The Battle of Eylau
(February 7-8, 1807)
From Denis Davidov's Memoirs
Napoleon's successful campaign against Prussia in 1806 amazed everyone. He appeared unstoppable in his plans to hammer out new foundations for Europe and bend it to his will. While he succeeded in destroying the Prussian military machine in the battles of Jena and Auerstadt, his diplomatic efforts met with little success.
Russia continued to refuse to join his crusade against England and to accept the new status-quo imposed in central Europe.
The economic blockade promulgated from Berlin in November 1806 did not bring the hoped-for result and force England to her knees. Instead, it would gradually bring economic ruin to Napoleon's empire. His efforts to pin the Russians down and to destroy them were also proving elusive. A long winter war was looming ahead, and the Russians and French armies prepared to meet.
The original Russian plan was to surprise and overwhelm the French troops under Bernadotte and Ney, before Napoleon and the other corps of his army, about 80,000 strong, could come to their rescue, and defeat them separately. In his winter quarters, Bernadotte had 17,000 troops, almost outside the military operations, in Elbingen. Ney had 22,000 infantry soldiers and the cavalry of Bessieres in his corps, also far flung out. However, Ney was not in his winter quarters, but was actually pursuing Lestock's corps in the direction of Friedland, and thereby was almost on the route which was being followed by the Russian army! The plan was to cut off and destroy Ney's corps while on the march, but due to slow movement and incorrect orientation of the Russians, Ney was able to march through Eylau, follow the Passarge river, and join the main body of the French army.
Bernadotte, learning of the Russian movement to intercept Ney and Bessieres, realized the danger of remaining near the sea shore next to the fortified towns of Danzig and Graudenz, which were still occupied by the Prussians. Therefore, Bernadotte left Elbing, and marched to Mohrungen, where he was able to make a stand and avoid encirclement up north.
After skirmishing for almost eight hours with Soult and Murat around Eylau's cemetery on 7 February, Benningsen with about 50,000 men under his command should have attacked the French at the crack of dawn on 8 February, before Davout and Ney arrived. They were still twenty and twenty-five miles off respectively when they were summoned urgently by Napoleon to come join his forces. Davout was hurrying from Bartenstein with about 15,000 men.
Instead, the Russians opened a cannonade early in the morning with 500 artillery pieces of which one-third was of heavy caliber. At about 1:00 P.M., having arrived with fresh troops, Davout attacked the Russian left and threatened their rear. Benningsen turned most of his troops against him. To prevent this, Napoleon ordered Augereau to attack but both of his divisions were chopped up by Russian artillery and he lost 12,000 out of his 15,000 men.
Ney failed to intercept the Prussian army numbering 15,000 men and they checked Davout's advance.
Finally Murat's cavalry (10,700 men) charged the Russian center and forced them to withdraw, albeit in good order. Although Benningsen lost a good chunk of his army, Eylau was no better than a draw!
The French lost between 20,000 and 25,000 killed and wounded and 1,200 were taken prisoners. The Russians left 11,000 dead on the battlefield and about 2,500 were taken prisoners, mainly wounded. All told there was almost 40,000 casualties at Eylau where about 70,000 men confronted one another on each side.
Benningsen had a chance to destroy Bernadotte and Ney while they were so far removed from Napoleon's main body of French troops. Ney in particular was in a precarious position, as he was strung out in pursuit of Lestock and the Prussians. Benningsen failed to make good on his chance, which was a major missed opportunity that would have had a dramatic effect on the outcome of the overall action. Incidentally, Davidov's memoirs contain ten pages of text regarding the marches and counter-marches prior the battle of Eylau, which are not included in this translation of his writing on the battle itself.
The Battle Of Eylau
From DENIS DAVIDOV'S Memoirs
The disposition of our army comprising from 70,000 to 80,000 was as follows: Its right flank was anchored to the main Koenigsberg highway near the village of Schloditen and was stretching at an angle towards the town but short of about one-half mile of its walls made an angle and rested its left flank on Klein - Sausgarten. The village of Serpalten just ahead of Sausgarten was occupied by a weak detachment under Major-General Baggovut. Five infantry divisions: the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 8th were arranged in two lines; 2 battalions of each regiment were deployed frontally and the 3rd behind them in a column; with them were arrayed over 200 canons.
