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Lessons on 1807: Maneuvers of Eylau and Friedland

Lessons on 1807: Maneuvers of Eylau and Friedland

By: Pierre Grenier

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch

Translator’s Note: This small volume was writtensometime after the Franco-Prussian War and the Sino-Russian War but before World War I.  It is written in a fashion that I suspect it to be something like a doctoral thesis at a war college.  It deals mostly with the cavalry and Pierre Grenier was probably a cavalry officer.  It is broadly broken down into “the Oder to Eylau” and the “Eylau to Friedland”. 


The 17th of November, Napoleon who had heretofore thought just to concentrate his army towards Thorn, imagined to carry it towards Warsaw; he wrote the following to Davout:

“The intention of the Emperor is that, the moment that you learn that Lannes is at Thorn and that you are sure that he isn’t faced with forces that would threaten his security, and that, consequently he has no need for your support, His Majesty authorizes you to continue your movements towards Warsaw.”

The 18th, Lannes received the following order: “If you have reason to conjecture that the King of Prussia is no longer in a position to ratify (an armistice) with the approaching Russians, the intention of the Emperor is that you move on Warsaw, having your left covered by the Vistula; Davout will go by the center, Jerome by the line near Kalisch, Augereau at your rear (at one day’s march from Lannes).”

The 19th, the Grand Duke of Berg left Berlin to take command of the army.

Let us return to the operations of the army in Poland:

The 20th, Milhaud rendered intelligence to Davout that Tavernier, while maintaining contact, “is retiring to Pniewie, that a large number of Cossacks has entered Lowicz and that a Pole had told them that the Russian advanced guard, which started its march the day before yesterday from Warsaw had 10,000 infantrymen and 2 or 3 regiments of Prussian infantry.”  On receipt of this news Davout discontinued his march on Kowal, and reunited with the army at Lenczyc and Klodawa.

Lannes carried his infantry near Brzesc and his cavalry to Kowal.  He hadn’t presumed that the enemy army could unite before the 25th.

The 23rd, Davout had reunited his army corps and two divisions of infantry at Klodawa; his light cavalry was in contact with the enemy, at 70 kilometers from the infantry.

The same day, Murat arrived at Klodawa and took command of the army.  Lannes began his movement to Warsaw, preceded by his cavalry who marched in the following order: light cavalry of Treillard, dragoons of Becker.  He always had following the 7th Corps; the commander of this last corps, Augereau, had written Lannes the 20th of November: “Keep me informed of  your position so that I can establish myself close to you, so as to assist you, if need be, if the enemy makes some attempt against you.”

Augereau did not want to repeat the mistake made at the beginning of 1806, when without news of Lannes, on October 9th he had remained motionless in Coburg and had not been able to support him the 10th in Saalfeld.[1]

The 22nd, Jerome received orders to move his Bavarian divisions one of which was in front of Glogau, the other at Parchwitz, onto Kalisch.

Murat had at his disposal 80,000 men: 3 divisions of dragoons, one of cuirassiers, one brigade of light cavalry, four army corps.

The remainder of the Grand Army was on the march to Posen.

The 24th, Napoleon received a letter from Murat, that announced the Russian offensive against the corps of Davout; he left the 25th, at 2 o’clock in the morning, for Posen, to take command of the army.

The day of his departure, Napoleon wrote a letter to Mortier to indicate to him his objectives for the army corps: that it would be filled with thirty thousand men; he was placed at its head and he was charged to cover Berlin.

In this letter, the Emperor envisaged the case of an enemy offensive by way of Stettin and the Oder, while he marched on Warsaw.  The corps of Mortier must “be able, according to the information which one would receive from the enemy, in the case where it would move on Danzig or Graudenz by way of Stettin and the Oder, to go to meet on this river, in a manner to stop its movement, to hold in check (role of the mass of cover) and to give time to the main army, which would be near Warsaw, to take it in the flank (mass of operation).”

The commandant of the town of Stettin received the order to have all the small cavalry pickets just at 20 or 25 miles from Stettin on the routes from Danzig and Graudenz and to furnish the posts along the Oder only to the Oderberg Canal.

The commandant of the town of Küstrin was to establish (posts) from this point.

We return to the operations in Poland.

