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TURN 14 - late December 1808

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TURN 14 - late December 1808

Post  Mr. Digby on Sun Mar 15, 2015 3:47 pm

Wet winter weather continues with snow or sleet in some mountain regions. Many armies take up winter quarters. Storms in Biscay subside but contrary winds make navigation problematical even for experienced crews. Fresh winds but calmer seas off Gibraltar, Cadiz and Barcelona. Atlantic storms make all sea journeys hazardous off Lisbon and Oporto.

The Lost Army?

No news has been heard from General Palafox and his broken Aragonese army. It is thought that the troops are somewhere in the mid-Pyrenees, perhaps near Jaca but there is no confirmation. All that can be surmised is the dreadful conditions these poor men and animals must be enduring.

We have been surprised to receive no news of a French pursuit.

At Pamplona Marechal Mortier has resumed the investment. He still lacks heavy artillery to batter down the fortress walls but the defenders cannon have fallen silent at last and the French commander awaits news of a surrender at any time.

A contingent of troops have arrived to support Mortier. 2,000 men commanded by Colonel Francois Duclos who has presented his written orders to Mortier stating his brigade has been sent by Imperial Headquarters to form the city's garrison.

Cataluña. Lerida and Gerona! Spanish Retreats! Citizens Perplexed!

There is shocking news at Lerida where a whole division of Spanish under General Casa Solano have abandoned the town and retreated east in some haste and disorder. The small but strong fortress was hardly threatened - a brigade of a few hundred French cavalry had appeared from the west two weeks ago supported by a few light guns. It is not clear why the withdrawal occurred and commentators are even mentioning cowardice on the part of senior Spanish officers. A brigade of Spanish cavalry commanded by de Larrocha remains east of the town at the bridges across the Segre and due to the citadel's fortifications and cannon overlooking these vital crossings, communication with the town is still open. Within the citadel a small but enthusiastic garrison remains, led by Coronel Juan-Pedro Apostoles. The French cavalry are keeping a respectful distance.

Another French cavalry brigade was posted at Monzon to the north-west but was unable to find any significant roads in the region that may prove of military use, nor a suitable crossing of the Rio Cinca there. The troopers were suffering from daily and increasing skirmishes with miquelets and, short of powder and with several wounded, the brigade was withdrawn to join the cavalry at Lerida.

There is similar news at Gerona. The city folk were dismayed to see the Army of Cataluña break its camps along the valley of the Ter and march away towards Hostalrich in the miserable mist and drizzle. At least the city is well supplied and damage caused by General Lechi's Italian troops in the summer has been repaired. A strong garrison has been placed within the walls and the outlying forts of Montjuich, Capuchins, Calvary and St. Narciso are strongly held with troops, powder and artillery. Reducing the city will be a major undertaking, the surprised and somewhat demoralised citizenry notwithstanding.

General Saint-Cyr at first refused to believe his cavalry's reports suspecting a ruse de guerre. Within two days however Neapolitan and Italian dragoons and chasseurs had pushed across the Ter and found all the enemy camps abandoned. Infantry and artillery commenced to cross at once. The city has yet to be invested but a siege must surely follow. The only problem facing the French is the diabolical weather and the ever-present attacks of the determined miquelets which swarm in the surrounding hills and the more isolated valleys.

Madrid! A Bustling City!

Troops are crammed into the magnificent city, their rows of tents lining the fashionable avenues and the pretty parks. Any business or warehouse previously owned by pro-Bonapartists has been comandeered as barracks and in the less fashionable parts of the capital tavernas and night-houses are doing great trade. Mercantile traffic has increased greatly since the French left and the city's markets are now the place to do trade, many new businesses not all of them desirable, sprouting up with the influx of uncouth soldier and noble officer alike.

Almost each day long supply trains of military goods accompanied by civilian traders and camp followers trudge and rattle away to support the Spanish troops, these convoys typically head north and east.

The now famous Army of Extremadura has arrived in the city following its glorious and successful siege of Toledo's Alcazar. The men have temporarily swollen the population by another 15,000. General Conde de Belvedere has been awarded with the title of Conde de Alcazar and an annual pension.

Cadiz and Andalucia! Spanish Forces Gathering!

At Spain's premier port and dockyard British ships are now arriving more frequently and every week boxes of muskets, flints, bolts of cloth for uniforms and the disassembled parts of artillery pieces and limbers arrive in heaps on the quaysides.

Just outside the city a tented camp of great extent has arisen to shelter the reserve troops that are training and mustering. This is the Ejército de Segunda Línea (Army of the Second Line) and judging by the ramshackle township of traders and entertainers that has grown up around the encampment we judge this army to already be in excess of 25,000. An advanced corps of this army is reported to be stationed forward as an immediate reserve at Manzanares, with artillery companies equipped with English cannon and cavalry organised into a separate division following the most modern practices.

Action on the Plains of Leon-Castille. Valladolid Threatened? Or Leon?

There are reported to be significant movements of large bodies of troops of both sides in Spain's most open and flat region. Despite being dotted by small farms, citrus groves and some watercourses, this area is perfect for the deployment of large bodies of cavalry which commentators are quick to point out the French enjoy a superiority of, both in quality and quantity.

