for this year 2021 I have started a very ambitious project, a 28mm campaign, using actual period characters as leaders for my armies, perhaps introducing role-playing elements in skirmish-type games (like Donnybrook, Pikeman's lament or Encamisada) and also other games in traditional wargame field battles with rule sets such as Beneath the Lily Baners or Pike & Shotte.
The campaign/battle I have chosen is the siege of Gerona in 1684, a Spanish defensive success against a numerically superior French army, in the context of the War of the Reunions 1683-84.
I have a lot of painted miniatures for this period, but I will paint several units and miniatures specifically for this project, as I will show you in future blog entries.
I have chosen this period because it was a brief conflict but with interesting battles, in the years between Franco Dutch War and League of Augsburg War. And I have chosen this campaign because, fortunately, a lot of stories from the protagonists who fought in that battle have reached our days intact. And reading those documents, inmediatelly caught my attention. I have been following Mr. Sidney Roundwood blog with his project "Laarden 1688" a semi historical account of the battles fought in Flanders in the early League of Augsburg War. His blog is a real gem, I strongly recommend it! So I thought about doing a similar one :)
I will keep using miniatures from Northstar 1672, Front Rank, Warfare Miniatures, Wargames Foundry, Dixons Miniatures and Warlord Games, with all those, I hope to get the most complete combination of 28mm minis for a 1684 battle.
I will update the list of "Dramatis Personae" for the different actions, the generals, the captains, but also the commoners... the unknown heroes and leaders of both armies.
Now some context. This short but bloody war, saw Louis XIV, despite peace established by the 1678 Treaty of Nijmegen, seizing the Imperial city of Strasbourg in 1681 and in 1682 occupied the Principality of Orange, then a possession of William of Orange... but formal war began in 1683, When France attacked Spain in Luxembourg and Catalonia, appart from a "terror" bombing of the Republic of Genoa, a traditional ally of Spain.
The French succeded in Luxembourg, defended by 4000 troops (Spanish, Flemish, German...) who managed to inflict 8000 casualities to the French army, which numbered 20.000 men, lead by Marshall François de Créquy and the military genius, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, the best siege expert of its time...
French army besieging Luxemburg
But our campaign is set in the south, in a beautiful place just south of the Pyrenees, in the Spanish city of Gerona (Girona in Catalan), where the French were less succesful than in Luxembourg.
THE CAMPAIGN OF SUMMER 1684, GERONA, SPAIN
After a few years in which tension with France was common, and in which Alejandro Bournonville, viceroy of Catalonia, was especially concerned about the defenselessness of the Principality of Catalonia, the official start of the war in November 1683 meant that the viceroy had to face the most difficult moments of his long political and military trajectory. The situation of the French preparations contrasted with that of the Spanish army of Catalonia. The viceroy claimed to have no money, grain, or carriages for field artillery and could not oppose such a powerful enemy in a field battle.
On May the 1st, the French army crossed the border through La Junquera pass. Viceroy Bournonville galantly marched with his troops towards Hostalric ,in order to face some 10,500 French infantrymen and 4,500 horsemen; presumably these were heading towards Gerona, where the French would expect their navy to make an incursion to divert the Viceroy's troops to the coast and force the Spaniards to properly garrison Barcelona.
The next day, 2nd of May, Domingo Pignatelli (or Piñateli), general of the artillery of the Spanish army, arrived to Gerona. He gathered all the forces and took charge of the defense of the city.
Bournonville's dilemma was to stop the enemy in Gerona, bringing part of his troops into that city, or to return to Barcelona and defend it against a potential direct attack. The events showed that, despite the arrival of 1,500 men from the" Tercio of Granada city" and "Tercio of the Coast of Granada" , the numerical inferiority of the Hispanic hosts made it impossible to stop the rival in the open field.
Bournonville, upon learning that French commander in chief, Marshall Bellefonds had set up his camp in Báscara, 5 km from Gerona, ordered the removal of two Tercios and two cavalry squadrons from the mountain garrisons to take them to Gerona.
On May 12th, the viceroy of Catalonia arrived in the city offering to support them with part of the Spanish army, and, in effect, with the darkness of night, he left for Hostalrich to meet the French and try to blockade them and cause damage to their numerically superior army before they reach the walls of Gerona.