All the cavalry that Murat commanded crossed in front of the 3rd Corps and was used in scouting:  the light cavalry in the first line; the dragoons in the second and the cuirassiers in the third.  The 25th of November, they occupied the emplacements indicated in the sketch.

The 26th, “all the reports announced that the enemy occupied Blonie with infantry, cavalry and artillery.”  Murat did not hesitate to push his cavalry to this point, “in order to learn of the enemy’s intentions and  of his forces in front of Warsaw.”  He gave the order to his different sections of cavalry to carry themselves to the points indicated in the sketch: he established his headquarters at Lowicz.

“The Russians retired behind the Vistula,” without resistance; Milhaud maintained contact and moved, “consequently to one and a half miles from Warsaw.”

The 5th Corps, followed by the 7th Corps, continued its movement to Warsaw, establishing companies of flank guards along the Vistula; these flank-guards were initially provided by the 17th Light, the raised successively by the divisions of Suchet, Gazan and the corps of Augereau.

The 28th, Murat made his entry into Warsaw, at the head of the 13th Chasseurs and the elite companies of the divisions Beaumont and Klein.

The 27th, Napoleon arrived in Posen, directing the 6th Corps on Thorn to have a crossing point over the Vistula and to protect the left against an attack by the Prussian corps that was found to the north of that city.  The Emperor reunited at Posen the 4th Corps of the army and the three cavalry divisions of Sahuc, Grouchy and d’Hautpoul.

The 1st Corps and the cavalry division of d’Espagne were also moved there.  Napoleon would push this mass onto Warsaw, if the Russians evacuated Praga: if not, he would make it cross the Vistula at Thorn and have it fall on the right wing of the Russians, which would open the passage of the Vistula to the corps which were joined together close to Warsaw.  It is the movement indicated by Napoleon for the 4th Corps before the capitulation of Ulm, in the case where Mack had reached the Lech.[2]

It was the operation planned for Soult at the beginning of 1806.[3]

It is the operation that Napoleon advised to Prince Eugène, in 1813, to employ for the defense of the Elbe.[4]

Napoleon examined the case where the enemy army might debouch by Thorn.  “If the enemy crosses the Vistula, he wrote to Ney, you would maneuver on its flank to contain it and alert Marshal Augereau and the Emperor.”

Ney should not be withdrawn on Posen, but attack the left side of the enemy forces as they emerge at Thorn; Augereau, then with the army in Warsaw will come to support him; if the mass who reunites at this moment at Posen is still there, it will go to meet the enemy, and will contain it at the head, while it is taken in the flank.

Augereau wrote the 29th to the Chief of Staff:  “I wish to receive orders from Our Highness and from M. the Grand-Duke of Berg that conform.”  The inconvenience of dual chains of command increased from the beginning of the campaign of 1806, when Murat and the Chief of Staff had indicated to the reserve cavalry different emplacements.[5]

The 1st of December, the Russians evacuated Praga; and at the same time Murat occupied it and reestablished the bridge.  They retired all together behind the Bug and the Narew, and destroyed the bridges.

Reconnaissance immediately began on the left of the banks of these rivers to get information about the positions of the enemy and to determine points for crossing.

The 5th of December, Napoleon received at Posen a letter that Murat had sent the 2nd of December and in which he announced the evacuation of Praga by the Russians.  The Emperor immediately responded to him: “Therefore, I want to have a bridge at the mouth of the Narew (of the Bug) in the Vistula, where I want to build a fortified place with two bridge heads; I want to have a bridge head at Praga, a bridge head on the Bug, all the corps of Marshal Davout in front of the Vistula, to defend Praga and the bridge of the Narew, all the corps of Marshal Lannes in Warsaw and also in Praga; the corps of Marshal Augereau defending the bridge at the mouth of the Bug, having his light cavalry opposite Plock (to communicate with Ney established opposite Thorn) and occupy Wyszogrod and Zakroczyn.”

Napoleon therefore had two bridgeheads on the Vistula and two bridgeheads on the Bug.  To defend a river, an army must establish two bridgeheads; if the enemy attack with its principal forces one of these, the mass of maneuver comes out by the other and takes in the rear or the flank the enemy stopped in front of the first; if the enemy makes the mistake of dividing its forces to attack two bridgeheads at the same time, the mass of maneuver comes out from one or the other and “crushes successively the different corps, like capucins de cartes.”[5a] (Letter of 14 January 1809 of Napoleon to Eugène.)

