The Campaign of 1814: Chapter 8, Part I
By: Maurice Weil
THE CAMPAIGN of 1814
(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)
CAVALRY OF THE ALLIED ARMIES
DURING THE CAMPAIGN OF 1814.
OPERATIONS OF THE ARMY SILESIA IN THE VALLEY OF THE MARNE,
3 TO 16 February
LA CHAUSÉE, MONTMIRAIL, VAUCHAMPS, CHAMPAUBERT.
3 February 1814. --Movements of Blücher. --The separation of the two
main masses of the Allies was not totally a displeasure to the old field
marshal as in giving him an almost absolute freedom of action, it allowed him
to govern, so to speak, entirely at his discretion his march on Paris and gave
him the ability to imprint momentum and force on operations that were
incompatible with the far too methodical caution of Prince Schwarzenberg and
the political motives of his entourage. While the slowness of the Great Army
made it lose so completely contact with the Emperor so that the evening of the
2nd the general headquarters did not know the direction taken by the
French corps that fought at La Rothière, while rearguard actions like those of
Rosnay and Villiers-le-Brûlé, together with the destruction of the bridge
Lesmont, gave Napoleon the respite he needed, not only to restore order in his
army, but to retreat almost unhindered to Troyes; Blücher had immediately
started his movement towards the Marne. From that moment he resolved to make
his junction with first Yorck, then with the corps of Kleist and Kapsewitch
still staggered up the Meuse towards the Saar, to then go by the most direct
route to the goal towards which his eyes had not stopped turning since November
1813. Leaving from Braux-le-Comte, where he had spent the night of 2 to 3
February, the Field Marshal arrived in the evening with his main body at
Saint-Ouen; his advanced guard going to Humbauville and his outposts s
stretched up to Coole.
His march was performed without difficulty, since the Emperor had resolved to await
in Troyes the development of events that only he could foresee and desire, and as
Marmont, after the brilliant fight of Rosnay, was withdrawn to Arcis-sur-Aube.
Measures to stop Macdonald by Yorck. --Cavalry combat at La Chaussée. --Thanks
to the information provided by interrogation of prisoners and deserters, the affair
of Saint-Amand was enough to momentarily distract the attention from Vitry of Yorck.
To be more fully aware of the situation on the side of La Chaussée, the
Prussian general had sent there the day of 2 February, an officer belonging to
the staff of one of his brigades, Major von Schutz. This officer, after
conducting in the afternoon a thorough reconnaissance, proposed to the General,
who accepted his idea, to prevent the French from receiving reinforcements from
Châlons by attacking at daybreak with the cavalry of Generals von Katzler and
von Jürgass and a detachment of Colonel von Henckel, while the infantry of the Ist Corps, with the exception of the brigade of von Pirch II, concentrated in front
At the same time that the French cavalry began to debouch from La Chaussée and
deploy on the hill in front of the village, it found itself suddenly in the
presence of eight squadrons of dragoons of General von Jürgass. This general,
after leaving Saint-Amand at 5 o'clock in the morning, had followed a side road
joining the main road a short distance from La Chaussée, while the Colonel
Henckel, with his six squadrons of landwehr and a battalion of fusiliers, marched
from Aulnay-l'Aître on La Chaussée along the right bank of the Fion. The
cavalry of Jürgass preceded on the main road the squadrons of General von
Katzler who left at the same time the farm of Bayarne in two echelons, the
first of seven squadrons, the second of six. The vanguard of infantry, under
the command of Colonel von Warburg, followed this cavalry to provide it support
Once the head of the advanced guard had debouched at the main road, Jürgass stopped
his column to give time to the cavalry of General von Katzler to reach its level.
At this point he still could have determined, although it had not yet been a full
day, an approximate account of strength, movements and intentions of the
French. The calls of their trumpets and the noise caused by the operation of
their artillery proved moreover, to the Prussian general of an impending
attack, also required by the orders of Macdonald. General von Jürgass, feeling
that the minutes were precious, had immediately formed his cavalry in two
lines, preceded by a vanguard. In the first line, right near the main road, was
the advanced guard, consisting of two squadrons. To the left of this vanguard and
connecting with the right squadrons of General von Katzler the dragoon regiment
of West Prussia, followed by Lithuanian dragoons, which formed the second line
while the cavalry of General von Katzler was deployed to their left, also in
two lines. Four squadrons of Brandenburg hussars formed the first line,
immediately supported by two squadrons of uhlans, and covered to the left by a
squadron of Brandenburg hussars and a squadron of national cavalry. The Mecklenburg
hussars remained for the moment in reserve. These preparations, although
nimbly executed, could not escape the French, whose cavalry occupied the
heights in front of La Chaussée, whose infantry, covered by a few squadrons deployed
in front of Aulnay. General von Jürgass took a stand on this side with a half-
battery of horse artillery, to which he gave the order to stop the enemy fire
by those who sought to outflank his right, while his squadrons moved quickly against
the French cavalry also formed in two lines, coming against chasseur à cheval and
cuirassiers, supported by a battery.
