Saturday, August 8, 2020

Ensigns (Fanions) and Marching French1808

My ensigns for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th battalions.

I was inspired to create some French line infantry command stands carrying ensigns as a break from the 1804 pattern flag with its eagle tipped standard. You don’t see too many examples of these, with a search on the Internet only turning up a few ensigns still surviving. The ensigns (ensignes, often confusingly referred to as fanions which were the pennant carried by companies as rallying points), created in 1811 were in response to the directive of 1808, that had limited the eagle to one per regiment. This was presumably carried by the First assuming the colonel and therefore the eagle was there. They were to serve as an aid in helping the battalion on the march, and as such were to have no other import. 

Ensign of the 4th battalion, 7th Légère.
The directive was as follows:
The ensigns were to be woollen, 813mm (30 inches) square, no adornment of any sort and on a steel or iron pointed staff 2 metres 60 (8 feet) long. The colours were; Second Battalion white; Third Battalion red; Fourth Battalion blue; Fifth Battalion green; Sixth Battalion yellow. Of course these directives were widely ignored and a wide range of ornamentation and even battle honours were applied to the ensigns.

My period for gaming is the Peninsular War and with the ensigns only being decreed in December of 1811 they are a bit late for my French army. But the question does arise what the French battalions other than the First did use in the interim between the removal of the eagles in 1808 and the decree of 1811. There is some evidence in the Peninsula that many ignored the 1808 directive and kept their eagles. It is also likely that ad hoc flags were created.

The Build

I had recently received the newish Hat release for French command figures pre-1812, something that was needed in the hobby for those of us gaming  that Napoleonic era on 1/72nd. Up until now I had been using the light infantry command set, perfectly serviceable, although its officers were all in shakos.
I found this new set was not without problems, primarily an ill-fitting drum, ill-fitting optional arms, optional shako heads with the 1812 style shako plate (even though the set is clearly identified as pre-1812) and, perhaps most irritating, a drummer clearly fitted with webbing for a pack and sabre briquet but with neither included! Some of these problems only emerged as I assembled and painted the figures, and I remedied them as I moved forward, filling gaps with putty, carving back arms and adding a sabre briquet and pack to the drummer.  The review on Plastic Soldier Review warns of all these failures but I had ignored them in my enthusiasm to get my hands on the set!  (The shako plates I didn’t notice until the end but as the official ensigns only appeared in 1811 I decided I could live with this.)
First step was creating the pointed shafts, which I made with a wire hammered flat at the end and clipped to a point.
Because the arm in the set was modelled holding the eagle I set these aside and fashioned a new arm holding the pointed shaft.

I went to a fair amount of trouble fashioning a new arm for the standard bearer (the included arm, of course, holds a staff with an eagle and mine needed to be iron-tipped) before realizing that the ensign bearer should not be a lieutenant but rather a sub-officer, typically the battalion’s most experienced sergeant major! So off comes the arm and staff, and I search out an appropriate figure to re-attach them to, opting for the sergeant included in the light infantry command set as it is similar in style and size to the rest of these figures.
Painted lieutenants with missing arms (they will be recycled, for sure, as standard bearers!) and new standard bearers.
Sergeant standard bearers, with some slight modifications.

And close ups of the final results, an ensign for a generic second battalion.

The Marching French

Obviously a man with a flag needs someone to follow him. In my same purchase as the command set I had also bought a box of early war French on the march (HaT Set 8296, Napoleonic Early to Mid French Marching), a much more satisfactory box of toy soldiers than the command set was. All the figures came with a bicorne head, but with the option of swapping out for crested helmets, shakos, (plumed and with shako covers) along with one head with the bonnet de police, so good options for conversions. I opted to cut down the plumes to pompoms, with the exception of the voltigeurs. (In hind sight I regretted cutting off the grenadiers plumes as well, but off they came!)
The figures represent both fusiliers and elites, and the knapsacks again had a nice selection with some cooking utensils attached to a couple of them. The figures themselves have their muskets held in a variety of manners, at least one wears gaiters and all carry variations of the non-regulation canteens the French used. I would say the detail isn't as crisp as one would like but all in all, a nice amount of variety in a box composed completely of marching figures!
Grenadiers - they would have been better if I had left the tall plumes!
A fusilier stand, front.
A fusilier stand, back.

The Ensigns 

The ensigns are my own creation, although some are based on images I had found on the internet. I can’t really guarantee any authenticity for these because, as mentioned previously, few have survived. Given the tendency to stray from the official directives, I think there is a fair amount of scope for creative licence with these, so have fun creating your own! Or feel free to use these below.

