Sunday, February 25, 2018

Battle of Valls

The Battle Of Valls, February 25th, 1809

Map of the battleground showing the historical placement of the opposing forces in the first and second parts of the battle.
By the end of 1808, with the Spanish still holding most of Catalonia with the exception of besieged Barcelona, French general Gouvion St. Cyr was sent to gain control of the province.
Despite victories at Rosas, Cardadeu, the relief of Barcelona and Molins de Rei, after laying siege to Tarragona St. Cyr found himself in a difficult situation, having exhausted the surrounding countryside of food and forage. Continually finding his communication lines cut by the somatenes he then learned that two Spanish armies were closing in on him. 
Striking first, St. Cyr dispersed the Spanish centre and left at Igualada on February 17. The Spanish commander, General Reding, with the army of the right, gathered up the fugitives from this fight and then, realizing his communication with Tarragona was threatened marched towards that city. St. Cyr, in an attempt to cut him off, split his force, positioning a division across both of the main routes to Tarragona. But stealing a march in the night Reding came down from a smaller mountain road to surprise (and be surprised by!) Souham's division placed in Valls.

My game map. I incorporated a lot of the orchards and woods which lead to an interesting dynamic in the game as lines of sight were often blocked.

Part 1 of this scenario begins with Reding's force having arrived just west of Valls, with one of his divisions already debouched over the Goy Bridge that spans the Rio Francoli while Souham has sallied out from Valls to confront him. The Spanish hope is to use their superiority in numbers to push the French back and clear their way to Tarragona while the French hope to block them until help can arrive from St. Cyr and Pino's division, eight miles away in Pla.

Part 2 begins with the arrival of St. Cyr at the head of Pino's cavalry. Reding, seeing the approach of the Italian cavalry, fears that Pino's arrival is imminent, and elects to retreat back over the Rio Francoli and take up a defensive position on the heights west of that river. But Pino's arrival is still four hours away and the sun is low on the horizon by the time St. Cyr is in a position to push home his attack.

The game was fought with 1/72 scale figures on a 6’X4.5’ table. The scenario is posted here:
The game table with Valls in the foreground and the heights beyond the Rio Francoli at the top. A number of small, easily fordable streams crossed the battleground and enveloped the town.
Another view from the rooftops of Valls.

Part 1

1. Spanish debouch over the Goy Bridge

Coming down from an unwatched mountain road Reding’s Spanish are surprised to find Souham’s troops blocking his road at Valls. Driving in the French pickets, the Spanish begin to debouch over the Rio Francoli.

2. Souham sallies forth from Valls to block the Spanish path to Tarragona

Taken by surprise himself, Souham moves his division into the ground west of Valls, placing Dumoulin’s stronger division on his right, Verges’ on his left and his cannon in the centre. The 24th Dragoons are placed in reserve.

3. Forward!

Verges’ brigade (42nd Line and a provisional regiment) march out of Valls to confront the Spanish.

4. Spanish light cavalry advance on right flank

The Spanish hussars take a road on the far right of the Spanish flank, advancing towards a ford over the Francoli.

5. Coming down from the hills

Castro’s Granadan Division, mostly formed of Spanish militia and raw levies, marches down from the heights west of the Francoli as Reding’s lead division (remnants of the old Catalan Army) forms up on the far bank.

6. French open fire on lead Spanish

Souham’s division moves up to take a defensive position on the east side of a small creek. The lead Spanish arrive piecemeal, and as one of Marti’s brigades emerge from the orchards to the west they take a devastating fusillade from the Spanish infantry and artillery.
In the foreground Souham sends his dragoons off to his left to block the Spanish hussars seen approaching on that flank.

7. Overview

View from the west looking towards Valls. Souham’s division, centre left blocks the road to Valls and eventually Tarragona defending behind a small stream. Only Marti’s Catalan division has entered the field so far. One brigade demonstrates at the far centre left while the French have crossed the small stream (centre, behind trees) and driven the other of Marti’s brigades back after it suffered serious losses from musket and cannon fire.
In the foreground the last of the Castro’s Granadan division march across the Goy Bridge to join the battle while on the far upper right the Spanish hussars ford the Rio Francoli to engage with the French dragoons who have been sent to cover this flank.

