Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter Six Part VII

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)





BRIENNE and LA ROTHIÈRE (26 January.  --3 February).

Movement of the Ist Corps (Colloredo) on Vendeuvre.  --Affair of La Vacherie.  --Retirement of the flying corps of Thurn.  --On the far left of the Army of Bohemia, the Ist Corps had left Bar-sur-Seine in the morning and had moved in a single column up to Magnant, then from that point in two columns, the bulk by Thieffrain, the division of grenadiers right by Beurey on Vendeuvre, where the corps did not arrive until very late in the afternoon, owing to the difficulties in marching  further aggravated by the thaw .

The light division of Prince Maurice Liechtenstein, responsible for covering the march, had remained on the left bank of the Seine and was directed from Bar-sur-Seine on Fouchères to occupy and retain the troops of Mortier.[1]

After 1 o'clock in the afternoon, General Hacht, posted with a brigade of the IIIrd Corps (division Crenneville) to Vendeuvre, with orders to monitor the movements of the enemy on the side of Dienville and Unienville, had informed the Generalissimo of the appearance of French parties in Villeneuve-au-Chêne (then called Villeneuve-Mesgrigny), occupation of Piney[2] by French troops and the arrival of the head of Colloredo's column at Vendeuvre.

Two hours later, around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, Prince Colloredo announced to Schwarzenberg that he had set up at Vendeuvre only three regiments of the division Wied-Runkel and two batteries, the division of grenadiers and the cuirassiers of Count Nostitz only arrived there at 4 o'clock and were awaiting at Vendeuvre orders indicating what role that his corps was later called to play.  But it was too late, and even assuming that a rushed order from Schwarzenberg could reach Colloredo by 4 o'clock, the column heads of the three divisions of the Ist Corps could not, under any circumstances, come to the level above the bridge Dienville before 10 or 11 o'clock at night.  As a result, the Generalissimo decided[3] to leave the Ist Corps Vendeuvre where three divisions occupied  reinforced cantonments.  The Geppert Brigade (Light Division of the Prince Maurice Liechtenstein) forming the advanced guard of Colloredo, occupied Vauchonvilliers in the evening and connect by the Aube by the Hächt Brigade with the IIIrd Corps.

Another brigade of the Light Division of Maurice Liechtenstein, reinforced by a regiment of the division Wied-Runkel, posted in support to Virey, had been left at Fouchères to monitor the road to Troyes.

At 9 o'clock in the morning, a French detachment that Prince Liechtenstein estimated in his report[4] to be 200 men and 500 horses, had attacked the Austrian outposts and had thrown them back onto La Vacherie.  The entry into the line of picket troops (a squadron of the light horse of O'Reilly and a company of jäger zu pferd) allowed the Austrian outposts to hold on, to withstand a second attack and await the arrival of reinforcements which, after an hour of fighting, forced the French reconnaissance to withdraw and return to its position of Maisons-Blanches.

The division of Field Marshal Lieutenant Hardegg Ignatius, also belonging to the Ist Corps, stood throughout the day of 1 February at Chaource, a point from which a reconnaissance was directed to meet the outposts of Liechtenstein at La Petite Vacherie .

Marshal Mortier sent at the same time, under the command of General Bourmont, a reconnaissance that managed to surprise some Cossacks from Platov's corps at Auxon.  This reconnaissance also sought to cut off and take the flying corps of Lieutenant-Colonel Count Thurn.  But this officer, warned in time, hastened to file towards Ervy (Ervy-le-Châtel).[5]

Movement of Platov toward Sens.  --As for Platov, his advanced guard still felt out Sens, but without very seriously threatening the city that General Allix depots held with the 18th military division.

Platov, always able to present the facts in a manner best favoring himself, was already preparing the Generalissimo for the movement that he would undertake to excuse the failure of his attempt against Sens, a failure due solely to his slowness, his hesitations, his reluctance to go forward and away from the main body of the Great Army.  "Too weak to expel the enemy from Sens," he wrote on  February 1st in the evening, from Villeneuve-le-Roy (Villeneuve-sur-Yonne), to Prince of Schwarzenberg,[6] "I will continue to my destination, by marching by Courtenay on Fontainebleau.  We have easily taken an officer and 32 soldiers of the Guard and released an officer and 10 Spanish soldiers and four Austrian soldiers." He added in a similar vein to prevent criticism of the Generalissimo and to give the appearance of having started something, "I detached Colonel Sperberg with 500 Cossacks and 2 cannons at Joigny to discover and punish the people of this country who had wanted to knock out one of my couriers, as he passed through this city.  I ordered him to shoot the culprits and to disarm the National Guard that I suspected of having participated in the ambush."

