Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter 7, Part VII

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch

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THE CAMPAIGN of 1814
(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)

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CAVALRY OF THE ALLIED ARMIES
DURING THE CAMPAIGN OF 1814.
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CHAPTER VII.

OPERATIONS OF THE GREAT ARMY OF BOHEMIA IN THE VALLEY OF THE SEINE, from 3 to 16 February.

Influence exerted by the defeats of the Army of Silesia on the political ideas of the Allied sovereigns.  --But it was not only on military operations that the victories of the Emperor had exercised their influence.  The counter attacks checking Blücher had been felt in the diplomatic circle of the rulers and supporters of peace, once again resolute, had now returned with renewed ardor to the work which they had to give up before the warlike enthusiasm caused by the gain of the battle of La Rothière.  Metternich, using the letter that Caulaincourt had written on 9 February, a letter that the Austrian Chancellor had only communicated with his sovereign, and in which the Duke of Vicence asked him if France, in agreeing to return to its old borders, would get an immediate armistice, had taken advantage of the new turn taken in the last days by military operations to try to make his peaceful ideas triumph.  Until the morning of the 15th, the attempts on the Emperor of Russia by Metternich, by Hardenberg , and by Castlereagh, had completely failed.  To all their entreaties, to all their audiences, Knesebeck remembers, the Czar had previously opposed a peremptory refusal to resume negotiations suspended since 9 February, and clearly expressed the resolve to continue the war vigorously without granting an armistice.  By force of insistence, however, a promise had obtained from him of renewed congressional hearings, but under the strict condition that operations would not influence any decisions.  The arrival of the news transmitted by Diebitsch offered to the diplomats and representatives of the peace party the opportunity to attempt a supreme effort.  Going back to Alexander, it was pointed out that time was running out, that soon there may be another defeat for the Allies that would lose the last chance to make a treaty on the basis indicated in the dispatch from Caulaincourt; finally one obtained, with great difficulty, with his consent and with an order requiring Razumovsky to resume  negotiations, allowing the Russian plenipotentiary powers to sign a peace treaty.

The diplomats thought they had already won the game, and Metternich, having announced to Caulaincourt that the plenipotentiaries would enter into negotiations with him, added in a private letter: "We have now returned to your negotiations, and I guarantee you that this is not an easy thing to be the minister of the coalition."[1]  Also in the same letter referring to the regret expressed by Caulaincourt on not seeing him at Châtillon, Metternich said to him:          "Believe me, in point of business, I am more useful here than you are."

Indeed, the necessary instructions had been sent to Châtillon; but at the very time when Hardenberg was, while ultimately maintaining the hope of his ideas, acknowledged in his letter to Knesebeck "that the King of Prussia, won over the war party, could no longer keep up when he tried to convince the Czar of the need to finish signing a peace treaty."   Nevertheless, he still hoped to succeed in overcoming the will of Alexander with the ideas that Pozzo di Borgo, Stein and Gneisenau had done so much to make him accept.

Supporters of the peace became, in fact, more and more numerous in England, and a political friend of Castlereagh, a member of the English ministry, wrote to him at that time: "If Blücher and Sacken really have experienced the defeats that are spoken of and that I cannot believe, this will at least make people a little more reasonable."[2]


Two days later, the new instructions that Caulaincourt received from the Emperor, ordering him to only proceed to negotiate on the basis proposed at Frankfort, would again reduce to nothing the hopes of the peace party and remove the likelihood of an immediate solution obtained through diplomatic channels.

Positions of the French army on 15 February in the evening. -While the army of Schwarzenberg was marking time and exhausted by unnecessary movements, the marshals had taken position on the Yerres.  To their left, Victor stretched from Fontenay to Chaumes-en-Brie with his headquarters in Forest.  The Marshal, extremely surprised by the stop in operations of the great Allied army, almost expected to see the 16th to retire behind the Seine.[3] Oudinot formed the center of the line at Guignes. His headquarters were in Ozouer-le-Voulgis; his outposts stood in front of Mormant.[4]  To his right, Macdonald ran from Solers to Brie-Comte-Robert, where by order of King Joseph the general depot of Versailles was to send him all the cavalry available.  The squadrons coming from Spain also received orders to join as quickly as possible the Duke of Tarente by going either through Melun, or Corbeil.[5]

Even further to the right and on the left bank of the Yerres, Pajol had his main body in Évry-les-Châteaux and his cavalry at Moissy-Cramayel, Limoges, Lissy and Limoges-Fourches; the detachment of General Allix was at Réau.  Finally, at the far right, the Charpentier division occupied Corbeil and Essonnes.

