Sunday 11 August 2019

War of the 1st Coalition- The Battle of Famars, 23 May 1793

Time to return to the Wars of the French Revolution” I thought. The next battle on my 'list' for the 1793 Flanders campaign was Famars, not far south of Valenciennes. It wasn’t actually that much of a battle but it interests me as HRH The Duke of York held an independent command of British, Hanoverians and Austrians tasked with attacking the south eastern part of the French army in their fortified camp at Famars, while one other large column and two smaller ones attacked at other points. The game will focus solely on HRH’s command (see below).

As you can see from the map York’s column made a lengthy detour to outflank entrenched French troops behind the Rhonelle stream, which were preventing him from attacking as planned. It was about now that York's 'minder' Austrian General Mack (YES that one) was wounded, leaving HRH to get on with things his own way. This detour took up several hours, by which time the main assaults had begun, and brought his column around to the south of Famars, and it was against this position that he made ready his attack. Or he would have had not GM Hohenlohe commanding the Austrian part of his command refused as his men were tired after the ‘exertions’ of their 5 mile march! So, apart from some skirmishing and a fierce little action when his British light dragoons found themselves behind some of the French emplacements, York waited until the next day, by which time the attacks of the other columns from the East had driven the French back towards Famars. During the night the French army slipped away, leaving Valenciennes to its fate. However, I’m assuming that in my universe, the young and inexperienced York overruled his Austrian subordinate and ordered an attack as soon as he arrived in position.

Overall the French were outnumbered by the combined Allied columns, but I decided/hypothesised that they could in all likelihood  have had a local superiority against York's column given the nature of their dispositions. Of course, quality was another matter, as the French were a mixture of former Royalist regulars (pretty good), National Guard (not bad) and volunteers (pants!). The cavalry were still pretty poor at this stage of the war but the artillery were good. The Allied column was made up of two brigades of Austrians (mmm?) and one each of English and Hanoverians. The English brigade included four battalions of the Foot Guards, while the Hanoverian one was made up of two of Guards and two of combined grenadiers. The cavalry were attached piecemeal to each of the brigades.

So on Saturday Jean le Rouge took command of the French (Lamarche) while Neil (HRH) and I (Hohenlohe) were the Allies.
The French are deployed and their commander (right) looks on grimly as the Allies start to enter the table top.
The French had a good view of the Allied advance. The Austrians had come on along the wrong road leaving a large gap  between their brigades.  Both were supposed to have entered the battle to the right of the main road. The English and Hanoverians came on further to the left than was planned. 
French cavalry in reserve in the centre.
The French artillery were mostly dug in behind earthworks.
One of my Austrian brigades on our right flank. They made heavy going trying to deploy the artillery and infantry along the hedge before I could attack.
The French centre was held by two battalions of regulars supported by two more of volunteers. They were quite exposed but we had nothing to counter them initially.
Jean le Rouge rushed his reserve horse battery forward to fill a gap in his line, presenting a formidable gun line against which my other Austrian brigade had to advance. 
After a slow start the English Guards' Brigade under Major General Lake deployed along the stream ready to assault the French defences. 
My misplaced Austrian brigade in the centre took its time sharing out into line, taking hits from the French artillery as they did so. Several disordering hits slowed the advance down even more.
English and Hanoverian guns supporting the Guards. They managed to cause some disruption and casualties on  one of the French regular battalions to the front of the Guards.
The Guards' 'flank company' battalion took the lead and crossed the stream.
Meanwhile, John's cavalry had blundered and charged straight towards my battered Austrians in the centre.  The dragoons caught one battalion in line but were driven off in the melee (2nd rate French cavalry against a large Austrian battalion, plus some unlucky dice for the French didn't help), while the hussars suffered the same fate against an albeit disordered square. Sadly one of my battalions suffered heavily and had to retire, and shortly afterwards another one broke under the incessant artillery fire.
Back on the Allied right my Austrians had crossed the hedge but were disordered by enemy fire and charged by French chasseurs a cheval. I again failed to form square and the battalion failed its break test after loosing the combat, and broke.. The chasseurs wisely pulled back.
This French heavy cavalry regiment blundered and careered off straight towards my artillery, thankfully only for one move otherwise my guns would have been overrun.
My fleeing Austrians!
The Hanoverians had by now caught up and attacked on the left of the English.  (Note that I had to use two English battalions, with yellow and green battalion colours, as I could only find the flags to temporarily re-flag two other battalions posing as the Hanoverian Guard. I have since found the missing flags of course!)
The Guards' flankers battalion drove off the French skirmishers and came face to face with a battalion of French regulars. Not surprisingly the Guardsmen bested them in the exchange of musketry and the French were broken.
The British light dragoons had got left behind during the advance but finally began to advance.
This regiment of Hanoverian cavalry (being played by an English regiment) was also left behind but eventually made it up to the main scene of the action.
HRH The Duke of York, and his hill.
More routing Austrians in the centre. This meant that the brigade had lost over half its units shaken or routed and was broken, forcing it to withdraw of the table.
The French heavy cavalry were stuck in the middle of nowhere out of command after their headlong blunder forwards.
John's chasseurs tried to charge my disordered and shaken infantry but were beaten back  thanks to some timely dice rolls from me. The chasseurs had to pull back.
My broken brigade of Austrians in the centre begins to pull back.
Things were hotting up on our left as the Hanoverians and English stormed the earthworks. The Hanoverian commander ordered a follow me but was killed leading his men forward (house rule) hence the Grim Reaper figure beside him.

