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

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Fringe Players - tabletop units with an undeserved popularity...

Regimiento de la Muerte, 1809
Most wargames armies have some unit somewhere that turns out to be a bit of an embarrassment – mostly it’s because by rights it shouldn’t be there, and mostly that is because their owner fancied the uniforms, or found the figures cheap at a swapmeet. How many miniature Napoleonic French armies contain a completely inappropriate unit of Mamelukes of the Guard, for example? My own follies in the building up of my Peninsular War armies include a post-1813 line chevaux-legers unit (never set foot in Spain), which I still include in the OOB when it suits – well, they might have appeared (I got some old Garrison figures on eBay); the other was a smashing unit of Les Higgins/PMD Scots Greys – I converted the command figures and everything. This unit still causes me some grief, in retrospect – they were absolutely beautiful, but historically the regiment spent the entire Peninsular War in Britain and – more seriously – they threatened to encourage me to expand my collection to cover Waterloo, with two distinct types of light dragoons and so on. So I sold them on eBay a few years ago, and they went for the starting bid, which was a major heart breaker - not entirely because I am a skinflint, but because I loved them and was insulted.

In this vein, one unit which has always intrigued me is the Regimiento de la Muerte, one of the Spanish “new regiments” raised after the French invasion. These guys appear in just about every known book of uniforms for the Peninsular War, the early use of a British looking uniform is notable, and they became such an iconic Spanish unit (beginning at a time when relatively little was known about that army - by me, certainly) that a lot of tabletop Spanish armies had them. Bueno did a few illustrations of them, though I’m not sure why they have such prominence - Douglas Miniatures, in particular, had only three Spanish Napoleonic figures – a classic line grenadier, with bearskin, and a fusilero and officer of the “Death Regt”. The Death boys will paint up as 1812 blue-uniformed chaps, so they are useful anyway.

I have recently chanced upon a small additional supply of 1812-style S-Range Spaniards, which is very pleasing, and one possibility was that they could be painted up as the Muerte, and thus swell the ranks of my 1809 army, since my 1812 army is probably quite large enough. Problem is that my OOB is based on the battles of Ucles and (a bit) Ocaña, and Muerte were not at either of these places. Out of general interest, I thought I’d check out my JJ Sañudo database, and see what the facts are for Muerte.

Funcken: Who's the guy in the middle, then?
Well now. First thing to note is that their full name was Voluntarios de la Muerte o Victoria, they were raised in 1809, and disbanded 18 months later, and the second thing is that there was a completely different, much more famous light infantry unit named the Voluntarios de la Victoria (this is Volunteers of Victory – nothing at all to do with the city of Vitoria) who were featured in the old S-Range catalogue (SN7s, complete with brimmed hat) and had a long and distinguished war record right through to Toulouse in 1814.

Clonard plate: Left to Right: Voluntarios de la Patria, Leales de Fernando VII,
anta Fe, La Muerte, Voluntarios de la Victoria
So what of the iconic Muerte, so well known to wargamers? Since it is not lengthy, and might be of interest, this is their full regimental history:

30 Jan 1809 - Single-battalion unit of line infantry raised by D. Francisco Colombo

18 Mar – present at action of Villafranca

20 Mar – official army return describes them as “Regto de la Victoria”, 1 battalion, strength 500 men, under “Capitan” Colombo

22 Mar – 500 men, under Colombo, present at action of Pontevedra

23 Mar – At Vigo, in Galicia – regt formed into 3 battalions, totalling 1000 men; these were built around 1 company of the “Regto de la Victoria”, 1 company of the line Regto de Zamora and 1 company of the Granaderos Provinciales de Galicia, with a substantial intake of volunteer recruits

24 Apr – Action of Santiago; regiment listed as “Regimiento de la Muerte”, consisting of 3 battalions.

26 Apr – at Caldas de Reyes

2 May – attached to La Carrera’s Division on the Miño, at a strength of 1 battalion [where were the rest?]

June – at the Siege of Tuy

7 Jun – 1 battalion present at Battle of Puente Sampayo, with Noroña’s Divn.

30 Jun – return has “Regto de la Victoria o Muerte” at a strength of 1725 men, which seems unlikely.

3 Jul - …they are once again “de la Muerte”, commanded by Colombo.

18 Oct – Battle of Tomames, 1 battalion with the Vanguard Divn, commanded by Mariscal de Campo Martin de la Carrera – 1 killed, 5 wounded, 1 slightly wounded(?).

23 Nov – Action of Medina del Campo, with La Carrera’s Vanguard Divn.

28 Nov – Battle of Alba de Tormes – 148 men present with La Carrera’s Divn.

18 Dec – Regimental cadre(?) marched to Galicia; 135 men transferred to 1st Voluntarios de Cataluña [which is, in fact, one of the units in my Ucles OOB army].

5 Feb 1810 – Possible that 1st Vols de Cataluña present at defence of Badajoz.

15 Jun – 1 battalion in Galicia, with Imaz’s “Vanguardia Provisional” division.

1 Jul – regiment disbanded – remaining strength absorbed by the Regimiento de Lobera.

And that, it seems, was that. It would appear that the battalions served separately, and their war service was brief but active – the numbers seem to have fluctuated wildly, though this may just be dodgy record keeping, and I would guess that the bulk of the men in the ranks had little training or experience. I have no wish to disapprove of anyone who served in defence of his native land, but the unit seems to be notable primarily because plates of their uniform survive rather than as a result of any particularly distinguished combat record. I shan’t bother adding them to my 1809 line-up – not least because they didn’t exist until some months after my target OOB.

