|Tough nut - the French-held village of Möckern, complete with medieval tower |
and - can that be Felsham church...?
Goya hosted the event at his baronial palace, where he has busily been painting Prussian troops to make up the cast list. The combined Prussians of the armies of Goya and Baron Stryker (under Goya's command) were to fight the French VI Corps under Marshal Marmont (played by Stryker himself, still glowing with the glory of his recent French success at Talavera). I was the umpire, a role which I enjoy (leveraging, as Dilbert would say, my OCD tendencies to advantage) and which gives a very good chance of avoiding defeat.
Möckern, of course, is one of the outlying precursors to the Battle of Leipzig, which took place two days later. Research is hampered a little by the fact that there was another battle of Möckern, some 6 months earlier, which, since it was a French victory, is rather better documented [discuss].
The large village of Möckern at that time was some distance from Leipzig, and sat on a road from the north which went to the Northern gate to the city. Our battle was only part of the real historical one - we covered the left of the French defence - that part which was opposed by Yorck's Prussian I Corps of Blücher's Army of Silesia. Our scenario comes from the official Commands & Colors: Napoleonics Expansion #5 booklet - the only amendments were some substitution of Prussian units to fit with the miniatures we had available, and a house rule tweak to include a couple of roads, and allow a small measure of quicker movement for regiments which used them.
The French start the day strongly positioned in the village (thus having 2 bonus Victory Points at the outset, which, if they lose the place, will disappear and become 3 for the Prussians). There were also bonus VPs available if the Prussians managed to exit any units over the French baseline (which in rugby terms is known as a try, we think). 10 VPs for the win. Standard size 13 x 9 hex table. A couple of scenario rules concerned the small bend of the River Elster and the minor stream (Pleisse? - Parthe? - can't remember) on the French right flank, and a more significant rule, in that the outlying Manor Farm of Möckern was a strong, walled strongpoint allowing defenders to disregard one "retreat flag" if one came up.
The Prussians, being Prussians, are allowed an allocation of Iron Will counters by the C&CN rules - on this occasion they had 4 available for the day - these may be used as a last-resort means of cancelling retreat flags - 1 counter per flag. [We used 20-cent Euro coins, in fact]
In the real battle, the Prussians made pretty slow progress attacking the village, suffered heavy losses and retreated. The French were somewhat inconvenienced by an exploding ammo cart (so Marmont says, anyway, in his memoirs), but the Marshal ordered up his corps light cavalry - a brigade of Württembergers commanded by Generalmajor Normann - to pursue the repulsed infantry, and - allegedly - Normann refused. Marmont then ordered forward Lagrange's infantry to carry out the pursuit, and they were caught by the Prussian cavalry, and very badly handled, falling back in disorder onto the village of Gohlis, where they joined Ney in an attempt to hold off the Russian advance the following day.
Normann's disobedience may seem less surprising when it is remembered that the Württembergers were one of the German states which defected to the Allies on the 18th.
Our game started with the Prussians butting their heads against the walled farm, in authentic style, and they started losing men rapidly - a tendency which became established as a general theme for the day. They then had a quick, dramatic success when a battalion of French légère received two retreat flags and - special rule or not - were forced out of the farm, to be replaced by some Prussian grenadiers, who held it for the rest of the engagement. That was as good as it got for Yorck. Hampered by astonishingly poor dice (unbelievable - it quickly passed beyond amusing to downright embarrassing, so after a little while no-one laughed any more...), Yorck also had problems with the quality of his army - he had a lot of Reservists (double retreats) and militia (triple retreats), and thus had to use the Iron Will counters to stop his militia cavalry disappearing to the rear - and his cavalry, though much more numerous on the face of it, were relatively puny, the scenario stipulating 3 "blocks" per unit, compared with the French 4 per unit.
The French at one point were 8-0 up on VPs, though the Prussians did eventually wear a few units down, and then there was the extraordinary episode of General Lagrange. Lagrange was present with a French line unit which was eliminated. He survived, though was only able to retreat to a very hazardous position adjacent to the farm, where the resident grenadiers duly used him for target practice. They missed. Apparently crazed by his luck, Lagrange hung around for another volley, waving his hat to goad them - they missed again. At which point a unit of militia lancers appeared, and captured him, which certainly served him right.
The Prussian attack on the left fizzled out from lack of sufficient good-quality troops, and the game ran out a 10-4 win for the French - still with the initial 2 for holding most of Möckern village, and with the Prussian 4th VP counter entirely due to the death-wish of General Lagrange.
Interesting game - very interesting. None of us has any idea how the Prussians could have won; once again we overturned history. They never got close to securing any bonus VPs for scoring a "try" on their left - they couldn't have spared the troops anyway. One alternative strategy would have been to ignore the very strong village and concentrate on an assault by the Prussian left - it would be necessary to clear away a good few French units to rack up VPs, and then exit over the French baseline with enough units to get up to 10VPs with the scenario bonus.
As it was, this was never a possibility, and the day's bloodshed made very little contribution to the overall cause of Befreiung. Not to worry - an excellent day's entertainment, and excellent food, as ever. Special mention must be made of the personal efforts of Count Goya, who had banished his family, along with all the servants, to the country for the weekend, and did a fine solo job of the catering. My thanks to my colleagues for their excellent company and good humour.
Thoughts on C&CN scenarios? Not very much - we should maybe be suspicious of general application of the standard C&CN national characteristics. In particular, the French line infantry get an extra combat die in melee combat against infantry, simply because of their famed élan and effectiveness. That's well and good, but the point is well made that, though Marmont's Corps was among the better of the French line troops at Leipzig, the French army was nothing like what it had been in 1809. We should have a look at scenario rules more carefully in this respect. The French OOB for VI Corps includes many provisional regiments which consisted of battalions of veteran Peninsular War regiments, but typically these were the 5th or 6th battalions of such regiments, and the large numbers of "Marine Infantry" present are something of an unknown quantity - whatever some of the historical paintings may show - these were not the Marins de la Garde - nothing like.
Right - to the pictures. Please ignore the labelling you see on the units - there were a great many sabots on loan from other armies, so the presence of apparently Spanish or Portuguese units should be disregarded.
|General view - French on the left, Prussians and the North to the right, and the |
village of Möckern dominating the Leipzig road at the far end
|From behind the Prussian left, at the start (about 11:30)|
|Yorck's Prussians make a start against the walled Manor Farm|
|Though the farm is not very promising, the main village itself is a very formidable |
objective, with enough size to allow garrison units to provide mutual support
|Just for a moment, things seemed to be swinging a little, as the Silesian grenadiers |
drove the French out of the farm
|Further left, the Prussians under Horn and Steinmetz ponder the chances |
of a breakthrough
|And on the far left flank of the Prussian force, Hünerbein did at least have some |
better quality regular troops
|General problem for Yorck was that his cavalry was understrength, and he had |
too high a proportion of Reservist and Landwehr units...
|Action on the Prussian left - a brief glimpse of the legendary French 15eme |
Chasseurs à Cheval (on the road) who did not manage to live up to their celebrated
success at Talavera
|The battle for the farm reaches its peak - the French were driven off here|
|Having driven off an attack by the French (Württemberg) cavalry in the centre, |
the Prussian cavalry here are too weakened to contribute further
|The extraordinary adventure of General Lagrange, waving his hat in defiance of the |
Prussians in the farm. The lancers in the background did for him shortly afterwards.