Sunday, 12 March 2017

Battle of Barrosa 1811 - Over the Hills

A rather fanciful depiction of the Battle of Barrosa by Baron Lejeune, with the British depicted in their much later Belgic Shakos, but the view beyond of the coast and the island city of Cadiz in the background really captures the location for the battle

It was way back in March 2015 that we first played Barrosa, a fascinating battle that saw General Sir Thomas Graham avert a potential disaster as the French under Marshal Victor attempted to attack an Anglo Spanish relief force marching to break the siege of Cadiz, in the flank and rear.

This time we were playing the scenario using Over the Hills (OTH) which we featured in the Vimeiro game back in January this year.

Photo-map to illustrate the positions at start

So to set the scene and refresh the memory for those who know something about the Battle of Barrosa and those that are having a great, never to be repeated, moment of discovering a new battle that fires up the imagination, I shall recap the history and set the scene for the Battle of Barrosa or Chiclana as the Spanish may refer to it.

Following the disastrous Battle of Ocana near Madrid on the 19th November 1809, the only Spanish army capable of defending Andalusia and southern Spain was now destroyed and in the winter campaign that followed French Imperial forces flooded through the passes of the Sierra Morena under Marshal Soult forcing the Supreme Junta to decamp from Seville and head for the last remaining defensible city, Cadiz. Fortunately for Spain and the allied cause the Duke of Albuquerque on his own initiative lead the last remaining Spanish troops in the area to the city beating the arrival of the French by just two days, arriving on the 3rd February 1810.


Cadiz went into a state of siege as the Spanish were later joined by British and Portuguese troops to help bolster the garrison and the Royal Navy ensured supplies to the city and secured it against any water-borne attempts to storm it.

Over the next year with allied reinforcements and draw-downs on the French besiegers an opportunity presented itself for the garrison to attempt to relieve the siege by arranging for a landing force to be transported out of the city to land along the coast at Tarifa behind the French allowing them to come up on their rear.

The Anglo Spanish force was commanded by Spanish General Manuel Lapena and General Sir Thomas Graham was subordinate commanding the Anglo-Portuguese rear-guard division.

Marshal Victor became aware of the allied approach and set a trap by blocking the road into Cadiz and his lines of circumvallation, whilst having two divisions inland ready to fall upon the rear of the allied column as it made its way along the coast road.

The battle started when Graham became aware of the French movement to his rear and turned about to offer battle before the French could press him back into the sea and roll up the remaining Spanish forces from the rear.

The two order of battles show how different but well matched the two sides are with just six Fatigue Score points favouring the Anglo Spanish force.

In OTH the quality, training and size of the units are measured by a given Fatigue Score (FS) rating with a bulk standard French or British battalion of about 600 men scoring a 7 or 8 FS. The FS is the number that needs to be rolled equal to or less than to rally, shoot and fight the battalion, squadron or battery using a d10 and the total FS for any given formation (brigade, division, corps and army) is halved to give a break point total for that force.

As fatigue is accrued, from moving and combat, through the game it is tallied with the use of dice against the unit affected and its parent formation. Unit FS can be rallied off to keep the unit fighting, but formation FS cannot and when it is used up the formation is deemed out of action and its surviving units will automatically withdraw from the battle.

The photo map at the top of the post shows where the respective formations were set up as the two forces were close to engaging, with Victor's 1st Division atop Barrosa Hill and his 2nd Division preparing to sweep down to the coast road just as Graham's Anglo Portuguese emerged from the tree-line ready to attack them.

On the coastal road and Anglo-Spanish force of infantry and cavalry under Wittingham and Cruz Murgeon faced off against Dermancourt's mixed brigade of Light Infantry and Dragoons.

I chose to keep the British 67th Foot as a complete battalion in its parent brigade but a strictly historical set up might have the battalion split into two parts with each British brigade reflecting the confusion caused as Graham rapidly turn his force around to respond the the French threat.

