Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter Four Part I

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)






Situation towards the end of December 1813.  --In the final pages of our work: The Cavalry of the Allied Armies during Campaign of 1813, we have given a summary of the first operations of Bülow, the movement of the flying columns sent by Winzingerode from Bremen over Holland, and the raids carried out by the partisans of Major von Colomb until 23 December.  With the approach of the English and Prussians, who had effected their junction at Roosendaal, General Lefebvre-Desnouettes had lifted the siege of Breda to get closer to Antwerp, and had come to take a position at Hoogstraten, Minderhout, Brasschaat and Mechelen; General Maison had to replace en route the head of the French troops of General Decaen, who the Emperor could not forgive for the hasty evacuation of the towns of Breda and Willemstad, at the appearance of the Cossacks of Benckendorff.

For the Allies' part, Bülow, far from being dazzled by the easy success that he had won, employed the last days of the year 1813 to secure his quick conquest or prevent setbacks, however unlikely they were, making a strong foothold on the left bank of the Waal and Meuse.

However, before resuming the presentation of the events that took place during the month of January in this part of the theater of war, it is most essential to take a look at the respective positions of the adversaries, that outside of the Prussians of Bülow, the English of Graham, the Dutch of the Prince of Orange, and the Russians of Winzingerode would soon appear on the Rhine and in Belgium, and that Maison should meet, by order of the Emperor, combining his operations with those of Macdonald.

Positions and numbers of the Prussian IIIrd Corps.  --Bülow, whose headquarters was still at Zaltbommel (Bommel) since late December, shortly after transferring it to Breda, had concentrated his corps to protect the Netherlands against a renewed attack by the French, while preparing to attack Antwerp together with the English. These, after having landed 8,000 men under General Graham at Willemstad had blockaded Bergen-op-Zoom, and then covered on the right, the positions of the Prussian IIIrd Corps.

That corps, like other Prussian corps was composed of four infantry brigades (3rd Brigade, General von Zielinsky; 4th Brigade, General von Thürnen; 5th Brigade, General von Borstel; 6th Brigade, General von Krafft), the Reserve Cavalry of General von Oppen, a brigade of reserve artillery of 6 batteries (including 1 horse artillery) and 2 companies of pioneers.  It included, besides the flying corps of Lieutenant Colonel von Lützow[1] (4 squadrons, three battalions, with 9 cannons), the battalion of jäger volunteers (Freiwiliger) of Major von Reiche, the partisan corps of Major von Colomb[2] and various small detachments.  Overall: 45 battalions, 33½ of landwehr, 50 squadrons, including 16 landwehr, 12 batteries and 2 companies of pioneers, making a total of about 30,000 men, with 96 cannons.

The Prussian IIIrd Corps which formed part of the Army of the North under the command of the Crown Prince of Sweden, only joined in the first days of March[3] the Army of Silesia, when Blucher's marched toward the Aisne, and as Bülow had to leave troops in Belgium, it resulted in adding  little to the Field-Marshal as a reinforcement of 16,000 men.

1 January 1814. - Concentration of the IIIrd Corps at Breda.  --After the French retreat from Breda on Hoogstraten, Bülow limited himself in the last days of December, to pushing reconnaissance: to the right, to Antwerp, to get as accurate an account as possible of the forces which opposed him around this place; to the left, to Grave and Nijmegen to scout this side and, most importantly, cut communications between the troops of Macdonald and those of which Maison  would take command.

It was, moreover, decided not to undertake anything against Antwerp before being joined by the 5th Brigade (Borstel), that the vanguard of Winzingerode had only relieved on 28 December at Wesel.

Further, as he deemed fit to leave the 3rd Cavalry Brigade astride both banks of the Waal, to monitor Gorinchem (Gorcum); as, in addition, he was blockading s'-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc) with six battalions and two squadrons under the command of Colonel von Hobe, he only had little more than 12,000 men available for active operations, when massing, 1 January around Breda: the Borstel, Thürnen and Krafft Brigades.  But although the ice carried by the rivers had forced Bülow to stand still and have to erect pontoon bridges from boats drawn up on the Waal and the Meuse, and although, as a result, he would have been for some time unable to receive reinforcements he expected to fall back upon if attacked, the concentration of the Prussian IIIrd Corps, none the less, convinced Macdonald to give up the position of Nijmegen, to settle on the Meuse, at Venlo, as we shall see later.

In the second half of December and before the arrival of General O'Rourke at Wesel, General von Borstel had tried unsuccessfully to take the town by surprise.

Positions and numbers of the corps of Winzingerode.  --Like the Prussian IIIrd Corps, the corps of the Russian General Winzingerode belonged to the Army of the North.  As it was intended to take part in active operations and to rally later with the Army of Silesia, it had already, in the course of November, preceded into Holland with many of its Cossacks under the command of Chernishev, Naryshkin, Benckendorff and Stahl.  Its infantry, remaining inactive, by order of the Crown Prince of Sweden, near Bremen and on the lower Weser, only began in the last days of December its movement from Münster to the Rhine.

By the time Benckendorff was ordered to move on Düsseldorf and General O'Rourke, who formed the head of the column of the main corps, relieved Borstel before Wesel and arrived on 26 December, this corps only presented an available force of 8,000 infantrymen and 5,000 horse.

