The Battle of Castel Bolognese on 3 February 1797 saw a 7,000 man force from the Papal States commanded by Michelangelo Alessandro FML Colli-Marchi face a 8,600-9,000 strong French corps under General Claude Victor-Perrin. General of Division Victor-Perrin’s march along the Via Emilla from Modena to Imola brought Colli-Marchi’s troops to battle across the Senio River, just east of Castel Bolognese towards Faenza.
WR discussed the short 1997 Papal States campaign in a previous blog article. To understand the brief campaign, the battle and forces involved, scenario design notes, and some Papal States background, click on my link: Battle of Castel Bolognese 1797.
Just before noon on the cold wintery Italian February day, the French Advance guard cavalry brigade, three small regiments of cavalry, under GB Junot [engage order] halts before the Senio River bridge crossing on road to Faenza. Across the shallow slow-moving waterway, the Papal States army has deployed behind hasty dug entrenchments blocking the forward advance of the recently victorious French army under General Bonaparte. Soon joined by the two converged elite battalions under GB Jean Lannes [also engage order], GB Junot’s attached horse battery unlimbered to send a message. The sharp crack of the 4 pounder horse battery echoes against the cloudy sky…. the Battle of Castel Bolognese or Faenza is soon to begin. Small tabletop game for the WR…. the scenario poker table battlefield is only 4′ x 4′ with Dan playing the recently victorious French and Daniel (WR son) trying to figure out who the Papal States were historically, discussion of which excluded in educational curriculums.
Seeing the French artillery unlimbered across the river, the Papal States army formed up to meet the French aggression behind their earthworks. Formed into two equal commands, labelled generically for the scenario as the Left or Right flank commands, each command or wing had five battalions of infantry and two small cavalry detachments following their defend order. Central to the Papal defense was two positional artillery batteries, of six cannon each, positioned to cover the bridge over the Senio River. Small Papal cavalry detachments positioned themselves to guard the open flanks where the earthworks ended.
The Papal army, being a classic ancient regime army, likes to deploy and fight in their linear battle-line formation. So for the majority of this scenario the reader will see the Papal units form linear formations and, if adjacent to friendly battalions, receive morale benefits following the “Firing Line tactic rules”. For detached Papal skirmishers, only if the battalion is basically stationary can the unit deploy a “skirmisher” (detached miniature) and place them before the battalion. Unlike normal light company skirmishers in the game, these “improvised skirmishers” must rejoin their battalion if the battalion moves and are only semi-skirmisher rated (lowest rating). Refer to the scenario notes for additional characteristics covering both these armies.
Scenario start 1200 hours: Opening French movements saw the two converged elite battalions under GB Lannes expand as skirmishers along the Senio riverbank. The cavalry under GB Junot moved upstream to find crossing points in the shallow river.
Terrain note: The Senio River (3” wide) is slowly fordable for French infantry and cavalry units. No artillery or train units may enter the river. Papal units may not cross the river until a successful French unit has crossed. Roll d6 for each unit attempting to cross the river, including French open order formations. If 4+ rolled the unit can enter the river with 4” CO movement cost. If river roll failed, the unit remains on the riverbank till next Movement Phase when it may try again but with +1 d6 modifier. If re-crossing the river, apply +1 d6 modifier. Units left standing in the riverbed are terrain disordered for firepower and shock combat. Units will avoid routing across the river unless no other open path is available first, then a successful crossing test is required If trapped, roll for possible surrender if failed.
1220 hours: French cavalry roll for locating (or willingness) crossing points of the Senio River. In reality, the river was shallow and the French soon found crossing was difficult but possible all along the river. But on this day of French glory…. all the cavalry units failed to push their horses into the river water this turn. Skirmish fire sounded across the river between the outposts… as the French reinforcements moved up behind the French front line. GB La Hoz [march order] arrived with his Lombard legion battalions , chasseurs, and small artillery battery towards the French left flank. Behind them arrived the large French division of GD Claude Victor Perrin [march order] as General Bonaparte watches, marching and arrives at the Senio river edge, or right flank, with aim to cross beyond the Papal entrenchment left flank.
Note: Like almost all WR posted photos on Wargamerabbit, if the actual photo image is clicked upon, the photo file identity comes up and there is the blue text clickable option (upper edge) to enlarge to photo’s full 2200×1700 size.
1240 hours: French cavalry try again with a +1 to their d6 rolls (second attempt). Two cavalry regiments splash across … the third small cavalry regiment still think the water will wet their legs. GB La Hoz and the legion arrive behind GB Lannes’ skirmishers. Limited Papal unit movement so far…. just watching the French deployments as GD Victor Perrin’s division starts to cross the river, with a couple of laggard battalions.
