A pair of wargames exploring the double battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras are described below.
The schematic of the two battlefields above have been scaled down to fit our beloved bit of 5′ by 4′ for the wargame recreation. The scale used is board 1mm = battlefield 2 m; each move represents 5 minutes, and each figure represents 100-120 men using 25mm figures. Thus our 5′ by 4′ board rescales to 3 by 2.4 km on the battlefields. The rules used in the games are here.
The number of troops need to be reduced accordingly to keep the troop density equivalent. The Battle of Ligny was a large affair, with 68,000 French facing 84,000 Prussians. Reducing the scale down by a factor of approximately 3.3 gives an order of battle for Ligny thus.
For Quatre Bras 21,600 French face 28,800 Allied (Dutch/British/Hannoverian/Brunswickers). This makes the scale close to the actual battle.
The order of battle for Quatre Bras is
Quatre Bras was an ‘encounter’ battle, with troops arriving on the battlefield throughout the day. At the start of the battle, the Dutch troops hold the central villages, with the French advancing at 2:00 pm. This battle continued, and at 3:00 pm Napoleon ordered the French troops against the Prussians at Ligny in a set piece battle. Thus the two separate battles, less than 10 miles apart continued in isolation. The confusion of d’Erlon’s corps and its failure to reinforce the French at either battle is accounted for in the movements of the troops.
In these battles, we use the principle of Sauve qui peut to define the level of losses (in terms of base units of 1 figure) sustained by each side before mass panic sets in. The levels are shown below for each battle, adjusted for the time of reinforcements at Quatre Bras.
For both sides, once the threshold of base unit losses exceed the following total percentagesat the specified time on the battlefield, a random number is created (by the linked excel spreadsheet, or a scientific calculator) to ascertain if mass panic has set in,and the rules of Sauve qui peut apply to mass panic.
One additional complicating factor for the wargame is the effect of the weather. The Battle of Ligny was fought in blazing sunshine, apart from just before dusk, when a heavy thunderstorm broke out. To simulate the capricious nature of the thunderstorm, a random number is generated to determine the visibility and movement.
There are 3 levels, showing the effect on visibility on the battlefield, the effect on movement and artillery, together with the reduction in effective musket range for infantry. Every move the thhunderstorm continues a fresh random number is generated, and teh effects above are immediately applied.
The generals refighting the battle use suspension of disbelief, so that if enemy troops are bearing down unseen upon your own because of the snow visibility, you cannot react until they would emerge… as happened during the original battle.
The account of the wargames is given by time at half hour intervals across both battles; the high view shared by our Olympians who comment on the actions below.
At Quatre Bras
The Prince of Orange sees the French under the command of Marshal Ney come marching towards his troops in an endless stream. Who was who said one more days work would see the job done?
“Hier komen de Franse” his men call out.
The Prince de la Moskowa, veteran of countless battles sees his old Batavian comrades before him. They march to the sounds of La Victoire est à Nous! and the cries of “Vive l’empereur! En avant! En avant!”.
At Quatre Bras
The French occupy the central hill overlooking the farmstead of Gemioncourt using l’ordre mixte, The Dutch await the attack that is building towards the village of L’Erale, which protects their left flank.
On the road from Ligny rides The Duke of Wellington, anxious to reach the Dutch troops in the centre before the storm breaks. Where are his English troops, sent this way before daybreak? He consoles himself that so far, the French storm has not broken.
At Quatre Bras
From afar, la musique d’brutals arrives. The guns of Napoleon’s army have begun their assault on the Prussians, and the sound carries to those fighting at Quatre Bras.
French cavalry has arrived and it places itself between this action and the approaching columns, making their way towards the waiting Dutch lines of infantry.
Behind the Dutch lines, Wellington’s silent prayers have been answered and Picton’s brigade appears, led by the 95th Rifles and followed by the 42nd Highlander and the 44th East Essex. Veterans of the Peninsular campaign, Wellington knows that with enough of these men, he can hold up the French till nightfall. His promise to Blucher and the Prussians to reinforce them hangs in the balance of how many Frenchies appear here at the crossroads of Quatre Bras.
Napoleon has heard with satisfaction the sound of cannon fire coming from the distant battlefield were Marshal Ney is engaged. Hopefully his tempestuous redheaded friend will soon rout the enemies before him, and heed the call to swing the remainder of his army towards the Prussian foes he faces today. Napoleon remembers well today he entered Berlin as master in 1807, and the day Prussians entered Paris last year, his star fallen. Revanche is all.
Across the line of brooks which separates his troops from the French, Field Marshal Blucher immediately orders his cannons to counter the fire coming from the French. He too remembers these events; the stain of 1806-1807 and the glory of 1814. This time he will stop Napoleon in his tracks, and send the ogre of Europe packing. If Vellington and his men can come to his support so much the better. He will beat the French either way.
