Battle of Arroyo dos Molinos AAR

"Quo Fata Vocant -- Whither the Fates Call"

Motto of the The West Kent

The weather is bad.  The October rains have caused the already poor roads north of Merida to turn into mud. General Girard is riding at the front of the column when he sights the village of Arroyo dos Molinos near Alcuescar.  We bivouac for the night there spilling into the dilapidated huts to get out of the rain and driving the villagers up the steep wooded hill behind the village to spend the night in the rocks cold and wet.

A hail storm  drives most of the pickets into the village overnight.  The campfires are burning low with the rain coming down. Visibility is poor.  There are still pickets from the 88e Line regiment west of the village sheltering in place when the British are sighted. They scatter the pickets with successive volleys, sending them into disorder and panic.

There had been reports of course that there were Allied columns in the area, but there are always reports of enemy movement and very few actual sightings of the enemy.  War on the peninsula is often with boredom and the environment, not the enemy.  Which is why General Girard discounts the reports as nothing more than rumors, besides the Spanish and their British friends will never march in weather like this if the French won't either.  For these reasons the  alarms of surprise sound slowly within the village even as the pop of muskets picks up to the west of the village.

General Girard maybe slow, but General Bron is already in the saddle riding north out of the village with the 20e dragoons, within 15 minutes of the first musket fire.  He can hear the firing picking up over the rain and the jingle of harness and the pounding of hooves from his regiment's horses.  The visibility worsens though and so he slows as he leads his men in the dark towards the enemy.  He knows the roads and plans to swing north and then south a little further to the east, to look down over the road from Alcuescar. He expects to find the Allied column there.

In the village, Captain "Anon" is limbering his battery's guns.  The horse artillery are well trained and quickly riding west ahead of the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 88e as the file out of the village in column before falling into a double line blocking the road into the village. Many of the men have come without their jackets, having left them behind in the rush to form a defensive line.

The West Kent regimental badge earned for service in Egypt.
The British are massing now and just as the visibility begins to improve, General Bron looks down over the Alcuescar road to see Howard's brigade of Highlanders forming to attack into the village.  Ahead of them are three companies of capable light infantry driving the 88e's pickets further back with steady fire.  There are green-jacketed riflemen in the lead, men from the 60th Rifles.

Captain "Anon's" battery is firing now into the "Fighting Half Hundred."  The 88e are firing into them now too.  The Alcuescar road is littered with their brave, red jacketed men. I watch at close range as a musket ball bounces off the brass badge of honor worn by one lucky soldier.  The regimental badge earned for their service in Egypt, more than a decade ago.

General Girard is back in the village now sitting on his second horse and forming a new line of the 64e's battalions east of the village.  His first horse was shot through the neck and died beneath him.  The rifleman who shot the poor beast, a Sergeant in the 60th from Surrey.

This new axis of attack along the road from Merida and Medellin has thrown the drivers for the supply wagons into a panic, sending them and their wagons rattling through the village towards the west and north. There are elements of two brigades approaching with skirmisher's forward and three regiments marching in three red lines behind them as they cross the shallow stream outside the village and form into line again on the opposite side now less than a kilometer away.  Under Girard's direction the 64th is pouring fire into them, hoping to hold them.

Since dawn, clouds of smoke from muskets running hot have obscured the village from General Bron. He has sat in his saddle for almost an hour in the fields above the Alcuescar road watching the battle progress west of town, but with less than three hundred meters of visibility much of what has transpired to the east is unknown to him and vice versa.

By 7:45AM, the visibility has improved and now a clearer picture is beginning to form in Bron's mind.  Hill's corps, has split into at least two columns and is attacking the village along two of the three roads into the village.  The larger column is very likely the one before him.  He counts at least four brigades of British regulars and a division of Spanish militia and regulars.  More importantly, there are 18 guns including some heavier guns. A gap however, has opened in the Allied column, with over four hundred meters separating Howard's brigade from the main body.

With the sound of a bugle he and his men begin to trot forward, his squadrons forming in column behind him.  It is a risk to attack, but Bron likes risks.  His men splash across a stream and form into line at a trot behind Howard's brigade as they engage the 88e Line regiment outside the village.

