Friday, August 2, 2019

Alternate History Friday, Chapter One

Black Watch at the Battle of Quatre-Bras, 1815
William Barnes Wollen
Meanwhile, at about 1615 at Quatre-Bras, the French, supported by Piré's light cavalry, advanced almost to the crossroads.

The British 42nd, 44th and 92nd regiments held their ground despite heavy casualties and repelled the French advance. Then Piré's lancers charged the British infantry and severely mauled the 42nd and 44th regiments before they were driven off. (Source)

Sir Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, turned his horse towards the nearest infantry square as he observed the French cavalry coming on very quickly. As the infantry opened ranks to let the Duke and his staff into their square, a couple of men fell, hit by musketry from nearby French skirmishers.

The Duke felt a slight tug at his left side which, oddly enough (he thought) , left him slightly winded. One of his aides noticed the Duke grimace and quickly moved to his side.

"Your Grace?"

"Not a word Sir William..."

The Duke reached for his side and his hand came away bloody. Wincing he turned to his aide, "Sir William, if you would be so kind as to hand me my cloak."

The aide pulled the Duke's cloak free from behind Copenhagen's* saddle. No one was looking in their direction as the men were rather busy with the French cavalry. The aide quickly draped the cloak over the shoulders of the commander of the Anglo-Allied Army and looked about for a surgeon.


Jérôme Bonaparte** was more successful. Many of Perponcher's men were driven out of the Bossu wood and the Brunswick contingent, sent to assist Perponcher, was routed during their advance south from Quatre-Bras.

At about this moment a British brigade under Halkett, a Hanoverian brigade under Kielmansegge and the Nassau contingent arrived and were immediately deployed to support the hard-pressed Allied line. With these new troops Wellington now had a numerical advantage. (Source)


Colonel Sir William Howe De Lancey, Deputy Quartermaster of the Anglo-Allied Army had his horse very close to the Duke's, his commander was now leaning against him and was obviously in great pain. The other aides moved closer, knowing something was very wrong.

"Can you get me to that building?" The Duke nodded towards a nearby farmhouse.

The small group of horsemen began to move in that direction, De Lancey sent one of the gallopers off to find the nearest regimental surgeon as they tried to hustle the Duke to shelter. De Lancey was worried, the Duke seemed feverish and a number of soldiers nearby began to notice that something was amiss with their commander.


Kellerman, who had arrived with only his forward brigade, received the order to charge Wellington's center to "overthrow the mass of the Allied infantry." Kellerman was astounded. A cavalry charge without infantry support against formed enemy infantry was suicide and would certainly lead to the destruction of his brigade. He asked Ney to confirm the order. Ney replied by saying "Go, but go then!"

Infuriated by this insane order, Kellerman charged with his cuirassiers and against all odds succeeded. They decimated the 69th Regiment, routed the 33rd Regiment and found themselves in possession of the crossroads. (Source)


The small party of British officers had nearly reached the small building near the crossroads itself when a mass of French heavy cavalry came sweeping up the chaussée. Three of the younger officers immediately drew their swords and turned to face the enemy. It was their undoing.

The officer leading the first squadron of cuirassiers to approach the crossroads spotted the three horsemen with a number of riderless horses immediately and led his men in that direction. He saw movement into the building behind them but paid little attention to it, he wanted to cut these men down and seize the crossroads and ride down the men in front of him before they could form up.

The three young gallopers were cut down and ridden over without causing the enemy cavalry to even slow down. The cavalry then proceeded to destroy one English regiment and cause another to break and flee into the nearby Bossu Wood.

The 2nd battalion of the 69th Foot attacked by French Cuirassiers
(Source
As Sir William slammed the door closed he heard the clash of swords and the screams of his men dying. But for the moment the Duke was safe, unfortunately they had been cut off by the French cavalry before his man had returned with a surgeon. Surely their infantry would drive these Frenchmen off and he could get his commander medical attention.

Behind him, two of the other members of the staff had helped the Duke to sit on a table so that they could examine his wound.

"Dear Lord!" One of the staff moaned as they pulled the Duke's cloak away. His trousers on the left side near the waist were soaked in blood and his coat was torn and also sodden with blood. Quickly one of the staff began to remove his own coat, he would use his shirt to bind the Duke's wound, surely he couldn't be that badly injured.

"Sir William, write this down if you would, quickly, I..." With those words, the Duke of Wellington lost consciousness as the Battle of Quatre Bras continued to rage outside.


Several stragglers from the 44th Foot joined the square of the 28th Foot just before the French arrived. Immediately one of them shouted out, "The Duke has been killed! I saw him fall!" An officer quickly silenced the man but a tremor ran through the regiment just as the French cavalry made contact.

The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras
Elizabeth Thompson
Though their first volley staggered the French, one lancer's horse was shot down and crashed into the square, opening a gap. Before the ranks could close more cavalry slashed their way into the square.

"We're lost boys! The Duke is dead and so are we! Run! Save yourselves!"

