Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter 7, Part I

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)






3 February.  --General situation of the Army of Bohemia.  --Retreat of the French army on Troyes.  --Actions taken by the Emperor.  --While Blücher, anxious to use the freedom that he had just been granted at the conference of Brienne, began, from 2 February, his movement towards the Marne, in the fullest confidence that continued to reign in the supreme headquarters.  The fight of Rosnay far from removing doubts as to the direction taken by the Emperor, again contributed to increase indecision.  Although the Russian cavalry of General Ozharovsky had reported from the 2nd in the evening, the presence of the French cavalry around Villers-le-Brûlé, the Great Army had in reality again lost touch, since its leaders had only 3 February in the morning obtained the information that enabled the Generalissimo to conclude that the probability of the retirement of the bulk of the army of Napoleon on Troyes. But as the movement of the light cavalry of the Russian Guard of Ozharovsky came from the personal initiative of the Emperor Alexander one only decided to give credence to the information that had been sent after having obtained the confirmation the morning of the 3rd, while the French army had almost entirely already arrived in Troyes and had effected a junction with the corps of the Duke of Trévise.  Meanwhile, Napoleon took advantage of the slowness and hesitation of his opponent and sent to Piney, at four in the morning, additional instructions to his lieutenants.   Informed by Grouchy and by Milhaud of the presence of the Russian cavalry on the side of Villers-le-Brûlé and fearing the Allies, breaking through at Brévonnes, compromising the retirement of Ney, he ordered the Marshal from Auxon to go to the bridge of Le Doyen, near Brantigny that Gérard had guarded until the arrival of the division of Young Guard of General Meunier.  Mortier was simultaneously ordered to send to the front of the army a strong detachment of cavalry and direct on Arcis the column of General Bordesoulle, posted at Aubeterre, to maintain communications with Marshal Marmont, marching on Arcis.  Victor was ordered to move at half past seven in the morning, his army from Creney and to take a military position covering the roads leading from Ramerupt, Coclois and Lesmont on Troyes.  A few hours later, sure now of not being disturbed by the Allies, the Emperor actively retired.  He sent to Saint-Parres-aux-Tertres General Gérard, to act with his corps and the cavalry of Milhaud as the rear-guard of Ney and meet Marshal Oudinot at Piney, and ordered the Ricard Division to take position at Aubeterre, about half way between Troyes and Arcis.

Finally, always concerned about the future, thinking in the midst of worries of retirement in the operation against Blücher that he already meditated on the day before, the Emperor wrote to the Minister of War, instructing the Minister to order the Minister of the Interior to immediately and urgently repair the bridges and roads from Sézanne to La Ferté-Gaucher, to La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, to Montmirail, Chateau-Thierry, to Étoges and to Vertus, to Épernay, to Arcis and to Ramerupt.

Inaction of the Allies. --Schwarzenberg changes orders.  --On the side of the Allies, they completely lost the day of 3 February: first, because, as a result of the inability to repair the bridge of Lesmont, it was found fit to immobilize the IIIrd, IVth, Vth and VIth Corps; on the other, because as soon as the Generalissimo could no longer doubt the retirement of the Emperor on Troyes, he imagined again that his opponent was going to lead by Bar-sur-Seine and Langres against his left and his rear to cut off communications with the south of France.

Pursued by this obsession, the Prince of Schwarzenberg[1] changed the orders to his corps by moving obliquely to the left the bulk of his army and marching to Troyes on the road from Bar-sur-Aube to Vendeuvre, and thus voluntarily and without any reason lost his communication with Piney.[2]

Movement of the Ist Corps.  --The result of these provisions, certainly very conservative, too conservative even, was that despite their immense numerical superiority, the Allies could only oppose all day on 3 February, the French army already in position around Troyes, with the Ist Corps of Count Colloredo, who had been unnecessarily marched the previous day from Vendeuvre to Dienville and from Dienville to Vendeuvre.  These unnecessary comings and goings had the effect of losing the corps the whole day of the 3rd.  Indeed, due to the condition of the roads, Colloredo had to march his entire body in a single column on the main road from Troyes to Vendeuvre by Montiéramey.  So when his vanguard reached Lusigny, it found the bridge of the Guillotière and the hills on the right bank of the Barse so firmly occupied by the French that Colloredo believed it wise to give up a frontal attack which would have cost many of his men, and procrastinated on a turning movement which would have exposed him to giving battle with the last French troops still in progress from Piney to Troyes. It would have been, however, too late in the day for this movement that the Feldzeugmeister would rather have made the 4th, when the other corps of the Great Army would have found themselves a little less far  from him.

