The column marched all through the day and deep into the night of January 11, 1809, and again January 12.
About 250 men marched four abreast along the uneven, snowy, icy mountain trails of Galicia, northwestern Spain. About 70 Riflemen of the 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot led the way and about 180 Redcoats of various units marched behind, kept in some semblance of order by a handful of sergeants and three officers. Alongside rode about a dozen Spaniards, guerilleros led by the hidalgo Luis Raimundez and his sister, Uxia Maria Raimundez.
The men were followed by a wagon carrying about a half a dozen of those too sick or hurt to march and four soldiers’ wives, all stacked like unhealthy firewood. Another wagon carried their meager, scraped-together supplies and — far more important to the officers — a stack of heavy pouches filled with silver belonging to the army’s paymaster general and abandoned during the great retreat.
A small herd of horses straggled behind, growing thinner in every sense every day; the animals themselves were starving, and before each morning’s march the men slaughtered a portion of them for rations. The horses had been 50 the night of January 10 and were 40 by the morning of January 11.
If not for the fresh horsemeat each morning, the march would have been as unhappy and disastrous as the greater march that Sir John Moore led to Corunna, from which all these men had fallen away and which their officers were desperate to rejoin. Each day began hours before sunrise, as usual for the British army, so the column could be well on its way by sunrise. Yet they did not stop to make camp at noon or the early afternoon as in any ordinary march; they kept walking, hour after numbing hour.
The wagon wheels rattled dangerously on the uneven trails, usually frequented by shepherds and sometimes dangerously steep. Many of those few men who had shoes—an invaluable find of Pvt. O’Toole of the Rifles before the column had set out—found the leather falling apart already. Others hadn’t had shoes in weeks and spent hours walking barefoot and bloody through the ice and snow, hoping only that frostbite would merely take a toe or three and not result in gangrene to take a whole foot, or leg, or life. The Rifles still had their gray greatcoats worn over green jackets, but many of the Redcoats had only their battered uniform jackets, their greatcoats having fallen apart long since, or in a very few cases blankets stolen from the monastery days before.
Sir John Moore had meant to arrive at the great port of Corunna on January 11 and embark on hundreds of Navy transports on January 12. As January 11 gave way to the 12th and then the 13th, with still days to go, the Redcoats and Riflemen of the ragged column could only hope that something kept Moore from setting sail on time. Every hour that passed made it less and less likely that these men would ever see their homes in Britain again.
During that long march, Private Davey Jones of the Rifles found himself pitying the ill-equipped Redcoats that marched behind him. They were a miserable lot, feet frozen and bloody, often not even a blanket to keep off the snow and rain. Jones took perverse pride in sticking by himself and staying out of both trouble and work whenever he could, but some things were too much to ignore. At night, when the men were collapsing in exhaustion, he volunteered for foraging duty. And the night of January 12 he found in the hills near camp a cluster of little stone shepherd’s huts. They weren’t much, but they had cloaks, blankets, pots and pans, even a couple pair of old spare shoes, all of it good as gold. He turned them over to the men. Some of them were still lively enough to thank him.
(We started the session by defining a Personal Mission for Jones, whose player had missed last game. He said that he wanted Jones to become a better soldier in spite of himself. We set the reward for success as +1 to his Discipline measure and +1 to his Soldiering skill; the penalty for failure would be -1 to Discipline and -1 to Soldiering as he gave in to his lazier inclinations. His four challenges: (1) Performing bravely in combat. (2) Helping some of his fellow soldiers. (3) Building esprit de corps by bringing them together with storytelling or song. (4) Taking responsibility in action and thriving on it. I didn’t frame these quite as tightly on specific skills this time. Imagining which skills he might want to bring into play helped provide some direction but the way the Challenges play out could vary by the cirumstances. Here he made a successful Scavenging test to help his fellow soldiers. One Challenge done.)
