One year after he crowned himself Emperor of France, Napoleon stood looking out over the Pratzen Heights. The next day he would fight one of the greatest victories of his career – Austerlitz. What was running through his head, thinking about the year behind him? Did he think of other years, other achievements, other people who might have been doing something for a year? Was he, in fact, wondering what a Goonhammer writer might have done, one year after starting this crazy journey? Of course!
This is part 11 in Lenoon’s ongoing series. If you missed the others, you can find them here
It might not actually have been a full year since the beginning of Road to Austerlitz, but today is my anniversary writing for Goonhammer and it’s just been the anniversary of Austerlitz, and, to top it all off, it’s nearly the end of the year so now is as good a time as any to look back on the last 12 months of learning about Napoleonics, and what I’ve pulled off in the meantime. I started this journey for two reasons: to learn more about the Napoleonic wars and to paint a shit-ton of miniatures. I think both of those are pretty much completed!
After all the reading, painting and building, the Imperial Guard still exert an amazing pull on me. The more I’ve read of their story – including in their own words – the more I love the grumbling, angry bastards of the Old Guard constantly complaining about their pay schedules, the physically elite members of the Middle Guard and the beardless youth of the Young Guard. For various reasons over the course of the year I’ve definitely moved from one into the other (it’s up to you to guess which ones). Their stories, both personal and military, remain fascinating and the enduring image of the Napoleonic wars, for me, will be the last one – the Old Guard at Waterloo. Exactly what I wanted in an army – a strong narrative, a set of irascible characters and, most importantly given how I play, a reason to excuse losses on the battlefield.
I’m really pleased with how the research and reading supported the theme and look of the army. Picking 1813, that post-Russia panic when Napoleon cast around for every single soldier he could find – and transferred many of them to the Guard – was a good, if initially ill informed choice. Everything I’ve read so far has backed it up, and let me branch out between dozens of manufacturers and both early and late period uniforms – Perry, Victrix, Front Rank, Warlord and Calpe all blend in well together in a fairly ragtag force united by a strong theme and, of course, devotion to the Emperor.
The Guard started out with the Victrix Old Guard kit, and no idea what I was doing. Over the course of the year I’ve completed three battalions of Old Guard and two of the Middle and Young. That’s gone from not having a clue what the uniforms were to making my own, research-informed decisions about uniform, unit composition and even ethnicity. Two units of horse and a gun (another three guns, the Victrix 1812 Artillery kit, are on the painting table right now), along with a plethora of officers, drummers, cantinieres and far too many eagles, have, just about, completed the 28mm force. While no army is ever completed, this is enough that once those 3 extra guns are done, it’ll be an occasional model or unit. Since December 2021, there has never been a time without 28mm undercoated frenchmen under my monitor, and it’ll be a blessed relief to only do some models when I vaguely feel like it! This is already by far the largest of my armies in 28mm scale, far outstripping anything I’ve got for other historicals or other, grimmer and darker, games.
I feel like I know the guys and gals of my force pretty well now. They’ve faced off against Brunswickers in cherry orchards, held a river against the British, beaten up Austrians and even helped me teach people how to play Soldiers of Napoleon. Though the year is (nearly) over, they aren’t marching off into Glory/Storage, and there’ll be plenty to come from the Guard.
The thing that surprised me most this year was Haiti. I didn’t know about the Revolution, about Toussaint and Dessalines and the War of Knives, and how slaves had freed themselves and then fought every major colonial power, and won. Not knowing about it is surprising. Everything about Haiti is surprising, and fantastic, and what a lesson to learn about – and talk about. The Army that Liberated Haiti deserves more than I ended up painting, but I’ve managed to equal my guard force, albeit in 6mm.
This was a new scale, a new theme and a new area for me to research, and while I started off a little rusty, by the fourth infantry battalion and accompanying skirmishers and gun, I’d settled into a good rhythm and they came together really nicely. The Haitian army hasn’t seen the table as much as I’d like, but they have come in handy for kitchen table battles, particularly with friends who for one reason or another haven’t had the time or headspace to meet to play a big game. 6mm, it turns out, is a perfect scale to play Black Powder in, particularly when you play it on a 2×2.
