Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Battle of Aroldo Valley, Part 3

When last we checked in, the battle had seen a few flare-ups of violence, but no true dedication of forces.

First, on the near flank a French cavalry brigade has been swept away as it got caught, encircled, and crushed by two British brigades. On the far flank a British attack stalled at the high walls of the chateau which were guarded by a brigade of Old Guard and pushed back, one British brigade being mauled but withdrawing in order and an Allied brigade being caught in the open by French cavalry and swept away. Now the French cavalry on that flank have paused and await another chance to sweep across the field. On the near flank the British still face a heavily dug in French brigade behind thick stone walls guarding the French flank... would it be possible to dig these Frenchmen out?

No. The British commander has decided on a new plan; namely, hit the center of the French line, where they have the least cover and really only a single brigade (albeit a brigade heavily supported by 3 batteries of artillery...) The British commander plans to leave behind one of the British brigades that was going to attack the chateau in square to cover the flank of the attack, linking up with the forest so the French cavalry that already swept away the Allied brigade will be unable to attack. All of the remaining British and Allied infantry would then be redeployed towards the center, with the cavalry hopefully keeping the French behind the stone walls from coming out to attack the flank of the British attack.

In anticipation of this attack the British began to redeploy towards the center. First they brought up some of their light guns to within cannister range and began to pound the French brigade behind the stone walls. While they might not do a ton of damage, they could at least hope to weaken the French, knowing that the French had no cavalry they could attack with and that they would not leave the protection of their stone walls. Just in case, however, the British cavalry on the near flank began to redeploy further out... while they were further from their commanders they could also help pin the French behind their stone walls. Some of the British cavalry under the rather incompetent Colonel Hakeswill, who had already shown a disregard for the Prince of Orange's commands, actually rushed at the stone wall, attracting cannon fire and then musket fire and taking a number of casualties before falling back again.

Meanwhile the bulk of the British infantry redeployed towards the thin French center. It was slow going, as the British troops were a bit spread out and communication was strained. However eventually the British troops began to get into position, coming towards the center from both flanks as their already depleted artillery rained fire down on the French.

The French did not just watch this happen. While their two flank brigades were largely pinned in place (the near flank by threatening cavalry and artillery and being happy behind their stone walls, the Old Guard on the far flank happy behind the chateau walls) they did redeploy a brigade of infantry from the road behind the chateau. Since it was clear the British were no longer going to try to swamp the chateau the infantry brigade moved towards the center and took up position behind the hedgerows along the road. At the same time the French brought their artillery batteries to the center and prepared to pound the English as they advanced. The British were not stupid, of course, and did their best to keep their men behind the hill in the center, where the two Allied brigades under the Prince of Orange actually managed to regain their nerve a bit after being hit by artillery earlier in the battle.

So that is where we find ourselves... the British redeploying towards center, using their cavalry on the near flank to try to pin the defending French infantry brigade in place and their light guns to pound on them. On the far flank the British are attempting to cover their flank (using the woods as an anchor) with squares to keep the cavalry away while they funnel their men into the attack on the center!

On the near flank the cavalry brigade under Colonel Hakeswill was hit again by artillery and the light cavalry regiment actually broke and ran, never to return, while Hakeswill himself ignored yet another order from his division commander and withdrew his men. In order to save face, Colonel Archer of Picton's division moved his cavalry brigade forward and began to eye the end of the French lines... could he swing around the French behind their walls and actually sweep down on the French artillery? While far from his commanding officer, it seemed like a good gamble to take...

Meanwhile the British funnelled closer and closer towards the center, and the Old Guard in the chateau itself began to fire at the nearest British troops, whose officers were trying to judge exactly where the squares would need to be formed to best protect the flank. The British artillery, which had been plagued by counter-battery fire and ineffective fire, finally found its groove and began to cause casualties on the French brigade holding the road, even causing the regiment farthest on the flank to began to edge backwards, and actually broke and ran! Sacre Bleu! Colonel Paris, who held the road, was furious but trusted his regimental officers to get the men reformed and back into line before long.

Then all at once the British pressed home. As the infantry began its overall attack on the center Colonel Archer saw an opening and spurred his cavalry brigade foward in an attempt to sweep into the French artillery from the flank... if only he could keep his communication with ever-further-away General Picton for long enough to launch the attack it might just work!

At the same time the nearmost British infantry brigade, under Colonel Norris (and RIGHT under the watchful eye of Picton himself) began to advance on the stone walls, hoping to at least help pin the French there while the attack in the center hit home and while the cavalry threatened their rear.

Unfortunately Colonel Archer's ploy failed! The Guard regiment on the near flank under Colonel Canard and temporarily the direct command of Marshal Ney, which had remained stationary and silent so far, turned to face the oncoming cavalry and, maybe judging the opportunity lost and unable to get further orders from General Picton, Colonel Archer ordered his cavalry back to wait for a better opportunity.

Meanwhile the British attack in the center rolled over the ridgeline and down across the fields towards the French at the lane! Skirmishers opened fire on the French artillery pieces which filled the air with clouds of cannister shot. The lines had not yet made contact, but the battle had truly been joined!

The British around the chateau were finally in position as well, and British troops began to round the chateau and lend their fire to the fight in the center. However, the French were not merely going to sit there and let it happen. Marshal Soult, seeing that his men could be caught without being able to attack, actually pressed the Old Guard to attack! The British, who were just beginning to form square (and hoping to hold the cavalry off) suddenly had to stop and stay in column in order to begin to fire on the Guard... a chain of squares could not possibly fight Napoleon's best! However, just as they began to return fire at the advancing Guard Colonel Porthos began to advance his cavalry, which had regained their breath after running over the Duke of Wellington's Allied attack on the chateau earlier... and Wellington realized that his flank, which he had hoped to hold against cavalry with big squares of redcoat infantry, was actually about to come under attack from a mixed force, a mixed force which could possibly collapse the entire flank of his attack...

So that is where the battle is left... the British have dedicated themselves to their attack on the center, an attack that is moments away from crashing home all across the French lines. Wellington has attempted to pin the two French flanks in place, the near one with some cavalry and British lines, the other with squares, but a French counter-attack on the far flank looks to put the entire British attack in danger!

Tune in soon for the finale of the battle (which has to end because I need the table by Thursday for another project! :) )


James said...

Looks and sounds like an interesting battle is unfolding and once again your tabletop set-up looks very convincing. The rolling effect is tremendous.

Are you solitaring it ?


Author said...

I am indeed! It really is more a test of the rules, so I am just playing both sides as intelligently as possible... there isn't a lot of feinting and faking, but still it works:) If I knew anyone who wargamed I would totally play WITH someone, but I don't! Very sad:)