Private Southgate had his stolen cache of the King’s silver to attend. During the march he watched for opportunities to keep near the supply wagon; like O’Toole he was friendly with the battalion quartermaster, and while of course the battalion quartermaster was not around the Rifles didn’t think it strange for Southgate to be counting supplies. And even the more suspicious officers, such as former provost officer Smithwick, were too busy and too exhausted to remain watchful. Over two days Southgate managed to stash his coins in a number of the worst canteens in the supply wagon, the broken things at the bottom of the wagon that would be the last anyone would pick up. He had only to leave the silver there until he had a chance to disguise it properly.
(This was the third challenge of Southgate’s personal mission, a Quartermastering test to us his knowledge of how the company’s equipment is handled to hide his loot. He added cards for his Reputation as being relied upon by the battalion quartermaster, figuring that if he failed then word that he was meddling with the supplies might get back to the quartermaster and sour that trust. He succeeded. One more Challenge to go.)
Sergeant Cole kept his attention on the sick wagon and on keeping the men marching. He was relieved to see Capt. Yorkshire stir from his coma, although he was somewhat delirious and too weak to even speak more than a word or two. Lieutenant Smithwick’s wounds were coming along nicely, but other men who had been hurt, such as O’Toole and Jones, were still in rough shape.
(A First Aid challenge by Cole; since he was doing that in lieu of pursuing a personal mission I allowed him to make one First Aid test on each wounded player character. He succeeded with Smithwick, adding a Reputation for taking care of the men, but didn’t risk that Reputation on Jones and failed the test there. Smithwick’s Injured state returned to healthy. Jones is still Injured. O’Toole’s player had to work so he wasn’t there to be healed. Yorkshire’s player missed again, too.)
Lieutenant Smithwick set out to keep his relations with the Spaniards cordial or even better than cordial. Ordinarily he regarded the ladies with whom he became intimate as rather disposable, but Uxia Maria was an engaging challenge—unpredictable and fiery in her own right, and of course guarded by a brother who would have already killed Smithwick if he knew the true nature of their relationship. Smithwick and she had been distant the last couple of days since their encounter in the monastery and since his unhappy duel with the French dragoon, Lt. Leveque.
He had his opportunities to make things warmer with her and her brother at camp each evening, as senior active officer playing host at what passed for the officer’s mess: himself, Ensign Richter, Ensign Flagstaff, Mr. Giles, Luis and Maria shivering around a fire with a few of the more presentable men and wives as servants, and of course Major Higgins and Captain Yorkshire moaning and incoherent nearby. He engaged them in conversation about music, the arts, culture, Spain and its language, and he leaned on his subordinates, the ensigns, for support; but things remained awkward however hard he tried, and his efforts made things more awkard still with his fellow officers. Perhaps it was the cold air.
(Smithwick wanted a Courtesy challenge to repair his Injured Reputation with Uxia Maria. He called on his Reputation with the Officer’s Mess for bonus cards—the ensigns are somewhat terrified of him—but the test failed, which meant not only was his Reputation with her still Injured but now so was his Reputation with the officers.)
During their conversations, though, some interesting facts emerged about Iago Cervino, the guerillero leader who had parted ways acrimoniously with Luis and the British a few days before. Iago’s brother Rojas had attempted to steal the King’s silver and Sergeant Cole had shot him dead; Iago was furious at that, but moreso he was utterly contemptuous of the British and their flight from Spain, and he made a point of saying how the French behaved with more honor as enemies than the British did as friends.
Luis and Maria said the Cervinos were old, bitter rivals with the Raimundez faction in Galicia. They gave themselves airs of nobility, as so many would-be hidalgos did, but they were no better than bandits. And they were not the most passionate opponents of the crowning of Napoleon’s brother Joseph as king of Spain, orchestrated by Spanish nobles in league with the French after the old Spanish king was deposed and a cousin took his place, and then the upstart was carried off to France a prisoner in the chaos.
That Rojas would get himself killed trying to rob the British was no surprise. But Iago’s vehemence worried Luis and Maria. They feared the Cervinos might have turned Afrancescado, allies of France.
Over these few days young Mr. Giles, meanwhile, still had it in mind to make himself a better leader, suitable for a combat officer should he succeed in gaining an ensigncy, so he tried to be as diligent and responsible as Smithwick was nonchalant. He did everything possible to keep himself alert, to make sure he knew when some disaster might be in the offing.
