Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The "fog of war" in the Napoleonic age

A while back reading through accounts of the Hanoverian's in the Waterloo campaign I came across some interesting examples of the 'fog of war' and I thought these were worth highlighting.

From a report by Major-General Kielmansegge of the 1st Hanoverian brigade at Quatre Bras:
The Luneburg Light Infantry Battalion was at the head of the formation and moved to the left. It received the order to drive the enemy who were advancing from Pierremont back. This was achieved with great steadiness and the hamlet was taken. The battalion would have captured two enemy cannon which had advanced on the flank, but a signal by a Brunswick bugler on our left flank, which was repeated by our own buglers and immediately obeyed, afforded the enemy sufficient time to withdraw.

Just imagine you are about to sieze the cannon and your troops halt for no apparent reason, who gave that order!!!

From a report by Lieutenant Tschirschnitz of the Bremen Light Infantry at Quatre Bras:
On the high road to Namur, around half an hour from Nivelles, the troops halted in a clover field on the right of the road. Due to the extreme heat  and the pace of the march, some of the soldiers had fallen behind, but now  they all rejoined the battalion. The order to cook the food we had taken with us was issued, but another order  to march immediately (which arrived after only half an hour of rest) meant the meat which was half cooked by this time remained, because it would have been more onerous to take it with us.

You plan ahead, your troops are well cared for and they end up with no food!

From the same report:
On the 17th June the skirmish fire began at dawn on our left towards the Duke of York Light Infantry Battalion. The 3rd Company of the Bremen Battalion was also attacked by the French, who had advanced from a nearby farm, and was ordered to rejoin the battalion. Several times the enemy tried to force our position with a vastly superior force, but each attempt was repelled and the Tirailleurs were pursued by our flankers for some 300 to 400 paces; the flankers returned safely to the battalion on each occasion. Because of the incessant musket fire our ammunition had to be replenished on several occasions, but we received rifle ammunition by mistake, which we exchanged with the English Light Infantry, but which caused considerable delay.

Actually I understand they were taken out of line for over an hour while they sorted the mess out. How often do your troops on the tabletop going inactive for no good reason or are they always available ready to obey your every command?

From the same report:
The middle of the two Hanoverian battalion was intersected by a path skirted by hedges, which led from our position to the enemy's. The 1st half of the battalions stood on the left of this path, the 2nd half on the right. Because of the incessant firing  a number of musket s became locked and would not work, and so around 11 o'clock in the morning the 1st and 2nd Companies, under the command of Major Muller, were sent back to the high road to clean their weapons.

How do your favorite rules account for this?
I often wonder how much do the rules we play with reflect this reality, people will tell me that their favorite rules 'of course take this into account' but when you ask where specifically you are given this general sweeping statement 'well its just all factored in', really, are you sure?

I am reminded of the comment made by CS Grant on rereading his fathers book 'Napoleonic Wargaming' after 30 years; 'The reader may not agree with all his deductions but the historical basis for the rules is set out in a way that is not often seen in modern rule sets'. Maybe with all the emphasis on gloss these days something is being lost.

I feel that in some ways we need to more explicitly 'factor this in', maybe with some sort of 'event' card system but then how to do it and not make the whole game seem rather more about luck instead of about the skill of the general.

Of course you could argue this somewhat depends on the 'level' of your rule set, an army/corps level rule set should not really have the level of detail that would include company or even battalion 'events', whereas it would obviously be very relevant for a skirmish game. However I would counter that most higher level rule sets I have seen do include a lot of this minor level detail or 'chrome' simply because 'we' somewhat bizarrely like to see our battalions or squadrons charge home or engage in a firefight irregardless of the level, so maybe these 'events' are needed anyway.

Food for thought...

No comments: