The Welles Report: Part VII

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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.

Whilst Havenport and Castermaine conducted their fighting retreat, and while the Grenadier battalion fought and died, yet another martial drama was unfolding upon the extreme left flank of the army. While the forces involved were certainly smaller, and the location of the action on the periphery of the battlefield might have relegated it in the pages of history to a minor event, the Saints have conspired to bring the action the attention it perhaps rightly deserves. It is an event now well-known to the general publick, and one which led His Majesty the King to honour many of the participating officers. Indeed, more knighthoods were bestowed upon the officers of the single Tierran regiment involved in that particular action than upon any other similarly sized component of the entire army present at Blogia.

One writes, of course, of the events which have been oft so romantically described as “The Death-Ride of the Royal Dragoons”.

The three squadrons of the Royal Dragoon Regiment had spent the morning dismounted and entrenched within the ruins of Castle Blogia, standing at the ready to repel a charge of Antari heavy horse which would never come. Isolated from the rest of the battle by what one observer referred to as “a curtain of fog which only deigned to lift itself at brief moments,” the Royal Dragoons and their commander, the Duke of Cunaris would not receive news of the destruction of the Cavalry Brigade until nearly two o’clock in the afternoon. A short period of deliberation followed, as Cunaris conferred with his squadron commanders. It was Baron Marras, Cunaris’ Lieutenant Colonel, who first proposed offensive action. A charge upon the flank of the Antari infantry facing Havenport’s brigade, he argued, would relieve pressure on the infantry, and allow them to retreat in good order. “This course of action was swiftly and unanimously adopted,” Cunaris would write in his how recollections of the battle, “with a uniform enthusiasm which is so rarely within the service.”

Thus, at approximately two o’clock in the afternoon, the order was given to form up for a charge.

Cunaris committed almost the whole of his forces to the attack. Leaving only a handful of men from his third squadron to hold the castle, the Duke assembled the rest before the castle, before launching his attack at about two-thirty.

At first, the attack went well, and the Dragoons were able to advance to contact with the flank of the Antari infantry without great resistance. By the accounts of the officers of Havenport’s Brigade, Cunaris’ attack did, indeed, lead to a brief confusion within the Antari ranks, allowing the beleaguered regiments of foot some brief time to redress their lines and rest the most exhausted of their men. Having charged home at the head of his first squadron, Cunaris then broke off and withdrew, with the intention of reforming his regiment. Though the momentum of the first charge had scattered his three squadrons all over the left flank, the Duke had evidently been undeterred, and had expressed a desire to (in the words of one of his surviving aides) “gather up and hit them again before they [could] pick themselves up off the floor.”

Unfortunately for Cunaris, this was not to be. The Antari had not been idle in the meantime. Seeing this threat to their infantry suddenly materialise, Khorobirit (or one of his subordinates, reliable accounts have been understandably rare) gave the order to commit the light cavalry reserve which had so far sat immobile along the Antari right flank (that is to say, the Tierran left). Hidden by the ever-present powder-fog, the Antari light horse began to advance. Inferior in quality, but vastly superior in numbers, the force of cavalry which now faced Cunaris outmatched him greatly. Worse yet, the Dragoons, being trained as mounted infantry first and cavalry second, were ill-suited and ill-equipped to face cavalry in the saddle. Nonetheless, as the full magnitude of the threat made itself known, Cunaris gave the order not to withdraw to Castle Blogia in the face of this new threat, but to launch a counter-charge against it.

Accounts are unclear as to the state of the Dragoons when Cunaris made this decision. The Duke’s own accounts and the official regimental history both insist that by this point, Cunaris had reformed all three squadrons of the regiment around him. However, the account of a junior officer from the third squadron is equally insistent in claiming that they had lost all contact with regimental command, and that the commander of Third Squadron, Captain E___n, had made the order to launch a counter-charge independently of any higher authority.

In any case, the events which followed have already been well-enough documented. The three squadrons of the Royal Dragoons met a force nearly ten times their number at about three-fifteen and fought them to a near standstill for an hour, if not longer, before finally disintegrating under the weight of the enemy’s superior numbers. What must have passed in the minds of those valiant men as the Antari pressed in from all sides and their comrades died around them is unknown to this author, though one supposes that she might make some inferences based on the accounts of the Duke of Cunaris and his officers. Certainly, there had been hesitation when the order had been given, yet when the time for action had come, the men who had balked at first fought with just as much courage and determination as those who had been willing to grasp martyrdom at the first.

