Saturday, 26 January 2013

Wagram 1809

Not the whole battle, I would need a table the size of a tennis court to do that, but Davout's flank attack on the second day.  Napoleon gambled that Archduke John would not arrive in time to catch Davout's corps in the rear whilst it attacked Rosenberg's IV corps.  The Emperor's judgement that John would not be too eager to help his brother Charles out proved well founded and Davout's attack forced an Austrian retreat.

Rosenberg's orders were to hold the high ground and prevent the French from rolling up the Austrian line. The village of Markgrafneusiedl and the tower were classified as 'town sectors' for the Shako rules and therefore gave bonuses to the defence.  Although not high, the escarpment was steep, aiding the defence and impassable to cavalry.  However, towards the east (right hand side of the map), the slope diminished and provided good going for cavalry.   The Russbach stream, although narrow, had steep sides and north of Markgrafneusiedl was impassable to cavalry and artillery.

Rosenberg had attacked Davout earlier in the day and now was back in position and found himself outnumbered and outgunned with little hope of receiving reinforcements.  For his part Davout knew that speed was vital; both to relieve pressure on the French left and also to achieve his objective before Archduke John's forces arrived.

Gudin had been given orders to attack Markgrafneusiedl from the south, rather than directly across the Russbach and this had the added advantage of shielding him from the Austrian artillery. Puthod meanwhile advanced straight ahead towards Swinburne's brigade.  Morand's men suffered the most from the Austrian artillery, particularly the 23rd Line, whose 3rd battalion was all but destroyed.  Rosenberg did not have things all his own way; the French reserve artillery soon found the range of the Weidenfeld regiment in Meyer's brigade and it too began to suffer.  Anxious to disrupt Morand's advance, Rosenberg ordered his cavalry to advance against the French flank.  As the Austrians moved forward they were met by the French cavalry.  The usually proficient Austrian light cavalry had a bad day ( ie my dice rolling was a little below par). Leading the way, the Stipsicz Hussars clashed with the French 2nd Hussars and were driven from the field.  To their left, the Carl Ludwig Uhlans prevailed against the 1st French Chasseurs, and their colleagues the Schwarzenburg Uhlans managed to stop the French Hussars as they followed up.  However, brigade command broke down and the remaining Austrian light cavalry began to withdraw; fortunately Montbrun's men also fell back to rally.  Nostitz's command of a cuirassier regiment and an uhlan regiment now tackled Grouchy's dragoons.  The Kronprinz Ferdinand Cuirassier defeated the 7th dragoons, but the Merveldt Uhlans fared less well.  They managed to hold against the 1th Dragoons, but were hit in flank by the 4th Chasseurs and driven from the field.  Seizing the initiative, the Chasseurs continued their advance and hit the cuirassier in flank as well.  Caught at a disadvantage, the Austrian horse was forced to fall back to rally. In a relatively short space of time Rosenberg's left flank was in tatters and the infantry's flank would be vulnerable unless he committed his reserves.

 The Lindenau regiment, which provided the garrison of Markgrafneusiedl was watching Gudin's advance with some concern.  The Grenz regiment which covered the gap between the village and the escarpment was being pounded to pieces by the French guns and the Austrian artillery had had little or no effect on the advancing French battalions.   In an attempt to cover the retreat of the Austrian artillery and also disrupt the French attack the Grenz charged the leading French battalion.  The attack was stopped in its tracks by a well delivered volley and very few survivors made it back to the Austrian main line.  But the spirited attack by the Grenz must have inspired the defenders of Markgrafneusiedl because they drove of the first wave of French attacks, even though outnumbered 4 to 1.  To the north of the village the 2nd battalion of the Deutschmeister regiment was attempting to slow Puthod's advance.  They drove back the French skirmishers and their volleys  forced the 1st battalion of the 54th Line to fall back.  But, even with the support of Swinburne's artillery they were unable to hold against three times their own number, especially as Gudin's men were by now making their way round the rear of the village and threatening Deutschmeister's flank.  Gudin had by now reorganised his division and  supported by the fire of the divisions artillery the French surged forward again.  The gallant men of the Lindenau regiment fought for every house but they were eventually overwhelmed. This loss and that of 2nd Deutschmeister, who were destroyed by musketry, inflicted a test on Weiss's brigade which they managed to pass, which was fortunate, as they provided the garrison for the tower and that was the target for Friant's division which was now closing in.  Friant's advance had been greatly aided by Morand, who had drawn the fire of all the Austrian artillery on his division as he advanced on the escarpment.  The contest between the divisions of Meyer and Morand was brutal.  Volleys were exchanged, both sides tried charging their opponents, but the dogged Austrians still held the escarpment.

 To Meyer's left the remnants of the Austrian cavalry was struggling to maintain their position against twice their numbers of French cavalry.  The attached horse artillery managed to disperse an attack by the reformed 2nd Hussars, but when the Schwarzenberg Uhlan advanced they were caught and destroyed by the 1st Chasseurs.  Pressing home his advantage, Grouchy attacked the Kronprinz Ferdinand Cuirassier, who had just reformed after their earlier reverse.  The cuirassier resisted briefly, but were soon driven from the field.  In their retreat they carried away the sole remaining Austrian cavalry, the Carl Ludwig Uhlans; the Austrian infantry were now on their own.  Fortunately, Hessen Homburg had had time to bring up his grenadier reserve and they now formed squares shoring up the left flank of Rosenberg's line.

 The crisis of the battle was now approaching.  Puthod was attacking Swinburne, but coming off the worst in the action, the Austrians putting up a resolute defence. Gudin had now reformed and was moving to assist Puthod and Morand had pinned Meyer whilst Friant developed his attack on the tower.  The remaining two battalions of Deutschmeister  held the tower area, one as garrison, one as support, much depended on them.  Friant's men charged forward, led by the converged elite companies of the light infantry regiments.  Stubborn as they were, the Austrians had to give ground and the French surged into the tower.  The supporting battalion charged forward through a storm of musketry but could not retake the position and had to fall back. Now was the time for the Austrian grenadiers, but they had been deployed to cover the flank.  Rosenberg had no fresh reserves to call on, all he could do was fall back as slowly as he dare delaying the French advance.

 This was an enjoyable battle with fluctuating fortunes.  We were particularly pleased that the amendments to the divisional  morale which we had formulated seemed to work well.  On two occasions the revised table allowed the Austrians to remain in position (admittedly at a disadvantage), rather than automatically move to the baseline.  This prolonged the conflict and made the French job a lot harder.

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