Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter 7, Part II

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)






5 February.  --Actions taken by Napoleon.  --At three o'clock on the night of the 4th to 5th, Berthier[1] directed an order of the Emperor, heading General Ricard to Méry-sur-Seine, where he was to make his junction with the divisions coming into position from the army in Spain and whose head was expected the 6 to 7 February at Nogent-sur-Seine.  Marmont was to concentrate on Nogent, including guarding the bridge, taking position on the right bank of the Seine which controls this important outlet and remaining there until the arrival of the Emperor, who was expected to be the 5th in the evening at Méry.  A few hours later, at ten o'clock, the Chief of Staff, however, altered the orders originally given to the Duke of Raguse and informed him, if the Allies hadn't pushed beyond Plancy, to stop at Méry and to guard the left bank of the Seine, while preserving the possibility to arrive in time at Nogent. By staying at Méry and trying to take a bridge at Plancy over the Aube and establish a  bridge head, Marmont was in the mind of ​​the Emperor, allowing him to remain longer in Troyes.

Napoleon, however, not yet sufficiently informed about the true plans of his opponent, had resolved to feel out once more before Troyes.  So, at six o'clock in the morning, the Old Guard took position and formed into columns behind Troyes, at the level of La Chapelle Saint-Luc, between the new and the old road to Paris.  Ney stood with his two divisions to the right of the Old Guard and occupied the heights of Montgueux with a battalion and two pieces. Mortier had to first take his place at six o'clock, in Saint-Julien, to cut the bridge at Les Maisons-Blanches and leave General Briche's dragoon division until the complete evacuation of Troyes and the arrival in the suburb of Saint-Jacques of Victor and Gérard, responsible for cutting the bridges of the Barse.  New orders directed him, however, to move forward to undertake, together with Gérard, a reconnaissance in force and push back the Austrians until about four o'clock in the afternoon, when the Emperor believed it appropriate to bring back the troops and those of Marshal Gérard.

Affairs of the bridge of La Guillotière and Les Maisons-Blanches.  --Despite the fog, the outposts of the Ist Corps had not missed noticing the departure of the French post at the bridge of La Guillotière, which was immediately occupied by a company of jägers and two squadrons of the Emperor Light Horse.  These two squadrons, pushing down the right bank of the Barse, came about a kilometer away up against a French column, who threw them back on the jägers and dislodged after a lively engagement, the Austrians from the bridge of La Guillotière.  The troops of the Ist Corps immediately took up arms.  But while they engaged in this manner on the side of the bridge of La Guillotière, Marshal Mortier joining with Friant's division, the Michel Division posted at Les Maisons-Blanches, appearing in front on the left bank of the Seine, forced the Austrians back to beyond Clérey and would have even gone further, if he had not received in the afternoon, the order to return the Guard to Troyes.  Colloredo thought he could take advantage of the movement executed by the French on the side of Les Maisons-Blanches to take the bridge of La Guillotière. He did not succeed and, suffering from a gunshot to the leg, he was forced to temporarily give the command to General Nostitz, who turned it over the same day to Genera Bianchi.  The Austrians were not long, however, in giving up, for this day, their attempts against the bridge of La Guillotière.[2]

Towards evening, the Ist Corps, found on the side of the Barse and Lusigny by the IIIrd and IVth Corps, veered left and went to Bar-sur-Seine and Virey-sous-Bar, where it arrived about midnight.  After the return of the troops of the Duke of Trévise, the light division of Prince Maurice Liechtenstein reoccupied its position of the day before.  Its outposts were back up to La Vacherie.  Prince Gustav of Hesse-Homburg, established in Saint-Parr-les-Vaudes, served as their support with the Light Horse of O'Reilly, a battery of horse and five companies of infantry; three companies occupied Chappes.  Prince Liechtenstein was at Fouchères with the rest of his small division and a battery.

The Russian and Prussian guards, leaving early from Lusigny and from Vendeuvre, did not arrive until late in the evening at Bar-sur-Seine.

March of the IIIrd Corps and the movement of the IVth, Vth and VIth Corps, of the cavalry of Pahlen and Seslavin.  --The IIIrd Corps had, following the orders of the Generalissimo, left Piney about eight o'clock in the morning, heading for the Barse, and the division of Crenneville, which formed the head of the column, had relieved in the afternoon between Courteranges and Larrivour the right of the Ist Corps.  The Weiss Division was established at Géraudot, Fresnel at La Villeneuve-au-Chêne, and Gyulay, with his headquarters at Vendeuvre.  The IIIrd Corps was to connect, with its right hand to the VIth, by its left with the Ist Corps.

The Crown Prince of Württemberg[3] was also to move towards the Barse and relieve the posts furnished by the Ist Corps on the left.  The headquarters of the Prince was at Montiéramey.

