The Campaign of 1814: Chapter Three Part
By: Maurice Weil
THE CAMPAIGN of 1814
(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)
CAVALRY OF THE ALLIED ARMIES
DURING THE CAMPAIGN OF 1814.
OPERATIONS OF THE ARMY OF SILESIA
FROM THE CROSSING OF THE RHINE TO THE FIRST JUNCTION WITH THE GREAT ARMY OF
BOHEMIA (26 JANUARY 1814).
Actions before Luxembourg. --Yorck, however,
still had to examine Luxembourg, later in the day of the 21st, with the
brigade of Horn and the column of Colonel Henckel. He pushed a strong
reconnaissance with them, by both banks of the Alzette, after which he could
convince himself that an end of the town would not come easily. His first
intention had been to direct Horn away on Frisange, so as to enable it to arrive
in the morning of the 22nd before Thionville. But at the news that
some of the inhabitants of Luxembourg seemed willing to open one of the city
gates the next day, he gave the order to Horn to hold his massed brigade the
22nd until 10 o'clock in the morning at Itzig, because in this way, the
general could still arrive at Thionville in the course of the afternoon.
Movement of Falkenhausen towards Namur. --As
for Major Falkenhausen, he had quit Marche, leaving a position of 30
horsemen, and moved forward with the rest of his people, sending parties
to Givet and Sedan. But when he heard the night of the 21st to
22nd that the route from March to Namur was free, he immediately
set in motion a squadron directing its chief to quickly gain Namur, to
establish in the shortest time possible communication with General Winzingerode.
22 January. --Report of Blücher to Schwarzenberg. --Cavalry
combat of Saint-Aubin. --"On the 22nd in the morning," said
Blücher in the report that
he addressed from Gondrecourt to Schwarzenberg, "the Prince of Neuchâtel came
from Paris to Ligny. After having conferred for four hours with Marshals
Ney and Victor, he then left for Paris.
The residents suggest that in this conference, it was decided that Victor would
hold Ligny and Bar-le-Duc only to the 26th, the day of the arrival of the
Young Guard from Antwerp."
Indeed, in formal order from Berthier, the French cavalry had to move from before
head into Saint-Aubin:
"The enemy" said Blücher, "occupied
Ligny on the 22nd, and two brigades of cavalry, under the command of
had pushed up to Saint-Aubin. In the afternoon, the enemy came out of
Ligny with about 2,000 horses, drove back our outposts, that were deployed
in front of Saint-Aubin, when our cavalry, moved forward a battery of horse
artillery, bombarding him up to nightfall, when he retired on Ligny." Victor did not leave, moreover,
a rear-guard at Ligny.
For their part, the Russian hussars settled in front of Void, Biron and occupied
the farm of Rievaulx with outposts provided by the Cossacks at Ménil-la-Horgne.
The right column of the Army of Silesia reached Void; the left at Vaucouleurs. Olsufiev
was at Toul with the headquarters of Blücher; the forefront of Pahlen
(VIth Corps of the Army of Bohemia), at Vézelise.
On the French side, Ney was still for a short time in Bar-le-Duc; Marmont,
in order to remain united to the two other marshals, began his retreat on Verdun
through Bar and Saint-Dizier, where he arrived on the 24th after leaving
the division on Ricard against Clermont en Argonne to guard the defile of Les
Islettes and cover the route from Verdun to Châlons.
Positions of Prince William of Prussia below Metz. --Prince
William of Prussia had been directed from Pont-à-Mousson to Metz
by Pagny-sur-Moselle and established himself in Sainte-Ruffine, after occupying
Vaux, Jussy, Lessy and Plappeville, whence he could see all the defenses
of the town. Following the forced stay he had to make in Pont-à-Mousson
and as he was ordered to begin his movement towards Bar-le-Duc on the 26th,
the Prince did not have more than three days to try to take control of
Metz. General von Jürgass stayed around Fresnes, Colonel von Warburg
at Marly and Lieutenant-Colonel von Stutterheim at Lorry.
Movements of Horn towards Thionville and Henckel on Longwy. --From
Luxembourg, whose gates still remained closed, Horn had been directed by
order of Yorck the 22nd, on Thionville, where he was to join the
brigade of General von Pirch and had halted the night of the 22nd at
Roussy-le-Village. He had previously been given the task of monitoring
Luxembourg by General von Röder (cavalry corps of Kleist), who was
also covering Thionville, in case the proposed enterprise against
the town might have had any results.
Arriving by Aubange on Longwy, Henckel had reconnoitered the town. Having
found it impossible to try a coup de main, he had bypassed it to get to Longuyon
and was content to leave some small observation posts to the exits of Longwy.
Yorck had gone by Sierck and Remich, inspecting the brigade stationed at Thionville,
whose garrison had tried that morning a sortie, that Pirch had managed to push
back into town after a brisk fight and engaging several battalions . However,
as the Horn Brigade was in movement towards the Meuse, pass Thionville, he
would try to remove the fortress with two brigades. Yorck, in doing so,
merely to strictly comply with the orders that Blücher had sent before
leaving Nancy on 21st, and which, while insisting on the desirability
to seize one of the towns, had, however, invited Yorck to hasten his operations
and prepare everything to reach him quickly.
