Wednesday, June 29, 2016

So...

(Source of the painting. I did the speech and thought bubbles.)
I was all set to do another political / current events rant, then I thought better of it. Life's too short for that, so again you get something that I want to write about. After all, it's my blog, right? (I'm sure I'll get back to the political crap eventually. During a Presidential election year it's hard to avoid. Kinda like walking across a cow pasture, no matter how hard you try, at some point you're going to step in bovine excrement. Trust me, I'm from Vermont. I know these things. Yes, I know how to make maple syrup as well. In case you really wanted to know.)

In the old days of the nineteenth century, warfare was (as it still is) violent and bloody. But in those days most soldiers walked to war. Imagine, if you will, walking from Paris to Moscow. That's roughly 1,760 miles. Walking at a comfortable 2 mph, non-stop, it would take roughly 36 days to do that. More realistically, marching perhaps ten hours a day, it would take 88 days to make that march.

Oh, at certain points there will be people proclaiming...

(Source of the painting. I did the speech and thought bubbles.)

So it's a long walk and along the way the colorful native inhabitants will be trying to kill you. After a few years of being occupied by the French, even the civilians will try to kill you. War is nasty. Then and now, make no mistake, war is no fun.

By now some of you are probably saying to yourselves, "Hey, they had horses too. And wagons, lots of wagons. Cavalrymen don't walk, they ride!"

Well, yes they did. They had thousands of horses available. Many, if not most, were used to pull the cannon, the ammunition carts, mobile forges and tools, and the supply wagons carrying all sorts of spare gear. While the French army tried to live off the land and not have a huge supply chain behind them, nevertheless there were things they couldn't get locally but had to be hauled along. Shoes, spare uniforms and accoutrements, all sorts of stuff.

When you got to where you wanted to fight, then, if you didn't go into battle immediately, you made camp. For the French, that often meant tossing your blanket down and rolling up in it to go to sleep.

Tents? The officers have tents?

Why yes, yes they did. Muster roles, manuals, regulations, and all manner of paperwork were as important to a military force then as they are now. Who takes care of all that stuff? Why the officers, that's who. Back then there were a higher proportion of troops who couldn't read and write nor do simple math. So the officers, for the most part, took care of that. So they had tents to keep the paperwork dry. Paper gets wet, ink runs, and the troops don't get paid.

Oh yeah, armies tended to haul their pay chests with them as well. Though the men might get paid sporadically, if at all, on campaign, good leaders knew that the men felt better with a few coins in their pockets. Ya know to check out the local talent and the local vintners, breweries and distilleries.

Remember, the French term for the brandy so loved by the troops is eau de vie, literally "water of life." In most armies of the period the soldiery liked their booze. Yes, I know, not much has changed in that regard. Though the quality of the beverages has improved over time.

On the day of battle the soldiers woke up, pulled themselves up off the ground, cleaned themselves up as best they could then sought sustenance. Sometimes it wasn't much more than some moldy biscuit they'd been carrying with them for days. Some mornings there was nothing at all. Before Waterloo most of the British troops hadn't had anything proper to eat since leaving Brussels two days before.

So maybe you had a bite, perhaps a bit of soup, then perhaps a bit o' grog (in the British army), brandy in many of the Continental armies. Then it was time to fall in and earn one's pay.

Notice that I made no mention of tents for the men. Tents are bulky and require lots of transport. Many generals felt that it was healthier for the men to sleep out in the open. Considering the disease rates at Valley Forge they may have been right. Cramped huts, or tents, with smoky fires, men coughing and hacking, there were periods during the year when it was surprising that any of the soldiers were fit for duty. Truth be told, disease caused more deaths on campaign than combat. That remained true for at least another century.

The bugles are now sounding, the drums are thumping, and the sergeants are getting the men into some sort of order. For across the valley lies the enemy, doing much the same thing you're doing. Waiting on the generals.

Then, eventually, the king of battle (the artillery) would begin to speak. If one was paying attention, one might see the smoke from a single enemy cannon signaling for the battle to commence. Usually begun with the fire of many cannon. The idea was to "soften" the enemy up before sending in one's infantry.

