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Eylau: Precis Des Travaux de la Grande Armee

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Eylau: Precis Des Travaux de la Grande Armée

Journal of the Operations of the Siege of Breslau

Parts Annexed to the Fifty-First Bulletin of the Grand Army.

Journal of the operations of the siege of Breslau by the army corps of prince Jerome-Napoleon, from December 7, 1806, until January 9, 1807. 

The place of Glogau having surrendered, December 2nd to the General Vandamme who was at the head of the division of the troops of the king of Wurtemberg, this General accepted, the 4th, the order to go to Brelau to invest this place on left bank of the Oder, while prince Jerome, who was in Kalisch with two Bavarian divisions, was to come by right bank to supplement the investment of it and to take the general command.

General Vandamme sent three regiments of Wurtemberg cavalry, under the command of General Montbrun, to begin the investment of Breslau, and arrived himself the 6th at Lissa, at the head of the infantry.

The 7th, the General Vandamme quickly reconnoitered with General Pernety, commanding the artillery, and the colonel of the Engineers, Blein, the Western part of the place, which was known to have a strong garrison of 6000 men, and it was determined to site two trenches and two incendiary batteries on the right and on the left of the suburb of Saint Nicolas, the latter resting on the Oder.  The Bavarian troops could arrive only the following day in the evening or sooner, and one could not think of an establishment towards the upper Oder; because there was a fear of being surprised by the detachments which the garrisons of Schweidnitz, Gladtz, Neitz, Brieg, etc. could send.

The absence of workers meant that, in the night of the 7th to the 8th, one could only open two communicating trenches towards the site of the projected batteries.

The batteries were thus begun only on the night of the 8th to the 9th, and in a position to fire from that morning the 10th.  Prince Jerome arrived the 9th at Hunsfeld with the division of General Minucci and the cavalry at command of the General Lefèbvre; a bridge was established in Cosel, and part of Minucci division passed over to left bank, under the command of General Vandamme.  The general quarters of the prince was established the 10th in Lissa.

There were in the battery of the right-hand side trench two mortars and three howitzers; opposite the street of the Saint Nicolas’s suburb, three field howitzers; in the trench on the left, three mortars and a siege howitzer, three field howitzers; finally, on right bank, eight pieces of artillery, as well as field howitzers lest pieces of cannons of six.

The 10th, after having fired for six hours from the morning until midday, prince Jerome sent to the governor of Breslau a summons that remained without effect.  There had been some mortars and howitzers dismounted by the out-datedness of their gun carriages:  one waited, to continue the operations, on the arrival of two mortars and two pieces of 24 from Glogau;  but the latter could not be put into the battery before the 15th.

The night of the 11th to the 12th, we trenched on the right bank extending the first, to place the new mortars in the battery on our line extremity.  On the left, we opened a second parallel, and placed the batteries at the extreme left of the first, which was much closer to the works. 

One fired that day from 11 o’clock at night on the 12th to the 13th but with slowness; ammunition being very scarce. 

On the 13th, a company of sappers, a company of miners, and the captain of the Rolland engineers arrived.  Hitherto the colonel of the Blein engineers had been all but alone in outlining and carrying out work, captain Depanthon having helped him only the night of the 8th to the 9th, and Bavarian lieutenant Hatzy having started working closely with him only in the night of the 11th to the 12th.

One employed these two companies immediately to make significant cuts in the Saint Nicolas’s suburb and on the line of the cemetery, and in particular the batteries in one open second parallel on the right of the suburb, in the night of the 12th to the 13th, while on the left the second parallel had been also extended, by taking steps there to place light artillery, in order to counter fire on the batteries of the enemy.  There was even pushed very far forward a hollow that formed a small place of weapons, from where the Wurtemburg chasseurs could shoot at the enemy gunners; but it was recognized that the arm of Oder separated us from their works; so that after having extended the place of weapons up to the Oder, in the night of the 13th to the 14th, one left it about there on the left. 

One worked the night of the 14th to the 15th to open several zigzags for the communication of the first to the second parallel on the right of the Saint Nicolas’s suburb, and the 15th in the morning all was ready for the third bombardment.