1300 hours: French skirmishers hop across the river and draw immediate Papal States response by the flank cavalry detachment. Seeing the charging Papal cavalry, the veteran French skirmishers think they can win…. charging cavalry vs. open order infantry wasn’t close. Both sides lose a miniature and the skirmishers run back across the river (making another crossing roll).
Seeing the Papal cavalry in front, the French cavalry under GB Junot change orders to Attack while the French division of GD Victor-Perrin upgrades to Engage order. the Papal States commands (left and right) both have Defend order.
Note: Command order changes can occur during the two command phases of each turn. Command order choices, based from their senior order selection in use are: Attack, Defend, Engage, March, and Reserve/Rest. Each order marker is color coded for clear visibility on the tabletop and positioned under the officer miniature. Use of orders, and their scope of allowed actions, has been discussed in previous napoleonic scenario AAR posts.
1320 hours: Papal States cavalry trots forward to charge the approaching French infantry battalion columns on their left flank, lead by the French cavalry under GB Junot. Impacting the leading French dragoon regiment (really two squadrons), the French and Papal cavalry fight an inconclusive battle.
1340 hours: Continuing their advance, the French infantry form battalion squares as other rear battalions rush forward to pressure the Papal States left flank. Cavalry squadrons wheel about and charge – countercharge to delay the French advance. French artillery unlimber across the river to bombard the Papal battalions standing behind their low entrenchments.
On the French left, the small Lombard legion “cohorts”, aka battalions, line the river preparing to cross and draw the Papal States battalions to defend their open right flank thus thinning the center defense. Quickly the Lombard chasseurs a’ cheval squadron crosses the river to screen their following infantry while GB Lannes’ elite battalions regroup and prepare to assist in the crossing.
1400 hours: More cavalry charge engagements on the French right. The Papal States cavalry tries to delay the massed French infantry advance and engage the French cavalry, both advancing against the Papal left flank, as their try to redeploy several battalions to face the flanking French infantry. GB Junot severely wounded and sent to the rear.
1420 hours: After the Papal cavalry retires to reform, the French infantry surges forward to secure the low hedge as skirmishers trade shots. Slowly the French skirmishers are gaining the upper hand while additional columns march up to form the attack. General Bonaparte’s ADC rides up to GD Victor-Perrin and hands him the orders to attack [attack order… a red colored officer base marker] to change out his present Engage yellow marker order.
Note: Engage order allows the player to march in battle mode, use all battle formations… line, column, open order and square formations, declare counter-charges, and engage enemy units with distant firepower (only long-range firepower). Doesn’t allow unit movement into close range firepower or declare offensive cavalry charges thus really is a “hold at arm’s length” type of order. Attack order allows all under Engage and grants ability for movement into close range firepower and any form of cavalry charge…. basically no restrictions for movement, formation, firepower, or charging.
Lombard Legion crosses the river with GB Lannes’ battalion. Their small artillery battery unlimbers to bombard the Papal battalions to limited effect. Carrying his “free order change” in his pocket, GB La Hoz changed his command’s orders from March–green to Engage–yellow order.
Note: Each commander has his basic order issued at daybreak for the day’s activity. Based upon his senior commander’s senior order selection (Advance or Hold) restrictions, the lower divisional or brigade commander can freely change his orders anytime using his “one-time free order change” capability. Once the “free one-time order change” is done, any followup change requires order marker change given directly by miniature base adjacent senior commander or sent via ADC. Typically, the infantry, cavalry, or artillery commands use a March order to arrive on the battlefield then change to Engage, Defend, or Attack upon nearing the enemy formations.
1440 hours: Serious and stressful combat erupts on the Papal left flank. Small cavalry unit charges thunder into the ranks, then counter-charged by French cavalry squadrons. One French battalion in line crosses the hedge as another formation lines up along the linear hedge. French battalion squares fend off the Papal cavalry, allowing French cavalry to chase off the roving Papal cavalry for good but suffers 20%+ loss in the process.
At the bridge…. the depleted Papal defense allows the remaining French hussar regiment (sqn.) to trot across the bridge then charge down the open roadway. Quickly a small Papal cavalry detachment tries to counter the French aggression. Overwhelmed by the French hussars, the Papal cavalry broke and routs, leaving the French cavalry charge up the road past the roadside inn. The Papal center is totally open….. any French reserves??
