A tabletop game played out on 24 August 2008.
Bereft of players I was resolved to play out the game I had worked towards for a year casting and painting 100's of redcoat soldiers for.
The battlefield was set out on my game table thus:
In the center can be seen the town of Vimeiro with the Rio de Alcabrichella flowing past in the gap between the two large hills in the area.
Since I was going to play this game 'solo' I decided to use the original Anglo-Portugese setup as indicated on this map (which formed the basis for the terrain).
Then after seeing these dispositions as Junot must have, I concluded that an attack on any part of the right flank of the British lines would be supreme folly, I also decided that the river would form a minimal barrier and permit me to essentially ignore the left 1/3 of the field. By setting a screening force on the left wing, with orders to simply hold positions, deliver fire into Vimeiro town and engage any forces opposite them with range fire only.
The right wing and right flank were where the hammer blow would fall. Not unlike Junot I decided to use a flank force to 'roll up' the Anglo lines. Unlike Junot I decided to make this force the Dragoon Division. I would advance in columns with the smaller Division of Loison on the far left (delayed so as to allow the Dragoons time to get into deep flank positions) and essentially rush the center with the Grenadiers. Yes I was 'gaming' this situation and essentially left myself no reserve. I had the advantage of knowing that there were no forces that could threaten me in other sectors, that driving at the enemy now was the only way to win...
The exact location of the Allied Cavalry reserve was not given, only a description of it being 'reverse slope' and 'within easy call of Wellsley'. So I set them essentially right behind the commander and out of immediate reach of the French Guns, which would have to deal with the first line of Infantry before cresting the ridge line.
As this was a French attack, the first move coming from the French should be no surprise.
The order was for Kellerman and the Grenadiers to advance first, pinning down the Anglo line west of Ventosa along the Eastern Ridge.
Over on the far left of the British lines, beyond Ventosa farm the elite 2nd Regiment was taking a pounding from the French guns, then once the brigades started moving they were obliged to retire from thier forward positions, this they did in some confusion...
By then end of turn three, or roughly 90 minutes of battle the situation stood thus:
The French left had remained refused, with both sides trading a few casualties due to artillery barrage.
In the Center the Anglo line was broken, but the Grenadiers had lost momentum in the process, and were now faced with flank battle with the 60th Rifles along with the Portugese now caught in motion in front of them. A Portugese Cavalry charge, their only action of the day, managed to halt the lead Grenadiers by forcing them into square.
To the French right, Ventosa farm had been reached and now was the scene of fighting amongst the buildings. The entire area was surrounded by French troops, though the 2nd Regiment had rallied and was now backing up slowly with part of the 95th Rifles keeping the French off their flank.
In the Allied rear the Portugese were caught while re-deploying, now their cannon was desperately needed to fend off the advancing Grenadiers, and at least part of the Infantry was detached as flank guard to permit the rest of the column to move to the rapidly deteriorating situation on the Allied right.
Score French=5 : Anglo-Portugese=1.
Over at Ventosa Farm the Voltigeurs and Rifles traded fire, with the 95th coming out on the short end of the exchange.
30 Minutes later, on turn 4, the storming of Ventosa was accomplished. Three regiments of French infantry was enough to oust the stubborn British who surrendered thier colours in the process.
In the center a hurculean effort by the 60th Rifles, combined with good effect from the Portugese artillery sent a whole formation of the Grenadiers from the field.
All the while near Vimeiro itself a brutal exchange of artillery barrage was being conducted. Eventually the toll became too much for some British companies, who having lost 50% casualties, turned to the rear and fled.
The British left was taking action, now moving were the columns under General Hill, though it would be at least two more turns before they could all be in position to take action against the French.
The supreme test for the 60th Rifles.
Not wanting to waste any more time in the center, Kellerman ordered an immediate assault against the 60th Rifles.
The green jackets fire was effective, then with swords drawn they met with the grim task of close combat.
Though the fight was close (7-6), the French were still on the wrong side of the scale this time. The Grenadiers fell back from the now jubilant 60th with losses they could ill afford...
At the end of turn 5, or roughly 2 and one-half hours battle, the score was France 8 : Anglo-Portugese 2. The situation was not looking good for the Allies.
For Junot the problem was one of maintaining momentum...until the Cavalry arrived, which did not happen as was planned, on turn 5.
