Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter 11

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)








17 February 1814.  --Movements of French corps.  --Arrived at Guignes in the night of the 16th to 17th, the Emperor did not lose a moment.  The information that had been collected, the reports having been addressed to his marshals, confirmed his resolution.  At 1o'clock in the morning, he dictated to Berthier orders for the next day.  Ney left at 5 o'clock to get to Chaumes, because it was likely that they would fight in the early morning hours.  Macdonald was ranged in battle formation a league before Guignes to support the movement of the corps that would go on Mormant and Nangis.

The Leval Division and the Guard also came to Guignes with the Count of Valmy, who would be in the advanced guard division with the dragoons from Spain of General Trelliard.

The Charpentier Division issued from Essonnes to Fontainebleau to join Allix and Montbrun;  Pajol pushed on Montereau, while the troops of the Duke of Padoue and of Boyer, leaving from Paris, occupied Villeneuve-Saint-Georges and Corbeil.  The Emperor himself marched on Mormant, with the 2nd Corps, that was followed by the 7th and 11th corps, then the Guard.

At 4 o'clock in the morning, the 7th Corps was ranged in battle formation  in two lines astride the road from Guignes to Mormant, up to L'Étang; the cavalry (Bordesoulle ) was in columns south of the road, its left up to the first line of the infantry; the artillery of two divisions were placed in some batteries.  

Before the 7th Corps, the troops of the 2nd Corps formed for battle before 5 o'clock in the morning in front of the village Pecqueux (Péqueux).

At daybreak , the Emperor joined the 2nd Corps, which immediately formed into three columns: the one on the right was composed of the 1st Division (General Châtaux ), the center included the reserve of Paris, under the command of Gerard , the left , the division of Duhesme.  General Milhaud, with two divisions of the 5th Cavalry Corps (General Piré and Briche) flanked the right of this column; General Kellermann , with the division of L'héritier detached from the 5th Cavalry Corps, and the Trelliard Division served the same purpose on the left.

Retreat of Wittgenstein.  --Pahlen is struck by the 2nd Corps.  --Battle of Mormant.  --When the French army began its movement with enthusiasm and energy due to the presence of the Emperor, Wittgenstein, following the instructions of the Generalissimo, quit Bailly, Carrois and Nangis, reporting to Provins. Pahlen was sent, in notifying him of the movement, the order to keep up with the bulk of the vanguard and leave a screen in front of the enemy cavalry charged with remaining in position until the arrival of the advanced guard of the Vth Corps.  But Pahlen, warned of movements and march of the French by vedettes and deserters had not waited for the order of Wittgenstein. Although he had , without delay, formed the eight battalions of the Rosen Brigade in column on the main road and started his retirement by being covered, on the right by two the Cossack regiments of Rebrikov and Ilovaysky XII , on the left by six squadrons (two from the Sumy hussars and four from the Tchougouiev Uhlans)[1] , he was not, however, able to file out fast enough to escape the Emperor.

Gerard chased to Mormant the two battalions that Rosen had posted to hide the retirement.  Charged and over whelmed by the dragoons of General Ismert when they tried to reform, these battalions were forced to lay down their arms.

To an order given personally by Napoleon, the infantry of the 2nd Corps moved all the faster on Mormant, that the cavalry of Milhaud and Valmy flanked in turn.  The cavalry brigade of General Subervie wheeled to the right, when it passed Mormant and sabered the Russian skirmishers who had advanced into the plain.  At the same time, General Piré, with another brigade supported in a second line by the dragoons of Briche moved against the Cossacks, and Valmy, with two divisions of dragoons, executed the movement flowing pass the south of the village. Determined to crush the small advanced guard of Pahlen, the Emperor hastened the march of his infantry as quickly as possible.  It passed Mormant on the run, joining with the Russian battalions without difficulty that the cavalry had already begun hemmed into the wood of Bisseaux, and forced it stop in the vast plain between Mormant and Nangis .

Although Kellermann and Milhaud's charges have delayed his movements, Pahlen still hoped to win Grand-Puits, by sacrificing part of his infantry.  But pressed on all sides, and especially to the north of the road by the squadrons of Milhaud, the Russian cavalry, completely broken, escaped by a hasty retreat to the deadly effects of the artillery placed in battery on the highway.  It gained Nangis in the greatest disorder, leaving the infantry and artillery of Rosen precisely when the squadrons of the 4th and 16th Dragoons of Trelliard's division, led by General Kellermann in person, took the other side and crushed in the Russian squares up to Grand-Puits.  The infantry of Rosen tried to gain its salvation by flight.  Pursued and slashed by Milhaud and Kellermann, who left behind the guns they had come to seize, the Russians were surrounded on all sides, mostly being forced to lay down their arms.