The Vth Corps continued to be in second line to the IIIrd and IVth Corps.  The Bavarians were encamped around Vendeuvre, while the Austrians of Frimont remained in Spoy, Dolancourt and Bossancourt.[4]

The VIth Corps had taken a position at Piney.  Its advanced guard under the command of General Helfreich, was at Rouilly and Sacey, pushing towards Troyes.  To its left, a jäger battalion and two squadrons linked the side of Géraudot with the IIIrd Corps.  On the right, the cavalry of Pahlen occupied Charmont.  Seslavin watched from Saint-Benoit-sur-Seine the left bank of the Seine, and Ilovaysky XII sent from Arcis parties on Méry, occupied by the troops of Marmont.  "I also directed General Seslavin on this point," wrote Wittgenstein[5] the 5th from Piney to Schwarzenberg, "and I prescribed, in the case where Marmont would leave Méry for good, to cross the Seine in these parts and act on communications between Troyes and Nogent, where, afterwards I told this general Napoleon would be present."

Wittgenstein's ideas on the situation.  --Wittgenstein, who could not forget he was also commander in chief, thought it his duty, and especially for his dignity, to give his opinion on the situation and its likely consequences.  "If if follows," he wrote, "that Marmont resists at whatever the cost at Méry to ensure and cover the retreat of the Emperor.  If the Field Marshal Blücher was closer and he was directed on Nogent, one might harass and seriously compromise the situation of the Emperor.  One could, also arrive at the same result with a movement by Sens on Bray.  However it is feared that this could induce Napoleon to decide to withdraw quickly and to retreat on Paris."

In the deference to his military reputation and his insight, Wittgenstein should have learned to refrain from these considerations.  If he had known how to use his cavalry, it would have been easy, not to guess the moves that the Emperor was meditating at the time, but at least to get an exact account of the kind of resistance he might meet at Méry.[6] He only had to control this information Seslavin had taken at 5 in the morning, pass that information to Schwarzenberg and suggest to the Generalissimo to send to the commanders of the corps placed in the front line (to Wittgenstein and the Crown Prince of Württemberg, the leaders of the two light divisions, Prince Maurice Liechtenstein and Count Ignatius Hardegg) the order directing the next day on 6 February a strong reconnaissance on the roads from Piney, Vendeuvre and Fouchères to Troyes.

Information provided by Seslavin.  --From ten in the morning, in his report to Toll, Seslavin positively affirmed that the French withdrew from Troyes on Nogent.  He was also aware that, while seeking a passage through the marshes, he was informed of this movement of Rayevsky and the Crown Prince of Württemberg, and he found Blücher and Wittgenstein to give them advice.

Immediately after receiving the reports of Seslavin, the Generalissimo, still believing the Hetman Platov was in Villeneuve-le-Roi, where he had fallen back on Joigny, sent him orders to push on Nemours and on Moret and investigate whether the Emperor would actually be reinforced through Orléans and coming from the army of Spain. He was also to be more fully informed in this regard that at 5 at night, Seslavin was ordered to leave the right of the Grand Army to move on the far left, further left than even Platov.  But he thought it unnecessary to inform Blücher of the new destination given to the cavalry whose departure from his left completely uncovered and allowed the French army to continue its movement towards the right bank of the Seine, but not the least followed or observed.

Direct orders given by Barclay de Tolly to Seslavin.  --Again, we find ourselves in the presence of one of these measures that serves to highlight the poor organization of command and the strange processes of the Allied generals with regard to the Generalissimo.  It is, indeed, Barclay de Tolly, who, because they were Russian light troops of Seslavin, gives the order to take a left towards the Seine, to cover the left flank of Platov and report to the Allies on what was going on between Paris and the army of Suchet.[7]  Barclay thought that Wittgenstein may, relieve Seslavin with his light troops.  "I have reinforced Seslavin," Barclay adds in this dispatch from 6 February to Schwarzenberg, "and gave him in addition to the troops he currently has with him, two squadrons of hussars (Sumy (Сумы) Hussars) and two artillery pieces."

But what is most singular and even more surprising is to see, because in closing this dispatch Barclay asked the Generalissimo to inform him of the orders given to Platov, Schwarzenberg rush to answer,[8] apologizing, saying he never gave direct orders to Platov and approved sending Seslavin in these parts.  "The Hetman is less in the air," wrote Schwarzenberg, "so he will stay on his original purpose better, which is to go to Fontainebleau el to obtain some positive information on the movements and plans of the enemy."

However, while approving this unexpected movement of Seslavin, it seems one did not add complete faith to the information provided by the Russian general.

It was deemed unnecessary to monitor the rearguard of the French army, but taking advantage of this news for enterprises for the 6th, one of these operations was inevitably doomed to have no result, one of these operations that appealed to strategists of the General Headquarters and that was decorated with the pompous name of offensive reconnaissances.

Before ending the day of the 5th, we still note in passing, a fact, we believe, little known and that we find in the Tagebuch of Major Prince Taxis.[9]

"For the first time," the Major says to us, "we heard today, the possibility of a restoration of the Bourbons."

Orders of the Emperor.  --The 5th of February, at night, already still a few hours before Schwarzenberg had received the news that Blücher had sent him from Saint-Ouen the 4th in the morning,[10] the Emperor was informed by Macdonald, of the obligation in which he found himself, after the battle of La Chaussée, of having to abandon Châlons to General Yorck.  The result was that while Schwarzenberg was preparing to again feel out Troyes with the light troops of Liechtenstein and Hardegg, the Emperor, henceforth fixed his intentions on Blücher and as it appeared that the Field Marshal no longer hesitated to bring Yorck forward and push himself towards Paris, modified his plans and emphasized his retirement on Nogent.  He wanted to join him there while he was waiting for reinforcements from Paris and the Spanish army, then, after picking up en route Marmont, whose body was posted on the 5th in evening, along the left bank of the Seine, from Méry up to Romilly, to throw themselves against the left flank of the scattered corps of the Army of Silesia.