It is important to note in passing that the Emperor of Russia had arrived
January 22nd at the headquarters of Langres. It was, indeed, through
his presence alone that caused the resumption of the forward movement of the
Army of Bohemia, immobilized for several days between Chaumont and Langres. Hardenberg
and Knesebeck, whose opinion had prevailed until then and with them all the
diplomats who followed the Great Army, could not bring themselves to go beyond
the Langres Plateau, that Knesebeck compared, to use the literary expression
which he wrote of, the Rubicon.
23 January. --Battle of Ligny. --The 23rd in
the morning, Vasilchikov and Biron, preceding the infantry of Lieutenant
General Scherbatov, resumed their forward movement in the direction
of Ligny. Before setting off, they had learned through a reconnaissance
of officers sent from Rievaulx to Commercy, that General Lanskoy,
leaving from Rambucourt with his hussars, approached Commercy and would
soon join them. Meanwhile, the French cavalry retreated slowly
on Ligny, that was occupied by a rearguard of infantry with
some cannons. To avoid unnecessary losses, Biron and Vasilchikov,
after repelling together a charge of French cavalry, thought
it more prudent to hide from view of the enemy artillery as the infantry
of General-Lieutenant Scherbatov entered the line at this time. "Scherbatov,"
said Blücher, "moved on
Ligny, where he was obliged to camp, and the enemy had not evacuated, he attacked
and threw him back after a brisk fight, which cost 200 men to the Russians,
and which Scherbatov reports
on as follows:
"The rear guard of the Duke of Bellune was posted at Ligny. It held
the defile and the heights in front of the city. General Scherbatov who
was, according to orders, to occupy Ligny that day, attacked the enemy. The
enemy cavalry with some infantry and some guns, had taken position in
front of the town and moved to the head of the defile. Prince Scherbatov,
noting the rapidly approaching enemy columns from the city, concluded that
the enemy had not yet gathered all his forces and ordered the 11th and
36th regiments of eigers to attack the city from the right, while the
regiments of Pskov (Псков)
and Sofia (Софи́я)
would swoop down on the side of the highway. Our artillery, in battery at an
excellent position, inflicted heavy losses on the enemy, which fell back running
towards the city."
"The Regiment of Pskov, supported by the Sofia entered Ligny, meeting
at the market place an enemy column, attacked with bayonet and disperse it. The
fight in town lasted some time, but the enemy eventually was to be completely
chased out and concentrated his troops on the heights located back near the
entrance of a defile, at the mouth of which he had placed some guns in . He
succeeded to remain some time on the heights and retreated during the night
by the road to Saint-Dizier."
The French, according to the report of Blücher, took advantage of the
night to withdraw, one part, on Bar-le-Duc, the other on, by Stainville on
"I send this news hastily,"
said Blücher, in finishing, "and I continue my march in accordance
with the orders of Your Highness."
Movements of Sacken and Olsufiev. Report
of Yorck to Blücher about towns. --On the
same day the second column of Sacken, that of the left, arrived
at Gondrecourt, and the corps of Olsufiev, which marched with the headquarters
of Blücher at Vaucouleurs.
Yorck, who had finished his inspection of the corps detached in front of towns
of the Saar and Moselle, was barely back in Pange when he wrote to Blücher
a detailed report on the situation of these places. Although finding
it impossible to successfully deliver a coup de main, he nonetheless advised
to seriously invest Metz, to prevent the garrison from moving on the lines
of communication of the Army of Silesia.
"I now look forward from Your Excellency," said Yorck, "to precise
orders relating to movement of my corps from the towns to Saint-Mihiel, and
instructions relating to the recall of the four battalions employed before
Saarlouis. I note furthermore, it will only be the 27th or 28th that
my corps could be massed at Saint-Mihiel."
The observations that Yorck made here to the Field Marshal is interesting to
record. It should be noted that the flooding of the Moselle which had
retained the Ist Corps in front of the towns, longer than previously
thought, made Yorck unable to be at Saint-Mihiel on the 26th, as he had
written Blücher on the date of the 17th, and, therefore, to arrive
at Bar-le-Duc on the 27th and Saint-Dizier on the 28th, as the
Field Marshal had remarked to Schwarzenberg in his dispatch, dated the
19th, and in his disposition and in his marching orders, the 22nd.
Except for a sortie performed by the garrison of Metz, in the direction of
Lorry and Plappeville, the day passed without incident before the towns. Horn
and Pirch remained before Thionville until the arrival of General von Röder,
and the cavalry of General von Jürgass was still under observation in
the vicinity of Verdun; Henckel had gone only a little way, and passing through
Spincourt he had arrived at Étain, where he remained throughout the
day of the 24th.
