Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter 10

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)






l-3 February 1814.  --Reinforcements sent to Scheither in Beaune.  --Occupation of Chalon-sur-Saône on 4 February.  --With an excess of caution and in fear of compromising the 14,000 men he had ranged from Chalon-sur-Saône to Montmélian, Bubna had not taken advantage of the weakness of the few French troops trying to defend the outskirts of Lyon, to stand firm in Savoy and cover the Dauphiné; on the other hand, he made the mistake of being intimidated in the Saône by some of gatherings without consistency, improvised to the approach of his advanced guard.  However the situation of French was far from brilliant.  The inexplicable times of halt provided by the operations of Bubna that he personally directed, had  exercised counter strokes against those of the General Zechmeister.  Instead of breaking into Grenoble and taking by surprise this important town, left unarmed and without anyone, he preferred to turn against the road from Chambéry to Lyon, giving the French time to organize the forces that gathered at Valencia and with which they hoped to hold out until the arrival of troops from Catalonia.

The first days of February would, like the last days of January, also pass quite slowly.  The 1st of February, was limited to starting en route  of some reinforcements sent by the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg to General Scheither to allow him to take Chalon-sur-Saône.[1]

3 February Scheither, departing Beaune, obliged the French only by his appearance to evacuate Chagny and retreat to Givry and Chalon.  His march was covered on the left bank of the Saône by the detachment of Major Count Saint-Quentin, and General Legrand, believing himself too weak to resist this attack, who fell back on the night of the 3rd to 4th on Buxy, leaving Givry and Chalon-sur-Saône to the General Scheither.  Major Saint-Quentin arrived in Saint-Marcel, crossed onto the right bank when the bridge was restored.

3 February 1814.  --Affair of La Tour-du-Pin.  --There had been the 3rd, on the side of Zechmeister, an insignificant cavalry skirmish.  Two platoons of Liechtenstein Hussars sent in reconnaissance on La Tour-du-Pin, had fallen into a squadron of French gendarmes who pursued them without maintaining their order.  The lieutenant of hussars, seeing this error, whirled about when the gendarmes least expected it, overthrew those who were near his hussars, took from them a few men and forced the rest of the squadron to withdraw in haste.

On the Isère, in the words of General Dessaix, still stationed at La Chavanne, opposite Montmélian, no events occurred.  The Austrians were content to go over the Tarentaise with their detachments and to throw on the left bank of the Isère, up to Saint-Pierre-d'Albigny and Conflans some parties, avoiding commitment, retiring and recrossing to the right bank, at the approach of the reconnaissance of Dessaix.

The occupation of Chalon-sur-Saône by General Scheither and the arrival of a dispatch from Schwarzenberg[2] in which, by giving notice of the victory of La Rothière he invited Bubna to reoccupy Mâcon faster, which the Generalissimo regretted evacuating, had decided the Austrian general to retake the offensive and to support with at least a portion of his troops, the operation on Mâcon, the execution of which was entrusted to Scheither.

5 February 1814.  --Affair of Montluel.  --Although Bubna knew perfectly well what happened in Lyon, it seems that the offensive reconnaissance, executed on 5 February by some squadrons of French cavalry on his outposts of Montluel, was enough to make him renounce any demonstration near Lyon.  The advantage gained by the French cavalry, however, was very insignificant.  The Austrian outposts there had been pulled back from Montluel on Meximieux; but the French cavalry, without being supported, had not dared to attack this position and was withdrawn in the evening to return to its cantonments of Miribel, when the Austrian vanguard reappeared and reestablished its outposts.  The inaction of Bubna was even less justified as the advanced guard troops from Catalonia, he well knew, had not yet arrived in Nimes.  "The National Guard is reassembling in Lyon," he wrote Schwarzenberg[3], "and I do not think it will be long before something serious will be attempted on Lyon and will likely threaten the rear of our military operations."  Bubna should have taken advantage of a favorable situation for him, to hurry things along, gather his forces he had scattered, and undertake something on one hand, against Mâcon, against Lyon and Grenoble on the other.  Informed as he was, he wasn't ignorant that some newly formed battalions, which joined Augereau were without arms, others poorly armed; the men of these battalions were barely dressed and incompletely equipped without haversacks, without pouches, untrained; that Augereau lacked money and the magazines of the French army were empty.  He should also have been interested in preventing the people from arming themselves and rising, and he felt this so strongly, that in the proposal that in the occupation of Chalon by Scheither,  he insisted particularly on this point.  "General Scheither" he wrote in the dispatch we just cited,[4] "disarmed several villages marching on Chalon and shot on my order, a farmer found with weapons in hand.  This execution has produced a salutary effect."  Bubna had no reason to remain idle: he could not even blame as Augereau, his immobility by the precarious state of the troops under his command.  And yet, he only prescribe Scheither to continue his movement on Mâcon and to follow General Legrand by the parties and by mobile columns.

