French troops near Oropesa. The Provincial Junta has decided to send part of the city's garrison north up the coast road but they have no field guns to send with their small division, and no cavalry. A message was sent by cutter to Barcelona asking General Llamas to despatch a cavalry brigade south via Tarragona to investigate the area around Oropesa. Meanwhile the local garrison troops, somewhat annoyed at being disturbed in this wet and disagreeable weather, have trudged out northwards with Mariscal de Campo el Conde de Caldagues at their head. Since his infamous disobedience last year in the face of "unreasonable" orders from General Palacio, Caldagues has languished in the command of the Valencia garrison but he has spoken to our correspondent and declared this campaign to be his chance to return his name to its former glorious heights. The general rode out on a magnificent white horse with his favourite mistress accompanying his baggage trayne in a splendid carriage. His grumbling men trudged behind.

Madrid. Wellesley Departs!

The English army marched out northwards with bands playing and silken flags a-flutter. Lord Wellesley was guarded about his military orders and refused to state his destination. The night before his departure, he did joke at the ball of the Condesa de Mondragón that he had not the slightest interest in collecting fowl of any kind. His goal was to capture frogs. There was a round of polite laughter at the gentleman's wit.

Valladolid! English and Spanish Armies Retreat! Great Battle Fought! Many Spanish Prisoners!

At this great city, capital of the rich and ancient province of Leon-Castile, the Emperor Napoleon descended upon the Allied armies assembled there in a lightning rush from the north. Using a small road that links Saldanha with Sahagun, the French dictator pushed his "Army of Madrid" boldly on and when it was seen how close he had approached, the English under General Sir John Moore at once broke their camp and began to march away to the west along the north bank of the Rio Duero aiming to reach Zamora. To Moore's left hand or west was General Cuesta's Army of Castilla, a formation making up part of the Spanish Army of the Centre.

Finding he was now facing Napoleon and Marechal Victor alone to his front and with news arriving that Marechal Soult's corps was en-route to the city via Cabezon, Cuesta boldly handed over command of his army to General Theodor von Reding, a Swiss general in Spanish pay, and bowing munificently the broad-bellied Castillian nobleman rode away to take up his new appointment commanding the Army of the Left! Von Reding was left in a state of stunned shock. He had arrived in the city only the day before to take command of Cuesta's troops, he being due to report to Conde de Belvedere, his new superior, only to find himself face to face with the most powerful and dangerous man in Europe, if not the world!

Von Reding rose to the occasion however and issuing forth a stream of crisp (if complex) orders in German which his Hispanic aides-de-camp struggled to translate, he got his army to withdraw south from an exposed position on a low wooded ridge south of the Rio Arlanzon and brought them back to a new position south of the Duero some miles west of the city, his plan being to cross the swollen river at the bridge and fords of Novi. Napoleon was no man to be tricked or deceived and at once set his troops in motion to stop the Spaniards and if possible, catch Sir John Moore's columns in the flank.

A disjointed and fluid battle ensued among the small woods, farms and rolling Castillian countryside with each Spanish division almost fighting its own private war in a series of short retreats, brief stands to allow guns, carts and pack-mules to pass before falling back again. The French of Marechal Victor's corps pressed on with elan and much artillery was brought to bear on the withdrawing Spanish columns to good effect. The cavalry of General Beaumont was handled boldly and clashed in a series of fights with the cavalry of Mariscal de Campo Fausto de Elhúyar, many saddles being emptied on both sides. Among all this the English coolly marched away, several large cages containing valuable aviary specimens being escorted by the Kings German Legion on special converted gun carriages, the unnecessary and heavy cannon barrels having been dumped in the Duero, surplus to requirements. The KGL light dragoons of von Arentschildt's brigade, forming the British rearguard, clashed with some infantry of Ruffin's division at Gonzaga west of the city before scampering away and leaving von Reding's men to their fate! The brave lion of Albion never roared with such a whimper than this day, a shameful episode in the annals of British military failures.

At the city itself one man stood proud and strong, General Bruno Mutis was the commander of the garrison. His weak division of old men and boys numbered only six battalions, barely 3,000 men, yet this small command stood firm against the pounding of the guard artillery and finally fell back as evening approached, harassed by the horse grenadiers of the guard, finest cavalry in Europe. Time and time again (so Mutis relates in a flowery letter he penned to his sister in Madrid) his brave men formed square from their march columns to stand off the heavily-moustached mounted grenadiers until his withdrawal reached Villimpenta on the Arevalo road. Mutis was weeping at the loss of his beautiful supply depot, those fine silken sacks of purest white flour, soft as a maidens thighs, those teeming barrels of grain, those vats of Rioja. Such a tragedy. Such a waste to be consumed by the godless French! At the bridge across the Rio Adajo, Mutis held his sword high and waved it defiantly at the fallen city.

