Napoleon’s Road to Waterloo

There is no doubt the battle of Waterloo has something of a draw for me. A dramatic battle that ended the Napoleonic Wars and part of a campaign that could have developed very differently. The Volley & Bayonet scenario book “Napoleon Returns” details the four major battles of the Hundred Days campaigns. Specifically Quatre Bras, Ligny, Wavre and of course Waterloo. I have refought all with Volley & Bayonet and all have provided interesting refights in their own right, despite their variation in size.

Occasionally I hear of other wargamers refighting Waterloo in miniature. Yet these refights almost always ignore the battle of Wavre, no doubt being considered something of a sideshow. Yet David Chandler writes in his book Waterloo The Hundred Days of the importance of both battles. His words describe it well.

“It is important to realise that the climacteric moment of the Napoleonic wars was a double-battle. Waterloo has always received most of the attention, but events ten miles away to the east were also important, if on the smaller scale, and had a considerable effect on the outcome of the main battle”.

Interestingly Frank Chadwick in his Napoleon Returns scenario book allows for the linking of Waterloo and Wavre on a single table and this concept has often interested me. To do this even with Volley & Bayonet a large table is required. At the normal scale where 1” equates to 100 yards, some 18’ in length and 6’ in width. Fortunately, we use half scale with our 6mm armies. Now 1” equates to 200 yards and the battlefields of Wavre and Waterloo when linked together will fit on a more manageable 9’ long table.

As mentioned previously I have refought all the battles of the Hundred Day Campaign individually. However, I have never been in a position to fight these linked battles. It was always a project for “someday in the future”. However, the first lockdown of the pandemic found me thinking of possible projects. So the project of fighting Waterloo and Wavre on one table was conceived.

My project was further complicated as I have moved to denser basing resulting in having fewer, though individually more visually pleasing, stands in my collection. While I have been slowly rebuilding the collection the pandemic clearly provided something of a catalyst to focus my attentions. So over a series of evenings I started pondering options.

How many figures would be required? Well the French have ten corps spread across both Waterloo and Wavre. These comprise 34 divisions. Now, I use Heroics & Ros figures for my armies and having acquired a number of unpainted second hand Heroics & Ros figures I started to organise the miniatures in a detailed stock take. I required 41 infantry brigades, 23 cavalry brigades, 28 artillery battalions, 34 divisional commanders as well as 13 corps and army commanders. It soon became apparent that my previous seemingly uncontrolled purchases could almost provide the required numbers.

In late March of 2020 the project got underway, with the initial focus on some cavalry. For clarity I would break the project in to several sub-projects as there are only so many horses, or indeed anything, I can paint in one batch. Due to my previously described rebasing my French cavalry were now low in number. So some of these would be the starting point. Above, a selection of four brigades of Dragoons and four brigades of Cuirassiers. On each base I have modelled at least two of the regiments that were historically brigaded. As a result a mix of facing colours are often visible.

Over following months, in between other projects, further brigades were added including Lancers, Chasseurs, Hussars and mixed brigades of Chasseurs and Hussars.

Above, four stands of light cavalry while below, some Guard cavalry comprising Chasseurs a Cheval and Grenadiers a Cheval.

The infantry needed to be heavily supplemented, again in part because of the denser basing I had adopted, but also the fact I was intending to fight both battles simultaneously.

As with the cavalry, each brigade base measured 1.5” square and I found I could achieve a visual interesting effect by placing around 29 miniatures on a base. For a few I added an artillery model to provide further interest, these modelling dispersed batteries. On others I deployed some battalions or officers in greatcoats, with some variation with greatcoat colour. All new stands included a thick skirmish screen. To provide a greater variation with the existing units, which had slightly fewer figures, all the stands received new labels with divisions receiving a combination of newer and older brigades. This created a themed look but with plenty of variety. Below, a small selection of infantry. You will note I have used earlier standards because the miniatures will also serve in earlier campaigns.