 "At 8 o'clock in the morning", we read in the report of Count Antoine Hardegg,[2] "Count Wittgenstein told me that Count Pahlen was attacked by a superior force at Mormant and that I would have to reform.  Moments after receiving the news, I saw this vanguard arrive.  The French cavalry following so quickly behind that I barely had time to establish my troops on the heights near the road from Nangis to Donnemarie."

Wittgenstein[3] also informed Wrede of the attack against Pahlen, writing him from Nangis, "the enemy's cavalry had chased from Mormant the advanced guard of the VIth Corps and obliged it to fallback quickly before it."

One finds in this regard more than a contradiction in the same reports of Count Hardegg.  

In his reports he claims, as we have seen , Wittgenstein was informed at 8 o'clock of what had happened at Mormant, while there is, instead, a simple note from him, dated Nangis, 9:30 in the morning[4] , in which he informed his superior, Count Wrede, that he took position at Nangis to gather Pahlen.  Count Hardegg could not have advised Wittgenstein of the need for taking precautious measures and establishing a military defensive position.  The cannon, it is true, was heard after taking Mormant; but a general, placed almost in the front line, should have better care and more over, the arrival of the bulk of Pahlen's vanguard should have been enough in any case to make them aware of the situation more completely than the orders he could perhaps ignore just then and pull back the troops of the VIth Corps on Provins.

So it seems that Wittgenstein, from the beginning of the affair, Hardegg, a little later, when he wrote his report on the battle of the 17th, and finally the officers in charge of keeping the Journal of the Great Army[5] sought to mitigate the seriousness of the facts and clear, first, themselves from their responsibility; the others, those of some officers.  We believe, for these different reasons that the truth lies in the lines we read about it in the journal of Major Prince Taxis[6] :  "At 3 o'clock in the morning", writes the Prince, "Napoleon pushed his cavalry from Guignes on Mormant , it completely surprised the vanguard of the VIth Corps and light division of Count Antoine Hardegg (from the Vth Corps),  camped to the left of the road further back and who nominally guarded it, thinking itself covered in front by Pahlen.   This division was driven by the rout of the advance guard of the VIth Corps."

In the interest of the military reputation of Count Antoine Hardegg, we prefer this version, given, moreover, by an officer of his own corps, an officer whose his duties with Wrede enabled gathering all the information, to the explanation provided by the officers of the VIth Corps, and after them by the Russian historians.

According to the report of Wittgenstein to Barclay de Tolly,[7] Pahlen had asked repeatedly and unsuccessfully for Count Hardegg, posted at Bailly and at Nangis, to support him.  The Russians, he added, had not acted in this way at Kulm.  According to other documents, Count Hardegg had invoked to justify his inaction, formal orders prohibiting him from engaging and directing him, if necessary, to fall back on Donnemarie.  What is certain is that Wittgenstein and his Chief of Staff, General Dovre (d'Auvray), who joined in front of Nangis the advanced guard of Pahlen[8] and Rüdinger, were themselves about to be carried away by the French cavalry, and then driven by the flood of fugitives.  The battle of Mormant had cost, according to Russian reports, 2,114 men and 10 cannons to Pahlen.  The battalions engaged from the Selenginsk (Селенгинск) and Revel Regiments alone had lost 1,359 men.  Reduced to an insignificant effectiveness, they no longer appeared for the rest of the campaign and reformed at Polotsk.

Wittgenstein was, moreover, to remove from the fight at Mormant, in reporting to Schwarzenberg, its grave character.  In his report on the same day,[9] he sought to explain to the Generalissimo the reasons why, following the establishment of his vanguard at Mormant, he had to stop at Maison-Rouge to ensure, if necessary, retirement on Bray.  It was easy, he says, to go away from his previous positions, while reducing his headquarters in Provins. "Besides," he adds , "one should not delude ourselves; my whole corps was just the strength of an advanced guard."  For what was the really the battle of Mormant, he simply announced to the Generalissimo, Pahlen attacked by the enemy, fell back "to avoid unnecessary losses"; that Count Antoine Hardegg posted at Bailly, could recall if necessary Pahlen; finally, they are both forced to evacuate Nangis, Hardegg going to Donnemarie and Pahlen to Provins.  To better indicate how this attack of the enemy, in whose hands he goes to, a few moments later, on the verge of falling, he had few worries, he gives the Generalissimo the news of the presence of flying corps of Lubomirski at La Ferté-Gaucher and the evacuation of Rozoy by the French.  Finally, he concludes by saying : "The attack made by the enemy therefore was merely performing a simple offensive reconnaissance."

