“Fetchez la vache!” Sergeante Petain whispered to the man to his rear who, as silently as possible, moved back towards the low ridge. So far so good. Les Anglais were unaware of their approach and, if their sentries could be persuaded that the party soon to approach them was simply a Spanish farmer, then maybe, just maybe, they could get across the bridge before the English could respond.
The advance from Ourense had been without trouble thus far. What Spanish bandits there were watching them, and every Frenchman knew that they were observed at every moment, had clearly baulked at challenging such a large column. However, reports had come in from the Dragoons which ranged ahead of the main force that guerrillas had been spotted in the mountains to the South. Well, let them remain there.
For Capitaine Piece de la Merde, the more important news was that a small number of British cavalry scouts had been driven in and an enemy force identified in the village of Camino Cerrado. He now planned to launch an attack before dawn to try to get across the bridge. It was a risky strategy, as the darkness would be equally confusing for the French troops as for the English, but if the plan worked it could save many French lives as making a contested river crossing was not an appealing thought.
“Mon Capitaine. Excusez moi.” It was Sergeante Desade, the tall, mysterious man whose impeccable manners were the cause of much speculation regarding his background and his preference for using a whip in combat the source of more ribald comments.
“What is is Desade?”
“Mon Caitaine, I was thinking. I recall a situation similar to this when I was campaigning with Lafayette…”
“You were in the Americas Desade? I had no idea!”
“Sometimes it is better not to dwell on the past.”
“Indeed. But, Sergeante, what is your suggestion?”
“Well, mon Capitaine, it is a plan and a cunning one at that, and it goes like this….”
The bell rang loudly outside the small Inn as the sentry called out his warning. By the bridge Sergeant Amos Hogshead was the first to react.
“Right you ‘orrible lot, get your muskets and follow me! The bleedin’ Frogs are upon us like those bloomin’ lot in the Bible. Let us lay about them and smite the horrible garlic eating peasants that they are! Where’s Lieutenant Cost?”
The Sergeant looked about, but there was no sign of the young officer. Then the memory of the previous evening began to take shape in his memory. What was her name? Carlottta? Something like that. Oh well, he’d have to make a start without the youngster.
Rushing across the bridge the Sergeant took eight men and occupied the house. If nothing else he’d stop the Frenchies getting across the bridge without a fight.
In the hedgerows to the East of the village Sergeante Petain chuckled. Les Rosbifs were reacting to his little display. Petain was a man well used to exposing himself in bushes and this time he was accompanied by 24 of his voltigeurs who kept up a smattering of fire against the village from the safety of the fields.
“Come on my little English chickens, come to Papa!” The Voltigeur Sergeant chuckled again. The English were truly a nation of fools.
“What the Hell is going on?” Captain Fondler shouted to nobody in particular. His arrival in Camino Cerrado the day before had not put him in the best of moods. The village which on the map looked like a perfect point to stop a French attack was actually less than perfect for such an action. The buildings lay, for the most part, on the Eastern side of the river and to the West there was almost nothing bust scrubland and a tumbledown hovel. However, imperfect as it was, his orders to screen the Army meant that he had to find somewhere to make his stand and the river line did at least provide him with secure flanks. What he had not expected was an attack before dawn and, shrouded in the early morning mist that lay on the valley floor, it was not easy to comprehend exactly what his foe was up to.
Captain Fondler deployed two Groups of Riflemen on the West bank of the Cerrado and sent his trusted Serjeant, the lumbering Serjeant Paisley, forward with a third Group.
The big Ulsterman made his way to the large building on his right, but a wave from Serjeant Hogshead showed him it was firmly in British hands. Keeping low, he sprinted across the road to the building on the Northern side, his men following.
“Tirer!” Sergeante Petain’s voice rang out, polished to resonant timbre by a lifetime of cheap red wine and pipe tobacco. The bullets smacked into the buildings around Paisley’s men and it was with some gratitude to their maker that they made it to a position behind the next building without suffering any loss.