Skirmish on the side of Givet. --As for Major Falkenhausen,
he announced that the squadron, he had posted to the front to connect to
Winzingerode, had discovered the French rear guard beside Givet, and had
an engagement with it, after which the rear guard had been forced back
into the city. He communicated, in addition, the news received by
him on the 23rd at night that the Russians arrived at Liège,
and he added in conclusion:
Report of Falkenhausen. --"I'm sending an officer
to Liège to find out whether there are more enemy troops on the
"After having consulted with General Winzingerode, I plan on moving on
Montmédy. Here, moreover, to sum up the results of my operation:"
"Evacuation by the enemy of the Meuse-et-Sambre Department;"
"Destruction of an enemy partisan corps;"
"Release of 1800 conscripts;"
"Taking of a considerable magazine;"
"Opening and establishing communication between the Army of Silesia and
the Army of the North;"
"Discovery of the movements of the enemy."
24 January. --Movement of Scherbatov. --On
the 24th, the Army of Silesia continued its movement. The
on Scherbatov to march that day on Bar-le-Duc and the 25th to
be in Saint-Dizier. Having learned in route that Marshal Ney
was still near Bar-le-Duc the 24th in the morning with 8,000
men, the Russian general thought fit to remain at Ligny with the
bulk of his troops as he drove General Lanskoy with the vanguard
on the road to Saint-Dizier, with orders to pursue the corps of Marshal
Victor. Lanskoy advanced up to Stainville and was covered in
front by General Karpov, whose Cossacks stopped at Ancerville, less
than two miles from Saint-Dizier. A regiment of Cossacks, sent
in observation on the side of Bar-le-Duc, announced towards evening
that the enemy had entirely evacuated the city. The three marshals
had indeed reunited on the evening of the 24th in Saint-Dizier.
Prince Scherbatov, staying at Ligny, considered it unnecessary to leave the
flying column of Prince Biron, sent it to post in the second line in support
of the Generals Karpov and Lanskoy at Nant-le-Petit.
Information sent by Jürgass. --March of Horn. --Blücher
arrived at Gondrecourt with Olsufiev, and General von Jürgass, still
observing the side of Verdun, informed the Field Marshal that the enemy
had abandoned Haudainville and Belrupt, had fallen back on the town, and
that there were in these parts on the right bank of the Meuse a few small
detachments. Jürgass added that he had sent a small detachment
of cavalry to Saint-Mihiel, the bridge was destroyed and that the Cossacks
Horn, with the 7th Infantry Brigade, had arrived at Briey; the 1st Brigade,
with General von Pirch was still at Distroff before Thionville.
The positions of the Ist Corps were such that at best only the
head of the vanguard would reach Bar-le-Duc the 28th, and the bulk of
the Ist Corps could successfully mass, at the same time, around Saint-Mihiel,
a good three days march from Vitry.
It is also important to consider that when Blücher's orders reached the
headquarters of Yorck, at Pange the 25th in the morning, the different
fractions of the Ist Corps were necessarily scattered, some to a certain
distance back from the right bank of the Moselle, the other farther still to
the Saar, and they needed at least two days march to reach the Moselle beside
25 January. --Remarks on the orders of Blücher to Yorck. --The
order of movement that Blücher addressed, the 24th at night
from Vaucouleurs, to Yorck, reached him on the 25th in the morning,
however, did not account for the special situation of the Ist Corps. The
Field Marshal knew even less of the situation, that he had in his
hands the report on the operations of Yorck tried unsuccessfully during
the last days with the troops under his command, against the places of
the Saar and Moselle. Yorck, after all, for safety, had this report
brought by one of the officers of his staff in which he most trusted.
Blücher, in communicating the table of march of the corps, which he had
already set in motion and with which he had to be in Brienne the 28th,
nevertheless was directed to be in Bar-le-Duc on the 27th, in Saint-Dizier
the 28th, Vitry the 30th. He added, in the dispatch that
accompanied this table to Schwarzenberg that he would arrive at Troyes on the
29th and recommended to Yorck, in a case where the enemy, to delay the
march of the Army of Silesia, take the offensive against his right wing, to
refuse any serious commitment. Yorck, was, in this case, to escape en
route to the Aube and attached even less importance to the temporary loss of
communications with Kleist and Langeron, assuming that he, Blücher could
always communicate with them through the Grand Army. Confirming the arrival
of Kleist at Saint-Mihiel on 2 February, he urged him to return General von
Röder to blockade Luxembourg and Thionville; to Borozdin that of Metz,
and to monitor the progress of Macdonald who, having left
from Namur the 18th to 20th, was likely to turn to Châlons,
where he could be from the 29th to 30th.
He charged, moreover, informed by Major Falkenhausen; General Chernishev,
who had followed the marshal there from Namur, that the enemy seemed to concentrate
at Châlons, and that all forces of the Allies should assemble, the 30th,
between the Seine and the Aube, near Troyes. He ended, finally, this dispatch
with the words:
"The enemy cannot, in the presence of our movements, keep his position
at Châlons, it would be good if Chernishev will soon bear on Reims."