"Meanwhile, I stopped here."

"I feel it my duty to inform your Highness that it will be difficult to send letters to headquarters, as I will not be followed by some other company, because I am forced to detach fairly large parties for an escort."

General Coëtlosquet called up by General Allix,[7] arrived at Sens on February 1st at 11 o'clock at night, and General Pajol posted at Montereau, sent General Delort with 300 horses to Fleurigny to protect the movement.  His party, which had pushed up to l'Archevêque-Villeneuve in the morning, informed him that they had met a few Cossacks heading towards Sens.  General Pajol ended his dispatch by giving information of remarkable accuracy.[8] "The enemy", he said, "wishes to move on Paris by Fontainebleau in leaving Montereau on his right; as I need to strengthen Pont-sur-Yonne and Moret, I have written to General Pacthod to watch over these two points, and I will cut through an arch of the Bray bridge."

Movement of the VIth corps and the cavalry of Pahlen on Vitry.  --On the far right of the Allies, the VIth Corps (Wittgenstein), instead of coming closer to the battlefield of La Rothière had received, on the contrary, from the Generalissimo orders to move from Wassy on to Saint-Dizier to march from there, along with Yorck, to Vitry.[9]

While Wittgenstein executed this irrational movement, his cavalry under Count Pahlen was around Soulaines, and his advanced guard similarly had already pushed near La Chaise when his chief received communication of instructions which, instead of letting him continue on Brienne, ordered him to rally the VIth Corps.  Pahlen, retracing his steps and crossing, as we said above, the columns of Wrede, went from Soulaines on to Longeville and thence on Chavanges, while General Ilovaysky XII continued to stay with his Cossacks in observation before Boulancourt.

Something unique and worthy of note: Pahlen, because of the state of the atmosphere, only perceived, throughout the first part of his march, and though he was close to the battlefield, very faint and very distant intervals the noise of the cannon.

As for the cavalry of General Rüdinger that Wittgenstein had detached on the left bank of the Marne to connect with Pahlen it had, during the day of the 1st of February, moved from Montier-en-Der by Giffaumont up to about Gigny- aux-Bois and Bussy-aux-Bois.

The marches and counter marches that Wittgenstein had made during the final days, calling him to the Aube only to have him report then towards the Marne, had the effect of completely cancelling the action of his corps, which arrived too late everywhere.

Movements of the Prussian Ist Corps.  --Operations against Vitry.  --Orders and counter orders were also to delay and frustrate the operations of the Prussian Ist Corps on 1 February.  Yorck, in the instructions he had sent on 31 January in the evening to his generals, had directed the bulk of his corps to leave the vicinity of Saint-Dizier, between 6 and 7 o'clock in the morning, to move against Vitry.  It had been preceded, about three miles, by 1st Brigade of Pirch II, and the flying corps of Colonel Count Henckel, placed, for this operation, under the direct orders of General von Pirch.  At the moment when the main body was set in motion against Vitry, General Yorck received from General-Major von Knesebeck , aide to the King of Prussia, a letter, dated 30 January in the evening from Chaumont, by which he was made part of the Schwarzenberg plan to concentrate all the forces of the Allies between Bar-sur-Aube and Colombey in order to await the French attack.  Knesebeck thought that there was a need to tighten the circle and that, if Yorck had not received orders to the contrary, he and Wittgenstein were to seek to get closer to the positions of the army of Schwarzenberg.  Yorck, which until then had received no orders and had only acted according to his own ideas, thus found himself compelled to countermand the movement of the bulk of his corps.  He proposed, in fact, to remain in place in Saint-Dizier and to have Vitry observed by the brigade of Pirch and the detachment of Henckel, when he gave, about 9 o'clock, the general disposition which sent those who were destined to operate in concert with Wittgenstein against Vitry, to Saint-Dizier.  All these counter orders had cost valuable time, and although Yorck had, at 10 o'clock, sent to his corps the order to resume movement interrupted in the morning, it was only between noon and one o'clock that different portions of his army resumed their march.