This was a trial scenario that I am working on for OTH and so I was using some loose (unwritten but explained) guidance for the players, re terrain and objectives.

I played the woods as open, causing fatigue to formed troops moving through it, which on reflection I would not and we adjusted the game partway in to free up the British troops moving through it to get at the French in the open. This feature was not disruptive enough to stop Graham's men deploying through and from it with the 87th Foot charging into the 8th Ligne and taking the first Eagle captured by British troops in the Peninsular War.

As far as objectives are concerned, I am not convinced that this scenario benefits from terrain specific objectives as clearly both sides were looking to close with the enemy and destroy them, irrespective of terrain, as both sides knew that if the Allies did not stop and break the French, they were going for an early bath in the Mediterranean, best case option.

That said in the actual engagement the French on Barrosa Hill seemed quite content to let the Anglo-Portuguese come to them up hill in the face of their whithering fire so I decided to not use order changes in this game and let the players choose their ground with the intent to watch and learn with some ideas I have in mind for orders in the written up scenario.

Battle lines drawn with the French (right of picture) occupying Barrosa Hill

So with things all set up and both sides intent on taking it to the enemy the British were deemed Side A and began to move their troops forward towards the French who as I suspected were quite content to allow them to suffer the delights of skirmish and artillery fire played on them as they did so.

I needed a suitable look out tower for Barrosa Hill so my Hovels windmill got an outing to club

With Colours flying and the drums and pipes jauntily playing 'A British Grenadier' heard floating over the noise of French cannon, the British lines closed up each time a soldier fell and grimly pressed on to the awaiting French line.

British Guards preceded by Lieutenant Colonel John Browne's Flank Battalion in open order 

Wheatley's brigade were the first to open fire on Leval's French line as they emerged from the tree line on the British left flank and Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Barnard's mighty flank battalion, nearly a thousand men strong, opened fire moving out in open order with their four companies of 95th Rifles bowling over French officers and NCO's as they moved.

Meanwhile the Royal Artillery nine-pounder batteries quickly deployed from the woodland trail to add their round-shot to the skirmish fire.

General de Division Leval's 2nd French Division receive British artillery and skirmish fire as they emerge from the tree-line beyond. The first blue mini-dice fatigue markers start to blossom behind French battalions.

It was not long in coming when the weaker artillery response from the spread out French artillery started to answer the British fire but the casualties were negligible in the early part of the advance.

The two British Guards battalions are preceded by Brownes Flank battalion and three companies of 95th Rifles

Colonel Barnard quickly got his men formed from their open order approach, and keen to take advantage of the accurate skirmishing from his riflemen and the Britishh round-shot plying the French line, waved his hat as he encouraged his men who, giving three cheers, lowered their bayonets and charged the 2/54me Ligne.

The French battalion already disordered by the fire received turned tail almost immediately and G de D Leval had to ride into the ranks of his soldiers to steady their nerve as Barnard's men charged forward.

Ruffin's artillery opens fire on the British troops advancing on Barrosa Hill 

When Barnard looked rearwards for support from the three British battalions supposedly coming on behind, he was shocked to see that they were still shaking themselves out into line from the trees equally disordered by French fire as they did so.

Meanwhile the Guards and their skirmish line had pressed on to the lower slopes of Barrosa Hill and the rifles of the 95th together with Colonel Browne's flank companies began to methodically drive in the French skirmishers picking off men and French FS as they did so.

The 95th Rifles open their account in the skirmish battle as the two lines close

The two lines were now closing rapidly and the first close combats were fast approaching as both sides attempted to get in first to take advantage of unit FS before it could be rallied off.

British 9lbrs pour on the shot and shell so efficiently one battery runs out of ammunition and has to send off for more.
This as Wheatley struggles to deal with the disorder brought to his line from accurate French return fire

The French on Barrosa Hill tried to grab the initiative back from Dilkes' Guards by sending in one of their composite grenadier battalions in column, taking advantage of their uphill position.

