A little Napoleonic action. A French corps and the remnants of their Polish allies tried to surprise a Russo-Prussian army somewhere on the Frontiers of France. Unfortunately for the French, the Russians were awake, the picquets were active and the assault was checked.
Furious little game, fought to a stalemate, with about equal casualties on both sides. Great fun!
Somewhere on the Austrian-Russian border there are two small villages, Opol and Cheniye. The former has a spectacular onion-domes church while the latter has a cruder, board and thatch affair. Late in the campaign season of 1809, while Napoleon threatened Vienna and was on the verge of the great victory of Wagram, Russian Emperor Alexander hesitatingly decided to make an effort to the aid the Austrians. Napoleon, thinking Alexander much too vacillating, had only detached some German allies to cover the approached from Mother Russia. This Corps d’Observation was also hesitant to come to battle but, on the fateful 1st of July, the two reluctant forces collided with a violence that belied their rather tepid performance up until that time.
The Russian Relief was under the overall command of General Pyotr Bagratian. Under his immediate command were his own VI Corps and Lieutenant General Kapzevitch and his X Corps. Each corps had two divisions, and each division had two line brigades, a brigade of jagers, and a heavy battery of 12-pounders. In addition, Hetman Akim Karpov brought 8 sotnias of Cossacks; 3 from the Bug and 5 from the Don.
Marshal Francois Lefebvre commanded the Corps d’Observation. This contained three divisions of Bavarians, a division of Wurttemburgers, and a mixed division of two light cavalry brigades, one from each German state. The Marshal kept two 12-pounder batteries and a pair of horse batteries in reserve.
The two groups were evenly matched. Although the Russians had 48 guns to the Germans’ 32 and a couple hundred more infantry, the Germans had cavalry unafraid to mix it up in close combat and a higher percentage of veterans.
Bagratian had promised some of his generals that they could ride to Opol on the morning of the 1st to worship in the church whose dome they could see when they camped for the night. October 1 was a Sunday and they looked forward to services, and, perhaps, to the generosity of the congregation to fill their lunchtime tables with something a little above the normal campaign fare.
However, when Major Generals Grekov, Vasiltschikov, and Doctorov rode into town they were appalled to see dust to the north, where no Russian troops should have been. Several ADCs rode out and returned to report the column on the road was Bavarian. With that, the generals gave up on both religious services and lunch and hurried back to the Russian camp to raise the alarm.
Why were the Bavarians on the march? Prinz Ludwig’s division had spent a dry Saturday marching back and forth, chasing phantom Russian columns. Lefebvre had ordered the cavalry to conserve their mounts and therefore could only guess where Bagratian’s column, rumored to be nearby, actually was. The Prince had also seen the onion dome as his troops laid down that Saturday evening. He assumed, where there was a church there was sure to be water and had obtained permission to get his men a drink after breakfast.
Lefebvre’s troops marched out smartly and soon Prinz Ludwig had Prinz Karl’s brigade in Opol with his other two brigades in support – holding the wood to the east and holding Graf Ypenburg in support. Major General von Seydenitz deployed on a low hill to the east of Ludwig. (203215) Simultaneously, General von Wrede had brough up his mixed division to the west, throwing Major General Maranitz’s brigade into Cheniye and extending the line to the west with the rest of Major General Preysing’s division, then General Neubronn’s division of Wurttemburgers on the extreme right of the German infantry line. (left photo)
A wooded hill on the far west became the focus of both cavalry groups. Hetman Karpov though his troopers would be relatively safe and able to swoop over the battlefield from their perch at the opportune time, while Major General Deroi trotted out (his horses were fresh as they had not been used the day before in screening or scouting) seeking to vanquish a foe he thought to be Russian Uhlans.
Bagratian advanced his infantry to match Lefebvre’s deployment, with the VI Corps on the west opposite Wrede and the X Corps opposite Prinz Ludwig and General von Seydenitz. (right photo)
The Germans, at all points, won the march to the terrain points. Deroi reaching the hill first and ascending through a gap in the trees; Wrede reaching the road from Cheniye, and Ludwig and Seydenitz reaching Opol and the eastern hill, before any Russian was in artillery range.
Karpov had not anticipated the necessity to fight formed troops and, as such, the Don Cossacks were still in column of division when Deroi crested the hill with his brigade of Wurttemberg Chevauxleger leading and the Bavarians in support. In the heat of the moment the Wurttembergers charged headlong into the irregulars.