From afar, Fortuna Belli understands two battles seek her attention today. Whom shall she bless? The same side, or one from each of the protagonists?
At Quatre Bras
The Dutch flee from L’Erale and are attacked by pursuing cavalry who sabre their former Batavian comrades with no mercy. Flanking fire from the Dutch in Piramont force the Hussars to retire. One Dutch battalion, fleeing for its life runs into the Delhutte woods, where they rally to pour fire on any French troops close by.
The French venture down the hill before Gemioncourt and test the resolve of the awaiting Dutch. Slowly the pressure builds, Fortuna Belli favours the bold, and the Dutch are forced to retire. Apart from their fortified village, the Dutch pull back to a new line behind Gemioncourt. They place a horse artillery battery in the lee of the village, to provide flanking fire.
Behind this line Picton’s troops advance, reaching the hard pressed Dutch. The Greenjackets work their way through the Dutch troops, moving to the right flank. Behind Picton’s men are Hanoverian troops loyal to George III and his commander, Wellington.
On the left of the battlefield, the French III Corps, led by Marshal Vandamme, advance to attack the village of St Amand. The Prussian defenders from von Zieten’s I Corps put up a furious resistance. One battalion of the French breaks and retreats, sufficiently disrupting the attack for Le Chapeau to go and steady the men.
On the right of the battlefield a battle rages around the village of Boignee. The French capture the village from the Prussians, who immediately rally and counter-attack; .
Artillery batteries trade blows with each other. So far the honours and the casualties are even in this battle.
At Quatre Bras
The Allied centre is now set to face a concerted attack from French Hussars, infantry and distant artillery fire. The left flank is covered by the Materne Pond, the lynchpin Gemioncourt village. To the right of this, Picton’s men form a line out to Bossau Wood. The French push on to the waiting Goddams, their first test of fire from since peace was ended 100 days ago. The experienced soldiers note with little enthusiasm, their apparent calmness at the sound of la Musique, and les Sauterelles who outrange their Charlevilles.
On their right the field belongs to the French, as they drive home against the village of Piramont and the defending Dutch. Wellington, aware that his left flank could be turned, thus cutting him off from the Prussians diverts the Hanoverians towards the sound of this battle.
Ney is pleased with progress so far and urges the cavalry onwards, joining their attack, to the delight of Mars and the displeasure of Minerva, who prefers her generals to direct battles, not fight them.
Wellington knows this battle is a race to get the most troops onto the field as fast as possible. The matter is out of his hands; he awaits the distant calls of bugles, fifes and drums. In the distance Apollo listens to the melodies that accompany such mayhem. He gives more strong sunlight to the battlefield; and reckons some four hours will pass before Nox begins to hold sway with her encroaching darkness.
On the left of the battlefield, the French assault from Vandamme’s III Corps has swept away the Prussian defenders from the villages of St Amand and La Haye. But the Prussians will not give up without a fight, and counter-attack with Bucher signalling the advance of von Zeithen’s I Corps. The men needed little encouragement, Vörwarts is their motto.
On the right of the battlefield, the attacks on Boignee and Torgrenelle continue. The French take both villages, and the Prussians attempt to retake them.
In the centre, Napoleon stays his hand and does not advance yet. Better to let the wings of the Prussian army feel his wrath, and call on Blucher to denude his centre of troops to reinforce his losses. When the moment is right he will advance with his Imperial Guard and win another famous victory.
At Quatre Bras
On their right, the French have captured Piramont and send the Dutch troops fleeing. Rather than press on towards the next village of Thyle, the French commander swings his infantry round past Materne Pond. If Fortuna Belli is kind to his men, they can roll up the Allied line and send Milord Wellington packing. One battalion of Hanoverians joins the Dutch to face down this threat. To their rear rides Hussars, which may slow the French down.
In the centre, the line of English red has held against the French, with a little help from the horse artillery battery besides Gemioncourt . They have seen off a cavalry charge and an infantry attack. This rebuff only acts as a spur to Ney who screams at his men to push on. But how to breach the red line?
The French left wing is now secure, and the troops have captured Wagnelée in addition to St Amand and La Haye. French infantry from Vandamme’s III Corps cross Ligny brook and advance towards the centre of the Prussian position. This unsupported attack must surely be repelled? But beyond these positions, Prussian cavalry has ridden and the defeated French Hussars on the extreme left of the French army. Because of this setback, Napoleon sends Carabiners from his heavy cavalry reserve to secure this flank.
In the centre all is still calm apart from the continuous exchange of artillery fire, which takes its toll. The awaiting French infantry know their time to attack will come.
On the right of the French position, progress is slow but steady. Torgrenelle falls to the Prussians, who send the French infantry battalion scuttling back towards their main lines. Supporting cavalry in the form of dragoons fights and defeats Prussian cuirassiers, and they are send back across the brook.
