Saturday, March 16, 2024

Cacabelos, Spain, January 3, 1809

Alan and I took a break from the Spanish/French scenarios that our friend Brian North has been cranking out these days to try adapting the Cacabelos scenario from Michael Hopper’s scenario book, Perfidious Albion. Michael’s scenarios are written to be adapted to any rule set and with a bit of effort I was able to convert this one to our rule set of choice, Over the Hills. I tweaked things a bit, allowed movement of horse through the winter orchard terrain north and south of the village (but no charge or cavalry advantage over infantry), along with a few other things. We also allowed the two large British skirmish battalions (1/52nd Light and 1/95th Rifles) to split into two smaller units each, operating as they often did as smaller contingents. The big appeal of this scenario was that it employs dismounted Dragoons (not those converted to infantry battalions in other theatres of the war, but rather mounted Dragoons assuming a skirmish role) as I had been wanting to paint up some Strelets figures that I had.

The scenario takes place during Moore’s winter retreat from Spain to Corunna. A dispirited British army was largely only saved by the rearguard actions such as that at Cacabelos by the Reserve Division, buying the British enough time to stay ahead of the French pursuit. In this scenario the prime British objective is to stop the French from crossing the river, while the French hope is to achieve a foothold on the far bank by game’s end in order to continue the pursuit.

Our game was played on an 4’ X 6’ table using my 1/72 toy soldiers and the Over the Hills rule set.

The Battlefield

Cacabelos straddles the road on the French side of the river. Winter orchards line the bank on both sides, making it difficult for Merle to effectively employ his massive cavalry advantage in this scenario.

British Deployment

Paget, in command of the rearguard, opts for a strong presence (top) on the French east side of the river, holding Cacabelos with the 1/20th Line, while Anstruther’s 95th Rifles assume positions in the orchards on either side of the village. The 15th Hussars are on the road in Cacabelos, having just ridden back to inform Paget of the approach of the French vanguard.

On the west (bottom) side of the river, the 1/52nd guard the bank either side of the bridge (some companies off photo to the right) while Disney’s brigade (1/28th and 1/91st) are in reserve in the orchard, flanking the guns.

The 1/20th garrison Cacabelos

Rifles in orchards south of Cacabelos

More Rifles north of Cacabelos

1/52nd along the banks of the river

Horse battery watches the bridge

Paget sights his battery of 6 pdrs. on the bridge

Colbert's vanguard advances on Cacabelos

The first French cavalry arrive in pursuit, Colbert’s 3rd Hussars and 15th Chausseurs. Seeing Cacabelos strongly defended, Colbert holds his light horse in front of the village in order to assay the situation (not especially historical in its accuracy).

Lahoussaye's 3rd Dragoon Division arrives, moves to right

The French Dragoons (two brigades, the 17th and 27th under Marisy and the 18th and 19th under Caulaincourt) move upstream to the right to look for a ford across the river.

1/52nd companies sent to the British left

The 1/52nd companies guarding the north side of the bridge are dispatched under Paget’s orders to shadow the Dragoons along the river and block any attempt to cross.

15th Hussars retreat from Cacabelos

Badly outnumbered by the French horse, the 15th Hussars gallop across the bridge and go into reserve behind Disney.

Dragoons dismount

Reaching the edge of the orchards, the Dragoons dismount and move forward in skirmish formation towards the river’s edge.

Colbert's 3rd Hussars threaten Rifles

Meanwhile Colbert’s brigade threatens the village, pinning the Rifles and keeping them from harassing the Dragoons.

Reynaud's brigade arrives, along with Merle

At this point the French infantry, a strong brigade under Reynaud made up of three battalions each of 4th Legere and 15th Line, arrive on the battlefield.

Merle arrives with them and begins to organize the assault on the British position.


In this overview top left you can see Reynaud’s forces forming up behind a screen of Colbert’s Chausseurs. To the right and below this the 3rd Hussars threaten the Rifles north of the village while the Dragoons arrive on the French right (bottom right) to dismount and move forward through the orchard towards the river.

Merle prepares to assault Cacabelos

Skirmishing across the river

Both sides exchange musket fire over the river as the Dragoons encounter the 1/52nd companies that had been dispatched to shadow their approach.

Rifles reposition north of the village

At the same time the two Rifles contingents link up in the orchards as it becomes clear that the French attack is all weighted north of Cacabelos, with the 15th Chausseurs now threatening to charge.

