Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter 9

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)






26-30 January 1814. --Positions of the belligerents. --Information gathered by Maison. --The advanced guard of Winzingerode in Namur. --At the time of the betrayal of the people let Bois-le-Duc fall into the hands of General von Hobe, General Maison, who was moved on Louvain to mass with General Castex, occupied in the last days of January, behind the Dyle and the Nete Rivers from Leuven to Mechelen and Lier, a position in which the right was completely uncovered by the departure of the Duke of Tarente and threatened by the march of the advanced guard of Winzingerode from Namur. Bülow continued to hold near Breda. As we have already noted in Chapter IV, Maison, providing at that time only in accordance with instructions from Paris and by continuing to remain in the vicinity of Antwerp, being soon be unable to cover the old borders of France, had resolved to await the movements of Bülow before making a definitive departure. He used the last days of January to prepare for retirement, while closely monitoring near Namur. The information he collected signaled on the one hand, the presence of the Russian cavalry in Namur and the appearance of Allied scouts around Louvain; on the other, reconnaissance sent along the route of Brussels had reached up to Sombreffe. As the Russians seemed to have the intention to spread out in Hainaut once the bulk of their vanguard had reached Namur, to push towards Ath and Tournai parties that would stir up the country side, which would compromise his line of operations and retirement, Maison had, on 28 January, given the order for Castex to withdraw to Brussels, while still holding some infantry posts in the forest of Soignies, and pushing parties of cavalry to Nivelles. The Barrois Division remained at the same time in Mechelen.

The next day the 29th, Winzingerode's movements were accentuated. The Russian infantry began to arrive in Namur; the Russian light cavalry had been reinforced in Sint-Truiden and Tirlemont and the flying corps of Major Hellwig was established in Diest. The position of Maison on the Dyle and Nete was becoming worse day by day. Too weak to attack Bülow, who did not move, unable to defend Belgium and simultaneously cover Antwerp, threatened at Namur by the presence of Chernishev, who arrived before him at Mons and cut off Maubeuge and Valenciennes, finally fearing an attack against Leuven, General Maison kept demanding an order authorizing him to abandon Antwerp to its own forces and to withdraw to the Lille-Condé line.

"Belgium is lost," he wrote from Leuven on 28 January to the Minister of War,[1] "by the act of a massing at Namur forces that have nothing opposing them," and he added that if, before the arrival of the Emperor's orders requiring him to evacuate Belgium, he came to be attacked, he would be hard pressed to win Ghent and Lille, to reach either by Tournai, up the Scheldt, or by Kortrijk following the course of Lys.

28 January 1814. --Movement of the flying corps of Hellwig on Leuven. --Surprise of a Prussian position at Dieleghem. --However, from the 28th, Leuven was attacked by the Prussians of Major Hellwig, who could not, it is true, remain and the French infantry was redirected on Tienen. But this movement was enough to influence General Barrois to fall back on Brussels and evacuate Mechelen that Maison soon reoccupied with a battalion, 50 horses and two pieces of cannon. On the side of Antwerp, where the positions at Westmalle were already disturbed the 25th, the Duke of Plaisance had sent to Lier, the 11th Tirailleurs Regiment; the cavalry that drove out 150 Prussian horses came from Herentals, while a reconnaissance of French cavalry and infantry took at Dieleghem a small Allied cavalry post which was guarded by locals. All these indices allowed one to assume that, as a result of the arrival of the Duke of Clarence (the third son of King George III ) with a few thousand men, Bülow and the English would soon each resume operations for them.

29-30 January 1814. --Movements of Bülow and Borstell. --Retreat of Maison on Brussels. --Fortunately for Maison, Bülow before joining Blucher and leaving Belgium immediately after the arrival of the IIIrd German Confederation Corps (Duke Bernard of Saxe-Weimar), who had started his movement from Saxony to the Rhine 2 January, renounced by condescension for the Duke of Clarence, to move right on the Brabant.

He agreed to lend his support once again to another attempt against Antwerp, although he was convinced that a second attack by force would not be more successful than the first. The French general escaped the danger he would have run against a combined operation of Bülow and Winzingerode against Brussels. He therefore brought all his attention to his right, worried by the movements of the Russian cavalry. The news he received on this side was far from reassuring. Russian riders had continued the 29th to scour the countryside on the side of Fleurus, Genappe and Nivelles; the gathering of Russian troops in Namur became increasingly significant. Naturally ignoring changes Bülow had inflicted upon his projects, not foreseeing the advanced guard of Winzingerode, instead of continuing on Mons, would, without seriously entering Belgium, head a few days later on Philippeville and Avesnes, seeing, the 30th in the morning, all reconnaissance sent from Leuven on Aarschot, Diest, Tienen, and Wavre, strongly thrown back on this city, knowing that the General Meuziau, who commanded there, expecting at any moment or the other to be attacked, Maison left Mechelen and Leuven and withdrew to Brussels.