The Emperor, repeated his maneuver of the Saxony campaign in 1813, leaving for the moment Mortier between Soissons and Reims to monitor Sacken and gave Marmont orders to hold as long as possible at Étoges, to approach Montmirail and to sweep away the Allied parties seen by Saint-Germain and Leval, in order to enable the general to continue their march on La Ferté-sous-Jouarre and Meaux.

Leaving Montmirail with the Guard on the morning of the 15th, he arrived that evening at Meaux where the Chief of Staff',[6] who had preceded him, and informed, from two o'clock in the afternoon, the marshals of the march of the Emperor.  He let them know that the Guard after reaching Meaux on the night of the 15th to 16th, would debouch in the afternoon of the 16th by La Houssaye and Fontenay-Trésigny on the positions occupied by the marshals by his order behind the Yerres.

"His Majesty", the Chief of Staff wrote them, "asked me to warn you not to do battle tomorrow (the 16th).  In crossing the small river Yerres, occupying the bridges that lead to Brie-Comte-Robert and Fontenay, by cutting all the other intermediaries, the Emperor thinks that this position must be such that it must force the enemy to use three days to get into battle.  While we will be ready to receive it after tomorrow the 17th."

As for the Emperor, this time more than any other, there could not be the slightest hesitation.  His plan was so well determined that he wrote to Leval, Grouchy and Saint-Germain, to press their march for the 17th to be at the battle that would be near Guignes where he would move his headquarters.[7]

He also announced to Marmont "that he would go attack Schwarzenberg who had taken a little too strong an offensive on Paris, as otherwise he would have centered on Châlons and Vitry and at the first retreat that this army makes, his intention was to seize on the spot Vitry and the Alsace.  This was why the Emperor wanted to find the marshal at Étoges or Montmirail; then he will support him in short order to compel the enemy to long marches and a rout."[8]

The Emperor was not mistaken in saying that it would take Schwarzenberg at least three days to concentrate an army whose front stretched from Fontainebleau until about Méry and covered in depth throughout the country between Nangis and Sens, affirming that the Generalissimo could neither take the offensive with any prospect of success, nor resist in good conditions the attack he would make at the head of his little army.

16 February 1814.  --Arrival of General von Hake at Pont-sur-Seine.  --New orders from Schwarzenberg.    --The night of 15 to 16 February and the day of the 16th would, like the previous days, continue to provide the headquarters of the Allies with a host of news which was anything but reassuring.  A little after midnight, General von Hake, sent by Blücher, arrived at Pont-sur-Seine for the King of Prussia and the Emperor of Russia and announced that the Emperor Napoleon, abandoning the pursuit of the Army of Silesia, had returned to Montmirail on the evening of the 14th.  The Tsar, without losing a single minute, immediately joined Schwarzenberg at Nogent, to persuade him to mass his whole army around Provins.  But after a long consultation, he was still unable to convince the Generalissimo, and the latter, merely cancelled the dispositions he had just issued, sending to his various corps orders to resume their positions of the day before.

This was certainly the worst of all measures that could have been taken under such circumstances.  But more remarkable still, although knowing the precarious state of the army of Blücher, the Emperor of Russia, probably because the resistance of the general staff had convinced him of the futility of his efforts, wrote to Blücher to invite him to get back to marching faster on Sézanne, to form on the right of the Great Army and bring Yorck and Sacken on the left bank of the Marne, at Étoges or at Vertus.[9]

A report of Diebitsch[10] had again confirmed the accuracy of the news brought by General von Hake, without significantly modifying the point of view of the Generalissimo.

Positions of the French army on 16 February in the morning.  --Napoleon, however, whose headquarters was to be the 16th at Guignes in the evening, did not wait for events to send his orders.  Victor, who would hold the head of the column, moved in front of Mormant.  Oudinot established himself in front of Guignes; his headquarters would be on the side of Moulin-de-l'Étang.