Positions and state of the corps of Yorck. --The
receipt of an order in which the commander of the Army of Silesia believed
it unnecessary to consider the situation that his instructions were making
on the troops of the Ist Corps, would cause a real embarrassment
to Yorck and his headquarters.
The Ist Corps was still spread (in echelon) from Verdun to Metz and Saarlouis,
and Blücher, however, following the same movement he had executed with
Sacken and Olsufiev, would be at Brienne, more than 100 kilometers ahead of
the Ist Corps, the majority of which was assembling at this time in Saint-Mihiel.
If, everything possible was supposed, the Emperor arrived at Châlons,
one would expect to see him throw himself immediately between the
two large fractions of the Army of Silesia, cut their communications lines,
which then passed within 50 kilometers of Châlons, and crush one of the
columns, preferably the right wing of this army. It was therefore necessary
at all costs to try to join Blücher faster and impose, for this purpose,
forced marches on troops already are stressed by constant movement through
the alerts and unnecessary service requirements they had imposed before towns,
for the nights spent in camp. He was asking for further efforts from
a corps which, just by fatigue, had lost 2,446 men from 18 to 25 January.
Despite the arrival of reinforcements amounting to 3,246 men, the Ist Corps
did not have, the 25th, 17,486 that presented under colors, and without
having had one truly serious action, he had seen the disappearance from 1 to
25 January, of 5,805 men, a quarter of his total effectives.
Orders given by Yorck. --First movements of his
corps. --Despite this, and not concealing the magnitude of the
effort asked of him, Yorck did not hesitate a moment. He immediately
took measures he hoped would allow him to reach Saint-Dizier the 29th with
his advanced guard, with the bulk in Bar-le-Duc, bring these two echelons
together on the 30th and 31st at Vitry, and thus reducing to
24 or 36 hours at most, the delay, that no longer depended on him to remove. To
obtain this result, Yorck ordered all fractions of the 1st Corps,
who were already on the left bank of the Moselle (the detachment of Colonel
Henckel, posted since the 23rd at
Étain, and now calledto serve at this
point as the vanguard of Prince William of Prussia, with the reserve cavalry
of General von Jürgass established around Verdun, with the brigade of
Prince William (8th Brigade) at that time still before Metz beside Plappeville
with the 7th Brigade (General von Horn), who arrived at Briey the 24th)
to proceed to Saint-Mihiel, where the troops were to be united on the 27th.
All those, however, who were still on the right bank of the Moselle (the
1st Brigade (General von Pirch) at Thionville, the 2nd Brigade
(Colonel von Warburg) before Metz, the reserve artillery at Saint- Avold and
4 battalions left before Saarlouis) were instructed to go through Pont-à-Mousson:
the 2 brigades from the 26th to 27th, the four battalions of Saarlouis
on the 29th and in the direction of Saint-Mihiel and following the route
taken by the other troops of the Ist Corps.
Blücher, while approving the provisions adopted by Yorck during his tour
of towns, had never the less saw fit to insist again, in a letter written from
Gondrecourt in the morning of the 25th, on the urgency of the immediate
march of the Ist Corps to Saint-Mihiel. "It is all the more
necessary," said the Field Marshal, "to combine and connect our movements,
that the enemy tries to thwart our march forward." He also
advised Yorck of the arrival of a division of Russian Xth Corps (Kaptsevich),
which was part of the corps of Langeron, that was to be at Nancy on 3 February;
he told him he had directed General Borozdin immediately after the crossing
of the IInd Corps (Kleist) to Nancy and Toul to base his operations,
while continuing to observe Thionville and Verdun. He announced, finally, that
the rest of the Russian Xth Corps would be at Nancy 14 February, that
Langeron would come in late February, and, finally, that the IVth (German)
Confederation Corps would gather in Trier and subsequently be charged with
the blockade of towns.
But since, despite all the activity he displayed, despite all the zeal of his
staff, Yorck could not execute his orders of movement until the 26th at
2 o'clock in the afternoon, so that the corps did not move much in course of
the day. The troops stationed before Metz remained in their positions; Henckel
after a laborious march, reached Troyon. His detachment had marched in
from Étain by the points occupied by the reserve cavalry of General
von Jürgass, beside Frenses-en-Woëvre. General von Horn had
reached the 25th, in the evening. Ville-sur-Yron, and General von Pirch
II, Vigy on the right bank of the Moselle.
Movements of Kleist's Corps. --Further back, Kleist,
who had spent the days of the 20th to 24th crossing the Rhine,
on boats, at Coblenz and at Neuwied with his corps, had decided to meet
the urgent solicitations of Blücher, by not waiting for his whole
corps to assemble on the left bank. To join the Army of Silesia as
soon as possible with at least a portion of his troops, he sent off on
the 25th, the 10th, 11th and 12th Brigades, which
he formed into two columns and marched on Trier. The
10th and 11th Brigades (Generals von Zieten and von Pirch I)
filed by the left bank of the Moselle the 12th Brigade (Prince Augustus
of Prussia), the right bank. These troops, a total of about 10,000
men, arrived on the 25th at night, the column on the left bank at
Polch, that of the right bank in Kirchberg. The cavalry, consisting
of the Silesian cuirassiers and the 8th Silesian Landwehr Cavalry
Regiment with 2 batteries, all under the command of Colonel von Hake, immediately
after crossing the Rhine, was required to make forced marches to join the
three brigades. The 9th Brigade (General von Klüx) had
orders to move to Trier by Luxembourg. It was only to leave from before
that town after being relieved by the IVth Confederation Corps, when
it would join with General von Röder, the bulk of the IInd Corps,
passing through Saint-Mihiel.