The artillery component was to prove complicated. The older “Napoleon Returns” scenarios have discrete artillery stands, mostly massed at corps level. In contrast the Road to Glory army lists model much of the artillery as distributed to the various brigades – as distributed batteries. After further reading, as well as a couple of 1815 games, I opted for the massed guns defined in the “Napoleon Returns” scenario book, though players can distribute them if they wish. Consequently the artillery park needed considerable reinforcement. Now 18 Line and four Guard artillery battalions formed the bulk of the artillery park. To this must be added six horse artillery battalions, of which two are Guard horse artillery.

While a few of my existing artillery stands were of suitable painting quality most were replaced and all the guns repainted. Horse artillery stands were completely reformed and now include limbers, or at least a limber and a couple of horses, to ensure they are easily discernible as horse artillery. Above, a small sample of foot artillery.

To this of course I needed to add generals. In total 34 divisional commanders and 12 corps and army commanders were required. Again, many of the original stands were retired and new ones added. At half scale each command stand is just 3/4” square with a divisional command stand having one figure, corps two and army commanders three.

Now, after several months of on and off work the French for the Hundred Days are complete. Such a moment requires something of a parade.

Above, those on the left the formations engaged at Waterloo, while on the right, and separated by two woods, those at Wavre under Grouchy.

Above and below the forces at Waterloo at different angles. They are actually arranged in their various divisions and corps.

Below, the three infantry divisions of the Imperial Guard supported by the two Guard cavalry divisions.

Grouchy’s forces at Wavre are markedly smaller with just three small corps. Below, a view of these forces.

If you recall back to Chandler’s quote above there is some distance between Waterloo and Wavre. Further, the battlefield of Waterloo is actually relatively compact. What you have between them is a significant distance which eventually will be filled with Prussians moving from around Wavre to support Wellington. With the forces deployed on a single long table some of my questions about the battle can be explored. We can for example see how few Prussians can be left at Wavre. At the same time Grouchy must apply pressure to slow the movement of. Prussians to Waterloo. Perhaps Napoleon can delay the arrival of the Prussians. Or perhaps the Duke of Wellington can win without the Prussians?

However, before I can answer these questions I must complete the few remaining Anglo-Allied troops and expand the Prussians. Now back to organising the Allies so they can have their time at the painting table.

Svabovice, July 1757

Field Marshal von Daun pulled his horse to a halt and looked north. Here he was once again facing the Prussians deeply aware that in his last engagement, that at the Battle of Kuklena, he had suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of Frederick. While he was confident of his troops he was determined that today caution and deliberate advance would be his focus. The Prussian King was a commander that could not be taken lightly.

Daun had on hand a relatively small portion of his army assembled. General Marschall commanded the infantry which comprised three divisions. In all 13 infantry regiments or 15,000 muskets. These were supported by 48 field cannon plus around 26 light battalion pieces. His cavalry, numbering 7,500, were also organised in three divisions. Specifically the divisions of Luetzow, Stampach and Serbelloni.

The two armies converged near the town of Svabovice, the Austrians from the south the Prussians from the north. Daun deployed his infantry divisions deployed as follows. In the centre Starhemberg’s Division advanced on a low ridge south of Svabovice. Sincere’s Division wasto the right and Marschall taking personal command of the infantry division, deployed on the left. The Austrian cavalry formed behind the infantry with Luetzow’s and Stampach’s on the right and Serbelloni‘s on the left.

Above, a view of the Austrian centre, after the ridge was secured.

Frederick’s army was numerically similar, with slightly fewer infantry regiments and artillery but bolstered by additional cavalry. Below, a view of the Prussian centre and part of the left.

Yet while his army was not fully deployed Frederick determined to seize the initiative. With the Austrians clearly intent on securing a defensive position south of the town of Svabovice, Frederick launched the cavalry of his right forward against the Austrian left. He was determined to unhinge the Austrians before they could fully form. Over the course of two hours three cavalry brigades would be thrown forward while Prussian infantry moved in support.

