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 :)
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.
Reposted from the Honour forum, just so I can keep all my batreps in one place.
So I had my first game of Lasalle last night. Because we didn't get started until after 7, and had to spend most of our time noodling through the rules, we didn't come to anything like a conclusion, but I think it's safe to say that the game has rekindled my interest in miniature gaming.
I played my French infantry division against a Peninsular British force - Jack borrowed John's counters for this occasion. We both chose to defend, which means a dice-off, and Brits get a bonus to that roll, so they ended up defending. The game has an interesting table setup sequence: you roll one die for odds/evens and another for the straight number, and reference the result to a chart of standard battlefields, which are then modified by additional terrain of the players' choosing. First the defender chooses to add a piece of terrain, then the attacker, then the defender again. No piece can be more than about a foot across.
Then the defender decides whether to pick his starting edge and set up, or let the attacker pick the edge and set up first. Jack chose to set up first, so he could use his hill, and deployed his troops in a thin red line, interspersing attack columns with units in line. His one small battery of guns was on the hill, angled towards the center of the board, along with a couple of battalions as flank security. His heavy cavalry was in reserve, waiting for the right time to turn the tide of battle.
Then I deployed - eight battalions of regular infantry, backed up by artillery, with an organic brigade of four units of light cavalry, with their own artillery as well! I don't know whether it's because I had most of my figures (most of us are using counters for now), or the fact that I start with cavalry on-board instead of reserve, but it looked like a TON of guys, and several people commented to that effect.
My plan was to make an emphatic attack left-of center to the left of the objective, while my artillery massed right of center to wear down his pivot units and discourage reinforcements. I sent my small (2-battalion) infantry brigade to demonstrate on the right, to discourage any attempt at my artillery and to hopefully pin down a couple of battalions there. My thinking was to turn an 8 to 6 advantage in infantry into a 6 to 4 advantage at the point of attack. My cavalry units deployed among and alongside the main force, which was arrayed in attack columns three abreast and two deep. This turned out to be a mistake, as there just isn't enough time to cross the board unless you're in march order.
As a result, the first few turns were pretty uneventful. My artillery deployed about 1/3 of the way from the center line, in plenty of range to the Brits, and opened fire on his lynchpin unit, a large elite infantry battalion. Over time, my fire began to wear this unit down. His artillery, meanwhile, messed around with counterbattery fire and then tried to shoot up some cavalry, with little effect.
I was just about to deploy my attack on the left when his reinforcements arrived: two large units of heavy cavalry, one behind the other, bearing down on the front of my left flank! Fortunately I had judged my spacing correctly and was able to deploy my center unit in line, while the corner battalion stayed in attack column, ready to form square should they be charged. I retreated with a flanking unit of hussars, circling around near a wooded copse to threaten the flank of the British cavalry, while a second unit of my light cavalry moved up to protect the corner battalion.
Jack's charge nevertheless took me somewhat by surprise, as I had thought that the front unit was masking the rear one. However since movement is sequential by unit, his first unit charged my infantry, opening up room for his second to charge my hapless light cavalry! Because of the turn sequence, charges aren't resolved until the opposing player's turn, giving me an opportunity to react. I formed square with my threatened infantry unit, requiring a discipline (morale) check for proximity to the enemy, then fired with the neighboring unit in line, felling some horsemen but hardly blunting the charge. Further left, my light cavalry didn't have space to shake out into a wide line, so just took it on the chin. My reactions complete, we resolved the combat: cavalry have a hard time attacking infantry in square, so they bounced off, but the heavy cavalry rode right over my chasseurs a cheval, rolling twice as many hits as I did so breaking them instantly. The British dragoons' momentum carried them forward, past the corner infantry battalion and in the face of a second-line unit that I'd thrown out further on the flank the turn before.
Meanwhile on the right, my demonstrating brigade was past the marsh and shaken out into line and into attack position. It looked like my feint was about to become the main line of attack! Having anticipated this, I sent a third cavalry unit round the marsh to threaten a flanking attack: a combined-arms infantry-cavalry charge is Very Bad News for a defending infantry unit (they either halve their dice from being attacked by infantry while they are in square, or by cavalry for not being in square). My artillery was still bisecting the battlefield, and rattling the big unit of elite infantry to their front - while you can recover from disruptions, they only come off at most one per turn, and I'd had a couple of lucky rounds of shooting so they were at 4 DISR by the end of the game. When a unit reaches a DISR number equal to its number of stands, it routs. I was ready to smash into them with yet another light cavalry unit (turns out it's great to have lots of onboard cavalry!), supported by a wodge of infantry.
Unfortunately it was not to be. While we were able to resolve a second charge by the British Dragoons (less successful than the first thanks to a timely countercharge to their rear by my valiant Hussars, who had finally gotten turned around), no further units were lost, and we ran out of time. Things were looking pretty bad for the Brits, with three units wavering and a flank hanging in the breeze, but anything can happen in a dice game so the result remained indecisive.
I'm pretty confident that we can finish a battle in 3 hours. The small number of turns (usually around 9 for each player with a random ending turn) feels rushed to me, but that just encourages decisive action rather than dinking around. I thought the rules were pretty easy to understand, and the quick reference sheets (4 of them) well laid out. With any luck I'll have my book soon and the few figures I need to finish my army. I can't wait for next week! :)
Like any big project, if it's going to get anywhere I need a plan, and I need to follow it!
My Lasalle army is ripped from the pages of history: the 4th division of Masséna's IV Corps at Essling, 21 and 22 May 1809. This force almost exactly matches the core Empire army from the rules, and is accompanied by a 'support choice' of Lasalle (the general)'s Light Cavalry Division.
I'll have historical notes up on the 4e Division shortly, but for now here's my timetable:
An army for Lasalle - 256 infantry, 32 cavalry, 7 guns, 21 gunners, and four officers, all in 15mm, fully painted - by my birthday, April 10. So says Watts from Watts on Wargames - and he'll do the equivalent in Russians or pay the price!
It's a big job, but it's doable - I think! I haven't painted a Napoleonics fig in a decade, and have barely put brush to metal at all in the last few years. Fortunately all my little dudes are based and primed, so it's just about assembly line work and discipline now.