One of the assistant Lieutenant Field Marshal Count Radetzky, Chief of the General Staff of the great Allied army, Major General Trapp, charged by Radetzky to keep abreast of the movements of Colloredo, explains at length in his report the situation of the Ist Corps:

"Pursuant to your instructions, I came here today with the column of Feldzeugmeister Count Colloredo (Ist Corps). The column head only presented at two o'clock, unable, because of the difficulties of the march yesterday, from leaving Dienville very late."

"The vague and contradictory news  that we had on the position of the enemy led the Feldzeugmeister to wait before undertaking anything, before the return of the parties of cavalry he had sent to Géraudot and towards Piney.  He indeed directed on Géraudot a battalion of infantry and cavalry to connect with the IIIrd Corps and also pushed a party to Piney, in order to obtain information about the enemy."

"During this reconnaissance, the enemy had deployed 4,000 to 5,000 men on the heights behind the Barse at La Folie. He seemed more willing to stay there as he brought and placed in battery from 10 to 12 guns to shell the defile and he firmly barricaded the bridge. It would obviously have been foolish to consider a frontal attack on this position."

"We must therefore resolve to seek to outflank by Larrivour and by the path through the woods;  it is impossible to do today, since we still do not know at the present time what the actual enemy strength is, before whom we find ourselves.  On the other hand, given the late hour, it would be impossible to pursue the defeated enemy and reap the benefits should we prevail."

"Furthermore, as we have received no news from Piney, as the reports of the generals Ozharovsky and Seslavin contradict each other on more than one point, as we do not even know anything specific about the movements of the IIIrd and the IVth Corps the Feldzeugmeister thought it wise and prudent to postpone the attack until tomorrow.  He will, for this reason, march in three columns on Larrivour and at the same time make a demonstration on the side of Ruvigny, unless he receives orders from headquarters to the contrary."

"From here, it was impossible to learn anything specific about the direction taken by the retreating enemy.  General Ozharovsky is at Géraudot.  General Seslavin was to advance towards Piney, but we do not know if he made this movement."

"Here the enemy is behind the Barse which he seriously guards and in strength.  He destroyed the bridges above the bridge of La Guillotière."

"According to reports received from the outposts this minute, the Russians have their outposts on the banks of the creek that passes Villers and Piney.  Piney is still occupied by the enemy."

"We are absolutely without news of the IIIrd Corps."

"Instead of returning tonight to Your Excellency, I think it wiser to await the outcome of the attack tomorrow."

"I only beg your Excellency to communicate to us what he has learned about the IIIrd and IVth Corps."[3]

Colloredo was content to establish in the evening his army corps and the divisions of Bianchi and Nostitz between Lusigny and the Barse, and extend the line of outposts, from Larrivour on his right, up to Rouilly-Saint-Lupe on his left.

The Emperor takes steps to defend Troyes.  --Although reassured by the events of the day of the 2nd and the morning of 3 February, the Emperor could not yet bring himself to let the Allies settle without a fight at Troyes.  Putting himself in the place of his opponent, expecting to see some act he would have done himself, he was preparing to resist a likely attack.  For this reason, criticizing the dispositions taken by the 5th Corps of Cavalry before the weakness of the Allies, hoping to settle somewhat at ease, he ordered Victor (Troyes, 3:30 in the afternoon) to concentrate at Creney that cavalry who pushed incessant reconnaissance on the roads leading to Arcis-sur-Aube and the bridge of Lesmont, and on intermediate paths to be familiar with the movements of the enemy.  In addition, he sent to General Gérard, established at the bridge of La Guillotière, the cavalry of General de France, to enable him to make patrols beyond this point.  "This is not to encamp," the Chief of Staff[4] wrote on his orders, "one must be able to fight at any moment: able to reunite at another."