These are the principles that Napoleon applied at Arcole, when he came out at Romo to take the army of Alvinzi stopped in front of Verona in the rear.  These are the principles that he laid out in a letter addressed to Bernadotte the 6th of March 1807, on the subject of the defense of the Passarge, and in his instructions to Eugène for the defense of the Adige in 1809,[6] of the Elbe in 1813.[7]

A bridgehead at the confluence of the Bug and the Vistula also presented another advantage, in the case where Napoleon might operate north of the Bug and that the enemy corps moved between the Narew and the Vistula: he wouldn’t have to take his line of operation by this bridgehead that would then be covered by the Vistula and the bridgehead at Praga.

The 6th, Napoleon completed his letter: “I long to hear that the bridges on the Vistula and the Bug are established.  These two bridges are absolutely necessary to me, after the concentration of my troops at Warsaw, so that I will have nothing to fear, at the moment there will any more obstacles, that the enemy will engage in any operations on the lower Vistula, and there will be nothing to prevent me from falling on its flank.”  Then the Emperor indicated that Murat should maneuver as he had already indicated through Mortier in a letter date 25 November.

Thorn was captured on the 6th by Colonel Savary; Ney sent numerous reconnaissance to the north and northeast.

On the 8th, the 1st Corps was quartered near Posen.

On the 9th, Napoleon, believing that the Russians would continue their retreat and that we the bridges over the Vistula and Narew could be quickly restored, indicated to Murat what disposition to the army should be made: the 6th Corps was to go to Thorn; the 3rd Corps to Sierock, stationed between the Vistula and Narew; the 7th Corps between Zakroczyn, Wyszogrod, pushing its light cavalry to reconnoiter Plonsk; the 5th Corps in Warsaw and Prague, all the light cavalry at Pultusk.

Supposing the Russians took the offensive at Pultusk and Sierock, the 5th Corps would be brought to Zakroczyn; assuming that the light cavalry did not oppose them with any resistance, the 5th Corps would arrive at Zakroczyn at same time they began to attack the 3rd Corps at Sierock (20 kilometers from Pultusk to Sierock, 20 kilometers from Warsaw to Zakroczyn).  The 7th Corps will be before the 5th Corps on the road to Sierock, the line near Zakroczyn on the right bank of the Narew. “Davout will defend with all his strength the bridgehead at Narew.” (Letter of Napoleon to Murat of 9 December.)

Hours after the attack by the enemy on Sierock, 7th and 5th corps will fall on its right flank.

The Emperor gave the order to Murat to “flood the countryside with all his cavalry” to speed up the retirement of the Russians.  To this end, Murat took command of almost all the cavalry of the Grand Army; “three divisions of dragoons, one of cuirassiers, six regiments of light cavalry, six of marshals Davout and Lannes, two of Marshal Augereau and five of marshals Bernadotte and Ney, who were at Thorn. ”  The Tilly Division, of the 1st Corps, had been sent directly from Berlin to Thorn to be placed under the command of Ney.  Then Napoleon said to Murat: “Establish your communications with Marshal Ney on the right bank, occupy the countryside with this cavalry and push the Russian cavalry back to their infantry.”

Napoleon said here the role of cavalry in the further exploration, was where it was stronger than the enemy it must be to defeat the enemy cavalry, forcing it to retreat behind the infantry and then attack it vigorously.

These orders of Napoleon would not be executed, the Grand Army encountering many difficulties in rebuilding bridges over the Vistula and Narew and the Russian army still not retiring.

