Barrett's Canons

A Socratic Dialogue from Pierre's Tavern

by Major Richard Barrett,
V Corps Artillery, Armée du Rhin
and disciples

One fateful day, a beer-swilling rakehell guttersnipeFrench Gunner 1808 from the slums of Paris accepted the Emperor's écu and joined the Grande Armée. Without mending his personal habits, he somehow rose through the ranks, acquiring officer's epaulettes and a fearsome reputation as a fighter, drinker, and raconteur. Then, on another fateful day, he sold his soul to the NWC Newsletter Editor for the price of a frothing tankard, thus becoming an indentured columnist...

Barrett: My worthy brethren, it is with a profound sense of gratitude for the privilege of serving in the Army of our glorious Emperor, that I humbly lay before you the Colours of an entire English army. About 8 rounds ago the forces of His Imperial Majesty were confronted with a minor irritant from Spain on the road to Brussels. I was detailed to remove the obstruction. In that short span of time (yes, 8 rounds), we captured or destroyed 150 enemy cannon (to our 14), and inflicted infantry casualties of over 19,000 to our 11,000, with a further cavalry loss of about 4000 to our 2500. The enemy leader was so disturbed by this dramatic and stunning coup de foudre that he offered his sword and capitulated. Knowing better, I declined his sword but seized all his stocks of brandy and port, and can therefore bestow upon this humble assemblage a long and satisfying series of toasts. A toast, then, to His Imperial Majesty, who once again has demonstrated his brilliance on the field of battle!

Disciple: Mon frère, my hat is off to you! Without wishing to unduly humiliate the unlucky foeman who fell beneath your juggernaut, could you give us more details of your strategy and tactics, his mistakes, and your exploitations of his mistakes? A tavern can be a place of practical education as well as debauchery!

Barrett: Ah! My good fellow, pull up a stool, bring over some drinks, and permit me to recount at some length the full and glorious tale of this dramatic, cliff-hanger of an 8-round battle. Bring some of your young friends, too; I am sure they will find the tale equally remarkable. It all began with the Emperor's pickets encountering a band of interlopers along the roadway to Brussels. I was detailed to arrest them. Well, you can imagine my astonishment upon the revelation that their numbers were about 80,000 men! My artillery battery by itself would have taken too long to dispose of them, so I asked for a handful of cavalry and infantry (not too many, you understand) to pass ammunition to us, and opened our barrage. Now, the rascals on the ridge were really not much in the way of artillerists, it seemed to me. They had placed a staggeringly huge battery park above La Haie Sainte, maybe about 10 batteries all told (70-80 guns), and a fearsome fusillade they presented, to be sure. Yet, there was this dead patch of ground right under their noses, and they actually had nothing to shoot at. Well, with a bit of recce, any lieutenant out of the College could spot the error. So, we moves up about 6000 men, and maybe 1000 horse, clears away the few skirmishers out front, and then lets 'em have it. Blam! No more artillery park. See, when you park all those guns together, they make a fearsome roar, true, but they had no room for supporting troops. What was different, mind, was this: You don't march your boys up to the cannon like a bunch of french fries, no. I launched the cavalry across the front first, covered the distance from safety in a charge, spread 'em out, and hit three or four hexes on the same round. Now, it's true, the horse lads took a bit of it on the chin for the next round or so, but the fact was, they had split open the hole the infantry needed, and while the rascals on top were popping away at the horses, they weren't limbering up and leaving, which is what they ought to have done. So, three rounds in, I bag 70 cannon. That was when a tactical realization, an epiphany of sorts, springs into my head, an underlying truth to this game that defines the difference between winning, and crushing. For that secret, you gots to get me another round.

Disciple: Another round? Of course! Pierre, another for me, and keep refilling my eloquent friend here until he finishes his tale. Even if this "epiphany" does not lead to the founding of a new tactical religion, such style in the telling should be rewarded!