But the corps of Vorontsov and Stroganov[4] that the Crown Prince of Sweden had temporarily kept on the lower Elbe, were designated to operate, thereafter, under the command of Winzingerode.  After being joined by Vorontsov, Stroganov and the various detachments temporarily employed in the Duchy of Oldenburg, on the Rhine and the Netherlands, Winzingerode's corps should include the cavalry of O'Rourke (3rd Division of Hussars and 2nd of dragoons), the irregular cavalry (Cossacks and Bashkirs-) of General Chernishev, the 3rd infantry corps of General Vorontsov, the infantry corps of General Stroganov and 14 artillery batteries, in whole, after Plotho:  35 battalions, 30 squadrons, 19 Cossack regiments and 162 cannons, representing total effectives of 30,850 men; according to Bogdanovich, it consisted of 40 battalions, 47 squadrons, 19 Cossack regiments and 12 batteries (132 guns) , making a total of 36,000 men.

Reinforcements destined to replace the corps of Bülow and Winzingerode.  --These two corps were to be replaced in Belgium, in early February, by the Confederation IIIrd Corps (Duke of Saxe-Weimar), comprising of: two Saxon infantry brigades (Generals Lecoq, Gablenz and Ryssel I) and 14 squadrons of cavalry; the brigade of Thuringia and Anhalt of Prince Paul of Württemberg (8 and a half battalions and 1 squadron) and the 4 Saxon landwehr regiments, who. with a squadron of cavalry and the Cossack regiments of Bihalov I and Rebrejev were placed under the command of General von Thielmann; finally, 5 and a half battery of artillery, in whole: 32 battalions, 15 squadrons, two Cossack regiments and 56 cannons: A total of 23,350 men.

The Duke of Saxe-Weimar, with a first echelon with a strength of 12 battalions, 9 squadrons, 1 company of sappers and 4 and a half batteries, in all about 11,000 men, 1,600 horses and 28 cannons, left Querfurt, 2 January, to arrive at Breda, 7 February.

Almost at the same time as the Confederation IIIrd Corps, the corps of Lieutenant General Count Wallmoden Gimborn, too, received, the order to come and take part in operations in the Netherlands.  This corps consisted of the Cossack cavalry of General Tettenborn[5], the mixed brigade formed by the Russian-German Legion and mixed Hanoverian brigade; in all, 13 battalions. 16 squadrons and 4 Cossack regiments, or about 15,000 men with 32 cannons.

Positions and numbers of French troops under the command of Macdonald.  --The French forces that could oppose the two corps of Bülow and Winzingerode in the last days of December 1813 and the first days of January 1814, were far from presenting such a size.

According to the situation as of 1 January, Macdonald, whose headquarters would remain until 5 January,  at Kleve (Clèves), had under his direct orders the 4th corps, which we note here for reference only, since it had barricaded itself with General Morand in Mainz, the 5th and 11th Corps of infantry and the 2nd and 3rd of cavalry.

The 11th Infantry Corps, divided between Nijmegen, Kleve and Wesel, where it would eventually leave the 35th Division with General Lauberdière, was composed at that time, of the 31st and 35th Divisions, and consisted of, even including the 1,750 men of the division of Molitor stationed at Venlo, 8,085 men, 1,255 horses and 18 cannons.

To its right was found along the Rhine, from Neuss just to Köln (Cologne), the 5th Corps (Sebastiani), a total force of 3,734 men and 794 horses with 14 cannons.

The 2nd Cavalry Corps had three brigades, formed by the 2nd and 4th Divisions of light cavalry and the 2nd Division of cuirassiers.  Including the 313 men in the regiment of hussars of Jérôme Napoléon, it had a total of 2,484 men, 3,046 horses with 4 cannons.  One of these brigades was at Kleve and Kalkar; another at Kranenburg and Nijmegen; its 3rd Brigade, under General Dommanget, entirely at Maastricht, scouted around Brussels.

The 3rd Cavalry Corps could only be put in the line in late December, with  2,178 men,  2,745 horses and six cannons.  It watched the Rhine from Andernach up to Neuss and Krefeld.

It is worth noting that if the total number of troops under the Duke of Tarente was at that time, nearly 17,000 men, he could hardly have had, in fact, 9,000 to 10,000 men at most for active operations.  The remaining troops were blockaded, and formed the garrisons of Grave, Wesel, Venlo, Jülich and Maastricht.[6]

When Winzingerode appeared between Köln and Neuss, the Marshal could have, at most, to oppose him from 6,000 to 7,000 men belonging mostly to the 5th Corps and the 3rd Cavalry Corps, and in this case, he would have been left with few choices, to cover his left against the operations of Bülow.

Strength of troops placed in Belgium, under orders of Maison.  --In Belgium, Maison still had a score of depots containing wounded soldiers, the two divisions of Roguet and Barrois and the cavalry brigade of General Castex, or, at most, fifteen thousand men.[7]

The divisions of General Ambert, Carra-Saint-Cyr and Ledru des Essarts alone began to form, and it was with such insignificant forces that Maison would cover Antwerp and Belgium, assure the defense of Bergen-op-Zoom and the of the Scheldt line, and resist to his front Bülow, on the left the English, and on his right, the Russians vanguard of Winzingerode.

Supplementing the insufficiency of his forces by a tireless activity, Maison began by provisioning the towns which he had to occupy.  He then decided to take the field with what was left, to refuse any commitment too serious and constantly harass the enemy into trying to make them change their plans.  About 1 January, he posted the division of Roguet to Hoogstraten and Turnhout, the cavalry of Desnouettes between Brecht and Turnhout.  The division of Barrois was in the second line, in Brussels with some squadrons of General Castex.  General Ambert, with 4 battalions, 2 or 3 squadrons and some guns, had taken a position at Brasschaat and Donk, north of Antwerp.