There were within the first parallel, on the extreme right-hand side, 2 mortars and 3 howitzers; the old battery had, in the center of the second parallel, 2 howitzers and 4 pieces of 6; in the extreme right-hand side of the second parallel, on the left of the Saint Nicolas’s suburb, 4 howitzers and 4 pieces of 6; finally on right bank of the Oder, 8 pieces or howitzers; in all 32 pieces.

We had two wounded miners and a killed sapper. 

Fire having ceased at midday, the 15th, prince Jerome sent a second summons, which still remained without effect.  It asked for the departure of all the officers prisoners on parole; they left the 17th, in the number of almost 60. 

One then occupied oneself to reconnoiter the whole area, and colonel Blein discovered that the body of the place was not covered in two extremely extended parts, towards the gate of Schweidnitz and that of Ohlau, and of Ziegle Schautz; but that in front of a first ditch full of water, of a width of twenty toises[i] and perhaps more, dominated a general counterguard of earth, on the salients of which were constructed lunettes[ii] on the flanks, milled and palisade works, that the enemy only occupied in front of the revetements facing the Saint Nicolas’s suburb, where were directed our attacks, but which were enough protected by an outer moat of ten to twelve toises of width, and six to seven feet of depth of water. 

One was warned that the prince of Pless, named a major-General, of an ambitious and inflammatory spirit, had united together troops and peasants levees; that with the aide-de-camp of king of Prussia had spread a proclamation, by which he invited his faithful Silesians to defend the places, and threatened the governors with decapitation, if they did not carry out the responsibilities owed them.  Prince Jerome was determined to bring the Déroi division and the cavalry brigade of the General Mazanelli, which had remained in Kalisch, in order to undertake an attack of sharp force against Breslau, or a regular siege, if the circumstances allowed it.  These troops were to arrive from the 20th to the 21th. 

It was a question of crossing two very-broad and very-deep ditches, and of seizing a double enclosure; the difficulties were not average.  To follow the slow methods of a siege, would draw to the attention of the enemy to its weak points, to remount its artillery there, and expose ourselves to being crushed ourselves;  because it was known that Breslau was the arsenal for all deposits of Silesia. 

Ditches were thus needed to hold the enemy in so much suspense on several points, so he could not suspect the true point of attack.

Colonel Blein proposed a rig of bridge trestles on boats, to pass the two ditches of the gate of Schweidnitz:  with well picked troops, this passage could be done with such lively force, that the enemy wouldn’t know what happened.  He built at the same time rafts, by means of joining together ladders two by two, supported by empty barrels, and covered with boards.  All these means of passage were joined together in the day of the 22nd, at the rear of the suburb of Neudorff, opposite the gate of Schweidnitz; so that the enemy who had no shortage of spies in the suburbs of this kind, believed that the passage would be tried on this point.  One had carried, intentionally to best mislead, all the boats that were in Ohlau, to the same point. 

One had, at the falling of night, to transport all the rafts to the suburb of Ohlau, to try the true passage.  Three hundred and fifty tools, 90 gabions, 100 fascines were ready to be also transported to form an establishment in the works of the outer envelop.

On had asked for a number of men necessary for all these objects;  but the orders were not carried out, and one was obliged to employ even the troops intended for the attack to transport the rafts.  These troops had come to the rendezvous at only four o’clock in the morning in the suburb of Ohlau, the attack being able to take place only at this hour, because of the moonlight, so that one threw the first raft into the outer moat only at five o’clock.  This raft was 30 feet in length making it necessary to throw some three others from 12 to 15 feet to be able to reach other bank.  The sappers, new with such an operation, were slow to bind the rafts together:  a drunk officer threw himself on these rafts, and hampered the operation to an extreme point:  two soldiers of those which carried a raft, having been killed by a single ball, perhaps unique in all the time of this operation; all the others escaped; finally at seven o’clock in the morning, the corporal of the French sappers having jumped into water, had moored the bridge of rafts to the palisades of the glacis at the point of attack;  but it was almost day, and one could not have anymore time to form an foothold with cover at the bastion of Ohlau, to support the too late attack:  colonel Duveyrier and the captain of the Ramonnet sappers, who were to pass first at the head of the troops, consulting with the colonel of the engineers, decided to give up this attack that the enemy had not discovered hitherto.  Hardly had the leading column begun this retrograde movement, than it was accompanied by a rather sharp fire of musketry and grapeshot, but which did not harm us.  The lieutenants of the Bavarian engineers Hatzi and Ettlinger, these last coming from the Deroy division, were with this attack. 