Bülow had stopped, with the English, the dispositions for the attack on Antwerp. But, making sure above all and before attempting anything against this place, the security of his left and rear, Bülow began operations by giving the General von Borstell order to cover this side and push it in order from Hoogstraten, first on Lier, then if it could be done on Mechelen, and to take a position on the Dyle. The vanguard of Borstell under the command of Colonel von Sydow (two infantry battalions, a company of jäger, a cavalry regiment (1st Hussars of the corps) and a half-horse artillery battery), reached 29 January Oostmalle and Westmalle, the 30th Pulderbos and Zandhoven. The main body (five battalions, three cavalry regiments, hussars of Pomerania, 4th Landwehr Cavalry Regiment of Kurmark, and the Pomeranian National Cavalry Regiment, two Cossack regiments and two batteries, one horsed, the other on foot), followed Colonel von Sydow a short days march, while the fraction of the Fifth Brigade, which had been with General von Hobe detached on Bois-le-Duc (three landwehr battalions and the Uhlans of West Prussia), was to come the 30th to Tilburg, the 31st to Turnhout and 1 February to Herentals.

31 January. --Affair of Lier. --Movements of the cavalry on the Seine and the Scheldt. --The information gathered during the march having made known that the French had at Lier 1,500 men and some guns, General von Borstell gathered all his advanced guard the 31st in the morning at Massenhoven, and formed them into three columns. The one, two battalions strong and with the company of jäger, was to attack Lier; three battalions and a battery serving it to support the cavalry and two battalions remained in reserve.

At 1 o'clock in the afternoon, the French outposts of Lier were attacked simultaneously by three columns debouching by the roads from Berlaar, from Herentals and Turnhout. This last column was divided to provide the troops take Lier from behind by the road of Antwerp. After a combat that was relatively lively and cost them a lot of people, the Prussians succeeded in capturing Lier. But, despite all the efforts of their cavalry, they failed to cut off from Antwerp, Colonel Vautrin falling in perfect order with his regiment (11th Tirailleurs) and his 60 horse, taking advantage of the least depression in the terrain to stop the pursuit, making headway every moment, without ever being slowed from the start, and succeeded, without losing one of his pieces, to take a position at Berchem where he had left a battalion and its four cannons. Borstell stopped on his side at Boechout and at Mortsel where he posted a battalion, three squadrons and a half battery. A regiment of French infantry and cavalry that had at the sound of cannon, proceeded from Antwerp to Vremde, to disengage Colonel Vautrin arrived too late as the colonel had already passed the crossroads of Antwerp to Lier, and Antwerp to Mechelen, and had not been slow to return to Borgerhout.

In the end to comply fully with the orders of Bülow, Borstell believing Maison still at Mechelen and Leuven, had immediately pushed the parties of cavalry to Duffel (on the Nete) and towards Waelhem in the direction of Mechelen, while the Cossacks of Chernozubov went further south to Leuven. In this way, and from the 31st in the evening, he had knowledge of the retirement of Maison on Brussels, the evacuation of Mechelen by the French and occupation of Leuven by the flying corps of Major Hellwig. This information allowed Borstell not only to be able to push the next day on Mechelen, as he was ordered, but also to send a detachment of his van guard to monitor at Willebroek the crossings of the Nete, while Colonel von Sydow would settle on the Seine in Vilvoorde. Also on the far left a post of 60 horses was directed on Leuven, connecting with the Cossacks of Chernozubov at the right of Winzingerode and worry the right flank of the French positions. On the far right of the positions occupied by Borstell, Colonel Melnikoff with his Cossacks and Captain von Blankenberg made their way on Dendermonde, Aalst and Ghent, with the mission to scout between the Scheldt and the Dender.

Maison evacuates Brussels. --Orders to the cavalry of Castex. --Maison took advantage of the afternoon and evening of the 30th to reunite all his people in Brussels. From the 31st in the morning, he had General Castex with two battalions, a squadron and mounted gendarmes leave for Nivelles, to scout on this side; it was there, not being bothered that he went 1 February up to Rœulx to survey the road from Charleroi, then searching the 2nd to push up Péronnes-lez-Binche and destroy the bridges of the Haine from Binche to Maurage. In case of meeting with superior forces, Castex had orders to jump back towards Nivelles in Braine-le-Comte or Soignies. The infantry left Brussels in two echelons: the first with General Chambarlhac, left Brussels at 9 o'clock in the morning to gain Saintes the same day, in crossing by Hal and the road of Enghien, continuing up to Ath 1 February, and the 2nd on Tournai where Chambarlhac would meet the troops coming from the direction of Ghent. General Barrois, leaving at noon, did not exceed in principle Anderlecht on the road to Hal, not far from Brussels. General Penne went to Mons to take command of some troops found there; General Meuziau was left alone in front of Brussels, scouting the roads from Leuven, but with strict orders to avoid commitment to withdraw to the city, then cross it and evacuate if he was pressured by the enemies corps.

While the advanced guard of the IIIrd Corps and the Freikorps of Hellwig thus facilitated the operations against Antwerp, Bülow had left the 30th the cantonments of Breda and the English had left Bergen-op-Zoom and Rozendaal .

1 February 1814. --Battle of Deurne. --The 1st of February, at 8 o'clock in the morning, the Prussians began to move on Wyneghem. The English, coming through Brasschaat on Merksem, were to form the right of the attack. As the works of Deurne had barely begun, the defense had, in the presence of the considerable deployment of Allied troops abandoned Wyneghem; but the Duke of Plaisance had established outposts halfway between Deurne and Wyneghem, guarding the bridge of the canal of Herentals and charged Colonel Vautrin to hold the position of Berchem. The Aymard Brigade occupied Deurne and provided outposts to Wyneghem; the Flamand Brigade was in reserve at the entrance of Borgerhout.