Without emphasis on the value of the explanations of Wittgenstein, the contradictions that can be addressed in the reports of the Count Hardegg, on the merits or the injustice of the reproaches addressed to it, it should be noted the intervention of troops would not have stopped the movement of the cavalry of Milhaud and Kellermann, supported by the 2nd Corps and artillery of Drouot, since, despite the readiness with which it retreated, it was no more successful than Pahlen in evading the attacks and the shock of French squadrons.

Battle of Nangis .  --While his infantry took position on the heights behind Nangis, Count Antoine Hardegg had to mount the Schwarzenberg Uhlans and the Archduke Joseph Hussars, and deploy them there between Bailly and Nangis.  Noticed and first charged by the light cavalry of Piré, who abandoned for a moment the pursuit to throw them back on Nangis, charged a new by the dragoons of Briche, the five Austrian squadrons were crushed, despite a fairly strong resistance.  Driven by the Russian cavalry, who fled in disarray on the road from Nangis to Provins, they are thrown back by Rampillon on the outposts of the division of Field Marshal Lieutenant Baron Spleny.[10] After having reformed their squadrons, Milhaud and Kellermann took the road to Provins and joined Piré, who had continued to slash the fugitives and pursue them, sword in hand , up to Maison-Rouge.  All this cavalry crushed meanwhile the infantry, which saved itself by throwing down their arms and trapping the cavalry against ditches and other obstacles in the road.  They stopped .  "From fatigue", Bordesoulle expressed thusly in his report.[11] Without this delay, I think the retreat would have continued to Provins."  12 cannons, 3,000 prisoners were the result of the combined charges of the cavalry corps of General Milhaud and Kellermann.[12]  "The disorder was such," Taxis[13] says about it, "that Nangis was not even defended so that all baggage and fourteen guns fell into the hands of the enemy." And sharing his general animosity against his commander of the VIth Corps, he adds:  "As for Wittgenstein, he retired personally and galloped on Nogent, without even stopping at Provins."

At 1 o'clock in the afternoon , Wrede, then at Donnemarie, knew from Hardegg that the light division was pushed back to Nangis, that Pahlen was thrown back in disorder, that the VIth Corps, hastening its retirement after losing all its baggage was about to arrive in Provins at noon, finally, that , according to the talk of the deserters, he had before him Napoleon and three corps of his army.[14]

He immediately took a position at the division of Count Rechberg on the heights behind Donnemarie while Count Antoine Hardegg, yielding to the numerical superiority of the French already threatening his left, continued his retirement.

Oudinot and Kellermann pursue the VIth Corps on the road to Provins.  --Victor headed on the road to Montereau.  --The Emperor ordered to pursue in all directions.  Victor on the right with the 2nd Corps, the Paris Reserve, under Gerard, the Lhéritier Division, which stopped at Nangis, and the cavalrymen that Bordesoulle had added from the 1st Corps depots, took the road from Nangis to Montereau.  His advanced guard had orders to get there at any price in the evening and to restore the bridge.  Oudinot, with Kellermann, continued on Provins and Nogent; Macdonald formed the center of the movement to Nangis with the 11th Corps and the divisions of Piré and Briche.  The Guard, exhausted with fatigue by its incessant marches and battles of the previous days, remained in reserve.

The French left column encountered nothing before it and stopped, the infantry at the level of Vanvillé, Kellermann's cavalry to Maison Rouge.  The villages in front of that place were crowded with fugitives, but the cavalry horses were so exhausted with fatigue Kellermann had to abandon the countryside to fight and search the villages of Lizines, Sognolles-en-Montois, Landoy , Saint-Loup-de-Naud and Courton.  However, he came back to the Russians, on the main road of Provins, beyond Vulaines-lès-Provins, where the head of his cavalry stopped.  The 4th Dragoons continued alone on Provins, with orders to remain around the city until the night or until the Russians had evacuated.  Following the Cossacks within pistol shot, General Trelliard was able to give an exact account of the plight of the cavalry.  The horses of both the regular and irregular Russians were so tired that riders had to dismount and drag their horses by the bridle.  Unfortunately, the dragoons were almost in the same state: the lack of fresh cavalry prevented the exploitation of the exhaustion and helplessness of the Russians.  The Russian infantry hadn't been seen anywhere.  However, as Kellermann was very exposed and as the parties, leaving the villages had found them impossible to entrench, was enough to alarm his bivouacs, Oudinot reminded at Maison Rouge and charged one of his infantry divisions to cover it all night.[15]

Wittgenstein had continued his retreat to Provins in the afternoon and left the remains of the troops of Pahlen in position at Sourdun.

