Waterloo 200 Years – Hougoumont Re-Fought In Cardiff Castle

As a club Penarth & District Wargames Society have always tried to keep and maintain links with local businesses, historical societies places and more.  Cardiff Castle is one of these and of course a Striking centrepiece of Cardiff city centre.  So it was a great honour to be invited to put on a game in the Waterloo Room of the new Firing Line Museum.  Obviously very appropriate given the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th June 2015.  So the planning started.

What game? What rules?  What scenario?  Obviously the 100 days but which bit.  Do we try and do the whole of the Battle of Waterloo?

Well the answer came from our very creative member Mark Boer and his stunning recreation of the chateau/farmstead of Hougoumont.  A lynchpin of Wellington’s line on the right flank of the battlefield.  A chance to re-fight in detail a microcosm of an epic struggle. Will the British Guards and their allies hold firm or will the farmhouse be taken before it becomes a meat grinder for Joseph Bonaparte as in the real battle?

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First of all I have to give such huge credit to Mark and his dedication over 2 years on a personal project of passion.  If you were lucky you may have had the chance to see this gorgeous battlefield at Sheffield Triples. But now we had a chance to battle, game and chat to a plethora of public visitors to the castle from a variety of nations themselves.

Mark used as a basis of the rules General de Brigade with some personal tweaks to suit the specific scenario.

So here we go with a roundup of how the day went and with special thanks to:

Cardiff Castle, The Firing Line Museum and the kind staff
Mark Boer (Builder & God for the day), all the members of PDWS who turned up and gave their time to the game on Saturday & Sunday as well as the Gatekeeper in Westgate Street for such a great breakfast Saturday morning.

The Battle of Hougoumont

The battle began with the British Guards lining the walls and houses in Hougoumont with a battalion held outside the West Gate to engage any enemy as well as being able to withdraw to the prepared buildings to defend.  Along the outer walls of the Formal Gardens were a scattering of Nassau Jaegers and to their left a line infantry battalion in the great orchard.  All were anxiously looking into the southern woods waiting for the French drums.

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And they came advancing with their skirmishers in advance.  Taking pot shots but not really hitting home first of all.  Mind you the allied skirmishers weren’t too hot in their shooting wither and the main French battalions had time to get themselves arranged for a coordinated assault on the thinly held walls of the Formal Gardens and the hedge surrounding the Great Orchard.  Accurate French artillery started to pick away more of the fragile Jaegers. The Guards stood firm.

Now a further blow fell. French columns with Jerome Bonaparte alongside appeared to the West. The Coldstream Guards had the flank of their line exposed so cooly started stepping back to face the assault aimed towards the South Gate.  Two batteries of artillery were directed towards these columns to help pick away the numbers.

Still the French came towards the south wall and the Hanoverian Jaegers and Nassau line were finding it hard.  Dreadful dice throwing meant that the French could coordinate their attacks calmly with line providing covering fire and the columns ready to force the issue. There certainly weren’t enough Jaegers to hold back a full column especially as Westy had suffered 30% casualties from skirmishers and artillery.

Then it happened.  Morale of the Jaegers broke and they retreated from the wall to the Formal Gardens when charged.  The French were in.  Unformed but in.

Things didn’t seem to be going very well at all at first sight for the allies.  The Nassau line in the orchard was coming under increased pressure to its front and at the same time having its flank threatened by the newly arrived French brigade to the East. Could they hold?  Would they hold?

But then the Jaegers rallied and started popping at the column that was reforming in the gardens moving behind the garden wall. With great courage they actually forced the first column to retreat. To the North the sound of reinforcements.  The 1st Guards arrived.  To save time rather than take the penalty of the hedges in the formal gardens they rushed through the North Gate of Hougoumont to bolster the defences.  The KGL arrived and were directed to push the French out from the orchard. As it turned out this was not necessarily the best place.  The hedges and terrain of the Orchard hampering the forward advance as well as the limited visibility.

At the South Gate the French steamroller ground onwards.  The Coldstream Guards had by now retired inside Hougoumont.  The first French skirmishers approached the prepared buildings taking carefully aimed shots to very little effects against the troops inside.  As the first French batallion approached the West Gate in line the buildings and walls exploded in fire.  Men fell screaming to the massed Guards fire and 5 figures were lost in one salvo and the batallion staggered to a halt unformed.  the other columns continued urged on by a rabid Jerome.  Spotting a thinly held wall and the enticing South Gate they charged.  The area blossomed into smoke, musket fire, death and uncertainty for the French.  Caught in the crossfire from 3rd Guards in the gatehouse buildings and on the walls and the remainder on the Coldstream Guards in the rest of the buildings they bravelt ried to charge.  But the hail of musket balls told.  One batallion stagger unformed to a halt, another retreated and a third routed under pressure.  It was too much and the brigade failed its break test retiring down the slope followed by the jeers of the British Guards.