General Maison, covering Antwerp, sought to maintain communications with Bergen-op-Zoom and monitor the movements of the British, stationed at Roosendaal, and those of the Prussians, established at Breda.[8]

Despite the small number of French troops who were opposing him, Bülow would nevertheless find himself in a difficult situation until the arrival on the Rhine of the main body of Winzingerode.

Also concentrating there and around Breda to avert an offensive movement of Macdonald, who based on Grave and Nijmegen, could descend the course of the Waal and Meuse and upset the troops of the Prussian IIIrd Corps during meeting of the that French forces in Antwerp would have led to this place.  Besides, the arrival of the 5th Brigade from Wesel, the crossing of the Rhine by Saint-Priest and the presence of Chernishev at Düsseldorf sufficed to reassure and to give him full freedom of movement.

4 January.  -- Positions of Sebastiani between Cologne and Neuss.  --Macdonald at Venlo.  --Indeed Sebastiani, who guarded with a handful of men the line of the Rhine from Bonn until around Wesel, was justly concerned about the emergence at Andernach of the brigade of Pillar, from the corps of Saint-Priest.  Not anticipating the difficulties that Saint-Priest met with crossing the Rhine, he began by directing to Bonn, by Oberwinter and Mehlen, a reconnaissance that, ably led by Generals Albert and Jacquinot, upset the Russian cavalry.  Then, at the same time he pointed out to Macdonald the presence of the enemy on his right, seeking and obtaining permission from the Marshal authorization to tighten his overly stretched cantonments and bring his people between Cologne and Neuss.[9]

The vigilance of Sebastiani had foiled an attempt, 3 January, by the Russo-Prussian flying corps of Major von Boltenstern (of the Guard Jäger), who had tried to cross the Rhine by boat at Mühlheim and land near Cologne.  Scarcely had the partisans set foot on the left bank than they were discovered and attacked by French troops.  They barely had time to hastily retreat to their boats, some of which, overloaded as a result of the hasty departure of the boats in which the first fugitives had jumped into; they only reached with great difficulty the opposite shore. This attempt took the lives of Major von Boltenstern who remained last on the left bank, jumping his horse into the Rhine and died by the bullets of the soldiers of Sebastiani.

For his part, Macdonald was in danger of both being cut off from his line of retreat by the Prussian brigades now in place around Breda and being attacked by the troops of Winzingerode; he thought it wiser to leave Nijmegen and Kleve, 4 January and fall back on Guelders and Venlo after having informed Maison of his decision.

March of Winzingerode on Düsseldorf.  --Winzingerode slowly and methodically continued his march to Düsseldorf at the head of 17,000 men who he stopped[10]and with whom he could have, without risking anything, gone to immediately cross the Rhine.  He urged the same caution of stopping on Chernishev.

Chernishev asks in vain to cross the Rhine immediately.  --The general, who arrived in Düsseldorf with his advanced guard, had immediately taken all necessary steps to cross the River.  On 1 January, he was ready to attempt the passage, when he received orders not to undertake anything as long as  ice was flowing down the Rhine.  Chernishev insisted in vain with his chief; he made a beautiful attempt in presenting to him the main reasons to arrive as soon as possible at the level of the positions occupied by the other corps of the Allied army: he uselessly sought to show him that his vanguard, alone nearly 4,000 men[11] strong would be joined by the detachment of Benckendorff, a number roughly equal and returning, on the order of Winzingerode, from Breda to Arnhem and Emmerich on the right bank of the Rhine.  Nothing could triumph over the preconceptions of that general officer. Also, while one kept Chernishev at Düsseldorf and Bülow focused on any event around Breda, Maison, who did not lose a minute, took advantage of the respite his opponents allowed him to supplement the supplies of Flushing and Bergen-op-Zoom, reinforcing the garrison of that place and organizing that of Antwerp, and Macdonald was able to retreat safely on Guelders and Venlo, after throwing a thousand men in Grave.

6 January.  -- Bülow's orders to the flying corps of Colomb.  --Movements and operations of this officer from 7 to 9 January.   --It was only the 6th at night[12] that Bülow, seeing the retreat of Macdonald[13] and the evacuation of Cleves and Nijmegen, gave orders to Major von Colomb to push quickly with his independent corps to the Meuse.

Colomb arriving in Tilburg on the 7th, found no trace of the enemy.  While there he learned that the French cavalry, having crossed the Meuse at Cuijk, had moved to Venlo, and he marched with his men on Eindhoven.  There he found a former Prussian officer who informed him that Macdonald, who arrived on the left bank of the Meuse, had staged his cavalry on a long line to stay connected with Antwerp.  He knew that one of these squadrons, established at the village of Meijel, in the marshes of De Peel, went out every morning at 4 o'clock, returning to the cantonment at 9 o'clock, when its patrols and reconnaissance announced that they had found nothing suspicious in the neighborhood.  Colomb, hoping to surprise the squadron, left Eindhoven the 8th at night fall and pushed up to Heeze, where he rested through the following day of the 9th.  He then marched so as to arrive before Meijel at 10 o'clock in the morning.  To take the squadron stationed in this village, it was necessary to proceed with the more energy than normal to turn Meijel.

The enterprise of Colomb[14] only succeeded due the freezing cold: it was possible to saber a numb vedette before he could make use of his arms and give the alarm to the grand guard, who had no time to remount and whose men running on foot toward the village, arrived too late to warn the squadron.  The cavalrymen none the less did well in vigorously defending in houses, and Colomb, having taken 72 men of the 75 at Meijel which were posted on this point,[15] returned in the evening to Heeze to head the next day on Sint-Oedenrode.

