Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter 8, Part II

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)






3 TO 16 February 1814.


Combat of Soudron.  --Retreat of Macdonald to Épernay.  --The evacuation of Châlons had led to that of Vitry. The garrison was ordered to join the marshal on the left bank of the Marne, having left the city during the night of the 4th to 5th.  Preceded by its equipment and crews, it took the road of Vatry to meet the cavalry sent by Marshal Exelmans to Bussy-Lettrée.  As at Châlons, the bridge of Vitry was incompletely destroyed, and General von Pirch hoped to follow in a few hours the enemy retreating on Vertus. The march that General Montmarie was going to execute presented even more difficulties, forced to file between the Marne and Blücher, he ran the risk of being taken in flank by the cavalry of the Field Marshal and to be reengaged and attacked in his rear by the troops of Pirch. From 5 o'clock in the morning, two battalions, two squadrons and two pieces from the latter had crossed the bridge of Vitry, pushing in the footsteps of Montmarie and joined with his rearguard at Vésigneul-sur-Coole, without succeeding to cut it off.  But instead of continuing his march without interruption, General Montmarie thought to refresh the horses of his convoy at Bussy Lettrée.  Arriving in Vatry at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, he effected his junction with the cavalry of Exelmans who had been skirmishing against the scouts of Blücher since morning.  Restarting the march to gain Chaintrix-Bierges, the infantry of Montmarie as the advanced guard covering the left of the convoy, the cavalry of Exelmans as the rear guard and protecting the left column, then noted columns deploying in front of Villeseneux.  However, the movement was resumed along the right bank of La Soudé, while Blücher's cavalry tried to debouch and its artillery created havoc in the convoy and terrified the drivers who took  off at a gallop and were only stopped with difficulty.  Thanks to the good discipline of the infantry and the resolute attitude of the cavalry squadrons it held back Blücher, despite the significant losses caused by the Prussian artillery fire, as well as those  resulting from the explosion of a caisson in the convoy, in spite of all the efforts of the generals, leaving the battlefield, the column and the greater part of the convoy managed to continue their march on Chaintrix.[1]

"Arrived at Soudron," wrote Blücher about it to Schwarzenberg,[2] "I found about 2,000 horses deployed and covering the march of a column of 3,000 infantry escorting a convoy of food and ammunition from Vitry to Vatry.  I addressed this with my cavalry vanguard and tried in vain to stop the column, which protected by the night went on its way.  We did, however, managed to take out one gun and 70 caissons."

The garrison of Vitry and the largest part of the convoy were saved; but this event no less forced the Duke of Tarente to forego following the road to Montmirail; that of Sézanne was already cut; Fère-Champenoise was occupied; nothing remained any longer than that of Épernay to effect his retirement.

"We pulled all day at the Châlons bridge which was only slightly damaged," he wrote from Saint-Pierre-aux-Oies, 5 February at 11 o'clock at night, to the Chief of Staff, "but the arch has fallen and forms a sufficient barrier to prevent artillery from crossing for 24 hours.  There are few barriers to the cavalry; there are none to the infantry.  All of the enemy are filing on Reims.  I do not know what is going on.  I do not hear from any side.  Everything is disorganized and leaning to a general chaos."[3]

Resolutions taken by Blücher and by Macdonald the 5th of February in the evening.  --The situation was obviously far from enviable for Macdonald.  However, the Marshal was still lucky to have escaped a catastrophe to which he would have been unable to escape if, instead confronting Wittgenstein on the Aube, he was, on the evening of the Battle of La Rothière, ordered to move on Saint-Dizier by the left bank of the Marne and fallen into the hands of the corps of Yorck.

Stopped while restoring the bridge of Châlons, but still hoping to debouch by the road of Vertus, Yorck had prescribed Pirch to follow General Montmarie in the morning; he had, in the afternoon, sent the order to march on Châlons along the right bank; but Pirch had already left Vitry, and it was only in the night of the 5th to 6th that the order reached him.  His brigade occupied at that time Coupetz, Vésigneul and Fontaine-sur-Coole.

While the advanced guard of the Army of Silesia was trying to take the convoy from Vitry, Blücher had received the dispatch of 4 February by which Schwarzenberg departed from him with the movement of the Great Army to his left.  This resolution of the Generalissimo substantially changed the dispositions taken at Brienne 2 February and was sufficient to show the Field Marshal it would be wrong to rely on the cooperation of the Great Army whose corps were forced further away from his.  Despite this, Blücher seems to have thought that the presence of Wittgenstein near Arcis and marching of the Great Army sufficient to retain the Emperor on the Seine and allow him to continue his movement in the valley of the Marne.  This is at least what emerges from the dispatch of Soudron from which we have already made several citations.  Still not knowing if Vitry was evacuated, Blücher[4] informed Schwarzenberg that one of his columns had crossed the Marne and pushed before it Macdonald and Sebastiani, while with another column went on Montmirail and his light cavalry (Cossacks of Karpov and flying corps of Biron) continued to be on the side of Sézanne and connected to the cavalry of Pahlen.

"I managed," said the Field Marshal, "to separate Marshal Macdonald from the bulk of the enemy; I am master of the Marne and I can, moreover, concentrate on the Seine as soon as Your Highness wishes me."

Blücher ends by saying that before anything he intended to amass the corps of General Yorck, which the next day, he would, however, give a very different direction, sending them first on Épernay, then on Dormans.  At that time, in fact, when Blücher wrote to Generalissimo, he was close to Yorck.  Sacken, Olsufiev and the headquarters were at Soudron; the Marne and only a distance of 15 kilometers separated him from his first corps, and everything suggests he thought then, indeed, of continuing moving in two columns marching at the same level and maintaining contact. He expected to be joined shortly by the corps of Kleist, whose advanced guard was already at Baudonvilliers (about ten kilometers from Saint-Dizier), the 10th Brigade at Combles and Bar-le-Duc the 11th Brigade at Savonnières and Tannois, and by Kapsewitch, whose troops had arrived at Stainville.

Finally, although Winzingerode had not yet started his movement, his scouts spread increasingly in the Department of Aisne and began to threaten Laon and Soissons.

6 February 1814.  --First movements of Yorck.  --Orders of Blücher send him on the road to Épernay.  --The situation appeared to Yorck so clear and so simple that even before the orders of Blücher, when the bridge was once more passable at Châlons, he began to march around noon with the bulk of his forces on the route of Vertus and was content to follow Macdonald's retirement towards Épernay with some parties of cavalry.  Believing that Blücher was still in Fère-Champenoise, knowing that the Cossacks, heading towards Épernay, had appeared around Avize between the two roads of Paris, he had, and his orders provide the proof, that he had made these movements to effect his union with the Field Marshal.  He had already embarked on the road of Vertus, where his headquarters, his vanguard, the reserve cavalry and the 7th Brigade were established in the evening, when the staff officer of Blücher brought him verbal orders to follow the Marne to move by Épernay, through Chateau-Thierry, while Sacken, then a day's march from Olsufiev and further in the rear than even Kleist and Kapsewitch, marched on Vertus and Montmirail.  It was regrettably and as if from that moment a fatal consequence of a movement that necessarily entailed the fragmentation and dispersal of the Army Corps of Silesia, was given.  Yorck immediately launched out on his right.  His advanced guard arrived in the evening at Athis and his cavalry in Aulnay-sur-Marne.  The 7th Brigade settled in Saint-Gibrien and the rest of the Ist Corps remained at Châlons overnight.

This move would allow Macdonald gaining ground and losing for the Army of Silesia immediate contact with the troops that were to pursue, to overtake and surround.

