The Battle of Luso 23rd June 1808

This is a report from my play-by-email campaign.  The situation is that Sir Arthur Wellesley has established his headquarters at Busaco Palace, and his force is under attack by General Delaborde advancing from Coimbra to the south.  Delaborde opted to approach Busaco from the southwest.

The game was played solo over about a week of evenings using home-grown rules featuring plastic counters on “Advanced Squad Leader” boards.  I developed the game as something to play while on a solo caravan tour of Spain in 2010.  The scale is approximately 1 hex = 20 yards and one company token occupies one hexagon with no stacking allowed.

This illustration, taken from a previous game using this system shows the look..

British and French battalions on the board
British and French battalions on the board

Our battle was fought using five ASL boards side by side; the resulting layout is shown here.

The battle map.  French approach from the bottom left.
The battle map. French approach from the bottom left.

In the campaign the corps commanders, as well as receiving reports from their own officers, receive by fast courier copies of reports from “The Trumpeter”, a newspaper which carries all battle reports and other interesting incidents.  here is the report from Luso as published.

The Battle of Luso, 23rd June 1808

Luso is a small town just west of Busaco. The country is hilly with numerous small woods and copses and winding roads in the valleys.

Busaco, in the east, is a town with a palace to the south surrounded by parkland. Between Busaco and Luso is a ridge penetrated by a single winding road that branches to north and south.

Luso nestles between three hills and can be accessed by road from all four points of the compass. To the west is another ridge of hills and then a large convent with an extensive orchard to the south and gardens to the north.

Apart from the convent gardens and the park of the Busaco palace there are few areas where a battalion can form an unbroken line. Fighting broke down into company actions.

Here are the stories from the British commanders as told over dinner on the evening of 23rd June, which your correspondent attended.

Major Nobber, 1st Battalion, 9th Foot

General Bowes ordered me to take the 9th from Busaco around to the north of Luso and attack from that direction. We formed column of march and followed the northernmost road out of Busaco, followed by four guns of the Royal Artillery. At the road junction we took the road to the north. Our advance was screened from the French by the buildings and small stands of trees.

We left the road and climbed a hill overlooking the north of Luso to prepare for an assault, forming line on the southern slopes of the hill. To our right 32nd Line from General Hill’s division also formed line and we charged the enemy who was forming up opposite us. We were repulsed, the enemy having the advantage of the walled gardens, so we commenced shooting at close range, which drove them back into the village. I advanced the battalion on a two-company front, taking fire as we moved forward. We made contact with the enemy again and he having the advantage of the enclosures we were forced back. I moved as much of the regiment as I could into the walled garden of a large house and we began to trade volleys.

As the French began to fall back again we recommenced the advance, hampered by the narrow streets. Several times we advanced only to be repulsed by grenadiers from behind walls and hedges. I was beginning to lose more men than I could afford in this attack. Eventually I withdrew the battalion to the large house on the north-east of town and awaited the support of the 45th, but the attack was called off.

Lieutenant Smerdon, 1 Battery Royal Artillery

In the battle I commanded A and B Troops of the battery, stationed to the north end of Busaco.

We accompanied the 9th Foot towards Luso, but deployed onto the slopes of a hill to the right of the road from whence we could bombard the north-east side of the town.

We unlimbered the guns and opened fire, setting light to a wooden house at the north end of the town.

We continued to fire at the infantry in the gardens around the burning house.

As we saw our infantry moving south into the village across our line of fire I decided to shift my position to the next hill westwards to support their advance.

We had just deployed the guns when a messenger from HQ arrived recalling us to Busaco.

Lieutenant Wells, 1 Battery Royal Artillery.

C and D troops of the battery were guarding the western side of the Busaco Palace, from where we could hear the firing to our west. After some time a messenger from HQ ordered me to take the guns forward to a position from which I could fire upon the south end of Luso. We limbered up and moved westwards over the spur of a hill, there being no easy road. Eventually we reached the small hill commanding the road south from Luso. We deployed the guns but our only target moved out of range so we swung the guns to point directly north into Luso. We fired a few shots with little effect and then received the word to return to Busaco.

