The January 2014 issue of Armchair General ® presented the Combat Decision Game “French Foreign Legion in Mexico, 1863.” This CDG placed readers in the role of Captain Jean Danjou, commander of the French Foreign Legion’s 3d Company, 1st Battalion, which was part of an army France’s Emperor Napoleon III sent to seize control of Mexico.
The Mexican republic, however, fiercely resisted this blatant aggression by the much stronger European power. Indeed, Mexican forces defeated the first French attempt to capture the capital, Mexico City, at the May 5, 1862, Battle of Puebla. Yet Napoleon III persevered in his campaign to conquer Mexico and sent troop reinforcements beginning in September.
On March 16, 1863, in another attempt to capture Mexico City, a French army began a siege of Puebla. However, it was operating at the end of a long and tenuous supply line extending through hostile Mexican countryside back to the main French base at Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico coast. To protect French supply convoys from attacks by Mexican army forces and guerrillas, French units were assigned sectors of the route to patrol and provide security.
On April 30, 1863, Danjou’s 3d Company was given responsibility for the Chiquihuite-Soledad section of the road in advance of an important convoy transporting much needed supplies to the French forces at Puebla. Early that morning, when the legionnaires reached a point on the road east of the village of Camerone, they were suddenly confronted by a force of 800 Mexican army cavalrymen.
Danjou’s company repelled the initial attack, which was launched by only 50 of the enemy cavalrymen. But as the Mexicans massed for another charge, the captain’s mission was to determine how best to defend against the much larger enemy force.
As Danjou considered his options, a second and much more powerful Mexican cavalry charge cut off and captured 16 of his legionnaires. He then quickly led his remaining 49 men to the walled farmstead, Hacienda de la Trinidad (CDG COURSE OF ACTION TWO: DEFEND AT THE HACIENDA). Enclosed on all four sides by thick, 10-foot-high walls and with only two entry gates, which could be barricaded, the hacienda was, in effect, a natural fortress. Additionally, its size was such that Danjou’s small group of men could stoutly defend it. (See Historical Outcome map.)
After the legionnaires occupied the hacienda, the Mexican force was reinforced by regular infantrymen and irregular guerrillas, bringing its total number to at least 2,000 attackers and perhaps as many as 3,000. The Mexicans called upon Danjou to surrender, but he replied, “We have cartridges and we will surrender only when you have killed every one of us!”
Danjou’s defiant words proved prophetic; after repelling attacks all day, 3d Company’s legionnaires were all either killed or wounded and captured. Danjou died around noon, and Lieutenant Maudet took command until the final Mexican victory at approximately 6 p.m.
Yet 3d Company’s heroic sacrifice was not in vain. Engaged in attacking Danjou’s legionnaires, the Mexicans were unable to intercept the vital supply convoy, which made its way safely to Puebla.
Years later, Danjou’s prosthetic wooden hand came back into the possession of the French Foreign Legion. Every April 30, the Legion brings out the revered relic as part of its “Camerone Day” commemoration.
ACG judges based their selections for winning Reader Solutions and those receiving honorable mention on submissions that chose COURSE OF ACTION TWO: DEFEND AT THE HACIENDA or those whose explanations demonstrated a solid understanding of the key principles of a hasty defense. This plan, which called for quickly occupying the formidable defenses of the walled farmstead, offered 3d Company its best chance to repel the much larger Mexican force’s attacks for as long as possible while also inflicting the greatest number of enemy casualties. It allowed Danjou to keep his force concentrated, thereby assuring maximum sustained firepower, rapid redistribution of ammunition, and the ability to shift legionnaires to any point of the perimeter threatened by an enemy breakthrough.
COURSE OF ACTION ONE: DEFEND AT CAMERONE divided Danjou’s already heavily outnumbered company into several smaller sections among the town’s buildings, thereby fatally fragmenting his defense effort. The legionnaires would have been unable to concentrate their firepower and inflict significant numbers of enemy casualties, while the Mexicans could have massed against the company’s individual sections and overrun them one by one.
COURSE OF ACTION THREE: BREAK OUT CROSS-COUNTRY might have saved many of Danjou’s men from death or capture; however, that assumption is problematic since the legionnaires would have fled over completely unfamiliar terrain while being pursued by 100 Mexican guerrillas. Moreover, abandoning the supply road almost certainly would have dealt a serious blow to French operations since the Mexican force would have intercepted the vital supply convoy, thereby putting at risk the success of the French siege of Puebla.
And now for excerpts from the winning Reader Solutions to “French Foreign Legion in Mexico, 1863.”*
CHRIS BROWN, GERMANY:“We can turn the hacienda into a fortress from which concentrated long-range fire over open ground will disrupt attacks, preventing us from being overwhelmed. Stout walls will shield us from fire. We must inflict devastating casualties.”
DEETLEFS DU TOIT, SOUTH AFRICA: “When engaged, react immediately according to prearranged and trained action drills, occupy the best strongpoint soonest, and keep command together and motivated. Lead by example and avoid abandoning the protection of the supply route.”
MARK J. JONES, GEORGIA: “The walls give several advantages. Mobility of the cavalry would be minimized, forcing them to fight dismounted. They will be advancing across open terrain, giving us excellent fields of fire. Command and control would be exceptional.”
Thank you to everyone who participated in this CDG. Now turn to page 56 and test your tactical decision-making skills with CDG #62, “Anglo-Egyptian War, 1882.” This battle near the Suez Canal in the Egyptian desert northeast of Cairo places you in the role of Lieutenant General Garnet Wolseley, commander of a British army expeditionary force. Your mission is to attack and defeat Arabi Pasha’s 20,000-man Egyptian army and then lead your force southwest to occupy Cairo, thereby firmly establishing British control of Egypt. Use the CDG map and form on pages 59 and 60 to explain your solution and mail, email or fax it to Armchair General by April 25, 2014. Winners will be announced in the September 2014 issue, but those eager to read the historical outcome and analysis can log on to armchairgeneral.com/cdg after April 28, 2014.
*Editor’s Note: For each Combat Decision game, ACG typically receives numerous Reader Solutions that have selected the course of action that our judges have deemed the best COA for that CDG. However, the judges are required to choose winners and honorable mentions from submissions whose explanations, in their opinion, best reflect an understanding of the principles and key points of the CDG’s tactical situation.
Originally published in the May 2014 issue of Armchair General.