So far, Fortuna Belli has not overly favoured one side or the other.
At Quatre Bras
On the Allied left flank, a combination of Hussars and Hanoverian infantry push the French back is disarray towards Piramont. The pressure is relieved by the French light cavalry in their centre, sent round to repulse their Dutch opponents. At this point the battle is poised, with Fortuna Belli favouring neither side.
In the centre, the struggle for Gemioncourt rages. The occupying Dutch battalion is routed by a well pressed attack, led by Ney. This in turn is checked and eventually repulsed, but not before the Allied horse battery is destroyed. The supporting red line of Picton’s brigade becomes disorganised in the attacks, but it holds.
The Brunswickers are diverted away from the centre towards the left flank by an aide de camp sent by the Duke of Wellington. Wellington can see that for now his steadfast English veterans hold the centre, as expected, and the left flank is the weak point for the French.
Blücher counter-attacks the French infantry at La Haye and Wagnelee, and a fierce infantry battle breaks out. Vandamme decides to send forward his last reserves. The French carabiners, with Hussars in support sweep across Ligny brook in an attempt to outflank the Prussians and take their infantry in the rear of their lines. Blucher, being an old Hussar himself is alert to this trick, and commits all his cavalry within immediate reach of this attack.
On the left flank of the French, their dragoons have swept away the Prussian cavalry counter-attack before Boignée. The battle is still evenly balanced.
At Quatre Bras
Fortuna Belli favours the Allies on the left flank, and the cavalry push forwards between the villages of Piramont and L’Erale. French light cavalry reinforcements move forward to engage them in turn. In essence, the whole mêlée has moved forwards some 400 m. The Hanoverian infantry march forward and rout of the French infantry forced into square by the wheeling cavalry attack. Aide after aide comes to Marshal Ney begging for more reserves. Despite the dire situation in the centre, the chance to lead a cavalry counter charge proves too much for him and he moves over to seek another moments glory. This is much to the approval of Mars who revels in the fight, and disapproval of Minerva who prefers her generals to lead the strategy, not the combat.
Repeated attacks by the French in the centre are beaten off, and the English red line, pinned by the green jackets on the edge of the wood of Bossau moves forward.
A huge wave of Prussian cavalry and infantry breaks over the French advancing on the left flank and sends them reeling backwards. Even the Carabiners cannot withstand this attack, and the Prussian cavalry sweep over the brook down towards the French infantry reserve repulsed from Wagnelée. The battle around La Haye continues to rage, with neither side taking an advantage.
From afar the scales tip slightly towards the French, as their advance on their right flank remorselessly continues. The French have recaptured Tongrenelle.
At Quatre Bras
How quickly a change of whim from Fortuna Belli can affect a battle. Wellington sees his cavalry on the left flank flee before the overwhelming numbers of French Hussars, led by Ney. He leaves his secure centre to ride over to the position of crisis and tries to rally who he can. Ney, exultant pushes the Hussars on, trapping the Hanoverian infantry into squares. One hussar regiment tries its luck and attacks the square. The infantry fire volley after volley at them.
The French heavy cavalry reserve arrives on the battlefield, and is directed to attack the English line head-on. The irresistible force, clad in steel breastplates, thundering horses right down towards the immovable red line. As the charge progresses, French artillery rains down onto the waiting English who merely curse their luck.
The first line of French cavalry is repulsed, but the second seems to do better with one square breaking under the duress.
Through the wood of Bossau a new English division is winding its way through the road towards the Allied right.
Napoleon rides over to help rally his troops on the left flank. His presence has an immediate calming effect and at once the troops focus on the task at hand. They push forward and fling the Prussians backwards. The French carabiners separate from their Hussar colleagues and attack a regiment of Prussian Uhlans contesting one of the many bends of Ligny brook. The French retake W.
Having settled affairs on his left flank, Napoleon rides back to the centre, and begins the attack against Ligny and its waiting Prussian infantry. Now the real trial of strength can begin. Success here will guarantee glory for all, including the Emperor.
On the right flank, the French infantry and cavalry debouch across the brook, sweeping the Prussians before them.
At Quatre Bras
The French cavalry on the left are repulsed by the resolute firing from the squares, and shielded from further attack by a regiment of hussars, Dutch, Hanoverian and Brunswick infantry push on.
The French Heavy cavalry in the centre have been repulsed and pull back behind their infantry, who await orders, either to advance or retire.
The column of English infantry have made their way through the Bossau woods, and begin advancing, threatening to flank the French on their left.
Wellington is sure now that he can win if the full weight of this relief column can be brought to bear on the French.
Fortuna Belli has now decided that Napoleon will have one another great victory.
This is now apparent on the right-wing of the French, as they drive the Prussians back across the brook towards Sombreffe. There is a real danger that the Prussian army may be taken in the flank if the French can drive forward.
