Sunday, 2 July 2017

Garigliano, 29th December 1503 (Version 2)

This is the second version of this scenario. The first can be found here. This version features several changes to the terrain, forces and special scenario rules. It also, following a good deal of reading, has far more comprehensive historical background notes.

A Brief Historical Background To The Battle

Following the Spanish victory at the Battle of Cerignola in April 1503 the French retreated to their base at Gaeta. The Spanish, led by Gonsalvo de Corboba, followed up and laid siege but to little avail.

When French reinforcements arrived Gonsalvo fell back, in stages, until in late October the armies were facing each other again, close to the coast, on the Via Appia, with the swollen river Garigliano between them.

Where the Via Appia crosses the river there had once been a solid stone bridge but this had collapsed in the Dark Ages and had been replaced by a ferry. Gonsalvo de Cordoba, expected the French to try to force a crossing so he ordered a trench to be dug across the water meadows facing the ferry point. The weather was appallingly wet and 'water answered the spade': the trench immediately filled with water and the mud rampart could only be kept up with the use of fascines and gabions. The only benefit of the weather was that the river was in full spate and the ferry was barely usable.

The French commander, the Marquis of Mantua, ordered a crossing as Gonsalvo had expected. On the 6th of November the French built a makeshift bridge across the river using beams, barrels and some small boats and began to push troops across. When about a thousand had reached the Spanish bank Gonsalvo ordered his men to sally from their entrenchment and force the French back. A fierce struggle ensued at the waters edge. Finally the head of the French column was thrown back, its men recoiling back across the bridge or drowning in the swirling waters. The Spanish rendered the makeshift bridge unusable.


My French bridge and palisaded 'tĂȘte-de-pont'.

But the Marquis was not a man to accept the set back. He ordered that big ship's boats should be brought down the coast from Gaeta, sailed upstream to the ferry point. Here they would be joined together to form a much stronger, wider bridge. As soon as the bridge was usable, work parties went across the river and erected a palisade to protect the bridgehead whilst the bridge was completed behind it. The whole operation was carried out under the cover of French heavy guns which prevented interference from the Spanish.

Over the next few days the French attacked out from their bridgehead three times but, each time they were repulsed at the Spanish earthworks. All the time the weather worsened and, in mid November, the Marquis ordered offensive operations should cease until the weather improved. For the next six weeks there was a stalemate in conditions that resembled the trenches of World War 1. Men stood picket up to their knees in mud; the men were never dry; morale began to suffer.

However, one difference between the two armies was apparent. Whereas Gonsalvo, by personal example, kept his men at their posts and in good discipline, the French fell into indiscipline to the point of near mutiny. Fearing for his safety, the Marquis of Mantua came down with a fever politic, handed command to Ludovico the Marquis of Saluzzo, and went home. Slowly, the French army was pulled back away from the river, dispersing to better billets on higher and drier ground. The French cavalry, its horses suffering particularly badly, was withdrawn to seek forage and shelter as far away as Formia.

Meanwhile the Spanish position was improving: the whole Orsini faction, some 6000 men including 400 lances and 1000 light horse, having been spurned by the French, had come over to the Spanish. Gonsalvo now had an army of respectable size and with it he planned to take advantage of the French dispersal with a surprise river crossing that would outflank the French position. Under the supervision of the talented engineer Pedro Navarro a special bridge of boats was secretly constructed, flat pack style, at the Fortress of Modragone 15 miles behind the Spanish lines.

After arranging a Christmas truce for 25th and 26th of December, Gonsalvo set his plan into motion. On the nights of 27 - 28th of December, whilst the French were still celebrating, Gonsalvo began to shift his best troops and his bridging train up stream to the extreme left flank of French line at Sujo. Like everything else in Gonsalvo's plan, the bridging point at Sujo had been specially chosen. Here the ground was less wet and one bank did not command the other.

The bridge was laid at dawn on 29th December without opposition. The bridge was laid in a remarkably short time, the engineering calculations being inch perfect. Before the French could react the Spanish began to cross.

Gonsalvo's plan was simple. He would destroy the troops of the French left flank and then advance westward, via each of the French cantonments in turn, to Formia. Here, where the mountains came almost down to the sea, he hoped to cut off any French retreat. If his attack against the French left was showing signs of success, the large force he had left to hold the French at the French bridge was to attack over it in his support - a crippling right hook would be quickly followed by a shattering left uppercut.

