On Saturday 9th May 1812, Maj.Gen Karl, Graf von Alten - a Hanoverian in the British service, fought a defensive action at Malpartida, between the Portuguese-Spanish border and the fortress of Almeida. His little army consisted of his own Light Division - an elite force which had not thus far been involved in combat in the 1812 campaign - with support from a brigade of light cavalry, plus a battalion of militia and a howitzer battery seconded from the Almeida garrison. His force totalled some 5700 men, with 12 guns. The cavalry commander was his brother, Viktor, and one of the cavalry regiments, the Brunswick-Oels Hussars, had ridden a remarkable distance from Elvas to join him, but - since the cavalry played no part in the day's business - we shall not mention them again.
Initial situation, French on the left
His opponent was Bertrand Clauzel, with his own (2nd) Division of the Armee de Portugal, plus a brigade of dragoons and two batteries from the reserve of the AdP. Since these troops had already been involved in some of the heaviest fighting, Clauzel was forced to assemble some small units into provisional units to give them a useful combat capability. In all, Clauzel had rather more than 6600 men, with 24 guns.
[Though I gave serious thought to using some different rules for ths action, I used CCN again. 5 cards each, French to move first, 6 Victory Banners to decide matters.]
Von Alten took advantage of two ancient quarries (of Sant Iago and San Rafael) near the village - his troops were laid out with painstaking care, with riflemen in the two quarries, a horse artillery unit between them and reserves in support (notably the 43rd Foot). Vandeleur's brigade was placed on the left flank, an area where woods and the village would ensure a difficult assault for the French. Overlapping fields of fire were carefully worked out, and a frontal attack against the area around the quarry pits would be a hazardous undertaking indeed, across an open, stony area.
Clauzel placed Berlier's veteran brigade opposite the quarries, and Pinoteau's (formerly Barbot's) brigade on the right, where they were prepared for a long, difficult day, attempting to root Vandeleur's men out of the woods around Malpartida itself.
The action produced a quick and rather surprising result, in a game lasting a little over an hour. Clauzel opened with a Bombard card, which gave his artillery (heavier, longer-ranged and more numerous than the Allied) a further bonus, and in the first turn reduced the two Allied batteries to a very weak state. Von Alten's defence was not looking as strong as it had, but he prepared for the French to come on "in the same old way".
They did not disappoint him - on Turn 2, Clauzel played a Grande Manoeuvre card, and sent Berlier's troops in against the quarries. They covered the open ground quickly - a Grande Manoeuvre lets the troops get there quickly, but they have to wait until next turn to fight. The Allies, of course, let them have everything they had available (which wasn't helped by very poor cards for the Centre sector) - Berlier took some losses, as expected, and the 2/27e Ligne were driven back by rifle fire from San Rafael, but the remainder of the attacking force had reached the British lines in far better shape than Von Alten might have hoped for.
Then things happened very quickly - the 43rd Foot were routed and eliminated, the 3/95th Rifles were reduced, in their quarry, to a single "block" (at which strength they were unable to fight back), the 1/95th, in their own quarry, were driven out very easily, failing disastrously to re-take the position, Col Barnard, the brigade commander, was critically wounded, and men from the 25e Leger overran the remnants of Ross's Troop of the horse artillery. In desperation, Von Alten brought up the Thomar battalion of Portuguese militia - previously untried, and there only as emergency secondments from garrison duties at Almeida - and - unbelievably - they defeated the exhausted veterans of the 1/25e Leger and took back the Sant Iago quarry. But it was all in vain, the sixth Victory Banner was on the table. The cavalry, the complicated operations around Malpartida were completely irrelevant - a preliminary artillery bombardment and a rather crude frontal charge carried the day.
Von Alten withdrew his men, placed Vandeleur and the cavalry as a rearguard, and headed off towards Abrantes. Clauzel's next task was to mask the fortress at Almeida, so the Light Division were left to retire without further harrassment. Riflemen in quarries? - piff! French won 6-1.
French Force - Gen de Divn Bertrand Clauzel
Second Divn, Armee de Portugal (Clauzel)
Brigade Berlier: 25e Leger & 27e Ligne (5 Bns)
Brigade Pinoteau: 50e & 59e Ligne (4 Bns)
Brigade Picquet: 6e & 11e Dragons (4 Sqns)
15/3e Art a Pied (Capt Pajot)
10/3e Art a Pied (Capt Dyvincourt)
19/3e Art a Pied (Capt Gariel)
Losses - approx 800 men k/w
Allied Force - Maj.Gen Karl, Graf Von Alten
Light Division (K von Alten)
Barnard's brigade: 1/43rd, 1/95th, 3/95th, 1st Cacadores
Vandeleur's brigade: 1/52nd, 2/95th, 3rd Cacadores
Troop 'I', RHA (Maj Ross)
Cavalry (Maj.Gen V von Alten): 1st Hussars KGL, Brunswick Hussars
Attached (from Almeida garrison): Thomar militia & howitzer battery (4th Ptgse Art)
Losses - approx 1600 men k/w/t, 10 guns destroyed or taken, Col Barnard gravely wounded and captured.
Von Alten's "Hornet's Nest" - Ha!
3/95th in the quarry of Sant Iago
Opening bombardment - pretty much ruined the Allied batteries
Grande Manoeuvre charge by Berlier - crude but effective
...and suddenly the hornets had gone
Unlikely heroes - the Thomar militia briefly won back one of the quarries,
though it didn't affect the outcome
though it didn't affect the outcome