8. Souham's legére in trouble

Caught flat-footed the French dragoons are sent reeling back with losses by the Spanish hussars on the Spanish right flank. Now, having turned this flank, they spy one of Souham’s light infantry brigades, having just crossed the small stream to engage the Spanish infantry and vulnerable to a charge once the Spanish horses recover.

9. Castro's division marches in to support Marti

Now Castro’s two brigades arrive at the front, one forming up adjacent to Marti’s battered troops and the other fording the stream to join the Spanish cavalry on the French flank.

10. Dumoulin's brigade forced into square

The Spanish hussars charge the French flank and, although driven off, force the French into square. This turns out to be key to the Spanish successes as the brigade fails to extricate itself from this position.

11. Spanish turn French flank

In the lower right a Spanish brigade fords the stream to join the husssars on the French flank while a second (upper left) crosses the stream to engage the enemy from the front.

12. Dumoulin's brigade savaged

The French are savaged by Spanish musket fire and unable to respond effectively from square before they are charged. Dumoulin’s brigade is driven back and the French line now finds itself in tatters on the right. Originally confident he could hold the Spanish at bay, Souham’s eyeglass is now continually focussed to the rear, desperate to see the arrival of St. Cyr and Pino’s Italians before all is lost!

13. Vergès brigade takes the offensive

In an attempt to regain the offensive and with their left hanging in the air regardless with the loss of Dumoulin’s brigade on that flank, Vergès in turn charges across the stream. He drives off the Spanish cannon, badly damaging one of the batteries and wheels to confront the Spanish on their flank.

14. Overview

At the top centre one of Castro’s Granadan levied brigades stalls out on the French left, refusing to close with the enemy. Dumoulin’s battered brigade of light infantry, in square in centre is still threatened by the best of Marti’s Catalan troops while just to the right of those Castro’s second brigade of levies is in danger of being rolled up on its flank by Vergès.
Both Spanish cannon have been driven off (right centre) but one of the French batteries has also been damaged by enemy fire.
Unprotected it lies vulnerable to Marti’s second brigade which is preparing to advance across the stream at bottom centre.

15. Legére routed, battery destroyed

The Spanish infantry drive back the French light, again inflicting heavy losses and shortly afterwards the remnant of that brigade routs back towards Valls. The Spanish charge carries it through to the damaged French battery and that is also destroyed.

16. Spanish firm up line against Vergès' French

Castro’s second brigade manages to firm up its line before the French can capitalize on their flanking position and with the Spanish cannon also attaching to this brigade it proves too tough a nut for Vergès to crack.

17. A Hail Mary charge

In a last ditch attempt to salvage the disaster on the French left the two remaining squadrons of the 24th Dragoons charge the victorious Spanish, but the Spanish manage to form square and the cavalry are driven off with losses, also routing from the field.

18. St. Cyr arrives, end of Part 1

Finally St. Cyr, at the head of the Italian cavalry comes galloping towards Valls along the Pla road. He finds Souham’s division in tatters, one of his brigades driven off and the cavalry routed from the field and thinks, “Honestly! I leave him alone for a morning…”

St. Cyr’s arrival marks the end of Part 1. Historically Reding saw the arrival of St. Cyr and the cavalry as signifying the imminent arrival of the Italian Division. In reality it would be another four hours before Pino’s division arrived, that general having delayed his advance from Pla until an outlying battalion was brought in. But Reding, with his troops exhausted from their night march and not confident he can now win his way through to Tarragona, elected to withdraw to the strong position on the heights west of the Rio Francoli. And this is where we will find him for the start of Part 2.

Part 2

With only a few hours until sunset St. Cyr moves quickly to organize his troops in preparation for an assault across the river and up the heights where the Spanish have taken up position.

19. Spanish take up positions on heights west of Rio Francoli

The Spanish take up positions on the heights west of the river, electing to stay back from the ridgeline until the enemy has drawn closer.

20. Castro's Granadan Division guards the left flank over the Goy Bridge

Reding deploys his troops with the Granadan division on the left, Marti’s Catalan division in the centre and right and the diminished cavalry (now two squadrons of hussars) on the far right.

21. Spanish Hussars position on right flank, hidden in woods

22. French batteries emplace below the Goy Bridge

The French and Italian gunners emplace their cannon on the east bank of the river but within easy range of the ridge if the enemy should show itself.