Vimeiro was still in Anglo hands and the muskets were now being added to the artillery carnage.
Crisis of morale: French Grenadiers.
The fragile morale of 3rd battalion troops must not be forgotten. Much of the French force in Portugal was made up of recent conscripts and 3rd battalion troops. Even the Grenadiers of these forces would not have seen much action, certainly not against the disciplined red-coats. The failed morale roll of the Grenadiers driven off by the 60th Rifles caused them to flee...this started a general panic in the French center and saw the entire Grenadier Division retire from the field. This took pressure off the Portugese and exposed the left flank of the French forces only now taking posession of Ventosa.
Still no sign of the French Dragoons.
The British line now re-formed and faced the largest remaining threat to Vimeiro.
Their companions, in the 95th Rifles continued to face 5 times their own number, though now they were falling back to Vimeiro...
Left with little other choice, Junot now orders a progressive advance to musket range on his left. Pressure must now be brought to bear on Vimeiro itself and the active British forces must be pinned so as to be unable to turn to flank and face the coming Dragoons...which had not yet arrived.
Given a free hand, General de Brigade Thomiere chose to storm into the weakend British lines along the eastern ridge next to Vimeiro.
Facing Thomiere was the 6th Brigade under Brigadier Fane. His troops were only cobbled together into position, and were caught without prepared defences.
The result from the clash of arms was a 'split-decision'. The French lost one battalion as did the British, however the vital Royal Artillery battery was captured in the process.
Direcly before Wellsley is a sea of blue coated French Infantry, he watches as some of the 95th recover next to his command position, while Fane's Brigade is broken down to only the 60th remaining to his left.
The battle was progressing well for Junot, only one final stroke remained: the cavalry. Where were the Dragoons?
Desperate times call for desperate measures!
Wellsley was facing the envelopment of the 6th Brigade and the 2nd was not ready to fight yet.
Further losses would also see him having to contemplate a retreat.
Wellsley turned to LtCol Taylor of the 20th Light Dragoons and pointed them at the triumphant battalion of French that had advanced past the Royal Artillery battery.
With a flash of blue and orange these gallant horsemen rode off to save the day!
They caught the 2nd battalion of the 86th Linge by surprise as they both failed to make square and to deliver any effective fire!
Lt. Colonel Taylor's blood was up, and the charge of the 20th Light Dragoons proceeded to smash through the 86th and straight into the 1st battalion. While they had been bloodied in earlier battle they were able to keep their cool and form a square before the Dragoons arrived. The 20th was not up to the task of smashing a steady, though hasty, square and they were routed.
At the end of turn 8 the situation was grim for the Allied armies.
Only the 60th Rifles remained in the center.
There were Portugese forming lines behind the eastern ridge, which the French now commanded, and they were all taking fire from French cannon and muskets.
The 2nd Brigade was now formed into lines and ready to take action, but to do so they would have to cross open ground in front of two French Batteries.
The defenders of Vimeiro had broken and run, there were now at least 800 French troops swarming into the town, with a further three battalions threatening to cut off the crossings of the river.
Only one glimmer of positive news could be found, there were no French Dragoons to be seen on the field. They had failed to arrive.
This failure to arrive made them count as 'casualties'.
The score was then a tie.
The result = DRAW.
What might have been...
The charge of the 20th Light Dragoons turned out to be the wisest choice in a desperate moment. For the destruction of the 2nd battalion of the 86th was the reason for the 'tie' score when the missing dragoons were taken into account.
Had the dragoons turned up on turn 5, 6, 7, or even 8 (!) then the result would have been a substantial French victory.
Perhaps it is these sort of considerations that drove Burrard & Darlymple to agree to the Convention of Sintra?
I certainly think that the French Army of Portugal had more firepower it could deliver, even after the unsuccessful battle that it had historically.
For my re-fight in the end it was the tenacity of Thomiere's brigade that saved the day for the French and at least kept it a draw.
The missing Dragoon commander, one GD Margaron would be facing more than just a little inquiry for his total absence from the field of battle.
A quick review of General de Brigade Thomiere, shows that in 1810 he commanded the Irish Legion...this same Irish Legion saw greater formation in 1809, perhaps it is time I did some more French troops in green?
For service as both the Army of Italy and Irish Legion?