When the French army moved, Viceroy Bournonville tried to stop them by fortifying a pass of the river Ter in Pont-Major, raising an artillery postion and some trenches , placing a battery, while the cavalry was in charge of closing the nearby mountain passes. Bournonville had 3,000 infantry and 2,000 horsemen to stop their enemy (roughly 15.000 or 16.000 men), holding the position during several attempts to cross the river by the French. The Spaniards sent musketeer mangas (wings) and dismounted dragoons that shot with sharpshooter precission... 1000 French cavalrymen, with some infantrymen also mounted, tried to cross the bridge, and many tried swimming ! but they could not, so they French went to a different position in order to outflank the fortified Spanish troops.
Finally the French only succeeded at crossing the river at night, but without preventing the orderly withdrawal of the Spanish troops to Gerona, including all the guns, thanks to a valiant defense by troops of the Tercio de Barcelona, whose Sargento Mayor, Montaner, with selected musketeers, protected the artillery trayne back to Gerona, without losing a single cannon, leaving Pont Major pass to the French.
So Bellefonds finally seized Pont-Major at night at the cost of some 1,000 casualties against 150 Spanish, and he fortified it, and formally initiating the siege of Gerona by placing detachments at all the passes.
With the arrival of artillery and reinforcements, Bellefonds' forces numbered between 16,000 and 17,000 troops.
So Bournonville faced with the imminence of the assault on Gerona, asked Barcelona for a reinforcement of a Tercio of relief. The city responded by raising a new Tercio of 600 men, plus a company of 60 to cover the losses of the Tercio de Barcelona. The new group left Barcelona on May 25th , 6 days after Bournonville's request. Barcelona agreed to pay for Gerona's defense to try to prevent herself from reaching the same situation.
The Viceroy left a garrison in Gerona of a little more than 3,400 men, not counting the citizens and peasants of Gerona, who defended their city and others who had come from Ampurdán. For their part, according to a report dated May 22, the French had a total of 13,920 men, including infantry and cavalry, which, with the migueletes and the Somatén from Roussillon, reached more than 16,000 troops.
So in Gerona, there were at least:
-Tercio de sevilla "Old Purples"- D. Tomas Arias Pacheco
-Two German Regiments: Christian Baron Bek and other.
-Tercio of Gerona (town militia) colonel Dr. Juan Vilar
-Tercio de Barcelona
-Tercio de la Diputación
-Tercio de Granada -Antonio Serrano
-Tercio de la costa de Granada
-Tercio de Toledo "old blues"- D. Manrique de Noroña
-300 dragones led by Sargento general de batalla D. Jose de Agulló
-Cavalry mounted and dismounted of several Trozos (regiments)
-various militia( of priests ! of the different guilds, students...)
On May 20th, the French began their siege and artillery settlement works. In the early morning of the 22nd the wall canvas began to be beaten between the half moons of "Santa Clara" and the "half moon of the Governor", continuing the bombardment until the 24th, firing between 1,500 and 2,000 gunshots of 20 to 36 pounds of field balls. It was considered a miracle of Saint Narcissus that only one soldier and one citizen died during the 3 days bombardment!
Just before the bombardment, some mangas of Spanish musketeers and 40 cavalry men, made a sortie and killed some siege workers and guards, but the French cavalry charged the "storm group" from the city, with little success, because they managed to come back to the city despite some casualities.
after the bombardment, two breaches were made, one 20 feet (6 m) wide and an even larger one easily climbed by fallen rubble. To prevent the assault, the besieged raised a fortified barricade from the Santa Clara bastion to the Governor's crescent, pulling people from both crescents to place them in defense of the barricades. This was protected by the 2,000 best musketeers in the garrison.
In the 2 breaches of the walls, the aformentioned barricades were built, with fascines and gabions, and the Spanish put 8 guns aiming to the wide breaches, the Germans of Von Bek, did a great job in those works. The Bishop of Gerona sent the troops good food and wine, because they did a good job during the bombardment days, building defensive works.
At dusk of May 24th, a French drummer appeared on behalf of Marshal Bellefonds demanding the surrender of the city. otherwise there would be no mercy except for women and children sheltered in churches...Faced with the lack of response, another French drummer arrived, both finally marching with a refusal to such a request.
The Spaniards prepared for an assault, the different Tercios were intermixed in the walls and the barricades (where the walls were breached), in the main barricade, fortified with gabions and fascines there were the main protagonists; General of Artillery Domingo Pignatelli, and the Governor of the city, D. Carlos de Sucre, along Baron Christian Von Bek, and some of the maestros de campo (colonels) of the main Spanish tercios inside the city (Tercio de Sevilla, Tercio de Barcelona, Tercio de Toledo...).