The casualty lists stand as testimony to the prodigies of this one regiment’s actions. Having arrived at Blogia with nearly seven hundred men, it would end the day with only four dozen fit for action. Over two hundred and fifty would be confirmed killed, with an equal number missing. Especially hard-hit were the regiment’s officers. No man above the rank of Cornet escaped the battle unscathed. Cunaris himself was most grievously injured by an Antari lance, and only rescued from capture or death by the desperate attempts of his remaining staff officers. Of the gallant Baron Marras, there has been to this day, no news of his fate. The account of his bat-man simply stated that he led a group of Dragoons into a mass of Antari and was not seen again.

Much ink has been spilled over the recollection and edification of these events. Plaudits have been heaped in great number upon the men of the Royal Dragoons. There have been, to date, at least three plays, six published novels, and a comedic operetta written regarding the actions of Cunaris and his valiant Dragoons. The image of a small number of already-weary cavalry girding themselves and charging into the teeth of a far superior force with grim determination has etched itself into the popular imagination as the very picture of Tierran bravery and spirit. Yet matters of personal virtue aside, Cunaris’ charge had a most practical purpose. Had the Dragoons saved themselves by withdrawing to behind the ramparts of Castle Blogia, the Antari light cavalry would have been free to reinforce the Antari foot then pressing the Duke of Havenport’s troops. The sudden entry of several thousand mobile and fresh troops may well have tipped the balance in the favour of the Antari, and led to the destruction not only of Havenport’s Brigade, but to the loss of both batteries of artillery and perhaps even the whole of the Tierran infantry. By stalling the Antari light horse, Cunaris gave Havenport and Castermaine the chance to consolidate their own positions. By fighting unto the bitter end, Cunaris ensured that the Antari light cavalry that did arrive were in little condition to contribute meaningfully to the infantry engagement at the centre.

Yet not even this would have been possible were it not for an often-overlooked peripheral action. While the bulk of the Antari light cavalry fought the main force of the Royal Dragoons, a relatively small element led by perhaps a dozen Church Hussars were somehow able to break through, and continue onwards towards Castle Blogia. Only five or six hundred in number, this force was still large enough to wreak immeasurable havoc, were it to turn the Tierran flank. If it could penetrate beyond the passage controlled by the ruins of the castle, it would then be in a position to take the Tierran Left Battery, and attack Havenport’s Brigade from the rear. Worse yet, only a small picquet stood in the way of such an eventuality, the small portion of third squadron left behind to secure the rest of the regiment’s lines of communications.

However, this small force of Dragoons did not find the odds against them a compelling argument for withdrawal or surrender. When faced with a force many times their number, they, like the main force of their regiment not so far distant, chose to stand and fight. Using the ruined castle walls to their advantage, they withstood attack for nearly two hours, suffering casualties which could only be considered light when compared to the losses taken by the rest of their regiment. Only when the

afternoon began to wane and the Antari army as a whole began to falter did Castle Blogia’s beleaguered defenders finally see off their assailants. By then, these defenders had been reduced to a third their number. Their ammunition exhausted, they had been driven to face Church Hussars on foot, with light cavalry sabres.

By the time the attacks on Castle Blogia ended, the battle was all-but over. Some of the battalions of Castermaine’s Brigade had already formed column along the road to Noringia. Havenport’s Brigade had been pushed back to the perimeter fence of the army’s camp itself. However, by this point, the Antari were in no position to press the attack. Their horses and men exhausted, their ammunition spent, their warbands scattered and disoriented, Khorobirit’s army instead withdrew to regroup, having taken prodigious losses of their own. As the Antari withdrew to the ridge which had marked the morning’s Tierran positions, the Duke of Wulfram’s Army – now the Duke of Havenport’s Army, began its long withdrawal south under cover of darkness.

3.4: -its aftermath

By the end of the day, it had become clear that the battle was in every sense of the world, an Antari victory. However, it had remained to be seen what the implications of such a victory would be. True, Wulfram was dead; and true, much of the Tierran Army had suffered grievous losses, yet it had not quite been destroyed. Conventional military thought would demand that after such a battle, the victorious forces would then send forward pursuit forces, to harry the beaten army, and inflict the heavy losses needed to reduce a disciplined fighting force into disparate bands of stragglers and deserters. Had Khorobirit the means at his disposal, he could have done such a thing at that very evening. Though risky, the Antari could have pressed a pursuit throughout the dark of night, and inflicted terrible, if not necessarily crushing losses upon the retreating columns of the King’s Army.

