Another FRW / Napoleonic Imperial era campaign period and change of scenery. From the dry lands of the Levant and Italy. WR now looks forward to new military formations, unit names, old school commanders, forests, wet weather, muddy roads, and later on maybe a blizzard on the tabletop. All earmarks of the 1806-07 French, Prussian, and Russian campaign or Wars of the Fourth Coalition. Two months ago WR started preparation for the Battle of Saalfeld 1806 to nudge himself into painting up, organizing, and basing his 1806 era Prussians. WR’s Prussian 1806-07 has been privately labelled or nicknamed the “forgotten army” in the collection but in truth his British army of 1790, 1800, and 1812 era formations are the actual forgotten army, having been mostly painted, even unit organized, and just pending their basing since YR2010. Sometimes projects just go slow in the warren…. and need a bigger nudge to get rolling over the finish line. WR foresees a Peninsular war expansion nudge in his future as he presently has a large Spanish and English allied Portuguese army ready to hold their own on the tabletop while waiting for the British to land in Portugal.
For now it’s the 1806-07 Prussian army’s turn to form up and march across the tabletop. Someplace in the dark, cold, and no doubt snowy forests of Russia (or garage) lurks the Russian 1806-07 28mm miniature army. These allies of Prussia will surely be needed to save the Prussian army from their projected defeat at the hands of the French Grande Armee. But to paint an entire new green coated hoard army…. before the British army in sunny Portugal and Spain? WR will have to turn in his UK passport and identity as an Englishman. Choices for YR2018 painting schedule that WR will have to make…. green or red coats.
Meanwhile, back to the borders of southern Prussia and Saxony. After the weeks of political discussion by men with dusted hair, some written offers or threats, military service call up, and restocking of the fortress magazines, both the French Grand Armee and the Royal Army of Prussia, with their Saxon allies, were only week’s march apart along the southern Prussian / Saxon border. In general the Franconian forest, with its dense woods, hilly terrain, and narrow road passages lay between both armies. The French, with their own Germanic allies, are guided by the golden hand and unified command of Emperor Napoleon and his band of battle-tested Marshals. The Prussians, with their Saxon ally, held councils of war, wrote out long orders, and never really came to unified discussion or purpose of action before joined in conflict on the Jena and Auerstaedt battlefields. For one thing in WR’s favor, unlike some previous era and battles written up, the campaign of 1806, and somewhat 1807, is well documented, with much ink printed, discussing the military formation movement, the French command structure vs. the Prussian system… or lack of a system, the leadership characteristics, and minute details of both armies and their marches.
Taking the offensive in true French style, the French Grande Armee crossed the separating Franconian forest region in three grand columns. The main center column had the advance guard cavalry (Murat), I Corps (Bernadotte), 3rd and 4th Dragoon divisions (Beaumont & Sahuc), then III Corps (Davout). Bring up the tail end of the center column is the Imperial Guard, massed heavy cavalry divisions of D’Hautpoul and Nansouty, the 1st Dragoon division (Klein) and presence of Napoleon and his Imperial headquarters. The right column had IV Corps (Soult) and VI Corps (Ney) securing the eastern approaches and heading for Hof and then maybe threaten Dresden. The left column had V Corps (Lannes) and VII Corps (Augereau) directed towards Saalfeld then later on Jena. First to encounter the Prussians and Saxons, the center column advance guard cavalry, led by Marshal Murat, and Bernadotte’s light cavalry of I Corps encounter their Prussian – Saxon foes near the town of Schleiz.
West Point atlas early 1806 campaign map showing the three French ‘grand’ columns marching into Prussian-Saxon territory.
The Battle of Schleiz took place on October 9, 1806, between a Prussian-Saxon division under GM Bogislav Friedrich Emanuel von Tauentzien marching to rejoin Hohenlohe’s army near Jena, and leading infantry division (of Marshal Bernadotte I Corps) under the command of Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Comte d’Erlon and some leading cavalry regiments, led personally by Marshal Murat. It was the first clash of many in the War of the Fourth Coalition.
Brushing aside minor pickets and seizing a bridge crossing, the first significant clash occurred between the troops of Marshal Bernadotte and GM Tauentzien occurs near the Oschitz Wood, a belt of forest which lies south of the town of Schleiz. Marshal Bernadotte ordered GB François Werlé to clear the forest to the left as GD Drouet’s division advanced on Schleiz. In the thick woods, the infantry (27th Legere leading, supported by 94th and 95th Ligne, moved ahead while Watier’s cavalry regiments followed behind. GB Werlé’s advance guard entered and took possession of the woods but was prevented from continuing on by a Prussian force encountered under GM Rudolf Ernst Christoph von Bila. By 2:00 pm, the French were in growing strength and GM Tauenzien decided to abandon Schleiz, retiring to his supports further northwest. The Prussian division fell back to the north covered by GM Bila’s rear guard of one infantry battalion and one and a half cavalry regiments. GD Drouet attacked Schleiz at 4:00 pm and drove out the last of the Prussians. North of the town, Marshal Murat charged the rear guard with the 4th Hussar regiment, but this attack was repulsed by the Prussian fresh horsemen (Bila 11th Hussars and Saxon Pz. Johann Chevaulegers). When the 5th Chasseurs à Cheval regiment arrived with light infantry support, Marshal Murat pressed back Bila’s troops to the woods north of Oettersdorf where the action basically ended for the day.
Earlier and before the opening morning volleys, GM Tauentzien had sent Major Hobe with one battalion, one squadron, and two guns to Crispendorf about six kilometers west of Schleiz. Major Hobe’s assignment was to guard the right flank and maintain communications with GM Schimmelpfennig’s 6th Hussars in Pößneck, who was linking the front outpost chain to Prinz Louis near Saalfeld further on. When GM Tauenzien began to fall back, Major Hobe’s detachment retreated to the northeast to rejoin his division. Near Pörmitz, a village roughly four kilometers north of Schleiz, the detachment found itself caught between Marshal Murat’s cavalry and one of GD Drouet’s battalions. Attacked in a marshy forest, Major Hobe’s force was badly mauled and lost one of its cannons. Most of the losses in the battle were from Hobe’s luckless detachment. The Prussians and Saxons lost 12 officers and 554 rank and file killed, wounded, captured, and missing, as well as one artillery piece captured for the day’s fighting. French losses are unknown to history but probably light. For the central French Grande Armee column, the engagements around Schietz ended active combat till the Battles of Jena / Auerstaedt on October 14th. Continue reading