Major Cosgrove, 1st Battalion, 6th Foot

Some time after the sounds of battle reached us in Busaco General Nightingale sent word that I was to advance westwards towards Luso in support of the attack. We marched out and headed for a large hill with a commanding ridge. On reaching the ridge we formed along the crest. We were joined there soon after by some companies of 52nd Light Infantry, who took post on our left flank until ordered back.

Major Lidford, 2nd battalion, 95th Rifles

I moved my four companies forward from the Busaco Palace onto the ridge between Busaco and Luso. Reaching the ridge I deployed all the companies into skirmish order and sent them forward onto the lower slopes, ordering them to take advantage of the woods wherever possible. As they came into range they opened fire on the French infantry arranged along the eastern side of Luso, and infiltrated some of the houses and many of the woods in that area. From these positions they were able to keep up a telling fire on the enemy from between 20 and 40 yards distance. Several sections of the enemy line began to crumble.

I moved the men up to within 20 yards of the enemy line wherever it was possible to do so while remaining in cover. My 2nd Company occupied a large house at the north-east end of Luso commanding the road.

The French fired some volleys at the centre of my line, but we lost a mere handful of men as most kept their heads down and sheltered in the trees. I kept pushing forwards in short runs, keeping the men under cover as much as possible. However, we got a little too close for comfort and lost half a dozen men to enemy volley fire. I pulled back some 60 yards to regroup, and then moved forward again into the buildings at the south-east end of the village.

The enemy once again retired from our fire. I moved 4th company around to line some hedges at the south of the village and they soon had some customers as the French tried to leave by that route. As the French began to make their move to the south I put my companies into positions commanding the road and soon our rifles were felling his men like skittles.

After a while fresh French infantry and cavalry arrived. The 52nd retired behind our line and we also fell back to the outskirts of Busaco where I now have my piquets.

 General Hill, divisional commander

My headquarters was in the convent west of Luso, from where I intended to fight a rearguard action against General Delaborde’s division, while putting pressure on the French garrison at Luso.

I ordered the 32nd Foot to move from the convent to attack Luso from the north-west. The 52nd Light Infantry were already moving along the winding road towards the southern end of Luso. My third infantry battalion, the 2nd Queens, was ordered to hold the orchard for as long as possible and to make a fighting withdrawal, supported by the 20th Light Dragoons.

I had the support of two small units of Portuguese Cavalry, which I deployed to the west of the Convent to protect my flank.

The 2nd Foot held the French back with skilful fire and movement tactics, but it became clear that we should be cut off from the army. I evacuated the convent and ordered the brigade to move to Luso.

The 2nd had a deal of difficulty moving across the hill and there was a great danger that the battalion would be cut off as I spotted French light infantry moving northwards up the road between us and the town. I spurred my horse and reached the 32nd, who I ordered to block the road.

The French came on and the 32nd met them in good style, sending them back down the road faster than the came up it. I then received your orders to abandon the attack on Luso and retire to the main force.

Major Milton, 1st battalion, 32nd Foot

I formed my battalion on the straight road leading through the convent gardens towards the north and marched them out. At the end of the road was a hedge bordering a cornfield. The pioneers forced a gap and the grenadiers led the way through the field eastwards to climb a hill to the north-west of Luso.

We breasted the ridge in column and moved down onto the road leading from Luso to the north-west. Crossing the road we began to climb another hill. The 9th foot appeared on the next hill so we formed line facing south.

Enemy infantry came out of the village and began to form line facing us, so together with the 9th we charged before they could organise properly. After a brief struggle we reformed and commenced an exchange of volley fire. The enemy fell back into the village, and we followed up. They continued to fall back to the south as we advanced, but then they occupied a defensive position in a hedged enclosure near the middle of the town. I managed to move two companies into the north-west corner of Luso to defend against any French attack from that point, where we met the sorry remains of the 20th Light Dragoons. The dragoons took shelter in a courtyard and we saw that they were being pursued by a squadron of French dragoons. I formed the battalion into square on the hillside north-west of the village.

