Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter Three Part III

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)






16 January.  --Movement of the troops of Yorck around Metz.  --Yorck subsequently moved his headquarters on the 16th from Longeville to Boulay while his troops were performing the prescribed movements around Metz. However the reserve cavalry of General von Jürgass failed to cross the Moselle in front of Ancy, at Jouy-aux-Arches: a thaw had occurred since the previous evening, had swollen the river, which was carrying large ice floes, and the General, absolutely lacking any resources to implement his transit to the point indicated, had to back up the Moselle to Pont-à-Mousson, only getting to Champey-sur-Moselle.  It was the same for the brigade of Pirch, who could not get to Thionville, and General von Horn, who, not wanting to go back to Trier to give up the route to Luxembourg, found himself obliged for the same reason to stay at Sierck.  Henckel, indeed, had arrived in Betzdorf, and one of his parties, under the command of Captain von Osten, with a squadron, cleared the area north of Luxembourg, between Mersch and Arlon.

Henckel sends parties on Arlon.  --Henckel profited from the presence of General von Horn from Colonel von Valentini, Chief of Staff of the Ist Corps, by emphasizing the almost absolute impossibility of making himself master of Luxembourg by a coup-de-main.  "The Field Marshal," he wrote to General von Horn, "has been misled by the reports and proposals for a young officer; ardent, eager to find an opportunity to distinguish himself, but one who could not and failed to appreciate the value and extent of the resources we have."

Moreover, even assuming that Henckel had in turn exaggerated the strength of the garrison in Luxembourg it is further no doubt that this garrison, kept alert by the presence of many cavalry parties in the area, safe guarded itself and that the place was well armed, and could not be taken by surprise.  General von Horn had no great difficulty in convincing Valentini, who wrote the same day to Henckel: "You will not fail to receive before long from General von Horn, orders, and you will come back around to the left."  But as we shall see, Valentini was wrong at least by a few days, since it was only the 21st that Blücher finally gave up his idea about Luxembourg.

Sacken at Nancy.  --The marshals continue their retreat.  --The day passed, however, quietly enough.  Sacken came to install his headquarters at Nancy; Blücher had his at Chateau-Salins, and communications were now established between the Armies of Silesia and Bohemia.[1]

Meanwhile, the French marshals continued their retreat: Ney was at that time in Bar-le-Duc, with the division of Meunier; at the approach of the Russians, Victor had departed Toul, where he left only 300 men, falling back just to Commercy; but at least he had the idea to reoccupy the bridge of Commercy, with the dragoons of General Briche, supported by a small force of infantry, while, on the order of Marmont General Decouz marched to repossess the bridge of Saint-Mihiel.[2]

If we emphasized in Chapter II the Allied generals disagreements, if we tried to highlight the struggles and conflicts in duties and responsibility that took place at any moment in the different headquarters of the Army of Bohemia, it is impossible to ignore the fatal misunderstandings of the three marshals who should have been more than ever combining their movements and operations, to retard the progress of the invasion.

We have already had occasion to produce in this regard a letter to the Chief of Staff from Grouchy, to quote one of dispatches of Belliard to Berthier.  But it was especially during the evacuation of Nancy, the loss of the line of the Moselle, where the inexcusable negligence occurred that gave to the Allies the bridges of Frouard, Bouxières-aux-Dames and Pont-à- Mousson, which failed to give them those of Saint-Mihiel and Commercy, that the recriminations, complaints amongst the marshals against one another took alarming proportions.  Marshal Victor, of all, it seems most irritated, more dissatisfied, probably because he was the one, of all of them, who had incurred the most severe criticism from the Emperor.

Before evacuating Toul, he wrote, in effect, to the Chief of Staff on the 16th at night to him to highlight the disadvantages of sharing command; but instead of expressing his readiness to serve under the command of the one among them who the Emperor would entrust direction, he sought in this case the favor of being used elsewhere: "It is likely," wrote the Duke of Bellune, "if His Majesty does not unify under one command the 2nd Corps, that of the Prince of Moskowa and the Duke of Tarentum, the enemies will go as far as they want without hindrance.  The Duke of Raguse left last night the position of Pont-à-Mousson without my being notified.  I only learned indirectly. The troops of the Prince of Moskowa, which were at Void, have gone I know not where, and I have been informed of that in the same way.  Such dispositions can only be detrimental to the good of the service, and should that happen, unless we are brought remedy, that the troops will discover, as are mine now, they have been compromised.  I am convinced that the three corps, united under the command of one marshal, would be in condition to stop the progress of the enemy, while divided as they are, their service is absolutely zero.  I therefore request Your Highness for a meeting with His Majesty.  If the Emperor agrees and His Majesty has laid the eyes someone other than me, as I believe, to entrust this command, I beg to call me then to an army where my services can be useful."

A few hours later, Ney wrote in the same vein from Bar-le-Duc, the 17th in the morning, to Berthier:  "A detachment of cavalry entered Saint-Mihiel and pushes its tip on Commercy.  It is said that another column with the infantry arrived at Neufchâteau.  These are probably the demonstrations on the flanks of the 2nd Corps that determined the retreat of the Duke of Bellune.  The marshal had no doubt given Your Highness the most extensive information; but as he leaves me in ignorance, of what he has done and what he wants to do, and as I only have news from him when his troops mingle with mine, I merely collect from the civil authorities the reports they receive.  I sent off one of my aides to learn the location of the headquarters of the 2nd Corps, to establish with the Duke of Bellune an interview that I think necessary for the good of the service."

