Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter Two Part IV

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)




8 January.  Movements of Victor.  --Moved by the reproaches he had incurred[1], and willing, despite the numerical disproportion, to make a final effort; knowing on the other hand, by a letter from the Mayor of Rambervillers, that the Allied troops stationed on the side of Épinal had been requisitioning around Rambervillers, Victor ordered Grouchy to post on this last point a division of dragoons to prevent the Allies coming to disquiet the villages and impose on the column at Épinal.  Victor recommended, in addition, to protect the division by the other division, which was staggered from Gerbéviller to Roville-aux-Chênes and support the whole, if necessary, by a few battalions.  Finally, the division of dragoons at Rambervillers was to observe with attention the roads of Saint-Dié and Épinal.  Grouchy, complying with the orders of Marshal, sent to Rambervillers the dragoons at Briche, and was supported by those of Lhéritier.[2] The infantry of Duhesme, posted around Raon-l'Étape, served as their support during when Generals Cassagne and Rousseau, coming up the valley of the Moselle from Nancy, were directed by Charmes on Épinal.[3]

The Cossacks take a courier sent to Victor from Strasbourg.--While Victor[4] was taking the steps we have just indicated, fortune which was capriciously helping the Allies, provided a chance that so many times gave them the information they could not procure otherwise, by having a courier fall into the hands of the cavalrymen of Pahlen, who scoured the country  on the side of Mutzig and of Wasselonne; a courier that, from Rœderer, Special Commissioner of the Emperor in the Lower Rhine, in Strasbourg, had sent to Victor.  On this courier was found in addition to the dispatch Kellermann transmitted to the Duke of Bellune, the reproach and the Emperor's orders and indicating, as noted, the positions of troops between Nancy and Charmes, a letter of Rœderer to the Duke of Rovigo (Savary), in which he gave an accurate account of the chilling state of mind in Strasbourg, and the terror produced by the appearance of the first Allied troops around the city,

"Rœderer to the Duke of Rovigo, Minister of General Police.  --Strasbourg, 7 January 1814.

My lord, the enemy approached the town yesterday, pulling up to a half-mile.  This has created a big change in people's minds.  There was shouting in the shops and cafes that the city was sold out, that the Duke of Bellune had taken the garrison, and the city would be taken within three days.  These rumors have spread terror in the mass of people.  This terror proceeded from a natural feeling; but many of those who called the alarm seemed very suspicious.

Accordingly, I have decided:

1o  To make a proclamation to reassure the simple folk;
2o  To give orders for the arrest of speakers, if they start again today;
3o  To take measures for the removal of foreign suspects who are in Strasbourg.

I will undertake measures to ensure financial services for all circumstances…, including in case communications are cut to Paris, and they are at least questionable at this time.

…The forces of the enemy who have passed Fort Vauban are little more than 8,000 to 9,000 men; but they have spread throughout the countryside, and joined with forces that have crossed at Basel…

Finally, we need help from the center of France, and they must promise to assist the zeal of this border city."[5]

Defective transmission of information and news.  --This piece and the dispatch of Kellermann to Victor were certainly at this time, valuable catches to the Allies, because they contained information that both the Generalissimo and the commanding generals of the different corps of the Army of Bohemia had an interest in knowing immediately.  But services of the headquarters of the different corps of the Army of Bohemia were so fantastically organized, that it was only 12 January (four days later) that Lieutenant General D'Aunay, Chief of Staff of the VIth Corps shipped from Rastatt these dispatches to Schwarzenberg, whose headquarters was at Vesoul.  D'Aunay[6] announced, it is true, to the Generalissimo that Pahlen had communicated this information to Wrede.  If he did so, then, it leaves one trying to explain the delay in the transmission of such important information?  It is doubtful, because it would likely, in this case, lead one to find a plausible excuse.  Considering that this is not an isolated event, we are forced to look at that relations that existed between the various heads of columns, that the reports of these same generals with the Generalissimo were insufficiently resolved, and that the transmission and sending of  information of interest to these generals and the general headquarters was made in an absolutely illogical manner and contrary to the interests of the service.

In support of our thoughts, we shall quote the no less important letter of the pay master (comissaire d'ordonnateur) of Nancy, dated 7 January, intercepted the same day as the previous one:[7]

"The Young Guard will move to Épinal, Charmes and Flavigny and the 6th cohort to Rambervillers, Raon-l'Étape and Saint-Dié.  Another cohort and other troops will be sent to the Vosges.

An army of nearly 100,000 men, consisting of a force commanded by the Duke of Treviso, five corps of infantry and cavalry, military equipment, and all the troops that were going to Mainz to reinforce the corps of the Duke of Raguse, will be sent to the Departments of Meurthe and of Vosges.

It will need provisioning of food supplies across the line from Reims to Colmar, to Épinal for 30,000 men."

But this letter, most importantly, since, besides the obvious and probably intentional, exaggerations, it contained valuable information on the movements of the French, was sent (which Scherbatov[8] provides us with proof) that 13 January to Schwarzenberg.

The late submission of information may, in a fairly large number of cases explain the hesitation, slowness, counter-orders from higher command.  It should be understood, however, that the whole responsibility of the poor organization of such an important service falls all the more heavily on the commander in chief and his immediate staff, who thus missed early in the campaign, special occasions which would have allowed them to bring without danger decisive blows to an opponent unable to offer any serious resistance.