Though the man from the 44th was immediately cut down by a sergeant's halberd, the damage was done. The 28th Foot broke and began to run. Very few survivors escaped the wrath of the French cavalry.

A nearby Belgian unit saw the British break, they threw down their arms and began calling to the French that they were comrades, forced to fight for the English by their Dutch prince. The rot spread rapidly.

Prince William of Orange, now in nominal command of the Anglo-Allied forces, ordered a retreat. The French were coming on in strength and their artillery was beginning to impact the crossroads and those forces beyond it. The Anglo-Allied forces were starting to unravel.

The 42nd Foot, the Black Watch, much diminished and carrying the body of their dead colonel were halted by the Prince.

"You must buy the army time, hold here! Form line and prepare for volley fire!"

The Scotsmen thought the Prince to be raving mad, they were down to scarcely 150 men and French cavalry were everywhere. But...

"Battalion will form line!" Bellowed the major who now led the remnants of the regiment.

"Present!"

"FIRE!"

The volley brought down the leading rank of another squadron of French horsemen charging up the road. The remainder cut their way through the Scotsmen who died nearly to a man around the colors. One of which was carried off by a young French cavalryman who had been born not far from the very crossroads his regiment was attacking.

His jubilation was short-lived as a battery of Dutch horse artillery fired down the road, killing the young man and tearing apart what was left of the 42nd's King's Color. The regimental color itself was under the body of the regiment's pipe major who had torn it from the flagstaff and stuffed it under his coat before dying.



Night fell. The Duke had regained consciousness after his wound had been dressed. No one in the room could quite grasp what was happening outside. There seemed to be a lull in the battle as night drew its darkness over the battlefield. Sir William poked his head outside and saw very little activity other than the tortured movements of the many wounded lying on the road and in the nearby fields.

"Your Grace, the battle seems to have ended. There is no one about. What are your wishes?"

The Duke drew himself up, he looked very pale. "Send a galloper to the Prussians, I need to find out their situation, then we must determine our situation here."

The galloper to the Prussians set out, only to find the field at Ligny populated only by the dead and the wounded. To the south of the field were numerous campfires, which could only be the French. He did not see a single living Prussian anywhere.



In the streets of Genappe the Anglo-Allied cavalry and horse artillery held the French at bay long enough for the remnants of the army to get clear. Prince William had dispatched orders for the army to regroup at Brussels. A number of British officers tried to convince him to make a stand on the ridge near Mont St. Jean, not far north of Genappe. He refused, he felt the army would be better off within the defenses of the city.

The last men of the rear guard reached the aforementioned ridge early on the morning of the 17th of June.

"Captain Mercer!"

"Yes, my lord," Captain Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery answered Lord Uxbridge, commanding the Anglo-Allied cavalry.

"If I leave a squadron of light dragoons here with you, d'ya suppose you might delay the pursuit a while here? I doubt Boney will push his men through the night, but you never know."

"Certainly sir. Any word of the Duke?" he asked, hopefully.

"None I'm afraid. A fellow in the 44th swears he saw the Duke fall, another says that De Lancey got him away from the field. I have three squadrons of light dragoons to the south. Perhaps they'll find him before the Froggies do."

"We can pray, my lord."

Looking to the south, Uxbridge sighed and said, "Yes Captain, we certainly can." He then turned his horse to the north, to the village of Waterloo, then on to Brussels.

To be continued...




* Wellington's horse.
** Brother of the Emperor Napoléon.

22 comments:

  1. For want of a nail.... Your imagination is outstanding OAFS, although I shudder to contemplate the possibilities of Bonaparte's resurgence.

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    1. Well, in the 'For want of a nail' battle, if Henry Tudor hadn't had 15,000 Froggies with him, Richard III would have prevailed, the House of York would have continued to rule England (for a while, at least) and one of the most sane and mellow royals would have made his rule felt in the future.

      Why for want of a nail? Well, examination of Richard III's corpse, only recently discovered, showed that he had severe scoliosis. In armor, on a horse, he was a beast of a fighter, as the horse and saddle supported the armor and him. (He was noted historically for having very strong arms, verrry strong arms.) So with lance and sword on horseback, he was pretty much unequaled. On foot? Because his horse had a flat became lame? The armor crushed him and reduced his ability to breath. Still a strong fighter, just with no wind. (Some English university found someone about the same age as Richard when he died with about the same deformity. Trained him in armor and fighting, and found out, yes, that on horseback the man could do just about anything with really no hint of his disability (extremely severe scoliosis.) But in armor on foot, well, no. Even not in armor on foot, swinging a sword was painful and the young man got out of breath quickly. Thus, an experiment to see if Richard III could fight proved he could, on horseback.)

      Well, YOU (OldAFS) did say it was alternate history...

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  2. Well now.....shades of Turtledove, Ringo and Stirling.....anticipation on this...(hopping from one foot to the other and repeating). Hoisting the "MOAR" flag, nice, very nice Sarge.

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    1. Just as long as some alternate timeline Brits don't go back in time and give them the L85 Enfield, because then the past Brits post Waterloo would be given the worst battlerifle ever and they'd really lose...