Marshal Macdonald had arrived at Châlons the 31st;[10] but there was little comfort in Vitry with General Montmarie's (Louis François Elie Pelletier, comte de Montmarie)700 to 800 men at the time the brigade of Pirch and detachment of Colonel Henckel put aside their march to attack that place.  The Polish cavalry of General Pac sortied in the morning two hours before the attack, going to Brienne, and although this general had heard the cannon, didn't think it necessary to go there, though the gunfire had become very keen "because," he said in his dispatch to the Chief of Staff, "I knew that General Montmarie was expecting a body of 6,000 men."[11]  The old Marshal Lefebvre fortunately recognized the dangers of the situation and understood the importance of Vitry.  He had also, like General Pac left Vitry in the morning and crossed the Marne with a squadron of cavalry and a regiment of infantry, with the intention of joining the army but, once he recognized the direction followed by the vanguard of Yorck, he did not hesitate to fall back on Vitry where he returned some time before the commencement of the attack.

The brigade of Pirch and the detachment of Henckel, arrived in the morning before the town, originally summoning General Montmarie to surrender.  On the refusal of the general officer, they bombarded the city for several hours with the battery of the 1st Brigade and the half-battery of Colonel Henckel, without obtaining any results.  After a few hours, the firing ceased.  But during this time and through the fog, a large convoy of forty-two guns, escorted by 400 men, had managed to enter the place around 2 o'clock, after stopping at the bridge on the Saulx de Vaux, a mile from the town.[12] The artillery colonel who commanded the column had been less fortunate: he had been captured a few steps away on his own, by the Prussian hussars, and it was through him that Yorck had found out of the arrival at Châlons of Marshal Macdonald and his intention to move on Vitry.

General von Pirch, who had come to realize the impossibility of taking Vitry by a coup de main, decided to abandon the absolutely useless attempts[13] and established his headquarters at Écriennes and quartered his infantry at Écriennes, Luxémont and Villotte, Vauclerc and Reims-la-Brûlé; his cavalry at Frignicourt, Marolles, Bignicourt-sur-Marne (Bégnicourt) and Norrois.  To cover his right, General von Pirch had sent Colonel Henckel on Vitry-le-Brûlé, with orders to observe the crossings of the Saulx and push on Changy and Saint-Quentin-les-Marais, parties responsible for surveying the road to Châlons.

The night of the 1st, Yorck had established his headquarters at Orconte; the advanced guard (General von Katzler) came to Matignicourt, Thiéblemont, Farémont, Haussignémont and Favresse; the cavalry reserve of General von Jürgass to Domprémy, Brusson, Plichancourt and Ponthion; the 7th Brigade to Blesmes, Scrupt, Saint-Vrain and Heiltz-le-Hutier; the 8th Brigade to Orconte, Larzicourt and Isle; the reserve artillery, with the park of the army corps installed at Longchamps , Le Tronc, Sapignicourt and Hallignicourt.

Finally, to completely relate the movements performed during this great day of 1 February, we say that the Prussian IInd Corps (Kleist), after passing in sight of Thionville, had arrived at the level of Boussange, Hagondange and Hauconcourt, while the Russian corps of Kaptsevich, from Mainz by Sarreguemines, was within one march of Nancy.

Considerations on the Battle of La Rothière.  --When one is confronted with an event of the importance of the Battle of La Rothière, one cannot, especially because of the exceptionally serious circumstances, just report as you would any other battle, errors committed by both sides, dwelling on the conditions under which it was delivered and compare actual results with those that the winner was entitled to expect.  It is necessary, so that we can get an exact account of the situation, concentrate on the extent of what could and should have been the first defeat suffered at the heart of France by an army commanded by the Emperor himself.

"War," Clausewitz said in his Theory of Grand Warfare, "is an instrument of policy."  The campaign of 1814 and particularly the Battle of La Rothière, clearly demonstrates the opinion expressed by the great German writer, because never were political considerations more influential on military operations than during this campaign, and especially during the two or three days before and after the battle of February 1st.

It suffices, in fact, to read the general provisions of 31 January to see the Generalissimo, while completely abandoning to Blücher the control of operations for twenty-four hours, had never had any intention of abdicating it to his hands , since the role of Field Marshal was, by these same provisions, limited to the duration of the battle.  It appears, indeed, that from the very terms of that order, Schwarzenberg was determined to advance the mission assigned to each of the major units after the end of the battle.  In doing so, the Generalissimo had obviously wanted to temporarily satisfy the pride of the Field Marshal; but, was naturally and rightly anxious on preserving and in asserting an authority that he had difficulty maintaining and defending against attacks and intrigues of his enemies, he had taken care on the evening of February 1st, to take a direction he believed he was able to cede for a few hours.  It follows, moreover, the very conditions under which such a temporary transmission of supreme power was made, that Blücher did not have all the resources that could and should be assigned, because one did not expect that victory on which they would have been entitled, would have such grave consequences and be followed by such decisive results.  It certainly raised the prestige of the arms of the Allies, but all indications are that one had not finished, as one could have, the war at once and they were afraid even on a certain point, of a final solution.  One had taken the precaution to disable Blücher from using his advantages, and both to prevent his recriminations that arose from his annoyance, and to take care to immediately fill him with praise and compliments.  By the evening of the battle, the Emperor Alexander, was reported to have said of him say that "this victory crowned his career and eclipsed the glory of all those he had won," he hastened to send a sword of gold embedded with diamonds.  But just when the Allied officers, excited by this victory, believed themselves already masters of Paris, Blücher had been stripped of the means of collecting the fruits of its benefits.