Positions and movements of the VIth, Vth and IVth Corps.  --Pahlen occupied on 8 January, with the uhlans of Chuguev, Baden dragoons and four pieces of horse artillery, Saverne, where one squadron of his vanguard was already situated for more than twenty-four hours, and pushed his outposts to the suburbs of Phalsbourg.  Prince Eugene of Württemberg, which had a division on that date in Haguenau, sent two squadrons of the 1st Dragoons of Baden to Bitche to monitor this site; some Baden infantry battalions had also joined them.  Wittgenstein posted them on the right bank of the Rhine at Stollhofen, where they served as reserve troops to Gorchakov, still responsible for the investment of Kehl.

On the side of Strasbourg, Rüdinger had advanced by the roads from La Wantzenau and Brumath, to the city that he would soon completely invest, which he already watched around, while French troops of all arms, outside of the city, took position in Schiltigheim and La Robertsau.

In the Vth Corps, the Austrian brigade of Minutillo came up to Neuf-Brisach to relieve the Bavarian brigade of Maillot, which went, in turn, to retake the positions occupied by the Austrian brigade of Volkmann under Sélestat (Schlestadt).  This movement allowed for the redeployment of Colonel von Geramb, who crossed with three squadrons and a battalion at Gerstheim, joining in the night of the 8th to 9th, in Boofzheim, Colonel Scheibler, who Wrede had ordered to proceed to Saverne and get news of the enemy.  Lieutenant-Colonel Count Alberti, who had left the day before with two squadrons of Schwarzenberg Uhlans, arrived in Molsheim and was connected to the side of Brumath by the cavalry of the VIth Corps.  General Deroy, leading the advanced guard of Vth Corps, was still in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, and the division of Rechberg was posted further left and further back, watched Kaysersberg and the neck of Bonhomme.  They continued to bombard Huningue fruitlessly.

Lastly, the same day, an aide to Caulaincourt appeared at the outposts of Deroy carrying a letter to Metternich. They took him to Colmar, to Wrede, who sent the letter to Metternich and kept the officer in Colmar.  The answer did not arrive until the 11th; Metternich agreed in principle to the meeting at Châtillon-sur-Seine of a congress that was to begin to sit after the arrival of Lord Castlereagh,[9]but set no date for the first session.

The Crown Prince of Württemberg had crossed the Vosges.  The IVth Corps was quartered from Fraize up to Bussang.  Its light troops occupied Rupt, Ramonchamp, Ventron and Remiremont.  Platoff was at Éloyes and Scherbatov scoured the country between Épinal and Charmes.[10]

The information provided on this side by the emissaries, revealed the existence of sizeable stores at Auxonne, the presence of Kellermann at Nancy with 5,000 men, finally the existence, at Nancy, of another assemblage under the command of Nansouty, and composed of 5,000 cavalry.  The emissary added in this connection that Nansouty lacked horses and had many ill.[11]

Movements of the flying corps of Thurn and cavalry of the IIIrd Corps.  --Lieutenant-Colonel Count Thurn, who, with his partisans had gone on in front of the IIIrd Corps, continued to march toward Langres and had a small skirmish, the 8th in the evening on the Cintrey side, where it drove in the French outposts.[12]  But as the flying corps was too weak to push anyone to Gray, Gyulay had to send a squadron of hussars to this side, in order to try to cut off communications and convoys between Besançon and Langres.[13]  Gyulay under orders from the Generalissimo, had occupied Vesoul with the Hohenlohe-Bartenstein Division; he had encamped the Fresnel Division to the right, left and rear of the town.  The Crenneville Light Division had pushed beyond Vesoul, and arriving in Port-sur-Saône, it had spread to its right to Conflandey, while it threw ahead parties on the road from Langres to Combeaufontaine.

Although Thurn had preceded it in these parts and had reported the presence of any enemy gathering, although Gyulay would have known he had little to fear for his left, since the Ist Corps cavalry had alit on the right bank of Doubs, before Baume-les-Dames, the Feldzeugmeister had been covered during the entire march of the 7th, by detachments of flankers on the side of Montbozon.  "These detachments," he said in his report,[14] "scouting with patrols pushed to the side of the road to Besançon, have met some vedettes of the enemy's cavalry near the village of Cendrey, occupied by a small 20 horse strong French post."

The presence of the platoon worried Gyulay because he adds in the same report:  "I have, therefore, bordered my march from Montbozon just at Échenoz-le-Sec, by flank guards, and I established posts on my left, at Vellefaux and Andelarrot."  Caution is certainly a valuable quality in a general, but in this case, it seems that the Austrian general, knowing that there had been 20 men at Cendrey, instead of leading a squadron to Gray and complying strictly with the senior levels, would have acted more wisely and logically by detaching one or two squadrons, to see if there was something, and what, behind the Cendrey post.

Instead, he sent with the same courier to Schwarzenberg information that had more value in the eyes of the Allied generals, that Count Gyulay kept them from the words of characters in a position to know exactly what was happening and that their exact position would have required more tact and reserve, not to mention that they had to perform the duties towards their sovereign, of not speaking of the feelings of patriotism that the terror inspired by the invasion had temporarily stifled.

"The Count Feldzeugmeister Gyulay to Prince Schwarzenberg.[15]  --Vesoul, 8 January 1814.

The brother of General Junot is the Collector General here.  He had sent his wife for Dijon; reassured by the discipline and good conduct of our troops, he sent her back and she arrived today, having left Dijon before yesterday.  She claims to have seen the State Councilor Ségur arrive in Dijon, with the responsibility for organizing the mass levy, but the people refused to listen, and the mayor said it was impossible to proceed upon the levy in Burgundy, due to the lack of weapons and lack of men able to serve.