However, unreadiness, conversely, can work to one’s advantage. Such was the case as the bewildered chevauxlegers scattered one group of lancers after another only to find more obstructing their way. Deroi called on his men to reform. Only then did he see the Bug Cossacks forming on his right.
The Bavarian general urged his troops forward to meet the Russian irregulars at the southern foot of the hill. As irregulars are wont to do, the men from the Bug gave some ground but regrouped just outside the lunge of the saber-armed Germans. Deroi had deployed his horse battery on his left and they took some shots at Vasiltschikov’s men as they marched past but caused only minor irritation.
Again, the Wurttembergers dashed at the Don Cossacks. Again, the men from the steppe recoiled and reformed like the waters of the Don in flood. Deroi, conscious of events on the infantry line, ordered Duke Louis to continue the effort to rout the elusive irregulars while he decamped with the Bavarians and horse guns to help the hard-pressed footmen (see below).
Louis, outnumbered two to one, finally came to grips with his foe, embracing the Bug sotnias in a brief death duel with his own regiment. Many saddles were emptied, and the surviving Bug troopers “bugged” out, racing 800 meters to the rear before turning to face their tormentors. But Louis had recalled his regiment to face the Don sotnias, now reorganized and led personally by Karpov.
For the fifth time that morning the Wurttembergers charged and met their opponents from the far grasslands. For the fourth time the Cossacks swirled away relatively unharmed. Louis regrouped only to receive a lathered messenger from Deroi – the battle was lost, time to pull out.
Despite all the charging back and forth, total casualties for Karpov’s men were only 87. Louis’ brigade suffered even less - 11 men wounded, 2 killed, and 25 missing. Most of the latter showed up at camp, red-faced, the next evening.
Bagratian now used the stoicism of the Russian infantry to the fullest. Having been denied the terrain features by the more rapid marching of the Germans, Bagratian simply failed to send his corps orders to halt. His columns, dutifully, continued to march directly at the enemy.
On the Russian left Kadyschev’s line brigade pitched into the Wurttemburg light brigade who gave way. Simultaneously, Glebov’s jagers charged Herzog Wilhelm’s regiment and forced it to retreat. Baron von Neubronn immediately galloped to rally the shocked infantry regiments while General Wrede called for reinforcements.
Kadyschev now pitched into Prinz Paul’s regiment, but the Prinz’s men only bent. Glebov’s victorious jagers now rushed over the Wurttemburg reserve battery, scattering the gunners. Paul’s resistance and the disorganization inherent in capturing the battery allowed von Neubronn and Wrede the time they needed.
The Bavarian light infantry rallied forward from their initial position behind Cheniye, forced Glebov to give ground. With the Bavarian Kronprinz regiment repositioning to support, the German right seemed to be stabilizing. However, to be sure, Wrede sent an aide galloping to see if Deroi could offer help; this was the recall of the Bavarian chevauxleger.
Brigadier Glebov now led his reserve battalion forward. Their inexorable advance broke the resolve of the Bavarian light brigade and carried forward into Kronprinz, pushing the latter back. Kadyschev continued to press Prinz Paul. Coming up on the left, Panzerbiter’s brigade moved to counter Deroi’s arrival. The latter, responding to Wrede’s call, had deployed his horse artillery forward and the Bavarian chevauxleger, having squeezed through the gap in the trees, coming up.
Panzerbiter charged the guns and overran them. Deroi called for his sabers to recover the guns. The Russians hastily formed square and repelled the cavalrymen, though they had to relinquish four of the six guns, which were hastily withdrawn.
Neubronn and Wrede (and Deroi) had bent but they had not broken. However, their situation was precarious, their artillery lost, their troops shaken, and fresh Russian brigades near at hand. They were relieved when orders arrived from Lefebvre to fall back. They’d find water somewhere else.
Lieutenant General Kapzevitch was more cautious than his chief and, therefore the battle on the eastern half of the field was initiated by the Bavarians. General Seydenitz, being originally a cavalryman, was not one to sit on a height and endure bombardment. He launched his Provisional Brigade - made up of a garrison battalion, a depot battalion, and three Grenzer companies – and the Konig Regiment against the Russian right flank, Doctorov’s division.
The Provisionals, having borne the brunt of camp jokes since joining the corps, had a lot to prove and they drove Voyeikov’s jagers back. Konig, however, faltered. Lyapunov’s brigade had their blood up and checked the Bavarian assault and then counterattacked, sending them flying. Lyapunov carried forward and pitched into the Regiment von Preysing.