6 February 1814.  --Occupation of Tournus.  --Reconnaissance of Fort Barraux.  --Affair of Chapareillan.  --Before resuming his movement, Scheither, made the flying corps of Lieutenant Colonel Menninger depart, directing him on Charolles while that of Major Count Saint-Quentin occupied Tournus on the 6th, without finding traces of the French.

Zechmeister tried the same day to push a reconnaissance on the position of Fort Barraux, turning the French positions at Chapareillan.  A battalion and four companies left Saint-Baldoph, to move by La Palud to Belle-Combe, south of Chapareillan.  A battalion, two companies, a battery and two squadrons of Liechtenstein Hussars, marched along the main road from Grenoble, from Marches on Chapareillan and from there to Fort Barraux.  Two companies of infantry flanked the left bordering the right bank of the Isere.  General Zechmeister managed to drive before him, from the wood of the Servette and Cernon the outposts of Chapareillan; but his progress was arrested by the troops of General Dessaix, who held fast to Belle-Combe.  Zechmeister, thrown back in turn, followed so quickly by that of the French, to give his troops time to retreat, was obliged to support two fights with the rear guard, the first between Belle-Combe and Belle-Combette, the second in La Palud.  Following this unsuccessful reconnaissance, the Austrians returned to their former positions and the French continued to occupy the position of Chapareillan that General Dessaix saw fit to strengthened the garrison with 300 men sent by General Marchand from Pontcharra.[5]

8-9 February 1814.  --Scheither at Tournus and at Mâcon.  --February 8, Scheither, leaving ten companies to guard Chalon-sur-Saône and Givry, marched with the rest of his brigade, rejoining Major Count Saint-Quentin at Tournus[6] and came the 9th to Mâcon.

General Legrand threatened by the raid of Lieutenant Colonel Menninger, did not even try to move from Chalon on Mâcon; he hastened to take refuge from Chalon in the Allier and when he stopped at the 9th in Chevagnes, about midway between the Loire and Moulins, there were no more than 180 men with him.

The same day, Bubna suffering from a violent attack of gout, temporarily handed over command to General Klebelsberg.

10 February 1814.  --Movement of parties of cavalry in front of Mâcon, towards the Grande-Chartreuse, and towards Lyon.  --The 10th, Scheither's cavalry parties came out of Mâcon, to stop at 4 kilometers away, in Varennes and Vinzelles.

In Savoy, some parties had appeared before Échelles towards the Grande-Chartreuse, while others, watching the road from Lyon to Pont-de-Beauvoisin, appeared in La Tour-du-Pin.

11 February 1814.  --March of Wieland on Saint-Trivier-sur-Moignans.  --Movements on Trévoux and Villefranche. --The next day of the 11th, there was a movement that ascertained information giving Bubna recognition, finally, of the disadvantages of his position and the perils that he would run by the unnecessary and continual dangerous dispersion of his corps.  Colonel Wieland, leaving only two squadrons in Bourg, went with his brigade to Villars and to Saint-Trivier-sur-Moignans.  He could, in this way, support Major Count Saint-Quentin who went to cross through the area of Thoissey on the left bank of the Saône, move on Montmerle-sur- Saône and try to push up to Trévoux.  It seems, moreover, there was a resolution to become a little more united in operations on the Saône.