Ségur returned to Paris.

General Valence has tried but without success, to organize the mass levy in the Departments of Jura, the Haute-Saône and Doubs.

Madame Junot says there has been no unrest in Paris, but that here is much discontent.

The enemy troops, stationed at Gray, Dijon and Langres were reportedly ordered to withdraw on the approach of  the Allies to Troyes, where there is a fairly large gathering of troops."  

On the left wing there was little movement; the Austrian reserves were still in Ornans; the IInd Corps tightened their investment of Besançon on the left of the Doubs, while Wimpffen established on the right bank, at Roulans-le- Grand, pushing his vanguard to Malmaison.

Bianchi bombarded Belfort, and part of the Prussian and Russian reserves (the 2nd Division of Grenadiers and 2nd and 3rd Division of Russian Cuirassiers) reached Altkirch.  Finally, Schwarzenberg gave that same day to Wittgenstein orders "to head south-west, leaving Saverne, to be closer to the Austro-Bavarians of Wrede and operate in concert with this general against Langres."

9 January.  --Pahlen before Phalsbourg.  --The events of the 9th, though small in themselves, did not go well however for the Allied arms.

On the side of the VIth Corps, the French, without being attacked, left towards Schiltigheim and the Robertsau to return to Strasbourg, and General Rüdinger, to be able to observe more closely the place, would be strengthened by the 2nd Baden Dragoon Regiment moved for this purpose to Saverne.

As for Pahlen, he was joined on this point by Olviopol Hussars and the 4th and 34th Eiger Regiments (4th Division), that he needed to be able to operate more efficiently toward Phalsbourg.[16]

Vth Corps.  --Order to move on Remiremont.  --Wrede had received the order at Colmar to move first on Remiremont, and thence Langres.  He immediately sent General Minutillo to invest the town of Neuf-Brisach, General Count Pappenheim that of Sélestat, General Baron Zollern that of Huningue, and gave the senior direction of these three operations to General Count Beckers, whose troops (2nd Bavarian Division) were, already employed at these places.  As for himself, he immediately set out for Saint-Dié.  General Deroy (2nd Brigade of the 3rd Bavarian Division), after crossing the Vosges at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, was in position at Sainte-Marguerite.  One of his battalions, supported by some squadrons occupied Saint-Dié, at 5 miles in front of Sainte-Marguerite.  Patrols of this extreme vanguard had even pushed to the left up to a short distance from Bruyères without encountering the enemy.  In Alsace, Colonel Scheibler, with a small flying corps was still between Obernai and Erstein, and Lieutenant-Colonel Alberti scoured the country around Molsheim, on one side to Mutzig, and the other to Strasbourg.

Seslavin at Bruyères.  --Information.  --Letter from Victor intercepted by the Cossacks.  --Seslavin who Wittgenstein had sent from Saverne with two Cossack regiments and some hussars, was at Bruyères, linking with the outposts of Deroy and from there he sent to Wrede the first news of the occupation of Rambervillers by the French cavalry and the failure experienced by Scherbatov at Épinal.

The General Seslavin to H. E. Mr. General Count Wrede, the Commander and Chief of the Bavarian Army (original in French).  --Bruyères, 9 January, 1814.

"My general,

I have the honor to inform Your Excellency that, today, I came to Bruyères, where I learned, from an officer of the detachment of Prince Scherbatov, the following information:

The corps of the enemy under the Duke of Bellune, who was in Raon, has concentrated on Épinal and Scherbatov, who was there, was forced to evacuate, having been attacked by a hostile force of all arms.  An enemy cavalry division has already come to occupy Rambervillers, and I am honored to send a letter to your Highness that this officer has intercepted, and from which you will see the preparations of the Duke of Bellune.

According to repeated news, there is no doubt that the French Army rallies at Nancy, and a corps of 40,000 men has amassed at Metz.[17]"

This dispatch was accompanied by the following letter from General Victor to Cassagne, found by the Cossacks of Scherbatov  on a hussar officer they had taken:

"Baccarat, 9 January, 1814.  --M. the Captain Lassalle, commanding Magnières, sent me the letter you wrote to him yesterday, in which you tell him that you move on Épinal to hunt the enemy.  I must warn you that the Duke of Valmy has provided me with all the troops of his command, including the division of voltigeurs of the Young Guard, I asked His Excellency to bring all the troops to Charmes, under the command of General Meunier, to whom I send my instructions, as soon as the reunion is made, and results in marching together to the enemy with the 2nd Corps and link you with Rambervillers, where I now have a division of dragoons.

I am told that there are 4,000 men are in Épinal, and that it expects a larger number.  Try, please, to have positive information on their strengths, and please send them to me.[18]

P. S.  --I send you herewith a letter for the General Meunier, I beg you to send it to him."

This second letter was not, moreover, found on the officer taken by the Cossacks.

It seems unnecessary to emphasize the exaggerations found in the information collected by Seslavin, and which shows there were 40,000 men at Metz; but it is certain that taking the letter that was addressed to General Cassagne was of real value to the Allies, because it showed at the same time, the plans of Victor, the positions and the composition of the troops which the Marshal had, and allowed them to get an accurate account of the nature of the resistance that they could expect to encounter, especially after the unfavorable affair that they had experience on the 9th, both in the Meuse Valley and that of the Mortagne and Meurthe.