It almost seems that there had been at the headquarters of the Allies a kind of superstitious terror of the Emperor, that they feared to push to battle and cornering, it had given the conquered Caesar an opportunity to withdraw.  The same dispositions taken by Schwarzenberg, planned before the battle, directed the corps of the Army of Silesia on Vitry and sending the VIth Corps alone to Brienne and the IIIrd to Dienville.  One had in this manner intended to prevent the Field Marshal from putting into practice the principles he had always applied, that he had always tried to instill in his lieutenants.  One remembers clearly from the general headquarters in the aftermath of the Battle the Kaczawa (Katzbach), that Blücher had written to Yorck, where he had sought to show him the impossibility of too active a pursuit:

"It's not enough to overcome: it must be known how to take advantage of the victory.  If we do not march on the back of the enemy, he will recover from his defeat, and therefore it  only aides us  when there is a new victory that gains  an advantage if it  not only prevents escape but is pursued energetically."

They had wanted to tie his hands and make him even more unable to act, knowing this man would sacrifice everything to destroy a defeated enemy, who presented in the memoires the accusations that he had addressed 31 August 1813 to his lieutenants for: "Failing to take full advantage of the victory," as Blücher had written at that time, "it inevitably obligates one to shortly engage in the short term in new battle."

Now, without claiming they wanted to have to fight new battles, it is certain that at the General Headquarters, they weren't anxious to end the war in one fell swoop.  For this reason, it is because of political considerations on the one hand, personal jealousies and petty rivalries of the other, again exercising a real influence at this time, though latent, in the conduct of operations, that resulted in orders issued by General Headquarters, to the Allies who fought the battle without having all their united forces and under conditions which, made it almost impossible to finally resolve, were also to distort the nature of the prosecution in the depriving it of its two essential elements: the activity and vigor.

Without going so far as to believe what General von Heilmann says (the historian of Wrede),[14] we must look at that the same orders of the Generalissimo which had tended to paralyze any vigorous action after the battle.  Instead of trying to annihilate the French army, it was allowed not only the opportunity to rally and retire in good order, but even to disappear from them.

Instead of pushing right on Paris, to drive before them the flying troops defeated at La Rothière, one preferred to assign to each of the two great armies a special theater of war, as if, Droysen said in his Life of Field Marshal Yorck Wartenburg, it had been at the heart of dragging out the war longer.

Prince Schwarzenberg had, moreover, justifiably felt from that moment he would inevitably have serious accusations laid against him and that this singular way of understanding the war would give rise to justified criticism, so that we read the following lines in the Journal of Operations taken day by day into the grand general staff[15]: "Napoleon lost his positions, 52 guns and 2,000 prisoners, but he does not leave the battlefield and appears to intend to resume the fight next day.  Prince Schwarzenberg expects and prepares for them by ordering Colloredo to come to Dienville, and Yorck to attack Vitry."

The preceding lines destroy, it seems, one of the arguments advanced by Clausewitz.  "The victory of La Rothière," he said, "left the Allies presumptuous, and therefore they were divided."[16]  As Schwarzenberg had the task of trying to excuse his delays and indecision by the persistence of the Emperor standing on the battlefield, similarly Clausewitz felt it necessary, by the preceding sentence, to prepare an excuse that will serve to mitigate the errors that his hero was going to commit during the first separation of the Allied armies.

From a strategic point of view and without wishing to inquire whether the responsibility for mistakes lies with the Austrian Generalissimo rather than Prussian Field-Marshal, one cannot help but recognize, with Clausewitz that the Battle of La Rothière was delivered under poor conditions. "Determining the time, the place and the numbers to use for a battle," writes the author of the Strategic Review of the Campaign in France in 1814, "is the essence of the strategy.  The Allied armies had, from the beginning, to attack the main body of the enemy.  That's what we did at La Rothière.  But one cannot justify the methods used to battle even for Schwarzenberg.  Instead of enjoying their numerical superiority to enclose the enemy on all sides and inflict heavy losses, the consequences of a great victory, he left many of his troops far from the battlefield and delegates, so to speak, to one of his generals (Blücher) only a portion of his forces to try to battle.  There is something new in military history."

