Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter Three Part II

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)





8 January.  --Orders of Blücher.  --The movement orders for the day of the 8th were as insignificant as the events of that day, and Blücher, while directing the Ist Corps to use two marches to arrive on the Saar, was primarily interested in ways to rally the fractions he left behind.  As the vanguard of Prince William rested at Saarwellingen; only the Major Zastrow, with the 10th Silesian Landwehr Cavalry Regiment, was sent to Beckingen and Saarfels (known as Fickingen up to 1932) ordered to monitor the course and fords of the Saar.

Action of Sankt Johann.  --As for Lieutenant-Colonel von Stutterheim, attacked by a hundred men from Saarbrücken who had crossed the Saar in boats under the protection of a battery of artillery, he was temporarily expelled from Sankt Johann.  The French[1] abandoned that village after having burned and sunk a few boats that the Prussians had found and gathered on the left bank.  The evening also brought the Lieutenant-Colonel orders to stand, 9 January, on Saarwellingen.  His presence at Sankt Johann had become completely useless since the arrival at this point of the flying corps of Biron.

Movements of Yorck and Sacken.  -The 8th, the headquarters of Yorck had been brought to Tholey; Sacken's corps was at Zweibrücken, heading to Sarreguemines.

Finally, Henckel received orders from Blücher to remain until the 16th in Trier[2].  His mission was to spread out to prevent resupply of Luxembourg, and had to await there for the arrival of General Röder (the IInd Corps, Kleist) to start again and form the extreme right of the army.

As for Kleist, who with 16,000 men of the IInd Corps, had left Erfurt, he received on the 8th at Kassel the order from Blücher to leave the 14th from Marburg and to be gathered the 20th on Koblenz.

Blücher's orders for 9, 10 and 11 January.  --In the orders that he made the days of  the 9th, 10th and 11th of January, Blücher obviously sought to recover the time he had lost since the passage of the Rhine, giving the 3rd and 5th of January two days to rest his troops, very tested, it is true, by the rigor and temperature variations.  He wanted to tuck the Corps of Yorck that day along the Saar, from Merzig up to Saarbrücken, and from that point up to Sarralbe with the Corps of Sacken.

For the first time, also found in his order of movement, were indications, very brief and very incomplete also on the strengths and intentions of his opponent; but despite his desire to join with the faster Marmont, the Field-Marshal is forced to admit that as a result of a considerable front his troops had to occupy and because of the flooding of the Saar, it would be impossible to pass this river on the day of the 9th, that he would have to devote fully on the work of building bridges.

Blücher's negligence.  --It may be noted in passing that Blücher had been thinking ahead to the difficulties of this crossing and he could easily have saved time by marching a pontoon crew with column heads of each of the two corps.  In the end, as he seemed to believe that Marmont, obviously encouraged by the support that could be offered him by the fortresses of the Meuse, Moselle and Saar, had to concentrate forces to oppose these enterprises, Blücher, disseminating his troops on a front extending from Trier to Sarralbe, exposed himself to view by the French trying to burst through the long line on a point somewhere.

9 January.  --Retreat of Marmont.  --The lieutenants of Blücher, executing his orders to the letter, then occupied in the day of the 9th the positions indicated above.  But the information transmitted by the emissaries and especially by the cavalry, established positively, that the Duke of Raguse, far from seeking to dispute the passage, had, however, continued his retreat on Metz.  The French seemed, indeed, to have only left anyone at Saarbrücken; their position established so far in front of Beckingen had fallen back on Saarlouis, those from the villages of Völklingen and Bous to Forbach.

Russian cavalry towards Sarreguemines.  --Some parts of the Prussian cavalry, having successfully crossed onto the left bank, closely followed the movements, however, did not dare to venture too far.  Lieutenant-Colonel von Stutterheim, however, had led some patrols on the road of Metz and General Karpov II, from the corps of Sacken, after crossing the Saar downstream of Sarreguemines, having chased out the French immediately restored the bridge and sent parties to Puttelange-aux-Lacs.

10 January.  --Evacuation of Saarbrücken.  --There had not been a stoppage in actively working on the establishment, at Beckingen, of a bridge that would able to be used by the troops on the morning of the 10th.  But during this time and with the news of the appearance of the cavalry of Karpov on the side of Sarreguemines, the garrison of Saarbrücken, alarmed by the movements of the horsemen of Yorck between Saarlouis and Saarbrücken, had evacuated the place on the night of the 9th at 10th and had retired without otherwise being bothered towards Saint-Avold.[3]

Executed 36, or possibly even 24 hours earlier, the enveloping movement that was trying to go on with Blücher's cavalry would have inevitably brought immediate results, despite its excessive magnitude, especially if Marmont had shared the point of view of Napoleon and, believing as he did that Blücher, would be obliged to leave behind him in his march from the Rhine twenty thousand men arriving before him with only 30,000, deciding to compete seriously, step by step the crossing of the Saar.  But as Marmont was able to accurately assess the strength of his opponent, and as the 10th only that the bulk of Blücher's cavalry rode onto the left bank of the river and moved forward, it was probably already too late for the Field-Marshal to catch the main body of French and even worried about the last troops he had kept on the Saar.  The French, who still retained their lead by a full day's march, found it was easy, as they did elsewhere, to refuse a fight and to retire, almost without incident, on Metz.

The Field Marshal himself acknowledges, however, the facts just advanced, and we find in the Kurzgefasste Darstellung der Kriegsbegebenheiten Schlesischen Armee,[4] dated 10 January the following sentences: "Blücher requires his cavalry to cross the Saar on the 10th ... to outflank the enemy, to move to Forbach and Sankt Johann and intercept his communications with Metz.  Marmont, less than half the size of Blücher, guessed his intentions and withdrew to Metz by Saint-Avold."