Actions at Rambervillers and Épinal.  --Indeed, while the bulk of the Vth Corps began to move forward, the IVth Corps, continuing its march, reached Remiremont with the head of its columns, and that its bulk was cantoned, the 9th, around Ramonchamp, Victor, finally drove off the Allied light troops, whose presence he had reported between Saint-Dié and Épinal, having decided to occupy Rambervillers with the dragoon division of General Briche, who took a position in this town after having overwhelmed and vigorously chased a party of 200 Cossacks who had come to this bank to requisition, and had thought it unnecessary to keep serious guard.[19]

In the same day, a brigade of infantry of the Young Guard, under the command of General Cassagne was moved, with a detachment of 300 horses on Épinal.  Scherbatov, informed by the patrol he had sent out discovered beside Charmes the presence in front of this place (between Charmes and Épinal), enemy parties that seemed to be the head of a strong column,[20] wishing to learn more completely and knowing, moreover, he was supported in the rear by the IVth Corps, moved with his flying corps over to Charmes.  Arrived at about midway between Épinal and Charmes, he met the French troops in motion on Épinal, who he repulsed and pursued to Pouxeux, where he was joined by Platoff.

Platoff at Pouxeux.  --His communications with the Crown Prince of Württemberg.--The Ataman, always timid, would give, from the day he came into the line, the first evidence of the insurmountable weakness that he would not shake for the rest of the campaign, these imaginary fears that paralyzed his operations, and consistently prevented his Cossacks to do anything right, until the Czar, tired of his cowardice, made more dangerous by the impudence of his boasting, relieved Platoff of his command.

To enable the reader to understand how Platoff acted from the beginning of the campaign, we feel obliged to give exact accounts and reports[21] that he sent the Crown Prince of Württemberg and the answers he received from the Prince.[22]

The Ataman Count Platoff to the Crown Prince of Württemberg (the original in French).  --From Pouxeux, 9 January 1814.

"I have the honor to inform your Royal Highness of the approach of the enemy on Épinal.

I approached this city and have made my contact with the detachment of Prince Scherbatov, that told me that the enemy occupied Épinal, with four strong columns (sic) of infantry, five squadrons and three cannons.

The terrain has prevented me from reconnoitering the enemy forces myself.  The French outposts are established before the town on the road of Pouxeux, in the defiles, I have an idea of attacking at seven o'clock in the morning and pushing on Épinal; but as the land occupied by the outpost is a narrow and confined defile against which the cavalry cannot act effectively, it must be that I use my artillery, I need troops of infantry that I am completely lacking.  I therefore request Your Highness to send me, if not four, at least three infantry battalions

I think the enemy is in force in the city and wants to defend this very important point."

Here's how the Crown Prince replied to the request of the Ataman:

Crown Prince of Württemberg to Count Platoff.  --Remiremont, 9 January 181 4.

"I find it absolutely impossible to send even three battalions.  You evaluate the strengths of the enemy at 3,000 infantry, five squadrons, three cannons.  It should be possible for you to overcome anything with your corps; but if the enemy is determined to resist vigorously, we certainly will not overwhelm it with three battalions.

I would obviously like to dislodge the enemy from Épinal very much, and if you do not succeed in your affair, I will attack it on 11th with my whole corps.  In the meantime, and if it is necessary for you to fall back, I'll post three battalions on the road to Pouxeux."

Platoff, it must be admitted, had a unique way of understanding the duties of the commander of a corps of cavalry intended, in the minds of the Commanders in Chief, to act in the distance, to educate the general headquarters of the movement and plans of the enemy, only to have a group emerge that he himself admits he could not reconnoiter, for which he thought it necessary to request a reinforcement of three battalions.

What is certain is that the mad fears of Platoff nevertheless exerted an influence on the resolution of the Crown Prince of Württemberg.  Who had not yet, it must be said in his defense, had an opportunity to appreciate the true value of an officer coming from the army preceded by a reputation, if not altogether undeserved, at least greatly exaggerated , an officer who had accomplished once brilliant feats of arms, had it not been for his undeniable courage, he seemed to have completely lost his former energy and special skills that he had proven in 1812.

Inaction of the IVth Corps on January 10.  --The Crown Prince placed his corps in echelon between Éloyes and Saint-Nabord, then waited all day for the results of the operations on the 10th that he had discussed with Platoff and that he was to be careful in undertaking.  The Crown Prince seems, however, to have very seriously taken the new data of Platoff, and believed him as if there was on this point and behind the vanguard important enemy forces, responsible for covering the plains of Lorraine and seeking to prevent the Allies' debouchments  from the Vosges. Indeed, on the evening of the 9th, in preceding Schwarzenberg the apparition of a French corps had driven off Scherbatov at Épinal , and despite the order to turn left to bear on Langres, he stated that, as the French corps could force Platoff to withdraw to Pouxeux, it was almost certain that they take the same road that leads from Remiremont by Bains, Vauvillers, Jussey and Fayl-Billot on Langres, and he would be forced to march right on the Épinal "to drive the enemy from this important point from which," he said, "the enemy could cut off our communications with Remiremont and prevent the Schaeffer Brigade and the troops who followed from debouching.  If I attack Épinal," he said further, "I allow my park and my convoys at Plombières to keep in touch with Vesoul and the great army, and avoid whatever happens, from forcing me back on the Vosges."[23]

Barclay de Tolly probably shared the concerns raised by the Crown Prince of Württemberg and believed, like him, in the presence of considerable forces, behind Épinal, since in a letter he addressed to Schwarzenberg from Altkirch dated the 10th,[24] he said he had ordered Scherbatov to be supported by Crown Prince.[25]

According to documents we have cited, we realize the concern that a major offensive movement as little as one in question here, caused in the Allied General Staff.  One might wonder if acting aggressively with everything he had at hand, with reinforcements sent from Nancy, Victor could not have succeeded in not only slowing and significantly delaying the progress of the Allied columns still occupied with crossing the Vosges, but to prohibiting access of the Allies to the Moselle basin, even threatening the communications of the troops of the grand Army  of Bohemia marching on Langres and Vesoul.  Such a result would only have been temporary, but in the situation that France was in, it was important above all to try to gain time by stopping the Allies as long as possible and taking full advantage of this lesser occasions.  This is what seems to have been feasible on 10 January and which unfortunately had not been done.