Thankfully, these means were not at his disposal: his light horse – the traditional tool of the pursuit – had been mauled by the Royal Dragoons in their action before Castle Blogia. His heavy horse – the vaunted Church Hussars – were no more fit, having spent the afternoon and early evening in near constant action. As a result, no such pursuit could be organised, through some impetuous parts of the Antari horse made the attempt with blown horses and exhausted men, only to be repulsed by the Tierran rear guard set in place for just such an eventuality. As a result, the Battle of Blogia proved, in some cases, highly indecisive. There was no doubt that Prince Khorobirit had won a highly valuable symbolic victory: by defeating a Tierran Army in the field, and killing Tierra’s most celebrated general, Khorobirit had won himself much respect and fear in the eyes of the oft fractious Lords of the League Congress. Likewise, his battle plan had won him (perhaps rightfully) a reputation as a tactical genius, and as the finest Antari general of his generation.

However, for all the political gains which Khorobirit had made on the field of Blogia, he had failed to achieve his three major strategic objectives. Firstly, he had failed to destroy the King’s Army as a fighting force in combat. Because of this, the Duke of Havenport was able to withdraw in good order. As Khorobirit could not commit himself to a siege while a sizeable opposing force remained in the field, this prevented the Antari from meeting their second objective, that of retaking the port of Noringia from His Majesty’s Forces. These two failures, in turn, ensured that Tierra retained an army, and a fortified foothold on the Calligian continent; key factors which allowed His Majesty the King to persuade the Cortes to continue the prosecution of the war, thus rendering a failure Khorobirit’s attempt to achieve his third and ultimate objective: the destruction of the will to fight of His Majesty’s Government.

This eventuality only came to pass due to the discipline of the Tierran soldiery, and the alacrity and courage of those who commanded them. The greater part of the Tierran Army at Blogia was saved due to an interlocking chain of successful actions. Had Wulfram not delayed the Antari heavy horse long enough for Tourbridge’s battalions to form square, had Tourbridge not held for long enough for Havenport and Castermaine to save the infantry, had Wolfswood not sacrificed his battalion to save the guns, and had Cunaris not drawn off the Antari light horse, the army would have likely not escaped the day as intact as it did. However, due to the uniform superiority in the character of our officers and soldiery, an army which had begun the afternoon in the worst possible situation had managed to extricate itself with severe, but survivable losses in men and materiel. The losses which it had suffered would be mostly made good within the year.

The army’s spirit was a different matter. Before Blogia, years of successful operations had cultivated a condescending, if not outright contemptuous attitude towards Antari soldiering and generalship. Defeat at the hands of Prince Khorobirit had proved a painful extraction from the arms of such complacency. While Grenadier Square had remained content to rely on the system of organisation which had served since the Wars of Unification, the Antari had learned their lesson, and had begun to adapt their own method of making war. Though the army and the battle plan which Khorobirit brought to Blogia remained a primitive one, both men and method proved adequate for the task of defeating Wulfram’s army, with the aid of a great superiority in numbers. This produced no small amount of despondency within the ranks of the army’s officer corps. “It had taken all our strength to defeat [the Antari] when they were but pups in the art of war. How may we do so now when they are full-grown to the might of wolves?” despaired of the few surviving officers of the White Rose Lancers.

It is the opinion of this author that it was only due to the immediate and swift action of His Majesty the King that the army’s willingness to fight was not destroyed altogether. Though it is not customary to offer reward and promotion after a defeat, this was exactly what His Majesty did. Arriving little more than a month after the end of the battle, the King rendered honours onto those whom he had perceived to be most deserving: four officers of the Royal Dragoons were knighted, as were three of the Highlanders, the ensign who had bourne the colour of 2nd Battalion, Grenadiers; and three dozen other subalterns. Likewise, the King quickly began the process of identifying those officers who had distinguished themselves during the battle, and promoting them to fill the many vacancies among the army’s upper ranks. Foremost of this was the formal appointment of the Duke of Havenport to the rank of Lieutenant-General, and the post of Councilor-Militant, so recently held by the late Duke of Wulfram.

These actions served to do more than reward the deserving. They communicated to the army His Majesty’s cognisance of the that although the Blogia had been a defeat, it had been a defeat mitigated by multiple, smaller victories. By honouring and promoting to higher rank those who had been the architects of those miniature triumphs, His Majesty made it clear that success, even in the face of failure, was to be rewarded, and that those who had proven their ability would have a chance to seek redress for the loss at Blogia. The faces which commanded the army had been replaced, but the faces which had replaced them had already earned the esteem of the army. As a result, the army itself began to think of itself as a new force, distilled from the best and most proven of the old, but superior in leadership and ability. “He has gotten us to stop looking back at the last battle,” wrote an officer of the 8th Foot, “and gotten us to start looking forward to the next one.”

 

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