Sunday, June 18, 2023

1812 Campaign in Russia, The Northern Front - Aftermath

 Snappy Nappy Campaign-in-a-Day 2022: The Aftermath

By Mark T., Kevin C., Steve T., and an idea from Mark H. as well.

Preface To Another Report
By Mark T.

In January of 2023, I received an interesting submission from Kevin C for the 2022 Snappy Nappy Campaign-in-a-Day event. He wrote up his viewpoint of the event as a testimony of General Merle given in front of a tribunal in France some time after Oudinot is wounded on the first day of the First Battle of Polotsk. The campaign-in-a-day event didn’t end up taking things out to that spot on the timeline of history, although I then asked Steve T. (who played Oudinot during the event) for a write up of what Oudinot’s testimony might be.

Then I decided to use Mark H‘s ideas regarding what he had mentioned regarding what he was likely going to do as Verdier, if play had continued with the event further, in an additional story bit regarding ta French overall withdrawal to Polotsk. Also, I wrote another piece on the actual Battle of Polotsk from the perspective of Wittgenstein, and then wrote a final bit regarding Berthier’s and Napoleon’s view as the Emperor was continuing his push towards Moscow historically.

As a side note, much of what is contained here has a strong basis on what actually was occurring at the time. The tribunal is a way of telling the story of the gaming, while Verdier and Oudinot were both really wounded, Kulnieff actually did lose his life, the French in reality did retire to Polotsk, where they managed to hold off Wittgenstein’s smaller force over two days, St. Cyr earned his Marshall’s baton, and this set the stage for a period of stalemate in the area before the fighting was more fully resumed further out in time.

Unfortunately that last bit of writing regarding Berthier and Napoleon became more of a project than initially expected, and I scrapped the first draft. Meanwhile, convention season in New England began, and the delay continued on redoing the final story piece.

However, the good side of this is that these steps along the way have inspired me to perhaps develop a new scenario for Snappy Nappy Campaign-in-a-Day. The idea is to have a second scenario created from the positions of the French and Russians after the First Battle of Polotsk, yet we’ll see.

Meanwhile, we hope folks enjoy this final installment of story for the event held at the end of October in 2022, and watch for this year’s event when the War of the 5th Coalition in 1809 is to be featured.

The French 2nd Corp Redeploys
by Mark T.

General Verdier lay on his field cot, and recalling the events of the last few days, as the pain in his body was being still being resisted, and after the medical care that been administered.

Having to pull back from the area around Kliastitzy days before, Verdier’s division had established a line of defense south of Golovichitsa, and on the rise that lay latitudinal with the Jvanowka farm complex. The latter had been admirably defended by General LeGrand’s division. However, it didn’t take long before the Russians had set up for their next push towards the French, and a new artillery bombardment had begun.

Before issuing orders for a further fighting withdrawal, it had occurred to Verdier that it was time to send another communication to General Oudinot, and to make it clear that he and Legrand’s forces were only going to likely delay the Russians as the push towards Polotsk moved forward. He was very blunt in his next message, that they would most definitively need reinforcements, likely the entire 2nd Corp, if the town of Polotsk were to remain in French control.

As the French were in full motion with their newest pull back, there was a moment when Legrand galloped up to Verdier on the road back through Sokolitchi. The conversation centered around Legrand’s idea to use the narrow pass through the woods, and the ridge just below it near Oboiarchina as a position for the massing of their artillery to slow the Russians down as best as possible. Verdier had consented to the idea, and the two of them had put the defense into place.

This had not been a pretty situation for some of the Russian cavalry, as they’d gotten a bit too far ahead of the infantry, and rode their horses into the view of the trap that had set, and the artillery fire that was launched. Many horses and riders lost their lives that day, and the remains of Russians that retreated back across shallow river at Siwochina had been hit in the rear by some of Castex’s light cavalry, giving plenty of time for the rest of the French to proceed further south through Bieloe.

When the Verdier’s and Legrand’s divisions arrived just above Gamzelov, they found General St. Cyr’s Bavarians already passing through the area, and making their way back to Polotsk. Apparently Verdier’s word had gotten through, and General Oudinot had issued a retreat away from Disna. General Merle’s primarily Swiss division had served masterfully above Disna, and had been pulling rear guard duty, yet now Oudinot had ordered the newly arriving divisions of Verdier and Legrand to relieve Merle’s force before making their own final withdrawal towards Polotsk behind Merle, and the Bavarians of General Wrede and Von Deroy.