At noon, the Prussians, after occupying Wyneghem, debouched four columns by Schoten, Wyneghem, Wommelgem and Borsbeek. Those of General von Thümen advanced on Wyneghem by the roadway of Deurne. Enfiladed by the French artillery fire, they came to the park of Rivierenhof against the troops of General Aymard. After trying in vain to take the village, after engaging all his people and fighting relentlessly from noon until 6 o'clock, Thümen only succeeded in forcing the French to cede Deurne when the Krafft Brigade threatened to outflank the position of General Aymard, when one of his battalions were able to approach the bridge of the Schijn and after the Duke of Plaisance sent to General Aymard the order to abandon the smoking ruins of Deurne to the Prussians. Thinking that the fire would prevent Thümen from debouching from Deurne, the General began his retreat on Borgerhout in perfect order and without haste. But the Prussian troops crossed the village at a run, extending on their right, they were already on the verge of cutting off the retreat of the brigade when General Roguet saw in time the danger threatening General Aymard. Without wasting a minute, he threw forward two squadrons of the Red Lancers of squad leader Briqueville who he had on hand, while two battalions of Aymard executed with bayonet a counter attack against the flanks of the Prussians. Charged in their front by lancers, taken by sharpshooters on the flanks, cut off from the bridge and the village of Deurne, the Prussians were thrown out of the village into the marshes along the road and all those who escaped the lances of the cavalry and infantry bayonets drowned falling through the ice broken by their weight. Thümen was forced to evacuate Deurne, where the Aymard Brigade went behind him, withdrew from the roadway and had to be confined to leave during the night of the 1st to 2nd to Deurne, some observation posts.

Movements and battles of the channel of Herentals and Brasschaat. --The other columns were little happier. While the column of General von Krafft was able, thanks to the taking of Wyneghem, to occupy Schoten that General Ambert defended quite weakly before retiring on Merksem, on the left column (General von Oppen) was stopped all day by the resistance of the French on the bridge of the Herentals channel, so that the cavalry arrived in the evening at Wommelgem and only after a long detour.

The demonstration against Berchem by some troops of General von Borstell was easily repelled by Colonel Vautrin. Finally, at the far right, the English delayed in their march by the weight of their pieces of heavy artillery, only reached Brasschaat rather late in the afternoon, driving out the French, but could not impede their retirement on Merksem where they took positions.

The gallant conduct of the French troops in Deurne, the skill with which generals Roguet and Aymard had taken advantage of the terrain, had foiled the plans of the Allies. Far from being able to surprise the town and conduct a coup de main, the attack of the Anglo-Prussians was not even allowed to get close enough to be able to start a bombardment of Antwerp that evening. The defense had won one day and it was a huge advantage for a place whose seizure was far from complete.

2 February 1814. --Taking of Merksem. --The English establish their batteries. --Bombardment of Antwerp. --The 2nd at daybreak, after a council of war held during the night, the Allied batteries opened fire along the whole line: at 10 o'clock, the English of Graham attacked Merksem; Thümen reported again against Deurne and Oppen against the bridge of Herentals. After several hours of fighting, the young troops of General Ambert buckled at Merksem and were forced to retreat under fire from British batteries, up to behind the dyke of Ferdinand and the bridge of Dam-Eilandje; their right to the Borgerhout cemetery. But neither in Deurne, nor Herentals could the breaking of the resistance of the French be brought about, who took advantage of the night to evacuate positions that the retirement of General Ambert and the movement of the English had made untenable.

The only benefit gained by the Allies consisted for them in the possibility of now establishing a siege battery near the dam of Ferdinand, in advance of Merksem; this had been dearly bought by the Prussians for whom the two days had cost more than 700 men. Driven with activity during the night of the 2nd to 3rd, the attack works were sufficiently advanced that the English could begin bombarding the 3rd at noon. But the town was already able to respond, the fleet having nothing to fear from the fire of the English, and Carnot, from whom the Emperor did not hesitate to accept the services, had just arrived in Antwerp. The outcome of the enterprise attempted by the Allies was no longer doubtful, and when 6 February the Anglo-Prussian having exhausted their ammunition, they hastened to decamp during the night of 6 to 7 and abandon an operation whose failure, already likely a result of the fighting of February 1 and 2, had become in some presence of conservative and aggressive measures taken by the new governor.

Retreat of the English on Rozendaal (6-7 February). --Arrival of the IIIrd German Confederation Corps in Breda. --The English left their outposts at Wyneghem, returning to Rozendaal and Hoogstraten, charging only a few posts to scout the roads of Schoten, Heeckeren and Braschaët. Bülow, about to be relieved by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar (IIIrd Confederation Corps), whose troops had arrived in Breda on the 5th and the 6th after having crossed the Rhine at Arnhem, Rhenen, Kuylenberg. Bösckam and Vreeswyk, the Waal at Bommel and Gameren and the Meuse at Aalsten, only had left outposts in Mortsel and was preparing to reach a point in advance of Brabant in turning to join Blücher.

The IIIrd Prussian Corps did not wait long to be replaced by the Saxons below Antwerp and a corps of Dutch troops occupied Westmalle, Wuustwezel, Brasschaat, Lier and Bunhout, then spread across the country from Wuustwezel up to the Nete and to Brussels.