T. E. Crowdy’s book Napoleon’s Infantry Handbook was a great help in pulling this information together. I purchased a pdf version of this when I first entered the hobby and find myself constantly referring to it. Highly recommended!

A sheet of ensigns I created, based on what I read and some examples found on the Internet. Feel free to use!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Battle of Alcañiz, May 23rd 1809

Over the past few weeks my Peninsular War gaming partner Brian North and myself played through Brian's scenario, the Battle of Alcañiz. This was, by far, the largest battle we have played together using the Over the Hills rules, with over 100 stands per side. Again, we did this Covid 19 style (see our Combat on the Coa AAR) linking via Facetime with me hosting here at my place while Brian played remotely from Toronto. Since the Coa game I have figured out how to manipulate the units on a map with a vector graphic program I've downloaded on my iPad, a big improvement over last game's pushpin battle map, which allowed me to keep Brian abreast of the big picture. We played on a 6' X10.5' table using my 1/72nd miniatures and Over the Hills rules. I played the attacking French while Brian took command of the Spanish.

The following is from Brian's scenario:

Alcañiz is the first of a series of three linked battles in Aragon (Alcañiz: 23rd May; Maria: 15th June and Belchite: 18th June) between the available forces of the two newly appointed generals Louis-Gabriel Suchet of III Corps (previously the popular commander of the second division of V Corps) and Joachim Blake of the Spanish Army of the Right (previously commander of the Army of Galicia and defeated at the battles of Medina del Rio Seco (14th July, 1808) and Espinosa de los Monteros (10th November, 1808). The global context is the 1809 counter-offensive by the Central Junta that saw the battles of Talavera (27-28th July) and Almonacid (11th August) on the main front.

Summary of the historical battle
The Spanish were drawn up in a strong position, but had their backs to a river only crossable at the bridge immediately behind the Spanish centre on Las Horcas. However, if defeated, the Spanish could retreat to Morella, the next town, along the road behind the Hermitage of Santa Barbara (right hand corner of Spanish baseline on the map) as well as over the bridge. Suchet’s plan seems therefore to have been to attack first on his left against Areizaga on the Cerro del Pueyo. If that attack succeeded, the secondary line of retreat could be cut, leaving only the bridge. A strong assault could then smash through the centre, create chaos and capture most of the troops of the Spanish centre and left as they bunched together trying to get across the bridge.

After driving in the Spanish vanguard from around 06.00, Suchet focused first on his left, sending Laval against Areizaga’s division on the Cerro del Pueyo, in order to force Blake to reinforce his right flank, weakening his left or centre. It is not entirely clear whether Laval was ordered to demonstrate or attack fully; most sources state that it was a demonstration that turned into a full assault. The 3rd Vistula attacked Areizaga frontally, while the 14th line came in onto Areizaga’s left flank. Each regiment attacked with at least one battalion in open order. Areizaga led from the front, rallying his men when they wavered. Blake sent over Menacha with his two battalions, who attacked on the Spanish centre right and helped defeat Laval’s first assault. The Spanish cavalry, also sent over from the extreme left, came under infantry fire as they arrived and were then immediately afterwards ambushed by the French cavalry as they emerged from the wood; they take no further part in the battle. This victory inspired Laval’s division to make a full assault. This time skirmishers covered a single 2-battalion column (approx. 1,000 men), – but this column was also defeated. Laval then pulled back, rallied and reorganised his defeated troops.

After Laval is defeated, Musnier’s division, which had been held back out of effective artillery range up until now, marched onto the field. The main assault that followed was preceded and supported by an artillery barrage from Musnier and Laval’s two batteries, presumably placed on the hills from which the French descend onto the plain. Musnier’s second brigade, the 115th Line, guarded the right flank of the main assault force by threatening the Spanish left on the Perdiguera, and Laval occupies Areizaga by again threatening him on Los Pueyos.
The main assault was made by the five battalions of Fabre’s brigade (114th and 3rd Vistula) up the Zaragossa road straight at the centre of the Spanish position on Las Horcas, where the main Spanish battery is placed.

