Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Battle of Viehdorf Mill. Overture.

The armies begin to deploy. Hetzenberg on the right of the picture, Dunkeldorf-Pfuhl to the left. The Windmühlen-Hügel dominates the center.
All figures and photos credit: "Fire at Will."
The trumpets sounded. All over the encampment regiments formed up into their companies and began to march, in accordance with General Rauppen-Schlepper’s plan. Colonel Sleibnitz rode at the head of his men, the pristine un-blooded colors fluttering over the heads of the color party marching behind. Un-blooded? That will soon change he thought as he led the regiment out of camp and turned to the right, a perfectly-executed wheel in column to the position of honor, the Right of the Line. At least we shall see action. General Rauppen-Schlepper is a fussy old stick although competent in his way. Whatever happens, perhaps this will be his last campaign before he retires. And glory awaits me this day! I will have my place in the sun!
The remaining two regiments of the brigade formed up into column and marched toward the field of battle, the steady tramp-tramp tramp-tramp of booted feet raising the echoes from the nearby woods. Between them the artillery rattled along with a jingle of harness and the rumbling of wheels. From somewhere behind the army in the direction of the small village of Martinsdorf a dog barked. A cockerel responded, sounding startled. Colonel Wohl marched at the head of his regiment, feeling strangely calm and unflustered. Whatever will be, will be. At least I don’t have to tolerate that ninny Sleibnitz directly on my flank. Regiment Brabenachel marched, keeping pace with its sister regiment and the artillery. Their Colonel was wary. The men were nervous, perhaps even brittle, although they marched smartly enough. I wish I’d had more time to shape them into proper soldiers, he thought. Oh well, the die is cast.
Mary Amadeus rode with the caissons as the artillery battery rolled onto the broad plain. All those bright banners! She thought, looking around. There is a kind of glory to be found in war. Her earlier nervousness was melting away as the sun rose higher. I’m actually looking forward to this now.
Away beyond the woods the two cavalry regiments rode onto the plain side-by-side. General Rauppen-Schlepper took post in front of the wood between the two brigades and watched their deployment with a critical eye. Much depends on those fellows, he thought as the cavalry deployed into line. Indeed, much depends on us all this day. He smiled quietly. And around this time last year I was already thinking I’m getting too old for this scheiße!
The early morning mist was disappearing slowly due to the cloudy skies shielding the sun but soon the army of the Margraf of Dunkeldorf-Pfuhl appeared across the field, regiment by regiment. To some extent their deployment was the mirror image of his own plan, save that their artillery was to the left of the regular line regiments. Rauppen-Schlepper viewed the situation through his telescope then swung the instrument to scan the far right of his own line. “Message!” he snapped. An aide rode to his side, order form out, pencil poised. “To Colonel Sleibnitz, effective immediately. I desire you to ignore the village directly in front of you in favor of supporting an attack by Infantry Regiment Wohl upon your left. Go.”

The aide sped off, clods of damp soil flying up from the hooves of his mount. Rauppen-Schlepper looked to the right, watching the deployment of his other two infantry regiments. All was going according to plan. Regiment Wohl remained in column, but Regiment Brabenachel was beginning to deploy into line. The artillery moved into the space between the two and came into battery. Good, good, he thought. Nice smart practice there. We shall begin to pepper them within minutes. To the south the Hetzenberg cavalry deployed into a two-up one-back formation of squadrons. The Bishop’s Horse was closest to his position, and he remembered the deep, resonant psalms that had sounded from their camp before dark the previous evening. They were experienced troopers – but experienced mainly in escort and patrol duties. We shall see if the Lord watches over them today.

As he gazed in their direction a solitary horseman came into view, rounding a corner of the wood and heading toward the headquarters party. His gaudy pink and purple hussar uniform made a bright splash of color against the greens and browns of the plain. As Rauppen-Shlepper watched the horseman stood in his stirrups, looked intently in his direction, gave a cheery wave then sat back in the saddle and put spurs to his horse. “Who the devil is that?” he inquired of Captain Scharfe.

Scharfe raised his telescope. His time with the intelligence service had exercised his already formidable eidetic memory. “I would say it’s a hussar officer from the Principality of Hesse-Engleburg, sir: Their Garde du Corps Hussars, Prinzessin Gertrude.”

The Hussar galloped up and reined in his mount in a way that combined flamboyance with a care not to spray mud everywhere. He fired off a sharp salute. “Do I have the honor of addressing His Excellency General Rauppen-Schlepper?” he cried.

“You do, sir,” Rauppen-Schlepper replied in guarded tones as he eyed the man. His horse is very fine. He must’ve ridden hard, yet it looks fit for another twenty miles. They breed a good light horse in Hesse-Engleburg. But that uniform! It can only have been designed by a woman.

