Rifles in the Ardennes

Modern-Day Napoleonic Battles & Travels, Part the First

Cyrano delves deep into the world of Napoleonic battlefields in preparation for an eventual visit, and more ~

Jim Owczarski, 08 September 2016

Most images click to enlarge

People are incessantly telling me I’m missing the point.  (ed note – he frequently is, but usually about other things)

They wonder how someone can visit Paris and prefer the Army Museum to the Louvre — pace those areas given over to David — or would rather spend time crawling over an Old Vineyard in Bohemia rather than sitting in a coffee house in Vienna two hours to the south.

They even have a word for what I love to do, viz., “dark tourism”.  I suspect it’s not intended as a compliment.

But I, and I am assuredly not alone, am obsessed with Napoleonic battlefields.  I read about them, watch movies about them, play as many games about them as I can lay my hands on, and, far less frequently than I would like, visit them.  I’ve been to Waterloo twice, Austerlitz once, and, having spent this Summer taking my son to middle-American water parks, am determined that next Summer will bring a visit to Jena-Austerstadt.  The management has asked me to share my own journey to Jena as well as talk about those conflict simulations that take up the campaign and its battles.

These pieces will be different from those I wrote about Waterloo games.  For one thing, they’ll be shorter.  For another, I have less experience with this campaign than I did with Waterloo.  I grew up with the latter and played my first Waterloo game when I was in my very early teens.  I fully expect this go-round to be a learning process.  I really would like to hear from those who’ve got other views and experiences than mine as I relate them.  As I’ll share in a later installment, talking to those who’ve been to nearby Leipzig has already resulted in solid recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and, yes, museums and other locations dedicated to the campaign.

I’ve known the rough outline of this campaign for some years, but was surprised, given the dramatic nature of the victory as well as its significance, that a definitive book bearing a cost within the reach of mortal men has not been written in English.  The latter remark is a reference to this tome:

I’ve held it in my hands, if memory serves at Historicon, and it is truly spectacular.  My finances and the toleration of my long-suffering wargame widow, however, do not run that far.

My base of information, then, has been shaped by Professor Chandler’s imperishable The Campaigns of Napoleon

as well as his precise of the campaign from the Osprey series, although those never cover quite as much as I’d like.

I’ve also referenced Maude’s book frequently, although it’s dated:

And, based at least on the description, I’m looking forward to this one which I’ve placed on order:

Let the story begin, then, in December 1805.

As every schoolboy used to know, Napoleon rolled up the map of Europe on a battlefield about nine kilometers east of the City of Brno, now in the Czech Republic, when he shattered the combined armies of the Austrian Emperor, the Russian Czar, and the English bankers at the battle of Austerlitz.  Whatever recent research has done to diminish the size of the armies gathered by his opponents, Napoleon’s victory there remains one of the most dramatic in history and brought such a shock to his contemporaries that his troops began to accrue an aura of invincibility.

And this is a flattering portrait.  Imagine that what the one with "warts and all" looked like.

And this is a flattering portrait.  Imagine that what the one with “warts and all” looked like.

The one kingdom that had not been heard from, however, was Prussia.  Frederick William III, never the strongest of men, had sought, in the eyes of those given to defend him, to maintain the peace through inaction, slipping quiet support to both sides of the War of the Third Coalition and grabbing the occasional principality when circumstances permitted.  In the main event, Prussia stayed on the sidelines of the debacle at Austerlitz but, as a consequence, found itself the only continental power with an army capable of rivaling France in early 1806.  Although Prussia and France entered the year as notional allies — and there were many Germans (Beethoven, for example) who saw Napoleon as a harbinger of liberal modernity — Napoleon was well aware of the King’s duplicitous behavior and neither he nor his foreign officers placed great trust in their friendship.

Shortly after Austerlitz, Napoleon ended the misery of the 1,000-year old Holy Roman Empire, replacing it with the Confederation of the Rhine.  In so doing, he pressed his sphere of influence to Prussia’s doorstep.  Matters became worse when, in an effort to woo the British into an alliance after the accession of the “Ministry of All the Talents” in early 1806, Hanover, long regarded as a part of the Prussian sphere, was proffered by France to Britain instead.  All this was so much kindling when, on Napoleon’s direct orders, an anti-French pamphleteer was shot in late August 1806 and Berlin erupted in revolt.  The Emperor’s orders for the Grand Armee to return to France were countermanded and the process set in motion for the campaign that would culminate in the twin battles of Jena-Auerstadt.