Barrett: Ah, wonderful fellows! It truly does my heart good to see such a lively cast of brazen lads, all keen to do their bit for the Empire, ever ready to march across wastelands without vittles for days on end, no shoes like as not, stand up to a volley or two, then have at 'em with the bayonet, all for 2 sous a day. Now, which of you has my drink? Ah, there we go. Now, where were we? Ah, yes, the epiphany. New religion, you say? No, more of a revelation. You see, the English army has something in common with ours. Bad haircuts, you say? Yes, that too, I suppose, but what I refer to is elemental structure. We have horse, artillery, infantry, and skirmishers. Each has its own role, its own strength and weaknesses (which I shan't bother to recount, without a lot more to drink). And the fact was, here was this English commander, up on his hill, three rounds into the battle, and he's out-of-pocket 70 odd cannon (of 150 total). So I says to myself, "Self," I says, "that commander is going into the remainder of this here battle like a one-armed paper-hanger." Wipe out just his artillery, and one of them supporting pillars is gone. Result: I gets to wander around the battlefield at 3-hex range with virtual immunity from ranged fire. So over the next two rounds, I threw my infantry (with some degree of caution) overwhelmingly, to the exclusion of other targets, at his remaining artillery (all as were in sight). Meanwhile my artillery, with counter-battery attended to by the footsloggers, moved up as close as we could want, and had at his cavalry! Well, didn't those points start to add up then! More than made up for our investment at the outset hacking up their traces. Before we was done, he's out 150 cannon. Now, I think this battle was rare, but the point is valid: Decimate artillery at the outset. Horse is too hard to reach, and can move back with ease if harried. Infantry is too numerous to matter. But artillery is both finite, and fixed at slow speed. Hit it. Everywhere, at one time. Move up to striking range in shadows, lowlands, covered depressions, whatever; study the map from the enemy's eyes, and find the soft spots; they are always there since he can't cover everything. Husband your troops like they was your own kin, and let it take time. Get close, then pounce with everything, everywhere. At best he can only shoot once into one battalion before going under. But what he can't do is target a solitary attack with every gun in the neighborhood, because they each have their own fate to reckon with. Now that, tactically, was new to me. No artillery; who ever heard (and me an artillerist!)? Yet once I had the heights above La Haie Sainte and placed my guns over those red-coated bodies, what a lovely sight there was opened up before me, and nothing to shoot back at me with. So what does that rascally Englishman do next? They are tricky, tricky little Devils; never turn your back on one, says I. Just when you go pull the plug on 'em, don't they go and ignore the logic of the situation and do something dangerous. Hmmmmm, seems my drink is empty, and I'm parched again. Which of you fine boys still has his 2 sous kicking about?...

Disciple: What's that I hear? Barrett has been promoted? Ho ho! This is a grand day, indeed! Probably a medal in the offing, as well. Now, monsieur le professeur, your canon of cannonicide would seem to have a sober corollary: Protect your own batteries! We must refine our artillery placement and disposition of supporting troops to prevent the opposition from "pulling a Barrett" on us. Do continue the tale. Ah! Is it not fine to observe the ferment of so many bright young minds? Is this Pierre's Tavern or Aristotle's Academy, and is there a young Alexander among the students?

Barrett: Why to be sure, to be sure, I learned it well 'pon my father's knee, that 'twas Alexander himself, the great and powerful, who at the great siege of Rome made best use of cannon ever seen. But as for philosophy and Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, their best work was with musket in hand, with the great Archimedes at their head, charging into the mists of legend like Roland in the mountains, at great Marathon. But I digress. My ale seems a bit foamy there, lad, let's trade. Ah, that's better. Now, when last I let off, we were exploring the issue of tricky English gentlemen (har, har, har!). As I was saying, just when the battle was fairly won, doesn't this English son of a wh... go and launch all his bloody cavalry, all of it mind young 'uns, reds, blues, yellows and polkadots, like as not, at my right flank; no warning, just the sound of pounding hooves. Now, as it happens, I had had the wisdom (all modesty aside, for these are important lessons) to hold a large contingent of Guard cavalry out there somewhere. And, what with the annihilation of his artillery, my horsey boys in the center were able to gallumph their way safely across that big stretch of open ground in the middle and reinforce us, but not afore the English had overwhelmed and routed a Corps or so of infantry. Was I afraid, you asks? I say, "Never for a moment," while my Betsy was warm beneath my hand (Betsy's my gun, for those inclined to let their minds wander, due to the ale, hearth, and late hour), no, not for a moment. I had three or four batteries of horse artillery on the scene forthwith, regiments of shiny horses, and the finest cavalry duel you ever did see unfolded. Murat himself wept when he heard of it, and him away in bed with his wench. He knew his place... Anyway, upwards of 5000 cavalry, swirling back and forth, reinforcements arriving, guns a-popping, bits of saddle flying through the air, screaming, maiming, sweat and gristle; brings a tear to my eye to think on it. And finally the routed infantry lads march back up to the line, scrounge about and find their flag lying under some horse, and with a great "Hurrah!" barrel in. Again, all three primary arms against one solitary arm: The result is actually predictable. Lot o' hurt, but he ran first, even though 'twas him that did the bushwhacking. Now, where's that serving wench gone to; be a lad and hit her up for another, would you? Well, here he was out of artillery, his horse bruised up (mine too, but he routed, not us, and the flank in our control), I with the coup de grace still left to deliver: His infantry still wanted a dose! That, I'll tell ye about, when I get back from the head. Excuse me a jiffy...