The hussar fished in his sabretache and produced a document which he proffered. “I’m Lieutenant Klaus Klopfer, Garde du Corps Hussars, Prinzessin Gertrude Regiment of Hesse-Engleburg, sir. My credentials, if you please.”

Rauppen-Schlepper took the document and scanned it. “This is in order. What do you here, Lieutenant?”

Klopfer gestured to their surroundings, his rich purple dolman flapping with the movement. “If you’d permit, General, I would like to observe the coming battle on behalf of Their Graces the Fürst and Fürstin.”

“You’re very welcome to observe, young man,” Rauppen-Schlepper replied, noting the mad gleam in the fellow’s eye. “You may attach yourself to my headquarters, or roam at will, as you please. But understand that you do so entirely at your own risk.”

“I do sir!” Klopfer replied cheerfully. “Anyone mad enough to ride across Urope dressed like me is quite at home with risk!”

Rauppen-Schlepper stared at him then gave a bark of laughter as his staff grinned. “Just so, and well said, Lieutenant!”

“Sir!” Scharfe exclaimed just then. “The enemy cavalry is on the move.”
* * *
Across the field and beyond the Windmühlen-Hügel, General Bellev rode at the head of his cavalry brigade. He was feeling rather annoyed. The cause of his ire rode not far away at the head of the Tuhellenbach Hussars. That popinjay! Bellev snorted, watching the gaudy cantering figure of Colonel Kramer. The hussar looked the epitome of the dashing cavalryman, in his crimson britches, gray coat and black busby. His moustaches and ringlets fluttered in the breeze as he rode, eyes fixed to his front, teeth bared. He’s getting ahead of the line! What does he think he’s doing? For a moment Bellev toyed with sending an order to rein-in the overeager hussar, but stayed his hand. Let it be. We outnumber the ‘Bergers anyway, so launching into them from the word go may do some good. He glanced at the cuirassiers alongside. These fellows are far steadier, I think. We shall see.
General Kaffe-Klatch rode with General Kuchler alongside Infantry Regiment Jertz. The Windmühlen-Hügel rose to their right-front and would mark a demarcation point between the infantry and cavalry action. Kaffe-Klatch eyed his subordinate. I don’t think this fellow wants me here to hold his hand, but this battle’s too important for me not to supervise closely. I wish the Margraf – the old Margraf – had allowed me more time to train these men. Politics! He sighed and nearly spat but refrained. Thanks to that dratted flotilla I shall have to press the battle today. We’re about par in terms of infantry, but at least our cavalry is superior. He glanced over at the cavalry, which was now peeling away to round the hill. It will be interesting to see what those new-fangled hussars can do.
Colonel Jertz marched with the color party of his regiment. He was aware of the negative feelings in his general, hinted at in the command conference the previous evening. I’ll show him! He thought. There’s more spirit in these boys than he credits them with!
Alongside Colonel Storschen strode with an insouciant smile, feeling surprisingly happy. All the waiting is over, no more doubts or fears. Just the glory and bloodshed of wonderful battle! Behind him marched the men of his grenadier company, good, tall fine fellows and proud members of the First Regiment of the Line. We’ll show them what we can do!
Away to the left Colonel Babbington sat on a chair outside the inn of the tiny village of Viehdorf, enjoying the view of the unfolding battle as his men peacefully completed their looting. One man staggered by, a bottle in his hand and an earthenware chamber pot on his head. Babbington sighed. McGill again! These men may be fine Catholics like me, he thought. But it doesn’t stop them acting like idiots when they plunder a Protestant village. “Sarn't-major?” he called.
Sergeant-Major Bruce came up, stamped and clashed to attention. “Sah!”

“My compliments to Lieutenant Tobermory and he is to curb the depredations of his men forthwith. We have a battle to fight ere long.”


Bruce spun on his heel and strode away. Further up the street Private McGill stumbled and fell on his face, the chamber pot shattering when it met the ground. Babbington looked then closed his eyes. The idiot didn’t even empty the thing first…
* * *
The Hetzenberg artillery opened up upon the oncoming enemy but to no discernable effect. Behind the gun line Mary Amadeus worked quickly but with care, handling the fat flannel cartridges like babies as she packed them into carrying boxes. Already a steady line of powder monkeys was flowing between caissons and cannon, keeping the deadly weapons supplied. She spared a brief glance at the target, the nearest of the two enemy infantry regiments. The air was filling with dun colored powder smoke already. Oh well, we’ll keep trying. The battery fired again. The incredible concussive thump striking up through her feet as the sound wrapped her entire body felt almost… well, interesting! She grinned as she worked. I’m enjoying this!
Regiment Brabenachel continued its stately deployment into line, the grenadier company acting as an anchor point on the right. To the south the Hetzenberg cavalry completed deployment just as the Dunkeldorf-Pfuhl artillery opened upon the Bishop’s Regiment of Horse. General Rauppen-Schlepper winced then scowled as men and horses fell there amidst the second squadron. The regiment’s trumpets sounded, and NCOs and officers dashed to restore the dressing. There was no sign of panic or flightiness. They’ll do very well.

