Monday, October 22, 2018

The Battle of Barrosa, March 5th, 1811

Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of hosting at my home Brian North, another enthusiast for the Peninsular Wars (and more specifically the Spanish) to playtest a scenario based on the Battle of Barrosa, fought on March 5, 1811 in the south of Spain. Again, it is one of those strange things that happen in this age of forums and connectivity, but Brian had first seen my battle report for Valls on TMP  (which can be seen here) and was intrigued as he was currently playing out the same battle with his own rules and figures.
The interesting part of all this is that Brian is British, currently living in Zurich and I live in central Canada. As fate would have it, however, Brian’s life is such that it brings him to Toronto fairly often and he is crazy enough to got to the trouble of catching a bus out to nowhere, where I live, so we can play toy soldiers.
This was his second journey out to my home, and on this occasion I had this Barrosa scenario to try out. Brian had already helped me with some of the orbats, mainly the composition of Zayas’ force that sallied out from the Isla de León so it seemed to make sense that he would be the one to playtest it.

The full scenario can be found here. It has been tweaked since we played this game, and at the end of this report I will include a bit about my solo replay with the tweaked version, which had a completely different result! This scenario can be played two ways, historically or a “what if” version of the battle where there is a chance that La Peña may actually do something rather than sit tight and wait for the British to fail. As it turned out, it was even a greater “what if” because Graham does not only fail, but under my hand he does it spectacularly and quickly, and on the fly we had to decide what La Peña’s options should be when the French suddenly arrive on his eastern flank (as they did in this game). We decided that, being La Peña, he would most likely withdraw to the safety of the Isla de León and let the remnants of Graham’s force fend for themselves, with a slim chance that he would go on the offensive. We rolled for it, and the battle became an exercise in strategic withdrawal for the Spanish, which was fascinating in and of itself.

The scenario

The game was played out on a 7.5’ X 4.5’ table, using 1/72 scale figures and Age of Eagles II rules. The scenario and background material can be found posted here. This scenario represents the battle after the point when Vilatte and the lead Spanish forces clashed south of Almansa Creek. Vilatte, concerned about Zayas' force (which had crossed the boat bridge from the Isle of León and appeared on his flank) retreated with some difficulty over the Almansa Creek, taking up a new blocking position on the Cádiz road and La Peña, upon hearing of Victor's approach from the north, has positioned his forces to defend the bridgehead. The Spanish baggage train along with Béguines' brigade, are at the point of moving up to join La Peña's main force, while a Spanish/British rearguard force (Cruez Murgeon  brigade) under the command of Graham occupies the Cerro de Puerco but is in the process of withdrawing (against the protestations of Browne, the commander of the British battalion included in this force). A KGL/Spanish cavalry force, under Whittingham, also covers the withdrawal. 
The British division under Graham is in the process of responding to La Peña's command to join him in the area south of the Almansa Creek, much against Graham's better judgement, by marching along a path through the pine forest north of the coastal road. They (like Peña) have also just received word from Spanish guerrillas that a large force of French have emerged from the north, threatening the rear.

The scenario map. Area A is Vilatte, Area C La Peña. W and Z are Cruz Murgeon's brigade and Whittingham's cavalry. E and F are Wheatley and Dilkes under Graham and X is Béguines. The French under Victor entered from the top of the map north of the Cerro de Puerco.

Table top

From Cerro de Puerco

From Isla de León

1. Zayas’ brigade marches over Almansa Creek

As Zayas relaunches his boat bridge and marches over Almansa Creek to threaten Vilatte’s rear, Vilatte withdraws north of the creek, blocking the road to Cadiz

2. Over the Almansa

Another view of the boat bridge built specially for this scenario!

3. Initial deployment

The battle begins with Vilatte north of the Almansa (upper left), La Peña’s forces facing off against them and Zayas (below creek centre left) forming up, having crossed the boat bridge (not yet built so not in this picture).
Béguines’ militia can be seen approaching La Peña in the lower right along the coastal road, with baggage train while above him Graham’s British can be glimpsed moving through the pine woods to join up with La Peña.

4. Béguines' brigade

Béguines' militia brigade, baggage train in tow, makes its slow way along the coastal road towards La Peña’s lines, oblivious of the French descending to his rear.

