Monday, 22 February 2021

18th Century Mini Campaign - The Raid on Vestisle Part 6: The Battle of Abrantes - the denouement

 Without further ado I will pick up where I left off from Raid on Vestisle Part 5 as so many supporters here and on Fife and Drum Forum expressed their keenness to find out how the story of our mini-campaign ends. In fact I can't fully conclude it in this post as there is too much to tell but I will wrap up the wargames table top action for the Battle of Abrantes.

So we resumed after lunch but I was in for a bit of a shock as both Graham's had to go early. Graham C of course had responsibility for half the French army but faced a very long drive up most of England back to Redcar. We all thanked him for being a wonderful guest and Guy complimented him on his tactical skill and excellent dice rolling all morning which had helped keep Dillon in check!  But what to do - as clearly Guy could not work all those units and finish the game in time?  Only one answer - I had to give up my tea making role and actually do some work.   Personally if I've organised the game I'm much happier seeing how both sides cope, and offering hopefully helpful decisions and steerage as umpire so, gentle reader. you will have to bear with me now. Not enough time to take plenty of photos just when needed, scrappy notes based on briefings from players in between moves, forgetting to write down what some key units achieved.......Anyway, let's press on.

11th August 1756: 0720 - Fortunes equal out along the battle line

I got off to a good start as, in the Jacobite camp, Simon Fraser Master of Lovatt, rolled a double move for all the clan battalions which was ideal as I could surge most of them out of the gate in one turn. The MacDonalds relished this and hared off after the retreating Campbells, cutting them completely to pieces in the woods!  Not without loss though, now getting to 5 Hits and retreating back to recover, job done!

Jacobites surge out of the camp entrance. Montgomery's loyal Scots can only continue their retreat over Bellune Hill covered by a light battery and the reserve field battery from Von Brunck's Hanoverian corps - looking likely to soon be overwhelmed.

Close up shows the large MacDonald clan battalion getting the better of the Government Campbells

The two Hanoverian battalions formed a solid red wall which, for the moment, would stop any access by the clansmen to the British main line along the road to Abrantes and behind them much damage was being done. It was time for Dillon to move forward with von Aststadt's German and British Light cavalry brigade and the fast moving force bore down on Lauzun's light battery and surrounded it; the survivors were captured and the cavalry turned to outflank the remainder of Lauzun's small force (no pic sorry, too busy trying to sort out my own mess!)

In the big cavalry melee at the French left centre there was mutual destruction - one of Von Trump's German cuirassiers for the Royal Allemand cavalry regiment (or is the Royal Carabineers - these units have got a bit mixed!)

Mutual dispersion of German and French cavalry on the Bellune - Abrantes road

Out on the French right De Muy was organising something of a counter attack. On the Cime D'Abrantes one of the facing German musketeer battalions was destroyed by the elite French units. However, on the Cime de Cassatte Berard's two cavalry regiments pressed on with their efforts and came unstuck under flanking fire from the Jagers. The Dragoons were destroyed and the Cuirassiers forced to retreat.

In this overall view of the Cassatte Valley Berard's cavalry brigade can be seen making a hasty retreat leaving the Jagers and Finckelstein Dragoons in control of the Cime de Cassatte ridge

A closer view shows the French Guards and artillery are able to dominate the valley at the moment and Major General von Pannewitz is scrambling to make good the hole in his line caused by the demise of one musketeer battalion.  The latter is scurrying back to the relative safety of the newly arrived 4 battalion strong Grenadier brigade under Colonel Maxwell and the Marquis of Granby seems to be trying to rally them.

0740 - Complete Jacobite success but French left flank collapses

The surge of the Highlanders continued but not against the Hanoverian line on the main table. Instead the Camerons proceeded at speed towards Bellune Hill and attacked the Hanoverian artillery battery. Surprisingly the dice outcome dictated the battery got away and was not overwhelmed, nevertheless the fate of this flank was looking sealed now. 