“With your permission, sir!” Klopfer cried, saluting.

“Indulge yourself young man,” Rauppen-Schlepper replied, his thoughts already turning elsewhere.

The bold hussar galloped off toward the cavalry, his natural habitat.
* * *
Infantry regiments Storschen and Jertz continued their steady advance in column. The excitement of battle was beginning to appear, but both colonels kept a close eye on their commands, ensuring that discipline was maintained. Colonel Storschen noticed the drummer boy’s timing was getting somewhat ragged. He turned to address the matter when the air was filled with a terrible roaring and flying metal plunged into his command.

He watched wide-eyed as men were flung apart, like marionettes under the touch of a mad puppeteer. The shot plowed through the ranks, striking deep into the grenadier company and rebounding into the hat company directly behind. Screams and cries filled the air.

“Close up! Close up!” the sergeants and ensigns began to shout. After an animalistic shudder the regiment obeyed, men closing the bloody gaps in their ranks and files and marching onward once more. The colors flew; the drummer boy pushed his little bearskin back on top of his head and picked up the beat once more. Colonel Storschen gave the boy an approving nod. We’ll get through this!

But confusion still reigned amid the ranks of the hat company. “Halt!” he roared, pushing through the grenadiers to address the problem. Swearing rose on all sides as officers beat at the men with the flats of their swords in an uphill struggle to restore order. Behind the battered company the other hat companies had come to a halt. Even as Storschen began to push and pull men back into the ranks another salvo came howling out of the sky.

“Oh, that oaf! Oh that bloody oaf!” General Bellev fumed as the Tuhellenbach Hussars increased their pace, aiming directly at the enemy cavalry across the plain. His thought that a swift attack would send the enemy flying was proving erroneous. The ‘Bergers heavy Horse regiment had taken a hit but was reforming. The Dragoons were untouched, waiting quietly for their moment. Even as he watched the Heavy Horse took another hit from the artillery. Again they closed ranks and waited, under superb discipline. Bellev shook his head as he cantered forward. If Kramer thinks he can take them all on by himself he’s got a nasty shock coming!
* * *
A left wheel and Regiment Sleibnitz found itself at the foot of the levee and facing north-west, the four companies in column of pairs. A plume of smoke rose above the village a quarter mile away and Sleibnitz’s lip curled as he saw red-coated men moving among the houses and cottages. Looting, by God! They shall pay for that! As he led his men at the slow march up the slope he heard the sound of galloping hooves. An aide clattered up alongside, saluted and thrust a dispatch form at him. “Orders from the General, sir!”

Sleibnitz took the missive, wincing as the movement tugged at the scab forming over the sword cut on his right forearm. “Regiment, halt!” he snapped, unfolding the paper and reading. To Colonel Sleibnitz, effective immediately. I desire you to ignore the village directly in front of you in favor of supporting an attack by Infantry Regiment Wohl upon your left.

“Support..?” His lip curled even more and he thought quickly. “Acknowledged.” The aide saluted, swung his horse around and clapped his heels to its flanks. Sleibnitz ignored him. “The regiment will advance!” he snapped. Just then the opening salvo of the battle sounded away to his left. He glanced over from the advantage of the height and saw smoke blossom from the muzzles of the artillery battery positioned between the other regiments of the brigade. Let the cannon-cockers support that upstart bourgeoisie, he thought. I know where my duty lies.
Colonel Casimir Kramer was having the time of his life. He cantered forward across a level plain, beautiful country for cavalry maneuvers. His enemy lay before them, along with a bright and glorious career. He saw the artillery strike at enemy’s heavy horse and throw their ranks into confusion. Kramer’s heart soared like an eagle and he stood tall in the saddle and whirled his saber above his head. “Now, my lads! To death or glory!”

A full throated roar came from his men. As one they broke into a full gallop, their horses stretching out, the trumpet casting silver notes into the heavens.

Colonel Rumtopft watched the hussars come on. “The silly buggers,” he growled, and set his tricorn square upon his head with a sharp tap. “Right, my lads,” he called to his men, “we’ve a score to settle with these popinjays. Let’s finish this!” He drew his sword, held it high. “The regiment will advance.”

The trumpet pealed and the men spurred their horses forward. Rumtopft became aware of hooves galloping up to his headquarters troop and yet another hussar was suddenly riding alongside. He stared at the exotic creature with surprise. “Do you have room for a little one, Colonel?” the man cried cheerfully.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Lieutenant Klaus Klopfer, Garde du Corps Hussars, Prinzessin Gertrude Regiment of Hesse-Engleburg, sir!”

