Saturday, December 13, 2014

Battle of Quatre Bras AAR, Part 1: Carnage & Glory II

June 16, 1815
5:10 p.m.
Gemioncourt Farm
Capitaine Chartrand
AdC, II Corps

L'Empereur nous a conduit à une Grande Victoire!  The battle is not over, but it is already a great victory.  I have taken a ball in my leg but it is not serious.  I write as I await the surgeon.

After smashing through the Prussians yesterday at Charlroi, Reille advanced north to Franses, now at the direction of the Prince of Moscow, Marshal Ney.  An advance on Quatre Bras was before us, and then on to Brussels! The light cavalry and our outposts skirmished with English forces throughout the morning, through it is now known they were in fact Dutch.  I will do my best to describe this great victory for la Gloire of France, as it happened:



At 2:00 p.m. we stepped off in force, Pire's cavalry clearing the skirmishers before us.  On the left of the Brussels highway 5th Division under General Bachelu advanced to clear the Bossu wood.  On the right, 9th Division under General Foy advanced to take the walled farmhouse of Gemioncourt which dominates the road to Quatre Bras and must fall for our forces to advance.




By 2:30 we had gained significant ground.  To the east of Gemioncourt Pire's cavalry found no resistance and so unlimbered the horse guns to bring fire on the Orange-Nassauers defending Gemioncourt in support of the 4th Leger Regiment from Foy's Division.  



On the left Gen. de Brigade Husson closely supervised the advance of the II/2nd Leger in an extended line. Which encountered the the 27th Dutch Jagers in similar deployment.  The 27th delivered a spirited volley affected the line of 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Leger as well as the closely supporting attack column of 1st battalion of that same regiment. 




By 2:45 the Emperors esteemed brother Jerome led 6th Division along the highway to close the gamp in our forces and to support the corps heavy artillery maneuvering to bombard Gemioncourt.  


The treacherous Prince de Saxe-Weimar sprung his trap.  Unseen by Jerome, the Prince had ordered his troops lay in wait within the tall crops.  The Volunteer Jagers of Nassau advanced and unleashed a volley into the flank of the unsuspecting gunners bombarding Gemioncourt, cutting down almost two thirds of the complement of the nearest gun section. The guns were further discomfited by the counter-battery fire from Dutch gunners north of the Materne stream.


General Foy's divisional artillery arrived shortly before 3 p.m., by which time 30 guns were bombarding Gemioncourt or the orchard. Gen. de Brigade Gauthier marches his troops to completely envelope Gemioncourt as Gen. Pire reports no Anglo-Allied troops south of the Materne stream.  At Gemioncourt the I/4th Leger continues to exchange musketry with the Orange-Nassauers occupying the orchard before the enclosed farmhouse. The musketry duel with the 4th Leger combined with supporting skirmish fire from Jamin's brgiade and canister slowly eroded the cohesion of the Orange-Nassauers. Lieutenant General Baron Preponcher-Sedlnitzk, was conspicious for he or his staff were ever at the foremost point of the conflict.  At great risk to his person the General entered the orchard from the north to attempt to stabilize the situation and further delay our advance on this significant strong point.   


On the left Gen. de Brigade Husson ordered I/2nd Leger to charge the 27th Jagers.  After a desultory volley the Jagers fell back in disorder through the tall crops--only to find that the retreat for their leftmost companies was in fact barred!  Colonel Charles Bouge of the 61st Ligne had marched his battalion toward the sound of musketry and the powder smoke and in doing so had come between the 27th Jagers their supporting troops.  Upon this realization almost 120 Jagers threw down their arms and were captured by the 2nd Leger.  More of the Dutch troopers broke and the 27th Jagers routed from the field.

However, Colonel Bouge in maneuvering to the sound of the musketry and the smoke had left is flank open to the enemy.  Our former German allies, from the 2nd Nassau infantry regiment stood up from their concealed positions and the 1st battalion of the 2nd Nassau unleashed a withering volley into the exposed flank of the 61st Ligne.  This timely support allowed several companies of the 27th Jagers to flee unmolested.  The havoc wrecked on the 61st required Col. Bouge to halt his unit to attempt to restore order with the assistance of Gen. de Brigade Husson. 