So much for the role of Schwarzenberg.  But Blücher himself is not guiltless.  While doing justice to the skill he showed after Brienne during the 30th and especially that of the 31st of January, we must recognize that he could easily have taken better advantage of the corps placed under his command, if he had more carefully chosen the point of attack, if, during the same battle, he had not insisted on considering La Rothière as the key position and if he understood the considerable benefits that could have been gained immediately after the coming into the line of the Austro-Bavarians of Wrede, concentrating all his efforts against the left of the French lines.  It was there, moreover, that Toll had sought permission from him to fight at the beginning of the battle.  It was because Toll was deeply convinced of the need for action especially against the French left, that when dismissed by the Field-Marshal and Gneisenau he had sought, despite opposition from Schwarzenberg and Radetzky, acceptance of his idea by Emperor Alexander, with whom he visited.  The conflicts that occurred after the interview of Toll with the Czar, the direct intervention of the sovereign in the conduct of the battle, the half measures taken by Alexander, who, without even informing Blücher, conducted six battalions of Russian grenadiers to the right of the Crown Prince of Württemberg, produced, in addition, a harmful influence on operations.  The unnecessary movements made by a division of grenadiers and the Russian 2nd and 3rd Cuirassier Divisions contributed largely to preventing Blücher, absolutely lacking reserves at the end of the day, from enjoying the benefits of his persistence that had enabled him to get that far into the evening.  It would probably would not have been good if they had accelerated the movement at four o'clock of Wrede before Chaumesnil and Morvilliers, unless they had consented to seriously and immediately strengthen the Crown Prince of Württemberg and allowed these two corps, backed by reserves, to push by the wood of Anjou to Brienne, envelope the French left towards the Aube, forcing the defenders of La Rothière, in danger of being cut off from their only line of retreat, to leave a position that the Austro-Bavarians and Württembergers had overrun and they hit in the back while the Russians of Sacken would tackled the from the front.

The attack against Dienville by the two banks of Aube was also contrary to accepted principles.  Like all the wrong moves, it produced no result and the Allies were exhausted before this village by the effort.  It would certainly have been more logical, more rational, to keep the entire IIIrd Corps on the right bank of the Aube, even better that the detached division on the left bank would have been, in totally gaining the situation, needed a lot of time to debouch from the bridge of Dienville, assuming it managed to take it.  Instead of separating the IIIrd Corps by the course of the Aube, it would have been wiser to impress a little more activity in the march of the Ist Corps for the two days that preceded the battle.  One could then assign the attack of Dienville by the right bank to the whole corps of Gyulay, push on Piney the Ist Corps (whose presence on the road from Troyes to Joinville by Brienne would have put the Emperor in a cruel embarrassment by depriving him of the only line of retreat which could enable him to effect a junction with Mortier), or else directed Colloredo on Dienville and the task of removing the bridge, while the IIIrd Corps would have the mission occupying the troops of Gérard on other side.

In tactical terms, how the Allies fought, also takes criticism.

From the beginning of the battle, an absolute lack of understanding can be seen in the action of the three arms, a complete lack of cohesion that continued through all phases of the struggle.  The weather was terrible so that was the only mitigating circumstance that the Allied generals could claim to justify their disjointed offensive moves.  The Russian artillery of Sacken obviously showed a remarkable boldness, but it had wandered so far and remained in the open for so long and so much ahead of its closest supporters, that it only owed its salvation to the coolness of its leader and the state of the field.  As for the Russian cavalry whose role we have already praised, it gained significant benefits on the side of La Rothière at the beginning of the battle and as it had put in line so opportunely the division of dragoons of General Panchulidzev it did not have anyone to move, to gain a brilliant feat of arms that we could have expected on the right: first, because Sacken's infantry was too far back and then, because Blücher, did not, because of the snow-storm, see the battlefield, and was informed too late to enjoy the results of the somewhat unexpected expense of the horsemen of Vasilchikov.  To the right of the Allies, the last charge carried out by the cavalry of Wrede,[17] the Crown Prince of Württemberg, Karpov and Prince Biron of Courland, had not been united, and their seeming cohesion and connectedness was only the result of an almost unexpected coincidence.  In terms of the infantry, they were engaged all along the line in small batches as and when they arrived on the ground.

