Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

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

LETTER XVI: The Battle of Jena -- the Saxons


IT had been occasionally intimated to the Prince that the Saxon troops had complained of being at Saalfeldt, and, on other occasions, placed where was the most danger; which, as allies, they did not think just.  The Prince was therefore resolved this day to employ nearly Prussians alone, and had accordingly placed the Saxons, only

            12 squadrons in the main body,

            20   ditto        on the outposts

            10 battalions        ditto

             6    ditto        in the reserve, and

             9    ditto        at Ysserstedt;

and ordered them an extra quantity of brandy out of his own pocket.

The position of those at Ysserstedt was such as enabled them to overlook the field of battle, where the conflict had continued several hours, before they could take an active part in it.  They at length observed the Prussians in retreat, and discovered, at the same time, three columns of French troops hastening towards them.  With this force of only nine battalions, they awaited the threatened attack with great coolness, and gave the enemy a warmer reception than they seemed aware of:  yet this did not stop their progress, which was continued with unabated vigor, and a bloody encounter began.  At length the superiority of numbers obliged the Saxons to form a retreat in an open square, with their batteries in the middle; but the enemy were so impetuous in their motions, that another mode was obliged to be adopted, which so far succeeded, that they could make their retreat good, in some order, towards the Weimar road.  In this situation, they discovered a column of cavalry making towards them.  They supposed it to be Prussians sent to their assistance, and therefore continued their march without interruption:  but seeing them soon attack and put to flight some Prussian troops before them, they began to be alarmed, and the more so, as they perceived them advancing rapidly towards their left wing—As if by instinct they were received with a full volley, which made them for a short time retreat; but, being joined by a large body of hussars, they soon returned, and a dreadful carnage ensued, the result of which was the surrender of the remaining corps.

It must seem astonishing that the Saxons fought with such bravery after the contemptuous treatment they had met with from the Prussians; particularly as, at the beginning of the battle, there was a corps of French hussars busily employed in scattering large parcels of proclamations wherever they saw the Saxon uniform, the tenor of which was to persuade the Saxons to “return home, as it was not with them that Bonapartè wished to wage war; that Prussia had forced them into an alliance solely to ruin their brave army, that she might hereafter the more easily make them her vassals.”  These ideas were also still more strongly impressed by Bonapartè, who not only ordered all the officers before him, and by means of an interpreter, taken from amongst themselves, assured them that it was with the utmost regret he had been obliged to oppose them; that he had the highest respect for the Elector their master; that he hoped he had it in this power to convince him of this; that he was well aware they were forced to furnish their quota; but that, if the Elector would forthwith recall the rest of his troops from the service of Prussia, he might safely and undisturbedly remain in his residence, and desist from any farther progress in the fortifications of Dresden and Königstein, as he should from that moment cease all hostilities against Saxony.

With this intelligence a courier was immediately dispatched to Dresden.  On the 16th, all received their passes, on the 17th they marched home, and, on the 20th, Prince Hohenlohe received a courier from General Zeschwitz, intimating, that, “in the situation his troops were; he could not think of any longer taking part in the present operations; that farther, he had ordered all the Saxon troops that were yet in the service to repair to Barby, where he should wait the ultimate orders of the Elector his master; that the bearer of this dispatch, Captain Raiski, would take charge of those who might be yet under the command of his Highness, to conduct them also to Barby.”  The Prince dared not object to the proposal, and, in eight days longer, there was not a Saxon soldier in the camp.  On the 27th, his Highness received the official dispatch, with advice of the convention between the Elector and Bonapartè, which closed all connexion between Prussia and this state.

In my next I shall give you the little I may be able to collect of the still more unfortunate battle of Auerstadt; and then proceed to Bonapartè’s farther progress through Prussia.



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