The Campaign of 1814: Chapter Six Part VIII
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).
2 February. --First movements of the Allies at 8 o'clock in the morning. --On
the side of the Allies, they had kept absolutely quiet all night and it was
the only with the day that they prepared to execute the orders contained in
the general dispositions given by Schwarzenberg before the battle. It
was at the time the Allied sovereigns, accompanied by the Generalissimo and
leaving from Bar-sur-Aube, where they had spent the night, arrived just after
sunrise on the battlefield, that their outposts reported the retirement of
the French army.
There was thus an unprecedented negligence, allowing the vanquished to escape,
gaining several hours advance ahead of a victor who had yet to deploy many
troops which did not take part in the yesterday's affair. The measures
themselves taken to find traces of the enemy seem, indeed, to justify the
view expressed by Clausewitz. Was it because the victory made them
presumptuous, because they believed the campaign finally had ended and the
road to Paris was opened with a single battle? Is it in the realm of
politics that we should seek the causes of this singular way of operating? It
is nonetheless clear that the rulers and Allied generals thought fit to deprive
Blücher and the Army of Silesia from participation in the prosecution
and were content to move against Brienne the IIIrd, IVth and
Vth Corps of the great Army of Bohemia: the first, from Dienville by
the right bank of the Aube; the other two, around Petit-Mesnil and Chaumesnil
where they had spent the night, instructing them to inquire about the direction
followed by enemy in retreat.
March of the IIIrd Corps on Brienne. --Movement of the cavalry
of IVth and Vth Corps. --Gyulay himself acknowledges
in his brief report on the role of his corps at the Battle of La Rothière
"could not, because of terrible weather, pursue the enemy during the
night of the 1st to 2nd, that it was content to establish a few
small cavalry posts on both sides of the Aube." It arrived a little after
8 o'clock in the morning before Brienne-la-Vieille, still occupied by a small
French rear guard who, after an engagement of short duration, fell back on
Brienne-le-Château, followed by the advance guard brigade of the Fresnel
At 8 o'clock in the morning, the Crown Prince of Württemberg, placed himself
personally at the head of his cavalry, and left La Giberie and Petit-Mesnil,
connected on his right hand with the cavalry of the Vth Corps, and followed
the French rear guard in the direction of Brienne. The infantry of the
two corps began its motion at the same time, marching in several columns in the
same direction as the cavalry, while Frimont debouched from Chaumesnil with the
troops of the division of Antoine Hardegg that manned the outposts during the
The advanced guard of the Vth Corps came against some French parties a short
distance from Brienne-la-Vieille, as would the IIIrd Corps entering the
village that it had attacked by the road Dienville.
"The outposts having informed me of the retreat of the enemy," writes
Frimont to Wrede from Brienne 3 February,
"I moved all my cavalry forward followed by my infantry formed into
three columns. I encountered the enemy at Brienne. His horse
was standing alone in the plain; his infantry was already in the defiles
and the enemy's left rested on the village of Perthes. My cavalry was
quickly moved forward, but it failed to reach the enemy that withdrew without
waiting for my attack."
The French troops, having noticed the deployment of three Allied corps had indeed
gone back on the road of Lesmont in a line from Brienne-le-Château to Perthes-en-Rothière. Milhaud's
cavalry, whose right was protected by infantry posted in the defiles and whose
left rested on the village of Perthes, covering the movement.
The IIIrd Corps had from Brienne-la-Vieille continued its march to Brienne
and was able to take the city and the castle after a brisk engagement with the
French rearguard. The artillery of the Austro-Bavarian advanced guard and
two horse batteries of the IVth Corps had effectively supported the movement
of Gyulay's troops, which was done under the very eyes of the Generalissimo. Schwarzenberg,
if we believe the Austrian documents, resolved at that time to follow with the
IIIrd and IVth Corps the last French troops in retreat on Lesmont
while Wrede with the Vth Corps, taking the rightmost headed for the Voire
March of the Vth Corps towards the Voire. --Combat of Rosnay.
--According to the historian of Wrede, however, and especially after the
journal of Prince Taxis, the movement of the Vth Corps against Rosnay
was not ordered by Schwarzenberg. "The commander of the Vth Corps
had sent," as well expressed in this regard by Taxis, "on the 1st of
February in the evening one of his officers to the Generalissimo and the
officer returned from Bar-sur-Aube without bringing orders."
No sooner had Wrede passed through Brienne that he pointed his right on the
march of a French column moving along the Voire, to Rosnay. Fearing
for his right and also hoping to arrive before the enemy at the bridges of
the Voire, Wrede left the Crown Prince of Württemberg free to pursue
the enemy at will and took with the Vth Corps, the road to the Voire.
"It would certainly have been better," added the aide-de-camp of Wrede,
"to push right to the Aube and pursue the enemy, as Wrede had no more
cavalry than the Crown Prince of Württemberg and furthermore it was
closer to the enemy than the latter. Had we done so, we would probably
could have seized the better part of the French artillery that would have
had a hard time reaching and crossing the bridge of Lesmont. Instead,
we preferred to take a different direction and at noon, the head of the cavalry
of the Vth Corps was on the bridge of the Voire."
With the tip of his vanguard (3rd battalion of Austrian jäger and
Archduke Joseph Hussars), Wrede moved rapidly forward in the hope of seizing
the existing bridges to the west of Rosnay on the different branches of the Voire
and which connect the village with Lassicourt. Because of the frost, the
French had not completely destroyed them while retreating and had to restrict
itself to making incomplete cuts for lack of tools for cutting the trusses.
It was indeed extremely important to Wrede, on his arrival to separate Marmont
from the rest of the army, to most quickly take up positions on the right bank
of the Voire and settle on the hills protected by the marshland lying at their
feet, so he could await, despite the attacks of the enemy, the arrival of the
bulk of his corps. The Austrian jäger and two squadrons of hussars
at first managed to cross onto the right bank of the Voire where they were even
joined by some companies of Székeler infantry. But having bravely
resisted two attacks of Marmont's troops, they were charged and cut down by the
French light cavalry and thrown onto the left bank.