Certainly, on the other hand, even a well managed and successful offensive operations of the Duke of Bellune would only gain two or three days.  The Marshal was forced to withdraw as soon as he was aware of the retreat that Marmont executed at that time from the Saar towards the Moselle, and he would have found himself threatened on his left and his rear by the march of the cavalry and the vanguard of the Army of Silesia directed from Château-Salins on Lunéville and Nancy.

9 January.  --Check of the flying corps of Thurn at Langres.--The day of 9th had been much better for the flying corps of Lieutenant Colonel Thurn, who scouted the front of the IIIrd Corps moving on Langres.  With some caution and circumspection, it would have been easy for the little corps to avoid the lesson it received.

Thurn, who arrived with his corps at the Griffonotte, had the idea of taking possession of Langres alone.  He thought that the occupation of that city would not present more difficulties than that of Vesoul and hoped to obtain there reports on certain locations and strengths of the French troops that were known to move on this point.  Convinced that he would overwhelm Langres without firing a shot, Thurn sent before him an officer, accompanied by two hussars charged with announcing his arrival to the mayor and summoning the commander of arms to surrender the city.[26]  Even after two hours he had yet to hear from that officer and that silence should have been worrisome and made them understand that it was necessary to act cautiously, not in the least effected by the fact however, he directed his vanguard on Langres.  The latter, under the command of Captain Burckhardt, entered without incident along the suburb through which passes the road of Vesoul.  It had already passed the gates of the city, when suddenly it came to a troop of cavalry of the Guard (advanced guard of Marshal Mortier) who had arrived in Langres.  Strongly attacked in front by the cavalry supported by the gendarmerie and the men of the levy, shot at by people who had taken up arms, the detachment of Captain Burckhardt[27] with great pain managed to get out of the city and the suburbs and to fall back on Fayl-Billot.

Action against armed peasants of Chaudenay.  --During this retreat, the Austrian hussars found themselves again on the verge of being completely cut off.  The peasants of Chaudenay a village that they were forced to cross, had taken up arms spontaneously, and killed one officer and 12 men.

Here, follows, in the words of Thurn himself, the report to Schwarzenberg of his failed coup de main at Langres, a coup de main, as we shall show, whose scope and consequences the Allies could not have predicted.

Lieutenant-Colonel Count Thurn to Prince Schwarzenberg.[28]  --Fayl-Billot, 9 January 181 4,  9 o'clock at night.

"I have the honor to inform Your Highness that Mortier arrived with his advanced guard in Langres and I have entered the suburbs with my vanguard.

The people invited us to enter, saying that they were waiting with impatience for a long time.  The patrol heads had already passed a number of houses, when it was greeted by a volley, by gunfire from the rooftops and fired by the men of the levy(conscripts),  Departmental guard and supported by some line infantrymen.

The patrol withdrew on my vanguard.

The village of Chaudenay, by which I was obliged to pass by retiring, was armed during this time and we had to force our way through sword in hand.  We have inflicted heavy losses on the farmers.  I made some prisoners belonging to the Italian regiments, who assure me that Mortier will tomorrow, 10 January, have 30,000 men in Langres and other troops have arrived today from Gray.

I lost in these actions the Lieutenant Schlachter.  Captain Burckhardt, having had a horse killed under him, was wounded in the leg: four of my hussars were wounded.

I am informed that the enemy moves in force against Fayl-Billot.  I'll watch it and slowly remove myself, if I am forced, on Combeau-Fontaine, where the vanguard of Count Gyulay is located."

The population begins to arm itself.  --In the report he sent two days after to the Emperor of Austria, Schwarzenberg[29] announced to his sovereign that "in the presence of a general levy that the enemy seeks to organize," he immediately prescribed Feldzeugmeister Count Gyulay to "move on Langres with forced marches."

But Gyulay was still in Vesoul, where he had used the 9th to give some rest to his troops.  It was only the 11th that his vanguard reached Combeau-Fontaine, its extreme posts occupied Fayl-Billot, and 14th that most of the IIIrd Corps came to Langres that the cavalry division of General Laferrière (2,567 men, 2,695 horses ) had occupied since the 10th and the division of Friant (5,885 men and 148 horses), since the 11th.  For the first time since its arrival in France, the center of the main Allied Army would encounter a semblance of resistance.