Battles of Valjouan and Villeneuve-les-Bordes.  --At the right of the French line, Count Antoine Hardegg had somehow rallied his infantry and withdrew under the protection of his remaining cavalry.  Colonel von Geramb formed the rearguard with the Archduke Joseph Hussars and some infantry.  Marshal Victor having recalled Gerard to him arrived at La Bertauche on the road to Provins, pressed him closely.

As soon as he learned of the retirement of Hardegg on Valjouan, Wrede had ordered the immediate massing, or at least mustering of his corps, which since yesterday, had occupied expansive camps and establish on the heights of Donnemarie while Frimont took position from Villeneuve-les-Bordes to Mons.[16]  "This required a certain amount of time and if the enemy had not had to stopped at Nangis, rallying the Vth Corps would have been impossible."[17]

At the moment when Victor reached Hardegg and the Bavarians of La Motte between Valjouan and Villeneuve-les-Bordes, the Emperor had sent him Macdonald, marching on Donnemarie and to occupy the Villeneuve in the evening, to support him and to his left Pajol who moved on his right from Melun on Montereau.  He had also reiterated the order to push strongly the Austro-Bavarians on Montereau to drive them into the Seine, to take all that remained behind from them and above all, to use the night of the 17th to 18th to restore the bridge.[18]

Victor had therefore followed the retreat of Hardegg that was withdrawing in fairly good order on Valjouan[19] having been reinforced in route by a regiment of Bavarian light horse and an infantry regiment sent to meet him.  The La Motte Division was in position on a line from Villeneuve-les-Bordes by La Grande Maison to Valjouan.  On the order of Wrede, Hardegg threw everyone onto the nearest road and in the woods to the right of Villeneuve and united them to the left with the Bavarian brigade of Habermann.  His cavalry stood to the left of the road and in front of Villeneuve in several lines.  Two pieces were placed in battery on the road also to prevent the French debouchment.  The other pieces were in position with the Bavarian artillery on right of the road and not far from the wood.[20]

The French infantry being deployed between Valjouan and Villeneuve, five pieces opened fire against Villeneuve. After shelling Villeneuve and engaging on this point the troops of Hardegg and the Bavarian battalions Wrede had left him, Gerard made an attack with one of his brigades on Villeneuve-les-Bordes, while the cavalry of Lhéritier, leaving from Valjouan and through Les Bordes, maneuvered to the right against the Austrian cavalry.

The fire of the Austro-Bavarian artillery and the infantry of Hardegg and La Motte succeeded for more than two hours to prevent Gerard from establishing himself in Villeneuve-les-Bordes; but in the presence of the progress made on the left by the French cavalry that flanked and threatened to take him in the rear, Hardegg had to abandon his position and retreat to Donnemarie.[21] "It was due to the dedication and courage of my cavalry that I was able, after the departure of the Bavarian infantry and artillery, to make my retirement."  These are the words that end the report of Count Hardegg , who received on the road of Donnemarie the order to go to Bray where he arrived at 10 o'clock at night.

At the moment when the infantry Hardegg gave way, the dragoons of General Lhéritier could have done much harm to the Austrians.  "They were ordered to maneuver in this way," Marshal Victor writes,[22] "but they missed this opportunity, for which I am very sorry.  General Bordesoulle had better execution.  He made a successful charge that forced several battalions to throw away their weapons and flee into the woods."  The report of Bordesoulle[23] to Victor, confirmed by the history of Schwarzenberg Uhlans[24] is worth reproducing in full:  "In compliance with your orders, I have supported the movement of the infantry by a squadron of young hussars and chasseurs, after having penetrated into the corner, slashed a few hundred men.  They then charged a squadron of hussars and some uhlans, crushing and pursuing them into the woods where they were reached and slashed.  An infantry battalion had saved them:  they gave way to this battalion, but were unable to pursue because of the thickness of the wood.  When I threw my light cavalry squadron on the village, I ran with my two squadrons of cuirassiers onto the Schwarzenberg Uhlans and (Archduke) Joseph Hussars."