In terms of Marmont, we have already taken time to talk about his dispatches of 15 January, the recriminations they contained about the movements of the Prince of the Moskowa and the Duke of Bellune; but the Duke of Raguse, did not only stop there.  In his report of the 16th to the Chief of Staff, he almost attributes to Marshal Ney the responsibility for the fault committed by Ricard at Pont-à-Mousson.  "It is unfortunate," he writes, that the Prince of Moskowa was not ordered to cut the bridge over the Moselle at Frouard the moment when he evacuated Nancy. General Ricard would then also have cut the one at Pont-à-Mousson, and then I could have stayed on the Moselle, moving en masse on Pont-à-Mousson ... And he adds: "Now that the enemy is master of the defile of Pont-à-Mousson and the bridge at Frouard, an operation of this kind on the left bank of the Moselle is impractical, remaining so until the flooding disappears."

The next day of the 17th, he returns with even more anger on the subject, in his dispatch dated from Harville, at 9 o'clock in the evening:  "I sent yesterday," he wrote to the Chief of Staff, "duty officers to prepare the defense of the Meuse and blowing up bridges from Saint-Mihiel, but the fatal imprudence of the Prince of Moskowa, who in evacuating Nancy, did not blow up the bridge at Frouard, gave the enemy the means of arriving on the Meuse before me and prevented my arrangements of having their effect.  The officer whom I had sent to Saint-Mihiel announced to me that the enemy came in force ... Thus, the preservation of the bridge at Frouard deprived us of the defense of both the Moselle and the Meuse.  Had it been cut, it is likely that we would have defended the Moselle four to five days, and the defense of the Meuse would have been prepared, and it would have stopped the enemy for at least as much time." All these complaints were evidently well based, and the complaints of each of the marshals were perfectly legitimate in themselves.  It is understood, therefore, what type of relationships might have existed between the leaders who, instead of listening and working together, sought only to accuse each other and place on each other all the weight of faults that they and their lieutenants had committed.  It was, moreover, the same in Belgium, where General Roguet, reluctantly only obeying Maison, was recalled to the Duke of Piacenza and Drouot, adjutant of the Guard, against the orders that he received from his commander in chief.

17 January.  --March of Biron on Toul.  --Cavalry of General von Jürgass in front of Pont-à-Mousson.  --The 17th in the morning, Biron, followed by a party of Russian infantry of Sacken, was heading from Nancy towards Toul and had stopped the bulk of his corps at Gondreville, where, escorted by some cavalry, he marched forward reconnoitering the surrounding area.  His flying corps was quartered without trouble at Gondreville and served as a vanguard for the cavalry of Vasilchikov, while General von Jürgass, with the reserve cavalry of the Ist Corps, crossed the Moselle at Pont-à-Mousson and pushed up to Thiaucourt its advanced guard, of two strong squadrons under the command of Major von Woïsky.  The French rearguard was at that time in position near Saint-Benoit in the Woëvre.

Further north, Major General von Horn had, not without difficulty, managed to cross the Moselle at Remich, and the infantry of the 2nd Brigade, having relieved the cavalry before Metz, Lieutenant-Colonel von Stutterheim marched with some squadrons on the road of Pont-à-Mousson to Corny.

Movements of Sacken, a part of the corps of Langeron and the cavalry of Kleist.  --Sacken's troops were still between Chateau-Salins and Nancy, but the cavalry of General Borozdin (dragoons of Mitau and New Russia, 2nd and 4th Regiments of Ukrainian Cossacks) had reached Saint-Avold preceding the infantry division of Olsufiev, marching from Forbach on Saint-Avold.  General von Röder, with the cavalry of the 2nd Corps (Kleist) occupied Trier from 7th in the evening, as we have said.

Observations of Yorck in response to Blücher's orders.  --Finally, Yorck, after complying with the orders of Blücher, sent that day to the Field-Marshal, in response to instructions of the 15th, some observations, in which he outlined the inseparable difficulties of operations as complex as those in the spirit of the Field Marshal should ensure that the Army of Silesia possession of Saarlouis, Metz, Thionville and Luxembourg.  A similar undertaking was more difficult, as the commander of the Ist Corps wrote, as he didn't have at his disposal pontoon equipment or siege artillery, and the total number of effective in his army corps, following the marches executed since the crossing of the Rhine had already cost more than 3,000 men, having fallen at that time below 17,000 men.  Yorck ended his letter by telling the Field Marshal he would personally go to the towns of the Moselle, reconnoiter, to definitely see if such an enterprise could or could not be attempted with any chance of success.

18 January. --March of Lieven's Division on Toul.  --The 18th in the morning, Biron and Vasilchikov had contacted Toul again, where the commander and the mayor refused to capitulate.  Convinced, therefore, that the town could not be taken without infantry, and especially without artillery, they immediately sent from Gondreville for  Nancy an officer who would explain the situation to Blücher in person.  At this time, however, the infantry division of General Lieven, from the corps of Sacken, was already moving on Toul.[3]

Role of the French cavalry.  --Meanwhile, the French cavalry had kept contact with the enemy and discovered using information from the locals the main movements of their opponent.  Thus, on the 18th, at two o'clock in the afternoon, Grouchy[4] could write to the Chief of Staff:  "The Cossacks are established between Neufchâteau and Gondrecourt-le-Château.  The corps of Yorck follows Marmont in the direction of Metz to Verdun.  The corps of Sacken, who headed for Pont-à-Mousson and Nancy, is standing before me; that of Kleist[5] seems to have stopped at Thionville."  Based on his information, he had sent early in the morning, his 1st Division, stationed in Sorcy-Saint-Martin, was ordered to join the division of Briche, at Commercy to defend the bridge to the last extremity, and then fall back, if it was forced, on Saint-Aubin-sur-Aire, where it would do battle.[6]

Movements of the corps of Langeron and Yorck.  --As for the infantry of Langeron's Corps, who came to strengthen Sacken, they had reached the height of Château-Salins and Faulquemont.  General Borozdin, who had preceded them with his cavalry, was ordered to push a party on Pont-à-Mousson, to now be able to cooperate on this side with the investment of Metz.

