Modern-Day Napoleonic Battles & Travels, Part the Third

frontier wars 728x90 KS

Cyrano’s last travelogue update before, y’know, actually traveling! ~

Jim Owczarski, 15 July 2017

I’m a bit embarrassed that it’s taken me nigh eight months to file an update to this series, but, with an apology proffered, perhaps it’s best to dive right in?

I’ll begin, if I may, by again talking about a surprise.  I’ve known of this creature for a long time:

How very, very lovely

If the inscription is insufficient, I will relate that it’s believed to be the original table on which von Reisswitz presented his Kriegsspiel to the Prussian monarchy and persuaded it to adopt it as a method of military instruction.  The scale is different from the 1:8,000 originally adopted and the terrain tiles are made of porcelain, but the game itself is close to that which has come down to us.  What I did not know, however, is that it was last seen on display in the “New Wing” of the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin.  (Author’s Note to My Yankee Brethren:  As with all things European, “new” is relative.  It opened July 11, 1699.)  A quick check of my itinerary revealed that my Berlin hotel is a 38 minute walk from this palace. How I’m going to carry it back to the hotel room much less get it through customs will take some thinking through, but at least I can take a whole lot of pictures.

Returning to the thing itself, the hardest part of travel, at least for me, is deciding both what to see and not see.  Jena-Auerstadt, it will be remembered, rests inside Thuringia.  This often mountainous and forested region has a rich and ancient history and is positively lousy with UNESCO sites.  It also played a large part in the history of the Reformation and the whole area is gearing up to celebrate that event’s 500th anniversary.  I spent a lot of time studying Brother Martin Luther back in graduate school and there’s no way I’m getting that close to the Wartburg and not stopping in for a visit.

This trip, though, is about the great double battle and I’ve framed my thoughts about the trip using the map that’s being used to play the Flight of the Eagle Kriegsspiel that’s been going on in the Grogheads forums for the last eight months.  Using this, and as I’ve studied more, I’ve broken the campaign into three main pieces:  the approach, the preliminary battles, and the events of October 14th.

Remarkable how well I’ve come to know this area.

With respect to the approach, my intention is to survey the ground from the gap at Hof and then follow the path North via Schleiz and Gera to Jena.  I am told this journey is instructive, at least insofar as it points out the risks Napoleon was taking advancing through terrain of this type and in the face of the enemy.  The marginalia in Clash of Arms’ game Jena! suggest that in the hands of anyone but Napoleon — who, it must be admitted, inherited an advanced organizational system — would have been madness.  This approach will also let me wander through a few of the locations where some of the best Kriesspiel fights have happened, although I blush to confess that I’ve occasionally confused these with the actual events of the campaign in conversation.

There are two preliminary battles of interest:  Schleiz and Saalfeld.  Schleiz (October 9) is easily the smaller of the two, really just an action, but it falls conveniently along my planned “route of march”.  Saalfeld, Lannes’ victory over Prince Louis Ferdinand four days before the main event, will require some doubling back, but I’ve become fond of this particular fight.  As I wrote last time, my friend Doug and I had at one another using the Decision Games eponymous consim.  I now plan to take this small-footprint ziplock game with me and play it at the battlefield.  Since then, though, we’ve had at the John Tiller Software rendition of the battle and found it instructive.

Here, in the Tiller game, Doug and I began a healthy conversation about what constitutes “victory” in a wargame.

At Saalfeld, Lannes began to debouch from the forest and found Prince Louis Ferdinand with his back both to the city and the Saal River.  He knew he’d eventually have superior numbers, but needed time for his men to file out of the forest.  At the same time, the Prince had no reason to stand and fight — to the contrary, an order had been given for him to march away from it — but he was a bit of a fire-eater and he chose to stick to his previous orders which were to resist the French advance.

Here, in the Tiller game, Doug and I began a healthy conversation about what constitutes “victory” in a wargame.  By the scoring of the Tiller game, the French have a hard time achieving either a major or a minor victory without destroying a large portion of the Prussian army.  While there are several lovely victory point locations scattered tantalizingly across the map, possessing them — even all of them — is not enough to ensure victory.  Matters will not improve for the French if Lannes manages to exit troops to the North of the map.  The points aren’t sufficient and, more importantly, the scenario doesn’t allow enough time for this to be a practical option unless the French ride hell-for-leather, leaving an exposed right flank in the bargain. While this realization came far too late for it to do me any good, I think we concluded this was a fair way of scoring this particular battle.  After all, Louis Ferdinand’s great mistake — other than getting himself killed — was choosing to fight the French at all.  Saalfeld itself was of little value to the Prussians and his route of withdrawal was narrow but secure.