Although the delay we have just mentioned had prevented Blücher to outflank the French and cut their line of retreat, one must admit that only by pushing quickly the horse immediately after crossing the Saar, that first he managed to drive the French troops across the country between the Saar and Moselle, and become master, without firing a shot, it is true thanks to the negligence of the French generals, the key crossings of the Meurthe and Moselle.

It is also important to recognize that the temperature too, came to thwart Blücher and delay the march of his columns, since because of the frost which began on the 10th, the bridge Beckingen, to be completed on 10th, could not be fully established until 11th at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and it was only the 14th that the last troops crossed the Saar.[5]

Orders of Yorck.  --From the dispositions taken by Blücher the 9th, added with the use of the Ist Corps and expedited by Yorck, at 7 o'clock at night, from Lebach, it follows that nobody knew at that moment the French troops had retired, or at least that there  was an expectation of meeting with fairly strong resistance when they sought to advance on the left bank of the Saar.  It is, indeed, later and in a second order that Yorck, informed of the departure of the enemy, recommends to General von Jürgass, when this general officer managed to cross the river in Saarbrücken, to immediately gain the Metz road and pursue the enemy; to General von Katzler, to accelerate his crossing as much as possible in Beckingen.  Yorck moves himself to this point at dawn in order to make an accurate account of events.  He found Prince William in position with three battalions, a company of jägers and a half battery.

Movements of cavalry on Thionville, Saarlouis, Forbach, Luxembourg and Saint-Avold.  --Knowing the bridges were still far from finished, Lieutenant-Colonel von Stössel, who took command of the cavalry of the advanced guard (in place of the sick General von Katzler), crossed the ford of the Saar at Rehlingen, to move immediately by Bouzonville on Boulay-Moselle.  He immediately moved the parties under the command of Major von Krafft, from one side to Thionville and the other to Niedervisse.  Meanwhile, the 1st Neumark Landwehr Cavalry had also crossed the Saar by fording near Beckingen, and had turned towards Saarlouis.

As for Lieutenant-Colonel Stutterheim posted in Sankt Johann, when he heard of the evacuation of Saarbrücken by the French, he hastened first to refloat the boats they had sunk, then to build a temporary bridge, which was completed at about 11 o'clock in the morning, and to guard Saarbrücken with a battalion of infantry and 4 squadrons of his uhlans.  Immediately after the bridge was completed, General von Jürgass passed onto the left bank with 13 squadrons and a horse battery, and drove with them up to Forbach.  Blücher himself came towards evening into Saarbrücken, but before leaving Sankt Wendel, he had sent Yorck new orders prescribing him, first to invest  Saarlouis, then as soon as he was certain of the enemy's retreat on Metz, move General von Horn on Thionville.

This general officer was to attempt to spread confusion and terror everywhere, seeking to take this town by a coup de main, in any case to prevent resupply, to push parties on the Moselle, intercept the roads of Luxembourg and of Longwy at Thionville and connect with Henckel, who he had to given orders to move from Trier to Thionville by the 15th at the latest.

Henckel had not been idle since his entry into Trier.  The parties that he had sent to Luxembourg, under the command of Captain von Osten and Lieutenant de Chevallerie, had met on 10th near Walferdingen, had pushed up to under the cannons of a large detachment of the enemy and it had taken a number of men, while another of his parties, moving more to the north, pushed towards Malmedy.

Sacken had moved his headquarters to Sarralbe.[6]  His cavalry, under Lanskoy and Karpov, continued to march from Sarreguemines on Saint-Avold, and in the day of the 10th, Biron had moved from Saarbrücken to Forbach.  After he reunited with General von Jürgass in the evening, he went to quarter at Freyming-Merlebach (Freymingen) to push the next day the 11th on Saint-Avold, from which he was to receive further instructions.

11 January.  --Movements after the completion of the bridges over the Saar.  --It was, we have said, the 11th, at three o'clock the afternoon, that the bridge at Beckingen was ready to be used by the troops.  This delay of nearly 36 hours had the effect of preventing the first orders given by Blücher for the days 10 and 11 January, but also had forced Yorck to bivouac, in a very rigorous cold, the troops already well tested and that, to make up for lost time and try to reach the enemy, would be compelled to still perform forced marches.

Prince William immediately moved his advanced guard, first directing it on Wallerfangen (Valdevrange), leaving the high road, which would have led it under the cannon of Saarlouis, and not resume at Bisten(-en-Lorraine); because of this detour it camped in the night up to Überherrn.  His goal was reached at Carling (Carlingen) 6 kilometers from Saint-Avold.  His cavalry, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel von Stössel, had pushed up to Boulay, but was forced to delay a league behind this, first because the French occupied all the villages located between Saint-Avold and Boulay, then because it was impossible to connect to his left with the reserve cavalry of General von Jürgass.

Cavalry affair of Pontigny.  --The retrograde movement had jeopardize the fate of a squadron of the 2nd Leib Hussar Regiment.  The latter, under the command of Captain Erichsen, after crossing the ford at Rehlingen the 10th, had been instructed to push as far as possible on the road to Metz, to get some definitive news about the positions, the strength , the movements and the plans of the enemy.  This squadron succeeded in the delicate mission entrusted to it and came the 11th to a league (lieue) from Metz without meeting the enemy.  There the Prussian hussars came against a convoy of artillery, attacked, felling a few men and horses.  The purpose intended for it had now reached and the squadron began its retreat.  Because of the large amount of snow fall, it had to be made by the route they had taken from the Saar.

Meanwhile, the French infantry had come to occupy the village of Pontigny located three miles away and to the exact point where the bridge crosses the Nied.  The squadron commander of the 2nd (Leib) Hussars was informed of this fact when he was already in the Les Étangs, a half-mile from Pontigny, where he had stopped to feed his horses.  He made sure, however, by assure himself of the authenticity of the news.  The village was strongly held, the bridge solidly barricaded, and it was therefore impossible to consider taking Pontigny by main force.  It was also feared an attack from Metz because of the affair it had just had with the convoy of artillery.  The detachment was in one of these situations in which it is impossible to withdraw except by deception.