His Majesty Emperor Napoleon has led a strong force of what is thought to be two corps west out of Burgos, reaching Carrion and then pushing quickly across the undefended river. It is not certain if his goal is Leon and Astorga or whether this march might be a move to threaten the northern flank of the Valladolid position or even the southern flank of the Spanish in Asturia and Cantabria. All that can be said is this is certainly no drive on Madrid, which was thought to be the target of the French when they reached Burgos. A busy swarm of light cavalry is pressing forwards to the front and flanks of this great host and although Spanish cavalry were encountered on the southern flank just west of Carrion, these fell back to the south-west when threatened.

The French vanguard has reached Saldanha and is now skirmishing successfully against two Spanish cavalry brigades there. The small infantry garrison of the town has been withdrawn to join the Galicians and it's thought that General Blake's Galician Army is now secure behind the line of the Valderaduey.

Of sudden concern to the French is the appearance again of more enemy cavalry on their left flank, mounted vedettes being observed moving north from Sahagun. It's not clear if these are the same cavalry that shadowed their left at Carrion or a fresh force.

On the line of the Pisuerga between Duenas and Torquemada two armies have spent almost a fortnight observing each other barely beyond cannon-shot. Marechal Soult's II Corps, now somewhat weakened by attrition in the bad weather, held a strong position on rising ground on the left bank and was faced by a combined Anglo-Spanish army led by the English General Moore and the Spaniard Cuesta. The Anglo-Spanish army held the crossings of the river and cavalry patrols of all three armies tested the other's lines every day without progress.

Towards the end of December first the Spanish contingent decamped and withdrew west and a couple of days later the English collapsed their tents, packed up their field forges and bakeries and withdrew down the Valladolid road. Before they left British engineers burned some wooden bridges and blew up the main stone bridge of the Valladolid-Burgos highway. French light cavalry have cautiously followed up, using some barges to ferry a few troops across the river. Supported by horse artillery batteries on the far bank the efficient French engineers are speedily building a replacement wooden bridge. To the south-west British cavalry observe these goings-on but do not interfere.    


What is becoming clear is that wherever the French advance further into Spain, soon after, in any surrounding hilly and forested regions, bandits, irregulars and civilian patriot fighters quickly appear. The hills south and north of Burgos were quiet last summer but now several bands of guerilleros have made their presence felt, names such as "El Blanco", "El Volante" and "Capitán Negro" have been heard and the French supply trains are needing stronger escorts with each passing week. There are even concerns from the garrison commander, an officer of Soult's II Corps, that the fortress could be "effectively isolated" by these scoundrels as they push in from both south and north to threaten the line of communications at Gamonal. He has asked for a division of dragoons to police the area between Torquemada, Carrion, Burgos and Miranda.

A new development south of the city is the appearance of Spanish regular cavalry only five or ten miles down the Aranda road. It is even said by travelling locals that an army is on the march here from Madrid though this is typical of the exaggerated rumours of such uninformed persons.

In The North! Cantabria! Santander! Reynosa!

General Acevedo's Army of the Asturias has seemingly disappeared westwards along the coast. No word has been received from it in weeks and few travellers are on the highways in this region for fear of encountering French patrols or the equally unfriendly "banditos".

The French of Marechal Ney who were around Reynosa are also quiescent, there is no news of new activity from this mountain town. It's possible the French have gone back east to reopen their broken supply road but nothing can be confirmed. If the guerilleros are aware of anything they keep their own counsel and watch from crag and ridge.

At Santander a British fleet of transports is trapped in the harbour by contary winds. Supplies continue to be unloaded at the quays however and the city is now garrisoned by a large force of Spanish some of whom are reported by local sources to be moving east to support General Baird, whose English troops hold Castro Urdilaes.

Off Bilbao and Portugalette two British sloops were observing the coast towns and road but inclement weather and bad winds have blown these vessels off-station.

Around Castro English cavalry brigades are screening their position both to east and south and in both cases French light forces are moving forward and probing their picquet lines. This region of Biscay has some of the most broken and difficult terrain in Spain and light infantry on both sides are being used to assist troops of dismounted dragoons and hussars among the pine forests and hillsides. The region is a defender's dream and an attacker's nightmare; there is very little level ground to deploy mounted troops or even artillery. Any fight here will be a clash of infantry for the most part, made more unpleasant by the constant winds and sleet showers that dampen powder and make visibility variable.


A parade in the Plaza Rossio was watched by a crowd of citizens as the 1st Portuguese infantry brigade went through their new English drills. The men looked very fine in their new uniforms, their bright yellow, blue and white silken flags futtering and the drummer boys beating out a stirring tattoo. The expertly barked commands of the British NCOs and the cheerful marching music raised everyone's spirits. Rumour has it the first Portuguese brigades will be released for campaign duties in the spring. Each is said to be comprised of two regiments each of two battalions of musketeers and a battalion of light infantry. There is some debate as to how they will be deployed. One suggestion is to form divisions of two brigades and two artillery companies and others have opined that these troops should be attached at the ratio of one Portuguese brigade to each English division. A number of senior Portuguese officers wish to have command of their army, corps and divisions while other commentators have stated that the new army is still very raw and combining them in the line with British troops will help them gain experience more quickly.

Senior British generals and diplomats have not yet commented on these conflicting views.

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
Mr. Digby

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Re: TURN 14 - late December 1808

Post  Mr. Digby on Mon Mar 16, 2015 5:53 pm

Latest News! Santander Reinforced! Acevedo Marches!

We have just received news that General Acevedo's Army of the Asturias has now arrived in Santander, swelling the already large Spanish garrison.

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
Mr. Digby

Posts : 4956
Join date : 2012-02-14
Age : 58
Location : UK Midlands

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