At the beginning of May 1809, FML Hiller’s Corps was cut off from the main Austrian army and in full retreat South of the Danube. While a very costly rear-guard action at Ebelsberg had slowed the French advance, the respite was only temporarily. On May 6, Général de Brigade Colbert advanced his forces along the river Ybbs when he came across a small Austrian rearguard detachment consisting of Erzherzog Karl Uhlans under the command of Major Ludwig von Wilgenheim, accompanied by soldiers from the Grenz-Infanterieregiment Nr. 8 (Gradiskaner) under Hauptmann Basil Ivanovich von Kolinensieg. Wilgenheim, who did not realise the size of the French force, wanted to set a trap for the French and lure them through the streets of the village of Blindenmarkt. The French attacked with a voltigeur battalion, amalgamated from voltigeur companies of several regiments, and two regiments of Chasseurs à Cheval, the 7th and the 20th. Instead of charging through the streets, though, the French deployed the voltigeurs to the North of the village and drove away the Grenzer. Wilgenheim made a desperate charge against the French cavalry but was repulsed. The Uhlans took heavy casualties, but the infantry could, thanks to good leadership, retreat and escape pretty much intact.
Although a bit on the large side for Sharp Practice, I thought that his affair would make for an interesting scenario. I decided to make Blindenmarkt the main tactical problem – both sides would have to decided if, when and how many forces they would commit to the narrow street of the village. I also completely left out the area South of the village – although this was the site of Wilgenheim’s charge, it would not fit unto a normal-sized table and I thought that the most interesting features of the skirmish, namely the town and the wooded hill, would suffice to give at least an approximate impression of the tactical challenges facing the opposing commanders.
I played against Sigur, who voiced a preference to play the Austrians, so I took the French. The French had a numerical advantage, with one group of infantry and one group of cavalry more than their opponents.
Sigur started out cautiously, but of course as the defender, he could afford it. I had to commit, so I deployed my cavalry to my left, intending to head across the fields and threaten his flank. Two groups would cover the village and, if opportunity presented itself, move in. Three groups would support the cavalry, while the skirmishers would advance in the center, ready to support either flank. So far, so good.
Sigur deployed all of his line units on the wooded hill, moving to his right to check my advance across the fields. The hill was a strong defensive position – the woods would give him cover from shooting, and the slope would give him an uphill advantage in melee. My cavalry had some difficulties crossing the ditch, and as soon as the first group was over, it came under fire from Grenzer skirmishers, whom Sigur had also deployed in the woods. This was bad for my cavalry, especially since the first shots killed their Leader!
Although Sigur hadn’t yet deployed his Uhlans, I reckoned that I might risk advancing into the village, especially if I was fast enough to capture his forward secondary deployment point. Two of my infantry groups moved forward in column, while I deployed my last group of cavalry behind them, just in case. This would turn out be one of my rare right decisions in this game.
Unfortunately, the infantry was too slow to capture Sigur’s secondary deployment point and was immediately charged by two groups of Uhlans deploying from there.
The Uhlans went through the poor voltigeurs like a knife through butter, the few surviving Frenchmen took to their heels and my Force Morale took a spectacular plunge. My whole right flank was potentially open. Fortunately, I had the Chasseurs à Cheval in position, who immediately charged the Uhlans. They were repulsed, but did some damage and, more importantly, allowed my skirmishers to move over and take the Uhlans under fire.
Meanwhile, on my left flank, things did not look any better. Sigur suddenly advanced his whole line down from the hill, threatening to unload a volley into my cavalry which was still trying to cross the ditch. The cavalry was in a bad position – I knew they would probably be shot to pieces if they tried to charge. So I made another stupid decision and decided to withdraw them. However, one group didn’t make it across that blasted ditch and caught a volley into their back. This was it – one group broke, the other had to retreat and my Force Morale was at zero. I congratulated Sigur on an Austrian victory!
What a debacle for the French! Sigur stated that he had a lot of luck, and truly his dice-rolling in his first cavalry charge was spectacular. However, he also plainly played better than me. Most importantly, he made no mistakes: he was patient, didn’t deploy his forces too early and committed them only when he knew what he wanted from them. I, on the other hand, made some grave mistakes, the biggest being charging forward with my cavalry without really knowing what they should achieve and than panicking when they where confronted with the full might of the Austrian infantry in a very strong position. The other mistake was advancing into the village before my forces on my left flank were in a position to put pressure on Sigur’s units.
We talked a bit afterwards and concurred that the scenario presents a hard nut to crack for both sides. The forward Austrian deployment point poses an interesting problem for the French, but also a very tempting lure for the Austrians, while the village is a hazard for both sides. I’d really like to try this scenario again one day. All in all, a great and very enjoyable game! As always, you can read Sigur’s report on his blog: https://www.tabletopstories.net/language/en/2023/03/sharp-practice-struggle-for-blindenmarkt/