The captain, who commanded the hussars, sent therefore a negotiating officer, accompanied by a trumpeter, summoning the French commander of Pontigny to surrender, telling him that the cavalry formed the advanced guard of a large corps.  The negotiator was met with gunfire against him from sentinels posted at the entrance of the village; but, taking advantage of the darkness, he dismounted, slipped into the ditch bordering the road, and came up to a small post, presenting himself as a negotiator and was led to the colonel who commanded the troops at Pontigny.  He refused to surrender and did not believe in the fable offered by the Prussian officer, who nonetheless managed to make him believe he had before him a patrol from flank of the corps of Count Henckel, and that this corps would reunite in the morning at Pontigny with troops from Saarlouis.

The colonel then told the Prussian officer that he would evacuate Pontigny in an hour, provided, however, that it was previously authorized by the General Ricard, whose headquarters was a small league from Pontigny.  The Prussian officer naturally accepted the proposal.  They sent a soldier riding a farm horse to the general, and an hour and a half later the colonel was ordered to leave Pontigny in writing.

This news, immediately sent by the Prussian officer to his chief, arrived, moreover, when the small outpost established on the road to Metz had been bothered by a patrol of French hussars and felt it should expect a new attack, which would have meant the destruction of the post caught in the crossfire.  The Prussian hussars therefore moved without further delay on Pontigny, cleared away the bridge, continuing their retreat quickly until Volmerange (lès-Boulay), located two miles away, and occupied the village where they barricaded the streets.  The next day the 12th, the squadron was joined there by the rest of the regiment.[7]

To the right of the Ist Corps, General Horn began his movement from Beckingen towards Thionville and was camped in the night with his brigade at Bouzonville.

Taking of Saint-Avold with the cavalry.  --Pursuant to the orders of Prince William, Lieutenant-Colonel von Stutterheim had started his march to Saint-Avold.  Arriving at a little distance from this city, he had moved against the entrance of the defile at the neuen mühle (new mill) where the enemy had posted some infantry supported by cavalry.  As the terrain on which he would be obliged to act did not lend itself to the action of the cavalry, Stutterheim passed one of his battalions in the woods located on the French left, and turned them and flush them out without jeopardizing their positions.  The Lieutenant-Colonel delivered his front forward, pursuing vigorously with his four squadrons into Saint- Avold, where the French tried to hold good.  After a brisk battle, the Prussians, thanks to the timely arrival of the flying corps of Prince Biron and Lanskoy's cavalry, succeeded in capturing the city,[8] and to chase the enemy who retreated on the road to Metz, pursued by Lanskoy up to Longeville.  Around half past ten at night, the cavalry of General von Jürgass came, also, bivouacking around Saint-Avold; the bulk of the cavalry of Sacken's Corp, under the command of General Vasilchikov stood still around Puttelange .

12 January.  --Movement of Yorck and Sacken.  --Cavalry affair of Noisseville.  --On the 12th, the corps of Sacken and Yorck continued their movement towards the Moselle, one in the direction of Metz, the second on the line of Pont-à-Mousson-Nancy.

In front of Prince William (advanced guard of the Ist Corps), and arriving at Fouligny and who occupied Raville and Guinglange, Lieutenant-Colonel von Stössel had been moved, with his cavalry to the right of Yorck, and had continued to Metz, Boulay and Étangs.  At the heights of Noisseville he came to three squadrons of French cavalry who, when they were preparing to throw themselves against the Prussian cavalry, were charged by a squadron of the 2nd Hussars, a squadron of Mecklenburg-Strelitz Hussars and a squadron of National Cavalry Regiment of East Prussia, and warmly routed back to Noisseville.  A post of French infantry, established on this point, gathered, while several battalions of infantry and 6 squadrons of cavalry emerging from Nouilly, a village located 2 kilometers from Noisseville, was deployed to stop Lieutenant-Colonel von Stössel.  As the reserve cavalry of General von Jürgass and much of the vanguard had not yet arrived at his level, the officer thought it more prudent to refuse an engagement which, given the disparity of forces, might have been unfavorable, and settled in Glatigny. The small business had cost the French at Noisseville forty men out of action and some thirty prisoners.[9]

The reserve cavalry under the command of General von Jürgass, had also crossed the Nied, and Lieutenant-Colonel von Stutterheim, who followed with 3 battalions, 4 squadrons and a battery of horse artillery, was quartered in the evening at Courcelles.

The headquarters of Yorck went to Longeville and the bulk of his corps stood on a line from Saint-Avold to Fouligny

Horn before Thionville.  --On the far right, Horn[10] arrived at Thionville, that he invested on the right bank of
the Moselle by Lieutenant-Colonel von Sohr, with a battalion and 4 squadrons.  As for himself, he still remained at Distroff, with his 6 other battalions.[11]

Position of the Sacken's cavalry.  --General Lanskoy (advance guard of Sacken) had received that day, 12 January, near Courcelles, the order to march on the road from Château-Salins to Pont-à-Mousson, all the while keeping communications with  the Prussian cavalry that would reassure one of its Cossack regiments stationed at Chailly-lès-Ennery. Vasilchikov, with the rest of Sacken's cavalry, continued to also push, to the Moselle, and Biron, in charge of connecting with the VIth Corps of the Grand Army of Bohemia (Wittgenstein), believed to already marching on Nancy, arrived in the evening at Morhange and Haboudange.  The bulk of the corps of Sacken occupied, the 12th at night, the line Puttelange-Faulquemont.

