In den Augen Gottes
An Alternative History Affair
One Mistake, One Success
By mid-May, the Austrians had gathered their III. IV., and I. Reserve Corps (66,000) and V., VI., and II. Reserve Corps (61,000) corps to form a strong army of 127,000 strong that would march towards Chemnitz; while I. Corps (38,000); and II. Corps (20,000) would continue to pressure the French ally of Bavaria. Meanwhile, the Prussian Army had been assembled and numbered a plentiful 108,000 troops. The combined force would number 235,000 strong; numerically weaker than the French force of some 260,000 strong that was to be assembled – but a considerable number. Napoleon, who had arrived from Paris by May 13th, had assembled his army and considered it essential to prevent the two armies from gathering. To prevent this, Napoleon split his army into two forces, one would number 140,000 strong – which would be commanded by him and be tasked with defeating the Austrian force; while the second command would have the remaining 120,000 troops and be tasked with delaying the Prussians, until the two French forces could rendezvous after the Austrian’s defeat.
On June 1st, the battle of Chemnitz would occur between the Austrian army and the French army commanded by Napoleon. The link up between the two Allied armies had been severely delayed due to heavy rains that caused muddy roads and lengthened supply lines. Napoleon’s superior cavalry had caught the Austrian army in poor position, located in a low lying area outside of city and was prepared to press his advantage against the majority of conscripted army. On the horizon, Charles of the Austrian Army barely made out the French flags, and began hurrying his troops into action – but it would be too late. The end result of the Battle of Chemnitz would prove disastrous for the Austrians, who would suffer a substantial 54,000 causalities (31,000 wounded or missing, 14,000 killed, 9,000 captured); while the French would suffer 32,000 causalities (12,000 killed, 20,000 wounded or missing). The Austrians, though caught by surprise had put on a better show than Napoleon had expected.
The Austrians retreated south to the township of Annaberg-Buchholz, in good order and reassembled their forces. Napoleon had not counted on the high losses inflicted upon him by the conscripts of Austria’s army and the relative resolve they showed of remaining intact after such a devastating blow upon their numbers. Instead of heading north towards Dresden, to rendezvous and intercept the Prussians, Napoleon elected to remain and force another battle with the Austrians that would hopefully force them to vanquish the field in complete disarray.
On June 3rd, the Prussian force under the overall command of Scharnhorst had spotted the clumsily moving French army under the command of the incompetent Berthier (previous commander in Bavaria). Scharnhorst, though eager to attack the French at first light, knew that his numerically inferior army would best be used on the defense – since they had obtained the high ground the previous day. Instead of following his orders to Napoleon’s word of delaying (not fighting) the Prussians until he arrived, Berthier believed the best solution was to attack the Prussians. The assault had been ordered for 9 AM after a brief artillery bombardment; however two hours after the bombardment the advance had still not occurred – allowing precious time for the Prussians to further increase their defensive works. Finally just after noon, the first wave of French infantry began their advance against the left flank of Scharnhorst’s army. A surprised was quickly realized by the advancing 30,000 French soldiers – their target was not the left flank of the Prussians but instead its center.
The first wave of the French troops quickly faltered under the suppressive fire of the artillery and numerous amounts of riflemen (a relatively new addition to the Prussian order of battle). Unwilling to believe that his first wave had been repulsed – and not understanding that he was attacking the center not the left flank, Berthier ordered a second wave into the fray, reinforcing the first wave with another 24,000 soldiers. The same result as before occurred, and the French fell back with heavy causalities. As if expecting a different result, Berthier ordered one last assault against the Prussian defensive line – this time throwing all available reserves into the fray. Again the results were abysmal – though this time the French wave did temporarily breach the Prussian earthworks before being repulsed after heavy hand to hand fighting. As the last wave retreated down the hills, Scharnhorst – who had taken after Napoleon and lead from the front – ordered an all out advance against the retreating forces.
The results were cataclysmic for Berthier’s force. Of the 120,000 soldiers he had commanded before the assault, 67,000 had been claimed as causalities (23,000 killed, 37,000 wounded or missing, 7,000 captured). Scharnhorst’s force that had been outmatched by 12,000 now emerged much stronger against their opponent. Of 108,000 troops in Prussian uniform, a mere 17,000 had been killed, wounded or missing. While the Prussian commanders knew that they most likely could not inflict a defeat upon the French armies if they recombined (which they would), they had seriously weakened Napoleon’s overall forces within central Europe. Prussia would continue its march towards Dresden; which lay southeast of Meissen – where the battle had been fought. From there, the armies of Prussia and Austria were to combine and wait an additional week or two before the arrival of the 180,000 strong Russian army.