Standing under artillery fire for minutes and even hours is no picnic. You could actually see the rounds leave the cannon barrels across the way and follow them in flight if you had the right angle. One British officer at Waterloo told the tale of seeing the ball leave the cannon and head straight for him. As an officer, of course, he couldn't duck or drop or betray any fear at all. Officers were expected to set the example and actually lead the men. (Another reason why they had tents is that tired officers make mistakes and get men killed!)

While the round didn't actually hit him it did strike nearby and tear two privates in the ranks to bloody shreds. I daresay if it had been me, I would have needed a change of skivvies, to say the least.

Okay, so the artillery has been pounding both sides, it's now pretty damned smoky and hard to see, but that chap across the way has decided that it's time to send in the infantry. So they begin to march, while you probably can't see them, you can hear the drums, and if you're fighting the French you can hear the cheers for the Emperor over the din of cannon fire.

Shortly, if the officers time it right, your battalion is brought to the "present", muskets up and ready to fire. Then, out of the smoke, there they are, the enemy.

"Volley fire! Present! FIRE!"

In the British infantry they didn't fire all at once but by platoon, one unit after another to produce a rippling fire down the line. Normally this fire would occur at no more than one hundred paces (less than a hundred yards) often closer depending on conditions.

Thousands of lead balls, each over a half an inch in diameter, would smash into the enemy ranks. Blood and gore would splash skyward and onto the ground, onto the men who weren't actually hit by a lead ball. Men would fall having been killed or wounded by bits and pieces of smashed equipment. By bits and pieces of the men around them.

Then, while you're reloading, it's the enemy's turn to fire. If you're lucky they're a bit winded and many of their shots may go high. (Troops had a disturbing tendency to fire too high. If you ever find yourself in a Napoleonic battle, aim at the enemy's knees. Trust me.)

This exchange of fire could be only one or two volleys before one side or the other broke and headed to the rear. But it could last much longer. At Albuera, in Spain, one British brigade, Colborne's and one French, Girard's hammered away at each other at close range for quite some time...
The musketry duel that developed between Colborne's brigade and Girard's left flank was so intense that both sides faltered. The French began to break, and were only kept in place by their officers beating them back with swords as they tried to retreat. The left of Colborne's brigade, assailed by both musket fire and grapeshot from Girard's supporting guns, tried to force the issue with a bayonet charge but were unsuccessful. On the right Colborne's men continued to trade volleys with the French and, seeing their resolve wavering, also fixed bayonets and charged.

As the brigade moved forward a blinding hail- and rain-shower hit the battlefield, rendering both sides' muskets useless. Under cover of the reduced visibility Latour-Maubourg launched two Polish cavalry regiments at Colborne's exposed right flank. Ploughing through the unprepared British infantry, the 1st Vistulan Lancers and the 2nd Hussars virtually annihilated Colborne's first three regiments. Only the fourth, the 31st Regiment of Foot, was able to save itself by forming into squares. The cavalry pressed on against Colborne's supporting KGL artillery battery and captured its guns (although all but the howitzer were subsequently recovered).

Having captured five regimental flags and eight cannon the Uhlans swept past the 31st's square, scattering Beresford and his staff, and attacked the rear of Zayas's line. Zayas met this assault unflinchingly while continuing to direct fire at Girard. By this time the rainstorm had cleared and Lumley, commanding Beresford's horse, could finally make out the devastation caused by the French and Polish cavalry. He sent two squadrons of the 4th Dragoons to disperse the Uhlans, which they did, but the British troopers were in their turn driven off by a fresh hussar regiment that Latour-Maubourg had sent to cover the lancers' retreat. Closing on the action, the 29th Regiment of Foot (the lead regiment of Stewart's second brigade) opened fire on the scattered Vistula lancers. Most of this fusillade actually missed its intended targets and instead struck the rear ranks of Zayas's men. The Spaniards nevertheless stood firm; their actions very likely saved the allied army from destruction.

Some British sources claim that the Polish cavalrymen refused to accept any surrender by the British infantry, and deliberately speared the wounded as they lay. Tradition reports that the British 2nd Division swore to give no quarter to Poles following Albuera. According to Beresford, of the 1,258 men lost by Colborne's first three regiments, 319 were killed, 460 were wounded and 479 were taken prisoner. According to Soult's report the Vistula Lancers had 130 casualties out of 591 troopers. W
Oh yes, cavalry, those guys who didn't have to walk to war.