7 January.  --Pointing cavalry to Venlo and Turnhout. - Bülow had launched at the same time, various detachments of light cavalry to Venlo and Roermond, and pushed the flying body of Major Hellwig towards Turnhout.  Driven from Groot-Zundert, the 7th, by the French cavalry, Hellwig retook the position there on the 9th.

Informed by his scouts, of the preparations made by General Maison[16], knowing that the division of Roguet held Wuustwezel with 2 battalions, Hoogstraten with the bulk of its forces, that the Aymard  brigade occupied Turnhout, that the French reserves had been established at Brasschaat and Lier, and Macdonald was always on his left flank,[17] Bülow feared that the French could take advantage of the broken bridges of the Waal and Meuse, the stretched out corps of Winzingerode and the difficulty that he would meet in crossing the Waal again, to try to effect a junction and drive him to the river.  He therefore resolved to prevent them by charging his light cavalry with cutting the communications between the Aymard brigade, posted on the far right of the troops of Maison, and Macdonald, whose outposts covered the left bank of the Meuse, from Venlo up to Maastricht.

10 January.  --Orders of Bülow.  --Dispositions to attack Maison.  --The bulk of the IIIrd Corps was at the same time moved against the French lines at Hoogstraten and Turnhout.  Bülow hoped in this way to push into Antwerp the troops who occupied the positions in front of the place, by that same means to force Macdonald to retire and continue to take himself a defensive position in which he could easily await in safety the arrival of the corps of Winzingerode.

Maison, however, had no illusions, on the military value of the position of Hoogstraten.  In a letter sent on the 7th, to Macdonald, he noted that this position was nothing worth fighting for, because it only had behind it communications, and then still very bad.  But he was obliged to stay there, first because he succeeded in this way to support his troops, then, because he had to ensure the receipt of necessary supplies at Antwerp.  Finally, by posting, as he had done, a few battalions and some squadrons in Turnhout, where they seemed to threaten s'-Hertogenbosch , leaving at Loenhout and Hoogstraten the main body of Roguet, setting in echelon some battalions of the garrison of Antwerp and a squadron of cavalry at Brasschaat on the road from Breda to Antwerp, he hoped to await the development of plans of his opponent.

Moreover, although the General Maison did not see Bülow pushing to his front, because that by operating this way the Prussian general would put himself at a disadvantage, the movements performed by the Prussian cavalry seem to have inspired the commander of the 1st Corps with some concern for his right wing. Accordingly, he ordered a party of troops stationed in Brussels to concentrate on Lier.  He had, moreover, explained his situation and his plans in the dispatch that he addressed[18] to the Minister of War, almost on the eve of the day when Bülow was preparing to march against him.

"Monsieur the Marshal Duke of Tarente had told me," he wrote, "that Bülow focused on his left, towards Bommel, therefore to my right.  The Cossacks who were before Breda, returned to the Waal to join the corps of Winzingerode, and hearing nothing said about the arrival of Bülow, I thought it would march on Maastricht, by Eindhoven; but now all my reports are that he will arrive at Breda with 10,000 men; he must be there in person today.  A certain Major Hellwig in command, supposedly of the vanguard of that corps, came to settle in Groot- Zundert with 400 horses and 300 infantrymen.  I did chase him away the 7th, and pushed up under Breda; he came back yesterday the 8th.  If he was not supported, he would not dare do so.  The English, who received, on the 4th, 1,000 men in reinforcements landed at Tholen and 2,000 by Willemstad, were dispatched to Roosendaal; they may have currently on the latter point 2,000 men.  I learned that the enemy had thrown bridges over the Waal, the 4th, it seems, from these data that Bülow will begin operations in the Brabant: he boldly announces he will take over Belgium, where it seems that he already had intelligence."

"I concentrate the division of Roguet on Westmalle.  I am guarded by the cavalry, however, sustained a few infantry at Hoogstraten, Wuustwezel and Loenhout as a front, I put two battalions of what is called the 1st Corps, at Brasschaat and Donk; it leaves the remaining 3 at Antwerp as the whole garrison.  I set up 10 squadrons, 2 battalions and 2 artillery pieces in Turnhout, with orders to retreat on Herentals in the case of an offensive movement by the enemy.  If today I am confirmed in my opinion about his plans, I will ask General Barrois to march on Lier.  This division and the 2 battalions that I have with 1,000 horses in Turnhout, would form my right..."

"By not defending the Demer and the Nete, Belgium is conquered: one only has to take this line, and from there, go to our towns on the former border.  If my corps had been formed as quickly as I thought, maybe I could stop this invasion.  But I do not hope with what I have, to be closer to Antwerp; for I must always remain able to leave a garrison in this place...I do not think that all this grouping of troops here in Antwerp prevents the enemy from moving forward.  On the other hand, if you do not leave anything to keep them out of this city, the enemy, by a bombardment, burns the fleet and the dockyards.  Please let me know the intent of H. M. on the number of troops to leave in Antwerp and the direction to take with the rest.  For me I expect, unless otherwise directed, when I am forced back, to mount the Scheldt and gain Lille.  I know that it will give up Belgium, uncovering Liège, Namur and Huy, but the strength of what I am left does not allow me to think of anything else."

The position of Maison was now more difficult because it was only through Hasselt, occupied by some troops of General Dommanget and a brigade of the corps of Macdonald, that he could comply with the instructions of the Emperor, cover Antwerp and stay in communication with the Duke of Tarente.  Indeed, if the Allies succeeded in dislodging Dommanget from Hasselt, settling at the sources of the Demer, nothing would have been easier then than to debouch at the Campine by major communication to Liège.  They could then be placed so as to cut off the Duke of Tarente, to prevent the junction of the 1st Corps, to fall successively on Liège, Huy and Namur, and push their posts on Brussels.  Maison provided a true account of the seriousness of the events which were being prepared: the 11th in the morning, just when Bülow began his movement, he wrote to Roguet: "Without this city of Antwerp, he would hesitate to march with everyone we have on the enemy making a flank movement before us."