The movement of Wieland coincided not only with the tip of Saint-Quentin towards Trévoux, but sending a party of Scheither's cavalry in the direction of Belleville and Villefranche.  Another party of cavalry, crossed Montluel, requisitioning food and fodder and were directed on Meximieux.[7]

On the side of Dijon, where the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg had established his headquarters, everything was so far limited to the blockade of Auxonne and skirmishes with the garrison of that place.

12 February 1814.  --The French reinforce in Savoy.  --Skirmish of Saint-Georges.  --Inaction of Augereau.    --On the 12th, although the French troops had not made a movement on Savoy, nor Dauphiné or the Saône, fear began, however, of an imminent resumption of operations in Savoy.

The attitude of the troops of General Dessaix and Marchand was sobering to Zechmeister.  The information he had gathered about him on the arrival of reinforcements received by the generals, who disposed from that moment: Dessaix 5,000 men, 2,000 men Marchand.

The reconnaissances sent by Scheither had also seen, for the first time, French troops; but the two companies and squadrons stationed with a half-battery in support of these reconnaissance at La Maison-Blanche (3 kilometers before Saint-Symphorien-d'Ancelles) did not have to intervene.

One of the reconnaissance sent to Beaujeu, found no one, and the other in its march towards Villefranche, was well met in the vicinity of Saint-Georges-de-Reneins, by a party of French cavalry moving on Saint-Jean-d 'Ardières, but the party withdrew without a fight.[8]

The inaction of Marshal Augereau became more incomprehensible day after day.  Not only had he allowed Scheither to evacuation Chalon-sur-Saone and Mâcon without fighting and threaten Villefranche; but he had not even supported and encouraged the good intentions of the people whose "attitude," said Captain Wüsthof in his report to the General Scheither, "is clearly hostile."  The Emperor, Chief of Staff and the Minister of War, who knew nothing of the softness of the Marshal, would depart from the almost daily call for an offensive because of the very considerable numbers of Austrians, which entitled him to delay for better results.  This did not however, spare him from reproaches from other quarters, as in few cases in the same order of the Emperor.

On the 12th, the Minister of War[9] informed him with an unusual stiffness that "they were astonished by events in the departments of Mont Blanc and the Isère that could have been prevented."

It would have been enough, indeed, to enter the department of Mont Blanc with some troops through La Tour-du-Pin and Saint-Genix-sur-Guiers, to seize the important passage of the pass of Mont du Chat, near Le Bourget threaten the rear of the Austrian troops entering the Isère, forcing them to evacuate the Dauphiné and renounce perhaps guarding the posts of the Échelles.  But what was most essential and urgent, was, as Clarke said, "not to waste time and immediately push the Austrians along the Saône to return to Mâcon and Chalon and threaten the left and rear of the Austrian corps of Dijon and of Besançon."  The Minister further added that "this well-directed movement could have a significant impact on the operations of the Great Army and make a very useful diversion in favor of the Emperor."

The Duke of Castiglione would have been much better off in starting his offensive on the 12th, as the troops of Spain joined him at that time.  A strong first column of 1300 men had already entered Lyon on the 10th; another, composed of 2,500 men followed at intervals of 24 hours; a third column of infantry would arrive the 14th.  The first echelon of cavalry and artillery was due on the 16th, and the end of the cavalry the 21st and 22nd.