Far from wanting to challenge Marshal Marmont's honor of having been found in agreement of ideas with the Emperor and have, like him, understood that there would be a chance to get great benefits by marching against Blücher, it is important, however, to negate the claims of the Duke of Raguse, which seeks to attribute authorship of this beautiful movement.  To prove conclusively that the Emperor had thought of them before him, simply refer to his letter from Piney addressed the same day as La Rothière, to Clarke, and in which he explained to his minister, from 2 February, the operations that were to take place in case Blücher would move between the Marne and Aube.

Unable, in his situation, to leave anything to chance, the Emperor was careful only to start, from the 6th in the morning, his movement on Nogent.  Still leaving his troops in the positions they occupied the day before, he only prescribed to Grouchy to send the division of Piré to guard and escort the great park of artillery, on the march to Nogent since yesterday.  He brought Victor to the rear of the Guard and charged Gérard[11] to relieve the 2nd Corps and guard Pont-Hubert with his troops and the division of Hamelinaye, slightly more than 5,000 men and 27 guns.

Just when the Emperor was preparing to leave Troyes, the headquarters at Bar-sur-Seine with the Allied sovereigns and Schwarzenberg, all three coming together on this point, received the reports of Seslavin signaling the retreat of Marmont's troops on the march to Nogent-sur-Seine.

6 February.  --Position of the Ist corps, guards and reserves.  --Reconnaissance and skirmishes at Villebertin (Ville-Bertin), Moussey and Isle-Aumont.  --February 6th, to the left of the Allies, the Ist Corps was unable to undertake anything because it arrived well into the night at Bar-sur-Seine, and it was absolutely necessary to give time to replenish the troops exhausted by the skirmishes of previous days and a night march.

Bianchi, whose division was at Fouchères, took command of this corps, and the light division of Prince Maurice Liechtenstein occupied Saint-Parres-lès-Vaudes and Vaudes.  But the division of Wimpffen was removed from the Ist Corps and directed to the Southern Army, and the grenadiers and cuirassiers, which were placed under the direct command of Lieutenant-Field Marshal Count Nostitz, were sent to Chaource.[12]

On the other hand, Bianchi had, as close to him as the guards and reserves, stationed around Bar-sur-Seine, the Russian Guard at Villemorien, and, further back, the 1st Cuirassier Division and the cavalry of the Prussian Guard at Riceys, the Light Cavalry Division in Chesley.

It was while Count Ignatius Hardegg was advancing to Villebertin to execute the orders of the Generalissimo, that Mortier, trying to deceive the Allies and hide the movements of the main army, had resolved for his part to attack the outposts established on the road to Bar-sur-Seine.  Hardegg had, indeed, started to oblige the vedettes and small French posts to retreat beyond Roche, to the gardens of the castle of Villebertin.  But on reaching this point, he found the French artillery in position and supported by 3,000 men and 1,200 horses that seemed, he said, to want to move forward with their left on Isle-Aumont.[13]  "I fired on the enemy," Count Ignatius Hardegg adds in his report to Schwarzenberg, dated from Mont-Chevreuil,[14] "at the very heart of the forest of Aumont and, having forced him to deploy, I fell back, while the enemy re-occupied their former positions."

The Austrian general ignores the rather pronounced retrograde movement he had to perform.  Mortier's troops, moving resolutely forward, had managed to mask all along the line the march of the Emperor and his army on Nogent.  His report, however, provides us with some interesting pointers. "Not having with me,"14 writes Hardegg, "after the detachments I had to make to organize flying parties, those 900 infantry and 600 cavalry, I am too weak to attempt an attack from this position (that of Villebertin to Moussey, covered by the marshy rivulet of the Mogne).  I am very far from any village and I am forced to bivouac in the open.  Bad weather and the efforts that men and horses have had endure to move on the roads by which I had to go, have exhausted my troops.  The roads are so rutted and muddy that two of my cannons had their gun carriages and their wheels broken and I had to sacrifice everything to save these pieces.  According to the talk of four deserters, the French lack food.  Napoleon will appear at Troyes, and it is Marmont[15] who led the fight in person that we had sustained.  I am running out of ammunition and, as I find myself a considerable distance from the corps of Count Colloredo, I beg your Highness to kindly send him to me directly."

Tip of a party of horse on the old road to Paris.  --One of the parties sent out by Hardegg took a left by Bouilly, Souligny Laines-aux-Bois, L'Épine and Torvilliers.  It had passed the road from Sens to Troyes by Villeneuve-sur- Vanne, pushed towards evening to the old road to Paris and took a few men in these parts from the enemy.  The French infantry being brought against them, it had been forced back and had deemed it prudent to return at night to Bouilly. The leader of this party, however, had managed to learn that the Emperor had followed this route, escorted by the cavalry of the Guard, and was to spend the night in the hamlet of Grès.

