The campaign account continues..
6th August: Two battles were fought on this day, at Sturzelbronn and Walburg.
The Battle of Sturzelbronn
On the northern flank the Bavarian II Korps encountered elements of V Corps at Sturzelbronn in the foothills of the Vosges and immediately engaged, 3rd Division following 4th Division into action. The French began the action with their 1st Division deployed in key positions, being successively reinforced from the south by the tired but still spirited 2nd and 3rd Divisions who had fought at Worth 2 days previously. The French 1st Division took heavy casualties from massed Bavarian batteries and fell back, while both sides’ cavalry divisions were used aggressively, causing considerable disruption to the enemy. Eventually their losses, coupled with the collapse of their left flank (and the loss of no less than 3 generals), forced the French to cede the field to the Bavarians and withdraw toward Bitche, and away from the rest of MacMahon’s army.
The battlefield near Sturzelbronn, looking east:
The French 1st Division looking fairly frail as they take up their defensive positions. They'll be casting anxious glances to the right in the hope that the rest of the Corps arrives before the Bavarian hordes do:
Naturally the Bavarians win the race, and they waste no time in forming up for an assault while their artillery masses in the centre:
Despite some stubborn resistance, the French left flank is pushed from the farm complex and the overall position is compromised:
On the other flank Bavarian Cuirassiers pin the arriving French reinforcements with a sudden charge:
Simultaneously the French cavalry had launched an attack of its own over the hill behind the Bavarian flank and chaos ensued for a while. Not standing around to be routed, the French took advantage of the confusion and withdrew to the west.
The Battle of Walburg
Meanwhile to the south MacMahon saw an opportunity to strike a counter-blow at the over-extended German left flank, but his surprise advance to Walburg on the Sauer by a now-concentrated 7th Corps met unexpectedly strong opposition in the form of Prussian V Korps supported by IV Cavalry Division. In this meeting engagement the Prussians, after careful study of the ground, executed a very aggressive plan, launching the cavalry forward at the outset on the left to pin back the French, allowing time and space for a grand battery to assemble in the centre. Although the cavalry were decimated by close range fire, the well-placed artillery did likewise to the arriving French cavalry and reserve artillery in the centre. On the Prussian right the 9th Division took heavy losses from Chassepot fire while getting into position for an assault which, late in the day, put enough pressure on the French left to compound the collapse in the centre and forced a withdrawal from the field. The French had fought well and retreated in good order towards Hagenau, while the Prussians were left in no condition to follow up their narrow victory.
As in previous encounter battles, the Germans chose to concentrate their strength to allow their massed batteries and infantry assaults to negate the advantage the French Chassepot would have over a wider front:
With the grand battery already formed and doing severe damage to the French, the IV Cavalry Division erupts from the woods on the flank to buy time for the infantry to assemble:
On the other flank the French fired into the masses as fast as the could, but still they came on. More Prussians attacked from the woods, turning the French position:
Once the cavalry had done its job (at great cost), the other Prussian division formed its own sledgehammer to crack the French right:
General view, as the Prussian commander re-aligns his massed Krupps:
The decisive moment, as the French centre collapses in the face of massed shellfire and the arrival of the Prussian infantry on the hill (despite the latter having taken severe casualties in the process):
Final positions, with too few French left holding the line. Their flanks had held to this point, but a general retreat was ordered when the centre gave way:
The campaign was reaching its climax then. With French losses mounting and the advancing Germans splitting the Army of Alsace, MacMahon would be forced to pull back to re-group for what might be a final stand. Although he’d lost contact with the retreating 5th Corps, which would now come under the control of the equally beleaguered main army to the west, he still had 1st and 7th Corps reasonably concentrated and with a few days’ rest they should be able to put up a decent fight if suitable ground could be found for a battle. Staff officers hastened west to identify the Position Magnifique upon which the defence of Alsace would depend.
Crown Prince Frederick William received the reports of the two battles with some relief, neither action having been sanctioned, or expected, at the start of the day. His two Corps commanders had acted aggressively however, and secured victories which gained important positions and served to split the enemy army. Despite the cost, the campaign was progressing well and, while orders went out to halt the advance and for the army to re-group, the Prince gathered his commanders and staff to plan the final act in the battle for Alsace…
Situation at the end of 6th August:
We're looking forward to a grand finale at the next session. :)