It was, indeed, Blücher who was personally responsible for explaining in the order of the 6th signed by Gneisenau, the reasons that decided this movement:

"Field Marshal Blücher proposes to cut off the enemy 11th Corps retreating on Épernay, or at least to capture all or part of the 100 guns whose teams were mostly furnished under the levy.  General Sacken will march, therefore, on the small road of Paris that goes through Bergères, Champaubert, Montmirail and La Ferté-sous-Jouarre; the corps of Yorck will pursue Marshal Macdonald along the highway from Épernay and Chateau-Thierry and the IXth Russian Corps (Olsufiev) with the Field Marshal and his headquarters will follow Sacken's corps at a day's march.  The Field Marshal awaits the imminent arrival at Châlons of the Prussian IInd Corps (von Kleist) and the Xth Corps of Russian infantry (Kapsewitch) to march with his whole army on Paris.  The corps of Kleist and Kapsewitch will force their march so as to be meet on the 10th at Montmirail.  The corps of Yorck is heading towards Chateau-Thierry and if he has difficulty crossing the Marne, he will move left obliquely to approach the corps of Sacken."

"The headquarters will be in Vertus the 7th, the 8th at Étoges, the 9th at Montmirail, where the corps of General Olsufiev will take position.  Sacken's corps will come the 6th to Vertus, the 7th to Étoges, the 8th at Montmirail.  His cavalry will continue to stand on the side of Sézanne and send parties to the Seine and Aube."

"Vitry becomes like Toul, a military concentration point."

The motivating  reason that justified this order is without doubt, that one could not commit all of  his corps on the only road.  Blücher wanted to take advantage of the presence of a part of Sacken's corps in front of Soudron trying to cut the retreat of Macdonald.  Yorck seems, however, not the only one to be unpleasantly surprised by the new disposition, and the report by Major Mareschal to Prince Schwarzenberg,[5] contains some rather sharp criticism of the movement and the resolutions of Blücher for the days 5 and 6 February:

"...If we had only made a forced march of yesterday, we would have taken everything coming out of Vitry and completely destroyed the cavalry corps Sebastiani."

"A brigade of cavalry and some Cossacks pushed the 4th to Sézanne, continued to pursue the large convoy leaving Châlons for Sommesous.  As we did not receive news, there is every reason to believe that they have not reached the convoy.  Kleist with his corps and Kapsewitch with 7,000 men from the corps of Langeron are now in Saint-Dizier."

"General Sacken is in march on Vertus.  Macdonald has with him his corps and the 2nd  and 4th Cavalry Corps[6] (Sebastiani and Arrighi). Kellermann has from 10,000 to 15.000 conscripts.  The enemy took the direction of Meaux and sent its casualties to Reims.  We know nothing here of the march of Winzingerode."

"The Prussians lost 500 men at Châlons."

The 6th at night Sacken had arrived at Vertus, but Blücher and Olsufiev remained in Soudron.  Kleist, who had received the news at Bar-le-Duc of the evacuation of Vitry and march of Yorck on Châlons, let his advanced guard continue alone on Vitry and marched directly on Châlons with his two brigades.  After following the Roman road, these two brigades stopped in the evening at Contault (Contaut-le-Maupas) and Saint-Mard-sur-le-Mont, while Zieten with the vanguard, came up Thiéblemont and Farémont, a little way from of Vitry.  Colonel von Swichov remained at Vitry to act as a garrison with a battalion from the IInd Corps.  The movement undertaken by Blücher had only one reasonable chance of success,  if it was decided through forced to prevent the Duke of Tarente from leaving La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, surround him and to compel him to lay down their arms.  Indeed, the high road, remained the only one open to Macdonald, after skirting the left bank of the Marne at Château-Thierry, crossing on the right side, away from the valley of the Marne and the uniting at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, where it returns to the left bank and joins the shorter and more direct route of Châlons by Montmirail, to continue on the left bank at the bridge of Trilport.

Position of Macdonald.  --State of his troops.  --He would have to march briskly without stopping anywhere, and with everyone, if any results were wanted, especially as Macdonald did not waste a moment to try to escape the threatened danger.  The manner in which the Marshal acted since leaving Châlons did not leave any doubt in this regard and should not have left Blücher hope in seeing him slow his movements.  Yorck's troops had found that the Marshal had left during the night of the 5th to 6th, the positions he had still held the evening of the 5th in front of Châlons.  The 6th in the morning, most of his troops, some from Champigneul-Champagne (Molitor Division), others from Saint-Gibrien had already reached Chouilly.  At 10 o'clock in the morning the Duke of Tarente was at Épernay and wrote to the Chief of Staff[7] that Épernay could not be held, which was in a rundown condition, he would go on Dormans.  His retirement had been worrisome as that evening, the scouts of Blücher had clashed with the rear guard of the Duke of Padoue, between Plivot and Chouilly.[8]

The correspondence of the Marshal shows that he had a perfectly clear notion of a situation that the weakness of his fighting force and the depressed morale of his troops only made more difficult.  "The Russians march quickly by the road to Montmirail," he wrote to the minister,[9] "I hasten my march to cover the important crossing points of Château-Thierry and of Ferté-sous-Jouarre.  I sent in advance of the cavalry, artillery and engineers to prepare the mines, but I do not know if I have time.  General Brayer has a division of 300 men and a battalion of 400-500 men that we picked up a Châlons.  He formed the rearguard that has arrived here.  The Molitor Division has 900 to 1000 men.  These two divisions form the 11th Corps."

"The 5th Corps (Sebastiani) is reduced to 800 men, half of their fighting strength.  The 3rd Cavalry Corps has no more than 500 horse; it experienced a defeat yesterday (combat at Chouilly, the 6th).  The 2nd Cavalry was engaged every day since the first, and has no more than 8-900 horses."

"I must not conceal from you that our cavalry was very shaken.  Our little infantry still holds together well, and gave evidence of their worth at the actions at  La Chaussée, Châlons and Vatry."

"General Montmarie returning from Vitry, has from 1100 to 1200 men; General Simmer has 300 to 400."[10]

7 February 1814.  --Favorable conditions for the Army of Silesia at the beginning of the operation.  --Sound in principle, the operation undertaken by Blücher became dangerous when, instead of being executed clearly and all at once, it was slow and without cohesion.  However, the conditions in which Army of Silesia stood, from the day it started its movement prevented from meeting these essential requirements.  The sending of the cavalry of Sacken on Sézanne, while Sacken and Olsufiev went against Soudron, the marching that ran along the right bank of the Meuse with 3,000 horses of General Yuzefovich, the inability to relieve the cavalry of Borozdin before Metz's in enough time to allow it to arrive with Kapsewitch at Châlons and Vertus, the relatively weak cavalry that was thought available, except that of Ist Corps, being forced to hold in front of the corps of Sacken, because of the inability of linking the different corps with communication posts, not to mention the subsequent slow motion can be considered as the causes for the disjointed operations of Blücher and the defeats he would suffer.

Marches of Sacken, Olsufiev and Kleist.  --Action at Chouilly.  --Yorck at Épernay.  --Retreat of Macdonald on Dormans.  --The 7th, in accordance with orders from the day before, Olsufiev replaced Sacken at Vertus, who went to Étoges after recalling the cavalry detachments sent to Avize.  The Cossacks and cavalry of Biron were moved from Sézanne by Mœurs-Verdey to Maclaunay, about a league from Montmirail, while Marmont arrived with his corps at Fontaine-Denis, three leagues from Sézanne.  Behind the bulk of the Army of Silesia, Kleist[11] reached Châlons, where Kapsewitch would not arrive until the next day.