Battle of Hanau by Richard Knötel (Source of the painting. I did the speech and thought bubbles.)

If the cavalry was committed at just the right time, like when the enemy infantry was shaken by cannon and musket fire, they could shatter the enemy. If committed too early?

Battle of Quatre Bras by Lady Butler (Source of the painting. I did the speech and thought bubbles.)

Then your horsemen would be reduced to red ruin and you'd have nothing left to pursue a beaten enemy (which means they can regroup and perhaps fight another day) or you'd have nothing to protect your rear should it be you who needs to run.

And there's nothing cavalrymen like better than sabering running infantrymen and gunners who have been shooting at them all day.

One last note on the cavalry. Unlike the movies, oft times more horses were killed and wounded then riders. After all, they are much bigger targets. What's more, what do you call a cavalryman on foot?

Dead man walking.

Seriously though, warfare in the Napoleonic era was extraordinarily brutal, though probably an improvement over medieval times. If you were wounded, you were probably going to die. Unless the surgeons got to you in time and cut off whichever arm(s) or leg(s) you were wounded in. Then it's off to the hospital. Which often were a sewer of disease and uncleanliness. If you survived the amputation, you probably would die of some disease picked up in the hospital. Men avoided hospitals at all cost, considering them a virtual death sentence.

If you did survive all that? Back to the homeland with you and good luck! The common soldiers generally received no pensions, if they did, it was some paltry sum which might last a month or two. Then you could become a beggar and die in the streets.

Things did improve throughout the period, but once the uniform came off, society forgot about you. In fact, they ignored you and preferred that you stayed out in the countryside or anywhere where the high society folk didn't have to see you. Or think about your sacrifice. (Folks like that still exist...)

(Source of the painting. I did the speech and thought bubbles.

Oh, remember that 1,760 mile walk to Moscow you did in the summer? Now you get to walk all the way back.

In winter.

In the snow.

With a bunch of very angry Cossacks after you...

Napoleon's Retreat by Vasily Vereshchagin (Source)

There's your glory.
(Source)





46 comments:

  1. Whenever I think of Napoleon's foray into Russia, Menard's graph comes to mind.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Joseph_Minard

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    1. An excellent depiction of how the Grande Armee was whittled down to almost nothing.

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  2. "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. " John Stuart Mill

    War should be avoided, but not at ALL costs!

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    1. Absolutely agree.

      War is bad, but there are worse things. Far worse.

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  3. About Vita du life, and beer, those were the potable water makers. Not just drinkables. Not every evening while your hat was off could you get water to soak your biscuit in. The brews were mixed with the local waters, to create a morning wake you up. Get you moving. Somewhere I remember reading of the tatic of prior to sunset, and sunrise of watering the horses upstream of the opponent's, making a nice brew.

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    1. I can see that happening. All's fair in love and war after all!

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  4. I see nothing whatsoever romantic about the actual fighting of war.
    Good writers are actually able to get across how grim and dismal it is, doubly so for the losers.

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    1. The only romance in warfare is from the heads (and pens) of fools.

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    2. "...at some point you're going to step in bovine excrement."
      The ubiquitous meadow muffin, which I once saw described as unmitigated corral dust.
      Though I believe the writer was actually describing horseshit.

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  5. Mon Dui! ( That is supposed to be French, undoubtedly FUBARed )

    I have the great good fortune to have only played at war, both as a child and later in life. I may yet live long enough to see and participate in the real thing. I fear that it will be that of the most ugly sort, ( un )civil war.

    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. So close (it's Mon Dieu).

      We're on the same page there Paul.

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    2. Thank you for the correct spelling. I wrote it down along with other important things I wish to remember ( such as my name ).

      Paul

      P.S. I must be getting better, I passed the " prove you're not a robot " test with only two challenges.

      PLQ

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    3. I feel your pain regarding the test thing, Blogger won't let me change that. In a way it's nice, I used to get a lot of spam comments via anonymous, now not so much. But when it's a real person, it's a pain.