Position of the light division of Ignatius Hardegg and the flying corps of Thurn.  --Meanwhile, the light division of Count Ignatius Hardegg, though belonging to the Ist Corps, continued to remain a Chaource.  This general, expecting to be recalled on Troyes, was thought useful to prevent the likelihood of leaving Count Thurn, who had bivouacked near Ervy with his flying corps.  As, on the other hand, General Dulong had fallen back to Bouilly from Troyes, Thurn moved on Auxon where he arrived at noon and where, by order of Count Hardegg. he stopped a suspicious individual that he sent to Chaource.  But the escort who was driving was attacked between Chaource and Auxon the night of 3 to 4 February by armed peasants who freed the prisoner.  Informed of this event on the 4th in the morning, Thurn disarmed the inhabitants of Auxon and broke their fusils before going back on the road.[5]

Movement of the division of Maurice Liechtenstein, guards and reserves.  --Before the latest changes to orders, Prince Maurice Liechtenstein had received from Feldzeugmeister Colloredo the mission to facilitate the planned attack against the bridge of La Guillotière by a demonstration against the Les Maisons-Blanches on the left bank of the Seine and the road to Troyes in Bar-sur-Seine. He had left his quarters in Fouchères in the morning and managed to drive the French out of the Les Maisons-Blanches.  The Prince remained there where, receiving communication of new general dispositions, he withdrew into Fouchères.  Some troops of the Michel Division reoccupied Les Maisons-Blanches after their departure.[6]

To the right and a little behind the Ist Corps, the Russian and Prussian guards and the Russian 1st Cuirassier Division had, during the course of the day, advanced up to about Lusigny and encamped at night in the surrounding communities.  Barclay de Tolly, also imitating the prudence of Schwarzenberg, had not recalled to him the grenadiers of General Rayevsky and the 2nd and 3rd Cuirassier Divisions that he had left in their positions at Villers-le-Brûlé, in order to cover the left flank and rear of Blücher.[7]

As for the light cavalry of the Russian Guard of General Ozharovsky and the flying corps of Seslavin, they stood around Piney, scouting the country roads from Piney and from Vendeuvre to Troyes and awaiting the arrival of the IIIrd Corps.

Consequences of the destruction of the bridge at Lesmont.  --But the corps of Gyulay, stopped like the IVth and Vth Corps by the difficulties of restoring the bridge of Lesmont, remained all day at this point.  General Gyulay could only throw on the left bank of the Aube his light troops, which crossed the river at Blaincourt-sur-Aube and Précy-Notre-Dame.[8]

In withdrawing, the French had burned to the water level the piers of bridge of Lesmont and had made vanish all the boats that could serve as a pontoon bridge.  As the current was too fast to help establish a trestle bridge, as they might have lost too much time waiting for the arrival of the Austrian bridging equipment that had remained in Chaumont, they made vain attempts to cross the river at Lesmont.  On consideration, finally, they decided to use the bridge of Dienville against which the efforts of the IIIrd Corps came crashing throughout the day on February 1st, the bridge which Barclay de Tolly had used the day before to head on Piney the Russian grenadiers and cuirassiers.

The steadfast implementation by the General Staff to move to Lesmont was not only losing valuable time in the Army of Bohemia, but also impose tremendous hardship to the troops who had to suffer from bad weather and lack of food during the stay forced on the IIIrd and IVth Corps made around Lesmont, the Vth Corps at Rosnay, Perthes-en-Rothière and Brienne, in a region already exhausted by the presence of two armies, in a region where most villages were destroyed and looted and whose inhabitants had fled in haste, taking their cattle and their most valuable assets with them.

Marmont at Arcis.  --On the VIth Corps (Wittgenstein).  --With all these delays, in all these cases, all that time lost by the Allies, especially through the almost complete absence of any pursuit, Marshal Marmont had succeeded, after happily managing to retire on Arcis-sur-Aube, to take position.  As the Marshal felt the importance of this point, he was immediately after the establishment of his little corps in the city, eager to cut all the bridges of the Aube and observe the whole course of the river with the cavalry of Bordesoulle, that he had found at Arcis.  The Marshal, assured on his right as the Ricard Division covered him in Aubeterre, solidly occupied Méry-sur-Seine, to which point he had to withdraw, if he were compelled by superior forces and by which he established his line of operations.[9]

The VIth corps only arrived at 3 in the afternoon from Longchamp and from Saint-Dizier at Montier-en-Der.[10] His cavalry and advanced guard under General Pahlen reached that day Grandville and Lhuître, heading on Plancy, where this general officer had arrived at 5.[11] On the left and a little behind Pahlen. General Ilovaysky XII, with his regiment of Cossacks and half the Cossack regiment of Vlasov Cossack, had continued his march towards Arcis and bordered at the level of Ramerupt the right bank of the Aube.  At the extreme left of the Allies, the Ataman Platov was at Villeneuve-le-Roy (Villeneuve-sur-Yonne), where he expected to be attacked by French troops from Sens.[12]

The Emperor of Russia and Prince Schwarzenberg had established their headquarters in Vendeuvre; the Emperor of Austria and King of Prussia were still at Bar-sur-Aube.