Marmont's retreat on Metz.  --State of his corps.  --From the morning of the 12th, Marmont had come to take a position under the guns of Metz, abandoning to the enemy all the land between the Saar and Moselle, where Saarlouis alone remained with the French.  It is fair to recognize that the position of the Marshal was far from brilliant. Whatever might be the advantages and strong points that appeared to him on the line of the Moselle, despite the resources he could find, it was impossible to conceal that he only stopped with the idea of staying there as long as he was certain to be immediately reinforced by fresh troops, and especially by strong and seasoned troops. Casting a glance at the states and situations, we find, it is true, that there was at that time to the left of the Duke of Raguse the Young Guard Division of General Decouz, training in Thionville; to his right, the troops Ney had gathered in Nancy; and then, finally, to the right again, those with whom Victor fell back before the IVth and Vth Corps of the Army of Bohemia.  But in reality to have a chance, however small, to resist on the Moselle, it was necessary, above all, to unite with Ney and Victor which could not happen without the direct instructions of the Emperor, and soon, in fact, it would become impossible.  Finally, desertion had taken place during the retreat from the Rhine to the Saar, and especially during movement from the Saar to the Moselle, to such an extent that one cannot help but share and understand the worries and concerns of Marmont.

From 7 January, the Duke of Raguse had reported, in a letter to Berthier, many cases of desertion which had arisen, especially among the soldiers from the departments of Mont-Tonnerre and the Rhin-et-Moselle.  A whole regiment of Dutch hussars, having no more than 50 men, had to be disarmed and remove to keep them from deserting with weapons and equipment.  Arriving on the banks of the Saar, he had around him no more than 11,000 men[12], and on the 13th in the morning, the day after his arrival in Metz, his 48 battalions had barely 6,000 men.  Also, while one is entitled to regret that the junction of three Marshals Marmont, Ney, and Victor hadn't taken place, it would be particularly unfair to want to lay all the blame on Marmont, for the precipitation with which Ney evacuated Nancy and the direction taken by Marshal Victor following the evacuation and at the instigation of the Prince of La Moskowa, would make of his position more difficult and more critical, and force two days later , 15 January, his slow retreat on Verdun.

13 January.  --Movements of the cavalry of Sacken and Yorck to the Moselle.  --Meanwhile, as the headquarters of the Army of Silesia became aware of the situation of the enemy, and as the retreat of Marmont on Metz was now found, the day of the 13th was judiciously employed day by the cavalry of Sacken's Corp to feel out the positions occupied by enemy troops on the Moselle and pushing parties toward Nancy.

To facilitate this cavalry in fulfilling its mission, Yorck pushed his advance guard and his reserve cavalry at dawn to Metz, making them take a position between Colombey and Courcelles, and placed the reserve cavalry under the command of Prince William, who was, first, to unite with Sacken's vanguard and then, to invest Metz with his cavalry.

The cavalry of Prince William at Metz.  --Prince William had to divide the terrain around Metz into three sectors. Lieutenant-Colonel von Stössel, with the cavalry of the advance guard (8 squadrons), supported by a battalion of infantry and a have battery at horse artillery, was to form the right of the line of outposts and was to extend from Mey to the Moselle. To get to the positions indicated, this detachment, which had to go through Villers-l'Orme; but found the French firmly established (1,000 infantry and cavalry) there, and had to withdraw.  The Lieutenant-Colonel, with three of his squadrons, then tried to go by Mey and Borny; but as the French occupied the first of these villages, and as the second would have been untenable because it was too close to the place he had to be content to monitor the sector to the Moselle with vedettes and patrols who succeeded, moreover, to take some prisoners.

At the center of the line formed by the outposts, was Lieutenant-Colonel von Stutterheim.  Coming with 2 battalions, two jäger companies, four squadrons and half a horse artillery battery by the high road to Saint-Avold, he occupied the right and left of the road behind Montoy-Flanville and from Colombey, Coincy, Maizery and Silly-sur-Nied. Finally, on the left, Major von Woïsky stood at Ars-Laquenexy, Mercy-les-Metz and The Grange-aux-Bois.  Behind him, General von Jürgass took position, with the remainder of his 8 squadrons of dragoons and half battery of horse artillery, at Courcelles-sur-Nied, Laquenexy, Mécleuves and Frontigny, while the bulk of the advanced guard (4 battalions, 4 squadrons, 1 company of pioneers and a mounted battery) stood at Courcelles-Chaussy, Pont-a-Chaussy, Chevillon, Maizeroy and Pange, so that, if the enemy returned to the offensive, they could defend the passage of the French Nied and collect the outposts.

On the side of Thionville, nothing had happened again; only the outposts of cavalry had informed Yorck that the infantry had halted at Longeville, with a strong column of French, leaving Metz, headed on Verdun.

Taking of the bridges of Frouard by the Russian cavalry.  --Sacken's cavalry under the command of General Vasilchikov, had continued its march to Pont-à-Mousson.  It had sent further to the left a party of light cavalry, which debouched on the banks of the Moselle, near its confluence with the Meurthe, having seized the bridges at Bouxières(-aux-Dames) and Frouard.

Marshals Ney and Victor, although the tip of the Allied cavalry was not more than a day's march behind them, had failed to destroy them in withdrawing.  Vasilchikov took advantage of this inexplicable mistake to push forward horsemen immediately, firstly, to Pont-à-Mousson, then to Commercy and Saint-Mihiel.

March of Biron on Nancy.  --Biron, leaving the 13th at 9 o'clock in the morning, Haboudange where he left a flying communications post, arrived at noon at Chateau-Salins, that he occupied without a shot being fired and pushed in the course of day, up to Laneuvelotte, where he stopped for the night.  He had, in the afternoon, sending runners, in the direction of Nancy as well as towards Lunéville, in hopes of connecting with the cavalry of Wittgenstein, or at least to get some information on its position.  But the Cossacks sent in search of the VIth Corps returned at night without being able to discover anything.

Movement of the corps of Kleist.  --The corps of Kleist (IInd Prussian Corps) arrived in Marburg on the 13th, his reserve cavalry under the command of General von Röder, who was from the 9th at Ehrenbreitstein restrained on the right bank by the ice carried by the Rhine, crossed that same day to the left bank.

