Memoir of Admiral Paul Andreyevich Kolzakov: the Capture of General Vandamme 18 August 1813
Translated By Alexander Mikaberidze, FINS
Source: Russkaya Starina 1(1870): 208-217
Paul Andreyevich Kolzakov was born to a noble family in Tula in 1779. He studied at the Naval Cadet Corps and began service as garde marine in 1794. In 1797, he was assigned to the ship-of-the-line Azia and participated in the blockade of the Texel Islands and the fighting in the Mediterranean at Malta, Naples, and the Ionian Islands in 1797-1799. In 1808-1809, he participated in the Russo-Swedish War and distinguished himself at Kuonio in 1809. The following year, he supervised the formation of the Guard Ekipazh and later took charge of the Imperial yacht. In 1811, Kolzakov became captain of Grand Duke Constantine’s personal yacht and was promoted to captain-lieutenant. In early 1812, he was appointed adjutant to the Grand Duke and followed him throughout the 1812-1814 Campaigns. After the war, he served under Grand Duke Constantine in Poland from 1815-1831. He became general-adjutant to Emperor Nicholas in 1831, rose to the rank of vice-admiral and later served as duty general at the Naval General Staff. He became admiral in 1843 and died in St. Petersburg in 1864.
Memoirs of the Battle of Kulm and the Capture of General Dominique Vandamme
The Battle of Dresden proved to the Allies the indisputable truth that when there is no unity of command, it is impossible to gain any success. Prince Schwarzenberg, who commanded the combined armies of the Allies, was limited in his actions. Three monarchs were present in the army and each had his own entourage of confidants who sought any opportunity to distinguish themselves in front of their sovereigns, and thus paralyzed the actions of the commander-in-chief. The rivalry between the nations, the differences of ideas and personal ambition all led to intrigues and constant conflicts. Much of the time was wasted in useless arguments and, when a decisive moment was finally at hand, it was often discovered that the adopted plan was completely worthless under new circumstances.
This is exactly what happened before the battle at Dresden. The Allies could have occupied the city without a shot since they had concentrated some 200,000 men strong army in the vicinity of Dresden, while only a small defended the city itself -- the 14,000 men strong corps of St. Cyr. Yet, while the Allies negotiated, Napoleon managed to enter the city with 100,000 men strong army and reinforce the garrison, so the battle could not have been as successful anymore. Although the battle at Dresden cannot be considered as a [decisive] defeat as the French bulletins rushed to proclaim, it still was an unsuccessful attack and had an appearance of defeat because the Allied forces retreated with numerous wounded on the soaked roads that autumn night and this picture had a tragic effect. Troops became demoralized and lost trust in their commanders, everyone felt some sort of embitterment and the rivalry between the nations became even more evident as the Russians blamed the Germans for everything; in short, disheartenment and disorder became widespread. The situation turned critical. Emperor Alexander understood that he had to make something decisive and courageous to inspire his troops and take revenge, or as the French say, une éclatante revange. So, with this purpose in mind, he assumed the position of the commander-in-chief of the Allied forces and began acting independently. The armies were ordered to retreat southward to prevent the French from Bohemia, where Napoleon wanted to advance.
Our army advanced southward in three columns and, having crossed the mountains, it was involved in the glorious battle at Zehist [Berggieshubel] on 15-16 [27-28] August, where Count Osterman broke through General Vandamme’s corps and reached the Teplitz road; our troops were, in the meantime, attacked by the superior French forces near Kulm on 17  August and a battle so celebrated in our military chronicles took place there for a day and a half and ended to the glory of our arms – I said “our” because the Russian troops fought here more than anyone else.
I will not describe all the events of the battle which are described in detail in several other studies, but I will recall one episode that I witnessed and had an honor to participate.
The night of 17-18 [29-30] August ended a fierce but still undecided battle in which Count Osterman earned his immortal fame, but lost his hand in the process. Our troops prepared for the new fighting and the dawn of 18  August found them deployed in battle order on the both sides of the main road; left flank was anchored on the mountains and comprised, together with the center, of the Russian troops while the Austrians were on the right flank near the village of Karwitz. Reserves consisted of the troops under command of Grand Duke Contantine Pavlovich and I served as his adjutant.