Insignificant in military terms, the day of 3 February was marked by two major political events.  The official notification of the shameful treaty of 11 January 1814 had been received at Bar-sur-Aube, by which the King of Naples, Murat, adhered to the Coalition, and the news that the Congress of Châtillon held its first meeting the next day.

4 February.  --Consequences of the hesitation and slowness of the Allies.  --They move to their left.  --The day of 4 February, although it was marked by no military action of any importance, deserves to be studied carefully all the more so because you can, by examining it with some attention, learn from that time which has lost nothing of value and will find the principles that have remained and will always remain true and immutable.  The facts that we show you will serve, in effect, to highlight the importance of the offensive, to prove that, while retreating, a defeated army, even if it is inferior in numbers, has every interest and every advantage in the middle of circumstances, not only to take up and settle on a position, but to run a vigorous counter-attack which gives pause to the opponent, relenting in most cases from forcing its movement and to march methodically, carefully and slowly, every time he would have begun continuing its essential character of vivacity and energy.

Offensive movement of the French in front of Troyes.  --The slowness with which the Allies had operated during the days of 2 and 3 February, the halt forced upon three of their corps during this time at Lesmont, the fears, the doubts and the contradictory orders of command, allowed the Emperor, taking advantage of the mistakes of his opponents, to resume 48 hours after a lost battle, the offensive against forces more than three times his army.  The Generalissimo needing to change the direction in which his columns, would veer to the left part of his army to turn an insignificant obstacle that without the coming and going of some of his corps, he could break down almost without a struggle before the arrival of the Emperor on that point, an obstacle that without the stubbornness that had been inconceivable on the way to Lesmont, might have been removed, not the 7th, but no later than the 3rd in the morning.

Although the information provided to the Generalissimo on the night of 3 to 4 February by General Ozharovsky, although the reports sent by Blücher from Saint-Ouen and by General Seslavin from Mesnil-Sellières had dispelled any doubts, although we knew at the time in the General Headquarters that the Emperor had barely 40,000 men around him in Troyes, Schwarzenberg dared not speak of a frontal attack against Les Maisons-Blanches and the bridge of La Guillotière.  Not wanting, because of the marshes of the Barse, to try a move to his right, he hoped that the Ist Corps would not be disturbed in its position at Troyes, and he might take during the day the measures necessary for the execution of the operation he was meditating.[13]  But the dispositions of the French around Troyes, that the troops of the division of Michel had reoccupied Les Maisons-Blanches soon after the retreat of the division of  Maurice Liechtenstein, were, from the moment they knew the Emperor was at Troyes, seeing all signs of an attack coming for which the Prince Liechtenstein would call for, however, attention in due course.

Battles of Saint-Thibault and Clerey.  --From 4 o'clock in the morning, although he had not yet received the reports of the cavalry who watched the Barse from the bridge of La Guillotière,[14] the Emperor had already determined the role to be played by each of his lieutenants.  Removing the artillery park, military equipment and baggage to the left bank of the Seine, on the road to Nogent, already preparing his movement on Méry and Nogent, he ordered the Duke of Bellune, stationed at Pont-Hubert with his cavalry to Creney, to reconnoiter downstream of Troyes all the bridges to Villacerf.  General Gérard was ordered to occupy the bridge of La Guillotière, and if he was turned, to stand firm in Saint-Parres-aux-Tertres defending the bridges of the Seine from Les Maisons-Blanches upstream to Saint-Parres, while the division of La Hamelinaye guarded the gates of Troyes and the suburbs.  The Duke of Trévise received at the same time the order, at 8 o'clock in the morning, to be in battle formation with 20 battalions of the Old Guard, artillery, reserves of the artillery and three cavalry divisions of the Old Guard in front of the village of Sancey (now Saint-Julien).  The Duke of Reggio, with the Rottembourg Division, and the Prince of the Moskowa, with the Meunier and Curial Divisions, were formed in the second line behind the division of Michel (2nd Old Guard), while the 1st Division (General Friant) would be held in reserve in the third line, that the dragoon division of General Briche would cover Les Maisons-Blanches and the Duke of Trévise with the battalions already in position of the Michel Division, would begin the attack by taking the bridge of Clérey.[15]

Meanwhile, Prince Maurice Liechtenstein, while falling back on Fouchères the preceding night, had left his outposts in position under Prince Gustav of Hesse-Homburg.  It was early in the morning, noticing the concentration that was taking place in front of him at Hozain, and fearing an attack, that he brought his advanced guard to La Petite-Vacherie.

