Sunday, June 18, 2017

La Rêve Passe




Guy was awake early, he was tired, he was sore, he was wet, and couldn't find a spot from the waist down which wasn't covered with mud. It had been a hard slog to get to this ridge and his battalion had only reached the place a little after three in the morning. The whole march had been in the pouring rain. The temperature had dropped as well, he was shivering and miserable.

Ah, the glories of being a corporal!


Hardly any of his unit had straggled, the men took pride in being in Reille's corps. The II Corps contained some of the best units in the army outside of the Garde. After all, wasn't his division commanded by the Emperor's brother? Though the veterans didn't think much of Prince Jérôme Bonaparte, Guy figured the young fellow had to have some talent. I mean, he was a Bonaparte, right? Guy was far too young to know of the follies of the Prince, former "King" of Westphalia and a bit of a rake. Too full of himself by half according to the sergeant major.

As it began to lighten, Guy looked across the rain-sodden fields to a small forest on the English right flank. Apparently that was to be their objective that day.

Looked interesting, they would be shielded from English cannon fire amongst those trees. Perhaps they might have an easier day today, let I Corps do the fighting. All they had done so far is march!

Looking towards the objective of Jérôme Bonaparte's division of the II Corps. Google Street View


Even though it wasn't yet dawn, that wouldn't be for another hour, Captain McTeague was awake. The damp straw that he'd managed to scrounge the night before was now thoroughly soaked. It was lay in the mud and pretend to sleep, or get up, have some tea, perhaps something to eat, then check on his company. Though he knew that Sergeant Bain would see to the men, it was better for morale if he was there as well.

His company was somewhat sheltered by the large hedge to their front. Though it had been too damp to start a fire, at least they were somewhat out of the wind. He noticed that a number of his men were already up and about.

(Source)
"If we could start a fire Cap'n, we could brew up some stirabout, we've got the oatmeal, Lord knows we have plenty of water!"

McTeague nodded to MacTavish, the lad was from his own village and seemed to think that made them friends. Shaking his head, McTeague moved down the line. He could swear he smelled tea.

(Source)


The Prussian army was on the move. Adalwolf had a new horse and he was now with a reconstituted squadron. They had been delayed by a fire in one of the towns they had passed through, but now there was nothing but muddy tracks, streams, and woods between them and where the Field Marshal wanted them.

Adalwolf had spent a miserable night. He had been nearly run over by an artillery limber and when he had jumped from the road, he smacked into a tree which he couldn't see, of course, as it was as dark as Bonaparte's heart that night. He was fairly certain he had a broken rib on his left side. But he would struggle on, he'd found some brandy and was using it to dull the pain. Not too much though, he wouldn't want to fall from his horse!

(Source)

As Guy and his company entered the wood, shots came from ahead of them, they could see soldiers in green uniforms moving back. They were Nassauers, they were Germans, which made Guy realize what a polyglot army the English general was leading. They fought well enough, but there were far too many French moving through the forest.

Pausing to shoot at the green-clad men, Guy saw one falter and fall. He realized that it may have been his own musket which brought him down. A chill ran up his spine when he thought that he might have just killed a man.

As the French approached the edge of the wood, beyond which was an open space and then what appeared to be a brick wall, one of Guy's men bent down to check the fallen Nassauer. Who lunged with his short sword, impaling young Pierre Dupont. The Frenchman collapsed in agony. No longer feeling any remorse, Guy stabbed down at the green soldier with his bayonet. This time killing him.

Stumbling out of the woods, Guy and his men stepped into Hell.

Assault on Hougoumont by the division of Jérôme Bonaparte
The French nearly force the gate of Hougoumont.
The fighting around the large chateau of Hougoumont lasted all day. Eventually the bulk of two French divisions were locked in combat with roughly a battalion of mixed nationalities and units. The backbone of the defense was the Light Company of the 2nd battalion, Coldstream Guards.

Wellington fed in other companies throughout the day, but in reality the defenders never numbered more than a reinforced battalion. Against roughly 22 battalions of French infantry.

Guy Charron was in the thick of the fighting all day. Which consisted of a number of futile advances against the heavily defended garden wall (to the right in the first print above). Guy's company had numbered 53 men at dawn. By the end of the day, Newly promoted Corporal Guy Charron was the senior man surviving in his company. He led seven men at the end of the day.

But at the start of the fighting, the I Corps of d'Erlon was about to go into action against Wellington's left flank. These four divisions had seen no fighting during the campaign. All they had done so far was march. This time they were to march on the enemy.




I Corps advances.
Captain McTeague was with his company, lying down behind the hedge facing the French. They couldn't see much but they heard the cannon firing for nearly an hour before they heard the French drums. When they could hear the French soldiers shouting their paean to their emperor, McTeague crawled forwards and used his sword to cut a gap in the hedge. What he saw shook him to the core. The French were massed in their thousands. They looked unstoppable.

To his right he had seen some of the 95th Rifles in their distinctive dark green uniforms. Now they opened a galling fire on the advancing French, though there weren't enough of them to stop the advancing enemy. Who seemed to be in an insane fervor, screaming, starting to dash forward, breaking their formation up.

Sir Thomas Picton now ordered them up onto their feet, shaking themselves into formation, they pushed forward through the hedge and fired a volley at the surprised French. The Highlanders had seemed to materialize from the very branches!

The first volley staggered the densely packed French, but they gathered themselves and pressed on. 

"Steady laddies, reload, quickly now!" As McTeague bellowed that command he heard a horse behind him. It was a trooper of the Scots Greys, soon the 92nd was surrounded by the big horses being driven forward by their fellow Scots. One of the highlanders screamed out -

"At them lads! Scotland forever!"