On the main road from Paris, Yorck had only found at Épernay and in front of that city the extreme rear guard of Macdonald, who tried to stop the march of the advance guard of the Ist Corps in the kind of defile that hills form on getting closer to the Marne around Chouilly.  After a brisk engagement, the French were forced to retreat, and the vanguard of Yorck crossed Épernay, where the bulk of the corps established itself during the day, pushing up to Troissy.  The reserve cavalry stopped towards evening at Port-à-Binson; but it still did not managed to reduce the lead taken by Macdonald.

After sending Molitor, from the 5th in the evening, to spend the night on the heights of Damery, Macdonald had his headquarters established at Boursault.  Exelmans, leaving the 6th at four o'clock in the morning, had marched in a way to bypass Dormans and to encamp from Saint-Aignan to Monthurel.  Molitor began his march at six o'clock and came to occupy Saint-Eugène, Crézancy and Fossoy on the left bank of the Surmelin. The brigade of General Montmarie, leaving by Saint-Martin-d'Ablois, joined the main road at Mareuil-le-Port and took position behind Exelmans, south-west of Dormans in Soilly and Courthiézy.

Sebastiani and Padoue had withdrawn in stages from Épernay on Dormans and found in position on the heights behind Épernay, the division that Brayer, designated to form the rearguard from this point, contend step by step in withdrawal, contain the Prussians and hold the heights of Dormans, where the Duke of Tarente only entered in person in the evening, to give orders.  He only had those with him; what he had picked up on the way including 5,000 to 6,000 men, of which, as he wrote to King Joseph, two-thirds were only barely able to fight.[12]

Informed of the movement of the cavalry of Sacken on Montmirail, fearing of being outflanked by that general and reaching La Ferté-sous-Jouarre before him, the Duke of Tarente, despite the fatigue of his troops and the exhaustion of his horses, decided to survey, from the evening of the 7th, the road from Montmirail to Chateau-Thierry and prescribe to generals Simmer, Exelmans and Molitor to force their march to be made at Ferté-sous-Jouarre the 8th. These generals were to occupy in front of the town, on the road to Montmirail, a position covering the passage of troops and the road to Meaux.  At eight o'clock at night, General Simmer took the road to La Ferté-sous-Jouarre with orders to halt at three o'clock at Chateau-Thierry.  Molitor left at midnight and Exelmans, who had started at eleven, was, in crossing Château-Thierry, to detach the 14th and 24th Chasseur Regiments, after giving the order to General Dommanget to push with them on the road to Montmirail, a league ahead of Château-Thierry.

Movement of Marmont on Sézanne.  --At the moment when Macdonald was taking such measures, the Chief of Staff informed him that Marmont leaving Nogent, headed on Sézanne, where the army could support when needed; that from there the Emperor would move on the road to Montmirail.  "Act accordingly," added the Chief of Staff. "We will send some forces from Paris to La Ferté-sous-Jouarre."

The 7th had been bad for the Allies.  Not only had they not been able to reach and engage Macdonald, but the Marshal was now almost certain to reach the Ferté-sous-Jouarre before Yorck, and Blücher was far from foreseeing the danger by exposing the resolution taken by the Emperor.

Reims had fallen into the hands of the Allies.  Laon had been evacuated by the French; but the situation did not become less critical for Blücher because, believing in a general concentration of French forces in Nogent, the Generalissimo was moving everyone to that side, and not content with sending Wittgenstein on Méry, more was asked of Blücher, who was considered strong enough to overcome Macdonald, by strengthening the VIth Corps with the corps of Kleist.  As compensation, we interpose, it is true, the subsequent arrival of Winzingerode still at Namur and only now starting to prepare a movement on Binche and Avesnes.[13]

8 February 1814.  --March of the corps of Sacken and Olsufiev.  --The cavalry of Marmont chases the Cossacks of Karpov from Sézanne.  --The corps of Sacken had marched on Montmirail; its cavalry, under Vasilchikov, bypassed this city and mounted the road to Chateau-Thierry, about the time the cavalry of Marmont dislodged the Cossacks of Karpov from Sézanne, which retreated to Montmirail.

It seems that the sudden appearance of the French cavalry on the left flank of the corps in route by the road from Vertus road to Château-Thierry should worry Blücher and Sacken.  However, Sacken believed his left so covered by the course of the Petit-Morin he thought it useless to share this event with Blücher and Olsufiev, who posted in Étoges, seemed sufficiently protected by the marshes of Saint-Gond.  Blücher still ignorant and the movements of the Emperor and the direction taken by the army of Schwarzenberg, probably similarly signifying little importance to an affair he would have regarded as a mere partisan skirmish, although it was actually the beginning of an operation directly threatening his army.  This is, at least, what one can derive from the dispatch he sent the next day of the 9th to Schwarzenberg:

"Yesterday the 8th, an enemy column from Villenauxe was directed on Sézanne.  It was, they say, the 6th Corps of Marshal Marmont; but these troops withdrew on La Ferté-Gaucher at night.  The news that General Sacken had taken position at Montmirail had persuaded the  Marshal to pull back.  I have, however, no official confirmation either of the march or retirement of the 6th Corps."[14]

Blücher was perfectly at ease, and yet if only because of the situation of his corps, the affair at Sézanne, as insignificant as it had been, should have given him reason to reflect.  The 8th in the evening, while Sacken occupied Montmirail, Olsufiev was 24 kilometers behind at Étoges, the headquarters of the Field Marshal 16 kilometers further away, in Vertus; finally, Kleist and Kapsewitch[15] 6 leagues behind it at Châlons.  The 40,000 men forming the main column of the Army of Silesia were therefore distributed on a line over 15 leagues long, at almost equal intervals and forming four groups each positioned within a day's march from the level of its neighbor.

Movement of Yorck.  --Affair at Crézancy.  --Yorck, meanwhile, had commanded the advanced guard to follow the rearguard of Macdonald on the main road, pushing on Château-Thierry, while the bulk of his corps, leaving Boursault, between 9 and 10 o'clock in the morning marched on Dormans.

The division of Brayer had continued to retreat, step by step, on the defile of Crézancy[16] where the brigade of Montmarie and the cavalry of the Duke of Padoue took up position and stopped towards evening the vanguard of Katzler.  The tip of the advanced guard of Katzler only entered at Blesmes after the departure of the last French outposts for Château-Thierry.   The rest of the corps of Yorck occupied the evening of the 8th:  the 7th Brigade Courthiézy, the 1st Soilly, the 8th,  with the headquarters, Dormans.  The cavalry reserve of the Ist Corps stood at Mareuil-le-Port and Port-à-Binson.

Macdonald devoted the day of the 8th to bring his corps to the right bank of the Marne, and from the 8th in the morning, it was announced that Molitor himself would probably arrive in the night at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre with generals Brayer and Montmarie and the cavalry of the Duke of Padoue.  He had directed them to choose a good position, entrench it and cover it with abatis.  He had left at Château-Thierry a rearguard under the command of Sebastiani, whom he had recommended to establish his positions in the suburbs and barricade the bridge to accommodate a small passage for the troops that he would return to La Ferté.  He was further informed of the presence of Marmont at Sézanne and the subsequent march of the Emperor on Montmirail.

Positions of Marmont and Ney the 8th in the evening.  --The 8th in the evening, in fact, a division of the 6th Corps with its artillery and headquarters of Marmont was in Chapton, Soizy-aux-Bois and Saint-Prix. 400 horses posted to the left of this division, at Villeneuve-lès-Charleville and Charleville, sent patrols on Le Gault-Soigny and towards the road from Montmirail.  The other division of the 6th Corps occupied Sézanne and there awaited the arrival of Ney, two divisions of which were advancing on Sézanne by road from Villenauxe.