11 January.  --Fight at Hoogstraten.  --Bülow, after uniting with General Graham for the operation he had planned for the 11th, resolved to move in three columns against the French position.  He marched with the bulk of his forces from Breda to Hoogstraten, while Graham went from Roosendaal on to Merksem.

The left column, under the command of General von Borstel, composed of the 5th Brigade, reinforced by the detachment of Colonel von Sydow (1 Battalion, 10 squadrons and 16 cannons), marched by the route from Breda towards Hoogstraten and was to pierce the center of the French line.  The center column (4th Brigade, General von Thümen) through Groot-Zundert, aimed at Wuustwezel and Loenhout; finally, the third column, commanded by General von Oppen (6th Brigade, General von Krafft, and the cavalry reserve), was intended, after passing Groot-Zundert, to outflank the French left and cut off their retreat to Antwerp.  The British of Graham formed the extreme right of the attack.

The idea of Bülow was rational; but the general neglected, however, when he regulated the march of his columns, to consider the terrain and the season.  The result was that natural barriers that became points of fierce resistance for the division of Roguet, prevented him from reaching the goal he had proposed, because it forced the French troops to retreat before him; he was however, not able to cut off their retreat.

The 11th at 8 o'clock in the morning, Borstel, with the left, began the attack on the post at Hoogstraten, where General Roguet, whose vigilance had been alarmed by the large number and boldness of the parties Cossacks was preparing for a reconnaissance with the brigade of Flamand.  General Roguet seeing early on that his opponent was trying to envelope him, held him firmly by a battalion at the village and the cemetery of Minderhout, located on his front: he posted two battalions, with 4 guns on the road to Breda, 2 others in the rear of Oostmalle, 1 battalion on the road of Meer, leaving him 2 battalions established on the road of Loenhout and ordered General Aymard to leave Turnhout to fall back on Antwerp.  Blessed by these dispositions, it was only noon, four hours after a fierce battle that Borstell, who in this hilly terrain, had been unable to utilize neither his 10 squadrons, or even his artillery, succeeded in taking Minderhout, to debouch from the bridge at Wortel and settle in Hoogstraten.

The opportune appearance of the second column (general von Thümen), who was deployed between Wuustwezel and Loenhout, while General Borstel renewed his attempts against Minderhout, greatly helped in this general fulfilling his mission.

General Roguet then decided on a retirement and to withdraw into Oostmalle, and thence to Westmalle, where he hoped to find the regiment stationed in principle in Turnhout.  There was however much less reason to do so, as General Borstell, taking Hoogstraten which had not cost less than 16 officers and nearly 500 men, stopped for an hour and a half before pushing on to Oostmalle, and as he only would resume his march when the other two columns had reached his level and as their movements had been planned, he stayed on the night of the 11th  in his positions.

Meanwhile, General von Thümen had managed throw the skirmishers, without much trouble, from the villages of Loenhout and Wuustwezel; the French troops, falling first on Brecht, then abandoned this point to the cavalrymen of Major Hellwig seen further to the rear towards Westmalle.

Meanwhile, General von Thümen moved against the brigade of General Aymard who, having only received 2 hours earlier in Turnhout the order of General Roguet, only began to retreat after being joined by the reconnaissance sent on the road Tilburg.  Finding the way blocked by the Prussians in march on Westmalle, Aymard veered towards Lier, where he took the position the 12th, by order of Maison.[19]

The cavalry arrives too late to take part in combat.  --The cavalry that marched to the right of the Prussians and were to gather on the 11th, at 3 o'clock in the morning, at Rukven, were ordered to move by Nieuwmoor on Wuustwezel.  But, in the presence of the absolute impossibility of passing by roads rendered impassable by completely freezing, General von Oppen, who commanded this column, had been forced to take the route by Roosendaal, Essen (Esschen) and Kalmthout, and prolonging his march by at least five hours.  Therefore, although he had started at midnight, he was unable arrive to Wuustwezel until 5 o'clock at night, after the column of General von Thümen took this place.  It was now impossible to execute the movement that Bülow had stated in his order.

By orders, he was to leave his infantry at Wuustwezel, to send 100 to 200 men to Brasschaat, to connect to the English, and direct a large detachment of cavalry on Westmalle.  Colonel von Treskow with two regiments of dragoons (Königin (Queen's) and (2nd) West Prussian Dragoon Regiments), was responsible for establishing themselves at Westmalle.  Although he had gone at a trot the four leagues which separated him from Westmalle, he arrived there only at night and too late to prevent the bulk of French troops, who had been engaged at Hoogstraten and Minderhout, to effect their retirement by Oostmalle and Westmalle on Wijnegem (Wyneghem).

Action at Westmalle.  --The Prussian cavalry occupied Westmalle shortly after 8 o'clock;[20] but poorly guarded due to the cold, they were surprised by the French who, after having chasing them momentarily fell back on the road from Wijnegem on Antwerp.

Two French battalions occupied Wijnegem during the night of the 11th to 12th, the Flamand brigade moved to Deurne and the troops of General Ambert posted themselves behind Merksem.[21]

General Roguet had his right at Wijnegem and his left was connected at Deurne with the troops in Antwerp; Barrois Division and the cavalry of Meuziau were at Lier.  Maison, thinking he had enough people at Wijnegem and at Merksem to contain the Prussians, decided on the 13th, on falling on Diest on their left flank by bringing against them the troops from Lier, reinforced by a column he would bring himself from Antwerp.

