Thursday, June 15, 2017

Opening Moves

Well before dawn, Sergeant Meunier had his file up and moving. It would, no doubt, be another hot day. As he gathered his boys he noticed that Charron was missing.

"Bonfils, have you seen Charron?"

"Oui Sergent, his stomach was upset this morning, I saw him go off into that thicket behind the cow shed."


"Exactly mon Sergent!"

Growling at his charges he headed for the cow shed only to meet Charron fumbling with his trousers and rushing to fall in with his mates.

"Is that why you missed Arcis-sur-Aube boy? Off in the woods answering the call of nature? Move, move! We are on the march!"

But, of course, they stood around until well past sun up. As in every army since time immemorial, it was always "hurry up and wait." But around them the carefully planned campaign was already coming apart at the seams.

At 0230 on 15 June, the first French troops left their bivouacs. There was a very precise timetable to avoid problems but even from this point on things were already going wrong.

Vandamme had not received his orders because the officer who was carrying them had had a riding accident and never delivered the orders. It was 0700 before Vandamme received orders to advance. In the meantime, Lobau's VI Corps which was behind Vandamme's III Corps, advanced on schedule which caused the two corps to become ensnarled.

Napoléon ordered Gérard to cross the Sambre in Châtelet to avoid this "traffic jam" but it didn't help much. The commanding officer of Gerard's leading division, General Bourmont deserted early in the morning of the 15th. His division, very demoralized by this betrayal of their general, delayed Gérard's advance considerably. (Source)

"What do you mean he has defected?"

The Emperor was livid with rage. Throwing the paper to the ground he turned on Soult.

"Did you have any inkling of this Monsieur le Maréchal?"

"Well sire, he has always been a royalist at heart, but this, this treachery, I had no idea."

Fuming, the Emperor rode to the head of the nearest column of infantry, ignoring their cheers as his staff and the duty squadron trailed behind him. He was still confident of his gamble. He had no respect for either the Prussians or the rag-tag army under Wellington.

Reining in his horse, the Emperor turned to his aide-de-camp...

"I tell you de la Bédoyère, I never trusted Bourmont. Never. But to keep the royalists happy I had to give him a position. I know what they will say in Paris, but so be it. The campaign is afoot and we must press on!"

With that the Emperor deigned to nod to the passing infantry, only half paying attention to their cheers. His mind racing to cover all possibilities. He knew that Bourmont would reveal his plans. But if he moved fast enough, it would not matter!
Guy Charron could not believe his eyes, the Prussians were fleeing, they had destroyed most of a battalion, the remainder were running for their lives. As he turned to cheer he didn't see his sergeant. Odd, he had been right there when they had formed for battle. He had heard him shouting the commands for a volley. Then he had become too immersed in loading and firing, loading and firing.

Oh, but he was so thirsty.

"Pierre do you have any water?"

"No, do I look like the quartermaster? Am I your personal supply man?"

"Where is the sergeant? He will know what to do."

As he started to look around, Sergent Fournier moved up and shouted at the men to fall in, the war wasn't over. Not by a long shot. As the troops moved on, Charron figured the sergeant would catch up, eventually.

Not far from the firing line Sergent Ferdinand Meunier lay by the side of the rough country track, quite dead. The second volley, the last volley the Prussians had gotten off before breaking had done for him. The veteran of Austerlitz, Wagram, Spain, and Russia would march no more. But as he had died he had seen his boys go forward, cheering and following their eagle. He died knowing that the victory was theirs.

At least it was on that day, the 15th of June, 1815. The French right wing had advanced north of Charleroi, having driven the Prussians from that town in a sharp and bitter fight. (A fight in which a young Prussian cavalryman had seen his first action. A fight which brought him to the attention of his captain.)

Before Quatre Bras, the left wing of the Armée du Nord, under Maréchal Michel Ney had driven disparate elements of a Dutch division out of their positions and now stood down to await the morrow.

Little by little the march north was unraveling. A moment here, a moment there, and time was slipping away.
The loss of time is irretrievable in war; the excuses that are advanced are always bad ones, for operations go wrong only through delays.Napoléon I, Emperor of France

En avant mes enfants! La victoire est a nous!



  1. Noice... very noice. Can haz moar plez?

  2. Reading this makes me want to put a rosette in my hat, wave the tricolor and storm the Bastille!

    Well written.

  3. Thanks for the post. I think that you are rather an authority on the Napoleonic wars. At the very least, well read on them.

    Paul L. Quandt

  4. Echoing your quote of Napoleon about delay in war, I 'm reminded of MacArthur's comment that "all losses in war can be boiled down to just two words: too late."


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.