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

Monday, 2 April 2012

Solo Campaign - Action at Peñausende

Weeks 9 and 10 of the solo Peninsular War campaign are now up to date, and have duly produced a division-sized battle, which I fought out yesterday. Notes on the current state and position of the armies will appear shortly, but I propose to cut down the level of detail in these weekly summaries - they are tedious reading, even to me!

In the meantime, here's an account of...

Action at Peñausende (Fri 27th Mar 1812)

General view of the Allied starting position, from their left flank. Portuguese at this end.

Unaware that General Cotton’s march over the hills to Orense had been aborted because of the weather, Clauzel was ordered to bring his force up from Salamanca to Zamora, the intention being to join with Marmont at Leon. This march caused some disquiet in his division, since it would take them across the battlefield of Corrales, the scene of their recent defeat at the hands of España’s little Spanish army. In fact, they did not get that far - patrols from Cavrois’ dragoons came upon Allied cavalry near Mayalde in the evening of 25th March, and it became clear that these troops were part of a larger body, though the only details established were the presence of two Portuguese cavalry units.

Cotton also had little knowledge of the force which was approaching him. Marching south toward the Arroyo de San Cristobal, his advanced guard came into contact with French troops near Peñausende on the 26th, and he decided to attack on the following morning. The area is hilly, with wooded areas. Cotton, with Clinton’s Sixth Division plus the cavalry brigades of Otway (Portuguese) and Le Marchant (British dragoons), had approximately 10,200 men, with 12 guns, and his scouts advised him that this gave him a significant numerical advantage. In reality, Clauzel had rather less than 8000 men, but the presence of part of the reserve artillery of the Armee de Portugal gave him a total of 24 guns, all of heavier calibre than the Allied artillery.

French position, from their right

Clauzel placed Berlier’s brigade of infantry in some woods on his right flank – a strong position [though perilously close to the table edge!], put the combined voltigeur companies of the Division in to the little town of Peñausende, and placed the brigade of Pinoteau (who had now arrived to replace the discredited Barbot) in the rear of the town. His two cavalry regiments were held in the rear, Picquet’s 6e Dragons being on the extreme left. His three foot batteries were all well sited on prominent ground.

Hinde's Brigade - chosen to make the main attack

Cotton’s plan was to demonstrate against the French right with Rezende’s Portuguese, thus preventing Clauzel from reinforcing his centre from this area, and to drive the main, central attack in through and past the town. Le Marchant’s heavy dragoons supported the extreme right.

French light troops hold the town at the outset

The assault started well – the 2nd (Queen’s) and 1/36th from Hinde’s brigade took advantage of the woods extending up to the workshops and sheds on the northern edge of the town, and made a vigorous assault on the town itself – the fighting there continued for about 45 minutes, but the French voltigeurs were driven out in fine style. Elsewhere, the Allied effort faltered badly. The French artillery – severely criticised for its poor performance at Corrales – produced a devastating weight of fire, the Portuguese advance was halted and twice driven back, and Bull’s troop of the RHA was outranged and outmatched – the horse gunners were silenced.

Le Marchant's ill-fated Heavy Brigade

The French left - Pinoteau's brigade and the 6e Dragons - Clauzel is on the white horse

The Allied effort in the centre did not develop – the capture of the built-up area proved to be of little value in the absence of a concerted advance by Hulse’s brigade, which spent a lot of valuable time dressing lines and forming up, waiting for the Portuguese demonstration on their left which never came.

Picquet's Charge! - 6e Dragons put paid to Le Marchant's second regiment

Though the Allies had more casualties from artillery fire, the situation was something of a stalemate until Cotton sent Le Marchant’s brigade of cavalry forward to threaten the French left. This produced a remarkable response from the French. Picquet’s single dragoon regiment advanced to meet Le Marchant, badly mauled his two regiments on the low hill to the west of the town, and scattered the fugitive survivors, cutting down Le Marchant himself in the process. Sweeping on, Picquet’s men forced the 32nd Foot into a square which was subsequently broken and destroyed when Clauzel force-marched a battalion of the 50e Ligne to support Picquet.

The infantry firefight develops in the centre - the Allied attack was so under-developed that the French came looking for them

At this point the Allies had lost what little momentum they had developed, were outflanked on their right and bogged down elsewhere – apart from losses to the 27e Ligne as a result of a fire-fight near the town, the French were unshaken. Cotton, realistically, withdrew at around 4pm, his Portuguese cavalry covering the retreat.