The assault force is described as one deep column of 2,000, similar to the heavy columns that the French in Catalonia had used successfully to break through Spanish lines at Cardadeu, Molinos del Rey and Valls. Whether there were distances between the battalions or whether they were in two regimental columns (attack columns closed up) is not stated in the sources, The Spanish gunners held fire until canister range. At least part of the Spanish left on the Perdiguera moved forward and fired at the assaulting troops from the flank. The French advanced steadily without stopping to fire until they reached a ditch in front of the guns. Precisely how far in front of the guns is not clear. One source says the French actually reached the guns on their right on the road; another says the ditch was about 100 yards in front of the guns. Whichever is the case, short range canister plus flanking fire destroyed the head of the column and the entire brigade routed completely and fled back to their starting position.

The other French forces then retired back to the hills they had started on and then the entire force retreated in an orderly manner. During the night, this retreat turned into a rout, due to a rumour that the Spanish cavalry were along them.

This scenario represents Suchet's assault on the Spanish position at Alcañiz on May 23rd, 1809. It starts with Laval’s attack, which is then followed by Musnier’s.

Alcaniz AAR

The battlefield

Blake takes up position with Areizaga on the right, on the high ground of the Cerro del Pueyo (foreground), Lazan holding the centre in a strong position on Los Horcas and Roca on the left (top) on La Perdiguera. In the olive orchards at far top, on the Spanish far left, is Menacha’s brigade, Ibarrola’s horse and a half battery of horse artillery.

Lazan, with two batteries and a half horse battery in front, from left to right front has the Voluntarios de Valencia, 2/Fernando VII and a battalion of combined grenadiers. In support , under Lazan’s personal command, are 3/America and a small unit of guerillas, the Partida de Guijaro.

Roca’s position to the left of Lazan, with three battalions of Valencia line in front and 2/America and 3/2nd Saboya in support.

Blake's right, with Areizaga holding the high ground with his militias, the Tiradores de Murcia on the right (bottom) and the Reserve de Aragon in support, Tiradores de Doyle are behind the Hermitage and Voluntarios de Aragon and the Daroca battalion are on his left. A dense woods (top), site of some very heavy fighting, separates Areizaga's position from Lazan.

On Blake’s far left Menacha’s brigade (2/Cazadores da Valencia and 1/Voluntarios de Zaragossa) deploy in line in orchards, while Ibarrola’s horse (Hussares Espanoles, Olivenza and Santiago) cover the flank.

With the blessing of a priest, Blake surveys his deployment with satisfaction. Let the French come!

View of Roca’s and Lazan’s positions on the two hills, from the road to Alcaniz.

View of Areizaga’s position on the Spanish right from the Hermitage of Santa Barbara.

And the battle...

Map showing deployment of the Spanish forces and Suchet’s initial plan of attack, with Laval’s brigade and Wathier’s horse advancing on Areizaga while Suchet’s reserve and the French artillery guard his flank.
Laval attacks!
Overview, from left to right.
As Laval pushes his Poles forward, Areizaga throws his Tiradores forward in skirmish formation while the small battalion of Aragonese light infantry occupy the Hermitage of the Virgin. To the right of the hermitage the 14th advances while in front Wathier charges the Spanish howitzer battery. Top left Areizaga pulls his reserve into the high rough ground (cavalry unable to enter). The howitzer, too far forward, limbers up to join in the retreat but is caught by Wathier’s cavalry. The artillery crew evade to the safety of the Spanish line while Coronel Cucalon, also caught in the path of the charge, dashes to the safety of the hermitage to join the Voluntarios de Aragon.
On Laval’s right Suchet brings up his guns with his reserve screening in front.

Suchet advancing behind screening infantry is shelled from Lazan’s guns.

Wathier’s 13 Cuirassiers and two squadrons of the 4th Hussards charge and overrun the Spanish limbered howitzer, then pull up short, unable to pursue the Spanish into the rough ground to which they take refuge.

Laval’s 3rd Vistula sweep Doyle’s Tiradores off the Cerro del Pueyo as the Poles cross the heights in open order to follow up the 14 on the right. They bypass the Aragonese light infantry in the Hermitage, who stay a thorn in Laval's side throughout the battle!

Tiradores de Doyle (in red) evade from first the Poles and then the French horse as they take refuge behind the Reserve de Aragon.

Suchet positions his batteries on the high ground left of centre and begins to shell the Spanish guns. He sends in his combined voltigeurs to clear the half horse battery on Lazan’s right by attacking through the woods.

Voltigeurs assault the Spanish half horse battery. After three rounds of close combat, it’s a draw, with the voltigeurs falling back wavering and the battery limbering up and routing, to reposition on Lazan's left.