5. La Peña confronts Vilatte

La Peña arrays his troops in front of Vilatte, who has retreated to the north side of the creek. He places Lardizabal on the left and Anglona on the right, and out of skirmish range they exchange cannon fire. The Spanish at this point easily outnumber the French more than three to one but La Peña waits for Graham to join him before he initiates the attack.

6. Zayas forms up on near bank

Zayas’ Irlanda Regiment and Royal Spanish Guard form ranks behind.

7. Meanwhile in the woods…

Graham moves his two British brigades through the pine forest along a track in order to join up with La Peña, as commanded. Suddenly Spanish guerrillas appear to warn him that the French approach in numbers from the north. On his own initiative Graham decides to about face and move to block the French.

8. Cruz Murgeon's brigade and Whittingham's cavalry south of the Cerro de Puerco

The Spanish brigade under Cruz Murgeon (under Graham’s command with Browne’s composite flank battalion attached) lurk out of sight of the advancing French on the south side of the Cerro de Puerco, wavering as to whether to hold the position or retreat. Whittingham’s cavalry are in the process of pulling back on the coastal road.

9. Whittingham's cavalry

Whttingham’s cavalry (a KGL/Spanish mix under command of La Peña) limber up their half battery and prepare to withdraw.

10. Dilkes’ Guards spotted by French

Dilkes’ brigade (upper left) march out of the woods with the intention of forming up on the west side of the Cerro de Puerco. But he is spotted by Laval’s advancing columns, who immediately unlimber their cannon and commence to fire.

11. Meunier attacks

Laval sends his élite brigade under Meunier in to attack before Dilkes can shake out of march column (failed maneuver roll!) Caught completely flat-footed, the Guards are sent back reeling with casualties.

12. Cruz Murgeon moves into line next to Dilkes

Cruz Murgeon wheels on the Cerro de Puerco to form up next to Dilkes while Whittingham brings his cavalry in on the flank.

13. Overview

In this overview Dilkes and Cruz Murgeon form up bottom right on the west slope of the Cerro de Puerco while Meunier’s and Laplane’s brigades march up the north slope of the hill to engage. Meanwhile, centre left in the woods, Wheatley’s brigade has failed to beat the French to the woods edge and, on making contact, choose to withdraw in an attempt to link up with Dilkes. The two batteries of British cannon have yet to appear on the table (hidden movement) but have actually been placed in line with Wheatley’s brigade.
Barrois’ brigade,  under direct command of Ruffin can be spotted top right on the edge of the woods, preparing to enter in pursuit of Wheatley.

14. Wheatley driven back, one battery lost, second damaged

Ruffin’s division (top right) and Meunier’s élite (centre) charge Wheatley deep in the forest. Meunier takes a pounding from the British artillery but the attack is successful, sending Wheatley’s brigade reeling back (centre left). The British batteries limber up to join the retreat, but the rough forest terrain slows their retreat, leaving them behind and vulnerable to a second French attack. This attack does occur and one battery is lost while the second rejoins Wheatley’s lines badly damaged.

15. Cavalry action

Meanwhile Dermoncort’s cavalry has worked its way around the Cerro de Puerco, clashing in charge and countercharge with Whittingham’s brigade.

16. Battling it out on the Cerro de Puerco

Laplane’s brigade scales the east slope of the Cerro de Puerco, bringing up both batteries of French artillery, to engage Dilkes and Cruz Murgeon. They succeed in driving the Allies off the feature.

17. Wheatley driven back to la Peña's lines 

Wheatley continues to be driven back by Ruffin’s assault, emerging in disorder from the pine woods next to Béguines, who is still moving slowly towards the Spanish lines. La Peña, seeing Wheatley in full retreat and Dilkes and Cruz Murgeon driven off the Cerro, now has to decide whether to come to the rescue of the British or prepare to withdraw to the safety of the Isla de León. (As this was a playtest and this “what if” had not been foreseen, Brian and I decided to put it to a roll of the die, but, being La Peña, heavily weighted to him withdrawing without giving battle!)

18. Dilke and Cruz Murgeon routed

Things continue to go badly for Graham as Dilkes and Cruz Murgeon are both routed by Laplane! Whealtey’s battered brigade also joins the stream of British routing back through the Spanish lines. As the remnants of Graham’s force come streaming back towards his lines La Peña, confirmed in his expectations that the British would lose this fight, prepares to withdraw his forces.

