A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Monday, 27 February 2012

Solo Campaign - Action at San Rafael, 27th Feb 1812

Von Neuenstein's Frankfort and Baden units calmly await the storm

General de Brigade Von Neuenstein was sent to deal with an irregular Spanish force under the command of Don Alfonso Maceta – “El Achaparrado” – which was attacking supply trains and couriers in the mountains to the north of Madrid. Von Neuenstein’s own brigade consisted of 5 battalions of troops from the Confederation of the Rhine – professional, experienced soldiers, but a long way from home and increasingly convinced that this was not their war. They were augmented by a very smart new battery of (French) horse artillery from the Madrid garrison. Von Neuenstein marched his men up into the mountains, somewhat concerned about their lack of spirit, and hoping that the inexperienced artillery would perform well if called upon to fight. The French force numbered about 4300 infantry, with the 6 guns of the horse battery.

Maceta’s men had also been on the road for a while, having marched from the Avila area. They were a mixed force, militia and volunteer units and groups of irregular partisan infantry from Avila. The total was 4700, approximately, and Maceta was not impressed when the artillery support promised by the Junta de Castilla turned out to be a half-battery of extraordinarily old and fragile-looking cannon, apparently borrowed from a museum. Better than no artillery at all, but there was no means of moving them once they had been brought into action.

The forces met in the late morning of Thursday 27th February, in a deep and rugged valley near the monastery and village of San Rafael. The unusual terrain generated some special scenario rules – a number of impassable hills were defined, but also some “severe” hills, denoted by double-height blocks and mostly topped with trees – these hills could be entered only by guerrilla infantry and the voltigeur battalion of the French brigade.

[Spanish move first, normal CCN rules, 5 Command cards in each hand, 4 Victory flags needed for a win.]

Very early, the French played a Grande Manoeuvre card and moved 4 units forward quickly, the intention being to gain a toehold in the hills and woods adjacent to the Spanish position. This did not go particularly well, since the Spanish responded with a Bayonet Charge card, which enabled them also to rush 4 infantry units forward, and also to fight with a bonus dice. Von Neuenstein’s troops on the left were caught in the open and suffered badly – the 1st Bn of the Nassauers and the combined voltigeur unit were both broken and routed, and the 2nd Bn of the Nassau unit only avoided a complete collapse of the left by taking possession of the monastery and its outbuildings.

The Spanish militia units, Maceta at their head, now showed commendable élan in the centre, committing to a bold frontal assault on the French force. This had a measure of success at first, and the Frankfurt regiment suffered considerable casualties and recoiled. Neuenstein brought up the two battalions of the 4th Baden regiment and the horse battery, and the Spanish militia and their supporting irregular bands were pushed back and broken. At the same time, a rather half-hearted attack on the monastery was stopped by the Nassauers’ disciplined fire, and the Spanish force retired, the triple-retreat rule for militia units pushing them back quickly, though their previously unengaged cavalry served to cover the retreat well. The antique guns, sadly, were abandoned.

The melee combat at the end of the action was of a very confused nature, the broken terrain and the many twisting paths appear to have caused many men to be separated from their units. The victory for the French was marginal, there was no pursuit by the victors, and many of the missing and wounded on both sides returned to the ranks during the night. On a Victory Flag count, the French won 4-3, and losses were surprisingly light considering the severity of the fighting and the very aggressive tactics of the Spanish commander. The game took about 50 minutes, representing a little over 3 hours fighting. Von Neuenstein conducted himself with great valour and calmness, fighting in the ranks with the Frankfurt unit, striving heroically to rally them when they finally broke, and then taking command of his own Badeners to win the day.


French (from l’Armée du Centre)

Genl de Bde Von Neuenstein with his own brigade of D’Armagnac’s Divn
2nd Nassau (2 Bns), Regt de Francfort (1) & 4th Baden (2)
Masset’s battery of horse artillery (attached)

Total 4300 men with 6 x 6pdr guns


Don Alfonso Maceta with a mixed force of militia units, volunteers and irregular partidas, with a half battery of irregular artillery provided by the Junta de Castilla

Total 4700 men, including 350 irregular cavalry, with 3 guns

The French lost 1050 men killed and wounded, from the Nassau and Frankfort units, and from the brigade’s voltigeur battalion, which last was pretty much destroyed.

The Spanish, by the time runaways and detached stragglers had rejoined, were reported to have lost only around 800 men, though Neuenstein claimed that the Spanish losses were at least 2000 men. The Confederation troops took a number of standards – mostly informal flags abandoned by the irregulars, and captured 3 very dilapidated 4pdr guns.

General view at the outset, French on the right hand side

The artillery unit provided by the Junta was not what had been hoped for...

1st Bn of the Nassauers caught in the open by the quick Spanish attack

The 2nd Bn, more sensibly deployed next to the monks' vegetable plot

Capt Masset's horse artillery unit

The Spanish attack runs out of momentum while the Frankfurters run out of men...

General view of the Spanish attack


  1. A sharp engagement - well done by the Spaniards I'll say.

  2. Yes - well done all round really, I would say.

    Morganstern emailed and correctly pointed out that 25% casualties is hardly light. It is much lighter than it looked before the 'recovery phase'. For the campaign, after each battle I dice for every base/block eliminated, to allow runners and the slightly damaged to return to the colours. An army that won requires 4+ to get a block back, an army that lost on points (e.g. more than half winner's victory flags) needs 5+, an army that got walloped needs 6. Spanish regulars add 1 to the dice, and Spanish irregulars add 2, since these guys tend to leave early but come back ready for more.

    Each month there is also a general recruitment/replacement turn, where any unit which is In Supply gets to dice for all missing blocks in a similar way.

    War is hell, dear boy, but admin is worse.

    I was sure you wanted to know all this.

  3. Replies
    1. Agreed - I wouldn't have enjoyed being there.

  4. 50 minutes for three hours is not bad at all, that sounds like a smooth system. I am wondering how many of the vegetables survived, if any.

    1. In broad terms, the battle was a small one, the French attempted to take the initiative at the beginning, then the Spanish troops made one big assault, which eventually failed. When I look at it like this, it is reasonable that the game should not last very long, but my past experience tells me that this is not reliable logic. I have many times spent long, long evenings achieving less of a battle than this. CCN glosses over a few things that (given the choice) I would like to spend more time on, but it keeps things moving along, which is a nice trade-off.

      The vegetables, I regret to say, were wrecked. In particular, that clumsy oaf Niedersacker of C company stepped on the abbot's prize marrow, and there is going to be real trouble. A letter is being written to King Joseph at this very moment.

  5. Looks and sounds like a good little engagement. Just the sort of thing one would hope that a campaign would offer up.

    1. Hi Ross - absolutely. There is very little chance that normally I would ever set up a game as small as this (though I probably should, now and then) - as you rightly say, a campaign can generate all sorts of variety. Cheers - Tony

  6. Great sounding game, sounds as though although they lost the Spaniards fought surprisingly well.

    1. Hi Ray - yes, they were really fierce. They even had two spare units stuck out on the left flank that never got involved at all - with them, they might well have won it. And if Lampard hadn't missed that penalty...