The trick, though, is making this fair for the Prussians.  They can bolt straight off the map to be sure and guarantee a draw, but how do they win? Historically, of course, the only way for the Prussians to win was not to play.  Doug, though, has argued that they could have withdrawn in order, nibbling the French as they do so, and never getting caught out.  In the end, if all goes well — and there is randomness in the Tiller system — they might carry the day.  In the event, I came within one virtual die roll of squeaking out a minor victory and it ended in a draw.

Marshal Lannes may be seen as the lone cavalry unit debouching at the far South of the picture.  Yes, I like to say debouching.

Jena and Auerstadt, despite their proximity, were singular battles.  One thing I’ve learned through hard experience is that there’s always one more thing to look at, one more vista to try and find, and one more museum to visit.  For this reason, I’ve learned to set a base of operations on or near the battlefield, rent a car, and leave myself the time to make the tour as leisurely as circumstances permit.  To that end, I’ll be staying here.

I will leave to the side the fact that this place sports both a brewery and a distillery.  My commitment to Clio the muse of History is too great to be waylaid by drink.  Probably.  More to the point, this paper mill has been at this location for several centuries and is noted repeatedly in contemporary maps of the battlefield.  It is also, I was delighted to observe, found on John Tiller Software’s map of the battlefield.

I can almost hear Augereau marching by.

From this spot, I intend to first explore the battle museum at Cospeda, a short walk from the mill, as well the walking tours offered from there.  Thereafter, I’m off with my maps into the relative hinterlands of Thuringia to make my own way through Napoleon’s, lesser, fight.  I’ve allocated two days for this task — initially.

Auerstadt is an easy drive from the mill and will get two days of its very own including a visit to the smaller museum at Hassenhausen (Museum Hassenhausen Startseite) and the attendant walking tours.

The remaining two days are set aside for other adventures as well as picking up anything I might have missed, inclement weather, and a lack of sobriety.

Oh, and did I mention maps?

The folks at Burnt Point Lodge make 3′ X 3′ topographical maps of just about any part of the world.  And they print them on silk.  It’s an indulgence, I’ll warrant, but the opportunity to walk around the battlefield with my very own silk topo map, marking the routes of march as I go, was far too much to turn down.  The Burnt Point Lodge map website is here

My topo of Jena looks like this:

And it folds into a pocket.

It is also, I am pleased to note, only a tiny bit off from Kriegsspiel scale.

Before I go, a few folks have asked about how the October 1806 Kriegsspiel is going.  For those unaware, it’s being run over in the forums using the Flight of the Eagle rule set published by Pratzen Editions.  A good introduction is here in the forums.

My first thought is that, while it’s always fun for me to be the umpire in these games, in this instance it’s been painful not to be able to tell the story of the game to the outside world for fear of ruining the fog of war.  The seven players involved have been at this since October 2016 (we’re just about to finish the fifth day of the campaign) and I want to honor their role-playing and commitment by not spoiling anything.  There have been tales of heroism, horror, despair, and, probably more than anything else, lots and lots of confusion.  As the participants will tell you, they know precious little about where all of their own troops are, much less those of the enemy.  The enemy can nearly be stumbled upon but, true to the era, battles unfold slowly; often painfully so.

As history suggests, though, the simplest plans seem to have proven the strongest.  We’re now a full day after the historical battle and matters are still very much in the balance.  I’ve been working on something to help tell the story of the campaign when it’s completed that, I hope, will prove worth the wait.

Playing a game of this type gives one an irreplaceable sense of the terrain, why campaigns unfolded as they did (there are only so many passes through those mountains after all), and how incredibly difficult it must have been to bring the enemy to battle on your own terms.  It only reinforces my view that, in the end, there’s the Kriegsspiel, and then there’s every other kind of wargame.

In all likelihood, this will be my last journal entry until I bring you all some slides from Thuringia.  I promise at least a couple of views from within the distillery.

Chat about it below, or in our forums, or hit our FaceBook page >>