The situation of Augereau was as much as the Minister of the War represented to the Emperor, as he outlined in the dispatch of the 12th of which we have spoken.  The change that occurred in the position of Marshal and that would have allowed him to take the offensive on the 10th or the 12th at the latest, was, moreover, also known to Bubna.  On the 12th and 13th, he reported to headquarters and the Crown Prince of Hesse Homburg the arming of French in Lyon and Grenoble.  He expected at any moment to see Augereau take the offensive between the Saône and the Rhone. And yet, beyond the information provided by his emissaries, there was still on his side, that from skirmishes, from the affair of his outposts, although insignificant, enough to worry about.[10]

13 February 1814.  --Affair of Saint-Pierre-d'Entremont.  --Fears of Bubna and the Crown Prince of Hesse.  --Orders to Scheither.  --On the night of 12 to 13, two independent companies located in the Chartreuse Mountains, near Entremont had surprised an Austrian outpost in Saint-Pierre-d'Entremont.[11]  This coup de main had been executed by order of Dessaix and without any intervention from the Marshal had left Bubna with fear of a serious movement against the Échelles.

The fears expressed by Bubna had been confirmed by the news collected by the scouts of Scheither who was eager to tell the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg and the preparations that had been made by Lyon and the arrival of reinforcements.  The advanced guard of Scheither was at that time in La Chapelle-de-Guinchay between Belleville and Mâcon that was occupied by the main body of his brigade.  Communications with Chalon were performed by two squadrons of hussars that came to join him and he posted at Tournus.  As different information appeared to reveal an imminent energetic offensive action, the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg, thinking Augereau would act immediately sent the next day of the 14th, to Scheither the order to rally his brigade, that was too scattered, to get Lieutenant-Colonel Menninger and remind him that he had sent the parties a little on all sides in order to discover the plans of the enemy.  Although these parties had announced to Scheither the evacuation of Villefranche and the French cavalry positions retired to Lyon, the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg, none the less, had sent for Bourg Brigade General Wimpffen, so if needed he could at a pinch pass before Auxonne.[12]

The uprising of the people contributed, moreover, to the increasing fears of the Prince who had been forced to disarm the inhabitants of the three localities, although far removed from each other, Cuiserey near Mirebeau-sur-Bèze, localities Saint-Gengoux-le-National (Saint-Gengoux-le-Royal) and Cluny.

15 February 1814.  --Reoccupation of Échelles and the Grotte by the French.  --But, as if nothing had happened which could have changed the plans of the Duke of Castiglione, as if nothing could force him out of the inaction in which he seemed to revel, he confined himself to write to the Minister to tell him of the arrival in Lyon, of the first troops from Catalonia and from Vienna six battalions of Nimes reserves.  He was careful not to talk about the resumption of operations that could already have started and been active for five days.[13]

Fortunately General Dessaix and Marchand were less timid and less hesitant than the Duke of Castiglione and the 15th, they attacked General Zechmeister along his entire line.  After a more than difficult march, during which the troops of General Barral had been delayed by water, ice, and the crossing of many defiles, they had, after seven hours of fighting, managed to dislodge the Austrians from the position of Échelles and oblige them to retreat to Saint-Jean-de-Couz after taking the defile of the Grotte from them.[14]

Another French column, that of General Chabert, departing in the morning from Voiron, was brought by a brisk march on the bridge of Chaillé and occupied the plateau on the left bank preventing the defenders of Échelles, first from receiving reinforcements, and then seeking to make their retreat by the valley of Guier.  This column moved the following day of the 16th on Pont-de-Beauvoisin where it could no longer find anyone.[15]

For his part, General Dessaix harassed the Austrians at Montmélian.  Desiring to save the city, he parleyed with the Austrian general hoping to persuade him to withdraw[16] while Field Marshal Lieutenant Klebelsberg, expecting to see the offensive movement of the French increase little by little, gave, the order on the evening of the 15th to his troops the order to concentrate further back and cover the route of Geneva.[17]

The attitude of people forces Scheither to stop.  --Despite the immobility of Augereau, the news of the arrival of the troops from Spain was enough to raise the morale of the people.  The presence of General Legrand, after having pulled back just to the Allier, was reporting forward with a thousand men hastily assembled and from depots and headed for the Loire, persuaded the country people to take up arms, to attack, to take small outposts, to ambush small detachments.  The commencement of the levy had resulted compelling Scheither a stop and concentrate between Saint-Symphorien-d'Ancelles, La Chapelle-de-Guinchay and Mâcon with his eleven companies, its twenty squadrons and horse battery.  That was all that was blocking the road to Chalon-sur-Saône from the French.