Riding past the roadway inn, the French hussars charge up the roadway leading to Faenza. Seeing the Papal train companies alongside the road, they charge home. Bitter fighting…. the Papal train fights to defend but lose and rout away…. but not before the fate roll of miniature exchange loss. Losing the train causes the entire Papal army to roll for possible low ammunition supply every time they fire formed musketry hereon. The Papal artillery batteries, now having no ammunition reload supply, have only their remaining stock in the individual positional battery trains.
Papal battalion movement so far have been reactionary outward to the dual Franco-Lombard advance on either flank. The now non-existent Papal center has been pierced by the weak French cavalry already mentioned. Against the French major advance on the Papal left flank, the arriving battalions have formed a retrenchment flank line to face the advancing French.
Lombard Legion “cohort” movement expands into the light woods behind the Papal flank entrenchments. Feeding his “cohorts” aka battalions into the fighting, the Papal battalions cannot extend into the woods with their ancient regime linear formations.
1500 hours: The French assault starts on the Papal left flank battle-line retrenchment. The French leading battalion dissolves into skirmishers to threaten the Papal battalions forming into their linear formations under pressure of the French advance. A token French hussar squadron charges the Papal line. French musketry impacts into the Papal provincial square battalion, forming the hinge point of the Papal battle line.
The Papal States response begins as battalions march in formation, changing into their linear battle-line. The positional artillery battery unlimbers in place and sends round shot into the French columns. Seeing the growing pressure and massed French columns before them, the Papal infantry line marches forward, standards held aloft matching their French opponents. Musketry erupts and the French and Papal infantry exchange close range volleys. The white coated Provincial battalion forms a linear formation from their square formation. Losses mount as miniatures are removed on both sides. Skirmishers dart about, sending individual shots into the massed ranks while ducking the return volley. The French hussars, shattered by Papal point-blank volley, emptying saddles across their front, bolt for the rear.
On the Lombard front, Lombard (Cisalpine Republic) skirmishers infantry filter through the light woods, taking shots at the redeploying Papal battalions. Lacking massed targets, the Lombard Legion battery tosses round shot into the Papal battery to cause discomfort. Likewise, the Papal positional battery just sees small Lombard battalions to their front, well screened by the Lombard skirmishers keeping the gunners busy or ducking their shots. Leading his limited battalion force, the Papal State right flank commander is wounded in the chest, forced to leave the field, but not before ordering one battalion to occupy the bridge exit, thus preventing small French detachments from crossing the Senio river at the bridge.
1520 hours: Seeing only the single white coated provincial battalion holding the bridge exit across the river, General Bonaparte orders a nearby French battalion to rush the bridge. Seeing a “Lodi like” situation, General Bonaparte follows his men over the bridge. A small sapper detachment works its way to the Papal battalion’s flank and assaults while the larger French battalion crashes into the Papal battalion front. French artillery batteries line the riverbank, sending round shot into the exposed Papal battalion till blocked by the onrushing French infantry column. A blaze of musketry…. French soldiers pitch over leading the column. A shout…. Bonaparte’s horse is hit. Dan’s record with General Bonaparte on the tabletop continues as General Bonaparte’s staggers to his feet with the ADC crowding around him. Seeing Bonaparte go down, the stunned French infantry cover their retreat as Bonaparte is led back across the river.
As skirmisher fire away their cartridge box of ammunition, a small elite French column, led by GB Lannes, rushes into the woods to press back the Papal defenders. With no commander present, Papal morale is on the blink of retreat, still the three battalions attempt to hold back the small Franco-Lombardy force.
The bitter close range musketry continues on the Papal left flank. Volley for volley, neither side is giving ground. French columns work their way to the Papal infantry open flank, a battalion column charges home while the dismounted foot cavalry unit impact the open flank. Aided by their positional artillery battery blasting away, nearby Papal battalions are hearten to reform and form a second line. Riding to the front, FML Colli-Marchi arrives behind the forming second line, just as their flank commander is hit by French fire. Now both Papal “divisional” commanders have been hit. French win with their flanking columns, sending one Papal battalion in total rout and severe losses, but the following artillery canister volley against the exposed French column wrecks another French battalion into bloody ruin.
1540 hours: Seeing the beckoning open Papal front in the center, General Bonaparte remount a horse offered by his worried staff. Rallying the nearby shaken French battalion, he orders them to charge again across the open bridge and seize the inn across the river. Garrisoned only by a weak Papal pioneer detachment, the Inn will soon fall to the onrushing French. Just in time, a half-strength Papal cavalry detachment sounds their feeble charge to slow the French. Late reaction, the Papal high command order the reserve battalion or two to march on the bridge – Inn position. Obvious to his staff’s efforts, Bonaparte rides into the thick of the battle on his replacement horse. The outcome…..stay tuned.