The first Austrian infantry regiment to be attacked was Infantry Regiment 4 commanded by Franz Count Callenberg. Below, the regiment is attacked.

Despite being a well trained the regiment and fighting well at Kolin it was now devastated by the merciless charge of the Prussian dragoons. The regiment breaking in rout placed the Austrian left in crisis. Undeterred Daun ordered a second line be formed using regiments previously held in reserve and drawn from two divisions. These were supported by Austrian Cuirassiers. Forming at right angles to his main line no sooner had the troops been deployed than this new line was hit by charging Prussian Hussars & Cuirassiers. While Austrian one infantry regiment and a converged Austrian Cuirassier Brigade, comprised of Cuirassier Regiments 5 and 20, were forced back the Austrian position generally held. Now Daun ordered a series of counterattacks, primarily by the second brigade of Serbelloni’s Cuirassiers, the first still reforming.

Above the Austrian counterattack with Daun at the forefront determined to drive off the Prussian Cuirassiers. Infantry Regiment 26 and artillery support the attack.

As the Prussian Cuirassiers were cut down the pendulum of battle was swinging to the Austrians. Now it was the Prussian right that was in trouble and the Prussians here were forced to retire. As the nearby Prussian infantry retired the remaining Prussian cavalry screened the move, though they were predictably scattered by another Austrian cavalry charge, shown below.

Frustrated by the turn in fortunes Frederick now formed a new line and transferred cavalry from his left to bolster the right forming in the vicinity of the Svabovice. Frederick, despite his boldness, was also weary of the Austrian artillery. Particularly so as some of his converged grenadiers had suffered heavy casualties to Austrian artillery fire as they advanced earlier.

Daun now methodically advanced and over two hours extending his own left line to the west. Then around 5pm he ordered another attack on the Prussian right. Again Austrian Cuirassiers of Serbelloni’s Division advanced. Now however they were supported by the infantry and artillery of Marschall’s and Starhemberg’s Divisions.

The Austrian attack was decisive. Unable to withstand the withering fire and determined Austrian horse the Prussian cavalry opposite broke. Below, the situation viewed from Austrian lines after the Prussian cavalry on the Prussian right have collapsed.

With his second cavalry division broken so was Frederick’s resolve. While his infantry were still fresh he ordered a retreat with the Prussian infantry falling back, covered by successive lines. Daun, unwilling to press his advantage and engage the Prussian foot, determined to follow up the enemy from a safe distance while dispatching news of the victory to Vienna.

The battle was of course a fictional engagement. Each army comprised 2000 points of troops and was fought over a table 3’ wide by 2’ deep as we use half scale. Unlike many of our fictional games this scenario was not developed using the Road to Glory scenario system. The game was resolved in around two hours of play and involved two players. Despite the limited forces it was a fascinating engagement showing the slower pace of the Seven Years War. It was also our first Volley & Bayonet game for 2021. All miniatures are in 6mm and are from Heroics & Ros, the Austrians are from my own collection while the Prussians from my opponents.

Unterdorf, August 1813

The Spring Campaign of 1813 had been a difficult time for the Allies but the Armistice had proved something of a reprieve. By August however the campaign was renewed. Ney had been ordered to strike north and would soon been in contact with Blucher and elements of his Prussian and Russian army.

While far from concentrated Ney felt he had sufficient forces available to deliver a crush blow on the Allies to his front. By midday on the 22nd August Ney had elements from Marmont’s VI Corps and Lauriston’s V Corps drawn up on the relatively open plain near the town of Unterdorf. To his right reinforcements from the Army Reserve, which had forced marched were due to arrive. In all Ney would soon have 39,000 bayonets, 4,500 cavalry and 92 cannon. Below, a view of the French centre around 1.30pm.

