The Campaign of 1814: Chapter Six Part VI
By: Maurice Weil
THE CAMPAIGN of 1814
(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)
CAVALRY OF THE ALLIED ARMIES
DURING THE CAMPAIGN OF 1814.
BRIENNE and LA ROTHIÈRE (26 January. --3 February).
Description of the battlefield of La Rothière.
--The plain which extends from the heights of Trannes up to Rosnay and Blignicourt
has its greatest length of just over 16 kilometers and in the direction
of the west is a little less than 5 kilometers. The terrain is almost
flat. This plain is bounded on all sides by natural barriers: the
south is bounded by the Trannes plateau that extends to the Aube; on the
east by the Bois de Beaulieu situated north-east of the village of Trannes;
on the west and in front of the plateau of Trannes, by the Aube on the
banks of the plain which extends from the plateau of Trannes until
near Brienne. This plain, low in most of its extent, rises on the
side of Perthes to subside then on the road to Bar; it then rises from
the elbow of the Aube, upstream from Dienville, to Unienville around until
about Trannes. Dominated on the west side, in its full extent by
the steep hills on the left bank of the Aube, it is bounded on the north-west
by a line of heights, from the park of Brienne, that only die off on the
banks of the Voire. The rivers that mark the north, usually flood
in winter. To the east it is bounded by the marshy woods and almost
impassable Vallentigny, the Bois de Anjou the woods and the back of plateau
of Morvilliers which is covered on the side of the east near Soulaines
on its front and on its flanks by woods and swamps and overlooking the
whole plain, is the real key to the position. It is on this plateau
of Morvilliers that are located in the south and not far from the northern
edge of the Bois de Beaulieu, La Giberie, then near the center Chaumesnil
and finally, further north, Morvilliers.
The road from Bar-sur-Aube to Vitry-le-François cuts through this plain
in its entire length almost in a straight line and passes through the village
of La Rothière.
This battlefield was much too large for the forces available to the Emperor. Even
considering La Giberie as an outpost, the French lines from Dienville by Petit-Mesnil,
Chaumesnil and closing from Beauvoir up to Morvilliers, had a total extent of
about 15 kilometers. This extent forced the Emperor to employ most of his
cavalry, significantly outnumbered by the Allies, to fill the vast empty spaces
existing on his front between the different positions he had occupied with his
corps, when attacked by Blücher, he accepted combat under such disadvantageous
conditions for them.
Napoleon comes in person to La Rothière. --He sends Ney the
order to beat a retreat. --While the Allies were performing
their preparatory movements behind the position of Trannes and outside views
of the French, while the snow still obscured the horizon, Napoleon, who had
to his great disappointment received at night the notice in which Marmont,
informing of the evacuation of Soulaines and his night march on Morvilliers,
had from the morning of the 1st of February moved to La Rothière. Alarmed
by the continued immobility of the Allies, thinking they were going to decide
to attack or retreat before him, he wanted to see for himself the state of
The impassive troops of Blücher were soon to prove to him that his hopes
were dashed. Fearful when the information announcing the march of the Great
Army on Brienne were not wrong, he began to think that Blücher could well
have been charged to hold him to conceal the movements of Schwarzenberg and build
a wall behind which the columns of the main army would march at their ease in
the direction of Troyes.
Believing that one wanted to stop him from having the time necessary to throw
himself on Mortier, isolated at Troyes, he gave in the morning, to the bulk
of his army the order to move by the bridge of Lesmont on this city. He
immediately sent out to Lesmont, without speaking to the Guards of Honor
of General de France, already posted on the road from Lesmont to Piney, the
three divisions of the Young Guard of generals Meunier, Decouz and Rottembourg
who, under the command of Marshal Ney, formed his reserve and occupied the
evening of the 31st Brienne la Vieille.
Marshal Victor and Grouchy report the first movements of the Allies. --Reconnaissance
made by the Emperor. --Positions that he occupied. --Ney receives
the order to retrace his steps. --The Prince of the Moskowa
had already begun his movement, when about noon, General Grouchy and Marshal
Victor let the Emperor know that they had noticed in the enemy lines on the
roads from Soulaines to Brienne, from Éclance to La Giberie and from
Trannes to La Rothière, their movements seemed to reveal an imminent
attack. The Emperor immediately mounted his horse, to throw, once again,
a glance at the field, and although the snow-storm prevented him from seeing
clearly what was happening in the Allied position, he shared the view expressed
by Grouchy. While Ney was sent the order to return quickly on his path
and to immediately enter the division of Rottembourg into the line, he established
his small army at the following positions: Gérard, the right wing
and pressing to the Aube, deployed his two divisions formed into battalions
en masse, the division of Dufour in the 1st line, the division of Ricard
in the 2nd line from the Aube to La Rothière. Both lines
were covered in front by eight squadrons of the cavalry brigade of General
Picquet who had deployed and covered the interval between the division of
Dufour and La Rothière.
Also at La Rothière, where the center of the French lines began, Victor
had posted one of the brigades of the division of Duhesme, while the other brigade
was massed behind the village, straddling the road from Brienne to Trannes. Two
battalions were thrown into each of the villages of Petit-Mesnil and Chaumesnil. Victor
had also occupied La Giberie with troops of the 2nd Division (Forestier),
who had also posted, since the day before a battalion in the Bois de Beaulieu. Four
battalions deployed as skirmishers guarded the part of the heights located in
rear of the wood, the full extent between La Vénerie, the ponds of the
same name and the source of channel of Froideau. The cavalry divisions of generals
Piré, Briche and Lhéritier under the direct command of Grouchy,
were deployed in two lines between Petit-Mesnil and Chaumesnil. Nansouty,
with the cavalry divisions of the Guard of generals Lefebvre-Desnouettes, Colbert
and Guyot, was formed en bataille, also in two lines, to the right and behind
La Rothière, extending to Petit-Mesnil and had taken position in before
his horse artillery.
On the left wing, Marmont with the division of Lagrange occupied Morvilliers
and before that point the village of La Chaise, at the exit of the woods of Soulaines. Doumerc's
cavalry was deployed on both sides of the road from Brienne to Doulevant on the
plateau of Morvilliers, at the farm of Beauvoir, facing the La Chaise.
Of the three divisions of the Young Guard, one, the division of Rottembourg,
would be deployed immediately in front of Brienne-la-Vieille, and the two others
were still marching around Lesmont, on the farm of Beugné (located halfway
between Brienne and Petit-Mesnil).
The battle front was obviously too broad: there were barely enough infantry to
occupy the villages, their surroundings and the main points of the line. All
of the cavalry served to fill the empty line and the reserves, not great by any
means, since the three divisions of the Young Guard had at most a total of 10,000
combatants, were not available at the moment the struggle began and then were
barely sufficient to support the troops posted at La Rothière and ultimately
cover the retreat.
The Allies begin their movement at noon. --The whole
morning of the 1st of February had passed without incident. At
noon, when the Emperor Alexander, the King of Prussia with his two sons,
the Crown Prince and Prince Wilhelm of Prussia (who would later become Emperor
Wilhelm), and Prince Schwarzenberg joined Blücher on the heights of
Trannes, the different columns of the Allied armies preceded by the cavalry
charged to cover their deployment, left rolling in the directions that they
were assigned, initially the dispositions of Schwarzenberg followed by the
orders of Blücher and Barclay de Tolly. They began to descend
towards the plain where their progress would be significantly delayed by
the very nature of the drenched and sticky land over which they were moving. The
recent days of rain had soaked the plowed fields; digging into the paths
of the deep ruts they had turned into quagmires.
