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...
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!