Blucher in contrast was far from concentrated. Of those forces available today only three divisions from von Kleist’s Prussian II Corps were drawn up in the area around Unterdorf. These were supplemented by two divisions from Bulow’s III Corps. In all some 25,000 bayonets, 3,000 cavalry and 50 guns. Fortunately Allied reinforcements were nearby and over the next three hours Blucher expected these reinforcements to arrive. Nearest was the understrength Russian 11th Corps, under Sacken. This corps comprised just 8,000 bayonets but was supported by no less than 40 cannon. In addition two Prussian divisions, providing a further 6,000 infantry, 3,500 cavalry and 18 guns, were also drawing nearer, though it was uncertain how long these troops would take to arrive. Once fully concentrated Blucher would have 39,000 bayonets, 7,000 cavalry and 108 cannon.

As the French advance began Blucher was foolishly confident of his position. His dispositions were mostly centred around von Kleists II Corps. The veteran von Kleist’s focussed his deployment as follows. In the centre von Klux’s Division was deployed around Unterdorf, with a Landwehr regiment soon garrisoning the town itself. Extending to the right was Pirch’s Division and echeloned to the left and securing a large wood and the Allied flank, was Ziethen’s Division. Extending II Corps dispositions to the right were elements of Bulow’s III Corps. In particular von Thumen’s infantry division and von Oppen’s cavalry division. The Allied right resting on the town of Gadsburg. This town and the nearby stream effectively marked the right flank of the battlefield.

Ney’s divisions began their advance around 1pm with the attacks beginning around 2pm. While the French left formed a blocking position, the French infantry of the centre attacked with great elan.

Here the situation around Unterdorf before and after 2pm. In particular above the French prepare to attack while the Prussians are not fully prepared. Below, the French attack collides with the Prussians nearer 2.30pm.

Determined to prevent the Prussians completing their defensive preparations several brigades from the divisions of Compans and Lagrange surged forward, in all over 9,000 men. The fighting was desperate but the out numbered Prussians forced the attackers back. The attack on Unterdorf was particularly costly with two French brigades routing.

On the French right several divisions forces moved forward in preparation for their own attacks in the coming hours. These were in two parts. Firstly, two French divisions prepared to attack the Allied left centre, which centred around the woods near Unterdorf. Of even more concern to Blucher was the arrival around 2pm of Curial’s Middle Guard and Walthier’s Cuirassier Divisions on his extreme left. While it would be another hour before these troops could strike the impact of these veterans on the exposed Allied left would be catastrophic.

In an effort to halt the impending attacks against his left Blucher ordered Sacken’s Russian Corps, comprising the divisions of Lieven and Neverovsky, to this sector. While these divisions were woefully small they were well trained and supplemented by a number of cannon ranging from heavy pieces as well as numerous position batteries in close support of individual brigades.

Around 3pm the French focus shifted from the extreme left to clearing the Unterdorf woods. Several French brigades pushed relentlessly into the woods and began to drive the outnumbered Prussians out. The lack of drill of the Prussian units, all relatively recent recruits, prevented an effective withdrawal and outnumbered they prepared to slow the French advance. Soon after 3.30pm the Russians began to counter this threat by launching two brigades, along with Prussian Landwehr at an exposed brigade of the Middle Guard. These French veterans were forced back with heavy casualties. A series of attacks and counterattacks now occurred in the following two hours as the French and Russians collided in desperate fighting.

Meanwhile in the centre the initial attacks by the French infantry were replaced by an ever growing artillery bombardment as Ney pushed evermore guns forward forming a grand battery some 800 to 1200 yards from the Prussians. Eventually no fewer than 60 French guns belched death and destruction on the Prussians in and around Unterdorf. The Prussians had little answer, their own guns amounting to just 24 pieces.

However, on the Prussian right Bulow’s on attack was gaining momentum. For two hours he had been probing the French left. Around 3pm 12 guns, drawn from von Thumen’s division,were thrown forward, along with Prussian Regular and Reserve infantry. These guns, deployed some 200 yards from the extreme left of the French line – held by one brigade of Friederich’s Provisional Division, proved critical.

