Introduction to the Saxons – Historical or Fantasy!

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Introduction to the Saxons – Historical or Fantasy!
The purpose of this piece is both to give the necessary introduction to the Saxons I am working on at the moment and to put out some thoughts on ‘fads’ in the hobby. You may think there can only be a tenuous link between these two but read on and see what you think.
I have spent a lot of time since I got back from my research trip to Saxony earlier this year gathering information on the Saxon army of 1813. This task has been made immeasurably easier by my acquaintance with Peter Bunde (Brigade plates). He gently pointed me in the direction of the Saxons while we were travelling together and then sent me copies of his Saxon plates which have formed the foundation of all the research I have done since. He also introduced me to Frederic Berjaud’s work. Frederic has had a passion for the Saxon army of the Napoleonic Wars (and before) for some time. He is in the process of writing an extremely detailed book about the subject and I was able to purchase a photocopied version of the unpublished material as it stands. Frederic’s book has helped me to form a much clearer idea of the Saxons circa 1813.
I will elucidate in brief as these are not the detailed release notes that will accompany the first release of Saxon figures in December (if things go according to plan). First of all it became clear immediately I started researching the Saxons that the information available in English is extremely limited and a lot of it is simply wrong. To my surprise there is less reliable information for the Saxons than there is for the Prussians! I have based my conclusions not only on Peter and Frederic’s work but also on many of the primary sources they mention in their research. I have taken the trouble to look at these sources myself where possible and to reach my own conclusions.
I will deal only with the line infantry at this stage –
There are three states of uniform order perceptible in the Saxon army of this period.

  1. Parade uniform.

  2. Field inspection uniform.

  3. Campaign uniform.

  1. This is the classic picture everyone has of the Saxon Line infantry - White Habit Vest with coloured lapels. White breeches tucked into short black gaiters. French type shako with a short plume and white cords (red for grenadiers).

  2. A field version of the above with the breeches replaced by white overall trousers worn over the gaiters but otherwise unchanged. This is the order of uniform one would expect the men to wear when marching into a town or being inspected in the field.

  3. The campaign uniform is least documented and was as follows – As (2) above but the black gaiters were replaced by white ones which Alfred Umhay thinks were more flexible and easier to wear under the long overalls. The white overalls were frequently replaced by grey due to supply shortages. The Shako was stripped of decorations and was covered by a black protective cover. Some illustrations show the short plume/pom-pom in place. Others show the shako without a plume. There is no doubt that the shako was worn with a cover in battle. In fact there are three types of shako cover commonly seen in illustrations. The most common is the plain black cover I describe above. The second is a French type shako cover in off-white cloth with exactly the same neck flap as seen on French covers. These may have been obtained from the French due to shortages but sources are unclear about this. These covers are seem in some numbers but are not as common as the black ones. The third type of shako cover is very distinctive, is seen in all arms of the Saxon forces and seems to have been distributed at random with no sense of uniformity. It is a cover made from the same material as the men’s packs - i.e- cow hide with the hair on the exterior. Not as common as the other two types of shako cover they are, nevertheless, always shown in the better illustrations of the Saxon infantry on campaign. All these covers are seen within the same unit in combination with men wearing stripped down shakos which have obviously lost their covers on campaign. Other personal equipment preferences add to the individuality of the infantryman in the field –e.g. the Saxons had an issue water bottle which was supposed to be carried strapped to the back of the backpack in a similar way to the Prussian canteen. However, many men preferred to carry it in a more accessible manner looped over the head and resting on the hip. The coat was often carried bandolier fashion although it was supposed to be carried strapped to the pack.

When I discussed my findings with some of my gaming contacts their first reaction was to argue the point in favour of uncovered shakoes with plumes and cords. One jokingly made the comment that I would have to make ‘a shako with plate and plume at some point’. This stopped me short and really made me think. They were not arguing the case against the results of my research. They were asking me to ignore the historical evidence and to go for the ‘pretty’ option. I can understand this mind set. Infact, I had already sculpted a fine looking shako with plume and cords (before I finished the research) which ended up in my spares box. I actually stopped work on the Saxons for a month or so and re-checked all my sources to see if I could make a case for the full shako! In the process I became increasingly frustrated and annoyed – Why was I bothering to do this when I knew my conclusions were correct? I did it because I valued their opinions. I could understand why they wanted the plumes; they were just speaking to the wrong person. Given the choice between what is beautiful and what is historically correct, I must nail my colours to the mast and say I will always go for the latter option.

Why does it matter? An incident during the battle of Gross-Beeren makes the point more forcefully than any argument I might put forward. At one point during the battle it started raining. The Saxons on one side and the Prussians on the other both donned their great coats. The Saxons were wearing their shakoes as described above. The rain prevented the men from engaging in a fire fight and the two sides closed to battle using bayonets and musket butts. The problem was that both sides were wearing grey overcoats and black shako covers. Distinguishing friend from foe really became a matter of life and death with the fine line being drawn on such minor details as the white trousers worn by many of the Saxons or the button loops at the necks of the Saxon coats.
I have also been following the discussions in some of the more popular gaming forums. It helps to give me an insight into what prospective customers like in their figures. Not all of it makes for pleasant reading. I read a diatribe from one gamer who was arguing against the needless addition of backpacks to figures. Painting another piece of equipment was time consuming and anyway, he asserted, many men dropped their packs before going into battle! My opinion, for what it is worth, is that no self respecting soldier would have been separated from his pack willingly as this was his backup, his lifeline, should things go amiss. How would he have recovered his pack if things had gone against his side and the army was forced to retreat?
The above is just an extreme case, the more moderate desire to have a nice plume is sane by comparison but still points to the issue I am trying to get to grips with. A large number of historical gamers look askance at the ‘Fantasy lot.’ Their hobby is based on history not nonsense. I do not adhere to this division in the hobby. I started painting fantasy figures a couple of years ago when my youngest son developed an interest in Warhammer. I don’t have much time to paint nowadays, especially fantasy figures but we now have a small well painted Orc army. I have been very impressed with the standard of the figures and the equally high standard of painting seen in this part of OUR hobby. A lot of discussion goes on about historical versus fantasy but the life blood of new talent into historical gaming is coming from gamers who cut their teeth in fantasy gaming and them move on to historical.
Nevertheless a ‘distinction’ rather than a ‘split’ does exist between the two gaming genres. I sculpt historical gaming figures. I take my research very seriously and have found in the light of the ‘Saxon shako crisis’ that I simply cannot sculpt a figure which I deem to be historically incorrect. It simply runs against the grain. I want my figures to have the feel of infantrymen trying to survive in the open in hazardous conditions, not plumed up popinjays! If you are after a Saxon infantryman in plume and cords someone will no doubt fill that void for you at some stage. For me these figures would be as much a fantasy as the Orcs which grace a shelf of my display cabinet. The subtle difference is that the Orcs do not pretend to be anything other than fantasy!
So, what can you expect from the Calpe Saxons? They will all be in campaign dress, in long trousers worn over gaiters and in a selection of glorious shako covers. There will be variants with each of the three different shako covers as well as some with uncovered but stripped down shakos. The usual forage and bareheaded versions will also be there. The figures I am working on at the moment are in march-attack poses.
I am asking Martin who runs the Calpe website to post this both on the Website and on his personal blog site – His site allows you to write your comments so that you can respond to the points made above.

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