The ground gently slopes upwards here and for a brief moment Bron feels a pang of doubt and fear, this is bad for his cavalry. He steadies himself and raises his saber in defiance.  His men are shouting like fiends now as they charge and then crash into the rear units of Howard's brigade but the Gordons' are tough and have fought French cavalry before. The ground is muddy as well and many of the horses stumble before impact, catapulting their riders forward to the ground and sending his lead squadrons into confusion.  There is a crash of musket fire and Bron realizes too late that it is into his men.  He swings down and cracks his saber into someone's head. He rides over the body and waves his saber towards the village. His men ride after him, less 50 riders and both squadrons in complete disorder.  It will be a long hour before they reform and steady behind him.  He realizes Girard will need him now more than ever. Girard likely doesn't know how large the column from Alcuescar is. Bron looks over his shoulder, wondering how soon it will take Hill to set up those cannon he saw along the road.

By 8:15AM, the fighting is shifting towards the east.  Howard's men are disordered and he is hesitating now outside of the village.  Bron's surprise attack has rattled him.

On the eastern side, the 64e continues to inflict casualties on Wilson's brigade as both armies fire into each other's lines.  The battle shifts back and forth over the roadside, leaving over one hundred bodies from both sides lying dead in the mud.

At 8:30AM, with the first hint of the sun, I can see the Portugese brigade for the first time to the south as General Ashworth and his men march in line across fallow fields untouched by the battle until now.  I raise my voice and point in their direction finally attracting my Colonel's attention. He swears loudly and sends a messenger off to Girard and Bron.

A Portugese Cacadore.
We watch as the Portugese draw closer.  The fighting on both sides of the village is intensifying again.  A panic is beginning to creep into our lines.  Will we make it out?  We look over our shoulders and watch Bron and his dragoons ride away towards the village.  Are they retreating? Or riding to turn away a new axis of attack?

There are Cacadores running in groups before the Portugese brigade, their rifles slung over their shoulders.  They hide behind a low stone wall and begin to fire at us.  We laugh because they miss us and also because we are nervous. Soon we will be mad and swearing at them as our lines and their lines exchange fire.

At 8:45AM, in the corner of my eye, there are red-coated soldiers moving off our flank. The 88e Line are running before them.  Those bastards.  The English are very close.  My hands are blistered from powder burns.  My musket is hot.

I never see the man who shoots me.  The musket ball hits me in the hip above my groin.  I fall to the ground in pain and can't get up.  My view of the battle is only the air above me and the blue sky beyond.  I hear horses now and shouted voices.  I can see other bodies fall around me.

The man who kills me, stands above me looking away at first.  "Kill the wounded," his officer growls from atop a beautiful white horse as he rides by.  My executioner, an Englishman, shrugs and looks down at me.  His face is covered in black powder like mine. At least he has been fighting today, I think to myself barely able to breathe.  He shoves his bayonet into me twice and then walks away.  I am dead before 9AM on October 28, 1811.  The village is called Arroyo dos Molinos.  The battle is a disaster for me and for my unit.  Hundreds will die here.  Girard will live, but he will be cashiered in shame by Napoleon himself.  A small consolation in eternity.

Note: I clearly had too much time on my hands tonight. This was fun to write and it helped me learn a good bit about this small battle.  I hope you did as well.

My grade for myself:  C, because I should have never charged Bron into the rear of Howard's brigade.  Had I not done that, I still would have drawn with the AI after the 12 turn limit was reached but I would feel less guilty about it. The 64e deserve honors for their valor along the east road.

My grade for Rich White's scenario for Peninsular war:  B+.  I like the length (12 turns) and the challenge playing this from the French perspective.  Visibility early in the battle was a big factor which I learned to appreciate by battle's end.  The Allied AI was probably a little behind the historical battle timeline. By contrast, I am playing this same scenario against Doug at Cry Havoc and he is slamming the door shut on the village at the half way point of the scenario and not the end of it.


Popular Posts