The Defence of Soulbrois

By 3pm on the 6th of August 1870 General Frossard was generally comfortable with the deployment of his forces, even if his corps was not fully concentrated. He could from his position await the advancing Prussians. Situated several hundred yards from the town the otherwise peaceful town of Soulbrois a ridge ran generally north to south. This ridge was lowest where it was crossed by the Soulbrois road, yet despite this the ridge clearly provided a strong defensive position. It was along this ridge Frossard deployed his troops.

Above, the French position viewed from the northeast and below from the north. The town of Soulbrois is visible on the left.

Both the 1st Division (General Verge) and 2nd Division (General Bataille) contained four regiments. Three were placed in-line and the fourth in reserve. Each division was further supported by a battalion of Chasseurs, an artillery battalion of 12 guns and a battery Mitrailleuse guns. Finally, three artillery battalions comprising a further 36 cannon drawn from the corps reserve were in support. Of these some were in-line and others in reserve. Frossard’s 3rd Division however was not on hand and this division, under the fiery General de Laveaucoupet, was not expected to arrive for another three hours.

As Frossard scanned the valley to his front it began to take on a dark blue haze – the Prussians had arrived. The Prussians, all from General von Goeben’s VIII Armeekorps, comprised two infantry divisions, a cavalry division and five artillery battalions. In all some 20,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry and 60 cannon. Below, a portion of the arriving Prussians.

By 3.30pm, the French southern portion of the line, held by the French 2nd Division was under fire from the Prussian Krupp guns at ranges of over 1600 yards. The most significant concentration was on the Prussian left where 36 guns had been deployed. In the Prussian centre two artillery battalions, deployed in supporting positions but not concentrated, began to bombard the French centre. In reply Frossard’s own guns, despite being heavily outnumbered began their own fire. Unfortunately as they were not concentrated and as a result were forced to spread their fire on several advanced Prussian infantry regiments.

Soon after 4pm reports came in that additional Prussians were advancing from the northwest. Here advanced elements of General von Manteuffel’s I Armeekorps we’re advancing rapidly. Leading the advance was the division under General von Pritzelwitz. This division also comprised four regiments, with each regiment again having a greater bayonet strength than the French regiments opposite. By 4.30pm the French we’re engaged along the line.

As Pritzelwitz’s guns began their bombardment in the north the guns the bombardment in the centre and south grew in intensity. Further, three regiments of the Prussian 15th Division (VIII Armeekorps) were ordered forward by General Weltzien against the exposed French 2nd Division flank in the south, the French right.

Above, the French right. The green markers denote a stationary regiment, the white when assigned to infantry that it prone.

With it clear that both flanks were exposed Frossard ordered his reserves to each flank. In the north the 4th Ligne moved to engage the with long range Chassepot fire the advancing Prussians while the 1st Chasseurs secured the small Bournan Farm in the extreme north. In the south the 8th Ligne formed at 90 degrees to the main line while the 2nd Chasseurs were thrown forward to engage the advancing Prussians by seizing a portion of a large wood. In addition the various regiments holding the main line, who had for two hours been formed up in ranks for the expected infantry attack, were ordered to take cover and into prone positions. It was hoped that this would in someway reduce the impact of the long range Prussian artillery fire. Finally, Frossard ordered both divisions to pull back their Mitrailleuse batteries. These weapons lacked the range to engage the Prussians who remained out of range to all except the French rifled artillery. Instead they would form Frossard’s final reserve.

The Prussians however were undeterred. Soon after 5pm no fewer than 5000 Prussians were committed to clearing the Bournan Farm, driving out the 1st Chasseurs. In the south the 7th Brandenburger and East Prussian Fusiliers extended their line in preparation for a subsequent attack against the refused flank of the French 2nd Division. In less than 30 minutes Frossard expect the attacks to begin. The French position was now comprised.

Above, the action around Bournan Farm, with 1st Chasseurs in the farm buildings and obscured.

Yet Frossard was upbeat, for just after 5.30pm his 3rd Division was sited to the south advancing rapidly, the fiery General de Laveaucoupet had arrived. Shaking out of road column the three regiments advanced on the exposed Prussian flank. Pausing 150 yards from the East Prussian Fusiliers and the 7th Brandenburgs the advancing French regiments delivered a series of devastating volleys. These were further supported by long range fire from 8th Ligne and 2nd Division’s Mitrailleuse battery. The French attack was devastating, soon both Prussian regiments fell back.

Above, Laveaucoupet’s 3rd Division attacks.

As the action in the south was turning in favour of the French left Frossard’s position in the north was unraveling. With the 1st Chasseurs evicted from their defensive bastion of the stone walls of Bournan Farm French forces in the north were compromised. Soon after 6pm the Prussians, having secured the Bournan Farm, pushed forward and engaged the now isolated 4th Ligne.

