Preparing To Attack Bussaco Convent

A Google Maps view of Bussaco Convent in the distance looking from the eastern side of the village of Moura.  In 1810, the slopes were less forested and dominated by farming.  Four French generals stood in this village and made a plan to storm the ridge.
The Argument

There is a scene in the book that I am currently reading about the Battle of Bussaco, where on the afternoon of September 26, 1810 the French Generals Massena, Ney, Reynier and Junot are meeting in the village of Moura and arguing heatedly about what should happen next.  Ney and Reynier have been camped below the high ridge of Serro de Busaco overnight and have observed the British positions strengthen since their arrival.

Marshal Michel Ney, a strong, opinionated general and the VI Corps commander (22,000+), urges an immediate attack before Wellington's army can fully assemble on the heights above them.  Had he been in command, he would have attacked with Reynier (II Corps commander 15,000+) the day before he says with his characteristic confidence.  He is not in command however, Andre Massena is.

Andre Massena the overall commander of the French Army of Portugal has so far been disinterested in pursuing the retreating British Army under General Wellington with anything resembling vigor. He is also reluctant to engage Wellington's force at Bussaco.

Ney, Reynier and Massena know each other well, having served together under Napoleon the year before at Wagram and Aspern-Essling during the War of the Fifth Coalition. This new leadership for the Army of Portugal has been on the Peninsula for months now, and has driven the Allied army into retreat after the fall of Almeida and the Spanish surrender at Ciudad Rodrigo. Wellington's full force and Wellington himself though, have not been present at these battles.

The fourth General present is Jean-Andoche Junot. By 1810, Junot is a veteran of the fighting on the Peninsula and more importantly he has already been defeated by Wellington at the battle of Vimeiro in 1808.  Junot has seen Wellington occupy the high ground before, and he knows what kind of quality British troops have.  Junot, I suspect(hope), must have argued at that moment for caution when approaching Wellington.  His fellow generals ultimately ignored him.  What's more, it is very likely that because of his previous failure, he was relegated to command the rear guard at Bussaco and judging by the quality of his VIII corps units (C and D quality troops in JTS terms), clearly he and they were considered the C or D team by Massena.

The Attack

Massena under pressure from Ney and Reynier, eventually ordered the attack for the next morning. Reynier's II Corps would advance forward first and assault the ridge about 2 kilometers south of the Convent at Bussaco.  Ney was ordered to attack once Reynier's corps had reached the summit.  Ney's VI Corps was the largest formation in the army and was assigned the direct assault on the Convent. Junot's corps, the weakest of the three was ordered to support Ney with Montbrun's Cavalry in reserve.

You can see the deployments, dictated by Masssena to his generals in the screenshot below.  What you don't see are the British deployments which I will save for my next blog post.  The hills though were "teeming" with British and Portugese troops according to Ney and Reynier who had observed the battlefield for almost 24 hours at the point of Massena's decision to attack.

This is an overview of Ney and Junot's deployment.  You can see Reynier's II Corps more clearly on the jump map to the left.
The JTS scenario designer Rich White has created three scenarios for this battle: Reynier's initial assault, Ney's follow-up assault and a what-if scenario where both corps attack simultaneously (24 game turns or 8 hours).  I recommend you play the smaller attacks first (Ney and Reynier) before playing the larger what-if scenario.

As I review the battle in more detail for my next blog, I am going to play the "what-if" scenario, but unlike Massena, I am going to try to swing Junot and Ney's corps around the ridge and assault the Convent from the North.  My hope is that my lateral movement will disrupt the British positions and I will catch the Wellington AI commander off-guard.

Reynier's II Corps (with the exception of 1e division) will also shift north and attack the higher ground less than a kilometer south of the convent.  This is the highest point on the ridge but as Reynier's men begin to climb the ridge it is obscured by a light mist.  The 1e division, II Corps, will attack San Antonio de Cantara (a small village on the eastern side of the ridge) which is being held by British troops.

More to follow soon...


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