I have been gathering ideas for a Sharp Practice scenario of the last moments of Prince Józef Poniatowski, Commander in Chief of the army of the Duchy of Warsaw, who died on the last day of the battle of Leipzig in October 1813. I found two accounts in Polish, one by Mariusz Lukasiewicz in his book “Armia Ksiecia Jozefa, 1813” and the other in “Lipsk”, by Jadwiga Nadzieja. Both accounts drew on eye witness reports and are almost identical. The following is a translation of the account in Lukasiewicz, with a small comment from Nadzieja’s book.
Introduction: On 19 October 1813, Napoleon’s army was retreating westwards from Leipzig, covered by a rearguard including Poniatowski’s Polish VIII Corps. The army had only one route out of the city and while the details are still disputed, the single bridge over which the troops were retreating was blown up prematurely, leaving several thousand troops of the rearguard on the far side, including the Poles. With the bridge gone, the only way the stranded troops could avoid death or capture was to cross two rivers, the Pleisse and then the Elster, either on makeshift bridges or by swimming. Meanwhile, Russian and Prussian skirmishers were racing to cut them off.
“Poniatowski retreated from the water fountain, together with his headquarters staff and remaining soldiers. They moved through the Reichel‘s garden and the Rudolf garden towards the river Pleisse under fire from approaching enemy skirmishers. The cuirassiers and some chasseurs were still fighting. General Bronikowski strongly urged the commander-in-chief to swim his horse across the Pleisse. Poniatowski was reluctant to withdraw, but eventually ordered his escort to gain time with one more charge and then jumped into the river. The Pleisse was deep and fast moving due to the autumn rains and Poniatowski’s horse couldn’t make it up the far bank. Seeing him in trouble Hypolite Blechamps, a young French captain on the Headquarters staff, ran to help. (Jadwiga Nadzieja says he was assisted by another aide, Ludwig Kicki, who was shot soon after dragging Poniatowski to the bank). He freed Poniatowski from his horse and pulled him onto the riverbank.
The prince now proceeded for a time on foot. As he retreated through the gardens he was wounded for a fourth time, this time by a musket ball in his side. The wound was serious and only quick attention stopped him from bleeding to death. Poniatowski fell unconscious into the arms of his escort but soon regained his senses. His staff begged him to hand over command to one of his generals and surrender to the Allies so his wounds could be properly treated. Now half-conscious, Poniatowski refused, saying that his honour and duty to his Fatherland would not permit him to do this. With the help of his adjutants, he mounted another horse and supported from both sides, rode along the River Elster towards a crossing place that had been indicated by an officer of engineers.
Allied troops had by now already reached the river and some had even crossed to the other side, shooting at the soldiers as they tried to swim to safety. Bleeding heavily and losing consciousness every few moments Poniatowski’s path was suddenly blocked by an enemy detachment and he turned his horse and jumped in the river. The horse managed with difficulty to reach the far bank, but as it scrambled to get out of the water, Poniatowski was hit again by a musket ball. He slid off the horse into the water and began to drown. Captain Blechamps again jumped in to help him, but soon they both disappeared in the current and neither was seen alive again.
Poniatowski’s corpse was recovered from the Elster by a local fisherman on 24 October and his identity confirmed by Polish prisoners.”
A bit of August Lard
I’ve always liked the look of rules by the Two Fat Lardies but until recently I’d only played Chain of Command, What a Tanker and Pickett’s Charge (which while excellent isn’t exactly a full Lard experience). Lately I have started visiting Staines Wargames Club on a Friday evening, where Lard games are popular. So in the space of a fortnight I had my first taste of Infamy! Infamy! and of Sharp Practice. Both games were great fun.
Arresting the Chief’s son
In my first game of Infamy! I was required to take my Roman patrol to a Gaulish village to arrest the chief’s son for unspecified anti-Roman activities. The men of the village were out hunting at the time my force arrived. Chris had set up an atmospheric village with huts, vegetable patches, sundry rubbish and a palisade wall, surrounded on three sides by forest. I had to check each hut for the presence of the chief’s son, as quickly as possible because Ian’s hunting party was due back at any moment.
The patrol found the suspect in the hut furthest from the village entrance, protected by a group of elite Gallic warriors. Luckily the search party were veteran legionaries and after a tough fight, the chief’s son was in custody. Meanwhile the hunting party had started to arrive. Fortunately for the Romans, no Gauls arrived between the patrol and its line of retreat. The patrol started to retire from the village, pressed by a growing band of angry Gauls. Had the chits been drawn differently, the captive would have been freed but I was fortunate to get enough distance between the patrol and its pursuers that we concluded the arrest had been carried out successfully.
This was a tense and engaging game which really benefited from the storyline. Alas, I was too busy searching huts to take photos but the pretty table and lovely figures were a big contributory factor.
Crossing the Niagara
The following week Chris hosted a game of Sharp Practice, set in the War of 1812. Paul commanded his own British force while I had Chris’ Americans. The scenario was Crossing the Niagara from the War of 1812 Sharp Practice supplement, which involved a US force landing on the Canadian bank against British/Canadian opposition. Again the table was very fine, with some particularly lovely buildings (and this time I have the photos to prove it).
The US forces landed by boat in two waves, One group of British regulars were on the scene at the start while Canadian militia and an artillery piece arrived during the game to reinforce them. The challenge for both sides was to get their troops organised and firing before the opposition managed it. In our game, my US troops were able to form a firing line first and forced the forward-most British unit to retire. The US force maintained this edge for the rest of the game but did not dislodge the British entirely from its positions at the end of the table. Nevertheless the umpire concluded that the US beachhead was secure and so awarded the US a winning draw.
I come late to Sharp Practice and there is nothing original I can add to the reviews already out there. I will say that I enjoyed it very much. The movement and firing mechanisms couldn’t be more straightforward. I love the random sequence of play, which gives suspense to every chit draw. I particularly like the rule that made it difficult to stop my militia from blazing away once they started firing. These rules are great for narrative play and Chris managed the story very well.
On the strength of these games I have bought a pdf of Sharp Practice and some movement trays to use with my 15mm Napoleonics. I have a lot of individually based skirmishers on 20mm round bases and just need to add more command figures. I did briefly consider a 28mm contingent but my investment in 15mm is too big, both in figures and scenery. I have a lot of surplus skirmishers since changing rules from Lasalle to Lasalle 2. Plus, I should be ready to game with them months earlier than if I started on 28s. Being an impatient Wargamer, that is a big advantage!