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Turn 19 - early March 1809

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Turn 19 - early March 1809

Post  Mr. Digby on Mon Nov 23, 2015 3:54 pm

The First Half of March 1809, a Time of Terrible and Great Events. How Long Will Spain Suffer?!

"May you live in interesting times." - Confucian curse.


The French siege is proceeding apace and the impact of their heavy artillery makes the prospects for the garrison look bleak. General Castro within the fortress is doing all that he can but his civilians and enthusiastic militia are facing the finest soldiers in Europe. Already the besiegers engineers have dug saps to the outer works of the Forts of Capuchins and Montjuich and following heavy bombardments and assaults in the last few days both have fallen, leaving the French in command of the critical heights that command the east and south-east perimeter of the city.

Earlier, at the close of February the outer works of St Daniel, St Luis and St Narciso all fell to dramatic infantry assaults with sappers throwing grenadoes and engineers using axes to batter down the redoubt gates.

The siege is however very bloody and St Cyr's Italian troops that are principally involved in the assaults are taking heavy losses.

Outside the city groups of Spanish miquelets do all they can to disrupt the flow of materiel and supplies but the French commander has wisely allocated a brigade of dragoons to support his operations and these mounted troops are working hard to keep the lines of communicati0n with Rosas and Figueras open. Daily the guerillas skirmish with their opponents but each day fail to cut the road down which the heavy supply wagons continue to roll. Further second line battalions of French infantry also escort the supply convoys. Never before has such a large proportion of an army's soldiers been set to protect a line of supply. The strategy is working but how blunt has this made the spear-point of VII Corps that watches the road to Barcelona in the south?


All is quiet at this small fortress. The vagabond skeleton "army" of Aragon has stumbled and staggered away east, we presume to find some safer quarters to rest, recover and re-equip. This force of soldiers is still suffering attrition from desertion and sickness. In a few months might there be anything left of this tragic army at all?

To the west of town Spanish cavalry patrol beyond Mequinenza but all is peaceful here - for now.


A Spanish sloop came to anchor in the roadstead. A ship's boat rowed ashore and a gentleman in fine attire climbed the wet quay steps to the dockside. A military band struck up a stirring tune and a row of officers saluted. One staff officer greeted the newcomer and after some brief formalities and the inspection of a company of soldiers of the garrison the visitor entered a coach drawn by six black horses and was whisked away to his headquarters. Alonso de Nava Grimón y Benítez de Lugo, Marqués de Villanueva del Prado has arrived in Barcelona to take up command of the Army of Cataluña. The previous commander Lieutenant General Vives, had been taken ill after a fall from his horse at the battle of Cervera and retired to his villa at Valls. Del Prado spent a few days dealing with paperwork and other administrative matters in the city before riding out on the Lerida road to meet his senior officers and his new commander in chief, Capitán General Llamas.

We understand that the Spanish forces between Lerida and Barcelona are returning to the capital of the province. No doubt a relief expedition to Gerona will soon be mounted.


After the bloody struggle near the end of February an almost siege-like situation developed with the Spanish of General Villava attempting to encircle the town and cut it's supply road to Zaragosa. To this end a bridge of boats was built across the Rio Jalon about a mile and a half east of the town by which cavalry patrols and an infantry division were sent north to threaten this side of the French defences.

Within his earthworks Maréchal Mortier sat tight, awaiting a reinforcing division from the north. He sent the dragoons of General la Houssaye to the east to keep watch on the Spanish in that direction. Within a week Gazan's division arrived doubling the French strength in the town. One of Mortier's successes over this last few weeks has been a series of ruses intended to make his forces seem stronger than they are and make the Spanish doubt their ability to enclose the whole town lest they be too weak at some point. To this end General Villava pulled back General Adorno's Army of Murcia from its position in the west, withdrawing them to the right bank of the Ribota and strengthening his defences on the south side of the town.

All through the night of the 8th and 9th March the French were heard active in their defences, many lights indicated a busy movement of forces but daylight showed them still in their defences and no attack came. It transpired that Mortier had had a last minute council with his divisional generals who had suggested an attack out of the town in a different direction. Therefore, all morning of the 9th, the tired French infantry were marched around the town some more and only at 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon was the corps ready to move. Several critical hours of daylight had been lost and the Spanish watching the town from the southern heights were ready to meet the onslaught.