Clearly outnumbered the 4th fell back forming a new line, and then when that was compromised a final line supported by 1st Division’s Mitrailleuse battery. Around 8pm two Prussian regiments were committed, their attack if successful, would have destroyed the French left flank. However, at a critical moment Prussian morale faltered under French Chassepot and Mitrailleuse fire.

Below, the French left with the French now stationary with both the 1st Division Mitrailleuse and 4th Ligne in the foreground. Limbered French artillery is behind having recently retired.

For some time in the centre Frossard was acutely aware of increasing casualties and had finally around 7pm removed the 3rd Ligne from its position astride the Soulbrois road where it crossed the ridge. Frossard hoped in doing so he would avoid unnecessary casualties from the unceasing Krupp gun fire while at the same time form another reserve should his left flank collapse. In doing so he weakened his centre and therefore risked an attack on his centre. Around 8pm, von Goeben ordered forward two further Prussian regiments, this time from Barnekow’s 16th Division. The 3rd and 7th Rhine Province Regiments advanced to some 300 yards and delivered repeated volleys from their Dreyse needle guns. Rather than further support this attack with additional infantry Goeben believed the attack could be adequately supported by long range artillery. This decision exposed the flank of the 3rd Rhine Province Regiment.

Frossard ordered an immediate counterattack. Soon after 8.30pm the 3rd Ligne attacked, closing with the bayonet in attacks more representative of 1859. This attack, supported by 12 rifled cannon rolled up the the 3rd Rhine Province Regiment and stabilised the French centre.

Above, the French counterattack of the 3rd Ligne. The white markers for artillery indicated they are unlimbered and forming while the white markers for infantry indicate a prone regiment.

However, it was on the Prussian left that the battle would be decided. Since driving back the Prussian left around 6pm Laveaucoupet had maintained the pressure and in the some three hours his regiments pressed the Prussian left with great determination. Twice the 9th Ligne was forced back by the Prussians but each time its officers reformed the regiment and advanced again to engage the Prussians. The three regiments of 3rd Division, supported the Chassepot and Mitrailleuse fire of 2nd Division were unrelenting.

Finally, around 8.30pm as the attack in the centre reached its own climax, the East Prussian Fusiliers broke and the morale of the Prussian 15th Division collapsed. With it Prussian resolve dissipated, Frossard had held, just.

The Battle of Soulbrois was of course a fictional affair, though aspects of it generally aligned to the nature of the initial disorganised battles of the frontier. The scenario while small proved an excellent challenge for both players. We use half scale so the massed infantry are based on 1 1/2 square stands and 1” equates to 200 yards, though the time scale remains standard, that is one turn equates to one hour of actual time. The game was played on a 3’ x 2’ table and lasted six turns. The total playing time was 2 1/4 hours. The miniatures are all 6mm scale and from the Heroics & Ros Franco-Prussian range. French are from my own collection while the Prussians are from Robin’s collection.


On Campaign with the Archduke

It has been a while since I have posted some game photos here so it seemed a worthwhile venture to post a few photos of last Friday’s multiplayer game. Alas, it won’t be a full battle report as time and other commitments present such a luxury just now.

Our normal Volley & Bayonet encounters are generally fictional with the scenario generated by the Road to Glory system. The most recent game was no exception. However, this time the scenario, set in 1809, found both the French and Austrian armies drawing very similar cards. Indeed, both armies would have somewhat over half their army initially on table and the remaining starting to arrive in the second or third turns. Remember that in Volley & Bayonet one turn represents an hour. The scenario would mean a very cautious game was to be played by both sides, each seeking a small but critical advantage that could be exploited, without taking too great a risk.

The French, commanded by the flamboyant Marshal Murat, initially had secured rising ground on a plain flanked by streams several of which were marshy banked and were determined to hold this ground, rather than go on the offensive. This was especially so as Archduke Charles’ Austrian reinforcements began before the French.

Archduke Charles army was had at his disposal III Armeekorps and comprised four divisions. Elements of II Armekorps, supported by a Reserve Cavalry Division would bring the Austrians to around 53,000 bayonets, 5,000 cavalry and 88 cannon.

As Archduke Charles left the comfort of his headquarters located in the small town of Pitzelgraben early in the morning with high hopes of victory. His army was generally concentrated and he hoped that reports of the French concentrations were false. Therefore it was with some frustration that his initial advance on the left was soon dashed as French reinforcements began to arrive on to the battlefield.

Likewise a more general attack on Murat’s centre was soon ruled out due to the strength of the French position. Above the Austrian left and centre.

Above, the French left and extreme Austrian right. Below, elements of II Armeekorps move to the Austrian centre.

Below, a view of the French line stretching from the centre to the French left.

As elements of II Armeekorps deployed a slow but steady realignment of III Armeekorps to the Austrian right began. The aim was to apply pressure to the more exposed French left.

But this alignment took time and the Austrian attacks only began late in the day and with only Vukassovich’s Division. After a short but fierce artillery barrage the ranks of white clad warriors marched forward their bayonets glistening in the Spring sun.