General Hill then arrived and informed me that the main threat was now light infantry moving north up the road. I formed the battalion into line to meet any skirmishers coming through the woods and sent my lights into the north end of the woods to intercept the Frogs.

We managed to get a couple of companies astride the road and when the French arrived we sent them packing with many casualties.

We were joined by the remains of 2nd Foot and together we retired by the road to Busaco.

Major Salcey, 2nd battalion, 52nd Light Infantry

On the road towards Luso I received orders to attack the town from the west in line. My rear would be supported by the 20th Light Dragoons and the 2nd Foot. I was to expect 32nd Foot to appear from the north-west.

As I approached Luso my grenadier company came under fire from French skirmishers deployed between two copses near the south-west corner of the village, causing two casualties.

I advanced the grenadier, 1st and 2nd companies to form a firing line while the remainder of the battalion came up. I advanced the line as well as I was able through the wooded terrain. At the same time I detached the light company to the right flank to deal with enemy skirmishers.

5th Company moved into the woods on my left while the remaining companies moved along the road to the north to search for a more open place to form for an attack.

Whilst doing so the battalion was fired on by skirmishers from the woods to their right, causing several casualties and some confusion. Behind the skirmishers French line troops were advancing between the copses. We gave them a volley that stopped the advance.

5th Company, the light company and grenadiers moved forwards through the woods in open order while 2nd company advanced in close order towards the French, supported by 1st Company. A brisk fire commenced between my own skirmishers and those of the enemy. We soon drove them out of the woods.

The skirmishers followed up and occupied some of the buildings to the west side of Luso, from whence they continued to fire, causing a number of casualties to the enemy.

1st and 2nd companies charged the enemy line. After a fierce struggle in which I lost over a hundred men the French fell back. I reformed my skirmishing companies and we pushed eastwards into the south end of Luso. General Anstruther arrived and congratulated me on the achievements of my battalion.

We were now able to move along the road through the south end of the village, where we came across enemy infantry, both line and light, moving south. After a brief exchange of fire we pulled back to consolidate and reform. I placed my grenadiers on the hilltop while the remaining companies began to pursue the French.

A squadron of French dragoons appeared and charged the grenadiers and General Anstruther who was with them at the time. The grenadiers fired a volley and then retired to the battalion. The dragoons cut down a few, but retired when they saw the whole battalion forming square. The square was formed in difficult ground, around a small building and with a copse protecting one corner. General Anstruther and his staff sheltered within our ranks.

At this point a French infantry battalion marched down the street. Their lead company poured a volley into my square and the dragoons charged again. The square crumbled and the cavalry swept in, slaughtering all around, including General Anstruther and all his officers.

The 95th came to our rescue, firing at the rear of the French horsemen and they retired, allowing me to reform the battalion to meet the new threat from the French infantry.

By now I had little more than two companies left, so I retired to the east and joined the 6th Foot on the ridge west of Busaco Palace. We refused the flank, facing south in case of further cavalry attacks from that direction. No further attack came and we were ordered back to Busaco.

Major Holdenhurst, 1st battalion, 2nd Foot

I deployed the battalion in line to the south of the convent, extending my light company in skirmish order into the orchard towards the Luso Road, which I intended to use as a route for withdrawal. 20th Light Dragoons were stationed on a hill some 150 yards to my left.

On the approach of French cavalry the light company reformed on my left. I ordered them to occupy a building just behind the left of my line, and moved the battalion to the left in line into the orchard. French skirmishers began to move forward through the orchard so I fired a battalion volley that dropped a few and curbed their enthusiasm somewhat. However, seeing the numbers of the enemy gathering beyond the south wall I began a steady withdrawal by company around the east of the large convent building. As the companies moved to the left they halted periodically to fire at the enemy and keep them at bay.

4 and 5 Companies had a problem in that to withdraw with the rest of the battalion they would need to pass between the smaller building containing the light company and the enemy skirmishers. They solved the problem with a bayonet charge that drove the French back through the orchard. This left the two companies somewhat exposed to musketry from the enemy behind the wall and they fell back in disorder.

