On the weekend of the 18/19 November 2022, we staged the refight of the largest battle of the Napoleonic Wars. We had 16 players at various stages and the event went well.
History Repeating Itself?
Map of historic army positions on 16 October 1813 by Andrei Nacu from Wikimedia Commons
The game was staged using the historical points of arrival and times. This still gave plenty of scope for players to make some strategic decisions, especially the French who start with most of their army on the tables. The French broadly followed Napoleon’s plan of trying to crush the Army of Bohemia to the south under the overall command of the Austrian Prince Schwarzenberg before the Army of Silesia under Marshall Blücher could break through on the north. They decided to move all the guard south to give them a decisive advantage.
The commanders of the Army of Bohemia for their part were more cautious than their historic counterparts. They and held back from an assault on the French line around Wachau. Instead, they concentrated on holding the southern part of the battlefield and outflanking on the east. Initially this was with Platov’s Cossacks and then more corps arriving during the morning.
The Tabletop Battlefield
This was a game of two halves. It was necessary to split the battlefield between two large tables. The first picture below shows the northern sector looking to the northeast. The French guard are just to the right of Leipzig on the picture. Bertrand’s 4th Corps and Southam’s 3rd Corps are just marching onto the battlefield to the north.
The second picture shows the southern half of the battlefield, again looking to the northeast. The Austrian 4th Corps has just arrived in the foreground and had difficulty getting into the main battle with the Pleisse River blocking the way. The Army of Bohemia is just emerging onto the battlefield with the French line drawn up around Wachau. The massed French cavalry is behind.
The position on the southern table around 9.30am game time looking east. The French Young guard has been sent to counter the Allies out flanking movement on the far side of the battlefield. The French Guard Cavalry prepares to make an impression on the Allies.
The northern battlefield around 12.30 pm looking northwest. The French have left three full corps to deal with the Army of Silesia which is assaulting the town of Möcken to the northwest of Leipzig. The French are well prepared, and this proves to be a tough fight for the old Swedish hussar, Marshall Blücher.
The Allies sent their Austrian 3rd Corps to attack Leipzig from the southwest. The road was defended by German troops holding the fortified town of Lindenau. Historically then Austrians made little progress but our wargamers are made of tougher stuff. After a fierce clash, they marched across difficult terrain to assault Leipzig itself. At 1pm, general Hesse-Homburg stormed into the city but was killed in the attack. The French drove the Austrians out an hour later and the attack stalled after that.
The southern battlefield around 12.30 pm looking northwest with the French ready to strike.
Outcome and some thoughts
By the time we finish playing the northern half of the battlefield had completed all the first day of the fight with the Army of Silesia, after taking heavy losses, driving back the French The conflict in the south made less progress time wise and we found it necessary to split the battlefield time zones to allow the players in the north to press on with their fight. The French in the south did better than their historic counterparts but the Army of Bohemia still had a lot of troops to move onto the battlefield.
It is a monstrous project to try to refight the entire battle and the spectacle was enjoyed by all. The rules held up reasonably well. The players got their heads around the orders of battle. There were some glorious moments including:
- the outflanking manoeuvre by Platov’s Cossacks
- the battle to control the Kolmberg hill east of the village of Holzhausen
- the storming of Leipzig by the Austrians and the counterattack to drive them out
- the attack on Möcken by the Prussians and Russians and defence of the French
- the charge of the Dutch Guard Lancers
- the charge of the French 1st Cavalry Corps’s cuirassier divisions
- the destruction of Southam’s 3rd French Corps in the north
- the crossing of the White Elster River by the Army of Silesia
Man of the match? General Hesse-Homburg – posthumously awarded.
We did not complete the first day in the south and this game really needs to be played over a longer period. Maybe we should jump to the third day next year to see the arrival of the Swedes.
A View from the Northern Front
Defending Leipzig from the inevitable onslaught was a tricky business – we deployed our forces in three lines. anchoring on the villages to the North of Leipzig, and garrisoning the villages of Lindenau in the East, and Lindenthal and Wiedelitzsch in the North.
Marshall Blücher attacked in force from the North, but Lindenthal held firm all morning, delaying the Prussian advance. By the time it fell, the more troops had arrived to reinforce Blüchers battered force, who had engaged in an artillery battle against the french troops, who had cunningly deployed beyond a stream making it difficult for the advance to succeed without taking heavy casualties.
To the East, the Austrians made slow progress, eventually setting fire to the village of Lindenau and forcing the beleaguered French troops to make a suicidal charge, or be burnt alive. They chose death or glory, and fixed bayonets but were cut down by the Austrians.
The Austrians advanced up the road, trying, but failing, to avoid the difficult ground to either side if the only road to Leipzig. They breached the walls once, but were flung back in a heroic counter charge by the French troops (not that I am biased or anything).
The Prussians finally broke the first French line, and the survivors fell back to a second line, where their cavalry was able to counter attack and force the Prussians back.
By the time that Blücher had regrouped, dusk was falling, and neither side had the stomach to press home an advantage, and the French redeployed on the outskirts of Leipzig to defend their position.
An exciting game overall, and a big thanks to John for organising it. Had it gone on, I do feel that superior numbers would have won the day for the allied forces, however, it was not to be, and at the end of a long weekend, the French were victorious having withstood the onslaught.