Despite the arrival of the Rechberg Division on the line and despite being supported
and prepared by artillery fire of the Vth corps, the attacks of Wrede,
both those directed to the front of Lassicourt, as those attempted by the rightmost
brigade of Prince Charles of Bavaria, failed completely against the clever dispositions
of the Duke of Raguse and the good performance of his troops. The fight
had taken on considerable proportions so much so that the fire was so intense
that the Emperor of Russia, King of Prussia and Schwarzenberg, after holding
the conference at Brienne in which they definitively decided to separate the
two armies, believed it necessary to go in person to the scene of the fight where
until about 5 o'clock in the evening all the efforts of the Vth Corps were
broken against the energetic resistance and skillful direction of some weak French
Wrede even seemed willing to give up an enterprise that had already cost a lot
from his army corps, when by a fortuitous circumstance the Duke of Raguse was
forced to withdraw. The Schwarzenberg Uhlans, in following the course of
the Voire, had discovered a ford in the area of Rances. Crossing the river
at this point, they now threaten the left wing of the Marshal who had, however,
having achieved the goal he had set for himself, believed rightly that it was
time to evacuate first Rosnay then the heights, methodically beating a retreat
and gaining a head start on the enemy. The Duke of Raguse then retreated
in echelon, and graced by the snow that fell in large flakes, through the proper
maintenance of tirailleurs that he had left in position, the Allies did not notice
his departure until the bulk his corps was already moving on Dampierre where
his rearguard even managed to join without being disturbed on the route. Marmont
had so well concealed his retirement that parties of cavalry that Hardegg had
pushed after the evacuation of Rosnay up to two leagues ahead of this point,
returned at 7 o'clock in the evening announcing that they had not only raised
no trace of the enemy, but they did not even notice any campfires on the horizon.
After the battle, which had cost on the admission of the historian of Wrede,
53 officers and 1,045 men in the Vth Corps the division of Count Antoine
Hardegg confined himself to Lassicourt. Two Austrian companies and three
Bavarian companies were responsible for guarding the bridges. Three squadrons
and two companies settled in front of these bridges on the right bank of the
Voire on the heights of Bétignicourt at Rosnay. He had also placed
an outpost at Bétignicourt and another on the left bank of the Voire,
at Saint-Christophe. As for the bulk of the Vth Corps, it returned
in the evening, camping at Brienne.
In his Tagebuch Prince Taxis naturally could not ignore the fighting at
Rosnay: "The bridge, though damaged, was still passable. It was established
near the village of Rosnay-l'Hôpital, occupied by troops of Marmont. The
Marshal was stationed on a hill immediately in front of the bridge. The
Bavarian infantry tried to dislodge him; but it was retaken under the eyes of
the Emperor of Russia, Grand Duke Constantine and Schwarzenberg."
"Without seeking to mitigate the undeniable faults that Wrede committed
2 February," Taxis adds a note a little farther on however that the real
culprit is none other than Wittgenstein, who had stubbornly gone to Wassy, 31
January. "If Count Wittgenstein had agreed on 30 January, to follow
the advice of Wrede, the Battle of La Rothière might have had other consequences,
and in any case, taken from behind on 2 February by an attack from Montier-en
-Der, Marmont would certainly have been seriously compromised. Instead,
he could defend the crossing of the Voire at Rosnay and was able to hold all
the better as new orders from Schwarzenberg, 3 February, directed the corps of
Wrede on Lesmont. The fighting, which cost the Bavarians many people, lasted
until evening, and Marmont could slip into the night and reach the Aube."
There can be no better tribute to the Duke of Raguse by the aide-de-camp of his
opponent than this; nothing more fully highlights the contrasts with the unaccountable
conduct of the Duke of Raguse throughout this campaign and the inconceivable
failure of one of the most maligned lieutenants of the Emperor.
Throughout his retirement from the Rhine to the Aube, he had shown a weakness
and neglect that had already gained just reproaches of the Emperor. Then
suddenly: just when having compromised the fate of his rear-guard at Saint-Dizier;
after having, by an excess of caution, with an almost criminal timidity,
abandoned positions that Napoleon had prescribed him to occupy by Soulaines
to a few Cossacks; and after allowing Wrede to play a role on the battlefield,
a role that would prove so deadly...he pulled himself together suddenly. Then
we find again at Rosnay the bold captain who once had no fears with 6,000
men of attacking the Russians with 15,000 at Castel Nuovo and, by this victory,
assuring the conquest of Dalmatia; we recognize the victor of the Archduke
Charles at Znojmo (Znaïm); the brilliant chief of the Army of Portugal,
whose fine maneuvers had managed to stop for nearly six months, Wellington's
army; but the Duke of Raguse had unfortunately lost that enthusiasm, that
energy, that would have made his reputation. His weariness, discouragement,
his compromises would not only paralyze him once in the course of this campaign,
his great and real military qualities, but would again forever tarnished
the luster of glory previously pristine and spotless.
Action of the IIIrd and IVth Corps at Lesmont.
--While the resistance of the Duke of Raguse stopped the Vth Corps
on the side of Rosnay, two battalions of the IIIrd Corps had continued
to file in front of Brienne by the heights that rise along the Aube.
They were to flank the left of the cavalry of the IVth Corps, supported
by its horse batteries, following, especially by making use of its artillery,
the extreme rearguard of the French retreat on Lesmont by Précy-Saint-Martin. During
this march the Austrian hussar regiment of Archduke Ferdinand reached between
Saint-Christophe and Lesmont a regiment of Polish lancers that it crushed.
The Crown Prince of Württemberg arrived and, following the French cavalry
to the foot of the heights of Lesmont where the Emperor, to cover his retreat,
had massed the divisions of Meunier and Decouz, supported by 24 guns charged
with giving the French cavalry time to take a position behind the infantry and
stop by their fire, the cavalry of the IVth Corps. The Crown Prince
of Württemberg having no infantry on hand was forced, first to halt, then
retire with his batteries out of reach of the French artillery fire. The
Emperor took advantage of this retrograde movement to pull back at 4 o'clock
the bulk of his troops on the left bank of the Aube. He only left in Lesmont,
moreover, a small rear guard of 400 to 500 men intended to slow the march of
the Allies until the evening.
