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.

Sunday 28 March 2021

The Battle of Medina de Rio Seco - A Polemos General de Division Refight

 Introduction: The battle of Medina de Rio Seco is one of the battles I have re-fought most often, perhaps half-a-dozen times over the years.  It doesn't take much to renew my interest in this fascinating battle, so when a scenario appeared in a recent issue of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy (112), it went straight back on to the "to play" list.  It has a decent write-up, fairly comprehensive order of battle, some interesting scenario notes and a lovely map! Recommended...

As usual, I played this with Polemos General de Division. This is one of the battles that I have actually done a scenario for previously and it used to be hosted on the Polemos Yahoo! Group, before they all closed down.  It is over 10 years since I wrote it however, and I have had additional information to include since then, especially from Lipscombe's superlative Atlas of the Peninsular War, which includes some great maps of the battle, including a really good 3D projection.  The scenario I used for this refight then was based on my original, but with some modifications inspired by the article and the atlas.  I may actually post my scenario on the blog at some point...

The Forces (in brief, there will be more detailed discussion of this later).

The French Army:

C-in-C: Bessieres (Decisive)
Army Troops:
Merle's Division: 1 base Veteran SK2, 1 base Veteran SK1, 2 bases Trained SK2, 3 bases Trained SK1, 6 bases Raw SK1, 1 base Trained 4lb Foot Artillery
Mouton's Division: 1 base Veteran SK2, 4 bases Veteran SK1, 1 base Trained 8lb Foot Artillery
Lasalle's Brigade: 3 bases Veteran Light Cavalry, 1 base Veteran 4lb Horse Artillery
Imperial Guard Detachment: 4 bases Veteran-Elite SK1, 1 base Veteran-Elite Heavy Cavalry, 1 base Veteran-Elite Light Cavalry, 2 bases Veteran 8lb Foot Artillery

Following the magazine article, the Imperial Guard infantry were detached to Lasalle, the Guard Cavalry to Mouton and the Guard Artillery to Bessieres himself.  Incidentally, I think there is a slight error in the magazine article's map - it isn't clear which troops should be deployed with 'Merle', since all of his brigades are marked elsewhere, I think.  Lasalle was counted as a 'Decisive' divisional commander, Merle and Mouton as capable, although with an argument for the latter to be 'Decisive' too.
The Spanish Army:
C-in-Cs: de la Cuesta (Plodding); Blake (Capable) 
de la Cuesta's Army Troops: 1 base Trained Dragoons, 1 base Trained 8lb Foot Artillery
1st Asturian Division: 6 bases Raw SK0
2nd Asturian Division: 5 bases Raw SK0

Blake's Army Troops: 1 base Trained SK2, 1 base Trained/Elite Dragoons, 1 base Trained Dragoons, 2 bases Trained 8lb Foot Artillery, 1 base Trained 4lb Horse Artillery
Vanguard (Maceda): 1 base Trained SK2, 2 bases Trained SK0
Cagigal's Division: 1 base Trained SK2, 6 bases Trained SK0, 2 bases Raw SK0
Portago's Division: 2 bases Trained/Elite SK0, 1 base Trained SK2, 10 bases Trained SK0

de la Cuesta and Blake were counted as Allied generals.  Portago's Division was given to de la Cuesta's army.  Maceda was counted as a Divisional commander, with Blake's cavalry counted as his second brigade.  All Spanish commanders were counted as 'Plodding' except for Blake, who was 'Capable'.  The Asturian divisions were counted as 'brigades' for rules purposes.  Tomb for an Empire proposes that Zayas should be one of the Asturian Divisional commanders, so optionally use him as a 'Decisive' commander (of two large brigades).
The Set-Up:
The battlefield of Medina de Rio Seco (the town itself is off-table to the top-right); Blake's troops occupy the high ground (left), whilst de la Cuesta is approaching on the other flank (top-right); Merle's Division is on the French Left (bottom-left); Lasalle's cavalry and the Imperial Guard infantry and artillery are in the centre, whilst Mouton's Division is on the Right.

Another wide shot, but this time including the Imperial Guard cavalry detachment on the right, supporting Mouton (bottom-right)

Cagigal's Division of Blake's Army holds the main part of the defensive position, with the Army's vanguard holding the corner (bottom-right); one of the cavalry detachments is in the rear (top-left)

The Imperial Guard artillery on the small hill facing the Spanish Vanguard.  Bessieres supervises closely.

Mouton's Division on the slight hill facing de la Cuesta's troops.  Imperial Guard Cavalry support (bottom-right).