(He wanted an Awareness challenge to spot some trouble before it happened in pursuit of his personal mission. I already had a situation in mind which would answer for that admirably, so I had him attempt his test last and it provided a neat segue into what came next. He added bonus cards for one of his Reputations with the men and succeeded at the test, the second of four for his personal mission.)
Challenges on the Road
Midmorning on Friday, January 13—an inauspicious day!—the column was moving through a ravine with ice on the ground and rocky, snowy slopes running up and away high on either side. According to Luis Raimundez, his uncle’s village, Puerta del Norte, was a couple of miles ahead; Smithwick already planned to skip it so as not to expose the men to temptation. Giles, at the front of the column, was startled to see something glinting far ahead up on the left slope. It gleamed for a moment and then was gone, but it drew his eye and he saw a manlike shape in some rocks. What’s more, he was the first to spot a rider come into view ahead, around a bend in the ravine, followed by others—Spaniards.
Giles stepped over to Smithwick and warned him not to look too obviously, but Spaniards were ahead and someone was watching with a telescope on the hill.
Voices mumbled as others spotted the riders ahead, more and more coming closer, about 50 in all, Spanish guerilleros swords, pistols and carbines under their cloaks. One near the leader carried his sword raised up with a white rag wrapped around it as a flag of truce.
Luis Raimundez hissed angrily. “It’s Iago,” he said.
Smithwick called the column to halt. Then he ordered the Redcoats to form an infantry square near the wagons, to load their carbines, pistols and handful of muskets and fix their few bayonets, in case the riders attacked, and he set Sgt. Cole to help Flagstaff and his sergeants see it done. He had the Riflemen scatter by twos into the rocks beside the road in skirmish line. He and the Spaniards remained in the road waiting for Iago to arrive.
They let Iago and his men come within about 50 feet before Smithwick called out, “That’s far enough.”
Iago looked immediately angry and indignant. “What do you mean? This is Spain! This is our road! Who are you to tell us to stop?”
“We’re using your road to rejoin our army,” Smithwick said. Tired as he was, his voice was even more laconic than usual.
“To pillage our country, you mean. To steal from the village that is just ahead of you, like you did at Astorga.”
Sergeant Cole shouted angrily from the Redcoats’ square, “Just like you tried to steal our silver!”
Several of the men laughed and shouted in agreement. Ensign Flagstaff, nearby, yelled, “Silence in the ranks!” He gave Cole as furious a look as Cole had seen the young man manage.
Iago Cervino went even whiter with anger. “And what was that?” he asked Smitchwick. “Now you let your men speak for you?”
“I heard nothing,” Smithwick said carelessly.
Iago spat. “You must move your men aside so that we may pass.”
“I will not.”
“This is our road! Move your men off of it, we will ride past, and we will be done.”
Iago spurred his horse forward and angrily raised his hand for his men to follow.
Smithwick called out, “Fire!”
As the Riflemen took aim at the riders, they and some of the Redcoats shouted the alarm: Men were stirring in the rocks and snow, unseen on the slopes overhead, scores of them, about 50 yards away on either side.
Iago Cervino and his men drew their swords and pistols.
(Here for the first time we used Duty & Honour’s extended skirmish rules. They basically take the regular skirmish rules that we’ve used a few times before and apply them to a larger-scale engagement. In a typical skirmish each player attempts a combat challenge, and then their commander attempts a Command challenge against the enemy commander to see which side wins the skirmish; each success by another player adds to the leader’s Command cards and each failure penalizes it.
In an extended skirmish, that process is repeated three times, and then there’s a final ultimate Command test between the two leaders to get the victor of the engagement as a whole, with bonus cards there for successes winning each phase. In addition, each side issues one Tactical Order for each phase. That determines the formation and overall mode of attack for their side—Form Square, Form Line, Volley Fire, etc.—which can give bonuses or penalties depending on the formation and mode of attack chosen by the enemy.
Here I complicated things by breaking the action into two companies on each side: On the British side, the Redcoats, more numerous than a single company but much more poorly armed, so I figured it evened out; and the Rifles. On the Spanish side, the musketmen on the slopes, again more numerous than a typical company but also not as well trained, so again it evened out, and the horsemen.