9 February 1814.  --Movement of Marmont.  --Marmont, convinced, as the Chief of Staff had announced, that the Emperor would arrive at Sézanne on the 9th, in the morning, reinforced the cavalry of General Doumerc with 600 infantry from the division of Lagrange.  300 men occupied the defile of Saint-Prix; the rest supported the light cavalry which, after passing Saint-Prix, sent parties from Baye on Champaubert.  The cuirassiers remained behind Saint-Prix at the Montalard farm.   The artillery of Doumerc, with the exception of two guns on the heights of Saint-Prix, was, once extricated from the mud, defiled on Soizy-aux-Bois.  General Maurin continued to observe La Villeneuve road from Sézanne to Montmirail, and General de Laville posted just there at Esternay and Beauvais-la- Noue had orders to move on Sézanne and push parties to Châlons.  The infantry of the 6th Corps was to remain on its positions at Soizy-aux-Bois, Chapton, Lachy and Sézanne.  Later, when he found out, during the day that the Emperor would only arrive in the evening at Sézanne and that Ney could not make it before noon, the Duke of Raguse, convinced that the Emperor, forced to go to Meaux, would go to La Ferté, transferred his headquarters in the evening and most of his troops to Sézanne where it met the two divisions of Ney, after leaving, between Saint-Prix and Chapton some light cavalry and 300 infantry.

This slight retrograde movement had, in fact, more advantages than disadvantages.  It avoided showing to Blücher the operation beginning against him who as yet had no notion of it.  It allowed for the surveillance of the difficult crossing at Petit-Morin.

Finally, and this was something important, the Marshal had obtained valuable information as to how accessible the road to Champaubert was to the troops who occupied this position.  The corps leaving from the Seine approached him as soon as the poor state of roads permitted.  Mortier and Grouchy, on the order of the Emperor, marched on Sézanne and sought to arrive at least in the evening at Villenauxe.

The Emperor himself was preparing to leave Nogent in the afternoon to make it to Sézanne the same day where, with 30,000 men (of which 10,000 were cavalrymen) and 120 guns, he went from, beginning the next day, to start operations against Blücher.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that Marmont, who had been the only one to share ideas and to guess the plans of the Emperor, that Marmont, later claimed authorship of this operation, wrote precisely, 9 February, to the Chief of Staff:  "This movement (the movement of Champaubert) that this morning would have given us great results, would have been disastrous tomorrow."  The Emperor would take care of it by showing facts, that his fears were exaggerated, his miscalculations, and even if operated at 10 instead of 9, this maneuver would be fatal, not to the French army, but the corps of Olsufiev.

Immobility of the Prussian Ist Corps.  --Katzler at Château-Thierry.  --The movements of the Army of Silesia during the 9th, instead of helping an already compromised situation, , had, on the contrary, worsened it.

Macdonald, after destroying the bridge behind Château-Thierry, had left a battalion in the town and arrived with his last troops (Brayer Division and the brigade of Montmarie) at 9 o'clock in the morning at La Ferté-sous Jouarre, where he intended to continue to Meaux.  Yorck, now convinced of the impossibility of reaching the marshal gave the majority of his corps a little rest, including his troops, halting at Dormans and in the villages before the city the those with the most urgent need.

"We hoped to recover ourselves for a few days," we read in the Journal of 1st Prussian Dragoons (Dragoons of Lithuania), "because we could go no further.  Our horses were unshod, lame, emaciated; our infantry had left its shoes in the dug up roads.  In a word, our whole corps was absolutely exhausted."  The advanced guard of the Ist Corps was, moreover, only to continued its movement.  Katzler, arriving in the morning on the outskirts of Château-Thierry, had threatened to bombard the city which the French battalion evacuated about one o'clock, when the Prussian artillery was preparing to open fire.  But as he had to repair the bridge before considering the pursuit, Katzler  simply threw on the right bank some infantry which crossed the Marne in boats.

Battle of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre.  --Meanwhile, Blücher had commanded Sacken to stay at Montmirail.  The field marshal then renounced the hope of cutting off Macdonald.  And yet the vanguard of Sacken (Vasilchikov's cavalry), although maintained from the 5th between Sézanne and Montmirail because it wasn't wanted to push too far ahead of the corps of the Russian general, advanced only to La Ferté-sous-Jouarre and debouched at this point, while most of the corps of Macdonald had already taken position in front of the town, on the left bank of the Marne, and the troops Brayer and Montmarie were established behind those of Molitor at the château of Moras and the heights of Condetz.

Impetuously attacked by the cavalry of Vasilchikov around Pavillons during a reconnaissance pushed on the road to Montmirail, French troops were thrown into disorder on La Ferté-sous-Jouarre.  Moras Château was taken and retaken three or four times, disputed with an unheard of fury until the explosion of a caisson definitely threw disorder in the ranks of soldiers of Brayer and Molitor, who abandoned Moras and Condetz to the Russians with the three pieces in battery on the hill.

The position of the Marshal was critical.  It was important to pay any price at Moras and Condetz to allow what was still in La Ferté to debouch and escape.   Fortunately for him, the division Albert had arrived, and although it only amounted to 500 to 600 men, returning to the offensive and the bayonet charge carried by this handful of men were enough to dislodge Vasilchikov.  Seeing himself exposed, knowing he was away from the rest of the corps, he feared to compromise his vanguard in engaging fully, gave up trying to attack with everyone and brought them back on the road to Montmirail, taking with him the three pieces abandoned by the French on the heights of Condetz.[17]

"I'm unhappily taken by the most cruel end, I find myself between two bridges, and in having the tail of Yorck, the head of Sacken."[18]  These are the words with which the report of Macdonald ends.

"Part of my troops fought, though worn out with fatigue, with rare intrepidity; the others fled, and it was not without much difficulty that we successfully recovered and evacuated La Ferté.  The infantry is shaken, and the Duke of Padoue has only  little squadrons.  Generals Yorck and Sacken can reunite tomorrow.  I cross the Marne at Trilport and fall back on Meaux.  The bridges of Château-Thierry and La Ferté-sous-Jouarre are burned and broken."[19]

Movements of Kleist and Kapsewitch.  --During this day, Kleist and Kapsewitch were somewhat pressed on the center in going to Bergères and Vertus; but Sacken, who had attached little importance to the news of the march of the French on Sézanne was not resting at Montmirail and had marched with the bulk of his troops to Viels-Maisons.

The line occupied by the different corps of the Army of Silesia was, therefore, as long as it had been previously,[20] with the difference that the cavalry of Vasilchikov was more forward around La Ferté-sous-Jouarre and that before leaving Vertus to transfer in the afternoon, his headquarters in Étoges, Blücher, to comply with the instructions of the Generalissimo, had ordered Kleist to move the 10th on Sézanne with corps of Kapsewitch and Olsufiev.[21]

Blücher's headquarters returns from Étoges to Vertus.  --Orders to Sacken and Yorck for the day of the 10th.  --Napoleon at Sézanne.  --The headquarters of Blücher had barely settled in Étoges when a Russian officer, hastening from Baye, brought the news of the appearance of French cavalry in these parts.[22]  It is true that once it was known that this cavalry had almost immediately retired, no importance was any longer attached to this incident. The Field Marshal returned however to Vertus.  Completely reassured by the report of Olsufiev which signaled the retirement of Marmont on Sézanne, he sent the same evening by Lieutenant von Gerlach, aide to Muffling, orders to Sacken to concentrate his corps the 10th at Montmirail, to withdraw on Château-Thierry and on Yorck, with whom he would go on the right side if attacked by forces superior in number; on the contrary to continue, on La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, only under the circumstance of fearing for the flank of Sézanne.  The instructions given to Yorck were even sparser and more singular.  He simply prescribed to move from Château-Thierry on Veils-Maisons and run to the rescue of Sacken, who marched on the 9th on La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, meeting the enemy in front of this town.[23]

But, while giving these orders, Blücher persisted nevertheless in not believing in a movement that he still considered impossible.  The Emperor, however, was already close to Sézanne where he arrived with his Guard late into the night.  Thanks to the energy of his old soldiers, patriotism of farmers and zeal of the Mayor of Barbonne, who requisitioned all the horses in the country, the Guard and the artillery of the army had managed to pull through the swamps of the Forest of Traconne and reach Sézanne the night of the 9th to 10th.  Informed by Marmont of the condition of the roads leading to Champaubert, Napoleon decided immediately to move forward on the 10th in the morning.