However, during the last few hours of the most recent day, as Verdier’s division acted as a rear guard to the rest of the 2nd Corp on the outskirts of Gamezelov, Verdier had found himself on the ground after being seriously wounded. He sensed that it remained to be seen when he’d be healthy enough for a return to command any time soon, if at all, and one of his brigadiers would need to serve as the new divisional commander instead.

General Wittengenstein at the First Battle of Polotsk
by Mark T.

Before the Battle ...

It was August 17th, a Monday, and General Wittgenstein sat on his horse on the fringe of the forest located well to north west of Polotsk. A member of his staff had questioned his orders for them to wait behind while he moved to the edge of the woods, yet he hadn’t wanted to draw attention to himself with all the flags and orderlies around him, and so he insisted they remain behind as he moved forward alone in the early morning light just coming up over the eastern horizon.

The Russian 1st Corp had lost many of his men as they kept the French from getting to Sebej. A portion of his soldiers had also provided a stiff fight north of Disna, although the French had pulled out of that area as well. And in following up after the Russian victory at Klyastitsy, Wittgenstein had lost his top cavalry commander, when General Kulnieff had lost his life in pursuing the enemy near Oboiarschina, as the French had been making a fighting withdrawal south towards Polotsk.

Having had his forward observer seriously wounded, perhaps even mortally so, back at Drissa, when a French aide de camp, accompanied an anti-Czarist Russian, along with a French cavalryman, apparently had confronted the former horse farmer across the open water near Drissa. Wittgenstein’s scout had taken a pistol shot to the chest. Surprisingly, the scout was still alive, although in no shape to be helping Wittgenstein and his army currently.

And now Wittgenstein decided to see for himself how the French were positioned in the area around Polotsk, while his army was continuing to approach the town in force. It seemed the French General Oudinot had positioned his forces on both sides of the Polota River, and it might be possible to strike on the west bank, have a show of force in front of where the heights were being held by the French across from the town, and also strike at the village of Spass to see if the Russian 1st Corp could weaken the position enough to help force the French out of Polotsk, and back south and over the River Dwina.

General Wittgenstein returned to his staff, and began to issue the orders for the attack to proceed as soon as all the Russian units were in the positions needed to begin the plan. Hopefully he could catch the French divided as they were, and cause them to retreat accordingly.

- - -

Two Days of Fighting …

Darkness was approaching at the end of the second day of battle on August 18th., and things had not gone as well as General Wittgenstein would have preferred. He had earlier issued orders for a general retreat, and now it seemed there was a slowness in pursuit by the French infantry that had succeeded in taking the town of Prissminitza.

Wittgenstein would chalk his success with his Corp’s withdrawal to the Russian dragoons and cuirassiers that he ordered to perform a final charge in the center which took advantage of some newly advanced French artillery being only protected by one light cavalry regiment. This seemed to disrupt the French long enough for the Russian retreat to continue with relative ease.

The first day of the battle had mixed results. The Russians had made good their plan to a degree, and the French left flank and center had moved back to the edge of the Polota River. However, the Bavarians had remained in control of Spass, and that area had not been taken by Wittgenstien’s troops.

Over night Wittgenstein’s reserve units had arrived, yet he was fully aware of his continued inferiority in numbers even with these new soldiers being available. Thus it was his plan to retreat to the Bieloe, northwest of Polotsk, but not before seeing what the French would be doing in the morning.

Wittgenstein foresaw two possibilities. The first might be the French retreating further and thus out of Polotsk, allowing for his own army to occupy the town, and the second was that the French would not leave, and then he would retire as planned.

But there was a third option, and one in which Wittgenstein had not expected. The French had remained inactive most of the new morning. However, it seemed some of the French units then began to back up from their overnight positions, and Wittgenstein decided to hold longer to see if this was the start of a French retreat.

Instead, the French had merely been redeploying, and at 4:30pm, the Bavarian artillery on the French right flank had opened fire, and soon after, a general assault by the Bavarian infantry was fully underway. And so the French had decided to attack.

The fighting had been fierce the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening hours, as Wittgenstein began to conduct the retreat that he had previously planned. Casualties had been high, both in officers and regular soldiers.