Early in the morning Emperor Alexander left with the Prussian King [Frederick William] and was accompanied by a numerous and dazzling entourage towards the mountain Schlosberg, which provided a beautiful panorama of the Kulm Valley and its vicinities. The picturesque ruins of an ancient castle loomed on the mountaintop. It was a delightful morning and the rising haze, as if a stage curtain, revealed a magnificent panorama of the vicinity with its wooded hills, valleys, streams, scattered villages and a gorge of high mountains disappearing in the azure distance. In the middle of this striking decoration, there was a winding road leading from Kulm to Teplitz and, on the both sides of it, dark spots on light green backdrop indicated the two armies facing each other at a short distance and waiting for one signal to dash into a fierce and bloody combat. The sight was indeed breathtaking and the minute celebratory. Following the Grand Duke and the Imperial suite, I witnessed this moment and it never faded away in my memory. Looking at this fascinating scenery, glowing in the light of the rising Sun, so many different ideas flashed in my mind. It seemed that if Heaven existed on the earth, it certainly would be here. Houses, with orchards, beautifully scattered in the valley looked so cozy in this green scenery; some fields were still unharvested and everything breathed with the freshness of life and peace. But seeing troops in these fields, my heart bled and palpitated as it awaited the fateful minute! And how many other hearts trembled awaiting it as well! As so the signal was made around six o’clock in the morning and white clouds of smoke arouse on the hills, and a few moments later, we heard the thunder that was echoed several times in the mountains. The battle has begun. Adjutants and ordinaries galloped with orders in all directions and the fighting intensified along the entire line. Occasional shouts of ‘hurrah,’ moans of the wounded, yells of command, cavalry clatter, sounds of weapons and finally thundering noise of the artillery all blended into one chaotic and continuous roar. Cloud of smoke darkened the air and filled it with the smell of gunpowder. Regiments fiercely attacked each other, cavalry charged and the field was soon covered with corpses of men and horses. Our reserves were soon committed and our courageous soldiers, forgetting the exhaustion of the three days battle, rushed into the fight with a revived enthusiasm and courage and with the yells of ‘hurrah.’ Our Guard performed feats of courage. Everyone was involved in the hand-to-hand combat. Around 11 a.m., the forces of [General] Kleist appeared in the French rear and General Vandamme initially thought they were his reinforcements. However, confusion soon spread among the French ranks. Seeing themselves surrounded, the French thought only about personal escape and began fighting through the enemy lines and became so intermingled with them in the narrow defiles that soldiers on both sides thought themselves vanquished, threw down their arms and surrendered to each other. The battle became disorganized, the soldiers climbed the rocks, fell down and scattered in the nearby mountains, leaving their commanders in confusion. General Kleist himself, seeing the enemy soldiers around him, thought that he was captured and sought escape in the nearby woods, where he accidentally encountered General Diebitsch, who explained him his misunderstanding and congratulated him with a victory.
Meantime, returning from my fourth mission, I was moving with great difficulty through the jammed roads in the defiles. My exhausted horse, covered in foam, barely moved his feet and stumbled upon each step. I barely escaped being thrown down on several occasions and, having dismounted, I walked holding his reigns in my hand along a relatively steep path. As I approached the open field, I encountered more and more killed and wounded. It was appalling to see these unfortunate; the moans of the wounded were particularly heart wrenching to hear. Many of them begged for help or water, yelled and cursed. But their shouts were eclipsed by other noises and the roar of the battle that was still underway, though it moved beyond the settlement. The Cossacks and ordinaries galloped in every direction. Lightly wounded soldiers helped transport more seriously injured. Everyone was moving, shouting, cursing and making other noises. Two horsemen rode by shouting “Victory! Victory!” Several soldiers crossed themselves while others yelled ‘hurrah’ I looked around and saw that a group of horsemen appeared from the edge of the forest. A few shots were fired and I made out their French uniforms. I hastily mounted my horse and, removing my saber from scabbard, I spurred my horse to get away from the attackers. But in vain did I force my exhausted steed as it dug into ground and refused to move. As the enemy group approached me, I saw that the Cossacks were galloping behind them in pursuit. In front of the French, there were a stout figure of a French general with an unbuttoned uniform on a heavy horse; several officers followed him. Two Cossacks that were behind me, dashed with their pikes. I suddenly heard a coarse voice shouting out to me, “Général russe, sauvez moi!” My horse, seeing other galloping horses, instinctively began to follow them. I yelled, “Cossacks stop, do not kill!” and barely managed to thwart a Cossack pike as the French were surrounded and surrendered.