Orders of the Emperor for the retreat.  --We have tried to indicate the reasons why the Emperor probably insisted on staying until February 1st in the presence of Allied troops.  We showed that Napoleon himself had found his position too expansive and had even begun to withdraw his troops when the Allied attack happened.  But if one can criticize the resolution taken by the Emperor to accept battle under such unfavorable conditions for him, we can not sufficiently admire the calmness with which he stopped, on the night of the 1st to 2nd, with his dispositions, the slow and sluggish pursuit of the Allies, enabling him to save the remnants of his army; the profound wisdom with which he foresaw the projects of his opponents, the incomparable insight that allows him to determine the direction as well as follow their principle forces.  Never, perhaps, has the genius of Napoleon been confirmed in a more complete manner than during the night of 1to 2 February, that he passed at the chateau of Brienne, occupied on one hand with regulating the movements of his army, guessing at on the other, before they were decided in the councils of the Allied sovereigns, not only the separation of the armies of Silesia and Bohemia, but at the same time the directions those armies would take.

While the French army executed, from 8 o'clock in the evening, the retrograde movement we've seen the Emperor prescribing, Napoleon prepared at Château Brienne the necessary arrangements to settle his retirement on Troyes by Lesmont.  From 9 to 11 o'clock, the Emperor was concerned; he still feared that the Allies, taking advantage of their gains, would decide on a night attack[18] whose consequences would be disastrous for him.  Finally, at 11 o'clock at night, except at Dienville, the fire ceased along the whole line, when he knew that the enemy would not move, he dictated the orders to Berthier to send forth to the corps commanders.

"The retreat[19] of the Emperor being on Lesmont; the Dukes of Bellune and of Raguse must have horse batteries for the retreat...the three infantry divisions of the Young Guard have in total of 24 pieces; and the horse batteries of the line and Guard have 24; or 48."

"Tomorrow, 2 February at 4 o'clock in the morning, the following positions will be taken: General Nansouty, with 3,000 horses, will be in position on the left a little behind Brienne-la-Vieille with 12 pieces of horse artillery."

"General Gérard, with 2 pieces, will be before Brienne-la-Vieille in three lines, one at the head of the village, the other at the rear, the third in the woods up to Brienne."

"General Ricard will cross at 2 o'clock in the morning on the bridge of Brienne-la-Vieille, he will have his cavalry with him and stopping at 3 o'clock, he will cut the bridge of Brienne-la-Vieille, after which he will go on Piney.  He will cover the road of Lesmont by the left bank."

"General Grouchy, with the cavalry of the 5th Corps, will be on the left of the Guard.  General Curial with his division will be in position at Brienne, occupying the city and in column of march."

"The Meunier division will be arranged in two columns on the extreme left, one at about the path from Maizières, the other further back."

"The Rottembourg division will pass through Brienne at 3 o'clock and will take a position on the heights, halfway to Lesmont: he will be there with his battery and  will occupy the woods[20] and heights of the windmill. We will place a battery of 12 near Lesmont, so that if the Emperor was too pressed, he could make use of all his artillery."

"The Duke of Raguse, with 6 pieces of artillery, will leave at 3 o'clock in the morning, take a position on the heights of Perthes en Rothière, will ensure the bridge of Rosnay where there is a Guard battalion.  He will take a position on the heights of Rosnay, retiring, if he is forced, by the bridge at Arcis-sur-Aube."

"The Duke of Bellune leaving at 2 o'clock in the morning, it will pass through Brienne and take a position at the windmill."
"General de France, with the Guards of Honor, will start at 1 o'clock, cross the bridge of Lesmont, throwing parties on the road from Piney and on the left bank of the Aube in retaking it."

"General Ruty tomorrow will choose an artillery position on the left bank of the Aube."

"The troops, as they cross, will line up for battle, the Duke of Bellune on the right, the Guard on the left."

"In this situation, we can spend the night tomorrow."

"General Corbineau will return afterwards from Maizières to Rosnay and at the intersection of routes from Lesmont to Rosnay.  It will burn the bridges of Rosnay when receiving the order.  He has under his command the battalion that is in Rosnay and pieces, and they will take a position, at the right of the bridge of Lesmont, flanking the rear to get with them to Lesmont."