Finally, frost, which occurred suddenly in the night of 31 January to 1 February,
had covered the entire plain with a slight crust of ice which made the movements
even slower and more painful as this plain was furrowed in every direction
by the passage of troops, artillery and convoys, the wind was blowing hard
and the snow had only stopped falling since that morning.
It was nearly one o'clock, when the Allied cavalry who, advancing slowly, covered,
until that moment the deployment of columns of Gyulay and especially Sacken,
passed the whole second line, exposing the heads of the infantry columns and
leaving before them only some scouts. But the state of land had hindered
the progress of the troops and seriously compromised the movement of the artillery. Sacken's
corps was reduced to only bringing into the line half of its guns and left 36
of its pieces on the heights of Trannes. Moreover, General Nikitin, who
commanded this artillery, had to employ double teams for these pieces and caissons.
Following the road that leads to La Rothière, he pushed at a trot
until within gunshot of the French outposts and placed himself in a battery
to the right and left of the road. The Russian artillery who had passed
the heads of the columns of Sacken in this movement, was completely in the
open without support; but the General having taken the party on somewhat
of an adventure, did not act lightly. For the same reason given the
state of the terrain, it was important to avoid as much as possible changes
in position and successively placed in battery, and, secondly, it was necessary
to resolutely carry forward in order to send the teams back to Trannes and
bring online the pieces that one had been forced to temporarily leave on
French cavalry charge against the Russian batteries. --First engagements
before La Rothière. --The French cavalry thrown back to La Rothière.
--Despite the swirling snow, the French cavalry controlled by Nansouty realized
the hazardous position of the Russian artillery as its support (the 11th and
36th Regiments of Jeigers) were not able to reach them, and moved on
General Nikitin, seeing the French squadrons head to his batteries, immediately
gave the order to cease fire.
Using all his people to carry the ammunition he would need near the guns,
he let the cavalrymen get up to 500 paces from the batteries. He then
opened fire with grape shot so lively and so deadly that the charge had to
stop at not less than 300 paces from the pieces. Returned several times
by their generals, the French cavalry were, ultimately, forced to abandon
their enterprise. The snow fell during that time with such violence
that it was not possible to see 10 steps ahead.
Sacken's infantry began to arrive in line, and as the snow-storm ceased at that
time, he was forced to deploy under fire from the French batteries of La Rothière
and infantry posted in front of the village, in houses and gardens, while the
cavalry under the command of Nansouty (divisions Colbert, Guyot and Piré)
who came to reform, emerged between La Rothière and Petit-Mesnil and moved
quickly to meet the Russian battalions. Lieutenant General Lanskoy tried
in vain to stop with his division of hussars the
charge of the French cavalry who crushed them and were already about to break
the lines of the infantry, when Lieutenant General Vasilchikov, who commanded
the cavalry of Sacken's corps, galloped forward with the division of dragoons
of Major General Panchulidzev II. Simultaneously
attacking the French regiments from the front and flank before they had time
to reform, he stopped them dead in their tracks, routed them and pursued them
beyond La Rothière in the direction of Brienne-la-Vieille taking along
the way 24 guns.
Vasilchikov's intervention was particularly timely as, beyond the possible
consequences of breaking the infantry of Sacken, the Russian dragoon charge
prevented the entry into the line of reinforcements that the French cavalry
received only too late.
At the moment, in fact, when Nansouty brought his reserve, the Lefebvre-Desnouettes
Division, to the right of La Rothière, while Grouchy showed himself to
the left of this village with the dragoons of Briche, the divisions of Colbert,
Guyot and Piré were
already cut up and recalled, their artillery taken by Vasilchikov was guarded
by infantry of Sacken, and as there was nothing more they could do, these two
divisions were forced to return to take a position to the rear and east of La
Rothière. As for divisions Colbert, Guyot and Piré, they
only appeared again on the battlefield towards the end of the day.
It was very nearly four o'clock, when the infantry of Sacken advanced in the
middle of the snowstorm towards La Rothière, under the protection of 72
pieces brought into position, engaged with the division of Duhesme and when Blücher
arrived in person in front of the heights of Trannes.
Considerations on the consequences of this cavalry combat. --If
the cavalry of Vasilchikov was immediately supported by infantry, if there
had been an opening at this time, if Sacken had seen what was happening in
front of him and on his left, finally, if one had supported the squadrons
of Lanskoy and Panchulidzev by the cuirassiers and Russian grenadiers
who had just come online, if one had carried forward the Guards to serve
as the reserve for the corps of Sacken and cooperate, if necessary, to attack
La Rothière, the battle would probably have taken from the beginning,
a completely different turn, and the French right would have run great risk
of being crushed. It is likely that without a combination of quite
special circumstances, Blücher would not have hesitated to give orders
accordingly, and resolutely pushing forward, he would have burst the French
lines which had at that time only the Rottembourg Division as a reserve. But
the snowstorm prevented him from discovering the battlefield, directing the
battle, and when the officer sent by Vasilchikov managed to find him and
was able to report the results of the charge, it was already too late to
immediately take a decisive part. Anyway, it is certain that the removal
of 24 pieces and failure experienced by the cavalry of Nansouty at the outset
of the affair, contributed not a little to the final outcome of the day.
Sacken, whose troops were formed in three columns, had
meanwhile continued his move towards La Rothière, that was crushed by
his 72 pieces, and as the infantry was unable to fire, he resolved to take the
village by bayonet. The Duhesme Division, already weakened by the losses it had
experienced the 29th, resisted bravely; but bending under the weight of
numbers, it had to give ground to the Russians and abandon the village just to
the church after losing in this affair 8 of its pieces. The bulk of Duhesme
troops retreated in disorder to Petit-Mesnil, while the rest consisting of some
old soldiers were committed to defending the ground inch by inch, barricaded
Gyulay's first movements on both banks of the Aube. --To
the left of the Allies, things had not taken place at the beginning of the
action and throughout the first phase of the battle between 1 and 4 o'clock
in the afternoon, there hadn't been such a favorable turn of events for them
as on the other side of La Rothière. Gyulay, after having left
in position at Vendeuvre the light division of Crenneville had, according to the orders of
the Generalissimo, marched the morning of 1 February, with the bulk of the
IIIrd Corps, from Bar-sur-Aube by Arsonval and Baussancourt on Trannes. Once
in the plain before Trannes the Feldzeugmeister had placed his corps in the
combat formation of battalions in column and followed the movement of Sacken's
Russians on the road to Brienne up to the heights of Juvanzé. Sacken's
corps was already very strongly committed, and Gyulay rightly believed that
it was necessary to support with his artillery the vigorous Russian attack
on La Rothière, while the columns of Austrian infantry came up from
the bridge and the village of Unienville, located on the left bank of the
Aube. The Feldzeugmeister noticed at this point that some troops of
the French right were preparing to debouch from Unienville and columns of
a respectable size, were moving from Dienville on Unienville, seeming to
want to, after threatening his left, head against the left flank and rear
of the Russian divisions committed at La Rothière. While continuing
to support Sacken by some of his artillery he had established on a hill close
to the Aube, to which he bequeathed as support a brigade of the division
Hohenlohe-Bartenstein, he ordered Major General Pflüger with 4 battalions,
4 cannons, and 2 squadrons of light horse of Klenau, to take the bridge of
Unienville, defended only by a small outpost, seize the village and to establish
itself beyond Unienville on the height of the left bank. The brigade
of Pflüger easily took the bridge and the village, leading to Unienville,
advancing on the left bank.
