Saturday, August 20, 2011

Battle of Azuel

A most enjoyable day out was had by all as the Spanish Army of Andalucia stubbornly held a well-defended position against a reconnaissance in force by Marshal Sebastiani.

The Spanish force, mainly infantry supported by a quite astonishing quantity of artillery, was well dug-in to a defensible position around the village of Azuel, and the French force lacked sufficient infantry strength (or perhaps just the determination?) to force it.

The Spanish position
Although claiming to be short of infantry, Marshal Sebastiani’s command more than made up for it with a remarkable array of glittering gold braid parading in the summer sunshine – no less than a Marshal of France, and two Divisional Generals overseeing a force which could, charitably, best be described as a Division. To be fair, the Spanish also seem to have seen this affair an opportunity for a grand day out, with no less a personage than the C-in-C of the whole Spanish Army commanding in person!

The French held their best troops, the Brigade comprising two Guard units, 2nd and 4th Hollandaise, in reserve.

The Guard - sunbathing and enjoying the view of the action in the distance
Clearly Sebastiani had studied his Master’s use of the Old Guard, as in fact these saucy chaps never moved and spent a pleasant day sunbathing on a hill, observing the battle for a safe distance. According to Marshal Sebatiani’s report, they “performed well throughout the engagement”!

Most of Sebastiani’s other infantry spent the day proudly marching to and fro in a professional manner not seen since the Duke of York’s famous achievement. In fact, the only infantry who were committed were a couple of line battalions – who made a half-hearted attempt on a redoubt and retired unsupported immediately after capturing it – and the 12th Legere, who spent their day mounting open-order hit-and-run excursions from the safety of the woods to the west of Azuel. Although these hurt the exposed defenders, they received a sharp fire from the Spanish Militia in return which ensured several hundred Voltigeurs would not be returning to la France.

The Militia gives those Voltigeurs something to remember
The overwhelming French superiority in cavalry of course allowed them complete control of the battlefield beyond the Spanish perimeter; an early excursion to the west by the Spanish Cuirassier regiment was punished most severely by a French horse battery (although the regiment effectively destroyed a French Dragoon regiment in the process).

Heroic, but doomed...
Later in the day, Sebastiani switched his cavalry strength to the Spanish right and, pouring sustained canister fire from their attached horse battery, they caused significant casualties to a couple of Spanish infantry squares and achieved some local success.

During this phase of the engagement French cavalry scented blood and charged a Spanish square, shaken and disordered from the swathes of canister fire to which they had been subjected.

The Dragoons charge out of the smoke against the shaken Cordoba Regiment  - and are replulsed!

However the brave Spanish battalion stood, and against all odds heroically beat off this attack. Although their morale failed afterwards, as the hurt they had taken became apparent, this valiant stand marked the end of any sustained attempt by the French to exploit their superiority, and Sebastiani withdrew to the north.

The intensity of the fire and combat within the Spanish perimeter was demonstrated by the loss (fortunately only wounded) of two gallant Spanish Brigade commanders, and the breaking of several battalions from combat casualties. Overall though the Spanish troops showed considerable stubbornness and enthusiasm for a fight, and the Spanish Army can be rightly proud of their bravery.

 Marshal Sebastiani's annotated map of the action...

A more detailed description of the action, along with some of his photos of the event, can be found on Paul's blog,