16 February 1814.  --Slow operations in Savoy.  --The hesitation of the Duke of Castiglione, the lack of precise and formal instructions had hampered operations only started in Dauphiné and Savoy.  It was probably because it was not in the orders of Marshal, that instead of taking by force Montmélian, General Dessaix preferred to negotiate with the Austrians and lost for at least two days a position to outflank the enemy that declared it did not want to evacuate if it was attacked from both front and flank.  To achieve this and spare the city, Dessaix, still stationed at La Chavanne had thought it best to ensuring the road of the Tarentaise, on which he sent on the 17th, a small column of 400 men charged with crossing the Isère in Conflans, near Albertville and then sweeping the road on the right bank up to Montmélian.  The humanity of General Dessaix and the lack of senior leadership were going to make it impossible to act before the 18th against Chambery, in conjunction with the General Marchand.

But, not mentioning the valuable time lost unnecessarily at Montmélian, the delay in the appearance of the French at Chambery, the weakness and apathy of command, which had already resulted in an unfortunate division of the forces of General Dessaix and Marchand, gave General Zechmeister the opportunity to prepare a retirement that could interdict him and the possibility of holding Chambery to the 19th.  With the 6,000 to 7,000 men that Marchand and Dessaix had, they could and should have attacked the faster  the 2,000 men Zechmeister had moved between Chambéry and Aix, their right towards the Lac du Bourget, at Voglans, their left resting on the mountains of the Bauches at the château of Montagny and covered by a post of three companies and 50 horses.

5-22 February 1814.  --Raid of Lieutenant Colonel Menninger.  --While Augereau renounced without cause the benefits that would have been provided by a bit of activity and decision, the Austrians had taken and sent out the first raid of the campaign.

Arrived in Chalon-sur-Saone 4 February, General Scheither had resolved to move on Mâcon, almost solely to obtain the information the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg needed on what was happening in Lyon and which was impossible to collect and verify especially at such a large distance.  Having with him his brigade, whose numbers were already significantly reduced, it mattered to him when he was performing this movement to be covered, on the right, against possible counter-attacks of General Legrand, in his rear, against the raids of farmers and the enterprises of the partisans of Damas.  For these reasons, 5 February, in the morning, he gave orders to Lieutenant Colonel Menninger of the 4th Dragoon Regiment (then Regiment Archduke Leopold of Wurzburg) to move with a squadron of that regiment ( the 2nd of the division of Major) commanded by Captain Harrucker on Charolles and monitor the movements of the General Legrand which, according to the news they had, had to crossed onto the left bank of the Loire.

The 7th, the squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Menninger, arrived at Charolles; the first squadron of the division of staff had been directed for the moment to Saint-Marcel, at the very gates of Chalon-sur-Saône, in order to disarm the population and punish the assistance it had lent to General Legrand.  The 8th, a squadron of Saint Vincent light horse (Captain Wouvermans), a company of jägers (Captain Mohr) and an infantry section of military confines (Grenz) had joined Lieutenant-Colonel Charolles.  The arrival of these reinforcements enabled Menninger to scour the 9th, with the light horse, all the land that stretched along the banks of the canal, to search Paray-le-Monial and Digoin, to push towards the Loire to Bourbon-Lancy, seize some barges loaded with wine and destined for the French army, and return the same evening to Charolles.  Captain Harrucker with his squadron of dragoons, had ascended the Loire, passed by L'Hôpital-le-Mercier, Anzy-le-Duc and Marcigny-sur-Loire, establish in Saint-Christophe-en-Brionnais and at La Clayette posts whose presence was intended to prevent the musters that the French still stationed Charlieu, sought to organize in the departments of the Loire and the Rhône.