Kniazin’s brigade came up in support and Doctorov’s batteries shook Prinz Karl’s regiment with deadly fire, even as the Bavarians huddled in the cover of the buildings in Opol. Regiment von Preysing, after a desperate struggle with Lyapunov, fell back and rallied on the rise on the left of the German line. But Lefebvre had no more troops.
With all the Wurttemburg guns captured or in flight, Bagratian redeployed a third battery in front of Opol, making 36 heavy guns against only 14 Bavarians. This weight of metal on his center, with casualties mounting and both flanks held by rattled regiments, Lefebvre gave the orders to withdraw. The Provisionals were recalled, but were unable to rejoin the line, having the brigades of Kniazin and Lyapunov interposed and had a long march to regain Lefebvre.
Bagratian let Lefebvre go. Deroi’s troopers threatened any impetuous motion of the infantry, and the well water was a strong draw to the parched throats of the infantry. Vasiltschikov lamented to his chief that a single regiment of regular cavalry would have granted them a crushing victory. Bagratian nodded, saying “If only does not win the battle. We have done enough.”
In truth, the Russian infantry had done very well. At a cost of 956 casualties, they had captured 10 guns and inflicted 1813 casualties on the German infantry. Except for the Provisional Brigade, which drove Voyeikov’s brigade completely out of line, no German infantry formation was worthy of exceptional mention.
Bagratian, in his report to Emperor Alexander, made no mention of Hetman Karpov’s performance except to say he was engaged on the left. He did, however, single out Brigadiers Lyapunov, Kadyschev, and Glebov for their gallantry and success.
Only a few days later came the crushing defeat of the Austrians at Wagram and their collapse. With Napoleon’s victory, the Emperor recalled Bagratian.
September 30, 1813
Leutnant Karl Preysing sat his horse in utter amazement. Generalmajor Karl von Sahr, commanding the Saxon 25th Division of the French Grande Armee, had just informed him that the Saxons would conform to his request. They would switch sides and surprise the small Polish Corps camped just east of where they now sat, on the south side of the small river Niesse. Von Sahr had already issued orders to that effect.
Preysing watched the Saxons pivot to their right, screened by a ridge and their light cavalry. After fifteen minutes he was convinced. He saluted to Von Sahr and spurred his horse north, crossing a rickety wooden bridge and galloping to his chief, Feldmarschall Ludwig Yorck, to inform him of the stunning change.
When an ensign galloped to his headquarters at first Prince Poniatowski could not believe the report. The Saxons traitors? Impossible. But then he saw their cavalry in the distance, with his glass. They were moving toward him, not against the Prussians on the far side of the Niesse.
He reacted quickly. Couriers thundered away from headquarters. If the Saxons wanted to betray their Emperor, let them. He, Poniatowski, would make them pay! Just to be sure, he sent one last aide galloping furiously to Prince von Wrede’s camp a mile or so further south. The Bavarians might very well be needed if both Yorck and von Sahr attacked.
Yorck, equally as surprised, was equally energetic. Orders were dictated and send by aide-de-camp to each brigade. The small advanced guard (only half his corps was with him) was soon in motion toward the Niesse and the Poles on the far bank.
The Saxon Cheveauxleger Brigade opened the action by skirmishing with the Polish light cavalry. General de Brigade Sulkowski ordered forward his lancers in a furious charge. The Saxon cavalry fled. Sulkowski then wheeled and led his lancers headlong into Regiment Prinz Maxmilian. These unfortunates, disordered by Polish artillery fire, failed to form square and broke, running behind the steadfast Light Infantry Brigade. Von Sahr was already regretting his early morning decision.
Meanwhile Yorck had his men across the Niesse. While the Prussian cavalry threatened, the Converged Grenadiers Brigade and 11th Reserve splashed across and went over to the attack. The Reserves slammed into a 12-pounder battery, positioned to sweep the stone bridge, and sent the gunners running. But when they tried to exploit their gains, they ran into the 4th Brigade du Marche in the tiny hamlet of Ostkulm. The French held.
The grenadiers, however, in the open, had better success. Without pausing to reform, led by Kolonel von Pitt, they smashed into the Polish Converged Legere Brigade and sent it streaming to the rear. This then exposed the 1st Line Brigade who had squared to face the Prussian light cavalry. In square, against the already victorious grenadiers, the Poles had no chance and joined the legere in running.
On Yorck’s far left, the 2nd Pommeranian Brigade fixed the Polish 3rd Line Brigade, but suffered over 400 casualties to accurate Polish fire.