The Feldzeugmeister hoped, accentuating his movement on the left bank of the
Aube, to outflank the bridge of Dienville and turn the right of the French lines.
But the Emperor, who had time to decipher the intentions of Gyulay, had immediately
sent to General Gérard orders to maintain Dienville at all costs. One
of the brigades the Ricard Division, Boudin's brigade, was charged with the defense
of the bridges and heights that command the edges on the left bank, while the
brigade of Pelleport stood behind and to the east of Dienville and
the Dufour Division, connecting with the cavalry brigade of General Picquet,
deployed in the second row behind the brigade, between Dienville and La Rothière.
The Feldzeugmeister necessarily had to notice all these provisions;
there was now only a chance for him to be able to take the bridge of Dienville
by surprise, and the two regiments of the Hohenlohe-Bartenstein Division,
left by him on the right bank to guard his artillery had already (he personally
acknowledges in his report)
began to engage with the French on the side of La Rothière; nevertheless
he did not give up his enterprise. Instead of merely harassing and
annoying the French right by a few demonstrations running on the left bank
of the Aube, although he had already come to realize the difficulties that
would arise for an attack on Dienville on the other bank, he did not think
it less useful to strengthen the Pflüger Brigade with the Czollich Brigade,
6 guns and a few squadrons, and to instruct General-Lieutenant Fresnel to
conduct operations on the left bank. At the same time, he personally
took the direction of movement against Dienville, that he proposed to attack
with the rest of his corps at about 5 o'clock in the afternoon.
Throughout the first half of the battle, Gyulay had to confine himself to countering
the French artillery fire, and even though he had posted an entire division on
the left bank of the Aube, as his army corps was astride a river, he found himself
compelled, even before he engaged at the bottom side of Dienville, to bring online
the last of his brigades (Grimmer Brigade), that he posted to his right to connect
from there to the troops of Sacken.
When General Fresnel, skirted the Aube, had driven out the few small units of
French infantry, throughout this first phase, he was without success in winning
any advantage against the troops of Gérard, solidly established in Dienville.
The IVth Corps moves against La Giberie. --The fourth
column of the Allies (the IVth Corps), under the command of Crown Prince
of Württemberg, to which was added five squadrons of Austrian Archduke
Ferdinand Hussars, was, in accordance with the general disposition, to leave
before morning for Maisons and Fresnay to come take a position on the heights
Éclance. The IVth Corps was to move from Éclance
against Chaumesnil and connect with the right of the Vth Corps (Wrede). His
left was covered by the Cossacks of Karpov and flying corps of General Prince
Biron of Courland. But before reaching Chaumesnil, the IVth Corps
would have serious difficulties to overcome. It had to first pass through
the woods of Beaulieu, by roads almost impassable for artillery, then, before
turning on the height of La Giberie, crossing a swampy defile beaten and
swept by the French artillery. Major General von Stockmeyer, forming
with his brigade the head of the column of the IVth Corps, didn't take
long to come up against, even in the Bois de Beaulieu, the first French posts
which retreated fighting on their support. After a quite strong struggle,
these advanced troops resolved to cede the wood of Beaulieu to the Württemberg
vanguard and h to retreat in good order on La Giberie. A regiment of
Württemberg cavalry (2nd Regiment of Jägers zu Pferd of Duke
Louis of Württemberg) failed, despite all its efforts to debouch quick
enough from the wood of Beaulieu to reach the French battalion which reformed
only a short distance from La Giberie and from which it only could take a
But the march of the brigade of Stockmeyer and cavalry regiment of Duke Louis,
albeit delayed by the horrible condition of the roads had already had a pretty
favorable result for the Allies, forcing the French to evacuate, along with the
Bois de Beaulieu, the wooded hills west of the forest and where their fire had,
until now, hampered the deployment and the progress of the Russian corps of Olsufiev.
While the rest of his cavalry with light artillery, started to debouch alone
from the Bois de Beaulieu and when the bulk of the corps was still quite far
back, the Crown Prince of Württemberg, who had kept pace with his advance
guard, did not hesitate, in hoping to take the greatest advantage from the early
benefits he had gained, launched the brigade of General von Stockmeyer against
In general theory, one must condemn the repeated attacks, the isolated efforts
and any kind of affair in which one must engage the troops as and when they arrive;
how the Crown Prince proceeded, however, can be justified at least in part. Indeed,
he could recognize that his vanguard would have difficulty remaining in a ravine
swept by the French artillery and he was trying to rush the attack on the French
in La Giberie to prevent it from strengthening. Finally, there was a major interest
for him to gain enough ground in front to allow the bulk of his corps to deploy.
Despite the advantages that the position of La Giberie assured for defense, the
brigade of Stockmeyer succeeded, after a most fierce fight to drive out the three
battalions which occupied it and temporarily ensured, through a demonstration
on his left by the Württemberg cavalry, possession of a point that was paramount
to the IVth Corps. It was, indeed, the condition of being master
of La Giberie that the Crown Prince of Württemberg could safely defile forming
by wood of Beaulieu, connect with Sacken on the left, with Wrede on the right,
and then burst through the French positions including the village of La Giberie,
which was both prominent and somewhat the key.
To cover the right of the troops he had just launched on La Giberie, the Crown
Prince ordered two of his regiments of cavalry and a battery of horse artillery
to move as quickly as possible against the left of the Duke of Bellune.
"It was not without difficulty," said the Crown Prince in his report
to Prince Schwarzenberg, "that
these two regiments and the battery managed to debouch from the defile that my
infantry only crossed slowly because of difficulties they had to overcome at
every step." The bulk of the IVth Corps had in fact not yet managed
to cross the woods of Beaulieu.
Marshal Victor had indeed, as had the Crown Prince, recognized the importance
of La Giberie, whose loss would have completely changed the position of his corps
and would have made it impossible to try to defeat the movement that the Allies
were taking against the right of La Rothière, on his left near Chaumesnil. Barely
aware of what had happened at La Giberie he launched from Petit-Mesnil against
this hamlet a column formed by all the troops still available from the 2nd Division
(Forestier Division) of his corps and supported by two batteries. The French
battalions rushed at attack step on La Giberie and tore most of the hamlet from
the Württembergers who, despite being reinforced by a regiment of the brigade
of General Döring (Infantry Regiment No. 2), by a battalion of the 10th Regiment
of Light Infantry and a battery, could only manage to maintain itself in the
last houses. The position of Crown Prince, which in light of the reinforcements
sent by the French troops could permanently lose La Giberie, at that time was
critical enough that the Prince believed necessary to ask Blücher, through
the same intermediary of General Toll who was at this precise moment in the theater
of the struggle, for support within the shortest possible time.