The attack of the gate of Schweidnitz where the company of miners and the captain of the Roland engineers, had been abandoned at first due to the enemy having fired immediately, and several others feint attacks on the gate Saint Nicolas’s and by right bank of Oder the enemy had strongly occupied.  The fire of all the batteries, sharper and more supported, set fire to the city at the same time; so that with more time and a more obscure night, one could have expected a complete success on the bastion of Ohlau.  There were rafts ready for a length of 200 feet; and in the least advantageous situation, one was established at least on the first envelope of the place. 

Prince Jerome, recalled by the Emperor, had left the direction of the business of the siege to the General Vandamme, on left bank of Oder, the General Deroi remained, on right bank.

Hardly had General Vandamme returned the troops to their cantonments, than General Montbrun, in observation on the roads of Ohlau and Strehlen delivered to him caution on the movement of the prince of Pless on this last point, where he had already joined together a corps of from 4 to 5000 men with six pieces of artillery.

The General Vandamme at once sent the Bavarian division of the General Minucci to the meet with the army corps of the prince of Pless.  It attacked him the 24th and put them to rout, after having taken its guns and 800 men.

In the return of the Minucci division, General Vandamme, who had ordered the construction of four new batteries, to establish there eight pieces of 24, six pieces of 12 and two mortars which arrived from Glogau, in order to completely set fire to the city, believing it his duty to make the governor of Breslau share with the defeat of the prince of Pless and the means which he had to destroy this rich capital.  It was to be supposed that a population from 60 to 70,000 hearts would not be sacrificed to the conservation of a place which owed its safety only to its gentle temperament, and which had only one garrison of from 5 to 6000 men, which even the governor appeared to count on little.  The governor did not initially show any indication that he would speak with General Vandamme; however, better informed a few hours afterwards by his own spies, he asked for an armistice of twenty-four hours, and colonel Duveyrier that one had offered to him to capitulate. 

Colonel Duveyrier was only still not in the place the governor, on the frivolous pretext that work continued in the trench, broke the armistice and declared that the circumstances having changed, he wanted not to hear anymore about capitulation.  He had undoubtedly received from the prince of Pless the advice of a new attempt to help him.

The General Vandamme, guessing the reasons of the governor, resorted to making good the containment of his position, in extending the trench of the right-hand side, in a manner to defend the new batteries and to enclose the suburbs to the road of Strehlen, the terrain becoming in this place difficult to access by the cuts and the ditches full of water.  He ordered also abattis and cuts between Ohlau and the village of Hubé, to prevent the enemy from leaving by the road Ohlau.  The terrain between Ohlau and the Oder is an almost impracticable marsh, where he could not engage.  At the same time he sent General Montbrun with his three regiments of cavalry and three battalions of Wurtemberg light infantry to the point of Ohlau, near which there is a bridge over the Oder.  The gathering point of the prince of Pless was in Brieg;  General Montbrun could, on either side which he wanted, go on to Breslau, go on to his side and to cut off his line of retreat.

All the works against the place, all the batteries were ready the morning of the 29th, and they fired without stopping, resting 4 hours, after 3 hours of fire.  This same day, the General Vandamme learned that the reassemblies of the prince of Pless had been enlarged until forming a corps of from 12 to 13 thousand men.  He returned to the field the Minucci division at Ohlau, to reinforce this point and to support General Montbrun; but at the same time the prince of Pless had started himself at Brieg on Strehlen and the road of Schweidnitz.  Concealing himself from the monitoring of General Montbrun, and deceiving the pickets that we placed on these two routes, he arrived at 5 o’clock in the morning, the 30th, after a forced night march at the height of Kleinbourg where General Seckendorf, commanding the division of Wurtemberg, had his headquarters 

Hardly had General Vandamme been informed, that he sent against them the Bavarian battalion of colonel Bercheim under the command of colonel Duveyrier, supported by the 13th regiment, lately arrived at the blockade.  This battalion, a battalion of 13th company of Wurtemberg chasseurs, and a squadron of cavalry were enough to contain the corps of the prince of Pless, to attack it then, and to put it in the most complete rout. 