Around 9 o'clock, the division of Michael and the dragoons of Briche debouched from Les Maisons-Blanches and came to a little before noon, at the level of Isle-Aumont and Saint-Thibault, against the light troops of Liechtenstein, who, after an honorable resistance, withdrew to Saint-Parres-lès-Vaudes where they were worried until nightfall.[16]

Master of Saint-Thibault, General Michel had at 3:30, driven from the village of Clérey the cavalry detachment of Major Eschbacher [17] who had been forced back into Fresnoy.  300 grenadier flankers occupied the village and the bridge Clérey.

The battle of Saint-Thibault had thrown an alarm into the headquarters of Colloredo, at Lusigny, and Lieutenant Field Marshal Bianchi, whose division occupied Montaulin, decamping when he heard the fusillade, moved towards Clérey where he arrived at nightfall.  He ordered his leading brigade (General von Haugwitz) to take the village and the bridge.  This brigade was preceded by four companies from the regiments of Simbschen and Colloredo, which pushed off the grenadier flankers from Clérey who withdrew after having fired all their cartridges, and which forced them to cross the Seine again.

"The fight cost me a lot of people," wrote Bianchi to Colloredo:[18] "I have experienced significant losses in the attack of the bridge: my men, driven by their zeal, wanted to push in front of La Vacherie and were cut down by enemy cavalry. "

Positions of the Ist Corps and reserves in the evening.  --Cavalry reconnaissance and the affair at Aubeterre.  

--The night ended the combat.  Bianchi moved with his division into camp behind Clérey, barricaded the bridge, which he entrusted to the care of two infantry companies, and sent to the bridge of Courcelles two companies of light horse, at the same time he wrote to Prince Maurice of Liechtenstein advising him to cross the Seine at Fouchères or even at the bridge of Chappes rather than go back to the left bank at Bar-sur-Seine.  The Michel Division and the dragoons of Briche spent the night at the level of La Vacherie.  But as the Marshal did not feel sufficiently strong to keep this position and as the Austrians, maneuvering by both banks of the Seine, could easily
out flank him, he gave his troops the order the 5th, before dawn, to report to their former position of Les Maisons Blanches.  The rest of the Ist Corps, the guards and Russian reserves had not left all day from their quarters at Lusigny, Vendeuvre, Villers-le-Brûlé and Piney.

A reconnaissance of the Emperor Light Horse, sent on the order of Colloredo by Major General von Geppert,[19] by Dosches and Mesnil-Sellières had pushed to Creney.  It had found two Russian light cavalry squadrons that were to be joined by the cuirassiers, and aware of the presence at Vailly of General Seslavin whose parties, beyond the road from Troyes to Arcis-sur-Aube, had pushed up the Seine. By moving to the Seine, the flying corps of Seslavin had intercepted for a moment the road from Arcis to Troyes and strongly mauled of a detachment of dragoons at Aubeterre that was escorting Colonel de La Babourdonnaye (aide to the Chief of Staff) and the park artillery of the 6th Corps.  They were rallied by General Ricard, posted at Aubeterre. The park had time to pass safely.[20]

The flying corps of Lieutenant Colonel Thurn left Auxon to get nearer to Count Ignatius Hardegg and settled in Chamoy.  Its patrols came up to Bouilly and its scouts up to in front of the French outposts at Chevillelle and Saint-Germain .[21]

The reconnaissance performed by General Michel and the cavalry of General Briche had in fact succeeded beyond all expectations.  The small battles of Saint-Thibault and Clérey, delivered just when the Generalissimo was finalizing the provisions that were to veer part of his army to the left, served to corroborate the idea that prevailed at the General Headquarters , for an offensive movement that the Emperor thought to run from Troyes on Bar-sur-Seine and Langres, to threaten the left and rear of  the Army of Bohemia and cut off at the same time the Army of Lyons and its line of operations.