Macdonald would reunite all his troops between Les Étards and Ozouer-le-Voulgis and would cross the bridge at Seigneurs with a division that he would put in Yèbles.  The park of the army would march all night to get to Ozouer-le-Voulgis and will unload behind the village; the engineering train would go to Guignes with the General Headquarters.  The Old Guard would leave Meaux at 8 o'clock in the morning, the infantry would go to Chaumes; the cavalry would be placed in a column whose head was at Chaumes, the tail at Fontenay.  Ney with his divisions of Young Guard would be in La Houssaye.  All troops would have their artillery with them and be ready to march and fight the morning of the 17th.  Finally, Pajol received in the course of the day of the 16th, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the order directing General Allix on Melun, to come with Pacthod to Saint-Germain-Laxis, about 6 kilometers from Melun, and push parties to the left on Châtillon-la-Borde.[11]

Movements of the VIth Corps.  --Count Wittgenstein[12] had received direct news of the enemy and knew from Diebitsch of the march of the Emperor on La Ferté-sous-Jouarre and Meaux.  Regardless of the different orders of the Generalissimo and especially the last commanding him to stay at Provins, he took it upon himself to continue his movement in the thought that the French were trying to settle behind the Yerres.  His extreme advanced guard (General Rüdinger) was still near Mormant , and his parties, pushed on his right side from Coulommiers to Chailly, had learned that the Emperor's army was moving on Meaux.  All this news determined him to leave Provins with the bulk of his troops and to move on Nangis.  No sooner had he entered this city than he received from Prince Lubomirski, posted at Meilleray, the information that five regiments of cavalry and seven regiments of French infantry had entered La Ferté-Gaucher to continue on Nangis.  From Mormant General Pahlen had discovered that the enemy still occupied Guignes and Rozoy.  As the French outposts had continued to retreat before the Russian cavalry by the two roads leading from Mormant, one by Chaumes to Meaux, and the other by Guignes to Paris, Pahlen and Rüdinger resolved to follow in both directions by sending the Tchougouiev Uhlans and Cossacks of Ilovaysky on Guignes, the Grodno and Sumy Hussars and the Cossacks of Rebrikov on Chaumes.

The Ol'viopol Hussars, with infantry and artillery of the vanguard, stood in front of Mormant, while the road of Chaumes was followed to about Beauvoir, where it found the cavalry of Piré had taken position, and its hussars and Cossacks were obliged to stop by its fire.[13]

The uhlans and Cossacks had advanced on the road from Guignes up to about l'Étang.  Wittgenstein, after having sent Lubomirski orders to move from Meilleray (on the Grand-Morin) at La Ferté-Gaucher and observe the road from Coulommiers, had detached from Nangis on his right, up to Courpalay, two squadrons of Tchougouiev Uhlans, which signaled the presence of the French at Rozoy.  A squadron of Ol'viopol Hussars scouted, southwest of Mormant, the road to Melun.

From Nangis, where he arrived late in the day and where he found the division of Count Antoine Hardegg (Vth Corps), Wittgenstein wad again sent to La Ferté-Gaucher parties of cavalry belonging to this division with the order to report verifiable information to him.  Finally, as the outposts of Pahlen and Rüdinger were harassed and strongly pushed back by the French, both from Beauvoir, as from l'Étang, Wittgenstein had to, at the request of Pahlen, to move part of his infantry in front of Nangis and establish the brigade of Rosen in front of Bailly.  He also directed the Grodno Hussars to proceed by Jouy-le-Châtel on Courtacon to monitor the exits of La Ferté-Gaucher.  But in the night, the Generalissimo, irritated at the insubordination of Wittgenstein, anxious to know of the staggered VIth Corps from Mormant to Nangis, where he was in danger, ordered him to retreat at dawn to Provins.[14]

Movement of the Vth Corps.  --Wrede, on the contrary, after the massing the Vth Corps the morning of the 16th from Donnemarie to Paroy, had started on Provins, when he received at the same time the news telling him that the enemy moved on La Ferté, orders to remain on his old positions.  By immediately turning back his columns, he returned to Donnemarie.  After the arrival of the Russians of the VIth Corps at Nangis, the light division of Count Antoine was Hardegg camped at Rampillon, Landoy and Lizines.[15]