10 February 1814.  --March of Sacken on La Ferté-sous-Jouarre.  --During 9 February, it was still possible for Blücher to evade the blow that threatened him.  He still had time to go up to Épernay on the right bank of the Marne, to bring back on the mountain of Reims the corps of Sacken, of Yorck, of Olsufiev and of Kapsewitch, and to contain the Guard with the corps of Kleist at Châlons, or even better to make a general concentration on Montmirail by making Yorck and Sacken come back on the 10th and bringing by a forced march of 40 kilometers the corps of Kleist and Kapsewitch who would reunite in passing the corps of Olsufiev, assuming, however, that it had been found unnecessary to move these the 9th in the evening on Montmirail.  The Army of Silesia could therefore still have made a concentration the 10th in the evening.  But it would have to question the evidence at hand, and although operations of the Emperor were so natural that they should have been obvious, the illusions were so deeply rooted in the minds of Blücher and Gneisenau that they prevailed once more.  Also whether he was obsessed and blinded by the idea of ​​still marching into Paris, as if he really had not been aware of the danger, the Field Marshal, far from attempting a concentration on Montmirail, far from exercising these voluntary retirements that had been so successful in 1813, further aggravated the situation and precipitated the catastrophe that threatened by the very provisions he had taken on the evening of the 9th at Vertus.

On his command from the morning of the 10th Sacken, had resumed his move on La Ferté-sous-Jouarre that Macdonald had evacuated.  He had begun the work to restore the bridge and pushed on the road to Meaux the cavalry of Vasilchikov, who strongly drove the last French troops just to the Trilport bridge and took from them three pieces and a few caissons during this retreat.  Stopped at this point by the destruction of the bridge, Vasilchikov established behind the wood of Meaux in Saint-Jean-les-Deux-Jumeaux, while Macdonald, fearing to be outflanked on his left by a side road from Château-Thierry, Montreuil-aux-Lions and Lizy, sent Molitor to occupy Congis-sur-Théroanne, Villers-les-Rigault and Lizy-sur-Ourcq, with orders to watch the crossings of the Ourcq and destroy the bridge.

The 5th Corps (Sebastiani) was responsible for guarding the crossing at Trilport.  The cavalry of Saint-Germain came to join him in Meaux and formed with Exelmans, a corps of a little more than 2,000 horses with 5 guns.

March of Yorck on Château-Thierry.  --Surprise of Lanskoy's hussars at Saint-Fiacre.  --Yorck had received in the morning at Dormans the order in which he was directed from Château-Thierry on Viels-Maisons, but in which it was considered unnecessary to indicate the causes for this movement.  Not understanding these new provisions, that forced him to make a long detour to reach La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, removing him from the main road to be thrown on bad secondary roads, informed by one of his patrols of the occupation of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre by Sacken, knowing immediately that Macdonald was able to steal away and Sacken did not need help, Yorck could not bring himself to execute an order completely unintelligible to him.  Desiring, however, to know the hidden motives of this disposition, he sent Major Count von Brandenburg to Blücher's headquarters.  Meanwhile, he countermanded the movement he had planned and contented himself with pushing his advanced guard up to Nogent-l'Artaud.  The bulk of his corps came to settle in the afternoon at Château-Thierry, at Grandes-Noues and Viffort.

Macdonald, already regretting the hasty destruction of the Trilport bridge, had the cavalry of Saint-Germain leave from Meaux which instead going to the right on the road to La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, had to cross the Marne at the bridge of Meaux and then fall back to the left to the level of Nanteuil.  Saint-Germain proposed to join the main road to Saint-Jean-les-Deux-Jumeaux, continue on La Ferté-sous-Jouarre and communicate with the Emperor in heading on Montmirail and pressing his left to the Marne.  The detour had prevented the General from pushing beyond Saint-Fiacre, where he surprised at 5 o'clock in the afternoon the Alexandria Hussars (Division of General Lanskoy), and took some men and a few horses.  Shortly after this skirmish, Sacken who had just received the order from Blücher commanding him to return towards Montmirail and from there on Virtues, recalled all his cavalry on La Ferté-sous-Jouarre.

Combat at Champaubert. --While Blücher left Olsufiev alone at Champaubert the Emperor, just hours after his arrival in Sézanne, reported in front of Marmont's corps.  Doubling the teams by using requisition horses, they thus succeeded in crossing the defile of Saint-Prix.  At 9 o'clock, the cavalry of Doumerc, head of the column of the 6th Corps, emerged on the heights overlooking the valley of Petit-Morin and saw before it the little Russian corps. Ney having received the order to follow Marmont and Mortier was, once all his troops had reached Sézanne, informed of the hour that the Emperor he could be reached if needed by him.

Informed by his outposts of the French movement, Olsufiev, lacking cavalry, immediately had General Udom occupy the village of Baye, with four regiments of eiger and six guns.  As one had neglected to cut and at the same time guard the bridge of Petit-Morin at Saint-Prix, the cavalrymen of Doumerc crossing safely, drove up to Baye.  Despite this neglect, Olsufiev could still refuse to fight and retreat, either on the wood of the Grande-Laye, or back to Étoges.  It was enough for him to make this resolution immediately, before the divisions of Lagrange and Ricard had crossed the bridge of Saint-Prix and was ordered to attack Baye.  But far from thinking of retirement, the Russian general ordered General Udom to engage and try to push the French on Saint-Prix, which was being reinforced throughout this time.  The offensive movement of Russian eiger came crashing against the French squadrons, supported by their infantry, and General Udom brought his entire brigade to Baye and in the woods near the village.

Immediately after crossing the Morin, the Lagrange Division had veered to the left, taken a position on the plateau which extends between Baye and Bannay, extended its left to the village and placed 12 pieces in battery.  Too weak to resist the troops before him, General Udom asked for reinforcements and orders from his chief, who immediately sent a brigade of infantry and six pieces to occupy Bannay and the woods to the north of the village.  While the Ricard Division moved against Baye, the Russians managed to repel the first attack against Bannay by the Pelleport Brigade (Lagrange Division).  Ney's corps, coming into line at this time, took position on the plateau and all the French artillery fire crashed against the village of Bannay.  It was about 1 o'clock.  Olsufiev had fully recognized the danger of his situation, his generals consulting with him, were unanimous in their decision to retire on Étoges and Count Nostitz, aide of Blücher, had offered to take the responsibility of a retrograde motion on himself. However, the Russian general decided to continue the unequal and desperate struggle at Baye and Bannay.[24]  But he thought that it was time to send an officer to the Field Marshal to inform him of what was happening in front of Champaubert and especially to warn him of the presence of the Emperor.