Smithwick commanded the Rifles, who began in Skirmish Line formation. Cole commanded the Redcoats, who began in Infantry Square formation. Smithwick’s Tactical Orders: (1) Volley fire on the horsemen, (2) Sustained volley fire on the horsemen, (3) Sustained volley fire on the horsemen. Cole’s orders: (1) Volley fire on the musketmen, (2) Advance up the slope, (3) Bayonet charge against the musketmen. Iago Cervino led the horsemen and his cousin Brieito led the musketmen. Cervino’s orders for the horsemen: (1) Sabre fighting against the Rifles, (2) Sabre fighting against the Rifles, (3) Sabre fighting against the Rifles. Brieito’s orders for the musketmen: (1) Volley against the Redcoats, (2) Sustained Volley against the Redcoats, (3) Sustained volley against the Redcoats.)
Iago and his horsemen rode directly at the Riflemen. Ordinarily cavalry would have field day riding among skirmishers, but the rocks and slope worked against the horsemen and reduced their mobility and hence their advantage. Smithwick shouted at the Riflemen to wait; then shouted “Fire!” as the horsemen drew close to the rocks on either side of the road. More than a dozen Spaniards flopped out of their saddles as the rest crashed through the smoke, pistols firing and swords swinging and stabbing down.
Jones’ first shot killed a Spaniard, as did Southgate’s, and then they were fighting up close. Southgate drew his heavy, exotic, bejewelled ceremonial executioner’s falchion, a priceless souvenir of his time in India, and laid about him at the riders that came and went among the rocks. Jones fended off swords with his rifle and simply leapt at the nearest rider, dragging the man from horseback and beating him senseless. Two Riflemen fell in the melee nearby.
Giles drew his pistol as the riders came hear and took aim deliberately at Iago Cervino himself. Cervino saw it and accepted the challenge, riding hard straight for Giles. Giles was a deadly shot. He pulled the trigger sure of his man, but the bullet only grazed Cervino’s scalp. Cervino flinched and yelled, then another Riflemen staggered between them and Iago’s sword darted down, stabbing poor Private Fairfax through the throat.
Smithwick fended off horsemen with his sabre, maiming one with a dangerous thrust, and kept the Riflemen fighting with their unwieldy sword bayonets fixed to their short Baker rifles. The Spaniards’ attack faltered a bit but did not fail altogether.
(Jones, Southgate and Giles all won their tests with Perfect Successes and a few other Successes to spare; that gave Smithwick three bonus cards, and he added Reputation cards for a vast spread of cards for the final Command test to see which side won the Phase overall. Smithwick won handily. That meant company morale was Injured for the losing side, the Spanish horsemen. Since there were about a dozen NPC Riflemen for each player character, I had each Success drawn count as a hit on the Rifles and each one I drew for the Spaniards counta as a hit against them. In a big skirmish, hits by the enemy either affect the PC against whom they are drawn or an allied NPC at one wound category worse, at the player’s choice. The hits would have left Giles and Jones maimed, and Southgate doesn’t want to be injured at all, so they all passed them on to NPCs.)
(Oh, and Gile’s Perfect Success should have rendered Iago instantly dead, but Iago has the Cheat Death! trait like poor old Dane did. Each instance of Cheat Death! lets you conveniently not take one injury that should have killed you.)
Meanwhile Sergeant Cole, Ensign Flagstaff and the Redcoats in their square exchanged fire with the Spanish musketmen on the slopes overhead on either side. Cole carried a Baker rifle and is an astonishingly good shot, but the Redcoats had only a few muskets and an assortment of even less accurate cavalry carbines and pistols. Cole dropped two Spaniards over the first long couple of minutes of firing; the 110 or so armed Redcoats between them dropped maybe two more. Eight Redcoats fell in their ranks. Cole could sense the fluttering edges of panic begin to set in among the men.
