The Road to Varitas de Merluza
“Graspez le saucisson mon cher Desade! The moment is ours, les Anglais are in full blow retreat and we have one of their toughest men prisoner already. You saw the English officers run, it was only the brave Sergeant who stood and fought. Their officers have not the stomach for the whole affair.” Capitaine Piece de la Merde rubbed his hands outside the signal station just to the West of Camino Cerrado that served as his temporary headquarters.
“Oui mon General, we have those pathetic shop-keepers on the run. We must push on with all energy and finish them off. We shall whip their pathetic bottoms!
The Capitaine drew on a cigar and looked up at the clear sky. It had been so easy and it would be easy again this afternoon. He had unleashed his reserve cavalry and it had returned with abundant English supplies. Now he would give them no time to catch their breath. As soon as his wounded were dressed, he would attack with all haste, throwing caution to the wind. His night attack had worked well this morning and this afternoon he would repeat his success. With victory he would be less than twenty miles from Varitas de Merluza and the English main Army. What glory he would be covered with. The Duc de Merluza maybe? His mind wandered as the promise of ‘la gloire’ filled him with hope.
A few miles up the road the large Spaniard grinned with his single tooth. The French has not yet attacked! In the hills ahead he knew that the Ingles were planning to make a stand and Los Incontinento planned to join them to add his muskets, not to mention his garrotte, to English firepower. The woman had been right! The French were marching with their just light troops and cavalry. What of their infantry? Presumably their desire to catch the English was such that they sacrificed strength for speed. This would even the odds, thought Los Incontinento, and presumably the news that the big Sergeant was still a prisoner there would be of interest to the green coated Ingles who was in command. He uncorked the skin and drank deeply of the brutal wine therein.
“Right you crazy fools. Let us move to aid or English friends”. He went to mount his horse and then thought once again. “Actually, just give me two minutes…”
Captain Fondler had the Light company of the West Sussex in Line “…three rounds a bloody minute. That’s how you stop the Frogs!” It may be an old cliché, but it was still true. If he could get his men firing faster than the French, then he could stop them in this farmland. His force had suffered a setback losing the village, but with the Army somewhere to his rear he had to make his own luck now and do all he could to stop the French. In truth, the next stop point was along the river at Varitas de Merluza, but he could not be sure whether the main column was advancing the East or West of the Merluza River. He could not go back to Sir Arthur and admit defeat; that would be the end of his career. So he had no choice but to stand in the open rolling countryside which would favour the French cavalry which had already been in among them. Death or glory were the only options left.
“Aubergine! Keepez vous le bloody noise down!” Capitaine Piece de la Merde was just below the ridge-line looking down the main road towards Varitas de Merluza, his spy glass in hand. The cavalry detachment, only twenty yards to his rear were making enough noise to wake the dead, or so it seemed. Yet the English seemed not to notice.
“So Monsieur Fondler, you are not quite the fool I thought you were”. It was clear that the enemy had chosen their position well. The ridgeline to their front gave way to fields and an abandoned farm which would provide a line to defend. Yet it seemed that the rocky outcrop topped by a windmill was not manned. “So, we have route into the heart of the English position.” he whispered to himself, “Let us see if we can use it”.
The stout Capitaine scrambled down the slope back to his horse, stopping to allow his bugler to dust down his uniform before mounting. War was terrible, but to engage in it whilst improperly dressed was inexcusable. His hand-mirror confirmed that all was well, the self-designed ensemble a clear sign to all that de la Merde was a man of some style. He pursed his lips to his own reflection before slipping the mirror into his sabretache. “Ou est Sergeant Petain?”
Petain ran forward, anticipating his Captain’s command.
“I am here, mon Capitaine”
“Good man Petain. Take your Voltigeurs forward and harass the English. When the moment comes, I shall deliver the crashing blow which will see the enemy swimming back to their little island”
The Sergeant ran forward with his three groups of Voltigeurs, keen on engaging the enemy with the enthusiasm which had already gained him a reputation within the battalion. A puff of smoke from a ruined farm some distance away showed the enemy position and for a moment a smile flickered across the Frenchman’s face. Fools! Firing at such a range. Then the man next to him crumpled and fell to the floor.