While Kleist and Yorck settled in this way the progress of their troops, the
rest of the Army of Silesia had continued its offensive movement and operations
on the Marne.
The marshals continue their retreat. --The three marshals,
after effecting on the 24th, their union in Saint-Dizier, believing
their right threatened by the movement as one of the columns of Blücher
appeared beside Joinville, came to the post the 25th: Marmont at
Vitry-le-François, Ney at Vitry-en-Perthois (Vitry-le-Brûlé)
and Victor at Perthes. The Duke of Bellune, however, had left as rear-guard
at Saint-Dizier, a brigade of the Duhesme Division. Nothing had motivated the
marshals to make such a move. No one could doubt that they knew that
they only had before them a small part of the Army of Silesia and the bulk
of the Army of Bohemia was entirely before Mortier.
Battle of Saint-Dizier. - Gathered as they were, they could
without endangering themselves, bully this advance guard, especially if,
as one might move to exonerate them, they had guessed that the march on
Saint-Dizier by Scherbatov was only intended to serve as a
mask and a large pivot movement of the Army of Silesia against Châlons
was taking place.
"The corps," said Scherbatov, "was
put in march to Saint-Dizier the morning of the 25th; the enemy
forced our pickets of Cossacks to evacuate Ancerville, that it left itself
shortly after. Once the corps arrived at the level of Ancerville, General
Lanskoy moved forward to attack Saint-Dizier. There was in front
of the town some enemy pickets: 3,000 infantry, with four cannons and a regiment
of dragoons occupied the city.
"The 11th Eiger Regiment, supported by the 36th, and about
4 pieces of horse artillery, attacked the city strongly, the cavalry turned
and the enemy, despite his stubborn resistance, was completely out of the town
at 4:30, and chased for more than 3 versts, into the woods, where he took up
his position until night."
Movements of the cavalry of Biron and Lanskoy. --Meanwhile,
the flying column of Prince Biron had received orders to leave the edges
of the Saulx, where it had spent the night, to go to Saint-Dizier, to cross
town as soon as one was able to secure it and pursue the enemy in conjunction
with General Lanskoy in the direction of Vitry.
These two generals had pushed with their cavalry up to Perthes, when they were
ordered to stop. Biron recalled by Scherbatov, was immediately directed
on Éclaron (-Braucourt-Sainte-Livière) between the right bank
of the Blaise and the left bank of the Marne, to cover and scout the march
of the columns headed from Joinville on Wassy. As for Lanskoy, one had
charged him with guarding Saint-Dizier, and to monitor the Châlons road
and to wait at this point on the arrival of the corps of General Yorck. The
other two columns of the Army of Silesia were: that of Sacken, in Dommartin;
that of Olsufiev, in Joinville, with headquarters Blücher. To their
left, a little over 8 kilometers above Joinville Pahlen bordered the Marne
at Donjeux with the cavalry of the VIth Corps (Wittgenstein).
French positions in the evening. --As for the French,
they held the evening of the 25th the following positions where would
remain until the arrival of the Emperor: The Duhesme Division was at Hallignicourt
with 600 horses and 2 batteries, monitoring Saint-Dizier and the road from
Bar-le-Duc with an infantry outpost at the entrance of the village, a cavalry
outpost on the road from Saint-Dizier and another at Hœricourt. The
1st Division at Thiéblemont (-Farémont), the 2nd at
Larzicourt and at Farémont, the 5th Cavalry Corps at Saint-Eulien,
Saint-Vrain, Scrupt, Farémont, Orconte, Matignicourt(-Goncourt). Marmont
had an infantry division and a brigade of cavalry in Vitry -le-François,
the Lagrange Division in Vitry-le-Brûlé, his light cavalry
was at Changy and Outrepont, with a post at Heiltz-l'Évêque;
the Ricard Division, with a regiment of the Guards of Honor and the 10th Hussars
, occupied Les Islettes. It was soon to be recalled and replaced
on this point by a division of Macdonald. Finally, Ney was also at
Vitry with the division of Meunier (Young Guard).
Orders of Blücher. --It was, moreover, because
he feared a concentration of French forces, a movement of the marshals
against his still scattered columns, that Blücher felt obliged to
take measures which seemed best calculated to avert this danger, and that
he left Lanskoy at Saint-Dizier, while the corps of Sacken and Olsufiev
were moved on Brienne.