On the left and the centre, despite their tenacious resolve, the Prussians are being steadily driven backwards in confusion. Between the Mill at Ligny and the village a battalion of Landwehr holds a line. Behind them, Prussian regular infantry attempt to rally.
To the rear of the Prussian line, a steady stream of troops are withdrawing towards the impending night and imminent safety.
Napoleon sees the whole battle in relation to its separate parts, and realises that time to send the Old Guard forward has arrived. He shall smash these impudent Prussians and send them back to Germany with their tails between their legs. The Old Guard follow their master across Ligny Brook.
At Quatre Bras
On the left flank the allied advance continues, with Brunswick and Hanoverian infantry seeking to recapture the village of Piramont. The French cling on for now, but they are heavily outnumbered, with no visible sign of support from other troops.
In order to stem the advance on the Allied right flank, French Dragoons charge the advancing English infantry, who quickly form square and fight them off.
The Allied line advances in the centre. The remnants of Picton’s division move forward to take the hills before Gemioncourt. A regiment of French Cuirassiers attempts to flank this attack , but are met by artillery fire and English Dragoons. This combination causes the French to retire.
Ney ponders whether to withdraw. He know that unless d’Erlon’s corps appears to give him more troops, he will be pushed off the battlefield. It appears Fortuna Belli has not stood by him today. He has known worse defeats, and looks forwards to taking his revanche another day.
The skies darken and the heavens open, according to the will of Jupiter Tonans. He hurls his thunderbolts down onto the battlefield below. As the rain falls, the speed with which men can march and can see each other to fight diminishes. Muskets and canons lessen in their brutality; the fight belongs once again to cold steel.
The Prussians cling onto the village of Ligny in the centre of the battlefield. The Old Guard has reached the windmill that formed the centrepiece of Bluchers defensive line. Blücher sees the battle fall away from his control but will not yet concede defeat. He urges these men on for one more attack “Vörwards, Vörwards”! but the mud holds his men back. He also cannot see that his right-wing is slowly retreating off the battlefield and into the fast approaching night.
Through the veil of the falling rain, Napoleon sees the Prussians slowly pull back. He must urge his men on to close with them and destroy their army, here, now, the better to conserve his men’s strength for the next fight that must soon come. One hours extra exertion now will bring weeks of rest later.
At Quatre Bras
The Allied line now stretches across the battlefield, from Delhutte woods to Bossau woods. The French are beaten and retire, with Ney cursing, frustrated at his early lost opportunity to crush the Dutch and seize the crossroads.
Victory once again blesses the Duke of Wellington, his redcoats, and the other nations that fight alongside him.
In the distance, the cannonfire at Ligny still echoes, and an ominous storm cloud gathers where the battle rages, hastening the arrival of Nox and darkness. Wellington sees the French pull back, but does not give chase. He has no means of knowing whether Blucher and his Prussians have held against Napoleon, so he must conserve his force for whatever tomorrow brings.
The thunderstorm still rages, with Jupiter Tonans displaying his wrath. Soon he will be joined by Nox, and the light on the battlefield is rapidly decreasing.
Blücher orders his men to retreat by division, so that some order can emerge from the chaos of defeat. His cannons defend the front and prevents the French infantry from progressing.
Napoleon rides to the rear, finds his heavy cavalry reserve, and orders them to ride to the extreme of his left flank and try to break through and seal off the Prussian retreat that he senses is occurring. He has won his great victory, but to what extent?
Jupiter Tonans work is still not complete, and together with Nox it is difficult for the participants to see what each other are doing. The Prussians are steadily withdrawing, the French refusing to pursue them down, as the days fatigues and rain takes its toil.
The French heavy cavalry reserve have made some progress to their end destination but are still some distance away. The mud is impeding their progress; the will of man cannot overcome the stuff of nature in the time left before darkness ends the combat.
Napoleon senses that the result of the day’s labour will give him three-quarters of the victory he desired. He believes the Prussians will now withdraw back to their homeland. He can announce a victory on the streets of Paris, and give his heart one more priceless boost before fate calls his name to another battlefield, and another fight.
Blücher’s will is not broken; withdrawal is necessary today, but tomorrow is another day. He will rally his men, feed them, and let them rest for one day. Then he will go searching for the ogre of Europe, and defeat him with help of Wellington’s men.
Victory smiles once more on Napoleon, her most successful general in the age of destiny, and he smiles back at her. The field of glory and its carpet of cadavers once more belongs to him and his troops.
He sees beyond the moment in the spreading darkness of Nox, and in the near distance shimmers the Fata Morgana of another decisive battle and another greeting from Victory. This time it will against the redcoats of the British, and the other little nations that cling to the coat of their leader, the Iron Duke.
Here’s an animated gif for each move in the battles.
The battle of Quatre Bras
The battle of Ligny
The Duke of Wellington