Situations of the three corps of Sacken, Gyulay and Crown Prince of Württemberg. --If
we take a comprehensive look on the character of the battle and the respective
positions of both opponents as it was at 4 o'clock in the afternoon after
three hours of fighting, we recognize that the Allies had made serious progress
in the center where the Russian cavalry had succeeded in driving before it
the squadrons of Nansouty and capture a large number of artillery.
It was, in fact, thanks to successful charges of the cavalry of Vasilchikov
that Sacken was able to overcome the division of Duhesme and settle in the
middle of the village of La Rothière. The dispositions, moreover,
highly critical of Gyulay, had brought no significant result to their left
where Gérard held vigorously the head of the Austrians of the IIIrd Corps
before Dienville. Finally, on the right, the Crown Prince of Württemberg,
whose deployment was delayed by difficulties in crossing the Bois de Beaulieu
and ravine before the wood was about to be expelled from the last houses
of La Giberie.
The general situation was, thus, far from being as favorable as it could
be for the Allies, if by rational dispositions, one had taken comfortably and
with total safety, advantage of two days of 30 and 31 January to cover and bring
the French in view, close to their battle positions, the troops destined to take
part in the battle.
March of the Vth Corps. --First engagements on the far right
of the Allies. --On the far right of the Allied lines, Wrede had
marched, in the morning, against the troops who Marmont who, after evacuating
Soulaines, despite strict orders from the Emperor, had, by a night march,
pulled back his army corps on Morvilliers and Chaumesnil. He occupied
a position whose front was still out of proportion to the number of troops
available to him (about 5000 men of the division of Lagrange and 1500 horse
of the cavalry division of Doumerc).
At 10 o'clock in the morning, the commander of the Vth Corps had concentrated
27,000 men (including nearly 5,000 cavalry) between Trémilly and Nully
and charging General Baron Frimont with the conduct of the vanguard, he had moved
from Trémilly by Soulaines on the road to Brienne.
The Vth Corps began its march in one column. The Schwarzenberg Uhlans,
supported by a battalion of Austrian jägers, provided the tip of the advanced
guard. The Antoine Hardegg division came next. The Bavarian divisions
of La Motte and Rechberg, followed by the corps artillery, formed the bulk of
the column and the Austrian division of Spleny brought up the rear.
The advanced guard had barely reached the edge of the wood of Fuligny, when
its scouts came against the first French outposts which retreated skirmishing.
"The wood that laid before the Vth Corps", said Major Prince
Thurn and Taxis, the aide-de-camp of Wrede in his journal of the campaigns
of 1812, 1813 and 1814,
"was sufficiently large. It was crossed by a single very narrow road,
and the movement of the Vth Corps through the woods, was bound to take
It was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, when the head of the Schwarzenberg
Uhlan Regiment reached the exit of the opposite edge (near the LaChaise),
driving before it the French troops behind breastworks they had made, where
they had tried to hold on. While the division of Antoine Hardegg deployed
leaving the wood behind the vanguard of cavalry, General Frimont took the
left, with the divisions La Motte and Rechberg, in the direction of Chaumesnil. Marmont,
whose feeble corps occupied all the space between Morvilliers and Chaumesnil,
who had begun the movement towards Chaumesnil prescribed by the Emperor,
then decided - but it was already too late - to concentrate his forces around
the farm of Beauvoir, on the plateau in front of Chaumesnil. His cavalry
covered this movement, frustrated by the poor condition of roads, that only
allowed him to safely reach the farm of Beauvoir with the brigade Joubert
alone, while another brigade remained in at Morvilliers."
"Wrede, who had been brought to support his advance guard, had immediately
recognized the dangers to which this flank march exposed to his opponent, and
accordingly sent to his last two divisions (Rechberg and Spleny) the order to
accelerate their movement. Colonel von Mengen who marched at the head of
the vanguard with
two squadrons of his regiment (Uhlans Schwarzenberg), saw a French battery about
to take a position on a hill to the right of the road which it would have commanded
and enfiladed the outlet of the wood. It charged the battery immediately,
not giving it time to open fire, seized it by losing very few people and forced
the retreat of the troops who support it. This brilliant charge had the immediate
consequence of allowing the infantry to debouch entirely from woods and spread
smoothly in a good position astride the road to Brienne. The conditions",
says Major Taxi, "were frightful with eddies of snow obscuring the skyline."
The Hardegg Division, which had completed its deployment, profited from this
first advantage to bypass Petit-Morvilliers, while the Bavarian division of General
La Motte and the cavalry brigade of Colonel von Diez were forming on his left
and at the same level. The division of Rechberg covered by the cavalry
of Diez and that of General von Vieregg, headed to the farm of Beauvoir, removed
after a most fierce fight, the brigade of Joubert and forced it to fall back
on the farm of Bouillenrupt.
Despite the efforts of the Bavarian cavalry which took three cannons, the
brigade managed to take a stand and cover the edge of Chaumesnil.
While the division Rechberg took the farm of Beauvoir, Hardegg had advanced on
Morvilliers that the taking of Beauvoir made even more untenable for the French,
the last division of the Vth Corps, the Spleny Division, which deployed
in view of this village on the edge of the wood and on the left bank of the Bourbonne. The
French troops of Morvilliers showed only a relatively weak resistance and retreated
to the wood of Anjou, covered by cavalry of Doumerc, whose charges could only
slow, but failed to stop the progress of the Austrian infantry.
It was a little before than 4 o'clock, when an aide to the Crown Prince of Württemberg
came to Wrede to ask him to accentuate his movement forward and attempt
a diversion, or at least a demonstration, serious enough to disengage the strongly
committed IVth Corps and vigorously press the enemy on the side of La Giberie.
Wrede immediately took steps to execute a general attack with his corps against
Chaumesnil. General Frimont, with part of the divisions of Hardegg and
La Motte, was ordered to move against Chaumesnil, in retaking the stream bed
of the Froideau to threaten the north side of town, while a division Rechberg,
after removing Bouillenrupt, would be responsible for the attack in front.
General situation at 4 o'clock. --One can hardly continue
the presentation of the Battle of La Rothière without considering
the impact that the intervention of the Vth Corps and the singular
resolution of the initiative of Wrede, would exert on the outcome of the
We have shown, in effect, by the respective positions of both armies at 4 o'clock,
that at Dienville as at La Giberie the Allies had, so to speak, not dented the
French position. Even in the middle, despite the failure of the cavalry
of Nansouty and although La Rothière was only defended by a handful of
old soldiers who decided to sell their lives dearly and to dispute the ground
foot by foot, it would only take the entry into the line of some reinforcements,
the divisions of Ney recalled by the Emperor, to completely restore the fight
and successfully stand up to the Russians who, despite their best efforts, failed
to completely remove this village and who, therefore, continued to be unable
to debouch. The general situation, without being brilliant, was far from
being compromised until the attack of Wrede, facilitated, it is true, by the
faults of Marmont - a secondary attack, since it had not been under the preliminary
plan - would change the face of things.
By further accentuating the advantage following the appeal made by the Crown
Prince of Württemberg, it would threaten the French left with an outflanking
movement which, if it had not been pushed back, would have deprived the whole
army of its only line of retreat on Lesmont. So instead of repeating
the presentation of events that passed after 4 o'clock from La Giberie up
to the Aube, we thought it more useful to first follow the Vth Corps
in the attack that it executed against Chaumesnil to relieve the Crown Prince
of Württemberg, by dropping the fulcrum to the left of the French army.
