20/20 Hindsight Re-fight #1 Waterloo, Gettysburg, Hastings

Re-fighting famous battles with amateur style omniscience


Waterloo – 1815 Waterloo Campaign (Go sooner and all together)

Waterloo is the classic see-sawing battle that marked the end of the Napoleonic wars: French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte fights the allied coalition armies led by Wellington of Great Britain and von Blücher of Prussia.

Napoleon’s army has driven north separating the two allied armies. Blücher withdraws after copping a bloody nose in battle at Ligny and Wellington is forced to withdraw from a standoff at Quatre Bras to avoid being outflanked. Crucially Blücher’s retreat evades French scouting and stays within marching distance of Wellington. Napoleon gives vague orders to his marshal Grouchy to take a 3rd of the army to chase the Prussians away whilst he follows Wellington.

The English form up south of Waterloo on the Mont St Jean ridge with defensible manor houses on the left, centre and right of the position. The next morning the French delay their attack waiting for the rain soaked ground to dry out while the Prussians begin marching west towards the English. Napoleon begins the battle with the first of many assaults on Hougoumont (a fortified house on the left flank) along with an artillery barrage.

The house on the left remains bitterly contested so Napoleon sends in four French columns of D’Erlons Corps on the right. The French infantry attack is partially successful and drives the British and Dutch forces back and in places past the sunken road behind the ridge crest. Just before the line crumbles the British heavy cavalry charge in and rout the attack, but they pursue too eagerly and are severely mauled in turn by counter- charging French lancers.

D’Erlon’s corps lose a 3rd of its strength and takes hours to reform. Much of the remaining infantry is still tied up trying to take Hougoumont. Meanwhile Marshall Ney mistakes departing wounded for an apparent retreat of troops from Wellington’s centre and sends in a massive cavalry attack, unsupported by infantry or accurate artillery. The British form square and inflict terrible casualties on the French horsemen.

Ney finally organises a combined arms attack between the embattled buildings of Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. The attack is indecisive but the building of La Haye Sainte is captured. French skirmishers and horse artillery quickly move up to the house to exploit the weakening British centre. French cavalry forces the Anglo-Dutch to remain in square and endure terrible punishment and horrendous losses from canister shot and skirmishers.

Then, just in the nick of time, the Prussians begin to arrive in force on the battlefield. They reinforce Wellington and engage the French right from Papelotte to Placenoit. Napoleon commits the imperial guard towards Wellington’s now stabilised centre. After repeated volleys and cannoning, the guard finally breaks when bayonet charged. Wellington signals a general advance, whilst on the French right flank the Prussians take the bitterly defended village of Placenoit. The French retreat and the day is won by the allies.


Assuming your armies are in the same position on the day, what can we do at Waterloo to change the result? How would we fight it differently? Not that we necessarily want Napoleon to win, but just want to try and get a different result for the perversity of it…

Apart from not fighting (Wellington has chosen awesome ground) the obvious change is NOT to throw the French cavalry in unsupported. Duh. And let’s not waste time and so many lives on those buildings. Or waste the entire flippin’ morning for that matter – the Prussian army is still out there somewhere! Properly scouting the Prussian location would be a bonus hmmm? Napoleon will give Grouchy firm orders …ie. to pursue the Prussians BUT to come with all haste to the sound of sustained gunfire indicating a general engagement. And yep it rains the night before but the French will still get moving at dawn. It’s gonna be bloody muddy…but that’s war.

Ok some fast scouting at dawn on Wellington’s deployments… yep the Anglo-Dutch force is on/behind the ridge and in those houses. So let’s get Wellington unbalanced with some serious flanking action. Start wide flank marches to the east and west, beyond Hougoumont and Papelotte (yes yes the right flankers will get wet feet), with sizeable forces (of infantry, cavalry and mobile artillery) given orders to make demonstrations on each flank in the mid-morning, to follow up any opportunities, and to push the attack when the English front is heavily engaged after midday.

Not waiting for the ground to dry out, the artillery barrage will start at 10am -put sacks under the wheels, or planks from buildings for fucks sake, you don’t want to wait for the Prussians to join in! Perforate and burn Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte and Papelotte, paste any regiments in the open and of course target the enemy artillery.

