Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chapter 2: Battle of the Rio Minio (Minho)




Date: 27 January to 17 February 1809
Location: Northwest Iberia:
Situation: Marshall Soult's French II Corps Moves South
Purpose: Fictional campaign novel adapted from actual historical events.

Recommendation: See previous Chapter 1: The Game Is Afoot
http://barnapoleon.blogspot.com/2013/03/chapter-1-game-is-afoot.html
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PRELUDE

Following the January 17th embarkation of the late General Moore's British Contingent from Coruna, Spain, Marshall Soult's II Corps recuperated from the battle of the 16th. there. Ten days later they marched southwest to Santiago. No intact British forces existed between Coruna and the Portuguese border. Therefore, there was no hurry and no advantage exerting his tired men further. The march proceeded leisurely.

The road from Santiago to Pontevedra and Vigo Galiza was not as good. Consequently II Corps began arriving at the latter only on the 14th of February. Two crossings over the Minio River would take them into Portugal.

The 12th Chasseurs A Cheval led II Corps into Vigo Galiza.
 [Photo and collection from Jim P.)

Behind them stretched 23,500 soldiers of Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte. He had decreed that Portugal would be more firmly under the control of France. Marshall Soult was his means to accomplish this.


Major General Pettygree's Personal Journal
17 February 1809
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"When I learned Soult was heading for Portugal, there were two options available to me. Remaining in Lisbon utilizing natural defences there was one. Should matters go poorly we could request evacuation by sea from the port. The other was to march north to slow or stop the French. The future will only know if my decision was correct."

"I was convinced Lisbon even with some natural defences could not be held long with my 10,000 men. Nor have I been an ardent proponent of the fortress mentality. All fortresses as Vauban taught can be breached and taken."

"Soult's men were bloodied and tired from fighting General Moore whereas my men were fresh. I therefore resolved it better to stop the French in the north rather than freely give up half of Portugal above Lisbon. A little luck and panache might breed success. At the least it would buy time. We therefore forced marched to stop Soult at the Rio Minio separating Spain from Portugal."

"Part of Lord Paget's Advance Guard began arriving there hours before the French appeared. Most of the Army was still stretched out in road column for miles to the south. Would we have sufficient strength to stop Soult at the bridge?"

"Before dawn on the 16th. Lord Paget (left) reconnoitered the Minio River from a long ridge.

"As the sun rose, officers to his right saw only a small Roman Catholic Church presiding over a still darkened stone bridge crossing the river."

"Before nine of the clock our Advance Guard began deploying behind and to the right of Paget but the French were already crossing. There was nothing to be done except wait for leading elements from our Light Cavalry Brigade as well as the 2nd. Brigade to finish forming out of sight from the French."

"From left to right behind the ridge were posted Paget's Light Cavalry Brigade, 5th Foot, Royal Horse Artillery, a Portuguese Cacadore Rifle Company, two companies of the 95th Rifles, a converged battalion of the elite companies from the 5th and 9th Foot and finally the 9th Foot itself."  

"Hours to the rear the 1st Brigade was marching hard to support Paget. Would they be in time?"

 "The French marched in earnest across the river."

 "Paget thought he saw a very senior officer at the bridge."

"It was Marshall Soult."


BRITISH LEFT FLANK

"Near half past ten French Chasseurs approached to probe our left flank. Two more light cavalry regiments were in the distance as well. Lord Paget therefore ordered the RHA to prolong onto the ridge top and sent orders for his cavalry to do the same on our extreme left."

"When the Royal Horse Artillery opened fire...."

"Round shot ruined one French regiment."

"Routing it toward and behind the church. The other...."

"Was surprised to see the 15th Hussars breach the rise and ride toward them."

"The 15th. charged down slope to engage. The French counter charged."

"The French prevailed early on but were overcome when the 16th Light Dragoons [Not shown] were ordered into the fray."

"Eventually survivors of the brave and hard-fighting Chasseurs fled toward  forming French infantry. To my regret both light cavalry regiments pursued them into the French deployment area. The Chasseurs were cut down."

"Luckily our troopers [middle left] recovered their senses, began to turn back and galloped back to and over our ridge to safety and to reform."

"After cavalry of both sides vacated the area opposite our left flank, French infantry came forward with cries of en avant!"

"Their leading battalion crested the left side of the ridge and received fire from the 5th Foot."

"Before I could order the 5th to fall back to our newly formed second line, it broke."

"I posted myself behind the 94th. whilst the foe continued to press forward. Behind me the 5th Foot was rallying and Lord Paget had brought his Light Cavalry Brigade back into order. These would be our final reserve to stop the inexorable advance of the enemy. Things did not look promising here."

"However, a little to my right, 1st Brigade's 9 Pounder section had been joined by the Royal Horse Artillery to stabilize our situation. In the end the French did not assault this position and fell back from our left flank."


BRITISH RIGHT FLANK

"Events to my right centered upon the French assault on a brick casa de fazenda [farm house] covered by a rock wall. Two companies of the 95th Rifles initially held the wall but were quickly  turned away...."

 "Because French numbers were far in excess of ours."

"The Royal Horse Artillery battery made a wise decision to withdraw. Fortunately two companies of the 83rd came forward to shore up the line for a while."

"As the French assaulted the casa de fazenda."

"Within the farm house elites from the 5th and 9th held up the French advance as long as they could but they eventually succumbed. The French began to pour through."

"On our far right [on a side table] the 9th Foot had their hands full, lost heavily and fell back. The French could not be stopped."

OUR LAST LINE OF DEFENCE

"By mid-afternoon our second line was fully formed by 1st. Brigade." 
[French are off image to the right.]

"Our line was anchored in the center by a massed battery of nine and six pounders. First Brigades battalions and rifles were in very good condition as we awaited the next blow. However, it never came. Marshall Soult called off the attack at the four o'clock hour. Evening came on fast and only desultory fire was heard till then. The battle ended and was not resumed the next day."

AFTERWORD

"Word came that half of Soult's II Corps had crossed the Rio Minio southwest of Vigo Galiza whilst the battle of the 16th raged. Our left flank was turned. Therefore, I ordered our forces to march to Braga and Oporto the next day. It would be a race to block Soult's 1st Division from crossing the western bridge over the Rio Este north of Oporto. If Soult reached Oporto first, we would be cut off from Lisbon."
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CLOSING REMARKS

1) Rules: Our private Napoleonic adaptation of Batailles de l'Ancien R├Ęgime.

2) Turn 1 started at 10:00 am. Turn 17 concluded at 4:00pm.

3) Losses: 210 British and 211 French.

4: British: Jim P. (Der Alte Fritz) John M. and Bill P. [yours truly]

5) French: Earl K., Keith L., Jon P. and Jim H.

6) Der Alte Fritz produced a very good report with more photos here:
link

7) Your remarks are welcome below as always.
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3 comments:

  1. "We must go back. I suppose in England they will say we have been licked."

    Equal losses with a French numeric advantage at this time in the campaign. I would imagine Soult would be somewhat pleased. Much hard fighting ahead no doubt.

    This will be one to follow for sure.

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  2. Reading more about Soult's campaign, he was racking up huge losses to Portuguese guerrillas and this plus lack of food did as much to drive him out of Portugal as Wellesley did.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Lovely stuff, guys. Jealous, jealous, jealous ....

    ReplyDelete