On the order of the Emperor, the Chief of Staff informed Marshal Macdonald at the same time of the events of the day, however he lessened the proportions of a mere skirmish. "There was all night," he wrote, "a large cannonade, and a few skirmishes where we have lost some pieces of cannon."  Berthier added, however, the Emperor in recrossing the Aube, the line of operations would be from Arcis-sur-Aube to Troyes.  A few hours later the Emperor was also, before leaving Brienne to get to Piney, to send detailed instructions to the Marshal.  In a dispatch that, leaving from Brienne at 2 o'clock in the morning, only managed to get to the Marshal late in the evening of the 2nd, he informed him that the Duke of Raguse was maneuvering along the right bank of the Aube to cover the important point of Arcis-sur-Aube, and required him to operate "under the circumstances and especially to keep the country free between the Aube and the Marne."  Even in the midst of retirement, the Emperor was already thinking to resume the offensive, as Berthier added: "His Majesty is expecting in the early days of the month, a considerable body of veteran troops from the army of Spain; if it is possible to get them all at Arcis-en-Aube, we would be able to attempt a battle with some chance of success."[21]

The Emperor was soon to reap the fruits of the energetic measures that he addressed in the midst of the chaos which is inseparable from defeat.  From 2 at night, the Allies, though they had only committed to La Rothière just over a third of their forces, would, after allowing themselves to be stopped by Marmont who opposed them  on the Voire around Rosnay, find ways to lose touch with an army that with a bit of activity and resolution it could have been possible to through into a complete rout.


[1] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)

[2] Information provided by General Hacht was, we shall show, confirmed by the dispatch of General de France to the Chief of Staff, from Lesmont, 1 February, 8 o'clock in the morning:

"According to my reports of that night, the Duke of Trévise had occupied Creney, near Troyes (now Creney-près-Troyes); his parties came to near Mesnil and Rouilly.  The Horse Chasseurs of the Guard who occupied Creney pushed up to Piney."

"In the direction of Arcis, Fountains and Onjon were scouted.  Coclois is occupied as was as Mesnil-la-Comtesse and Voué.  I'll occupy Pougy, Pel (Pel-et-Der) and Précy on the left bank; I will send a strong party to the junction of highways from Lesmont by way of Montangon on the right and on the left by Piney, from Troyes. (Archives of the War.)

[3] Colloredo received on the night of 1 to 2 February, an order from Schwarzenberg prescribing him to move with his entire column on Dienville and vigorously attack the village; but Colloredo being made aware a few hours after the evacuation of Dienville, deemed it unnecessary to carry out the moot order.

[4] Prince Maurice Liechtenstein to Count Colloredo, Fouchères, 1 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, ad 33.)

Liechtenstein ended this report to the Feldzeugmeister by sending the following information on the movements of Mortier:

"I must also inform you that Count Thurn told me that once Marshal Mortier left yesterday from Troyes with the Imperial Guard and took the road to Arcis, he also left at Troyes a fairly large amount of troops of all arms with 28 guns."

"Other reports of Major von Ellsbach and Major General Hächt inform me that the villages and Lusigny Courteranges on route from Vendeuvre, were evacuated by the enemy."

[5] Lieutenant-Colonel Count Thurn to Prince Schwarzenberg:

"Chamoy, 4 February, 1814, 6 o'clock at night."

"After having sent your highness my report dated 31 January, I have throughout the day, scoured the country on the side of Bouilly on the road from Troyes to Sens."

The 1st of February, at 10 o'clock in the morning, one of my messengers returned and told me that Napoleon had rallied in Vitry the 27th in the evening, he planned to attack your Highness the 28th in Bar-sur-Aube with 80,000 men and 100 guns, and that General Dulong was, these days, to take Auxon by a coup de main."

"I share this news to your Highness and I communicated it to Count Colloredo, to whom I had it carried by a picket of a non-commissioned officer and 6 men.  But this sergeant was shot and caught by the enemy in the Forest of Aumont, and not joining me last night, I resent my dispatch."

"The events forced me to leave Saint-Phal on 1 February, and move myself on the side of Ervy.  The enemy, indeed, arrived on 1 February at Auxon and Saint-Phal, and after removing four caissons and four Cossacks he caught looting Auxon he marched by Bouilly on Troyes." (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 81.)

Mortier, meanwhile, reporting on these small skirmishes in the dispatch below, is consistent, except in regard to the Bavarian infantry that do not appear on the side of La Vacherie, with the reports from the Austrian officers:

"Mortier to the Chief of Staff.  --Troyes, 1 February, 7:30, evening."

"The expedition of General Bourmont on Auxon was very successful.  A company of the 4th Battalion, 82nd Regiment captured in the city of 6 caissons of ammunition.  4 Cossacks, including 1 officer, were killed, 4 taken, a large number wounded.  The General Bourmont is established tonight at Saint-Phal or Chamoy and will return tomorrow to Troyes."