The reserve consisting of two divisions, the 4th and the 14th were disposed in two thick columns and had 50 pieces of horse-drawn artillery. At sunrise it was moved closer to the center of the army. All the cavalry was divided in three portions and placed on the flanks and in the center of the army where there was no more than 28 squadrons; as for the cossack regiments they were positioned on the approaches of both flanks.
Independently of the artillery which was deployed along the line and kept with the reserve, the 1st battery of 40 heavy pieces and 20 light pieces was at first on the right flank of the army, next to the Koenigsberg highway, but when the town was occupied by the enemy it was moved 700 steps further away from it; the 2nd battery of 70 heavy pieces was arrayed almost in the center of the army, about a mile from the city and finally the 3rd battery of 40 heavy pieces stood between the center and Sausgarten. To all three batteries were adjoining the troops of our first line as if they were bastions protruding from fortifications.
The Prussian corps under Lestock, strengthened by the Viborg infantry regiment and counting up to 8,000 men was still quite far, but moving towards Altdorf, that is towards our right flank. One of its brigades under General Plotz was to entice Ney towards Kreitzburg and away from the area of decisive events and from taking part in the coming battle.
Our right flank was under the command of Lt. General Tuchkov 1st, the center under Lt. General Saken, the left flank under Lt. General Osterman-Tolstoy; the reserve under Lt. General Dokhturov, all the cavalry under Lt. General Golitzyne, the artillery under Lt. General Rezvoy.
Bagration who was the youngest of the generals had no independent command and was assigned to Dokhturov's reserve.
The French army on the eve of the battle was disposed as follows: At the approaches to the town and inside -- the infantry division of gal. Legrand on the right side of the town -- the infantry brigade under Vivienne, on the left the infantry brigade under Fere (they both were part of Infantry Division under Lewal).
To the right flank of Vivienne's brigade adjoined the infantry division of St. Hilaire all these three divisions were part of the corps under Mal. Soult.
To the right of St. Hilaire's division the dragoon division under Milhaud. Behind the town, on either side of the Landsberg road were to be found the dragoon divisions of Klein and Grouchy, to their left, behind the infantry brigade of Fere was the cavalry division of the Guard. Offside, also to the left, the light cavalry brigades of Colbert, Guyot and Bruyere and the Cuirassier division under Haupoult.
The light cavalry brigade of Durosnel was at the very end of the left flank of the whole army and next to the village of Altdorf.
Behind the Cuirassiers of Haupoult, on the road leading from Eylau to the village of Stroben -- the infantry corps of Augereau. The infantry guard of Napoleon and its own bivouac, on the hill between Eylau and Gringhofshen.
The infantry corps of Davout, about 20 miles away from the main body of the army on the road to Bartenshtein. The infantry corps of Ney, about 25 miles from the army on the road to Tzinten.
The infantry corps of Bernadotte was several days march behind the French army. The surrounding area which was occupied by our positions was a slightly hilly plain which adjoined on the left side several elevations overlooking our left flank and their location was very dangerous from the strategic point of view. Snow covered the ground and this made it difficult to move the artillery and the frozen small lakes, also snow covered, spread around the field of battle were very treacherous as they offered flat surfaces which appeared ideal but in fact were quite dangerous when moving artillery pieces. Swamps were even more impossible even for infantry! A forest of brambles stretched between the villages of Sausgarten, Kutschitten and Auklappen. The weather was clear on the whole, although marred by passing snow flurries. Light frost, no more than 3 or 4 degrees.
With morning's early half-light the army got up and got their rifles ready. The camp fires were still smoldering where the men had slept between the dark lines of the formations crisscrossing the pristine snow-covered fields of the coming battle; nowhere among them had a shot been fired yet; you could only see a certain commotion in the lines and columns which were coming to a final battle order. The 4th infantry division and the Archangel town regiment returned to their place, which was part of the general army reserve.
