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Turn 17 - early February 1809

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Turn 17 - early February 1809

Post  Mr. Digby on Thu Aug 27, 2015 4:01 pm

The latest news, rumours and reports.

Weather in the Peninsular

The late winter thaw continues with snow receding on the lower slopes and rainfall lessening. The dirt roads have dried sufficiently to allow more rapid military movement. Rivers are roaring with melt-water. Off the coasts the eastern Bay of Biscay remains stormy with contrary winds but further west the winds are steady and westerly. The Atlantic coast has seen an unseasonal calm. Winds off Gibraltar and the Balearic Isles are stiff and sailing weather is good.

Lerida and Cervera



The Siege of Lerida

The French continue to invest the fortress-town with communications to the outside world cut. The Spanish flag still flies over the citadel however. Further east a battle has been fought around Cervera which saw the small force of General Rigaud thrown out of the town with heavy loss. Several French guns were captured and many prisoners taken including one General de Brigade. Losses to the Spanish infantry were moderate but they lost heavily in cavalry with the division of Mariscal de Campo Martin de la Carrera being badly mauled by Rigaud's chasseurs a cheval.

The battered remains of Rigaud's force has retreated through hostile, guerilla-infested country and reached the French lines east of Lerida.

It has been learned that the Spanish army that arrived at Lerida had come from Barcelona and was commanded by none other than Capitan General Llamas, commander of all Spanish forces in Cataluna and Valencia. It is not known if Llamas intends to follow up his victory or return to the east coast and maintain his watch over General St Cyr's VII Corps near Gerona.

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.

Oropesa


On the Mediterranean coast the small French detachment commanded by the daring General Morlot that had cut the coastal highway has been withdrawn north-westwards along a little used hill track. The force was attacked as it began it's withdrawal by a weak division of reservists and garrison troops under the Marques de Caldagues but the Spanish received a bloody nose and halted their pursuit once it was apparent the French were abandoning their blocking position on the main road. The French have gone over the coastal hills in the direction of Alcaniz. Caldagues has penned a glowing self-serving report to Valencia announcing a great victory and the full flight of the French in panic back towards the Pyrenees!

Madrid, Valladolid, Burgos and the Central Theatre!

Tension is high in this region where the greatest stakes are at risk. After his victory at Valladolid in January, Napoleon sent some troops west to pursue the retreating English of Sir John Moore. Marechal Victor's cavalry scouts have reached Zamora. Sir John's army is reported by locals to have turned south across the Duero on the Salamanca road.

From Valladolid Napoleon led a powerful force including his guards south and contacted an Allied Anglo-Spanish combined army at the crossing of the Rio Adajo at Arevalo. Some light cavalry parrying and thrusting followed over the course of a half-day with a few prisoners and wounded on each side. Napoleon learned that the force facing him was the Conde de Belvedere's Army of Extremadura which caused him no concern, but the British on the Spanish left or southern flank was the army of none other than Sir Arthur Wellesley who had been instrumental in defeating Junot in Portugal last summer. The British reportedly have 20,000 and Belvedere 15,000. The French conducted a skilful retreat and by mid-February had gone back to Valladolid where a powerful garrison of two divisions under General Mouton is said to be preparing the city for defence.

South of Burgos Spanish forces under the Capitan General Castanos have retired south after it became clear their position threatening the fortress had been turned on the western flank by French cavalry arriving via a secondary road from Valladolid via Cuellar. The position at Aranda became untenable and Castanos has withdrawn the main body of his corps to Somosierra where the high pass offers a dominating position over a single narrow mountain track. Such a place is thought impossible to take by any number of attackers, even if they be the glorious French guard cavalry themselves!

However the fates have now placed these very gentlemen in the vicinity of Aranda, they having led the march of the French column from Cuellar. While it is thought Napoleon had gone back to Valladolid from Arevalo it is now rumoured that he has conducted a speedy march through the last of the bad winter weather and is hastening towards Aranda behind his guard cavalry.

In Madrid the winter party season continues unabated. The nobility, clergy and other persons of social status continue to relax, secure in the knowledge that the hated enemy cannot possibly get past their English allies to the north-west and their own famed Marqués de Aranjuez at Somosierra. The city also possesses a powerful garrison in the shape of a strong division of the Conde de Belvedere's army, with other forces blocking the mountain roads to the north-east.

At Burgos Spanish irregular troops have sent word that fresh French forces are arriving on the road from Vitoria. A cavalry division and an infantry division have been observed reaching the fortress.

King Joseph is now known to be in Burgos with his Royal Spanish Guards. Now that drier weather has arrived, he has announced his intention to travel south at once and meet his brother.