Position of the other Allied corps.  --The marches performed during that day by the 4 other corps of the Army of Bohemia were very short.  In the IIIrd Corps, the troops suffered greatly during the stage, and artillery got stuck several times in the broken roads, the Crenneville Division could not reach Montangon and Villevoque; the other two divisions did not go beyond Brévonnes and Villehardouin.[22]

The bridge of Lesmont being totally impracticable, the VIth Corps had to cross the Aube at Dienville and push some troops to its extreme vanguard just at Sacey and Bouy, in front of Piney.  The Vth Corps, with the exception of the Antoine Hardegg Division that was brought back to the Voire, did not budge from its cantonments between Brienne and Dienville.[23]

Count Wrede had taken advantage of the forced halt to send Taxis to Schwarzenberg who reported to his chief in the evening around midnight, the new marching orders directing the Vth Corps on Vendeuvre.[24]

The bulk of the VIth Corps was moved on Perthes and Lassicourt, and Count Pahlen was ordered to push with his cavalry in the direction of Plancy.

Marmont evacuates Arcis in the evening of 4 February.  --The night before, Marmont, yielding to one of these weaknesses, all too common among them during the course of this campaign, had evacuated the woods located in front of Arcis and burned the bridges of Arcis, of Viâpres-le-Grand, Viâpres-le-Petit and even Plancy, "separating from Paris, Châlons and Macdonald," as the Chief of Staff accused him, in his dispatch of the 4th," thus compromising the fate of all the convoys on the road and preventing, by crossing onto the left bank, the Emperor to head on Arcis."[25]

It seemed, moreover, that Marmont exaggerated the importance of the movements executed by the Allies on the side of Arcis.

Thus, in his correspondence with the Chief of Staff, perhaps to justify the haste with which he proceeded to destroy the bridges of the Aube from Arcis to its confluence with the Seine, he claims to have seen defile from six to eleven in the morning, the cavalry down the river and go to Allibaudières, and having seen the infantry and artillery which debouched at Chêne.  While he assessed the forces of the Allies on this point to be ten squadrons and six battalions, there  were actually before him[26] some squadrons of Ilovaysky XII, watching from Chêne and from Ormes the outskirts of Arcis. The appearance of Seslavin's Cossacks on the road from Arcis to Troyes and the news that General Richard was preparing to evacuate Aubeterre to fall back on Méry-sur-Seine, succeeded in convincing the Marshal of his inability to remain at Arcis longer.  Towards evening, the 6th Corps, leaving at his command, Arcis-sur-Aube to fall back on Méry-sur-Seine, took position Droupt-Sainte-Marie.

The untimely destruction of the bridges of the Aube and the somewhat premature retreat on Méry had the disadvantage of uncovering Troyes on the side of Arcis and forcing the Emperor to give up a possible concentration of Arcis.  Napoleon seems, however, to have anticipated the movement of Marmont, because in the afternoon of the 4th, he was ordered to General Pajol, who still only had with him 800 horses and a company of light artillery, to do his best to preserve the bridges of Nogent and Pont-sur-Yonne.

On the side of Sens, there were only absolutely insignificant skirmishes.

Letters of Schwarzenberg to Wrede and to Blücher.  --New orders.  --Blücher, seeing that the Emperor had not yet thought to place himself between Paris and the Army of Silesia and connect with Macdonald, established the 4th his headquarters at Fère-Champenoise.  Schwarzenberg wrote the same day to Wrede that "as Blücher would be strong enough to drive before him Marmont and Macdonald and to arrive in a few days before Paris, the Great Army of Bohemia was, true to the principle established in the plan of operations, to seek to outflank the French right."  So the 4th in the evening, after sending his corps commanders the final order to veer to the left, the Generalissimo exposed to Blücher the reasons why he decided on a movement that, among other disadvantages, increased unnecessarily and unreasonably the distance between the two main masses of the Allied armies.  Not wanting to attack Troyes in front, pretending to believe in the possibility of out flanking the right side of his opponent, to precede him on the road to Paris and to block at least the way he was expecting reinforcements from Spain, could only be explained to Field Marshal in this way so that he would be reassured about the fate of his left and ensured possession of an open excellent line of retirement on Dijon, Schwarzenberg related to the commander of the Army of Silesia movements he had prescribed.