By now Wrede’s Bavarians were up and pitched into the action. The converged grenadiers, tired and disordered from their wild charge were now mercilessly ridden down by the arriving Bavarian Cheveauxleger. These riders continued into the Niesse, striking the Prussian cavalry and driving them back.
Count Beckers led his Bavarian brigade into action on the far left of the Allied line, striking the Saxon Grenadier Brigade. Supposedly the best infantry in the Saxon army, having lost their major and two captains to artillery fire, gave a ragged volley, and ran. Beckers, shouting alternately “En Avant” and “Vorwarts” led his men up a small hill and at the Regiment Prinz August who had just repelled a charge from the Polish lancers. August, in square, could not resist the Bavarians, and quit the field.
The opera had pretty much played itself out. Ganeralmajor Karl Le Coq had rallied Prinz Maximilian and led them in a desperate charge to try and blunt Beckers and the supporting Bavarian Light Brigade. But the Saxons, even under the direct gaze of their longstanding officers, this day, would not fight. Maximilian recoiled and Von Sahr gave the necessary orders to disengage.
The Prince of Hesse-Homburg had one maneuver left to try to wrench the Franco-Poles from Ostkulm. He brought the 7th Reserve onto the flank of the Polish 3rd Line Brigade while assaulting frontally with the 5th Silesian Landwehr. The maneuver was successful, but, by now, the Bavarians were up, bringing three fresh brigades of infantry to stabilize the front and allow the 4th Brigade du Marche to fall back unmolested.
Yorck called off his attacks, consolidating his gains, staring across a mere 300 yard gap at Poniatowski and Wrede. But, with Von Sahr in retreat, he was too outnumbered to continue. Von Bulow, with the rest of the corps, would not arrive until dark.
The Saxons had paid in blood for Von Sahr’s duplicity, with almost 5000 casualties out of 14,000 engaged. Yorck had suffered 1500 casualties. The Poles, hard-pressed and badly outnumbered at the start, lost almost 2000 men, while the Bavarians won the most honors at the least cost – capturing 6 stand of colors for only 300 men killed and wounded.
Played with Napoleonic Fury rules and 15mm figures.
I have the honor to report to you another glorious resolution by your Imperial soldiers.
On 16 May 1811, I surprised and routed the Spanish Army of General Blake near the village of Albuera.
Having received your blessing to take the offensive against the outpost held by General Beresford, I gathered in all the outposts that could be spared as well as the infantry from the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo and marched with the utmost speed to the neighborhood of Albuera. It was discovered that General Blake (historian’s note – Soult discovered Blake when the Spanish engaged his assaulting columns) had landed a sizeable Spanish force at Cadiz and marched them to join Beresford, but I was undeterred.
I approached the enemy’s positions with great care. The men were not to light fires and the wheels of the limbers and carriages were muffled. The efforts were met by complete success as our assault came as a surprise to all the allied defenders, as borne out by the statements of captured officers.
To further baffle the enemy, I had small detachments of the 23rd Chasseurs a Cheval and two old 4-pounders make noisy demonstrations downstream on the Albuera River. This was also successful as the enemy posted several brigades to the north and west of the village to defend against this feint.
My scouts reported that the allied south flank was in the air, so I made my dispositions to take advantage of this tactical error. I formed an ad hoc corps under General Girard, giving him 10,000 veteran infantry and all my disposable light cavalry, about 2200 troopers. His orders were to turn the south flank and destroy Blake’s corps. (historian’s note – this is clearly revisionist thinking on Soult’s part, his original orders were to turn and then roll up the flank, bagging Beresford. He did not know Blake was there!)
The rest of the V Corps was placed under General Godinot, another 10,000 infantry, including the garrison battalions, and the two dragoon brigades. His orders were the fix the British and give General Girard sufficient time to destroy Blake.
Godinot’s feint succeeded brilliantly. He advanced boldly across the farmer’s bridge and split the Spanish from Beresford. The 15th Dragoons captured five guns in a gallant charge up hill into the teeth of the canister (historian’s note – the cavalry actually struck the guns in flank while the infantry of the 13th Legere took the canister fire). British reserves attacked Godinot’s penetration and both the 30th and 111th Regiments were caught unprepared to receive cavalry and routed, losing their eagles. Both colonels have been cashiered and both regiments have been ordered to wear black armbands until they redeem their honor. Beresford’s entire force, estimated at 16,000 total, was occupied by Godinot the entire day. British losses in their mounted arm were about twice as many as our in the dragoon brigades.
