Online Encyclopedia

NAPOLEONIC

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V19, Page 223 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
NAPOLEONIC CAMPAIGNS and headquarters, the emperor was still unaware of the position of his principal of the V. (Lannes) ( foe, and Murat with Bernadotte behind him was directed on Gera for the rrth, the remainder of the army continuing along the roads previously assigned to them. In the meanwhile, however, the Saxons had been moving from Naumburg through Gera on Jena, Hohenlohe was near Weimar, and all the other divisions of the army had closed in a march eastwards, the idea of an offensive to the south-ward which Napoleon had himself attributed to them having already disappeared. Reaching Gera at 9 A.M. Murat reported the movement of the Saxons on the previous day, but omitted to send a strong detachment in pursuit. The traces of the Saxons were lost, and Napoleon, little satisfied with his cavalry, authorized Lasalle to offer up to 6000 frs. reward for information of the Prussian point of concentration. At r A.M. of the 12th Napoleon issued his orders. Murat and Bernadotte via Zeitz to Naumburg; Davout (III. corps and a dragoon division) also to Naumburg; Lannes to Jena, Augereau following; Soule to Gera. - 15. Prussian Movements.—In the meantime the Prussians were effecting their concentration. Ruchel, who with 15,000 men had been sent into the mountains as an advanced guard for the projected offensive, was recalled to Weimar, which he reached on the 13th. The main body were between Weimar and Apolda during the 12th, and the Saxons duly effected their junction with Hohenlohe in the vicinity of Vierzehnheiligen, whilst the latter had withdrawn his troops all but some outposts from Jena to the plateau about Capellendorf, some 4 M. to the N.W. The whole army, upwards of 120,000 men, could therefore have been concentrated against Lannes and Augereau by the afternoon of the 13th, whilst Soult could only have intervened very late in the day, and Davout and Bernadotte were still too distant to reach the battlefield before the 14th. All the French corps, moreover, were so exhausted by their rapid marches over bad roads that the emperor actually ordered (at r A.M. on the 13th) a day of rest for all except Davout, Bernadotte, Lannes and Murat. The Prussian headquarters, however, spent the 12th and 13th in idle discussion, whilst the troop commanders exerted them-selves to obtain some alleviation for the suffering of their starving men. The defeats undergone by their outpost detachment had profoundly affected the nerves of the troops, and on the afternoon of the 11th, on the false alarm of a French approach, a panic broke out in the streets of Jena, and it took all the energy of Hohenlohe and his staff to restore order. On the morning of the 12th the Saxon commanding officers approached Hohenlohe with a statement of the famishing condition of their men, and threatened to withdraw them again to Saxony. Hohenlohe pointed out that the Prussians were equally badly off, but promised to do his best to help his allies. Urgent messages were sent off to the Commissary von Goethe (the poet), at Weimar for permission to requisition food and firewood. These requests, however, remained unanswered, and the Prussians and Saxons spent the night before the battle shivering in their miserable bivouacs. 16. The 13th of October.—During the early morning of the 13th the reports brought to Napoleon at Gera partially cleared up the situation, though the real truth was very different from what he supposed. However, it was evident that the bulk of the Prussians lay to his left, and instructions were at once despatched to Davout to turn westward from Naumburg towards KSsen and to bring Bernadotte with him if the two were still together. The letter, however, ended with the words " but I hope he is already on his way to Dornburg." Now Bernadotte Emery walker, sc. at Hemmendorf, with the VII. (Augereau) extending south to the Main at Burgebrach. Napoleon's object being surprise, all the cavalry except a few vedettes were kept back behind the leading infantry columns and these latter were ordered to advance, on the signal being given, in " masses of manoeuvre," so as to crush at once any outpost resistance which was calculated upon the time required for the deployment of ordinary marching columns. This order has never since found an imitator, but deserves attentive study as a masterpiece (see H. Bonnal, Manoeuvre d'Iena). To meet the impending blow the Prussians had been extended in a cordon along the great road leading from Mainz to Dresden, Blucher was at Erfurt, Ruchel at Gotha, Hohenlohe