The 69e Ligne are now within reach of the Río de la Manteca. If they can cross this obstacle, Marshal Massena’s plan to turn Wellington’s flank will be much advanced. Although Lieutenant Boursoufle’s grenadiers suffered a reverse at Iglesia de los Santos Pederastas, that officer has gathered his remaining men and forged onward, travelling by an alternative route and reinforced by some horsemen from the flamboyant Escadron de Mamelukes de la Garde Imperiale.
Captain Campbell and his highlanders from the 42nd Foot, supported by Portuguese sharpshooters from the Atiradore company of the 3º Caçadores aim to head off the perfidious French.
As the 42nd step out in style down the road past the vinery, pipes playing and drums beating, the French arrive with less fanfare but almost as much speed.
Lieutenant Sauter of the 15e Régiment de Chasseurs-à-Cheval intends to take his horsemen along the road that runs between the vinery and the outskirts of the village, so turning the Allied left flank.
Meanwhile Lieutenant Dupas brings up his Mamelukes on the other flank.
And Sous-Lieutenant Hugo de Nigot leads his voltiguers through the woods.
Half a dozen atiradores follow the much-admired Sargento Sexias into the upstairs of the largest house. From the windows they can cover the French approaches to the river. They open fire and, even at extreme range, their best shot, Ricardo Olhomorto, brings down one of the colourfully clad Mamelukes.
Alferes Nagedas, who has been somewhat tardy, gets his riflemen onto the hill by the rather impressive windmill.
The highland skirmish screen shoot at the voltigeurs and prove remarkably accurate, dropping four of their trousered counterparts.
The Mamelukes canter up, sabres and pistols at the ready.
McLaren has left it too late. He gives the order for his men to fall back but before they can retreat through their supporting line, the Mamelukes are upon them!
The highland lights are slaughtered, their remnant routing.
Dupas orders his Mamelukes to ready their blunderbusses. He’s not keen on charging Campbell’s line.
McLaren manages to halt his remnant at the village where they begin to regroup.
The highlanders carefully controlled volley is effective.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Boursoufle is urging his men along the road while the cavalry occupy the attention of the highlanders.
Boursoufle turns his men, forming a classic French attack column.
The blunderbusses crash out, though to little effect.
The chasseurs find the street narrower than they had hoped for but they canter down it regardless.
Campbell’s men fire another volley and the Mamelukes decide they’ve had enough.
The recoiling horses break Boursoufle’s formation. the lieutenant is not pleased.
Hugo de Nigot takes his voltigeurs forward.
Boursoufle reorganises his column and orders a charge! His men surge forwards singing Le Chant de l’Oignon.
A fierce melee ensues. Sergent-Major Boumdier is wounded, as are both the highland serjeants. It is the French who, grudgingly, give back. Both sides have taken significant losses.
The surviving highland lights occupy the ground floor of the building that Sargento Sexias is in. They fire at the advancing French light cavalry and Lieutenant Sauter falls from his horse, stunned.
Campbell is tempted to charge the grenadiers but the threat the voltigeurs would pose to his flank decide him against it and he orders another volley.
Boursoufle’s ranks are thinning and French morale begins to sink.
The chasseurs fall back in considerable disorder, leaving their officer lying in the dusty road.
But now Hugo de Nigot gets his men firing and the highlanders become disordered. Drummer Watson cops a nasty wound.
And the ranks are further thinned by more accurate fire from the voltigeurs. Nagedas’ atiradores fire in support of the highlanders from the hilltop.
Boursoufle’s grenadiers are looking very ragged now, and the lieutenant himself is hit.
But Boursoufle is a great veteran and has ambitions to join the Old Guard. A musket ball in the shoulder does not deter such a man! Quickly, he instructs Isabelle Bitche, well-beloved by all the men of the 69e Ligne to hand out cognac, gets his sergents to dress the ranks, reorganises his men into a compact line and raises a chant of ‘Vive l’Empereur!’
Campbell too has consolidated his depleted ranks. The French charge again!
And this time the charge is decisive. The highlanders are still in some disorder and the French are fired up by passion and the superb example set by their leader.
It is a rout. But French morale is still brittle despite this success.
Alferes Nagedas hopes his men can kill enough French to turn the tide back in favour of the Allies.
But to no avail. Nagedas realises that his men dare not stand to receive a charge from the grenadiers and orders a retreat.
The French win and now control the vital crossing of the Río de la Manteca!
The Butcher’s Bill
- Dead – 12 Highlanders
- Wounded – Serjeant MacDougall, Serjeant MacDonald, Piper McIntyre, Drummer Watson, 5 Highlanders
- Captured Wounded – 9 Highlanders
- No Losses
- Dead – Lieutenant Dupas, 8 Grenadiers, 2 Voltigeurs, 4 Mamelukes
- Wounded – Lieutenant Boursoufle, Sergent-Major Boumdier, 3 Grenadiers, 3 Voltigeurs, 2 Mamelukes