Battle of Ligny (part 1) 10-Jan-10

100108deploy048sPart 1 of the Battle of Ligny. The Battle of Ligny and the battle of Quatre Bras both occurred on the 16th June 1815. These were the first battles after the return of Napoleon from his exile on Corsica.

The NWA Napoleonic group put on another of their New Year big battles also recreating both battles at the same time. This is part 1 of the battle of Ligny between Blucher's Prussian army and Napoleon's French army, as the armies deploy and the initial orders are given.


The Battle of Ligny - part 1

Click for Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

The Battle of Ligny 16th June 1815

Blücher's Council of War

During the morning of the battle, Blücher, the commander of the Prussian army, received regular updates on the arrival of formations from I, II and III Korps. III Korps was placed on the left. I Korps was given the defence of Ligny and the villages on the right flank. II Korps was placed in reserve on the heights to the north of Ligny.

The Sombreffe area had previously been surveyed by the Prussians and chosen as a possible battlefield. The original plan was to defend with three corps and use the fourth to attack the French in a flanking move.  With IV Korps more than a day's march from Ligny, this plan was only possible if the British could provide the flanking force.

Blücher met with the Duke of Wellington, commander of the Anglo-Allied army, at around 1pm.  He was assured that, if at all possible, the Duke would send troops to Ligny.  However, that could not be until late in the day.

When Blücher met with his commanders he commented that the late arrival (if at all) of the Anglo-Allied forces meant that time appeared to be on the side of the French. The longer the battle continued the more likely it was that the French would reinforce their battle line.  Therefore reliance on the arrival of the Anglo-Allied forces was too risky and the best option was to attack. Accordingly Blücher said,

"The French believe that they are in a strong position but that is only because they believe we will choose to defend. When you look across the battlefield you will see that the French have insufficient troops to defend the whole line and, in the centre, they occupy a salient which is very susceptible to being flanked.

"I believe the French will attack the town of Ligny and the villages of St. Amand, St. Amand La Haye, and Wagnelee.  These attacks will tie down six of their divisions. Further, they will almost certainly remain static opposite our left.  They have only cavalry and a single division of infantry facing our III Korps. The most obvious place for the Guard to attack is towards the town of Sombreffe because that will split our line in two and it appears to be the least defended part of the line. Our efforts should be aimed at upsetting the French battle plans by:
 
"Thielemann's III Korps being very active on our left, making it plain to the French that we intend to launch attacks from there. We shall strengthen our hold on the villages of Boignee, Balatre and Tongrenelle.  We shall also position artillery to enfilade the French position south of Tongrenelle. This will force the French to counter us with troops they can't spare. If they do not, we shall have an effective position from which to attack them.
 
"On the right we must tie down the French divisions that are positioned to attack the villages of St. Amand, St. Amand La Haye, and Wagnelee. While this is occurring we shall launch a pre-emptive attack through the Wagnelee area using two of our strongest brigades which will be supported by some of our best cavalry.
 
"In the centre we must extract the greatest cost in French casualties in any assault on Ligny. Our reserves will be positioned to provide the maximum concentration of firepower on the enemy forces around Ligny and on any units which advance towards Sombreffe. Those same reserves must also provide support for the brigades engaged on our right."

The Prussian Initial orders

Once Blücher had finished addressing the Prussian commanders Gneisenau quickly prepared and issued the following orders:

I Korps

Generallieutenant Ziethen you are to allocate your brigades to the following tasks.

1st Infantry Brigade:  To occupy St. Amand and to defend the occupied villages between St. Amand and Wagnelee.

The open left flank between St. Amand and Ligny must be kept under constant observation. If the French mass to attack this area relocate all three batteries opposing St. Amand.  Place infantry and cavalry to support the artillery. Generalmajor Holtzendorf is commanded to immediately deploy the artillery reserve to counter this threat.

2nd Infantry Brigade: To immediately manoeuvre to attack the village of Le Hameau, supporting the advance of 5th and 6th brigades. The attack is to be supported by engineers but 6pdr Battery No.6 is to be redeployed to the artillery reserve

3rd Infantry Brigade: To be held in reserve to support 4th brigade

4th Infantry Brigade: To defend the town of Ligny. Resist every French attack and hold to the last man.

The Westphalian Landwehr Cavalry Regiment is to be detached from 1st Infantry Brigade and ordered to defend the batteries arranged against St Amand.

Artillery reserve: Generalmajor Holtzendorf is commanded to immediately deploy the artillery reserve to defend the flank of 1st Infantry Brigade if the enemy deploy forces in this area. Staff officers of the artillery reserve are to be deployed to this area and report on enemy movements.

The Cavalry of I Korps is to redeploy to the west of Sombreffe covering the gap between Ligny and Sombreffe. 

II Korps

Generallmajor von Pirch, you are to lead 5th and 6th Infantry Brigades in a flanking attack west of Le Hameau. This attack will be supported by the entire II Korps cavalry and II Korps artillery reserve. You will take command of the task force of 4th Hussars and 1st Horse Battery as well.

You are to use your initiative to engage and defeat the forces opposed to you. If, at any stage you are opposed by elements of the Imperial Guard inform me of this and you also have my permission to go over to the defensive. 2nd Infantry Brigade will cover your left by attacking Le Hameau.

If the French mass an attack on the centre of our line, elements of the artillery reserve will be withdrawn. Ensure that Generallmajor von Röhl, commander of reserve artillery, is aware of this and makes plans for rapid redeployment to the centre if required.

7th Infantry Brigade is to redeploy as a reserve to the west of Sombreffe.

8th Infantry Brigade is to redeploy as a reserve to the north of Sombreffe. 

III Korps

Generalleutnant Thielemann you are to use your personal initiative to harass the enemy making it plain to them that we intend to launch attacks from our left flank. Also, exploit any opportunity that presents itself to cross Ligny brook and engage the enemy. Strengthen your hold on the villages of Boignee, Balatre and Tongrenelle and position artillery to enfilade the French south of Tongrenelle.

Specifically:

10th Infantry Brigade is to make a demonstration across the brook in closed columns and squares against the cavalry. This movement is to be supported by III Korps cavalry and the artillery reserve. Use the horse batteries to fire upon any French cavalry. III Korps cavalry and the artillery are not to cross the brook and 10th Infantry Brigade should only spend 15-30 minutes on the south bank of the brook. It is intended that this movement will draw infantry from French IV Corps towards Boignee and Balatre away from Ligny.

From 2:30pm:

9th Infantry Brigade will manoeuvre to a position south of Tongrenelle to be prepared to attack the French in this area.

10th Infantry Brigade will advance towards Boignee and Balatre.
III Korps Cavalry will move to support 10th Infantry Brigade.
The artillery reserve will move to support 10th Infantry Brigade.

11th Infantry Brigade will hold its current position to protect the Fleurus-Point du Jour road crossing of the Ligny brook.

12th Infantry Brigade will redeploy to a position on the heights behind Tongrinne.

Subsequently:

Take any opportunity to engage French forces across the Ligny Brook but do not overextend yourself.

If countered by overwhelming forces go over to the defensive.


Click for Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4