It seems, however, that Schwarzenberg immediately recognized the importance that was seen in the action of Langres, the gravity of taking for granted facts in themselves inconsiderable; and while this was certainly an  insignificant check, it could be fraught with consequences, because for the first time since the entry of the Allies in France, the inhabitants had taken up the fight.  The organization of the levée en masse had so far produced no result and it would still take some time before the measure could be applied in general and to take a truly disturbing character.  The causes of the apathy that had appeared during the first weeks of January 1814 if they are many and varied, are interesting to look at and consider.  It would be wrong indeed to believe that the hesitation, by putting forth a call to arms of the populace, came, as some have tried to demonstrate, due to the unpopularity of the Emperor.  For the people, but especially for the peasants, Napoleon was then, as he has always remained the greatest warrior of all time, the triumphant Caesar who had vanquished and conquered Europe, which, alone appeared strong enough to face the world coalition against him.  In his lifetime, he had already become a legend, of which neither retreat from Russia, nor the disaster of Leipzig, nor the invasion had been able to diminish the slightest bit of prestige that his name exercised and always exercised on the masses.  He was still, always and especially in the eyes of the people, the wonderful man whose presence made the discouraged find trust, whose voice electrified the conscripts and gave soldiers a fire as strong as the oldest veterans of the Guard.  The real cause of this indifference, as vandalism and brutality of the Cossacks and the Prussians were soon to dispel, came rather because the people, tired of wars that claimed the country for over twenty years, were exhausted by the sacrifices that had been requested since 1795 and especially since the Empire, perhaps abused in principle by the false promises contained in the proclamation of the Allied sovereigns, even dazzled by the memory of past victories, could not believe the invasion and ignorant of the horrors it would bring in its train, were willing to see the Allies, not as liberators, but as the tools to bring peace in the world in which France did not aspire any less strongly than the rest of Europe.

Finally, what had hitherto failed to make the people consider the reality of the situation as it already had been since the beginning of the invasion, was an example.  They hesitated, they doubted because it was believed that the local resistance, resistance improvised in every town, every village would be pointless and draw on these cities, the villages terrible reprisals.  The impetus was now given, the firing of the inhabitants of Langres and the peasants of Chaudenay would be repeated in all Champagne, Burgundy, Lorraine, Alsace.  The people have now found its way, it was recaptured; knowing now what is expected of it, it was now making an exact count of results that could be produced by its armed intervention, it would no longer hesitate to do its duty bravely.  So far justice has neglected the actions of the armed peasants they deserve and to highlight the magnitude of the role they played during the sad days of the invasion.  We won't astonish, therefore, if we insist in this work, to speak of their service, of the evil they did to the Allies, and if we deliver to the public the available parts that relate to their bold strikes, especially those that we were able to see and retrieve from the archives of the Imperial and Royal Ministry of War in Vienna.  Finally, before returning to the movements of the Allies during the day of 9 January, it should be added that if the burghers of Langres and the peasants of Chaudenay were the first to take up arms, they were also almost the last to the lay them down along with the people of Fayl-Billot and surrounding areas.

Positions of the other corps of great army during the 9th.  --The other corps of the great army had continued to march on the 9th in their usual slow manner.  Gyulay had, as we said, stopped in Vesoul; behind him, the Ist Corps did the same in Villersexel. Two brigades of General Bianchi, relieved in Belfort by the Russian grenadiers of Rayevsky, had started the march on Lure and Vesoul.  The Austrian reserves were still motionless in Ornans, and the IInd Corps was assigned to the blockade of Besançon. The headquarters of Barclay de Tolly had been transferred from Altkirch in Chavannes-sur-l'Étang.

Key to Map #5

IInd Corps & Austrian Reserves (Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg) After debouching from the mountains at Flangebouche the majority of the corps was still located below Besançon at Hôpital du Gros-Bois, while leaving some troops at Fort de Joux.  Two divisions of the four divisions of the Austrian Reserves reached Pontarlier nearby the 4 January, and painfully moved to Villafans, Ornans and Étalans by the 6th.  The 7th the IInd Corps crossed the Doubs at Baume-les-Dames, while the reserves moved slowly on Besançon.   By the 9th, the IInd Corps had been assigned to blockade Besançon, while the Reserves moved to support them.

Bianchi Division -Bianchi after bombarding and calling on the surrender of Belfort, was relieved by the Russian grenadiers of the Rayevsky and moved on Lure and Vesoul by the 9th .   

Ist Corps (M. Liechtenstein) and the 2nd Light Division (Colloredo) -The bulk of the corps reached Delle replacing the IIIrd Corps while the Ignatius Hardegg Division remained in the valley of the Doubs at Clerval and Pont-de Roide watching the evacuation of Baume-les-Dames east of Besançon.  The division of Wimpffen was detached on Héricourt to support on the right bank of the Doubs the enterprise of the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg on Besançon.  By the 9th they had moved on Vesoul reaching Villersexel.

IIIrd Corps & Crenneville Division (Gyulay) -Schwarzenberg order the movement of the IIIrd Corps from Montbéliard to occupy Vesoul were current the flying column of Count v. Thurn was alone.  The vanguard reached Villersexel the 6th, while the main body was at Vellechevreux and the reunited Crenneville Division at Ronchamp.  Count v. Thurn taking Port-sur-Saône the 6th, Crenneville occupied it the 7th.  The vanguard of Gyulay reached Vesoul, while the bulk had not passed Villersexel and Crenneville was at Mollans.  Thurn moved from Vesoul on Langres and after a slight skirmish at Cintrey on the 8th, was in Griffonote the 9th.  A small party of cavalry was ambushed by troops and armed citizens and pushed back to Fayl-Billot, where the extreme vanguard of Gyulay met them the 11th with the bulk of the IIIrd Corps in Combeau-Fontaine.