Although the French cavalry had succeeded in throwing back the dragoons of West
Prussia, which was cast against its left, although some squadrons of
cuirassiers being to the French right had the advantage on both squadrons of
hussars and national cavalry of Major von Zastrow, the charge of the Prussians returned.
It had succeeded in crushing the chasseurs, throwing back in disorder the
cuirassiers, carrying them away in their retrograde movement, and seizing three
pieces of the battery before it had time to begin firing. Some squadrons of
cuirassiers had, however, attempted a counter-offensive and sought to regain the
pieces throwing himself against the front-line squadrons who had not yet had
time to reform. But they had to retreat before the Brandenburg hussars who,
supported by the West Prussian dragoons, rallied in haste, and the chasseur squadron
of the Lithuanian Dragoon Regiment, strongly pursued up to La Chaussée, where
the French cuirassiers were collected at the exit of the village by the
infantry division of Molitor.
Meanwhile, Colonel Henckel entered the line on the right of General von Jürgass;
his cavalry having thrown back the Polish lancers to the heights behind La Chaussée.
His fusilier battalion, led to his left, also advanced against La Chaussée. The
French had, indeed, evacuated the village to take over a position behind their
infantry deployed on the heights, cleverly pulled out at a time when it was
taken a part of the Prussian cavalry in crossing the town and reform at its exit.
General von Jürgass with some parts of squadrons had preferred to go around
the village from the north to connect with and seek Henckel to outflank the
French left. However, his progress was slowed by the difficult terrain it had
to cross. For some time a cannonade on both sides ensued, until the appearance
of the Prussian cavalry, which had been expanding northward, came to threaten
the extreme left of the French, who then decided to continue their retreat. General
von Katzler pursued by the main road, while Jürgass pushed up to Pogny. Arriving
at this point and after chasing the French flank guards to a height where they
were established, the general remarked that his opponent, forced to defile
through Les Baraques, again deployed its cavalry before Pogny to cover their
retreat, and thus gain the time it needed to make the crossing of the Moivre.
"I took advantage of this circumstance", said General von Jürgass in
his report, "to try a new charge; I attacked the enemy front with Lithuanian
dragoons, supported by those in the second line of West Prussia, while the
landwehr cavalry of Count Henckel took the flank. I threw in disorder and pursued
into the village; but the fire of French skirmishers, who lined the hedges and
occupied homes, stopped the Prussian squadrons and allowed the French cavalry
to cross the Moivre and cut the bridge behind it."
The night began to fall and a big battery established on the right bank of the
Moivre had opened fire when General von Yorck arrived on the scene of the
fight. It was too late to try anything serious, with troops exhausted by
fatigue, and for trying to force the passage at night of the Moivre especially
as the head of the infantry column began only to arrive in La Chaussée. Yorck
decided to stop there, however, he pushed the cavalry reserve and a detachment
of Count Henckel towards Francheville and Dampierre, to threaten the French
left and reconnoiter this side of the course and crossings of the Moivre. His advanced
guard remained on the banks of this small river, the same positions held at the
end of the fight. The landwehr squadron which had traced the course of the
Ornain in the direction of Revigny-aux-Vaches, was ordered to return by
Possesse to take position at the intersection of roads from Bar-le-Duc to Reims
and Châlons and from Vitry to Sainte-Menehould, to cover the right wing.
The 8th Brigade occupied La Chaussée and Aulnay; the 7th,
Saint-Amand; the reserve artillery, Vitry-le-Brûlé.
"The results of this cavalry battle, in which the enemy resisted fiercely,
were very brilliant," Yorck wrote to Schwarzenberg. "7 cannons, 6 caissons,
1 standard and several hundred men fell into our hands. The losses of the enemy were
considerable. Mine totaled 150 men hors de combat."
French retreat. --Marshal Macdonald had, almost from the beginning of
the action, acknowledged that the weakness of his cavalry and the indecision of
its leaders left him unlikely to tip the balance to his side. At noon, he had let
the Duke of Valmy know of the loss of La Chaussée, informing him of his
retrograde motion on Pogny. It was therefore up to marshal to be concerned
about the defense of Châlons and the retirement of his corps on this city. Also,
before traveling to Châlons to confer with the old Marshal Kellermann, he had
thought it his duty to leave Sebastiani command of troops between La Chaussée and
Pogny, charging him to retreat at nightfall.
Yorck wrote during the evening at 8 o'clock: "The enemy occupies compared
to me a good position. But I believe it will retire this night and I will
continue on Châlons. If, on the contrary, it remains in its position, I will
Sebastiani executed the orders of the Duke of Tarente and started in good order
by retiring in stages on Châlons. The 5th Corps came to occupy the
city itself; the division of Brayer settled in Saint-Memmie; the 3rd Cavalry Corps marching up to the level of the Brayer Division, headed on Compertrix
and Coolus, and the cavalry division of General Lorge left Francheville with
orders to cross Châlons. Molitor's division had to be staggered behind the
Brayer Division and the 2nd Cavalry Corps, forming with it the
rearguard, was kept on the same road, Chepy and Moncetz-Longevas, and on the left
of the farm of Longeval, to monitor there the road from Châlons to Bar-Leduc.