Daylight suddenly appeared and with it the 60 piece battery of our right flank opened up with a roar. Part of the enemy artillery which was at rest behind the first buildings of the town came out from behind them and answered the challenge -- and Napoleon saw with his own eyes that it was no longer a question of a fight with the rear-guard, as he had first thought, but with our whole army. It is not possible that at that moment the great army commander did not reproach himself for allowing the corps of Ney and Davout to be removed for such a distance from the army as they were and did not become annoyed that fate had left him without Bernadotte's corps on such a decisive day. Staff officers were immediately rushed to Davout and Ney with orders to hurry to Eylau. In the meantime a severe cannonade roared around the city, and the main French forces began to redeploy. The light cavalry brigades of Durosnel, Bruyere, Guyot and Colbert remained to the left of Eylau. The infantry division of Lewal pooling together all three brigades presented their left flank to these light cavalry brigades and their right towards the city. The Legrand infantry division moved forward from there and connected to the right flank of Lewal. Augereau's corps formed two lines: Desjardin division was the first and Hudelet division made up the second. Both of them anchored their left to the church which was at the end of town where Napoleon remained for the duration of the battle.
Behind Augereau was deployed the Cuirassier division of Haupoult which was next to the guard infantry standing behind the church on an elevation. Behind Haupoult was the mounted guard and to the right, lined up with them was Grouchy's division of Dragoons. St. Hilaire (from Soult's corps) adjoined the right flank of Augereau's first line and screened with its men the Klein Dragoon division.
The cannonade from both sides increased with the deployment of the French army parallel to ours. It became generalized but still appeared stronger near the city than elsewhere. This was due to the fact that we were trying there to stop Legrand and Lewal from attacking our right flank and the French were attempting to draw our attention away from our left and facilitate Davout's effort at that point, whose arrival was meant to decide the outcome of the battle.
The fire from several hundred guns had already lasted about three hours straight but nothing remarkable had happened neither on the enemy's nor our side.
Having received the news of the impending arrival of Davout's corps who was under orders to move from the Heilsberg road to the Bartenshtein road, Napoleon ordered the main center of his army to move to the right and combine their operations with those of Davout. The armies moved forward but at that instant a heavy snow storm hit and you couldn't see anything two steps away.
Augereau's corps lost its bearing, lost contact with St. Hilaire's division and all the cavalry, and suddenly appeared, much to their and our surprise in front of our central battery just as the weather cleared. Seventy cannons belched total hell and a hail of grapeshot started to ring against their rifle barrels and hammer at the live mass of flesh and bone.
In an instant the Moscow grenadier and the Shlusselbourg infantry together with gal. Somov infantry with lowered bayonets rushed hungrily at them. The French wavered, but recovering met bayonet with bayonet and stood their ground.
There took place an engagement the likes of which had never been seen before. Over 20,000 men from both sides were plunging a three-faceted blade into each other. Crowds fell. I was a personal witness of this Homeric slaughter and I must say truly that over the course of the 16 campaigns in my service record and through the epoch of all Napoleonic campaigns, justly referred to as the legend of our century, I have never seen the likes of it! For about half an hour you didn't hear a cannon or a rifle shot neither in the midst nor around this spot: you could only hear some inexpressible roar of thousands of brave soldiers in hand to hand struggle, mixing and cutting each other up. Mounds of dead bodies were piled over with new mounds; people were falling on top of each other by the hundreds, so that this whole segment of the battle resembled a high parapet of a suddenly erected fortification. Finally, our side got the upper hand!
Augereau's corps was toppled and hotly pursued by our infantry and Prince Golitsyn who had galloped with the central cavalry to support the foot soldiers. The pitch of their fervor reached improbable heights: one of our battalions in the heat of pursuit went way over the enemy position and appeared at the church a hundred steps away from Napoleon himself, which is mentioned by all Frenchmen in their war diaries of that time. It was a critical moment. Napoleon whose resolve grew incrementally with multiplying dangers ordered Murat and Bessières together with the three Haupoult divisions, Klein, Grouchy and the horse-guard to strike at our troops rushing in with shouts of HURRAH. This movement was necessary to save even part of Augereau's corps and to forestall our general onslaught. More than 60 squadrons galloped around to the right of the fleeing corps and rushed against us, waving their swords. The field was engulfed in a roar and the snow, ploughed over by 12,000 united riders lifted and swirled from under them like a storm. Brilliant Murat with his carousel-like costume followed by a large suite, was ablaze ahead of the onslaught with a naked saber and flew directly into the thick of the fight. Rifle and canon fire and leveled bayonets were unable to stem the deadly tide. The French cavalry crumpled and stomped on everything, broke through the first line of the army and its impetuous rush had reached the second line and our reserve, but here it broke against the cliff of a stronger will. The second line and the reserve stood their ground, did not waver and turned back the awesome tidal wave with thick battery and rifle fire.