To flush out this handful of men from Lesmont, Gyulay, whose corps had arrived
in line at almost the same time as the IVth infantry corps, formed the
Czollich Brigade in massed battalions on the heights of Précy. He
thought to attack Lesmont by the left, while General Stockmeyer, with four battalions
of the IVth Corps, would move against this point along the roadway.
The French rearguard then abandoned Lesmont, crossed to the left bank of
the Aube after destroying the bridge and firmly established themselves in
the houses on the banks of the river. A squadron of the 3rd Württemberg
Dragoons (Crown Prince Regiment) led by Lieutenant-Colonel von Bismarck,
chief of Staff of the IVth Corps cavalry, had vainly tried to push
to the bridge and prevent its destruction. He was forced to withdraw
before the murderous fire from the houses on the left bank. A squadron
of light horse of Klenau also tried this enterprise, but without success. The French skirmishers
(tirailleurs) succeeded in maintaining themselves on the left bank of the
Aube for most of the night of 2-3 February and prevented by their presence
and by their fire, the Allied process of restoring the bridge. Part
of the IIIrd and IVth Corps infantry confined himself at Lesmont
and at Saint-Christophe; the rest of the infantry and cavalry in the nearby
villages of the right bank of the Aube. The Crenneville Division, which
had waited for the arrival of the columns of Colloredo at Vendeuvre, stopped
at 2 at night in Saint-Léger under Brienne.
The destruction of the bridge at Lesmont resulting from the resistance of the
two divisions of Ney to the IIIrd and IVth Corps, could have been
easily avoided if the headquarters of the Allies had thought to use, instead
from the Ist Austrian corps, the division of Crenneville, whose presence
seems to have been forgotten on the left bank of the Aube.
Movement of the Ist Corps. --The Ist Corps could
otherwise also have been used on the left bank of the Aube. Although
the commander of the Ist Corps had sent from Bar-sur-Seine: towards
the Yonne on Chaource the light division of Count Ignatius Hardegg (2 battalions,
12 squadrons and a horse battery) ; on Fouchères, the light division
of Prince Maurice Liechtenstein, with orders to watch the left bank of the
Seine between Bar-sur-Seine and Troyes; and to Virey-sous-Bois, an infantry
regiment responsible for supporting the latter division, he still had 27
battalions and 12 squadrons with which he left Vendeuvre at 6 o'clock in
the morning, heading on Dienville whose occupation he was unaware of and
which his troops entered at 11:30. The Feldzeugmeister immediately
informed the Generalissimo of his arrival, asked him for orders and told
him that, according to information he had collected, the road from Dienville
to Piney appeared to be impracticable for artillery. Colloredo had
just forwarded the information to headquarters that he was ordered to move
by Piney on Troyes. But in the presence of bad road conditions and
the claims of the Feldzeugmeister, the Generalissimo agreed in the course
of the day, to change his instructions and to authorize, instead of acting
against the right flank of the retreating enemy, to return on the path he
had travelled to Vendeuvre and to proceed from there with his corps to Troyes.
The Ist Corps, delayed in its march by terrible weather and heavy snow
storms, could not reach Vendeuvre until the night of the 2nd to 3rd.
His artillery only arrived there at 3 to 6 o'clock in the morning, and all
it could do was to push up the road to Troyes the regiment of light horse of
Rosenberg that settled in outposts around the Villeneuve-au-Chêne .
Movement of the guard and reserves. --Cavalry affair of Villiers-le-Brûlé.
--On the morning of that day, Schwarzenberg had ordered General Ozharovsky
to cross the Aube, with the light cavalry of the Russian guard at the bridge
of Dolancourt, to descend through its course the left bank in directing him
on Piney, and finally to seek the direction taken by the French army in retreat.
But as Barclay de Tolly was afraid to leave the division of light cavalry without
support, he had ordered the corps of grenadiers of General Rayevsky and the
Russian 2nd and 3rd Grenadier Divisions to begin to move from Trannes
on Dienville and from there on Piney. These reserves, left from Trannes
in the morning, pushing, according to Russian documents up to around Villiers-le-Brûlé (2
kilometers from Piney), whereas, according to Austrian documents, the grenadiers
and cuirassiers had not gone past Radonvilliers.
As for the parts of the Guards and the 1st Cuirassier Division, like
the grenadiers, they had been moved from Trannes on Vendeuvre, to the surprise
of Colloredo, who had not yet received the dispatch in which the Generalissimo,
informed him at 10 in the evening of that movement, inviting him to give way
to the Guards and afterwards to immediately continue on Troyes. When
the head of the Guards column appeared at Vendeuvre the Ist Corps was
still only partly installed, and the simultaneous arrival of these two corps
debouching, one by the road from Dienville, the other by that of Dolancourt,
produced in this camp, too small for a single corps, a tangled and an unspeakable
confusion. The bulk of the troops had to camp under the stars in a terrible
temperature. Of all these troops, the division of light cavalry of the
Russian Guard General Ozharovsky had, alone on this side, a small affair with
the French cavalry.
So while General Seslavin, who
scoured the country between Piney and Lesmont, announced from the information
of an officer he had taken prisoner, that all the French army was retreating
from Lesmont to Vitry, General Ozharovsky declared 2 February, at 6 o'clock,
to Barclay de Tolly, he
had come up against a party of French cavalry in Villiers-le-Brûlé,
and that he had driven them in the direction of Piney. General Ozharovsky added,
moreover, he had been held by 2,000 men and 6 guns from Lesmont. This
contradictory information increased the anxiety still prevailing at the time
in the general headquarters.