For his part, Bülow had pushed, the 12th, the brigade of Borstell to Sint-Antonius, on the road from Turnhout to Antwerp, the brigade of Thümen to Braschaët, to Donk and on Merksem to that of Breda, and brought the Oppen brigade to the center at 's-Gravenwezel (Schilde or Saint-Gravenwesel).

General Graham, with 4,000 British, on the extreme right of the line was on the road from Bergen-op-Zoom to Antwerp, in the vicinity of Ekeren.

12 January.  --Orders of the Emperor.  --While Maison took, the same day as the affairs of Merksem and Wijnegem, the steps we have just indicated, the Emperor said in his General Instructions dated 13 January:

"It does not appear that the mass of enemy that debouch by Breda, that Bülow commands, could operate with more than 9,000 to 10,000 men.  General Maison is able to contain and fight (it)."

The news of the defeat suffered by General Roguet at Hoogstraten, showing the Emperor that the situation in Belgium was not nearly as favorable as he pretended to believe it, caused him great irritation which we find traces evident in the letter a few days later, on 20 January, that was written by Bertrand to Maison, then in Leuven:

"... His Majesty has seen with pain the opportunity you missed to win an important victory over the enemy, break the blockade of Gorinchem and add the 4,500 men to you, who are in that place and now will be useless.  You disperse your troops.  If General Roguet had been found, the 11th, at Hoogstraten with the Aymard Brigade and his entire division reunited, there is no doubt he would have completely defeated the enemy, then, if, when you had added to you the Barrois Division, the 14th, you had continued to pursue the enemy, you would have completely defeated and forced it to withdraw to Breda."

"His Majesty does not approve of a line of 20 lieues; and this is good for smuggling, but this system of war has never succeeded.  The plan to retire on Lille and abandon the whole of Belgium is even more fatal than the battalions that were to compose your army having been retained in that position."

"So to defend Antwerp and Belgium you only gather your troops to Antwerp, as His Majesty said to you, taking a strong advanced guard, one on the road in Turnhout (Lier is too far back) and the other on the road Hoogstraten."

"In this situation, Belgium is in no danger and your troops will remain united.  Whatever the enemy may throw on Belgium you can stand between him and Breda, and can march on Gorinchem ..."

"... This position, in front of Antwerp, by the advanced guard occupying positions 4 or 5 lieues in front, is the only one that ensures Belgium against all the troops that could come through the line of operations of Willemstad, Breda and s'-Hertogenbosch ."

"The intention of His Majesty is that you rectify on the spot your battle plan, whether you choose 1 or 2 lieues from Antwerp a good position to which you can withdraw your vanguard and insulate your corps, and deliver battle."

"To complete this plan, you must keep moving corps, infantry and cavalry, starting very far on your right to prevent partisans from entering Belgium, but these positions must be observed and never remain the night where they see the sun set."[22]
When Maison received this dispatch, the situation had completely changed in appearance.  At the risk of once more incurring the reproach of the Emperor, rather than risk being trapped in Antwerp, he preferred, as we will show, to take steps to keep in the field as long as possible, to defend the Belgium step by step, withdrawing at the last extremity to Lille and  maneuvering to cover French Flanders with his remaining troops.[23]

The eve of the actions of the 11th in front of Antwerp, the Emperor had sent orders to Macdonald about leaving garrisons in all towns, to join with General Sebastiani, and the cavalry, and stand on the Meuse in Maastricht and Namur, maneuvering against Blücher's right flank.  By giving these orders to the Duke of Tarente, the Emperor was acting under the influence of the natural concerns caused him by the march of Blücher and the Army of Silesia. Continuing to believe that operations in Belgium would not present any serious nature, he thought that Maison was, with his own strength and without the assistance of Macdonald, that he needed in a different theater of war, able to stop Bülow and to preserve Belgium.

Anyway, the passage of the Rhine by Winzingerode would have obliged Macdonald, who had already begun his movements of withdrawal, to change after a few days his position and that of the generals under his command.

But before examining the operations that accompanied and followed the passage of the Rhine by Winzingerode, it is necessary to speak of events during the day of the 13th, near Antwerp, and to consider what were the immediate consequences of affairs of Hoogstraten, of Merksem and of Wijnegem.


[1] The bulk of the corps of Lützow only joined later.  Two squadrons going from Holstein with Lützow, arrived at Liège on 24 January and was part of the cavalry delivered that day to General Chernishev; they went from there to the Meuse, thence to Épernay.  The infantry corps of Lützow, the other two squadrons and artillery left Holstein after the signing of the Treaty of Kiel with Denmark; they were employed under the command of Major von Helmenstreit, the blockade of the Jülich from 17 February to 18 March and as a result took, no active part in the following operations of the campaign in France.

[2] The flying corps of Colomb remained only a little while in Belgium and France to operate in concert with the two squadrons of Lützow from the first days of February.

[3] Bülow did not arrive until 21 February, at Laon.

[4] The corps of Vorontsov was, after the order of battle, part of the corps of Winzingerode; that of Stroganov, the Army of Poland, under the command of Bennigsen, the latter corps was from the beginning of 181 4 detached from the army and placed under the command of Winzingerode.

[5] The Cossacks of Tettenborn alone took part in operations of the campaign in France.  Arrived from Schleswig-Holstein on 11 February in Cologne, Tettenborn went the 19th from Trier and joined Winzingerode in Reims the 25th.