Lasalle's Cavalry and the Middle Guard infantry detachment in the French centre

Another view of the the Galicians defending the hill.

The Battle:

de la Cuesta moves his reserves forward to join Portago's Division

And advances towards Mouton's Division, holding the rise on the French Right

Meanwhile, Bessieres orders Merle's Division forward to attack the hill, but accurate Spanish artillery fire drives back Sabathier's units (left)

Eventually Sabathier's troops recover and get forward towards the slopes of the hill, despite the fire.  Lasalle trots forward to explore towards the Spanish left, which has been receiving accurate fire from the French artillery on the rise (bottom-centre): only the combined efforts of Blake and Maceda keep the Spanish troops in order.

A wider shot of the same

In a near mirror image on the other flank, de la Cuesta's troops advance towards the French-held hill: however, accurate French artillery and some muddled Spanish command have led to the troops losing their cohesion in the advance.

Spanish artillery fire has again driven back Sabathier's units (centre); but the accurate Imperial Guard artillery fire has pushed back the Spanish flanking units, creating a dangerous gap (centre-right)

The French artillery fire continues to disrupt de la Cuesta's advance

Merle's attack makes slow progress against the determined resistance of Blake's troops.

Requiring that pressure be put on Bessieres by threatening his Right, de la Cuesta permits Portago to develop his attack on the left (right) whilst Portago's right-hand brigade (top-left) reforms.

Lasalle's Chasseurs threaten Blake's left flank, but the infantry looks solid on the prominence...

However, the Guard artillery continues to pound the flanking Spanish battalion and push it back, creating a gap at the edge Blake's position

Portago's right-hand brigade (centre) continues to be disrupted by the fire of the French gunners.

Meanwhile, Merle finally gets his men up the slope towards the Spanish defences.

Seizing his opportunity, Lasalle gets his Horse and Guns (obscured on the other side of the rise) up the prominence to threaten the Spanish flank

Merle's attack is throw back with very heavy losses, in considerable disorder.  The Spanish have suffered some loss too.

Lasalle does not delay but spurs his leading squadrons into the charge immediately, routing the lead battalion and throwing its supports into disorder.

Simultaneously, Sabathier's infantry assault Blake's Left...

Meanwhile, the Imperial Guard cavalry charge Portago's advancing infantry (right) whilst they themselves were in the midst of attacking Mouton's right flank (centre-right)

Lasalle's troopers continue to wreak havoc on Blake's left, who brings up reserves (centre) to stabilize the situation

Portago's infantry receive the Imperial Guard's charge with great coolness, a devastating volley causing heavy casualties and throwing back the horsemen (right); however Mouton's infantry have held in check the Spanish infantry attack, throwing it back (centre)

One of Sabathier's columns has been pushed back with heavy losses, but the other has broken the opposing Spanish infantry, causing a gap in the line (centre); Blake, a single battalion and a battery are now isolated between Sabathier's infantry (bottom-left) and Lasalle's horsemen (right) - they have however been stopped in their tracks by the resolution of the Spanish infantry reserves (top).

The Imperial Guard cavalry have been forced back with heavy losses and in great disorder by Portago's infantry (bottom-right)

However, Cagigal's left-hand brigade and Blake's vanguard have panicked and routed!

The rout spreads throughout Blake's command, which tumbles away down the slopes

A wider shot of the same

Additional Spanish troops broaden the attack on Mouton's troops - Bessieres orders Lasalle to support Mouton with two battalions of Imperial Guards (left)

Not wasting any time, the Guards attack, as the remainder of the Guard infantry, freed from the necessity of supporting Lasalle's cavalry attack, pick their way through the rocky outcrops to support them (bottom-left)

Mouton quickly thrown his right-flank back to avoid being outflanked by Portago's infantry

Blake's army disappears into the distance in various degrees of retreat and rout

Allowing Merle's infantry to reach the summit of the hill

The Imperial Guard's bayonet charge has been entirely successful, routing the leading Spanish battalion and disordering its supports.

de la Cuesta orders a brigade to outflank Mouton's left, hoping to capture his artillery (left)

A second Imperial Guard attack routs a further two battalions (top) and de la Cuesta's flank was hanging in the air - he has therefore redeployed Portago's remaining brigade to face the threat (top-centre-right)

Having rallied them, Mouton leads the Imperial Guard cavalry into a second charge against Portago's leading brigade

Meanwhile, Mouton's infantry drive back the Spanish in fine style!