By 3:00 the 1st Battlaion of the 2nd Leger continued its advance and charged the I/2nd Nassau assailing the 61st Ligne.  General Bachelu, in the perfect coordination, advanced Baron Campi's brigade.  Pas de Charge rattled out accross the fields to cheers of Vive l'Empereur!  The 108th Regiment charged the I/2nd Nassau and the 72nd charged the Nassau Volunteer Jagers.  The Jagers got off a quick volley before retreating to the rear of the supporting II/2nd Nassau.  

However, the I/2nd Nassau stood, despite the onslaught all along their line and delivered a well timed volley disrupting the leading ranks of the attack column, and reducing the impetus of the two battalions of the 108th Ligne.  Our glorious soldiers continued on, and the Nassauers were no match for French elan! The Nassauers retreated before the combined weight of General Bachelu's 5th Division. 



 At Gemioncourt the unsteadiness of the I/Orange-Nassau had become observable even through the great volumes of smoke and Gen. Foy unleashed the fresh attack columns of the II/4th Leger and the I/100th Ligne.  Despite the inspiring presence of Gen. Perponcher, the Orange-Nassauers would not stand a charge in their current condition, and retired to the north.  General Perponcher was reported to have been wounded in the leg, and forced to retire for medical treatment, but was expected to return within the hour. Gen. Perponcher's adjutant, Major Van Linden took over the defense of Gemioncourt.


On the far right, the 1st Chassuers were pestered by rifle fire from accross the Materne stream, but to the consternation of Gen. de Brigade Baron Huber, the regimental colonel did not believe a charge across the marshy stream and into the tall crops was wise, without knowledge of what the crops concealed!  This great shame was fortunately erased, by the conduct of these brave troopers later in the day.


In the distance, the first glimmer of red clothed soldiers could be seen at Quatre Bras.  It appeared that the soldiers of the Netherlands were not forsaken by their British paymasters. 




(The Brunswickers, always a pretty if sometimes brief sight!)
By 3:15 the II/4th Leger and the I/100th Ligne had taken cover within the outer hedges of the Gemioncourt orchard.  The continued retreat of the I/Orange-Nassau disastrously brought them within the sights of the 16 gun battery along the Brussels road.  Canister destroyed what little cohesion remained to the Orange-Nassuers, and the battalion routed from the field.  Preponcher's adjutant, Major Van Linden, was thrown from his horse in the hail of lead and sought refuge within the Gemioncourt farmhouse.  


Flee back to your British masters, with compliments from L'Empereur! 
Around 3:30 Bachelu reformed his brigades for the advance under cover of a voltiguer screen, while sending a request for support from Jerome's leading units.


General Husson becomes over confident and leads the II/2nd Leger in an attack column to the charge against the prepared line of the 8th Dutch Militia.  The 8th Militia fire a devastating volley and one in seven of the Leger are casualties within minutes.  The attack column staggered without closing.  General Husson attempted to form into line to respond in kind to the potential disaster unfolding before him. General Husson's suffered a minor arm wound while trying to rally the Leger, but remained on the field.  At corps headquarters some remembered Spain as we watched II/2nd Leger struggle to recover and closed with the Dutch troops sheltering within the woods. 


The Brunswick deploys to steady the remnants of Saxe-Weimar's command as the Brunswick infantry come up along the Brussels highway. 


On the right General Foy continued to favor further artillery bombardment of Gemioncourt, perhaps betraying his early training in that arm.  The storming of Gemioncourt was delayed. Around 3:30 incendiaries from one of the howitzer sections managed to set the stables on fire.  Quick action by Major Linden and the II/Orange-Nassau extinguished the fire before it raged out of control.  Prisoners informed us that a wood splinter from the bombardment stuck Major Linden, who died shortly thereafter.  General Perponcher had yet to return from his earlier wound.