The French general halted and dismounted the horse. His plump face was red of anxiety and heavy sweat run down on his cheeks mixing with dirt. His uniform was covered in dust. Breathing heavily, he approached me and, still thinking I was a general, probably because of my navy hat, he told me, “Je vous rends, general, mon épée qui m’a servi pendant de longues années pour la gloire de mon pays.” But I refused to take his sword telling him that he would surrender it personally to our Emperor and, asking his name, I learned that it was French commander-in-chief Vandamme himself. He seemed drunk and barely stood on his feet so, unable to travel, he asked for some time to rest. Several officers, who were captured with him, also dismounted and surrounded him. He shook their hands telling them “Mes braves amis! On n’est pas toujours hereux,” and then inquired about two other officers, who were probably wounded and fell down along the road. I assured him that they would be picked up and taken to the medical point. Seeing Guard cavalrymen moving on the field in a distance, I sent a Cossack to meet them with orders to join us and escort the captured. The Guard cavalrymen were under command of rotmistr Stahl (later commandant of Moscow). I left Vandamme and his suite under Stahl’s orders and instructed him to take them to the Emperor, while I changed horses and dashed forward to inform His Majesty about the capture of the French commander-in-chief. The distance proved to be substantial and it took me quite some time to find new location of Emperor Alexander Pavlovich. Seeing him on the top of the hill, surrounded by his entourage, I rode directly to him and announced in a loud voice the capture of the French commander-in-chief Vandamme. The Austrian Emperor, who was standing beside our Sovereign, took off his hat and yelled “Vivat!” Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich then approached me and, asking “Where is Vandamme,” he ordered me to lead him to the captured. “Spur, sir, add some spur” he shouted to me, forcing me to accelerate.
It took us more than half an hour to cross the valley and hills looking for the road that I lost and could not find. Grand Duke became very impatient, “Kolzakov, do you want to give me Vandamme or not?” He repeated constantly as his anger intensified. ”Are you playing with me? But in vain did I ask passers-by if they have seen a captured French general – nobody gave me positive answers. Finally, climbing on some hill, we noticed the convoy in a distance and quickly rode to meet it. Vandamme confused Grand Duke for the Emperor, addressed him “sire” giving him his sword and repeating his earlier speech. The Grand Duke identified himself and did not accept the sword telling Vandamme that he would surrender it personally to Emperor Alexander. When we finally approached the Tsar, Vandamme was helped from the horse since he was in such bad shape that barely could dismount. Breathing heavily, the [French] marshal first embraced his horse and kissed him. He then slowly moved with heavy steps towards the Emperor, who stood in front of his entourage, and repeated the same phrase for the third time with the same theatrical gesture. The Emperor responded, “Général, j’en suin bien faché, mais c’est le sort de la guerre!” He then called Pruince Volkonsky and gave him Vndamme’s sword and ordered to escort the captured. “Sire, un mot encore,” Vandammed addressed him, “Je prie votre majesté comme grace de ne pas me render aux mains des Austrichiens. Emperor [Alexander] smiled and, having exchanged glances with the Austrian emperor, he agreed to Vandamme’s request, instructing Prince Volkonsky to take due care of him.
Thus ended the celebrated Battle of Kulm, where our tropheies included some 12,000 captured, numerous guns, flags and the [French] commander-in-chief himself. The battle ended around one o’clock in the noon.
Vandamme was escorted to Teplitz and, entering the city the same time as the troops of the Allied armies, his carriage was stopped by the gate guards. Vandamme was infuriated since he though that he was put out for display for our troops, especially after the Austrian regiments pointed fingers at him, laughed loudly and teased him. Emperor Francis happened to be passing by with his staff at that moment. Looking out of his carriage, Vandamme told him sternly, “Sire, c’est ainsi que vous traitez un general au service de l’empereur Napoléon, votre proche parent? Je lui ferai connaitre vos procédés, prenez garde qu’il ne s’en venge.” The Austrian emperor wiped his hands and rode by, murmuring “Ce n’est pas ma faute.”
Vandamme was initially taken to Prague, where the resident, despising him for his previous severity and heavy contributions, gave him a rather hostile reception. They started throwing stones at him, the poor rushed to the carriage and our Cossack convoy barely protected him; eight Cossacks were wounded by the stones. Vandamme was later taken to Russia, where he lived in Vyatka until the end of the war.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2005
© Copyright 1995-2010, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.