The Emperor, indeed, had from Lesmont, at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, prescribed
through the Chief of Staff for Grouchy to move on Piney with his cavalry which
would be followed by the 2nd Corps (Duke of Bellune) and the report that
Milhaud sent from Villiers-le-Brûlé at 8 o'clock at night to Grouchy,
gives an exact account of the affair of Villiers-le-Brûlé. "We
found in Villiers-le-Brûlé a regiment of dragoons and a regiment
of Russian uhlans, 1,000 horses strong. We had on our right a regiment
of Cossacks. We
had to charge three times to keep them away from the village. The 26th Battalion
only had a company of 150 men with fusils that would fire. I ordered
to cut the two bridges, the one leading to Dienville and another on the side
of the village; but found throughout the fords. The brigade of Ludot only engaged
with the enemy; I supported the infantry company but I didn't have a battalion
to securely occupy the village. My
troops lack bread and drink. The men are tired of the service and
complain about not eating in France. I am asking for the same allotments
as the infantry. This is the true way to conserve the energy of our soldiers
and to keep them from deserting."
"P.S. --We are surrounded by 3,000 enemy horses and their campfires
are 500 meters from ours."
Strange thing: it was only at this point that the Allies had, on the 2nd the
evening, established, though very incomplete, contact with the retreating troops
of Napoleon. Everywhere else one had managed to lose track of the French
Affair of Thurn with the inhabitants of Ervy. --Movements of Platov.
--To the left of the Allies, Lieutenant-Colonel Count Thurn had proposed to
connect that day by Avreuil and Les Granges, with the division of Count Ignatius
Hardegg posted at Chaource; but the inhabitants of Ervy greeted his vanguard
with stones. Thurn charged them with half a squadron, and immediately
after his entry into this small town, warned the mayor that he would shoot
at the slightest attempted aggression against his party by his administration.
"This threat," said Thurn combined
with sending out patrols, restored quiet." Despite this, the Lieutenant-Colonel
dared not house all his people in the city, and bivouacked at a little distance
from Ervy on a height where he dominated and observed the road from Saint-Florentin.
Further left still, Platov had the night of 1-2 February, left his position
of Malay. Crossing from the right bank on to the left bank and following
the course of the Yonne, he moved on Villeneuve-le-Roi (Villeneuve-sur-Yonne).
General Allix had been reinforced by the cavalry of General Coëtlosquet,
who he advised not to engage, not to compromise, moreover, by drawing the attention
of the Cossacks to himself and to post 300 horses on the Rozoy heights, sending
two parties on Véron and Passy. But these parties were left surrounded
and taken without firing a shot, and General Coëtlosquet had to withdraw,
without any serious concern, it is true, up to the border of the Vanne, a short
distance from Sens. The skirmish had cost the French cavalry, in prisoners
1 Lieutenant Colonel, 3 officers and 80 men.
General Allix, who left Sens for his part, marched along the left bank of Villeneuve-le-Roi,
through Paron, Gron and Marsanges; parties that covered his right also left,
falling back with the General around Marsanges, having pushed the Cossacks
back, who felt obliged to withdraw to Sens.
Despite these advantages, Platov, knowing that General Montbrun occupied Pont-sur-Yonne
with two battalions of National Guards, informed by others of the arrival online
of the cavalry brigade of General Coëtlosquet (who withdrew, moreover,
the next day of the 3rd on Fontainebleau), rather than move on Melun
down the Yonne and Seine, thought it wiser to move by Courtenay towards Fontainebleau. Platov
however, had outlined a move towards Montargis and sent in this direction a
party of Cossacks under the command of captain the Guards, Bergmann who, after
spending the night of the 1st to 2nd in Courtenay, advanced on
the 2nd at dawn up to around Montargis.
Captain Bergmann managed to deliver at this point from a convoy 405 officers,
15 non-commissioned officers, 82 Spanish soldiers, 49 women and 4 children
being evacuated from Epernay on Bourges. The party of Captain Bergmann then marched
around to Montargis on Ferrières.
Movement of the VIth Corps on Vitry and Montier-en-Der.
--Not content to making the corps of Colloredo march and counter march, the
Chief of Staff did the same in respect to the VIth Corps. From
his headquarters in Saint-Dizier, Wittgenstein, whose corps served as a reserve
to the Prussian Ist Corps, had commanded the cavalry of General Pahlen
to continue his march on Vitry and to unite with Yorck. Pahlen, after
rallying in route the detachment of Major General Rüdinger, moved
from Chavanges on to Gigny and Bussy-aux-Bois and pushed his outposts far to
Vitry, while General Ilovaysky XII continued to watch the French posts in line
Maizières-Rosnay. Around noon, they heard guns in the direction of Vitry. But
as Wittgenstein19 was preparing to march in that direction, he received
an order from the Generalissimo written on leaving the conference he had held
with the rulers at the castle of Brienne, in which he prescribed him to retrace
his steps and return to Montier-en-Der.
Operations of the Prussian Ist Corps. --Skirmish at Saint-Amand.
--These counter orders, these constant changes of direction of the VIth Corps,
did little to facilitate the mission entrusted to Yorck, in charge of seizing
by force Vitry, whose importance in being taken by the Allies, moreover, hasten
as they learned of the approach by the troops of the Duke of Tarente.
Yorck employed the morning to concentrate his corps near Marolles, to cross
the Ornain with the main body near Vitry-le-Brûlé and mass the
8th Brigade between Bignicourt and Frignicourt, while his cavalry reserve
under General von Jürgass and the detachment of Colonel Count Henckel
were ordered to push from Vitry-le-Brûlé, Saint-Quentin and Changy
to Châlons. Yorck proceeded
in person during this time, with a thorough reconnaissance of the spot of Vitry.
Following this reconnaissance and to conserve his strength, he needed to be
able to withstand Macdonald, he resolved to attempt an attack on the spot "in
three columns, on the night of the 2nd to 3rd, or, rather to say,
To cover his left, Yorck sent on the left bank of the Marne two squadrons of
cavalry under the command of Captain Steinemann, who safely drove to Sompuis,
where that officer united in the evening with the riders of Blücher.
But while Yorck was busy preparing orders for the night attack which he had
thought of, General Katzler, posted at Vitry-le-Brûlé, received
notice from General von Jürgass of Macdonald's approach.