I reformed the battalion, fired a volley and then withdrew my first three companies.

The enemy came on again, led by his grenadiers. I still had the light company in the building at the north of the orchard and they combined their fire from the windows with that of the line to try to hold back the enemy charge. Alas the firing was unsuccessful and we fell back, chased by the enemy grenadiers.

Seeing enemy infantry advancing along the hedge to the east of the orchard I formed a line behind the stone wall facing east and commenced to fire volleys at the hedgerow. The light company in the building was now guarding my right flank.

At this point General Hill ordered me to form the regiment up and march towards Luso with all speed. As we were marching east along the road we were attacked by Dragoons, our own cavalry having apparently abandoned us. We shot maybe ten of them, but they came on and we were forced to withdraw up the hill from the road. We reformed as a reinforced line on a low ridge. The enemy infantry formed for an attack on us in this position from the south. We commenced volley fire, while moving to the left by companies. As the French continued to come on we charged downhill to meet them. They fired a volley and we recoiled. They came on and the battalion split up in confusion. My grenadier company was cut off from the main body by a small wood and fought a running battle with the enemy’s grenadiers. The Lisbon cavalry came dashing to their rescue and the other Portuguese horsemen formed a defensive line. As the French came on the Portuguese cavalry charged, receiving a tremendous volley and followed by a furious melee. However they managed to protect my grenadiers from further attention as they rejoined the battalion. The battalion formed alongside the 32nd Foot and we then received the order to return to Busaco. We fought a running battle through the north of Luso and returned here.

Major Greenholme, 20th Light Dragoons

From my three squadrons who landed in Portugal only 95 men were fit for duty. We formed as three troops (one from each squadron) on a hill to the east of the convent occupied by General Hill.

French dragoons appeared on the road in about squadron strength. They looked like our old adversaries from Boialva, but one Frenchie is much like another. We charged them in the flank from our position on the hill and scattered them. A small number – maybe a troop – reformed some 80 yards back.

I wheeled the regiment to form a blocking line across the road. Two squadrons of the enemy charged us while his third attempted an outflanking manoeuvre to our right.

We fell back 80 yards and reformed on the hill crest. The French dragoons continued to work around both flanks so I fell back again. The enemy followed on and we clashed. Honours were even in the melee, but he had more men to lose than I. We retreated towards Luso, where we found shelter in a courtyard. The horses were exhausted so we tied them up and formed a dismounted piquet guarding the road at the north-west of Luso. We continued to exchange fire with the French dragoons in houses across the road until receiving the order to retreat to Busaco.

Capitan Valugas, 6th Portuguese Cavalry

My regiment and the troop from the Lisbon Police Cavalry moved from the Luso road back towards the convent as ordered by General Hill. We were to protect the English right flank as they withdrew.

When we arrived at the convent we observed that the French were already threatening to envelop the building. I ordered my regiment to guard the western side, outflanking the French infantry and keeping just out of effective musket range but threatening to charge anyone who moved onto the open ground or path around the building. I sent the Lisbon Police to guard the north side of the building in the same way.

The enemy posted a company to fire on us from behind a hedge and I lost several men to their musketry. Eventually we received orders to fall back to the north-east to protect the withdrawal of the 2nd Foot who were in some difficulty with enemy cavalry.

When we reached the long ridge we found that the British infantry were in desperate trouble. I formed a line and prepared to charge the French infantry. They fired and my second squadron scattered. The other two squadrons charged, but with limited success against the grenadiers.

The remains of my men formed a protective cordon around the British grenadiers and after some difficulty we managed to escort them towards the east and Luso. We met up with 32nd Foot who had just received orders to retire, so we marched with them back to Busaco.

