Cavalry at Waterloo

In order to research the next phase of The Chasseurs, I have decided to rely heavily upon the academic work done by John Keegan in The Face of Battle.
If the story of Waterloo has a 'leitmotiv' it is that of cavalry charging square and being repulsed. It was not absolutely inevitable that horsemen who attempted to break a square should fail... The feat of breaking a square was tried by French cavalry time and again at Waterloo — there were perhaps 12 main assaults during the great afternoon cavalry effort — and always (though infantry in line or column suffered) with a complete lack of success. Practice against poorer troops had led them to expect a different result: a visible shiver of uncertainty along the ranks of the waiting musketeers which would lend the horsemen nerve for the last 50 yads, a ragged spatter of balls over their heads to signal the volley mistimed, then a sudden collapse of resolution and disappearance of order — regiment become drove, backs turned, heads hunched between shoulders, helot-feet flying before the faster hooves of the lords of battle: this, in theory, should have been the effect of such a charge. 
As Jac Weller has shown by careful analysis of formation-widths, the number of cavalrymen in an attacking line was always much lower than the number of infantrymen with whom their onset brought them face to face. If the average strength of a battalion was about 500, it would, formed four deep, present in square a face of about 60 feet across, opposing about 140 men to the approaching French cavalry. They, because of the greater bulk of their horses, could present no more than about 18 men on the same width of front, with another 18 immediately behind, and it was these 36 who would take the brunt of the square's fire... If the cavalry's moral power failed to disarm the infantry — as it always did at Waterloo — then each horseman theoretically became the target for 4 infantrymen. Viewed like this, "Here comes those damnded fools again", seems like an appropriate judgment on the character of the conflict.
These squares are vital for the visual and descriptive aspect of the story. I have a scene constructed so far where one of the dogs leaps up over the rifles and lands on a shoulder; he springs again and lands in the middle of the square and looks around, bewildered. After a volley, the smoke obscures him and he manages to wriggle out through the legs of the soldiers who are wondering where he came from and why he has a French tricolor rag tied around his neck.

More of this will follow; Keegan's work is the top of the line, as per usual.

Chimney Sweeps and Rural France

The Chimney Sweep by Frederick Daniel Hardy

The excerpt, above, is snipped out of Honour and Violence by Anton Blok. In the early portion of The Chasseurs, I'll put a piece in there about a chimney sweep who is hired to clean out the chimneys and Ecarlet and Bretagne have a disagreement about who will watch him while he works. Ecarlet is convinced that all chimney sweeps are thieves and Bretagne is convinced that Ecarlet has been imagining things that are not there.

I don't know when further work on The Chasseurs will continue. A number of pieces are in place, and there is a great deal of work happening offline. But it has been the slowest of projects, to be certain.

Leipzig and a Flashback

The Battle of Leipzig is where three of my characters were subjected to a harrowing retreat and the defeat of the French Army in which they served. Oh, sure. They're dogs. But this snippet from the book by Sir Walter Scott is exactly the sort of tone that will be set when I introduce a kind of flashback.

Scott's book is very interesting, but it is, of course, the sort of history that the victor writes.

The Chasseurs: The Hunter in the Meadow

Another short piece from the Chasseurs, and it probably follows the first piece I did last month.

The Chasseurs: The Hunter in the Meadow

Character Development Sketches

I have four baseline sketches for the four main dog characters--Ecarlet, Bretagne, Brom and Belge. These are the four breeds I chose last year, and, so far, I haven't seen anything that would convince me to make a change. These four breeds of dog were present during the Napoleonic Wars.

Future sketches will give them a little more of a three-dimensional look, and maybe be a little more "cartoony" or "animation-y." Or they'll just be amateurish. I'm hoping for acceptable.

Storyboard Development for The Chasseurs

Time to start storyboards and story detail.

The opening shot will be on the character Ecarlet (the red poodle). He is the eldest of the four dogs and serves as their leader.

Their life before Waterloo is based on being in that "post-war" mode where everything is wrecked, but just beginning to return to some sort of normalcy. They are scouring the countryside, practicing how they will look for and identify the wounded (which was their job in the French Army, until the Battle of Nations at Leipzig).

At a distance, the French countryside should appear lush and beautiful, but, up close, ruined and ravaged and abandoned and destitute.

The Flying Ambulance

This will play a critical role in organizing and moving the story.

The Chasseurs "hunt" for wounded soldiers and help the old French surgeon find them and care for them. Often, a chasseur dog will guide the litter crews from the battlefield to the flying ambulance.

Some background:

Emergency medicine has deep military roots. In 1792, the young French surgeon Dominique-Jean Larrey observed that most injured soldiers died for want of immediate attention. Inspired by horse-drawn "flying artillery" he developed a "flying ambulance." This ambulance volante combined with Larrey’s development of the concept of triage became integral to Napoleon’s army.
At full strength, the ambulance corps included 340 men, in 3 divisions, each with 12 light and four heavy carriages. A first class surgeon-major commanded a contingent that included apothecaries, a farrier, a saddler, a bootmaker, "a bearer of surgical instruments with a trumpet" and "a lad with a drum carrying surgical dressings." Few changes were made to his ambulance design until the motorized era.
During the 1799 battle for Aboukir in Egypt, Larrey reported that "none were left more than a quarter of an hour without being dressed." Larrey was also a gifted physician who performed the first successful leg amputation at the hip. This superb care helped troop morale, and even moved the enemy: at Waterloo the Duke of Wellington adjusted his line of fire to let the ambulances work.
SOURCE: "The Revolutionary Flying Ambulance of Napoleon's Surgeon," by CPT Jose M. Ortiz, U.S. Army Medical Department Journal, October-December 1998