Then this cavalry pursued in turn by our horsemen right through the ranks of the first line (which at first had been crumpled and stomped but which again got up on its feet and was firing back) was now flowing back even beyond the line which had occupied in the beginning of the day. The pursuit of the cavalry was breathtakingly successful and followed through to the hilt.
The enemy batteries left on that line were seized by our several squadrons and the gun crews together with the carriage wheels were hacked to pieces while the draught horses and their drivers had galloped away in a panic.
In this hand-to-hand engagement and the flowing back and forth of the cavalry, the following generals - Haupoult of the cavalry, Daleman of the guard, Desjardin of the infantry and Corbineau all fell on the field of battle. Marshal Augereau himself, along with Division General Hudelet and Brigade General Lochet were wounded; several other brigade generals and staff officers such as Lacuyet, Marois, Bouvier and others shared the same fate. Two squadrons of horse guard grenadiers composing the tail of the retreating enemy cavalry were intercepted by ours and laid down their lives between the church and the second line. The 14th regiment of the line lost all its officers and the 24th of the line had only five left alive. The whole corps of Augereau, three cavalry divisions and the mounted guard represented only fragments of their former selves. Six eagles were captured by us.
What a minute of opportunity for a forceful and combined thrust of all our forces at the division of St. Hilaire, left without support and any hope of help! All around this division had been destroyed or toppled and what's more important left without the spirit to come to its aid or the will to fight back. Moreover, it wasn't quite eleven o'clock in the morning, therefore there was still two hours left before Davout's arrival on the battlefield. But to put such moments to good use, it is not enough to have a thorough knowledge of one's craft, and to have a determined spirit or a sharp mind: all this is dead without the inspiration, without this incomprehensive, inexpressible impulse which is instantaneous like an electric spark which is just as necessary to the poet as it is to a military commander; it was innate to Napoleon and to Suvorov -- it belonged to poets and men that made things happen such as Pindar and Mirabeau -- who had a command over words.
The propitious moment which promised such advantage to our arms disappeared. Our troops, pursuing the enemy were forced to return back to the main body of the army from which not a single battalion was sent forward to help us and the enemy who had been in disarray came together, taking advantage of this lull got back in order and took heart. Then the opposing armies resumed the same position in which they were before the onslaught and bloodshed which had devoured uselessly such numbers, and all these miracles of prowess, all the selflessness and heroism of these soldiers who had heaped their bodies in piles over the disputed ground, turned to naught as if it never happened!
The action limited itself to a severe cannonade which again engulfed the entire length of both armies and the slaughter of new thousands, just like that, to while the time away, until the arrival of the Davout corps to the French and the Prussian corps of Lestock to our side.
Now came the second phase of the battle. Around one o'clock in the afternoon, on the crest of the hills which rose to the left of us and where our left flank was anchored, there appeared a few isolated men on horseback. Behind them appeared masses of cavalry and then came masses of infantry and artillery as well. The horizon grew dark and rippled with motion. The hills of Sausgarten, silent until then, flashed, belched smoke and roared.
Davout answered them with 40 field pieces and flowed in mass over the battlefield at about the same time as the division of St. Hilaire, reinforced by the cavalry division Milhaud moved to meet him. To the left of St. Hilaire came the cavalry divisions of Klein, Grouchy and Haupoult which had already been mauled in battle and were now arrayed in three lines. Further to the left of this cavalry came forth the remains of Augereau's corps in formation composed of two lines. Behind them marched the guard infantry and bringing up the rear of Haupoult, no less mauled than the other cavalry, came the guard cavalry. However, the divisions of Legrand and Lewal as well as four light cavalry brigades remained where they were.
All attention on both sides was now riveted to Davout and our left wing. Adjutants were galloping on the Altdorf road with orders for Lestock to hurry up his arrival not to our right flank anymore, but through Schmoditten to our threatened left wing. A portion of the cavalry and artillery situated on our right and in the center moved to the left as well, which the enemy forces were forcing to fall back towards the center, already suffering from the fire of batteries deployed behind the stone walls of the city. These batteries were firing all the length of our army from Eylau to Auklappen and the woods between Sausgarten, Auklappen and Kutschitten.
