Captain the Honourable John Thomas Blunt and his handful of gallant Riflemen from the 95th Regiment of Foot have arrived in the Spanish village of Fuexu just in time! Blunt’s faithful hound, The General (known to the men as Old Nosey), has detected an advancing French force.
Beyond Fuexu is the key bridge over the Rio del Cocina Laga, which in French hands will unhinge Wellington’s left flank. Outnumbered more than four to one, Captain Blunt must halt the French in their tracks.
The picture above shows the key tactical features of the battlefield. The French, entering on the road lined by tall cypress trees, are attempting to exit by the road to the right of the church, which leads to the aforementioned bridge over the Rio de Cocina Laga. Blunt has established his headquarters in the church, where his men have made a second breakfast of some wine and some rather thin wheaty biscuits they found lying around in the apse. Old Nosey is on the road near the vinery buildings where Moon and a dozen riflemen are ensconsed.
Major Manque, a French officer of daring repute, has just completed an assignation with a mysterious Spanish lady known only as La Ubrera. Increasingly uneasy with what La Ubrera has imparted to him, and noticing the unexpected arrival of Blunt’s riflemen, he lurks near the village outskirts.
A French staff officer has ridden a little way ahead of the column and sees the road is clear (apart from some rather scruffy looking mongrel gnawing on chicken bones). He orders the advance!
French voltigeurs eagerly scamper forwards. A dozen head into olive groves to the left of the road, six under a sergeant into the vines to the right. After a while, a steady chomping of fruit can be heard.
Captain Blunt is an aristocratic gentleman to his (currently rather muddy) boots. But he knows a good ruse de guerre when his serjeant suggests one, and he has had half his men lie down on the muddy hillside (his own pelisse is ruined anyway, so it doesn’t matter). A whispered exchange:
Captain Blunt (urgent): Tooting, your bugle!
Rifleman Tooting (indignant): I’m not, sir!. (hurt): I wouldn’t ’til you give the command, sir.
Captain Blunt (with a heavy sigh): Sound, Skirmishers May Engage, Tooting.
And to the merry notes of Tooting’s bugle, a dozen rifle shots ring out as one, startling the Voltigeurs in the vines and bringing to an end their spirited debate on the merits of Prieto Pecudo over Tinto de Toro.
‘Kid’ Fiddler urges the men to reload speedily, and they do, knowing that the last man to fire will be the serjeant’s next sparring partner. Their next shots are more ragged in timing but deadlier in effect.
Two Voltigeurs will pick grapes no more beneath a Spanish sun.
The first half of the French main body arrives under the popular Sous-Lieutenant Hugo de Nigot (whose uncle of course fought in the Saindoux Campaign of 1757 in the Americas). They swing down the road in the shade of the cypresses singing (perhaps somewhat prematurely) La Victoire est a Nous.
A mournful howl from Old Nosey brings Second Lieutenant Moon and his men tumbling from out of the Vinery, their jackets bulging, the contents chinking gently. They cover the road and, encouraged by the increasingly vociferous dog, begin to shoot into the densely packed French ranks.
Meanwhile, Blunt’s men continue to fire from the hill at the Voltigeurs. Two more of the French lights fall and their sergeant decides that he’s had quite enough of this particular game of soldiers and orders them to fall back.
The balance of the French company has now arrived under Capitaine Pépin. Rather than get drawn into a bottleneck at the road junction, the good captain takes his men east, across country, aiming to turn the English flank. He urges the voltigeurs out of the olive grove and, replete, they make their way towards the house where Major Manque is still adjusting his dress.
Sergent Grondement (by astonishing coincidence, his great-uncle also fought in the Saindoux Campaign of 1757) challenges Major Manque.
And Sous-Lieutenant de Nigot leads his men bravely into the rifle fire.
The column deploys and opens fire, wounding two of Moon’s men.
The popular de Nigot is wounded, disheartening his men. But the brave sous-lieutenant takes his sword in his teeth to avoid crying out with pain and waves his men on.
Blunt realises that Grondement’s voltigeurs are getting near to his flank and, trusting that Moon will sensibly retire whilst firing before the French column, takes his men to deal with the threat.
But young Moon’s blood is up and he sees the column is in some disorder. He gives the order to fix swords.
And charges! Ten men against forty-three!
The sight of the rifles charging out of the smoke is too much for most of the young French conscripts. The front ranks hold their ground until Sous-Lieutenant de Nigot is brought down – a snarling Old Nosey dashes between the Frenchman’s legs and Rifleman Knox smashes his rifle butt into the stumbling officer’s face, sending him to the ground. The column breaks, half a dozen French cut down as they turn to flee, and a mad sauve qui peut ensues.
With half his force in incontinent retreat, and seeing the consternation on the faces of the rest, Capitaine Pépin decides discretion may be the better part of valour.
As a final blow, a shot from Rifleman Penfold, the company marksman, wounds Major Manque.
The French are repulsed and Wellington’s flank secured. Blunt’s men drink his health three times three from their looted bottles of wine.
The Butcher’s Bill
- Recovering from Wounds – 4 Riflemen
- Dead – 3 Voltigeurs, 4 Fusiliers
- Wounded – Major Manque, 1 Voltigeur, 4 Fusiliers
- Captured Wounded – Sous-Lieutenant de Nigot, 1 Voltigeur, 3 Fusiliers
- Captured – 3 Fusiliers
- Missing – 1 Voltiguer, 5 Fusiliers