Yorck had, for the evening of the 17th, sent his generals orders determining the nature of the operations to be undertaken against the towns of the Saar and Moselle, and fixing a precise time they had to spend and the extent of the effort they had to do for this purpose.

Starting the 18th, he directed Prince William, with the bulk of his vanguard, towards Pont-à-Mousson; Lieutenant-Colonel von Stutterheim, with the tip of this advance guard, going to Vandières and sent patrols to Metz and Gravelotte.  Colonel von Warburg, with his brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel von Stössel remained in their old positions before Metz.  General von Jürgass, with his brigade of dragoons and a battery of horse artillery, came to Thiaucourt and carried its vanguard to Saint-Benoit on the road from Pont-à-Mousson to Verdun.

That same day, Marmont arrived at Verdun and General Ricard had fallen back in the same direction, covered by a rear guard, which at the approach of the Prussian cavalry, retreated through Fresnes-en-Woëvre.

Affair of Saint-Mihiel.  --- Marmont, it is important to note, had been misled by the false news of a serious movement by the Prussians on Saint-Mihiel and the announcement of the entry of their vanguard into this city.  The very fact that this information had been provided by one of the officers he usually employed as a cross country courier was such as to convince him of the accuracy of the news, furthermore the Army of Silesia had held since the 14th, the bridge Frouard, and they were basically only 2 or 3 marches from Nancy to Saint-Mihiel. The sudden and hasty retreat of General Ricard, who had retired from Pont-à-Mousson so strongly that he had not felt able to stop at Thiaucourt, where he would have known what to expect of the alleged movements of the Prussian Ist Corps, contributed even more to give to this news reality.  But as soon as the Marshal could assume by the reports that he received on the morning of the 18th, that the Prussians were not in force in Saint-Mihiel, he hastened to send a detachment of infantry and cavalry under the command of his adjutant, Colonel Fabvier, to surprise and drive out the Cossacks.  The colonel then reoccupied Saint-Mihiel and immediately took all necessary measures to destroy the bridge if one were forced to abandon the town again.  At this moment, therefore, Marmont, whose troops were in Verdun, whose rear-guard was still at Haudiomont with parties at Manheulles, was in a position to defend the Meuse as long as the corps of Marshal Victor would remain on the banks of this river.

Cavalry affair at Hollerich.  --On the far right of the Army of Silesia, Henckel, who had been ordered to move, the 23rd on Longwy and be at Saint-Mihiel on the 26th, had bypassed Luxembourg and had established himself at Bertrange, while Horn remained at the positions he already held the day before.

During this march, one of his squads, led by Captain von Altenstein had had an affair with a detachment of infantry, that came out of the town, trying unsuccessfully to prevent it from entering the village of Hollerich and was forced to withdraw to Luxembourg after a cavalry charge.

Movements and positions of the corps of Saint-Priest.  --Raid by the flying corps of Major Falkenhausen.  --General de Saint-Priest had, in turn, moved by Andernach and Remagen on Malmedy, Dinant and Givet, thus forming the extreme right of Blücher.  He had also sent off a flying column to Arlon which, under the command of Major Falkenhausen, would prevent the conscription and levy in the department of Sambre-et-Meuse.[7]

Positions of the Army of Silesia.  --It would have been seemingly simple, in looking at the positions of the different factions of the army of Silesia, during the days of January 15 to 18, to see that the French could easily take advantage of their isolation along a front stretching from Luxembourg to above Pont-à-Mousson, and even up to Toul.  Until the 18th in the morning, having before them only cavalry, preceding at a considerable distance some small groups of infantry, they could have massed on a point at several places this long line, to force, which would not have been difficult, the passage of the Moselle and fall, for example, on the right of the Ist Corps of the Army of Silesia, north of Metz, and from there to press down on its rear.  A movement of this kind, had the three Marshals Ney, Victor and Marmont simply tried, would have had against Yorck the advantage of numbers, and would certainly have had results.  All they needed was a little confidence in themselves and their troops.  But such an enterprise, even less dangerous if Macdonald had covered the French left flank on the lower Meuse, would have been only possible if the Emperor had previously given command over to one of his lieutenants.  Vested with the authority to remedy the deplorable disjointed operations, the commander in chief could have, in any case, issued a single direction in retirement, so that each of the marshals didn't operate for his own account, regardless of neighboring corps, without even informing others of his retrograde movements performed with speed and unprovoked haste.

