Saturday, April 15, 2023

Do Not Cross the Border!

Looking into Belgium, near the border with France
Brigadier Tomasz Kasprowicz of the 1er Régiment de Chevau-Légers Lanciers de la Garde impériale (Polonais)¹ sat uneasily upon his horse. One of the other two men with him kept glancing nervously to the rear. Their orders had been explicit, patrol up to the border, but don't cross it. The other of the two was confident and growing weary of his Brigadier's hesitancy.

"I tell you Tomasz, no one will be the wiser."

Soldat Jan Kolski had come up with the idea to don non-descript clothing, "borrow" some horses from a local farmer, then extend their reconnaissance into Belgium. The orders from Paris had been clear, do not cross the border.

Napoléon Bonaparte still had some hopes of confusing his enemies as to his intentions. While he spoke of peace through his emissaries, he prepared for war. His initial target?

The Anglo-Allied army of the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army under old Blücher. His spies told him that the latter was half-insane, as for the Englishman, Napoléon thought him nothing more than a talented amateur, good on the defensive, but no good in the attack.

Logistics had defeated him in the Iberian Peninsula, not Wellington and his red-coated shop keepers.

Kasprowicz shifted in his saddle again and looked back at Kolski. "You know that the Emperor could have us shot for disobeying his orders, yes?"

The third Pole, the most nervous of the three up until now, coughed, spat on the road and said, "Pieprzyć to²," then spurred his horse forward. Into Belgium.

Jean-Pierre Benoit looked up from his labor as he heard the clop of horses coming down the chaussée. He knew that evil things were in the air. Bonaparte back in France and the damned Prussians here in Belgium.

Benoit had served in the French cavalry from 1810 until Bonaparte had abdicated the year before. Though proud of his service, he had been decorated with the Cross³ in 1813, at Leipzig, and had risen to the rank of Brigadier, he had been glad to see the end of it. He looked at the three riders, something bothered him about them.

"These are not civilians," he muttered to himself. They had the look of cavalrymen, good cavalrymen.

"Best play dumb." Benoit figured.

"Say my good man, can we have a word?" Kasprowicz's French was very good, as was his German and his Russian. English he had tried learning on Elba, but the language baffled him. Were there no rules for spelling in that tongue?

The Belgian looked up at Kasprowicz and grinned.

"You're a long way from home, towarzysz.⁴"

Kasprowicz's eyes grew wide, why would a Belgian farmer know any Polish? Then it struck him.

"Which regiment, towarzysz?"

"Twelfth Chasseurs à Cheval⁵. You lads aren't civilians, you're not French either, you sit your mounts too well. So I guessed Poles. Are you lads with the Guard? I heard the Emperor took a squadron with him into exile."

Kasprowicz looked at the man for a moment then said, "It's best I don't answer your question, brother. What you don't know can't hurt you."

Benoit nodded and said, "The mother of Brigadier Jean-Pierre Benoit didn't raise any fools. Well, except for my brother Hercule, damned fool headed into France three weeks ago. He was an officer of infantry in the old days. No doubt he's volunteered again."

Kasprowicz chuckled, "I know the type. Any thought of returning to the colors yourself?"

Benoit shook his head, "Not now, I've got crops to get in and a barn to repair. If the war is still going when that's done, maybe. Though I doubt my wife would take kindly to my leaving her to tend things herself. I had thought about it and she said, 'One fool in the family is enough. You are staying home!'"

Kasprowicz laughed again, "Anything we should know about in your neighborhood? Just asking out of curiosity, you know?"

Benoit thought for a moment then spoke, "Les Anglais are around Brussels, lines extending towards the coast, Antwerp you know? They have detachments near Mons. Les Prussiens are to the north of Charleroi, lines extending back towards Liège. Thieving bastards that lot, but you're a Pole, you know that."

Kasprowicz thought for a long minute then turned to his two companions and spoke in rapid Polish, trusting that the Belgian wouldn't know that much Polish.

As the other two Poles turned their horses and headed south, Kasprowicz gave Benoit a cursory salute then said, "Take care of yourself, brother. I believe that La Fête⁶ will begin soon. We're just the orchestra, warming up. Stay out of trouble, keep your powder dry and your saber sharp."

