Part 1 of this campaign (for me) was the playing out of the maneuvers of the players for the Battle of Thuin.
Battle of Thuin…the morning.
It was a wonderful asset to have a portion of the reserve to reinforce his contingent Steinmetz mused. But for it to be of full use, it must be deployed, along with his own artillery, in the open plain in front of the town. To protect the guns, he was forced to deploy before the town and not in the better defensive position within, and thus, in the open. He hoped the guns might reduce the French attack but it would depend upon the numbers the French would place against him. He certainly wondered why he was so isolated.
Steinmetz deployed his meager units in a line south of the town, with the jagers in the woods in a position to offer a threat to the French left as they advanced from the south. The various limbers, wagons and caissons of the artillery were arrayed in an area to the north-west of the town along the road network.
The French General Vandamme certainly did not believe in subtlety and advanced on a broad front with his horse on the far right (east) to swing in behind Thuin to cut off any Prussian retreat.
He soon discovered the firepower of the extra guns used by the Prussians but continued to press the point. One of Lefol’s brigades recoiled out to the woods in a failed attempt to clear the Prussian jagers and Vandamme was forced to move his reserve of Girard’s small division to keep the jagers threat at bay.
|The height of the French (top) attack on Steinmetz's Prussians (bottom) before the town of Thuin|
Hearing the cannon fire, French Cavalry General Kellerman hastened his pace; but shortly, exhausted couriers gave him word of a Prussian cavalry force following him. As he gave a questioning thought of how did the Germans get in behind him, he issued orders to about face and meet this new threat. Those officers whose units were indeed among the Prussian wagons placed behind Thuin also gave pause to question why, in the moment of attack, they were ordered to about face and move away, but such is the maneuvers of war.
|Kellerman's foremost units among the Prussian rear echelon before being ordered to about-face.|
However, the effect of masses of French cavalry near the Prussian rear echelon and the subsequent panic by the wagoners strained the morale of the Prussian force which, for the moment held, as the 24th Regiment counterattacked to protect the guns and the 12th refused its left from being outflanked.
The indomitable red-coated Swiss of Habert’s Brigade broke the 24th exposing the whole Prussian centre. So by noon the Prussian line was essentially broken with their substantial artillery intact but near to be overrun with nowhere to retreat as the town would inhibit any rapid withdrawal.
|The red tunics of the Swiss of Habert's Brigade in assault of the Prussian guns|
Battle of Thuin…. the afternoon
Around noon Vandamme needed to reorganize his infantry supports bringing fresh troops in his continuing head-on attacks on the massed Prussian guns. While these attacks forced the Prussian guns to flee, the French suffered further casualties but nonetheless were in a position to take the village of Thuin by 2pm.
To the north of Thuin, Kellerman with his heavy cavalry now facing the new Prussian force from the north. Leaving his small contingent of horse-artillery on the road he extended his troops to the right. The leading Prussian light horse fell back from the French advance exposing the columns of Ziethen's Prussian infantry in squares and the Prussian artillery which quickly eliminated the French cannon. Now faced with a large corps sized force ready to withstand any charge, with a good cavalry reserve and plenty of artillery, Kellerman was forced with the impossibility of attack due to the complete lack infantry support and, if remaining in position, only the slow destruction of his force by cannon fire. Rather than wait for the infantry of Vandamme to mop up the Prussian forces remaining around Thuin to eventually come to his ‘rescue’, Kellerman would again about-face his horsemen and cross the river to link up with Vandamme.
As Kellerman was facing his choices to the north, Surprisingly, the Prussian morale of Steinmetz’s command at Thuin was still holding (the required 6 was rolled!) allowing some of the remaining Prussian units to take a defensive position in the eastern section of the town.
In spite of Vandamme’s success, his was spent force by 2pm, and no more action would be taken. He spent the rest of the day consolidating his force south of the town.
Kellerman retreated before Ziethen [ “My command then advanced in a different direction” he wrote in his report to Napoleon ] and fell into the fleeing Prussian limbers and caissons of the Prussian Reserve Artillery thus eliminating this force from the campaign. Late in the afternoon he would meet up with Vandamme south of Thuin.
|Ziethen's Prussian Corps|
Zeithen for his part, was confused about the French intentions and so halted his advance at the north side of the bridge.
|Ziethen ponders the rather unsupported maneuvers by the French|
Steinmetz remaining very weak brigade held half the town but any further French attacks would inevitably have it destroyed.