However, under Dillon's confident command, von Brunck's infantry and artillery and von Aststadt's light cavalry were working well together. They had got rid of the French Marines and Lauzun's artillery and now turned on the Lauzun Hussars and hit the flank of the Grenadiers de Lauzun. who had not had time to turn, although Von Aststadt was killed as the Grenadiers went down fighting. The Hussars were destroyed by the 15th Light Dragoons but the Comte de Lauzun proved miraculously (!) and heroically to survive the onslaught even though he had now lost all the elements of his brigade. The 15th swept on and hit the flank of the Gendarmerie a Cheval (in red so I think it's them). Joubarbe's last cavalry regiment seemed to get dispersed in the rush of horses towards the rear.  I claim I was not incompetent in charge of these remnants of Graham's flank, merely totally outnumbered!

Grenadiers and Hussars hit in the flank

and the 15th Light Dragoons cut right through to the Gendarmerie too

The main cavalry melee continued - The Mousquetaires regiment fighting von Trump's second Cuirassier regiment, and this resulted in the retreat of the Germans and of the Mousquetaires, and a vacant space where the action had been! 

A wider view of the same action

From left: Work done the 15th Light Dragoons over-reached and are fleeing back to safety. Only Lt General Barbier and the opposing Britisih staff officers occupy the deadly ground. Royal dragoons by the wood with Mousquetaires falling back into a rabble of French infantry. British battery which had been causing horrible damage to Battenburg's infantry. Favert's brigade and Marines now guarding the bridgehead with Joubarbes' cavalry having fallen right back towards Abrantes

Apart from the isolated Highlanders the main French line now could only anchor its left flank on the bridge across the Ruisseau de Veste.

In the centre British cannon and musket fire was making it very hot for the French infantry round the farm but up on the Abrantes Ridge the French were holding up well maintaining an odd shaped line along the contours. The German musketeers of von Pannewitz were having difficulty making any headway up the valley as Guy had continually extended his line to the right, with the strong elite infantry brigade now completely blocking any route to Abrantes harbour and beach.  But Ken was resolute and totally cool as usual, the cream of his army was as yet unengaged - Maxwell's Grenadiers and the elite Dragoon Guards brigade (which was now on the table on the Cime de Cassatte), and he still had a 5 battalion Hessian brigade in reserve just off the table down the valley.

This set of photographs gives a tour westwards along the French lines.

German musketeer battalions are falling back onto Maxwell's Grenadiers. Note that Abrantes city suburbs are now empty of troops

A nice close up of Guy's beautiful French Garde Francaise

Elite French and mercenary infantry, reinforced by the line battalions from Abrantes make a sturdy looking line across the approaches to the harbour.

On the Cime de Cassatte Finckenstein's Dragoons are now backed up by Sir Holland Parker's 3rd Dragoon Guards and 2nd North British Dragoons

The Compte de Berard has brought his remaining Dragoon regiment to strengthen the extreme right flank behind the Morliere Legion units which are facing multiple enemy units of skirmishing Jager and Freikorps.

A good view back towards Abrantes city with the Grenadiers  and Dragoons de la Morliere in the foreground

Time to return to the British sailors who had infiltrated Abrantes City during the night. Kindly look back to Part 5 if you need a reminder of their mission. Captain Cochrane RN had been thinking hard how to tackle the all-embrasing orders received from the Duke of Marlborough the previous evening....... He had waited till the town square and its environs were completely vacated of French troops, and there was a battle raging outside so he was not about to wait any further till Marlborough's target time of 11 am. Out of sight of the single battalion of Abrantes Citizen's Militia packed into the western gatehouse and suburb he sent one company of sailors to the stone bastion on the harbour, carrying kegs of gunpowder.....around 8 am there was a massive explosion from there which temporarily stunned and distracted the French VIPs and citizen soldiers in Abrantes, and gladdened the hearts of Marlborough's officers as they saw the resulting pall of smoke over the harbour..........