The situation did not appear very rosy. Davout having pushed back our left flank behind the woods now occupied the area dividing Kutschitten and Sausgarten, deployed on the heights of Sausgarten an enormous battery and was shelling the whole length of our army with the same sweeping enfilade fire which we were getting from Eylau. The village of Kutschitten filled with Davout's infantry as well as the infantry of St. Hilaire which had captured Auklappen (where Benningsen had his headquarters the night before). Count Osterman with fearlessness, Count Palen with equanimity of heroes were attempting to fend off the assault growing stronger with success, but to no avail! disorder was beginning to hamper our troops. The whole field of battle from Kutschitten to Schmoditten was covered with scattered soldiers: they were stretched towards the Koenigsberg highway under the protection of those comrades in arms who had not lost spirit or order and were shedding their blood on every step of ground they fought for. The cross-fire of the ever-increasing enemy batteries plowed and blew up everything that was to be seen on the battlefield. Pieces of rifles, chunks of gun- carriages, headgear, helmets were flying all over, everything was cracking and falling apart.
Amidst the storm of screaming shells and exploding grenades, among the fallen and the falling men and horses, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the fight and clouds of smoke, there towered the huge figure of Benningsen like a flag of honor. To him and from him streamed adjutants, messages and orders were followed by news and further orders, the race was without stop and the activity unflagging. But the situation of the army did not improve because all thoughts, intentions, dispositions of our leader were impregnated with carefulness, calculation, the product of an exact and sound mind, equal to the task of grappling with minds of the same type, but not up to dealing with flashes of genius, sudden events which escape foresight and clever guesses grounded in classic rules. All that Benningsen ordered and all that was carried out as a result tended only to oppose systematically the attacks of Davout and St. Hilaire, opposing bayonet to bayonet and firearm to firearm but did not address any unexpected move which came out of the ordinary, and did not forestall a blow out of the blue on some point which was deemed out of danger from the enemy.
And actually, how were things going? Davout continued to press on, capturing more and more of our left flank, while the center and right, not moving at all, were shedding small portions of infantry, cavalry and artillery to help out the retreating left wing, not undertaking anything that might suddenly surprise the enemy. But even the fact that we were opposing the enemy right flank was bringing us no small advantage: by postponing a decisive defeat, because it gave time to Lestock's corps to arrive on the battlefield. But to do this right we should have been propping up this flank with large masses and not just small units.
Bagration who in moments of danger found his proper place through will power and inborn talents, moved the reserve towards Auklappen and had it facing Davout and St. Hilaire. Ermolov galloped to the same spot with 36 horse-drawn guns drawn from the reserve, peppered Auklappen with incendiary shells, set it immediately on fire and forced the enemy infantry to leave it; Major gal. CT. Kutaisoff also arrived there with 12 guns but somewhat later. Then, not loosing a moment, he rushed to the stream crossing the woods and attacked the batteries which had been stationed there and preventing the infantry columns from either moving into the woods or Auklappen or Kutschitten and reinforcing the troops pouring into this last village. But these successes, or rather the postponement of the threatened disaster could not last. To snatch decisive victory from the enemy it was vital not only to stop but to defeat Davout by bearing down on his right flank and simultaneously to threaten his rear by a general offensive against the corps of Augereau and the cavalry which were contiguous to his forces.
Finally the adjutants galloped over with the news of Lestock's approach whom we had awaited so long and so patiently. Having occupied the greater part of Ney's corps with battling the brigade of gal. Plotz and pursuing him to Kreizburg, Lestock turned to Leisen, Graventen and Altdorf with his main forces, consisting of 9 battalions and 29 squadrons. It was already around 4:00 p.m.; the road to Altdorf was darkened with troops and Benningsen galloped to meet them -- to speed them up and so that he could direct them according to his own views. It was noticeable that with the arrival of the commander-in-chief the entire corps began to move faster. Lestock was directed towards Schmoditten; he moved past this village and just short of Kutschitten arranged his troops in battle order. The right column was composed by the Viborg infantry regiment, the left was Ruchel's regiment and the reserve behind them, the grenadier battalion of Fobetsky deployed in one line. The infantry regiment of Shoning, marching in a column, by-passed the village on the left and slammed into the enemy infantry facing them, toppled it and chased it into the woods. General Kal, with cavalry and one cossack regiment which joined him from the main body of the army, leaving Kutschitten to the right, fell on the enemy cavalry adjoining this village, bringing disorder into their ranks and turned on the infantry running out in disarray from the village, trampled them and destroyed the greater part of it, preventing their escape into the woods where the first elements had found refuge.