As the vanguard of the corps pushed on Troyes remained in their positions, the Ist Corps (Colloredo) had to march on the road from Bar-sur-Seine and next by that of Tonnerre, skirting the edge of the forest of Aumont.  The guards and Russian reserves were ordered to also move on Bar-sur-Seine with the headquarters and continue from there on Chaource.  The IIIrd and the Vth Corps would march from Vendeuvre on Bar-sur-Seine, and the IVth Corps would remain on the road from Vendeuvre to Troyes, linking with parties to the VIth Corps, going to Arcis-sur-Aube. The Generalissimo advised, in addition, to Blücher heading to Châlons, if it were possible, to move obliquely, to move further to the left.  We shall have occasion to speak on his response in time that Blücher sent the next day to Schwarzenberg and examine it when we will discuss the operations of the Army of Silesia during the same period, the reasons why Field Marshal refused to abandon his plans and to modify the direction he had given to his operations.

The execution of the orders of the Generalissimo was not however without its difficulties.  Thus Colloredo, for example, whose troops were to be relieved by the IIIrd Corps, found at 4 in the evening enough embarrassment to believe himself entitled to demand a solution from the general headquarters.  Patrols, he had sent to his right, had informed him that instead of the IIIrd Corps, it was on the contrary the IVth who it found in Piney, that would come the next day the 5th to Lusigny. "I wonder," the Feldzeugmeister, writing it to the Generalissimo, "if I have to wait here for the IIIrd Corps or if it will be the IVth who will relieve me?"[27]

This question, however very natural and perfectly justified, earned Colloredo a response too characteristic not to be reproduced:

"Lieutenant Field Marshal Count Radetzky to Feldzeugmeister Count Colloredo."

"Vendeuvre, 4 February 1814, 11:30 at night.  --It is of little importance whether tomorrow Count Colloredo will be relieved by the IVth or some other corps.  The bottom line is that he attacks right away."[28]

From the wording of this response, we can get an idea of ​​the feverish agitation which was to reign at General Headquarters.  Not only does it respond to a corps commander, saying that it should be indifferent to be relieved by troops other than those to which he was ordered to surrender his position, but was required to attack, while a few hours earlier, he had been ordered only to leave before Troyes his vanguard and take, the bulk of his forces, on the road from Bar-sur-Seine.

All these maneuvers of the army of Schwarzenberg, executed with the slowness that had only ceased to characterize its previous operations here, were not such to inform the Emperor, who was more anxious to be fixed on plans of his opponent, with the emergence of the Russian cavalry on the side of Plancy and retrograde movement of Marmont inspired in him some fears for his left.  Moreover, as the expectation and the immobility could aggravate the situation and compromise, as a result the meeting of the Congress of Châtillon, that had just held its first meeting, he had every reason to rush to a solution, he resolved to make things clear, and while preparing and starting the process of concentration of Nogent-sur-Seine, to force his opponents to unfold before him and stop in front of the few troops he left in Troyes and responsible for the implementation of a simple demonstration offensive ahead of the city.


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

[2] TAXIS, Tagebuch (Ibid., XIII, 32). This constant fear of Schwarzenberg of his left and the rest is clearly expressed in his letter that same day, from Bar-sur-Aube, to the generals Count Bellegarde and Count Colloredo Mannsfeld. (Ibid., II, 68.)

[3] Major General Trapp to Lieutenant Field Marshal Radetzky, Lusigny, 3 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 71.)

[4] Records of Berthier. (Archives of the War.)

[5] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.), and Report of Thurn to Schwarzenberg, from Chamoy, 4 February, 6 o'clock at night. (Ibid., II, 81.)

[6] The Emperor, in the afternoon of 3 February, ordered the Duke of Trévise to rid the next day, what he called the party of the enemy that is next to Bar-sur-Seine and push it as far as possible. (Correspondence, no 21175.)

[7] Diebitsch to Prince Volkonsky, Vendeuvre, 22 January / 3 February. (Archives of St. Petersburg, parts of Journal received, no. 14.)

[8] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar 1814. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)

[9] Marshal Marmont to Major-General Berthier:

"Arcis-sur-Aube, 3 February 181 4."

''I feel much regret having to announce to your Highness that 260 men of the 37th Light (conscripts of the Aube) disappeared that night.  I had reason to be happy with this regiment in battle the day before yesterday at Rosnay: It had  done very well.  There are no funds for the young soldiers when arriving in their country. Two cuirassiers who were responsible for escorting a superior officer prisoner disappeared that night with him." (Archives of the War.)

