Dated: December 11, 2007.
Invasion of Russia 1812:
By Wayne Wood
Major Jean LePonte eyes the horizon warily as blacksmiths work feverishly repairing the broken wheel of a regimental baggage wagon.
“How long will it take?” he asks for the fifth time.
"We are working as fast as we can Monsieur Major!” the smith replies. “The wheel is severely broken.”
LePonte swears under his breath and scans the horizon again. His is a dangerous task. He has been detailed to “pick up stragglers.” From the main column of the Emperor Napoleon's invading army. Given a detachment of lancers (he would have preferred dragoons or carabiniers with their muskets, but one must do with what one has, he reflects with a dour philosophy) and a mobile field forge he has followed the 250,000 man central strike force, gathering up and repairing wagons broken down by the dust which dominates the Russian countryside this time of year.
He has the men at ready - there will be no true rest until they rejoin the main column. He ignores their muttered curses. He knows that they mock him behind his back, calling him “Major Mere” but doesn't care. Four hard years of campaigning in Spain have taught him what guerillas can do to a small group of French soldiers such as his “command.”
His command. They are a hodge-podge of troops left behind with their wagons. Do they not realize how fortunate they are? Have they learned nothing from the dozens of burned out wagons they have crossed, the scores of dead French soldiers lying bloated in the sun they have passed on the road?
No, the troop will stand at ready. There is a Russian village ahead, “Do you want us to scout it?” asks Sergeant Lambert, a grenadier sergeant who was left with his battalion wagon with a few men.
“No,” LePonte answers. “We will enter it together. Perhaps we will spend the night there.”
Lambert nods approvingly; a veteran, he is glad of the major's caution. LePonte is happy to have him. This is the first village they've encountered that wasn't burned out by the retreating Russians. Perhaps they missed it. Perhaps it's a trap.
Once more LePonte scans the horizon, where is Lt. Richaud and the lancers? They are supposed to be patrolling the area, looking out for Cossacks. Richaud is a recent graduate of Ecole Militaire. He is anxious to see battle and has voiced his frustration at being given this assignment. He is afraid he will miss the great battle he knows is about to be fought.
“Don't worry, lieutenant,” Lambert assures him with the gentle authority only a veteran can assume with a young officer. “You will get more battle than you can stand.”
The Russian steppe gives the appearance of a flat plain; but LePonte has learned that appearance is deceiving. There are countless “folds” in the land, ravines and gullies. The Cossacks are expert at using these hiding places and emerging as if from nowhere to attack their unwary enemies.
He cannot see Richaud. This worries him.
LePonte's heart leaps in his breast as he turns and sees a group of Cossacks riding toward the column.
“HOLD YOUR POSITIONS!” he shouts; hoping to be heard over the din and confusion.
His men appear to be doing well; they open up fire.
Then, to his visible relief, the lancers appear. “Good man, that Richaud!”
“He will be a good officer, Major,” Lambert agrees. “If he lives long enough.”
The Cossacks turn away from the convoy now. Richaud's lancers chase him.
“NO! NO!” Le Ponte screams. Don't they teach them anything at school? Has the army learned nothing from Spain?
LePonte watches in horror as Richaud's lancers chase the Cossacks toward the apparently deserted village.
Suddenly, as the Cossacks enter the village Russian militia pop up from behind the stone wall surrounding the hovels.
LePonte's worst fears are realized as Richaud and the lancers are slaughtered by the Russian's close range musket fire.
“Do not feel bad for Richaud,” comes Sergeant Lambert's sad voice from somewhere beside the stricken major. “Today was his turn to die. Tomorrow it might be ours…”
But LePonte isn't just concerned for the loss of Richaud. Without his cavalry he is blind in this wasteland; also his troops have left their positions to watch the show the cavalry were putting on - “RETURN TO YOUR POSITIONS! RETURN-“
It is too late for from the rear of the column he hears panicked shouts. More Cossacks are attacking from the rear.
LePonte tries to form his troops into some sort of defensive line, but it is too late, the Cossacks are among the wagons torching them and slaying his soldiers.
Some try to fight back, but it appears hopeless.
Then they are gone, leaving death and destruction in their wake. As the medical personnel with the ambulance and wurst wagon tend the wounded, LePonte tries to organize his surviving troops to fight the fires.
A loud explosion sounds as the artillery ammunition wagon explodes, killing several more of his men and ending any attempt at organization.
As darkness falls, flames engulf the village, as the Russian militia melt into the landscape. LePonte and Lambert watch the flames.
“Major,” Lambert finally breaks the silence. “I think this is going to be another long campaign…”
Many thanks to Mr. Wood
www.hat.com and www.hat72.com - All rights reserved. Any unauthorized or commerical use of content or images are violations of applicable laws and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Any trademark usage or proprietary images on this page are only for the purposes of review or such, and is considered fair dealing and permissible under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988 (UK). Copyright 2007.