Tuesday, January 15, 2013

1806 Campaign Day Two -- Confusion and contact

Bernadotte and Soult encounter the enemy (right) while Lannes and Murat encounter each other (left). Meanwhile the Prussians seem to be spreading out.

On the second day of the campaign the French forces continued to sort themselves out in conformance with the campaign plan.

Over on the left, or northwest flank there was apparently some confusion as Lannes and Murat closed on the town of Meiningen. Evidently a lack of clarity in my orders caused Lannes and Murat to think I had some information that Meiningen was occupied by a substantial enemy force and they approached the town in battle order. There were no Prussians there, and I had no notion there would be, but that's not what they thought I said.

The confusion at Meiningen is prominently featured in Harve's PowerPoint briefing and apparently it seemed like a big deal to the commanders involved, but from my point of view it appears to be a fairly minor episode in the scheme of things. There were several instances of columns of troops running into each other and disputes over road space. None of these ended up being especially significant and were not entirely unexpected. I tried to steer the various corps along parallel routes but there were spots where the road net was inadequate and I was still learning, myself, how much space the corps took up while marching and the rates of progress to be expected.

In any case, Lannes and Murat soon sorted things out and continued North. Around this time they started lobbying Davout to hasten to join them as well, a plea that he didn't heed, to his credit. Lannes and Murat showed a commendable fieriness, but I reiterated to Davout that my plan was to bring him back East. If Lannes and Murat had been hard pressed, Davout and Ney were in position to come to their support. This might have happened if Brunswick had gone west and reinforced Ruchel as part of an offensive. If that had happened I might have been forced to adjust my plans.

One of my solutions for the problem of command and control under the circumstances of 19th Century campaigning was to allow, indeed, encourage, the corps commanders to communicate and coordinate with each other. I think many commanders might have been uncomfortable giving up so much control -- and there certainly were risks in this policy. A weak or obdurate subordinate could have caused havoc. Still, I felt the risk was worth running. Trying to run some strict top-down chain of command would have been too inflexible given the time delays in communication. The campaigning on the left flank over the ensuing week would be very fluid and was generally too far away from my location to keep up with. As it turned out, Lannes, Murat and Ney were able to work together very well with little direct supervision on my part. This was extremely helpful because it meant I was able to allow this secondary portion of the front to take care of itself. for the most part.

I think this was even more realistic than a more formal military style approach would have been. Military professionalism was still evolving in the early 1800s. While modern military men have formal training, common doctrines, large staffs and swift and regularized communication protocols, these were generally lacking. Napoleon's famed staff was barely adequate to run a division or a brigade by modern standards. And then, of course, you had egos to contend with and even as emperor, Napoleon didn't have the tools of state that 20th century dictators had at their beck and call. Reading accounts of Napoleon's campaign sounds a lot like herding cats -- or wargamers! No, it seemed wiser to let the corps commanders have considerable flexibility to deal with their local circumstances without attempting to provide detailed instructions. They didn't always do as I might have wished, but I wasn't going to upbraid anyone for acting as they saw fit. Overall this approach was successful.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the army marched to and fro, the significant action was occurring on the right flank as Bernadotte and Soult ran into elements of Hohenlohe's forces. It appears from Harve's map and from the reports I eventually got from the two corps leaders that they were each able to concentrate their corps against one division of the enemy and drive them back. I don't know the details of the fighting, but it seems like it was more heavy skirmishing than a full-sized battle. Maybe the leaders involved can elaborate.

In any case, during the night the Prussian troops fell back, so Bernadotte and Soult accomplished their initial mission of securing the passes so the rest of the army could deploy on the other side of the hills instead of fighting their way through. This was a key element in my entire campaign plan and I was quite pleased the next day as it became evident things were going according to plan.

Tomorrow: Day Three -- Hesitation?

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