(I kind of flubbed Cole’s action with the Redcoats by allowing him to be the only PC in that company yet also serving as its commander. I really should have had everybody in the one company battle and just handwaved the Redcoats, but I really prefer playing important stuff out over handwaving. I had him draw cards for the NPCs’ attack, and then draw for his Command skill versus Brieito’s Command to see who won the phase. An ordinary man with a carbine at that range would draw only a single card, but I let Cole add three cards in an Assist because he’s so very accurate with his rifle—it would have I think three at that range plus three more for his mighty Crack Shot trait. The Spaniards drew I think two cards for their muskets plus two cards for being at a tactical advantage; they won the exchange. Then Brieito beat Cole in the Command test, Injuring the Redcoats’ morale. Because a single draw of cards represented more than a hundred men on either side, I amplified the resulting casualties, with each Success drawn by the NPCs representing several hits—specifically, a number of hits equal to the size of the card pool. Based on statistics from a few Napoleonic battles, 1/5 to 1/4 are kills. The Spaniards had four cards and drew two Successes, so that’s four hits.)
Into the Fire
The Riflemen and the Spanish riders brawled bloodily on. The Spaniards ride around rocks and bushes where the Rifles took cover; but they were too quick and too numerous to allow the Riflemen to pause long enough to laboriously load their Baker rifles.
For Jones it was very much a brawl. He didn’t favor the clumsy sword bayonet, and nearby Private Lathbury fell with blood streaming from his arm when a Spaniard’s sword was quicker; but Jones was fast, aggressive and wirily strong, and a Spaniard who came at him and didn’t ride by quickly enough found himself hauled or knocked from his saddle and beaten savagely before he could get up again.
Southgate, too, fought brutally, chopping through a Spanish rider’s defense with his heavier executioner’s sword, not a duelling weapon but a hacking cleaver. The rider yelled and spurred off reflexively, clutching his arm, his sword forgotten. But two more Riflemen were hurt and others scattered, forcing Southgate to back away with them, as other riders came at them hard.
Iago Cervino rode straight at Mr. Giles again, his sword held out before him. Giles drew his own sabre—as a gentleman volunteer he’s allowed to carry an officer’s sword but not wear an officer’s sash—and stood his ground. Cervino reared up over him and their swords clashed. Each was a skillful swordsman, but Cervino had the advantage of being mounted on a dangerous horse. They rushed each other again and each of them came away bloody with a sword wound. Cervino swayed in his saddle; and glancing around he three more of his men fall and others stepping their horses away, uncertain, ready to break.
(Jones succeeded; Southgate failed; Giles succeeded; Smithwick’s Command test succeeded to win the second phase. That left Cervino’s group’s morale Maimed.)
Sergeant Cole and Ensign Flagstaff shouted for the Redcoats to turn and advance up the right-hand slope to dislodge the Spaniards there. Cole moved among the men, shouting encouragement, trying to keep their spirits up, but it did little good; they were still strange to him and to each other, and worst of all they were so poorly armed, with only nine or ten bayonets among them and a third of them carrying unfamiliar swords.
Still, they followed him up the slope, the front rank loading and aiming their pistols and carbines as the rank behind them walked, overtook them and moved ahead; then the new front rank paused on the command and began loading and the rear rank fired and advanced.
As they slowly closed the distance a handful of Spaniards in the rocks fell; so did fully nineteen Redcoats, one after another, as Spanish muskets fired from behind cover overhead.
Then Cole himself dropped to the ground like a mule had kicked him down. His left arm wouldn’t respond properly, but his right hand found blood flowing from his left shoulder where a musket ball had struck. It was not a pleasant wound. But Cole gritted his teeth and struggle up, shouting raggedly for the men to keep on.
Rifleman Cole and his Redcoats marched on, inexorably, up the broken slope into enemy fire. And they could see the Spaniards in their smoke beginning to falter and look to each other for the sign to retreat.
(Cole attempted a Discipline test to repair the Redcoats’ morale but failed. Then in resolving the attacks, he succeeded with a Perfect success while the Spaniards scored a Critical. Rather than pass the Critical along to an NPC, Cole accepted being Maimed himself. When your health is Maimed, you must make a Discipline test to function at all, and then anything you do is at -3 cards; but Cole has a fair Discipline and the Hard as Nails trait, which gives him bonus Discipline cards when trying to function despite being maimed. Thus he succeeded at his effort to get up and keep going. And his Command test beat Brieito’s, leaving the Spaniards’ morale Injured this time.)
