In early 1811, the French were engaged in a no-win siege against the Allies in the port of Cádiz. The French under Marshal Victor were not strong enough to reduce the port without a French sea blockade. After Soult drew off 8,000 of Victor’s men for his invasion of Extremadura, the Allies saw an opportunity to raise the French siege using their sea power to land 14,000 British, Spanish and Portuguese troops on the coast south of Cádiz. If Victor remained in his siege lines, he would be trapped between Cádiz and the relief force. If he chose to fight the relief force, it would give the Cádiz garrison the opportunity to sortie and destroy the siege lines.
Victor soon learned of the Allied approach. He hoped to ambush the Allied column as they advanced, but the Allies advanced in strength and Graham’s British division occupied Barrosa Ridge. Spanish General la Peña gave him a second opportunity, ordering the Spanish and British north now that communication had been established with Cádiz. A rearguard of several Spanish battalions remained on Barrosa Ridge.
Victor jumped at the opportunity and ordered Ruffin’s division to attack the ridge with Leval’s division advancing on his right. At the first sight of the French, the Spanish battalions bolted. Graham received news that the French were attacking and chose to disobey orders. While la Peña entrenched, Graham sent Dilkes’ Guards brigade to retake the ridge and Wheatley’s brigade to attack Leval. Dilkes’ brigade came into contact with Ruffin’s French battalions of infantry and grenadiers still advancing in column. The two forces engaged in a murderous firefight with British line firepower gaining the ascendancy. The gallant Ruffin was killed and his division retreated off the ridge. Meanwhile Wheatley’s brigade advanced against Leval’s division. Another firefight between a British line and French columns resulted in French defeat.
The Allies gave away the victory. Graham urged a new round of attacks to unhinge the French siege line – exactly what Victor feared would happen. General la Peña instead ordered a withdrawal back into Cádiz. Marshal Victor could not believe his good fortune and immediately re-established his siege lines. Other than confirming the valor of the soldiers on both sides, the battle had been a colossal waste of life.
|View of the battlefield showing the Allies to the left and the French to the right.|
General Sir Thomas Graham decided to start the offensive on his right flank and take the important Barrosa ridge before it could be occupied by maréchal Victor's French troops..
Graham took the initiative and pushed forward José de Lardizábal's Spanish infantry to hold the town of Barrosa and at the same time brought up the British 1st and 3rd Foot Guards in support of the Spaniards.
The French counterattacked the Spanish in the town...
...but instead of a bayonet charge, they opted to open fire instead. The combined fusillade caused the Spanish to retreat from the town with losses.
At the same time, the French pushed forward their artillery to cover the ridge. The British 2nd Hussars advanced, but the threat was hidden from the artillery by the woods.
The French pushed their light infantry into the vacated town. However brisk fire from the ridge caused the French line infantry to retire.
The British light cavalry then charged the French artillery in their flank. Was this ordered by the General or was it just another impetuous charge by a cavalry colonel.
The cavalry charge should have been a brilliant success, but the French saw them just in time and could react with some of their guns. The fight was long and drawn out, the French took casualties but the British cavalry took even heavier losses and were forced back.
The French were exchanging fire with the Allies in the vicinity of Barrosa town. While this was going on, Graham took the chance to push forward his Spanish infantry and British 1st Foot Guards to take all of Barrosa ridge.
At the same time, General Dilkes at the head of his infantry, charged the artillery that had just repulsed the 2nd Hussars.
Seeing the infantry approaching, the French artillery withdrew from their exposed position back into the line of battle.
Having returned to the relative safety of their original position, both batteries then opened up on Dilkes' advancing infantry. Dilkes was killed and his troops decimated by the hail of cannon fire.
The 1st Foot Guards went on the attack from Barrosa ridge, causing the French casualties and they retreated.
However the French quickly rallied and brought up their grenadiers to support their counter-attack which inflicted casualties on both the 1st Foot Guards and the Spanish.
The British attack continued with the British 3rd Foot Guards joining the fray and the Spanish following on behind in support.
But not disheartened, the French counter-attacked with two units of grenadiers and one of line infantry performing a bayonet charge.
This bayonet charge resulted in a large number of casualties. The 3rd Foot Guards timed their volley perfectly, and decimated a unit of French grenadiers before they could get into melee.
Meanwhile in the centre of the battlefield, three companies of the 95th Rifles came out from the woods hoping to distract the French attackers.
The 95th miscalculated the aggressiveness of the French grenadiers who immediately charged.
The grenadiers caused the 95th to retreat hastily with serious casualties. At the same time, the French line infantry, supported by artillery fire, assaulted the Spanish on Barrosa ridge and routed them.
The colonel of the 3rd Foot Guards saw his chance, the French column was so engrossed with the routing Spaniards that they had left their flank wide open; the 3rd charged straight into the French flank.
Having seen off the 95th, the French grenadiers returned, supported by their artillery, to deal with the Foot Guards.
The grenadiers, with luck and supported by artillery, took the 3rd Foot Guards unaware and inflicted many casualties.
Both Foot Guards regiments charged like madmen; the 1st Guards attacked the grenadiers while the 3rd Guards went for the artillery. The Guards contacted and mayhem ensued.
When the combat was over, both sides were weak and exhausted but the French just a little more so than the Allies. The French decided to withdraw and leave the field to the British who claimed a victory.
I am not sure how well this scenario reflects the actual battle, and one day I plan to write a scenario that reminds me more of the battle itself. However this scenario is fun to play and fairly well balanced.