Reconnaissance of Melun and Brie-Comte-Robert by the IVth Corps.  --The Crown Prince of Württemberg, whose scouts had appeared at Châtelet on the evening of 15 February, had personally pushed in the morning of the 16th with the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Hussars Regiment, a half horse battery and an infantry battalion, a reconnaissance on Melun, that he occupied at noon, after easily driving out a few French posts established in the suburb of Saint-Liesne.  He only remained there, however, a few hours, and on the return of the scouts, he had sent on the road to Brie-Comte-Robert, and who had been stopped by the French in front of Réau, he returned to Montereau .  The Austrian hussars settled in outposts at Sivry, at Châtelet, at Les Écrennes and at Échouboulains, and Stockmeyer Brigade came to strengthen the Austrian brigade already stationed at Surville.[16]

Occupation of Fontainebleau and taking of Nemours.  --The Ist and IIIrd Corps were still not moving.  But Count Ignatius Hardegg (light division of the Ist Corps) who received at Moret three battalions of reinforcements, had searched the forest of Fontainebleau and sent Colonel Simony with 100 horses to Fontainebleau itself.  Hardegg supported them in the evening with a battalion and a half of infantry.  The French had evacuated the city on the night of the 15th to 16th, at 2 o'clock in the morning, retiring on Chailly.  Some parties of Austrian cavalry had been pushed on the road from Nemours in Paris, to cut off the garrison of Paris from Nemours.[17]

To the left of Hardegg, Lieutenant Colonel Thurn, established at Nanteau from the night of the 15th, was alerted at 3 o'clock in the morning by his advance guard, stationed in the woods of Nanteau, then they heard a heavy shooting on the side of Nemours.  Moving forward immediately with his small corps, Thurn, who arrived on the heights of the right bank of the Loing, there learned positively that Platov's Cossacks had attacked and invested, the city by the left bank whose commander had refused to capitulate.  At 4:30 in the morning, Platov, after dismounting his Cossacks, took possession of the suburbs, while Thurn diverted attention of some of the garrison by the demonstrations of which he executed on the other side of the Loing.  The Cossack artillery bombarded the city gate; it silenced the French artillery, and after rather savage fighting, the Cossacks on the one hand and the Austrians on the other, entered Nemours simultaneously.  600 men and 4 cannons fell into the hands of the Cossacks and Thurn, that Prince Maurice Liechtenstein relieved in Nemours, to allow Platov go around the forest of Fontainebleau and push on the road to Paris.[18]


March of Seslavin on Châteauneuf-sur-Loire.  --As for Seslavin, after evacuating Pithiviers, he was directed to Châteauneuf-sur-Loire.  His scouts had appeared before the town on the 16th, but greeted by a few gunshots from the French posts, they were forced back towards Bellegarde-du-Loiret.

Diebitsch occupies Montmirail.  --On the far right of the great Allied army, the departure of Grouchy, who, on the order of the Emperor, descended on La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, temporarily allowed Diebitsch to occupy Montmirail. Grouchy, however, had taken care to warn Marshal Marmont of the presence in front of the city of a detachment of Diebitsch, and to give the Duke of Raguse time to arrive, he had cut the bridge of the Petit Morin.  He proposed, in case he learned that the Russians had occupied Montmirail, to return.  Meanwhile, he directed from La Ferté-sous-Jouarre on this point a few squadrons of light cavalry, as he pressed the march of General Leval and Saint-Germain on Meaux.[19]  Diebitsch had taken advantage of this movement to come to Montmirail, between 7 and 8 in the morning

"After having occupied Montmirail," wrote Diebitsch[20], "Colonel Prince Hilkov pursued the enemy up to the old houses (Viels-Maisons), where the regiment of Vlasov's Cossacks joined him from Prince Lubomirski; a little league beyond that, they were stopped by strong enemy patrols."

"After discovering some troops of enemy cavalry on the way to Champaubert, near Janvilliers, I had pickets placed on this side. These were the troops of the corps of Marshal Marmont, who, according to the uncertain talk of prisoners, should be 10,000 to 12,000 men.  He was yesterday at Vertus and I think will head from Orbais-l'Abbaye to Chateau-Thierry, because being with my detachment at Montmirail, a retreat can be made safely from this point and that marching on Arcis, he would meet our whole army.  Anyway, I shall arrange so as to be ready to receive the enemy, without compromising myself.  I have[21] sent my reports to Arcis and under the assumption that they will succeed in getting to you some time soon."

