Monday, 19 March 2018

Black Powder - Marengo

This battle is lost, but there is time to win another.
General Desaix to First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, Marengo, early evening, 13th June 1800

This Thursday at the Uni, 5 veteran Napoleonic's players got together to refight the Battle of Marengo using Black Powder rules.

I was anxious to see how Austrians would fare under the demanding command and control mechanics of Black Powder - I am facing a mutiny from the Austrian players in my Wagram mega game project for insisting on giving Austrian brigade commanders low Staff Ratings - do they have a fair gripe, were they actually dashing and aggressive, like the Archduke Charles, or has history been fair for once in portraying them as quite pedestrian, at least compared to their French counterparts?

The Commanders: (L-R) Caesar as Desaix, Peter as Melas, Bryan as Ott, David as 1st Consul. (Ian, as Lannes, has been recalled....)

Marengo is a fascinating battle in its own right, not least because it was rewritten by Napoleon no less than three times, each account successively reducing the contribution of Desaix and Kellerman, Napoleon’s political rivals. Desaix, of course, conveniently fell in this battle, just at his moment of triumph.

The Marengo Campaign began with French columns doing a Hannibal over the Alps, converging on the plains of Northern Italy to surprise the Austrians. Napoleon had used daring strategic manoeuvre to unite French forces but the Austrian armies still had to be defeated on the field.

Napoleon’s opponent, General der Kavallerie Michael Friedrich von Melas, recalled to the Colours, was indeed a competent and tough general, having defeated several French armies the previous year. French victory in the 1800 campaign was not a foregone conclusion – Napoleon was staring defeat in the face until Desaix turned up in the nick of time, despite most of Napoleon’s increasingly desperate despatches recalling him being intercepted by rampaging Austrian cavalry. 

The scenario, heavily adapted from the one in Wargames Illustrated 233, conflates both the Austrian assaults on the village of Marengo on the 14th June beginning at about 11 AM, and Desaix’s subsequent arrival 6 hours later, and so wildly distorted both time and space, in order to bring out what, to me, were the key aspects of the battle: the Austrian break into Marengo, and the French counter attacks towards evening....

At the start of our scenario, the battle had been going on most of the morning and the Austrians have pushed back the French over the bridge to the very edge of Marengo itself. The French are trying to form a defensive line based on the village and the Fontanone River…. 

Bryan, on the Austrian left flank, pushes forward aggressively with the intent of intercepting or at least delaying French reinforcements...

His French opposite number, Ian, playing Lannes's currently tiny vanguard, is sufficiently impressed to pull right back...

And opposite Marengo, Peter manoeuvres methodically with balletic precision around the town.

But perhaps too methodically - despite Bryan's deep lunge across the table, French reinforcements appear on the road to Marengo...

However, to this point, the Austrian staff ratings have not slowed them down too much - with all regular units rated as Superbly Drilled, they still got a move on a failed order...

With the French heavy cavalry reserve now appearing in the distance, Peter resorts to desperate measures...

Having shot up the French squares covering the approaches to Marengo with artillery until they are shaken, he charges with well supported cavalry - all that parade ground precision was for good reason - the square is broken!

And in the final move of the game, manages to put in fully supported assaults on two faces of the town, thus splitting the Garrison's defence...

And snatches a victory by taking the town before Desaix's reinforcements can save the day!


  1. Sounds great, beautiful buildings, figures and photos...Love the mix of drawings/photos also...

  2. "I lost the Battle of Marengo at 5 o clock AND WON IT BACK AGAIN..AT 7!!!" -Rod Steiger as Napoleon.
    Excellent report as always, Sparker. Keep up the great work.

  3. A most manageable of scenarios. I like seeing black powder reports showing 'typical' tables being used. The table looks great, enjoyed the write-up.

    1. Thanks so much Norm! Yes a good battle for a week night club meet.

  4. Austrians (All models Peter’s unless marked)

    C In C General der Kavallerie von Melas
    Staff Rating 9

    Avant Garde Brigade – On table
    Oberst Frimont Staff Rating 8
    1st Uhlan Regt Large
    1ST Hussar Regt Large
    Grenz Regt
    Brunswick Light Regt x 1
    Brunswick Line x 3 (Treat as Austrian Line)
    Gun Battery – Horse (2 models)

    1ST Infantry Bde – Move 2
    FML Hadik SR 7
    Austrian Line x 3 Large
    Austrian Landwehr x 2 (Treat as Austrian Line Large)
    Gun Battery – Foot (2 models)

    Heavy Cav Bde - Move 3
    GM Nobili SR 7
    Austrian Dragoons x 2 Large
    Austrian Cuirassers x 4 (1 unit Caesar’s Russians) Large

    FML Ott Staff Rating 8
    Pontooneer Section (not represented)

    Light Cav Bde – On table
    GM Gottesheim SR 8
    Austrian Uhlans x 2 Large
    Austrian Hussars x 2 Large
    Gun Battery – Horse (2 models)

    2nd Infantry Bde – Move 2
    FML Schellenberg SR 7
    Austrian Line x 3 Large (Ralph)
    Austrian Landwehr x 1 (Line)
    Gun Battery – Foot (2 models)

    French (All models Ralph unless marked)

    C in C 1ere Consul Napoleon
    Staff Rating 10

    1st Infantry Bde – On table
    General Gardanne SR 8
    French Ligne/Legere x 5
    Skirmishers battalion group

    2nd Infantry Bde – On table
    Gen. Gency SR 8
    French Ligne/Legere x 4
    Skirmishers battalion group

    General Lannes SR 9 – On table
    5eme Dragoons
    28eme Demi Brigade x 1

    Lt Gen Desaix SR 10

    Cavalry Brigade
    Gen. Kellerman SR 9 – Move 4
    3 x Dragoons DB
    Hussars DB
    Chasseurs a Cheval DB
    Horse Battery

    3rd Infantry Bde – Move 5
    Gen. Rivaud SR 8
    French Ligne/Legere x 5
    Consular Guard
    Corps Artillery Battery

  5. I would just add that to get a better tactical appreciation of the battle, put the village on the northern side-road by the junction - the big problem the Austrians had was getting shot up between the "bridge" and the village.

    All will be revealed in late June when Terry Crowdy's book is published

  6. Wow - great to have you commenting David - your tip is well taken from such an authority on all things Austrian, and I look forward to Terry's book!

  7. Wonderful battle report Sparker and a game that I have been looking at putting on sometime this year as a General D'Armee battle. Thanks for the great photos and your OOB.

  8. Thanks Carlo, glad you enjoyed it and hope your game goes well!