at Weimar, Saxons in Dresden, with outposts along the frontier. An offensive move into Franconia was under discussion, and for this purpose the Prussian staff had commenced a lateral concentration about Weimar, Jena and Naumburg when the storm burst upon them. The emperor gathered little from the confused reports of their purposeless manoeuvres, but, secure in the midst of his " battalion square " of 200,000 men, he remained quite indifferent, well knowing that an advance straight on Berlin must force his enemy to concentrate and fight, and as they would bring at most 127,000 men on to the battlefield the result could hardly be doubtful. On the 9th of October the cloud burst. Out of the forests which clothe the northern slopes of the Thuringer Wald the French streamed forth, easily over-powering the resistance of the Prussian outposts on the upper Saale,' and once the open country was reached the cavalry under Murat trotted to the front, closely followed by Bernadotte's corps as " general advance guard." The result of the cavalry scouting was however unsatisfactory. On the night of the loth, At the action of Saalfeld on the loth, the young and gallant Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia was killed. had neglected to keep the emperor informed as to his whereabouts. He was still with Davout, but, concluding that he had missed an order directing him to Dornburg, he thought to conceal his error by assuming the receipt of the order evidently alluded to in the last words, and as a result he marched towards Dorn-burg, and his whole corps was lost to the emperor at the crisis of the next day's battle. On the road from Gera to Jena Napoleon was met by intelligence from Lannes announcing his occupation of Jena and the discovery of Prussian troops to the northward. Knowing the emperor's methods, he wisely restrained the ardour of his sub-ordinates and asked for instructions whether to attack or wait. The emperor rode forward rapidly, reached Jena about 3 P.M., and with Lannes proceeded to the Landgrafenberg to reconnoitre. From this point his view was, however, restricted to the immediate foreground, and he only saw the camps of Hohenlohe's left wing. At this moment the Prussians were actually on parade and ready to move off to attack, but just then the " evil genius " of the Prussian army, von Massenbach, an officer of the Headquarter Staff, rode up and claiming to speak with the authority of the king and commander-in-chief, induced Hohenlohe to order his troops back to camp. Of all this Napoleon saw nothing, but from all reports he came to the conclusion that the whole Prussian army was actually in front of him, and at once issued orders for his whole army to concentrate towards Jena, marching all night if need be. Six hours earlier his conclusion would have been correct, but early that morning the Prussian headquarters, alarmed for the safety of their line of retreat on Berlin by the presence of the French in Naumburg, decided to leave Hohenlohe and Riichel to act as rear-guard, and with the main body to commence their retreat towards the river Unstrutt and the Eckhardtsberge where Massenbach had previously reconnoitred an " ideal " battlefield. This belief in positions was the cardinal principle of Prussian strategy in these days. The troops had accordingly commenced their march on the morning of the 13th, and now at 3 P.M. were settling down into bivouac; they were still but a short march from the decisive field. 17. Battle of Jena.—On the French side, Lannes' men were working their hardest, under Napoleon's personal supervision, to make a practicable road up to the Landgrafenberg, and all night long the remaining corps struggled through darkness towards the rendezvous. By daybreak on the 14th, the anniversary of Elchingen, upwards of 6o,000 men stood densely J E NA English M iles Contoorsot inta.jais of 60 ,n.er.s packed on the narrow plateau of the mountain, whilst, below in the ravines on either flank, Soult on the right, and Augereau on the left, were getting into position. Fortunately a dense fog hid the helpless masses on the Landgrafenberg from sight of the Prussian gunners. Hohenlohe had determined to drive the French into the ravine at daybreak, but had no idea as to the numbers in front of him. For want of room, only a few Prussian battalions were sent forward, and these, delaying their advance till the fog had sufficiently lifted, were met by French skirmishers, and small columns, who rapidly overlapped their flanks and drove them back in confusion. Hohenlohe now brought up the remainder of his command, but in the meanwhile the French had poured across the neck between the