Thursday, January 21, 2010

Third Battle: A Nameless Wooded Valley

Believing the threat to his corps over, Massena allowed Boudet's men a brief rest before rejoining the line of attack. Unfortunately for Boudet, this left them directly in the path of the reformed Grenadier division he so recently abused, intact and eager to reclaim their lost honor.

Cursing Lasalle's generous account of his men's pursuit (“un homme toujours fier et parfois suffisant”), Boudet prepared to repel the unanticipated push. With Valory fallen and his men unavailable, Boudet met the new threat with six battalions of infantry and four squadrons of light cavalry between two wooded areas, deploying his infantry and cavalry behind the woods and his artillery in the clearing between them. Fririon, commanding the 56th and 93rd, sent his first battalions into the woods in skirmish order, with the aim of slowing down the attack.

Boudet's battery struggled through the mud, unlimbering in the face of the Russian cannon across the field. In the distance, the Russian grenadiers deployed in thin columns, massing against the strong left flank of the French position. A second battery supported their main line of advance.

Without fanfare or panoply, the Russians came on, grey and grim through the fog and needle-sharp rain. The axis of attack determined, Boudet called on Lasalle to deploy his cavalry to repel the threat, the redoutable 13th in the vanguard and the 8th Hussars to the rear. Lasalle's men and horses made best speed to the left flank, deploying in pairs to the far left and through the woods, between the skirmishing men of the 56th and the roaring cannon of the massed battery.

On the right, the cannon exchanged volleys, but the French got the worst of it, as the Russian cannonfire threw the French crews into disarray time after time. The horse gunners finally took refuge with some skirmishers in the woods. A unit of Chasseurs a cheval, deploying behind the guns, was also badly served by the Russian shot, and spent most of the day sheltering in the woods behind the skirmish screen.

At that point, the situation became “un peu compliqué,” in the words of one line officer of the 56th. On the French left, two Grenadier battalions deployed into attack columns, under fierce musket fire from the 2nd battalion of the 56th, while her sister battalion faced off against a third unit of Russian Grenadiers, a fourth behind it, both of these last moving beyond the front of the 1st of the 56th whose fierce fire from the woods failed to slow the oncoming assault. The renowned 13th Chasseurs a cheval squeezed between the two battalions of the 56th and moved to protect the 2nd battalion's open flank. Meanwhile the 16th Chasseurs a cheval poured out of the woods in wave, demonstrating intensively, prompting the rightmost Russian Grenadiers to form square, and holding up the left side of their advance.

As the Russians committed themselves to attack, the Russian cavalry appeared, their Uhlans racing to support the main line of attack, while a large regiment of Hussars swept round the left flank, supported by a desultory mob of Cossacks.

Lasalle, recognizing the situation as desperate, launched spoiling attacks all along the line. As his horse gunners poured cannister into the Russian square, he personally led the 16th against it, but was repelled, and was wounded for his efforts. Meanwhile the 13th had charged one of the columns on the left, and were also repulsed by an infantry square, but they had at least succeeded in preventing the Grenadiers from bringing their weight of arms upon the exposed flank battalion of the 56th.

The Russians pressed on inexorably, trudging mindlessly through the mud like a wet green mindless thing. The third battalion of the 56th became locked in combat with a unit of grenadiers in the center, falling back in good order but running out of room, as the 13th turned to face the threat of the Russian Uhlans. Meanwhile, alarmed by the onrushing cavalry, the French artillery grappled with their guns to face them, but their best efforts were for naught: first the horse gunners, then the foot artillery, were overrun by elated, shouting cavaliers. Their ranks in disarray, the Hussars circled back toward their lines as the 16th Chasseurs and 8th Hussars deployed to try to box them in. On the right, the skirmishing battalion of the 93rd, cut off from the rest of the army, prepared for a desperate battle in the woods against savage Cossack horsemen.

On the left the situation was desperate. The 13th fell back before the weight of the Russian lancers and, wedged between French infantry to their left and Russian grenadiers to their right and rear, lost cohesion in a panicked stream to safety. Their flight, however, was misinterpreted as a canny charge, and the foremost battalion of Grenadiers, pressed to their front by Frenchmen, also disintegrated. Nevertheless, the loss of the 13th meant that the infantry was badly exposed, and though there were two battalions to their rear, they were in no position to provide immediate succor to the threatened flank.

But the Russians had fought for too long, and extended themselves too far. The attacks on the left petered out, leaving the main force intact and defending the axis of advance. And thus the day ended, with the French wrong-footed and exposed, but saved by some deus-ex-machina they were only too happy to recieve :)


  1. In the first paragraph you talk about the threat being over (or at least believed to be), but then in the second you talk about an unanticipated push and new threat without first introducing them.

    Can we have footnotes, or a link to a translation? I get some of the French, but not all of it, and I'm lazy. ;)

    You can deploy an entire battalion in skirmish order? Did they do that, historically?

    Pedantic quibble: do fog and needle-sharp rain go together? I don't think they do, climatologically, but even if they do occasionally, in a literary sense, I would put fog with... desultory, drizzling, drooling, or otherwise soft and insidious rain.

    In the "peu complique" paragraph, the second sentence "et plusieur complique. It could maybe benefit from splitting into multiple sentences?

    Heh... the Russians trudged mindlessly forward, like a wet green mindlessly trudging thing... ;) I like. :D (Except you called them grey earlier - why green now?)

    One of the ways in which battle reports always bog down is in remembering who was where. The 13th? The glorious 8th? 56th? I can never remember. Maps help. It also helps when you specify right and left and centre whenever you move around, but that tends to get lost.

    Ultimately, though I've picked... this report made me think about playing the game. So it is a successful effort! ;)

  2. Hey Ian,

    Thanks for your comments!

    Yeah, there's a paragraph missing at the beginning - the new threat to Masssena's flank develops after the 4th had successfully pushed the Russians out of Cimer.

    The Russians are green rather than grey cause they're close enough to see through the fog. Which goes just fine with stinging, cold rain - or rather, they go together to create a perfect misery.

    As for translation: 'non'. :P (Lasalle is 'ever proud and sometimes arrogant', according to Boudet; the nameless French officer finds the situation 'a little complicated').

    An OoB is forthcoming; maps are not. I tried to focus the narration where the action was, rather than stick to a pedantic geographical orientation.

    And in Lasalle, any infantry unit with a skirmish value of 2 or more can be deployed entirely as light infantry in 'skirmish order', either deployed to bolster the skirmish screen in other units or as a formed 'skirmish cloud.' It's a significant tactical advantage for the French.

    I'm glad I piqued your interest. :)

  3. When we play next, we are playing with good weather no matter what the roll ;)