The General Vandamme had sent one of his aide-de-camps through the enemy outposts, to warn the Generals Minucci and Montbrun of the attack of the prince of Pless.  They went a long time on his side without being able to find outlets to attack him;  finally they reached the next morning, close to Schweidnitz, the tail of his columns;  one made approximately 1800 prisoners in all, and one took seven pieces of artillery.  The prince of Pless proved to have a real loss of from 4 to 5 thousand men, because of desertion.  He withdrew himself on Schweidnitz, where colonel Duveyrier entered to ask again for the removed safeguards and maltreatment of his troops.

Fire against the place had not ceased during all this business.  The guards of the trenches, firm at their station, had pushed back several attempts to exit by the enemy, too weak to give the least concern.  The governor of Breslau could not believe his own eyes, and though having counted on help; he was convinced that the movement, which he saw around him, was a trick of General Vandamme to lure him out of the place.  One could hardly believe such a fact, if even he did not agree to it.  The governor did not want to believe either in the surrender of Glogau, referring to some rather badly dated letter, found on a captive soldier, than with the word of General Vandamme and any probability.  A friend of the governor having had permission to enter in Breslau on January 1st, 1807, to ask again for his wife, could hardly convince him of the truth of these facts.  It was appropriate whereas they did not have any more hope to be helped, and that, if there were a sudden rather strong freeze, he was not any more safe from a “coup de main.”  But he was against giving up, because a General of the engineers locked up with him, excited him, for his personal self-esteem, not to give up a place that had not been attacked.  In the fact, all the artillery had not been directed against the city.

The things are in this state today January 3rd; it is not any more sorrowful to settle into a orderly siege, in which the all advantage would be for the besieged, because of its great artillery superiority.  One will await the frost that cannot finally be long in deciding the governor’s surrender of the place.  He will have to reproach himself for having, by an unimportant resistance, brought misfortune to a very-rich and beautiful city that was not intended for such a calamity. 

A letter of General Vandamme, received at nine o’clock in the evening, announces that the city capitulates, and that the captive of war garrison will file out the 7th. 

The General Pernety thinks that he spent, during the siege approximately 10,000 balls, shell or bombs in the place, which sent at us in return five or six times as much.  The artillery of Breslau proved that it was of a good school; it has festooned our trenches and made many blows to the embrasures.  We however hardly had fifty killed or wounded. 

The company of sappers lost the sapper Palonelle who had taken a blow to the of ball at a battery;  December 16th;  the 23rd, with the attack at the suburb of Ohlau, the sapper Line was wounded in the right arm of a biscayen.  The sergeants Villemain and Augustin, the quartermaster Cloudt led very well. 

The first captain, Ramonnet, is a very brave officer and of much of merit, as well as the second captain[iii], Cheret, who has 25 years of veteran service. 

In the company of the miners, there were eight wounded, acknowledge:  the quartermaster-sergeant Flosse, and the miner Haag, the 13th, at the cut of the suburb of Saint Nicolas; the miners Ganglaek and Prévôt, the 15th, at a battery; the miner Hellmaire and the drummer Vincent, at the attack on the gate of Schweidnitz, the 23rd; the corporal Aubry, 30th, at the business with the prince of Pless; and the miner Choué, 1st, January, at the cut at the road of Schweidnitz.  This company, always at the most perilous station, was used perfectly.  The captain in first, Ritiez, is a very-good officer.  The captain Conti and lieutenant Collin were useful with much zeal.

The captain of the Rolland engineers and the Bavarian lieutenants Elltinger and Hatzi had a painful and dangerous service, the batteries of the second parallel having been open at a very-small distance from the place.  They fulfilled perfectly all their duties. 

Mr. Ettlinger was struck, December 30th, in the shoulder and his helmet, by a splinter of a shell, which gave him only one light contusion.  Mr. Hégel, lieutenant of  Wurtemberg, also served close to colonel Blein during part of the siege, and rendered important services. 

In Cosel, in front of Breslau, January 3, 1807. 

The colonel of the engineers, Signed, BLEIN.

[i] An old measure of length in France, containing six French feet, or about 6.3946 French feet.

[ii] A fortification term for a small projection on the outer ramparts for observation.

[iii] Also “first-mate.”



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