The threat to the South was broken for now.  But the French continued to move into the Formal Gardens in force, supported by some units crossing from the Great Orchard and those pproaching the South Walls.  Hot work was expected for the defenders of Hougoumont. The KGL was finding it hard to move fast to apply pressure to the French in the Orchard and they were reinforcing the gardens.

The Dishonour of The 3rd Guards

Finally the Jaegers were soundly annihilated by a French column that found its dice gain pouring over the ornamental wall into the space between the south wall and Hougoumont Chateau. Promptly the 3rd Guards formed to their front. Their commander ready to volley the French to extinction.  But the Commander in Chief had other ideas cajoling the 3rd to drive the damn Frenchies from the grounds with cold steel.  “They don’t like it up ’em”.  Well in any normal stat you might expect the 3rd Guards to storm in against the semi column/line and give the Frenchies a sound thrashing.  Well that’s how it started with a throw of 11 to get them started in their charge.  Taking 2 casualties in the charge they should have laughed off the loss before  crashing into the French.   Alas the dice had other ideas and with a looks of horror from the British and scathing stares from the 3rd Guards commander towards the C in C they routed back towards Hougoumont. Fortunately the rules allowed an automatic rally for Guards once they reached the defended buildings but shame and dishonour had been served.

The Final Stages Of The Battle Of Hougoumont

So we approached the final stages in our battle.  The fighting in the great orchard was grinding out into a bloody stalemate with commanders dropping like flies on both sides.  More French were reinforcing the South Wall to attempt to force Hougoumont.  Inside the walls the French batallion that had bested the Guards crossed the walls towards the free section of wall around the courtyard.  Now unformed they would have to wait their moment of glory.  At the Garden Gate skirmishers from the French advancing across the Formal Gardens had the cheek to try and sneak in through said Garden Gate.  Swiftly the Coldstream Guards left the West Wall the threat having been dealt with and formed in the courtyard.  Advancing they pushed back the skirmishers and waited for the column that was sure to come.  The 1st Guards reinforcements now arrived in the courtyard in the nick of time.

Everyone took a breath and waited for the end game.

44 Overview Of The Hougoumont Battlefield

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At this stage an overview across the board from the South across the Formal Gardens is needed

The Battle For Hougoumont Chateau

Looking South the British could see the French reinforcements climbing over the South Wall.  A quick hail of musketry showed them what waited for them as the first batallion over propmtly lost 3 figures to the 3rd Guards now reformed halting them unformed.  The French batallion at the corner of the Chateau walls took time to reform, awaiting its moment of glory.  At the Garden Gate Phil urged his columns forward bravely pushing a Legere batallion into combat against the Coldstream Guards even though they became unformed over the garden walls. Inevitably though they lost out to the Guards who with a loud “Huzzah” sent them tumbling back in retreat into the Formal Gardens.  They then formed line along the Hougoumont Chateau walls to defend it with massed muskets. Finally two Nassau Pioneers manned the walls aginst the reforming French batallion in vain hope.

The final turns dawned.  With the Orchard in stalemate all eyes focus on the battle for Hougoumont Chateau.  After one failure the Franch batallion threatening the Southeast corner of the courtyard walls struck.  They charged the Pioneers who amazingly stood.  Obviously it was a forlorn hope and they were destroyed in the combat. The French had a foothold in Hougoumont.

At that stage technically it was deemed a French victory.  However the British believe otherwise.  The French batallion following up their combat success and scaling the walls would have tumbled straight into a frech batallion of the 1st Guards waiting for them at the bottom of the wall…..ahhh the magic of wargaming if onlys.  But time had been called.  realisticlly the 4 Guards batallions could probably have held the Hougoumont chateau comfortably.  But they had been holed up and contained without the excess commitment of French troops.  Well Sunday was another day and another battle.

We all had massive fun and in such illustrious and historical setting.  The Firing Line Museum is a highly recommended visit if you are in Cardiff.  Again thanks to all the Cardiff Castle staff, a big one to Mark fror such awesome terrain and umpiring the game and to all the members of Penarth & District Wargames Society who turned up and gamed in the right light hearted spirit that make it such a great day.

Useful Links and Information

PDWS Shows and Events Gallery – see all the pictures in one hit as well as some of our other games we had put on for shows and events in the UK

Cardiff Castle Website – http://www.cardiffcastle.com/

Firing Line Museum – http://www.cardiffcastle.com/firing-line/