Another story to consider:
Muchuch. "After the battle of Talavera [27-28 July 1809], General Graham, afterwards Lord Lynedoch, was told of a dog which lay on the grave of a Spanish officer and refused food. He desired the dog to be brought to his quarters, but the servant returned without him, and said the dog would not allow him to come near. General Graham then ordered him to take as many soldiers as were necessary to secure and bring him away. After a time, the dog was sent to Scotland, to his friend Graham of Fintry (the injudicious patron of Burns), by one of whose family he was given to the father of my informant, who resided in Edinburgh. At that house he remained some years -- the delight of all. He was a large poodle, marked with brown, and had had part of one of his ears shot off in battle. In those days the guns from the Castle announced many victories, and when they were fired Muchuch got into a state of great excitement; the house-door was opened, and he ran direct to the Castle and straight to the battery among the men. After a while he was regularly expected on such occasions, and welcomed and made much of by the soldiers. Frequently he walked out with the governess and young ladies: one morning, in the King's Park, he was seized with asthma, a soldier kindly assisted them to carry him to a stream of water and then to Holyrood. Having heard his history he asked leave to acquaint the guard at the Palace -- the soldiers turned out and paid all respect to the old hero.
"His friends had reluctantly to part with him, finding that he had become jealous of the youngest member of the family, who was a great favourite, and it being feared he might do her some serious injury. Muchuch ended his days peacefully, at Fintry, acting turkey-herd -- driving his charge afield in the morning, and bringing the flock home every evening." George Richard Jesse, Researches into the History of the British Dog (London: 1866 [2 vols]) vol. 1, pp. 118-119.
I find these anecdotes to be fairly interesting in that they show people who had been involved in the most significant acts of the early 19th century remembering the pets, the dogs, and the little things above all else.

The Chasseurs

They were four dogs, and they were loyal to one another.

They were red, tan, brown and orange to strangers, but they were ranked according to how they had been trained while in the service of the French Army. The men had trained them for different jobs and put them in battalions and regiments, and the men had taken them across the continent. They had marched behind the men for months on end, seeing terrible things and feeling cold, wet, hungry and alone while in the company of tens of thousands of men who felt exactly the same way.

And so they learned to appreciate being warm, being full, and the quiet of an afternoon.

Long after the men in boots and the men on horses had gone home, some in shame, some in defeat, some in victory, they had found themselves with no masters, no battalions, no regiments, no one to hold their leash or tell them to do the things they had been trained to do.

And so they had done well. They had built themselves nice dens to sleep in, warm places to lay down, sunny spots in orchards where there was food and water nearby, and they knew how to avoid the men who lived in villages and did not go to war. They learned how to flatter old women and earn treats from happy children. They learned that when the sun was up, a dog felt better in the sun than in the shade. They learned that when all four of them had enough to eat, it was time to relax and nap and say nothing. They learned what it was to enjoy the quiet.


That's roughly the first part of The Chasseurs, and it is a raw piece of writing that hasn't been edited as yet. I suppose it helps to understand that I'm trying to imagine the simplicity of what dogs really need--food, water, companionship and little else. Dogs don't have philosophical yearnings for explanations for everything. Hey, have I eaten lately? That's pretty much what a dog prefers.

Anyway, The Chasseurs has been gestating for a while now, and I have to get after it.

On this blog, I will drop in narrative pieces like that and try to bend them to fit the history and the times. Whatever doesn't make sense, drop me a comment and I'll see if I can explain it better.

The Chasseurs is Getting Underway

Organizing this project has happened in my mind, and not on paper. I have to put an end to that way of doing things and be more transparent.

This is where I will blog about the conception of the project, and try not to hold too much back.

The Chasseurs is a story about how four dogs, abandoned by their owners after the fall of Napoleon, have lived for about a year in northern France. When Napoleon leaves Elba, and when war is apparent, these four dogs have to figure out whether or not they will return to their units (they are trained dogs, used in various French Army regiments). The story culminates with being swept up into the Battle of Waterloo.

This is a decidedly anti-war project. The use of the dogs, of animation, and of this particular kind of story telling, is designed to highlight some universal truths. The people have been living in wretched conditions in a country wrecked by war, and war itself is no promise of riches or glory. The dogs are abandoned, but they stay together and survive. They have to say goodbye to their sweethearts and march away, just like the men, when they realize that they have no choice. They have to find a way back into the society of men after living under a fallen apple tree in an old, wrecked orchard. They have to survive the return of war to a devastated part of Europe.

I want it to be acceptable on many levels. I want the message to get through, but I want it to be full of action and humor. I want it to be difficult, but not too difficult. I want it to be good, and that's all I'm going to strive for. Good.

As to the history, well, I'm going to have to sort that out over the next few months.

It's Nice to Have all Four Characters

Belgian Sheep Dog Laekenois

Brittany Spaniel

Danish Broholmer

Red Poodle
Some variation of these four breeds will constitute the main characters of The Chasseurs. I think the Brittany Spaniel will be the lead, as evidenced by the painting that kicks off this project, and the Red Poodle will represent the oldest and most experienced of the characters. The other two characters will have their own characteristics. I like the idea of the Belgian Sheep Dog being an organizer of all things great and small and the Danish Broholmer being more apt to question everything.

I do not want the typical dynamic; all of these dogs are survivors and have great talents and abilities. To introduce a weak character would be to suggest that the weak always survive. No, the weak do not survive the conditions of the Napoleonic War.