Monday, 15 August 2011

Last Stand at the Chateau Pignon, 1813, Pt. 2

Or, size isn't necessarily everything!  Continuing on from the last post. 
Outnumbered, surrounded,  a once-in-a-lifetime target, and you roll three "ones".  
Don't you just hate it when that happens?

The small French garrison at Chateau Pignon has already been described.  The 28e Légère is deployed to the rear of the redoubt in column, with a small unit of skirmishers on its right.  In the redoubt is the French  6pdr.  To the left of the redoubt is the 69e de Ligne in column, although it soon formed into line.

The much more numerous British had the following forces at their disposal. 

Division Commander: Lord Benjamin Breeg (Command 8) - Matt 

Darling's Brigade: Lord Henry Darling: (a coward!  Command 5, Timid and Hesitant) -Matt
  • 45th Foot (Nottinghamshire Regt)
  • 5th Foot (Northumberland Fusiliers
  • 60th Rifles
"Is that you, Darling?" Matt's 5th Regt. of Foot- some very nice conversions with Perry and Victrix figures
Strongbow's Brigade: Gen. Sir Septimus Strongbow (a very decisive leader rated 8.  He could re-roll failed command rolls, but if these in turn failed, they would count as a blunder)  -Pete
  • 74th Foot
  • 88th Foot (Connaught Rangers)
  • Royal Artillery (1x 9pdr. gun) 
In reserve, the 14th Light Dragoons under direct command of Lord Breeg.
The 14th Light Dragoons.  These were to enjoy a simply capital spot of hunting today, eh, what?
With numbers like these, victory was only a matter of time.  The challenge of the British players was to see just how long it would take them to overrun the French position.

The British sagely avoided the meadow in the centre of the table, and which was protected by the guns of the redoubt.

The column on the left advanced slowly under its hesitant commander, and most of the time it required a direct order from the general to advance them at all!  
"Move, Damn your Eyes, Sir"
The 5th Foot led the advance.  This was their first time in action, and they were not to disappoint their commander.

Meanwhile, the British right advances steadily along the right side of the table.  The 74th Foot- a consistently unlucky regiment- led the advance over a hill-dotted terrain, while the 69e de Ligne waited patiently behind a hill that rested on the left of the redoubt.
All the while the 5th & 45th regiments of foot continued to advance oh-so-slowly up the left side of the valley, while the French piquets- a small detachment of voltigeurs- attempt to enter some woods so that they can snipe at the flank of the British advance.  However, they fail to reach the woods in time, and the 60th Rifles get there  first- and in greater numbers.  

The Rifles opened a galling fire on the picquets, who hung gallantly on in an exposed position before grudgingly giving ground, eventually retiring inside the redoubt.

At this time H.M's 45th Foot, a regiment with an illustrious record in our games, clearly decided that it had done its lion's share of the fighting for a while, and that it was time for the new boys of the 5th to earn their spurs on their own.  They pretty much stayed put for the rest of the battle.

The 14th Light Dragoons were ordered to advance through the infantry to take a position at the top of a hill next to the Chateau (each unit needed a roll of 4+ on a D6 to avoid disorder, and bugger me if they all passed!),  and they soon found themselves in a position to charge down on the flank of the French position, set on seeing off the French cavalry. 

The 14th's bugler sounded the charge, and as they launched themselves down the hill, the regiment was promptly charged in turn by the 7e Chasseurs à ChevalThis was the start of what was to be a see-saw battle that saw both sides draw off only to charge each other again.  

All this horseflesh milling about perilously close to their flanks forced the 28e to form square behind the redoubt, as the last thing the French wanted was to have the Light Dragoons in their rear.
On the right, the British continue to advance slowly through difficult terrain towards the 69e, and there is some ineffectual skirmishing as the 74th reaches the top of the hill. the 69e advances to close range, and gives them a volley that causes few casualties, but disorders their formation. 

As the 74th fall back, the French choose to retire behind the safety of the hill.  The commander is very aware of the British 9pdr. that is attempting to deploy at the edge of the meadow.

Disaster for the French, as the 7e Chasseurs à Cheval once again counter-charge the by-now-rabid 14th Light Dragoons, but this time, having received hits beyond their break point, they are forced to take a test- and fail. 
Wipe that grin off your mug, Matt!
This leaves the French right flank exposed to a combined attack from both infantry and dragoons.

The action intensifies on both flanks.  The 60th Rifles attempt to charge the redoubt directly from the woods, but are held back by their hesitant commander.  The 5th Foot advance to the hill from where the dragoons had charged down into the French flank, and await their next orders.