In this map the 14th advances on Areizaga while the Poles cross over the high ground and fall in behind. Having overrrun the Spanish howitzer the French horse (top) have pulled back behind Suchet's gun line while Suchet sends his voltigeurs into the woods to clear out the Spanish half horse battery to the right of the gun line on Las Horcas.
View from behind the Spanish line. Hoping for a swift victory, the 14th charge Areizaga’s Daroca battalion in column while the 3rd Vistula move up in support. But Daroca holds and the 14th, unable to deploy into line, fare badly. The 2/14 are routed and the 1/14 fall back wavering.

The 1/14th (in white) in full retreat as they are routed by Areizaga’s Daroca. In the foreground Suchet’s 121 pulls back, still covering the rear of the guns, worried about a sally from the Spanish infantry inhabiting the Hermitage.

Laval's Vistula move in as the 14th is driven off by Daroca.

As the 14th fall back Laval's 3rd Vistula move in on the attack. But a devastating first volley from the Aragonese militia (!) drive the Poles back, as Areizaga holds tight on his high ground. Laval starts to realize that the Spanish right might be a harder nut to crack than he had thought.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the battlefield, Ibarrola's Spanish cavalry, spotting Musnier's division advancing on the Spanish centre, ventures out from Blake's left to move across Roca's front.

Musnier enters in assault columns, as Lazan's guns start to seek them out at long range. Ibarrola's horse form up in line upper right.

Overview. Areizaga battles it out with Laval on the high ground (foreground), Suchet advances guns (mid upper right) while beyond the guns Musnier arrives top right. Top left Lazan and Roca hold tight in preparation for Musnier’s attack.

Fabre leads with his Poles against the Spanish centre.

With Areizaga retreated to the high rough ground, Wathier's cavalry gallop to Suchet's right flank to receive new orders from Suchet - attack the Spanish horse!

Blake, now knowing the French attack will fall on his centre, relays orders (delayed in their arrival) that send Menacha and his troops on a long march to bolster the Spanish centre right.

Menacha at the head of his Cazadores.

In face of the Spanish guns, Musnier's entire division goes into open order.

Moving closer, Suchet's batteries shell the Spanish guns from the flank, driving back one of the Spanish batteries.

As Suchet starts to feed his reserve troops into the woods, hoping to turn Lazan's flank, Menacha marches to Lazan's right to link with Areizaga's Tiradores de Doyle already in the woods.

Meanwhile, as things shape up for a slugfest in the woods, the cavalry battle it out on Musnier's right flank. Battalions from the 114 and 115 form square in case it goes badly for Wathier's horse.

Wathier's Hussards drive off the Spanish Hussares de Espanhol, but in return are routed by the Spanish Cazadores de Oliveira.

But Musnier's squadrons and the Cuirassiers hold fast.

French cannon begin to soften up the Spanish centre in preparation for Musnier's attack. Some excellent shooting drives back Hernandez' Grenadiers and destroy one of Lazan's foot batteries, opening a hole to the right of the Spanish gun line.

Musnier's lead troops, the 3/1 Vistula, take advantage of the breach in the gun lines to storm the ditch.

This map shows the 3/1 Vistula breaching the ditch (centre) as the rest of Musnier's troops follow up. On the upper left top Wathier's Hussards come close to routing from the field before they are rallied, while below the 1/115 and 3/114, although still shielded from the Spanish horse by Musinier's Hussards and the Cuirassiers, form square to protect Musnier's right.
In the woods Suchet's reserve and Lazan's 14th battle it out with Menacha's troops and Doyle, while the 3 Vistula retreat to hold against Areizaga around the Cerro de Pueyo on the right of the map.

Meanwhile, on the Cerro del Pueyo Laval, hard-pressed by Areizaga, Laval calls off his attack and pulls his 3rd Vistula back to hold the French left.

Regrouped and rallied, the 1/3 Vistula form column and charge the Daroca battalion. Daroca breaks, and the Vistula fall back into line.

On Areizaga's left the French clash with Menacha and the Tiradores de Doyle in the dense woods. It is all close combat and volleys at close range here, as visibility in the woods is almost nil.

Menacha's Cazadores break Suchet's 121 and throw back the combined voltigeur battalion. Fighting alongside Doyle, the 1/14th are also hit hard and rout for a second time.