This movement had the disadvantage of increasing the distance that separated
him from Yorck. Also, amending his previous orders, he ordered him only
to move to Saint-Dizier and Vitry if he could do so without engaging the enemy,
and moving obliquely, on the contrary, to the left of the Aube to effect on
this side the junction with the Army of Silesia and the Grand Army of Bohemia,
in case the enemy would try to seriously oppose his march. So there is
reason to believe that if Yorck had to take his directions to the Aube,
Blücher would have formed his army into two large columns, both marching
in parallel to the Aube, one by Vitry and Fère-Champenoise, the other
by- Arcis-sur-Aube and Plancy-l'Abbaye, and hoped to arrive, despite the proximity
of the French army, despite the speed with which Napoleon was accustomed to
operate, to perform his flanking movement, to outflank and turn the enemy's
right wing. The events were soon to prove to him that the Emperor had
guessed his plans, but fortune once again supported his audacity and cleared
his indiscretions; by the taking of a French officer, bearing dispatches, revealing
to him in time the plans of the Emperor, enabled him to escape without too
much difficulty from the embrace of his formidable opponent.
Notes on Blücher's operations from the opening of the campaign. --If,
during the period we have just studied, Blücher had made some mistakes,
this cannot deny him the praise to which he is entitled. One cannot
help but recognize that if the ardor of his temperament was determined
to be the cause of some errors, some indiscretions that a calmer and more
methodical general would have avoided, it was only thanks to this passion,
thanks to this activity in an amazing old man, to this perseverance that
nothing could tire, thanks to his ardent patriotism, that he succeeded
in enforcing on the Army of Silesia the march that had led her, despite
the rigors of an exceptionally tough winter, despite the natural obstacles
that had to be overcome in just over three weeks, from the banks of the
Rhine to the banks of the Marne.
Casting a quick glance on the operations of the Army of Silesia during this
first period, leaving aside detailed criticism, we must however note that Blücher
had no grounds for detaching Yorck, to immobilize him, even temporarily, before
towns and thus deprive access to 20,000 men when he was in front of the enemy. This
division of the Army of Silesia into two main sections might have been costly
to Field-Marshal, if less demoralized French marshals, had combined their operations
and, uniting their forces, adhering to the principles so often and so successfully
applied by the Emperor, had not hesitated to throw themselves against each
successively isolated column of the Army of Silesia and reap the benefits that
could not fail to have been provided by their temporary numerical superiority. So
largely by the skill of his maneuvers through timidity, despondency and faults
of his opponents, Blücher was able to effect a junction with the
Army of Bohemia. As for the rest, by the force of things and the very
way this junction was accomplished, in spite of errors, we are led to leave
aside consideration of the causes that motivated or facilitated it, to compare
the operations and marches of the two allied armies since the outbreak of hostilities. One,
which strictly speaking, had nothing before it, crossing a big river
like the Rhine in a neutral country, or rather in a country where it violated
the neutrality to ensure passage on the bridges of Basel, not meeting on its
way except fortresses of quite secondary importance, poorly armed, poorly supplied,
such as Huningue, Neuf-Brisach, Sélestat and Belfort, stopped and slowed
at any moment by the hesitations and concerns of its Chief taking more than
a month to get from Basel to the Aube. The other, on the contrary, obliged
to cross a large river like the Rhine without a bridge and under the very eyes
of the enemy, to defile through the Hunsrück and the Vosges Mountains,
cross the Saar, Moselle and Meuse, delayed on the road several times over several
days, sometimes by inundations and floods unusual for that time of year, sometimes
carried along by ice in these rivers, forced to slip between places such as
Luxembourg, Saarlouis, Thionville and Metz, to detaching from the main body
to observe and mask while pushing before it first two, then three enemies corps
successively, thanks to the will and energy of its leader, to pull his opponents
from the territories lying between the Rhine and the Meuse, to debouch into
the plains of Champagne after traveling in just over three weeks, the 350 kilometers
separating the Rhine from the Marne.
It would, we believe, be difficult to find more complete evidence of the influence
of personality on the troops by its leader.
By emphasizing the facts that we just indicated, we could arrive necessarily
at a comparison between Schwarzenberg and Blücher that would be premature. It
is nevertheless possible to now draw attention on the essential
differences, arising from temperament, origin, education of these two generals,
that will become more apparent, more tangible, more gripping as the events
occur and rush on the very last days of January, to keep for the rest of the
campaign, a character of seriousness and importance that they could not have
had so far and will be of immediate consequence on the arrival of the Emperor
Finally, to conclude this chapter, here is how, in his Strategic Review
of 1814Campaign, Clausewitz, always reserved in his judgments when it comes
to Blücher, summarizes and assesses the first period of operations of
the Army of Silesia: "After crossing the Rhine, they left about 24,000
men under Langeron before Mainz. Blücher crossed the Saar with 50,000
men, detached 20,000 under Yorck to invest in Saarlouis, Metz, Thionville and
Luxembourg and attempt raids against these towns. He only had 30,000
remaining of his 74.000 men, with whom he first moved on Nancy and then, after
resting a few days on the Aube."