Girard struck the end of the ridge and the open ground simultaneously, though the cavalry in the open engaged first, having an easier time than the infantry who had to scale the rocky heights. The hussars, in a series of brilliant charges, chased the Spanish dragoons from the field. However, they allowed themselves to get involved in a lengthy melee with the Spanish light cavalry. It was in this desperate struggle that they suffered their greatest loss.
The 33rd Ligne and 10th Legere led the charge up the hill and into the Spanish line perched, British-style, on the military crest. After some stiffer than usual resistance, especially by the Borbon Regiment, and the addition of the 108th Ligne, they pushed the Spanish from the heights and across the Araya Brook to the west. Girard took six Spanish guns and the guidons from two cavalry regiments.
Nightfall ended the action and the British retired on Badajoz under cover of darkness. Without any heavy artillery with which to reduce that fortress I ordered the army to withdraw on Llerena to prepare to engage Castanos who was gathering a new army to the south.
I am, etc.
Jean de-Dieu Soult, Marechal de Empire
For an entirely different view of the battle…
His Honor the Duke of Wellington,
Soult attempted to turn our position on the Albuera the 16th instant. He was repulsed with heavy loss.
Pursuant to your orders I had taken position, with my command, at the village of Albuera. General Blake, with his Spanish army, joined us on the eve of the battle and generously extended my right. Anticipating Marshal Soult, I had deployed the Cacadores on a commanding height on my left, occupied the village itself with two brigades, making it impervious to attack, and had deployed the rest of my command in ready reserve (historian’s note – Beresford failed to place pickets or patrols on the east side of the Albuera Brook or Albuera River. The first inkling he had that Soult was there was when the French columns burst from the olive groves). Blake, I am pleased to say, used the reverse slope to his advantage, surprising the attackers by appearing suddenly at the crest to deliver a volley!
The French attempted a two-pronged attack, with their right attempting to cross at the bridges and assault my command while a second force tried to turn General Blake’s right. I am pleased to report we destroyed both wings.
General Blake’s cavalry was heavily engaged from the beginning. The General Lautour-Mauberg led his veterans headlong into General Loy’s division. I am sorry to say the Spanish heavy cavalry did not stand the test, breaking and running from the field. However, the provisional Light Cavalry brigade stood up the French hussars and ground them up in a ferocious melee. Over 400 French saddles were emptied by the Spanish horsemen. They showed much promise.
The infantry, as well, showed the results of our training. The Regiments Ceuta, Borbon, and Cantabria fought toe-to-toe with the attackers. They gave ground only grudgingly, fighting in line, and withdrawing in good order when pressed heavily by French numbers.
As to our soldiers, all I can do is heap praise upon them. Lefebvre’s Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery and the Fusiliers, by their very presence and accurate fire, kept the French from crossing at the main bridge. Only at the small, “farmer’s bridge” did they get across.
There, Mercer’s Troop impeded, alone, their entire corps while Lumley maneuvered the cavalry for their decisive blow. The Guards smashed the 4th Dragoons and then proceeded to catch the 30th Ligne unsquared. They, of course, routed the infantry. They suffered a slight setback to a counterattack by the 1st Dragoons but took an eagle and 2 guns (historian’s note – the “slight setback” was 50% losses, and the two guns were originally Mercer’s).
The 13th Light Dragoons also covered themselves with glory, slicing through a French battery and coming upon the 111th Ligne, also unsquared, and destroying them as well. The Light Dragoons took 6 guns and an eagle.
Marshal Soult withdrew on Llerena, his offensive capability severely impeded, if not removed. General Castanos has come up and is observing the French at that location. I have transferred my base to Badajoz to better feed my force as well as fully equip the batteries.
I remain, Yr Obt Svt,
Wm. C. Beresford, Marshal, Portuguese Army
Prince Poniatowski, leading a mixed force of Saxons, Poles, and a few French depot battalions, was thwarted as her tried to cross Bohemia to join Napoleon. Prussians under Yorck and Russians under Scherbatov forced the Marshal into an extended march around them.
The Prince, sure of his veterans, thrust an assault on Yorck in the center and, with a deft eye, then flung the Wurttemburg Light Cavalry against the Prussian center. Both attacks were initially successful. The cavalry drove away a battery and smashed the 1st Infantry who had failed to form square. The infantry drove off the 9th Reserve brigade and a battery.
But that would be the high-water mark of the afternoon. The Saxons had not yet started their assault on the solidly formed Russian line when Yorck engineered an equally able counterattack. Pivoting his Landwehr Cavalry Brigade, General Juergass struck the Wurttemburgers in the flank while two infantry brigades poured musketry into their disordered ranks.