Landgrafenberg and the main plateau, and the troops of Soult and Augereau were working up the ravines on either hand. In view of these troops the Prussian line, which had advanced faultlessly as if on parade, halted to prepare its bayonet attack by fire, and, once halted, it was found impossible to get them to go on again. The French who had thrown themselves into houses, copses, &c., picked off the officers, and the flanks of the long Prussian lines swayed and got into confusion. The rival artilleries held each other too thoroughly to be able to spare attention to the infantry, whilst the Prussian cavalry, which had forgotten how to charge in masses of eighty or more squadrons, frittered away their strength in isolated efforts. By io A.M. the fourteen battalions which had initiated this attack were outnumbered by three to one, and drifted away from the battlefield. Their places were taken by a fresh body, but this was soon outnumbered and outflanked in its turn. By 2 P.M. the psychic moment had come, and Napoleon launched his guards and the cavalry to complete the victory and initiate the pursuit. • Riichel's division now arrived and made a most gallant effort to cover the retreat, but their order being broken by the torrent of fugitives, they were soon overwhelmed by the tide of the French victory and all organized resistance had ceased by 4 P.M. Briefly summarized, the battle came to this—in four successive efforts the Prussians failed because they were locally out-numbered. This was the fault of their leaders solely, for, except for the last attack, local superiority was in each case attainable. Organization and tactics did not affect the issue directly, for the conduct of the men and their junior officers gave abundant proof that in the hands of a competent leader the " linear " principle of delivering one shattering blow would have proved superior to that of a gradual attrition of the enemy here, as on the battlefields of the Peninsula and at Waterloo, and this in spite of other defects in the training of the Prussian infantry which simultaneously caused its defeat on the neighbouring field of Auerstadt. 18. Battle of Auerstadt.—Here the superiority of French mobility, a consequence of their training and not necessarily of their system, showed its value most conclusively. Davout in obedience to his orders of the previous morning was marching AUERSTADT (-i syk{&r' %i .»~ . % % —) Punsohrau / ,Hassenhau • - Rea: / of •i ~/ •. sect /J :~~ / e • nge (~ G. -? (( ) j.l Smarr V.Itsr se. the Saale at Kosen, when his advanced guard came in contact with that of the Prussian main army. The latter with at least 5o,000 men was marching in two columns, and ought therefore to have delivered its men into line of battle twice as fast as the French, who had to deploy from a single issue, and whose columns had opened out in the passage of the Rosen defile and the long ascent of the plateau above. But the Prussians orf \0ernstedf- over attacked at the old regulation speed of seventy-five paces to the minute, and the French manoeuvred at the quick or double of 120 or 150. The consequence was that the French always succeeded in reinforcing their fighting line in time to avert disaster. Nevertheless by mid-day their strength was well-nigh exhausted, whilst the Prussian reserve, eighteen battalions of guards under Kalckreuth, stood intact and ready to engage. But at the critical moment the duke of Brunswick fell mortally wounded, and Scharnhorst, his chief of the staff, was at the time absent on another part of the field. Meanwhile rumours from the battle-field at Jena, magnified as usual, began to reach the staff, and these may possibly have influenced Kalckreuth, for when appealed to to attack with his eighteen battalions and win the day, he declined to move without the direct order of the commander-in-chief to do so, alleging that it was the duty of a reserve to cover the retreat and he considered himself personally responsible to the king for the guards entrusted to his care. Even then the day might have been saved had Blucher been able to find even twenty squadrons accustomed to gallop together, but the Prussian cavalry had been dispersed amongst the infantry commands, and at the critical moment it proved impossible for them to deliver a united and decisive attack. Seeing further efforts hopeless, Scharnhorst in the duke's name initiated the retreat and the troops withdrew N.W. towards Buttelstedt, almost unmolested by the French, who this day had put forth all that was in them, and withstood victoriously the highest average punishment any troops of the new age of warfare had as yet endured. So desperate had been their resistance that the Prussians unanimously stated Davout's strength at double the actual figure. Probably no man but Davout could have got so much out of his men, but why was he left unsupported? Bernadotte, we have seen, had marched to Dornburg, or rather to a point overlooking the ford across the Saale at the village of that name, and reached there in ample time to intervene on either field. But with the struggle raging before him he remained undecided, until at Jena the decision had clearly fallen, and then he crossed the river and arrived with fresh troops too late for their services to be required. 