Fighting was confused and bloody with both sides launching attack and counterattack. The fighting had become so critical that both Murat and Archduke Charles were seen inspiring their troops or leading attacks. Then, around 6pm, Murat suffered a significant wound and was taken from the field. The pendulum was again moving in favour of the Austrians.

Above, the initial attack by Vukassovich’s Division against the French left. Austrian Hussars are held in reserve. In the distance French cavalry provide a reserve to the French infantry.

By 7pm casualties in the French left began to weaken the troops resolve. Indeed as one French division looked likely to collapse Austrian Hussars were launched forward to create a what was hoped would be the critical breakthrough. Charles envisaged this being exploited by his other infantry divisions which had now been brought forward to reinforce the attack. However, the attacks by the Hussars, while generally successful, failed to deliver the hoped for breakthrough. French reserves again plugged the gap.

Above, the Austrian prepare to exploit the situation.

However, as darkness approached Archduke Charles ordered a halt. He would instead await for the arrival of more troops, meanwhile in the French camp the arrival of the Emperor bought renewed hope for the following day.

The miniatures here are all in 6mm and by Heroics & Ros. The Austrians are from my own collection and the French from Jon’s collection. Trees are by Irregular Miniatures and other terrain generally homemade.

Stones River

I’m currently travelling in the United States visiting a series of battlefields in the Western Theatre. The day after my arrival Joe Collins hosted a multiplayer Volley & Bayonet game, a refight of Stones River. The game was hosted in Nashville only a short drive from the actual battlefield.

All figures are from Joe’s 25mm collection. The game itself involved some 12 players equally split between the Confederates and Union. I admit I was wondering if there would be a preference for supporting the Union here in Tennessee, but it seemed not to be the case.

Above and below a view of the Union left flank. In both, elements of Wood’s Division is shown across Stones River. Four brigades that comprise Breckinridge’s Division hold the high ground and some works.

Below, the Union right flank which is held by Davis’ and Johnson’s Divisions. A number of Union Divisions were initially out of command in an effort to model the initial Confederate attack and rated morale 4. Despite this several brigades fought with determination and some Rebel brigades were thrown back.

For my own part I was allocated command of Sheridan’s division in the centre and later Negley’s division after one the commander of this division had to leave. As a result my view of the battle was mostly based around the centre and Union right flank.

Above, Sheridan’s Division in the centre while Negley’s Division extends the left.

Below, Sheridan’s Division extends further, as some of Davis’ artillery is absorbed into the line.

Below, another view, showing the general situation. The Union right is now under considerable pressure. On the Union left a series of Union attacks are underway which eventually will break Breckinridge’s Confederates, though at a terrible price.

Above, Davis’ and Johnson’s Divisions are in chaos and several stands are now routing.

Below, Union reinforcements have arrived allowing Negley to move to the extreme right and form a line at 90 degrees to Sheridan’s Division. Confederate cavalry threaten the flank before reposting to Confederate cavalry to their flank.

Below, the high tide of the Rebel attack against the Union right. The original attack against the Union right was primarily launched by McGowan’s and Cleburne’s Divisions. By around 2pm McGowan’s Division was almost exhausted and Cleburne was unwilling to advance. With Sheridan’s Division having suffered heavily from Rebel artillery Negley undertook a limited counterattack but with little result.

At the end of the 4pm turn, and after some three and a half hours of play, the battle began to stagnate. Several Union and Confederate Divisions were exhausted. As a result both Union and Confederates were unwilling to launch further attacks.

A great game thanks to Joe and all the local players that have welcomed me to Tennessee. It was wonderful being able to refight this famous battle which took place just down the road a little over 155 years ago.

American Civil War Scenarios

I am well behind on my website updates, so far behind it is actually embarrassing. However, real life has a habit of getting in the way. That said over recent weeks I have slowly been reformatting American Civil War scenarios. The current release covers three scenarios. They include First Bull Run, Pea Ridge and the American Civil Campaign system developed by Frank Chadwick and updated for miniatures by Greg Novak.

First Bull Run is one of my favourite battles to refight, partly as the original version of the scenario was my introduction to Volley & Bayonet, some 24 years ago. Despite it being my first game with the rules I was impressed. Many years later I have refought the battle a number of times and it remains an enjoyable, balanced and challenging game.

Unlike First Bull Run I haven’t as yet fought Pea Ridge, but with two scenarios provided I’m sure it won’t be long.

There are few rules that allow the potential to refight the large battles of the American Civil War, but of course Volley & Bayonet does. Combine that with the campaign system based on “A House Divided” you can fight out the entire war. Over the years I have been involved in two such campaigns and recall many of the battles with fondness. I would especially like to acknowledge the valued support Greg Novak provided me when I was organising my own campaign here in New Zealand many years ago.

You will find all these updated scenarios, along with others, here. I trust they encourage you to deploy some miniatures and you join me in thanking the various authors who have contributed to these scenarios.