Sunday, January 20, 2013

1806 Campaign Day Six -- A battle that didn't happen

The battle line takes shape as the French corps arrive

Day Six was shaping up pretty satisfactorily as far as Nappy was concerned. Soult seemed to have fixed the Prussians in place at Gera and the rest of the army was coming up rapidly. Orders were dispatched to Bernadotte to fall in on the right of Soult while Davout was to fall in on Soult's left. Augerau was told to take position on Bernadotte's far right while Lannes and Bessieres were to be the army reserve. Ney was off somewhere on the left watching the far left flank while Murat had been told to hasten East w8ith his corps -- on the theory that Ruchel would be too late to influence the main battle, even if he stirred.

Some of those were good and accurate calls, some were not. I was still -- and would be for another day or so -- operating under a mistaken notion about my left flank. I was under the impression that Ney, Lannes and Murat were all operating farther north that the actual case. It may be because their reports were unclear. It might have been because my mind was muddled. The bottom line, however, was that Napoloen's orders did not have an accurate basis in fact when it came to the Left flank. That things turned out OK over there was largely attributable to the good decisions of the marshals on scene with an assist from the Prussians, who also seemed to not have a good idea of the actual state of affairs.

My overriding objective was to try to hit the Prussians with a coordinated multi-corps assault. This necessarily took time to set up and  my plan was to launch a four-corps simultaneous assault at dawn along the river line by Gera, with two corps in reserve to exploit a breakthrough.

So, while most of the troops were in position by that afternoon, I didn't want to start fighting so late in the day, being concerned that nightfall would rescue the Prussians from the consequences of a defeat.

This didn't mean there was no fighting. Inded, there was jpoustinga long the front all day as the two sides struggled for position. Meanwhile Ney was fighting his own little war with Brunswick aroudn Jena. While he was holding his own, the two sides were two evenly matched for one of the other to achieve victory.

Early afternoon. Skirmishing all along the front. Murat starts moving some troopers east while Lannes and the Guard come up
Around this time Lannes started lobbying to be released to join the fighting around Jena. I was reluctant because I really intended on using him to add weight to Davout's attack, acting under the mistaken impression that Lannes was several miles north of his actual position. Lannes pointed out that he didn't have a clear path to Davout as there was a battle in the way!

Meanwhile everything was in readiness for the next day's battle. Disturbing reports from Davout about enemy troops in his rear prompted me to change my orders from the original double envelopment to an attack by echelon starting with Augerau on the right. While I was uncertain about the Left flank and made plans to go there myself to check it out, I was confident that Augerau and Bernadotte was poised for a great victory. The Guard's progress was a little slow, but I figured they'd show up in time to be useful the next day.

Harve's Powerpoint notes some failures of reconnaissance this day. Among them was Ruchel not detecting the departure of half of Murat's cavalry and some other intel failures. But among them was the french failure to detect that the Prussians were about to pull out overnight! This is not entirely accurate, as there were some reports sent up by some corps that hinted at the possibility. I decided that it was too late to do anything about it, however, and if the Prussians were not there in the morning, well, we'd just have to adjust.

The Prussians pull back!!!
And in the morning the Prussians were, indeed, gone!!

As it turned out, they hadn't gone far and the decisive battle was just delayed.

While disappointed at the delay, overall I considered the Prussian retreat as a big moral victory and I think it actually set the stage for the decisiveness of the Oct. 18 battle.

There are several reasons for this view.

First, it wasn't a big enough withdrawal to change the overall dynamic. I think if you're going to make a move like that then you need to go big and make it a significant move. Instead the Prussians merely fell back a few miles without any meaningful change in their dispositions.

Secondly, it kind of left Brunswick in the lurch and robbed the Prussians of any benefits they might have gotten from being on the immediate flank of the French army.  As it was, Davout was put under  a lot of pressure on Oct. 18.  Having Brunswick so much closer might have made a big difference.

Thirdly, it actually gave the French needed time to make the blow more powerful. The Guard had time to come up, as did a portion of Murat's cavalry. With the Guard present, I was better minded to consider Lannes arguments for using his corps differently than I had intended.

The one untoward development -- which was unknown to me at the time -- was that Ruchel was starting to stir. I am not sure why some of Murat's cavalry pulled back to defend the passes to the south of Gotha. It was contrary to my instructions and it had the unfortunate effect of easing the pressure on Ruchel. He came closer to playing a spoiler role in the upcoming fight than I would have liked.

Overall, however, I don't think the Prussian retreat did much for their chances.

It did mean, however, that the next morning would bring some scrambling.

Tomorrow: The Battle of Jena

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