When the Redcoats came up the slope to within ten yards or so of the Spaniards, already beginning to pick up and flee over the crest, Cole called out in a hoarse croak, “Infantry! Charge!”
The Redcoats surged forward, those with sabres and the few with bayonets in front, others firing one last volley at point blank range. The sterner Spaniards stayed and returned fire in one last volley, seven more Redcoats fell hurt or dead, and then the British were among them. A sharp clash of Spanish knives and British sabres, then the last of the Spanish musketmen were over the slope and away, running into the snow, leaving their dead and maimed behind.
(Cole’s attack for the Redcoats succeeded, then his Command test succeeded, maiming Spanish morale. Then the final Command test between Cole and Brieito, at +2 cards for Cole’s two victories and +1 to Brieito for his one. Cole succeeded, which gave him the victory for the engagement. If he’d failed, it would have meant the British fell apart in the hand fighting—but thankfully succeeded and the Spanish broke instead.)
In the ravine, Iago Cervino drew away from Giles and his shouts brought his men back into some order while the fighting went on. The Rifles around Pvt. Southgate fell back with two more men hurt by Spanish swords even as Southgate himself slashed a passing Spaniard’s leg. Those around Cole wavered as Cole knocked another horseman off his horse and fell on him biting, butting his head, kicking; Private Shepherd nearby fell with steel in his chest and soon died. Giles picked his rifle up again, still unfired, and shot a horseman dead.
The Spanish riders were falling back and on the verge of collapsing again. Finally Cervino shouted commands to them in Spanish and spurred forward, toward the British wagons and horses. Those nearest him followed right away. Others noticed and broke away from their fight. The Spaniards made a ragged, straggling ride away from the Riflemen.
Smithwick called for the Rifles to stop and reload, but the Spanish were already at the wagons. They grabbed the horses pulling the supply wagon and shouted to get them moving, pulled them away, and as the Rifles began firing at a distance they road on, dragging the wagon with them.
The Spaniards were soon around the next bend in the ravine and out of sight, taking the King’s silver with them.
(Iago succeeded at repairing his men’s Maimed morale to Injured. Jones failed; Southgate failed; Giles succeeded; Smithwick succeeded at the third phase’s Command test. But then, crucially, came the final Command test for victory in the battle overall. For succeeding at all three phases of the battle Smithwick gained +3 cards and he added +1 by calling on his Injured reputation with Maria, for 9 cards. Cervino drew 5 for his Command, with -1 card for his company’s morale being Injured and -3 for losing all three phases of the battle, and +2 for his own Reputation with Maria, for only three cards total. Yet Cervino drew three Successes—and Smithwick drew only two! As the saying goes, in Duty & Honour it’s entirely possible to win every battle and still lose the war. The Riflemen handled the Spanish horsemen roughly indeed, but in the end Cervino got what he wanted—the silver!)
The Butcher’s Bill
As the smoke slowly began to clear the men looked around them and took stock. The Redcoats wounded came limping back down the slope; the Spaniards on the other side of the ravine had retreated.
For all the violence, only two Riflemen were killed. Sixteen were wounded, some of them badly, including Sergeant Cole.
Eight Redcoats died and 34 were wounded.
The Spanish left behind them 11 dead—three killed fighting the Rifles and eight killed by the Redcoats—and a handful too wounded to flee.
Giles brought out his telescope and looked up the hill to where he had spotted their watcher earlier. As Giles brought the lenses into focus he spotted the man, now packing up his own telescope in the distance and standing up. Giles cried out in recognition.
“It’s that Frenchman! The major who was with the dragoons. Major Lejuste!”
And as Cole had the Redcoats collecting fallen muskets on the slopes, he reported an unhappy fact. Their muskets weren’t the broken old things most often found among Spanish farmers. They were French muskets in good repair.
Luis Raimundez swore in Spanish. Then in French he told Smithwick, “It is as I feared. The Cervinos must have fallen in with the French. We must get to your friends. Iago’s cousin Somoza heads the city guard in Corunna. God only knows what mischief they’ll work!”