The effect produced by the unexpected appearance of the Austrian cavalry was significant: "My department is threatened," wrote the prefect of the Allier to the Minister of War.  "The enemy is directed on Charolles, from there on Paray-le-Monial and Digoin it occupied.  The Loire, alone, presents an obstacle to his march on Moulins."[18]

The 10th and 11th, the Lieutenant Colonel continued his probes.  Traversing Châteauneuf, Charlieu, Vougy marching without stop through a mountainous and difficult area, he went beyond Saint-Symphorien-de-Lay and debouched on the road from Roanne to Lyon.  At that time, he intended not only harassments of the sorts of the enemy's communications and seizure of dispatches, but even to push forward, move onto the left bank of the Loire, to head on L'Hôpital-sous-Rochefort and Boën, when he learned that a large column French had left from Roanne moving to meet him.  The tocsin sounded in all the villages, the alarm was general. He thought it prudent to abandon his project and to momentarily fallback into the mountains, on Saint-Loup, a short distance from Tarare where he hoped to monitor the road from Montbrison to Villefranche, by Tarare.  Pursued by the gendarmerie and holding to avoid a commitment that could easily cause the loss of his little corps, he changed direction and moved to Régny.

The enemy occupying this small town, the Menninger saw fit to watch it with his vedettes during the time he needed to let them eat and feed his horses; then he went towards Thizy, that he found also guarded.

The 12th in the morning, he decided to fall back on the La Clayette, he left in the evening to go Charolles, where the 13th, he received a reinforcement of a squadron.

This probe had boldly brought confusion and terror in these areas and paralyzed the levy operations.  "Scouts of the enemy were beyond Roanne," we read in a dispatch of the prefect of the Allier.[19]  "The presence of the enemy on the right bank of the Loire threw even more concern on the left bank, as we do not know its real strength and the demonstrations made on Digoin and Marcigny-sur-Loire, bring fear that it will cross the river if you do not hurry to oppose it with a superior force.  The enemy has not set foot in my department, but although the dreaded invasion has not occurred, the fear alone was enough to do much harm to the government."

Also, the prefect completes his dispatch asking Augereau to leave from Lyon and take without delay the offensive, and saying that a movement on the Saône would enough to save all the region that the presence of the enemy had brought disquiet.

Augereau had naturally been informed of the raid before the Minister, but this news seems to have moved him as little as the march of Scheither on Mâcon, that the movements of the Austrian cavalry on Saint-Trivier, on Moignans
and Villars.  He was content to direct the 14th on the road from Tarare to Roanne, the few partisans that Damas[20] was able to unite and which were too weak to undertake anything, confining themselves to monitor the movements executed by Menninger, from the 15th to 22nd, around Roanne, where he would show up again before retreating on the Charolais.

On 15 February, in fact, Menninger, after giving two days of rest to all his people, came out from Charolles anew. He wanted to try to penetrate up to Saint-Étienne to destroy the arms factory.  The 19th, he had reached for the second time around Thizy, when he received from General Scheither the advice that the brigade had to evacuate Mâcon before superior numbers of French forces and withdraw to Chalon-sur-Saône,  as did the copy of the order by which the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg instructed him to return the flying column.  From that moment, the Lieutenant-Colonel would have to struggle against difficulties more serious than he had previously experienced.  The presence of numerous detachments, for the most tougher, more numerous than his troops, the almost general uprising of the people of the countryside, organized and led by officers, the danger of his presence appeared immediately after he had reached a point  where so many obstacles that could only overcome the presence of mind and energy of the leader, the courage and intelligence of his officers, dedication and confidence of his soldiers.

Menninger rallied his detachments all the faster, recalled his scouts and began on 20 February, in the morning his retreat.  Arrived at Cluny, the lieutenant colonel found the gates closed and the walls mounted by a few thousand armed peasants under the orders of an army officers orders.  Other bands of peasants massed in the mountains guarding the roads and trails and seemed determined to prevent the access into the line of regular troops from Mâcon.  He was left with no other means to force the passage.  After blowing the gates, Lieutenant Colonel Menninger, although bruised and suffering from a flying stone, dashed into the city at the head of his horsemen, slashing and crushing everyone in his path who did not have time to seek refuge in the houses.

