After posting my Champaubert ftf encounter with Wayne Baumber here the other day, I received some nice feedback. So with that in mind I thought it would be nice to post the two battles before that, Brienne and La Rothiere. Here then is the opening battle in our campaign, Brienne.
Weather for the day ended up being 8am-11am Cloudy, Noon-2pm Fair, 3pm onwards Rain & Mud
The battle starts quietly for the French. They have a few cavalry units appear on board, whilst the Russians, commanded by Bluecher have to get Olsufev's Corps and some brigades from the cavalry corps into position to face the gradually rising numbers of French formations. The first few hours really were just the approach to battle. The French generally moving towards the north of the higher ground that is known as Perthes en Rothieres. Its about 2 miles north of Brienne and highlighted by the yellow diamond on the picture below. Troopers from Milhaud's V Cavalry corps and Victor's II Corps being the head of this advance. Facing them, Bluecher had placed Olsufev's IX Russian Corps supported by ad hoc cavalry brigades.
Initially, the Russians held the high ground and this helped reduce French effectiveness in artillery. But some heavy French probes around 2pm began to make Olsufev concerned about a possible encirclement. This became more of a possibility as Ney's Young Guard corps were also making their way to the area. To the right of Olsufev in the Bois d'Ajoux, French cavalry led by Krasinski's brigade of Polish Lancers and Chasseurs a Cheval de la Garde had also pushed back any Russian resistance there too. A bloody encounter along here between Dautencourt's Grenadiers a Cheval and Empress Dragoons against Poltoratzki's 9th Div, 2nd Bgd Apsheron and Nascheburg Infantry regiments saw the French elite win through as Poltoratzki's regts were eventually scattered. But the price had been high for the guard heavy's too with the brigade taking some unwanted damage.
Some relief was promised for Olsufev when to his left, Scherbatov's VI Corps began to arrive. But they too now had to involve themselves in holding off yet more unexpected French arrivals (Alt.Reinforcements) in the form of Hamelinaye's large infantry division from Reserve Corps plus Colbert's guard light cavalry brigade. By 3pm, both sides were now fully engaged between Brienne & Perthes en Rothieres. The French threw in a large assault at Olsufev's line of brigades and did look like they were about to breakthrough. To front this, Milhaud led the attack himself ahead of L'Herittier's regts of heavy dragoons. This seemed scripted to be the romantic French breakthrough. Somehow, the line of Russian infantry brigades held against the odds. There was some wavering here and there, but they held. Furthermore, amongst the smoke and the clash of cavalrymen and infantry, Milhaud received what would turn out to be a fatal musket ball wound to the stomach fired from the musket of a Riazan foot soldier! A heavy loss for French arms so early in the campaign and doubly disappointing when given the unexpected staunchness of the Russian line.
Olsufev's corps, despite this success was still locked in battle in some parts of his line he would have preferred to have disengaged. Unfortunately for him it meant the end of Poltoratski's brigade and also allowed the enemy to grind their way in and around his line in some areas. So with 4pm looming, the battle is reaching quite a high point for the first day. The first pic shows the town of Brienne circled black, French advances and line by 4pm in blue and the Russian line in green.
Despite all that, and with rain & mud pervading, the Emperor decided to press on with the attack north of the town of Brienne (red circle). Especially seeing that the Russian forces were out in the open ground and presented the French best chance of attaining a favourable result. (The card Emperor Napoleon was played so that Napoleon could keep Milhaud's force in command along with others and therefore keep up the pressure).
Ney's Young Guard pressed from the east as the others pushed from the north. The attack started well as the Young Guard overrun Melinkov's and Menpistov's commands as well as their artillery. Ney was almost captured when the Russians bravely counter-attacked, but was saved in the nick of time by a loyal aide-de-camp! D'Autencourt's cavalry suffered badly again in the attack and were eliminated as an effective force.
As the French attack continued, Russian losses mounted horrendously. Olsufev himself was caught in the melee. With his horse gone, the general had drawn his sword and stood with his men hacking and cutting at the desperate Frenchmen. Inevitably, with French numbers, he was over-powered and seeing his gold braided uniform, was spared, and taken prisoner. But all around him, his corps was slowly being depleted into non-existence. Things were made worse when at 5pm, the Divisions of the Old Guard could be seen by the allies coming in from behind their own positions (more Alt.reinforcements). Both Scherbatov's VI Corps and the remains of Olsufev's XI Corps were beginning to look doomed. Even Pahlen only narrowly escaped injury as he too was caught up in the French advance.
By 6pm and just before the night, IX Corps were finished. Not a division from the corps remained in good order on the field and only night itself might help them recover and rejoin their colours further back. VI Corps were also lighter of troops than they had been at the start of the day. The French were now attacking Brienne town itself. As in real-life, Blucher was almost captured here and had to make good an escape. Only the bravery of the Russian battalions around him kept back Napoleon's troops. The old Prussian ordered a general retreat before what remained could be caught up and trapped within the three pronged surrounding attack.
For the remainder of the battle, it would be easier and quicker to state that in general, the main part of the Allied force retreated from the board far south of La Rothiere. But VI Corps did suffer more damage as the divisions of Blagovenzenko, Kristischnikov, Metcherinov and the artillery units of Nikitin and the 24th Artillery were all mauled. VI corps baggage was also captured, whilst IX & the CAV baggage were ransacked.
The pic below show the trapping of part of Scherbatov's corps as the rest of the Allied army has made off. And then the final French control of the map. A catastrophic loss for the Allies.