Friday, February 3, 2023


Un officier allemand mort prés de son cheval expirant (fragment du Panorama de la bataille de Champigny) de Édouard Detaille, 1882¹
Oberst Klaus von Herzfeld turned to the man standing beside him, "Hauptmann Sauer, take your men and push up this road here," he said, gesturing at his map.

Sauer saw where the colonel was pointing, then checked his own map, "This road, Herr Oberst?" he asked as he pointed at his map.

"Yes, push your company forward with all speed, the French are attempting to break out of Paris and they've surprised and cut the Württembergers to shreds, there's a hole in the line a good kilometer wide. Move man, quickly, I'll try and get you some cavalry support, but get your boys moving!"

Sauer turned his horse and headed towards his company, some two hundred meters away.

As he approached he saw his officers and sergeants getting the men to their feet. 

"Men of Saxony!" Sauer bellowed as he stood in his stirrups.

"Our enemy, the French, are coming down this road. We have them on their heels, their so-called Second Empire has fallen to pieces, their so-called Emperor is in exile with the English. This is their last gasp, we must hold this line, we must then drive them back!"

"Once we have defeated these remnants, we can return home, back to our families. Rise up sons of Saxony!!"

As Sauer sat back down in the saddle, the men gave him a single cheer, then quickly formed ranks. Within minutes the skirmishers were out with the support platoons following, bayonets at the ready.

Advancing with his men, Sauer at first stayed to the rear, wanting to make sure the men kept their alignment, for many this was their first battle. Wary, he watched to the front and to the flanks.

As they went forward, straddling the road, Sauer noticed off to his left what appeared to be a party of civilians, along with a wagon. He thought that odd, then he noticed the dead strewn across the field and back into the underbrush, stretching back into the trees.

Before he could order the advance to stop, the commander of his lead platoon was yelling, "Here they come, prepare to fire!!"

Startled he looked to his front again, sure enough a large group of French troops came rushing around the corner of a small knoll, just below the field with the civilians and the dead soldiers. For a moment he was at a loss for what to do. His senior lieutenant didn't  hesitate.


As a volley rang out, many of the running French soldiers dropped, many more began to form up behind the men in front. Their ranks were swelling even as Sauer watched.

The French were beginning to return fire, his men were starting to fall. Sauer rode forward, "Hold steady lads! Hold steady!"

At that very moment, a battery of Krupp C64 cannon, over a thousand meters away, began firing at the advancing French. He saw the enemy troops begin to waver as the Krupp guns found the range.

Drawing his sword, Sauer stood in his stirrups and shouted out, "Mit dem Bajonett, Angriff!!²"

Spurring his mount Sauer pointed his sword at the enemy and rode ahead of his men. He heard a loud shout as his men followed him.

Sauer saw a flash, then his horse stumbled and went down.

Jumping from the saddle he managed to land beside his horse as the animal collapsed in the road, screaming in pain. Sauer thought his heart would break.

As he stood there, he felt a punch, which startled him, then a French soldier who had been concealed beside the road ran forward, bayonet pointing at Sauer's chest.

Sauer tried to raise his sword, but his strength was draining away, he had no idea that he had been shot and that his wound was mortal. He fell in such a way that he appeared to be resting his head on his beloved horse.

Before he lost consciousness, the Frenchman who had killed him stumbled and fell across his legs. The man's eyes looked at him, he seemed so young. It was almost as if he was asking Sauer, "Why?"

Sauer had no answer.

Feldwebel Ernst Mannerheim turned his head to look at his lieutenant, "Hauptmann Sauer is dead, Herr Leutnant, it's your company now."

Leutnant Klaus von Bülow shook his head, he had liked Sauer. But the French were falling back, it seemed that the French counter-attack had been stymied.

"Feldwebel, get the men formed up, we need to pursue."

"What about Hauptmann Sauer's horse?" He gestured at the animal, still alive but obviously in pain. Mannerheim was a bit startled when the lieutenant handed his pistol over.

Though he had been in the army for a number of years, Mannerheim was still a farm boy at heart. He knew what had to be done, but the lieutenant should have done it himself.

Von Bülow was studying his map when the shot rang out. "Very well," he said as Mannerheim returned his pistol. "form them up Feldwebel, we need to move."

As Sauer's old company headed down the road, a number of men turned to look at the sad scene in the middle of the dirt road, somewhere near the Marne. Many had tears streaming down their faces, they would not soon forget the death of their captain.

Editor's Note: This is the third small story I've written, one of these days it might become part of a larger story. These are what I like to think of as sketches, something an artist (though I claim no such distinction) might do before beginning a larger work. Or not, as the case may be, many sketches never advance beyond that. But I will note, the use of the name "Sauer" is deliberate. We've already met one of his great-grandchildren, a fellow by the name of Manfred.

¹ A dead German officer near his dying horse (fragment from the Panorama of the Battle of Champigny) by Édouard Detaille, 1882 (The Battle of Champigny is a panorama painted by Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Detaille between 1880 and 1882. Oil on canvas 120 meters long and 15 high, it represents a phase of the Battle of Champigny (November 29–December 3, 1870) — the German attack of December 2 and the recapture by the French of lost positions — also called the Battle of Villiers, during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Alphonse de Neuville (1835-1885) and Édouard Detaille (1848-1912) , both veterans of this war, Detaille having also participated in the battle of Champigny, painted the main themes while small hands will create the background (countryside, ground, sky...). After its exhibition in rotundas in Paris and Vienna, the canvas was cut in 1892 by Detaille into 65 fragments to be sold at auction. Several of these fragments can be found in various French museums, including a dozen at the Musée de l'Armée in Paris. Source)
² With the bayonet, attack!!


  1. Not bad for a sketch Sarge, not bad at all........ :)

    1. Thanks, I found some good material to work with.

  2. A story behind the painting... nicely done!

    1. Something I like to do, I see a painting and wonder what the story behind it was. Sometimes I'll "roll my own" as some might say.

  3. Sarge, this is often a way I write as well: a detail noticed, a small thing, and then the story behind it emerges. Sometimes it goes somewhere, sometimes it does not. Glad to see The Muse is back!

  4. Whoa there (a little horse lingo in respect for the deceased mount)!
    We got Frogs and Krauts killing each other, so I figured this was more Napoleonic stuff. continued from yesterday.

    But, Sarge throws in a trivia link to a Krupp C64 cannon committing murder from over a thousand meters away, and the link shows it is a breechloader. So, either we got some "alternative history" going on, or the Muse has become enamored with yet another bunch of warriors. was not sure yesterday's and today's posts are linked, as yesterday they were prudently checking the flintlocks to ensure the pan was filled and dry.

    But, having missed the reference to the second empire, it now looks like we are not in the midst of a long series of campaign accounts, but rather an art appreciation course where a few thousand words add greatly to the image provided by an artist.

    Good stuff, and well worth the reminder of the great art out there, and what it commemorates, and that the glorious images are built on horrors and suffering. My perception of anachronism between flintlocks and breechloading artillery has a historical presence in the later charges of mounted cavalry against machine guns. Perhaps Sarge will elaborate on that some day, as there must be some art dedicated to those brave warriors.

    John Blackshoe

    1. There is art covering the decline of cavalry in the face of machine guns.

      Now there's an idea ...

  5. The "glory" and terrors of war, well told.

  6. Gardez à l'esprit que la vie est courte

  7. By the Sepulchre! A stunning and beautiful example of Calliopic inspiration!

  8. Don't be so modest, Sarge; the "sketch" analogy is an apt one and you are indeed an artist.
    Boat Guy


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