Tuesday, January 22, 2013

1806 Campaign Day Eight -- Decision at the Battle of Altenbourg

Fighting breaks out along the main front and continues around Jena

By the time Napoleon rode back to Soult's headquarters he was already having misgivings about his plan to put Murat in charge of scooping up Ruchel's exposed troops. It seemed that neither his corps commanders nor the Prussians were in a mood to delay the decisive day any longer and by dawn heavy fighting was already starting to break out along the entire front.

Finally Napoleon cancelled his previous day's orders, mostly out of courtesy, because Nappy expected the decisive moment was at hand and the battle would be decided before Murat or anyone else on that flank could react to any changes. Murat, Ney and Lannes were on their own.

Battle rages along the entire front from west of Zeitz to Zwickau. While defeated, Brunswick's troops are not captured, causing some anxious moments for Davout. Meanwhile Ney and Lannes turn about to face a new threat from the West as Ruchel approaches Jena.
Things now started to happen at a rapid clip. Unbeknownst to me, Lannes and Ney were having to react to the approach of more Prussians under Ruchel, as well as dealing with Saxe and Wartens. I was getting worried reports from Davout about the remnants of Brunswick's forces in his rear area, but to his credit Davout kept his cool and held his ground.  I judged that nothing that happened on the left flank would have an immediate impact on the main front, where the fighting was becoming very intense!

The pugnacious Blucher pesters Davout, who is also under heavy pressure from Kalckreuth's command. Ney and Lannes fighting a  meeting engagement with Ruchel at Jena and Murat's missing cavalry reappear on the map to the West. Meanwhile, Napoleon has noticed something on the main front, where the battle rages ....
Shortly before noon saw Ney and Lannes dealing with Ruchel to the West and Davout assailed from front and rear on the main army's left flank. here the marshals earned their batons, as everyone kept their wits about them and refused to panic. Ruchel and Kalckreuth demonstrated the sort of aggressiveness that would have caused Napoleon serious trouble had it occurred earlier in the campaign -- but now it was a case of too late, if not too little. 

It was too late because Napoleon had returned to Soult's position to observe the raging battle and through the smoke he discerned that there appeared to be a small gap in the Prussian line between Zechaltz and Grawert's commands with a clear path to the artillery reserve beyond. And the Guard was near at hand, just a few hundred yards away, having had their orders to join Murat cancelled. Napoleon's instinctively knew this was the moment! He rode over to Bessieres and pointed to the gap and ordered the Guard to attack. He rode on to Murat's nearby cavalry and ordered them to follow the Guard. This was the roll of the dice -- everything would depend on the outcome of this attack.

The second Battle of Jena occurs to the West while the Prussian left flank begins to give way in the east and the Guard hits the center.
As the Guard disappeared into the smoke of battle in the center, victory was already beginning on the far right as Augerau and Bernadotte overwhelmed the Prussian left before Altenbourg.  Any chance of the Prussians stabilizing their front disappeared under the bayonets of the Old Guard and Bessieres swept all before him.

The Prussian front crumbles under a powerful assault. Kalckreuth finally starts to drive Davout back, but soon finds the army melting away to his East. Ney and Lannes check Ruchel at Jena.
By one in the afternoon the Prussian army is melting away in flight. Davout was hard-pressed at the end, grudgingly giving ground to Kalckreuth's attack, when suddenly the advancing Prussians saw their flank supports running away. Meanwhile, the second Battle of Jena was a temporary stalemate, although Ney and Lannes were about reaching the end of their ropes. Had the battle continued, Harvey said they would have been in trouble. But the battle didn't continue ... as the Prussian army was in rout, covered by a rear guard.

Kalckreuth holds his ground while the French pursue
Tomorrow -- final thoughts and a couple of new dukes

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