I find Sañudo’s database a veritable goldmine of information – a great find.


  1. Yep, you're spot-on about oddball units showing up all over the place. For example, Rush's Lancers in the ACW. It was the only lancer regiment fielded by either side, and they quickly gave up their lances as being totally unusable in the terrain of Virginia. Doesn't matter--there they are again! And how often do we see a battalion or two of Old Guard in an ordinary French force? How often did Nap parcel out his pride and joy? Like, never? My old group in California loved Tiger IIs--every single guy had a battalion or more of them! (Considering how few were actually produced, it would appear they are just a little bit over-represented.)

    Well, gotta run--I'm right in the middle of painting my brigade of Tiger Zouaves. Oh, wait a minutes...

    Chris Johnson

    1. My very first steps in wargaming involved the ACW in about 500BC, and my entire expertise was based on a chapter in one of Featherstone's books and the nice little "Knight's Battles for Wargamers" book on First Bull Run. I had a lot of fun, but of course neither the action nor the OOBs are typical of anything at all, and - since I quickly got bored painting grey and blue units, my armies were filled with anything which I found interesting (and shiny) - US Marines, Fire Zouaves, Berdan's Sharpshooters, Tigers, you-name-it. I had tremendous fun for a couple of months, but it became obvious my army was going to have to start again, and I was going to have to understand the ACW and its tactics rather better, so I ran out of steam on that period (sadly - I keep looking at it again...).

      Later, my penance for my early magpie days was in slowly building up Marmont's 1811-12 Armee de Portugal - now there's boring - the only possible eccentrics in that army were a hundred green-clad guys from the Regiment de Prusse! No wonder so many gamers desperately cling to the legend that the 15e Ligne might still have been wearing their white uniforms from 1807 - anything for a bit of variety, but the uniforms must have been a bit shabby by 1812, you would think - not to mention that they must have been ancient history.

      All excellent fun.

  2. So are you going to paint them up then?

    1. Well, Ray, the official answer is "no", but this may nag at me for a bit. Maybe the best bet is to paint the extra figures as another 1812 regiment, and that removes the temptation. Nah - maybe the temptation is interesting...

  3. My own British OOB includes a 'naval battalion' made up half and half with marines and sailors. I still don't understand why Roy won't let me field them for Vintage Waterloo...

    1. You could probably field them, but they'd have to stay in Antwerp.

      It's a tough one, isn't it - I have a lovely Qualiticast French staff group, including Napoleon, and I am determined to use them one day, though it is not obvious how or where I would use what is really a diorama group, covering the area of a couple of football pitches. Nice though.

      Maybe I should have a separate collection of diorama pieces, but I don't think that's a great idea. For one thing, I'm a rubbish painter.

  4. I have to admit that it's a desire for colour and variety that tends to dominate for me, but then again I'm more or less compelled to take this approach by attempting to build my armies entirely with vintage figures. Eclecticism seems to be unavoidable in these circumstances. Then again, perhaps this is precisely so many of us are attracted to retro chic?

    1. I think you are absolutely right.

      As for retro chic, I've always looked like this - I was always a stranger to fashion even when retro chic was just chic. People tell me that if i keep wearing this stuff it will come back into fashion - let me tell you, if it ever does then I'll go down to the charity shop and get some new old togs immediately.

  5. Quite - my Peninsular British has two cavalry units so far - Light Dragoons (good, solid start) and Life Guards (served...but briefly and didn't see combat). I liked the uniform better than ordinary 'Heavies' !

    1. Stout fellow - that's the spirit!

      Life Guards aren't so wild - a rocket troop would be wild...

    2. Always wanted to add one of those.

      Funnily enough, my Sudan British have a rocket trough, which is just as wild.

  6. I likely have too many units painted as some sort of 'grenadiers' with red plumes etc ... but then my forces are used more generically as "french" and quite often these red-plumed grenadiers have to wear the tabletop technical mantle of line troops.

    I have come to care less about the precision of 'this or that' particular unit, so long as they have a decent paint job on them and are more-or-less from the correct opponent era. I have been known to use 1805 Russians as 1815 Kings German Legion.

    I no longer count buttons and have much more fun with the game(s).

    1. Excellent - I think it's very healthy to talk about these things.

      Substituting Russians for 1815 KGL will have button-counters all over the world weeping into their beer, but don't you worry about that - it's still healthy to talk about it...

    2. "1805 Russians as 1815 Kings German Legion."


    3. There you go - there's a man weeping already...!

  7. Well, the former Russo-German Legion (IIRC, the 31st and 32nd Prussian Infantry, and some cavalry and artillery, but I can't recall their unit designations)) still wore their Russian uniforms at Waterloo, so you could just say they managed to skip over to the Hanoverian part of the field... :)

  8. I confess that my ACW collection includes two regiments of the Iron Brigade (a third to be painted up) and two of the Irish Bde. These glamour boys are just too tempting, although in my defence, they were with the Army of the Potomac at most of its battles. However, conscience tells me I should paint the 152nd Pennsylvania and the 90 something New York, just because. Mind you, the uniforms are almost all the same, it's just the flags. I do have a box of Zouaves to paint, because, well, because Zouaves.
    In a 6mm Naps army I purchased recently, there was a small host of chaps painted a shocking electric green, which the bases declared to be the Regiment d'Irlandais. John Elting, who knew a thing or two about Napoleonn's army, thought this unit had an exaggerated reputation and probably wasn't all that Irish, but the romance sticks. I don't know what Elting would have thought of the shocking green paint job on these guys.