Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Battle of Cimer (repost)

Reposted from Sam Mustafa's Honour forum.
Late in the day, the weather failing and foreboding, scouts of the Light Cavalry Division detected signs of a Russian blocking force astride the line of advance, at the village of Smyrcz, called by the French Cimer. The key crossroads had to be cleared before Massena could continue his advance with the IV Corps, and the task fell to Boudet's 4th Infantry Division, with Lasalle's Hussars and Chasseurs in support.
At dawn, the anemic autumn sun sullenly tinted a dark and low sky. A heavy rain, falling for the third straight day, churned the already-diaphanous soil into a thin gruel. Boudet's men wearily arrayed themselves before the Russian guns, soaked to their vests. Boudet deployed his two line regiments under Valory southward, to the right of the town, along with his artillery, massed in support of the main line of advance. Lasalle's 8th Hussars covered the right flank. Beyond the heavy fog could be felt the baleful presence of the heavy Russian guns, even if their menacing silhouettes could not be seen.
To Fririon and his 3rd Legere fell the task of demonstrating to the left of Cimer with the objective of pinning half the Russian force and preventing it from coming to the aid of the rest. On his left was Lasalle with the rest of his cavalry, including the elite 13th Chasseurs a Cheval.
The sound of the French deploying for battle alerted the Russian gunners, who began firing roundshot into the distant columns of men as they struggled through knee-deep mud towards them. In a rare stroke of good fortune, the narrow road to Cimer was cobbled, and though slick it permitted Valory's two leftmost Battalions (2nd and 3rd of the 56th) rapid progress toward the town, whose buildings sheltered them from the worst of the barrage.
The rest of Valory's battalions were not so fortunate. The rolling shot of the Russians' heavy guns was impeded by the cloying mud, but not enough to protect France's bravest souls from the carnage of hot, heavy iron. Marching grimly in column, desperate to cover as much ground as quickly as possible, the French lines were badly mauled, heads of column smashed, disorder and fear striking the ranks. The desperate enraged orders of sergeants and officers were barely heard above the screams of whole men and broken bodies. Columns halted and were pushed forward as each took its turn to face the Russian scythe and were mowed down like winter wheat.
On the left, the approach was eerily quiet. Fririon's legere advanced past the town. Lasalle's gambit looked like is might be paying off, his three regiments racing to round a low hill overlooking the south road to Cimer. They were just in time to see a Russian battery deploying on the crest, too far away to hear the Czarist men struggling mightily with mud that rose to the spokes of their cannon. With nothing else for it, Lasalle deployed his columns into squadrons, wheeled right, and attached in echelon straight into the mouths of the guns, the rain, mud and rising elevation turning a glorious charge into a slow-motion grotesquerie.
The cannon poured their fire into the front ranks of the cavalry, blunting their slow advance and ensuring that only a few of the most foolhardy squadrons could meet the gunners in a more honorable combat. These few brave men were beaten off by the valiant gunners in a desperate defence. For some of Napoleon's chevaliers, the fight was too much, and they fled in haste, but the rest pressed their attack to the limits of the endurance.
As the grim day wore on, the stalwart Frenchmen continued their advance into the teeth of certain death, their officers pressing them to the limits of their endurance. Finally, and blessedly, the 56eme emerged from Cimer, shaking out into disciplined ranks, bearing the brunt of cannonfire while their brothers advanced behind them. And as so often happens, on the left, Fririon's demonstration became the main line of attack, and his two battalions deployed into attack columns to threaten the center of the Russian line, advancing past the wheels of the Russian cannon on the hill to their left just as the glorious 13e broke the will of the Czarist gunners and rode them down with vengeful saberstrokes.
But Boudet's trials were not to end with the heavy fall of rain and lead upon the heads of his hapless men. Moving by road to support their grenadiers, two columns of heavy cuirassiers marched all morning to meet the French attack, and they arrived in time to deploy against the French left and center, its accompanying artillery unlimbering on the right to respond to the French guns. With nothing for it, too committed to withdraw, Boudet ordered a general advance, sending the 2nd Battalion of the 56th forward to block the surging cuirassiers and driving the 93rd straight down the throats of the thrice-damned cannon.
It was too much, too soon. The cuirassiers, seeing their moment, charged, and cut down the 2nd before it had time to form square. At almost the same instand, the lead battalion of the 93rd disintegrated before the eyes of all, shattered by the combined weight of two batteries firing point-blank cannister into their serried blue ranks. Desperate now, Valory led his men against the foremost grenadier battalion, sending them scattering, but tragically fell, mortally wounded, as the Russians broke and ran.
The Russians sensed the moment in the air. On the left, the grenadiers had been slowly falling back as the 3rd Legere pressed them, drawing them into a trap between the two looming regiments of cuirassiers. On the right, with the Russian guns finally threatened, two more battalions of grenadiers advanced, pressing the beleaguered French.
Fririon, risking the same fate as Valory, rallied his men as the two lines met, his inspiring bravery raising a terrifying cry from the mouths of his patriotic soldiers, who by musketry, bayonet and fierce comportment forced both of the battalions they faced from the field. While on the right, the 56th, in full rage at the loss of their beloved leader, held firm, the grenadier charge breaking like waves against the cold steel weilded by the bravest of the patrimonie.
This sudden reversal of fortune was too much for the stalwart Czarists. Having faced down the indomitable columns of Frenchmen all day, in the cold and freezing rain, they suddenly found themselves without anything to plug the gaping hole in their line, the army gave up to a man, troops streaming to the rear as best they could in the failing light of the day.
Lasalle's sabers, freed from the crimson glory of the battlefield, were turned to a more sinister purpose, his three intact squadrons pursuing the fleeing Czarists through the night and most of the next day, before being recalled. Their bounteous harvest turned an inconclusive, bloody day into a decisive victory for the French.
Boudet breathed a sigh of relief. His command was intact, the enemy forces shattered. Massena could continue his advance.

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