Attack and capture of Chaumesnil. --While Marmont, after being
forced to abandon Morvilliers, stood on the eastern edge of the wood of Anjou,
covered his flank with the squadrons of Doumerc separated by the brook of
Froideau from the Austrian troops posted
on right bank of the creek, Frimont was on the order of Wrede, taking Chaumesnil
by bayonet with two paired battalions, the one from a regiment of Austrian
Szecklers, a regiment of the military frontier, and the other a Bavarian
regiment Löwenstein no 7, supported by the Bavarian Habermann
Brigade (Division of General La Motte). After a pretty short, but very
hard fight these battalions were able to dislodge General Joubert.
The possession of Chaumesnil was for the Allies, of such essential importance
that Wrede, wary that the French sought to dislodge them from there, neglected
nothing to firmly secure it. At his command, Frimont immediately put in
battery 12 pieces that will pound the outskirts of the village that was covered
and occupied by the divisions of Hardegg and La Motte. The cavalry brigade
of Colonel von Diez, who had followed the first troops, galloped through the
village, going to deploy at the exit of Chaumesnil and the Rechberg Division
(10 battalions and 4 batteries) with the cavalry brigade of Major General von
Vieregg (14 squadrons), took a position in reserve behind Chaumesnil and to the
left of the lines of the Vth Corps.
As soon as he had been informed of the loss of Chaumesnil, the Emperor recognized
the necessity of stopping the progress of his opponents on that side. Fearing
to see Wrede completely outflank his left, moving in the rear of his army,
installing himself on to the route from Doulevant to Brienne and cutting the
bridge of Lesmont to the corps involved at Petit-Mesnil and La Rothière,
he resolved to retake Chaumesnil and unite Marmont with the cavalry of Guyot,
a brigade of the division of the Young Guard of General Meunier and a battery.
The Emperor, after having placed 16 guns in battery west of Chaumesnil, tried
unsuccessfully on several occasions to wrest that village from the Austro-Bavarians.
Bavarian cavalry charge against the French batteries. --Around
7 o'clock at night, the two batteries Frimont posted on the outskirts of
Chaumesnil managed to silence the French artillery; Wrede took the opportunity
to push against this artillery, supported by the French cavalry and protected
by squares of infantry, the Bavarian cavalry brigade of Diez (4th and
5th Regiments of Light Horse, the King's Regiment and the Leiningen
Regiment), and the Austrian hussar regiment of Archduke Joseph.
These three regiments of cavalry passing through the intervals of the French
square, rush on the batteries, routed the squadrons who served as their support,
slashing the gunners at their guns and managed to seize 21 guns.
Chaumesnil was definitely lost, and the troops of Marmont and Meunier, after
having vainly tried to throw back the cavalry of Wrede, retreated at night
to Brienne. The darkness was, indeed, so deep that the Bavarian light
horse who charged moments after the Württemberg jäger zu pferd ,
was brought forward between Chaumesnil and Petit-Mesnil, after the capture
of La Giberie, while on their side the riders of Biron had advanced further
to the left and at an equal level between Petit-Mesnil and La Rothière.
The darkness, the thaw and the snow covered roads, Schwarzenberg said in Tagesbegebenheiten,
prevented the cavalry of Wrede from pursuing Marmont.
While the Vth Corps seized Chaumesnil, where the Austro-Bavarian infantry
could now debouch without difficulty, while the Bavarian cavalry of Colonel
von Diez took the French batteries, the Austrian division of Spleny leaving
Morvilliers and pushing towards the woods of Anjou, forced by his presence,
Marmont to evacuate the eastern edge and eventually stop at the western edge
of this wood, fronting towards Brienne.
The advantages gained by Wrede on the far right of the Allies had greatly facilitated
the progress of the corps under the immediate control of Blücher had made
during this second phase of the battle, between 4 and 8 o'clock.
The IVth Corps carries La Giberie. --The movement of
Wrede against Chaumesnil and Morvilliers, the arrival in line of the brigade
of Döring and a horse battery had allowed the Crown Prince of Württemberg
to halt the progress of the French at La Giberie. But Victor, who
had reinforced and replaced his batteries, for his part, only to wait near
5 o'clock in the evening, after the taking of Chaumesnil, for the Crown
Prince, launching against La Giberie a regiment, Regiment no 7, which
had joined him, finally succeeded after two hours of a second fight as
hard as the first, to grab
La Giberie and debouch towards Petit-Mesnil. Although most of his
artillery was still engaged in the defile of the Wood of Beaulieu, the
Crown Prince immediately directed generals Stockmeyer and Döring against
the fronts south and east of Petit-Mesnil. It was important to master
it as quickly as possible, to connect to the right with the Vth Corps,
which, after the occupation of Morvilliers and Chaumesnil was heading towards
the Wood of Anjou and the route from Doulevant to Brienne, and on the left,
with the corps of Sacken, who sought to debouch from La Rothière. The
two Württemberg brigades took Petit-Mesnil after a most obstinate
struggle when General Count Franquemont, having finally overcome all the
difficulties that slowed his march through the woods of Beaulieu and marshy
ravine, arrived at La Giberie with the main body of the IVth Corps
and a mounted battery.
The appearance of these reinforcements, at the moment when the French troops
faltered across the line, allowed the Crown Prince to push forward, between
Petit-Mesnil and Chaumesnil, two cavalry regiments nos 3 and 4, under
the command of Lieutenant-Colonel von Bismarck, Chief of Staff of the Württemberg
The two regiments joined in the plains, first the 2nd Jägers zu
Pferd Regiment of the Württemberg cavalry, Duke Louis, which had passed
north of La Giberie, then, far to the right, the Bavarian cavalry. Threatening
the right of the corps of Marmont, they executed a little later, along with
the squadrons of Wrede, the charge that put an end to the struggle on the right
side of the Allies.
Sacken carries La Rothière. --If the Crown Prince of
Württemberg took four hours to become master of La Giberie and if
he only succeeded in debouching and seizing Petit-Mesnil that thanks to
the good work, that one might say was unexpected, of Wrede , Sacken had
during the same period of time sustained on the side of La Rothière
an even more murderous and bloody struggle.
Blücher, who, from the beginning of the battle, had resolved to concentrate
his efforts against La Rothière, center of the French lines, that he
considered the key to the position, had joined Sacken a little after 4 o'clock,
with General von Gneisenau, his chief of staff, just when the Russians came
to carry most of the village of La Rothière; the Field-Marshal, certain
that the Emperor would not fail to attempt a counter-offensive on his part
and throw at La Rothière the first troops which were available, thought
it all the more urgent to call to him the reserves stationed on the heights
of Trannes, those troops of Sacken that Colbert's cavalry had broken, who tried
to deploy in front of La Rothière and were collected by Olsufiev's regiments
in reserve behind La Rothière.