At 3:45 General Foy ceased the bombardment.  Three attack columns from the II/4th Leger, I/92nd Ligne, and I/93rd Ligne closed from the South, East, and North East on the farm.  The two battalions of the 100th Ligne stood read in reserve if the first wave failed. Chef de Battalion Repecaud's engineering companies were deployed in support, but despite best efforts were unable to infiltrate the structure.  A brief struggle ensued, after our brave soldiers forced a narrow breach from the hour long bombardment and the II/Orange-Nassau fled out the main gate to the North.


On the left, General Perponcher-Sedlnitzk returns from the field hospital, raising the spirits of his men and immediately presses forward to steady the II/2nd Nassau.  After a exchange of deadly musketry, Campi's Brigade from 5th Division forces the II/2nd Nassau to retreat.  General Perponcher received a severe leg wound in the retreat and was carried from the field.   Between the losses and continual advance over the last hour and a half Gen. Campi reports his brigade is spent.


At the edge of the Bossu wood, the II/2nd Leger continues to engage in a devasting musketry duel with the 8th Dutch Militia.  The Leger were in complete disarray and ultimately rout.  General Husson fell with a musket ball in his back and was carried from the field and is not expected to return.  Husson's Brigade was likewise exhausted and after the repulse of the II/2nd Leger in need of rest in order to preserve the brigade's morale.  




Bauduin's Brigade from 6th Division advanced through the intervals in Campi's brigade to the cadence of the Pas de Charge.  The three battalions of the 1st Leger charge against the III/2nd Orange Nassau.  Vive L'Empereur! The 1st Leger covered themselves in glory as the perfidious Germans of Nassau break before the sight of French arms.  Successively the 3rd and 1st battalions of the 2nd Orange-Nassau retreat, their men become mixed with the retiring forces of 2nd battalion which had only just retired across the Materne creek. The Prince de Saxe-Weimar is seen galloping along the line attempting to restore enough order to extract his command safely.  But French might cannot be stopped by the treacherous minions of Albion!  The I/1st Leger outpaces their brothers in arms and hounds the Nassauers across the Materne creek, catching the II/Orange-Nassau as they flee.  Almost 1 in 5 are killed or captured.  The greatest prize of all, Major-General the Prince de Saxe-Weimar, is thrown from his horse and captured by the intrepid men of I/1st Leger. 



By 4:00 Foy's 5th Division was again advancing.  An overconfident 95th Rifles, known well to the men of II Corps, advanced through the tall crops north of Gemioncourt. Gen. Pire's Chasseurs repaid the debts of many a French soldier in Spain, and forced the riflemen into square, within canister range of supporting horse artillery.


Bold action was needed to stabilize the collapse Anglo-Allied forces. On the left, the Brunswick Hussars charged the I/1st Leger, to cover the further retreat the remainder of Saxe-Weimar's 2nd Orange-Nassau.  The I/1st Leger, still disordered from their glorious charge, was unable to react to the charge in time. The Brunswickers mercilessly sabered the disordered infantry and sent the courageous Leger back across the Materne stream in a rout with great loss.


On the right the 28th Foot North Glouchestershire emerged from the tall crops in line and advanced upon our leading column of the II/93rd Ligne.  The withering volley from the redcoats was feebly answered by the leading companies of the II/93rd, which retired in hast beyond the hedgerows and sunken ground of the Materne steam. The 28th Foot's valiant charge continued into the guns of Pire's Divisional horse battery, which were taken by surprise and retreated with the loss of two guns.  In this repulse, the glipse of opporunity sprung, Gen. de Brigade Baron Huber with the 1st Chasseurs a Cheval marked well the flank of the 28th as the British advanced. 


At 4:15 the Duke of Brunswick seeing the triumph of his hussars ordered a a general charge all along the line. The Brunswick Hussars charged, with the Duke at their head, along with the Guard Battalion and the 1st and 2nd Line.  The II/1st Leger formed closed column to receive the hussars, and a bloody and close struggle ensued. The II/1st Leger added further glory that regiments long history, as the Brunswick Hussars left approximately 70 of their men on the field including the Duke of Brunswick himself, who was captured after being thrown from his horse.  II/1st Leger suffered casualties of approximately 15% of their number in the struggle. 

