Thursday, 13 June 2013

The greatest Napoleonic battle of them all

Which was the greatest?

I am not sure whether this will 'work', but here goes with a(nother) meaningless internet pole.

Since he inspired it by a comment of his, I shall blame Julian if it is a flop, while naturally taking all the credit if it succeeds (ha, ha!)

In a discussion about the bicentennial of Borodino and our game based on the battle, Julian remarked that it was "the greatest Napoleonic battle of them all". Not being sure that I agree with his assessment, I thought that I'd throw it open to all of you.

Which do you consider to be the greatest? 

Is it this one?

Or one of these?

Or perhaps some other?

The definition of 'greatest' is in the eyes of the beholder, but you may wish to include it with your 'vote'!


  1. I think that Albuera is my favourite as it has desperate defence, a destructive cavalry vs. infantry combat, Spaniards punching above their weight and French columns coming off worse against British lines. Plus one of the best quotes to come out of the war from one of my favourite marshals, Soult:

    "There is no beating these troops, in spite of their generals. I always thought they were bad soldiers, now I am sure of it. I had turned their right, pierced their centre and everywhere victory was mine – but they did not know how to run!"

  2. Austerlitz ofr me...sorry, I'm French!

  3. I can't help agreeing with Phil, but for the strangest of reasons that I don't quite understand myself. Somehow the Napoleonic era seems for me to divide into two - call them the bicorne and the shako era if you like. Borodino, Waterloo, Leipzig - they are the greatest of the shako battles, but somehow the romance, the aura, rests with the earlier battles, of them Austerlitz the greatest. I can't wait for the ANF to stage it, as we are planning to do, eventually.

    1. Julian, I divide it into four... pre-'empire' from Revolution to 1804 : EMPIRE from 1805-1809 : Ulcer 1808-1814 (Spain) : Decline or NATIONS from 1812-1815

      Each has their own character, the Revolution armies are more humble for France and cumbersome for the others, while the Decline or NATIONS era are filled with loads of conscripts, Landwher & Insurrectio forces that have almost a WWI feel to them.

      For my own part the EMPIRE period is filled with the best battles (stand alone), while the NATIONS period has some really amazing Campaign actions spanning the entire continent.

      While many follow the Ulcer zone, due to the English influence in the hobby, I find most of the 'battles' are really large skirmishes by comparison to the main actions in Germany, Austria and Russia.

  4. Eylau - it has everything, a massive cavalry melee, Murat, snow, and Ney arriving in the nick of time to win the day!

  5. Well, you know I'm going to pick an 1809 battle, right? And in that context, it has to be Wagram! Epic in scale, 2nd in size only to Leipzig (close to a tie for 2nd with Dresden for size), almost all the famous cast of characters present - Napoleon, Charles and his generals, Davout, Massena, Bessieres, Oudinot, Marmont, Berthier, Eugene, MacDonald...

    Great narratives, a solid French victory but also a solid performance by the Austrians "It is evident you were not at Wagram!", outstanding tabletop color with the Landwehr and the Confederation troops on the field, the tension of Johann's arrival (or not), interesting battlefield.


    1. Wagram certainly sits on the top shelf for me also, though I place it as a part of a series, with Aspern-Essling as the 'lead in'.

  6. Tough one - you're gonna have to define "greatest" I think.
    My faves are the 1813 battles with everyone piling in, but then 1814 has that too and then again the Wagram campaign is also engrossing!
    What are you after here?
    Good post,

  7. Gentlemen, I, like Jeremy, find it difficult to choose just one, so I am most impressed that you have all done so. What an interesting list it is too, a great variety with a range of reasons too. Thanks!

    I cannot prevaricate in the face of such decisiveness, so I will have to decide between my top three: Austerlitz, Wagram and Leipzig.

    The first because is there as it was N’s first, great victory with diplomatic results that contributed to the determination of the ruling houses of Europe to defeat the ‘ogre’ and attempt to re-establish the status quo. The second as it was his last decisive victory, leading to the years of ‘peace’ (with the notable exception of a certain Peninsula), adding just a touch more hubris to the great man and contributing to his continued mis-handling of the diplomatic ‘war’. My vote though, goes to Leipzig.

    For mine it was the greatest in every sense of the word. The largest number of combatants, the largest battlefield, the longest number of days, a decisive result that meant all that was to follow was merely delaying the inevitable—and a damned huge challenge to recreate on the tabletop!

    For me, Napoleon’s spring campaign of 1813 was amongst his greatest, up there with that of 1809, particularly give the nature and status of the opposing armies. He responded brilliantly at Lützen and his manoeuvre at Bautzen “should” have been decisive; but allied tenacity and poor execution on the part of his subordinates meant only a minor victory. The allies ‘evasion policy’, following the armistice (another diplomatic mistake by N), was inspired and allowed them to close the net that produced Leipzig. Yet, even on the first day of that monumental encounter, victory was soooo close for the ‘Imperial’ forces. Two more days of desperate fighting and a text-book withdrawal, could have reduced the impact, but we all know that it did not go to plan...

    So, for what it is worth, the Battle of Nations gets my ‘vote’.

    Over to you Jeremy. The definition, be it military, diplomatic, combined forces, wargaming potential, or some combination of these or other factors is entirely up to you! :)

  8. The ANF has already fought Eylau and Borodino, are planning to fight Leipzig in 2014, and will have Waterloo to follow in 2015. We evidently must then take a step back, to consider not only my favourite romantic battle of Austerlitz, but Wagram as well! Isn't it interesting that in this period we can have such substantial tactical victories, but no war won? Just how magnificent a victory must be won to end a war, in this period?