In this engagement the Viborg regiment won back three cannons that the French had captured on our left flank during its retreat. Having taken possession of Kutschitten, Lestock turned his troops to the right and arranged them facing the woods. The regiment of Shoning composed his right flank, the grenadier battalion of Fobetsky and the Viborg infantry the center, and the Ruchel regiment was the left. A second line of defense was made up of the Wagenfeld Cuirassier regiment and the dragoon regiments of Auer and Batchko. A light cavalry regiment composed of various elements was arranged to the left of the infantry.
Our left flank which had been retreating came to a halt and came to order, and its reserve under the command of Major gal. CT. Kamenskoy and the reserve cavalry under Major gal. Chaplitz came to reinforce the Prussian corps.
The attack of the woods was carried out with great courage and in impeccable order. The woods were cleared partly by fire-arms, partly by cold steel. The moment was ripe for a combined effort by the center and the reserve of our army against the watered-down remains of Augereau's corps (mauled that morning) the horse guard and the three cavalry divisions of Klein, Grouchy and Haupoult which had brought the left flank with the right of the French army. Such a combination had given victory to Napoleon at Austerlitz. But our army remained on the spot limiting its action to a cannonade. To Lestock's pressure was adding his own artillery hammering the troops of Davout and St. Hilaire, and also Ermolov's artillery lining their fire along the whole extension from the left to the right of the enemy.
Despite this general inactivity on our side which relied solely on the efforts of Lestock and Ermolov's artillery, the enemy was not able to stand up to them. Their retreat which at first began with some semblance of order turned into inexcusable disorder, so much in fact that 28 cannons, some damaged and some not, were abandoned by them on the battlefield. The coming darkness and poor intelligence did not allow the Prussian general to crown this day with these important trophies. Having left the field of battle Davout and St. Hilaire arranged their troops on either side of Sausgarten; the front line and sentries were placed a few yards ahead. The whole enemy line segmented the battlefield from Sausgarten to Eylau. At Eylau remained at their previous stations the divisions of Lewal and Legrand; but 4 light cavalry brigades moved forward to the Altdorf stream to keep lines of communication opened with Ney who was approaching Altdorf.
On our side, the troops were disposed as follows: The forward line resting its left flank against the road, going from Kutschitten to Domnau followed the stream which flowed from Auklappen and cut the woods in two. From there the line continued in front of Auklappen and rested against our central battery, which had played such an important role in the first phase of the battle. To this battery adjoined the troops of the right flank, as they did in their original formation prior to the battle. This defensive battle order of the opposing forces at the end of the battle proves the absence of decisive arms superiority of one side over the other. The French and our army as well remained in the positions they originally occupied with essentially small changes on our left flank, giving way a few yards to Davout's corps and St. Hilaire's division because the coming darkness made fighting more difficult. If we had had one more hour of daylight, Lestock would have inevitably taken possession of the artillery abandoned by the French and would have compelled Davout and St. Hilaire to retreat behind Sausgarten and beyond. Late night darkened further and further over Eylau's field, saturated with blood. All the surrounding villages were now the prey of flames and the reflection of the fires shone over the exhausted troops, still standing under arms and awaiting further orders. Here and there you could see camp fires being lit, around which gathered or beckoned to thousands of crawling wounded soldiers. The torn bodies of men and horses, broken wagons, powder cases and gun carriages, outfit and arms -- all this scattered here, piled up there gave the plain a look of terror and destruction worthy of the brush of the inspired creator of THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII.
The engagement had ended but the uncertainty: "Should we renew the battle or retreat to Koenigsberg?" and for the French, "Should we pull back to the Vistula?" gripped the minds of the leaders of both armies. The most obstinate of the two finally triumphed not because he renewed the offensive but because he remained on the battlefield until dawn.