The Duke of Tarente had indeed prescribed, the 2nd in the morning, for
generals Molitor, Exelmans and Brayer, to push up Vitry; the Duke of Padoue
to go to La Chaussée, sending, however, on the Roman road leading to
Bar-le-Duc half of his cavalry which was to occupy in the evening Francheville,
Saint-Jean-sur-Moivre, Coupéville and Le Fresne; finally to General
Sebastiani to go to La Chaussée with the reserve batteries. At
2 o'clock in the afternoon, the 11th Corps and the 2nd Cavalry
marched on the road to Vitry, the 5th Corps and the 3rd Cavalry
were in La Chaussée.
The snow that was falling in large flakes that morning had ceased to darken
the horizon and until that time had covered the march of the French cavalry,
when, on clearing, the Prussian vedettes posted in front of Saint-Amand, saw
at a short distance the head of the French column in march on Vitry. Both
sides avoided any serious commitment, and as Macdonald wrote to the Chief of
Staff from La Chaussée, "we lost time in unnecessary positioning,
despite my strict orders to push on Vitry. As snow fell in large flakes,
there was a fear of commitment, so that the enemy is only a mile from here
and we took position in the village of La Chaussée, staggered over Pogny.
This is how we spent the night and at daybreak we will attack quickly, if we
are not prevented. The intention of the enemy appears to be to maneuver
to the right."
At 7 o'clock in the evening, everything was calm. This skirmish,
though very insignificant in itself, would nevertheless exert a negative influence
on the course of events. Until this moment, in fact, Yorck, while dreading
the arrival of Macdonald, thought only of fulfilling the mission which he had
been charged and focused all his attention on Vitry, whose possession had,
moreover, a real value to the Allies as it did for us.
Deciding to try his luck and take it under the cover of darkness, and if he
could by surprise, he had already designated that his three infantry brigades
camped close to Vitry, with enclosing the south and east sides, from Marolles
up to Plichancourt, and where his infantry were out before dawn to throw themselves
on the spot. On the side of Châlons, his cavalry, supported by
some small groups of infantry, ranged from Saint-Amand until just around Vitry-le-Brûlé. Because
of the plans nourished by Yorck, a general concentration of the corps, was
indeed almost impossible, in any case it was not only unnecessary but even
dangerous for him. The French cavalry had an excellent opportunity to
strike a blow. It could have, with some effort, enjoyed its momentary numerical
superiority to force the passage, chase from Saint-Amand the small detachment
of Colonel Count Henckel (5 squadrons, a battalion of fusiliers and half a
battery), throw it back in disorder on the dragoons of Jürgass precisely
when they were settling down, some in the camp, others in their new quarters,
shoving all on the 2 battalions, 4 squadrons and 2 pieces that General von
Katzler had sent to Vitry-le-Brûlé at the first news of the appearance
of French riders, continued the pursuit briskly up to Vitry-le-Brûlé,
giving a hand to the defenders of Vitry-le-François and forced Yorck
to lift the siege. One could also, if one wanted to be cautious, observe,
after learning of the presence of the Prussians around Saint-Amand, just given
the time for the corps in echelon behind to leave for La Chaussée, waiting
for events without demonstration, without giving the alarm, and, marched next
day to the cannon, in Vitry to fall on Yorck as soon as he drew up his attack
against the place. But it would have required that General Exelmans had
been given an accurate account of the situation and the benefits he could reap. Not
content to remain calm and stop first by a small post of 40 Lithuanian Dragoons,
followed by a squadron, then after a while by another squadron and a small
company of jägers, he made the mistake having with him 12 squadrons, to
refuse any combat, withdrawing on La Chaussée, thus revealing to Yorck
the imminent danger which he had escaped and given him time and means, not
only to support his cavalry advanced guard, but to alter his plans.
"A few hours ago," Yorck wrote to Schwarzenberg, "I was made
aware of an enemy column that was marching from Châlons on Vitry. Perhaps
it is Marshal Macdonald who has been at Châlons for two days. I
immediately sent a brigade from this side and it tells me, while I send this
report to Your Highness, that the enemy occupies La Chaussée in force,
on the road from Châlons to Vitry. My brigade has stopped on this
point. If they do not withdraw from La Chaussée tonight, I will
attack it tomorrow morning and deliver an assault on Vitry, until I eject the
enemy from La Chaussée on Châlons."
A clumsy and careless demonstration of Exelmans had caused serious consequences. Yorck,
now certain of the presence between Châlons and Vitry of Macdonald's
corps, abandoned his plans against this place, and while they could either
surprise and upset them while their corps were still scattered, or observe
and wait to take him in the rear when he turned all his efforts and his attention
against Vitry, the timidity of the leaders of the cavalry of Macdonald produced
the defeat of La Chaussée and brought not only the fall of Vitry, but
the loss of Châlons. Fortune, we can see, was still smiling on
The Prussian Ist Corps subsequently occupied, on the 2nd in the
evening, the following positions: the detachment of Count Henckel at Aulnay-l'Aître,
the cavalry of General von Jürgass at Saint-Amand, the advanced guard
of General von Katzler at Saint-Quentin. The 7th and the 8th Brigades,
posted overnight at Plichancourt and Norrois, would eventually be used to support
the troops of Jürgass and Katzler while the 1st Brigade (General
von Pirch II) continued to observe Vitry and remained in positions ranged from
Vauclerc to Frignicourt.
The Duke of Tarente in turn had sent the order to Exelmans to place his light
cavalry at Aulnay, Ablancourt and in front of La Chaussée, the heavy
cavalry at Omey; to Molitor to post a battalion in Aulnay, another in front
of La Chaussée and the rest of his division in the village; to Brayer
to establish his division behind Aulnay; to Sebastiani to occupy Omey and Pogny
with the 5th Corps; to the Duke of Padoue to range from Sarry to Pogny,
while a cavalry division would cover his left at Francheville and Dampierre. Marshal
also returned all baggage to Châlons and reserve artillery to Vésigneul
The Duke of Tarente concluded his order by requiring to make frequent patrols
and recommending to the cavalry and infantry to always be ready, one to ride
on horseback and the other to take up arms. "The artillery horses
remained harnessed at La Chaussée, the others will only be saddled. Before
daybreak, the troops will be under arms, the vanguard mounted, the artillery
ready to be put in battery."
