Friday, June 16, 2017

The Eagle Soars, Yet Falters...

(Source)
Friday dawned fair and warm. The troops were up and preparing breakfast shortly after sunrise, not that there was much to eat. As the troops cleaned their weapons they began to wonder if the war was over. While there had been some fighting on Thursday, it was mere skirmishing. The Prussians had been seen off rather handily. So Guy Charron was a bit surprised to find his unit marching away from the Prussian line of retreat.

"Sergent, where are we going? The Prussians went that way, why are we going this way?"

Sergeant Fournier sighed and wondered how his old mate Meunier had put up with this simple farm hand.

"Tell me Charron, do you know better than the Emperor? Perhaps we should halt the column and inform General Reille that Private Charron has a better plan. Would that suit you?"

"I'm sorry Sergent but we defeated the Prussians we met yesterday, they ran. Why are we not chasing them?"

"Ah Charron, master military man that you are, do you not recall there are two enemies in the field against us? The Prussians and les Anglais, perhaps the Emperor needs us to fight Englishmen today as we fought Prussians yesterday. I'm sure the rest of the army can handle the Prussians."

As Charron's unit moved off, the Emperor was reading his correspondence and considering his next move. He had little idea of the Prussians' movements, only that they were headed to the north. At that point, reconnaissance patrols were coming in with news.

"Sire, the Prussians are forming along the Ligny Brook to our front. They are in strength."

The day was going by quickly, at 11:00 the orders went out to Vandamme's and Gérard's corps to prepare to move. Orders were sent to Maréchal Ney to move on to Quatre Bras, there to turn to the east so as to envelop Blücher's right flank. As Wellington's army was thought to be at least a day away, the Emperor's plan was starting to look like a war winner.

First he would crush the Prussians, then he would turn and crush the English and their hired stooges. He would dictate the terms of peace from the Palais Royal in Brussels no later than the 20th of June, probably sooner, perhaps even on Sunday, the 18th!

Looking east from the road to Saint-Amand on the battlefield of Ligny. (Google Street View)
Reiter Adalwolf Eckstein sat his horse and watched as the French slowly moved into position. Looking down the line he felt that they were much too exposed. Couldn't the French cannon reach them rather easily from where they were forming up?

"Herr Unteroffizier, shouldn't we move back a bit to get behind that rise. We could still see the French but we wouldn't be so exposed."

"Ah Eckstein, you did well yesterday in your first fight. But it was a small skirmish, here, on this field, our army will meet, and crush Bonaparte's army. We're here to show the French that we do not fear them. We want them to attack!"

Pulling out his timepiece, Adalwolf noticed that it was nearing 2:30 in the afternoon. What was taking so long?

Even as he thought this, the first French cannon belched out smoke across the way. Followed by the sound, then by the shot which plowed up the earth in front of the battalion to their left. Adalwolf was somewhat shocked when he saw the ball bounce, straight into the packed ranks of the Silesian infantry.

Gemioncourt farm, on the road to Quatre Bras. (Google Street View)
As the battalion halted, the officers chivvied the men into assault column, the skirmishers spread out before the main body. Guy thought it might be nice to be a skirmisher, free to move about, load and fire at will, not all packed together nice and neat, a perfect target.

As the drums began to beat the advance, and the battalion stepped off, Guy soon saw the farmhouse to their front. It was a substantial structure. Guy thought that the farmer must be a very prosperous fellow. Interesting, far nicer than his uncle's farm.

The first pops of musket fire could be heard as the skirmishers began to exchange fire with the enemy. Soon powder smoke was filling the air.

The officers had the men moving faster now, it was obvious that they would rush the farmhouse and...

A volley rang out from the farm buildings, men screamed and dropped. Though they returned the fire, and could see the balls hitting the sides of the building, they weren't hitting anybody. The Dutchmen were in the farm, whereas they were in the open.

"Fall back, fall back! Reform!"

The drums sounded the commands, reluctantly the battalion fell back. Leaving a number of their men lying on the field. Some were still moving, many were not.

Guy began to think that war might be harder than he thought. Those fellows weren't running like those Prussians the day before!

(Source)
Adalwolf was gasping with exhaustion, his horse was lathered with sweat, his own uniform was wet through with the same. His lance was gone, this time though he had not dropped it, it had broken off after being driven through the body of a French infantryman.

The fighting was brutal, swaying back and forth, first the French would drive the Prussians from one of the many small villages lining the brook, then the Prussians would surge back in and drive them out. Numerous small charges in squadron strength helped to hold the line. But the casualties were heavy. Adalwolf's regiment could barely field two squadrons, the infantry were worse off, many of their wounded had died in the fires raging in the villages. No quarter was shown by either side.

As the light dwindled, Adalwolf heard the French drums, something was happened. They were doomed. To the west a column could be seen approaching their flank. They could only be French.

"We are flanked captain! What should we do?"

"Steady lads, steady! Hold your ranks!"

As they watched the French column get closer, it seemed to stop. Then they watched in amazement as the column turned and went back from where they had come. Puzzling behavior. But now the trumpets were sounding assembly! The cavalry was coming together and forming.