(Source)
The heavy French cavalry riding in support of the infantry pitched in to the fight as well. But they were too few to halt the advance. The Union Brigade of the Scots Greys, Inniskillings, and the Royals pressed into the French, two Eagles were seized and d'Erlon's attack was shattered.


As McTeague tried to get his company back into some semblance of order, he was nearly breathless with excitement. He was seeing the fleeing French and watching the British sabers going up and down. It was a catastrophe for the French.

Hearing another horse coming up, McTeague turned and heard -

"Cochon!"

Frantically trying to swing around and parry the coming blow with his broadsword, McTeague got his feet tangled in the trampled crops. He stumbled and only had time to scream -

"No!"

The big Frenchman rode on, to be shot down and bayoneted by three men of McTeague's own company. But it was too late for Angus McTeague. Veteran of many battles in the Peninsula, the 36 year old captain of the Gordon Highlanders breathed his last on the muddy slopes of the ridge at Mont-Saint-Jean.

After the defeat of d'Erlon's corps and the bloody repulse of the Union Brigade, who had driven too far into the French Grand Battery pounding the ridge. A lull fell over the field. Not at Hougoumont though, Guy Charron and his comrades were still locked in bloody struggle.


The Duke of Wellington could scarce believe his eyes as he saw what was happening on the French side of the valley. Masses of cavalry were gathering. Surely this was a false move. His infantry were tired but they were still steady.

Turning to De Lancey, Wellington grumbled, "The fellow is a mere pounder after all. Well, we shall see who can stand it longest. Come De Lancey, we need to seek shelter."




Some say the French came on seven times. Others say fewer, some say more. Nevertheless, the suffering in the Allied infantry squares was staggering. Though the French cavalry had little effect on the squares, when they fell back between each advance, the French cannon could play on the packed formations.

After the battle, the stand of the 27th Foot (also known as the Inniskillings, not to be confused with the cavalry regiment, both were made up of Irishmen) could be traced on the ground by their dead. Still in square, surrounded by dead French cavalrymen and horses.


Adalwolf Eckstein and his squadron arrived on the right flank of Bonaparte's army. He sat his horse impatiently as he watched the Prussian infantry charge into Plancenoit, only to be driven back out again. It was Ligny all over again. Except for the fact that most of the French army was heavily engaged with the English.



There! French infantry in the open falling back. Charge! Charge! Adalwolf's squadron commander ordered them forward.


On the other side of the road to Brussels, another drama was playing out. The Emperor finally deciding to commit his guard. La Haye Sainte was now in French hands, the Prussians were advancing. Now was the last throw of the dice!



Guy Charron and the remnants of his battalion had watched the Imperial Guard march up the ridge, disappearing into the powder smoke. Then had seen them, the survivors anyway, come tumbling back down. It took a moment for that to sink in.

A captain of grenadiers nearby shouted, "The Garde is defeated! We are lost! Run, save yourselves."

The Prussians seize Plancenoit.
With that the army disintegrated into a mob. Guy led his seven men back to the ridge from Hougoumont. Everything was in chaos. He could see the English advancing up the ridge, bayoneting, shooting, and stabbing anyone who showed the slightest sign of resistance. So Guy led his men down a side lane, avoiding the main road back into France.

As night fell, the Frenchmen paused to take stock. They decided to keep their weapons, the peasants would be against them. Near the main road they could see the army fleeing south, most of the men had thrown away anything which would slow them down. Only a few units maintained their discipline, pausing and forming occasionally to slow their pursuers.

Just north of Genappe, one of the men cried out as three horsemen plunged into them out of the dark.


Adalwolf screamed in fury as his saber came down onto the yelling Frenchman's head, cleaving the man's skull like a melon. He was killing Frenchmen, and loving it.

As he turned to saber another man he felt a blow to his left side. The agony of those broken ribs was overwhelming. His eyes teared up as he felt himself being dragged helplessly from his saddle. He knew he was doomed.


Guy had his boot on the Prussian cavalryman's throat, Guy could see that the man was in agony, his eyes clenched shut and watering and his jaw firmly clenched.

He watched as his six survivors unhorsed the other two Prussians and bayoneted them to death. Alexandre checked François, who had gone down under the initial attack.

"He's dead, Guy. He's dead."

Guy shook his head, trying to clear it, then he heard the Prussian groan. Without thinking, Guy lifted his musket to cave in the man's head. Then he paused. There had been enough killing for one day. The man was no threat.

Reaching down he picked up the Prussian's sword and threw it into the night. Then he and his mates slipped off into the darkness. Heading home to France. If they could make it.


Adalwolf was found by his own army and turned over to the surgeons. He managed to survive that experience.

He didn't hate the French so much as he had.


Guy Charron returned to his uncle's farm to discover that his uncle had died while Guy was off with the Emperor. Now the farm was his. No one disputed the claim of the fierce looking young man who had returned home in a blood spattered uniform.

Guy lived to have many children and many grandchildren. One of his sons died at Sedan fighting in the Franco-Prussian war. His only two grandsons died in the trenches around Verdun in 1916.

Guy lived to the ripe old age of 88.



8 comments:

  1. If you don't write this book, before I leave this mortal coil, I'm going to haunt you until you do.

    Just a little friendly encouragement! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Audio attachments are a nice touch....those are sounds that are rare nowadays at least on this continent.Nicely done Sarge, thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now if I could only share the smells...

      Um, on second thought, probably not a great idea.

      Delete
  3. WOW! Thanks for the story. What juvat said, me too.

    Paul L. Quandt

    P.S. You had better hurry up, I'm old, doncha know.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Would you rather be compared to Ken Follet or Bernard Cornwell?

    BTW - Happy Father's Day!

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    Replies
    1. Though I do like Mr. Follet's work, I am a very big fan of Mr. Cornwell. Yuge.

      And to you!

      Delete

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