Movements of other corps of the Army of Silesia. --Throughout
the morning the corps of the Army of Silesia, which we have not mentioned
so far because they had not played a role on 2 February, had remained motionless
in the positions they had taken the night before, and it was only after
the conference held in the morning at the castle of Brienne, that Blücher's
army began its movement to the right. His cavalry crossed the Voire
at the ford of Lassicourt towards the end of day, his infantry (Sacken
and Olsufiev) marched by Rosnay on Braux-le-Comte (Braux-le-Grand) where
it did not arrive until very late. Blücher established at this
point his headquarters. The Russian infantry connect to his left
with the cavalry of General Ilovaysky XII who left
from Maizières the 2nd in the morning, watching at some distance
from the left bank of the Voire the retrograde motion of the corps of the
Duke of Raguse.
The Prussian IInd Corps under the command of Kleist had marched on Metz
in a single column, composed of its advanced guard, the 10th and 12th Brigades,
taking the highway of up to Woippy. Arriving at this point, the IInd Corps
fell back to the right to bypass Metz without mounting it. Then along
the left bank of the Moselle, it quartered the night: the vanguard (Zieten)
at Prény and Pagny-sur-Moselle; the 10th Brigade and the headquarters
in and around Gorze; the 12th Brigade at Moulons and Longeau. At
Gorze Kleist received the order from Blücher requiring him to, instead
of heading to Saint-Mihiel where the bridge was destroyed to move on Commercy
to cross the Meuse and continue from there on Saint-Dizier, by Ligny and Stainville.
The same day, reports from the General Rusca, who command the town of Soissons, from
General Janssens to Marshal Kellermann and from Mayor Brunehamel to the Prefect
of the Aisne signaled, some, the presence of the black hussars of Lützow
at Carignan on their march to Margut, likewise the approach of a large party
of cavalry coming to Carignan; others the appearance of the Cossacks and scouts
far before the corps of Winzingerode at Maubert-Fontaine, south of Rocroy.
Orders and resolutions of the Emperor. --While the Allies
were losing valuable time in unnecessary movements and preparing for their
failures in deciding to definitively separate their two main bodies, Napoleon
had not been idle. He had, as we have seen, begun by hiding the true
direction of his retirement by taking a position with the corps of Marshal
Marmont behind the Voire. The rest of the day it was enough to see
through the game of the Allies and now certain that they would imitate
the maneuver which had been so fatal to Wurmser in 1796, he was already
involved in using means for preparing a Castiglione or Lonato. His
genius, that prosperity which at first, seemed to have fallen asleep for
a moment with the magnitude and suddenness of setbacks, was to wake up
stronger and more wonderful than ever, as the danger of the growing threat
and the difficulties multiplied around his small army.
The 2nd in the morning he wrote to the Duke of Feltre from Piney: "I
will be tomorrow at Troyes. It is possible that the army of Blücher
moved, between the Marne and Aube, near Vitry and Châlons. From
Troyes, I will act according to circumstances. I will operate to delay
the movement of the column, that I am told heads to Paris by Sens, or to return
to maneuver on Blücher and delay his march."
In the morning, he informed the General Bordesoulle of the movement that
Marmont would carry out along the right bank of the Aube and Arcis had prescribed
him to ensure the defense of Arcis, while sending a strong party of cavalry
on the road from Arcis to Troyes to maintain communications.
Much later, when he sent his orders, he knew that the cavalry of General Piré,
who had taken a position at Rouilly-Sacey, had sent a party to Creney on the
road to Troyes and another party on Géraudot to observe the Cossacks
who had appeared that morning in Piney and, hence, were returned to Géraudot
where they had spent the night of the 1st to 2nd. The discovery
of Piré had signaled the presence of a fairly large body of Russian
cavalry at Géraudot.
Informed about the movements of the enemy, both on that side of Troyes and
of Arcis, Napoleon soon (6 o'clock in the evening) ordered General de France
to settle in Villiers-le-Brûlé with his Guards to Honor and the
10th Hussars, to occupy Brevon and scout Dienville.
General Gérard was ordered to stand astride the road from Piney to Dienville
to support the cavalry, and finally, the Dukes of Valmy and Tarente were to
make every effort to contain the enemy and maintain communications between
Châlons , Vitry and Arcis.
The news received by the Imperial Headquarters in the course of the evening
was, in fact, reassuring: Piré, first,
sent word to Grouchy that the 2nd Regiment of Chasseurs of the Guard
and an infantry regiment were at Creney and that the Duke of Trévise
was to be at Troyes. On the other hand, Mortier was informed that General
de France at Piney, with one of his battalions, 300 horses and a half-battery
occupied Aubeterre, ensuring communications with Arcis-sur-Aube, that the bridge
of La Guillotière was heavily barricaded and defended by 8 cannons and
3 battalions that had pushed a reconnaissance beyond Montiéramey in
the morning and had seen little activity.
The Emperor had also completed his provisions with an action which shows how
this extraordinary man kept his composure, his coolness and presence of mind
among the most serious circumstances and difficulty. After sending his
orders to move, he had, upon his arrival at Troyes, dictated to the Chief-of-Staff
the following agenda: "Led horses of the house of the Emperor, gentlemen
of the marshals, officers of infantry and cavalry, will be used to carry the
lame as and when we find them on the road."
"The Emperor recommends to the honor and the interest that each officer
needs to save a comrade."
Council of War of Brienne. --Resolutions of the Allies. --The
Allies had been less quick to make resolutions. They had initially
lost the whole morning, and before deciding anything, it was thought necessary
to examine and discuss in war council, a situation, that was never the
less, very simple and clear.
A little after 9 o'clock in the morning, the Russian Emperor and King of Prussia,
arrived at the chateau of Brienne, convened with Schwarzenberg, Blücher,
Barclay de Tolly and their chiefs of staff at a conference in which one had
to determine the subsequent course of operations.