1 February 1814. --Hellwig and Naryshkin in Brussels. --Borstell, in fully supporting his demonstration against Berchem attempted the 1st of February an attack against Antwerp, was at the same time pushing along with his main body to Mechelen, while the flying body of Major Hellwig, joined by Cossacks of Naryshkin, entered on his side in Brussels, after harassing throughout the night of 31 January to 1 February, the French cavalry positions established before the city. General Maison could hold out, if he wanted a few more days in Brussels. But as the capital of Brabant was not one of these positions it was possible to defend with so few troops, he thought it wise and humane, in the presence of the fermentation of spirits and bad dispositions of the populace, to spare the city the suppression of a revolt, the horrors of a useless struggle, the retaliation of partisans, and shelter from looting and sacking, with a retreat to which he would, moreover, have to shortly resign himself after the march of Borstell and the concentration of the Russians of Winzingerode on the side of Namur.

Positions occupied by Maison. --At his command, the last French troops left Brussels on 1 February. The advanced guard brigade came to settle in Halle, another brigade in Tubize; the cavalry vanguard camped at Lembeek and Elbeek, pushed to Ronquières a party of 400 to 500 horses, to observe the outlet of Nivelles on Braine-le-Comte. General Ledru from Essarts was to seek to gather troops from Tournai; General Penne had orders to do so in Mons and Binche, to quickly strengthen General Maison, who with 4,000 men at his disposal, sought to hold as long as possible in the position he had taken around Tubize.

Hellwig has not stood still in Brussels. His party had shown up in the evening at Aalst, and their appearance had forced the small French detachment of 200 men stationed at Ghent, to evacuate the city and retire into Kortrijk on the night of 1 to 2 February.

2 February 1814. --Affair of Willebroek, Hemiksem (Saint-Bernard) and Ronquières. --On 2 February, the post of Pomeranian hussars established by Borstell at Willebroek, took at the place where the Brussels canal leads to the Nete, a convoy of eleven 16 pound pieces and 20 gun carriages that the French were trying to slip by water on Antwerp. Another patrol had managed to get into by surprise the Abbey of Saint-Bernard and had taken an officer and 40 men, with 14 wagons of food, supplies and military equipment they were to escort .

A strong column of about a thousand men had left Brussels, heading on Halle and another consisting of 800 horses, took the road to Nivelles and menaced the French position at Ronquières. Finally, Winzingerode arrived in person at Namur, led the vanguard, under the command of Chernishev on Philippeville to feel out the town and take it by a coup de main.

3-4 February 1814. --Movements of the Allied cavalry. --Reconnaissance of Halle. --On the 3rd, the Allies had already significantly strengthened the troops occupying Brussels. Their cavalry was seen simultaneously on the whole line of French posts. But before Namur, on the side where Maison daily expected the Russians to attack, so as to cut off his line of retreat on Valenciennes, there was only a reconnaissance made against the bridge of Le Havre, by a hundred Cossacks who had retreated almost without a struggle in the direction of Binche. The General had rightly concluded that Winzingerode in not conducting any serious undertaking on Namur by Mons, was defiling on the Ardennes, and it would be him alone in Belgium before Bülow and the corps from Waal, which would not take long to begin operations against him.

4-5 February 1814. --Affair of Mons. --The movements of 4 February had proven to the commander of the 1st Corps that his assumptions are well founded.

Hardly had the advanced guard of Borstell entered Brussels on the morning of the 4th, than the general sent a detachment on Halle composed of a battalion, a squadron and a half battery, under the command of Colonel von Sydow, responsible to seek, with the help of Cossacks and Hellwig to know the intentions of Maison, still at Halle. The Colonel, stationing them on the roadway, pushing Hellwig on his right and on his left the Cossacks, could immediately see the presence of the French at the position they had occupied for three days; but at the same time he had the good fortune to take a courier carrying dispatches that made him assume that before making a retreat, the French general would try something on Mons.

General Penne, who had held the city with 600 to 700 conscripts barely able to load their weapons, had just been attacked seriously enough in the morning by 500 to 600 horsemen coming from Nivelles and heading for Binche. These horsemen had tried unsuccessfully entering Mons throwing themselves at the same time on several of the city gates. At 11 o'clock, with the news that infantry troops were heading on Mons, Maison sent out a regiment of light infantry, 4 pieces and 100 horses, and ordered Penne to attack, while authorizing, if he was pressed by forces too superior in number, to withdraw to Valenciennes and Condé. Although he managed to completely clear Mons, General Penne thought it wiser not stay there, and at 5 in the morning, he retired to Valenciennes.

General Castex, who observed Nivelles, had informed Maison that the movement on Mons seemed serious enough to force him to retreat from Henripont on Soignies and Lens, because he feared if he remained longer in a position, being overwhelmed and cut off by the troops occupying Rœulx.

These new and retrograde movements of his lieutenants were to have the effect of forcing Maison to leave his position from Tubize and Halle. However, before doing so, he ordered General Obert, his chief of staff, taking, in passing Soignies, the cavalry of Castex and returning with it the 5th at night to Mons, where we found no one and where they remained until six in the evening. The Allied scouts and parties that had worried Penne 48 hours earlier, only appeared there when the general retired and did not think to follow.

