Monday, 15 September 2014

Lines of Castenay

The scenario this week is set in the War of the Grand Alliance.  Those old adversaries, the Comte de Salle Forde and Graf Von Grommitt once more crossed swords in the continuing wars of Louis  XIV.  To forestall any incursion by the Alliance forces into newly acquired French territory, orders had been issued by Versailles to construct defence lines, one such was in the neighbourhood of the village of Castenay.  A low ridge between two areas of boggy ground seemed to offer the perfect blocking position and a local contractor, (monsigneur Charles Balle-Foure) had been engaged by the emigre engineer Alexander Beattie to supervise the works. Two local militia battalions had been drafted in from a nearby fortress to do the required digging, but  when news that the Alliance army was on its way was received, the militia quickly decided that their duty lay in garrisoning the fortress and it was left for the Comte de Salle Forde to hold the ridge.  He had eight regiments of infantry, four squadrons of cavalry and a light gun.  The militia had managed to start work on two redoubts on the ridge and these provided cover for the ends of the Comte's front line of 5 battalions.  The only open ground was on the left and here the Comte stationed the Chevalier Aubusson with two sqaudrons of cavalry.  It would have made sense if the remaining cavalry had also been on the left, but the Marquis de St Evremonde insisted, as the senior cavalry commander, he should be on the right.  With friends at court, the Marquis could ignore the Comte and chose to do so on this occasion.

Initial deployment of forces, French on the left

Von Grommitt had 10 battalions of infantry and 5 squadrons of cavalry plus a medium gun.   He too opted for the classic deployment of infantry in the centre with cavalry on each wing and decided to advance against the whole French line, keeping his grenadiers in reserve, ready to exploit any gaps.

Von Grommitt advances

 As the Alliance forces advanced the marshy area in the centre, opposite the gap in the ridge caused problems as the grenadiers had to try and manoeuvre around it.  Von Grommitt had to leave matters up to the battalion commanders as he was fully employed getting the Hessian infantry into position.  To further complicate matters, the French chose this moment to attack with their left wing cavalry.  the Chevalier Aubusson led his squadrons (Aubusson and Vaillac), forward, hoping to attack the flank of the infantry line.  He found that instead he was opposed by the Austrian cuirassier brigade (squadrons from the Jung Hannover and Herbestein regiments).

Aubusson attacks the Austrian cuirassiers
 These horsemen did not attempt to charge, but calmly waited for the French to get close enough to fire at them with their pistols.  The pistol discharge was delayed until the last moment and emptied several saddles.  Amongst the casualties was the gallant Chevalier, who made it a point of honour to be the first to reach the enemy line.   Aubusson were repulsed, but Vaillac pushed on and the second impact was sufficient to drive the Jung Hannover squadron back.  Both sides now took time to reform, the French hampered by the loss of their commander.  Seeing the disruption on his left, the Comte galloped over and took personal command of his cavalry.  Inspired by his presence, the French charged again and drove the Austrian cuirassiers from the field.  However, events on the ridge had now reached a critical stage and the Comte had to quickly regain his former post behind the front line.

The Austrian infantry near the ridge

On the Alliance left the Austrian brigade had reached the ridge and started to move forward into a gap created by the retreat of the Zurlaben infantry battalion which had had to fall back due to casualties from artillery fire. As the Metternich battalion neared the crest they were attacked by the Marquis' cavalry which he had led forward.  The Spanish horse charged forward but were stopped in their tracks by a deadly volley from the Austrians.  As the remnants of the unit fell back, they left the field clear for the Marquis' second unit, the Cuirassier du Roi.  This also charged Metternich and undeterred by the volley closed on the infantry.  Sheltered by their pikes, the Austrians held their ground and again the French had to fall back. The Dutch battalion in the Austrian brigade had by this time driven Solre back from their works and was attempting to form up on the ridge.

The Spanish horse charge forward
 Meanwhile on the French left, the Comte had taken control of the defence of the ridge.  Directing his artillery to fire in support of the Bavarians he was able to stop Erbprinz from closing.  Wartensleben was also struggling to get the better of a fire fight with  Toulouse.  Von Grommitt was fully occupied trying to cover the rear of his attack from the French cavalry.  Fortunately, lacking a commander now the Comte had returned to the ridge, they took their time reorganising and this allowed the Alliance cavalry from the left to cross the battlefield to come the the aid of their infantry. Outnumbered, the French fell back behind their lines.

In the centre, the leading battalion of Alliance grenadiers had attacked Languedoc, who were holding the part-built lines.  These gave the French some advantage, but when the second grenadier battalion moved up the French gave way and fell back on their reserves.

As the light began to fade the Alliance had a foothold on the ridge on their left flank and in the centre, but were facing the bulk of the French reserves plus the Marquis' cavalry.  On the Alliance right, the Hessian brigade had taken heavy casualties trying to take the ridge and Von Grommitt decided he should withdraw.  The Comte could hardly believe his luck, he too had been on the point of ordering a withdrawal and the sight of his enemy falling back allowed him to order his troops to return to their positions on the ridge.

The closing position

 We used the Ga Pa rules for this scenario and they worked much better with the linear deployment.  The rules allow for galloping and trotting charges and we decided to make the French cavalry 'gallopers', although they were disordered by their charge. This represents their philosophy of the "charge en forageurs",  where the emphasis was on speed rather than cohesion.    The Alliance cavalry were trotting cavalry, who relied more on breaking up the enemy charge with pistol fire.  This gave interesting cavalry melees, but pike-armed infantry seemed to have little difficulty seeing off cavalry charges.  Next time perhaps we'll set the scenario a little later when pikes had been phased out.

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