"This horse saw me arrive to recross on the left side of the route, where it had formed five squadrons in line.  My cuirassiers, mostly recruits of fifteen days, had passed the road and came across this line with a fearlessness that would honor old troops, tumbled into the wood which was behind them and made a killing.  More than 300 had been cut down and remained in the woods, dead or dying, not counting those who had received saber wounds.  A prisoner was made (a lieutenant of the Uhlans of Schwarzenberg ) and yet I could not prevent him from being slashed as well: the young men killed them without mercy.  As this was the first time they saw the enemy, I let them ...  Any enemy that I spotted were going on the road towards Donnemarie, probably to recross the bridge at Bray.  I even noticed squadrons, coming from the road of Montereau, gain this route in great haste."

If this retreat was costly to the Austrians, since the Schwarzenberg Uhlans only had 167 men[25] left there, it no less sorely tried the brigade of Habermann and especially the 11th Bavarian Infantry Regiment, which lost at that time 7 officers and 200 men.  Despite the dedication of Schwarzenberg Uhlans, the regiment was destroyed by the French infantry emerging from La Haie-Jutard without the timely intervention of the Iller-Kreise Mobile Legion.

Pursued on Donnemarie by Gerard the La Motte Division would have been forced to lay down their arms, if Victor had not made ​​the mistake of recalling all his cavalry to him immediately after the taking of the position of Villeneuve to file on Salins, and if he had subsequently hadn't prevented Gerard pushing, with his infantry, the pursuit with all the force he had assigned to it.  Away from the track and the support, he stopped Gerard when it was surrounding the Bavarian squares and even forced him to retrace his steps to join in Montigny-Lencoup, where he had halted to fall down for the night.  The division of La Motte had its salvation with this order, all the more incomprehensible as Victor was unable to continue his evening march on Montereau.  He contented himself with sending his cavalry and the dragoons of Lhéritier on Salins, thinking that the next day he'd be charged with taking, in concert with Oudinot, the position of Donnemarie, where there wasn't anyone any longer.

Macdonald, meanwhile, showed as little energy as the Duke of Bellune.  Seeing a line of lights considerably behind Donnemarie he had renounced sending his vanguard into a night battle and had positioned his troops at the junction of the roads from Nangis, from Bray and from Montereau to La Ferté, up to the level of Villeneuve-les-Bordes.

Leaving about 3 o'clock from Maison Rouge, Milhaud had pushed up to Salins and noticed, towards evening, the movement of the bulk of the Vth Corps from Bray.  But the night was already closing, the fatigue of his men and their horses, the absence of news from Marshal Macdonald and, consequently, the lack of infantry able to support prevented him from attempting anything against the column and forced him stop at Salins.

The La Motte Division, having reformed, filed, indeed, to the left bank of the Seine, while the divisions of Spleny and Hardegg momentarily headed to Éverly and Ormes.  At 9 o'clock at night, the Rechberg Division left on the order of Wrede, the hills behind Donnemarie to fall back on Saint-Sauveur-les-Bray.  Later in the evening. Wrede sent the order to his corps to withdraw from Bray, but to leave on the right bank of the Seine a strong rear guard.

On the night of the 17th to 18th, the Austro-Bavarians, with the exception of a battalion rearguard posted in Mouy, recrossed to the right bank and settled to the right and left of Bray.[26]

Movement of Pajol on Melun.  --Skirmishes of Châtelet.  --Pajol was in route upon the receipt of the order of the Emperor.  Defiling by Melun, that was occupied by General Allix and where the Charpentier Division was soon to arrive, he pushed the Württemberg outposts up to L'Écluse, that recalled the two battalions and eight squadrons stationed in front of the northern edge of the wood of Valence.

Pressing the march of his infantry and the artillery, but not hearing the cannon of Victor, at nightfall, he had to position the infantry of Pacthod at Châtelet and held his cavalry in front of the Württemberg cavalry[27] outposts.  At night, some scouts from the dragoons of Lhéritier, leaving Salins, managed to push to the first houses of Montereau and see the bivouacs of some infantry troops of the IVth Corps established on the right bank of the Seine.[28]

The Charpentier Division, whose advanced guard  had a small skirmish at Saint-Fargeau-Ponthierry with a patrol of Austrian hussars, had reached Salins at 6:30 in the evening.  It returned the next day before the day to Fontainebleau, preceded by General Allix and the cavalry of Montbrun.[29]