Position of the IIIrd Corps on the Barse.  --On the side of the IIIrd Corps, remaining around Lusigny, with outposts along the Barse to Courteranges and its headquarters at La Villeneuve-au-Chêne, there were only a few gunshots exchanged between the advanced troops of the Haecht Brigade and French outposts on the right bank of the Barse.[16]

Movement to the IVth Corps towards Laubressel.  --The Crown Prince of Württemberg, arrived the 5th at Montiéramey, had his light troops relieve the positions previously held by the Ist Corps from the bridge of La Guillotière up to Montaulin and Daudes, and occupied Clérey with a battalion and two squadrons.  The bulk of his corps was established from Montiéramey to Marolles-lès-Bailly.  Barely taking this position, he received the order of the Generalissimo to push towards Troyes, the 6th at daybreak, a strong reconnaissance that Wittgenstein was to support on the side of Piney, and Prince Maurice Liechtenstein, on the side of Fouchères.  "General Seslavin," Schwarzenberg wrote to him,[17] "tells me that the enemy left Troyes.  The reconnaissance that Your Highness will perform will therefore discover the presence of the enemy and to feel out its intentions and it makeup.  Your Highness should not commit forces against superior numbers."

Leaving the bulk of his corps around Montiéramey, the Crown Prince, who planned to cross the Barse at Larrivour, turning the bridge of La Guillotière and acting against the French left while Liechtenstein harassed that of his right, was en route at 9 o'clock in the morning with the infantry brigade of Döring and cavalry of General von Jett.  He had also instructed the General von Stockmeyer to stand, with two squadrons and two battalions from Daudes and from Montaulin in the direction of Rouilly-Saint-Loup, when the Prince of Liechtenstein would come by the road from Bar-sur-Seine, to the area of Les Maisons-Blanches.  But the depth of water and flooding of the valley of the Barse prevented the Prince to execute the movement he had planned.  Forced to swing back far to the right and take to the gain the road of Champigny at Laubressel, by woods through which his troops and his artillery had especially great difficulty in passing, he only found at Laubressel two battalions and two squadrons of French, who on his approach, withdrew to Thennelières. "At night," said the Crown Prince of Württemberg, "I was unfortunately unable to get into the valley of Thennelières where the enemy had, besides the 10th Chasseur Regiment and a few other regiments. Laubressel being located on a hill, we discovered Troyes and the surrounding area, I having immediately sent four battalions and two squadrons, that if Your Highness desires a continuance of the reconnaissance tomorrow, can be moved either on the enemy's left, or right on Troyes."[18]

"I ignore," wrote the Prince18 back, "if Count Wittgenstein pushed up to Creney.  In any case, General von Stockmeyer could not go from Clérey towards Rouilly, because the Prince of Liechtenstein has not succeeded on his side to get beyond Les Maisons-Blanches."

Immobility of the Vth Corps and movement of the VIth Corps.  --Throughout the day of the 6th, the Vth Corps stood motionless around Vendeuvre.  Wittgenstein,[19] who had Seslavin in a new and an absolutely positive manner,  given notice at Piney of the French retreat on Nogent, had sent orders to move, in the afternoon as the sole vanguard of the Pahlen from Charmont on Méry, to establish himself there and to act aggressively on enemy communications.  The rest of the VIth Corps (corps of Prince Eugene of Württemberg and the Helfreich division) was to form a second echelon; Colonel Barony was maintained at Rouilly-les-Sacey to monitor the road from Troyes and connect the VIth Corps with the IVth.

But as Pahlen began his movement rather late, he only arrived towards evening in view of Méry that the French still held strongly enough, and thought it wiser to wait to attack on the arrival in line of Wittgenstein.  The infantry of the Pahlen thus remained the night of the 6th at Droupt-Saint-Basle, his cavalry at Rilly-Sainte-Syre and Droupt-Sainte-Marie with outposts to Méry and along the Seine.  Wittgenstein spent the night at Charmont with the bulk of his corps.

Movements of Seslavin and Thurn.  --Position of Platov.  --As for Seslavin, who Barclay wanted to direct to the far left of the Allied lines, Wittgenstein had, instead, pushed him to his right, in order to connect with Blücher. Wittgenstein had thereby learned of the information provided by Seslavin and by Pahlen that the Field Marshal was at Sézanne where his vanguard had already arrived on the 5th.

Before discussing the orders given during the day of the 6th by the Emperor and the measures prescribed by Schwarzenberg for the 7th, it remains to say a few words of Thurn and Platov.  The first of these two flying corps commanders was still at Chamoy.  His patrols had taken the orderly of a French captain and through this man learned that the French retired to Nogent.  Thurn,[20] deduced that the French must have gone into the forest of Othe, where one of his small patrols had come up against the French vedettes.  As the French cavalry had retreated without even pretending to stop, Thurn concluded that there was hardly anyone on this side.  He, however, had seen fit to ensure Cerisiers by sending to a party that would join him when returning from Saint-Florentin.  Thurn had intended to move by Bouilly and Laines-aux-Bois.  He informed, however, the Generalissimo that Platov had asked twice by General Kaisarov to join him, but he refused to do anything without a formal order of the prince. Platov was, in fact, still around Villeneuve-l'Archevêque.