The 1st Foot Guards silently came to the halt as the cheering grenadiers crested the hill and closed on them. The order to present was given and six hundred Brown Bess muskets were levelled at the enemy. The fire when it came was devastating and with a cheer the Guards drove forward pushing the French back from whence they came.

The British approach on Barrosa Hill drives in the French skirmish screen

Meanwhile the point of decision was fast approaching on the French right flank as the fight had stalemated into a 'who can pound the longest' affair with the French artillery and 2/54me Ligne driven from the field, but with both sides teetering on the edge of force morale failure and with just one possible chance of close combat that would see one or both sides depart from the field of battle.

Wheatley's brigade threaten a breakthrough as the 2/54me Ligne disintegrates in the face of Barnard's Flank Battalion charge, leaving the centre of the French line threatened as the 2/8me Ligne step up to fill the gap and as FS markers record the reaction to the French battalion's demise, four FS against the 1/54me closest to camera. Note G de D Leval in the centre steadying the men.

General Wheatley decided to throw the dice on one last desperate gamble to break his opposite number's will to resist and the 2/87th came forward to support Colonel Barnard's flankers as together they charged the French line.

'Not good, not good!!' The 2/54me break to the rear leaving the French division with just 5 FS from an original 25 FS at start of play

Would the French line stand this time? The fighting was fierce across the front as the 2/87th won their tussle with the French grenadiers and drove them back to their start line on the road, but taking yet more fatigue hits for their trouble.

Meanwhile Barnard's men crossed bayonets with the 2/8me Ligne and losing the combat in the last of three rounds were forced to fall back leaving both the British and French formations on 1 FS each, but the British battalion was forced directly back which meant clipping one of the support battalions behind adding a further 2 FS from the corresponding disorder caused by the interpenetration and Wheatley's battle was over leaving the consolation that so was Leval's, holding the field but with 1FS remaining unable to do very much with it.

The battle in its closing stages - Laval and Wheatley  (left of picture) have fought each other to a standstill with both teetering on FS collapse - Dilke's British Guards have charged up Barrosa Hill shrugging of hits and destroying the 1/96me Ligne breaking to the rear (centre top)

With battle well and truly joined along the front the Anglo Spanish brigades of Wittingham and Cruz Mugeon decided to lend a little support, seeing the KGL 2nd Hussars launch a surprise charge onto the corner of Barrosa Hill catching a column of the 2/24me Ligne in the flank before it could react, however the French column held its nerve and though badly shaken managed to drive off the German hussars in the third round of combat.

To support their efforts the Spanish dragoons gamely trotted forward to detain their French opposites getting the worst of the affair but drawing the French dragoons away from their brigade comrades the 2/9 Legere who were equally surprised by the German hussars charging forward to take on their line.

This time the German cavalry drove the French infantry back but was unable to break them just as their Spanish comrades disintegrated in the face of another attack by the French 1st Dragoons forcing Cruz Mugeon's Spanish infantry into square.

The cavalry battle on the coast in full sway as the KGL Hussars charge into a line of the 2/9me Legere (bottom right) and the Spanish infantry form square at the 1st French Dragoons break their Spanish opposites, seen fleeing to the rear (bottom left)

The Battle on Barrosa Hill was the crescendo of our afternoon as both guards battalions seemingly sensing the struggle the other allied brigades were having to grab the ascendancy took the battle by the scruff of the neck as they charged into Ruffin's line atop the hill, breaking the 1/96me Ligne in a vain attempt to stop the 2nd/3rd Composite Guards battalion; and with the 1st Guards equally aware of bragging rights among the Household troops once back in the changing room, smashed into the French 1st Provisional Grenadiers and the 1/24me Ligne driving both battalions back over the ridge in three rounds of combat, leaving the French division badly battered.