Without this unique and energetic leadership, we lost the opportunity where it was still possible to repair the inexcusable negligence at Frouard, Bouxières and Pont-à-Mousson; we lost the opportunity to regain a foothold on the right bank of the Moselle, throwing into disorder and confusion the columns scattered in small units of the Army of Silesia, if not to force him to retreat on the Saar, at least to stop them and mass.  Which if it did not have as a  consequence, inflicting a serious defeat on this army, at least a pause in the passage, a transient tear, a few marches in retreat, which, momentarily would have exposed the right wing of the Army of Bohemia, would that not certainly have brought trouble into the mind of the naturally worried Generalissimo?  Such an event would probably have sufficed for Schwarzenberg, terrified of the awesome responsibility he did not feel strong enough to carry, and which already had caused him to hesitant to go beyond the plateau of Langres, deciding to stop there with the bulk of his forces and detour the movements of the Prince Royal of Württemberg and the Austro-Bavarian Wrede.[8]

19 January.  --Orders of the Emperor.  --It was also really what the Emperor recognized, belatedly, it is true, and that is why he wrote from Paris, 19 January, to the Chief of Staff:

"My cousin, we cannot conceive anything in the conduct of the Duke of Bellune.  Arrive at the fore front before morning tomorrow the 20th.  Make a defense of the Meuse, give the command to the best general.  Include the division of Young Guard.  Call back the Duke of Bellune, give the command of all to the Duke of Raguse and stay until the Duke of Raguse has taken all measures to defend the Meuse and to fight."

On the same day again, filling his mind and judging the situation from afar as clearly as if he was on the scene, he addressed to his marshals instructions contained in the piece that will read:

"Paris, 19 January 1814.  --The enemy has crossed the Meuse with the cavalry; it should be attacked and that line taken over.  If it is not possible and one must redeploy, the Duke of Raguse will defend the arrival of the enemy on Châlons and dispute the road from Châlons to Verdun."

"The Duke of Bellune and the Prince of the Moskowa will take the position of Vitry-le-François, where they will fight."

"In this position, the Duke of Raguse will form the left, the Duke of Bellune and the Prince of the Moskowa the center, the Duke of Trévise the right."

"General Dufour is at Arcis-sur-Aube with four battalions and 16 guns.  The Duke of Trévise is in Chaumont with the two divisions of the Old Guard and the brigade of General Bourmont consisting of three battalions of the 113th; two battalions, commanded by General Curial, are at Châlons; three battalions to rest the 15th at Meaux, and has been commanded on Châlons."

"The division of the Young Guard of General Rottembourg is also marching, heading to Châlons...General de La
Hamelinaye is at Troyes."

Movements of the corps of Sacken towards Toul, of Cossacks towards Vaucouleurs, of Olsufiev to Nancy. --But when the Emperor gave these orders, it was already too late to undo the wrongs done by the marshals.

The division of Lieven, of Sacken's corps, approached Toul and was due on 20th in the morning under the walls of this town, that of Biron and Vasilchikov continued to observe with their cavalry:  "I sent from Colombey-les-Belles the cavalry to Toul, where you can hear the guns," wrote Frimont on that date.[9]

The Cossacks of the cavalry of Sacken had pushed to Vaucouleurs and there joined the small flying corps of Scherbatov[10], while the infantry of General Olsufiev came into the vicinity of Nancy.

Movements around Metz.  --On the side near Metz, the flood of the Moselle had stopped Prince William, who, posted since the day before at Pont-à-Mousson, had received orders from the Field Marshal to remain on this road up to Pont-à-Mousson and if it became feasible for him, to complete the investment of the town by the left bank. Meanwhile, Lieutenant-Colonel von Stutterheim was established at Gorze; outposts occupied Ars-sur-Moselle, Gravelotte and Vaux while on the other side, the Russian cavalry of General Borozdin, in the day of the 19th relieved the posts filled at Metz by Lieutenant-Colonel von Stössel.

Cavalry Combat at Manheulles.  --On the night of the 18th to 19th, Major General von Jürgass had followed the French rear guard with two squadrons of Major von Woïssky, which reached the enemy near the village of Manheulles, just at a cross roads that led to Pont-à-Mousson, Metz and Verdun.  The French had posted their infantry in the village, they had to cover the approaches by their cavalry (10th Hussars)[11].  Major von Woïssky attacked on the 19th in the morning and quickly sent word to the general, who immediately marched forward with the dragoons of West Prussia (1st) and two pieces of horse artillery, while leading the Lithuanian Dragoon Regiment and the rest of his artillery by Fresnes.  Supported by tirailleurs from the infantry posted in the houses and gardens of the village, the French cavalry pushed back the first charges of Prussian dragoons.  But the Prussian artillery fire forced the retreat, and General von Jürgass pursued the French up to the entrance of the defile of Haudiomont. Rallied on this point by a detachment of infantry supported by a few guns, they managed to survive until the morning of the 20th and retired to Verdun unmolested.  General von Jürgass not daring to approach that night, attacking a naturally strong position firmly held by infantry troops, settled at Manheulles and at Fresnes with his horsemen, and confined himself to monitoring Haudiomont with his grand guard and vedettes.[12]

Yorck tours before the towns.  --As previously announced, Yorck went to see for himself the situation of the troops responsible for investing and leveling the towns, and their chances of succeeding in this enterprise.

Saarlouis had been bombarded unsuccessfully.  Horn and Henckel, who would receive the next visit of the Ist Corps commander, had invested Luxembourg: Horn on the east side, Henckel the west; General von Röder, with the cavalry of the 2nd Corps (Kleist) arrived that day at Grewemachern.