A little before 3 o'clock, in spite of prodigies of valor, the Russians dislodged from Bannay by the Lagrange Division and part of Ney's troops, driven out of Baye by the division of Ricard, retreated to their right to the wood of Baye, to the wood of Andecy on their left and the Potence, seeking to gain Champaubert.  Afraid of being cut off from his only line of retreat, Olsufiev gave orders to General Poltoratsky to hold to the last extremity with the Apcheron (Апшерон) Regiment and Nasheburg (Нашебургский) Regiment and 9 cannons.  But soon after taking the two villages while Russian troops no longer formed in the woods and in the rugged terrain, long thin lines of skirmishers retired on Champaubert, the Emperor had pushed to his left the cavalry of Doumerc with orders to outflank the right of the Russians and debouch on the route to Paris, between Fromentières and Champaubert.  On his right, the cavalry of Bordesoulle extended the right of  Ricard.  Strongly pressed by the French infantry, Olsufiev only moved his artillery to Étoges with great difficulty,  amassing his infantry that had just been deployed as skirmishers, when informed of the presence of the cavalry on the road from Fromentières to Champaubert, he took the chance of trying to escape by pressing on and moving on Étoges.  It was too late: on the right, the cavalry of Bordesoulle had already reached the infantry of Poltoratsky, had charged, leaving just this general time to get into Champaubert[25] that the fire of the horse artillery and that of Ricard quickly made untenable.  Two negotiators sent by the French generals, when the cavalry of Bordesoulle had already completely surrounded Champaubert and when the infantry adorned the edge of the woods of La Grande-Laye, failed to disarm Poltoratsky to which the exit from Champaubert was already cut off from the corps of Olsufiev, trying to reach the woods.  The Russian squares charged on all sides by the cuirassiers Bordesoulle, decimated by fires of infantry and the French artillery, held out until their ammunition ran out, more than 1000 men and 10 cannons fell into the hands of Bordesoulle and Ricard.[26]

Olsufiev fared no better; after unsuccessfully trying to clear the passage to Étoges by bayonet, he was thrown back to a cross-road, hoping to reach the road from Épernay and reach the level of La Caure.  The confusion and the impracticality of the route in which his soldiers had to maneuver the pieces, also delayed his movement.  Surrounded on all sides by the cavalry, lacking ammunition, the greater part of his little troop was captured by the French at the level of Déserts and Grand-Étang.  Only 1500 men with 15 cannons succeeded with the generals Kornilov and Udom to break through the circle which surrounded them, by throwing themselves into the woods and back to Port-à-Binson.

"We saved our flags and our honor," old General Kornilov[27] wrote the next day.

"General Olsufiev has been attacked by 6000 horses and 2000 infantrymen," said the report of Mareschal Major.[28] "He had no cavalry and has been completely routed.  He lost nine guns and saved 15, 1500 men and two generals
escaped.  Four generals and the rest of his troops are missing."

The speed and secrecy of his march had thus permitted the Emperor to achieve the first part of his beautifully designed strategy.  He managed to direct the bulk of his forces against a portion of the army of Blücher; he arrived on its flank and had begun before the Field Marshal had believed in his presence, and added it to the news that he received in the morning from Wittgenstein informing him of the French movement on Villenauxe.[29] But Napoleon had not yet reached the goal he had proposed: the annihilation of his opponent, and the fires had not completely extinguished in Champaubert before he took his dispositions for the next day.

Napoleon's orders after Champaubert.  --At 7 o'clock in the evening orders were given to Nansouty to leave the same night with the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Divisions of the Old Guard supported by an infantry brigade of the 6th Corps, to surprise the garrison of Montmirail and send parties on Viels-Maisons.  The 3rd Cavalry Division of the Old Guard would leave at 5 o'clock in the morning and would returned to Montmirail at 8 o'clock.

Nansouty arriving before Montmirail during the night, chased away the Cossack regiment left on this point by the General Karpov.

Mortier was ordered to put in march at daybreak the cavalry division of General de France, the 2nd Division of the Old Guard and all that remained at Sézanne to come to Montmirail.  He was to leave at Sézanne a rearguard of cavalry and infantry and send a strong party of the division de France towards La Ferté-Gaucher to connect with the Leval Division.

Ney was to follow the Duke of Trévise on Montmirail and begin his movement at 6 o'clock in the morning.

In the letter he wrote to Oudinot,[30] the Emperor already previews and explains the events of the next day: "We go this night to Montmirail and we'll find Sacken between Viels-Maisons and La Ferté-sous-Jouarre; he will only retreat to Château-Thierry.  But Sacken has 20,000 men, bringing the Emperor to order you to leave the divisions of Leval and Rottembourg for tomorrow in La Ferté-Gaucher, where General Leval, with two divisions, will move to the location when he hears the guns, between Montmirail and Viels-Maisons.  If the 9th Division has not yet arrived at Melun or Nangis, and if the enemy has already started an offensive operation with the army that is threatening at Troyes and Montereau by the Yonne, do not send a division to La Ferté-Gaucher; but consider that Sacken destroyed, the battle  takes on a new light."

Lastly, Marmont, who since the battle of Montmirail, had been directed to Étoges[31] with part of his troops, was ordered to leave from Champaubert at 3 o'clock in the morning, with Ricard's division with his artillery, and head for Montmirail, guarding Étoges with the Lagrange Division and 1st Cavalry Corps, trying to learn during the night of the 10th to 11th what Blücher was doing.

"Does he intend on heading to Châlons,  on Épernay," wrote the Chief of Staff, "or does he maneuver to attack us? (You) Must impose on him to induce his retirement; this is important to us.  Once it is established that we have nothing to fear from Blücher and he is definitely retired, General Doumerc should be directed on Montmirail; the light cavalry, the Lagrange Division and 12 pieces artillery to hold a defensive position and mask from Blücher and to hide even further.  Try to send someone to Vertus and receive news."[32]

Continuation of the movement of Kleist and Kapsewitch on Fère-Champenoise.  --Battle of Linthes.  --Although warnings had not failed to reach Blücher, although the Field Marshal had received the night of the 9th to 10th, and in any case no later than the 10th in the morning, official confirmation from Wittgenstein of the movement the Emperor and his army[33] it seems that even when Olsufiev was already committed at Baye, there was little value attributed to this news and these movements.  It was preferred to share the opinion of Sacken, based on information from Karpov, that Sacken, who according to the words used by Mareschal, only attached to these movements altogether secondary importance.  What is certain is that instead of stopping Kleist and Kapsewitch, they let them continue from Vertus and Bergères to Fère-Champenoise; the advanced guard of Kleist (General von Zieten) leaving Fère-Champenoise[34] where it had arrived the day before to push through Connantre on Linthes where its tip provided by the 1st Silesian Hussars, came against a few squadrons of Polish lancers leaving from Sézanne to reconnoiter in those parts.

Clausewitz, despite all his partiality for Field Marshal, judged, with a severity that is not customarily found in his writings when it comes to the operations of Blücher, the movements of Kleist and Kapsewitch executed by his order, on Fère-Champenoise: "As the French army", he said in his Critique, "fell upon at that time Olsufiev at Champaubert, this movement was deplorable, and Blücher, if he knew of the march of the French, would certainly have preferred moving on Champaubert.  The news of the defeat of Olsufiev proved to Blücher he had made a false move and to cover the Châlons road, he hastened to send, by a night march, two corps on Bergères."  The only excuse for Blücher was to hope in his complete ignorance of the situation, to make the Emperor fall back by a simple demonstration attempted on his right flank.  One could still, strictly speaking, admit, referring to
the Kriegs Archiv. of Berlin, C. 13, IV, that this movement began at a time when the Field Marshal still believed it safe, to comply with the instructions from the General Headquarters and requesting the sending of the corps of Kleist to Nogent with the responsibility for linking the Army of Silesia with the body of Wittgenstein (VIth Corps of the Great Army).

