Battle of Alcolea June 1808

The battle of Alcolea 1808 has several interesting features for a small napoleonic battle. Apart from the unusual units which formed the French order of battle, the Spanish blocking force of mostly militia or armed civilians was found incapable of holding a river line position and “fled the field” after limited combat. So, why play this early Peninsular war battle on the table…if we could call it a “battle” or action? Well, WR favors unusual OOB actions or battles, a change from the normal straight up napoleonic battle, but scenarios which place players into atypical situations. Alcolea 1808 fits WR weird battle scenario profile except for the general lack of actual combative action. Looking over the historical notes, the order of battle for both sides, the actual battlefield terrain, there are lots to give an interesting tabletop action. The following scenario is my attempt to have a fun scenario from the historical forces and terrain.

The massive bridge over the Guadalquivir river at Alcolea. Google maps have other linked pictures if interested. Alcolea town is just east of Cordova as you zoom down.

Bridge and heights behind. View somewhat from the Spanish artillery position at right. During summer months, the river flow is lower.

Google maps: Alcolea battlefield

The battle of Alcolea 1808 occurred on June 7, 1808, a hot Spanish day. The battle came about with the march of General of Division Dupont’s 2nd Corps de Observation de la Gironde towards the city of Cordova. The name of Dupont’s corps lends some mystery to the units which formed this corps. Marines of the Imperial Guard, Garde de Paris battalions, legion of reserve infantry, Swiss line, provisional dragoon and chasseur a’ cheval regiments. Not the typical French line, legere and regiments of cavalry found on everybody’s wargame table. 

Alcolea 1808 map from Osprey’s The Peninsular war atlas” by Col. Lipscombe 2010.

The Spanish force collected and formed at Cordova then marched eastward to block the approaching French under Dupont. Lead and commanded by retired lieutenant colonel Don Pedro Agostino de Echavarri, the Spanish deployed on either side of Carlos III’s 1785 Alcolea bridge. Some “mounted regular cavalry ” and skirmisher infantry crossed the river and deployed on the heights parallel and overlooking to the main road. The Spanish force consisted of even a wider arrangement of units. The normal sources noted a wide spectrum of regulars, trained militia or just armed civilians and none seem to agree. A quick summary of five sources below gives:

Oman: 1,400 regulars (cavalry infantry), 10-12,000 armed civilians, 8 antique cannon

De la Cierva: 2,100 regulars and 20,000 armed civilians

Napier: 3,000 regulars and 10,000 armed civilians

Foy: 3-4,000 regulars and 3-4,000 armed civilians

Osprey’s map per Sanudo: No regular vs. armed civilian numbers given but list of possible regiment names and Spanish artillery present of some small batteries (8 pdr or 4 pdr). Regiment names include: Infantry; 3rd Granaderos de Andalucia, Campo Mayor light btn., Provincial Alcazar de San Juan, Preux’s Suizo #6, Provincial de Ecija. For possible cavalry; Farnesio, Reina, Principe, Husares de Espana and some Lucena militia cavalry.

For this scenario I tended towards the Spanish infantry regulars at 2,700 men and the armed civilian mob about 10,000 with two small batteries but gamers are free to adjust more or less. 

Alcolea 1808 tabletop scenario map. Each square is 600 yards on map.

Scenario set up for French and Spanish commands using map counters.

For complete scenario game notes, including scenario set up, terrain notes, weather, order of battle, victory conditions and optional special event cards: Alcolea 1808 Scenario notes (.doc)

For game spreadsheet rosters: Alcolea 1808 French Roster (.xls) and Alcolea 1808 Spanish Roster (.xls) spreadsheet links. Note that WR used a lower divisional with brigades command arrangement instead of the normal army / corp with divisions or brigades. This is due to the smaller force scaling for Alcolea. Our napoleonic game system is command scalable in that regard.

Not much is found on the basic web search. Interested parties are suggested to research the French L’expedition d’Andalousie and the battle of Baylen July 1808 for background material. A short historical summary at: History of War: Alcolea 1808

Nafziger OOB lists: French 2nd Corp Obs. Gironde April 1808French Army Spain June 1808Dupont’s forces Baylen 1808Spanish Army Andalusia May 1808Spanish Army Andalucia July 1808Spanish forces Baylen 1808.

Alcolea 1808 book reference material plus the normal Peninsular war Oman, Napier and De la Cierva sources. Plus special assistance and note work from M. Hopper.

Napoleonic game rules, files and videos at:  Napoleonic rules etc..

Alcolea scenario after action report: Alcolea AAR. Another Alcolea 1808  game AAR

Now that WR has drawn up this scenario, just need to find a willing French player to take charge and chase Spanish regulars and armed civilians on the tabletop. Any volunteers? Marines of the Imperial guard… vs. WR with the local tough Spaniards. Didn’t say it would be a “fair fight” with one arm tied behind the Spanish player’s back.

A special WR thanks to M. Hopper for his assistance with this unusual spanish battle before Baylen. His direct assistance and support enabled WR understand and write-up scenario notes and strengths of the forces involved.