Rumtopft shook his head with perplexity as he glanced to see to the dressing of the trotting lines of horsemen. “I’ve no time to inquire how or why you come to be here, sir, but if you must fight alongside us, be my guest. To the canter, gentlemen!”

The trumpet call sounded and they rode forward. Klopfer drew his saber, a gleaming sliver of light. Rumtopft eyed the oncoming hussars. Any second… Now! “Charge!

The trumpet pealed again with urgent, strident notes. The ground shuddered as over six hundred hooves pounded the turf. A great shout rose from the throats of the regiment as they closed with their enemy at a full gallop, the colors snapping in the wind.

The regiments met with a crash, clang and a roar that pounded the senses. Men and horses fell, overturned by sheer impact. Within a second the scene dissolved into a whirling melee of blue and crimson and gray. Swords rose, plunged, hacked and slashed. Pistols banged and cracked, and screams and foul incoherent oaths sundered the air. Rumtopft brought his sword across to open the face of a hussar ensign and the youth dropped away without a sound. A pistol flared and the muzzle blast scorched his face. Faces appeared before his blurred vision and he fought them, cutting and thrusting with mad abandon as his blood rage rose to fever pitch.
Klopfer found himself in a press of men and horses from both sides, all struggling to close and kill their enemy. He slashed at his hussar counterparts, a constant incoherent scream bursting from his lips. Something plucked at his dolmen but he disregarded it, thrusting instead to unhorse an enemy sergeant who’d proved an obdurate foe.

The man fell and suddenly the scene opened up. Klopfer saw the color party of the enemy regiment directly ahead. Their colonel was fighting like a fury but as Klopfer closed the man was unhorsed. Somehow he managed to kick his foot clear of the stirrup and roll away from the flashing hooves as his maddened mount bucked and fought to escape the melee. As Klopfer watched a big dragoon sergeant dismounted and walked over to the hussar colonel. The man struggled to his feet but the sergeant plucked off his fur busby and with a beatific smile brought a gauntleted fist down square upon his head. It made a sound like a mallet striking a beefsteak. The colonel’s eyes crossed and he fell over like a pole-axed calf. Klopfer laughed out loud at the sight, even as a small part of him sympathized with the fallen hussar.
But now the action was falling apart. Colonel Rumtopft wiped a sleeve across his sweaty brow and saw the hussar squadrons were fleeing back to their own lines. “Straight through their support squadron, by God!” he cried, and whirled his bloodied sword. “Rumtopfts! Follow up, follow up, follow up!

As the hussars fled the dragoons heard their leader’s call and pressed onward, pursuing their beaten foe to their own lines. One of the hussar support squadrons, beset and disordered by their fleeing comrades and faced with an oncoming foe broke and joined the rout. The other held for a while and Rumtopft and his men plunged in amongst them, the battle rage still flowing strong in his veins until they too broke and ran.

Colonel Schenk of the Bishop of Guggenheim’s Regiment of Horse patted his horse’s neck to soothe the beast after the artillery fire. “We will advance,” he said to his command party. “Those stalwart fellows will need our support ere long I dare say, and I like not the play of the enemy guns upon our regiment.”

His pronouncement was greeted by grave nods. Schenk frowned at the dressing of the regiment and found it serviceable, although he lamented the deaths of so many of his men. “Advance!” he called. The trumpet pealed and the black horses of the regiment began to move forward at a stately walk...
* * *
A late post today. I've been a snail-mailing fool this afternoon due to the closing of an eBay sale. I'll post four chapters recounting the Battle of Viehdorf in narrative form, and a fifth with mainly photos. I hope y'all enjoy!


Bluebear Jeff said...

I am enjoying it, AJ. Thank you.

One thing that might help us visualize the battle better would be a "labeled" photo indicating the various units.

-- Jeff

A J said...

Point taken, Jeff. I'll do that.

Fire at Will said...

An enjoyable read, I could have almost have been there!!

Capt Bill said...

Stirring stuff!

littlejohn said...

a wonderful and colorful account!

Fitz-Badger said...

Enjoyable (okay, excellent and riveting!) :-)

Bluebear Jeff said...

I also very much approve of the fact that a number of officers on both sides are NOT following the desires of the C-in-Cs. That happened all too often . . . and many rule systems don't allow for it . . . so I'm glad to see it here.

-- Jeff

Snickering Corpses said...

I, too, am enjoying it greatly. It seems the good Klopfer shall have much to report about if he makes it out of the battle intact.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Fantastic stuff - very entertaining...

I echo Jeff's comments about the commanders doing their own thing - how did you handle that Will??