Along the rest of the line the Brunswickers were repulsed, of note being only the Guard Battalions attempt to storm the 6th Division's Medium 6lber battery, which was terminated with canister at immense loss to Brunswick Guards. 







At 4:30 the field reverberated with musketry and cannon fire.  The fields on the left had been entirely trampled, the retreat of the Brunswick troops revealed several gun batteries unlimbered and prepared.  The Brunswick and Netherlander cannon punished greatly our leading battalions for the bloody repulse of their comrades.  II/1st Leger of so recent glory suffered from what appeared to be the special attention of the Allied artillerists and was forced to retreat.





In the Bossu Wood an earlier breakthrough swept the 7th and 8th Dutch Militia  before the valor of our soldiers.  Musketry continued between the 7th Line and Gen. de Brigade Soye's men of the 1st and 2nd Ligne Regiments.


On the right Gauthier's Brigade continued to engage the British before them.  The 28th and 32nd Foot exchanged musketry in line with 92nd and 93rd ligne in similar formation, while the guns of Pire and Foy's divisions engaged the squares of the 79th Cameron Highlanders and 95th Rifles.


 Just before 5:00 an exemplary feat of horsemanship and French elan occurred that shall be remembered in the great histories.  The renowned 28th North Glouchesters had become disordered with gaps clearly visible in their line.   Gen. de Brigade Baron Huber placed himself at the head of the 1st Chasseurs a Cheval and saw the ragged red line of the 28th and beyond it the 32nd and beyond that the flanks of the battieries tenuously holding Jerome's 6th Division at bay.  A chance at La Gloire was before him, with victory potentially in the balance.

View of the 1st Chasseurs a Cheval 
En Avant! Vive L' Empereur! The charged moved forward at the trot,  The British commander, later identified as Maj. General Sir James Kempt, attempted to form square, but it was too late.  The 28th foot had escaped retribution for Egypt for 14 years, despite long service in Spain and Portugal, but fortune's favor had finally left them.  The 1st Chasseurs a Cheval rode to the charge and sabered the disordered infantry men leaving almost 200 of the British on the field.  A great many of those lay around the colorguard, where Gen. Kempt courageously maintained a last remnant of resistance.   Sergent Glossier felled the General with a severe saber wound to the head, and all order collapsed.  The Kings Color was captured in the ensuing rout by the victorious chasseurs.

The 32nd Foot was able to form square with the time so preciously bought by their comrades in the 28th, and maneuvered to protect the flank of the Anglo-Allied gun line.  General Huber successfully rallied the chasseurs, and reigned in his men accepting the gifts that fortune and fate had bestowed.  The general chose to extricate his men rather than continue the charge against the square of the 32nd Foot.  General Kempt's fate is unknown, but he was not captured.




From the ruin of the Gemioncourt I can just make out the Brunswick cavalry which appears to be rallying on the left in support of the gun British guns.  What is believed to be Netherlander cavalry, possibly that of the traitor Gen. Van Merlen is deploying in the center connecting to the Allied line to the great mass of redcoated infantry on the right along the Namur highway.

The surgeon is done with his latest butchery, I write now lest I forget later these great events. 
Victory favors us this day!  We shall drive British and their mercenaries before the sun sets. 







 To Be Continued.



4 comments:

  1. Nice write up. Really enjoyed reading it. Looking forward to part ii. What brand are your troops (perry, vitrix, etc).

    ReplyDelete
  2. The troops come from the collections of several players and were built for the 1815 campaign. I believe most the table is Perry. The French are mostly Perry plastics. I believe the Dutch-Belgians and Brunswickers are all Perry lead and I'm unsure on Picton and the rest of the British. Most likely they are Perry or Front Rank lead.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great report, a beautiful table!

    ReplyDelete