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Turn 20 - late March 1809

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Turn 20 - late March 1809

Post  Mr. Digby on Tue Jan 19, 2016 4:38 pm

The Northern Coast and the Cantabrian Mountains.

At Reynosa a polyglot division made up of disparate elements of several French formations had been tasked with garrisoning the town and passing units through on the vital Santander to Leon supply road. On the morning of the 18th of March a brigade of dragoons that was patrolling up towards the pass of Torrelavega was surprised by an advancing column of Spanish infantry who had come south over the hills in the night. A desperate and confused action soon escalated with the dragoon commander, Général de Brigade Vicomte Digeon, sending word down to the town and being supported by Duperre's infantry brigade and another cavalry formation under Général de Brigade Debellier that was ordered to pass through the town and on to Sahagun.

These troops fought a scrappy and tough battle but after an hour or more had contained the Spanish advance and the attackers, led by the Marqués de la Romana, fell back into the higher hills where the French cavalry could not easily pursue. The Spanish were let down by bad staff work as a second division commanded by Mariscal de Campo Felipe Jado Cagigal got lost on the poor mountain roads and failed to support La Romana.

Casualties were light in this encounter but the diversion of two divisions of Acevedo's army away from his main force compromised his ability to remain in the Torrelavega position later in the month.

Maréchal Ney and the VI Corps marched west from Santander a week later. At Torrelavega they encountered Acevedo's Spanish still holding position at the critical road junction there. However after two days of light skirmishing and probing the Spanish fell back and are reported to be moving west on the Gijon road.

Leon and Astorga.

Maréchal Verdier's corps has reappeared in northern Leon having been transferred south from the Cantabrian mountains. He pushed rapidly west, forcing a crossing of the Valderaduey in a series of heavy skirmishes and driving a division-strength Spanish force out of Leon itself. Beyond the city Verdier's cavalry pressed on along the Astorga road and by the end of March was within a few miles of the fortress. However his path was blocked by a Spanish army commanded by General Cuesta. Cuesta's Galicians had been operating further south towards Valladolid but had counter-marched as rapidly as they could upon hearing of the developing situation at Leon. Verdier is now facing an enemy considerably greater in size than his own corps, his cavalry scouts have identified six enemy divisions amounting to some 30,000 men; a force twice his own numbers.

Valladolid!

Marechal Soult and his brave II Corps made a steady withdrawal northward over several days from Villacastin. Lt-Genl Wellesley's English army supported by General von Reding's Spanish column pressed the French back until Soult was driven into Valladolid over the Adajo bridges. Soult had specific orders from the Emperor to hold the city but made no attempt to do so and fell back north-east, gathering his garrison formations and outlying cavalry screens to his main body and continuing to retreat. He halted at the end of March west of Torquemada in a position behind the confluence of the Pisuerga and Arlanzon.

The British and Spanish entered Valladolid in triumph the next day and there was an especially emotional scene on the steps of the cathedral in the main square. General Bruno Mutis, commander of the city garrison who had been forced to retreat after the bitter loss of the city in late January, approached the archbishop and falling to his knees kissed the churchman's robes.

"We have returned!" he exclaimed. "The sons of Valladolid have come back to their mother city. Now we shall defend her again!"

Mutis and von Reding were astounded to discover later that day, that the French had retreated without setting fire to their supply depot. Enough bread, grain, flour, salted meat, pickled preserves, leather hides for shoes and powder for cannon and muskets were secured to put an end to the critical supply position the Allies have faced in recent weeks. General Wellesley has made no public comment but senior officers close to his headquarters have suggested that the General has been carrying a smug air of contentment at this good news. It will however probably take the Allies several weeks to restructure their supply arrangements which until now have been hampered by an over-long supply route from Lisbon.

Alba de Tormes!

Marechal Victor and General de Division Lapisse commanding I corps attacked the town in the afternoon of the last day of the month. Lt-General Graham's small British corps fell back doggedly to the bridges across the Rio Tormes about a half-mile west of the town. Here a struggling mass of retreating Spanish troops, baggage carts and artillery drivers were trying to pour over the river to safety along the Tamames road. Graham's men, assisted by some Spanish grenadiers and cavalry held the bridges open just long enough for Conde de Belvedere's army to escape, though the Spanish troops are in no state to fight and must withdraw further to re-open a supply line from deeper inside Extramadura.