"At Montmirail, I took 200 men and a large hospital where there were many French officers both senior and junior, and about 1,000 soldiers of ours.  I released our men and those among them who are ready for use, will be assigned to the grenadier (2 officers and 250 soldiers).  I will arm them with fusils taken from the French.  But the 14 officers and 400 invalid soldiers will be immediately directed to Sézanne, where they will await the orders of Your Excellency."

"The town of Montmirail was occupied by the skirmishers and cavalry."

Diebitsch had not been mistaken in his assumptions.  His party had, indeed, come up against the head of the column of Marmont who, marching on Montmirail and the party the day before from Vertus, "had thought fit to maneuver by Orbais to be always master of moves and to be able to accept or reject an engagement.[22]"  The advanced guard of the Duke of Raguse arrived in the evening of the 16th near Corrobert.

Schwarzenberg fears for his left and rear.  --All the information received by the General Headquarters and the few events of the day of the 16th were not likely to reassure Schwarzenberg, who had just received the report (cited above) by which Seslavin informed him of the passage of reinforcements coming from Spain and who, according to the Russian general, had largely joined at that time the army of the Emperor.  Another cause for concern came again adding to fears already so numerous and so strong that, in recent days, they had exerted a negative influence on the resolutions of the higher command.  Bubna told that the French forces were increasing daily, the levée en masse was organized and that it was planned when it would be impossible to prevent.[23]

Schwarzenberg, who had continued to have concerns for his left wing, felt obliged to immediately provide for the security of his rear, his lines of retreat and communications with Switzerland and the Rhine.  Fearing a serious setback inflicted on Bubna would only lead to a loss of Geneva, or an energetic movement of Augereau would allow him, after crushing the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg, unlock Besançon, Belfort and Huningue, the Generalissimo took the time to strengthen the corps reserve of the Crown Prince of Hesse-Hombourg in Dijon, by the Hessian contingent, with which Prince Philip of Hesse went up the right bank of the Rhine, and by the Austrian reserves which, under the command of General Kroyher, had crossed Bavaria and were heading to Basel.[24]

After, from Bray, the 16th at night, Wittgenstein was sent the order to leave the position that the General had taken at Nangis, he had directed the IVth and Vth Corps to settle at Montereau and Donnemarie, charging these three corps, that he left alone on the right bank of the Seine, to observe the enemy and cover the crossing of the river, they were to cross if they were attacked by a force superior in numbers, by directing their retirement on Bray.[25]

The rest of the vast army continued to remain spread over the left bank of the Seine and along the Yonne, with the exception of the division of Count Ignatius Hardegg.

But the Emperor had already arrived at Guignes with his Guard, Victor was before Guignes and Stems; his cavalry occupied Beauvoir.  Oudinot was before L'Étang, on the road to Mormant.  Macdonald was on their right at Yèbles. Pajol flanked the right of the French army, and the division of General Boyer de Rébeval had just occupied occupy Villeneuve Saint-Georges.

Indeed, the very next day Schwarzenberg would be fixed on the intentions of the Emperor, who was preparing to make Wittgenstein pay dearly for his unwise movement that he took it upon himself to run the 16th and the haste with which, trying to undo his unfortunate initiative, he retreated from Provins, without even telling his advanced guard of his retirement, knowing, however, that it had made contact with the French cavalry at Mormant.

Considerations on Schwarzenberg's operations and those of the marshals.  --If the operations of the French marshals are far from immune from reproach, their faults disappear completely before the greatness of those committed during this period by the Allied generals.  However, the high command, in most cases, could be made solely responsible for their mistakes.  Its delays, its contra orders and indecision had crippled their means and their action, at any time by compromising a situation it would have been so easy to make good.  It is, indeed, the high command alone that repeatedly missed the opportunity to safely deliver blows which the Emperor would have been hard to recover from, despite all his genius, despite the inexhaustible resources of his mind and energy.