Now Wittgenstein looked one more time in the dwindling light of the day, before turning his horse to move just ahead of the rear guard actions that had been assigned to Kulnieff’s replacement, General Helfriech. As Wittgenstein rode away, his thoughts turned to the next position his army would take, and in what he expected would be an ongoing effort to keep the French hemmed into their positions, at least for the time being.

Extract from the Testimony of General Merle at the Official Inquiry into the Actions of Marshal Oudinot during the Recent Occupation of Russia
by Kevin C.

“Esteemed members of the Tribunal, I have been summoned  to shed further light upon the conduct of Marshal Oudinot during our time in Russia. I can, and will, only testify as to the occasions where I was under his command. I will not speculate as to the reasons he abandoned his command and returned to France. He has repeatedly stated that it was due to his injury, and who are we to doubt him for that. The Marshal has been wounded many times before, and while none of those resulted in him returning to France, perhaps this time it was more serious than any could tell.

I shall begin with the action at Disna. As others have testified about the strategic miscues that resulted in the battle I shall not revisit those. I do have to commend the coalition troops under my command, and the Bavarians that arrived as well. They all fought fiercely and heroically overcoming heavy odds to defeat the Russian Hordes that outnumbered us. I can do no more to honor them than to repeat, once again, what the Emperor said about them 'They fought like true Frenchmen and I wish I had a corps of them.'

Regarding the battle itself, I shall be brief and succinct in the description of it. If I have left out any of the heroics of others it is an accident and due to the high tide of martial feats sometimes washing over the feats of individual.

Knowing that the Russians would be sending large forces along the roads next to Disna, due to the scouting carried out earlier by the cavalry who met heavy resistance from the Russian scouts. We deduced at least three different units, indicating they were very interested in our road.

We were preparing the town and bridge for defense when we received orders directly from Marshal Oudinot that we were to abandon the town, bridge, and fortifications, move into the open fields at the confluence of three roads, along with sending our cavalry brigade along the river road to Drissa, where we already were aware the bridge was down, and the Russians were not rebuilding them. This had the unintended, but expected, consequence of leaving my division without cavalry support for a significant amount of time.

As we have heard in other testimony, as soon as the cavalry was out of sight the Russian divisions started to appear. Fortunately, if there is one thing the Russians can be expected to do, it is not coordinate their advances. The first of the enemy divisions appeared on the road to our north.
The lead Swiss brigade swung to face them, dropped into line, bloodied their nose, and brought them to a standstill despite being outnumbered at least 2 to 1. As this initial action was being decided, the 2nd of the enemy divisions appeared and started to come into action. They contained a brigade of cavalry which sped ahead to try to cross the bridge behind the rest of the Swiss. Fortunately I had taken the initiative to amend parts of the Marshal's orders, left my Croats in the town, and they were able to hold off the enemy cavalry until my cavalry returned, brought back by a hard riding ADC who unluckily did not survive the battle, and who heroically charged across the bridge, destroying the Russian cavalry.

Then to our amazement a third Russian division appeared. I say our amazement because we had been assured by Oudinot that the Russians would not be coming down this road at all.

Some of you are asking where was the Marshal during all this? We have heard from Oudinot's aides that he was present and stopped the Russian advance by himself with a cavalry brigade. All I can answer is that while I did hear that he was present at some point on the battlefield, I or my staff personally never saw or heard from him, nor received any orders from him that afternoon. After the battle was over I did speak to the last few survivors of a French Cuirassier regiment. They told of being ordered to charge a Russian established gun line, their brigade commander, who would be here testifying, but he was killed in the second charge. The brigade ended being commanded by a sous-lieutenant, argued against it on the grounds of it being folly. Oudinot angrily ordered the charge to go forward "to encourage the others". The result was as expected, and then they were ordered to do it again. The Brigade ceased to exist, and so ceased to be a threat to the flank of the Russians. At this time Oudinot was seen to leave the battlefield. I for one will not use the wording "abandoning the survivors" as others have.

This, unfortunately, was the result of a commander not understanding what his role was. Oudinot was a Corps commander, not a brigade commander. Perhaps one of his numerous injuries was causing him to think he was still a general of a grenadier brigade. However that is not my decision to make. That is a decision for you esteemed members of the tribunal.