6 February 1814. --Maison falls back on Ath. --Movement orders of Bülow. --Henceforth, too idle at Tubize and Halle, knowing from General Obert, that General Penne had evacuated Mons to the new movement of Russians on Philippeville and Maubeuge, Maison, seeing more fresh troops constantly directed before Brussels, went the 6th for a good day's march back to Ath.

The 7th in the morning, Colonel von Sydow with two battalions, a regiment of hussars and four pieces, had settled in Enghien, while those of Hellwig had flanked the left of the French column posting themselves at Lessines.

On 6 February, the same day the continued bombardment of Antwerp was given up, Bülow had resolved to push his available troops to within Belgium and had ordered them to mass on Brussels the 8th. The agreement signed on the 7th with the garrison of Gorcum which undertook to give back the town the 20th, if it was not relieved up to that time, would further allow him to dispose of the Zielinsky Brigade.

7 February 1814. --Movements of Bülow and Borstell. --Maison at Tournai. --At Lier, where he had established his headquarters and where he met the 7th, with the Duke Bernard of Saxe-Weimar, Bülow determined, together with the Duke, the area of operations attributed to their troops.

The bulk of the IIIrd German Confederation Corps (seven battalions, two squadrons, two batteries) should move the 8th from Breda on Mechelen; five battalions, two squadrons and two horse batteries would come immediately to Lier with General von Gablenz to cooperate with the blockade of Antwerp. Furthermore, this detachment was joined by the three battalions of the 4th Reserve Infantry Regiment and two squadrons of Brandenburg Dragoons, left at Antwerp by Bülow and now responsible with linking Gablenz with the headquarters of Graham established at Groot-Zundert. The troops of Borstell (ten battalions, fourteen squadrons and twenty cannons), forming a total of nearly 10,000 men with 1,628 horses and the flying corps of Major Hellwig (three squadrons of hussars, a volunteer mounted jäger squadron, a volunteer foot jäger battalion) were also designated to stay in Belgium and participate in subsequent operations of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who only had 11,000 men and 1,600 horses at his disposal. Finally, the Russian Colonel Baron Geismar was ordered to move, with a small flying corps (a squadron of uhlans, one of hussars and the Cossacks of Chernozubov) from Mechelen to Lessines and maneuver on the rear of the French. We will expose in detail in Chapter XII, the first episodes of this remarkable raid of Geismar, during the days from February 14 to March 4.

With the rest of his troops, the 4th and 6th Brigades, which were to be joined later by the 3rd Brigade (General Zielinsky) his reserve cavalry, his artillery and the flying corps of Lützow, von Bülow was a few days later to take from Brussels the direction on Laon. While the Duke of Saxe-Weimar established his headquarters in Brussels, Bülow moved, with the bulk of his corps, to Mechelen and entered Brussels the 8th, where he remained until the 13th. The 9th, the main body of the troops of Borstell approached the positions of Maison and came to Braine-le-Comte; General von Hobe, who formed the vanguard of Bülow, already occupied Mons with three battalions, the Hussars of Pomerania and a horse artillery battery.

As Borstell and Sydow continued to advance, one from Condé and Valenciennes, the other on Ath, and nearly 7,000 men of the IIIrd German Confederation Corps were with the General Lecoq in march on Mechelen and Brussels, Maison decided, the 9th in the morning to push his troops on Tournai, where they occupied Leuze, the 8th, and monitored the central position on the Scheldt the roads from Valenciennes, from Oudenaarde, from Courtrai and from Menen.

9-11 February. --Tips of the Allied cavalry. --Letter of Maison to the Minister of War. --The Cossacks of Bihalov entered Ghent on the 10th; some Prussian hussars had taken possession of Bruges the 11th; Ypres was threatened. During the night of the 10th to 11th, the inhabitants had spiked the pieces and thrown into the water the shells and ammunition. Russian and Prussian scouts appeared around Ostend and Nieuwpoort.

On the right Maison, the situation was not any more reassuring. The 10th and 11th, the Cossacks and Prussian scouts, coming from the side of Mons, had pushed on Valenciennes to Saint-Saulve and Onnaing. Another party, followed by a few infantry, debouched from the wood of Bonsecours and pushing up to a kilometer from Condé, had skirmished to the side of Vieux-Condé and then appeared on the road from Quiévrain to Condé, before retreating on Péruwelz. Still further to the right, the Cossacks had appeared towards Landrecy and towards Maubeuge.

The position of Maison was made more critical by desertions which the efforts of his officers failed to arrest its progress. The letter that the General wrote to the Minister from Tournai,[2] the day after these raids, gives a sad picture of the situation on the northern frontier and difficulties of all kinds against which Maison had to contend:

"I did everything in my power to keep the towns. For a long time I had sent them the generals Le Noury ​​and de Maureilhan. The first organized citizen cannon companies, since there were no soldiers or officers of that arm in several places. He pressed and set the work and armed. General de Maureilhan did the same for engineering. General Penne tried to organize the city militias; they didn't exist anywhere and did not want to train. In general, the spirit of the people is cold and evil, perhaps more than in Belgium. I do not recognize old France."

"I have only gathered up 500 men from Landrecies and Le Quesnoy in the hope of keeping in the field much longer. But at the moment I can fall back to Lille and Tournai, I will returned to the cities. Landrecies is not immune from a coup de main and has few supplies: there are only 6 to 700 men in that town. Quesnoy has 600, Maubeuge 1000."