The retreat of the Emperor on Nogent.  --While the Allies were wasting their time in fruitless reconnaissance as the Generalissimo proceeded before Troyes as he had at Chaumont, the Emperor took advantage of the mistakes of his opponents and sped up, from 3 to 5 o'clock in the afternoon, his movement orders.  Deciding to move his headquarters to Grès, in order to be early the 7th at Nogent, he was escorted from the Granges by the division of Piré and took with him the Friant Division.  The cavalry of the Guard were to establish: a division at Châtres, one at Granges, and the third between Châtres and Les Grès, Victor at  Savières, Ney at Grès or at Fontaine-Saint-Georges, Oudinot at La Malmaison, and the cavalry of Lhéritier at Pavillon.

Mortier would still bring up the rear, but this time with General Gérard.  He was trying to file his cavalry and artillery to the outskirts behind Troyes, near Nogent, giving command of the rearguard to General Gérard and leaving at Les Maisons-Blanches 300 horse and a piece of horse artillery.  This post was ordered to maintain large fires throughout the night and then return on the 7th at 7 o'clock in the morning, passing through Troyes and gaining the main road.  30 well-mounted men would continue to guard Les Maisons-Blanches to 10 o'clock in the morning and even longer, until the Austrians would have seen their retirement.  Passing in outside of Troyes, they had to turn back to the main road behind the town.  The Marshal, with the second division of the Old Guard, had ordered the departure the 7th from 6 o'clock in the morning, to come to rest at night between Les Grès and Les Granges, at 6 leagues of Nogent.

The Emperor, telling him to take all measures so that the enemy would notice his departure until the 7th, at about 10 o'clock in the morning, informed him, moreover, that the dragoons of Lhéritier be posted on the old road to Paris, with orders to flank his march, and, before leaving Troyes, he should signal the mayor and the commander of the National Guard to barricade the city.

General Gérard, placed under the command of Duke of Trévise, was ordered to leave only until the 7th, the bridge of La Guillotière, with 150 horses who were like the post of Les Maisons-Blanches, to retire in two stages, and to guard, until he left, Troyes with a brigade whose advanced troops would defend the bridge over the Seine.

As for the cavalry of General de France, they had to stay overnight in La Chapelle-Saint-Luc.[21]

Marmont was already at Nogent; the 6th at 11 o'clock in the morning, he ordered General Ricard to join him there with his division stationed at Pont-sur-Seine.

In a dispatch from Troyes, 5 o'clock in the afternoon, the Emperor announcing the march of the army on Nogent, "ordered it to gather as much bread as possible and to collect all the information that it could get on the road from Nogent to Meaux."  It had been prescribed to send an officer once at Meaux to let him know what was happening and prepare provisions in route.  The Duke of Raguse was also sending an officer to meet him with details of the divisions of Spain, the divisions of the Guard and other battalions, as well as the position of General Pajol.[22]

But Pajol (the Emperor could not yet know at that time), having been replaced at Nogent by the Duke of Raguse and the cavalry of Bordesoulle, had left on the 5th, at 10 o'clock in the morning, to go on Montereau , where he arrived[23] on the 6th.  He left the city on the 7th to go back to Pont-sur-Yonne, in the direction of Nemours, to rally 600 announced reinforcements, support Pont-sur-Yonne, scout the country, cover Moret and the line from Loing, protect Fontainebleau against the enemy's scouts and try to connect with General Allix who occupied Sens.

German authors, while being forced to recognize the importance and timeliness of the movement of the Emperor on Nogent, did not fail to insist on the state of the morale in the French army at that time.

They were quick to reproduce in emulation of the phrases of Fain:[24] "The abandonment of Troyes and the extension of our retirement dispelled the last hopes: the soldiers marched with a mournful sadness that one cannot describe. When will it stop?  This was the question on everyone's lips."

But Napoleon's personal influence was such that this army: demoralized by the retreat, deprivation, cold and hunger; this army, almost exclusively composed of conscripts and with whom the natives refused to share their resources, could, by simple demonstrations, stop the Allies before Troyes for nearly four days.

The prestige of the Emperor was still so great that even as fate seemed to rage and labor against him, where negative news followed each other with desperate continuity, after a new retreat that had been made at the height of discouragement among the soldiers, this army would suddenly regain confidence and hope, inflicting on the Coalition a series of high profile checks and demonstrate to the Allies that the Battle of La Rothière had not yet opened the road and the gates of Paris.

Orders of Schwarzenberg for the day of the 7th.  --At the Allied headquarters in Bar-sur-Seine, it was believed even less imminent of a resumption of an offensive against Blücher, than was expected, despite all the information provided by the cavalry, to meet serious resistance before Troyes on the 7th.  Despite reports of the Russian light cavalry all noting the French retreat on Nogent, it was decided, at General Headquarters, on a reconnaissance on Troyes.  It wanted to separate Blücher more and reinforce the Army of Bohemia just as it had, so to speak, nothing before them.  It was absolutely deceived about the nature of the resistance to the light troops of the IVth Corps on the day of the 6th, and it was probably under the spell of this impression that the General Staff drew up and sent orders for movement for the day of the 7th.