Disciple: Monsieur, you are a fine teacher, seeming to anticipate my every question: I was about to ask, "How does Barrett speak so long, and drink so copiously, with never a visit to the pissoir?" Praise be that the less elegant and salubrious hypotheses may now be discarded!

Barrett: Well, I'm back and I can assure you there will be a deal more slipping and sliding out there in the mud tonight (har, har, har!). Carved a furrow in my own likeness! Now where was...whoa! There's a feather in my beer...Great Jumpin' Jellybeans, there's a general sitting at the table! Worse, he's one of mine! Hmmm...Evenin' Sir, obliged to you for your kind words and all. See lads, now that's what makes them leaders. You see, they can spot talent, that's their job, to be sure, and this one done honed in me like a fly on sh..(not the best analogy, maybe), anyways, glad you're here, Sir. Always ready to lend my strategic assistance to the High Command. Our great Emperor Napoleon himself sends to me for ideas, to be sure, to be sure. Now, afore I left off to pay my taxes, we were ruminating upon the annihilation of the English artillery; I think I mentioned that at one point. Eh? I did? And the cavalry bit (pardon the pun), did we get there? Twice, at least? Okay, let me think. Better yet, let me drink. Ahhh, now it all comes back to me! The infantry, the infantry! Yes, way over on the left, by Hougoumont, once the artillery were cleared off, we had been having a decent chest-shoving match for a few rounds. Now, it's my habit to disregard the fortresses, at the outset at any rate. They just don't matter that much, until the end, but can badly slow up an attack, in the main. Just so. So, we had worked our way through the woods (burp!@@#) up and onto the hilltop. I think I mentioned attacking the artillery, and a few pieces were hereabouts, so we did them in. Yeah, so we had this hilltop, see. And we had the other hilltop too, above La Haye Sainte, where the English artillery, the ones we beat up on, had been. And English deevils are running all over the place like ants in a fireplace, mostly routed, scared, hungry and so on (burp!@@@#!) 'scuse me. And on the left was this bunch all huddled up in a ball. So, I sends my boys all 'round 'em, sides and back, neat as giftwrap. No artillery was left to stop me, 'cause we did them in before. Then I sends in all the extra cavalry that had been passing me ammo, three regiments-full. It were beautiful! And, we kill or capture about 4000 enemy infantry, right then and there. Where's my drink gone to, now? Dam' thing won' sit shtill! So here we are, all his artillery gone, cavalry black an' blue, and a division or two dead or running, with us parked in this massive big hole in the middle. So, what's the scurvy dog do? He ashks for a meeting, right bloody then, in the middle of my battle! So, I thinks, this is rich, dam' English always want to debate things. Okay, I says, I'm a gentleman too! Well, doesn't the rashcal pull out his sword and drive it at me! Luckily, the daft bastard doesn't know how to use (burp!$@#$!@#) the thing, and whacks me with the hilt, while he holds the blade! Never shaw that before, but with Englishmen, who's to shay? Now I figures, any offisher too daft to hold a sword right way 'round, 's dangeroush to hisself. So, I takes his sword away before he hurts his hand, ties him to a tree, an' I tells his second-in-command (burrppp!#$#@$#$%) to give up, or he's done fer. Well, don' the blarmy bugger shurrender then an' there, with his C.O. watchin' agape! No orders or nothin', traitorous sod; prob'ly got shot fer it later. Anywaysh, we accep's, an' roun's up all the shpirits, brandies, gins an' such, an' hauls 'em here to Pierre's. An' that, ish about that. Now, I'm happy to en'ertain queshtions, nashurly, 'cause I knows it'sh not every day (burpppp!!$#@#!@#$%@) I gets to lie on theFrench guns used at Waterloo floor....No! I mean, that you getsh to talk to a real military genie...genius? But, I think we should continue our wee discusshion under here...(@#@#!!@#damn floorboards!)...where's that drink gone, now?....[thump!] God, look at all them legs...