Archive For The “Historical Sites” Category
Jim Owczarski, 20 November 2019
We perceived, through its whole breadth, this battlefield rising gently in an amphitheatre. The summits of the hills were crowned with fine forests; the valleys opened before us, bare enough, but cultivated and separated from one another by hills of slightly marked feature. There was the valley of Eckmühl (running from south to north), up which wound the Ratisbon road, and there was that of the two Laichlings, separated from one another by a small wood… — General Jean-Jacques Germain Pelet-Clozeau, April 1809
If your hobby is visiting battlefields, you spend a lot of time reading first-hand accounts, studying period maps, and badgering academics trying to see the story on the ground. You rebuild the battle in your mind, often moment by moment, and try to bring to order an event that was by its very nature disordered. It can be a disheartening process. As I have written elsewhere, many of the Napoleonic battlefields I study are all but lost. Those of which traces still exist have often been significantly altered. Not everything, I suppose, can be Borodino or Waterloo.
In April 1809, though, General Pelet marched with the Emperor to what would soon be known as the battlefield at Eggmuhl and stood at the heights near the village of Lindach. His description, quoted above, is among the most famous of any Napoleonic battlefield from any contemporary source.
And that view is still there.
Jim Owczarski, 30 August 2019
I made my way back from the larger battlefields of Napoleon’s 1809 campaign in Bavaria and Austria to find the wargame community caught up in furball, conducted in the manner of the internet, about whether we all ought to call ourselves “wargamers”.
Moving briskly by all this as one does a traffic accident or somebody else being arrested, what did I learn about these battles and this campaign that might be of use to a fellow hobbyist? I will neglect the details of the campaign, most of which are well-rehearsed in several books, the most notable being Professor John Gill’s three-volume magnum opus, Thunder on the Danube. It is deservedly the normative treatment of the subject for both historians and gamers. While I have an autographed copy of the first volume, I blush to confess that I purchased all three volumes in the Kindle edition for well below market price during a recent sale. I cannot commend them highly enough.
This is a remarkably popular campaign for Napoleonic gamers. Some of this can be attributed to the presence of a commander who gave Napoleon absolute fits (the Archduke Charles) and which featured an army that, under Charles’ leadership, dealt Napoleon his first significant defeat (Aspern-Essling). It is also a bit Janus-like in that it was Napoleon’s last successful campaign while simultaneously pointing out to the attentive the cracks in his military machine that would shatter open wide in the cold of Russia three years later. Despite this, it also featured Napoleon at his resilient best, recovering from Marshal Berthier’s blundering in the Spring to achieve his victory at Wagram a few months later, so even the most Francophilic has something to love.
by Jim Owczarski, 6 October 2018
In the Summer of 2017, I spent two wonderful weeks chasing after Napoleonic glory in what was once East Germany. I have written at length about my experience of researching and eventually visiting Jena, but have neglected to report on what I think is both one of the most pristine and most intriguing of the Napoleonic battlefields I have have been to: Auerstedt.
In this case, however, Auerstedt is sufficiently intact to have permitted me to find each of the viewing points recommended by the book and these, in turn, inform the narrative that follows.
Telling the story briefly, in October 1806, Napoleon, stealing a march on the uxorious Fredrick William III, drove his armies into Thuringia with the intent of destroying the Prussian army before it could attack. Wrong-footed by the rapid French advance, the Prussians began a retreat from their forward positions, intending to form a new defensive line in the vicinity of Leipzig. The Emperor, however, did not wait and his V Corps first caught up with and routed the Prussians at Saalfeld (10 October). Then, three days later, Napoleon himself caught up with what he assumed was the main Prussian army near Jena. He determined to attack early on the morning of the 14th, but, in the meanwhile, sent both Marshals Bernadotte and Davout on a long flank march to the North and East to cut off the likely route of the Prussian retreat. (more…)