Benningsen left the field around midnight, posting several squadrons to keep surveillance on the enemy and to provide a screen for the army heading for Koenigsberg. Lestock retired through Allenburg to Byelo. There was no pursuit. The French like a disabled man-of-war with torn sails and broken masts were bobbing about menacingly, but unable to make any headway to fight or to pursue.
Suddenly we heard rifle-fire in Schmoditten. We were astonished. Our first thought it was Ney that we had forgotten about. And sure enough, Ney arrived with part of his corps at Altdorf around 9 o'clock in the evening, found there the Prussian battalion of Captain Kurowsky, who realizing the disproportion in the opposing forces, left the village and joined the rest of the army. General Liger-Belair with the 6th and 39th regiments followed him and entered Schmoditten village, which was filled with wounded and covering escorts that had got there to protect them. They opened fire on the French and a fusillade ensued. To assist them we sent the Voronezh infantry regiment and a few cannons; but the enemy did not choose to await their arrival and retreated into Altdorf, and thus the alarm was over.
On the 9th our army having rested in Muhlhausen continued its march to Koenigsberg around which it stopped, having left in the rear guard Prince Bagration in Ludwigswald. The French army fearing a new battle up ahead chose to remain near Eylau. Only 24 squadrons moved forward to keep under observation the shores of Frieshing, towards Mansfeld and Ludwigswald, and that only two days later when Napoleon was assured that our army had arrived at Pregel. The 17th of February Napoleon decided to retreat behind the Passarge River to take up his winter-quarters and left Eylau, pursued by our advance guard and all the cossack regiments under the command of their leader Platoff who from that day forward acquired his European reputation.
The retrograde march of the enemy was no less costly in many respects than the retreat suffered five years later from Moscow to the Niemen river, in spite of the moderate cold. The later losses were ascribed to the cold weather by the French but today, however, few people give it credence. Being in the advance guard myself, I was witness to the bloody trail from Eylau to Gutstadt. The whole road was littered with debris without cease. We met everywhere hundreds of horses dying or obstructing the way which we followed, and ambulance filled with dying or dead soldiers and men of rank mutilated in the Eylau battle. The rush to evacuate had become such that besides the sufferers left in the carriages we found many that had been simply dumped on the snow without cover or clothes, bleeding to death. At each mile of road there weren't two, but tens and hundreds. Moreover, all the villages along the way were filled with sick and wounded, without doctors or food or the least care. In this pursuit the cossacks captured many exhausted men, marauders and 8 artillery pieces, stuck in the snow without harnesses.
Our losses in this battle reached almost half of the number of the fighting men, that is to say 37,000 men killed or wounded. According to the army registers it appears that our army was composed of 46,800 men (regular army) and 2,500 cossacks. There was no equal to such losses in military annals since the invention of gun powder. The reader can imagine what the losses of the French army were, since they possessed a less numerous artillery than ours and which was beaten back from two hot assaults in the center and the left flank of our army. Our trophies consisted of nine eagles torn out from the ranks of the enemy and 2,000 prisoners. The Prussian king took two eagles.
I was involved in a touching episode after the battle. A year and two months before, our army had been defeated at Austerlitz. The horse guard regiment shared the defeat along with the others. My own brother, then a 20-year old youth who served in this regiment was grievously wounded: he received five saber cuts, one bullet wound and a bayonet thrust and had been left for dead in a mound of corpses on the battlefield. There he lay until late at night. He regained consciousness in the dark, got up and somehow hobbled towards a fire which could be seen coming from a nearby village which he found overflowing with Russian wounded, among whom he found a spot.