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    4. OAFS:

      First, sorry to be so lazy as to not type out your full handle. Second, to report that in my reply to Mr. David Martin, I only had to jump through one hoop. HUZZA!

      Paul

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    5. OAFS is perfectly acceptable, I use it from time to time myself.

      I was thinking of incorporating "OAFS" into my coat of arms.

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    6. "...coat of arms." Will such a coat keep you warm on a long hike out of, say Russia? Or is one for when we all grow extra hands ( at the ends of extra arms )?

      I hope that you can tell that my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek.

      Paul

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    7. Well, a coat of arms is sort of a reverse-vest. Rather than covering the chest and back (like a vest) it only covers the arms.

      Think sleeves. Fancy sleeves of course with gold embroidery, dragons, and sabers.

      ;)

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  6. "It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it."
    -Robert E. Lee

    War is doubtless a terrible thing. An earlier commentator rightly mentioned the same, recalling the famous quote by John Stuart Mill. However, while my research into the primary sources of soldiers during the Napoleonic Era has certainly found that to be true, it has also found that it was not utterly devoid of what might be called romance, within the Nineteenth Century meaning of the word.

    The journals of many British soldiers at Waterloo are remarkable in that they go from scenes of abject beauty (e.g., watching columns of infantrymen marching forward, giving boisterous cheers of, "Vive l'Empereur!" and watching in awe as the cuirassiers formed up and came on) to scenes of abject tragedy, without any sense of terrible irony or profound disillusionment (though certainly not without some sadness). While there was no mistaking that it was a hard life for practically all involved (and perhaps hardest of all for an infantry private), there was also some beauty in it all, even amidst the horror. The men themselves write of it.

    War is an ugly thing. But, as philosopher J.S. Mill points out, it is not the ugliest of things. There is beauty in it. And there are moments in war when humanity rises to display it's finest virtues. The Greeks themselves captured this duality in the Iliad (which shows some of the very worst of war), and I can think of numerous examples hence. War is not all Homer ("dulce et decorum est pro patria mori"); it is not all Wilfred Owen ("bent double, like old beggars under sacks, knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge"). Or, in the parlance of our times, one can rightly say if it is not all John Wayne, it is also not all Oliver Stone, either. The truth, as it so often is, lies in the muddled middle.

    If war was utterly devoid of beauty and virtue, it would be impossible to show, and far less romanticize. It is remiss of me to forget the name of the one who said essentially that, but it was followed up with the comment that if war was all hell, artists would have nothing to work with.

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    1. David - As recently as WWII:
      “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance. God help me, I do love it so.” - George S. Patton, Jr.

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    2. My apologies! Damned autocorrect strikes again.

      I meant Horace. I hope that was obvious from context. :)

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    3. Perfectly obvious. (Though to be sure I thought it odd that you'd attribute that to Homer Simpson. I mean, Homer, the Greek guy.)

      You caught me off guard, Homer would have said "Είναι γλυκό και λαμπρή να πεθάνουν για την πατρίδα κάποιου." Or words to that effect.

      ;)

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  7. David Martin:

    Really Sir, quoting Homer in Latin? Not at all seemly, Sir.

    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. Paul - that line sounds better auf Deutsch...

      Es ist süß und ehrenvoll für das Vaterland zu sterben.

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    2. By the by, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the words you added to your posting of the paintings, they made a great post truly out flaming standing.

      Paul

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    3. Also, my German is a bit rusty. As in, I can read a few words and pronounce even fewer correctly. I have a difficult time enough with American, although I am somewhat as proficient with English and can stumble around in Australian.

      Paul

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    4. Oh that's far better than I. I only know three words in Australian: g'day, mate, and sheila.

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    5. Fair dinkum, mate. ( Not sure on the spelling of the second word. )

      Paul

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    6. Okay, that's four. My son, when he was a wee thing, watched some kiddy program with a character by the name of "Fair Dinkum" and that is the correct spelling.

      (I think the character was a koala. No surprise there methinks.)

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  8. The "dry heaves" tended to take the edge off of some of that nonsense, as I recall, but will never admit to.

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    1. Oh yeah, you want the GIB to think you're a steely-eyed warrior.