Back on the right, the 74th are the victims of a command blunder, which sees them ordered to form up to the left of the wooded hill where they had been engaged with the 69e.  This leaves space for the 88th Foot to advance and to attack the French infantry, but it also directly exposes the wretched 74th to the waiting guns of the redoubt.
The French artillery are thus presented with a fantastic target at close range...
Oh, boy, oh boy, oh boy oh boy (drool)....
...and promptly roll three "ones". Merde!  Meanwhile, after an exchange of volleys with the 88th Foot that saw casualties on both sides,  the 69e charges the Irishmen.  They fail to break the redcoats, but once again both sides retire to lick their wounds.  Still the French hang on...

On the British left, all hell breaks loose. There is confusion over an order to the 5th Foot; as he becomes increasingly frustrated with his cautious brigade commander, its colonel chooses to interpret one of Darling's characteristically vague orders for a tardy advance as an order to charge the enemy at once! 
Now off the leash, the 5th charges exuberantly straight down the hill right into the hapless 1/28e, who are still in square as the 14th Light Dragoons reorganize themselves after routing the French cavalry.
The melee between the two is vicious.  Despite all the disadvantages of having to fight in square (two dice against six), the French make a fight of it in their efforts to prevent the redcoats from entering the redoubt.  

Things are looking grim for the French, but they enjoy some success on their left.  The 74th decide that the best way out of their exposed position in the meadow is to charge the redoubt directly, but blasts of canister from the French gun proves too much for the weary Glaswegians, and they break.
But the end is in sight.  After a heroic struggle and heavy casualties at the point of the bayonet, the 28e breaks...
"Sauve qui peut!"
They leave behind their dead, wounded, and the regimental Eagle which is seized by a plucky young officer of the 5th.  Thus to the victors, the spoils: a French Eagle, the ultimate battlefield trophy, and a badge of honour unique for a regiment celebrating it's combat debut.  So much for "newly painted unit" syndrome!'
"For Good King George and Merry 'ol England!"
Shortly afterwards on the French left, one last bayonet charge from the 69e is also repulsed, and they too finally break and leave the field.   This leaves the British field gun free to open up on the redoubt, causing casualties to the crew and disordering the gun.

The last act in the sorry drama is performed by the ubiquitous 14th Light Dragoons.  They charge into the redoubt, cutting down the hapless gunners there and taking the French commander, GdB Bouillon-Cantinat, prisoner.    
"Okay, we'll call it a draw..."
The British are successful, but the French went down fighting!  A small, but hard-fought and memorable engagement for all concerned.

Here is the second part of the letter that Général de Brigade Victor-Eugène Bouillon-Cantinat wrote while in captivity to his friend, Gen. Nansouty; 

The drummers beat the Assembly, and in a short time both battalions had taken up their positions.  The cavalry had mounted and was formed up on our right.  The gunners in the redoubt were well supplied with ammunition, but sickness had reduced their manpower.  I sent off the piquets to engage the enemy in the woods, but they soon returned, having encountered superior numbers and taken grievous casualties.  

We are always hard-pressed to deal with the English riflemen, who both outshoot and outrange us.  

I was taken aback to see that the English had succeeded in sending cavalry up the mountainside, and indeed they were well positioned to attack our right.  I immediately instructed the colonel of the 7e Chasseurs à Cheval to drive them away.  They were just moving into position, when in an instant the English fell upon them with terrible cries and howls.  

I need tell the truth that some troopers broke and ran immediately, but the regiment held firm and met the onset of the English blow-for-blow.  But the English horsemen were well mounted and evidently fresh, and saw off our cavalry, although without being inclined to follow up too closely.  Upon rallying, we turned about and charged them in turn.  I lost count of how many times the horse clashed, but eventually the English gained the upper hand, and at last the 7e fled back up the road, never to return.

This alarmed me considerably, as I was thus compelled to order the 28e into square lest the victorious English fall on them.  Hence was I unable to support the 69e on our left, which was evidently becoming involved in a increasingly fierce firefight with the English to their front.  They were on their own, and would have to trust to their own courage and prowess at arms.

At about this time, there was an attempt by the English to charge our redoubt directly from the front.  A brave but foolhardy action, which was soon put to flight by some well-placed canister rounds.

The din of combat was indescribable; the cries of the wounded, the sound of musket and cannon reverberating off the mountainsides, and the shouts of the officers to fill up the increasing number of gaps in the ranks.  Nevertheless, we were all startled by a sudden roar and beating of drums, and within minutes a wall of redcoats had came down on our right flank from out of the smoke.  They headed directly toward the square of the 28e, and before our soldiers had time to shake out into a proper line, the English were upon us.

Then began a brawl, the likes of which I had not seen since the fighting at Aspern-Essling.  It was an affair of bayonets and musket-butts, and our brave young boys sold their lives dearly.  Being in square formation, every English bullet and bayonet found its mark, and I had tears in my eyes as I saw dear, familiar faces fall under the onslaught.  But still the men stood their ground, and the English were not to have an easy victory.