And the following day I attended upon the French and received these tales:

Major Berthelot, 3e battalion, 12e Regiment d’Infanterie Legere

Approaching from the south-west we came to a convent occupied by English infantry. I lined my grenadier company along the walls and hedges to the south-west of the convent and its orchard. As the other companies began to arrive I ordered the grenadiers over the wall into the orchard in skirmish order. They advanced to within about 40 yards of the enemy and opened fire, which the enemy met with a volley. The enemy then began to retire. I ordered the grenadiers to maintain the distance of 40 yards and keep up the skirmishing fire while I moved the remainder of the battalion around to the west of the convent.

Two companies of the enemy infantry suddenly charged through the orchard with the bayonet. My grenadiers reformed quickly and a couple of volleys from the supporting companies behind the wall drove the enemy back in confusion.

My left flank was threatened by enemy cavalry so I refused the flank, placing 1st Company behind a hedge with a good field of fire to the left. The remaining companies began to move forwards into the orchard vacated by the British. The enemy continued to fall back, so we fired again to help them on their way. On the left the enemy cavalry was just out of effective musket range, but we fired at them anyway to stop them from coming closer. One squadron moved into the open and we felled about half a dozen, so they moved back into cover.

On the right flank my grenadiers closed to contact the enemy infantry. His line was now reduced to 3 companies as the others retreated. I sent 2nd company to the right along the hedgerow to the east side of the orchard and 3rd company and the voltigeurs moved into the orchard in support of the grenadiers. The grenadiers took some casualties but continued to attack. The enemy fell back with heavy casualties, and the grenadiers followed up.

I continued to move my battalion around the east side of the orchard to cut off the enemy’s retreat. I was still worried about the cavalry on my left so two companies remained there as a shield.

The remainder now formed to assault the British infantry who had been forced off the road by our dragoons. We had to climb a hill towards the British position on the ridge. The enemy began to move to his left, so I extended the line to our right and was able to overlap his flank.

The enemy in desperation charged us. We fired a volley and then they hit us and a fierce fight ensued. I believe that we and the English lost about a hundred men apiece.

Eventually the enemy retired and we pursued to the top of the ridge. One of his companies was separated from the others by a small wood and was trapped. We attacked, but were in turn charged by Portuguese cavalry. We killed a number of them but they managed to escort the infantry to safety.

My voltigeur company by this time had crossed the hill and were advancing north on the road towards Luso. There they were mat by two companies of redcoats, whose fire forced them to retreat.

I reformed the company but the English retreated and we marched into Luso.

Major Seillon, 3e Regiment Provisional de Dragons

Advancing along the road towards Luso from the south-west we encountered British skirmishers in the orchard of a convent to the left of the road. At our approach they reformed into close order and rejoined their battalion in front of the convent.

From our right 1st Squadron was charged by British light cavalry. They struck us in the flank and my men scattered, but reformed moments later to face the enemy at about 100 yards distance. 2nd Squadron advanced in support.

I moved 1st Squadron to the right to outflank the enemy. 2nd Squadron formed to their left, but was not in a position to charge because of stone walls and a copse to the front. The enemy attempted to block the road but this only gave us the opportunity to charge with 1st and 2nd squadrons. 3rd squadron moved to the left to outflank them.

The enemy withdrew onto the top of the hill, so I continued my outflanking movement. I sent 2nd squadron to the left and 3rd squadron to the right while 1st squadron faced the enemy. The enemy cavalry fell back so I was able to move forward and cut the road between their infantry and Luso. I attacked enemy infantry marching in column and they retreated to the north, where the 12e Legere were sent to deal with them.

I continued with the regiment towards Luso in pursuit of the enemy light cavalry. To the south of the town we spotted a lone company of infantry on a hill. We charged with one squadron, taking fire from some concealed riflemen to our right. The enemy fired a sharp volley, but we made contact and after a short struggle they retreated to the rest of their battalion that we could now see behind them. We retired to reform.

The British formed a rough square but at that point the 32e Infanterie de Ligne arrived and opened fire on the square. We charged in again with 1st and 3rd Squadrons. The square broke and we got into the middle, killing a general and several aides.

The 2nd squadron had moved north into Luso where they dismounted and occupied some houses, engaging in a firefight with the British cavalry.

We took no further part in the action, as the fighting now became house to house.