Raid of Falkenhausen in the Sambre and Meuse.  --Affair at Neufchâteau.  --Major von Falkenhausen, who had moved the 18th from Arlon, where he had reported the presence of 800 Polish lancers, had continued to move, the 19th in the direction of Bastogne.  He sought to prevent the levy in the department of Sambre et Meuse, hunt down French partisans, establish, if he could communication between the Army of Silesia and the North, and obtain specific information about the strength of the corps of General Sébastiani. "I expected," he said in his report, "to meet some resistance in Neufchâteau, but Lieutenant von Schoening managed to surprise the enemy position and to take 18 men belonging to the troops stationed at Sedan, while secondly that of, Lt. Spitzer surprised Bastogne, where I was received with enthusiasm, and where," says the Major, "I learned that a French flying column, 120 horse strong, was established around Marche-en-Famenne."[13]

Report of Blücher to Schwarzenberg.  --We have already provided in the chapter describing the operations of the Army of Bohemia, that Blücher had sent the 19th from Nancy to Schwarzenberg, a report summarizing the advice he had given Wrede, communicating the orders sent to Yorck, to be delivered at Saint-Mihiel on the 26th, and informing him of his intention to move in a manner to be on the 30th, when Kleist would arrive with his infantry in Metz, with the bulk of his army between Vitry and Arcis.  To the report was attached a memorandum in which the Field-Marshal detailed the reasons which led him to favor these operations[14] in which he asked Schwarzenberg to kindly give his projects approval.

20 January.   --Surrender of Toul.  --The 20th in the morning, Vasilchikov, passing through Dommartin-lès-Toul and skirting Toul to the south, had posted himself on the left bank of the Moselle, while Biron was advancing by the road of Gondreville and General Lieven, whose artillery had taken position on the heights overlooking the city on the north side, formed his infantry column between the roads from Pont-à-Mousson and Void.

Surrounded on all sides, threatened by an attack which would be impossible to resist, the commander of the town was forced to capitulate to the Allies and open the gates of a city that had a real importance to them, because as  masters of Toul, they could now use the highway from Nancy to Bar-le-Duc.

Information provided by Sacken.  --Sacken immediately informed Blücher of the surrender of Toul.[15] In a report dated the 20th at two o'clock in the afternoon, he informed him that we had found two flags (which seem, he says, to be Portuguese), 3 bronze cannons, one iron cannon, 800 fusils, 2,000 projectiles that could be used by the Allied artillery, much powder, food, fodder and 400 men, and he was pursuing the enemy. He had, indeed, pushed up to Foug, on the route to Void and Ligny, the flying corps of Biron, whose vedettes watched Lay.

Sacken completed in telling his report to Blücher that a driver who had brought an officer to Châlons, and who had left on the 18th to return to Toul, assured him that the French were massed at Châlons and were disposed to march on Langres; one spoke at Châlons of the forthcoming establishment of a large camp at Valmy.  He concluded his report by saying: "People are tired of war. Conscripts flee and men 20 to 40 years old refuse to participate in the levée-en-masse."[16]

The Russian general was soon to change his mind and realize that the Mary-Louise's were able to victoriously hold the head of his troops, also the peasants armed themselves, and willingly, resisted the invasion.

The Austrian Major Mareschal, that Schwarzenberg had sent to the headquarters of Blücher and followed throughout the campaign operations of the Army of Silesia, confirmed this news, and communicated from Nancy, in addition, to the Generalissimo of noise implying that "Marshal Ney is at Bar-le-Duc with his corps."[17]

These two reports and the dispatch sent from Nancy on 20 January by Blücher to Schwarzenberg, in which he outlined the general situation at that time, confirming earlier reports, reached the Generalissimo the 22nd.[18]

Positions and movements on the 20th.  --The corps of Sacken was therefore between Toul and Nancy the 20th, where one found the headquarters of Blücher.  General Lanskoy, with his cavalry, was at Rambucourt and General Borozdin (of Langeron's corps, whose infantry advanced under Olsufiev from Château-Salins towards Nancy), sent two of his four regiments (Mitau Dragoons and the 4th Cossacks of the Ukraine) to Gorze on the left bank of the Moselle.

Prince William was preparing to complete the investment of Metz, that the abnormal height of the water of the Moselle was still delaying.  Although, in principle, he hoped to try the night of the 20th to 21st a coup de main against this place, the Prince was still forced to stay in Pont-à-Mousson , and only, Lieutenant-Colonel von Stutterheim approached Metz and could settle in Lorry.

March of the cavalry of Jürgass to Verdun.  --After the retreat of the French rearguard, General von Jürgass had occupied Haudiomont[19] with two of his squadrons which sent forward scouts and patrols in the direction of Verdun.  He himself stayed until 26th with the bulk of his squadrons at Fresnes, and stationed at Manheulles two squadrons which established their grand guard on the side of Étain, while a third squadron, posted further back at Pintheville, observed the road from Metz to Verdun.  Jurgass searched in vain for the six days he spent in these quarters, to open negotiations with the commandant of Verdun and get him to capitulate.

Action of the cavalry to Henckel at Ettelbruck.  --Yorck[20] arrived in person in the area of Luxembourg during the night of the 19th to 20th, having conferred at Rödt with General von Horn and Röder.  Henckel, who would have had to go to this conference, could not leave his troops in Strassen, because they were constantly kept alert by sorties of the garrison.  However, the Colonel had managed to take near Ettelbruck, a convoy of ammunition issuing from Liège to Metz, while his detachments, under the command of Captain von Osten and Lieutenant Chevallerie, took four leagues beyond Arlon a transport loaded with military equipment, 400 fusils and eight bales of cloth destined for the garrison of Luxembourg and also coming from Liège.

Yorck, while having fully realized the almost absolute impossibility of removing by a coup de main a fortress as respectable as Luxembourg and the strong garrison, however, thought only in the end of having to comply with the orders of Field-Marshal.  Before making a final resolution and changing the nature of the investment by recalling the troops that he had been forced to detach from that side, he ordered the brigade of Horn to undertake the next day the 21st, a serious reconnaissance of the town.