Adalwolf swore that he could see the Field Marshal, leading the horsemen forward, waving his cap overhead, shouting, "Forward my children! Forward!"

(Source)
As to the south Guy Charron's brigade fought doggedly to capture Gemioncourt farm, Captain McTeague's company of the 92nd Highlanders was formed close to the crossroads for which the small hamlet of Quatre-Bras was named.

Shortly after the battalion was formed, the Duke of Wellington himself rode up to the position. He and his staff dismounted to the rear of the battalion as the French artillery began to fire upon the Gordons.

"Steady lads, steady. Hold your ground, the Frenchy who can drive us from the field ain't been born yet."

The captain paced back and forth on top of the ditch in which his men were formed, offering some protection from the cannon shot. He wished he'd stayed in the ditch with his men, too late now. Especially with the Duke himself not fifty paces away!

A shout rang out and McTeague turned to see that the French cuirassiers were advancing on their position. There was no room to form square but as they had their backs to the walls of a farm house and one of the walls of the farmyard, they were protected enough.

(Source)
"Present! Fire!"

The volley crashed out, rolling down the line from platoon to platoon. One could hear the balls smacking into the steel breastplates on the big horsemen. Dozens of men went down, even more horses fell, all entangled in a heap, men and animals.

"Present! Fire!"

Another volley and the Frenchmen were sawing at their reins, pulling their horses' heads around. No man could survive such fire!

The Scotsmen relaxed, some sobbed with relief that they had repulsed a charge by the Emperor's vaunted heavy cavalry. Their relief was short lived, someone shouted out that the French infantry were hustling up, already in range, one or two men falling to the fire of the French skirmishers.
"92nd, you must charge these fellows," the Duke said, and with one bound the regiment was over the ditch advancing at full speed, and making the French give way on all sides. (Source)
(Source)
Over near Saint-Amand, Adalwolf Eckstein truly believed that he was the only man of his squadron still alive. He was on foot now, marching slowly north with a great mob of infantry, cavalry, and gunners, all intermingled with scarcely any organization.

He had seen Field Marshal von Blücher fall. Had seen his horse fall atop him. Desperately they had tried to fight their way to their leader, only to be driven off by masses of French horsemen, sabering left and right, killing every Prussian they could find. Not a few Frenchmen died as well.

As night fell, Adalwolf almost felt defeated. His general dead. His horse gone. His squadron shattered. The Prussian Army of the Rhine was destroyed, the bastard French were victorious.

But, he had emptied a number of saddles this day. The French died as easily as any man. They were not finished, they would fight again. But for now, he must flee with his countrymen.

Not far away, the Prussian Chief of Staff, General von Gneisenau was already sending riders out, organizing what he could from the defeat. The word went out, move north, march to Wavre, then we'll see where the English are. Many in the Prussian Army felt betrayed by Wellington. Where were their allies?

(Source)
Guy and his messmates had found quite a bit of food in the knapsacks of the fallen Dutchmen around Gemioncourt. They would eat well over the next few days. Once again they had bivouacked before nightfall, none of the generals seemed in a hurry to finish this war.

Though the English still held the crossroads, they felt sure that come the morrow the Emperor would be with them, returning triumphantly from the battle to the east, which if the rumors could be believed had shattered the entire Prussian army.

Victory!

Though the bitter fighting around Quatre-Bras felt like more of a repulse than a victory, still he was alive and he would sleep with a full belly that night. And what's more, he had hopes of a promotion, Sergent Fournier had fallen in the fighting that day. Shot through the head by a Dutchman!

Guy felt he had fought well that day, and yes his captain had noticed. Had actually told him, Guy Charron, to make sure the pickets were posted before dark.

What Guy didn't really notice was that nearly a third of his company was absent. Dead or wounded in the day's fighting. As night fell, no one really paid much attention to that, they, after all, were still alive.

(Source)
The Gordons had fought well, but all Angus McTeague could think of was seeing their much-loved colonel, John Cameron, pitching from his saddle as a Frenchman shot him down. He had been itching to pitch into the French all afternoon, but the Duke himself chided him for his impatience.

When finally released to lead his men forward, a shot had been fired from the upper floor of a farm house, followed by several more. Cameron fell, pierced by a shot through the body, his horse, hit several times, fell on top of him.

The enraged Highlanders had swarmed into the building, slaughtering every man they found. But it would not bring back their colonel, dead on the field of honor at the age of 44 years.

A victory, but a bitter one.





12 comments:

  1. As they say in my neck of the woods.... not too shabby. The suspense builds... alors!

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  2. The threads are weaving together!

    /
    L.J.

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  3. You really take the reader inside the action.
    It helps that you know your subject as well as you do.

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  4. AAARRRGGGHHHHH......that limber is facing the wrong way! Tongue was always towards the gun so that the lid of the chest opened towards the gun. That way, if the gun had a catastrophic KABOOM! there was a chance the lid would blow closed and the munitions in the chest would not add to the earth shattering KABOOM!!!.


    Other than that, excellent.

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    Replies
    1. Ah yes, it is the small details that often get overlooked.

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  5. Thanks for the post. Eagerly awaiting tomorrow.

    Paul L. Quandt

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