In any other army, where the supreme command was actually given to a single
chief, one could not even imagine convening a council of war after La Rothière. The
way forward was clear: it only remained to complete the annihilation of the
defeated enemy, only to crush under an immediate and strong pressure the remnants
of his army, only to change his retreat into a rout. It was only necessary
to continue to concentrate the efforts of both armies and to end once and for
all the personal rivalries by really investing Schwarzenberg or Blücher
with the authority of supreme command; but it was precisely on this point where
one ran into insurmountable obstacles. It was argued that the difficulty
of marching and sustaining an army of 160,000 men had been the determining
cause of the separation of the two armies, and besides, in the presence of
the defeat inflicted the day before on the Emperor, either of the two armies,
was strong enough alone to break the last resistance that might seek to oppose
their progress and their triumphal march.
It would be a grave mistake to try to assign for consideration purely military
reasons as determinants for the separation of armies when it was made necessary
by the trends of essentially different sovereigns and their advisers, disagreements,
jealousies and characters absolutely opposed to the two major generals.
In the council of war only the details of the measures already prepared in
the instructions of 31 January could be settled upon and the decision to march
on Paris by Troyes and the valley of the Seine with the Army of Bohemia, while
Blücher, would move on Châlons, reunite the corps of Yorck, Kleist
and Kapsewitch, and move towards the capital by the left bank of the Marne. The
VIth Corps (Wittgenstein) would, in this project, be used to establish
the connection between the two armies with the help of the flying corps of
the Prince Scherbatov, now passed under the command of General Seslavin, which
was, moreover, quickly sent to the extreme left wing of the Army of Bohemia.
Following this council, Blücher received orders to stand, with the corps
of his army which had been placed at La Rothière, by Braux-le-Comte
Colloredo was going from Dienville on Troyes by Piney; the IIIrd and
IVth Corps mission was to follow from Lesmont, the march of the main
body of the retiring French army. Wrede was to proceed from Lesmont on
Pougy by Arcis-sur-Aube and Wittgenstein to march from Montier-en-Der in the
same direction .
The Battle of La Rothière however, had convinced the Allied sovereigns,
as in Leipzig, that the Emperor could not stand against their united forces.
We lost at Lesmont, General von Bismarck himself takes care of saying, the
enemy for several days, a circumstance all the more remarkable when one considers
the numerous cavalry of the Allies, the multiplicity of bodies of scouts and
partisans who scoured the theater on all sides.
It would have mitigated the serious drawbacks of the dispositions, already
very defective in themselves, if by doubling the activity and energy, if by
impressing on the pursuit an even greater vigor it had acted to regain the
precious time that this unusual indecision had lost. But instead of pursuing
strongly the French army, the Allies, allowing themselves to stop at Lesmont
and at Rosnay, permitted the Emperor to make a day's journey lead on them and
so completely lose contact, that the 2nd in the evening, one again wondered
at Allied General Headquarters whether to give credence to intelligence provided
by Seslavin and which reported the French army was retreating on Vitry, or
whether it preferred the report of Ozharovsky which indicated to the
contrary, he made his retreat on Troyes.
The 2nd, in the evening, the rulers returned with Schwarzenberg and the General
Headquarters to Bar-sur-Aube. The IIIrd, IVth and Vth Corps,
pausing between Brienne and Lesmont, waited for the restoration of the bridge.
Colloredo spent the night at Vendeuvre, the reserves and Russian guards were
spread from Brévonnes to Vendeuvre, Vauchonvilliers and Dolancourt.
"In sum," in the words of Prince Taxis in his Tagebuch, "the
day was not good for the Allies. In addition we had made the mistake of amassing
and stopping so many people on a space so narrow and in a country already so
exhausted that they lacked food from 3 February. The troops also suffered
greatly from the cold and snow."
The reluctance of the generals and sovereigns and the separation of the two
armies furnished to the Emperor the means to get safely from a situation that
any energy from the Allies would have made desperate.
In pondering the events of 2 February, one comes to think that Clausewitz had
remembered the wrangling and indecision of that day when he wrote the following
"The data on the status and movements of the enemy are never enough to
fully motivate the plans of a leader. Thousands of doubts come to attack him
at the time of the execution of his plan. He thinks of the dangers he
will run, if his assumptions are unfounded. He feels this fear which
seizes man when performing important actions. Thence to the indecision that
leads to half-measures, there is only one step."
It is precisely this that the sovereigns and the Allied generals did not think
wise to do at this point. It was this separation of the two armies which
the genius of the Emperor would take as the opportunity to undertake against
Blücher the brilliant operations that we will study later, these half-measures
designed to give a semblance of satisfaction with self-love, demands and the
ambitions of a few Allied generals and guessed by Napoleon, that would provide
for the moment something very close to the salvation of France.
As said by General von Grollmann, then a colonel and chief of staff of the
corps of Kleist (Prussian IInd Corps), the mistakes of the Allies removed
the solution of the crisis; but military history gained one of its finest pages
of an example that provides posterity that genius, strength of character,
courage and perseverance of a great captain.
Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar 1814.
(K. K. Kriegs Archive., II, 1.)
to Prince Schwarzenberg, summary report on the events of 1 and 2 February.
(Ibid., II, 34.)
troops in question of the division of Count Antoine Hardegg consisted of two
squadrons of Schwarzenberg Uhlans, the Hussars of Archduke Joseph, four companies
of Székelys (military frontier guards) and a rifle battalion. (STÄRKE,
Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee (K. K. Kriegs Archive.,
II, 1.), Journal of Operations of the Crown Prince of Württemberg (IVth Corps),
by General Count Baillet de Latour, Chief of Staff (Ibid., XIII, 56)
and Wrede to Schwarzenberg (Ibid., II, 47).