Neil's Hanoverian attack was facing into disarray although the Hanoverian Guards were still fighting and drove the French from the breastworks.
The French left was never really in any danger as between them the chasseurs a cheval and infantry skirmishers had done a  superb job holding my Austrians back.
The Austrians struggling to cross the fields in the face of intense artillery and skirmisher fire.
I had one last chance to clear the French troops opposing me away, and ordered my cuirassier regiment to charge the chasseurs a cheval. Despite being shot at on the way in from the skirmishers and the troops in the village the cuirassiers easily defeated their lighter and weaker opponents but wisely chose not to conduct a sweeping advance onto the French breastworks.
With the departure of the Austrians in the centre the French were able to swing the brigade  in their centre wound to face the English.
John managed another blunder, causing his cavalry to charge the Guards. Unperterbed they formed square and the cavalry  had to pull back.
In a moment of craziness I ordered a follow me and led my Austrian chevau-legers in a mad charge across the field, over the hedge and into the French heavy cavalry. Predictably I lost the melee, threw a four on the break test and ran away. My commander was rendered hors de combat in the melee (another Grim Reaper).
John launched his final reserve, a battalion of combined grenadiers from his regular battalions, in a charge against the  Guards. They probably shouldn't have been allowed to attack in column but what the hell, it was a dramatic, if doomed to failure, gesture of defiance by the French.
By now the Hanoverians and English were gaining the upper hand, and their cavalry had finally caught up and were in a position to have an impact on the game. 
The French left was relatively secure and their centre was unscathed. However, they were loosing ground on the right against the slow but relentless Anglo-Hanoverian attack. 
Night fell at this point and it was also home time as Neil and John had to throw off their bicornes, fancy coats and big boots for more sombre attire so they could engage in Dad's Taxi activities when they got home. Looking at the outcome of the game and how it sat within the events of the full battle it was still a strategic victory for the Allies as the French army as a whole would be forced to pull back during the night, abandoning Valenciennes. Tactically however, the French did better than I would have expected and so called the game in their favour as a minor victory.

Valenciennes was soon under siege. When the city surrendered the population hoisted Royalist banners and pelted the garrison with all sorts of unpleasant things when they marched out with the promise of their liberty if they swore not to fight again for a year. I'm not sure I would have trusted them on that point of detail but this isn't 1793. General Lamarche was shortly afterwards removed from command but escaped the guillotine, retiring into obscurity. His replacement General Custine had a different fate in store but thats for another game.

As usual BP2 plus house rules for the revolutionary wars worked well, as did the random events cards that we used for the first time in a while. An enjoyable game I thought, even though my contribution as the Austrians was far from shining in glory.

For further reading on the events surrounding the battle click here . For an enjoyable novel covering the fictionalised events of the campaign and the sieges of Valenciennes and Dunkirk I can highly recommend this book available from Amazon.


  1. A lovely looking game as always and nice to see this campaign on the table again:)

  2. Great-looking game, and thanks for the reading recommendations, I'm always looking for new stuff to peruse.

  3. Another great looking game Colin! I. Really enjoying this project of yours.

  4. Excellent report! Do you have the order of battle you used handy?

  5. Great looking game Colin and an interesting period I know little about🤔

  6. Wonderful scenario, Colin! Thank you for the recommendation too!

  7. A fine looking FRW tussle there Colin.