During this time, the advanced scouts of the Bavarians arrived and informed me that their divisions were coming along the road to my south and would be arriving within the hour. This news was happily accepted as the Russians were starting to consolidate and coordinate their attack, including bringing up a large battery. Repositioning the hard fighting Swiss and Croats along with my sole Dutch brigade to face this new threat I was pleasantly surprised by the arrival of a small Bavarian division with cavalry from my rear, on my side of the river. We immediately went into attack with them and threw back the Russians on my left flank, nearest the river, this allowed me to straighten my line, so I no longer was aligned akin to a fish hook.

The Bavarians on the south side of the river began to arrive in earnest and started to establish themselves to bring pressure on the Russians. As we have heard in their testimony, this did not go as smoothly as it could have. While the majority of Bavarians fought hard and faithfully, they were let down by the rawness and inexperience of a couple of regiments, though they did redeem themselves in subsequent actions. After this the action became a stalemate with the Russians unwilling to try to force an issue against the determination of my Division, and the Bavarians, even though they heavily outnumbered us.

I will conclude my testimony with the declaration that I am proud of how we fought that day, we being my Swiss, Croatian, and Dutch troops alongside the Bavarians, under I am humbled to continue to serve under the new Corps commander, General St. Cyr, and his promotion to the heralded ranks of the Marshalate. Under his command, we have shown what we are capable of accordingly.

I will end by thanking the tribunal for allowing me to speak freely, and per the Emperor's command I will honor your request for my thoughts on Marshal Oudinot. He has shown himself a loyal and dedicated subject of the Emperor, and is quite an excellent Divisional commander for which he has received well deserved praise. He truly does understand that role.

Yours in respect,
General Merle

Marshall Oudinot’s Letter of Testimony
by Steve T.

To the honorable members of the Tribunal, with respect to yourselves and fellow General Merle, I will take the liberty of sharing my experience of the first battle of Polotsk, and the unexpected defeat which was cause for the retreat of the left wing. General Merle, who’s integrity and honor I respect now, and then, is right to feel dissatisfied with the outcome of our efforts, the General’s malaise is shared by all soldiers of every rank who engaged at Polotsk; a sentiment shared by all who are fortunate enough to have yet survived such a dreadful campaign. I will spare this letter of all disparaging remarks with exception of the following; General Merle, you have earned your place in the Grand Armee, as have I. And I proudly wear my wounds with an equal pride to any medal and tassel; while to deliver my command to Marshal Saint-Cyr is evidence enough of the severity of my injury sustained at Polotsk. Even now, as I recover, I have accepted the orders from the Empeor to return to the task of leadership; Vive La France!

Regarding meeting the Russian forces at Disna, this was always the intention. The decision to deploy outside of the town was made with the knowledge that reinforcements would arrive behind General Merle’s forces and reinforce his lines and provide defense of the town as necessary. What was not planned for, and to great consequence was the timing of the Russian arrival to the field. Yes, the honorable General Merle was outnumbered, and his organization of defense and adherence to my order to keep position is nothing less than commendable. Whether the Russian commanders or Merle were aware, the crossroads that Merle made his line at was a road that traveled to Polotsk which was practically without garrison. It is the obedience and sheer resolve of the Swiss that prevented a swift disaster.

Not long into the battle I arrived from the south of the crossroad, while General Merle’s line was to the West, the amassing Russians were to the North and North East. I cannot claim it was entirely intentional, but my unexpected arrival seemed to, for a time, confuse and frighten the Russians from organizing and overwhelming the Swiss. This fortunate bluff would not last forever, as the day went on it was evident that there was no infantry in tow of the few Cuirassiers and horse drawn guns. It was the Russian’s reaction then to use their guns to cause damage to both Merle’s regiments and my own with woeful little in return. To give up the right flank, the crossroad, and all ground that side of the Disna before the reinforcing Bavarians could properly organize on the left flank was unacceptable. In the spirit of Monzembano, the calvary was ordered to charge the Russian batteries which had been abusing us for too long. It was becoming clear that the Second Corp was not going to reach St. Petersburg, therefore all measures had to be taken to keep the roads to Polotsk safe.

When our Bavarian allies arrived, I had already received reports that the brigades tasked with securing the road to St. Petersburg were just as severely outnumbered as we were and at risk of being caught out of position. It was my own order for those forces to make a hurried retreat to the south.

