Monday, April 2, 2012

Garcia Hernandez: Introduction

Garcia Hernandez is a funny old battle; more of skirmish really, but a skirmish guaranteed to be in the ken of most students of the Napoleonic period. The crux of it is that in the aftermath of Salamanca, the French were retreating from the field. Foy's division of eight battalions of infantry formed the rearguard and were covering the retreat of the main force. They were set upon by two brigades of cavalry, one of the Kings German Legion heavies under Von Bok and one brigade of British lights under Anson. The French were charged by the Germans and immediately formed square.  The 6ieme Legere, a French light infantry outfit, held their fire until the last moment and let lose a devastating volley which downed several Germans.

However, one of the horses which was struck by a bullet did not fall and careened into the side of the square, crushing several men and knocking a gap in the side of the formation. The quick witted Germans poured through the gap and the square collapsed. As the charge continued, the second square of the 6ieme Legere (they had two battalions at the battle) was so shaken having seen their comrades cut down that their formation broke and was similarly ridden down.  Foy wisely withdrew his troops and the Britishers mopped up.

Much is made of the invincibility of squares in Napoleonic wargaming, but to be honest, I wouldn't overturn that on the basis of Garcia Hernandez. There was a chap who wrote an article, I think it was in Battlegames, in which he listed occasions where cavalry had broken squares. It certainly isn't impossible, however the fact that he could find two dozen examples spread out over twenty two years of continuous warfare doesn't strike me as exploding the myth of the superiority of the square.

Squares could be broken, but for the most part they weren't.

But all of this is distracting from the matter that General Du Gourmand and I played the Garcia Hernandez scenario from Command & Colours Napoleonics recently and I won a famous victory. A victory I shall chronicle just as soon as become more comfortable with the new Blogger format.  I'm sure it's wonderful, but just at present its striking me as change for changes sake.


  1. I had read somewhere or another of a similar count of about two dozen cases squares which does more that suggest that they were secure formations in the face of cavalry. I wonder if there is a similar study that estimates the number of times cavalry attempted to break squares and failed?


    1. It seems that squares standing in the face of cavalry was unremarkable and therefore not worthy of particular comment. I'm sure you could find plenty of examples. Actually - I must check if any were broken at Waterloo.

  2. And here I thought Garcia Hernandez was a star in spaghetti westerns.

    I tend to agree with your judgements about squares. Sometimes battles turn on lucky breaks and on those who can see and exploit them. Human reactions are of course important. Interesting story about the chaps in the second square who broke and ran, when common sense and discipline should have kept them in formation. I suppose that's wy we have morale rules.

  3. Absolutely. The problem with lucky breaks in wargames is that one is tempted to try and model them in the rules, with the result that they become too prevalent and players will start to rely on them. Introduce a Garcia Hernandez rule and soon you'll have chaps riding up and shooting their own horses!