Overview. At the bottom 1/3 Vistula breaks Daroca while 2/3 Vistula confront Areizaga's militia units. In the woods in the middle Menacha holds out against the French troops trying to infiltrate Lazan's flank while above Musnier breaches the Spanish gun line. At the top Roca still holds the high ground known as La Perdiguera as Blake sends over orders to move his three battalion Valencia brigade to support the Spanish centre. Pronto!

Musnier reforms his troops in column and marches them behind the French guns, following up on the Poles' success. At top right Blake pulls his Oliveira horse back in front of his guns, forcing the second Polish battalion into square.

The French guns continually push forward, managing to get one battery in enfilade on the remaining Spanish artillery.

Wathier, with his Hussards returned, charges one more time. It is a crucial moment, and this time Santiago is broken, causing the rest of the Spanish horse to withdraw from the field.

Roca's  three Valencian battalions (rear line in white) arrive and form line behind Lazan's flagging centre.

Just as Roca's Valencia (bottom left) arrive to bolster the Spanish centre, Vistula 2/1 routs Lazan's 3/America and falls on the still battered Spanish grenadier battalion. They in turn are driven back through America, who break in the chaos and flee the field.

With the grenadiers and 3/America dispersed the victorious 3/1 Vistula suddenly finds itself deep behind the Spanish gun line on a wide open Spanish flank.

Overview. At the bottom Areizaga, despite the loss of Daroca, continues to frustrate Laval's attempt to break the deadlock. 
In the woods (middle) the seesaw battle continues while in the Spanish centre, despite the arrival of three fresh battalions from Roca, things are starting to give.
Top right the cavalries clash for the last time while top left Roca's two remaining battalions on La Perdiguera form square.

Map of above overview. On the right Vistula 1/3 takes Tiradores de Doyle in the flank, but misjudge the difficulty of attacking infantry on the edge of a woods and are sent packing. To Doyle's left 2/14 attack Menacha's Cazadores, who are routed, although the Voluntarios de Zaragoza still stand firm. In the centre Musnier throws his troops into assault columns, marching behind the guns and towards Lazan's right, where the 2/1 Vistula are about to knock a big hole in the Spanish line.

1/3 Vistula rout after failing to dislodge Doyle. This is the third battalion of Laval's that Areizaga has sent packing!

Victorious Tiradores de Doyle about face to confront the French advancing through the woods.

1/14 rally for the second time and march back into the woods.

In the Spanish centre things suddenly collapse. With Ibarrola's cavalry withdrawing Musnier's Hussards, unleashed, charge up the road in column of squadrons, hitting Laval's remaining battery as it limbers up and tries to pull back. (The horse battery successfully withdraws to safety.)

Musnier's second Vistula battalion also form column and charge, but the guns are overrun just as they arrive. (Both these photos are screen captures from Brian's Facetime feed as he gets a ground's eye view of the unfolding battle!)

The Hussards's charge carry them past the guns and into Roca's Valencians who have no time to form square. Two battalions in line are broken by the French horse in quick succession and the Spanish centre is shattered!

With the centre broken and the Spanish guns gone Musnier's division surges forward, while the French guns are limbered up and join the chase.

View from behind the Spanish line as the battered Spanish begin to fall back from their positions.

Blake fires his priest.

Overview of Spanish centre, with only one Valencia battalion remaining and, now a broken brigade, forced to withdraw. Little stands in the way between Suchet's French and the road to Alcañiz.

Final overview. At the bottom of the photo Areizaga's Reserve de Aragon and Tiradores de Murcia hold line on Cerro del Pueyo. Mid-right one of Laval's two Vistula battalions continues to rout and Areizaga holds a line of retreat past Santa Barbara.
In the woods in the centre the French begin to get the upper hand, but it is immaterial as Blake's centre has crumbled and most of Lazan's and Roca's troops are in full retreat. Two of Roca's battalions, along with the Spanish horse artillery, are still in square at the top, but with a division of French and a brigade of enemy cavalry between them and safety things don't look good.
We called the game at this point as Brian had a flight to catch back to Europe. The Spanish army was not yet broken, but close to it as the writing was on the wall. We agreed that his virtual connection, despite the Facetime link, photos and updated maps, still made it difficult to always capture the big picture. But this was the fourth time in playing this (three times played solo by Brian) that the French have won a battle that historically was one of those few that went to the the Spanish. Again we agreed that Areizaga and the Spanish horse did surprisingly well and that there were key moments when things could have gone either way, so a great and well-balanced scenario, for certain! Next fight, the battle of Maria where Blake and Suchet face off for a second time. Stay tuned...