The 13th of January, as the Prussian cavalry had reported to Yorck, Marmont was well gone from Metz, not to Verdun, but for Pont-à-Mousson, the division of Ricard[13] that only arrived on the evening of 13th at Novéant-sur-Moselle, would consequently reach Pont-à-Mousson in the morning of the 14th.

14 January.  --Movement towards Thionville.  --Yorck, meanwhile, made his dispositions to withstand a possible attack of the French in front of Metz, where, indeed, the day passed without incident.

That same day, Blücher sent towards Thionville the brigade of General von Pirch II (1st Prussian Brigade), which was directed to this place to relieve General von Horn, directed to Sierck-les-Bains, to cross the Moselle and operate together with Henckel against Luxembourg.  Despite the information sent on the 13th by that officer, and according to whom this place would have contained 4,000 to 5,000 men, the Field-Marshal had hoped to achieve its removal, either from assault, or with the connivance of the inhabitants[14].

He had, moreover, found in the course of the day, the flank of the corps of Sacken, events that would influence Blücher to imprint on the operations of a portion of his army an energetic pulse that had previously been lacking there, and more activity in connection with the tastes and character of the Field Marshal.

The cavalry of Lanskoy occupies Pont-à-Mousson.  --The appearance of the cavalry of General Lanskoy in view from Pont-à-Mousson was, indeed, enough to convince General Ricard[15] to evacuate the city and retire by Thiaucourt-Regniéville on Verdun.

In his retirement, the general officer had not even thought of cutting the bridge behind on the Moselle.

Entry of Biron into Nancy.  --Almost at the same time, despite the frost and snow, Biron, who had taken care to make shod the horses of his flying body for ice, arrived on the 13th, at 4 o'clock, before Nancy.  After firing a few shots, he occupied the capital of Lorraine, that fell to a squadron of hussars and a hundred Cossacks[16].

15 January.  -- Blücher's first orders for the 16th.  --Blücher had at first (his first orders in the morning on the 15th for the day of the 16th provide the evidence) planned to seriously invest Metz, pursue the enemy in the direction of Verdun, attacking Luxembourg, probing Longwy and to cross in this way to the Moselle on three points: at Sierck near Thionville and at Ancy-sur-Moselle.

In this situation, the corps of Yorck would remain in its quarters and be content to reconnoiter whether the paths from Fouligny to Pont-à-Mousson were passable for the light artillery; the Russian corps of Langeron would come the 16th to Saarbrücken, the 17th between Saint-Avold and Forbach; Sacken was to occupy with his infantry, Château-Salins and Morhange, Vic-sur-Seille, Moyenvic and Marsal, in order to be absolute master of the road from Sarreguemines to Moyenvic by Puttelange and Dieuze.  He had orders to support his cavalry riders who had come to Nancy, and the cavalry was also occupy Nancy and Pont-à-Mousson and pursue, finally, the enemy on the left bank of the Moselle, in case they evacuated that town.

It is obvious that when he sent this order, Blücher did not know that Pont-à-Mousson had been occupied since the day before by cavalrymen of the division of Vasilchikov, and he similarly had no knowledge of the retreat of Ney and Victor on Toul.  So it was at the news of the abandonment of bridges at Frouard, Bouxières and Pont-à-Mousson, that informed him of the holding of two openings leading to the Meuse, when he learned that the French now found themselves unable to resist and to seriously compete for the terrain between the Moselle and the Meuse, that he resolved on his left, to make a movement that would enable the Great Army of Bohemia to advance , and maybe even get on the Meuse before one of three French corps in retreat before him.

Blücher chooses the party to move forward.  --However, not daring to execute a movement of such boldness with all his army, he began with only the corps of Sacken and the division of Olsufiev from Langeron's Corps.  To make use of the terms expressed by Clausewitz, in his Overview of the 1814 Campaign, he directs the head of 28,000 men on Nancy to join the army of Schwarzenberg, that he actually precedes.  At the same time, it charges Yorck with monitoring places on the Moselle, to hide the direction he has taken to ensure his control of the roads by which reinforcements will have to arrive, first to be brought to Langeron, then to Kleist.  In entrusting this task to Yorck, the Field Marshal hoped, moreover, that the Ist Corps commander managed to remove by force any of the strongholds and to provide a strong hold on the line of operations of the Army of Silesia.[17]

Orders to Yorck.  --On 15 January at 8 o'clock at night, Yorck, whose headquarters was at Longeville, received with the commands of Field Marshal Blücher the following dispatch that he sent from Saint-Avold:

"Your Excellency will receive herewith the orders I gave after receiving the news of the complete abandonment of the Moselle by the enemy."

"Prince Biron yesterday entered Nancy at 4 o'clock and follows the enemy to Toul.  Marshal Victor, who fell back on this spot, was afraid of being cut off by Wrede."

"Your Excellency will continue during the day of the 17th with the investment of Metz, Thionville, Luxembourg and Saarlouis; I do not intend to detain you on these issues for a long time.  Here, instead, are what my plans are:"

"Your Excellency has obviously understands all the benefits that would come from the possession of whatever of these fortresses that become our place of arms.  If it is possible to capture one of these places (where there are, indeed, just conscripts) or with the connivance of the inhabitants, or assault, it is important to try this enterprise, even if we sacrifice for it a thousand men and more.  Wherever a endeavor like that would be impossible, it will be useful to alarm the garrison at night to get to know how easy it might be to take.  It suffices for this purpose, to use some old infantrymen."

"If we cannot succeed in gaining Metz, Thionville and Luxembourg, where the commanders of these places are determined to put up a good show, it will require awaiting the arrival of General von Kleist, charging General von Röder with blockading Luxembourg  and Thionville, and to entrust the same mission at Metz to the cavalry of Langeron.  Your Excellency will march then with his army right through Saint-Mihiel to the Meuse, after previously brushing Longwy."

"I do not know what you actually have in the way of ammunition for the 10 pound howitzers;, but if, by bombarding one of these places with these shells, you thought to bring about a capitulation, you should definitely use this means to, while leaving only enough of your ammunition, you'll need when we fight."