Reynaud assaults Cacabelos

The entire 4th Legere regiment, three battalions strong assault Cacabelos in columns of division. Merle hopes to throw the British out of the village quickly, not wanting this thorn in his side as he tries to push across the river.

…while 15th Chausseurs charge Rifles

At the same time Colbert leads his Chausseurs against the Rifles. But the Rifles position within the confines of the orchard makes it difficult for the French cavalry to effectively charge.

Battling it out at Cacabelos

A vicious battle erupts around Cacabelos, but the 1/20th are well protected within the village and the 4th Legere takes a beating.

Reynaud's attack driven off

The Legere are driven back, suffering heavy losses.

…as is the Chausseurs’ attack as well

A heavy volley from the 1/95th breaks the French cavalry attack before it can make contact and they fall back behind the 15th Line. Colbert is killed in the volley (at least we got that right!)

1/20th march out of Cacabelos

Taking advantage of the bloody nose inflicted on the French, Paget decides now is the time to reconsolidate on the west side of the river. The 1/20th, flush with victory, march out of the village, screened by the Rifles.

Rifles also begin to withdraw across the river

The Rifles in turn withdraw across the river in stages, covering each other’s retreat. But the French are too busy regrouping to give any serious challenge to the retreat.

While Disney moves to the British left 

The consolidation of Anstruther’s brigade on the west bank frees up Disney to move over in support of the 1/52nd companies on the far British left. The 1/95th moves to hold the bank, in line with the 1/53nd on their left while the 1/28th support.

Alan reconsiders his options...

While the British guns, now moved to the high ground behind the British lines, continue to shell the French beyond the river, Alan takes a moment to reconsider his strategy after receiving this drubbing.

Moore arrives

About this time Moore arrives to find all well and Paget conducting a solid rearguard action. He has little to do other than make a few suggestions to the gun crews regarding potential targets.

French occupy Cacabelos

The French march into an abandoned Cacabelos as Merle decides on his next course of action. But the sun is lowering on the horizon and time is running out.

Dragoons abandon right flank attack

A ford is found over the river on the French right, but Merle decides that this flank is now too strongly held by the enemy and calls off the advance here. The Dragoons mount up and gallop off.


In this overview you can see the French infantry cautiously entering Cacabelos. The last contingent of Rifles is still in the orchards next to the town but are ready to pull back to the west bank to join the rest of the rearguard.

Skirmishing in front of Cacabelos

The 4th Legere begin skirmishing with the Rifles west of the village as they approach the river to search out a possible crossing.

Looking for a ford south of the village

The 3/4th Legere reach the river bank to begin searching for a ford.

1/20th form square in front of the bridge

With the Rifles now all safely on the west bank Paget orders the 1/20th into square in front of the bridge, guarding against any attempt to take the bridge with a cavalry charge. On either side Rifles take up positions along the river in support of the 1/20th.

Game end

And with that the game ends, in a fizzle rather than a bang. The scenario had a variable turn length and it ended early, on Turn 11. As can be seen the west bank is still firmly held by the British, and with very light casualties the British definitely carried the day. Overall it was a very interesting game. More maneuver than fighting, after being so badly blunted in their one and only attack time ran out for the French before they could recover and night fell, allowing the British rearguard to slip away, having succeeded in holding up the pursuit by another day.


  1. Hi Bill, It's taken me a while to get round to commenting on your handiwork with the various figures you inherited from my 'cupboard of shame'..... The dismounted dragoons look superb, as I always imagined they would in your hands. Well done sir!

    1. Yes! I was going to email you today to tell you. I know those figures were always some you had hoped to get painted up one day.

  2. A great read Bill. Looks like the British commander executed the perfect fighting withdrawal. Shame the foot dragoons were given the bums-rush after such a nice paint job.

    1. Hi Andrew,
      Thank you. Yes, the dragoons dismounted skirmished a bit with the 1/52, but they formed such small units once dismounted that their main function was to look for a ford!

  3. Great report .
    How do you determine finding a ford?

    1. We went with a 1-3 on the d10, one check per unit per turn, can't check the same area twice but each stand in the unit in contact with the river can check on subsequent turns. Allows multiple fords, as I think there were historically. I also introdued a mechanic where the die roll required was reduced by one for every hit to reflect the harassment of the musket fire.

  4. Thank you for being a consistent source of inspiration and encouragement.