Against Blücher while performing the operation that was certainly one of the most brilliant of his career, Napoleon had not been assisted by the marshals as he should have been.  When he was there, everything worked fine; but as he moved away, fears revived, hesitations increased, neglect expanded.  The defense of Nogent by General Bourmont and Colonel Voirol is one of those heroic feats which even their opponents themselves unanimously praised.  But the weakness and apathy of the marshals had lost for the Emperor all the benefits he had earned.  "I cannot conceive", he wrote to Joseph, from Montmirail, 15 February, at 3 o'clock in the morning, "the stupidity of the Duke of Reggio failing to defend the crossing at Bray."[26]

The defense of passages of the Seine was, however, much easier to organize as, throughout this part, the right bank commands everywhere, dominating the left bank by about 50 meters.  If the marshals were better informed and better executed the orders of the Emperor, if they had been everywhere, or at least at Méry and Bray, like Mortier and Gérard had been at Troyes, Bourmont and Voirol at Nogent, the army of Schwarzenberg would have remained trapped between the Seine and Yonne.  If, this being far from impossible, they had held for two or three more days more their beautiful position on the right bank of the Seine, the Emperor, following Vauchamps, could have completed the destruction of the Army of Silesia and after crushing and destroying Blücher, he would have been able to stand on Troyes and seize the line of operations of the enemy Great Army who would probably have suffered the fate of Mack at Ulm or the Prussian army at Jena.

But while he scattered the Army of Silesia, and he hoped to give the final blow, Napoleon learned at Vauchamps that the marshals had left the Seine and the Yonne and that thrown out of Yerres, they were no longer able to keep the Allies from the road and approaches to Paris.  Without hesitating a minute, without losing a moment, he decided to change the direction of his movement and leaving a corps of observation at Étoges and near Chateau-Thierry, he made arrangements to send his troops from the Marne to the Seine.  Repairing the faults of his lieutenants in the rapidity of his movements, he arrived on the evening of the 16th at Guignes where his presence, the leadership that he inspired on operations, the general offensive and vigor that he immediately resumed, would restore the situation, forcing the Allies to lose in a few days more ground than they had gained since the beginning of the month and making them retreat back to their positions at the end of January, before the battle of La Rothière.

If we consider the operations of the great Allied army with more than 120,000 men against the army which had just experienced a bloody  February 1st defeat, we see that rather than take advantage of its victory, it followed the defeated enemy with a slowness so that it took eight days to cross the 45 kilometers that separated it from Troyes. The movement from Troyes was in fact quite natural, because, as Clausewitz[27] stated, immediate pursuit after battle always gives the best results.  But then it must  move on the enemy with drums beating, and since, by moving from Piney on Troyes with a flanking movement, Napoleon had abandoned his direct communication with Paris, he guarded against being flanked in turn by the Great Army movement which he precisely anticipated.

As we do not propose to seek the reasons that led to the separation of armies and Blücher decided to move on the Marne, or critically reexamine and comment upon the detailed review of operations of the great Allied army, we shall confine ourselves only to say that immediately after the departure of the Army of Silesia, and precisely because of this division of forces, instead of staying motionless on the Aube and the Seine, one could have first gone with 120,000 men against the army defeated at La Rothière, and then the 25,000 men of the Dukes of Bellune and Reggio.  We asked ourselves without being able to discover them, what could be the reasons that had persuaded Schwarzenberg, during the attack of Troyes, the side that had the double disadvantage of being both the most difficult to take and less dangerous for Napoleon, especially if we observe that by the very direction of travel, the Generalissimo was closer to the side where access was easier and where he could more seriously threaten the enemy.

While admitting, with the reservations that we have just made, that Schwarzenberg was right to stand on Troyes, one must recognize that nothing prevented his heading there by Arcis-sur-Aube and Plancy and forcing, by this movement, the Emperor from his position.  "A flanking movement has real value and significance only after a battle is won.  But we were happy to have a river between ourselves and Napoleon's army and it did not bother to meet with him in open country."[28]  Instead of executing a movement with his army to the right, to recross the Aube and push by Villenauxe on Provins and Nangis, so as not to need to cross the Seine again in Troyes whose passage presented such difficulties, Schwarzenberg preferred to recross the river and take position on the diverging paths of Bar-sur-Seine, Auxerre, Sens, Nogent-sur-Seine and Arcis-sur-Aube.  But it is about this time that Napoleon had left Nogent, and one wonders why the high command staggered and disseminated the various corps of the Great Army of Bohemia after the capture of Troyes, why it stopped the operations of the Army of Bohemia for three days, at the time when it could have done much harm to the French.  Leaving aside the intrigues of the headquarters, if we refuse to believe the political after thoughts that have been assigned at the time to statesmen and to the Generalissimo, one is forced to admit that in renouncing voluntarily the simplest and safest plan, in moving further and further away from the Army of Silesia, seeking to outflank the enemy's right, dividing his own army into two distinct groups separated from each other, Schwarzenberg had yielded to one of two considerations:

Either, as it follows from his orders and even the distribution of his troops, on 11 February, he had utterly abandoned the idea of ​​marching, albeit slowly, on Paris.  The position taken shows that it was primarily to maintain communications with the Southern army, with Dijon.  Then that is why he directs the left wing on Sens, and that once master of that city, the 11th in the evening, he stops on the right bank of the Yonne, the Crown Prince of Württemberg, who would be able, without encountering any serious obstacle before him, push right, first on Moret and Nemours, and from there by Fontainebleau to Paris, marching steadily along the left bank of the Seine.

Or it can be assumed, not unreasonably, that Schwarzenberg attempted, above all, to constantly maintain the Seine between the Emperor and himself.  As soon as Napoleon, leaving Nogent, was on the same side as himself, the Generalissimo crossed, indeed, onto the left bank and attacked by right wing Nogent.  The movement of his left reassured him about his communications with the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg.  The bloody and unnecessary fight of three days before Nogent got him, not an outlet and a bridgehead, but a defensive line on the lower Seine. "He sought," says Clausewitz again, "to find a quiet corner between the Seine and the Yonne, and even in this choice he was unable to make the necessary dispositions, because there was neither clarity nor unity, nor decisiveness in his command ."[29]

Without dwelling further on the time lost in Troyes as at Nogent, without going back to these two great halts of three days, one as little justified as the other, one must still wonder why, since the indecision of Schwarzenberg had increased, precisely because of the uncertainty resulting from the separation of the two armies, instead of letting his troops revive, the Generalissimo preferred to wear them out unnecessarily in painful marches and counter marches, that did not even have purpose or excuse for their existence.  Therefore, is it not surprising that several days passed after the departure of the Emperor, before the headquarters had an idea, even approximately, of the number of corps he had left before the great Allied army.  In the later days, finally, when they knew of the first defeats of the Army of Silesia, the anxieties they felt about his fate, the fear of Napoleon's return at any time, sometimes conflicting information that believed in the Emperor's retreat on Paris, now on the contrary, when the march on Châlons was mounted, all these obscure points would necessarily increase the indecision of command, from it taking the only path imposed by the situation and that was to beat the marshals, to march briskly and resolutely on Paris, trusting in the overwhelming superiority of numbers.

The attitude of the Army of Bohemia, in the days following La Rothière, during the retreat on Troyes, had reassured the Emperor.  He had foreseen what would happen, thinking that after the separation of the armies, Schwarzenberg would think less of pushing the marshals back on Paris just as he had not dared, with all his forces, to pursue the enemy he had just defeated.

If we criticized with Clausewitz the operations of the Great Army during this period, we must clear Schwarzenberg of reproach for not having remained faithful in the performance field, to the principles that had filled his thoughts and he had exhibited throughout the conference of Trachenberg.  It should be recognized as perhaps never before that the commander-in-chief had found himself in the most difficult environment that he would struggle in during the 1814 Campaign.

Critics of all kinds, personal rivalries, political considerations, the continual interference and directions from sovereigns in the conduct of operations,  hindered at each step the thought and free will of the Generalissimo.  To break the barriers that stood before him at all times, instead of his prudence and his caution, his sense of great responsibility and his subtle and fine spirit, it would have taken more than a great strength of character and power of will, the irreconcilable hatred of Pozzo di Borgo, the ambitious resentment of Stein, the ever youthful ardor, the tireless efforts, and especially the harsh abruptness and the unshakable stubbornness of Blücher and Gneisenau.

Notes:

[1] Metternich to the Duke of Vicence, Troyes, 15 February 1814.  (Documents cited by FAIN, Manuscript of 1814.)

[2] CASTLEREAGH, Correspondence, III, 1264.

[3] Victor to the Chief of Staff, Forest, 15 February, 10 o'clock at night. (Archives of the War.)