"I go to Nancy, to keep myself in communication with the main army, and leave you free, Your Excellency, in accordance with the instructions, to give orders to his corps."

"If you see fit to allocate more time for some infantry troops to blockade one of the places, you might do well to do so and in this case move to Saint-Mihiel with some of your corps."

"Please let me know the time of your arrival in Saint-Mihiel and the actual situation of the troops who will march with you.  I send your Excellency orders for General von Röder and the Russian General Borozdin, so you can eventually make use of them."

"At the headquarters of Saint-Avold, 15 January 1814."

In this dispatch which was attached to the orders of the Field-Marshal sent, he repeatedly alluded to and settled all movement of the Ist Corps for the days of 16,17 and 18 January.

Corps movements of the Army of Silesia on 15 January.  --Pending the implementation of these new orders received by the 15th at night, a summary reconnaissance was done during the day of the 15th of Metz, and as the brigade of Pirch had arrived in the course of the day, before Thionville, the brigade of Horn was able to begin its movement on Sierck.

As for Henckel, who, upon leaving Trier to march towards Thionville, had received formal orders from Blücher to cooperate with the enterprise that General von Horn was attempting against Luxembourg, he was already the 15th, in the evening, at Gréiwemaacher (Grewemachern).

The army corps of Kleist continued to march towards the Rhine, in two columns, one by Giessen, Wetzlar, Weilburg and Leinburg, the other by Herborn, Hadamar and Ehrenbreitstein, while his cavalry under the command of General von Röder, arrived the 17th in Trier.

Marmont's retreat on Mars-la-Tour.  --It was also this January 15th that a cavalry brigade of Sacken's Corps rejoined Biron at Nancy, and that Marmont, following the hasty retreat of Ney and Victor, had  recourse to leave himself with the cavalry of Doumerc and the divisions of Lagrange and Decouz, Metz, where he left General Durutte with two regiments of his division and the conscripts who had been gathered in this place.  He withdrew to Mars-la-Tour, without, moreover, the least worry by the Prussian cavalry.

It is actually to hide the fault of General Ricard that the Duke of Raguse, wrote in the dispatch from Metz on 15 January at 11:30 in the evening to the Chief of Staff, seeking to blame Ney and Victor for the responsibility of his retrograde movement.  He is, in effect, forced to acknowledge in the same dispatch that General Ricard informed of the entry of the enemy in Nancy, felt obliged, at the news of his march on Thiaucourt (-Regniéville), to abandon Pont-à-Mousson.  He added that Ricard had to retreat, owing to the retrograde motion of other corps on Toul and that these movements forced him to leave himself on the 16th the Moselle to be closer to the Meuse.  But this was just an implausible excuse, further evidence of the misunderstanding that existed between the three marshals since the 16th at 8 o'clock in the morning is that the Marshal had his Chief of Staff, General Meynadier write General Ricard:  "The Marshal found your movement from Pont-à-Mousson on Thiaucourt very precipitous. His Excellency would have wanted you to keep this point, and at least that on leaving, you would have blown up the bridge." Finally, in another dispatch, he ordered him to stop, "because he had to stop at Gravelotte himself, and would have remained in Metz if Ricard had not evacuated Pont- à-Mousson."

Ney and Victor have certainly committed grave mistakes in leaving the bridges at Frouard and Bouxières-aux-Dames.  But the destruction of the bridge of Pont-à-Mousson was all the more necessary because Pont-à-Mousson was precisely the point that allowed Blücher to deploy without delay on the plateau and maneuver by the left bank of the Moselle on Haute-Marne.

Reflections on the operations of Blücher.  --While one can only approve of the resolution made by Blücher, having, as he did, knowledge of the retirement of the marshals and the abandonment of the line of the Moselle, if we understand that, setting off to take the offensive vigorously with the bulk of his forces, he was keen to ensure the coverage of his rear and right by charging Yorck to temporarily mask the places from the Moselle; one fails however to discover the reasons why he detached from the Ist Prussian Corps two infantry brigades and Henckel's column to send to Thionville and right again, to Luxembourg.  Blücher, moreover, knew full well that the cavalry of Röder would arrive the 7th in Trier and could watch Luxembourg from there.  He could also fall back to this side Saint-Priest, who, with the 8th Corps, had taken, from Remagen and Andernach, his movements to Malmedy and Givet. Finally, the cavalry of Langeron, under General Borozdin, followed closely by a good part of the infantry of the corps, should have been from the 17th to 18th at the latest, before Metz.  These detachments, these eccentric expeditions are even more inexplicable in that Blücher was not seeking partial benefits, insignificant successes, he was obsessed with the fixed idea of joining with the enemy as quickly and with as many people as possible.  So in doing this, he making a double mistake[18] to force Yorck to send nearly half of his corps so far from the line it would have to follow to join the main army; he was voluntarily imposing unnecessary delays and making it almost impossible to concentrate his corps and to march with all his forces by the time he was relieved under Metz by approaching reinforcements.  The stubbornness exhibited by Blücher to want to become, almost without firing a shot, master of the towns of Lorraine, can only be explained in one way: the Field-Marshal hoped that the commanders of the fortresses would be intimidated, to open the city gates of the fortified cities to Yorck that they were responsible to defend and follow the unfortunate example set recently by the officers to whom the Emperor had given towns in Holland and who almost all had capitulated at the first summons of Bülow and his lieutenants.

Despite the discontent, naturally enough, he felt moreover, upon receipt of an order for the mission he was to undertake as so thankless and difficult, Yorck took immediate steps to comply with new provisions that Blücher had issued on the evening of the 15th.  Under these provisions, one of the infantry brigades of the Ist Corps had to invest Metz, from Colombey by Magny(-sur-Seille) up to Montigny-lès-Metz.  The cavalry of the vanguard had to provide the troops for the investment of Saint-Julien-lès-Metz to Montigny; the other brigade remained in support, and cavalry reserve was intended to follow the retreat of the enemy on Verdun.