Dispositions taken by Schwarzenberg the 17th of March in the afternoon.  --At 4 o'clock in the afternoon,   Schwarzenberg had been informed in Bray, by Wittgenstein and Wrede, who had sent Major Prince Taxis, of the outcome of battles Mormant and Nangis.  His army was now straddling both banks of the Seine.  He immediately decided to refuse the right wing and fall back on the left bank of the river.  The VIth Corps was ordered to come immediately, by a night march, to Nogent, occupy the city and the bridgehead that had been formed on the right bank there: it had to hold out to the last extremity.  The Generalissimo ordered the Vth Corps to fall back on Bray and defended it at all costs.  He asked Barclay de Tolly to send to Wittgenstein, the 18th, a division of grenadiers and Russian cuirassiers[30] to be used to support the VIth Corps, to cut the bridge of Pont-sur-Seine and guard the crossing by three battalions.  The rest of the Russian and Prussian guards and reserves waiting at Traînel should expect further orders and be ready to march at the first signal.  The bulk of the Ist Corps had to stay around Pont-sur-Yonne, with its vanguard in Villeneuve-la-Guyard and IIIrd Corps at Serbonnes.  From that moment, as evidenced , moreover, by the letter to Blücher, the Prince Schwarzenberg was determined not to take the offensive when the Army of Silesia was able to do so.[31]

First orders of Schwarzenberg to the Crown Prince of Württemberg.  --The Generalissimo, after having communicated to the Crown Prince of Württemberg the instructions he had addressed to the other corps, advised him not to push his advanced guard to Valence and also post it so it shouldn't run the risk of being cut off by troops coming from Donnemarie.  The Prince was to garnish Montereau with infantry and artillery in organizing the defense in order to keep control of the city and bridges, and to take position the 18th in La Tombe, on the road from Montereau in Bray, in a manner so the bulk of his corps, could support given different events, or leave it to the brigade in Montereau, or the troops of the Vth Corps in Bray.[32]

This order of the Generalissimo did not reach the Crown Prince until far into the evening of the 17th .

The French, after removing the position of Villeneuve-les-Bordes, had stopped in Montigny-Lencoup and their cavalry had already appeared around Courbeton and their scouts were pushed to the outskirts of Montereau.  Also, the Crown Prince, reporting this knowledge to Schwarzenberg told him that in the presence of an attack he considered imminent, that retreating his vanguard into the suburbs, he would occupy the chateau of Surville with the Austrian brigade of General Schoeffer, that he had a good hold on Montereau, finally that one of his brigades would be at La Tombe and the other at Marolles-sur-Seine.

Reasons why the Crown Prince remained at Montereau.  --The ambiguity of the orders of Schwarzenberg, the ignorance in which he left his lieutenants on everything that had to be done, as to the direction he had given to the operations of his army, that characterized these operations as well, significantly aggravated the already difficult position of the Crown Prince.  A serious and thorough field reconnaissance had shown it to be absolutely impossible to defend with one brigade, the defile of Montereau against an enemy advancing along the right bank of the Seine. To have a chance to remain in possession of this, it was absolutely necessary to establish troops in respectable number and strength on the plateau in front of the Surville chateau.  It was, moreover, not only needed to occupy the chateau and the chateau gardens, because they dominate the plateau, but the suburbs and many houses at the foot of the heights, which enfilade the roads of Salins and Valence.

It was for the same reason the command of heights of the right bank of the Seine, upstream and downstream of Montereau, the enemy master of this bank could cross the river without it being possible for the defenders of the city to oppose this crossing.  It therefore followed that the enemy if crossing the Seine, either upstream at Saint -Germain or downstream at the Ile de Varennes or Tavers, was able to outflank the troops which were content to only defend the city of Montereau .

It was therefore impossible for the Crown Prince of Württemberg merely to occupy exclusively Montereau and organize the defense in the city itself.  The city could only slow the inevitable withdrawal of the troops chased from the heights of Surville and forced to retreat.  One could then dispute, perhaps even prevent the enemy from crossing the defile of Montereau, in any case, making it long and difficult, destroying the two bridges at the last moment and force it to stop for a few hours.

So many disadvantageous tactics could not therefore be neglected in the position of Montereau in the situation where he was entrusted by the Generalissimo to ensure for a day or two the possession of this point to prevent the enemy from crossing the Seine and especially to provide an opportunity for them to cross the river and his army to take the offensive when and where the enemy would be the least expected .

In this case, but in this case only, it was necessary to hold on to Montereau.  He would then occupy and defend the heights of Surville and Villaron (Les Ormeaux), despite the risks that the troops could not fail to run, when posted there, with a double defile in their rear as a passage in case of failure, it would most painful; they could even be cut off, both because of their close proximity to the position and the lay of the land on the right bank of the Seine.

The IVth Corps had heard on its right, in the day of 17th, the cannon thundering beside Nangis, and as the noise had come up more and more, the retirement of the Vth Corps was already known before the arrival at Montereau of the uhlans directed to Villeneuve.