At 10 o'clock at night, the last French troops had left the shores of the Moivre,
the Prussian advance guard taking their place immediately; but the Prussian
troops were so exhausted that they were satisfied with observing the direction taken by the French
retirement and they stopped completely at midnight, so taking a few hours of
rest which they had the greatest need.
Considerations on the battle of La Chaussée. --The whole affair of La
Chaussée deserves the closest examination of the methods used by the two
cavalry, as it provides us with an example, rare even then, of a fight of cavalry
against cavalry. The Prussian infantry arrived too late in line to take part
in the struggle, and the role of the French infantry was reduced to an attempt
to defend La Chaussée, then later in the evening, with the occupation by its tirailleurs
of Baraques and the bridge over the Moivre. It is the vigor of the Prussian
cavalry that takes the entire honor in impeding the movement of the Duke of Tarente
on Vitry, the weakness and faults of the leaders of the French cavalry bear
full responsibility for the evacuation of this town and the loss of Châlons.
"I think," said General von Jürgass rightly, at the end of his
report, "that this day is an honor to the Prussian cavalry." "
Never," adds Count Henckel in his, "have I taken part in a cavalry battle
dominated from the first moment to the last, and with as much order as
gusto." In fact, there may be few battles in which the cavalry has
operated with more vigor, more energy and more intelligence than the Prussian
cavalry in this battle of La Chaussée. When the two cavalry found themselves in
the presence of each other, there was not a moment to lose for the Prussians. Hesitation
could have ruined everything by giving the French time to bring their batteries
into position and crush the Prussian squadrons by their fire. Jürgass and
Katzler, while taking an accurate account of the situation, however, kept
rushing everything; they understood that the order was a guarantee of success
and moved their squadrons forward, the first, as soon as the deployment of two
lines was completely finished; the second, from his second line regiments which
joined those at the front. Thereby avoiding successive attacks, which could
not bring any results, they were able therefore to support their first line by
the second at the point where the need was felt and ensure the ultimate success
in combining an attack against the left flank of the French with the charges
they personally directed against their fronts and right. As rightly pointed
out General von Columb in his Beiträge zur Geschichte der preussischen Kavallerie the battle of La Chaussée demonstrated in a peremptory way the excellence and
accuracy of these methods. There was, indeed, as we have said. a time when a
part of the second line of the French cavalry, resisting vigorously sought to
save the battery. The whole first line of Prussians, who had left little in
their wake to doubt that they would use the same spirit and ardor in pursuit,
could have easily been crushed and routed. If the Prussians did not have reinforcements
at hand, if the second line which were not immediately brought to the aid of
the first, it is likely that the French having retaken their batteries, their
infantry approaching at that time, would have had time to more firmly occupy the
edge of the village of La Chaussée and their artillery could have played a
decisive role in forcing the Prussian squadrons to forego the benefits they had
already won. The fight itself would have completely changed in character,
since instead of pursuing the French on the Châlons road, it would have to
consider first and foremost the taking of La Chaussée. The strength, calm and
good dispositions of generals von Jürgass and von Katzler had allowed the
Prussian cavalry to successfully end the mission within which they had
acquitted themselves so well in. Finally, these two generals, not content with
having foiled the plans of the French, having thwarted their attempts and winning
a first advantage over them that had been only too decisive, hastened to wisely
organize a pursuit. While part of their squadrons crossed La Chaussée, the
rest of their cavalry skirted the village, deployed under the eyes of the
French infantry, outflanked its left, and forced its retreat, permanently ensuring
success in crushing the French cavalry who, devoting itself to cover the
retreat, tried on the left bank of the Moivre a final offensive return.
Prussian cavalry achieved this brilliant and needed success at La Chaussée observing and applying
the old principles of the French cavalry, that seemingly were completely forgotten
at this time; these principles that it had set in practice before other cavalries,
which had earned them so many triumphs and had popularized the use.
It suffices, in fact, to see the correspondence of Marshal Macdonald to see
that the French cavalry had persisted in the self-destructive way in which it
had thought proper to engage, that it employed processes contrary to the spirit
of the arm and perhaps in the hope of making up in this way for its lack of dressage
for horses, for the insufficient military education of its men, it continued to
have recourse to expedients, experimented with several times during the
previous year, which had given every opportunity unfavorable results and had
brought only checks.
"At the moment," wrote the Duke of Tarente with his usual frankness
and loyalty to the Chief of Staff, "when the cavalry of the 2nd Corps debouched this morning from La Chaussée, it was met by twenty squadrons formed in column who threw it
back and took its artillery, which was also in a column. Your Highness can
imagine the chaos that ensued, especially on ground so favorable to cavalry. Our
few infantry and artillery saved everything. They kept to the crossing of many
slopes a little to the right of the river,
where the enemy was stopped for now, where the troops are marching to join
together in Châlons .... The enemy showed 4,000 horses, 2,000 infantry and 20
guns. Its cavalry was very bold, and I must say, ours paled in comparison.