Even so, when it came, the French attack was delivered with great élan and courage; la Houssaye's dragoons in particular crashing into Nuñes and Rosas' brigades on the Marsal road and throwing them back while Gazan's infantry attacked the breastworks held by the men of Villar's division.

Villava had intended to give ground and fall back towards Chames along his supply road, contracting his front and massing his forces to hold a position higher in the hills. To this end he ordered General the Prince of Anglona to bring his cavalry division south-east back over the Ribota and for General San Juan commanding the Army of Granada to burn the bridge of boats, withdraw his cavalry patrols and move south west to block the Marsal and Epinuil roads.

A confused running battle developed as the Spanish tried to withdraw and the French pushed after them. The ground was not suited to cavalry operations with many woods and narrow lanes winding between fields ploughed for the spring sowing. Nevertheless the French dragoons did great mischief among the less well drilled Spanish infantry, routing several battalions and capturing several hundred men.

At half past three in the afternoon the Spanish managed to bring their massed cavalry - two divisions - those of Anglona and Maceda to the centre of the battlefield on rising open ground which dissuaded la Houssaye from pressing his advantage further. This, and the late hour of the day, allowed the Spanish to retreat through Chames along the Cuenca road.

Maceda's cavalry division of the Army of Granada observing la Houssaye's dragoons across a shallow valley. The Spanish have now brought some companies of horse artillery to battle, something not seen before.

Mortier had secured Calatayud but he had not destroyed his enemy. Villava is in some chaos and part of his baggage train had to be abandoned to allow his army to withdraw but his men appear strangely elated by this battle. They felt as though, on the whole, they escaped a very bad fate with only minor injury and this has lifted the mood of the less experienced soldiers.


Mariscal de Campo el Conde de Caldagues, the loser of Oropesa and sometime commander of the Army of Catalu
ña, has been sued by lawyers retained by the estate of General Llamas over the supposed content of his memoirs. Certain chapters of the general's autobiography have been published in "l'Estrella" broadsheet and Llamas has clearly taken exception to certain passages related to his actions in battle around Murcia and Cervera.

Somosierra and Madrid!

A great and violent clash has occurred in the Guadarrama mountains north of the capital and to the shock of the citizens of Madrid the army of Capit
án General Castaños has been rudely defeated and thrown back down the hills. It is rumoured that up to 15,000 Spanish were casualties or made prisoner following this catastrophe. Strategists of Europe are stunned at how rapidly the French wrested this immensely strong position from the defenders!

The victor of the battle, Napoleon himself, has followed up his success with typical French daring and speed. The fight occurred on the 6th March and by the 13th French cavalry were entering Madrid from the north!

The Spanish troops of Andalucia, shaky from their lost battle panicked and abandoned the city, fleeing down the Aranjuez road, though they did not halt their flight even with the Rio Duero behind them. The city garrison made up of raw recruits and part-time soldiers melted away in the chaos and we have heard reports of soldiers looting stores, bakeries and wine warehouses in their panic to get supplies before they fled. Several merchants and nobles of the city have also joined the exodus, the long column of wagons, carts and fine coaches headed south, dust-covered and with horses neighing in panic and maddened dogs running hither and thither barking at everything in their excitement.

The French Emperor and his brother King Joseph entered the city on the 14th at the head of the Imperial Guard and Joseph's Royal Spanish Guards. On the north-west side of the city Spanish cavalry of the Army of Extremadura clashed with Chasseurs and Dragoons of General Junot's VIII Corps. The Spanish had been ordered into the city to aid it's defence and to try and destroy the vast storehouses there to prevent them falling into French hands but they were thwarted by the rapid advance of their enemy. The Spaniards, three brigades and a company of horse artillery led by General de Brigada Josef Solis, were so surprised at meeting Frenchmen so far west of the recent battle that they withdrew north-west back towards the town of Villalba. At this place the Extremadura army is crossing the river to approach Madrid. Victor's I Corps is already on the road to meet them. General Junot's VIII Corps is taking up the work of policing the city, rooting out Spanish monarchist sympathisers and watching the southern roads towards Aranjuez and Ocaña.