The 7th Reserve led the infantry counterattack, capturing a small knoll and the horse artillery that had been holding it, adding six guns to the Prussian artillery park. In the center Zayoncek was beaten back, only a few stubborn French depot battalions slowing the Prussian avalanche.
The Saxons only mounted a feeble assault on the Russians, seeing the Poles in disarray to their left and the usually vaunted Saxon cavalry, on this day, was bested handily by the well-handled Russian Hussars under General Sulima.
The action had been bloody, with over 900 Poles and 300 Saxons left on the field, while another 300 were captured. Russians losses were slight, though the Prussians suffered almost 700 casualties.
We use Napoleonic Fury with 15mm figures.
Had a pleasant game again tonight. Bavarians and Russians contesting a crossroads in 1813. It was supposed to be a double mismatch with Wrede binging eight big brigades against Sievers' six while Neubronn with only three Wurttemberg brigades faced Borosdin's corps of six more Russians.
In the end it was Sievers who originally pushed back Wrede, though numbers eventually told and the Bavarians won back some of the ground lost, but not, by the end of the game, the crossroads! On the other side Borosdin never did get his assault going and the gap between the Russian corps was exploited.
In the end, though Sievers occupied the crossroads, Russian losses had been severe, over 20%, with three brigades smashed beyond usefulness. German losses were less - about 10% - and Neubronn still held the high ground.
We use Fire and Fury Napoleonic variant and 15mm.
With apologies to Marshal Marmont and General Leutnant Klenau
20 May 1809. Camp outside Klein Clausterthal, Austrian Empire.
To: The Duke of Portland, No 10 Downing Street
I have the pleasure to report to Your Excellency that the Austrians showed a bit of fight this day, battling the corps of Marshals Soult and Marmont for eight hours. They will be forced to retire on the morrow – news has arrived in camp that Davout threatens to interpose between us and Vienna, but it was a glorious action!
Prinz Hohenzollern, showing unusual energy for an Austrian, aroused his III Korps in the early morning hours and advanced on the exposed corps of Marshal Soult at the small crossroads of Klein Clausterthal. Despite several couriers, General Leutnant von Klenau was delayed in rousing his VI Korps and thus the Prinz was forced to start the action alone.
Marshal Soult, upon seeing the approach of the Prinz and being warned that von Klenau was nearby, dispatched riders to call up Marshal Marmont’s corps to his aid and launched General de Division Morand in an all-out attack from the French right. Morand, his troops well in hand, was soon fully engaged with the Prinz’s left-hand division under General Leutnant von Schwartzenburg. Meanwhile, General de Brigade Lasalle advanced his outnumbered French hussars to engage Major General Brady’s hussar brigade in advance of Klenau.
Prinz Hohenzollern, unperturbed by Morand’s attack, pressed forward with Hohenfeld’s division as well as General Leutnant Hesse-Homburg’s grenadier division and Major General Nostitz’s Grenzer division. However, without Schwarzenburg’s division, Soult launched another spoiling attack, sending the 3rd Swiss into Hohenfeld’s flank. With Lasalle and Brady fully engaged and Klenau not yet up, Soult also made a spoiling attack on his left (north) with the 105th Line.
Schwartzenburg bent but he did not break. The French surged ahead with their usual intensity and elan. Over the course of the entire day’s fighting both Infantry Regiment Number 14 Oranien and Infantry Regiment Number 24 Strauch were forced to retire. But both rallied and, eventually, returned to the fray. In a death match Infantry Regiment Number 38 Wurttemberg destroyed the 48th Line, literally grinding it out of existence and capturing its eagle. At one point the 10th Legere captured the 3rd Reserve Battery but, again, by day’s end, the Austrians had recaptured and recrewed their 4 undamaged guns.
Lasalle and Brady surged back and forth, first one squadron sweeping forward only to retire before the sabers of its foe and then repeating, but in reverse. In triumph, well past midday, Lasalle forced the Austrian hussars to quit the field, only to succumb to the fresh horses of Nostitz’s uhlan brigade. By then, however, the sun was sinking low, and Marshal Marmont’s corps was well up. There would be no horsemen thundering over panicked infantry.
At Klein Clausterthal, brute force won the day. The 105th Line succeeded in chasing away a cavalry battery during its spoiling attack, and then forced the Peterwardiner Grenzers back. However, a third opponent was too much. As Lasalle’s hussars were retiring, blown, and the 48th’s eagle was finally falling, the 3rd Converged Grenadiers forced the 105th to retire on Marmont, clearing the north face of the village.