Prince Taxis detailed this as follows, in his Tagebuch (Ibid., XIII,
32): "At dawn, we knew that the enemy had retired. Wrede
pushed on Brienne and connected with the Prince of Württemberg. Sacken
(this is a mistake by the Prince, since, like all the troops of Blücher,
Sacken remained motionless) pushed, meanwhile, from La Rothière towards
Brienne. The reserves did not take part in the action, and while the
battle of La Rothière was certainly a victory, it would remain without
results and without consequences. Napoleon withdrew by Lesmont, crossed
the Aube and went by Piney on Troyes, where he effected his junction with Mortier. There
only remained on the plain on the right (north and east of the city) about
1800 horses formed in close column and having some artillery with them. They
fired a few shots, and they withdrew after firing."
of Cavalry Baron Frimont to General Count Wrede. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv.,
II, 47 b.)
of Major Prince Taxis. (Ibid., XIII, 32.)
Wrede, p. 340. --Here, moreover, are the terms in which the General
Frimont expressed this matter in his report to Wrede: "At Rosnay,
the enemy left took position to ensure the retirement of the right wing
and held firm until that withdrawal was achieved. The enemy, on
retiring, had time to destroy the bridges. Immediately after the occupation
of Rosnay, Count Antoine Hardegg sent parties of cavalry on the road
to Arcis-sur-Aube." (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 47 b.)
Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (K.
K. Kriegs Archive., II, 1), and Journal of Operations of the IVth Corps by
General Count Baillet de Latour (Ibid., XIII, 56).
to Schwarzenberg. Summary relative to the Battle of La Rothière,
l and 2 February 1814. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 34.)
Trapp to General Radetzky. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 71.)
of Seslavin to Barclay de Tolly.
Ozharovsky to Barclay de Tolly, Villiers-le-Brûlé, 2 February,
6 o'clock at night.
Russian regiments, spoken of by General Milhaud in his report were: the regiments
of dragoons and lancers of the Guard and the regiment of Don Cossacks, of the
is far from, we see, the 2,000 infantry Ozharovsky mentioned in his report.
Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (K.
K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1) and Thurn to Schwarzenberg, Chamoy, 4 February
6 o'clock at night (Ibid., II, 81)
by General Allix to the Minister of War, Sens, 3 February, 5 o'clock in the
morning. (Archives of the War.) --STÄRKE, Eintheilung und
Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (K. K. Kriegs Archiv.,
II, 1) --Report of Ataman Count Platov to Prince Schwarzenberg, Villeneuve-le-Roy,
3 February (Ibid., II, ad. 120).
Legros, commander in Montargis, to the Minister of War, Montargis, 6 February.
(Archives of the War.) --Report to Platov to Schwarzenberg, Villeneuve-le-Roy,
3 February (K. K. Kriegs Archiv. ad. II, 120), and STÄRKE, Eintheilung
und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (Ibid., II,
corps of Prince Eugene of Württemberg was posted at Longchamp, and division
of Helfreich at Orconte.
detachment of Major General Rüdinger consisted at that time of the Grodno
Hussars, three squadrons of the Sumy Hussars, a brigade of infantry belonging
to the Russian 2nd Corps of Prince Eugene of Württemberg, and four
pieces of horse artillery.
to Schwarzenberg, Saint-Dizier, 2 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II,
26 and ad. II 26.) --STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten
der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (Ibid., II, 1).
Schwarzenberg, Écriennes, 2 February, 11 o'clock in the evening. (K.
K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 29.)
to the Chief of Staff and Kellermann from Châlons and La Chaussée,
2 February. (Archives of the War.)
of the Battle of La Chaussée, by General von Jürgass.
to Schwarzenberg, Écriennes, 2 February, 11 o'clock in the evening.
(K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 29.)
detachment of Ilovaysky XII consisted of two half-Cossack regiments Ilovaysky,
Rebrikov and half of the regiment of Vlasov.
Rusca to the Minister of War, Soissons, 2 February; General Janssens to Marshal
Kellermann, Mézières, 9 February; Mayor Brunehamel to the Prefect
of the Aisne, 2 February. (Archives of the War.)
The Prefect of the Ardennes, 3 February, kept the Minister of War abreast
of the these events, that he presented, however, in a somewhat different manner:
"The enemy has surprised," he wrote, "a post of 40 Polish lancers
at Carignan in the night of the 29th to 30th. It then appeared
near Givet, falling back before a sortie from the garrison, moving on Philippeville
from there, then Marienburg and on Couvin (country of Liege). From Couvin,
he went on to Rocroy driving before him a few gendarmes. From Rocroy,
he moved the 31st on Maubert-Fontaine, taking 140 conscripts, which were
released by attacking the enemy on 2 February and chasing them to Launoy."
We will, moreover, have an opportunity to revisit these events when we deal
with the march of corps of Bülow and Winzingerode from Belgium on Laon
and operations undertaken during this movement, and in front of these two corps,
by scouts of Chernishev and Tettenborn.
of Napoleon, no 21169.
to Bordesoulle, Brienne, 2 February. (Archives of the War.)
Piré to General Grouchy, Rouilly-Sacey, 2 February. (Archives of
have seen that the presence in these parts of General Ozharovsky had prevented
the generals de France and Milhaud to complete the last part of this plan. Grouchy,
anxious about the fate of his cavalry, stationed at Villiers-le-Brûlé,
proposed to the Chief-of-Staff to send, besides the cavalry of General de France,
an infantry battalion, because, he said, "it is probable that the enemy
will attack General Milhaud early tomorrow, and, if pushed, would result in
disorder and confusion in Piney."
One dispatch from the Chief-of-Staff to Grouchy, from Piney at 11 in
the evening, ordered this general to move a lot of attention on Villiers-le-Brûlé and
provide everything Milhaud would need to maintain its position. (Archives
of the War.)
 Piré to
General Grouchy, and the Duke of Trévise to General de France. (Archives
of the War.)
K. Kriegs Archiv., II. 177.
Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar (K.
K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1).
of Seslavin to Barclay de Tolly.
of General Count Ozharovsky.
of Taxis (manuscript). (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., XIII. 32.)
Clausewitz, de Retz had made the same thought: "Nothing," he wrote, " marks
the solid judgment of a man as being able to choose between the major drawbacks."
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2012
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