The Welles Report: Part V

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Note: The following is the version of the report that was made available to the general publick in late 609. An unexpurgated version was made available to certain officers of HM’s Government at the same time. The latter remains a protected document under the Secrets Act of 571.

3.3: -its course
It is here that the author must offer a needed digression upon the subject of the accounts delivered within this section of the report. Should any account repeated here seem incredible or otherwise unrealistic, one must be reminded that the chaos of a battlefield is said to be a most distorting condition. One has done her utmost to ensure that the phenomena and events recorded here were corroborated by multiple accounts, but even those have brought discrepancy in the telling. Regrettably, the author, being barred from forming her own accurate first-hand conceptions on the nature of a battlefield by the personal conditions of her sex, may not offer quite as informed a commentary on the creditability of these first-hand accounts as might be expected.

(Editor’s note: the following two paragraphs consist of a sarcastic, and occasionally bitter digression relating to the purely masculine nature of the martial departments of H.M.’s Government. They were removed from both versions of the report by the request of the office of the Lord Intendant.)

Thus the martially-experienced reader must excuse the text, if any of the following accounts may seem to differ from their own personal military experience.

There is no doubt that the first volleys of shot fired by Wulfram’s centre battery inflicted grave execution upon the massed bodies of Antari infantry. An observer of the 8th Foot recalled ’round-shot, appearing as no more than black specks in fight, suddenly tearing through the enemy like a steel plough through the screaming, bleeding dirt’. Wulfram’s guns could hardly miss, being aimed at a wide mass of infantry no less than two kilometres across and several hundred metres deep, and the Antari return fire, though heavy, proved inaccurate. Khorobirit had likely, as many Antari commanders have done, made the mistake of prioritising the preservation of his guns over their effect upon any prospective enemy. Though understandable, given the unwieldy nature of Antari artillery, and the fact that the guns themselves were most likely from the arsenal of Prince Ivan of Jugashavil or Khorobirit himself, it nonetheless meant that the Antari guns had been placed too far away from Wulfram’s army to make any appreciable impact.

However, this did not mean that, as some would argue, that Wulfram’s artillery could have won him the battle entirely. While the effect of the centre battery’s round-shot – quickly supplemented by that of the left battery – did indeed kill or maim many of the enemy, it did not have the effect of disrupting the enemy’s formed bodies of men, or of slowing the enemy’s advance in any appreciable manner. Though many hundreds of the enemy were killed as they made their approach, the Antari foot numbered into the tens of thousands, and it is very likely that those bodies of enemy not directly subject to our artillery did not even notice the fact that their portion of the army was under cannonade at all. Of those prisoners the King’s Army took at Blogia (most of them infantry), a full third stated that they had not been able to see the effect of our artillery in any shape or form, save perhaps in the appearance of isolated bodies, trampled over by those who marched forward in their wake. Thus, despite the prodigies of the brave and skilled gunners who fought with Wulfram’s army, I must regrettably judge the effect of their repeated discharges of round-shot into the enemy to be negligible.

The only tangible impact which the Tierran artillery had did not begin until the enemy had almost closed with our own infantry. In his placement of his heavy guns, Wulfram had possessed the foresight to site his batteries atop a point where they would not only be able to fire round-shot over the heads of the infantry before them, but canister-shot as well. This, the gunners were ordered to do at the range of five hundred paces. When the enemy foot had passed this distance, the centre and left batteries discharged double-loads of canister over the heads of Castermaine and Havenport’s brigades, and into the front ranks of the Antari foot. Not only did this serve to cause great losses within those portions of the enemy infantry, it also inflicted such a level of chaos through the wide-spread nature of its effect as to momentarily check the advance of the enemy. Unfortunately, the closing nature of the battle meant that further application of canister-shot to the front ranks of the enemy force was made impossible: at ranges closer than three hundred and fifty paces, the risk that the men of the infantry brigades would be struck by low-flying canister-balls was deemed unacceptable. Thus the gunners resorted to firing their canister and round-shot into whatever targets presented themselves behind the forward edge of the enemy advance, doing much to thin their numbers, but little to alleviate the immediate situation of the infantry battalions now engaged by a force which greatly outmatched them in number.

The infantry of Havenport’s brigade were the first to engage the enemy. Once the enemy had reached a range of approximately one hundred and ten paces, the 2nd battalion of the 11th foot presented and delivered a battalion volley into the enemy. This, the adjacent battalions, the 1st of the 11th, and the 1st of the 14th, took as signal to open fire themselves, despite the orders of their officers. Upon seeing the fire of the entire left wing of Havenport’s brigade, the remaining troops of the forward row-of-battalions in the brigade opened fire as well. Battalions further down the line, assuming that a general volley had been ordered, gave fire in sequence down the line.

This was, perhaps, a fortuitous occurrence, for although it is recommended to officers in the field that they withhold their opening volley until enemy foot advance to the range of sixty paces or less, such a stricture was born out of the experience of the Unification Wars, when the King’s battalions of foot were expected to face similarly ordered bodies of infantry. The Antari foot, however, had neither the ability or the inclination to exchange volleys: they were, after all, armed only intermittently with firelocks. Instead, they had intended to close with Wulfram’s infantry with a massed shock charge. Had the Tierran infantry withheld their fire until the enemy closed, it is entirely possible that they would have been unable to discharge their volleys until the enemy had already closed with them. Ultimately, the impact of the opening volley, delivered at a range of anywhere between one hundred and ten to fifty paces (one observer from the 5th Foot had claimed that Antari had made it to within five paces of him before the order to fire was given by his battalion officer, but this is likely hyperbole) had been sufficient to inflict grave losses to the forward edge of the enemy assault, and force those following to fall back and regroup.