At midday in the centre, send in swarms of Voltiguers (skirmishers) to snipe artillery, closely followed by wide columns of infantry right behind them. These columns are spaced to allow use of mobile artillery and allow cavalry access to front. Cavalry follows up the columns in close reserve. Another large cavalry force (say 4000) will be sent around the extreme left and/or right flank once the smoke is up and obscuring their movements.

Upon close infantry contact on the ridge, the Voltiguers join the infantry columns, the mobile artillery is to fire grape shot, and then the cavalry is to charge through the gaps. Ideally the flanks are simultaneously engaged and French cavalry is also in the English rear either harrying the infantry or engaging the English cavalry. Then, when the enemy is in square, French infantry columns are to rapidly advance and break through. French Cavalry runs down the broken English. All going well, the French infantry redeploy when the Prussians are sighted on the right flank.

Viva la France (especially if they had radios and drone observation cameras).


Gettysburg –1863 American Civil War (Go around them thar hills)

Union and Confederate forces fight over three days in the largest engagement of the American Civil War. Confederate General Lee was leading the army of northern Virginia in a second invasion of the northern states. Meade’s Army of the Potomac was seeking to engage and destroy the invaders. Elements of the two armies collided in a meeting engagement on July 1 just west of the town of Gettysburg. The bulk of Lee’s cavalry was out of contact leaving the Confederates temporarily ignorant of Meade’s position.

Recognising the importance of the hills south of Gettysburg, Union Brigadier General Buford initially defended low ridges to the north west of town with his dismounted cavalry and was soon reinforced by two corps of Union infantry. Lee urgently concentrated his forces there and two large Confederate corps assaulted and drove back the Union lines. The defenders retreated through the town to the hills to the south. Lee sent orders to General Ewell to take Cemetery Hill “if practicable”, but for various reasons Ewell declined to attack, leaving the Union to dig in overnight on the high ground.

July 2 saw most of the two armies assembled with the Union in a defensive fishhook shape on the hills. Lee’s orders for the attack are not issued until 11am and in the late afternoon, after exhaustive deception marching, the Confederates launched a heavy assault on the Union left flank. Fierce fighting drove advanced Federal elements back to the ridge tops. The extreme left flank saw desperate moments with the Union barely hanging on to the crucial hill of Little Round Top. The absence of Confederate cavalry again hampers Lee’s plan of attack for the day when he rejects suggestions that Longstreet move around the Union left and attack their rear. On the Union right flank Confederate demonstrations escalated into full scale assaults on Culp’s hill and Cemetery hill. By the end of the day despite significant losses the Union still held their positions.

On July 3 fighting resumed on Culp’s Hill and cavalry battles rage to the east and south whilst Lee (contrary to Longstreet’s advice) launched a massive infantry assault against the centre of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. The charge across open ground was shredded by Union rifle and artillery and repulsed at great loss to the Army of Northern Virginia.

Across the battlefield the South had again been defeated and Lee was forced to retreat back to Virginia. But could this result have been different? Armchair historians, generals, and corporals will tell you YES!

I don’t want to see the Confederates win (slavery is fuckin’ evil) but it is an interesting exercise to see if they can. This one ain’t rocket science- Johnny Reb shouldn’t fight here, period.

But if you must fight here…assuming on Day 1 that you still have no cavalry (bitch slap Jeb Stuart and maybe clonk his head against Lee’s who gave him free rein anyway), Ewell again halts before Cemetery hill (he probably would’ve needed support from Lee anyway not to mention non-contradictory orders), and General Johnson doesn’t take Culp’s Hill (*facepalm*)… on Day 2, screw fighting at the north end at Cemetery Hill near Gettysburg. And screw deception marching, just get your forces moving early and where you intend ASAP.

Fight the western battle at Peach Orchard and Devil’s Den as it happened with exception of actually flanking Little Round Top. I mean really, it’s the last occupied hill, go around it! Around it you hear! And then up it, en masse from all directions. Then roll north down the ridge line.