23. Pino's Italian Division forms up in assault columns at the fords

St. Cyr forms up his troops along the river, the Italians to the southeast at two fords and Vergès’ brigade, now under Souham’s direct control as it is the only brigade left of his division, with the Italian cavalry next to the Goy Bridge.

24. One of Castro's brigades and the Spanish batteries move to bolster Spanish centre and right

Seeing that the bulk of the enemy attack would likely be falling on their centre Reding sends over one of Castro’s brigades to bolster that part of the line. The Spanish cannon as well are attached.

25. Spanish move forward from behind ridgeline 

Seeing the Italians moving across their front in brigade masse the Spanish push their line up to the ridge in the hopes of pouring fire into the massed enemy.

26. French batteries open fire

Seeing the Spanish advance to the ridgeline the French gunners unleash a barrage of deadly fire as the enemy tries to emplace its own guns.

27. Deadly fire

One of the Spanish batteries is destroyed!

28. Spanish retreat from ridge, Italians advance

A second round of cannon fire ploughs great gaps in the Spanish line and Reding pulls his troops back from the crestline without having fired a shot, allowing the Italians to advance up the ridge unmolested.

29. Souham's brigade debouches over the Goy Bridge, French artillery limbers up

With the enemy withdrawn, Souham’s brigade now marches across the Goy Bridge, while the artillery, with no targets, limbers up to follow suit.

30. Overview

In this overview you can see the advance of Pino’s Italians on the ridge while at the top Souham’s brigade marches across the Goy Bridge to deploy while the artillery limbers up and moves forward. The Spanish have firmed up their lines beyond the ridge, surrendering the favourable ground of the slope in the face of enemy cannon fire. At the bottom right the Spanish cavalry have advanced to threaten the Italian flank, but morale is low, and instead of closing, on seeing the enemy numbers storming the ridge, panic and flee from the battle! An ignoble end to an otherwise brilliant showing.

31. Spanish left flank advances to pour fire into French column

In a surprise move Castro’s brigade on the Spanish left suddenly surges over the ridge to pour fire into Souham’s flank as his troops march over the bridge. But the Spanish levies fire is sporadic and does little damage.

32. Italians charge the ridge

With the sun settling low on the horizon and the encroaching dark threatening to end the battle Pino charges the ridge in a risk-all attempt to break Reding’s army.

33. Italian dragoons charge Spanish across the Goy Bridge

At the same moment as Pico’s troops charge the ridge and as Souham’s brigade moves off, the Italian dragoons and chasseurs storm across the bridge to engage the Spanish militia on that flank. The Spanish brigade crumbles and retreats to the rear, and a number of battalions are completely routed.

34. Mélee on the ridge

Italians close with the Spanish.

35. Ridge is carried, Italian cavalry rolls up Spanish flank

The Spanish put up a good fight but are driven back off the ridge. The Italian cavalry, in a breakthrough charge, crash into the Spanish left and drive off a second enemy brigade, which again has several battalions rout in the process.

36. Dragoons under fire

Horses blown after the uphill charge, the dragoons now come under fire from the last Spanish battery which has quickly emplaced behind the Spanish lines. Deadly fire thins their ranks and the cavalry routs from the field, but not before having completely devastated the Spanish left.

37. French advance artillery

The French artillery moves forward with the lead battery unlimbering at the crestline in order to bring fire into the ranks of the reeling Spanish.

38. Last moments

The surviving Spanish troops refuse their flank but know the writing is on the wall.

39. Spanish rout

Now suffering severely on the “army cohesion” rolls the remaining Spanish rout before St. Cyr can close, loosing their last battery to the advancing Italians. The survivors melt into the mountains as the sun goes down, curtailing any pursuit by St. Cyr's forces.
The second half of the battle sees a complete collapse of Reding’s army with very little loss to Pino's Division, starting with the deadly cannon fire that drove them off the ridge and ending with the complete rout of their forces as a result of the cavalry and infantry onslaught. It was in sharp contrast to the first half of the scenario where the Spanish performed very well, decimating Souham’s division and almost winning passage to Tarragona before Pino’s troops could arrive.


  1. Ho Bill, what a report! I would be so proud to have such a nice battlefield, and your armies are so beautifully painted, hats off!!!

  2. Thanks, Phil. It was a rollicking good fight, especially the first part.