Wittgenstein, who formed the right wing of the Army of Bohemia, was ordered to send by Sainte-Maure or by Saint Benoit-sur-Seine, a light column charged with taking Troyes from the rear by pushing up the road Paris, while the main body of the VIth Corps, marching from Piney on Troyes, would seize the bridge of Sainte-Marie and bombard the city, seeking to take it from this side.  Gyulay should concentrate his IIIrd Corps in a fashion to come by Géraudot and Bouranton, taking from the rear the bridge of La Guillotière and supporting the operations of the VIth and IVth Corps.  The Crown Prince of Württemberg was ordered to gather all his people at Lusigny, to turn by Courteranges the bridge of La Guillotière and then push, together with the IIIrd Corps, right against Troyes. Bianchi[25] was to proceed on Les Maisons-Blanches and attract the attention of the defenders of this position, that Liechtenstein would out flank by Montceaux and Moussey.  Count Nostitz, under whose orders were placed temporarily the light division of Ignatius Hardegg, had to move from Chaource on Troyes, sending a column to the right to cooperate with the projected movement against Les Maisons-Blanches; it would then establish in reserve with its main body on the road from Chaource to Troyes and seek to arrive at Saint-Germain with a column whose artillery would take part from this side, in the bombardment and the attack of Troyes.  The Vth Corps was to be at 1 o'clock in the afternoon at La Villeneuve-au-Chêne.  Finally, the guards and Russian and Prussian reserves had to be at the same time in Virey-by-Bar. The general attack was to take place at 2 o'clock, and the Generalissimo intended to march personally and to take part in the attack with the column of Bianchi.  The Generalissimo had pushed with the precaution to recommend to the Ist and IVth Corps to only begin their attack on the center when the IIIrd and VIth corps on the right and Count Hardegg on the left, were engaged.

The Army of Bohemia still did not believe itself strong enough to operate against an enemy who, leaving a sheer curtain in front of it, was moving with its bulk against the Army of Silesia.  The letter that Prince Schwarzenberg addressed from Bar-sur-Seine to Blücher, in response to the dispatch of Field Marshal of the 5th, gives us undeniable proof.  Although he was unable to challenge the likelihood of a French retreat of Nogent, although he had to admit that Marmont, after evacuating Arcis, also appeared to be heading on that city, it was all explained to Blücher by the poor condition of roads that slowed its march to Troyes (he goes there, he says, again the 7th), Schwarzenberg adds: "If the Emperor pretends to hold Nogent, I will move on Sens and Fontainebleau, leaving before Napoleon from Arcis to Nogent, the corps of Wittgenstein."  As the VIth Corps was too weak to act alone against the Emperor, the Generalissimo offers to Field-Marshal to direct on this side the corps of Kleist "which would cover for the moment the left of the Army of Silesia during its march on Paris and the right of Wittgenstein during operations against Nogent, while being able to support the VIth Corps if the French would try to crush it under the superior forces."

Letter from the Emperor of Russia to Blücher.  --Schwarzenberg had, moreover, managed to win over the Emperor Alexander with his ideas and decided in the evening of the same day to write the curious letter to Blücher that we reproduce:[26]

"From all information we receive, the enemy seems to want to concentrate at Nogent-sur-Seine.  This is the point to which the Great Army will move.  As the corps of Kleist just arrived in Saint-Dizier, I thought it would be useful for it to come support our movement and again join the corps of Wittgenstein.  I think, Monsieur Marshal, that this reinforcement will be less necessary, since it seems that the corps of Macdonald is alone opposite you.  However, in any case, I leave the disposition of General Winzingerode's corps to you, which according to the latest news, was only four marches from Reims.  As it is now out of reach to receive instructions from the Crown Prince of Sweden, I sent this general order to follow the directions you give it and cooperate with your army."

"Bar-sur-Seine, 25 January/6 February 1814."

7 February.  --Movement of the IVth Corps.  --But during the night of 6 to 7 February, Marshal Mortier, left, under orders of the Emperor Napoleon, his position of Les Maisons-Blanches and the bridge of La Guillotière, having crossed Troyes, heading to Méry and leaving behind only a weak cavalry screen.  At 6 o'clock in the morning, when he was preparing to get underway to march on Laubressel, the Crown Prince of Württemberg was informed by his outposts of the departure the enemy and abandoning of the bridge of La Guillotière.  The Prince, collecting the forces he had at hand, went forward immediately with three Württemberg cavalry squadrons and two squadrons of Austrian light horse of Klenau (having been part of the IIIrd Corps).  The Stockmeyer Brigade followed these squadrons in the direction of Troyes.  Reversing the barricades erected in haste and opening the gates of the city whose authorities brought him the keys at 8 o'clock in the morning, the Crown Prince of Württemberg passed through Troyes faster and engaged with his cavalry on the road to Nogent.  But despite all the speed he impressed upon his march, he only succeeded in discovering the French rearguard between La Malmaison and  Les Grès. Too weak to attack with these five squadrons, he had to settle for observing, collecting 800 hussars and start to push forward his cavalry outposts up to around Les Grès.[27] The rest of the IVth Corps, passing through Troyes, went to camp on the road to Sens, in accordance with orders given by Schwarzenberg for the days of February 7 and 8.