"The reconnaissance on Chaource met the enemy at La Vacherie numbering several hundred horses and 300 men. There was a rather sharp skirmish.  We saw Bavarian infantry.  The reconnaissance on Vendeuvre went up to Montiéramey where there were only pickets.  Fresnay (sic) (probably Fresnoy-le-Château) and Clérey are occupied by the enemy.  His couriers ride near Arcis-sur-Aube and Troyes." (Archives of the War.)

[6] The Ataman Platov to Prince Schwarzenberg, Villeneuve-le-Roy, 1 February.  (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, ad, 120.)

[7] General Allix to Minister and General Coëtlosquet. (Archive of the War.)

[8] General Pajol to the Minister of War, Nogent-sur-Seine, February 1st, evening. (Archives of the War.)

[9] Wittgenstein to Schwarzenberg, February 1st (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 7), and STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (Ibid., II, 1.)

[10] The 5th and 11th Army Corps, commanded by Marshal, which barely assembled 8,000 combatants were formed in 29 battalions that could hardly be regarded today as more than cadres. (General Grundler to the Minister, Châlons, February 1st.  --Archives of the War.)

[11] Archives of the War.

[12] General Comte de Valmy, La Chaussée, February 1st, 7:30. (Archives of the War.)

[13] Yorck to Schwarzenberg, Écriennes, 2 February, 11 o'clock in the evening. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 29) and General Montmarie to the Chief of Staff, Vitry, 1st of February 1814:

"This morning at 8 o'clock, the enemy that had held for several days near Vitry, attacked the city.  He demonstrated in front of Marolles, 8 battalions, 6 squadrons and 8 guns, including 3 howitzers; he also had a considerable body at Frignicourt."

"Reinforcements arriving for me at Châlons (2 battalions and 2 batteries) put me in a position to repel the attacks.  At 1 o'clock, the enemy began his retreat, returning by the road of Saint-Dizier and still occupies Marolles."

"We were already struggling when General Pac left.  His troops have been very useful." (Archives of the War.)

 The troops of Marshal Macdonald held the following positions on 1 February at 8 o'clock at night: Molitor's division was stationed in villages beyond Châlons, on the road to Vitry and the right bank of the Marne; the division of Brayer that of Sainte-Menehould; Exelmans with the 2nd Cavalry Corps, on that of Châlons-sur-Aube to Arcis the 5th Corps (Sebastiani) was in Châlons, and the 3rd Cavalry Corps (Duke of Padoue) was stationed near Châlons, on the road to Reims. (Valmy to the Duke of Feltre, Châlons, February 1st, 8 o'clock at night. --Archives of the War.)

[14] Prince Charles of Bavaria, who commanded the 1st Brigade of the Bavarian 1st Division, at La Rothière, told the Major General Heilmann that after this battle, Prince Schwarzenberg had already started talking to Allied sovereigns of the probable eventuality of a general retreat.  "You can easily," added the Prince, "imagine the effect produced upon me by such an opinion expressed on the evening of a won battle."

[15] STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar 1814. (K. K. Kriegs Archive., II, 1.)

[16] CLAUSEWITZ, Strategic Review of the Campaign in France in 1814.

[17] The aide-de-camp of Wrede, Prince of Thurn and Taxis, alleges in his journal, "we could have done better.  We had available,"  he said, "not only numerous cavalry, but fresh cavalry.  In bringing it forward vigorously, it would most likely have been able to remove Brienne." (TAXIS, Tagebuch, K. K. Kriegs Archiv., XIII, 32.)

[18] The inaction of the Generalissimo, immediately after the victory, is the subject of the sharpest criticisms by Clausewitz.  He repeatedly condemns, in his Strategic Review, Schwarzenberg's way of acting and while speaking of defensive operations, dealing perhaps too harshly with the dispositions of the Emperor for a battle he did not seek, the German writer adds: "We attacked and Bonaparte, beaten, had the most singular opportunity in history to see the Allies' Generalissimo employ only part of his troops and allow the rest the spectacle of a battle.  We did not pursue him, and he could easily get out not so badly." (CLAUSEWITZ, Strategic Review of the Campaign of 1814.)

[19] Records of Berthier; Provisions for the retreat. (Archives of the War.)

[20] These are the woods and hills of Neuville.

[21] Chief of Staff to Macdonald; Records of Berthier. (Archives of the War.)


Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2012

Military Index | Battles Index ]

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

Top | Home ]