[6] Macdonald had made a correct account of the dangers of the situation.  In the dispatch he sent from Kleve to the Chief of Staff on 1 January, he asked to withdraw without leaving people in the fortresses.  But in responding to him by letter dated 10 January and his note of the 12th of the situation in France, the Emperor could not bring himself to sacrifice and give up the towns of countries he conquered.

"Macdonald to the Chief of Staff.  --Kleve, 1 January."

"...The enemy defile without interruption towards Gorinchem and Breda.  Rest assured, Monseigneur, that in a few hours or a few days, they will have broken into Belgium.  The Allies maneuver their wings and demonstrate before us at the center.  Gatherings at Düsseldorf, Mühlheim, Deutz and at the mouth of the Sieg have no other purpose than to wait for this irruption to intercept the routes of Coblenz and Luxembourg, while that of the Campine (Kempen) the enemy blocks the path from Brussels and Namur."

"I repeat to Your Highness that troops so spread out have no strength, that taken obliquely and head on, this huge line will be a distraction, useless for the general defense.  The towns themselves will not help.  The complement of supply is still too far to serve.  The 5th Corps and 11th, assuming they can throw themselves into the towns without being cut to pieces, only amount to 8,000 to 10,000 men, including the bayonets of Wesel, two or three more at Grave, Venlo, Maastricht, Jülich.  For the five towns, it takes more than twice this, and in any case, it would only leave a little more than an army corps on campaign."

"We are touching a great crisis: would it not also be wise to carefully weight a high resolution?  That taken, under such circumstances, the places so remote; lacking in part; weak garrison; which will soon succumb and without benefit to the State ... In the current crisis, at the moment where the old France is being pierced, would it not be wise to abandon the new by rallying all the scattered detachments, the growing of conscripts in march and men with national honor and French blood that will come under the eagle of the Emperor ..."

"What is the use of maintaining for the Emperor this isolated corner of the Empire, when the barriers of the Rhine and Meuse are crossed.  I will not hide what all French murmur; they only want to defend their country, that he cannot find here, or succumb with honor under the ruins of France!"

A few days later in a dispatch in which he sent on 7 January, to Maison, he added to the translation of a proclamation of Blücher:  "Blücher doesn't hide the plans of the Allies and we remain isolated, scattered.  By being thrown into towns poorly armed, poorly supplied, those that are we needed so much to defend our homeland, we bury it in ruins!" (Archives of the War.)

[7] On date of 1 January and after a dispatch from Maison to Marshal Macdonald. French troops available for active operations were as follows:

The division of Roguet and the cavalry of the Guard (1,000 horses under Lefebvre-Desnouettes) occupied Turnhout, with 1 battalion, 6 squadrons and 2 pieces; Hoogstraten and surrounding villages with 8 battalions, 10 squadrons and 10 cannons; Ezenthout with 2 battalions and 2 squadrons; Brasschaat with 2 battalions, 2 squadrons and 2 pieces.

General Maison wrote to the Duke of Tarente, that day, saying that he was forced to give up marching on Bois-le-Duc, because it would, in this case, expose Antwerp and was forced, therefore, to simply do the 3 or 4, a reconnaissance of Tilburg. (Archives of the War. Correspondence of General Count Maison.)

It good that we note that the regiments of Roguet lacked non-commissioned officers and that this general had only 27 artillerymen in all to serve 6 pieces.

[8] This is why the 3rd of  January he had pushed three reconnaissance in the direction of Breda; the first from Hoogstraten on Meerle, the second on Meer and Meersel and the third from Loenhout on Groot-Zundert.  But at the same time that he assembled the division of Roguet at Hoogstraten, Maison warned the Chief of Staff of the impossibility of him to move on Gorinchem without absolutely uncovering Antwerp and risk, on the other hand, exposing the troops that he would lead on Gorinchem to be completely cut off in this place.  He added that pending an order of the Emperor enjoining him to act against Gorinchem, he would lead a detachment of cavalry and infantry on Chaam and thence to Tilburg to learn of enemy forces.

[9] The Marshal had in fact written from Guelders, 7 January at 3 o'clock in the afternoon to General Sebastiani:  "I received your letter of the 3rd.  Without a doubt we should tighten up, reunite, this has been my plan for a long time: but my heart is sore to leave behind places poorly armed, poorly supplied and with weak garrisons.  I proposed to dispose of all towns, to withdraw the garrisons, to form good core, to recompose the 1st Corps, which would form 30,000 men, including 6,000 of cavalry.  But I have not gotten a response and not a word about the present and future events.  If within twenty-four hours it does not reach me and the circumstances give us the time, I will write to our future movements.  But if ordered, our first line should be the Rur, then the Meuse; junction points, Jülich and Rurmond, Maastricht, Aix-la-Chapelle and Liège. ... This is inevitable in this situation where nothing is expected, nor ordered."

[10] The detachment of Benckendorff consisted of the Tula (Ту́ла) Infantry Regiment and a battalion of the 2nd Eiger  Regiment, the Pavlograd (Павлоград) Hussar Regiment, and 5 Cossack regiments with 4 pieces of horse artillery; in all: 3,500 men who came about 6 January from Breda to Emmerich am Rhein.  The detachment of Naryshkin, posted on the lower Meuse, consisted of a thousand Cossacks.  That of General O'Rourke before Wesel, of the infantry regiments of Smolensk (Смоле́нск), Narva (Нарва), Alexiopol and New Ingria (Ингрия), the Lancers of Volhynia (Волынь), 3 Cossack regiments and two batteries (24 pieces), in all: 5,100 men (Journal of the Operations of Winzingerode and report to the Emperor, Düsseldorf, 26 December 1813 / 7January 1814).