Movements of the IIIrd, Vth and VIth Corps.  --Affair at the bridge of Méry.  --The 7th at night, the advanced guard of the Vth Corps came to relieve the Württemberg cavalry, posted on the side of Les Grès.  This established it at Pavilion and Villeloup, thus linking the IVth and Vth Corps.

Part of the light division of Crenneville (IIIrd Corps) had followed the cavalry of the Crown Prince of Württemberg on the road to Nogent, but the bulk of this corps was quartered on the other side of Troyes, on the road from Saint-Florentin to Bouilly and Saint-Pouange.

The Vth Corps, after passing through Troyes and relieving the outposts of the IVth Corps near Les Grès, appeared in echelon on the road from Nogent.  Frimont settled in Saint-Lye, Spleny ahead of him at Payns. The light division of Count Antoine Hardegg did not arrive until midnight in cantonments Barberey-aux-Moines.[28]  From that moment the contact with the enemy was lost.[29]

Wittgenstein, who was entrusted to execute the order to attack Troyes from behind, had already arrived between Creney and Argentolles, when he received the news of the evacuation of the city and the notice to report to the Aube.  The bulk of the VIth Corps came back to settle at Charmont,[30] where Pahlen had already left in the afternoon of the 6th heading to Méry.

Arriving the 6th in the night around Méry, Pahlen had, after a preliminary reconnaissance attempted to seize the town and the bridge; but, following a very heated engagement, he only managed to establish himself in the town on the right bank of the Seine,[31] leaving the French the opportunity to destroy the bridge.[32]

Seslavin had been directed to the extreme left of the army, to act as partisan on the Loire and facilitate the operations of the Cossacks of Platov.  This left at most in the whole space between the army of Schwarzenberg and Blücher the few Cossack of Colonel Vlasov, responsible for observing Sézanne and Villenauxe.

Any value, from a political point of view, we could attribute from an effect on the morale produced by the appearance of Cossacks on the Loing, at Moret, at Nemours, towards Fontainebleau and towards Montargis, were offset by the badly chosen timing of striping the light cavalry from the right of the Great Army and filing off the flying corps, which alone assured, though incompletely, communications with the Army of Silesia.


[1] Correspondance de Napoléon, nos 21180, 21181, 21182, 21183.  --Records of Berthier and Minister of War to the Chief of Staff. (Archives of the War.)

[2] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar 1814. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.); Schwarzenberg to Bianchi (Ibid., II, 144; Daily report to the Emperor of Austria. (Ibid., II, 144.)

[3]The Crown Prince of Württemberg to Prince Schwarzenberg:

"Montiéramey, 5 February 1814."

"I have the honor to inform Your Highness that I came here with my army corps.  I consulted with the Feldzeugmeister (this is about Gyulay) and we agreed to connect his right, and my left on the road."

"The fighting of the outposts at the bridge of La Guillotière having ended, my vanguard relieved that of Feldzeugmeister Colloredo.  It extends from Lusigny by Montaulin to Daudes.  I have a battalion and 2 squadrons at Clérey.  A squadron posted at Verrières acts as liaison between Clérey and advanced guard.  My main body is encamped at Montreuil, Montiéramey, Briel, Chauffours and Marolles."

"The vanguard of the Feldzeugmeister Count Gyulay also took care of the outposts on the right wing."

"I expect the orders of Your Highness tomorrow."  (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II. 117.)

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

[5] Wittgenstein to Schwarzenberg (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 119) and Schwarzenberg to Wittgenstein. (Ibid., II, 98.)

[6] Order of the General Marmont to General Ricard:

"Méry, 5 February.  --General Ricard will remain at Méry with his division to keep the outlet and defend it.  He will continue the destruction that was started on the bridge and will make arrangements to defend it as long as possible."

"If the enemy does not appear and the report of the reconnaissance sent to Plancy, and information from the countryside, confirm the continuance of the movement that the enemy pursued for forty-eight hours on the right bank of the Aube, General Ricard will start to join the corps at Nogent-sur-Seine and alert the Imperial Headquarters of his march.  If, however, General Ricard is attacked, he will hasten to inform the Chief of Staff and the Duke of Raguse, and defend Méry.  If in the case of joining the corps as a result of the continued movement of the enemy on Nogent, General Ricard will leave at Méry 500 men and two guns to defend the city against the hostile parties until the arrival of the troops who have had to leave Troyes." (Archives of the War.)

[7] Barclay to Schwarzenberg, Bar-sur-Seine. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 163.)

The letter in which Toll completes instructions for Seslavin is particularly interesting because it brings out the little confidence that they had in the ability and energy of Platov:

"Bar-sur-Seine, 5 February."

"H. M. the Emperor was pleased to read your reports sent from Saint-Benoit that informed that Napoleon withdrew from Troyes on Nogent, although the Austrian outposts did not give us notice."

"So that you can adjust it according to your operations, I will let you know the movements of all corps.  The Great Army of Prince Schwarzenberg aims to outflank the right wing of Napoleon: to that end, his corps having now reached Bar-sur-Seine continue their movement on Troyes (if the enemy evacuated the city) and Auxon-on-Sens, then from there, by Fontainebleau to Paris.  The corps of Wittgenstein arrived today at Piney and will likely concentrate on Troyes by Nogent to observe more closely the movements of the enemy."