WR

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11 thoughts on “Battle of Alcolea June 1808

    • Peter,
      Typical of me (WR)…I tend to challenge my gaming group. Always fun when I pull off a scenario which the majority never heard of the battle/action. Then they have not a clue to the actual historical events or are hitting the Google search button on their portable electronic tablet.
      Several have shown interest… hey, I will play the Spanish… what a sporting rabbit I am. Hope to post the AAR with pictures. I have all the actual French miniature units painted and most of the Spanish with “their armed civilian rabble types”. May have to use some French Vendean rabble to bulk up the “armed civilians” but rabble is…. well, just rabble.

      Line up some senoras with food, cerveza, spanish folk music then latin dancing after the glorious Spanish victory…..hahah.

      Senior Conejo de guerra

  1. You have “unearthed” a beaut scenario there WR. We recently played a game based on Bailén. It was an engrossing game and, as would be expected, was a real challenge for the French to win; needless to say they did not!
    James (

    • Thanks James,

      Sort of just stumbled into the Alcolea scenario thought. Was read the Baylen campaign in several texts… most just said the “spanish ran” or gave no defense at Alcolea… so till I saw the map in Osprey’s The Peninsular War atlas I thought is was a simple, open field battle. Once I saw the river position, Googled the area in Spain, saw the bridge itself in pictures, the scenario possibility formed in my mind. If the Spanish held… put up a better active defense, then the entire scenario becomes a completely different action. Also, where can you use a painted unit of Marines of the Imperial guard? Baylen…. and here at Alcolea. I plan to write up Baylen soon but first I need to test drive Alcolea.

      Thanks agin for your supportive comments. More to come on the Wargamerabbit site.

      Michael aka WR

  2. A very interesting scenario with a lot of potential (for a number of periods). You have done some stirling work in presenting this WR, I’m looking forward to seeing how the belligerents do in the re-fight

  3. Interesting article but Lipscombe’s book is filled with errors and oversights, which I can provide original historical source references (Spanish) to correct his material. As for Alcolea – you’re missing a number of Spanish units, including identity and unit strength – understand why because the sources you are quoting only provide a limited view of what went on. The biggest error is that the battle lasted a couple hours. What the English authors say is true – the defense of the bridge didn’t last long because of the way the Spanish deployed. However, the Spanish dug in around Alcolea and were there for more than an hour before being driven back. Echavarii was not present at the bridge – Giron was in command. Echavarii was not present, having ridden off – if you want to know what really happened, contact me and I’ll provide book references and page numbers per book. Michael Hopper

    • Michael,

      Excellent. If you have more details on Alcolea I am willing for information.Changing out Giron for Echavarii is not a problem at commander level. I wondered about a “retired Lt. Colonel” commanding. Did Giron ride to Cordova and assume command? I had only a “limited information database.” I agree the Spanish did put up a fight near the bridge…our miniature gaming scale has 20 minutes turns. So if they hold the 1st assault then holding the bridge for about 1 hour would follow history. Always fun to create a scenario to “make a game of the battle” and give it some “optional” events. The river crossing option thought came about from looking at the river during summer months. Lots of river bottom rocks showing.

      My email address is found on the “about WR” heading section.

      Michael aka WR

  4. okay – email sent identifying the battalion commanders at the bridge (La Chica and Giron), as well as Valdecanas’ command in the hills on the opposite side of the river, Echavarrii being south of Alcolea with the reserve and not even engaged during the 2+ hours of fighting that occurred AFTER the French crossed the river. The reason the battle ended at this point is the Spanish regulars and some militia ran out of ammunition and were driven back by repeated French attacks. It wasn’t a route and although casualties on both sides were low, the resistance was quite high on the Spanish side of the river. Valdecanas’ army though – well once Reina circled a small hilltop and the rest of the Lucena militia panicked, it was mosytly over but the crying. Check the history of the Spanish Farnesio regiment and you’ll find reference to the fighting in the hills. I’ll provide more detail later.

    It is a great battle (like the other 39 the Spanish fought in 1808 that I’ve done studies on). I’m glad to see your work WR – well done, hope I can help.

    Michael Hopper

  5. Hi Michael

    I forgot to answer your comment. Giron was a rising star in the Spanish ranks and by luck/bad luck was at many major Spanish versus French engagements over the next few years. He wasn’t retired and shows up repeatedly, as do the Zayas’ family again and again. The full colonel of the 1st battalion of grenadiers of Andalucia was La Chica, who seems to not be heard from again after Alcolea. While the Andalucian grenadiers are still around and seen again, I can’t recall coming across La Chica. I’m not saying he wasn’t present but isn’t a known entity, whereas Giron is promoted to Brigadier General and is given other commands that he tried to do his best with, even when dealt a bad hand.

    Cheers

    Michael

    • Thanks again Michael.
      This Michael (aka WR) gratefully thanks Michael for his total support towards WR’s Alcolea effort. He has extended his knowledge and supportive assistance for WR to post a basic Alcolea scenario. Time for the play test. Seems the French are in hiding.

      Thank you Michael again from the Michael(WR) in the Warren.

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