There was only so much poetry Young Werther could read, and only so much yearning after unrequited love he could do in a day, so he started riding on various patrols with the cavalry.
On one of these, he fell into step with the gruff old Graf Malthus, and asked how the Graf had come to fight with Marshal de Saxe, whom the Graf revered.
"Vell", said the Graf, "I Voss yoost a junk man, mit my first kommand..I vill tell you how I choined the cavalry, but zat iss vor an otter day. It voss inder Lost Var, in '41"
(We translate the rest of this talk into high German rather than the Baron's Saxon, for your better understanding)
"....anyway, about meeting de Saxe. It happened like this. In 1741, my squadron was brigaded with some other Saxon cavalry squadrons, and we, along with some other Saxon and Reichsarmee troops, had joined the French and Bavarians in Bohemia to attack the Austrians. One day it was decided that our cavalry unit had to help take and occupy some town from the Austrians, to control some major crossroad or other. I can't recall what its name was, there was so much marching and countermarching. Anyway, our cavalry unit and some other German infantry regiments were detailed, along with 2 French Brigades, to take the town. I think the idea was the Germans would then occupy it. So we set off, but when we got near it we saw hare was a fairly large Austrian force in the vicinity. The French General set up in battle array, we were originally on the far left but then they spotted a huge force of Austrian cavalry on our right, so we were switched to the right, in the second line"
The French centre opens up on the Austrians in the village. If this looks a little blurred, you try drawing a sketch in a Montgolfier Mk.1 on a windy day...
Herr Graf smiled through his huge moustache.
"They thought we weren't very good, you see, a bit...risky. The front line were all Royal regiments - Burgundy, Roussillon, some of the Gendarmes, haughty as anything. It was just us and the Fleury in the 2nd Line"
"No sooner had we heard the first cannons fire, than the Austrian cavalry came cantering straight at us. Our first line charged at them, yelling all the way, and then next thing we knew they were all galloping back towards us, howling in panic. Our Rittermeister held us together, and as the scared Frenchies routed past we saw Austrians coming straight at us. So we spurred our horses and charged, and that surprised the Kaiserliks, and we bounced them back hard. Then another unit charged us, and we fought it off but had to retire to reform And then all hell broke loose, as the whole Austrian cavalry force came at us, those haughty French nobles having run ..."
The Cavalry battle on the right is developing, French lines bottom of picture. Herr Graf's unit is in the French 2nd line, bottom right behind road. The cavalry in red are French Gendarmes, fighting Austrian cuirassiers. The Arquebusiers de Bergerac hold the woods bottom right corner.
The Graf spat in the road....
"...having all run away, leaving it to us to hold off hordes of Austrians. Next thing we see is some French popinjay in Gendarme red galloping past us, with some Austrians in hot pursuit, wailing for his life. My squadron wheeled, we saw off the Austrians, and then this lad - couldn't have been more than your age Werther - white and quaking with fear - squeaked - "take me to Headquarters, now! I command you!". We saw our lads were now beating a fighting retreat so we beat our own, smartly, delivering this cocky princeling to the headquarters tent."
The Graf smiled again, wryly
"It was pandemonium. The French general was spitting blood. Apparently our own German forces on the left had done nothing except despatch some Hussars and Dragoons round the far left flank, the French centre had refused to advance to take the town until "the cannons had softened up the Austrians in the town enough" and the Austrians, seeing their cavalry on our far right was triumphant on the field, had now launched a mass attack on our right wing. The general was yelling for his reserves, two battalions of grenadiers, to deploy against a hill and prevent the Austrian horse from arriving on their flank, while our right was soon in a massive firefight with the Austrians".
The Graf stopped his tale to bark an order at two orderlies, who shot off to do his bidding.
"Now then, where was I? Ah yes. Well, turns out one of the Grenadier battalions was German, and was not being as prompt as the General would have liked. As we arrived, the Red Popinjay had made a great histrionic show, but the General ignored him, and looked at me. "You" he barked. "In the Saxon uniform. You look halfway intelligent! Do you speak German?"
"Me? Ja! Er - Yes"
"Well, go and tell those !"£$% German grenadiers to "!£$5 up their £$%^& paces and !"£$%^ get up on the "£$%6 ridge and shoot the *&^%$ kaiserlik horse boys, and don't you come back until they are there and shooting. And tell their "£$%^& Colonel if he doesn't £$%^& shoot Austrians I'll "£$%^& shoot him! Then come back here when he is there. Got that?"
"I galloped off to relay the message to the Herr Kolonel, who £$%^& off as fast as he ^&* could - just in time, as the Austrian horse swept over the hill and down, already sabred one French battalion, and was forming up for a charge into the rear of the French right, now furiously engaged to the front. Then we and the French Grenadiers marched out the smoke and hit them at point blank range with fresh musketry. The Austrian front line fell in droves, and the rest ran like dogs. Their second line pulled back, they were not going to chance their luck against formed Grenadiers."
The Graf paused, a faraway look in his eye
"At that point, as I was picking my way through dead Austrian cavalry to get back to the French HQ, this Austrian rides up over the rise with a white flag, bold as brass, and says to me to fetch the Marshal, he wants a word. I gallop back and fetch the Marshal. So there I am on the hilltop, as these two men meet, while our Grenadiers and the Austrian cuirassiers eye each other up and our right flank is still in a furious firefight to our front.
"You're not going to win this one, Marshal", says the Austrian. "And the cost to me of winning it will be too high. It’s getting late, why don't we cease fire now, you take your forces back and try again tomorrow, eh?, Or next week, at the speed you lot move".
The Marshal looks at the Austrian and says "Very well, we shall do that". and then they laughed, shook hands, and both rode away to their armies. They both stop shooting and start to
"My God" says Werther" "I've never heard of that"
"And nor will you" said the Graf. "Only a few men witnessed it. I think de Saxe wrote it up as making a heroic effort against vastly superior forces and berating his sub geneerals"
Anyway, this Marshall looks at me and says "you - that was smartly done. I could use a smart German speaker on my staff to make the rest of these Germans move as sharply. Go and tell that useless old Hochduke of yours I want you to join my staff for a bit, and if he argues I'll have his hide for cowardice and disobeying orders"
"My heavens", said Werther, "Who was this Marshall"
"Haff you not guessed by now" chortled the old Graf. "Dot vos Diss Axe".
"And who was the young man you rescued"
"Ach, some Prinz of the Blood" said the Graf. "Odious fellow, but none more so on that day, he had sh*t his pants"
And at this, the Gruff Graf actually laughed.
"And did you take the village then" said Werther?
"Verdamnt iff I can remember" said the Graf. "Propably nott, zeere were szo many battles like zat. I fing der Allies loszt a big battle und ve hadt to run back to Bavaria soon after".
(Black Powder rules, War of Austrian Succession, using last Argument of Kings army lists. French have to take 2 poor generals, and neither managed to make much happen all game, my entire strategy was ruined by my su generals, its in my report :). The French 1st line horse, despite all being Royal, had abysmal dice, all 3 regiments routing in first combat. The Graf's German cavalry regiment held its own for a few bounds and was then forced to retire off table by waves of Austrian horse. The Austrian horse was held back by the grenadiers, the firefight on the right wing was showing no advantage, French condede the field. We had c 16 infantry battalions and 6 cavalry regimenst apiece, on a 9x 6 table, we finished the game to a good conclusion in about 2 1/2 hours despite being new to the rules. Pretty impressed with them for this period.)