Instead of seeing debouch the Russian grenadiers and cuirassiers to whom he
had sent orders to join him as soon as possible, Blücher was not a little
surprised to learn that the Crown Prince of Württemberg, who called for
reinforcements, had directed on La Giberie, not only the division of grenadiers,
but the two divisions cuirassiers. In the meantime, the progress of Wrede
had reached the IVth Corps, but as a result of this action taken without
the knowledge of the Field Marshal, the four divisions that made up the reserves,
the Russian 2nd Grenadier Division, sent by Barclay Tolly from Trannes
to La Rothière, could only take part in the last stages of the fight,
while the two divisions of cuirassiers and 1st Grenadier Division found
themselves unable to come into the line by the counter orders that they
received and unnecessary movement that they made them take.
Measures taken by the Emperor. --Movement of the French cavalry. --The
Emperor had been informed of the progress made by the Allies on his left.
Considering therefore the battle lost, he only sought to secure the retreat
of his troops and thought only to take steps to bring back his corps onto the
left bank of the Aube. In the area around La Rothière, where he
had moved his person, he sent Grouchy order to oppose, as long as possible,
with Milhaud's cavalry (5th Cavalry Corps), the progress of the Crown
Prince of Württemberg and support at the same time the Duke of Bellune. Nansouty
should stand firm behind La Rothière with the cavalry of the Guard;
finally Oudinot was charged with attempting with the division of Rottembourg
an offensive against La Rothière, and seeking to regain that position.
This order was executed at once. General Rottembourg, after forming the
1st Brigade of the smallest division into three columns, advanced at
nightfall against La Rothière, where the Russians had sought again to
debouch from, and where they came for the second time to be returned in disorder
by the horsemen of Colbert. Despite the fierce resistance of the Russians,
General Rottembourg came under a hail of balls and despite being swept with
grapeshot from the Russian artillery, to the church. There, his column
came against to the corps of Olsufiev, who, coming into line in turn, pushed
the remains of the French brigade back to the end of the village. Four
pieces of French artillery in battery on this point prevented the debouchment,
and even allowed the brigade of the Rottembourg division to maintain themselves
in the last houses of La Rothière.
Two episodes, too characteristic to be ignored, had marked the combat in which
the streets of La Rothière had served as a theater. When the young
soldiers of General Rottembourg suddenly found themselves all up to the church
in the presence of Russians of Olsufiev, they turned against them a misdirected
volley, then pressed against each other to the point where they were able to
neither advance nor retreat. The Russian officer believed, at this scene,
that the French were preparing to go and walked alone to General Rottembourg,
who, in turn, sought to restrain his people through his example. The
general, thinking also that the Russians, interrupted by the advance of his
two other columns, wanted to lay down their arms, marched in front of the Russian
officer, trying to take him prisoner when he had realized his error. After
a sort of duel between the General and the Russian officer, the General joined
his soldiers, with whom he fell back step by step, while his opponent returned
to take command of his column, throwing them back against the French. But
this incident had allowed the French to recover from their panic, to reform,
and had given them time to put in battery, at the mouth of the village, four
pieces whose grapeshot later stopped Olsufiev's soldiers.
While these events were taking place near the church of La Rothière,
a party of French cavalry had managed to slip into the village and to penetrate
into the street where Sacken was trying to give orders. Again, like three
days before in the streets of Brienne, Sacken, arranging his horse against
the walls and remaining completely still, miraculously escaped the French riders,
who passed near him without noticing.
A little later the Duke of Reggio launched ahead the 2nd Brigade of the
Division of Rottembourg and succeeded, thanks to the arrival into the line
of these fresh troops, again to enter La Rothière, where fighting resumed
with a new bitterness. The night had arrived; the fire only illuminating
the fighters, who continued to fight over the smoking ruins of the village.
Finally, the reinforcements that Blücher had called, the 2nd Russian Grenadier
Division (General-Lieutenant Paskevich) and the Austrian brigade of General
von Grimmer (the IIIrd Corps, Gyulay), came into the line. The
two regiments of Astrakhan (Астрахань )and
Little Russia, taking the head of the column, rushed with the bayonet on the
exhausted troops and reduced the division of Rottembourg, finally managing
to chase them from the village, but their leaders however, managed to rally
and stop at 500 or 600 paces from the last houses.
Second attack of the IIIrd Corps against Dienville. --At
the extreme left of the Allies, the young troops of General Gérard
had continued to defend Dienville and its surroundings with a vigor which,
until before the night, had paralyzed all the efforts of the Austrians
It was a little past 5 o'clock when Gyulay received at the same time, from
Blücher and from Schwarzenberg, the order to carry Dienville. He
launched immediately against the bridge, which he managed to momentarily take
control from the two brigades of the Fresnel division. But although due
to the physical setting, Gérard could not use his artillery to defend
the bridge, the fire of his infantry placed in nearby houses and especially
in the cemetery, and the counter attacks of the troops of the Dufour division,
forced the Austrians to withdraw to the left bank of the Aube. Gyulay,
pending the arrival of in the line of the division of Hohenlohe-Bartenstein,
which he could have after the capture of La Rothière, had to confine
himself to tell his artillery in battery on the heights of the left bank, to
render Dienville untenable and to chase the conscripts of Gérard.
The second and third attacks, attempted simultaneously on both banks of Aube,
had no more success.
Measures taken by the Emperor to cover the retreat. --The
Emperor had finished taking the necessary measures to contain the Allies
for the retirement of his various corps. Supplementing the provisions
which we have seen him resort to when he tried, with the division of Rottembourg,
to tear La Rothière from Sacken and where he led the cavalry of
Milhaud to his left, he gave about 8 o'clock, to Drouot orders to burn
La Rothière to allow his infantry, which had been dislodged permanently
from the village of Brienne to withdraw under the protection of the cavalry
of the Guard, and stop by firing his artillery the progress of the Allies
on his left and center. While Drouot brought his pieces in position,
the divisions of Ney returned to the road of Lesmont and the corps which
had maintained it for more than eight hours in an unequal struggle retreated
in echelon in an order all the more remarkable as it was forced to execute
with young troops harassed with fatigue a retrograde march in the darkness,
through a terrain made more difficult still by the rigors of temperature
and snow drifts, the cavalry of the Allies sought to capitalize on the
victory and to thwart the French retreat.
The Württemberg cavalry debouch in front of La Rothière
--The Württemberg cavalry (Jäger zu Pferd Regiments nos 2 and
4 and Dragoon Regiment no 3) had effected a junction with the cavalry
on the right of the Vth Corps, on the left with the Prussian cavalry
of General Prince Biron of Courland and the Cossacks of Karpov, and this mass,
overwhelming the squadrons of Milhaud, compelled them to withdraw.
"I quickly pushed my horse forward", said the Crown Prince of Württemberg
about this in his report to Schwarzenberg. "The cavalry regiment
of Prince Adam, under the command of Major von Reinhardt, threw itself on the
left wing of the enemy and took five cannons. The Dragoon Regiment no 3
(Crown Prince Regiment), that I had, under the command of Colonel von Wagner,
sent on my right to link with General Count Wrede, made with a regiment of
Bavarian light horse a brilliant charge against a French battery posted on
a salient southwest of the Wood of Anjou, in relation to Chaumesnil, and captured
This cavalry, rejoined by Major General von Jett with the Württemberg
Jäger zu Pferd Regiment no 5 and the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand
Hussar Regiment, continued to follow the enemy as far as the dark state of
the terrain and the exhaustion of the horses allowed them.