19. Zayas moves forward to block French approach

Now it is a matter of performing a withdrawal in the face of the enemy. Fortunately for the Spanish French artillery is well back and their numbers not enough to take on the entire Spanish force with confidence. Behind La Peña’s lines Zayas, in reserve, marches forward to block the coastal road while La Peña’s small cavalry force is sent back across the boat bridge.

20. Overview

Top left the Spanish scramble to get Béguines brigade off to safety, as Zayas moves up along the coast to link up with Lardizabal and Anglona who are in the process of shifting their lines left in front of Vilatte. Laplane is already well along the coastal road, threatening the rear of Béguines column while Laplane marches down through the forest to link up. Meunier’s brigade, badly battered in its encounter with Wheatley, has retired from the field.

21. Spanish tighten bridgehead

The Spanish manage to move back Béguines and seal off the peninsula just in time. La Peña reorganizes his troops, placing Lardizabal opposite Vilatte, Anglona astride the coastal road while moving Zayas up to replace Anglona.

22. Béguines retreats to the Isla de León

Behind this screen Béguines and the baggage train retreat over the boat bridge.

23. Remnants of Whittingham's cavalry routs back towards the Spanish lines

Cut off from the rest of the army and pounded by artillery, Whittingham’s shattered brigade routs back to the Spanish lines.

24. Virué's brigade pulled out of the line

Anglona’s second brigade is pulled from the line and Zayas takes over his position as Ruffin and Laval’s remaining brigade close in.

25. From the French lines

26. Virués marches across the boat bridge to the Isla

With Anglona at its head Virués marches across the boat bridge to the Isla while Zayas pulls back to the Torre Bermeja amd Lardizibal moves by the flank west down the Almansa.

27. Dermancourt's brigade arrives on Ruffin's seaward flank

With Whittingham dealt with Laval’s cavalry arrives, and the French wait for their artillery to moved up into line.

28. Zayas and Lardizabal pull back adjacent to the Torre Bermeja

With the sun getting low the Spanish tighten their ranks further, with Lardizabal preparing to exit. But La Peña moves Lardizabal too soon, exposing Zayas’ flank to Vilatte’s cannon as well as the artillery newly arrived along the coastal road.

29. French assault on rear guard

With Zayas disordered by artillery fire into his flank the French surge in on the rear guard. Vilatte pours over the creek, firing into Zayas’ flank while Barrois’ and Laplane’s brigades slam into them from the front.

30. Breakthrough charges

Zayas’ breaks and routs over the boat bridge while Barrois’ and Laplane’s momentum carry them into the flank of the Spanish lines. A battery is captured and Lardizabal is sent reeling back to the banks of the Almansa’s mouth.

31. Lardizabal forced back to bridge

Forced back to the bridge Lardizabal manages to form up in the face of the advancing French. Béguines half battery, still on the near shore and unable to escape unlimbers to put some ineffective fire in the French flank.

32. Lardizabal marches across to the Isla de León

Game ends as Lardizabal retreats under cover of a rearguard to join the rest of the battered Allies on the Isla de León.

The game was a whole lot of fun. Although it didn’t play out historically by any stretch of the imagination it did lead one to think what would have happened if Graham’s gamble hadn’t paid off. Knowing La Peña, a withdrawal to the Isla de León was probably the most likely scenario, bringing the Allies long and circuitous march to engage Victor and lift the siege of Cadiz all for nought. As it was, historically little was accomplished even with Graham’s victory because la Peña refused to follow it up and capitalize on it. The withdrawal of the Spanish was a fun exercise at the end of the game, and we introduced a mechanic that would reward the Spanish for doing this successfully. As it was, Graham’s force was so seriously trounced that any points the Spanish scored paled in the face of the massive French victory. But as so many of us who wargame, we don’t really play to win or lose but rather see how things unfold.

The Refight

With what Brian and I learned from this first go around, we introduced mechanics in the game to try and mirror more accurately the opening stages of the battle. The French entry point was moved further to the east, Cruz Murgeon and Whittingham’s brigades were restricted in activity for the first two turns and the Spanish under La Peña were deployed as they were historically after Vilatte had withdrawn and Zayas had advanced from the Isla de León. Rules were also written to formalize, in the “what if” scenario, what would happen in the event that the British were defeated and the fight brought to La Peña. Interestingly enough in this replay with the new rules it played out much closer to the historical record and the French were so badly beaten by Graham that the need to activate the Spanish didn’t arise. But it still felt like it could have gone either way, which is good.