On the French left flank, across the Senio River, the Lombard Legion with two elite French battalions under GB Lannes push more into the light woods. The right flank Papal States try to form a battle line, but the elusive French skirmishers slowly degrade the Papal defense. One Papal battalion breaks from officer losses. In reality, neither side has the strength to push completely the other for the victory. Stalemate and skirmisher warfare amidst the trees.
Right flank with GD Victor-Perrin as total degraded into a firefight brawl. Both sides are dropping miniatures to the close range musketry. With their left flank commander lying on the ground, only FML Colli-Marchi riding up and down the line holds the Papal battle line. French skirmisher work through the battalion gaps and shoot down the Papal gunners manning the positional battery. Two Papal battalions try to out flank the French. French whispers in the ranks….. Bonaparte is hit again?
Reinforcing the inn at the last-minute, a reduced Papal provincial battalion and the pioneer detachment defend the building (Inn). Firing a deadly “out the windows” volley, the French react with disorder in their ranks. Seeing this General Bonaparte again rides into the fray, pushing his horse to the French front ranks. Bullets wiz by…the wise horse ducks its head, one finds Bonaparte’s chest. Slumping dead in his saddle, the nearby French infantry crowd around, see their loved general, then break back across the bridge chased by a last volley from the Papal infantry. Dan the General Bonaparte killer has struck again (he lost Bonaparte at Aboukir 1799 scenario too).
1600 hours: French player morale slumps…. Bonaparte dead? With the loss of their loved general, the French army morale also takes a major hit, causing a quick reassessment of the four hours of battle having exceeded the French Army MFP threshold (causing -1 CMR every game hour turn hereon). The French Lombard Legion left is slowing winning the skirmisher war in the light woods but has insufficient battlefield strength to win quickly. Their center is carrying off the body of General Bonaparte, the battalion involved at the inn just rallied beside French unlimbered artillery batteries cover the bridge crossing so no Papal pursuit will be forthcoming. GD Victor-Perrin’s division is locked in a brutal musketry engagement, the losses are mounting fast with no recent advancement. The Papal infantry is even trying the flank the French position if their morale holds. Both sides are near their exhaustion level…. intact and fresh battalions are needed to win the battle and neither side has them.
Summary: Hard fought action. French plan seemed to be working till the Papal cavalry “detachments” stalled the French right flank advance for several turns. Once the massed French infantry resumed their advance, the redeployed Papal infantry battle line had formed and positioned to receive the French assaults. The first assaults stalled, leading to musketry firefight. More battalions advanced, leading to more savage close range musketry duels. Since the Papal battalions grew in number as time passed, directly from emptying their center defensive position, the French found themselves outnumbered at the critical front or flank.
Risking their center and total loss, the Papal States reinforced their left flank. This led to the French stray battalion and French hussars to almost win the battle by themselves. The French hussars charged and cleared the roadway all the way to the Papal rear HQ base. With the massed French artillery pounding the Papal battalions nearby, the sole French battalion, led by Bonaparte had a clear advance to force the win. But… the inn and its Papal defenders, plus a critical battalion at a time from the flank engagements, just won the critical dice roll.
As for the French left…. the Lombard Legions and the two elite French battalions almost pulled off their own victory. Given time… they would win but skirmisher warfare takes time…. and the French right flank didn’t perform to French expectation. So the battle ended… both sides exhausted and depleted. With morale dropping and triggered by the Army MFP level, the sure French victory over the Papal States will have to wait for another day. Bonaparte’s name in history will be a foot note for the 1796 campaign and the future Louvre will need to find other art objects.
Great game Dan and Daniel. Dan…. please stop killing off my Bonaparte miniatures. Statistical odds allow one dead Bonaparte during his/her tabletop gaming lifetime and you have exceeded your limit. 🙂
Miniatures note: Now WR has a large collection of French Revolution miniatures but for the Papal States…. exactly one unit of period Papal cavalry. And that unit was only painted for a mislaid scenario project for the 1796 campaign alongside the Kingdom of Two Sicilies cavalry, which saw action in the Po River plain. So, for a stand in on the tabletop, WR used his Reichsarmee 1780-90 era miniatures with their blue and white coats…. and tricornes.
For the Lombard Legion, Trent Miniatures makes excellent 28mm range for these chaps… infantry, cavalry and artillery, along with the early Polish legions. For the scenario, WR drafted in his early 1805 era Italians in their nice green coats and bicornes. For the French,, tricky WR used…. his French.
Till another brawl in the warren…. enjoy the Election day.