"These two towns are in good shape and have some provisions. Valenciennes has 2,000 men and Condé 600. When I arrived here, there was almost nothing for their maintenance. I did take by force and then throw in that town today a considerable consignment of grain and eighty cattle coming to Valenciennes. The convoy met at Maulde. Lille is a little better stocked than others. I press all the returnees and especially gather the military. The civil authority is absolutely powerless. The people no longer are bothered by the military executions."

"I will only have at Lille about 4,000 men, but absolutely nothing in Douai, Bouchain and Cambrai. Your Excellency should not have recently withdrawn from this region the battalions of the 19th and 23rd. I do not have one man to put in these towns. I put at the disposal of General Brenier-Montmorand the battalions of the 29th and 36th for covering Ypres and Nieuport, where there was nothing. I cannot do more; I think, as important as Ypres is, he will have to abandon it. This city can be taken by a handful of men. If the enemy presents itself, the only inhabitants will run away leaving a small garrison. Moreover, the site is not in a state or protected from a coup de main."

"In trying to keep everything, we lose everything. I speak to Your Excellency with the frankness of a soldier in despair and overcome with the pain of seeing our unfortunate position. I will hold out here as I can, to keep Douai, where I do not have to put a battalion. It is unnecessary to request information from the General Brenier-Montmorand. His location is known to me. He cannot give up anything else. If there was patriotism and devotion among the people, our situation would be bearable, but we are far from it. I am not without concern for Valenciennes. The spirit is very bad, as well as in Douai. The people say they do not want to suffer a second siege. I have ordered Carra-Saint-Cyr to fight against the enemy and against the people, if they dare betray their duty."

"It follows from all this that Landrecies, Le Quesnoy, Maubeuge, Condé, Lille and Valenciennes are immune to a coup de main, but cannot withstand a siege; that Douai, Bouchain, Cambrai, Ypres and Dunkirk are a little at the mercy of the enemy. I do not have to hide this from Your Excellency, it is my duty to tell him. It is only the battalions that are defending towns and provinces; the purest zeal, the most absolute devotion and that will last as long as it will, as I can do nothing."

"The enemy has called for the surrender of Condé the 10th. Yesterday, the 11th, 10,000 men approached the town; which fired a few shots at them. Valenciennes was also called upon. General Carra-Saint-Cyr did not want to receive the negotiator. He brought out some troops and pushed back the skirmishers, who came onto the glacis. The enemy main body took position in Saint-Saulve. Landrecies was also felt out by the enemy."

"The troops that I have in front of me, and which are commanded by Bülow, passed the Scheldt (Escaut) at Escanaffles and threaten my left side and my communications with Lille. I placed yesterday General Meuziau in strength on my left side with three chasseur squadrons and a battalion. He took position at Lannoy and watches the stream of the Espierre from Spiere-Helkijn (Espierres-Helchin) up to Wattrelos. General Henry, who is in Menen had a post in Kortrijk (Courtrai): he was forced to evacuate. The enemy entered this town on the 10th. All its movements are designed to get me to leave my post at Tournai, which I will not do for cavalry movements or the advanced guard, but only when the main Bülow's corps appears for support."

Fortunately for Maison, Bülow would not be able to support the tips of scouts and incursions of the Cossacks.

13 February 1814. --March of Bülow on Laon. --While Maison reported to the Minister, the Crown Prince of Sweden, Bernadotte arrived in Cologne, sent to Bülow, whose corps was part of his army the order to concentrate his troops around Mons and to expect new instructions. But the Prussian general, informed by Winzingerode of the checks sustained by Blücher in Champagne, had already decided to press as soon as possible his movement towards the Aisne and follow Winzingerode whose march and operations we will discuss a little further on.

Although Bülow no longer remained in a country evacuated by the French, the troops of the IIIrd German Confederation Corps were more than sufficient to observe Antwerp together with the English and completing the conquest of Belgium. Before beginning his march towards France, Bülow had even advised the Duke of Saxe-Weimar that the troops under the command of Borstell would cease to be assigned to him before little. But although the two generals had decided to head Borstell into France as soon as the last echelon of the IIIrd German Confederation Corps were reunited and allowing the Duke to still have the troops used at Antwerp, the entire Borstell division mostly remained in Belgium until the end of the campaign.

Arriving the 13th in Braine-le-Comte[3], the 14th in Soignies, the 15th in Jemappes, and the 16th in Mons, Blücher knew from the 17th that Bülow was setting forth the next day with about 16,000 fresh troops.

The 18th after crossing the old border at Solre-le-Château he pushed up to Pont-sur-Sambre. Passing between Maubeuge and Avesnes that he skirted, he was the 19th at Cartignies and the 20th at La Capelle. Taking the high road by Vervins, Sains and Marle he entered Laon on 24 February.

