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.
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.