At about this time, the enemy was able to bring a cannon up and start firing at the redoubt.  This caused casualties among our gunners, and destroyed what remained of our brave piquets.  I myself received a splinter wound across my forehead, as well as a severe contusion behind my right shoulder, which pained me considerably after the action.  

Inevitably, superior numbers took their toll, and at around 9:00 AM, the 28e finally broke.  I saw brave Lt. Verlez, ensign, run through by a pike as he was holding on to the regiment's Eagle, which was instantly seized by an English officer.  A desperate attempt to recover it came to nought when an English cannonball, overshooting the redoubt, carried over and smashed to matchsticks about eight of our men who had formed a party determined on getting it back.

Next I remember was the earth shaking, and out of the dust, gore, and smoke again rode in the English horsemen, sabering our unfortunate gunners and those of the fleeing infantry that they could reach with their wicked swords. I stood with those who remained of my staff, sword in hand and prepared to sell my life dearly for France; I was, my friend, quite convinced that my time had come.  

At that moment an English officer of light dragoons, whom I learned later was Major Ranulph Fetlock-Withers, Lord Nosebridle, rode forward with his hand raised, and ordered his troopers to lift the points of their swords.  He then doffed his shako, leaned down from his saddle, and offered me and my companions quarter.  Which, as there was nothing humanly possible left to retrieve from the situation, I gratefully accepted on condition that my men were granted all the honours and rights due to them as prisoners of war. 

This was readily agreed upon, and after having a surgeon dress my wounds, I was taken to the English commander.  This was Lord Benjamin Breeg, who treated me with great courtesy.  I wished him the joy of his recent success, and he was most effusive in his praise of our defence in a most disadvantageous situation.   

In due time, I was called on for an audience with Lord Wellington himself, who greeted me with kindness and respect in light of the reports of the action.  Having given him my parole, His Lordship personally returned to me my sword.  He then generously ordered that I be given a purse of 100 guineas to cover any expenses I should require until such time as I could expect to be exchanged.

"The fortunes of war, I assure you.  A bottle of champagne and some light refreshments await you in my quarters, Monsieur."

What a game!  The only change we would have made to the orders of battle would have been to add another infantry battalion to the French side, so as to give them at least some kind of reserve.  Maybe an extra gun, but I think just the one extra infantry unit would have given the flexibility I needed if not to avert catastrophe, at least to delay it's arrival.

Another problem for the French was just having one commander.  When I failed a command throw, that was it!  Having a second commander present,  raising the command to nine, or allowing a re-throw of failed command rolls (with the risk of a blunder, as was the case with Pete's commander) would have been appropriate.

Matt had classed his unit of British light dragoons as line cavalry, with a ferocious charge (re-roll failed charge dice).   I had chosen to make the 7e Chasseurs à Cheval lights, so as to confer them marauder status.  This meant they weren't subject to penalties for being distant from the C-in-C. At the time this seemed a good idea, given I only had one commander.  But it also meant they had only six dice in melee against Matt's seven, and it made a difference.  As I was playing my cavalry fairly closely to the infantry,  it would have been better to increase their hitting power instead.

One thing we could have done was to set the number of turns the British players had in which to turf the French from their position.  We didn't, simply as we expected the French to be swept under in three or four moves at most!   That they didn't was testimony to how well the rules can deal with "fog of war" issues.  If we were to do this again, five moves would make a good milestone, with points given to the French for each move over that they are able to hold out.  

I can see similar scenarios working for battles like Hochkirck in 1758, Champaubert and Fère-Champenoise in 1814, or the churchyard at Gravelotte- St. Privat in 1871.

All in all a great game, lots of nail-biting moments, and proof that a Black Powder wargame can be fun and challenging even without needing hordes of figures!  I wouldn't mind doing something like this again some time in the future. 

NB- the scenario was cobbled together the day of the game, but as I was laying out the table, I found myself ever-so-loosely basing it on the situation in 1813 at the beginning of the battle of the Pyrenees.  I was re-reading my Oman a while back, and remember thinking at the time that it would be fun to do something like this.  
However, our game had the roles reversed.  Historically it was Soult forcing the passes, but this time I had the British on the attack. Chateau Pignon is an actual place, and all the towns and features referred to in Bouillon-Cantinat's description in his "letter" are historical; I merely took them from Oman's map of the battle which I referred to again when I got back from the game.  Just to add to the flavour!


DeanM said...

Lovely game with excellent terrain and beautifully painted figures. I just rec'd a copy of BP and this is very inspiring. Best, Dean

Ray Rousell said...

Great batrep, keep up the excellent work!!!

Rafael Pardo said...

The AAR is well accounted and the figures look splendid!

Christopher(aka Axebreaker) said...

Fantastic stuff indeed!


Kokoda said...

Fantastic game with excellent idea.Its looking so adorable.Well done keep it up..!
Kokoda Track

Curt said...

Not sure if its 'adorable' but its certainly an excellent looking game and a fab battle report - good work!