6 February 1814. --Winzingerode leaves Namur. --Movements of Chernishev and partisans of Lützow and Colomb. --Winzingerode, meanwhile, arrived in Namur on 2 February. Confiding the blockade of Maastricht to Major General Kniper with a regiment of Cossacks and the Finland Dragoons[4], he, without further ado, filed his advanced guard on Philippeville. However, believing it unwise to attempt a movement through the towns on the border while Givet, Philippeville and Maubeuge remained in French hands, still hoping that Bülow would decide to enter France at the same time as him, he remained in Namur up to the 6th. Seeing as he did not succeed in forcing Philippeville, he decided in the presence of a formal order of Emperor Alexander to leave Namur, to move on Sombreffe and prescribe his vanguard, under the command of Chernishev , to leave behind a Cossack regiment intended to mask Philippeville and move on Avesnes. While he was trying to surprise Philippeville, to distract the French and mislead the direction he intended to take, Chernishev had pushed the parties on his right to the north and west of Mons; other scouts scoured the routes on the left to Stenay and Mouzon and before his front on Maubert-Fontaine, where they appeared on 2 February and on Aubenton that a detachment occupied the 4th. The extreme left of Chernishev was still covered by the flying corps of Lützow that leaving from Liège by Huy and Rochefort, arrived the 3rd at Carignan, and Colomb, after making its junction with Lützow in Saint-Hubert on 31 January, took, around Chiny thirty men of a French squadron leaving from Sedan and then pushed up to Carignan where both partisans remained from 3 to 8 February, scouring the routes beside Stenay, Dun and in the direction of Verdun.

9 February 1814. --Chernishev at Avesnes. --Tip of the Cossacks in Reims. --During this time, Chernishev filed on Avesnes, whose inhabitants prevented the commander to defend themselves and opened the 9th, their gates to the Cossacks. From Avesnes Chernishev immediately sent parties on Maubeuge and Landrecy.

The taking of Avesnes had a real importance to Winzingerode, in that this town would now be his fulcrum, assuring and covering communications and allowing it to be used without fear a route Wellington and Blücher would follow for a while over a year later to march on Paris after the battle of Waterloo.

A few days earlier, on the 5th, the Cossacks had pushed from Maubert-Fontaine reconnaissance towards Rethel. "Three Cossack officers dined on the 5th at Aubigny was a lady of the village", wrote General Janssens to Marshal Kellermann.[5] "They knew the names of the authorities, their wealth, their political views and said they would seize Philippeville and Rocroi."

A party of 150 horses came up to Rozoy-sur-Serre the 6th, had surrounded and enveloped a detachment of infantry at Mainbressy that farmers and National Guards had abandoned supporting.[6] It was clear then that Chernishev would soon threaten Laon and the Soissons. There was even less doubt for the next day, the 6th, when Cossacks, passing through Montcornet, cross the Aisne at Neufchâtel-sur-Aisne and succeeded in a daring march to seize Reims.

9-11 February 1814. --March on Laon. --Chernishev stopped even less time as Avesnes in knowing that most of the corps would rejoin him. The same day he got to Avesnes, his Cossacks appeared on his left at Chimay and his front at Hirson. The 10th, at the break of day, they were already at Vervins, in the evening, they held Marle. The 11th, a party, having gotten up to a league from Laon, at Chambery, moved on the suburb of Vaux that it crossed at a gallop and appeared at the foot of the mountain of Laon. A sortie made up of fifty men from the artillery train forced them to retreat to Chambery. But the authorities and the few soldiers who were found in Laon evacuated the city that same night while the Cossacks of Colonel Prince Lopukhin (Cossack Ilovaysky IV and Diatchkin) took possession of the 12th in the morning. The advanced guard of Chernishev, while still extending his right, continued, its movement uninterrupted towards Soissons. The 12th, in the afternoon, some of the Cossacks of Lopukhin had already occupied Crépy-en-Laon on the road from Laon to La Fère; in the evening their scouts were under the walls of La Fère, where authorities and the commander of the city of Laon had sought refuge. From the 9th and immediately after entering Avesnes Chernishev was also extending to his right. 40 of his Cossacks had appeared for a moment on the 9th in evening at Guise. The 11th, they appeared on the banks of the Oise River, at Origny-Sainte-Benoite between Guise and Saint-Quentin.[7] Finally, on the 13th, Colonel Elsenwangen belonging to the corps of Cossacks of Naryshkin, summoned Saint-Quentin to surrender.[8] Brought in the presence of the mayor and sub-prefect, to whom he announced that their refusal would soon earn them an attack by a large corps, he retired after having requested and obtained a written statement.

Although it was expected to see this threat carried out, all remained quiet on the side of Saint-Quentin because Chernishev had needed everyone he had for his operation against Soissons.

13 February 1814. --March of Chernishev on Soissons. -Affair of La Perrière. --The 13th Chernishev,[9] after obtaining permission of Winzingerode to attempt at his own risk a coup de main of Soissons, appeared with 4,200 men before the town, while the main body of Winzingerode came up to Laon .

Chernishev presented on the side where an attack was least worried about. His advanced guard under the command of General Benckendorff came in the morning to the farm of La Perrière, on the Crouy mountain against a post composed of young soldiers, supported by two companies in time brought by General Danloup-Verdun , who managed to hold from morning until 2 o'clock.

The entry into the line of Russian infantry forced this post to give up, not only La Perrière, but likewise the village Crouy, and retreat a little after 4 o'clock into the outskirts of Soissons. The aide de camp of Chernishev, Captain Schöning, summoned the place to give up. Received by Danloup-Verdun, who knew the intentions of General Rusca, he retired, and the Cossacks retreated when they had fired some cannon shots.