We have many detachments, and it shows its inferiority, unfortunately .... It
will hardly be possible to keep Châlons over twenty-four hours."
With a judge so impartial as Marshal Macdonald having appreciated the attitude
of his cavalry during the affair of 2 February it provides us the best of all
the arguments that we could use to justify our assertions. We can, indeed,
present in favor of the French cavalry some not so worthless arguments; it must
be especially emphasized that little cohesion was present in regiments composed
of men chosen at random from depots and dispersed according to needs, in the
regiments which needed relief as soon as possible with replacements. The
esprit de corps was bound to diminish; secondly, as was the time to complete the
training of riders; the horses were assembled and hastily requisitioned. But
the regiments had a solid core, moreover, there remained the old cadres and old
soldiers in sufficient numbers to maintain the conscripts. Without denying that
the influence that the defective composition of these improvised regiments had
on the minds of their leaders, it should be recognized that it was the especially
bad steps taken by the generals which led or at least facilitated the defeat. The
leaders of the French cavalry committed indeed, several more unforgivable
mistakes each as bad as the other. They wanted to try once more a process that
they had never succeeded with and, moreover, while completely contradicting the
true spirit of the arm, was fatally destined to only lead to checks and failure.
They thought they could stop and break at the beginning of the affair, the
momentum of the cavalry of Jürgass and Katzler, while waiting on firm footing and
receiving them at fifteen paces by a salvo. This battle tactic would only prove fatal to the French cavalry. Fire
executed from horses can never be effective and will never stop a cavalry
determined to tackle the enemy cavalry. The Prussian squadrons held even less thought
of this salvo as it did them, so to speak, no harm and as driven by the same
impulse resulting from the movement, they entered the French squadrons
frontline and crushed it even before the men who came to fire had time to take
their swords in hand. In addition, as the French generals had the unfortunate
idea to deploy their cavalry on two parallel lines not far from each other, as
they had no more reserves behind or support on their flanks, their frontline
violently hit by the Prussian cavalry, came to break the ranks of the second
and carried it back in its retreat. Exelmans and the Duke of Padoue seem to
have completely forgotten at La Chaussée that attack with bladed arms is the
essence of cavalry tactics, that movement is the first condition of success and
a cavalry which remains stationary instead of moving to meet the charge which
is already half beaten and waiting for an opportunity or an excuse to turn back
before the shock. The battle of La Chaussée has demonstrated once again that,
as the author so aptly says in Exploits and Vicissitudes of the Cavalry,
it is foolhardy to try to deduce an absolute certainty of victory from such as such
dispositions, it is not less true "that to see from the dispositions for
certain affairs, it would not have been necessary to be prophet to predict that
the results would not be so good."
As we saw in the previous chapter, Wittgenstein was to change once again, from
the evening of 2 February, the direction of his march and sent columns that he had
detached from Vitry, the orders to move the 3rd on Éclaron, to be
able to follow the movement as the IVth Corps approached the main
body of the Army of Bohemia.
Movement of the corps of Kleist on Saint-Mihiel and the corps of Kapsewitch
on Nancy. --As the corps of Kleist, continued its march on Saint-Mihiel,
the advanced guard was camped the evening of the 3rd at Bouconville and
Broussey-Raulecourt, the 10th Brigade at Thiaucourt-Regniéville and Beney-en-Woëvre,
the 12th Brigade in Pont-à-Mousson and Montauville. The
headquarters of Yorck was established at Thiaucourt.
The corps of Kapsewitch, leaving from Mainz, was even further back and had just
4 February 1814. --March of Blücher on Sommesous and Fère-Champenoise. --While
the Emperor sent Marmont orders to move on Sézanne, Blücher had decided to move
the advanced guard on Fère-Champenoise and go with his main body to Sommesous
at the crossroads of the routes from Arcis to Châlons and from Paris to Vitry.
He kept its further course to be based on news from Yorck and the movements of Macdonald.
Upon arrival at Sommesous, Blücher learned that a French artillery park of 75
guns had passed by this town. Vasilchikov could not join him and had only
managed to reach and capture, before Sommesous, a large convoy of food from Châlons
to Arcis. This news convinced Blücher to move on Fère-Champenoise, leaving the corps to
Olsufiev at Sommesous and pushing Vasilchikov by Fère-Champenoise on Meaux.
During his march on Sommesous and Fère-Champenoise, the Russian general had been
flanked on his left by Biron, who leaving from Humbauville and passing by
Semoine and Pleurs, arrived at Saint-Rémy well into the evening, meeting
nothing on the way. From there, he told the Field Marshal that the Cossacks of
Seslavin already occupied Sézanne. Finally, in the evening, Olsufiev informed Blücher
that the French, had surprised a regiment of Cossacks, dislodging them from Vatry
and placed in the village infantry and some artillery.
The Field Marshal informed the 4th at night of the direction through
Troyes that the Emperor had taken his retirement, concluded that, for the
moment at least, Napoleon did not think to recall the troops of Macdonald to
Macdonald decides to defend Châlons. --Knowing that parties of cavalry,
had been the day of the 3rd on the left bank of the Marne, occupying
Blacy near Vitry, and the villages along the bank of the river Isson and held
the course of the Coole, the Duke of Tarente had directed the Duke of Padoue to
mount his cavalry at daybreak and scout with it the roads on the left bank of
the Marne, and to have General Simmer with his infantry in position at Coolus by
5 o'clock in the morning.