Raid of Falkenhausen towards Marche-en-Famenne.  --Information on the march of Macdonald and Sebastiani.  --Continuing operations, Major Falkenhausen was the 20th at dawn, headed to Marche, preceded by a patrol which had orders to move further to the right by La Roche.  "I expected," he said in his report[21], "to hide the arrival of my march from the enemy, but to celebrate our arrival, they rang bells on all sides and the mounted peasants preceded me in to Marche.  The enemy thus had time to saddle its horse and escape in part.  However, Captain von Kalinowsky still succeeded in capturing 37 horses and drove the French into the woods where many of them were slaughtered by the peasants."

Falkenhausen, after this somewhat fanciful tale, reported that according to information gathered, Marshal Macdonald had withdrawn from Maastricht to Namur, and General Sebastiani from Cologne on Liège.  Finally, the night of the 20th to 21st, to check this information he had ordered an officer and 16 uhlans in the direction of Namur, who, mounted on horses requisitioned farmers, came to within two leagues of Namur against 300 French cavalry covering the retreat of Macdonald, and were obliged to quickly withdraw.

21 January.  --Orders of Blücher for movement towards the Marne.  --21 January would be one of the most important days for the Army of Silesia, not so much because of the operations that same day, but because that Blücher decided from that moment to press the chain of events, resolutely moving forward.   The commander of the Army of Silesia could not resign himself to await the response from Schwarzenberg, who wrote to him, however, the very day when the Field Marshal had sent him the memorandum of which we spoke, endorsing the march by Arcis but advising him to make in advance or at the same time one by Vitry-le-Francois on Châlons.[22]  Giving free play to the decision, the indomitable spirit that formed the basis of his character, a passion that neither age nor fatigue were able to calm down, he had resolved to strongly move forward the bulk of his forces as soon as he became convinced that the marshals were preparing to retire to Châlons, and when he learned that Macdonald had abandoned the Netherlands and Belgium to also move on this city.  Convinced by the arguments of Gneisenau, certain that Châlons would become the point for general concentration of French troops, thinking, not unreasonably, that the marshals were only maintained behind the Meuse to give time for this concentration to take place and to cover its required movements, feeling that it was urgent to prevent the attack that the French would not fail to want to take, Blücher, informed of the presence of the Grand Army of Bohemia near Chaumont, by the arrival the Vth Corps (Wrede) in Neufchâteau, moved forward in three columns.  The first, the one on right, was made up by the advanced guard, under the command of Lieutenant-General Prince Scherbatov,[23] of the cavalry of General Vasilchikov and the first column of the Sacken's corps, was ordered to move by Ligny and Bar-le-Duc on Saint-Dizier.  The second column consisted of the rest of Sacken's corps and was followed a day's march by the third, composed of Russian IXth Corps of Olsufiev belonging to the corps of Langeron, was, passing through Vaucouleurs and Gondrecourt to turn left on Joinville for the its first goal.

Blücher[24] intended to push the right wing of Victor's corps from Ligny towards the Marne, to make the enemy believe he wanted to reach Châlons, while masked by his vanguard who would face the marshal and would be before him at Vitry-le-Francois, and would outflank, without being noticed, his right wing and reach with three columns on the side of the Aube, Arcis, through Brienne.

As for Yorck, he was, according to the draft of Blücher, to stay a few days before the towns of the Saar and Moselle, until the arrival of the troops of Kleist and the cavalry of Langeron scheduled to relieve him, then arrive at Bar-le-Duc on the 27th and take Vitry[25], where he was due on the 30th.

The cavalry cross the Meuse at Vaucouleurs.  --On the night of the 20th to 21st, the vanguard of the left column heading to Joinville, had crossed the Meuse unopposed at the bridge of Vaucouleurs,[26] that the French had not destroyed, because flooding had prevented them.  That at least explained, but does not excuse, one tried to give this inconceivable forgetfulness.  But precisely because of the flooding, the possession of the bridge was especially valuable to the Allies: allowing them to continue their operations on the left bank of the Meuse without loss of time. The abandonment of the bridge at Vaucouleurs forced the retreat of Victor to Ligny,[27] evacuating Void and Vaucouleurs; Marmont, leaving only division in Verdun, had to leave the division of Decouz at Saint-Mihiel, which, after blowing the bridge, settled in Naives; the division of Lagrange had come to Chaumont-sur-Aire.[28]

Disadvantages of the position of Victor at Ligny. - The position occupied by Victor at Ligny was perilous, and despite the strict orders of the Emperor, who wanted him to hold firmly on the Ornain, Victor probably yielded to the advice of his generals of cavalry, focusing on the serious drawbacks of this position, who urged him to establish himself behind Ligny, at the entrance of the defile of Saint-Dizier.[29]

From the 21st in the morning, with this in mind, Grouchy wrote to General Milhaud: "My dear general, it is very unfortunate that all our cavalry was forced to be tonight in Ligny; it will have the enemy under its nose and tomorrow morning he will hurray as he pleases, not only on Ligny, but also on the division of Briche on the flank of which he will come while crossing the Ornain that has bridges."

"Tell General Briche about it.  Send orders to the division of L'héritier to be mounted tomorrow before the day ahead of Ligny on the road to Saint-Aubin, with the division of Piré before it, supported by infantry, that will come from the Marshal."