I’ll bore down into the details of the campaign later, but, as this is a site about gaming, I want to talk about three games that I plan to use to get at the Jena-Auerstadt campaign, as opposed to the particulars of each battle.  The first is John Tiller’s take from his well known Napoleon’s Campaigns series.

John Tiller Software – Napoleonic Battles – Campaign Jena-Auerstedt

John Tiller Software – Napoleonic Battles – Campaign Jena-Auerstedt

Napoleonic Battles – Campaign Jena-Auerstedt

My long-standing on-line Napoleonic opponent has agreed to run through the monster historical scenario with me.  Titled “Six Days in October”, the 524-turn scenario is described, in a measure of understatement, and with a modest disregard for the niceties of punctuation, as follows:

Napoleon’s classic approach march into the Thuringian Forest and beyond to glory. Both players initial deployment is as per the choices of their historical counter parts.  Intended for head to head play.

One of the immense strengths of PC gaming is its ability to manage not only fog of war, which this game certainly does, but also huge maps.  It is hard to describe how large the Jena-Auerstadt map is unless you’ve seen it.  The map on which I’ll be having this out measures over 6,000 kilometers square in scale.  The photograph below is only one portion of Marshal Lannes’ V Corps entering the map.  Each hex measures 100 meters across.

Yes.  Big map.  End turn one.

Yes.  Big map.  End turn one.

It also bears mention that the campaign will be playing out with each unit equaling a battalion of infantry or a squadron of cavalry.  One unanticipated benefit of playing a game of this scale is that I’ll have more than a few turns that amount to “we’re walking…we’re walking” so I should be able to time posts updating the fight with installments of this series.

The second game is Victory Point Games’ Prussia 20.  My affection for this series is no secret and I’m very pleased to have a go at this update of Jena 20 that first appeared in C3i magazine.  I’ve already laid out the components and found them absolutely delightful.

VPG's components really start to click and THEN they choose to leave California?  Gov. Brown, I have a bone to pick.

VPG’s components really start to click and THEN they choose to leave California?  Gov. Brown, I have a bone to pick.

A side note for those involved in this fight, the lovely, heavy counters in this one would forever end the debate over whether or not to clip corners.

Lovely!

Lovely!

A fellow always wants a mounted board, but there’s little else here to complain about.  The rule book has grown from a pamphlet to something far more elaborate and the cards that add a bit of chaos and replay-ability are of a very nice size.  My opponent in this one will be my aforementioned war game widow who, written in our nuptial vows (do not presume I kid), agreed to play any game with me at least once.  Expect a full report on this game very soon.

And this leads me to all of you.  Well, at least eight to 12 of you.  You see, the third game will be a forum-based Kriegsspiel using the admirable Vol de L’Aigle rules created by Pratzen Editions.  If you’ve ever fancied yourself a commander poring over a map that conceals more than it reveals, ordering hordes of grognards about the field of honor, and wondering where the devil that messenger you sent out seemingly days ago has gotten off to, then this will be an experience for you.

 This map is nowhere near as helpful as you might think.

This map is nowhere near as helpful as you might think.

Each player will take the place of a corps commander or higher in the campaign of October 1806.  As was the case then, the Prussians will be trying to restore the glory and honor of their kingdom, and the French will be striving to avenge the humiliation of Rossbach, suffered at the hands of Frederick the Great in 1757.  I very much look forward to umpiring this game and seeing just how far from history matters fall.  A vast knowledge of Napoleonic warfare will not be required and I sincerely hope a few Grogheads unfamiliar with the era and this battle give it a go.

How excited am I by this campaign?  Why the master map now hangs extra-large in my office, waiting for the troops to take the field:

Stuff like this used to be expensive.

Stuff like this used to be expensive.

Then again, I’ve got this lot running about my office as well, so no one is overly surprised, if a few have expressed interest:

That's Austerlitz in the background, Berthier ever at center.

That’s Austerlitz in the background, Berthier ever at center.

To sign up for the Kriegsspiel you need only go here.

I won’t lie.  I’m hoping all this Jena talk helps me while away the days until I can get there in person.  In our next installment, I suspect we’ll talk more about the historical campaign, impressions of Jena 20, how sign-ups for the Kriegsspiel are coming along, and whether my French in the Tiller game have actually seen any Prussians.

Until then, I’ll see you on the banks of the Saale.


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One Response to Modern-Day Napoleonic Battles & Travels, Part the First

  1. Lance McMillan says:

    Thanks for the nice shout-out about the Nappy20 series. (Lance McMillan)

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