Orders sent on the 10th in the morning to Yorck and Sacken. --It was not, in fact, the only fault committed in this day, by the commander of the Army of Silesia.  Indeed, the 10th in the morning, he had sent to Yorck and Sacken orders that came to them only in the evening and bear the imprint of indecision and uncertainty very rare in the Field Marshal .

"Based on all the information," wrote Gneisenau[35] to Yorck, "Napoleon is going from Nogent-sur-Seine by Villenauxe on Sézanne where, according to what prisoners say, he will only spend the night."

"This enemy movement may lead to a junction with Marshal Macdonald, as it may also be the beginning of an offensive operation to the Marne.  In this case, I must concentrate my army at Vertus.  If you have not started your movement on Montmirail, do it now.  Bivouac your corps and keep it concentrated so as you can move in any direction.  Push your cavalry on the road from Montmirail to Sézanne."

"As soon as I have some definite news of the march of the enemy, I will communicate it to you.  It is important not only to guard the bridge of Château-Thierry, if it is restored, but also build a pontoon bridge, so that if by misfortune the enemy cut off your corps and that of Sacken from my army, you can save yourselves on the right bank of the Marne until the arrival of the main army."

"P.S. --Let me know your position."

In the letter addressed to Sacken and which Yorck should been aware of before, the Field Marshal simply said to the Russian general that, "reunite the 10th at Montmirail with the Prussian Ist Corps, it should be able to clear the way to Vertus in case the enemy established itself between the two corps and the Field Marshal."

It follows from these orders, that the Chief of Staff of Blücher still believed a junction impossible, since he knew, at least in regard to Sacken, that he had moved on La Ferté[36] and that he had moreover, been ordered to conform to events.[37]

The singular redaction of these orders, the contradictions they contained, were not likely to clarify for Yorck. Indeed, if, as the Chief of Staff of Blücher seems to have thought under the terms of the order, Yorck had not yet moved on Montmirail, it is his corps which, where it could join forces against the enemy, that would be in the front line and would be the first to fight.  And yet Sacken is the only one given the order to open, in concert it is true, with the Ist Corps the road to Vertus, and recommend to Yorck "to save himself on the right bank of the Marne".

11 February.  --Positions of the corps of Yorck and Sacken between 9 and 10 o'clock.  --The response of Yorck to Blücher proves, however, that the commander of Ist Prussian Corps had recognized the seriousness of the situation; with his lack of constraint and his openness for ordinary language, he replied to the Field Marshal that if the Emperor continued his offensive movement, it would be impossible to effect a junction with Sacken.  He added that, with no news from Sacken, ignoring the nature of the resolutions adopted by the general and not wanting to impose on his troops the fatigues of a night march, he decided to concentrate, the 11th, his body around Viffort and push his cavalry towards Montmirail.

But Sacken, who had received a direct duplicate of the order of Blücher had left La Ferté-sous-Jouarre at 9 o'clock at night, after destroying the bridge he had repaired.  Without informing Yorck, who was, however, modifying his movements on his own, he had executed a night march in hopes to get ahead of the Emperor at Montmirail. Although he had marched all night, Sacken only got to Viels-Maisons at 9 o'clock in the morning, while the advanced guard already skirmished with the French on the side of the farm of  La Bordé.  Although he had his Cossacks report on events of the night, Sacken never the less continued to advance against the villages of the Thorn-au-Bois and Marchais-en-Brie, already occupied by the French outposts.

Yorck arrived with his main body at Viffort.  He had learned not only that the Cossacks of Karpov had been dislodged from Montmirail, but that his vanguard  had given the enemy positions to the side of Rozoy and Fontenelle-en-Brie.  Taking an accurate account of the difficulties of a situation exacerbated by the destruction of the bridge of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre that Sacken had burned to prevent a movement of Macdonald on his rear, Yorck tried one last time to divert Sacken from his projects, to prevent an engagement and  to agree to an immediate retreat on  Château-Thierry.  He sent one of his officers, Major von Schack, who joined Sacken in Viels-Maisons when the General was about to send his last orders.  Convinced that he had before him a small corps and even though Schack had said the Ist Corps could only come in to line much later and without its artillery that could not follow them, Sacken persisted in his resolve.

Positions of the French troops.  --The Emperor arrived at Montmirail, proceeded to reconnoiter the field and noted with pleasure that the two enemy corps had not yet effected a junction.[38]  The cavalry of Nansouty, joined in the morning by horse grenadiers from Sézanne had already thrown back the Russian outposts beyond the farms of Chouteaux.  The Emperor, to prevent the possible meeting of his two opponents, resolved to come and take position astride the two roads from Montmirail to Château-Thierry and from Montmirail to La Ferté-sous-Jouarre.  To stop the movement that he foresaw on his left, he immediately moved the Ricard Division in column of battalions in mass in front of Le Tremblay where it was to deploy.  Ney was to establish the second line with his two divisions to the right and left of the village.  The cavalry was deployed in support of the artillery, up to the farm of Grénaux, his left on the road, the right to the farm of Plénois.  500 men taken from the division of Ricard, extended the right of the cavalry to Bailly and occupied the woods of Plénois.  The division of Friant, on the right covered by the cavalry of General de France, was in reserve in battalion column, at the crossroads of the two roads.  The Michel Division, with Marshal Mortier, was in march on Montmirail.


[1] General Montmarie to the Minister of War, Chauconin-Neufmontiers, near Meaux, 10 February, and Marshal Macdonald to Kellermann, Épernay, 6 February. (Archives of the War.)

[2] Blücher to Schwarzenberg, Soudron, 5 February, 8 o'clock at night (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 120.)

[3] Macdonald to the Chief of Staff, Saint-Pierre-aux-Oies, 5 February, 1l o'clock at night. (Archives of the War.)

[4] Blücher to Schwarzenberg, Soudron, 5 February, 8 o'clock at night. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 121.)

Major Mareschal confirmed in his report from Fère-Champenoise, 5 February (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 122) the information, saying among other things to the Generalissimo: "Field Marshal Blücher is going with two columns to attack Châlons to cut off the enemy.  The enemy retreats on Vertus and La Ferté-sous-Jouarre pursued by our cavalry.  The prisoners sent by Yorck this morning saying that Châlons and Vitry are evacuated.  The army will go tomorrow to Vertus and Épernay."

[5] Major Mareschal to Prince Schwarzenberg, Soudron, 6 February, 2 o'clock afternoon (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 165).

[6] It is here clearly not the 4th, but the 3rd Cavalry Corps.  It is, moreover, to be noted that Sebastiani commanded the 5th Corps and that Exelmans was the head of the 2nd Cavalry Corps.

[7] Macdonald, Orders of Movement, and Macdonald to the Chief of Staff, Épernay, 6 February, 10 o'clock in the morning, 3 o'clock in the afternoon and 6 o'clock in the evening. (Archives of the War.)

[8] One finds on this date two interesting accounts in History of the 1st Uhlan Regiment of Brandenburg no 3, by Major von Guretzky-Cornitz.

The Major recounts that after the Prussian troops, drank the champagne at Châlons, they had broken the empty bottles along the roads.  The resulting glass from these broken bottles was so numerous that it was only with difficulty that the cavalry and especially the artillery could reach to use the roads.

The other fact mentioned by the Major is no less curious.