An hour earlier, Molitor had to retreat on Châlons, occupy the gate of Vitry, guard
it with a caisson piece and some hussars for watch, and send the rest of his
artillery park onto the left bank of the Marne.
General Braver was ordered to make a similar
movement under the same conditions and go to guard the gate of Saint-Jean. The defense of the gate of Reims (Porte Saint-Jacques) was assigned to Sebastiani
with the 5th Corps. General
Exelmans would cover with his
cavalry the retreat of Molitor. Arriving within a league of Châlons, he had orders to only keep with him a
portion of the light cavalry and send the rest back to Châlons to camp at Villers-aux-Corneilles (Villers-le-Château), Saint-Pierre-aux-Oies
and Thibie. The marshal, who was under no illusions about his situation, recommended the light cavalry avoid serious engagement. He hoped through these provisions, at Châlons to last at least twenty-four hours. During the night from the 3rd to 4th,
he transmitted to General Montmarie the orders to evacuate Vitry, destroy all equipment he could not take, to
blow up the bridges of the Marne and Isson and march by Maisons-en-Champagne and Faux-sur-Coole on Vatry.
on Châlons by the Prussian Ist Corps. --A little after
5 o'clock in the morning, General von Katzler resumed his movement and met
between 8 and 9 o'clock in the morning, the first French vedettes at a short
distance from Châlons.
Yorck, warned of the complete withdrawal of Marshal Macdonald, personally
joined the advanced guard after giving his corps the order to push around on Châlons.
"Macdonald, who was commander in chief, had put the city in a state of
defense. Châlons is protected by high walls, crenellated ramparts and moats. Pieces
had been placed at the salients, the gates were barricaded that had been covered
with small redoubts. The village of Saint-Memmie, located south of Châlons, was
covered around on the road to Vitry and was separated from the city by a wide
Around 10 o'clock in the morning, the advanced guard of the Prussian Ist Corps arrived at the suburbs, that General von Katzler prepared to attack. He
first summoned the town to surrender and open its gates. This proposal was
rejected, and Katzler launched at 11 o'clock, against the suburb of Saint-Memmie
two battalions of fusiliers and a few companies of jäger, who succeeded in
reaching the main pathway between the suburbs and the city. Crushed by the
fire from large guns of the French artillery, decimated by the fire of the
infantry, the Prussians had to retreat somewhat, while still continuing to stay
in the suburbs.
In order to avoid unnecessary losses, Yorck, arriving in the meantime on the
field of battle, resolved to await the arrival of his main body to conduct an
assault if necessary. The reserve cavalry, who had followed the wrong
direction, appeared around Châlons only at 3 o'clock and took position on the highway
of Saint-Menehould, pushing right to the outskirts of Reims the 1st West
Prussia Dragoons. At 4 o'clock, when the brigades of Prince Wilhelm and
General von Horn had entered the line, they sent again a negotiator, Major
Count Brandenburg, with orders to warn the Marshal that if he refused to turn
over the city a bombardment would begin immediately. At 8 o'clock, a negative
response was reported to the staff. A battery of 12 and eight howitzers opened
fire immediately. The bombardment continued until 11 o'clock. It managed to
light several fires in the city, and Yorck was preparing to give his orders to
attack the next day, when a deputation from the municipality of Châlons,
accompanied by an officer, came to propose at midnight that the commander of
the Ist Corps give him, the 5th, at 8 o'clock in the
morning, the city that the French would agree to evacuate by 7 o'clock. On the
order of Yorck, Major von Brandenburg returned immediately to Châlons, meeting Macdonald,
who yielding to the solicitations and the prayers of the mayor and inhabitants,
finally consented to leave Châlons the 5th in the morning.
A singular incident marked the evening. While his artillery bombarded the
city, Yorck and his staff, installed
on a farm not far from the suburb of Saint-Memmie, came out when the shooting significantly
decreased on their side, as the orderlies returned, who had been sent to the
suburb to bring back a few bottles of wine, returned empty-handed mine and
dismayed to announce to the general that all the men in Saint-Memmie were dead.
Colonel Valentini, Chief of Staff of Yorck, immediately mounted on horseback,
went to the suburb and witnessed the spectacle hitherto without example. Prussian
soldiers lay, in fact, on the ground, but dead drunk amidst heaps of bottles of
champagne they had found in the cellars and had dutifully emptied. They were relieved
at once by the brigade of General von Horn .
While Major von Brandenburg discussed and obtained the capitulation, Yorck personally
went to settle in Saint-Memmie, and the brigade of Prince Wilhelm occupied the suburbs
of Reims, that the French had evacuated by virtue of the agreement; the rest of
the troops bivouacked, with the exception of the 2nd Hussar Regiment
(Lifeguard Hussars) that were sent to take position in Saint-Martin-sur-le-Pré,
on the road to Reims.