Vth (Bavarian) Corps (Wrede) -Largely at Colmar, it moved to invest Sélestat the 5th and relieve the Württembergers at the investment of Neuf-Brisach.  The Brigades of Deroy and LaMotte moved through the Vosges towards Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines occupying the neck of the passage, while the Bavarian cavalry under Scheibler was at Boofzheim.   Depleted by the investments of Huningue, Neuf-Brisach and Sélestat they moved on Remiremont through Saint-Dié and Sainte-Marguerite, while the vanguard approached Bruyères.  In Alsace, Colonel Scheibler, with a small flying corps was still between Obernai and Erstein, and Lieutenant-Colonel Alberti scoured the country around Molsheim, on one side to Mutzig, and the other to Strasbourg.

IVth Corps (Crown Prince of Württemberg) -Relieved at Neuf-Brisach by the Württembergers began their move on Remiremont to exploit the success of Scherbatov.  Rather than following Milhaud through the passage at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, they went south through Cernay following Scherbatov through the pass at Bussang.  The partisans of Platoff who were to precede them moved through Saint-Weiler, arrived at Thann on the 6th and continued its march on Épinal (already occupied by Scherbatov) by way of Saulxures and Éloyes.  Scherbatov pushed beyond Épinal reaching Charmes only to discover the French behind him about midway between Épinal and Charmes, assaulting them and pushing them back on Pouxeux where Platoff was.  The Crown Prince in anticipation of an attack of Platoff on Épinal on the 10th was located in support at Éloyes.

VIth Russian Corps (Wittgenstein) -While the cavalry of Pahlen & Selifontov spread out moving south west and north to unite with the Army of Silesia, Wittgenstein had only moved his headquarters to Rastatt and his outposts were on a line from Haguenau to Wissembourg and Spire.  The 8th Pahlen occupied Saverne, pushing patrols on Sarrebourg and Phalsbourg, while the infantry moved to Haguenau, Rœschwoog, Benfeld and Mutzig.  The 9th Pahlen was before Phalsbourg, while the infantry moved closer to Strasbourg, and the cavalry of Seslavin united with the outposts of Wrede at Bruyères after being moved from Saverne by Wittgenstein.

Russian Reserves (Barclay de Tolly) -The reserves with the exception of Colonel Scherbatov and Lieutenant Colonel Count v. Thurn had moved slowly from Basel reaching Altkirch with the 2nd Grenadier Division and 2nd and 3rd Division of Russian Cuirassiers the 8th.  The grenadiers of  Rayevsky relieved the division of Bianchi before Belfort the 9th.

1st Light Division (Bubna) -After the taking of Geneva, Bubna had slowly made his way into France, and by the 6th his cavalry had taken the bridge at Dole, while the infantry had reached Poligny and Salins where it received orders to move on Lyon.  One of its brigades having been allocating with watching Savoy since the capture of Geneva.

The French forces had been ordered to hold on the Rhine, however seeing himself threatened upstream by the Bavarians and Württembergers  and downstream by the Russians with being trapped at Strasbourg Victor resolved to fall back on Raon-l'Étape liking with the 5th Cavalry Corps of Milhaud.  Ségur with the Guards of Honor remained near Phalsbourg screening the advance of the Russians.  Victor had Grouchy post a dragoon division at Rambervillers and the other was staggered from Gerbéviller to Roville-aux-Chênes.  These were supported by the Division of Duhesme at  Raon-l'Étape.  The remainder of Victor's forces were staged at Baccarat .  The 1st Division of Young Guard and the troops being gathered for the 4th Division (Cassagne & Rousseau) were moved from Nancy towards Charmes with two batteries the 5-6th and was to stand on Épinal.  Elements encountered Scherbatov on the 9th.  The Old Guard Divisions & Reserves under Mortier were still moving on Langres and elements of Guard cavalry and gendarmerie threw back Thurn the 9th.


[1] Victor had at the time on 9 January, searched to justify his retirement.  Writing the Chief of Staff, he observed that in moving on Saverne, he had merely carried out the orders Berthier had given him in the name of the Emperor and by which he recommended not to allow cutting the road from Metz.

[2] Orders of Milhaud and Memoirs of Grouchy. (Archives of the War).

[3] Already Belliard had asked Berthier that he confer to one of three marshals (Ney, Victor and Marmont), supreme command, so there would be no conflict of authority between them. (Belliard, Correspondence, Depot of the War).

[4] Marshal Victor had, 6 January at nine o'clock in the evening, sent from Baccarat the Chief of Staff a report in which he tried to justify and explain his retirement.  "He was to have," he says, "everyone at Molsheim the 3rd; but General Milhaud was attacked at the time the movement began and would, therefore, be in Molsheim the 4th."  The Marshal added that at this time a column of Allied troops, that of the right, marched on Saverne, that Milhaud was followed by another column, and a third one, that of Frimont, moved by Saint-Amarin on Remiremont; that both sides were threatened, that communication with Saverne was compromised and he had also learned that Marshal Marmont could not join him.

"In moving on Saverne as I intended," wrote the Marshal, "I could meet the enemy, whose advance guard was already at Hochfelden, and would be followed by the column that attacked Milhaud.  Because of the imbalance of forces, and further to prevent Frimont from debouching at Raon-l'Étape, I turned on the 5th by Mutzig and arrived on the 6th at noon at Raon.  I left Duhesme with 5 battalions, the light cavalry of the 5th Corps and a battery of horse artillery to observe the communications of Saint-Blaise and Rambervillers, and I posted the rest of the infantry, dragoons and artillery at Baccarat, …I have, continues the Marshal, formed the plan to fall back on Phalsbourg to cover this side of communications of Nancy and of Metz, but, having learned that the enemy showed themselves in Saint-Dié, I thought I should stay here until the orders of his Majesty, and I left below Saverne, General Ségur with 1,400 horse of the Guards of Honor. (Archives of Depot of the War).