14 February 1814. --Taking of Soissons. --The night passed quietly. But the 14th at 10 o'clock in the morning, the Russian troops were deployed in front of Crouy and the two wings based on the Aisne, rushed forward, while the Russian artillery crushed by its fire , for 5 hours, the ramparts of the city.

At the moment General Rusca was preparing to execute a sortie, he was mortally wounded by a musket ball in the head. The artillery of the town was already silenced. The death of their leader managed to discourage the defenders of Soissons, which completely gave way seeing the Russian infantry debouch.

Chernishev enjoying a confusion which he did not yet know the cause, had made a breach in the walls, gates and pushed towards the bridge of the Aisne his infantry followed by, his cavalry and his Cossacks. Soissons was lost. We again tried to hold the bridge that had been neglected to be mined. But the Russians were not slow to force the passage and spread into the city. General Danloup-Verdun, Berruyer and Longchamps abandoning all their artillery, withdrew with a howitzer and a thousand men. Pursued by the Cossacks who seized General Longchamps and 500 men in route, they finally reached Compiegne with a few men after drowning in a ditch the howitzer and their munitions.[10]

Winzingerode behaved in Soissons with rare moderation; upon entering the city, he stopped the looting. The 15th in the morning, he rendered with his troops, military honors to the remains of General Rusca and attended himself, with his generals and senior officers of his army, funerals celebrated with great pomp.

15-17 February 1814. --Winzingerode evacuates Soissons and heads for Reims. --On the evening of the 15th, recalled by Blücher, the Russians evacuated Soissons without leaving a garrison. The 16th, the vanguard of Winzingerode resumed its movement and pushed the 17th to Épernay. The main body of Winzingerode sojourned in Reims, where by order of Emperor Alexander, he had to stay, pending the arrival of the corps of Vorontsov and Stroganov.[11]

The flying corps of Lützow and Colomb passing through Saint-Mihiel, Saint-Dizier and Châlons, had rejoined the Army of Silesia, scouring the countryside on the right of Blücher on the side of Avize and Épernay, the 12th, and followed the Field Marshal in his retirement on Châlons.

Tettenborn, coming from the Schleswig, was still in march and had to join Winzingerode 25 February, the day after the arrival at Laon of the corps of Bülow.

The junction with Blücher was now a fait accompli, as regards the corps of Winzingerode, and following the arrival of Bülow it wasn't long before the two generals were to participate in operations that led to the Battle of Laon.


[1] General Maison to the Minister of War, Leuven, 28 January. (Archives of the War.)

[2] Maison to the Minister of War, Tournai, 12 February. (Archives of the War.)

[3] Maison, reporting to the Minister on 14 February, revealed to him the situation in these terms:

"I continue to hold my position on the Scheldt towards Tournai. According to my latest reports, the enemy has 500 men at Tielt, 1500 at Oudenaarde, 2,000 to 3,000 in Leuze, infantry and cavalry, 4,000 in Ath, a few thousand horsemen towards Mons and Condé, few infantry. The corps that is at Leuze is commanded by Hellwig, at Ath by Borstell. Bülow should still be in Brussels with 5,000 to 6.000 men. The Prince of Orange and the Duke of Weimar have been there since the 9th. It is claimed that the Duke of Angoulême is there too. It was announced that there are 8,000 Saxons, Russians and Prussians at Liège. The Anglo-Dutch withdrew to Breda since the bombardment of Antwerp."

"The arrival of the Crown Prince of Sweden in Belgium has been announced, but as he had not yet crossed the Rhine on the 9th, he would be in Dusseldorf."

"The enemy still had nothing at Ghent this morning. Reconnaissance he sent the 13th from Kortrijk was sabered and pursued by the gendarmerie who took an officer and a man from Hellwig's corps. My left flankers occupy Menen, Tourcoing and Lannoy." (Maison to the Minister of War, Tournai, 14 February; Archives of the War)

From the departure of Bülow from Mons, the Duke of Weimar had concentrated his corps around Brussels. Being too weak, he had from the 14th given at Gablenz the order to send to him from Lier two of his five battalions and one of his two batteries. Gablenz had no more than Lier's three battalions, two squadrons and a horse battery.

[4] Journal of Operations of Winzingerode, no184.

[5] General Janssens to Marshal Kellermann, Mézières, 9 February. (Archives of the War.)

[6] General Berruyer to the Minister of War, Soissons, 5 February, and Marshal Moncey to the Minister, 7 February. (Archives of the War.)

[7] Report on the situation of La Fère, 13 February, 10 o'clock in the morning, and General Sokolnicki to General Dąmbrowski (Dombrowski), Compiègne, 13 February. (Archives of the War.)

[8] Mayor of Saint-Quentin to the Minister of War and Adjutant Commander Bouchard to the Minister, La Fère, 13 February. (Archives of the War.)

[9] Chernishev had with the 19th and 44th Eiger Regiments, the mounted eiger regiment of Nezhin (Не́жин), the Volyn (Волы́нь) uhlans, four regiments of Cossacks and 8 artillery pieces.

[10] Winzingerode to Emperor Alexander. Soissons, 14 February. --HENNET, Mobilization of the National Guard of Seine-et-Oise in 1814.

[11] Order of Emperor Alexander to Winzingerode, Troyes, 20 February no 98.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2013

[Military Index|Battles Index]

© Copyright 1995 - 2015, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.