Benoit nodded and said, "Go with God, my friend. May He see you home some day."

He sighed as the Pole galloped back down the road to France, chasing his comrades. War was coming, La Fête as the Pole said. He had been there and didn't want to go back, not really.

But there was something in him which yearned to hear the roar of "Vive l'Empereur!" from a thousand throats once more. Perhaps he was like the old cavalry horse whose ears perked up at the sound of the trumpet's call.

He needed to think. It was mid-May, Napoléon would move soon, he knew it in his bones. The man was a scrambler, there is no way he would wait to be attacked. It wasn't his way.

But first these weeds needed to be cleared, otherwise his sweet Angelina would have his head!

¹ 1st Regiment of Light Horse Lancers of the Imperial Guard (Polish). A single squadron of which had accompanied Napoléon to Elba. This squadron was attached to the Red Lancers of the Guard for the Waterloo campaign.
² Polish, roughly "F**k it."
³ The Cross of the Legion of Honor, French decoration for bravery.
⁴ Polish, comrade or buddy.
⁵ Light cavalry, literally "hunters on horse."
⁶ Literally "the party," Grande Armée slang for "war."


  1. The border just looks like farm country. Some day I need to go up and see the border cut in the trees between Canada & the US in person (vs google maps satellite photos).
    Good instalment on the story!

    1. Forgot to check the "Notify Me" box, that's an important thing to do with this blog!

    2. The border these days does, looked a bit different in the last century, probably looked about like that photo back in the 19th century.

      You really can't tell these days where the borders are in Europe. Until you get further east that is.

    3. I've never used the "Notify Me" box, then again, I'm here all of the time, or nearly so.

  2. Sarge,
    Pretty sure Napoleon wanted to "...confuse his enemies..." as to his "intentions" rather than "attentions"; n'est c'pas?
    Boat Guy

    1. Well, uh, um, he was hoping they weren't paying attention?

      Yup, fat-fingered the wrong word in, actually fat-brained is more likely.

      Fixed it.

  3. "Logistics had defeated him in the Iberian Peninsula, not Wellington and his red-coated shop keepers."

    What is war if not violent application of logistics? Without the support of the haft behind it the lance head falls useless to the ground.

    "The border just looks like farm country."

    Prime ground for linear infantry.

  4. Okay, so Nappy thought Welly was a hack of an offensive general, but was good on defense. So Nappy creates a situation where Welly is on the defensive.

    Brilliant. Just... Brilliant.

    And three scouts 'sneaking' across the border? Yeah, right. Sneaking... Across a border that has a thousand eyes every mile, a thousand ears behind every bush, tree and building. All primed by worries of The Grand Army moving into the logical direction of Belgium.

    What was I saying about 'brilliant?'

    As to the Iberian Campaign, it didn't help that the French (and their allies and assorted odds and sods) really pissed off the average inhabitant of the said Iberian Peninsula by enflaming already bad feelings between the French and the Iberians (Spain, though a 'nation' was and still is very much divided into provinces, territories, clan lands et al.)

    1. The border between France and Belgium is pretty open, there were certainly not "a thousand eyes every mile, a thousand ears behind every bush, tree and building." Many of the Belgians were not happy with being part of a United Netherlands. The only people concerned about the French invading Belgium were the Anglo-Allied and Prussian armies. They had a lot of ground to cover and not really a lot to cover it with.

      Also, much of what Napoléon had to say about Wellington was for internal consumption. He was not happy with most of the marshals and generals who faced Wellington in Spain and Portugal, he personally had been in Spain and had driven the British out. Their commander, Sir John Moore was killed on the retreat to Corunna. When they weren't fighting directly under the Emperor, the marshals were often at each others throats and seldom coordinated their efforts. With few exceptions, most of the marshals were promoted beyond their capabilities, many of the appointments were political.

      Also the common conception that the entire Spanish countryside was up in arms is actually something of a misconception. Aragon was successfully pacified and governed by Marshal Louis-Gabriel Suchet. He administration was just and actually somewhat popular with the people of Aragon.

      The rebels did fight but opposition throughout Spain was spotty and inconsistent.

      As for the Waterloo campaign, even Wellington considered it a "near run thing."


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