Disordered by the Prussian guns a French infantry brigade was charged the hussars of von Oppen’s Cavalry Division. As the French brigade routed it unhinged the position. Soon Prussian horse artillery were bought forward and a second French brigade was subjected to another charge by the hussars, with similar results.

Above and below, views of the engagement on the Allied right from different locations.

By 6pm Ney was forced to cease his attacks. The attack against the Allied left while well executed had stalled with two of his four divisions here exhausted and a third near exhaustion. Likewise on the French left Friederich’s division had suffered heavy casualties. In all French casualties amounted to some 6,500 men. The Allies had suffered fewer, with around 3,250. However, these had fallen mostly on Ziethen’s Prussian Division and both Russian divisions. With a strong French centre Blucher was unwilling to press an attack on the French, at least today.

Many of our games are multiplayer affairs. This game however involved just one French and one Allied player. Yet it provided an very enjoyable evening of gaming. The scenario was developed using the Scenario System included in the rules with armies comprising some 3000 points of troops. The Allied player had selected the card “Build-up – Echelon Right (Card 10)” while the French commander had selected “Turning Manouvre – Right (Card 23)”. These card choices resulted in the French having a higher victory rank and therefore the burden of attack. All miniatures are from my own collection and are from the Heroics & Ros 6mm range. They are based at “half scale” where 1’ represents 200 yards while a turn still represents an hour.

Calamity at Fairview

Major General Joseph Hooker had started the day in a cautious mood, perhaps the recent defeat at Chancellorsville played heavily on his mind. But emboldened by his discussion with his generals, particularly by the remarks of Oliver Howard, he accepted the general view that he should attack. Lee had advanced rapidly since Chancellorsville moving west around Hooker and by the 15th his army was in Sharpsburg Maryland, but Lee’s army was not fully concentrated.

The breeze was warm on this June day when, around 2pm on the 16th, Hooker sat on his horse gazing at the rolling countryside that was Maryland. Moments before he had been examining in detail the rising ground of the plateau to west through his telescope. Now he snapped his telescope closed. Turning to his staff he spoke with confidence again, the late unpleasantness along the Rappahannok now a distant memory. “General Lee has tried to outflank us, but gentlemen I have him where I want him. Order the advance. We shall give these Rebels a taste of Union resolve.”

Fighting Joe Hooker had three corps at his disposal. In the centre was Warren’s II Corps, while on the right and left respectively were French’s III Corps and Howard’s XI Corps. In all some 30,000 bayonets and 90 guns. Some three hours away Sedgwick was moving to reinforce the attack with his VI Corps, another 10,000 men and 30 guns.

Some 2,400 yards distant Robert E Lee was meanwhile conferring with his own staff. Unlike Hooker, Lee only had one corps deployed, that of General Longstreet’s. In all just 16,500 bayonets, 60 guns and 2000 cavalry. Longstreet’s Corps comprised three infantry divisions. He drew up McLaw’s four brigades in the centre. Pickett’s Division, smaller with just three brigades extended the centre to the right. On the left he placed Hood’s Division, also four brigades with Jenkin’s cavalry, effectively a small division, on the extreme left. Lee was terribly outnumbered but A.P Hill’s Corps was nearby. Once Hill’s Corps arrived he would have a further 18,000 men and 48 guns, but only if he could hold…

Around 3pm both armies advanced on to the Newburn Plateau, which previously had separated them. Running south to north the plateau extended around 4 miles before dropping down to the small county town of Fairview near its northern end.

Above, a general view looking south with Fairview in the foreground and the Newburn Plateau stretching south. Union forces are on the left.

The centres of both armies deployed across the plateau and began to exchange fire in what was to become a deadly dual of rifled musket and artillery fire. Warren had advanced his corps rapidly but well served by artillery, he expected to gain the advantage in the firefight. Yet it was not to be. Within just an hour Union losses were mounting and by 5pm the Union centre was crippled with Caldwell and Hays’ Divisions suffering particularly horrific losses.

Below, the centre as Union and Confederate forces exchange fire.