The Guards Brigade become an irresistible force as Ruffin's division reels in the face of their attack

We called the game there with one British brigade quit the field, one Spanish dragoon regiment dispersed,  one French brigade teetering on 1 FS force morale and the British Guards atop Barrosa hill with two French infantry battalions and half a battery of guns dispersed.

Both armies had fought each other to a standstill and given us a great afternoons entertainment. The rules, yet again, stood up very well in this, just our second full on game.

We came away with lots of ideas about house rules and other adaptations we can make, but the game stood out for the fun it generated with some very hard fought combats swinging the game in different directions throughout the afternoon. Great Fun.

Wheatley's Brigade forced to withdraw as their morale breaks leaving just one point of FS to Leval's tired men (note the larger blue die in the background recording remaining FS)

Thank you to Steve, Steve L, Si and Ian for playing the game with a great spirit and really going for the win. Much fun had by all.

Anyone interested in researching this battle would be well advised getting a copy of
'The Battle of Barrosa 1811, Forgotten Battle of the Peninsular War' by John Grehan and Martin Mace, published by Pen & Sword.

A really good read with lots of information about the battle, the units and commanders.


  1. That is a very interesting report..

    Couple of questions:

    Seems that you didn't use the alternative attrition rules where each fatigue accumulated by a unit adds to the brigade. Did you go with the standard rules ?

    Did you use the brigade orders

    finally a web related, what plug in/applicatuon are you using to display pics spread out in the report to show up in the filmstrip ? I use envira gallery but then they have to be all together, cannot mix them with the report .. :)


    1. Hi Francisco,
      Thank you.
      Yes we did use the brigade fatigue accumulation rules. That is what we use the cards with the large dice for, to record down the loss as we go.
      Given I didn't have more cards I based the French morale on the division which were comparable to the British brigades in FS.
      As outlined in my preamble, I left the orders out for this game as I am in the proces of simplifying the orders definitions into three options with a much simplified set of conditions for each. I will roll them out with a bit more play-testing.

      I am not aware I am using any plug in option other than posting my pictures straight into blogger, which provided you set the design of the blog page wide enough gives enough room to get a decent size of picture up to accompany the text. Blogger supports the filmstrip which is also excellent for picking pictures to link into posts on other sites.

      Hope that helps

  2. Interesting. Strange, when we used the order rules we didn't find them that cumbersome.

    Thanks for the answers...


    1. I guess I am used to using Carnage & Glory where the order definitions are very simple and easy to memorise and I am keen to use them with OTH. As you might have guessed I am very much from the school of adopt, adapt, improve when it comes to wargaming, and I love it when a designer says use this if you like it, leave out what you don't and feel free to make changes. OTH are great for allowing scope to design your own games.

  3. Lovely game! Curious as to your thoughts on Artillery, seems not as effective long range only able to apply 1 FS no matter the roll of the D10. We have seen that troops are really not that afraid of arty, so we went with allowing arty to possibly do more damage if the D10 roll was good enough on the chart.

    1. Thank you.
      I guess I am relaxed with that as it seems a good way to replicate the poor chances of hitting and a way to discourage long range sniping that would probably have fatigued gun crews and consumed ammunition for little gain.
      I am a C&G player where the system rapidly fatigues crews that fire continuously and players have learnt not to waste their gunnery at long range and risk them having to be pulled out of the line to recover at the time the enemy chooses to close on the position.
      I think the wargamer in us likes to blaze away with everything at every opportunity, which was probably not a luxury the historical commanders could enjoy.
      However re my previous comment, these rules are constructed with the idea of incorporating as much or not of the rules you want to use and I reckon that also goes for house rule adaptations if that's the way you prefer to play the game. Why not? It's you and your friends game.

  4. Thanks for this. Super late to this post and I have just finished slaving away at more or less the same scenario for OTH, adapting an earlier attempt I had made at it for Age of Eagles as OTH is a much better fit, rule-wise. Your orbats were a big help - I hadn't figured out where the 9th Légere went and was unaware that the French batteries were so weak.