This battle opened with only a light level of contact but at the river events turned more determined and bloody. The Allies have lost more men including quite heavy losses to Murray's KGL division but they held the French at bay and Lapisse and Victor have been obliged to halt their westward advance.

Madrid!

French garrison forces continue to root out Bourbon sympathisers and are throwing many Spaniards into jail. Many complain of trumped up charges or even in some cases, no charges at all. Bodies of troops regularly disperse crowds and laws have been passed that gatherings of more than 20 persons are illegal.

His Majesty King Joseph has appointed a new court and government and in fact several prominent Spaniards have accepted roles in this structure. It would seem some are already tired of war and wish to serve any leader who will maintain peace. On the other hand Joseph's court is mostly packed with French officials and the French language must be used at court and on all state documents.

His Majesty Napoleon has left Spain and gone over the Pyrenees with his Imperial Guard to attend to urgent matters of state in Germany and on the Danube.

Andalucia and New Castille!

Capitan-General Castaños is said to be somewhere south of Madrid, gathering his shattered army about his headquarters and working hard to rebuild the confidence of his men. At least secure supply lines allow provisions to come north from the area of Baylen.

All is quiet around Calatayud. A strong body of French dragoons is said to have moved south-west from that place towards the capital. The well-known General de Division Kellermann is in command.

Cataluña!

A terrible battle has been fought about 20 miles south of Gerona near the minor farming community of Ojos. General Gouvion Saint-Cyr, commanding French VII Corps, left part of his command - mostly his Italian troops - besieging Gerona while he took part of his cavalry and three divisions south-east of the city to block any attempt to relieve the siege.

Contact was made on 21st March when a powerful force of Spanish cavalry marched via the main coastal road north out of Hostalrich. With his cavalry screen outnumbered more than two to one, Saint-Cyr drew in his screen and watched from behind the Rio Segura as a great host of the enemy numbering over 30,000 formed up on the fertile farmlands south of him. The enemy army was commanded by Capitan-General Llamas and in fact composed the majority of both the Army of Valencia and the Army of Cataluña. Llamas' more numerous cavalry kept the French horsemen at bay and prevented Saint-Cyr from discovering how badly outnumbered he was. All through the 22nd the Spanish slowly deployed and on the morning of the 23rd their cavalry became more assertive. By mid-afternoon of the 23rd it was clear an attack was developing.

The main strength of this great assault was directed on the small town of Mula which guarded two important crossings of the Segura. With the snows melting in the hills the river was flowing unusually fast and while cavalry and infantry were able to ford it at most places, the steep banks prevented artillery from crossing it anywhere but via the roads. Mula was therefore a critical location and General Reille's division was hit hard by no less than three Spanish divisions, plus a strong cavalry force. In the north on the French left flank General Souham's division was kept occupied by a spoiling attack from General Laguna and in the south Montrichard's scratch garrison formation crumbled under pressure from General Quesada and his Valencians.

Saint-Cyr ordered a retreat in the late afternoon, his corps disengaging and falling back north. Due to disorganisation and the need to guard a haul of almost 700 prisoners and care for the wounded, Llamas' men slept that night on the field of victory.

In the morning the elation of success was tempered by terrible and unexpected news. A miquelets rider arrived at Llamas' headquarters at about eight and was shown into the general's presence as he partook of breakfast. The news was a shock. Gerona had surrendered! Two days earlier the French had stormed a breach in the east wall below the Montjuich citadel and made inroads into the city and in the evening a shell thrown by a French mortar had fallen through the roof of the main magazine of the fortress. Some soldiers were moving extra powder barrels out of the arsenal when sparks detonated these and a tremendous explosion tore the magazine apart. General Castro suddenly had hundreds of dead and wounded civilians on his hands and no ammunition to continue the defence. He was forced to surrender the next morning, the day before the battle of Ojos was fought.

Llamas questioned the guerilla and then dismissed him. He called his corps and division commanders to his villa for a council of war.


The defeated defenders of Gerona hand over their weapons.


French troops break into the city and reportedly commit terrible atrocities.

_________________
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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