For the last several weeks, now, I have sunk my identity into one Marshal Messena, commanding the 'Armee du Nord' in Spain and Portugal. The year is 1810, the campaign began in March, and April is about to begin.
My co-commander is Marshal Soult (Andrew Taylor - Armee du Sud). Arrayed against us are the Spanish armies of the Supreme Junta (Paul Jackson) whilst the role of the Iron Duke is of course played by an expatriate Brit, Colin Foster. Overseeing proceedings as Deity of one's choice, is Barry Taylor.
Now, so far not much real action has taken place in the North of Spain. Massena gathered together an army to invade Portugal and made it as far as Abrantes before deciding that further progress was unlikely to be achieved except at ruinous cost. Things have reached something of an impasse there, for the time being.
There seems to have been some activity on the Biscay coast, with rumours of a large-scale Allied landing, but this body of enemy troops seems to have disappeared into the hills of Old Castile.
Meanwhile, Marshal Soult's forces, extending from Cordova as far north as the east end of the Pyrenees, have been rather more active: Zaragoza has surrendered, and Barcelona invested. But the first real action came at Castalla, not far south of Valencia.
Combat at Castalla
The French occupation of Castalla town and its nearby castle proved something of an embarrassment for ther Spanish, as a brigade sized column under General McCullagh suddenly found itself stranded on the Jumilla road with and its sole line of retreat cut. A French Division, approaching up the road from the southwest, threatened to squeeze McCullagh into surrender. Accompanying this Spanish Brigade was one of their few heavy batteries. That, they could ill-afford to lose. Accordingly, Spanish columns at Xativa and Alicante were ordered to Castalla, with strict instructions to open the road through the town and effect the escape of McCullagh's command.
Meanwhile, the local French commander found himself approached from three different directions with only the infantry of his brigade to defend the place. He had neither horse nor guns. Northwest beyond the Pass of Biar, however, approaching along the Almarna road, a battalion of veteran infantry was escorting a battery of 12pr guns, a welcome reinforcement for the action that followed.
Rather than going into a full narrative of events - better done elsewhere - I shall give a brief summary with accompanying pictures.
Looking north towards Onil, with Castalla to the left. Spanish troops advance from north and southeast. The French regular light infantry contest the advance of horse foot and guns in the foreground (reducing the battery to 6 guns), whilst in the middle distance, the Spanish close in upon the town.
Some distance south west of Castalla, the Veteran Light infantry observe from the cover of an orange grove the approach of McCullagh's command , marching to escape...
Having arrived through the Pass of Biar some distance behind its escorting infantry, French 12pr cannon - their sole artillery in this action - scores a brilliant opening salvo. Ten D6s to roll, sixes to hit: 5 hits. Two hits eliminate a stand, so the 6-stand unit is reduced to 4, with a hit registered on one of the surviving stands. All things considered, the Spanish light horse stood up well to this punishment, but it meant the French artillery were henceforth safe from attack.
McCullagh's command, arrivibng on the field. Two battalions are dispatched to deal with the nuisance light infantry in the orchard that lies a short distance from the road.
The Spanish assault upon the east face of Castalla with three battalion columns is at once successful. The 4 companies defending that part of the town are driven across the main street into the western half. There, they were much harder to evict.
T0 be continued...