So started Gonsalvo de Cordoba's 'Crowning Mercy'.

Divergence Of Source Material

For setting up this battle I used several sources but, the three main sources were:

  • A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century, Sir Charles Oman.
  • The Grand Captain, Gerald de Gaury.
  • Renaissance Battles 1494 - 1700 Vol.1, Peter Sides

Most of the accounts I have for the background to the battle tally, at least for the most part. However, when it comes to the disposition of the forces, and their composition in some instances, hardly anything tallies. For instance, I have the Italians with Gonsalvo or defending at the French bridge, and a similar thing for the Landsknechts with a third option of no presence at all. I also have Spanish infantry in both places. At Sujo, I have French infantry being surprised - either pike or crossbowmen - or light cavalry cavalry being surprised.

This divergence of sources gives me two options: first, to go with one source, or second, to cobble something together using them all. In the first version of this scenario I went with Sides but in the this version, partly in an attempt to create a balanced scenario that includes Gonsalvo's Landsknechts, I have chosen the second option. In doing so I will probably only succeed in pleasing myself but, as no one else seems to agree, why should I worry about that?



For the basis of the terrain set up I am still indebted to Peter Sides scenario book. Although my table is not an exact reproduction of his table plan (it features one or two elements from my other sources including Google Earth, and omits the village of Torre del Garigliano), it is unmistakably his basic table design.

The ground scale is not at all accurate - the field was five miles wide - the French Bridge to Sujo - and Formia is actually ten miles from the French bridge. However, all are key elements to the scenario so all must be on table and, it is my general opinion that ground scale is rarely worth bothering with in any event, so on with the game.

Variable Command Ratings

To represent the time taken for news of Gonsalvo's attack to travel / the surprise factor / state of readiness the command rating for most of the French units start low and improve with each turn.  The changing rating is shown by a stack of chits from "To The Strongest". At the end of each turn a chit is removed from the stack.  For example:
The rating of the Swiss captain of French Unit E below is 7, 7 & 8. He begins the game at 7 for turn one. At the end of the turn the 7 is removed, in this case revealing another 7 for turn two. At the end of the second turn this chit is removed revealing a command rating of 8 for turn three and all subsequent turns.

General Dispositions By Command




The French

A: French Commander-in-chief: Ludovico Marquis of Saluzzo
Command rating 7.



B: Pierre Terrail, Seigneur Bayard
Command rating starts at 6 then 7, 8 & 9.

Three units of French Gendarmes.
Two units of Italian Lance Spezatte.
Two units of Stradiots.



C: Capitaine Alegri
Command rating 7.

One unit of French pike.
Three units of French crossbowmen.
One large battery of medium artillery.



D: Captain of the Italian levy
Command rating starts at 6 then 6 & 7.

One unit of Italian pike.
Two units of Italian crossbowmen.
Two units of Italian shot.



E: Captain of the Swiss
Command rating starts at 7 then 7 & 8.

Four units of Swiss pike.
Two small units of Swiss shot.


Note the stack of chips to the left of the pike block.

F: Yves d'Algre
Command rating starts at 6 then 7.

One unit of French Gendarmes (once in the game, this unit can make a free move).
One unit of mounted crossbows (start the game shaken - caught asleep, with women still in their beds, in Sujo on turn 1).
One unit of French pike.
Two units of French crossbowmen.




The Spanish

A: Spanish Commander-in-chief: Gonsalvo de Cordoba
Command rating 10.



B: Prospero Colonna
Command rating 8

One unit of Famiglia Knights.
One unit of Lance Spezatte.
Two units of mounted crossbowmen.
One unit of Stradiots.



Note: the unit of French cavalry surrounded in Saluzzo - surprised in their beds.

C: Pedro Novarro
Command rating 9

Four colunelas.



D: Fernando de Andrada
Command rating 8

Two units of Landsknecht pike
One small unit of Landsknecht shot.
Two units of Italian crossbowmen.
One unit of Italian shot.
One unit of Spanish Genitors.



E: Diego de Mendoza
Command rating 8.

One unit of Spanish Knights.
One unit of Italian Lance Spezatte.




What's Next?

Graham and I will try this new scenario on Wednesday night. Following the game using version 1 of this scenario, we will use the broken battalia rules from Hail Caesar.

I'll post a report later in the week.

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