Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

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

LETTER XVII: The Battle of Auerstadt


HAD either the Duke or the Prince been impressed with the idea of so early and serious an attack, they would no doubt have made such dispositions as would have rendered the 14th of October at least less fatal to Prussia than it proved.  For, we may conjecture, that when the Duke sent those orders to the Prince, which prevented the relief of General Tauenzien, it was his intention that both armies should retreat to the river Unstruth; and, by forcing their passage over Naumberg, avoid for the time at least, a general battle; but Bonapartè was too attentive and quick for them to permit a junction.

Prince Hohenlohe’s left wing did not extend beyond Stroba, and the right of the Duke’s army not beyond Sulza, which left a space of about four miles between them; and, as the French had already forced the pass at Dornberg, Bernadotte pushed on to Apolda, and thus cut off the two armies from each other.  The defeat of the one I have described in my last, but I can procure no clear account of that of the other; you must, therefore, be satisfied with the little I can offer you.

Auerstadt is about ten miles distant from Weimar, and the road to it runs parallel with the river Ilm, to Unverstet, where it turns to the left.  It is situated in a narrow passage a little before the heights of Eckhartsberg, (an old castle), where there are two villages, Hassenhausen and Tauchwitz.  Behind these, a road leads down the hill to Kössen, on the right side of the river Saale, over which there is a good bridge.  Auerstadt is about six miles from this place, and Hassenhausen is half way.  In the evening of the 13th the Duke’s army reached Auerstadt, and there halted for the night.  Had he pushed on to Kössen, or even only to Hassenhausen, he would have been safe in that high situation.  It is indeed singular, that all Bonapartè’s opponents have always left him the advantage of a rising ground.  When the Duke, therefore, in the morning, ascended the hill, it was already occupied by the French; and here, at the very opening of the attack, both the Duke and General Schmettau were so grievously wounded as to be brought immediately off the field.—From this moment, as the Duke, in his agony, had omitted to transfer the command, there was no regularity either in orders or conduct; nor did the King, for some time, nay, it is affirmed, not till after the defeat, know of this disaster.  For, it is reported, he was so bravely engaged, leading on his troops to where there was the greatest danger, that one might be tempted to suppose he sought a glorious death in defending his country!—Happy, apparently, would this have been for  him, as he then would not have seen the pusillanimity and baseness of so many of his generals!  nor his kingdom so despotically divided amongst his enemies.

In the mean time the French, during this confusion amongst the Prussians, kept pouring in more troops, and marched round by Eckhartsberg, with the intention of surprising the left wing.  Had not the Duke been unfortunately so early wounded, he could not have wished a better opportunity to have escaped from the disadvantageous situation the troops were then in.  For the French, by this manœuvre, had much weakened both their center and the left wing.  Besides, as this passage round the Eckhartsberg was both tedious and difficult, the Prussians ought that moment, with the assistance of their fresh reserve, to have pushed on impetuously upon the weakened position of the enemy, by which they would, probably, have secured to themselves a victory, instead of falling, as they did, into the fault of making front against the detached right wing, and then awaiting till the whole were again in order.  The result now became a total and irreparable defeat.

The cruel destiny which had driven the Prussian troops too early from the field, on this unfortunate day, still pursued them with unremitting fury the following night.  Unprepared, as they were, for the battle, there were no arrangements made against the possibility of being forced to retreat.  From the general confusion in both armies, neither knew the similar fate of the other; and the commanders of both, who had escaped, trusting to find refuge with their comrades, hastened, with their shattered remains, to meet—But they were soon undeceived, and now found that each must do the best they could for themselves.  The tie of subordination thus loosened, the number of deserters became incredible.  The roads were found full of musquets, and arms of all sorts thrown away, to east flight, or secure mercy from the pursuing enemy.  Those better disposed were still separated by the darkness of the night, and other mischances, which all contributed almost totally to annihilate the little wreck remaining.  Besides, the reflection of having no magazines, no fixed point at hand for any refreshment whatever, the necessity of undergoing still further fatigues, and the danger of being every moment taken prisoners, were considerations which depressed the spirits of all ranks, and filled their minds with the gloomiest apprehensions.



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