March of Kleist and Kapsewitch. --Appearance of the Cossacks in the Department
of the Aisne. --The vanguard of the IInd Prussian Corps reached
Saint-Aubin-sur-Aire; the 10th Brigade and the Headquarters of Kleist,
Commercy and Vignot; the 12th Brigade, Fréméréville-sous-les-Côtes and
Blücher would have liked to see the corps of the Army of the North at that time
draw their movement towards Reims. A long time after he wrote about it to Chernishev
whose answer arrived that day, but this general commanding the advanced guard
of Winzingerode and going towards Namur, announced that the Field Marshal
should simply send parties on the road to Reims.
The black hussars of Lützow, arrived the 3rd at Carignan, were to
leave the 4th for Stenay, while to the west of Mézières, the Cossacks had occupied since the 2nd , Maubert-Fontaine and pushed the 4th to Aubenton.
5 February 1814. --Blücher intends to meet Yorck at Châlons. --Sends the
flying corps of Major Falkenhausen to Reims. --In learning the 4th at Fère-Champenoise that the Emperor had moved in the direction of Troyes, that
he later abandoned by withdrawing directly to Paris and had reunited with Macdonald;
convinced that, according to the dispatch of Schwarzenberg, dated the 3rd,
Arcis-sur-Aube was occupied by one of the three corps that had to crossed the
river at Lesmont; that Wittgenstein and Wrede, or at least one of these two
generals, was connected with the great army marching to Troyes, Blücher
concluded he could, without fear for his communications, move against
Macdonald. He wrote (5 February, 2 o'clock in the morning) from Fère-Champenoise
to Prince Schwarzenberg: "If the reports state that the enemy are
disposed to hold Châlons, I will move to drive them out. If they evacuated Châlons,
I will join Yorck and march with him on Paris." Blücher,
we shall soon see, happily for the Emperor, gave up less than twenty-four hours
later, the junction with Yorck and began from the 6th, to
disseminate his corps in an attempt to cut Macdonald's line of retreat and
forced him to lay down his arms. Field Marshal added in his dispatch: "Your
Highness must be aware of the direction given by Winzingerode to Chernishev. When
I knew that Chernishev was not going in person to Reims, I directed to this
point Major Falkenhausen, who will be there the 12th with 500 horse.
I am in this way informed about what is happening on my right and know when
the troops from the Netherlands are coming."
The commanders of the two Allied armies committed therefore, about the same
time, the same error. While Schwarzenberg constantly feared an attack, out
flanking his left threatening his communications with Dijon, Blücher while
continuing to march on Châlons, instead of considering the probability of a
movement of the Emperor against his left and taking his concentrating army, was
preoccupied with what happened to his right and the march of the troops that
may come from Belgium.
Just hours after the departure of this dispatch, it was known at the
headquarters of the Field Marshal, by Cossacks detached from near Vitry, that a
French column had left this place headed on Cernon. Blücher at once ordered Sacken
to move from Fère-Champenoise on Soudron, Olsufiev to march on Vatry. But
instead of leaving immediately, these two generals lost precious time waiting
for the return of their cavalry. In the meantime, French officers taken the
day before at Sézanne were brought to the Field Marshal and on learning from
them that they were part of a convoy of artillery fire having 75 guns, escorted
by only 500 to 600 men, ordered 2,500 horses to seek to meet it and so they
could not, therefore, be directed against the French troops that were established
at Fère-Champenoise and Sommesous. These defective provisions would allow
generals Exelmans and Montmarie to effect a junction with Macdonald and execute
a retreat that would have been so easy to cut off.
Measures taken by Macdonald. --Macdonald had not lost a moment at Châlons.
After undermining the stone bridge, he had ordered generals Molitor and Brayer
in crossing the bridge at 5:30, to send their artillery and baggage to Villers-aux-Corneilles;
Sebastiani to fall back at 5:45 and take position behind the bridge. His
artillery, supported by 12 pounders, was, established on the heights prohibiting
approaches to the enemy, allowed the Duke of Padoue to settle in Saint-Gibrien
and Fagnières, and a battalion the Young Guard left by Kellermann at Châlons,
to go straight to Epernay. The Marshal hoped to cover the three roads leading
to Châlons and coming from Épernay, Montmirail and Sézanne, by sending the column
of General Montmarie to this city.
Occupation of Châlons by Yorck. --Evacuation of Vitry by the French.
--At 8 o'clock in the morning, the corps of Yorck came to Châlons and
"although the French were committed to leaving everything in order, they
did however blow up in withdrawing the stone bridge of the Marne. Marshal
Macdonald, whose infantry supported by artillery occupy the left bank, appears
to have taken the high road to Paris with 10,000 men, almost all old soldiers,
who had fought very valiantly. The Marshal has strong artillery and 1500 horses
many of them cuirassiers."