The Lieutenant Colonel came back out and was able to open the road to Saint-Gengoux-le-Royal.  But his little corps was not yet out of danger: it was going to be necessary, the next day, the 21st, to reopen the passage by force. Attacked and surrounded on all sides by numerous bands of peasants gathered by the mayor of Saint-Vincent-des-Prés and barring his way up from Tournus to the height of Colombier-sous-Uxelles, the lieutenant-colonel was in a situation more critical than before.  Hesitation could jeopardize his detachment and make retreat impossible.

While three troops of cavalry threw themselves upon the peasants posted in Colombier, Menninger marched with his company of jägers supported by the rest of his cavalry, on Saint-Gengoux.  The simultaneity of these two attacks, coupled with the energy supplied to their execution imposed on farmers, and Lieutenant-Colonel, cutting through their masses, managed to win the way to Buxy.  Finally, although pursued and attacked until evening, the flying corps got back no less successfully, by the vigor its chief and the good work of his men to join the brigade Scheither in Chalon-sur-Saône in the day of the 22nd.

It was the immobility and softness of Augereau, even more than his own activity and intelligence, which he had to show, that had allowed Menninger, first to push beyond Roanne, then return to Chalon-sur-Saône after, with a handful of men, causing widespread disruption, throwing into alarm, cutting communications and delaying arming in four departments.

Reinforcements sent by Schwarzenberg to Dijon.  --Like Bubna and like the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg, Schwarzenberg so little expected to see the Duke of Castiglione hesitate to take advantage of an offensive without risk for him, that the news telling him of the march and arrival of reinforcements for Lyon, the almost general uprising of the people had inspired him serious concerns for the safety of his rear, for the preservation of his communications with Switzerland and the Rhine.  To Augereau debouching from Lyon, to Marchand and to Dessaix marching from Grenoble on Savoy, he could only resist at this time, on the right bank of the Saône with some troops of the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg; at Geneva and Chambery, the Division of Bubna.  A somewhat energetic movement by the Marshal would have been enough to drive these feeble corps before him, to seize Geneva and to end the blockade of Auxonne, Besançon, Belfort and Huningue.  While fearing to see them arrive too late, the Generalissimo thought it necessary to direct in all haste reinforcements on Dijon that were pulled from the German Prince Philip of Hesse and General Kroyher.

The Emperor and the Minister of War had, moreover, recognized, too, that minutes were precious and had to take without delay a situation that could never be more favorable to Augereau.

Both were clearly signifying to the Marshal that he would, by an immediate offensive, that he did not seem to understand the importance, get some great results. "Write to the Duke of Castiglione therefore," said the Emperor[21] in his dispatch to the Minister of War from Meaux, the 15th in the evening, "that to be well armed there and I order him given the present circumstances to take the field for fighting Bubna and menacing the flank of the enemy."

But neither the orders of the Emperor, or the criticism of Clarke, or the arrival of veteran troops which assured him superiority of numbers and firmly established the regiments with new formation, or the good will of the people who ran to arms when they felt they could support, nor positive reports that did not allow him to doubt the weakness of the Austrian corps or the results produced by the small movement that Marchand and Dessaix had performed on their own initiative on the Échelles and the Grotte, could induce Augereau into a decision to march.

On 16 February, when he had already been obliged to take to the field for several days, he still found excuses. Responding on this date[22] to the letter in which Clarke had provided him on the 12th, the formal order to start operations immediately, he pointed out that the division of Catalonia had just arrived, that his cavalry and artillery were late and would arrive only from the 22nd to 26th.  He complained of the lack of clothing items for the division of Nîmes, weapons and equipment for the National Guard, lack of money, lack of caissons for the artillery, the scarcity of transport in areas already ruined, in which he proposed to operate, finally, the difficulty of creating stores of food for his army.  Instead of acting on and awareness of the probable direction of a general movement, that had already been in full implementation, he made so little account of the situation already compromised by his slowness, he saw little in the providential opportunity already about to escape, he ended his letter with these words, showing an overwhelming evidence of an unacceptable failure or at least a guilty indifference: "I will hasten as much as possible, when the troops are united and rested, when I start the operations; I will combine, linking them to the main purpose, preferably related to those that may threaten the enemy's flanks and thus a happy diversion in favor of the Grand Army."