One Spanish battalion is routed by the cavalry charge, but the others have stood firm, again causing heavy losses amongst the Guard horsemen and forcing their retreat.

de la Cuesta tries desperately to quickly rally Portago's and the Asturan infantry, as one of their battalions is routed (centre-left)

Lasalle takes charge of the leading regiment of the Imperial Guards and attacks Portago's troops

Mouton abandons the Imperial Guard cavalry, and instead inspires his infantry to a second attack on the Spanish...

Lasalle's attack had mixed results - the battalion he was leading personally was thrown back (left) and he himself was wounded - but the second battalion, although suffering heavy losses, managed to push back its opponents in disorder (centre)

Mouton's second infantry attack was entirely successful and de la Cuesta's infantry is mostly dead or running away...

Spanish infantry charge to the point of Mouton's guns, but are torn apart by close-range canister fire..

Portago personally leads his men into the attack against Lasalle and a battalion of Imperial Guard (left)

Who are again thrown back, with Lasalle being wounded a second time

A plucky Spanish battalion attempts to charge the reforming Imperial Guard cavalry...

Although successful in pushing them back, the Imperial Guards just move back out of musket and bayonet range

However, the remorseless advance of the infantry of Mouton and the Imperial Guard cannot be stopped...

Lasalle's chasseurs and artillery re-join the fray...

And the remaining Spanish infantry dissolves into rout

Position at the end of the battle: Merle's troops occupy the heights

The Spanish are in full retreat (the regiment in the centre is about to surrender to the Imperial Guard, having no escape route)

The end of the battle: Blake's troops are long gone, and de la Cuesta's surviving troops are in full flight.  Only the lack of fresh French troops, especially cavalry, can save them.

Game Notes: A very enjoyable battle, since Medina de Rio Seco always seems to give a good re-fight.  A large and not-universally-terrible Spanish Army in a strong yet very awkward position against a small but not-universally-good French Army in a slightly better position is a decent match up.  It went gratifyingly close to the real thing too.  Although the French won a handsome victory, it could have gone the other way relatively easily, if either Merle or Mouton or the Guard Artillery had done slightly less well than they actually did.  Although it perhaps did not look like it Merle's pinning attack is key, otherwise Blake can simply re-organize his line to block Lasalle.  On the other hand, if Merle's attack really miscarries, it can lead to the French left being defeated before Lasalle can make a difference.    All elements interlink in interesting ways.  If Blake can just delay Lasalle more, de la Cuesta can try and overwhelm Mouton's flanks with sheer numbers.  It helps in this case that Polemos is an 'infantry-centric' set of rules: in some rules I have played, Lasalle's veteran chasseurs and the Imperial Guard cavalry will be so strong that the Spaniards have little chance.

It is an interesting battle as far as ratings go.  The Spaniards had a good number of trained troops amongst their ranks, although there was also a large influx of new recruits into these experience units.  Conversely, the French had a large number of battalions from 'Provisional Regiments' present.  However, these had been under arms for over a year by this point, so perhaps in the context of the Napoleonic Wars, they are more 'Trained' than 'Raw'; conversely, the two-month old units of the Asturian levy really are as Raw as they come.  Polemos General de Division has essentially two 'dials' to set effectiveness for infantry, the rating (Veteran-Trained-Raw, and possibly 'Elite') which affects all combat, and the skirmish rating which affects infantry combat only.  It is possible to think of the latter as an all-round 'tactical competence' factor (since all infantry could and did skirmish in this period).  This makes French Raw SK1 units better than Spanish Raw SK0 units, and not much worse than Spanish Trained SK0 units in infantry combat.  

I did consider playing this with Polemos Ruse de Guerre instead, however I felt that the extra  time required with RdG given this many units (RdG has separate tempo totals for each regiment rather than each division commander) meant I chose GdD.  I am okay with that choice, much as I prefer RdG's combat and movement system.

Anyway, it was just great to get a proper 6mm Napoleonic battle to the table again!  Figures by Baccus 6mm.


  1. That is a nice looking battlefield - also nice to revisit an old scenario. interested on the comment you raised about how rules treat Chasseurs and Gd. Cav, I will look at that a bit closer with the systems I have to hand.

    1. You are far too kind Norm. There is much work to do to improve the look of my games still!

      Yes, one of the real interests in Medina de Rio Seco as a scenario is testing whether your ruleset can adequately cope with the large disparity of troop training and experience, without making the best troops invincible or the worst troops useless, neither of which would be justified by the historical performance.

  2. Thanks for that, not a battle I was familiar with. The massed 6mm troops do look grand!

    1. Thanks Martin. I was quite impressed I managed to get it all on to a four-and-a-half by two-and-a-half foot table without it being 'too' congested...