[4] Oudinot to King Joseph, Ozouer-le-Voulgis, 15 February, 5:30 in the evening. (Archives of the War.)

[5] King Joseph to the Minister of War. (Ibid.)

[6] Records of Berthier (Archives of the War), and Correspondence. Nos 21256-to 21265.

[7] Correspondence, 21261 and 21262, and Records of Berthier (Archives of the War).

[8] Correspondence, 21261 and 21262, and Records of Berthier (Archives of the War).

[9] Emperor Alexander to Blücher, from Bray, 16 February 1814.

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

[11] Records of Berthier: General Dispositions for 16 February. (Archives of the War.)

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

[13] PETIET, Journal of the 5th Light Cavalry Division.

[14] Gneisenau severely criticizes in a letter dated from Paris to Clausewitz, 28 April 1814, the conduct of Wittgenstein during the days of 15 and 16 February:

"On 14 February, we battled at Champaubert, the 15th we were at Châlons and the same day, at noon, I informed Wittgenstein of our failures by pointing out that the enemy, not having pursued us on the plains between Étoges and Châlons, would in all probability, in my view, rush to close with the main body of scattered army.  Wittgenstein, with his usual lightness, took no notice of me and pushed the contrary, Pahlen up to Nangis."

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

We read for the day of the 16th the following lines in the Journal of Taxis: "Napoleon abandoned the pursuit of Blücher.  He left Montmirail by a side road and the 16th at night, he was with the bulk of his army at Guignes two leagues from Mormant, occupied by the advanced guard of the VIth Corps.  Wrede did not know, and it is likely that Wittgenstein did not know this either."  (TAXIS, Tagebuch, Ibid., XIII, 32.)  It is true that the infantry of the Guard had placed outposts on parts of the road.  Despite this, the march from Montmirail to Guignes is no less a feat (close to 100 kilometers in 36 hours).

[16] Prince Schwarzenberg, Daily Report to the Emperor of Austria. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 462.)

The Crown Prince of Württemberg seems to have conducted this reconnaissance on Melun with his usual brutality and harshness.  The Mayor of Châtelet relating to the prefect of Seine-et-Marne the events which his commune was the subjected to during the day of the 16th, said:  "It is clear from this passage that our town is ruined; farm equipment was burned , their personal property broken, the barns plundered.  Without the arrival of our troops, our country would not exist.  There are no threats, no abuse that the Allied troops have not made us all feel."  (Archives of War.)

[17] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1); Colonel Simony to Field-Marshal Lieutenant-Bianchi (Ibid., II, ad., 437); Prince Schwarzenberg to the Emperor of Austria, Bray, 16 February. (Ibid., II, 859.)

[18] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1), and Thurn to Schwarzenberg, in front of Nemours, on the road do Fontainebleau, 16 February, 10 o'clock. (Ibid., II, 435.)

Platov had not failed to do report the affair of Nemours with his usual pompousness:

"I beg your Majesty respectfully to congratulate the victory I have just won in Nemours with part of his troops. May the victorious banners of your Majesty soon float after the defeat of all the enemy, on the walls of his proud capital."  (Report of Platov to the Emperor of Russia, no 259.)

[19] Grouchy to the Chief of Staff, La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, 10 February. (Archives of the War.)

[20] Report of Diebitsch, Maclaunay, 4/16 February 10 o'clock in the morning. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 10.)

We have reproduced verbatim the report written in French by Diebitsch.  Diebitsch received orders on the 17th to move on Méry.

[21] Although it is not known to whom this report was sent, there is every reason to believe it was destined for Barclay de Tolly.

[22] Marmont to the Chief of Staff, Orbais, 16 February, 2 o'clock in the afternoon. (Archives of the War.)

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

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

[25] The IVth Corps had actually received two successive orders: one sending it to Donnemarie the other to Bray.  But a small part of the corps was just arriving on the side of Bray, that was directed to return to Montereau.

[26] Correspondence, no 21256.

[27] CLAUSEWITZ, Strategic Critique of the Campaign in France in 1814.

[28] CLAUSEWITZ, Strategic Critique of the Campaign in France in 1814.

[29] CLAUSEWITZ, Strategic Critique of the Campaign in France in 1814.

Place on the Napoleon Series: August 2012


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