Modern-Day Napoleonic Battles & Travels, Part the Second
Cyrano’s next entry to the travelogue ~
Jim Owczarski, 05 November 2016
One of the great joys of travel is discovering something you never thought to find. This is particularly true for me if it’s something that runs the risk of being lost to time or cultural preference. A good example is the small memorial sign atop the Stare Vinohrady (Old Vineyard) at Austerlitz. For all the effort that went into making the battlefield ready for the 200th anniversary back in 2005, it seems no one bothered to put up something more permanent than a simple metal sign, painted white-on-blue, and mounted on two stakes at the site of one of the greatest cavalry charges in history.
Admittedly, depending on how one gets up there, the route to the top of the Stare Vinohrady can be quite the hike and, based on the fair number of beer bottles and cigarette butts in evidence, it seems a popular location for late night fire pits and drink-a-thons. Still, not long after I laid eyes on the sign — and worked my way through a rough translation of its Czech inscription — I was determined at least to leave it standing and its restoration, however brief, is something I will always remember.
Now that I’m on my way to the Jena-Auerstadt battlefield, I’m delighted to have already found something about which I intend to obsess — the Apelsteine.
Lest there be some confusion, let me first observe that these stones relate to the Battle of Leipzig, not Jena-Auerstadt. By all appearances, however, the best route to Jena is via a landing in Berlin. Leipzig is an easy train ride from there and there’s not much sense in going that far and not at least seeing something of the great 1813 battle. In fact, I’d probably have made this trip about Leipzig had it not been for the fact, relayed in just about every account I’ve read of the area today, that there’s very little of the battlefield left to be seen. Sure, there’s the massive Volkerschlachtdenkmal which appears in the background of just about every photograph I’ve seen of historic Leipzig, but there are few of the sweeping fields, harrowing heights, and other topographic features of battlefields that are so important to the dark tourist.
That is why the fifty Apelsteine were such an exciting find for me. These stones are 1.5-meter monuments to significant events and personages from the Battle of Leipzig. They were constructed between 1861 and 1865 (a truly bizarre coincidence) at the sole cost of a local poet, one Theodore Apel. Their locations have now been geocached and it is my intention to track down each one of them. The German-language Wiki entry on them is here
Turning our attention to matters further Southwest and into the Thuringian forest, it will be remembered that Napoleon, having crushed the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz, and sensing the restiveness of the Prussians, chose to march on Berlin and force a settlement in the early Fall of 1806. This march became a classic within the canon of Napoleonic operational warfare as the Emperor’s armies marched North and East in the Battalion Carre. Each of Napoleon’s corps was a self-sustaining, combined-arms formation capable of conducting battle on its own terms. As it moved, however, each corps took care to remain within a day’s march of each other meaning that they’d be able to concentrate rapidly against a foe once found.
In my Campaign: Jena-Auerstadt game (John Tiller Software), I have been reminded of the difficulty of moving that many men and that much materiel in the face of a foe who has an interest in seeing you move as slowly as possible. My opponent is a past master of Fabian tactics and certainly of annoying me. As was the case in 1806, I’ve got to be very careful with my cavalry screens making sure that none of his light cavalry are allowed to sneak behind my front lines and raid either supplies or artillery trains.
Here, for example, at Tegau, Marshal Bernadotte’s I Corps found a few forward Prussians waiting at the top of a ridge.
Now I know that I’ve got to get well past this point and my opponent knows I know it. He, therefore, is more than willing to see me grind my men to bits in pushing past his troops. Making matters worse, notice the forest and other rough terrain from which Bernadotte’s men are emerging. One step off the road will result in the cavalry suffering a disruption from which it will be very difficult to recover.
Early on, though, I’ve managed to silence one of his batteries — cannon are extremely costly in this system — and give the men facing me on this ridge a real mauling. On the other hand, our progress towards Jena has slowed to a crawl.
Meanwhile, over at Saalfeld, history did not repeat itself as the Prussian rearguard under its prince, Louis Ferdinand, was nowhere in evidence. Marshal Lannes’ V Corps advanced to the banks of the Saal River and secured the crossing leaving me to wonder where all those Prussians might have gone. It wouldn’t be my friend Andy, however, if there were no Prussians left behind to watch my every move. Or at least most every move.
And, of course, one of the great joys of playing any historical game with a solid map is learning the geography of the battlefield; what’s there, what’s not, what’s changed, and what’s stayed the same. Oh, and what can make an eight-year-old in a 50-year-old’s body giggle.
Speaking of Saalfeld, my friend Doug (PanzerDe to forum denizens) came up to visit me a couple weeks ago to help celebrate my 50th birthday. This is a kindness — it’s a four-hour trip if you’re breaking every speed limit there is — I shall find it very difficult to requite. We wound up playing a fair number of non-historical games — “One Hour Werewolf” with my son among them — but we did spend an evening playing Decision Games’ mini-game folio of “Saalfeld”. A part of the “Musket and Saber” series, this is a low-counter-density game played on a map printed on legal-sized paper. There’s only four pages of general “quick play” rules and a couple scenario-specific rules including the order of battle.
For all that simplicity, though, we found a fair amount to like. Played at roughly the battalion level — although there’s some fudging built into the OoB for playability’s sake — the Prussian army is challenged, as in history, to defeat the French army before it can reinforce itself. The French are given three choices for the entry of its main body and must come up with some way to unhinge the rear of Louis Ferdinand’s men from the Saal; all while trying to get its forces out of the Thuringian forest paths and onto the field.
I think we both thought the combat system a good one, but we proved ourselves creatures of ancient habit in our mutual dislike of the rule that has attackers roll two dice, each in a different color. The first die determines the outcome of the fight. The second die determines the outcome of a morale roll if the first die requires a morale roll — even if the morale roll affects the other player. The notion of one player being able to roll another’s morale was just a bit too much.
Also intriguing was the skirmishing system which allows units with organic skirmishers to drive back formed units rather than cause casualties directly. I thought this dealt elegantly with a critical aspect of Napoleonic tactical combat that many games either miss or get wrong.
It should also be said that Decision Games continues to prove itself the game company most likely to issue games requiring errata. There’s at least one CRT result that makes zero sense and a rule regarding cavalry charges that incensed Doug that could easily have been remedied with a small amount of proof-reading.
At Saalfeld, Napoleon’s paladin, Marshal Jean Lannes and his V Corps shattered the rearguard force of Prince Louis Ferdinand and wound up leaving the Prince dead on the field of battle. Prince Louis survived our encounter — Doug played the Prussians — and after a pleasant two hours of play we had fought to a bloody draw. For its deficiencies, this is a game I would gladly play again and may pack on my trip to Jena given its very small footprint.
Before closing this chapter of my preparations to visit Jena, I did want to mention that the forum kriegsspiel of the 1806 campaign is well under way. Please take a moment to read the reports being started by Vance (Barthheart) and count on the fact that I’ll bring you all more up-to-date with my next entry in this series.
Until then, I embrace you all!