0800 - Complete British success on their right flank but attacks blunted everywhere else: fate of the French VIPs

The artillery fire at  Montgomery's on Bellune Hill  caused the the loyal Scots to have 5 Hits and they retreated even further - off the playing surface; only the light battery was remaining of this flank guard. Earl Marishal William Keith's small Jacobite Army was now firmly in control of Bellune Hill and the area around the fortified camp and would soon be free to infiltrate through the woods around the Hanoverian right flank. Meanwhile his small cavalry force was pinning the Hanoverian  musketeers on the road.

Above and below: two views of the final situation in front of the Jacobite Camp around 0820

Lacking any proper notes, having got caught up as player/umpire in the excitement of what was obviously the last move we had time for, I will have to let a selection of my photographs do most of the talking.

Starting at the western end Ken removed his skirmishing Jagers to each side and moved all the cavalry forward to the crest of the Cime de Cassatte looking down into the valley that separated them from the Legion de la Morliere charge....or not?  All of a sudden the French lines were not looking so connected and Granby and von Pannewitz sensed that now might be a good time to edge the German musketeers forward with close artillery support to soften them up for his cavalry.......

Close up view behind the Dragoon Guard and Prussian Dragoon brigades - would you attack those Morlieres with artillery support on the hill too?

Across the Cassatte Valley Maxwell's four strong Grenadier battalions made a solid foundation for the musketeers and Ken moved one forward one with very close support from artillery and Jagers to engage the Irish battalion which formed the hinge of the French position on the Cime d'Abrantes. Chevalier de Muy was commanding there in person (below).

The red marker next to the Irish suggests a British success here and they will have to retreat. But there is a line battalion directly behind to prevent any gap occurring.

Unfortunately for Ken his forward Musketeer regiment fell foul of volley fire from two French battalions and had to retreat, suggesting cracking open that line would be a hard slog

A lot was happening around the farm just South of Abrantes too. The Mousquetaires have formed a neat column and are retreating to reform in the rear. Elsewhere the French appear to be standing firm and blocking any access to Abrantes. In the distance by the woods Lt General de Barbier was earning his newly-won "Dashing" status. In my rules I allow C in C's or designated Lieutenant General commanders the opportunity to forego commanding any thing else and leading one unit that turn by upgrading its quality. Barbier found himself next to the only French cavalry regiment still capable of achieving anything. - The Royal Dragoons. So the already "superior" Guard Cavalry were easy to direct in a charge against the flank of the nearby British field artillery battery and cause the juxtaposed line battalion to turn to protect the flank of the brigade. The battery had to retreat and this threat to Anstruther's brigade was to be just one misfortune this turn, as seen in the photo below........

This shows that one of the front line battalions - the 12th Foot had come off badly from French artillery and volley fire and broke. Worse, Guy got two General casualty dice in succession - Lt General Lord George Sackville, 2 ic to Marlborough, was the first victim, and the second was the anonymous "dithering" replacement that the rules allow!

Not a single French unit remains between the Jacobite camp and the Veste river bridge

Dillon thoughtfully took this photo of me during the 0800 Move so I could not deny who it was getting all those former troops of Graham's into trouble!

And what of the British sailors?  I find it hard to believe but I was so preoccupied I didn't take a single photo from now on, sorry......

I had to ask Guy what he was going to do about that explosion on the Harbour and he said he wanted to send the Citizens' Militia to investigate. "The whole battalion?", I asked. "Yes, I want to make sure" he replied in a very determined manner, knowing that was where Dumonnaie had quietly stored the Government's gold.  So it was that all the battalion vacated the table top and went off to the harbour bastion battery.  That of course left no troops whatsoever anywhere near the Hotel de Ville, which was the location of all the French VIPs watching the battle from its upper windows. Happy coincidence then that the Hotel de Ville had been the first on the priority list of places for Cochrane's matelots to search.  Suddenly out of nowhere (in fact the buildings surrounding the town square) three companies  of sailors (about 12 figures) covered all the entrances to the Town Hall. Since there were, in scale, over 200 sailors fighting and detaining  about a dozen French, Scottish and Vestislian officials and servants, there was no doubt about the outcome and we sort of role-played what might happen next.