General O'Rourke, joined by Benckendorff  at Wesel who had successfully crossed the Rhine alone at Emmerich, only left a thousand men before Wesel and assembled the bulk of the corps for marching on Düsseldorf, by Duisburg.

[11] Situation of the corps of Winzingerode, 8 January 1814.  --Report to the Emperor of Russia.

[12] Colomb, Tagebuch, pages 159 and 160.

[13] Macdonald wrote at the time from Guelders to the Chief of Staff,  informing him that, according to reports of Sebastiani, the Allies had a thousand men and 500 horses in Andernach; that Saint-Priest, after leaving 2,000 men at Coblenz , went back in two columns to the Rhine and Moselle, and that by 6 in the morning, the troops had been had been seen in the vicinity of Orsoy, of Homberg and at the mouth of the Ruhr. (Archives the the War.)

In two letters he wrote from Gelderland, one to Marmont, the other to Belliard, the Marshal was still complaining of the dispersion of his forces and the signaled imminence of seriousness movements on the part of the Allies. The Duke of Raguse, said in part: "When we leave garrisons in places, General Sebastiani and I will withdraw, if we can, with some platoons of cavalry.  The Prussians and the English congregate between Bois-le-Duc and Breda.  We shall soon have an eruption towards Antwerp and Leuven.  This is inevitable when you try to guard everything and spread your forces out."

He returned again to this subject in his letter to Belliard in which he described the plight he found himself in: "I do not know," he said, "what has happened since the enemy occupied Andernach.  Since the actions at Mühlheim I do not know what are the further enterprises of General Saint-Priest, who is or was, said to be at Coblenz on the 31st with 12,000 men.  We are again threatened between Köln and Bonn, but more by the Brabant ... It is needed to guard everything, it's our way ... I have woven a long cobweb to contain the enemy, support Sebastiani or collect his troops I persisted in keeping on the line of the Waal, although the enemy is on both banks of the Meuse around Bois-le-Duc and below Grave."

 "Give me, I beg you, news of the Moselle: I sent messengers to Luxembourg, but nothing comes back. (Archives of the War.)

[14] Feldzeilung, n. 61 (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., ad III, 113) and Report of the Crown Prince of Sweden.

[15] Macdonald to Maison.  (Archives of the War.)

[16] It was at this moment that Maison wrote General Barrois to tell him that, Bülow concentrated on the Meuse between Bois-le-Duc and Grave, although he expected to see him march on Maastricht and Liège by the road of  Eindhoven or the road that passes between the Meuse and the marshes of Peel. "If this movement takes place," continued Maison, "Liège, Huy and Namur will fall under the control of the enemy.  I do not know how the Duke of Tarente, who is still in Venlo and Wesel, will fare.  Let me know if your specific instructions do not conflict with moving on Diest and thence, depending on the circumstances on Tongeren or Eindhoven; finally, you enter into operations if they were to come to Antwerp, because then I will send General Roguet to the Demer or the Iaar (or Ière)."

See below for the provisions of Maison contained in his letter of the 9th to Minister of War. (Archives of the War.)

[17] On 8 January, the Duke of Tarente, announcing to the Chief of Staff that Bülow had crossed the Meuse with the bulk of his troops and expecting to see Winzingerode following near the Prussians, wrote: "It is not without reason that I know that they will soon burst into Belgium.  Seeing myself outflanked, I'll put my cavalry temporarily straddling the Meuse and my little infantry on the Rur to gain two more marches, although it would be even wiser in the present circumstances, to reunite with General Maison to fall on one of the enemies corps."

The Marshal had sent along with his orders to Sébastiani his motivation for following the movements prescribed to him:  "The enemy," he wrote on 8 January to Sébastiani and Maison, "concentrating on the left of the Meuse, the Rhine, from Wesel to the Waal and the Meuse, is denuded of troops.  There will soon be serious events; to be able to fight with my limited resources, I will first bring them together for this purpose."

"The second line of the 11th Corps and 2nd Cavalry Corps will tomorrow the 9th or no later than the 10th the day after tomorrow, will make one or two marches to stand on the Rur, while two thirds of the cavalry occupy Hasselt and Hechtel and provide a cordon that goes to the confluence of the Rur.  The first line will remain temporarily from the Rhine to the Meuse near Xanten, to cover until the last minute communication with Wesel."

[18] General Maison to the Minister of War. Antwerp, 9 January. (Archives of the War.)

[19] The General Maison had written to General Barrois the 11th in the morning,  from Antwerp to invite him to press his movements so as to be the 11th at Mechelen and 12th in Antwerp. He informed him that the General Roguet had been strongly attacked and invited him to march without stopping to Antwerp.  Finally, a little later, on the 11th at night, he informed him that General Roguet attacked on all sides had fought well, "Stop," he said, "at Walem (Waelhem), or at Kontich or if you have already passed Walem. (Archives of the War.)

General Barrois left at Brussels 1 regiment and 2 cannons.

[20] A detachment of 150 horses that formed the rear guard of General Aymard losing the column, wandered during the night, falling unexpectedly into the village of Wlimmern where there were 500 Prussians and 2 guns, put this cavalry to flight and took 50 horses. (Report of General Roguet to General Count Drouot, Archives of the War.)

[21] Report of General Roguet to General Drouot.

The two affairs of Hoogstraten and Wijnegem cost the Roguet Division 132 killed and 615 wounded.

[22] Correspondance de Napoléon, No. 21. 120.

[23] Maison to the Chief of Staff and General Barrois, 12 January.  --Pontécoulant to Clarke, 12 January. (Archives of the War.)


Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2011

Military Index | Battles Index ]

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

Top | Home ]