19. Prussian Retreat.—During the night the Prussians continued their retreat, the bulk of the main body to Sommerda, Hohenlohe's corps towards Nordhausen. The troops had got much mixed up, but as the French did not immediately press the pursuit home, order was soon re-established and a combined retreat was begun towards the mouth of the Elbe and Lubeck. Here help was expected to arrive from England, and the tide might yet have turned, for the Russian armies were gathering in the east. It was now that the results of a divorce of the army from the nation began to be felt. Instead of seizing all provisions and burning what they could not remove, the Prussian generals enforced on their men the utmost forbearance towards the inhabitants, and the fact that they were obeyed, in spite of the inhumanity the people showed to their sick and wounded country-men, proves that discipline was by no means so far gone as has generally been believed. The French marching in pursuit were received with open arms, the people even turning their own wounded out of doors to make room for their French guests. Their servility awakened the bitterest contempt of their conquerors and forms the best excuse for the unparalleled severity of the French yoke. On the 26th of October Davout reached Berlin, having marched 166 m. in twelve days including two sharp rearguard actions, Bernadotte with his fresh troops having fallen behind. The inhabitants of Berlin, headed by their mayor, came out to meet him, and the newspapers lavished adulation on the victors and abuse on the beaten army. On the 28th Murat's cavalry overtook the remnant of Prince Hohenlohe's army near Prenzlau (N. of Berlin) and invited its capitulation. Unfortunately the prince sent Massenbach to discuss the situation, and the latter completely lost his head. Murat boasted that he had 1oo,000 men behind him, and on his return Massenbach implored his chief to submit to an unconditional surrender,advice which the prince accepted, though as a fact Murat's horses were completely exhausted and he had no infantry what-ever within call. Only Blucher now remained in the field, and he too was driven at length into Lubeck with his back to the sea. 20. Campaigns in Poland and East Prussia.—Hitherto the French had been operating in a rich country, untouched for half a century past by the ravages of war, but as the necessity for a campaign against the Russians confronted the emperor, he realized that his whole supply and transport service must be put on a different footing. After the wants of the cavalry and artillery had been provided for, there remained but little material for transport work. Exhaustive orders to organize the necessary trains were duly issued, but the emperor seems to have had no conception of the difficulties the tracks—there were no metalled roads—of Poland were about to present to him. Moreover, it was one thing to issue orders, but quite another to ensure that they were obeyed, for they entailed a complete transformation in the mental attitude of the French soldier towards all that he had been taught to consider his duties in the field. Experience only can teach the art of packing wagons and the care of draught animals, and throughout the campaign the small ponies of Poland and East Prussia broke down by thousands from over loading and unskilful packing. 21. The Russian Army formed the most complete contrast to the French that it is possible to imagine. Though clad, armed and organized in European fashion, the soldiers retained in a marked degree the traditions of their Mongolian forerunners, their transport wagons were in type the survival of ages of experience, and their care for their animals equally the result of hereditary habit. The intelligence of the men and regimental officers was very low, but on the other hand service was practically for life, and the regiment the only home the great majority had ever known. Hence obedience was instinctive and initiative almost undreamt of. Moreover, they were essentially a war-trained army, for even in peace time their long