After success in the north, Napoleon marched on the Spanish capital of Madrid, but had to first push through Somosierra Pass in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range. The pass was defended by Don Benito San Juan’s Spanish troops, who had been sent forward from Madrid. Both the terrain and troops constituted a formidable barrier to the French advance.
About 8A.M. on the 30th, Napoleon ordered forward the infantry of Ruffin’s division, but their advance against a hail of cannon and musket fire, though steady, was too slow to suit Napoleon. He first ordered his 80-man personal cavalry escort to charge the guns, but most were killed or wounded, and the survivors retreated. Napoleon now ordered the Polish light guard cavalry to take the guns. The cavalry charge was made against the first enemy gun position and after a struggle, the guardsmen captured the battery. The Spanish musketry and cannon fire from the second battery could not stop the Poles and soon the second battery was also silenced. The surviving Poles then moved against the third battery, joined by the rest of the French cavalry, and together the last battery was taken.
It is not clear if Napoleon wanted the Poles to take just the first battery, or all the batteries, but the gallant charge can hardly be paralleled in the annals of military history. Immediately after the charge, Napoleon promoted the Polish light guard cavalry from the Young Guard to the Old Guard.
The terrain used for C&C is a very abstract representation of the real battlefield. The battlefield sloped upwards from the French lines to the Spanish lines and the mountains closed in from both right and left. There was a road going up the pass, and on the road the Spanish guns were placed.
One challenge with the scenario setup is that the Spanish generals start on their own, and not attached to any troops.
Napoleon started the battle by sending forward three columns of line infantry to storm the entrenched Spanish artillery.
The fight was vicious, but the Spanish artillery were stubborn. They tenaciously held on to their redoubt.
The fight for the redoubt continued, with the French finally eliminating the Spanish defenders but having taken losses themselves.
After which the French advanced to consolidate their position and brought up the Guard artillery.
While this was happening, the French right advanced some Light and Line infantry. These caused slight losses to the Spanish before they themselves retired having taken casualties.
The Spanish took the chance offered by the French, and moved forward infantry reinforcements to protect their artillery. The infantry was placed on lower ground so that the artillery could fire overhead at the enemy.
Four French cavalry units charged. These were the Chasseurs à cheval de la Garde impériale and the Chevau-légers polonais de la Garde impériale as well as two other units of light cavalry.
The Spanish infantry formed square and resisted the French charge, both sides taking losses. With the exception of the Regimiento Córdoba which stood firm and opened fire on the charging chevau-légers polonais. The Poles took heavy casualties but the then rode down and slaughtered the Spanish infantry. They continued charging uphill and attacked the Spanish artillery, but the gunners were stubborn and stood firm.
The Spanish infantry and artillery opened fire on the Poles, who took more losses and retreated.
The Chasseurs à cheval de la Garde impériale continued to attack the Spanish square of the Regimiento de Reales Guardias Walonas. A unit of light cavalry charged through a gap in the Spanish lines towards the artillery position on the hill. The remaining cavalry unit, supported by the Guard artillery charged the Spanish square on the hill.
The Chasseurs à cheval de la Garde impériale broke through the Spanish square of the Regimiento de Reales Guardias Walonas. They the continued to attack the artillery positioned on the hill.
The Spanish artillery, probably the best troops in their army, then destroyed the charging Chasseurs à cheval de la Garde impériale. They were then attacked by the second unit of French cavalry and losses were taken on both sides. The remaining cavalry attacked the grenadier square on the hill causing casualties.
The Spanish rallied the grenadier square on the hill and brought up a cavalry unit from the reserve.
The French hesitated and the Spanish cavalry charged the French cavalry threatening the artillery. They destroyed the cavalry and then charged onward into the flank of the cavalry behind. Even this unit was destroyed.
The French then lost heart and retired from the battlefield. They would not be able to use the Somosierra Pass to push through the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range towards Madrid.
General Don Benito San Juan had been lucky, his Spanish infantry didn't often manage to resist French cavalry charges, but on this day they did