There were other fortified places where the enemy were expected to attack, but it is not possible to describe all of them, but there were even a company of armed priests with the Tercios.
Within an hour of the Spanish refusal of surrender, the French advance took place with 9 regiments with 5,000 or 6,000 men attacking the breaches!
In the successive onslaughts, the Governor's and Santa Clara's crescent moons/bastions fell; the first taken by a Swiss regiment, saw its defenders massacred; the second bastion, conquered by a French German regiment, had better luck in giving these men mercy and taking them prisoner.
the Swiss at Governor's bastion tried to entrench themselves ther with fascines and dead bodies, but the Spaniards threw them grenades, powder charges, musket fire and other fire weapons with shrapnel shots, and finally the Swiss gave up their recently conquered position.
They were repelled from the wall several times with musket shots and gunpowder charges, but they took cover with bodies and demolished materials and resisted. The main breach held up to four enemy advances, entering once up to 200 men, although they were repulsed. After that, some Spanish detachments attacked the crescents firing from the wall and managed to dislodge the enemy.
The Germans in French service who took Santa Clara's bastion, were inmediately counterattacked by a student company from the walls, and regular troops, using a bronze cannon with musket balls, inflicting the Germans great damage. That bastion was near a fountain with a statue of Saint Narcissus, the protector of Gerona, so the Spanish, according to contemporary documents, started to shout "fight the heretics!, Viva España, Viva San Narciso! Victoriaaaa!" and charged the confused Germans, who finally lost their position and run away without their weapons.
In the meantime, as these flank bastions fell and were recovered, the main assault took place in the central fortified barricade, where the main leaders were.
The French assault was at follows; hundreds of "Enfants Perdús" or Forlorn hopes were formed, armed the first line or row with helmets, cuirasses, pikes and half pikes, also roundshiers or swordsmen with round shields! second and third lines there were the grenadiers with granadoes and axes, and after those "storm troops" 5000 men.
French attacks were brave, they reached the barricade, but the fire was so intense that non of the broke through the defenses, cannons with musket balls, arquebuss and musket fire and also grenades and hand to hand combat followed... the killing was terrible. The French tried 3 times, in some points even 5 times, but all of them failed.
The French lost their most veteran troops. Nine French flags were taken from them, including the flag of regiment Furstemberg, called the invincible in those times, and they had 3,000 casualties. On the Spanish side, the casualties were estimated at 100 dead and about 500 wounded.
Possibly the French marshal had lost since the beginning of the campaign about a third of his men, about 5,000. Many Germans from the French army deserted and Bellefonds had to confine all his people in Santa Eugenia to avoid escapes between May 26 and 30, hanging two German captains as an example to the others.
Bellefonds needed several days to bury their dead and take all their wounded to Figueras and Bàscara, where they had their hospitals, while the Spanish peasants and the troops dedicated themselves to the dispossession of the corpses. The marshal even commented that “if the King of Spain had this type of vassals in Flanders, so many towns would not be lost…”.
Gerona as it looked in 1684... but today ;)
Despite this French defeat at the gates of Gerona, the situation of the campaign did not improve ostensibly for the Spanish, since Bellefonds remained in the Ampurdán with 11,000 men and the possibility of an attack by the French navy on Barcelona caused panic in the city. On the other hand, after a short siege, Cadaqués surrendered on June 26. The councilors of Barcelona, wrote worriedly to the Court asking for more money and men to prevent the fall of Rosas and Camprodon, places without which the whole of northern Catalonia would be irreversibly lost. Tensions between Catalan authorities and the Viceroy soon began, as the former accused the latter of inaction. However, the reality was that lack of means completely limited any offensive action on Bournonville's part. But Bournonville followed the French army at a prudential distance, and limited Spanish reinforcements arrived to Catalonia, from Valencia, Mallorca, Italian possessions and Andalucia.
Finally at this point, the truce came, and soon peace was signed, although war would start again in 1688 between the Grand Alliance and France...
French Order of Battle (in Spanish, copy of a contemporary document)
Well, as you can see, a long post... most of it just history, but I hope you found it useful!
Luckily part of the Order of Battle is already available in my collection, here some examples...
more in the blog in the future.
-Espino Lopez, Antonio. "Las guerras de Cataluña"
-Espino Lopez, Antonio. "El frente catalán en la Guerra de los Nueve Años, 1689-1697"
-Claudio Girbal, Enrique. "El sitio de Gerona en 1684"