Major Uglas, 2e Battalion, 86e Regiment de Ligne

My battalion was in position along the western side of the village of Luso. The voltigeur company on a hill to my left spotted British infantry advancing in column along the road from the south-west. I sent the voltigeurs forward in skirmish order to delay their approach and moved No. 4 company left to occupy the hill. As the enemy approached, 4th Company moved to enfilade them. I extended the line by moving the Grenadiers onto the hill to the north. 1st Company moved right to replace the grenadiers and 2nd and 3rd companies moved forwards to hold the centre near the junction of the west road. These companies immediately came under volley fire from enemy infantry and I was forced to withdraw about 20 yards.

In the woods my light company was skirmishing with the enemy light troops, keeping up a brisk fire. They advanced to within 20 yards of the enemy, but the enemy fire drove them back out of the woods. The enemy moved forward into the houses, but they now came under fire from my companies formed up in line.

My voltigeurs managed to get within 20yards of the enemy, while a desperate hand to hand struggle ensued between 1st and 2nd companies and the enemy who had charged them. We were forced back with over a hundred casualties, but we also left many English bodies behind us.

We moved back into the town under pressure from the British from north and east. As my casualties mounted I decided to break out to the south but found the way blocked by riflemen who were in the trees and hedgerows. They began to take a toll of my men. Please advise the Emperor that we could use some of theses weapons.

Two of my companies took up good defensive positions in enclosed gardens to the north of town, from where they repulsed several attacks by determined British infantry.

Eventually we were relieved by 32e Ligne.

 Major Ortèvres, 3e Battalion, 15e Regiment d’Infanterie Legere

My battalion was deployed in line along the road on the eastern side of Luso, facing Busaco. My attention was drawn to some parties of British riflemen advancing over the ridge to the east, but they disappeared behind the trees as they reached the lower slopes. I ordered the regiment to load their muskets and stand ready. Some time later we saw the grasshoppers in the woods opposite my position and fired a volley. It appears that it was ineffectual as there was a sudden explosion of return fire from the woods and houses. I lost about 50 men and some companies fell back in disorder towards the centre of the village. The riflemen advanced but we reformed, fired several volleys and drove them back out of the village.

On my left flank a battalion of redcoats appeared over the crest of the hill about 60 yards from my light company. The company faced them and opened fire.

I moved 3rd company around a building that had been set alight by enemy artillery fire to extend the north-facing line. My other companies advanced to the road again and took shelter behind the walls and hedges, keeping up the fire on the elusive greencoats.

Two battalions of enemy infantry charged down from the hills on my left flank. We met them with a volley, which stopped the charge, but then the two battalions began firing at close range, and with enemy artillery adding to the fire from the hill to our north-east, I pulled the two companies back further into the village.

At the south end of the village my men were also beginning to suffer from the attentions of the rifles. Companies began to disintegrate, but in a hand-to-hand scuffle we sent some of the rifles back the way they had come. I decided that it was time to attempt to break out to the south and rejoin General Delaborde. Our way was blocked by more riflemen behind the hedges.

After some exchanges of fire my Grenadier company forced a way south. The rest of the battalion was now skirmishing amongst the houses in the middle of town.

We continued to exchange fire with the riflemen until eventually we were relieved by 32e Ligne from the south-west and the British withdrew.

Major Gambetta, 3e Battalion, 32e regiment d’Infanterie de Ligne

The battalion was ordered to march to Luso, which we approached from the south-west. Ahead of us the 3e Dragons and 12e Legere were already engaged.

As we entered the south of Luso we found a British square drawn up against the 3e Dragons.

Unable to deploy in the street I opened fire with my grenadier company and caused some casualties. The dragoons charged and broke open the square doing terrible damage. The British retreated, leaving the way open for our entry into town. I sent the voltigeurs to join the fight in the centre of town while we chased the enemy out of the south. The British had clearly had enough and pulled back to Busaco.

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General Whiskers

Wargaming butterfly (mainly solo), unpainted model figure amasser, and Historical Re-enactor of the black powder era.

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