When the bridge was once more passable at Châlons, we crossed with Lieutenant-Colonel von Stutterheim, who mounted the road of Vertus and Étoges.  But this route had been assigned to the corps of Sacken, who was given the order to take the high road to Paris. The French were thus able to gain time, and it was only at the level of Aulnay that Major Count Schmettow managed to make contact with the French rearguard with the 2nd Squadron of Brandenburg Uhlans. Two regiments of French cavalry were in battle formation on the left of the road.  Too weak to attack them with a single squadron, the Major, in awaiting the arrival of the rest of the advanced guard, pushed himself with his flankers against those of the French.  But to his surprise he saw the French vedettes lower their carbines, put their swords in their scabbards, waving bottles of champagne and inviting them with gestures to his horsemen to approach.  The uhlans who had acquired a taste for champagne in traversing Châlons accepted the invitation of French horsemen and fraternally toasted with them.  It was not without difficulty that the Major was able to recall them.

The French cavalry withdrew shortly after and established itself in the evening before Plivot. Schmettov followed until, reinforced by three squadrons, he attacked in the evening and drove them from Plivot.

[9] Macdonald to the minister, Port-à-Binson, 7 February, noon. (Archives of the War.)

[10] A reinforcement of 3,000 men who were to arrive the 7th in La Ferté-sous-Jouarre with General Minot, had left Paris the 6th to join the corps of the Marshal.

[11] The corps of Kleist consisted on its arrival at Châlons of 17 1/2 battalions of infantry (including 8 reserve), 12 cavalry squadrons (including 4 landwehr), 2 batteries (including 1 horse), representing at that time an effective strength of 9,000 men with 16 guns (Blücher to Schwarzenberg; K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 237). The Field Marshal ascribed in the same document the strength of Kapsewitch's corps as 8,000 men.

[12] In his dispatch to the Chief of Staff, from Dormans, 10 o'clock at night, the Marshal added: "If I can give a few days of rest, replace arms and recover the horses' condition and receive reinforcements, I will do battle with my little army.  But I do not count much on the conscripts of the Young Guard.  Their chief says they do not know how to turn right, I fear that making a half turn would be too much.  Where is the Emperor?  What movement does he make?"  (Archives of the War.)

[13] Blücher only received February 9th the letter of the Emperor Alexander.

[14] Blücher to Schwarzenberg, Vertus, 9 February (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 237).

[15] The corps of Kapsewitch having left Mainz, arrived the 8th in Châlons.  Kleist had halted there.

[16] Blücher to Schwarzenberg, Vertus, 9 February (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 237), and Macdonald to the Chief of Staff, Crézancy, 10 o'clock in the morning, and Château-Thierry, 8 February. (Archives of the War.)

[17] Major Mareschal to Schwarzenberg, Vertus, 10 February, 10 o'clock in the morning. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 262).

[18] Macdonald to the Chief of Staff and the Minister, Saint-Jean-les-Deux-Jumeaux, 9 February, 10 o'clock at night. (Archives of the War.)

[19] Macdonald to the Chief of Staff and the Minister, Saint-Jean-les-Deux-Jumeaux, 9 February, 10 o'clock at night. (Archives of the War.)

[20] Major Mareschal to Schwarzenberg, Vertus, 10 February, 10 o'clock in the morning. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 262).

[21] Blücher to Schwarzenberg, Vertus, 9 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II. 237.)  According to the report of Major Mareschal (Ibid., II, 262), the vanguard of Kleist was already the 9th at Fère-Champenoise.

[22] Based on Kriegsgeschichtliche Einzelschriften, this would have happened, in fact, not the 9th, but February 8 in the evening shortly after the arrival of the Field Marshal who had transferred his headquarters on 8 February and not 9 February  to Étoges.  Blücher have even sent 8 February a dispatch from Étoges to Sacken.

[23] Blücher to Yorck, Vertus, 9 February evening.  --Count Nostitz sent by Olsufiev to Champaubert, pushed, now a reconnaissance that revealed the presence of French in Sézanne.  He immediately informed Blücher thinking that the Field Marshal had prescribed Olsufiev to move more on Montmirail. (NOSTITZ, Tagebuch, Kriegsgeschichtliche Einzelschriften).

[24] The Russian authors and Count Nostitz in his Tagebuch claim that Olsufiev refused to surrender to the advice of his generals, because at Brienne, he had been criticized for not having taken the side of the city in which the French entered unnoticed and nearly even taken Blücher and Sacken.  These two generals were, on this occasion, extremely hard on Olsufiev.  Sacken had also severely criticized the way Olsufiev had committed his troops at La Rothière.

[25] The Emperor had not waited until the end of the battle to inform Macdonald, and after 3 o'clock, the Chief of Staff had sent from Baye, to the Duke of Tarente, the dispatch below:

"The Emperor, as I have told you, made a flanking movement on the enemy: we found the enemy at Baye, we have crushed them.  It was Sacken (a): he is cut off.  We are at Champaubert; it seems part of his corps is at Montmirail and the other behind it; it is only 3 o'clock and we pursue the enemy with numerous cavalry.  I look at this affair as the harbinger of many other successes." (Archives of the War.)

(a) It seems unnecessary to correct the error committed here by the name of Chief of Staff.

[26] Journal of Poltoratsky.

[27] Report of Major General Kornilov, 30 January/11 February, no 235.

[28] 'Major Mareschal to Prince Schwarzenberg, Bergères, 11 February, 10 o'clock in the morning.  (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 287.)  --Mareschal added: "The corps that was beaten by the enemy consisted of the 9th and 15th Divisions. The flags of the 15th Division and two of the 9th were saved."

[29] Major Mareschal to Prince Schwarzenberg, Vertus, 10 February, 10 o'clock in the morning. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 262.)

[30] Chief of Staff to Oudinot, Sézanne, 10 February. (Records of Berthier, Archives of the War.)

[31] The report of Mareschal to Schwarzenberg, Bergères, 11 February, 10 o'clock in the morning (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 281) shows that Blücher knew immediately after the occupation of Étoges. He believed, however, that there were few there.

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

[33] Major Mareschal to Schwarzenberg, Vertus, 10 February, 10 o'clock in the morning. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 262.)

[34] In publishing their 5th and 6th editions (livraisons) of 1889, the journal of Count Nostitz, Kriegsgeschichtliche Einzelschriften reported, about the short stay made by Blücher at Fère-Champenoise a curious episode.  The jäger of Blücher who rode immediately behind him and always had a special mission to give him his coat and prepare his pipe, was sitting on a bench in front of the headquarters.  Holding in his hands the reins of his horse, he was fast asleep.  Awakened with a start at the departure time, he saw with amazement that he only had the ends of the reins. The horse had disappeared with the mantle and pipes of the Field Marshal.  Blücher, very upset about the loss of objects to which he was so used, forced his jäger to give up his horse.  The horse was recovered a long time afterwards among the Cossacks who had robbed him, but the pipes and coat had naturally disappeared.

[35] Blücher to Yorck, Vertus, 10 February, 7 o'clock in the morning.

[36] Major Mareschal to Schwarzenberg, Vertus, 10 February, 10 o'clock in the morning. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 262).

[37]CLAUSEWITZ, Critique of the Campaign of 1814

[38] "We entered Montmirail at midnight.  Before 4 o'clock, Sacken had to know the state of the situation.  What will happen today?  Will the move to Montmirail open his communications?  He would find himself caught between two fires.  Does he abandon the line of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre to Montmirail for falling back to Chateau-Thierry with his communications provided by the road from Épernay to Châlons..." (Records of Berthier, Archives of the War.) The Emperor, as we seen, was relying on the cooperation of Macdonald and still unaware of the destruction of the bridge of Trilport.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2012


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