The Crown Prince of Wurttemberg immediately withdrew his advance guard from Surville and recalled all the detachments provided by the IVth Corps, requiring them to be returned to Surville before midnight.

At 3 o'clock in the morning, Colonel von Mylius, who had not yet rejoined by the order to retrace his steps and took a few hours earlier the road from Forges to Laval, to go with a squadron of a Württemberg cavalry regiment to Salins, sent word to the Crown Prince having met three French doctors going to Montereau, from whom he had learned that a park of artillery followed them at a short distance.  The colonel threw himself on the park and was able to take a cannon and a howitzer.  He had also learned from the doctors that Napoleon had arrived at Nangis and his army marched in two columns, one on Donnemarie the other on Montereau.

The Crown Prince naturally hastened to communicate this news to the Generalissimo, adding that his advanced guard had taken position at Surville, that they had undertaken a serious reconnaissance at daybreak and patrols reported the existence of large bivouacs of enemy cavalry near Laval.[33]

The Prince had just sent this dispatch when he received the disposition by Schwarzenberg to stop at Bray at 11 o'clock at night, and recommending him to leave a brigade at Montereau.  He immediately answered Schwarzenberg exposing him to why he had better occupy Montereau with sufficient forces, or evacuate on time.  "Leaving only four battalions was to expose them to almost certain destruction in case of attack."  He added that the sending of the Ist Corps to Villeneuve-la-Guyard would make the position of Montereau even more precarious, untenable even for those there, once the enemy was master of the right bank of the Seine and the left bank of the Yonne, the troops stationed at Montereau would find it impossible to withdraw.  The Prince then saw the need , pending further orders, to assign at least two brigades to defend Montereau and mass, in the morning , the rest of his corps at La Tombe , to be able to order a recall.[34]

The response was not expected.  Schwarzenberg changing ideas, perhaps because he was faced with a fait accompli , replied approving the measures taken by the Crown Prince, at Montereau as well as La Tombe.  As it was impossible to protect all crossings along the Seine line simultaneously, he ordered him to stand firm in Montereau during the 18th.[35]  A subsequent letter from Schwarzenberg, written at Bray, the 18th, in the afternoon, and the provisions for the days of the 19th and 20th, stops at Traînel, prove, moreover, that the Generalissimo was so anxious at this time to hold Montereau that he commanded the IVth Corps to defend the passage of the Seine until the morning of 19 February.

Positions of the Ist Corps, of Platov and of Seslavin.  --Bianchi, performing during the day of 17th the orders he had received in the morning, had extended his cantonments to Villeneuve-la-Guyard.  Count Ignatius Hardegg, reinforced by three infantry battalions, was used as a vanguard and concentrated around Moret.  Colonel Simony still occupied with his hussars Fontainebleau and had pushed cavalry patrols to beyond the edge of the forest.[36]

On the extreme left, Platov was personally in Nemours.  His Cossacks scoured the country and took the road leading to Orleans.  Finally, Seslavin had forced a French column heading on Pithiviers, to fall back on Orleans.The 17th in the morning, one sent to Prince Maurice Liechtenstein, who was still between Sens and Saint Valerian the order to occupy Nemours with his division.  At the same time Platov was ordered around the forest of Fontainebleau, to send by the two banks of the Seine to Paris parties and especially to take couriers.  He had also been warned of having to keep now on the left, the Emperor Alexander having ordered Seslavin to go to meet the extreme right, the cavalry Diebitsch and not to move by forced marches through Provins and Montereau.[37]  A few hours later Seslavin was, indeed, informed that he would have to go through Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, and Toll and added, in a post-script:  "The entire army looks to retreat to me at Troyes."


[1] Six other squadrons of Pahlen were still detached from the side of Rozoy and Melun.

[2] Field Marshal Lieutenant Count Antoine Hardegg, Reports on the combat of Nangis and Valjouan. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 470, d.)

[3] Wittgenstein to Count Wrede, Nangis, 17 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 470, a. )

[4] Field Marshal Lieutenant Count Antoine Hardegg to Count Wrede, Nangis, 17 February, half past nine in the morning. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 470, d.)

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

[6] Tagebuch des Majors Fürsten Taxis. (Ibid., XIII. 32. )

[7] Report of Wittgenstein Barclay de Tolly and letter of Wittgenstein to Prince Volkonsky, from Mériot, 5-15 February, nos 267 and 269.

