Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter Three Part IV

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)






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.[1]

22 January.  --Report of Blücher to Schwarzenberg.  --Cavalry combat of Saint-Aubin. --"On the 22nd in the morning," said Blücher in the report[2]  that he addressed from Gondrecourt to Schwarzenberg, "the Prince of Neuchâtel[3] 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 Ligny[4] and head into Saint-Aubin:

"The enemy" said Blücher[5], "occupied Ligny on the 22nd, and two brigades of cavalry, under the command of General Vasilchikov[6], 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[7]." Victor did not leave, moreover, a rear-guard at Ligny.[8]

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[9], "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[10] 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 Saint-Dizier.[11]
"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[12]:

Report of Falkenhausen.  --"I'm sending an officer to Liège to find out whether there are more enemy troops on the Meuse."

"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 disposition[13] called 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 had left.[14]

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 Pont-à-Mousson.

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[15] 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.[16]

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 called[17]to 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 at
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[18] 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[19] 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,[20] "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 at Châlons.

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.


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

[2] Blücher to Schwarzenberg, from Gondrecourt, 24 January. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, 550.)

[3] 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 21st.

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.)

[4] 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."

[5] 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.

[6] 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."

[7] 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."

[8] 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.)

[9] Blücher to Schwarzenberg (K. K. Kriegs Archives., I, 530) and Kurzgefasste Darstellung der Kriegsbegebenheiten Schlesischen der Armee (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I. 31).

[10] Journal of Operations of Lieutenant General Prince Scherbatov.

[11] 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.)

[12] Report of Prussian Major v. Falkenhausen. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., I, ad. 699.)

[13] Journal of Operations of Lieutenant General Prince Scherbatov.

[14] 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.

[15] 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.

[16] 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 17,486 combatants.

[17] Dispatch of Prince William of Prussia to Henckel, from Sainte-Ruffine, 25 January.

[18] 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.

[19] 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.

[20] 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, no. 21.135.)

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2011

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