To the north French’s Corps was also heavily engaged. French ordered a brigade from Birney’s and Prince’s Divisions into the town of Fairview and from here Birney’s 3rd Brigade would repel an attack by one of Hood’s elite brigades, in particular Robertson’s Brigade. Unwilling to renew the attack Hood manouvred south of the town where dismounted cavalry extended the flank of Law’s Brigade. Determined Rebel movements, particularly by Jenkins’ dismounted cavalry, were driven back until eventually Jenkin’s cavalry were exhausted. Soon after Hood accepted his own division was also exhausted and further advance was impossible.

Above and below views of the fighting around Fairview. The stands in the town sectors are representative of infantry brigades deployed in the towns. The linear stands below are dismounted cavalry .

Then, just after 6pm Confederate reinforcements began to deploy. Anderson’s Division, from Hill’s Corps had arrived. However, much to French’s relief the expected Confederate counterattack failed to materialise. Unlike the Union centre the Union right was holding.

To the south the the Union left had also been active. From 3pm Howard had actively been pushing in a generally northwest direction and had the potential to unhinge the Rebel right. Howard’s Corps comprised three divisions. These were the divisions of Barlow, Steinwehr and Schurz. Opposite was Pickett’s Division, divided by a wood, Pickett’s brigades would soon feel the full fury of Howard’s resolve. To the north of the woods, and supported by 24 guns of the corps reserve, Schurz’s 2nd Brigade attacked with deadly fury. Not to be outdone, south of the woods Steinwehr’s brigades also advanced with unprecedented determination. Howard’s attacks can be seen below.

The resulting combats extended over almost three hours with horrific casualties. Pickett’s Division was driven into exhaustion with Kemper’s and Garnett’s brigades, along with Dearing’s artillery, all shattered. Only the timely arrival of Confederate reinforcements from A.P. Hill’s Corps stabilising the situation. In particular Heth’s Division extending the Rebel right while Pender’s Division moved forward to replace Pickett’s shattered Division. Yet Howard’s attack had been costly. Steinwehr’s Division was exhausted and Schurz’s division had taken crippling casualties.

Above, brigades from Pender’s Division move forward to relieve Pickett’s exhausted division.

The resolve of “Fighting Joe Hooker” was now crumbling. While his corps commanders fought on, Hooker’s staff reported his grip on the battle was slipping, as it had weeks before at Chancellorsville. Yet all was not lost.

Sedgewick had finally arrived on the field at 4pm and immediately pushed his three divisions forward in a rush to bolster the crumbling Union centre. Below, Sedgwick’s Corps, comprised of three small divisions advancing passed the small town of Worland around 4.30pm.

By 7pm his divisions were at last on the plateau and supported by twelve guns of the army artillery reserve his divisions began, what Sedgewick believed would be, the destruction of the Rebel centre. The weakened brigades of Gibbon’s Division, having been engaged for almost four hours were replaced by the fresh divisions of Wright, Howe and Newton. Unable to reinforce the initial advance with his corps artillery, and despite protests by the divisional commanders, Sedgewick ordered the brigades forward while the Rebels were reforming. However, the advancing brigades were presented with a series of relentless Rebel volleys. In just over an hour the divisions of Wright and Howe had collapsed and Newton’s was exhausted. Sedgewick was in disbelief. His attack was a catastrophe and one that would surely scare his record.

With daylight almost gone and Confederate reinforcements fully deployed the order for the retirement of Union forces was given. The Union army had once again been defeated and yet again Washington was in turmoil.

The scenario was developed with the “Road to Glory” scenario system with each army comprised of 4000 points, the armies being a subset of those deployed at Gettysburg. Eight players participated, four Union and four Confederate. The Union defeat was complete, arguably the most complete in all my ACW gaming with Union casualties being almost twice those of the Rebels. The 6mm miniatures are all from Heroics & Ros and are from my own collection. They are based at half scale, which means each brigade base is 1.5” square.