marches to and fro within the empire had most thoroughly inured them to hard-ship and privation. Napoleon might have remembered his own saying, " La misere est 1'ecole du bon soldat." In cavalry they were weak, for the Russian does not take kindly to equitation and the horses were not equal to the accepted European standard of weight, while the Cossack was only formidable to stragglers and wounded. Their artillery was numerous and for the most part of heavy calibre—18- and 24-pounders were common—but the strength of the army lay in its infantry, with its incomparable tenacity in defence and its blind confidence in the bayonet in attack. The traditions of Suvarov and his victories in Italy (see FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS) were still fresh, but there was no longer a Suvarov to lead them. 22. Advance to the Vistula.—Napoleon had from the first been aware of the secret alliance between Prussia and Russia, sworn by their respective sovereigns over the grave of Frederick the Great, and this knowledge had been his principal reason for precipitating hostilities with the former. He remained, however, in complete ignorance of the degree of preparation attained on the Russian side, and since the seizure of Warsaw together with the control of the resources of Poland in men and material its occupation would afford, was the chief factor in his calculation, he turned at once to the eastward as soon as all further organized resistance in Prussia was ended by the surrender of Prenzlau and Lubeck. Scarcely leaving his troops time to restore their worn-out footgear, or for the cavalry to replace their jaded horses from captured Prussian resources, he set Davout in motion towards Warsaw on the 2nd of November, and the remainder of the army followed in successive echelons as rapidly as they could be despatched. The cavalry, moving well in advance, dispersed the Prussian depots and captured their horses, as far as the line of the Vistula, where at last they encountered organized resistance from the outposts of Lestocq's little corps of 15,000 men—all that was left of Frederick the Great's army. These, however, gave way before the threat of the advancing French and after a few trifling skirmishes. Davout entered Warsaw on the 3oth of of remaining there, for a fresh army was already gathering in Russia, the 1st corps of which had reached Nur about 50 M. distant from the French right. Unfortunately, Ney with his VI. corps about Gilgenberg had received the most poverty-stricken district in the whole region, and to secure some alleviation for the sufferings of his men he incautiously extended his cantonments till they came in contact with the Russian outposts. Apparently seeing in this movement a recommencement of hostilities, Bennigsen concentrated his troops towards his right and commenced an advance westwards towards Danzig, which was still in Prussian hands. Before his advance both Ney and Bernadotte (the latter, between Ney and the Baltic, covering the siege of Danzig) were compelled to fall back. It then became necessary to disturb the repose of the whole army to counter the enemy's intentions. The latter by this movement, however, uncovered his own communication with Russia, and the emperor was quick to seize his opportunity. He received the information on the 28th of January. His orders were at once issued and complied with with such celerity that by the 31st he stood prepared to advance with the corps of Soult, Ney, Davout and Augereau, the Guard and the reserve cavalry (8o,000 men on a front of 6o m.) from Myszienec through Wollenberg to Gilgenberg; whilst Lannes on his right towards Ostrolenka and Lefebvre (X.) At Thorn covered his outer flanks. Bernadotte, however, was missing, and this time through no fault of his own. His orders and the despatch conveying Napoleon's instructions fell into the hands of the Cossacks, and just in time Bennigsen's eyes were opened. Rapidly renouncing his previous intentions, he issued orders to concentrate on Allenstein; but this point was chosen too far in advance and he was anticipated by Murat and Soult at that place on the 2nd of February. He then determined to unite his forces at Joukendorf, but again he was too late. Soult and Murat attacked his rear-guard on the 3rd, and learning from his Cossacks that the French corps were being directed so as to swing round and enclose him, he withdrew by a night march and ultimately succeeded in getting his whole army, with the exception of von Lestocq's Prussians, together in the strong position along the Alle, the centre of which is marked by Preussisch-Eylau. The opportunity for this concentration he owed to the