Monday 29 January 2024

FPW - Loire battlefields

The republican phase of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 is full of interest for us wargamers. The republican armies are a fascinating mix of troops: elite corps such as the Foreign Legion, Papal Zouaves, exotic spahis, sailors turned into infantry, a lot of 'régiments de marche' formed from depot units, irregular francs-tireurs, and of course the bulk provided by hastily trained and poorly equipped gardes mobiles. Pitting these against by now very experienced and increasingly tactically skilful German formations makes for excellent asymmetrical match-ups on the wargames table. In particular, I like the Loire campaign and am a great admirer of General Antoine Chanzy, who commanded the French 16th Corps and then the 2nd Army of the Loire and held his force together in considerable adversity. Three of the main battles of the campaign - Loigny, Beaugency and Le Mans - feature as scenarios in the "Bloody Big BATTLES!" rulebook and I have fought all of them, plus the opening action at Coulmiers, several times. Loigny is an especial favourite as it is very mobile and both sides have plenty to do.

However, apart from Le Mans, I had never actually visited the battlefields. Now that has been rectified. Herewith a brief (and in some respects incomplete) report of my battlefield tour and a few photos.

First some general observations. Coulmiers, Loigny and Beaugency were fought on the Beauce, a great agricultural plain. It is very flat and very open: dotted with villages, but few and small woods, and no hedges to break up the extensive vistas. This is handy for wargamers, as it makes the terrain simple to set up ... but it means not many dramatic key points for me to take photos of, just one field looking much like another. There was snow on the ground when we arrived but it had gone by the time we started our tour. This was a pity as I hoped to see the battlefields as they were described by one eyewitness, a chequerboard of white snowy fields and dark patches of villages and copses. 

1. Coulmiers

The Army of the Loire was formed in October 1870. Its main mission was to push north and attempt to relieve the siege of Paris. At the battle of Coulmiers, it pounced on the Bavarian I Korps screening Orléans. The Bavarians were driven back and the French then retook Orléans. (The Coulmiers scenario is a good small 'training game' and is in the BBB group files here. For a report of it being playtested, see here. For an exquisite 2mm game of it, see here.)

I didn't take any pics of where particular actions occurred, nor any general ones of the battlefield, as it just isn't that distinctive. There are two large monuments next to the main road on the northern edge of Coulmiers village.

The French monument

Inscription on the French monument: 'Here, on 9 November 1870, the Army of the Loire under General d'Aurelle de Paladines seized the Coulmiers park [the grounds of a small manor house], the Bavarian forces' last centre of resistance.'

The more modest Bavarian monument in the cemetery.

2. Loigny / Poupry

This was definitely the main event of the tour: the most interesting battlefield with the most to see. (For a full account of the history, see here. For our most recent tabletop outing of the scenario, see here.) There is a museum in Loigny dedicated to it, the Musée de la guerre 1870. Unfortunately it is closed in winter.

In rough outline: the French left advanced, drove back the Bavarians and captured Loigny. The German 17th Division held Lumeau in the centre; 22nd Division came up on the German left at Poupry and held off the French right wing coming through Artenay. The Bavarians retook Loigny and a famous climactic charge by the Papal Zouaves at Loigny was unable to save the day for the French.

This panel on a plinth just south of Loigny sketches out the battle.

A helpful panel on the side of the museum steers visitors to placards at various sites around the western half of the battlefield. These have QR codes on them that should provide more information. Unfortunately the links didn't work for me.

The 'Croix de Sonis', just south of Loigny, is dedicated to Louis-Gaston de Sonis, commander of the French 17th Corps at Loigny. He personally led the final charge and was wounded, subsequently losing his left arm but continuing to serve.

The panel about de Sonis.

View of Loigny from the 'Bois des zouaves' (the Zouaves' Wood) showing the ground the Papal Zouaves charged across. As previously stated: very flat (Loigny is on an almost imperceptible rise), very open.

Panel about the Bois des zouaves.

In the Bois des zouaves is this monument to one of their number, the Comte de Verthamon.

Plaque on the monument.

The only German monument, just north of Loigny. That field was too muddy to get any closer.

Explanation of the history of the German monument. There were two others that no longer exist.

The chateau at Lumeau: a manor house surrounded by walls and very sturdy buildings. This was the German stronghold in the centre.

No photos of Poupry, sorry: a pretty little village with a lot of woods behind it.

3. Beaugency

This was a sprawling battle on a 10-mile front. At its northern end, the Germans fought through the Foret de Marchenoir - a seriously large forest. At the southern end, they fought through the large town of Beaugency. Neither makes for good battlefield photos, while the centre was more flat Beauce country. Hence no pics of Beaugency at all, sorry.

If this seems a bit incomplete and half-baked, apologies. It was sort of impromptu so I wasn't as fully prepared as I might have been and wasn't able to do as detailed a tour as I otherwise might. Also I didn't get to Beaune-la-Rolande (another fun battle to refight) or the area of the 2nd Battle of Orleans (a scenario yet to be written, I think). Still, it was enough to get a feel for the nature of the terrain and a better understanding of the events of that freezing winter of 1870-1871.


  1. Thank you Chris. Half-baked or not, it is better than nothing.

    1. Not as good as your battlefield reconnaissance reports, though!

    2. Those were unique. Product of a unique time.


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