On the 17th the infantry brigade, hitherto kept in support, was ordered to cross the Moselle at Ancy and complete the investment of Metz.  The blockade of Thionville and Luxembourg would also be done on the day of 17th, the day when the corps of Sacken, whose cantonments stretched from Chateau-Salins to Nancy, would occupy the latter city with a brigade of infantry and would push the infantry to Pont-à-Mousson and to follow the enemy with his cavalry just as much in the direction of Commercy as to Bar-le-Duc.  Blücher also insisted on the movements of the cavalry of Borozdin and infantry of Olsufiev, whose division, already arrived in Saarbrücken, would reach the  line of Chateau-Salins-Nancy the 19th.


[1] Marmont in his provisions for the day of 7 January prescribed to blow up the bridge Saarbrücken; ordered the divisions of Durutte and Ricard to take positions in Forbach, to occupy Saarbrücken, the fords of Wehrden, Völklingen and Malstatt (-Burbach) with infantry, the cavalry and cannon; to General Doumerc to guard the ford of Rehlingen at the Rehlingen-Siersberg position, to hold the ford of Pachten with his heavy cavalry, supported temporarily by 600 men from the garrison of Saarlouis.  If the enemy were to force the passage of Siersberg, Doumerc had to retreat in the direction of Metz, after having informed the generals stationed in Forbach of his movements.

The effectives of two divisions of Ricard and Durutte and the division of Lagrange was only 8,500 men. (Archives of the War.)

Marmont said in his report to the Chief of Staff, from Forbach, 8 January, at 8 o'clock in the evening by an unimaginable negligence that all boats had met at Saarbrücken having descended the river and were on the right bank under the control of the enemy.  As they were numerous enough to carry 5,000 men, and as the Prussians were not in force on this point, the marshal did not lose a moment to get the cannons, drive the outposts from Sankt Johann and repossess the boats that he sank. (Archives of the War.)

[2] We will see later that Henckel, the 15th at Trier, with orders to march to Thionville, then headed to Luxembourg again.

[3] From the orders and dispatches below sent by Marmont, it follows that he was alarmed beyond reason and he was perfectly able to conceal his retirement and keep the necessary distance ahead of the main Army of Silesia without imposing his troops already proven to be fatigued by a night march.

Marmont to the Chief of Staff.  --Forbach, 9 January, noon.

"The enemy has forced the passage of the Saar at Rehlingen below Saarlouis, built a bridge and debouched in full force with infantry, cavalry and artillery.  I also received the report that the enemy forces are increased on the side of Sarreguemines and the enemy came forward yesterday to Saverne.  These circumstances persuaded me to move myself tomorrow morning on Saint-Avold with most of my strength leaving my advanced guard in Forbach. "

Order of 9 January 1814, the headquarters of Forbach, 6:30 at night.

"The Lagrange division will start immediately with its artillery and the Reserve to take a position at Saint-Avold and await the arrival of other troops.  General van Merlen will follow with his cavalry and will be under the command of General Lagrange.  General van Merlen will push this same night a reconnaissance in the direction of Puttelange and Bouzonville."

"General Durutte will gather his troops in Forbach in order to be on the march to Saint-Avold by 2 o'clock in the morning."

"The division of General Ricard, which has had time to rally, will march immediately."

"General Picquet will be riding at 2 o'clock, with his Guard of Honor and will march with headquarters on Saint-Avold."

"General Beurmann must be returned to Forbach by 2 o'clock in the morning, and will act as the rear guard." (Archives of the War.)

[4] K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 31.

[5] DROYSEN, Leben des von Feldmarschall Grafen York von Wartenburg, II, 270.

[6] "The enemy having crossed the Saar at Sarralbe and at Rehlingen and trying to cut me off from the defile of Saint-Avold", , Marshal Marmont wrote on 10 January at 8 o'clock at night to Belliard, "I have taken a position at Longeville (-lès-Saint-Avold); I would like an advance guard at Saint-Avold and I will stay long enough to force the enemy to deploy." (Archives of the War.)

[7] The French reports of the day confirm and record these facts.  General Fournier wrote therefore from  Narbéfontaine to General Ricard, 11 January n, at 1:15 in the afternoon that:  "An individual, who comes from Metz, this morning saw 40 Cossacks at the village of Les Étangs.  The colonel of the 136rd established at Niedervisse informs me that the enemy occupies Boulay and pushed its reconnaissance up to Volmerange to see whether the village of Denting is occupied."

General Belliard gave more details in the report he sent on 11 January at 10 o'clock in the evening, from Metz, to the Chief of Staff.

"A hostile party came yesterday evening to Boulay.  We knew immediately.  The enemy is none the less keeping a low profile, and finding it alone, he has now moved forward to within a league from Metz, at the junction of route of Courcelles (-sur-Nied), where he is established.  It took away some men going to Courcelles, that were returned, as well as their wagons.  I think the party will be returned to Boulay.  It is really shameful to see 60 riders run through the country with impunity under the guns of a fortress of the first order.  I ask that we put everyone on the road to Courcelles, we do patrols around the city, that we push out reconnaissances.  I also ask that one occupies in force Pont-à-Mousson, where there is no one, and is an important point to keep.  All this will happen.  I have been promised. "

[8] Marmont wrote from Longeville, 11 January, at 7 o'clock at night, to the Chief of Staff and to Belliard that Sacken had arrived before him while Yorck crossed the Meuse at Rehlingen and marched in a direct route from Saarlouis to Metz, and that because of this he left the same night to move closer to Metz.  He added that there had been a slight engagement at Saint- Avold between the advanced guard and the enemy, "which forced us to abandon that city, but without casualties." (Archives of the War.)