time gained for him by his rearguard at Joukendorf, for this had stood just long enough to induce the French columns to swing in to surround him, and the next day was thus lost to the emperor as his corps had to extend again to their manoeuvring intervals. The truth is that the days were too short and the roads too bad for Napoleon to carry out the full purpose his "general advanced guard " was intended to fulfil. It was designed to hold the enemy in position by the vigour of its attack, thus neutralizing his independent will power and compelling him to expend his reserves in the effort to rescue the troops engaged. But in forests and snowdrifts the French made such slow progress that no sufficient deployment could be made until darkness put a stop to the fighting. Thus, when late on the 7th of February 1807 Murat and Soult overtook the enemy near Eylau (q.v.) the fighting was severe but not prolonged. This time, however, Bennigsen, with over 6o,000 men in position and 15,000 Prussians expected to arrive next morning, had no desire to avoid a battle, and deployed for action, his front protected by great batteries of guns, many of them of heavy calibre, numbering some 200 in all. During the night Augereau and the Guards had arrived, and Ney and Davout were expected on either flank in the fore- noon. This time the emperor was determined his enemy should not escape him, and about 8 A.M. ordered Soult and Augereau on the left and right respectively to assail the enemy, Murat and the Guards remaining in the centre as reserve. Napoleon's own forces thus became the " general advanced guard " for Ney and Davout, who were to close in on either side and deliver the decisive stroke. But here too the weather and the state of the roads operated adversely, for Ney came up too late, while Davout, to roo,000, also moved into winter quarters in the triangle in the full tide of his victorious advance, was checked by the arrival of Lestocq, whose corps Ney had failed to intercept, November, being followed by the V., IV. and Guard corps during the succeeding fortnight, whilst the VI. and VII. were echeloned to their left, and the VIII. (Mortier) and IX. (Jerome Napoleon) and X. (Lefebvre), all new formations since the outbreak of the war, followed some marches in the rear. Jerome's corps was composed of the Bavarians, Wurttembergers and Badensers. Behind these all Prussia was overrun by newly formed units, (3rd and 4th battalions) raised from depot companies, conscripts for 1807, and old soldiers rejoining after sickness or wounds. Napoleon caused these to be despatched to the front immediately after their formation. He had much territory to occupy, and in the long march of on an average 85 days, he considered that they could be organized, equipped and drilled en route. 23. Pultusk.—The Russians meanwhile had been moving slowly forward in two bodies, one under Bennigsen (5o,000), the other under Buxhowden (25,000), and the French being at this time in Warsaw, they took up threatening positions about Pultusk, Plock and Prassnitz. From this triangle they harried the French communications with Berlin, and to secure a winter's rest for his men Napoleon determined to bring them to action. On the 23rd of December operations were commenced, but the difficulties of securing information and maintaining communication between the respective columns, so unlike what any of the French had previously encountered, led to a very partial success. The idea had been to induce the Russians to concentrate about Pultusk and, turning their position from its left, ultimately to cut them off from Russia, and if possible to surround them. But in this new and difficult country the emperor found it impossible to time his marches. The troops arrived late at their appointed positions, and after a stubborn rearguard action at Pultusk itself and undecisive fighting elsewhere (Soldau-Golymin) the Russians succeeded in retreating beyond the jaws of the French attack, and Napoleon for the first time found that he had exceeded the limit of endurance of his men. Indeed, the rank and file bluntly told him as much as he rode with the marching columns. Yielding to the inevitable, but not forgetting to announce a brilliant victory in a bulletin, he sent his troops into winter quarters along the Passarge and down the Baltic, enjoining on his corps commanders most strictly to do nothing to disturb their adversary. 24. Campaign of Eylau.—Bennigsen, now commanding the whole Russian army which with Lestocq's Prussians amounted Eiftry Walter
End of Article: NAPOLEONIC
[back]
NAPOLEON IN
[next]
NAPOLEONIC CAMPAIGNS

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.