It is expected that King Joseph will make a formal return to his throne in the last weeks of March and a grand parade and state banquet is planned. Napoleon however is dealing each day with urgent correspondence from France and it seems as though he may have to quit Spain soon to look after affairs in Germany once more. Already the Imperial Guard has received orders to leave the city and return to Burgos.

Villacastin and Valladolid!

At this small town on the southern periphery of the Leon plain there has been a bloodless confrontation between British and French. Part of the II Corps of Mar
échal Soult had left Valladolid and gone south to Arevalo. There the Extremaduran Army of Count Belvedere quit it's good defensive position and withdrew. Soult followed aggressively to come upon a great allied host at Villacastin. There he encountered the British of Sir Arthur Wellesley as well as the Spanish of Theodor von Reding. Belvedere added his own army to the allied concentration until the French with barely 14,000 men was facing more than 50,000 enemy! The Maréchal was cool however and deployed on good ground to the north west of the town, his right flank resting on the Rio Adajo and for several days postured boldly, pinning the allied force in place. He even sent a strong body of hussars south towards the Avila road threatening the allied supply route and forcing them to face off his own light cavalry with a division of their own. This move has been of immense assistance to the Emperor, keeping strong forces tied down and unable to move upon Madrid or support Castaños.

On the 10th March word of the Spanish defeat at Somosierra arrived in the allied camp and the Conde de Belvedere marched his Army of Extremadura east towards Madrid to help protect it. His move was too late however and we can report that his corps has been obliged to halt just across the Rio Guadarrama at Villalba by the approach of Maréchal Victor's Corps from the city.

Sir Arthur Wellesley and von Reding spent a long evening discussing their options. They had French to the north, a vulnerable capital city to the east and their supply road to Ciudad Rodrigo to the west. They decided to push at Soult the next morning and did so after dawn. Soult however was waiting for just such a move and skilfully withdrew his corps in the face of stronger allied forces, north, across the Adajo at Arevalo where he collected more cavalry left there to guard the crossing, and made his way slowly towards Valladolid. His force is now some thirty miles south of the city with the armies of Wellesley and von Reding five miles beyond. The move north by all these forces was marked by several days of bitter skirmishing that has left losses on both sides.

Upon getting closer to Valladolid Soult was surprised to get news from his garrison commander that another Spanish army, that of General Cuesta and the Galicians, is to the west at Tordesillas. Soult is facing huge numbers of enemy now although Wellesley and von Reding are suffering supply problems with too many troops relying on one supply road.

In the North!

Maréchal Ney has remained at Santander patching up VI Corps with replacements. The guerillas have sent word to General Acevedo that two bodies of troops each of brigade size with attached guns, one of infantry, one of cavalry, have gone south from Santander to Espinosa and then taken the mountain road to Reynosa. These forces reached Reynosa by mid-month and have secured the town. They also pose a threat to Acevedo's right flank.

Maréchal Verdier's corps at Reynosa has marched south. It appears to have descended from the mountain region entirely.

In the area around Sahagun and Saldanha a confusing cavalry skirmish has been developing. Spanish mounted forces led by the Marques de Valladares have been patrolling in this area for some time. Dragoons commanded by General de Division Lorges arrived along the road from Carrion with a company of horse artillery and a lengthy period of light skirmishing and patrolling has taken place. Eventually the more numerous and boldly-handled French cavalry pushed their opponents back to the twin villages of Gradefes and Mansilla on the Rio Esla. Here the Spanish were supported by several brigades of infantry and some artillery, thought to be the garrison of Leon. The Spanish are resolutely defending the line of the river. Lorges has insufficient force to press the issue further but on the 15th March a dust cloud could be seen approaching from the east. It appears the French are making an advance deeper into Leon than heretofore.

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 19 - early March 1809

Post  Master of Europe on Mon Nov 23, 2015 9:36 pm

Very interesting stuff.
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