In conclusion we were doomed to simultaneously fight a defensive and offensive battle. It was my strategy to have General Merle position himself aggressively to dissolve the Russian advances as it approached Disna. When it was soon obvious that this order left his command at risk of encirclement, he carried on my orders to my approval until my injury and subsequent end of the day’s battle. It is to be acknowledged that all of my generals obeyed orders both to attack and retreat. Had they not, surely many more of our soldiers could have been overrun and lost.

As the campaign has developed we should be so humbled by the vastness of the Russian countryside, and the people who have found the courage to defend it.

Marshal Nicolas Charles Oudinot, Duke of Reggio

Nearer To Moscow Than Polotsk
by Mark T.

Marshall Louis-Alexandre Berthier stood with the Emperor just outside the large tent being used as his headquarters for the evening. The Marshall had watched as Napoleon ordered the guards to move off out of ear shot, so that the conversation could then begin. The Emperor had followed their progress away with his eyes, before then speaking once again to his chief of staff.

In a low voice, “My friend, now you may proceed.”

Berthier took one very quick look around their immediate surroundings before speaking.

Marshall Murat and Ney have sent word that the Russians appear to have retreated again, this time to the Borodino area.”

There was a brief and low murmur from Napoleon, as he looked away into his immediate thoughts, “Hmmm.”

Berthier continued, “Some of Murat’s men captured two cossacks, and they revealed that the Czar has appointed a new over-all commanding General for the Russian army.”

Napoleon looked back at Berthier with one eye slightly raised as he asked his question, “And who has the Czar chosen to replace Barclay-de-Tolly?”

It seems that Alexander has chosen General Kutusov to take over.”

Napoleon’s next question came quickly, “And is there word as to why?”

It seems some of the other Russian generals weren’t happy with de Tolly’s leadership, and rumor has it that General Bagration was particularly critical before the change occurred.”

Napoleon was silent for a few seconds, yet then summarized his view of the situation, “De Tolly slipped from my attempt to encircle him at Drissa, retreated from Vitebsk to Smolensk, linked up with Bagration there, and it appears they have retreated again.

There was only a slight pause, and the Emperor continued, “Perhaps Bagration’s politics have served him well, and Kutusov will certainly bring a morale boost for the Russians. Yet regardless, one way or another, we will catch the Russians, defeat them, and then drive for Moscow accordingly.”

Berthier hesitated, questioning whether or not he should bring it up again, and decided it was best, “Your Imperial majesty, I realize this has been pointed out previously, although I feel the need to express this again. We still must be careful with our lines of communication back to France.”

Napoleon’s voice came back with more questions, “Is there some sort of further threat to our northern flank? My new Marshall, General St. Cyr has already demonstrated his ability to hold Wittgenstein back, is there something new I should know about?”

Berthier was again direct, “Marshall St. Cyr has indeed performed a great service, although his latest report mentions how he has had to divide his forces up across the area to obtain more space for the accummulation of additional food sources, and other supplies. It also mentions that the Russian’s have been having some of their troops achieving some positive results in thwarting these efforts, and this could hamper the activities of our soldiers’ defensive capabilities as we could lose men to the various ways in which such situations can develop.”

Napoleon’s head turned again, and then back in Berthier’s direction once more, “Have the new Marshall continue his efforts, even expand them, so that he sees to it that his men have what they need. Yet enough of that, and instead, let’s see to it that we get an update on Kutusov’s overall position, so that we can plan our next attack, and defeat them.”

Napoleon’s head turned towards the soldiers that had moved off moments ago, “Guards!”

Bear hats turned, and the Emperor continued, “Return to your positions.”

Berthier then stated, “I will see to it immediately, and next I return, the information will be presented.”

Napoleon spoke one last time before his Chief-Of-Staff moved off, “Thank you my good General, and I look forward to it as soon as possible.”


  1. Very much looking to scup of tea and devouring this Peter. As fate should have it we also played a Snappy Nappy Campaign in a day on Sunday set in the Peninsula organised by the brilliant Darren T.

    1. Really?! Awesome, Carlo! Is there/will there be a write up?

    2. I think Darren is preparing a YouTube video similar to his one on Marengo. I’ll let you know when it’s completed.