Orders of Battle

Anglo-Portuguese Army (part) – Lt Gen Sir Stapleton Cotton

6th Division – Maj Gen Henry Clinton:
Hulse’s Bde – 1/11th, 2/53rd & 1/61st Foot, plus converged light cos with 1 coy 5/60th Rifles
Col Hinde’s Bde – 2nd, 1/32nd & 1/36th Foot, plus converged light cos
Conde de Rezende’s Bde – 8th & 12th Portuguese (2 Bns each), 9th Cacadores
Greene’s battery, RA

Le Marchant’s Bde – 3rd Dragoons, 5th Dragoon Gds
Col Otway’s Bde – 1st & 11th Portuguese Cavalry
Bull’s Troop, RHA

Total loss: 1200 infantry, 480 cavalry

French force (from Armée de Portugal ) – Gen de Divn Bertrand Clauzel

2nd Divn:
Berlier’s Bde – 25e Leger (3 Bns), 27e Ligne (2) plus battalion of voltigeurs
Pinoteau’s Bde – 50e Ligne (3), 59e Ligne (2) plus battalion of voltigeurs
15/3e Art à Pied

Picquet’s Bde – 6e & 11e Dragons

Attached Reserve artillery:
10/3e & 19/3e Art à Pied

Total loss: 800 infantry, 120 cavalry

[The action was played out with standard CCN rules – 5 command cards each, Allies moved first, 7 Victory Banners for the win]

Aftermath: Cotton obliged to retreat over the hills to Orense, which manoeuvre had been abandoned two weeks earlier as a result of wintry weather. The loss to his army was not disastrous, and Cotton extracted his force with some skill, but there is severe criticism of poor decision making and general timidity of the attacks. Wellington’s political situation will suffer further as a result of the action, which is unfortunate since the combat was something of an accident, Wellington himself was not present, his appointed subordinate commander conducted himself reasonably well and the army is not mortally damaged. When news of this episode reaches London, there will once again be a clamour for Wellington to be replaced. Sir Henry Paget is widely tipped as his successor.

[Game went well – the Victory conditions should probably have been set higher – Allies lost 7-3 on Victory Banners, but their position was far from hopeless at this point. My thanks to Kieran and Nick for helping out with the battle – total time elapsed was a little under 3 hours, which is very good considering that Kieran was new to the rules and needed some instruction as we went along.]


  1. Well that will be something for the croakers to talk about.

  2. The cavalry action sounds exciting - more exciting than usual, certainly. Loud groans at the Piquet's Charge pun.

    What held up the British attack then?

    As for replacing Wellington, Paget is a poor candidate. You should have a proper poll. Shame about Le Marchant too - is he dead? Cheers - Lou

    1. Lou - certainly unusually effective cavalry charge. British cavalry just collapsed - disappointing effort. Le Marchant is dead, yes. Likely replacements for him are all buffoons as far as I can see. British cavalry generals like Erskine (mad) and Slade and Long (useless) don't seem to have had direct equivalents in the French army.

      Wellington hasn't been fired yet, so talk of replacement is premature. Possible candidates who are in the Peninsula already include Beresford (local seniority only), Cotton (same - he is W's official deputy with British army in Spain) - senior Lt General present is Hope, I think. Boys back home include Paget (very senior, but difficult personal relationship with Wellington's brother, having run off with his wife...) and a couple of others, but a good many are geriatric, or sent to govern some island colony to get them out of the way.

      Wellington best man available, but I have a dice algorithm all ready if it comes to a vote in Parliament. If he is sacked, I might well put a poll on the blog, but it's potentially humbling if I get no votes!

  3. They should never have taken away the Bicornes for those Frenchie style helmets. The Heavy Dragoons were probably embarassed and ashamed, no wonder Le Marchand ended by throwing himself on the enemy's swords.

    1. Hi Ross - I am in full agreement - I've been working for a while to get the whole brigade replaced with bicorn wearers. It may take a month or two, but it looks as if it may be in hand now. The brass "Icky the Fire Bobby" helmets seem to have arrived in Spain sort of 1812-ish, but no-one seems to know how many or when. It is a bit of a sore point, but I am working on it!

      Le Marchant - will be a loss for two reasons:

      (1) Potential replacements are low-grade

      (2) He is a specially converted figure (s-range Wellington with a Tarleton-helmeted RHA head), so I'll have to use a different figure for his successor!