1. New deployment

Changes now have the Spanish in a defensive ring around the peninsula and Béguines moved further away from La Peña.

2. Whitttingham and Cruz Murgeon south of the Cerro de Puerco

Both are now delayed to act for the first two turns. Whittingham is set up in a defensive position with artillery unlimbered and the correct number of stands this time.

3. Spanish under La Peña

Spanish, as noted, are placed in a defensive perimeter as they were historically with Zayas opposite Vilatte, Lardizibal to his right and Anglona anchored on the coast.

4. Graham in the woods

Graham’s forces are positioned as before, but now with the time to reach the woods’ edge if his initiative rolls are good enough.

5. French enter

French enter further to the east in column and with the requirement that their first move is directly towards the coast. This puts them to the northeast of the Cerro de Puerco, as they were historically.

6. Graham moves to block French

On the replay Dilkes marches out of the woods unobserved by the French and Wheatley is able to successfully march through the woods and form up on its edge with artillery in line. Dilkes changes from march to supported line and they form line of battle along the edge of the woods.

7. Overview

In this overview you can see at the top Dilkes on the left (British right) and Wheatley next to him. Having spotted the British forces Laplane (far right) goes into supported line and unlimbers and attaches his artillery while Meunier, to Laplane’s left and still in brigade masse, moves towards the Cerro de Puerco’s ridge. Here the hill is lower and easily traversed whereas further to the south (left) it becomes higher and more difficult (scenario changes were made regarding this feature). Ruffin (lower left) prepares to scale it with his artillery following.

8. Cruz Murgeon occupies ruins of chapel

The Spanish suddenly appear at the top of the hill, occupying the area around the ruined chapel. In the background (top) Dilkes sorties from the safety of the woods, also seizing the ridge and firing an ineffective volley into the approaching French.

9. Béguines arrives behind safety of Spanish lines

Meanwhile, back at the Almansa creek, Béguines reaches the safety of La Peña’s lines, which part to let him pass. La Peña continues to sit tight and let Graham battle it out. 

10.Ruffin (Barrois' brigade) charges Spanish

Ruffin's forces charge up the Cerro de Puerco, trying to sweep the Spanish from the ridge.

11. Ruffin driven back

Cruz Murgeon repels Ruffin’s first attempt to carry the Cerro, sending him reeling back to the foot of the hill.

12. Wheatley charges French flank

As the French form up to assault the British line, in a surprise move Wheatley charges from the cover of the woods to attack the the now unattached French cannon. The cannon limbers up in a panic and flees but now Laplane finds the British ranged out in line on his flank.

13. Wheatley lets a volley fly in enfilade

Wheatley’s brigade steps forward and unlooses a deadly volley into the French flank, dropping them in droves.

14. Meunier's brigade moves to the flank to cover Laplane

Laplane’s diminished ranks manage to turn and face Wheatley as Meunier’s brigade moves over to protect his flank against Dilkes. At upper right Dilkes can be seen, retreated to the safety of the woods but within charge range of the French left.

14. Ruffin again charges Cerro de Puerco

Meanwhile, on the French far left Ruffin again charges Cruz Murgeon at the peak of the Cerro de Puerco, this time softening them first with cannon fire. This time he succeeds in driving him off the hill with Spanish losses.

15. Ruffin carries the Cerro

16. Cruz Murgeon and Whittingham rout

Badly mauled Cruz Murgeon’s brigade routs, along with Whittingham who has been soundly beaten by the French cavalry. But all the successes on this flank are not enough to turn the tide… 

17. Dilkes fires devastating volley into French flank

For a second time the British, this time Dilkes, maneuvers on to the French flank and let loose a deadly volley into the flank of Meunier.

18. Dilkes' charge destroys Meunier's and Laplane's brigades

Dilkes’ subsequent charge routs Meunier’s brigade and the breakthrough charge routs Laplane. With only Ruffin’s troops left on this part of the battlefield Victor admits defeat and withdraws from the field, with the British having achieved a massive victory.


  1. Great looking game and a Battle overlooked by many as not the main area of operations. May need to play this out in 28mm some time.

  2. Thanks, Anthony. If you do try playing it in 28 mm, it would probably play even better in a battalion level game. You could easily ignore La Peña and that side of the board.