After three days two men from his regiment who had sustained much lighter wounds - Arapov and Barkovsky - persuaded him to walk in the direction of our retreating army, and he, not really knowing what direction it had taken, made his way with them, wandering about the way people exhausted by suffering and hunger are apt to do. Their journey did not last very long. A squadron of mounted grenadiers of the guard, detached from the French army to gather the wounded from both sides caught up with them and informed them of their fate. There was nothing to be done -- they had to obey. The squadron continued on, but their commanding officer entrusted my brother and his two comrades to one of the officers of the squadron with orders to convey them to Brünn where Napoleon's headquarters were located. But as our proverb says the poor folk get lost but God looks after them. This particular officer was second-lieutenant Serugues, a nephew of Minister Maret (Duke of Bassano) to his mercy was left the life and death of my brother. I say life and death because the hatred of the French towards the Russians and vice-versa had originated from about that time. In both armies they got into the habit of stripping prisoners of their last clothes, their boots and left them to die, overcome by hunger and exhaustion, cold or wounds
This was not part of a system ordered from above, but such acts were never questioned by superiors. A humane and compassionate man, Serugues had not been yet infected by these loathsome examples. Taking a heartfelt interest in the misfortune of his prisoner, he extended his indulgence and even forbade him to walk on foot, put him on a horse and seeing how weak he was from hunger shared with him his last morsel of bread. Thus he conveyed him to the pastor of the nearest village, saw to it that he was fed until full, got a cart ready for him and sent him on to Brünn, cheering him on with a friendly, almost brotherly concern. Moreover, he gave his word to my brother that he would look for him and find him again in Brünn where he hoped to return soon, but failing that got him to promise he would apply for assistance from his uncle, Minister Maret, and insist that every necessary help be given him. All this I heard from my brother upon his return from captivity and a few weeks before I myself left to join the army. Having arrived with the rear-guard into Ludwigswald the 29th of January, I begged permission from Bagration to visit Koenigsberg on personal affairs, and having gotten there quartered myself with General Chaplitz who was assigned the duty of commander of the city. Chaplitz told me that there was some kind of French officer, wounded in the last engagement who was making inquiries about me and asking whether there was a lieutenant of the guard Davidov? I was the only guard officer by that name in the whole army and in my curiosity to find out the name of this French officer I asked to see the list of prisoners of rank. You can imagine my surprise when the name of second-lieutenant of the horse guard regiment Serugues jumped out at me the moment I opened the enormous folio!
To spot this name, to run and find him was all one motion. I was still running, not having seen his face yet, but I was already his brother, a friend for life and the most devoted relative.
It must be mentioned here that the inhabitants of Koenigsberg having learned of the arrival of our army under their walls were fearing its further retreat and the eventual occupation of the city by the French. Therefore to earn the good graces of Napoleon beforehand, they made every effort to beg Benningsen for the permission to split among themselves the wounded French officers in order to quarter them and keep them in their homes at their expense.
It goes without saying that fortune was even more favorable to the nephew of the Minister than to others. Serugues enjoyed the hospitality of one of the wealthiest citizens of Koenigsberg. I found him in a tall, luxuriously appointed house, whose entire first floor had been put at his disposal. A bed with a large canopy, choice linens, screens, small tables and sofas, comfortable armchairs near the bed, semi-darkness and fragrant incense, a doctor and medicines, surely nothing was lacking. But he lay there pale, worn out and in great pain. Several sword slashes on his head and arms did not incommode him as much as a deep and eventually mortal wound to the groin.
I approached quietly and carefully towards the bed of the wretched sufferer and told him my name. We embraced as true blood-brothers. He asked about mine with genuine concern; I thanked him for having preserved him and offered my services with deep emotion. He answered me: "You see I am in the care of a good person and don't lack for anything. However, you can do me a great service. Undoubtedly among the prisoners there are some wounded from my outfit; could you possibly appeal to the authorities and arrange for two or perhaps even one of my horse grenadiers to remain by my side. Let me die, still keeping to the end my eyes on the uniform of my regiment and the guard of a great man." It goes without saying that I rushed to see Benningsen and Chaplitz and obtained their permission to choose from the crowd of prisoners two horse grenadiers from Serugues own squad and in two hours time I returned to him, accompanied by two mustachioed fellows, crowned with bear-skin hats and in full uniform. It is impossible to express the joy of my ill-fated friend at the sight of his comrades-in-arms. Expressions of gratitude would have been endless without my begging him to restrain these outbursts of the heart, so exhausting in his state. For two days I did not leave Serugues' side, day or night; on the third everything came to an end: he died in my arms and was buried in the Koenigsberg cemetery. Behind the casket walked the two aforementioned French horse-grenadiers and I, a second lieutenant of the Russian guard. A strange juxtaposition of uniforms! A deep sorrow was clearly evident on the faces of the old veterans, my companions in the procession -- I was young -- I was crying.
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