At center, the Russian cavalry of General Vasilchikov debouch from La Rothière
despite the artillery fire of Drouot and the efforts of the cavalry of the
Guard who had, also, to fall back on Brienne, followed just up to the level
of the Beugné Farm by riders of Sacken.
It was then nearly nine o'clock, the snow continued to fall thick and more
closer than ever and, as stated by Taxis in his Journal, the pursuit was all the
more impossible, as they could still hear the cannon from Dienville where Gyulay
only established himself at midnight, when
Gérard was ordered to abandon the position that his young troops had
heroically defended for more than twelve hours.
Given the situation that the French army found itself during the last hours
of the evening of February 1st, it would have taken little by the Allies
to try and change at all any of the conditions under which a retirement would
take place by the little army of the Emperor. If, at 9:30 in the evening,
when Gérard still held out at Dienville, but when Sacken, the Crown
Prince of Wuerttemberg and Wrede had taken the positions of their opponents,
Blücher could have deployed some fresh troops, their appearance on the
battlefield, their march in good order against the points where the French
generals rallied their troops shaken by a bloody and uneven struggle, would
have, we cannot doubt, brought considerable results.
We understand however that the Field Marshal had given up, in the presence
of the state of the terrain, the darkness and the exhaustion of the horses,
to use his cavalry, which indeed could only advance at a walk and which secondarily
was constrained to following the main road, would at best managed to cause
alarm. But it is undeniable, on the other hand, if Blücher had been
during the last hours of the fight, joined by Russian reserves that had been
unnecessarily rotated on the battlefield, he would likely have succeeded, by
a night attack directed on Brienne la Vieille and east of this location up
to the height of the road from Brienne-le-Château to Doulevant, in breaking
the last link that still held men worn out with fatigue and exhausted by forced
marches followed a combat of twelve hours. He would have completed the
demoralization of young troops who had only just received in recent days their
baptism of fire and changed their orderly retreat into a rout.
With no fresh troops at his disposal, the Field-Marshal found himself absolutely
unable to attempt any effort, and the Allied corps, which had been engaged
since the afternoon of 1 February, settled into camp on the same positions
they had conquered.
Positions of Sacken, the IVth, Vth and IIIrd Corps,
at 10 o'clock. --The advanced guards of Sacken, of the IVth and
Vth Corps, bivouacked on the very points where they stopped in front
of La Rothière, Petit-Mesnil and Chaumesnil.
The IIIrd Corps, of Gyulay, rested at Dienville, the Russians of Sacken
around La Rothière, the IVth Corps between La Giberie and Petit-Mesnil,
and the Vth at Chaumesnil and north of that village.
As for the Russian grenadiers, they had, with the exception of the 2nd Division
which had delivered La Rothière, spent their day performing marches
and counter marches between La Giberie and La Rothière, and although
they were in short perfectly fresh, one did even think to order them to throw
themselves into the darkness on the remains of the French army. These
reserves encamped: the 2nd Grenadier Division nearby La Rothière,
the 1st Grenadier Division and the two divisions cuirassiers (2nd and
3rd) behind the bivouacs of the IVth Corps.
The Guards and the Russian and Prussian reserves had come in the
afternoon up to Trannes.
The day of La Rothière had cost the Allies about 6,000 troops, including
nearly 4,000 from the Russian corps of Sacken.
Night and bad weather, preventing the Allies from pursuing their gains, had
given the Emperor the opportunity to only put into effect the orders he had
sent to his lieutenants about 9 o'clock at night.
Position of the French army. --From 9 o'clock because it
was hindering General Sorbier, all corps were ordered to return behind
Brienne empty caissons, the unnecessary artillery and baggage, to cross
the Lesmont bridge with the parks and removed batteries.
Grouchy, keeping only the strictly necessary artillery, was to lighten as much
as possible and return the led horses and men on foot. An hour later,
General de France was ordered to leave at 2 in the morning with the Guards
of Honor, cross the bridge of Lesmont and throw parties on the road to Piney
and the left bank of the Aube. General Sorbier had to file the park on
Lesmont and General Léry prepared to burn and blow up the bridges when
the Emperor would give the signal.
The French corps commanders, who had supported every effort of the struggle,
had gained the points that the Emperor had appointed them and on which they
were to rally their troops. Marmont, covered by cavalry of Doumerc, stopped
at the exit of wood of Anjou. Victor had passed the farm of Beugné exceeded
and left before the Russian outposts a curtain formed by a few squadrons of
Milhaud. Oudinot and Ney massed cavalry and infantry of the Guard on
the road of Lesmont, while Gérard, who had been ordered to abandon Dienville,
fell back after midnight on Brienne-la-Vieille.
The French army had lost in that bloody day nearly 6,000 men killed, wounded
or prisoners, and sixty guns.
The French troops were only, in fact, given a few hours for a semblance of
rest before the Brienne-la-Vieille; orders rushed out at 11:30 at night by
the Emperor, Brienne-le-Château, to restart at 2 o'clock in the morning
were aimed at escaping the grip of the Allies.
Before discussing the Battle of Rothière, and why we must abandon for
a moment the corps that had to fight at Dienville and Morvilliers, it is necessary
to take care of the movements performed by the Ist Corps (Colloredo),
at extreme left of the Army of Bohemia, because these events have a certain
connection with the acts of war on whose banks of the Aube had been the scene.
One should also take a look at the operations of partisans of Lieutenant-Colonel
Count Thurn, at the measures taken on the same day by the Duke of Trévise,
at the attempt by the Cossacks of Platov against Sens, at Wittgenstein's march
on Saint-Dizier, and Yorck to Vitry, finally at the preparations for Macdonald
who sought to debouch at Châlons and thwart the plans of the lieutenants
of Blücher against Châlons-sur-Marne.
Curial had replaced General Decouz, seriously wounded at Brienne and who died
of his injuries.
as we have noted further above, says about this in his Overview of the 1814
Campaign: "Bonaparte seems to have wanted to wait for Marmont, who
did not arrive until 31st. Moreover, similarly, even on 1 February,
while he awaited the attack Blücher , it is doubtful whether, at that
time he sought and still wanted the battle."
of General Nikitin.
commanded the 2nd Hussar Division, consisting of regiments of hussars
of Akhtyr (Ахтырка),
of Mariupol (Мариуполь),
White Russia (Белая
Русь) and Alexandria.
of Major General Panchulidzev: 3rd Dragoon Division; dragoon regiments
of Courland (Курляндия),
Smolensk (Смоле́нск), Tver (Тверь),
and Kinburn (Кинбурнская).
in his Historical Journal of the Light Cavalry Division (Piré) of
the 5th Cavalry Corps during the Campaign in France in 1814,
gives an different account of the cavalry versus cavalry combat, a version
which appears to us also less creditable and less likely than the report of
the Allied generals. "About 4 o'clock," he said, "the enemy,
seeing that his efforts to force our extreme right were useless and they would
not succeed in pushing back this side of ours, decided upon a great movement
of cavalry on the dragoons. By very quick movements , 6,000 horses, formed
in two lines, were launched on our artillery and bursting around La Rothière
on its left, forcing the dragoons to retreat in disorder. Fortunately,
Major General Piré, realizing the importance of this attack and its
possible disastrous results, did not hesitate to leave his position when his
presence was not necessary. Without waiting for orders, he puts his division
in column of squadrons and fell on a conversion of the left flank of the enemy. This
maneuver was successful; the Russians stopped and while they incline to the
right to rally the dragoons had time to reform." Without questioning
what Petiet said, we should be permitted to note that the intervention of Piré could
at best have saved the dragoons; because Petiet himself confirms a few lines
further the reports of the Russian generals, saying, "However, the artillery
far exceeded by the charge of the Allies, was partly taken, and from that moment,
one could predict the outcome of the day." It seems indeed that
if the maneuver, however well timed by General Piré, was really successful,
it would have forced the recall of the Russian dragoons, to retake the pieces
and restore the battle line.