On the south face, the Swiss drove off Infantry Regiment Number 22 Lacy and then, after much desperate fighting, Infantry Regiment Number 9 Clerfayt. The 13th Legere was fed into the fight by General de Division St Cyr and they defeated the 2nd Converged Grenadiers and then fought the resurgent Warasdiner Grenzers (see below) to a standstill. However, these two French regiments’ reward was to end the day virtually surrounded by Hesse-Homburg, Hohenfeld, and Nostitz, suffering over 200 men captured before they could recover their own lines.
At the crossroads all honor went to Infantry Regiment Number 29 Wallis. Ignoring the Swiss, who were causing so much havoc to the rest of their division, Wallis surged forward when the bugle sounded and routed the 111th Line regiment. Then, pivoting, smashed into the 30th Line and forced them to retire. This placed them to the rear of the village where they faced Molitor’s entire division in Marmont’s advance as night began to creep over the battlefield.
In the village itself, the boys of Warasdiner Grenz Regiment were repulsed by the 108th Line. Hesse-Homburg then gave the order for the 4th Converged Grenadiers, and they stormed into the village. The French line troops were forced, grudgingly, out of the village. They prudently retired out of the range of Wallis’ muskets, leaving the village, smoldering, in the arms of the grenadiers.
Von Klenau, when he came up, did come with a rush, swinging wide to the north of and simultaneously through a copse of woods to engage Marmont. General de Division Friant’s division was fully engaged with General Leutnant von Ulm’s division on the far northern end of the battle when darkness brought an end to the slaughter.
Losses were extremely heavy. From official reports coming into this headquarters, Klenau suffered about 900 casualties. Marmont, it is said, 600 with another 300 stragglers. Soult, from sources, including a young staff officer captured after dark, has 5000 men who will not fight tomorrow. Finally, Prinz Hohenzollern, he of the unusual energy for an Austrian, has suffered 6000 casualties, or over 22%.
Honors to the French 10th Legere who captured one color and, for a time, 6 cannon. The 3rd Swiss who took two colors. The 48th Line, who fought to the death. The 13th Legere who took 1 color. The 105th Line who repulsed three attacks and, again temporarily, took 6 guns. And, finally, to General de Brigade Lasalle and the French Hussars who fought almost the entire day, outnumbered, and triumphed over the Austrian Hussars.
Honors to the Austrian Infantry Regiment Number 38 Wurttemberg who destroyed the 48th Line. To the 3rd Converged Grenadiers who took the north edge of the village. To the 4th Converged Grenadiers, the honor of taking the village. But highest honor to Infantry Regiment Number 29 Wallis, who captured two eagles and made the furthest contested advance of any Austrian unit.
Your Excellency, Prime Minister, we may yet have a worthy ally in the Austrians.
Major Douglas Heresy, Special Observer for the Crown
It is 1807, late spring. The fields are green with new wheat and the first crop of hay is already in the mows. Cattle are fattening nicely, and the new foals are starting to gambol about in the great estates of Poland. However, war is afoot. Napoleon and his legions of veteran French troops are driving into the heart of Poland and the Tsar’s armies seem unable to even slow them down. On a prominent hill near the manor od Count Politnotski and the market village of Snotaratnik, the Seventh Corps of Count Raevsky, tired from marching and short on rations, has set up a defensive perimeter. Generals Vandamme and Gerard, with the French III and IV Corps respectively swing in a wide arc to snap up this juicy target. But Hetman Platov spies out the advance and Baron Scherbatov and his reinforced Third Corps marches hard to his fellow’s aid.
While Vandamme deploys carefully and Raevsky waits his doom with classical Russian patience, Gerard and the cavalry corps of Milhaud find that instead of sweeping in and engulfing the hopeless Raevsky they are faced with the hard-marching Cuirassier of Von Pahlen and the infantry of Scherbatov.
Vandamme, faced by only two sotnias of Cossacks on the plain (there was no chance Raevsky would detach a single jager from the hilltop), deployed casually and the Hetman pounced. 3rd Sotnia struck two batteries as they approached. The guns, stunned by the audacity of the irregulars, failed to unlimber before being overrun. The Cossacks cut the traces, lanced man and horse, destroying half of Vandamme’s artillery in a single strike. Maurin’s light cavalry brigade failed to react in time, the brigadier having called his colonels to a council of war.
