Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Thursday 10 March 2016

The Battle of Zereira March 1809: Peninsular War Campaign Battle #19

Battle of Zereira, early March 1809

General Situation: The French have continued their remorseless pursuit of the British and Spanish armies into Portugal.  The Spanish Armies of Andalusia and Valencia have not yet recovered from their losses in the previous battle and in the movement westwards after this.  There has been little time to stop and no opportunity to forage and their weary troops have not been able to outdistance the French, whose Marshals, scenting the decisive victory, have driven the Imperial soldiery on unsparingly, thousands have fallen out of the ranks but these men are not Marshals of France for nothing and they have caught the Spaniards near the small hamlet of Zereira.  The Spanish commanders, Castanos and Cervellon have pleaded for Wellington to retrace his steps and help them before they are overwhelmed.  He has replied that he will do everything within his power to assistance them, but the miles are long.  Can the Spanish hold out against the Imperial forces for long enough for Wellington to bring them his aid...and maybe inflict a decisive defeat on the invaders instead?

The French have managed to concentrate four Army Corps (III, IV, V and VI) against the Spanish, and General Suchet (newly-promoted and appointed as Marchand's replacement as the commander of I Corps) is marching with all speed to reinforce his brother Marshals...

Order of Battle:


Army of Andalusia
C-in-C: Castanos (Capable)
Venegas' Div: 1500 Infantry
Coupigny's Div: 6000 Infantry
Espana's Div: 1500 Infantry, 1000 Cavalry, 24 Guns

Army of Valencia
C-in-C: Cervellon (Plodding) 
Adorno's Div: 4500 Infantry
Freire's Div: 3000 Infantry
La Serna's Div: 3000 Infantry, 24 Guns
Llamas' Div: 1500 Infantry, 1000 Cavalry, 24 Guns 
La Pena's Div: 3000 Infantry

Imperial Forces:

V Corps 
C-in-C: Mortier (Capable)
Rey's Div: 7500 Infantry
Gazan's Div: 4500 Infantry
Artillery: 36 Guns

VI Corps
C-in-C: Ney (Decisive)
Bisson's Div: 6000 Infantry
Maransin's Div: 6000 Infantry
Mermet's Div: 6000 Infantry
Artillery: 36 Guns

III Corps
C-in-C: Moncey (Decisive)
Gobert's Div: 3000 Infantry
Morlot's Div: 3000 Infantry
Musnier's Div: 3000 Infantry
Artillery: 36 Guns

IV Corps
C-in-C: Lefebvre (Capable)
Sebastiani's Div: 3000 Infantry
Leval's Div: 1500 Infantry
Artillery: 24 Guns

V Corps (arrived late as reinforcements)
C-in-C: Suchet (Decisive)
Ruffin's Div: 6000 Infantry
Gazan's Div: 4500 Infantry
Treillard's Div: 3000 Cavalry
Artillery: 36 Guns 

The Terrain & Deployment:

Deployment, looking from above and North to South.  Spanish to the left (right), French to the east (left)

Deployment as follows, from top-to-bottom: Left (French): Mortier's V Corps, Moncey's III Corps, Ney's VI Corps (around the woods), LEfebvre's VI Corps (nearest); Right (Spanish) Army of Valencia top, Army of Andalusia (bottom)

View from behind Sebastian's Division of IV Corps.  Leval's Germans to the right, Ney's right-hand division (B) to the left.  The remainder of Ney's Corps is in the woods.  Venegas' small division occupies the hill to the right, Coupigny's Division the hill to the left.

Picture from behind the woods: Ney's VI Corps prepare to assault Coupigny's Division from under the cover of the woods, from the left: Bisson's Div, Maransin's Div and Mermet's Division

View from behind VI Corps' Artillery onto massed Spanish batteries: the Spanish Army commanders have amassed a grand battery in the weak centre of their position

View from behind Moncey's Division towards Freire's Division

A wider shot of the French left flank

A wider shot of the right flank

Another shot from behind Moncey's Corps

View towards Adorno's Divison (on the hill to the left) and Freire's Division (on the hill to the right); La Pena's Division can be seen towards in the rear

Another view of the centre from behind Moncey's guns, looking on to the Spanish guns

A view from within the forest where Ney's infantry are sheltering

A view of the battle lines from the South (French to the right, Spanish to the left)

The Initial Moves:

Lefebvre's Corps (here Sebastiani's Division and IV Corps' Artillery) prepare to advance

Same postion, different angle

Lefebvre's other division: a single German brigade in Leval's Division.  I think this is a unit of Wurzburg Infantry (IIRC)

Sebastian's attack is crowned with success!  Venegas' Division is forced to retreat to the next ridgeline (top-right)
 Another shot from behind Ney's Corps: his artillery are in position to fire

 Lefebvre's Success and the French Left-Hand Attack

Lefebvre consolidates his position on the captured hill.

Mortier moves his Corps into the attack on the opposite (left) flank

Cervellon defends with unexpected vigour!! Quickly calling forward La Pena, the Spanish troops overwhelm much of the French artillery!

A wider shot of the same position

The subsequent French infantry assault is beaten off in the same style!  And to add insult to injury, Mortier was slightly injured!  Cervellon was unhorsed too.  This added a delay to all the action on this flank, as both sides had to re-cordinate their attacks (in game turns, generate sufficent tempo to get going again)

Moncey puts in a quick attack to save V Corps before the Spanish put them into real trouble.  Moncey leads the assault in person and both Freire's and La Pena's Divisions are broken!