[5] K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 205, c.

[6] D'Aunay to Schwarzenberg, from Rastatt, 12 January, K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 205.

[7] K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 281.

[8] Scherbatov to Schwarzenberg, in camp near Châtel, 13 January, 1814. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 284.)

[9] Tagebuch des bagerischen Majors Fürsten Taxis vom Feldzuge 1812-1814, hauptsächlich die bayerische Armee betreffend (written in his own hand). (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., 1814, XIII, 32.)

[10] K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 30 and I, 155.

[11] Reports of emissaries (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, l55, b.)

[12] Lieutenant-Colonel Count Thurn to Feldzeugmeister Count Gyulay.  --Cintrey, 9 January 1814, six in the morning.

"Your Excellency, seeing myself prescribed by order of H. H. Prince Schwarzenberg, to move faster towards Langres and try to get in, I immediately started last night after you sent your outposts to Combeaufontaine.

At Cintrey, I met an enemy patrol of 15 chasseurs who withdrew on Fayl-Billot, where there was one officer and 37 chasseurs, that the tip of my advanced guard surprised and dislodged.  The officer who commands my advanced guard informs me that several enemy chasseurs were wounded, he lost a man and he pushes towards Langres, where there is a general with more depots.

As I continue my movement on Langres, and I do not want to lose the benefits of the affair tonight, I am absolutely unable to undertake anything against Gray.

I hope to level Langres and I still move then, if possible, on Gray, but I beg to inform Y. H. that according to the information I collected, all enemy convoys may have left Gray." (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 168 a.)

[13] K. K. Kriegs Archiv. Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 30. and Gyulay report to Schwarzenberg, I, 168.)

[14] Report of Gyulay to Schwarzenberg, from Vesoul, 8 January, 1814.  K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 159.

[15] K. K. Kriegs Archiv., ad. l, 159.

[16] At this moment, Grouchy, by order of Victor, prescribed to General de Ségur only to leave 200 horse with a squadron commander at Sarrebourg and come in two marches to Rambervillers, through Blamont , Ogéviller, Flin and Magnières.  The General of France had come to Rambervillers to take command of the four regiments of Guards of Honor.

[17] K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 201, t.

[18] K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 201, s.

[19] See, Archives of Depot of the War: Memoirs of Grouchy and journal of Petiet.

[20] Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt Armee (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 30), and Operations Journal of IVten Army Corps. (Ibid., XIII, 56.)

[21] Platoff to the Prince of Württemberg. K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, I73, a.

[22] Crown Prince of Württemberg to Platoff. K. K. Kriegs Archiv., 1, 173, b.

[23] Crown Prince of Württemberg to Schwarzenberg; Remiremont 9 January.  K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 173.

[24] Crown Prince of Württemberg to Schwarzenberg; Remiremont 9 January.  K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 202.

[25] As I often need to dwell on the singular nature of the relations between Allied generals, to highlight the mistakes resulting from lack of unity in leadership; conflicts that occurred almost daily between leaders in the very highest positions, I felt obliged to quote the following letter from Barclay to Schwarzenberg.  Everyone we see, gives orders without even bothering to confer with the Generalissimo; then, when the orders were put into execution and Schwarzenberg learns of them that way, and only then, that it was done without his knowledge, one tries to explain more or less successfully, the reasons for these movements and to gain his endorsement, while seeming to have guessed his plans and intentions.  Barclay's letter is obviously inspired by a feeling of this nature.

Barclay de Tolly to Schwarzenberg.  --Altkirch, 9 January, 1814.  "The General Count Toll informs me that he had given orders for Platoff to go to Épinal, and that Your Highness, however, wished to see him go to Neufchâteau.  I had only ordered Platoff to eventually reassemble Scherbatov in passing by Épinal, and immediately occupy the city, to continue his movement on Mirecourt towards Neufchâteau, urging him to send the party there at Bar-le-Duc and to link on the left at Langres with the Austrians, on the right with Prince Scherbatov that Your Highness sends on Nancy.

We will leave at Épinal, as support to cover the communications, some Cossacks who will remain there until the arrival of the troops of the Crown Prince of Württemberg." (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 174.)

[26] Here is the text of the summons of Thurn:

"The commander of the vanguard of the Allied Armies to the Commander of the City of Langres.

I charge you,  Monsieur Commander, to give up the city to the arms of the victorious army; it would be useless to make a vain resistance, my strengths are such that the city cannot resist; I warn you to spare the city from the scourge of war that would follow.  I am with every consideration."  (Archives of the Depot of the War.)

[27] Szenen aus der Geschichte of K. K. Husaren Regiments no. 3, Erzherzog Ferdinand and Tagesbegebenheiten Haupt der Armee. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 30.)

[28] K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 170.

[29] Schwarzenberg to the Emperor of Austria, from Villersexel, 14 January (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 238 and ad. I, 238).  Schwarzenberg said in these reports that Mortier did not have 30,000 men in Langres, the news gathered by Gyulay and Thurn contradict this initial information, that one only met in Troyes conscripts and they had cadres of troops.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2011


Military Index | Battles Index ]

© Copyright 1995-2012, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.

Top | Home ]