A Russian horse battery, commanded by Captain Rashashellsky, dashed out with the Cossacks and confronted Vandamme’s entire corps of infantry, alone. An aide from General Paskevitch raced out and recalled the gunner after he had fired a few rounds into the leftmost French regiment.
His honor smeared Maurin now launches his brigade at a gallop into the offending plainsmen. Perhaps it is the elan of a French sabre-wielder with his honor on the line, perhaps only an irregular’s desire to avoid personal unpleasantness, but the sotnia is forced back with over a hundred lancers deciding they needed to be somewhere else.
On the other side of the field Gerard and Milhaud, unimpressed with Scherbatov, boldly sidestep across the Russian’s front to press forward in their planned attack on Raevsky. Vandamme now has his infantry in motion toward the hill as well.
The battle is now joined in earnest. Milhaud throws Berruyer’s light cavalry brigade at the massed Russian 12-pounders at the point of the hill. The cavalry general knows if he can sabre the guns there will be nothing to stop his cuirassiers from decimating, if not annihilating, the Russian infantry. However, the Russian gunners are up to the task. Their rapid and accurate canister blasts empty hundreds of saddles and Berruyer, struck by three balls himself, is forced to retreat.
Maurin, his blood now fully up, leads his brigade with a flourish into the Hetman himself and the 4th Sotnia. Perhaps because they were under the eye of the great man himself, these raiders and plunderers retain their cohesion and only give way a short distance before reforming, glaring at the French horsemen over the snorting snouts of their mounts.
On the far Russian left, the Kurland Dragoons do their best to keep Gerard’s interest away from the hill. They engage Domon’s light cavalry and manage to push them back and overrun a horse battery. Gerard, knowing a gnat when he sees one, ignores the turn of his right.
Von Pahlen sees his opportunity, launching four regiments of cuirassier over the wreckage of Berruyer’s brigade. They strike a weak screen of horse artillery and brush it aside though Astrakhan does take a measured dose of double canister that carries away a chef d’escadron, a major, and the first trumpeter. However, Gerard’s leftmost regiment, the famous 57th Ligne, having been campaigning since Napoleon was in Italy, formed square and Farine’s brigade of cuirassier rushed forward and Von Pahlen recoiled. The heavies found themselves in the same situation as Platov and Maurin!
Vandamme, while the cavalry thundered to and fro, marched steadily forward, his serried ranks glinting in the sun as the drums beat the cadence. Raevsky, fearing the veteran infantry most of all, stands like the rocks from which his infantry are descended, and braces for the inevitable impact.
Now we come to the great climax, the point at which the fate of the day hangs, the coup de main.
Vandamme launches his infantry forward, up the slopes of the hill and into the waiting muskets and bayonets of the stoic peasant infantry. Rome’s brigade, Schaeffer’s brigade, and Capitaine’s brigade in a wave, forward for France, forward for l’Empereur! Rome is up amongst the guns that did so much damage to Berruyer, this canister not so devastating, perhaps aimed more for a saddled armored cavalryman than a sweating, crouching, grognard. He is through! At the jager, boys! But the jagers have seen the elephant too and they have not raced up a hill and bayonetted and clubbed their way through a hail of grape. Rome’s men recede, like the wave they were, back down the hill.
Schaeffer never makes it up, rolling volleys of musketry and the determined point of a battalion bayonet charge force him, too, to recede like a wave upon the sands. But Capitaine, yes Capitaine sweeps forward and takes the volley but presses on. Here it is French bayonets that are sharper and Russians who stumble back. But it is a lonely triumph and the 47th Jager levels its muskets for the next round.
Milhaud too launches a final push. All eyes are on Farine’s brigade of veteran cuirassiers. Over the debris of previous struggles, broken caissons, dismounted guns, broken horses, and bloodied comrades, they surge. They first meet the survivors of Astrakhan and push them aside to crash headlong into the Military Order Regiment. Here, under the hot Polish sun, they duel like the champions of Greek mythology, hacking, slashing, twisting, turning, neither giving nor expecting quarter. In the end, they separate, as if by mutual exhaustion, each having lost half their number, staring numbly at the destruction they had wrought.
Gerard, assessing the situation critically, issues the order to withdraw. Raevsky will live another day. Vandamme will curse the Cossacks at the campfire this evening. Honors of audacity and valor to General de Brigade Farine and his troopers, and to the 57th Ligne, to the Military Order and to Hetman Platov.
Diatribes are simply often humorous recountings of the games played by the Long Island Irregulars. We play with toy soldiers and are unabashedly happy to have never lost this part of our childhoods..