"From these postings, those of Yorck and Langeron were needed. However,
we should always remember Yorck had been on the march on Châlons and
Vitry for eight days. This detachment of Yorck was made necessary by direction
imposed by Blücher towards the Aube. But while one knew that the
French army was concentrated at Châlons. It would have been better
to simply monitor the towns, pushing against Vitry a corps that would have
covered the right of Blücher and Schwarzenberg. Moreover, it was
then that the cavalry of Langeron and Kleist came up to the towns of Lorraine,
and Yorck could get under way with all his might."
Despite all due respect to the views of Clausewitz, it is impossible to conclude
with him saying that Blücher's troops were well used, instead, after reading
these lines, one is struck by the contradictions that they contain and forced
to admit that the great military writer did not find any arguments or evidence
to explain and justify the mistakes made by Blücher and recognize that
only his somewhat blind admiration prevented him from otherwise seeing them,
at least letting them stand out.
 Report of Major Falkenhausen. (K.
K. Kriegs Archiv., I, ad., 699.)
 Blücher to Schwarzenberg,
from Gondrecourt, 24 January. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 550.)
 Belliard reports to the Emperor
the positions occupied by the army on the 22nd at noon:
Belliard (Correspondance) to the Emperor, 23 January.
Sire, the position of the Army was yesterday at noon, as follows:
The Duke of Raguse behind Verdun, his cavalry on Senoncourt.
The Duke of Bellune at Ligny, occupying Stainville.
The Prince of The Moskowa in Bar-le-Duc, with a brigade in Saint-Dizier.
The Duke of Trévise in Bar-sur-Aube, by his letter dated of the
The Duke of Bellune was ordered to hold until he was forced out. The Prince
called the Duke of Raguse near him, to give him command of the two corps.
If all corps are forced to fall back on Châlons, how should they
place the troops? And if the enemy takes Châlons, should
a corps withdraw to Reims?
Letters from the Prince, leaving yesterday evening at 11 o'clock, give
to Your Majesty the same news." (Archives of the War, Belliard, Correspondance.)
 That this information is perfectly
correct, except in regard to the return of the Chief of Staff to Paris, is
confirmed in all respects by Grouchy, who says about this in his Mémoires: "On
the 22nd, Victor was ready to continue the retreat to Saint-Dizier
so as not to be overwhelmed when ordered to stand on the Ornain. Milhaud
(5th Cavalry Corps) in Saint-Aubin was in an engagement with the Russians
and fell back on Ligny."
 Report of Blücher (K.
K Kriegs Archiv., I, 500). The Field Marshal
does not talk of the charges of the Russian cavalry mentioned by Plotho and
Damitz and which did not take place.
 General Vasilchikov was part
of the column of Lieutenant-General Prince Scherbatov, of which the Journal
of Operations provides us with the following information: "Prince
Scherbatov had been presented with an order of march that gives the
corps a special direction. General Lanskoy, with a brigade of hussars
(the regiments of Akhtyrka (Ахтырка)
and of Mariupol (Мариу́поль)
and a horse artillery battery, 3 regiments of Cossacks under the command of
Major General Karpov and the Prussian detachment of General Prince Biron will
be added to his disposition and form his vanguard. The corps moving today
on Void, his advanced-guard is tonight in Saint-Aubin, where we drove the enemy."
 Blücher adds in his report
that travelers who were in Paris on the 12th the day of the review, saying
that there was, not 30,000 men, but more than 18,000.
"They have seen that between Paris and Châlons 2 battalions of veterans
of the Guard."
 The 2nd Corps and the
5th of Cavalry occupied, the 22nd, the following positions: Piré,
supported by the division of Duhesme at Saint-Aubin; 400 dragoons of Briche,
supported by the 1st Infantry Division, scouting towards Gondrecourt
occupying Givrauval, Longeaux, Nantois with an advanced guard in Saint-Amand-sur-Ornain.
The rest of the Briche Division was behind Ligny, on the road from Bar to Tronville-en-Barrois,
Guerpont and Tannois. The Lhéritier Division at Stainville; General
de France, with the Guards of Honor, at Ancerville. A battalion of infantry
from the 2nd Division supported Lhéritier in Stainville. (Archives
of the War.)
 Blücher to Schwarzenberg
(K. K. Kriegs Archives., I, 530) and Kurzgefasste Darstellung der Kriegsbegebenheiten
Schlesischen der Armee (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I. 31).
 Journal of Operations of
Lieutenant General Prince Scherbatov.