"The army of Field Marshal Blücher is between Châlons and Arcis.  Its advanced guard, under Vasilchikov, was yesterday at Fère-Champenoise.  This army's mission is to prevent the junction of Macdonald's troops, currently at Châlons, with those of Napoleon."

"It follows from the above that it would be useful to see you operate on the enemy's communications on the side of Provins. Count Platov is in Villeneuve-le-Roy, a short distance from Sens, and was ordered to push on Nemours and Moret, pressing as much as possible to the left, to reconnoiter the neighborhood of Orléans and to find whether the Spanish army sent reinforcements to Napoleon.  He was also directed to send parties between Nogent and Melun, on the other bank of the Seine, to act, as much as possible, on enemy communications.  I doubt that he will fulfill the latter part of his task that are left to his discretion.  I just learned that the Count Barclay de Tolly has given you, on the order of the Emperor and Prince of Schwarzenberg requirements to operate in the direction of the Loire.  You will immediately comply with this order."

[8] Schwarzenberg to Barclay, Bar-sur Seine, 6 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 171.)

[9] Tagebuch Major Fürsten Taxis. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., XIII, 32.)

[10] Field Marshal Blücher to Prince Schwarzenberg:

"Saint-Ouen, 4 February 1814, 8:30 in the morning."

"It was only today that I may be able to provide information to your Highness that I am absolutely sure of."

"The corps of Marshal Marmont crossed the Aube at Arcis and occupies, as a bridgehead, the forest located on the right bank of the Aube."

"Lieutenant-General Count Pahlen is at Lhuître.  Vitry is still occupied by the enemy.  It is said that there is in total 10,000 men sick, disabled and injured, and more, a lot ofbaggage of the army.  It seems that General Yorck was unable to capture it, because the place is surrounded by an enclosure protected by a moat full of water."

"General Yorck has focused yesterday on the side of Châlons and attacked the enemy in Pogny.  From the heights, we saw the enemy head towards Châlons."

"A party found  2,000 infantry strong and four cavalry squadrons that night in Songy.  The party also saw many camp fires at Châlons."

"I am moving on this side and I will personally be at the intersection of the roads from Arcis to Châlons  with one that goes from Vitry to Fère-Champenoise.  Arriving at this point, I hope to have news of General Yorck, news that will affect my future movements of which I will immediately inform Your Highness." (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 78.)

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

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

[13] These were the Old Guard division of General Michel and the dragoon division of General Briche.

[14] Hardegg to Schwarzenberg, Mont-Chevreuil, 6 February 1814, 8 o'clock at night. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 157.)

[15] The Austrian general commits a mistake.  His affair had been with the troops of Mortier and Marmont was already at that time in Nogent-sur-Seine.

[16] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 153(sic).)

[17] Schwarzenberg to the Crown Prince of Württemberg, Bar-sur-Seine, 5 February 1814, (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 153.)

[18] The Crown Prince of Württemberg to Prince Schwarzenberg, Montiéramey, 6 February 10 o'clock at night, (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 152) and STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar. (Ibid., II, 1.)

[19] Wittgenstein to Prince Schwarzenberg, Piney, 6 February 1814. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 161) and STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar. (Ibid., II, 1.)

[20] Thurn to Schwarzenberg, from Chamoy (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 184), and STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar. (Ibid., II, 1.)

[21] Correspondence of Napoleon, no 21192 and Reports of Berthier. (Archives of the War.)

[22] Correspondence, no 21191.

[23] Pajol to the Minister of War, Montereau, 6 February. (Archives of the War.)

[24] FAIN, Manuscript of 1814.

[25] The Ist Corps had been divided after the wounding of Colloredo.  To Bianchi, was entrusted the two light divisions of Ignatius Hardegg and Maurice Liechtenstein and divisions of Wied-Runkel and Bianchi. Field-Marshal Lieutenant Count Nostitz was responsible for the 24 squadrons of cuirassiers and six battalions of grenadiers. This situation lasted until about 22 or 23 February.

[26] The original in French.  --It is worth noting in this context that Alexander, while consenting to send Kleist, to  march to Nogent, Schwarzenberg still held on to his movement towards Sens and Fontainebleau.

[27] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar. (Ibid., II, 1.)

[28] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar. (Ibid., II, 1.)

[29] Taxis, Tagebuch. (Ibid., XIII, 32.)

[30] It was at Charmont that Wittgenstein sent to Schwarzenberg the following report (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 186):

"General Yorck will find nothing in front of him before reaching Meaux, and the march on Paris will be facilitated by the movement of Blücher who is also heading on this side and only sends towards Nogent a part of his light cavalry.  General Count Pahlen could not undertake anything since yesterday against Méry, which is too strongly occupied by the enemy."

[31] "Viollet, Commander of the l44th Regiment, to General Ricard. - Lachy, 9 February 1814. "

"The enemy attacked me on the 7th at noon, at the bridge of Méry, with 2,000 infantry, 100 horses and 6 cannons. After having defended the front of the town for an hour, I withdrew my troops behind the bridge that I defended until 5 o'clock at night.  I was then relieved by two battalions (these battalions belonged to the corps of Mortier)." (Archives of the War.)

[32] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee im Monate Februar. (Ibid., II, 1.)


Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2012


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