Approaching the Village of Aleshki
The third element of the French army reaches the the Village of Aleshki as the sun starts to decend in the afternoon. The village is eerily silent, and at first the French see no signs of any people. But as the Light Infantry Voltigeurs approach the village, under Lieutenant Jean-Paul Gall Tier, they notice signs of pillaging. In front of one of the houses are piles of dead animals, and isn't that a well stocked carriage hidden behind another house?
The skirmishers are sent forward to see what is up.
The French deployment points are outside the village, while the Russian ones are suspiciously gathered in a copse of wood. Could it be an ambush?
The Voltigeurs, slightly decimated from previous battles, move forward in the wheat fields to scout out the enemy. The main infantry force holds back, waiting for reports.
(I kept on not drawing their activation cards. Especially my inability to get the second formation of line infantry cost me dearly in this game)
The Russians refuse to show themselves, so most of my army decides to show up. From left: one formation of inexperienced line infantry, one small formation of light infantry Carabiniers, and one formation of lancers placed in the woods. I am pretty sure at this point that the Russians will have units of mounted Cossacks or Hussars, ready to spring an ambush and charge me if I get close.
Contact with the Enemy
Finally! The French forces are alerted to the Russians as a group of skirmishers pop up in the woods, shooting stray shots at them. Is there a main force hidden among the trees as well?
The Russian skirmishers are immediately rewarded, as one of the lancer officers take a bullet wound.
A large Russian formation reveals themselves as well. They have already plundered the village, and are now ready to give the French a bloody nose before they cart their loot off. Just look at that gathering of officers, physicians, even a Priest! This seems to be the core of the Russian command structure in this campaign.
Strategic outlook after the Russians are found. I'm still lacking a big formation of line infantry, and I'm pretty sure that the Russians have hidden a cannon and some cavalry somewhere, which makes any approach uncertain. At this point, I settle on a steady advance of my infantry, and I plan to send my skirmishers forward to take some pot shots at the line infantry.
The French infantry keeps trailing behind, but at least the skirmishers are now in range and starts a duel with the Russian skirmishers in the wood. But the Russians are far too many for it to make an impact.
And there it is! The Russians finally reveal their cannon. And to my horror, it is accompanied by an ammunition cart, meaning that it will not be limited to a mere three canister shot. Since it's a heavy cannon, it will be able to pour an alarming amount of fire into my troops.
Already after the initial salvo, the skirmishers and line infantry in front of it starts to hurt. With the rest of the line infantry nowhere in sight, the French are in for a tough decision. The lancers surge forward towards the woods, hoping to cause a distraction. If they can overturn the skirmishers, they could get into the flank of the infantry. The line infantry has to choose whether to steadily die in the wheat field or march into range of the Russian musketry. With two bad options, they go for the one that might lead to some Russian casualties as well.
The lancers fail to get into contact, as the shock they have suffered slows them down. The Carabiniers manage to catch up with the line infantry, to even out the odds just a little bit.
The Russian infantry are almost unharmed, while the French officers work double time to remove shock from the line infantry. The lancers are unsuccesful at budging the skirmishers - don't overestimate the power of cavalry against units in terrain!
The second formation of line infantry finally turns up, marching towards the Russian flank. But will it be too late? The French line is rapidly taking casualties, as both cannon and muskets fill the area with hot lead.
And there they come! Just as I suspected, the Russian Hussars were just waiting behind the forest, ready to pounce at the right time. The French lancers were already exhausted from the skirmish with the nimble infantrymen, and are helpless against the Hussars.
In their first tabletop appearance, they easily rout the lancers. In the back you can see the Voltigeurs disintegrating from canister fire and heading for the hills.
Quel dommage! The combined strength of the Russian musketry and cannon has torn my frontline to shreds. The troops are barely hanging on, and too weak to return fire.
Steeling themselves, the French swear not to let the Russians leave victoriously without paying for it. The tardy recruits have finally arrived, and swiftly fan out into line formation in front of the cheering Russian Hussars. Ready! Aim!
Blammo! The salvo at close range is extremely deadly. As the remaining Hussars gallop off the battlefield, they leave more than half of their men behind, dead or wounded.
The firefight has devolved into a mess of bloody bodies. While the French line infantry is all but eradicated, the support of the well trained Carabiniers mean that they have managed to fell almost half the Russians as well.
The fresh Frenchmen decides to make a desperate attempt to dislodge the Russians. Charging straight forward, one of their units crashes into the valiant Russian skirmishers that kept the lancers at bay.
En garde! The two officers meet up for a final duel, as the setting sun bathes the bloody battlefield in an orange haze. The Russian gentleman deftly dodges to the right, catches the Frenchman out of balance, and dispatches him with a well placed sabre cut.
With a wave of infantrymen rushing towards him, the Russian officer and his two surviving soldiers decides that it would be wise to get moving. They run towards the panicked Hussars who are rapidly leaving the field.
Despite these final moments of success, the French morale is in tatters. As the Russian reloads for yet another deadly canister salvo, the remaining French fall back, leaving the Russians with both the spoils from the Village and a large part of the French loot from the morning.
The Russians get to celebrate their first victory in the campaign, and one against a numerically superior French force. But with casualties taken, you have to wonder - at what cost?
Thoughts on the Battle
I think that my main mistake was to be too afraid of the cannon. Now, by that I don't mean the actual cannon when it was in close range - a heavy cannon without a three-canister limit is just amazing, as it can shoot canister before my troops are in even long range, and cause tons of damage while doing so. But I was so afraid of it that I pushed forward before I had all my troops in a good position. If I had held back until the rest of my infantry arrived, even if it meant taking solid shots from the cannon, I would probably have been in a better position to attack.
Imagine if that last attack from the infantry against the Hussars and skirmishers had been simultaneously with an approach from the front - much better.
In the end I got stressed into rushing into the ambush, and both my infantry and cavalry were dealt with piecemeal.
My only consolation is that I managed to put a dent into the remaining Russians. Their infantry is no longer a threatening four unit formation, while I still have plenty of infantry left, even if they are merely recruits. The final activations saw me dealing with those pesky skirmishers, who are now a lot fewer. I also managed to kill off a ton of Hussars, and I'm always vocal about my thoughts that in Sharp Practice, a two-unit formation of cavalry is way more scary than a single unit.
While the Death Ray cannon remains, the Russians are running out of soldiers to protect it, and at some point I'll be able to rush it and take it out. And even though my lancers took a beating, they actually didn't lose that many men, so they will be ready to attempt more charges in the future.
Revel in your victory for now, Russians. Because next time, revenge will be mine!