Same position, different angle

The Assault on the Right

The French have renewed their assault on the right flank: Venegas has been forced off the hills, one of Coupigny's brigades has been routed.  Some of Coupigny's Division remain strong on the hill in the foreground

Venegas has retired shaken (top right), facing two brigades from IV Corps; a shaken brigade from Coupigny's division tries to rally (top left)

French infantry preparing to assault, pursuing routed Spanish infantry

Maransin's Division has retreated back into the woods, having been pushed back with heavy casualties by Coupigny's infantry

The French infantry (from Mermet's Division) have seen off Espana's Dragoons and are now preparing to attack the rear of Coupigny's remaining infantry

 Destruction of Coupigny's Division and Triumph of the French Right

Cervellon brings up infantry and cavalry to oppose Gobert's and Musnier's Divisions of III Corps

Simultaneously, Ney's troops, assisted by a brigade from IV Corps, attack Coupigny's remaining infantry

Lefebvre's other infantry attacks and routs Venegas' Division

Same situation, different shot

The attack is completely successful and Coupigny's troops are fleeing to the rear.  There is very little to stop the French now...

The Spanish try and reform around their grand battery in the centre

Lefebvre pursuing routing Spanish infantry (one of the Swiss regiments)
 The Coup de Grace

The remaining troops in the Spanish centre

Moncey's Corps has been defeated, Mortier's Corps (left-centre) prepares to renew the attack

Closer view, from behind Gazan's Division looking at Llamas' Division

Same, but further back behind the shattered troops from Gobert's and Morlot's Divisions

And finally, the wider view

Units from Ney, Lefebvre and Suchet prepare to complete the victory.  Suchet's troops arrived about an hour into the battle...but there is still no sign of Wellington

Units from Ney and Lefebvre and Suchet attack and capture two batteries of artillery: the Army of Andalusia's morale collapsed here and defeat was inevitable for the Spanish

Mortier throws Adorno's troops off the ridge - Cervellon's command is exahusted too.  With still no sign of the arrival of Wellington, the Spaniards must retreat.   The lack of fresh French Cavalry is the only good sign for the Spanish...
 Outcome: The French lost around 3900 men and 24 guns in this encounter, but the Spanish suffered far more heavily, losing just over 7000 men and 12 guns.  In addition, the losses leading up to the encounter were horrendous as both sides ignored supply considerations, the Spanish desperately attempting to evade and the French in their determination to catch them.  More than 4000 fell out of the Spanish ranks during the marches, then another 8000 were caught in skirmishes, deserted or capitulated just before the battle.  More than 7000 Frenchmen (and Germans) died or were hospitalized in the pursuit.  Both Spanish armies are now utterly exhausted and without a period of rest, they must surrender.  This is likely to mean that Wellington must turn and fight one more battle, this time against a superior French Army, otherwise the remains of the Spanish armies must fall into French hands. But dare he risk such a battle against the odds?

Postscript: (from the correspondence of General Castanos)

General Wellesley,
I regret to inform you that today, in the absence of our esteemed allies, the English, we were forced to battle a much superior force and despite holding our own for a period of over three hours, in which time we inflicted serious losses upon our mutual enemies, we were not able to prevail, nor able to maintain our positions, in the absence of your anticipated help.
My soldiers are famished, exhausted and defeated and without your aid we must starve, die or surrender.  It will truly be said in days to come, that the old Spanish Army stood and died for its King, its land and people on these hills outside Zereira.  The help of our allies did not arrive in time to save the cause of Spain today, let us hope that we do not have to expend twice the quantity of blood of our countrymen to achieve the victory of freedom in the future.

Yours Aye

Game Notes:  There were quite a few points of interest in this game, and in the lead up to it.  This is the first occassion where caution over supply has been thrown to the winds by both sides on a large scale in the campaign so far and the results in these rules (from the Tomb For An Empire boardgame) were not pretty.  In addition, this is the first time that a mainly shattered army (the Army of Valencia) has been forced into battle, at which point it automatically loses a third of its strength!
In order to march to the guns, commanders in the adjacent area must pass an initiative test.  Both Wellington and Suchet were successful here.  Then, starting on game turn two, each side rolls to arrive, needing a '6'.  Suchet arrived after 4o minutes, Wellington never arrived at all!  I am reasonably happy with this mechanism, removing certainty and there are shades of this in several Peninsular battles: Baylen, Talavera, Vimiero, Vitoria, Tudela, to name a few examples off the top of my head. 
The game was played on a 5'x3' dining room table and took a couple of hours of gaming to complete. It took slightly longer than normal for a 12-turn came because there were effectively seven (!) independent commanders present.  The French C-in-C, King Joseph, was absent and there is no Spanish C-in-C superior to Cervellon and Castanos.  In game terms, this means a slightly wilder pattern of tempo bids and distribution than normal, although it didn't have a massive effect, except perhaps Mortier's Corps took a while to get going after it stalled when he was injured.
As ever, figures are from Baccus 6mm and the rules used were Polemos Napoleonics.  Anyone who has seen one of my write-ups before may have noticed that I tried using skirmisher figures rather than brightly-coloured tiddly-winks as shaken and tempo point markers.  I think it did make the game look rather better. 

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