With the French army project finished, and the completion of the Anglo-Portuguese army within spitting distance, my thoughts are turning to what I should do next. My choice is to do a full Spanish army, or a large Spanish contingent to fight along side Anglo-Portuguese, or to switch tack entirely and plumb for the Sudan to add a colonial period to my gaming choices.
I'd really like to go for the Sudan but, I know that if I do I may never return to do the Spanish any kind of justice. I will have become side tracked.
Consequently, I've decided to bite the bullet and go for a full Spanish army. By that I mean collecting thirty or so units plus artillery, command, etc. That will be enough to fight a good sized battle, and there will be enough variation to do a wargame campaign. It will not be quite as large as the other two armies but it will be large enough to do a job. This will be a big commitment for me, in time and cash.
What follows is my thought process on what my army will look like. Many of you will probably know a lot more about Spanish armies than I do, so if I'm wrong on any point please feel free to chip in and correct me. Also, if you know of any good online resources that might fill gaps in my knowledge, please point me to them.
Unlike the French and Anglo-Portuguese, collecting a Spanish army poses lots of problems. This is especially the case regarding infantry units.
My first problem is the limited amount of books I own on Spanish armies.
The second is the thoroughly disorganised state of the supply of uniforms in the period 1809 - 1812. It seems that, unless you want to do 1808 - 1809, or post the supply of a new national uniform by the British from 1812, uniform information on specific Spanish units is often very hard to pin down. More anon...
The third problem is one of dating the army. Generally speaking, units in a French or Anglo-Portuguse army can fight right through the war. With the Spanish, this is not the case. One look at the uniform a Spanish soldier is wearing will generally put him into one of three roughly dated periods: 1808 - 1809, 1810 - 1812, and post 1812. As far as a generic wargame army is concerned, I suppose this is only a problem of aesthetics but, if you go too eclectic date wise, the army will require some imagination to believe when fighting in any of the historical sub-periods.
When it comes to the evolution of Spanish uniforms in the Napoleonic Wars, and how it will effect the building of a wargame army, I think of the history like this:
Although, in the first year of the war, Spanish patriotism and daring do had a certain charm, Spanish armies dated this early usually left a lot to be desired. This is especially true when they were called upon to fight in the open field - and, let's face it, on a wargame table that is what they will most often need to do.
In the early period there are a lot of newly raised, short lived volunteer units, only partly uniformed and of dubious battle-worthiness. Their durability as wargame units is limited; those that went on into the war soon became uniformed and more regularised, so I must ask myself how useful partly uniformed units would be in the long run.
The advantage of the early period lies in the 'old regime' regular army units. In their white coats with regimental facing colours and bicorne hats, they are well documented and always look very Spanish to me. As a painter, the definite information on these early units is fantastic. However, most of the white uniforms had worn out by 1809 and, as far as I can see, were replaced by simpler less well documented uniforms in a variety of colours, many supplied by Britain. Information can be scant when it comes to this uniform transition. You find references to some units but not all. The more units you are planning to collect the more this becomes a problem.
As the years rolled on, through the latter part of 1809 to 1812, units were issued new uniforms in an array of styles and colours. I have plenty of plates showing these but, on the whole, not many give specific units names and this is proving to be a bit of a riddle. This is also the time that the volunteer units were disbanded or regularised, often with several being rolled into one, renamed and given a new uniform - riddles within riddles.
Few uniforms seem to have been produced domestically; most uniforms seem to have been imported from Britain or Portugal. As alluded to earlier, there was little attempt at standardisation and I have more information on where the uniforms were unloaded than which units got them. Coats, often a simple coatee, came in brown, dark and light blue, grey, red, and green with collars and cuffs, sometimes with lapels too, in a facing colour (most often red, light blue or yellow). There were units in shakos (bell topped and conical), top hats, and even Tarleton style helmets. Bicornes, outside those worn by officers, seem to have disappeared at this point. This is the 'uniform sub-period' I'm most attracted to because of its diverse nature; it is what my imagination conjours up when I think of Napoleonic Spanish armies. Unfortunately, it is the most confusing of the three uniform sub-periods.
Post 1812, largely supported by British imports, a national uniform had begun to emerge out of the chaos. From this point on, Spanish armies begin to look more homogeneous: Coats largely become dark or light blue, often with red collars and cuffs, and shakos predominate. By 1814 most units have attained a definitive uniform and these become well documented again. This is definitely the easiest uniform sub-period to collect. Unfortunately, as far as I'm concerned, it is the most boring: The Spanish army has become just one more shako wearing Napoleonic army and most of the quirkiness and romance has gone.
All in all, my problems are made harder by the number of infantry units I'm going to collect. My aim, at present, is to amass an army comprising twenty four infantry units.
So, what to do?
Given that the information I have, though growing, is limited, I'm going to go for a generic Spanish army dated 1809 - 1812. Indeed, the only criteria I'm going to apply to the units I will collect will be that they must have existed between 1809 and mid 1812 in the uniform I will paint them in.
I will retain license to do four old regular regimental units (two regiments of two battalions each) in white coats with coloured facings and bicornes. Plus, I'll also do Irlanda and Reding (Swiss) in bicornes.
If push comes to shove and I can't find enough information to do another eighteen different uniforms (perhaps less if I do two battalions of some) I might also do a few units in the 1812 uniform - most probably the units of cacadores.
When it comes to lacking information, except in a minority of cases, I'm totally in the dark when it comes to deciding which flags a unit will carry. Flags are proving to be a headache, full stop. In the catalogues (GMB and Adolfo Ramos), most flags are described by the regional coats of arms they bear. Were all units recruited in a particular region given the same flag? Are these flags based on those that were assigned to the well documented 'old regime' regiments that existed when the war started? To me, this is a very basic question but, I can't find the answer anywhere. Is this question fudged by most collectors? Another question I have is to do with the number of flags a battalion would carry. Somewhere, I've read that most battalions only carried one of their flags into battle (I think each battalion actually had Colonel's colour and Regimental colour and unused flags were stored in churches). I think two flags, especially where they look quite different, looks better - is giving a unit two flags a big no no?
The cavalry (seven units) and guns (six), due to lower unit count, aren't proving so difficult. I think it will be a case of picking the prettiest when it comes to the cavalry, and guns are just guns.
Looking at my problems, this is all going to take some time to sort out.
In my next Spanish Peninsular Project post, I'll give you what I've come up with and list of the web links I've used. There are some useful ones out there.