"The division of Briche should push a reconnaissance at 4 o'clock on Demange-aux-Eaux, only to ensure that an enemy column does not move forward on this side; but that reconnaissance march must be well scouted, because the enemy is in Gondrecourt."[30]

General Piré[31] writing to Grouchy, the same evening, at 9 o'clock, is as concerned as his chief and gives, too, an exact account of the seriousness of the situation, from the dangers inevitably exposed to while remaining at Ligny.

"All information, all reports," he writes from Nançois-le-Petit, "show that the corps of the Marshal Duke of Bellune is compromised by continuing to occupy Ligny, which is a bad position and a true funnel.  If the brigade evacuated Nançois-le-Petit, the enemy, arriving by Nançois-le-Grand and Willeroncourt, will cut the road from Bar by the beautiful stone bridge Velaines, or that of Nançois-le-Petit, beside which there is a ford.  On the other hand, M. General Briche, guarding the road to Gondrecourt, is not in a state to resist the enemy column, which is known to have debouched from Vaucouleurs and Maxey.  If it does not attack General Briche, it obviously marches on Saint-Dizier, by Joinville, and the corps of observation that was sent to Joinville can not oppose the march of such a superior number."

The events of that day were only to completely justify the estimates of Generals Grouchy and Piré.

March of Biron on Void.  --Movements around Metz.  --Biron had received at Foug, the 21st, at 8 o'clock in the morning, the order to move on Void.  Collecting in passing his grand guard, established in front of Lay-Saint-Remy, the Prince stopped the night in Pagny-sur-Meuse, disposing his outposts on the left bank of the river and sending out patrols in the direction of Void.

On the side of Metz nothing important had happened.  However, as the Moselle continued to fall, Prince William had resolved to strengthen, the next day, his investment instead.  The two cavalry regiments of General Borozdin which arrived at Gorze, one, the Mitau Dragoon Regiment had been ordered to stay before Metz, while sending patrols to Verdun, while the 4th Ukrainian Cossack Regiment was to leave on the 23rd to ensure the blockade of Mézières.

The Colonel Henckel had been relieved, the 21st in the morning at Luxembourg by Lieutenant-Colonel Wrangel and four squadrons of the Grossfuerst Constantine Cuirassiers. Complying with his orders that had arrived on the 17th he was, after rallying everyone, to move that day on Aubange to see if it was not possible to attempt a coup de force against Longwy.  But before starting to move, he received from Yorck[32] the order to change his subsequent marches to be at Saint-Mihiel on the 27th and to effect a junction with the brigade of Horn, who, having appeared before Thionville on the 23rd, was also, to defile on Saint-Mihiel the 27th.


[1] K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 30.

[2] It is worth noting in passing that General Ricard, evacuating Pont-à-Mousson, had neglected to destroy the bridge and, as shown in Mémoires de Grouchy, also did not see fit to give notice of his retirement to the troops under the command of Ney and Victor.

General Meynadier, Chief of Staff of Marmont, had in fact ordered the 17th at 10 o'clock of the morning, General Ricard to immediately dispatch 150 infantry and 100 horses, with an officer of his choice, for Saint-Mihiel, where the detachment was to guard the bridges, defend them and destroy them if the enemy appeared in force before the arrival of the 2nd Division of the Young Guard of General Decouz.  A few hours later, the Marshal, informed of the occupation of Saint-Mihiel by Allied riders, directed Ricard to rally his division at Fresnes-au-Mont and be in formation the 18th, at 3 o'clock in morning at Manheulles, where the Marshal was prepared to send orders.

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

[4] GROUCHY, Mémoires.

[5] Grouchy only commits an error in respect to Kleist, whose infantry started that day crossing the Rhine at Koblenz.  The cavalry under Röder arrived only the day before at Trier.  There was at that time before Thionville only General von Pirch's brigade, of the Ist Corps.

[6] GROUCHY, Mémoires.

[7] Report of Major Falkenhausen on the occupation of the department of Sambre-et-Meuse. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, ad. 699.)

[8] It seems to us useful to reproduce here some general instructions that the Emperor, after recognizing, 13 January, the enemy was operating in three masses, addressed to the corps of Antwerp, the Dukes of Tarente, Raguse, Bellune, and Prince of Trévise, and of La Moskowa, and in reaction to the nature of Blücher's march:

"He moves, it is said on the Saar, and therefore he has to cover Saarlouis.  If he passes the Saar and moves on the Moselle, he will cover Luxembourg, Thionville, Metz and Marsal.  His corps is barely sufficient for these operations.  The Duke of Raguse must be watch for this, contain him, maneuvering around these places and if by chance, that is not probable, that Marshal was forced to cross the Moselle, he would throw the division of Durutte into Metz and prevent at all cost the enemy from the high road to Paris.  In this assumption, the Duke of Tarente, which brings together a corps on the Meuse, watching the right flank of the enemy, defends Liège and the Meuse, and always follow the right flank of the enemy, so as never to cease in covering the openings to Paris.  If, instead, after taking the Saar Blücher menaces the lower Meuse to threaten Belgium, the Duke of Tarente will defend the Meuse, and the Duke of Raguse will follow the left flank the enemy, to watch its movements, contain, delay and harm it as much as possible." (Correspondance de Napoléon, 21091.)

[9] Tagesbegebenheiten ... (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 30.)

[10] Scherbatov to Schwarzenberg. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 445.)

[11] General von Jürgass, relating of the combat of Manheulles and report of Yorck to Blücher, from Pange, 28 January.