Northern Leon-Castilla

A division of French dragoons has arrived in the region of Carrion, Saldanha and Sahagun, spreading out across the rolling plains and watching all roads that bear upon Burgos or Valadolid from the west. At the Rio Valderaduey near Villazanzo the dragoon patrols are in contact with some Spanish cavalrymen who are said to be part of the Army of Galicia, now under the command of General Cuesta.

In the mountains to the north guerilleros watch the road through Reynosa and its small French garrison. Nothing moves in the highlands that is not at once reported to the Army of Asturias headquarters.



Spanish irregular scouts.

Santander! A Great Battle! Who Won?



Map of Santander

A battle of the utmost significance has been decided at this great northern port-city. The British under Sir David Baird had held the port for months, fortifying it since October. With support from a Spanish garrison and then the Army of the Asturias and Division del Norte led by Acevedo and la Romana respectively, the Allies were determined to defend their fortifications to the last. A letter of fateful consequence then arrived from London, via Lisbon, ordering Sir David to not allow his army to be besieged but to remove it on Royal Navy ships at once.

A week of hasty embarkations then followed, right under the noses of the French led by Marechals Ney and Verdier who were investing the city. The whole affair was a dangerous and fatal game of bluff and counter-bluff with both sides conducting deceptions and ruses to confuse their enemy. Ney sent a force of artillery to the base of the Somo peninsular to bombard the redoubts built on its seaward end by Royal Marines but with supporting fire from three warships, the redoubts held out long enough to protect the roadstead and allow the vulnerable transport ships to embark their cargo of men, horses and equipment and stand out to sea in the outer anchorage.

Ney then fell ill and took leave of absence, retiring to Bilbao and leaving Marechal Verdier to conduct operations. Verdier chose to storm the city's new earthwork defences and on 10th February ordered an attack by both his own IV Corps and Ney's VI Corps. Unknown to the French the Allies had held a heated council of war a few days prior. Baird's position was untenable - he had clear orders to withdraw and by the 9th all of his army except Coote Manningham's division of two brigades (Hay's and Craufurd's) was embarked and out to sea. Without the majority of their allies the Spanish knew they could not withstand an attack by two full French corps and agreed to attempt to leave the city westwards along the coast road which was clear of enemy. General Acevedo's army would spearhead the withdrawal with the vast and valuable wagon train of Spanish equipment and some British artillery behind it. La Romana and Manningham's divisions would form the rearguard. The last few Spanish and British supplies were still loading at the quayside and the garrison under Mariscal de Campo Jose Montebrano was ordered to stay in the south-eastern quarter of the city to ensure these supplies were got safely away.
 


The Storming of Santander, Marechal Verdier in the Foreground.


To the west of the city the Allies were unaware that a single French division of VI  Corps under Général de Division Dessolles blocked the coast road, Desolles having come east from Reynosa and Torrelavega the previous month. When Acevedo's troops irrupted out of the city they collided with Desolles in the deep ravines and heavy pine woods near the coast road and a bloody clash followed with heavy Spanish losses but with Desolles being forced to give ground away from the coast, the Spanish being assisted by the 12-pound guns of two British warships, HMS Boreas and HMS Porcupine (both 22s). With the French pressed back the Anglo-Spanish baggage train was got through without loss and the critical cavalry and artillery escaped. To the south-east la Romana and Manningham were falling back through the city and then west to cover the withdrawal, facing powerful attacks by superior numbers of French. In the streets, houses and farmyards the men of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 95th Regiment (the Rifle Regiment) distinguished themselves, emptying several French officers out of their saddles.



Soldiers of the English 95th Regiment.

In the heart of the city the brave but foolhardy Montebrano held to his task for longer than he needed. The last British supply ship weighed and made for the channel and the only remaining stores were burned on the dockside but the Spanish garrison was overwhelmed in the streets by French cavalry and slaughtered. What remained of his six battalions all surrendered.



Defeat of General Montebrano.

The French attempted a pursuit west but the poor terrain and unsuitability of the ground for any cavalry operations obliged them to curtail the chase. Anglo-Spanish losses had been heavy and the French secured the vital city but it cannot be said the Allies were defeated.

Baird, Acevedo and Romana reached Torrelavega by mid-month.




_________________
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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Re: Turn 17 - early February 1809

Post  Mark87 on Mon Aug 31, 2015 6:25 pm

Charming stuff! I'll have to dust off my maps and begin this all over again. Thanks Digby! I should be around at least one day each weekend after the next two weeks. I'm canning tomatoes this weekend (don't laugh, 24 bushels last year) and then plunging down the Gauley river in west virgina.

Assuming I don't die, I'll be back around here soon.
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