At this point, the order was likely given down the line for men to fire in their own time, as quickly as possible. Prior to the battle it had been considered probable that once the initial forward momentum of the Antari infantry had been checked, it would be more advantageous to allow individual companies and battalions to deliver as much fire into the enemy as possible, rather than rely on the shock of a mass volley. This was to serve the purpose of inflicting heavy losses upon the enemy without giving them sufficient cause to rout entirely, and thus perhaps regroup and reform to the Antari rear, where they might prove obstacles to Wulfram’s planned decisive blow. In this task, the three brigades of Wulfram’s infantry persisted for the next two hours, successfully occupying the enemy’s foot and inflicting sufficient losses to compel Prince Ivan of Jugashavil to commit his infantry reserves.

In the performance of this task, the commanders of the three brigades each used different methods. On the left flank, the Duke of Havenport had manoeuvred his brigade as if he had been the one on the attack: when the enemy foot showed signs of retreat or weakness under the weight of his musketry, he would order the four battalions of his reserve line (including the two battalions of his own Kentauri Highlanders) forward with bayonets charged. Once those bodies of the enemy foot which had been immediately engaged had been put to flight by the prospect of facing an attack by Fresh Tierran infantry, Havenport would withdraw these battalions, and move his remaining four – that is to say those who had initially formed the front line – forwards, and repeat the process. This he did thrice in between the time of eleven-thirty in the morning and one-fifteen in the afternoon. He would do it again for a fourth time at around five-thirty in the evening, but by then, the circumstances and the purpose of the attack in question had obviously much changed.

Likewise, Baron Tourbridge acted in a similar, though not identical manner. Ordered to hold a longer portion of the line with battalions which were, in general, of poorer quality and strength, Tourbridge had no viable reserve with which to keep the enemy engaged. Instead, he chose to order a general advance as the enemy retreated, only to withdraw as fresh enemy counterattacks materialised, therefore never truly disengaging with the enemy. This tactic, though undoubtedly effective, was also both costly in lives and energy: the constant pattern of attack and retreat not only created short periods of chaos which allowed the enemy to close and inflict losses more easily (including one incident in which the Antari had been able to almost break through a portion of the line held by the 7th foot), but it also meant that by the time of the early afternoon, many of Tourbridge’s men were overheating and exhausted. Multiple sources report some men fighting without jackets, vests or even shirts, preferring to meet the heat of battle, march, and counter-march without encumbrance of heavy clothing, despite the increased danger of powder burns and other hazards.

Caught in between these two aggressively led brigades were the battalions under the command of the Earl of Castermaine. Known to be both meticulous and acerbic in equal measure (to the point where his nickname among the common soldiery-‘The Old Complainer’-shows up even in semi-official correspondence to Grenadier Square), Castermaine had opted for a more cautious method of keeping the enemy engaged. At the most forward point in his line, Castermaine had placed the 2nd Battalion of the elite Grenadier Guard, commanded by the celebrated Lieutenant Colonel the Viscount Wolfswood. When the Antari pressed home their attack, he ordered this battalion to fall back, as if retreating. When the enemy foot pressed the attack, they would suddenly find themselves under fire not only from the suddenly-resurgent Grenadiers, but also from its flanking battalions, which had wheeled to present their own musketry into the flanks of the enemy attack. In this manner, Castermaine meant to funnel the enemy before him into a crossfire. However, the more aggressive movements of his fellow Generals-of-Brigade meant that Castermaine was required to constantly readjust the flank battalions of his own brigade, lest he lose contact with Havenport’s battalions to his left, and Tourbridge’s on his right. So cognisant was he of these impositions, that he would even go so far as to appeal to Wulfram directly, complaining in a message timed at twelve-thirty that he felt his position much resembling that of ‘a small child hauled about by a pair of excitable foxhounds’. Despite his complaint, there was no sign that Castermaine’s brigade showed any failure or deficiency in the discharge of its assigned orders.

From his position at the right flank, Wulfram could see little of how his infantry fared: though the day had dawned clear, the light breeze of the late morning had proved insufficient to shift the now-unbroken cover of the thick powder fog caused by the near constant exchange of fire between the Tierran infantry and those few segments of the Antari foot in possession of firelocks. So thick was this obscuring smoke that observers spoke of the difficulty of even seeing from one end of a formed company to another, and that the enemy not fifty paces before them was often reduced to the shape of dark shadows. Only through supernumerary officers acting as gallopers were the various battalions of foot able to maintain communications with the brigade staffs, and only through yet more gallopers were these staffs able to keep Wulfram appraised of the situation through their irregular, infrequent, and no doubt somewhat distorted reports, delivered with considerable delay.

It was only when the wind began to pick up at around one o’clock in the afternoon that Wulfram and his staff were able to see for themselves the situation in the field. It was only at this point that observers were able to confirm to Wulfram, without reservation, that the reserve forces of the Antari infantry were moving forward to reinforce their faltering fellows already pressed into the attack. Upon receipt of this knowledge, Wulfram immediately ordered that all three brigades of infantry charge bayonets and begin a general advance, hoping to quickly occupy both the Antari foot already engaged and their reserves in preparation for the advance of his own cavalry upon the Antari flank.

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