"I feel", continued Yorck, "a real pleasure to announce to Your
Highness that yesterday plunged Marshal Macdonald in the deepest despair. Beaten
the 3rd at La Chaussée, forced to deal with me yesterday,
forced to leave his burning house during the bombardment, he said at that time to
the mayor of Châlons: "I wish this bomb would have crushed me at the same
time." Although the explosion of the mines had not managed to completely destroy the
bridge, it never the less, had done enough damage to prevent Yorck from
crossing onto the left bank and to immobilizing the majority of his forces
overnight (6 February) until noon.
 Composition of Prussian
brigades committed at La Chaussée: General von Jürgass: Lithuanian Dragoon
Regiment, 1st West Prussian Dragoon Regiment: 8 squadrons.
General von Katzler: Mecklenburg-Strelitz Hussar Regiment, (4 squadrons), Brandenburg
Uhlan Regiment (2 squadrons), Brandenburg Hussar Regiment (5 squadrons), one
squadron of the National East Prussian Cavalry Regiment, 1 squadron of Jäger:
13 squadrons. Colonel Count Henckel: 6 squadrons of the 3rd and 5th Silesian Landwehr Regiments, 1 battalion of fusiliers. Colonel
von Warburg: 6 battalions of the 1st and 2nd East Prussian
Infantry Regiments and two companies of jäger.
Only the 27 squadrons were at La Chaussée. The infantry came when it was all
 The version given by the
biographer of Lieutenant General von Sohr is slightly different, but seems more
7 o'clock in the morning, the enemy seemed to want to take position beside the
village. General von Katzler followed with the order to pounce on the
numerically superior French cavalry, when it tried to deploy. He accelerated
our attack especially as we could distinctly hear the noise of the artillery passing
through La Chaussée which the General did not want to have time to take a position.
The Prussian cavalry had to be formed as soon as possible in battle formation and
immediately thrown at the enemy to prevent their deployment. By reason of the
rapidity with which the Prussian horsemen would deploy and because of the
difficult terrain, it was impossible to wait for all the regiments and execute
a charge in line as intended. As a result we had to settle for a kind of staggered
attack in which the regiments, led by their leaders who moved them forward as
they came on line, as close as possible to each other. This kind of attack was
executed with great enthusiasm by the Prussian cavalry and each regiment sought
to join with the enemy faster. The advantage remained on our side. The
Brandenburg Hussars managed to split after a fierce battle, the enemy center
formed by the cuirassiers, to make a lot of them prisoners and seize, when the artillery
was going into battery, a howitzer, 3 cannons and 2 caissons. The enemy was thrown
back and continued beyond La Chaussée, but it resisted even beyond the village
and the battle lasted until evening. At this time, the enemy was forced to
give way to a league further back a short distance from Pogny. (Aus dem
Leben des kœniglich-preussischen General-Lieutenant Friedrich von Sohr.)
General von Jürgass on the battle of La Chaussée, dated from Châlons-sur-Marne,
5 February; Yorck to Schwarzenberg and Blücher, La Chaussée, 2 February, 8
o'clock at night. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 56 and II, 121 a.)
The standard in question was that
of the Polish lancers. It was taken by the Landwehr cavalry of Henckel.
 Yorck to Schwarzenberg, La
Chaussée, 2 February, 8 o'clock at night. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 56.)
 Yorck to Schwarzenberg, La
Chaussée, 3 February, 8 o'clock at night. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II,
 Macdonald, movement orders,
Vésigneul, 3 February, 1 o'clock in the afternoon. (Archives of the War.)
 The Brandenburg Hussars of Colonel
von Sohr, for example, had started at 4 o'clock in the morning, leaving Vitry at
the right, crossed the Ornain and joined the cavalry of General von Katzler on
the highway of Châlons a little after 6 o'clock, that is to say, an hour before
the time the lead squadrons gave in before La Chaussée against Sebastiani's
cavalry. It is therefore no need to wonder why, in the evening, the horses of regiments
which had charged several times during the day, were worn out with fatigue.
 The biography of General
von Sohr contains, in its discourse about the battle of La Chaussée, then the
commanding officer the Brandenburg Hussar Regiment, the next episode that we
cannot refrain from quoting.
the moment when the regiment was to start its charge, the impetuosity of an
officer almost ruined everything. He was precisely to sound: Gallop!
when a young Saxon officer, having entered the Prussian service, Lieutenant
Count von der S., motivated by the desire to distinguish himself, shouted,
raising his sword: Follow me! Follow me! and took off on his
horse at the charge gallop. The 2nd squadron to which the officer
belonged had already stirred to
him away from the directions it had been given. Sohr noticed, without losing a
moment, shouting: Trot! and waited to start his charge once the regiment
was reformed and had resumed its original direction. After the affair, Sohr gathered
his officers around him, and addressing the lieutenant said to him: "You
are led by bravery and I love officers that have heart. But even I'm not
armed, and if you happen to sense success on my failure and give orders to my
place, you may see me strong reward you with a sword blow that you would cure
you of the urge again."
same Sohr commanded the brigade of hussars that was almost destroyed at Roquencourt,
1 July 1815, by the cavalry of generals Exelmans and Piré. Sohr, seriously
wounded, was taken prisoner. "He was," said Exelmans, "as rabid
as all the devils and refused to surrender."
