Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

A Cursory View of Prussia from the Death of Frederick II to the Peace of Tilsit

LETTER XIV: The Battle of Jena -- Opening Stages


AFTER the unfortunate defeat of Saalfeldt, and the farther progress of the French, Prince Hohenlohe found it expedient to evacuate Jena, and encamp in the neighbourhood, between the rivers Ilm and Saale.  Before the ground could be marked out, and other necessary arrangements made, a sudden tumult arose in the streets, with the cry that the enemy was at the gates!  Though this, by the cooler part of the inhabitants, was known to be impossible, yet the troops, dismayed by the late accounts from Saalfeldt, seemed panic-struck; nor could the horse patroles be forced out to examine the adjacent woods, as these were said to swarm with French tirailleurs, till, at length, some young officers formed themselves into a patrole, and soon proved the falsehood of these reports; and I only notice them here, to point out the state of mind of the Prussian army, just on the eve of battle; for, by such a trifle, numbers were already so terrified, that the roads were copiously bestrewed, with arms of all sorts, belonging to the soldiers of various regiments, who now began to creep from their hiding places.

This confusion, however, occasioned a long delay.—At length the camp was formed :—the infantry were placed in the first division, with the Weimar road in front; the right wing behind Werlitzgraben pressed on Kapellendorf, and the left wing on the steep side of a valley at the end of the Mühlendahl, called the Schnecke.  The cavalry formed the second division, with their left wing leaning on Isertedt.  The reserve was to have been placed in a third division, parallel to the first; but, there being an unintended interval between the right and left wing of the first division, they had got by mistake into this opening.

About twelve o’clock at noon this day, (on the 12th), the King, accompanied by the Duke of Brunswick and Field-Marshal Möllendorff, came on the road fronting the camp to confer with Prince Hohenlohe, who took this opportunity to direct his Majesty’s attention to the melancholy situation of the army before him, which was in want of ammunition, forage, and bread; particularly the Saxon troops, who were totally neglected, and in want of every thing.  Redress and assistance were promised, but the French did not allow time for performance; they rapidly advanced, and had driven various Prussian outposts away, and taken possession of Burgau.  The Prince forthwith represented to the Duke the danger of the magazines at Naumberg, and besought him to take measures for their protection or destruction, but in vain.

General Tauenzien, who was still in Jena, when he observed these rapid movements, became apprehensive of being cut off from the army, and therefore left the town early in the morning, and proceeded with this troops to Corpoda, which is above Landgrafenberg.

The French soon followed him thither, and forced him up to Dornberg, which is the highest ground about Jena; where, with a proper battery, no enemy could annoy him, or keep possession of the lower grounds.  Of course this was a position necessary to be maintained.  Tauenzien, therefore, sent to the Prince for succours.

The Prince immediately marched out with a large force, with a view of driving the enemy into the valleys, near the Saale, which would have answered Tauenzien’s plan, and could not have failed of success, as the French were then not very powerful in that part.  But, unfortunately, at this very moment, he received orders from the Duke, “not to enter into any serious action that day;” and thus the position of Dornberg was neglected.

The Prince being then obliged to halt, and hearing that the French had ordered provisions at Dornberg, sent a detachment of hussars to bring them for his troops.  They soon returned, and brought with them also a French officer as prisoner.  He however affirmed, that he was a messenger sent direct from the Emperor to this Prussian Majesty; and that having lost his road to Marshal Lannes, who was to have furnished him with a proper trumpeter, he requested to be immediately sent to the King:  he said, that his name was Montesquiou, and that he was an officer of the imperial chamber, and capitaine des ordinances permanentes.  The Prince must have had his reasons for detaining him, as he did not send him that evening.  He seems to have suspected that Bonapartè, by opening negotiations, only wanted to temporize until he could get all his forces concentrated; and that, moreover, had the messenger been then dispatched, he would have seen the Duke’s army changing position; which left the Prince to contend alone with the very superior force Bonapartè had in his power to oppose against him.  To perceive that the Prince’s apprehensions were not without foundation, we have only to consider, that Marshal Lannes was then already at Jena with this whole corps.  At Roda was Marshal Ney; to the right of Kahla Marshal Augereau, and to the left Marshal Soult.  Bernadotte was on his march from Zeitz to Dornberg, and Marshal Berg not far from Naumberg.  Jerome Bonapartè, with his Bavarian corps, was at Schleitz, and the Emperor’s head-quarters were at Gera.  He, himself, on that day (13th), at two o’clock, was at Jena.

The near approach of this great force, together with the intelligence of neglected magazines at Naumberg being actually taken, seem at length to have opened the eyes of the Duke of Brunswick, that he might see it was not Bonapartè’s intention, as he had so long imagined, to attack him where he then was:  apparently therefore now, to obtain a better positioni, and to avoid, for the present, either armies from being attacked, he quitted Weimar; and, with his army in one column, in divisions, two hours march behind each other, proceeded towards Auerstadt.  The next morning early, Schmettau’s division was posted at the pass at Kösen, and the main body marched in the rear to the left, over the bridge of Freyburg, where it took it’s position, with the right wing on the river Unstruth, and the front towards the Saale.  To cover the march of the most exposed wing from any unexpected attack, Prince Hohenlohe had sent a large detachment of cavalry as far as Dornberg to protect it, but he himself remained in his camp.

Bonapartè, who had immediately observed all these motions, from the heights of Jena, concluded that an attack was preparing, and gave his orders accordingly.

In the mean time, some gallant young Prussian and Saxon officers, considering the dangerous situation of General Tauenzien, requested permission to lead on, during the night, a sufficient body of troops to drive the French from the hills into the valley below, that the Prussians might keep the important command of the heights, as the Prince, that morning, had himself intended:  but this was refused them, though, had this attempt succeeded, as might have been expected, it would apparently have greatly changed the fortune of the following day.      


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