[9] "We had," Belliard wrote to Marmont on 12 January at 11 o'clock at night, from Metz, "fairly sharp cavalry engagements in the afternoon, near Boulay and Courcelles.  The enemy mounted on each side a thousand horses. Tomorrow I will have before me a strong advanced-guard and  after noon tomorrow all the enemy forces. (Archives of the War.)

He added that, as he is much impaired by providing troops who remain stationed in Metz, General Curial temporarily left him the Decouz Division, coming from Thionville.

[10] Belliard to the Chief of Staff, Metz, 12 January, evening.  --He announced the departure of the headquarters for Châlons in the same dispatch.

[11] Blücher had left in front of Saarlouis 4 battalions and 4 squadrons.

[12] MARMONT, Mémoires, VI, 12.

[13] Marmont to General Ricard, Metz, 12 January, 11 o'clock at night. (Archive of the War.)

[14] It is fair to add that Blücher had been misled by overly the optimistic reports of Lieutenant Chevallerie, assuring him that Luxembourg had a small garrison, and that its inhabitants were willing to open the gates to the Allies. (Order of Blücher to Henckel, from Saint-Avold, 14 January at noon.)

[15] Marmont, Metz, 14 January, 10:15, morning, to General Ricard:  "Since the enemy has appeared in Pont-à-Mousson and likewise there were annoying rumblings yesterday about Nancy, I sending tonight to rejoin you the cavalry brigade of General van Merlen; it will serve to scout for you about Nancy and Toul, to monitor the river and give me news.  If the enemy is at Nancy, and there is nothing new in the day in the Lower Moselle, it is likely that tomorrow I will start to march to you with the rest of my troops."

Marmont to the Chief of Staff, Metz, 14 January, 10 o'clock at night:  "The Prussian Corps took position a league from the right bank of the Moselle between Thionville and Metz.  Sacken's Corps is at some distance before me."

"I have chosen a General Durutte as senior commander of Metz." (Archives of the War.)

[16] Kurzgefasste Darstellung der Kriegsbegebenheiten Schlesischen Armee im Jahre  l814. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 31.)

Victor to Grouchy. Nancy, 14 January 1814:

"Order.  --The movement will be continued on Toul:  the 1st Infantry Division leads the way; the 2nd follows the 1st; the 2nd Divisions of Dragoons marches together behind the 2nd Infantry."

"The Guards of Honor and light cavalry are the rearguard.  General Defrance will stay until night exiting from Château-Salins, from Flavigny-sur-Moselle, from Saint-Vincent, to observe the enemy.  He will hold the bulk of his cavalry on the road up to Toul at night and fall back with all his men in the direction of Toul up to Gondreville, where he will await orders."

Grouchy to Milhaud, 1/14:

"... With the enemy coming to Nancy a few moments after the time I left, I beg you to give orders to your cantonments for extreme vigilance.  It will also push reconnaissance of the roads of Vézelise and Vaucouleurs, and go into one or the other of these new directions."

Victor to the Chief of Staff. Toul, 14 January, 6 o'clock at night:

"The troops under my command had slept last night at Lunéville and Saint-Nicolas.  I thought I could leave them there today to get the rest they had needed, but the advice I received from the Marshal Prince of Moskowa was that a column of the Allies approached Nancy, by Château-Salins, and that it was this that debouched from Épinal maneuvering in the direction of Neufchâteau; I have continued my movement to arrive at Toul with the infantry and artillery.  I staggered the cavalry from Nancy to Gondreville.  I will hold this position until I received new information.  If I learn that the enemy is marching on Neufchâteau by Joinville, as I am assured, I will go to Vitry. The Prince of Moskowa will occupy Pagny-sur-Meuse and Void.  The horses suffer much and have many loses, lack of money prevents their shoeing." (Archives of the War.)

[17] It is worth noting that even if this resolution was inspired by Gneisenau to Blücher, the Field-Marshal had the advantage of moderating the excessive zeal of his Chief of Staff.  Gneisenau, in fact, had not yet managed to console himself for the rejection of the plan he had proposed in November, which was to continue operations against Napoleon immediately after Leipzig.  Just to be convinced, recall the letter the Chief of Staff of the Army of Silesia specifically addressed that day to Radetzky, and in which, by announcing the capture of Nancy, he said "Why leave the troops on the Rhine? To monitor Mainz and Strasbourg!  But we're l4 stages from Paris, and 18 days are sufficient for us to cross the distance that separates us from the capital, a battle with the enemy and impose our will." And he added: "Why do not converge on Paris all that we still have on the Rhine. In our situation, one battle should give us a decisive victory that will allow us to dictate peace as we want ... Let us then move forward," he said again in conclusion, "and bring with us all that we can gather.  There is near Moret(-sur-Loing), between Montereau(-faut-Yonne) and Nemours, a position where we can, without bloodshed, forcing Paris submit if it could not be achieved more quickly by a battle .  This position is located downstream from the confluence of the Yonne, the Aube, the Armançon, the Canal of Briare and the River Seine, by which we take from Paris everything that keeps it a living capital." (BERNHARDI, Denkwürdigkeiten  aus dem Leben des Grafen von Toll, IV, 211-213.)

[18] Clausewitz in his Strategic Review of the 1814 Campaign, has himself condemned the operation, saying: "As the whole plan of campaign was to get as quickly as possible a large decisive battle, taking a few fortresses would absolutely constitute in all cases a secondary objective, that should have been dealt with only after making a blow, or in the case, moreover unlikely, that the war would have taken on a drawn out character.  It was therefore important to use as few as possible troops to paralyze the action of the places occupied by the French.  It was enough, therefore, especially in the beginning and until the arrival of reserves, to address only those that were located on roads or nearby roads by which we marched, just to observe those of them which were small and invest only those which had real value."

 "There would rank among the first, Erfurt, Würzburg, places of Alsace and Strasbourg; among the second, Mainz, Landau, Saarlouis, Thionville, Metz, Luxembourg, Longwy and eventually Verdun, and 65,000 men would amply suffice for this."


Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2011

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