      Can't do that with a live intercom.

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    2. Sometimes it's the reverse. I had a GIB who was a pilot and fellow Capt I outranked by one day and who already had his papers in. Natch he hated it in the back. When we'd go down to Tripoli from the UK for Bomb & Gun he'd stay drunk until the wee hours, then throwing up and dry heaves all day between flights to the range. Once on the range I'd say something like (as I was rolling into the tgt) "Hey Ron, let me know when we're passing thru six grand" ( release alt) I'd get a "Fuck You!" and then a "click" as he went gold mic. "Gee, thanks a lot Ron" I'd say to myself as I watched the altimeter unwind and also try to keep the tgt in sight. LOL. He's an FAA guy who writes Flight safety rules or the Airlines! lollollol.. After a day of dry heaves he'd be at the bar during happy hour nursing his first Cuba Libra..."Saaayyy, I'm feelin' a lot better! Rinse, repeat..

      He used to go to sleep/pass out in the back with his helmet stuck in/cushioned by the rubber sun-shade of the Radar with his hands tucked in his g-suit so he wouldn't inadvertently touch anything during his slumber that might have "negative" consequences--like pulling on the T-handle of his ejection seat, lol!!

      Delete
    3. Wow Virgil, I'm guessing that being a GIB wasn't his thing.

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    4. @ Sarge/

      Actually he was a GREAT guy--we got along fine. He just didn't give a sh**t since he decided to get out. He had a quonset hut near mine--called it his "f**katorium." lol. You have to remember that when the AF decided to put Navs in the back seat they left a lot of pilots stranded there because the AF was downsizing even then and so front-seat assignments were increasingly hard to get and a lot of those guys' next assignments were flying a desk, so we lost a lot of disillusioned GIB pilots who were looking at a bleak future because they were caught in no-mans land assignment-wise if they didn't get an up-graded slot as an AC in time before the next assignment cycle.

      Delete
    5. That's kind of what I figured Virgil. When you have your heart set on something and it's taken away, tends to lower the morale. A lot. Been there, done that, used to have the t-shirt.

      Delete
  9. Drifted over to some of Lex's last posts while waiting for my daughter to return. Saw this:

    "You only have to fall short once. Come to think of it, that was maybe a good lesson for the flying business."

    and nearly choked. All too true, to our everlasting regret.

    To all those who challenge the laws of gravity, and those who love them, be safe out there.

    Paul

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    1. Everyday I try to read one of his posts. Every day I miss him all the more.

      Keeps me at this blogging thing it does.

      Delete
  10. War is hard on the soldiers but worse on the non combatants. If the French Army lived on forage, what did the inhabitants live on after the foraging?

    Along that line, my youngest tells me the worse fate he can think of is being an Afghani orphan.

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    1. Precisely WSF. It's why the French weren't so well-loved, they were like a plague of locusts.

      I think your youngest is spot on. Being an orphan in such a place can't be good, or healthy.

      Delete
  11. OAFS, or Tuna, or juvat:

    I am in need of some help. My wife bought me a URL, but we do not know how to go about starting up a blog. Either advise from one or all of you or a reference to somewhere that will teach me what need to know. After that, I shall flounder around like a fresh caught fish. I spelled it with the "l" as I hope it will not quickly sink out of sight and mind. Of course, as Captain, I would be obliged to go down with it, never to be seen again.

    Paul

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    Replies
    1. Oh no, you didn't. You're sunk now, say goodbye to your free time, this stuff is addictive. (I kid, I kid. But only a little.)

      I started mine using Blogger, or (like Lex) you could use WordPress. Both are pretty good, I'd recommend taking a look at both before you decide. To get started with Blogger go here. To have a look at WordPress go here. I have blogging friends who use both and swear by them. I use both, Blogger here and WordPress over at The Lexicans. Both have their pros and cons. Those are both free, I have a couple of friends who use TypePad, which I'm not familiar with. You can check that out here.

      Any questions, let me know. Always good to have another blogger out there. Gives me more stuff to read! Bon Chance!

      Delete
  12. Those comment and thought bubbles are great!

    Now I'm wondering about the maple syrple.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)