While I feel that I can empathise to an extent with my Guard, I can’t, and shouldn’t, with the Haitian army. It’s not possible – or wise – for someone who has lived my life to try, I think. But collecting the army, painting them, reading about their achievements and their aims and their plans, has had a real and lasting effect on the way I think about the world around me, and that’s just a bloody gift from Toussaint, that is. The reality of what they went through on their road to freedom, the monstrous and unrelenting horror of the Triangle trade, the statistics of the lifespan of transported slaves on Haiti, the sadistic nightmare of the “punishments” inflicted on men, women and children, is incomprehensible, though in most of the countries where Goonhammer is read, we continue to benefit from the investments made by the sickest fucks that have ever walked the planet, and are ruled over by their pathetic boot-licking adherents still around in the modern day. So it’s important, and ever more important, to fight to destroy slavery, and those who benefit from it, and never ever stop doing that. So we should take inspiration from them – every single one of them I’ve rendered in tiny little metal – forward in the day to day of our lives, I think.
History of Lies Disagreed Upon
I painted a lot of miniatures, but I read a hell of a lot of books. New since last time was Philip Dwyer‘s three volume Napoleon biography – Path to Power, Citizen Emperor and Passion, Death and Ressurection – which is perfect for this stage in the reading campaign because I’ve read enough single volumes at this point to really require a good 2000 pages of minutia. It’s the latest, but certainly not the last, book I’ll read on the big man himself. But along the way I’ve read histories of Haiti, of the Penninsular War, several on the Russian campaign, far too much about the French Revolution and even ended up reading a biography of Bolivar because someone described him as the Latin American Napoleon (fair, to an extent).
So if you don’t mind I’ll sum up a year of recommendations by giving two that I’ve recommended before. Black Spartacus by Sudhir Hazareesingh is simply fantastic, a strong, enthralling, beautiful and important biography of Toussaint Louverture that is not just worth a read, it’s worth buying for people over and over again. You should probably just bloody buy it and read it, I’ll wait here until you’re done. Oh great, ok, you’re back, glad you took my advice.
The other is much less important, but it’s a book that I really enjoyed. Napoleon and His Marshalls by AG Macdonnell is in lots of ways a bit of a silly book, all about Napoleon “following his star” and cranking the emotional melodrama of every war, battle, death and pithy quote to the maximum. But then again, it actually made me tear up a couple of times, so if Black Spartacus is the true reality of the Napoleonic period, an endless war that chewed up men, women, nations, Napoleon and His Marshalls is the bit that wargamers tend to remember. It’s the elan, the big-man history that, unlike a lot of big man history, in this case might just be true….ish.
Badass of the Year
Badass of the Month kind of came and went, but there’s only one guy who can get Badass of the Year, and that’s
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, it’s Napoleon., it’s Toussaint Louverture. Napoleon was a real, giant, colonialist and imperialist piece of shit who unleashed endless war on Europe and beyond, and by no means a good guy, or a guy to idolise. But he usually had a good quote ready to go, he seemed to be absolutely irresistible to everyone he met, and didn’t he look good in a portrait? The Big Man all of that, and much more – so our final badass of La Premiere Anee of Lenoon’s Road to Austerlitz is the man the period could and perhaps should have been named for.
What happens next?
The year might be over, but the Road to Austerlitz is long and winding, and there’s plenty of places and models and projects I want to visit in 2023. I’m unlikely to have quite as much time to paint and play next year, so what I want to do is focus on some slower, smaller projects that won’t require some of the marathon painting sessions I’ve sat through this year. I’m also going to need a small board that I can put away quickly, and can be reused without having to fight over the same river, square and field over and over again. The solution? A Modular Haiti 2x2ft board, magnetised for transport and deployment so that I can mix up the tiles, fight quick battles on my kitchen table and put it all away at the end of the night. Fields, forests, a mountain, houses and factories, with a good bit of burned plantation. That’s going to be the big project, while the two armies rumble forward in the background.
And what next for Road to Austerlitz? This is the last regular monthly instalment – from now on, it’ll carry on as and when I’ve found something particularly interesting, or have a new unit to show off, or new kits to tell you about. Thanks for reading along this year!
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