      (Shades of Turtledove and "Guns of the South.")

      Now if the future alt-timeline Brits gave them some SMLEs, well, that would be a different ending now, wouldn't it?

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    2. Time travel is prohibited in my alternate world. Don't want to mess with time.

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  3. Hey AFSarge;

    *Wow* How small things can swing history. Another one would be Arnold being successful in betraying Washington, how things would have changed. or even better if the Spartans did surrender instead of fight, the cradle of Western Civilization would have been woped before the seeds sprouted.

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    1. Small things can make big changes.

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    2. Even more 'bake your noodle-ish' would be what if Arnold had not turned traitor but stayed a patriot. The man could fight, unlike some of the American commanders. Kind of an earlier-times and not quite as competent Nathan B. Forrest. Which is why his defection was so hard on Washington, to lose one of his top commanders.

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    3. Congress screwed him (surprise, surprise), so he screwed them back.

      When did Nathan Bedford Forrest command an all-arms force? I thought he was simply a very good cavalry commander. Any Chanters reading this, feel free to educate me. Personally, I'm not a fan of Forrest

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    4. What I was trying to say was, in his role, Arnold was almost as competent as NBF in his role. Yes, NBF was more specialized, but then again, 80+ years earlier cavalry was not as well armed as NBF's troopers were, with revolvers and rifled-muskets. And the multi-fire capability, along with long-ranged fire of rifled-muskets, did change the tactics of cavalry from the RevWar times to the early 1860's. (Just because some generals in the 1860's didn't understand that times had changed and tried to use their troops (mounted and infantry) as if it was RevWar times, doesn't mean other generals didn't react and learn and use new tactics...) (Just like the tactics of the English Civil War and the 30 Years War didn't stand up to late 18th Century weapons that were just a shade better than 17th Century weapons in a lot of ways, but still far advanced in other ways (universal adoption of flintlock vs wheel/matchlock, introduction of more rifles, adaptation of weapons to the different terrains found in the new world.)

      Arnold was one of the best American generals at the start of the war. And as you said, he got screwed by Congress and he got all butt-hurt and history was written.

      Okay, maybe I should have said an earlier and not quite as competent Grant, who was an exceptional general who did use a varied-arms force, including using naval forces in land battles, even though Grant has gotten a bad reputation as a boozing body-wasting clown (which he wasn't, just when you're on the offensive, you expect to lose between 2-3 times the number of the defender, even worse odds when laying siege to fortified positions...)

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    5. And both Arnold and Forrest had a certain elan and panache to their fighting. Grant was more studied and careful. So, well, comparing Arnold and Forrest does work, if you overlook mostly-infantry with some combined-arms vs mostly-cavalry with mounted-infantry.

      Do you see what Eye mean?...

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    6. But I still despise both of them...

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  4. Alternate pasts are intriguing.

    What if the USS Merrimack's engines had been sound so she wasn't in dock and subsequently burned to the waterline?
    What if Pershing had found Pancho Villa quickly and stonked Mehico into bloody submission for their part in the whole border raid thingy (which, well, they should have...)

    What if Heisenberg was as good a Nazi as he was a physicist? (Seeing as it seems he actively slowed down the Nazi nuke program.)

    What if the carriers were in Pearl Harbor on December 7th? That could go two ways. What if all were destroyed. Or... What if the warning got out in time (fishing boat, broken communications, something) and the carriers were able to launch along with the land based planes and stonk the first wave, then go out and find the Japanese?

    Even weirder, since 'experts study logistics,' what if the South had all the same rail gauge and uniformity in rolling stock and connecting equipment?

    What if, where the Pilgrims landed, hadn't been decimated by both 'civil war' amongst the various local tribes (or one tribe had reigned supreme) and not by local plagues (they just weren't caused by whitey showing up, plenty of illness before eastern contact) and the locals were full strength and not willing to play nice?

    What if the Norse had succeeded against the Skraelings? A Christian Norse culture by 1200AD in North America?

    Lots of rabbit holes to fall into...

    And the Iron Duke (who wasn't the Iron Duke until well after Waterloo...) losing at Waterloo is an interesting idea. Could Napoleon be stopped then? Hmmmm...

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    1. Yes.

      Now, what would WWII have been like if Pre-WWII France had listened to Petain railing about the Nazis and about the stilted command structure that was setting France up for a fall, and actually put him in charge and allowed him to prepare as he wanted?

      That would have been interesting. A man villified by modern people, especially the French after the war was over, who was just trying to safe France from itself before the war and trying to keep France as some semblance of France during.

      I used to dislike him immensely. Now? A sad figure. Extremely misunderstood. Yet still guilty by association for the horrid crimes committed by his government, in the name of France...

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    2. Not even WWI Petain could have saved France from itself, the rot was too deep.

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    3. But he tried, which was, from what I understand, why he was so damned tired and mentally beat by the time the Nazis got around to going west.

      Nothing like beating your best leader like a rented pinata to really give you a chance of winning, no?

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