 It is certain that without
a formal order given by Berthier, one would not have looked to take the position
of Saint-Aubin and still less that of Ligny. Victor, indeed, recognized
that this position could hardly be defended by infantry and very little artillery, the
cavalry could only be used for scouting or stopping the Allied cavalry from Saint-Aubin. "The
plateau above Ligny," Victor wrote to the Chief of Staff, "can be seen
neither as a defensive position, nor as a position of combat, because there on
the side of the city is an extremely steep defile and that is where the only
communication exists. I chose to defend the position opposite the entrance
to the defile of Saint-Dizier, I crowned the heights with the infantry. Some
cannons were in battery at their base." Here is now how Victor reported
the same fight: "My vanguard was established on the hillsides. Warned
of the approach of the enemy, I was ready. The lines were already formed. Things
began about one o'clock in the afternoon. My advanced guard defending in
echelon, retreated in good order on Ligny. Several battalions were
placed in gardens to protect its retirement, and. during this movement, I ordered
the cavalry to cross the defile of Saint-Dizier because it could not serve me
in this narrow terrain and cut with ravines. The infantry was placed in
battle formation on the heights of the defile. We waited for the enemy,
which first moved with a column of 2,000 to 3,000 men on Ligny. The battalions
of General Duhesme placed in gardens, stopped it until the city was evacuated,
stubbornly defending the entrance to the city and then retreating in good order. The
enemy tried latter an attack on our lines; but thrown back, he limited himself
to worry about fire from sharpshooters and rather sharp cannonade...Around
10 o'clock at night, our outposts noticed that the camp fires of the enemy went
out and reported they heard a noise of carriages on the road of Gondrecourt. The
enemy marched by this direction, leaving few people at Ligny. Things were
in this state when at 2 o'clock in the morning I received orders to fall back
on Saint-Dizier." (Archives of the War.)
 Report of Prussian Major
v. Falkenhausen. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv.,
I, ad. 699.)
 Journal of Operations of
Lieutenant General Prince Scherbatov.
 General Ricard had, indeed,
received orders to send 200 horses and 150 infantry to observe the
bridge of Saint-Mihiel and firmly hold the portion of Les Islettes,
which mattered more to secure possession since the Cossacks had appeared
at Villotte. Marmont, reporting the presence of Cossacks at Villotte,
announced to the Chief of Staff he had sent 200 men and 300 horses
to drive them out; that the 6th Corps marched Vitry, the Lagrange
Division was in Chaumont-sur-Aire and Decouz Division, Naives, the
24th in the morning.
 Macdonald was, the
24th, at Charleville-Mézières, where he remained
until the 26th, the day when the division of Brayer had its infantry
in Rethel, its cavalry in Chêne-Populeux and Vouziers.
 DROYSEN, Das Leben des
Feld-Marschall Grafen Yorck von Wartenburg, I, 277.
Of the 20,045 men who had crossed the Rhine on 1 January, there were
less than 14,240 present with their corps the 25th; the total
was, however, thanks to the arrival of reinforcements, increased to
 Dispatch of Prince William
of Prussia to Henckel, from Sainte-Ruffine, 25 January.
 Marmont had at Vitry the
division of Decouz and a brigade of cuirassiers. The Lagrange
Division was in Vitry-en-Perthois, the light cavalry at Outrepont and
Changy, the Ricard Division at Islettes covered in front by an vanguard
at Clermont-en-Argonne under the command of General Piquet.
 The 1st division of
the 2nd Corps left Vitry for Saint-Dizier at 6 o'clock in the
morning on the 25th, followed by the rest of the corps and by
the 3rd Cavalry Corps, which formed the rear guard. Victor
had only left at Saint-Dizier General Duhesme with 2,600 infantrymen,
600 horses and 2 batteries.
 Journal of Operations Scherbatov. -Blücher
in the Summary Journal of the Army of Silesia (K. K. Kriegs Archiv.,
I, 31.) reports the combat of Saint-Dizier in these terms: "Scherbatov
chased the rear guard of Victor from Saint-Dizier and continuing on
the road to Vitry." The next day he sent to Schwarzenberg,
from Joinville, the following report, which we reproduce mainly because
of the news Field Marshal thought he should communicate with the Generalissimo:
"Joinville, 26 January 1814."
"The enemy occupied yesterday Saint-Dizier, with a rearguard of 4,000
infantry, 1 regiment of dragoons and 4 cannons."
"Scherbatov attacked and took the city after a pretty quick fight. The
enemy remained close to the city on the edge of a wood, probably waiting for
the night to continue his retreat."
"The news I received are as follows:"
"The marshals Berthier and Ney and the General Grouchy had been there
the 29th (Field Marshal wanted to write: 25th).
"General Perré (?) was relieved
of command of the rear-guard because he did not defend Ancerville, and was
replaced by General Duhesme."
"The Emperor said he had made peace with Spain, but nobody believes him."
"200 cannons go from Metz to Châlons. A trader who
left Châlons 2 days ago, said that residents are fleeing."
"French officers claim we defend Vitry."
(K. K. Kriegs Archiv., 1, 590.)
The Emperor had felt a deep dissatisfaction with the action of Saint-Dizier,
and just arrived at Châlons, he wrote, 26 January, at 9 o'clock
in the morning, to Berthier:
"Cousin, it is unfortunate that the Duke of Bellune has evacuated
Saint- Dizier; if he had been there in person with his army corps together,
we would have retained this important point. I gave the order
from Paris to guard this point; yet there was not a rear-guard which
was ready to go to keep this position." (Correspondance,
Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2011
[ Military Index | Battles Index ]