It is not surprising that in the presence of such a weakness, the Emperor had thought to overwhelm the Marshal with reproaches of which he was only too deserving.  Without going further into the examination of the various pretexts that the Marshal, and later his panegyrists have relied for his excuse, we can say that his unfortunate delay was the determining cause of all evil, and the starting point for irreparable mistakes. Despite the urgent and repeated orders of the Emperor, despite eight consecutive dispatches from Clarke, Augereau, while shaking his column heads the 17th, only began his operations on 28 February.

This not only gave the reinforcements time to join the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg, but the long delay, the interminable period of preparation and of fumbling while still mistakenly making partial movements that served to give warning in the Generalissimo, to provoke sending Bianchi on Chalon.  Finally, when the Marshal resolved to begin his march to Geneva, it would be too late.  The enemy corps would already have arrived on the Saône, while eight days earlier, the army of Lyon could have seized Geneva unopposed and induced maybe, just by this single movement and only his entry into this town Schwarzenberg to withdraw as soon as possible on the Upper Alsace and the Rhine.


[1] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)

[2] Schwarzenberg to Bubna, Bar-sur-Aube, 2 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 13.)

[3] Bubna to Schwarzenberg, Geneva, 7 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 194.)

[4] Bubna to Schwarzenberg, Geneva, 7 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 194.)

[5] STÄRKE, Eintheilung Tagesbegebenheiten und der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1), and Comte de Saint-Vallier to the Minister of War, Grenoble, 8 February. (Archives of  War.)

[6] STÄRKE, Eintheilung Tagesbegebenheiten und der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1), and Comte de Saint-Vallier to the Minister of War, Grenoble, 8 February. (Archives of  War.)

[7] STÄRKE, Eintheilung Tagesbegebenheiten und der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1)

[8] Captain von Wüsthof  to Major General Scheither, Maisons-Blanche, 12 February (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 391, a), and STÄRKE, Eintheilung Tagesbegebenheiten und der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar.  (Ibid., II, l.)

[9] Clarke to the Duke of Castiglione, 12 February. (Archives of the War.)

[10] STÄRKE, Eintheilung Tagesbegebenheiten und der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1)

[11] Count of Saint-Vallier to the Minister of War, Grenoble, 15 February. (Archives of the War.)

[12] STÄRKE, Eintheilung Tagesbegebenheiten und der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1), and Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg to Schwarzenberg, Dijon, 15 February (Ibid., II, 426).

[13] Augereau to the Minister, Lyon, 14 February. (Archives of the War.)

[14] STÄRKE, Eintheilung Tagesbegebenheiten und der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1), and Bubna to Schwarzenberg, Geneva, 17 February (Ibid., II, 483), and General Marchand to the Minister (Archives of the War).

[15] General Chabert to the Minister. (Ibid.)

[16] General Dessaix to the General Marchand. (Ibid.)

[17] STÄRKE, Eintheilung Tagesbegebenheiten und der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1), and Bubna to Schwarzenberg, Geneva, 17 February (Ibid., II, 483).

[18] Prefect of the Allier to the Minister, Moulins, 9 February. (Archives of the War.)

[19] Prefect of the Allier to the Minister of War. (Archives of the War.)

[20] Damas, Head of partisans of the 19th Military Division, to the Minister of War, report of 4 March. (Archives of the War.)

[21] Correspondance, no 21,272.

[22] Augereau to Clarke, Lyon, 16 February. (Archives of the War.)


Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2013

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