[10] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar 1814. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)

[11] Wittgenstein in the dispatch that he addressed from Montier-en-Der to the Generalissimo, informed him that he would move the 4th towards Lesmont, the 5th on Arcis.  He added: "I did not know until now what happened on the side of General Yorck.  According to his letter of the day before yesterday he had before him General Molitor and that he thought of an attack today.  Of this we are sure since we have heard a cannonade, fairly heavy at the beginning, that appeared then to move away and makes me believe that he will beat the enemy. (This is the battle of La Chaussée.)  I sent him a letter to see the results of the affair."  (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 54.)

[12] Platov to Schwarzenberg. (Ibid., II, ad. 120.)

[13] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar 1814. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)

[14] The reports provided at night by General Piquet established at La Folie by General de France and sent by General Gérard to the Chief of Staff at 6:30 in the morning, had revealed the presence of Allied positions at Lusigny, Courteranges and near the bridge of La Guillotière.  It was learned that the Allies had restored the bridge of Larrivour and thrown some infantry on the right bank of the Barse, they occupied Vallières, so that they could easily arrive in two hours behind the bridge of La Guillotière, on La Folie and even Thennelières and the Allied infantry had established at Champigny opposite the posts of the 10th Hussars charged with scouting the left of General de France.  General Gérard had, upon receipt of this news, sent to La Folie a battalion, two battalions to Thennelières intended to be used eventually to support the cavalry of General de France in case the enemy, by increasing its movement to the left , would have forced that general officer to withdraw.  (Archives of the War.)

[15] Records of Berthier and Correspondence of Napoleon, no 21177.

[16] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar 1814. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.); Reports of the Prince Maurice Liechtenstein to Feldzeugmeister Colloredo, Fouchères, 4 February, and dispatch of Colloredo to Schwarzenberg, Lusigny, 4 February. (Ibid., II, 75, II, 75 a and II, 79).

Prince Maurice Liechtenstein informed the Feldzeugmeister in one of his reports of the arrival of a French parliamentarian asking for safe passage for a letter to the Duke of Vicence in Châtillon. "Prince Gustav of Hesse-Homburg," wrote Liechtenstein, "made the mistake of not receiving him.  I could have, by concluding a truce which lasted until the next day with Marshal Mortier, prevented the enemy which I am unable to resist, from pushing so far."  The Prince added that he would try to stay as long as possible at Fouchères, that if he was forced, he would fall back on Virey the 5th where the position seemed better and from there to Bar-sur-Seine. "My effectives are so small that I cannot hope to cover my front and I do not even have enough people to make my cavalry patrols.  Also I have lost a lot of people in these partial, but daily, combats and the O'Reilly Regiment of Light Horse, the only cavalry I have with me, now has only 200 horses."

[17] Major Eschbacher to Major-General von Geppert, Fresnoy, 4 February, 3:30. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., Ad II. 79.)

[18] Colloredo to Schwarzenberg, Lusigny, 5 February; Bianchi to Colloredo, Clérey, 4 February, 4:30 in the evening. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 110, and II ad 110.)

Marshal Mortier had naturally confirmed this in his report to the Chief of Staff and, strangely enough, he estimated the losses caused to the brigade of Haugwitz by the dragoons of Briche at the same figure reported by the Austrian generals (150 men). (Mortier to the Chief of Staff, Saint-Thibault, 4 February, 10 o'clock in the evening; (Archives of the War.)

See also STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar 1814. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)

[19] Major General von Geppert to Colloredo, Lusigny, 4 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 85, b.)

[20] Colonel de La Bourdonnaye to the Chief of Staff and report of General Ricard. (Archives of the War.)

[21] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar 1814. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.) and Thurn to Schwarzenberg (Ibid., II, 81).

[22] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar 1814. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)

[23] STÄRKE, ibid. (Ibid., II, 1.)

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

[25] Letters of the Chief of Staff to General Marmont, from Troyes on 4 February at 10 o'clock in the morning.

Berthier added further: "His Majesty awaits the news of the restoration of the bridge and replacement of all your positions on the other bank.  As soon as he has received it,  in six hours, the whole army will be at Arcis." (Records of Berthier, Archives of the War.)

[26] The Marshal seems to have been so disturbed at the time he thought at first he had to deal with the Bavarians and the Prussians of Yorck, while he only had before him on the right bank of the Aube, some squadrons of Russian cavalry (See General Correspondence, Archives of the War.)

[27] Colloredo to Schwarzenberg, Lusigny, 4 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 85 a.)

[28] Radetzky to Colloredo, Vendeuvre, 4 February at 11:30 at night. (Ibid., 85.)




Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2012


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