"I shall return!" he shouted, before leading his bitter and bloodied men on their long retreat.

Von Reding's tired and harassed troops finally got across the Duero and fled south over the farmland and through the olive groves towards Arevalo although much baggage and several cannons were abandoned and at the Novi bridge many prisoners fell into French hands. South of the river von Reding and de Elhúyar had deployed a fresh brigade of mounted cacadores and these fell back with surprising fortitude to cover the retreat. Even a brisk attack by troopers of the famed chevau-leger Polonais could not dissuade the cacadores from their important duty.

Night fell. The French gathered up a rich harvest of Spanish stragglers, wounded and men hiding in barns and orchards and with the Imperial Guard capturing the city itself and the vast Spanish supply depot there, His Majesty the Emperor declared the fully stocked warehouses to the "prix de la guerre" of Victor's valiant men. With joyous cries of "Vive la France! Vive l'Empereur!" the French soldiers fell upon the warehouses to enjoy an orgy of feasting and looting of biblical proportions, men carrying away whole salted pigs, large Extremaduran hams impaled on their bayonets, loaves under their hats and drunken local women laughing and draped about their shoulders. Within two days the 20,000 locusts of Victor's corps had picked the place clean.

Von Reding could not halt his broken army easily. It is not certain where it has fetched up. Some say it has run all the way to Madrid, others that it halted behind the Adajo at Arevalo, a third story goes of it halting at Villacastin in the hills on the south rim of the Castillian plain. None of these rumours can be confirmed.

The British have stoically gone back to Zamora, their precious exotic fowl safe among Sir John's baggage along with a number of other crates marked; "Valladolid Commissary Department, Officers Silverware Only."

Burgos!

A Spanish force maintains a strong watch around the city from the south and every citrus grove, pine forest and crag is festooned with guerilleros, grinning and counting their strings of dried French couriers ears. Matching pairs are much in demand and can be exchanged for a flagon of wine, a French winter greatcoat or a box of musket flints!

General Castanos is now known to be the general commanding the army watching Burgos.

Late in the month a division of French light cavalry had to literally hack its way through a guerilla force at Gamonal to reach the city. King Joseph is not amused.

"My good brother calls this my temporary capital! This is nothing but a prison, and a stinky one at that. I deserve... no I DEMAND to return to Madrid! My people need me!"

The Northern Theatre of Operations!

The English of General Baird, lacking any help from General Acevedo or General La Romana who remained comfortably in winter quarters in the city, has been forced to conduct a dangerous and bitter rearguard action from Castro Urdiales back to Santander. Fighting in unforgiving weather across tumbling streams and snowy pine forests in some of the worst terrain in Spain, Baird's men, many of them skilled light infantry soldiers, fell back doggedly and expertly, shooting down the French who tried to get across this hostile landscape using columns and other dense formations and using overly aggressive 'rush' tactics which merely disorganised and exhausted them. They suffered heavy losses before being forced to move at a slower pace and employ clouds of skirmishers against the British light infantry. The French cavalry of Marechal Ney attempted to ride a column along the coast road, but finding no good ground to deploy on and being shot at from the wooded slopes to either flank were forced to go back with reportedly 200 empty saddles.

After several days of exhausting combat Baird's small force reached the city and withdrew inside the new defences his engineers, the Spanish garrison and several hundred Royal Navy sailors had built around the place since October. Ney's troops closed up to the defences and his cavalry and voltigeur officers swarmed up the nearby hills to spy out the defences of the port. A vast fleet of English transports fills the harbour but the critical neck of land that commands the roadstead called Somo has been sealed off by an earthwork garrisoned by Royal Marines and naval guns landed ashore.

The defenders and attackers alike are taking stock of the situation.

To the west of the city the coastal road to Oviedo has been cut by a French force led by Général de Division Dessolles. This appears to be a strong division in size with attached cavalry brigades although cavalry is of little use in this terrain.


Last edited by Mr. Digby on Sun Apr 26, 2015 6:56 pm; edited 1 time in total

_________________
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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Mr. Digby

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Re: TURN 16 - late January 1809

Post  MJP on Sun Apr 26, 2015 6:51 pm

Excellent write up, perhaps my favorite part of the campaign. I particularly enjoyed the description of Victor's "locusts" and salt pig!
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