On the eastern front it is a similar deal (but slightly riskier by over extension). The Rebs need to get to Culp’s Hill earlier and follow orders. “Demonstrations” means pretend to fight, not going hell for leather at fortified hills ya twits! Ideally they go south around Culp’s Hill and if no one is on the lower hill, take it and hold it until reinforced- then keep on going up! Basically if the hills are occupied, the Rebs either demonstrate or go around, then up. When enough of the Rebs get onto Lower Culp’s Hill then they can either move north into the rear of the breast works on Culp’s Hill proper (and a helluva fight), or move west across the Baltimore Pike and towards the rear of the Union flank on Cemetery Ridge.

Yes, yes your lines of communication will be stupidly long but if you hold the high ground and the neighbouring units join you, the Union boys will expend themselves on your lines (not vice versa). If the Union army grows a pair and fully attacks one of the separated halves – pull back to a defensible spot (onto high ground or over a creek) while the other half moves into the Union rear.

If any of that works you’ll have a real fight on your hands and possibly relocate the centre of the rebel army to the south of Union core. And General Lee might actually make a good decision on the third day – one that doesn’t involve a massed charge across open ground!

Failing all that, just march away towards Washington pinheads, Gettysburg is terrible ground for the Rebs, and fight somewhere (anywhere) else.



1066 – Stamford Bridge and Hastings (2 Battles, 3 Idiots and 1 Lucky Bastard)

This one I wouldn’t mind seeing turn out differently…

The Vikings invade England, capture York and are waiting for hostages to be delivered. Hardrada, the Viking King, at Stamford bridge didn’t have scouts or look outs, and his troops didn’t bring their armour. The English army marches up from the south and catch Hardrada napping. Like a prat he choses to stay and fight when the enemy were tired from marching and were encumbered! He should run back to his ships, gear up and have at it the next day! And even when they did fight at Stamford Bridge they could have held the bridge, but instead fought once enemy were across the water. Sure obviously there were “REASONS”, but for fucks sake dude, no scouts and no armour WTF!!! What were you thinking!?

OK so Harald Godwinson, the English King, wins Stamford – not hard when fighting idiots is it? Then the bad news arrives about those Norman bastards invading too …yeah bummer, but you can do it man! You head south to Hastings. Your house carls/men are double knackered and probably beat up/ wounded too. Not to mention short of arrows, and their gear is damaged. You probably rally the southern fyrd on the way but instead of: maximising your numbers; whittling the Normans down; removing all the food from the area; waiting William out; letting him come to you away from his ships; and you getting an overwhelming force together…you go in as soon as you can!


Sure the location of Battle is good ground, but seriously who really wants to risk it (again, I might add) when you could easily wait him out. Yes yes he is trashing your home turf but swallow that Saxon pride and use your Saxon brain!

William, you lucky bastard. A seaborne invasion versus an enemy who knows you are coming, who has hundreds of years experience versus seaborne invaders! Seriously, it’ll never work in a thousand years. Harold Godwinson will lure you away from your ships, denude the land, starve you out, snipe you, poison you, gather an overwhelmingly huge army then eventually pick good ground where you have to go to him and …

Oh ok the Vikings have invaded in the North right when you are ready to go… that was lucky. Oh but the Anglo Saxons won and are coming back… get out now before you are crushed.

Harold has the high ground, don’t fight here William. Your cavalry charges are uphill and just won’t break the English – withdraw now!

Your archery is making no headway versus their shield wall, your men think you are dead, and actually run away on the left flank – go home now!

Oh you wipe out the pursuit and they repeatedly fall for the same old fake retreat, that’s lucky. Your men stick around – lucky. Harold cops an arrow, lucky. And somehow you grind out the Anglo-Saxons and win the day. WTF!

Oh the other guy was stupider.
Like I said… 3 idiots, but 1 lucky bastard.

But if Harold had to fight here on that day… He has to give strict instructions to all commanders not to pursue off the hill. EVER. Get the fyrd to use the shields of the fallen and make a wall of bodies that the Normans must cross. Shoot those arrows back downhill (please tell me you brought your own archers?!). And lastly Harold, get a shield over your head/ don’t look up.