of General-Lieutenant Scherbatov, of Levin and Olsufiev.
division was ordered to remain in this position until the arrival at Vendeuvre
of the corps of Colloredo, who could not make this point until the evening
of the 1st of February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)
Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar, 1814
(K. K. Kriegs Archiv., Il, 1), and correspondence of Gyulay to Schwarzenberg,
from Lesmont. 2 February. (Ibid., II. 28.)
of Gyulay to Schwarzenberg, Lesmont, 2 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv.,
Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (K.
K, Kriegs Archiv., II, 1), and Journal of Operations of the IVth Corps
under General Count Baillet de Latour, Chief of Staff. (Ibid., XIII,
"The enemy had strongly occupied the heights in front of La Giberie and
it had posted several regiments of infantry and cavalry. The land, completely
broken up, did not allow fast enough cannon movement, I moved against the height
with the cavalry Regiment of Duke Louis, that I supported with two battalions
of infantry. The enemy cavalry withdrew without waiting for the attack,
and Colonel von Gaisberg, charged without losing a minute the infantry who
retired, taking about thirty men, but thought he could not pursue, or at least
seriously very far, because of it being too close to the village. I then
made General Stockmeyer attack La Giberie." (Crown Prince of Württemberg
to Prince Schwarzenberg, Petit-Mesnil, the 1st of February 1814). (K.
K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 3.)
Prince of Württemberg to Prince Schwarzenberg, summary report of Battle
of La Rothière. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 3.)
Tagebuch. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., XIII, 32.)
movement was even retarded by the march of the cavalry of Pahlen which had
during the night of the 31st to 1st, reunited with the left of
Wrede behind Fuligny and which in making its way to join Wittgenstein at Montier-en-Der,
crossed the column of Wrede during his march. (Wrede to Schwarzenberg; Ibid.,
to Schwarzenberg. (Ibid. II, 87.)
der Majors Fürsten v. Thurn und Taxis (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., XII,
The history of the Schwarzenberg Uhlans provides the following details on
On 13 January, the regiment had crossed the Vosges, and 1 February, when the
Vth Corps moved forward, the regiment marched at the head of the first
column and Major Count Hadik led the vanguard of two squadron strength. Scarcely
had the first platoon of this advanced guard reached the edge of the wood of
Chaumesnil than they saw the enemy at that time trying to place a horse battery
of 4 cannons and 2 howitzers on a point of where these guns could have prevented
our column debouching from the wood for at least an hour. Immediately
a sergeant was brought forth with a troop (peleton) charged to reconnoiter
more fully the position of the enemy. Meanwhile, the regiment was approaching
slowly its vanguard. When it arrived at a point where all the terrain
between Chaumesnil and Morvilliers was exposed and when it was clearly aware
of the intentions of the enemy, Colonel Baron Mengen executed with the uhlans
a very brilliant charge. He removed the battery under the very eyes of
a regiment of cuirassiers of the Guard (sic) that debouched at this time from
Morvilliers and before which two squadrons of the regiment moved at a walk. When
the cavalry prepared to make a charge for the battery it had lost, Colonel
Baron Mengen perceived it and threw himself at its front with both squadrons
had moved it forward at a walk, while two other squadrons, commanded by Major
Baron Trach took the flanks.
The enemy tried to maintain its naturally advantageous position, especially
on the right, by getting support from its artillery and push back with a hail
of grapeshot the other two squadrons that were also brought against him.
He sought to clear the ground enough so that his cavalry, which was coming
into the line, would have space to deploy. But both squadrons still managed
to stand firm.
No sooner had the enemy formed his cuirassiers in two lines than the uhlans
managed to more strongly crush a charge of, not only the first, but even the
second line and put them in disorder. These charges forced the cuirassiers
to leave the field. The losses sustained by the French cavalry would
have been much more acute if the broken terrain and the fire of infantry who
strongly occupied the village of Morvilliers would have permitted the pursuit
of the cuirassiers.
Bouillenrupt farm not listed on maps, was located southwest of Beauvoir, roughly
equidistant between Beauvoir and Chaumesnil.
der Majors Fürsten Thurn und Taxis. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., XIII,
to Wrede (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 47, a); Wrede to Schwarzenberg.
(Ibid., II, 47.)
to Schwarzenberg, Brienne, 3 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II. 47.)
der Majors Fürsten Thurn und Taxis. (Ibid., XIII, 32.)
der Majors Fürsten Thurn und Taxis (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., XIII,
32), and STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im
Monate Februar. (Ibid., II, 1.)
Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (Ibid.,
Note here that, while Taxis speaks in his manuscript of the 21 guns, General
Frimont in his report to Wrede (Chaumesnil, February 1st, K. K. Kriegs
Archiv., II, 47 a) announced to the commander in chief taking only
14 guns. The same figure is found in the biography of Frimont (Oestereichische
Militair Zeitschrift, 1843, II, page 131).
enemy," --as the Crown Prince well expresses to Schwarzenberg in
his report, dated from Petit-Mesnil, 1 February (K. K. Kriegs Archiv.,
II, 3)-- "in turn attacked La Giberie where they fought for four
hours with a fury unheard of, until finally, with the arrival of fresh troops
and shot from my horse battery, I managed to repulse the attacks of the French."
of Sacken, of Prince Scherbatov (Topographic Archives of Saint-Petersburg),
Journal of Nikitin.
Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (K.
K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.) and report of Feldzeugmeister Count Gyulay to
Prince Schwarzenberg (Ibid., II, 28), Lesmont, 2 February.
Gyulay committed an error in this report, saying that Napoleon had entrusted
the defense of Dienville to his Guard.
Prince of Württemberg to Prince Schwarzenberg, Petit-Mesnil, February
1st. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 3.)
of the Operations of Crown Prince of Württemberg, by General Count Baillet
Latour, Chief of Staff of the IVth Corps. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv.,
It was also around this time that one of the aides of Berthier, Colonel Maussion,
who had become lost amidst the blizzard of snow and darkness, was captured
by the Knesevich (Knežević) Dragoons (K. K. Kriegs Archiv.,
II, 1 and Journal of Major Prince Taxis, Ibid., XIII, 32.)
of Major Prince Taxis.
to Schwarzenberg, Lesmont, 2 February. (Ibid., II, 28.)
to Schels, the Allies only lost at La Rothière 4,655 men.
to Grouchy and Chief of Staff to Sorbier, de France and Léry. (Archives
of the War.)
after Bogdanovich, 73 after Plotho and Beitzke, 83 from Schels, 73 also from
the report of Schwarzenberg (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 34, b)
and only 54 after Koch.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2012
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