[8] The vanguard of Pahlen consisted at Mormant, of eight battalions belonging to the regiments of Smolensk, of Revel, of Selenginsk, of Estonia and of the 25th Eiger, 10 squadrons from the regiments of Grodno and Sumy Hussars, of the Tchougouiev Uhlans, of the Cossack regiments of Ilovaysky XII and Rebrikov, a horse battery and two pieces of foot artillery.  In total: 2,500 men , 1,800 horses and 14 guns.

[9] Wittgenstein to Schwarzenberg, Nangis, 17 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 468. )

[10] Field Marshal Lieutenant Count Antoine Hardegg, Reports on the battles of Nangis and Valjouan , 17 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 470, d. )

[11] Report of the General Bordesoulle to Victor. (Archives of the War.)

[12] Report of General Milhaud , 17 February. (Ibid.)

[13] TAXIS, Tagebuch. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., XIII , 52.)

[14] Wrede to Prince Schwarzenberg, Donnemarie, one o'clock in the afternoon , 17 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 477.)

[15] General Oudinot to the Chief of Staff, on the road to Provins at the level of Vanvillé, 17 February. (Archives of the War.)

[16] TAXIS, Tagebuch (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., XIII , 32) and report of Frimont report (Ibid., II , 792, a.).

[17] TAXIS, Tagebuch. (Ibid., XIII , 32.)

[18] Chief of Staff to Macdonald and Victor, Nangis, 17 February, three o'clock in the after noon. (Archives of the War).

[19] The Schwarzenberg Uhlan Regiment had to endure, near Valjouan, that the light division of Count Hardegg crossed at that time, all the weight of the cavalry charges.  Thanks to several charges made by the uhlans, the light division and two horse batteries, one Austrian, another Bavarian could continue their retreat and reach Villeneuve-les-Bordes.  (Kriegszenen Schwarzenberg Ulanen Regiments.)

[20] Field-marshal Lieutenant Antoine Count Hardegg to Wrede, Villeneuve, 17 February (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 477, b) and report of Hardegg (Ibid., II. 470, a).

[21] Report of Hardegg (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 470, a.)

[22] Victor to the Chief of Staff, Montigny-Lencoup, 17 February, midnight. (Archives of the War.)

[23] General Bordesoulle to Marshal Victor, 17 February. (Ibid.)

[24] The Schwarzenberg Uhlan Regiment was particularly distinguished in these critical circumstances.  Major Baron Trach took position to cover the Bavarian brigade of Hermann that had, with a battery, been stationed at the far left of Villeneuve.  The French masses at that time threatened to turn the village and outflank their position.  Despite the extremely high spirit of the French, the major held on until the retirement of the brigade forced him to change position.  He had already deployed part of his strength in skirmishing and executed several charges, when a troop of enemy cavalry came quickly to charge the Bavarian brigade as it crossed Villeneuve, this brigade would have been completely lost if Major Trach had not managed to save what remained by a new charge.  But this charge made ​​the situation even more critical for his horsemen , surrounded on all side, that owed ​​their salvation to the calm and composure to Major Baron Trach , Captain Baron Seamen, Lieutenant Baron Stillfried and sub Lieutenants Thomas and Roll.  These two officers, the first seriously injured, fell to the French.  (Kriegszenen Schwarzenberg Ulanen Regiments.)

[25] TAXIS, Tagebuch (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., XIII , 32.)

[26] TAXIS, Tagebuch (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., XIII , 32) and STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate März. (Ibid., II, 1. )

[27] Pajol to the Minister of War, Le Châtelet, 17 February, eight o'clock at night. (Archives of the War.)

[28] Lhéritier to General Milhaud, Salins, 17 February, half past ten in the evening. (Ibid.)

[29] Charpentier and Allix to the Chief of Staff, Melun, 17 February, seven o'clock at night. (Ibid.)

[30] The 3rd Division of Russian Cuirassiers of General Duka had rejoined Pahlen at Sourdun , the 17th in the afternoon.

[31] Schwarzenberg to Blücher, Bray, 17 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., Vol. II , p. 510.)

[32] Schwarzenberg to the Crown Prince of Württemberg, special order.

[33] Crown Prince of Württemberg to Prince Schwarzenberg, Montereau, 18 February, three o'clock in the morning.  (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 526, a.)

[34] Crown Prince of Württemberg to Prince Schwarzenberg, Montereau. 18 February, half past four in the morning. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II. 526, b.)

[35] Prince of Schwarzenberg to the Crown Prince of Württemberg, Bray, 18 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 520.)

[36] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (Ibid.)

[37] Prince Volkonsky to Barclay de Tolly, 17 February, no 87.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2013

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