The Battle of Arroyo Molinos - 28th October 1811


General Rowland Hill, Allied Commander at Arroyo Molinos

In October 1811 the battle lines between French and British forces lay roughly along the Spanish-Portuguese border. Marshal Marmont's Army of Portugal had retreated to the north-west of Spain, while Marshal Soult and the Army of the South were occupied in Andalusia. Between these two armies, in the central border region of Estremadura, was D'Erlon with a Corps sized force attempting to maintain lines of communication between the other two field armies. As part of this exercise he instructed General Jean-Baptiste Girard with his division, to occupy a gap in the line between the River Tagus and River Guadaina. After clearing the area of Spanish guerillas so his men could forage without attack, Girard took up position in Caceres.


To the west lay Wellington's army, preparing for it's attack into Spain and it's forthcoming assault on Badajoz. Wellington had been cautious as ever and watching Soult's army with great interest to to gauge whether he was planning on moving north to reinforce Badajoz or maybe attack the Allied army in the field. As the weather began to turn more inclement and the autumn rains started, he decided that Soult was not about to move towards him, and called on General Hill leave the main army with an enlarged division size force to attack Girard in Estremadura. With two brigades of British Infantry, a British Cavalry Brigade, a Portuguese Infantry Brigade and joined by Spanish cavalry, Hill set off east in search of Girard. As he marched into Spain the weather became increasingly worse, with driving icy rain and heavy winds, but after several days march he reached the town of Alburquerque where his men began a day's rest. Quite soon though Hill received news via Spanish intelligence; Girard was only 50km (32 miles) away at Caceres and his force resting up in the bad weather. Without delay Hill reassembled his force and began a three day march through the storms, arriving in the neighbouring village of Malpartida, only to then be told that Girard and his men had now left Caceres and was on the move south towards Arroyo Molinos. Marching another 28 miles in driving rain, Hill reached Arroyo Molinos in the darkness of the night on the 27th. He ordered his to rest best they could in the dark and with no lights or camp fires. It would be a tiring and miserable night for the Allies.


Meanwhile Girard had his men were in the village, taking cover from the storm and unaware of the danger building around their positions. Only their pickets had to brace themselves against the weather, and by the direction of the wind coming at them it meant they had turned their backs on the man road where Hill had advanced from, allowing the British-Allied army to advance within one mile unobserved.


On the morning of the 28th Girard had his men fall in ready to continue their march south, and they began to assemble on the south side of the village. It was at this point that Hill's army, now in three columns came into sight, advancing towards the village from the north, before diverging in an attempt to surround the French.



Suggested initial set-up for the Battle of Arroyo Molinos

ORDERS OF BATTLE - Using a suggested figure/man ratio of 1:50


BRITISH/ALLIED ARMY

General Rowland Hill - Commander-in-Chief - veteran, good tactician, inspirational leader

First Column

92nd Gordon Highlanders (600 men) - 12 figures - veteran, elite morale, musket

34th Cumberland Regiment (600 men) - 12 figures - veteran, well trained, disciplined, musket

71st Highland Regiment (600 men) - 12 figures - veteran, elite morale, musket

50th (Queens Own) Regiment (600 men) - 12 figures - veteran, well trained, disciplined, musket

6 x 6lb artillery guns and crew - 2 models - veteran, well trained, disciplined

Second Column

28th {North Gloucestershire) Regiment (600 men) - 12 figures - veteran, well trained, disciplined, musket

9th (East Norfolk) Regiment (600 men) - 12 figures - experienced, well trained, steady, musket

24th (Warwicks) Regiment (600 men) - 12 figures - experienced, well trained, steady, musket

4th Portuguese Regiment (600 men) - 12 figures - experienced, trained, steady, musket

6th Portuguese Regiment (600 men) - 12 figures - experienced, trained, steady, musket

10th Portuguese Regiment (600 men) - 12 figures - experienced, trained, steady, musket

18th Portuguese Regiment (600 men) - 12 figures - experienced, trained, steady, musket

Third Column

2nd King's German Legion Hussars (400 men) - 8 figures - open order light cavalry, experienced, well trained, disciplined, sword, carbine

9th & 13th Light Dragons (600 men) - 12 figures - light cavalry, experienced, well trained, disciplined, sword, carbine

Independent Units

2 x Spanish Cavalry Regiments ( 2 x 300 men) 2 x 6 figures - close order heavy cavalry, experienced, trained, brittle morale, sword, carbine


FRENCH ARMY

General Jean-Baptiste Girard - Commander-in Chief - experienced, cautious, respected by men

1st Brigade

34th Ligne Regiment in 3 battalions (2400 men) - 40 figures - experienced, trained, steady, musket

40th Ligne Regiment in 3 battalions (2400 men) - 40 figures - experienced, trained, steady, musket

3 x assorted artillery guns and crew - 1 model 6pdr - experienced, trained, steady

2nd Brigade

27th Chasseurs A Cheval (300 men) - 6 figures - open order light cavalry. veteran, elite, disciplined, sword, carbine

10th Hussars (300 men) - 6 figures - open order light cavalry. veteran, elite, disciplined, sword carbine

20th Dragoons (400 men) - 8 figures - close order heavy cavalry, experienced, well trained, steady, sword, carbine


THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

As the British in the first column began to swarm through and around the village, Girard ordered his men to form squares and his cavalry to protect his southern route. The French infantry formed two giant squares, but this was a tactic used against cavalry, not infantry. The Two Highland regiments reaching the south side of the village fired volleys into the massed ranks, but worse was to come when the British artillery set up outside the village and fired grape shot into their ranks.

Meanwhile it was the Spanish cavalry who rode fastest to reach the most southerly point and block the road the French hoped to exit by. Girard ordered his cavalry to "own the road" at whatever cost and his Dragoons charged into the Spanish ranks. Despite their nervous disposition the Spaniards fought hard, so hard the Chasseurs A Cheval also moved forward to bolster the French attack, it looked like the Spanish would break when into the French flank charged the 2nd KGL Hussars and 9th Light Dragoons. Fighting was desperate, the French in a frenzy to keep the road in their control but the larger numbers of British and Spanish cavalry began to sway the fight. The French cavalry commander, General Bron, was said to have shot dead two British troopers as they charged down on him, but then surrendered to the British Light Dragoon trumpeter, presumably hoping he wouldn't be ready to kill him. 200 French cavalry surrendered with even more killed.

Seeing his orginal exit route now blocked, Girard, now wounded himself, ordered his infantry into a fighting retreat south, and then around the Sierra De Montanchez, but as they reached the bend around the mountain range, they found the British and Spanish cavalry had beaten them to it. Not only that, but behind them now came charging British infantry in pursuit with their bayonets at the ready. In desperation Girard and some men scrambled up the face of the Sierra De Montanchez, leaving over 1,500 men behind who quickly surrendered to the British.

Spanish cavalry and guerillas pursued the fleeing French for over thirty miles, killing the vast majority. Girard though escaped, he would recover from his wounds and escape and serve Napoleon right through to the 100 Days Campaign, where he would be mortally wounded at Ligny, dying a few days later.


WARGAMING THE BATTLE

We have opted for the 1:50 ratio for the current trend of few figures, but those with established collections at 1:20 ratio would look very impressive.

It may be interesting also to rearrange the French at the start into columns as they must have been immediately before forming squares, then the French commander decide for himself ha would be his best opening move.


Victrix 28mm Napoleonics, great figures to start the period with.








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