“Sacre bleu! Leas Anglais have the riffles!” Petain had encountered rifles before in Austrian hands, but the accuracy of this firing took him by surprise. “This way mes braves, into cover!”
Some distance away Serjeant Paisley allowed himself a smile as he saw the Frenchmen running for cover. After the chaos of this morning and their ejection from Camino Cerrado, the open ground here allowed the riflemen to plan their revenge.
“A la droit!” The Sergeant called the order and two Groups of Voltigeurs crossed the open ground to move behind the high ground off to the right. Capitaine de la Merde moved forwards into the lee of the hovel, taking command of the third part of Voltigeurs who moved into the building.
Several rifle balls hit the building, one finding its way through the window. The Voltigeurs were realising that this would be hard work.
Now the British skirmish line was formed up along the hedgerow, presenting the French with a challenging target.
But now Lieutenant Harry Cost arrived, at the head of his redcoats, the 14 men remaining after the morning’s disaster. Nevertheless, despite their losses, Cost hoped that his men would play an important role in halting the French advance.
“Now! Now! Signal Aubergine!” De la Merde called to his bugler who, spitting and then pursing his lips, let loose a shrill cry. A brief moment later saw the impressive sight of two groups of Dragoons arrive under the command of Sergeant Aubergine.
Half a league, half a league, half a league onward,
All in the valley of Cerrado, rode the seventeen.
“Forward, Charge for the English!” Aubergine cried
“Wait for me you blithering lunatique!” cried de la Merde as he struggled to keep pace with the gallant riders. But on rode Aubergine, his sword glinting in the Spanish sun as round the mill he rode and his target came into sight.
“Mon dieu. Why can I not get the staff? Sound the charge!” Despite being detached from the cavalry he had planned to lead to victory, de la Merde called on his bugler to drive the attack home. Again the thunder of hooves was subordinated to the cry of the bugle, its clarion call seeing the pricking of horses’ ears and the lengthening of strides as the body of horsemen began their final gallop to glory.
At the last moment the horsemen were funelled into a narrow space between the ruins of an ancient farm and the hedgerow, three horsemen refused to leap the old building but the rest crashed home into the redcoats.
The odds favoured the French, but the God of War, on this day at least, was an Englishman. The cavalry halted. milling about in their confusion and then came another call, not a bugle but the resonant voice of the big Ulsterman carrying across the plain.
“Fire!” The riflemen did so without delay. As the horsemen staggered back again Lieutenant Harry Cost brought his men into line and delivered a crashing volley. Again the horsemen staggered back under their hammering blow.
Now the horsemen who had refused at the fence came routing back, their departure hastened by fresh fire from Paisley’s riflemen and now Capitaine de la Merde succumbed to the inevitable and recalled his troopers.
With their commander the cavalrymen rallied quickly enough, although empty saddles testified to their losses.
On the right, the Voltigeurs were fighting a losing battle with the riflemen, intent only on sparing their mounted comrades further suffering, but it was clear to all that the encounter was at an end.
Piece de la Merde sent his cavalry back and then moved across to supervise the break from contact and the withdrawal back, one presumes, to Camino Cerrado.
The British attempted to pursue, but the French command was too proficient and contact was lost. Now the British commander has to consider what he will do next. Where were the French line troops who did so well in the morning? it is an important question and one he hopes will be answered by the Light Dragoons he has out scouting.
For the French, their next choice will be important as time is slipping away. If they want to contact the main British column they cannot waste time. All exciting stuff. However, the skies have just opened and there is a torrential downpour going on as we speak. That will have implications for both sides.
From our point of view the campaign setting has now produced two interesting and challenging games. If the French cavalry had carved up the line troops, the British would have been left with skirmishers to halt their enemy. As it is, the British seem to have managed to keep their line troops intact. More reports as we go forward.