Taking stock at game's end

It was now nearly 6pm after two days wargaming and we clearly had some kind of result. Bonnie Prince Charlie, The Duke of Vestisle, and Chevalier Dumonnaie were all prisoners at the mercy of the Royal Navy. The Jacobites could no longer win since they had no Stuart would-be monarch to claim the English throne.  That was the clearest denouement of this particular drama, but as a wargame who had won the battle or indeed the mini-campaign?

The points tally on the day was to provide part of the answer but the post battle discussion and particularly a few email exchanges in the following days showed that there was much honour to be claimed on both sides and deep implications for some of the occurrences in our little slice of alternative history.

Much more to discuss in the next and final part of "Raid on Vestisle"........


  1. Excellent looking game and report. Sounds as though lots of fun was had with some lovely figures. Thanks Chris.

    1. Thanks Paul, yes it was indeed fun and hectic for me, but a privilege to be able to put on these games with Guy and Ken's great figure collections.

  2. Chris,
    Really good to see this final part. It was always going to be a very unforgiving fight on the French left flank and I think that the best they could have hoped for was to savage the allies there.
    Stilllooks a fantastic set up

    1. Thanks Graham. I did try really hard to thwart Dillon as much as possible and your men on the left flank sold their little metal lives dearly! Maybe the final part on this game but not quite the final part of the series........

  3. Lovely set up Chris, as to be expected from a talented artist.Is good to actually see a game with real people in attendance. So well done and hopefully you can buy me a pint sometime son.

    1. Thanks so much Robbie, it does me good to write about it and remember the times when we could get together. That is a lovely thought about the long as you promise not to make the conversation too politically extreme :-)

  4. An awesome spectacle as usual Chris!

  5. Thanks very much Colin, we try to keep you Burrowers on your toes with a bit of competition.

  6. I’m hitting all of these this weekend Chris as there is just too much of everything that I love about the hobby in your posts that I simply cannot rush it. Suberb.

    1. Thank you Carlo - as always you are a truly loyal fan even if it takes me a long time to publish some stuff. This project really did have everything for me - you are right. Your blogs are always a treat to the eyes too.

  7. So impressive sight with such massive armies, huge cavalry battle and ebb and tide of the lines! A real battle! Given the situation that two of the players had to go, you deserve more congratulations for the whole setup, umpiring, playing, photography and narration! Very well done! And congrats for all the fine group of gentlemen, must have been a very enjoyable game!

    1. Yes indeed Dinos - fine gentlemen they were (and still are!). Thanks for your congratulations I think it was mainly adrenalin kept me going and the support of these great guys.

  8. Chris;
    That was absolutely stunning. I'm glad you and your players were able to have such a grand game and I'm also glad that you were able to share it. Now... back to figuring out how to transport Vestisle to somewhere close off of Cape Breton Island...


    1. Thanks Eric, glad you've enjoyed it and been inspired too

  9. Chris,

    What a smashing finale, and what a slugging match! An incredible game with stunning miniatures and superb terrain. I certainly envy the players.

    And what a wonderful job you did as player/umpire/photographer/scribe! The AAR just pulls you in and holds your interest to the very end. And the photos should be in a book.

    Very well done!


    1. Thanks so much for your constant kind comments Bill. Glad you enjoyed the write-up too. No need for envy - you would be welcome to come try it out for yourself if you come to England some day

  10. As good a game as I have seen for a long time and a super read as well. Just perfection!!

  11. Terrific praise Donnie, thanks a lot. I find a lot of good wargames are stories that write themselves if you just try to fill in a bit between the lines.

  12. What an amazing table of model soldiers - simply brilliant! I particularly like the Jacobites (Crann Tara?).

    1. Thanks Stryker - yes I believe all the Jacobites are Crann Tara Miniatures
      from Guy's collection (
      Business owned by Graham who is a delight to deal with, business or pleasure.

  13. Absolutely cracking post Chris. I adore how you and your friends wargame especially the level of detail in the set-up. Superb.

    1. Thanks a lot Carlo. Sometimes it's the detail that brings it to life for the players and particularly for me when recalling for the AAR. Very much appreciate it when readers take the time to absorb them, as you do.