Capitaine Bénes pointed the tip of his sword at the map spread out in front of him. “There!”, he said to his staff. “There, where the sunken road meets the road to Peising. There we will ambush them!”.
A couple of hours before, Sous-Lieutenant François Bouffard of the 13e Chasseurs à Cheval had brought exciting news: An Austrian wagon train heading towards Ratisbon would take a back road through the Fürstenholz and then pass through a village called Peising. Bouffard said that the train was guarded by infantry, which was why his troopers alone where unable to capture it. But if he could have some infantry support…
The chef de bataillon agreed, so Bénes assembled his company and marched it in a Northeastern direction. During a short rest to let the men catch their breath, he talked his staff through the plan. “The key,” he said, “is to catch them at the right moment. Too early, and the escort will have time to form up and we’ll have a costly stand-up fight. Too late, and the wagon drivers will crack their whips and we’ll never catch them. So, I want discipline – no one is to move before they hear my signal!” The officers and NCOs nodded. “I wonder what’s in the wagons…”, Lieutenant Guy Bonhomme murmured. “Let’s get moving again, or we’ll never find out. Get the men back on the road, Lieutenant!”
Major von Eynhuf looked at the gently rolling landscape in front of him and sighted. Finally they were out of that cursed Fürstenholz! A couple of hours ago, he had seen horsemen shadowing his convoy, but now they were gone. Von Eynhuf was an experience enough officer to distrust this peace. But if the French planned an ambush, surely the wooded area of the Fürstenholz would have been the place to do it. Now they were almost at the village, where they could take some rest.
Suddenly, he heard the cry of “Vive la France!” and, with shock and disbelief, stared at a column of blue-coated soldiers marching out of a sunken road and directly in his direction.
“Form line!,” von Eynhuf barked. His well-drilled troops immediately executed the order and, before the French themselves could deploy into a firing line, delivered a ragged volley. To catch the French in the flank, he refrained from performing a controlled volley and shouted at his men to fire at will. With glee, he saw the French column waver. “Now who is ze ambusched?,” he muttered.
Bénes had not expected the usually sluggish Austrians to react that quickly. When their first volley hit, his men started to waver and for a moment, it looked as if they might fall back. “Courage, mes enfants!,” he shouted, “Let us show them what la Grande Armée can do! Form line and fire at will!”.
A brutal close-range firefight developed between the two lines. Soon, the superior numbers of the French started to count, but the men were still shaky from the withering Austrian musketry. Suddenly, the sound of gallopping horses could be heard. “There is Bouffard!,” Bénes shouted. “Look how our brave cavalry charges them in the flank!”. And indeed, Bouffard’s little band charged headlong at a group of Austrian skirmishers positioned at the right of their line. The Austrians, uttlery panicked from being attacked in the flank, immediately surrendered. However, when the cavalry hit the line infantry, the Austrians fought back tenaciously. Bouffard himself was wounded and had to fall back to regroup.
Von Enyhuf was sweating profusely. The situation was deterriorating by the minute. The musketry from the superior numbers of Frenchmen in front of him caused disorder in his ranks, cavalry was putting pressure on his right flank and now some Voltigeurs had turned up and supported them with their sniping. One of his group of skirmishers was gone – he had seen the cowards surrender – and there was no sign of his rearguard.
In horror, he watched his men slowly fall back when another volley tore into their ranks. In a couple of minutes, the retreat became a general rout and no amount of shouting, swearing and sword-waving could stop his panicked troops. As he finally turned his horse to follow, he met the men of his rearguard, who told him that Ober-Lieutenant Felber “had stumbled” and was out of action. “I’ll drag the Hundsfott before a court-martial,” he muttered. “Stumbled, eh? Might as well make him a fall guy, then.”
Inside the first wagon, wounded Capt. Cruchon had woken up from musket fire. “What’s going on?,” he asked Merlot. “I think it’s our boys, 2e Ligne judging from the facings.” “Isn’t that Capt. Bénes’ outfit?” Cruchon had, of course, heard stories about the dashing Capt. Bénes, who had been awarded the Légion d’Honneur a couple of days ago for his bravery. The commotion outside reached a crescendo and then ebbed down. Shouts of “Vive la France! Vive l’Empereur!” made it clear who had won the fight. Suddenly, the wagon’s canvas was pulled back. Cruchon blinked and stared at the officer in front of him. His eyes wandered to the medal on his uniform. “Capitaine Bénes, I presume?” “Oui, oui, but you are wounded, monsieur. Fortunately, doctor Pincecourt is with me, he will get you back in fighting trim in no time.” Cruchon sighted with relief. “Let me introduce Sous-Lieutenant Merlot. I am Capitaine Cruchon, and I am in your debt, mon ami.”
Back in camp, Bénes enjoyed a moment of rest when the commanding officer of his Voltigeurs, Lieutenant Florin ‘Le Frelon’ Ouellet, walked up to him. “The impunity!,” he heard him mutter. “What’s wrong?” “One of Bouffard’s officers insulted me. Claims that I’m a coward because I didn’t join in the fray, even though you and me know that I helped doctor Pincecourt transport wounded. Of course I challenged him. I’ll skewer him on my sword!” Bénes looked at the agitated Lieutenant and pondered. Regulations said that he should forbid the duel, but he knew well enough that matters of honour had to be settled. “Well, old friend, then I wish you good luck.”.
But luck was not necessary – the ‘Hornet’ struck again, wounded the insolent trooper and restored his and the company’s honor. “All in all”, Bénes thought as he contentedly let his eyes wander over the rolling Bavarian hills, “not a bad day, not at all.”
This was a short and decisive game. Beforehand, I gave Sigur a map and told him to chose a place for the ambush. And he chose well! The sunken road shielded his troops from the eyes of the approaching Austrians, so they stayed in marching column until the French suddenly burst forward. I was a bit lucky to catch them in the flank with a volley before they could form line, but of course my three groups could not stand long against a five-group-line at close distance. Maybe if I had charged them right away instead of firing, I might have broken the line and pushed them back to clear the way for my wagons. My rearguard commander did not activate for a while and when he did, a random event hit him – he was “accidentally barged down by his men”. Perhaps von Eynhuf’s court martial will find out what really happened back there… When the cavalry hit me in the flank, I knew the game would be over soon.
But it was a exciting game nonetheless and, most importantly, it advanced the narrative. Capt. Cruchon is free and now in the debt of Bénes, so that may lead to further scenarios. Also, the campaign event with Lieutenant Oeullet (who was late because of the last campaign event) was very fitting, and the Lieutenant’s victory in the duel means that he increases his Status by one. Truely a good day for Capt. Bénes, who is quickly becoming something of a celebrity, at least in the Division.