“Psalms 23, verse 4” Paisley called out. “You have nothing to fear if you stay close to me.”
In the orchard to the East, a short man with spectacles dismounted from his horse and joined half a dozen Dragoons. Despite the uniform of a Captain of Dragoons this was Capitaine Piece de la Merde. Since the mounted troops had been attached to his column, the Frenchman had been rather taken with their smart uniform and had spent much of his time in their company, even riding out on scouting patrols before the main force. Now he appeared for the first time in their uniform. He waved forwards the dismounted men and they too began to fire against the village. Yet thus far there was no sign of any move to launch an attack.
Now Serjeant Paisley took his men into the northern house…
…yet still the French refused to do more than skirmish.
At that moment, Lieutenant Cost arrived with two more Groups of redcoats, sent across the bridge to reinforce the forward positions. One Group went to the building south of the road, occupying the wall, whilst the other across the road. The young Lieutenant brought orders for Serjeant Paisley to leave the building and to head out hunting the Voltigeurs who were annoyingly still standing off.
But now, with a signal from Capitaine de la Merde, Lieutenant Epinace arrived at the head of three Groups of line infantry. Attacking through the orchard they smashed into the British position on the wall, routing the men there and bursting into the yard
Across the street, Petain’s Voltigeurs moved forwards to put more pressure on…
Whilst Epinace crashed onwards, charging Paisley’s riflemen who fell back in the face of this advance.
Despite fire from Serjeant Hogshead in the farmhouse, the French now formed up and charged in to eject these interlopers. But Hogshead was no pushover. The French were repulsed in their first attack even though outnumbering the valiant defenders by three to one. However, a second attack could not be overcome and one brave British soldier surrendered with the wounded Hogshead.
Discretion being the better part of valour, Lieutenant Cost withdrew his men to behind the river line and Captain Fondler ordered a retreat.
Yet whilst the game was over, there was one more card to play. The French had held back a reserve cavalry force and these were rapidly sent forward to harass the retreating British. This turned a level 4 victory to a level 6 victory and the British lost their wagons and the French won some supplies.
So there we have it. The return of Captain Fondler was not to be his finest hour, but this is the first game in a campaign. Whether Capitaine Piece de la Merde was approached by the apparently long-serving NCO with a plan to suck in the British by only deploying his skirmishers, we shall never know. However, it certainly worked. The choice to make a hurried attack in the early morning meant that both sides found it difficult to deploy in the chaos. When the British did, they tended to rush straight to the front. When the French column was committed, it hit with the odds in its favour and did its job. That said, the brave Sergeant Hogshead (not a man previously known for his courage) inflicted a dozen casualties on the Frenchmen assaulting the house, so casualties were remarkably equal.
For the British, the question is what they do next. What the French do not know is whether the main British column is already in the Merluza valley, in which case they need to push on with alacrity. If Fondler knows where the main Army column is he will be able to judge just how long he needs to maintain his screen and may be able to choose where he makes his stand. On the other hand, if the French attack before he can get away he may have to fight a bloody action immediately, or he may elect to fight to delay his opponent in order to seize the initiative from them.
For the French, there is always the option of remaining n Camino Cerrado and “foraging” for supplies. However, that hardly fits their briefing and with the supplies taken from the British it is hard to think that they have any shortages looming. They used their Dragoons well in this action, with one Group fighting dismounted and the other in reserve which earned their spurs after the game was over. What do they do with their cavalry now? Both sides have decisions to make.
My thanks for Matt Slade of Glenbrook Games for his brushwork on the Light Company of the West Sussex. With building work in full flow here my painting table is covered with junk and Matt kindly stepped in an filled the breach.
We will be looking at some of the terrain I have added, either home made of purchased, in another article over the next few days. Look out for Game 2 in the campaign next week.
Before the Romans met the Germans the big bad wolf of their history was the Gauls. If the German raiding along the Rhine was bad, the Gauls had topped that by some distance by sacking Rome itself in 390 BC, or thereabout, when Brennus, the Gallic leader, coined the term ‘Vae Victis’. In their hatred