[12] According to Koch, who also estimated the actual number of effectives in the two regiments of General von Jürgass, at 1,200 horses, General Picquet, on the contrary, managed to hold Manheulles and Jürgass, pursued by the 10th Hussars, was forced to withdraw.  We believe that Koch is guilty of a slight error and meant that Jürgass failed, the 19th, in forcing the defile of Haudiomont.  The report of General von Jürgass is, moreover, confirmed, if not in detail, at least in its generality, by the same version of General Curély, then colonel of the 10th Hussars. (See, for this purpose : GENERAL THOUMAS, Le Général Curély, pages 371-375.)

As for Marmont, he simply says to the Chief of Staff that his vanguard was attacked at Manheulles by a thousand Prussian horses, and that General Decouz occupied Saint-Mihiel.

[13] Report of Major von Falkenhausen. (K. K. Kriegs Archives., I, ad. 699.)

[14] K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 492 a, and I, 492 b.

[15] I think it is useful to note in passing the error committed by the Plotho, III, p. 84, who claims that General Lieven took Toul by assault and at the point of bayonet.  General Sacken would not have failed to record this feat of arms and failed in this case to mention it to Blücher in his announcement on the surrender of Toul.

[16] Sacken to Blücher. Toul, 20 January, 2 o'clock in the afternoon. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 466 a.)

[17] Major Mareschal to Schwarzenberg. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 466 b, and ibidem, I, 30 and 31.)

[18] According to this last piece (Blücher to Schwarzenberg, Nancy, 20 January, K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 466), that Damitz (I, p. 314) is, also mistaken in claiming, there had been formed with General Sotomayor and the Spanish  prisoners found in Nancy, a battalion of 4 companies after the surrender, to garrison Toul.  Blücher announced, on the contrary to Schwarzenberg, that General Sotomayor and the officers returned to Spain, he armed the Spanish soldiers who preferred to stay and he used them to escort convoys.  It was only later that he divided them among the towns.

[19] General Picquet left Haudiomont, by order of Marmont, two hours before daybreak, and came to Haudainville and General Ricard received the 20th, from the Duke of Raguse, the order to leave one of his brigades at Verdun and to go and quarter with the other at Sivry-la-Perch on the road to Clermont.  The morning of the 20th the divisions of Lagrange and Ricard were formed in front of Verdun, possibly to support the cavalry of General Picquet.

[20] Report of Yorck to Blücher, dated from Pange, 23 January.

[21] Report of Major von Falkenhausen. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, ad., 699.)

[22] Schwarzenberg to Blücher, Langres, 21 January. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 492.)

[23] It is important not to confuse the general officer of the General Staff of the same name. who commanded a corps of partisans currently operating on the Meuse, which preceded the Army of Bohemia.

[24] Blücher to Wrede, 21 January, 9 o'clock in the morning. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 511.)

[25] We will see later that the marching orders of Yorck had to be modified.  Instead of being in Vitry the 30th, he was to be that day in Saint-Dizier.

[26] We have already had occasion to speak of matters that had occurred on 18 January at Vaucouleurs, between the Cossacks of Major-General Prince Scherbatov and the rearguard of the French cavalry, when we presented in the previous chapter the operations of the Army of Bohemia.  See, among others. Report of Major General Scherbatov to Schwarzenberg, from Saussure, 19 January. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., 1, 445.)

[27] Victor had prescribed, the 20th at night, to fall back on the 21st, at 1 o'clock in the morning, promptly and in good order by Void and  Saint Aubin on Ligny, to take positions behind Ligny, on the road to Bar-le-Duc.  The 2nd Division (General Forestier) would follow the division of Duhesme and settle behind it in a 2nd line; the 1st Division had orders to leave from Commercy at 4 o'clock in the morning, going on Ligny by Saint Aubin, and going behind Ligny in a 3rd line.  General Piré charged with blowing up the bridge of Pagny-sur-Meuse, after the passage of the division of Duhesme, had to move there from Void, waiting on General of France at Void, who also had to leave at 4 o'clock from Vaucouleurs, going to Void, only to fall back on Ligny with Piré; and finally, General Briche, was also departing at 6 o'clock from Commercy, for Ligny.

[28] Belliard, writing on 21 January to Macdonald, summarized the positions of the corps of Marmont and Victor and gave some indication about the exact position of the Allies:

"The Duke of Raguse holds with his army corps Verdun, Saint-Mihiel, and extended his left to the side of Stenay.  He had his advanced guard three miles in front of Verdun, on the road to Metz.  The Duke of Bellune occupies Commercy, Void where his headquarters are, Vaucouleurs and Gondrecourt. The Prince of Moskowa is at Bar-le-Duc, occupying Ligny and Saint-Dizier. The Marshal Duke of Trévise must be at Chaumont."

'P. S. - The corps of the Duke of Yorck (sic) marches on Verdun, that of Sacken on Saint-Mihiel.  Blücher is before the Duke of Bellune.  Platoff is Neufchâteau with 10 regiments of Cossacks.  (Belliard, Archives of the War.)

Belliard has the corps of Yorck marching faster than he marched in reality, since 21 January the Ist Prussian Corps was still at Metz.

[29] The arrival of Berthier and categorical orders that were sent Victor the 20th from Châlons and the 21st from Bar-le-Duc, before going with him, prevented only the marshal to leave his position.

[30] Grouchy to Milhaud. (Archives of the War.)

[31] Piré to Grouchy, Nançois-le-Petit, 21 January. (Archives of the War.)

[32] Order of Yorck to Henckel, from Strapig, 21 January.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2011

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