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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Sunday 15 October 2023

Sharpe's Command

 A new Sharpe novel is rare and a sign that my productivity this week would take a hit! This novel is based on the less well-known Almaraz action of May 1812 (a bridge over the Tagus in western Spain), led by 'Daddy' Hill. A rare example of a detached command under Wellington, who trusted Hill more than his other generals. Sharpe is a Major at this stage of the Peninsular War, and his small band of riflemen are tasked with scouting the French positions.

Due to captured dispatches, Wellington knew how vital the bridges and forts were to Marmont. It was a key supply base and how he could join with Soult. Wellington dispatched Hill with 7,000 men (two British and one Portuguese brigade with cavalry support) to destroy the forts and bridges. 

Sharpe is supposed to liaise with a guerilla band, which doesn't quite work out, and he gets more involved with the French than any scout is supposed to. Particularly as the Hill's advance was supposed to be a secret. However, I won't spoil the story.

The map below is taken from Oman (A History of the Peninsular War, Volume V) and shows the castle at Miravete, which blocked the direct route to the river.

Hill masked Miravete and sent Howard's Brigade (50th and 71st Foot (Highlanders)) to bypass this strong position, although this route was impassable for artillery. The French garrison amounted to around 1000 men, including the 4th Etranger (Prussians), 39th Line and two companies of 6th Light, commanded by Colonel Aubert. Without artillery, the British were forced to attempt a capture of Fort Napoleon by escalade, always a challenging proposition, and they faced some additional challenges, which I won't spoil the story by explaining. Sharpe and a Highland regiment is an unbeatable combination!

Cornwell keeps pretty close to the historical outline, with Sharpe and a fictitious band of guerillas inserted, of course. This is all classic Sharpe, and fans will love it. 

After reading this, there was no competition for the Sunday game. We used Rebels and Patriots to refight one scene from the action. Sharpe is attempting to hold the old bridge near Almaraz with some guerillas led by his wife. He is attacked by a much stronger force. You won't find this action in Oman or elsewhere, but it is a classic Sharpe fight. 

Rifles on the right of this photo, partisans on the left, Harper with a small unit in reserve. Four units of French line and a skirmisher unit attacking.

The French break-in and Sharpe retreats. This is unheard of in a Sharpe novel!

Harper to the rescue. One blast of the volley gun and the French retreat. It took another two rounds of fire before he drove off the other French unit.

If you want to read more about the historical action, Robert Griffith's book 'At the Point of the Bayonet' (Helion, 2021) includes the battle in his study of two of Hill's battles. 


  1. I’m not especially a fan of Sharpe (dunno why - probably put off because I can only ever envisage him as being portrayed by Sean Bean) but can’t really fault a story where the Frenchies get a bloody nose… Your game looks nice too ⚔️⚔️

    1. Not a fan of Sharpe! Shocking words from the mouth of a wargamer!