1816, General von Sohr was named to the command of the School of Cavalry.
 Macdonald to the Chief of
Staff, Châlons, 3 February, at 6 o'clock at night. (Archives of the War.)
 This was the Moivre.
 The Marshal somewhat
exaggerates the number of troops that his corps had to fight. It had entered
the line on the side of the Prussians, that cavalry the cavalry (27 squadrons);
the infantry was actually only composed of a battalion of fusiliers who
followed the column of Henckel, since the brigades coming from Vitry arrived
when it was all over, as for artillery, there is no indication of it, neither
in reports of Yorck, or those of General von Jürgass, or in those of Colonel
 The French cavalry employed
at La Chaussée a method which, however, it had little success in more than one
occasion among others, less than a year ago, 5 April 1813, in the combat of Dannigkow
A few years previously, 30 January 1807, Murat on taking over the united cavalry
reserves had already criticized this way of using the French cavalry. "His
Highness" said the order of the day, "saw with sorrow that the light
cavalry regiments had received the charge of the enemy by fire of musketry. Experience
has shown that this is the way to get overwhelmed. The Prince rejects this way
of fighting, and in the future, he will make an example to the whole army of
any regiment who commits such an offense."
 Among the papers that
General Yorck found at La Chaussée and sent to Prince Schwarzenberg with his
report from Châlons, 5 February (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 123), is a
curious letter written by a French officer, on the eve of battle, the same
letter that we cannot resist the desire to reproduce here:
"To Mme Dumas, Rue Saint-Nicaise, at Châlons. --La Chaussée, 2 February
1814, 10 o'clock at night. --Madam, The road from La Chaussée to Vitry found itself
filled by a little under 1,000 horses and some infantry battalions. Tomorrow,
early, we will force the enemy to retreat. The corps of the Duke of Tarente
and Sébastiani sleep today in La Chaussée, the corps of the Duke of Padoue and
General Exelmans at Aulnay. These four corps debouch together tomorrow and
should give a lesson to the enemy if it is bold enough to wait for us. General
Montmarie still holds Vitry with 2,000 men."
was only during the day that any attempt on this city was made, where we will
stay tomorrow. So, Madam, do not worry, soon I hope, you will learn the
distance to the enemy and your good town of Châlons especially..." (K. K.
Kriegs Archiv., II, ad. 123).
 Major Mareschal to Schwarzenberg,
Fère-Champenoise, 5 February (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 122.)
 Blücher to Prince
Schwarzenberg, Fère-Champenoise, 5 February, 2 in the morning (K. K. Kriegs
Archiv., II, 121.)
 Macdonald orders for
movement for the 4th, and General Grundler to General Montmarie. (Archives
of the War.)
 Yorck to Prince
Schwarzenberg, Châlons, 5 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 123.)
 Yorck to Prince
Schwarzenberg, Châlons, 5 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 123.)
 "The 5th of
February," Beitzke tells us in his Life of General von Sohr, "the
hussars were bivouacked in the suburb of Saint-Memmie, but one could hardly
enter it. The entire suburb was littered with the debris of 50,000 bottles of
champagne consumed by the infantry brigade of Horn, who then threw the empty
bottles in the street and all of whose soldiers were dead drunk."
noting this fact makes a mistake. The Horn Brigade came to relieve the infantry
and cavalry of General von Katzler in Saint-Memmie, whose soldiers had looted
and emptied the cellars. Immediately after Châlons was entered, Yorck gathered
his troops, addressing them with violent reproaches and administered punishment
to those officers responsible for acts he planned not to see repeated.
 Life of General von Sohr.
 Chernishev to Field Marshal
Blücher, Namur, 29 January. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 121 b.)
We reproduce verbatim the dispatch written in French by Chernishev.
"Marshal, I received through the intervention Major Falkenhausen, the
letter addressed to him by H. R. H. Monseigneur Prince Wilhelm, on the desire of
Your Excellency on which direction that our corps had to be taken."
"I am eager to bring it to the attention of Baron Winzingerode, commanding
the corps. He ordered me from Liège where his headquarters is located, to move
myself with everyone on Namur, without regard to the enemy who is in Leuven and
Brussels, and I fought well towards Liège."
"My light troops occupy Dinant and Philippeville, and were in positions below
Givet where they expelled a garrison of 1500 men."
"I deeply regret that, no longer having a flying corps, but now commanding
the vanguard of the corps, I cannot perform my moves with the same speed as in
the past. Therefore I would not let strong parties go in the direction of Reims,
deeply concerned for the enemy while waiting for our arrival."
 General Janssens to Marshal
Kellermann. (Archives of the War.)
 Field Marshal Blücher to
Schwarzenberg, Fère-Champenoise, 5 February, 2 o'clock in the morning (K. K.
Kriegs Archiv., II, 120), and Blücher to Schwarzenberg, Soudron, 5
February, 8 o'clock at night. (Ibid., II, ad. 120.)
 Yorck to Schwarzenberg, Châlons,
5 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 123.)
 Yorck to Schwarzenberg, Châlons,
5 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 123.)
Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2012
[ Military Index | Battles Index ]