On 10 December, Napoleon gave the following orders to Ney. “Direct your reconnaissance on Plock (where he would link with those of Augereau) to find out what the enemy dispositions were, and on Wittemburg, where his right wing is.  I long to hear that you have your cavalry (to be informed in time on the movements of the Russians).  In the case, I cannot believe, that the Russians marched in force on you, do not engage in an affair of  unequal strength.  In this case, rather recross the Vistula.”  Napoleon was convinced that the Russians retreated, he examines this hypothesis, however, unwilling to leave anything to chance; when Ney recrossed the Vistula, he was complying with the letter of 29 November and Napoleon executed the maneuver that was designed on that date (see above).  “Above all, keep a cautious demeanor until I learn that the Narew is crossed.  The enemy would then be taken in the flank if he made a movement on you.”  So if the right side corps was able to start to cross the Narew, Ney, if attacked, will take to Thorn; it allowed the reinforcement of the corps that are in Posen (4th, 1st Corps and the Division d’Espagne) and Napoleon to debouche with three corps of the right (mass of maneuvers) by Zakroczyn and Sierock, falling on the flank of the enemy.  This would be the maneuvers of Arcole relived on a larger scale.

Napoleon therefore had no preconceived idea; he was personally persuaded that the Russians were in retreat, but he sees, contrary to this view, the following possibilities: a Russian offensive on the lower Vistula or Thorn (either before or after the passage of the Narew by his army of the right.)

The Napoleon of 1807 was superior to the Napoleon of 1812, subjugating then his feelings to reality, not doing so in his maneuvers of the Wilna with two assumptions: immobility of Russians or offensive on Warsaw.[8]

On 11 December, Napoleon reinforced Ney with the two divisions of dragoons: Grouchy and Sahuc; and ordered him to conduct a reconnaissance on Plock (110 kilometers from Thorn) and Wittemburg (170 kilometers from Thorn).  The Emperor was considering a Russian offensive on Thorn; in which case it was necessary that his strategic reserve that is in Posen arrives at Thorn before them; yet there were 120 miles between those two cities, therefore, the cavalry of Ney must reconnoiter the countryside up to at least 120 kilometers from Thorn.

Napoleon learned that the Russians had not continued their retreat and that Murat had had great difficulties in rebuilding the bridges over the Vistula, decided, December 12, to move his reserves to Thorn.

The 4th Corps was ordered to move on Inowroclaw and Sompolno.

In a letter dated the 13th, Napoleon set out the dispositions for his plans for a campaign beyond the Vistula.

“The Marshal Bessières, until further notice, will take the command of a 2nd Reserve Corps of Cavalry.  This corps would comprise: Of the light cavalry division of General Tilly (from the 1st Corps), the dragoon divisions of Sahuc and Grouchy, the cuirassier division of General d’Hautpoul.”

Napoleon put under one command all the cavalry of exploration.

Tilly had been in Thorn since the 12th,  Sahuc and Grouchy arrived there the 15th, d’Hautpoul the 17th.

“The light cavalry of Marshal Ney will scout to Strasbourg, on the road to Kœnigsberg.”

This cavalry was not placed under the command of Bessières, because it had a special mission to cover the 6th Corps and monitor the Prussians, against which Napoleon would not take any active operation.

“All the 2nd Reserve Corps of Marshal Bessières should jump to the right side of Ryppin and Biezun, scouting to Soldau, the point where, after Napoleon, it would perhaps find the Russian right. In this situation, Marshal Bessières would be halfway between Thorn and Pultusk.”

Napoleon sent his cavalry exploration as far as possible “to have positive news on what the Russians want to do” and he particularly wanted to know “where they support their right.”  Napoleon formed a new plan if the Russians would remain motionless.  He would focus on their right with the army he directed to Thorn and separate them from the Prussians, which will be easier if each of the two armies keep thinking of their own line of communications (Grodno for the Russians, Kœnigsberg for the Prussians), as in 1796 for the Austrians and Piedmontese (for first Milan and Turin for the latter). Obtaining this result, Napoleon turned the Russian right wing that operated near Warsaw immobilizing the Russians. This is the maneuver that he conceived in early 1812, but in larger proportions.[9]

Napoleon continues his letter: “The corps of Marshal Soult will cross the Vistula vis-à-vis at Wroclaweck the 16th, and the posts of Marshal Bessières and those of Marshal Soult will meet together in Lipno.  The junction once made, all the light cavalry of Marshal Soult will jump on the right side of Plock, along the Vistula, to facilitate the crossing of Marshal Augereau, which would take place towards Zakroczyn, and that of General Watier to Wyszogrod, and finally that of Marshal Davout , located at the mouth of the Bug in the Vistula River, at Nowy Dwór.

Each corps will open the passage of the Vistula for the corps which is on his right.”

The cavalry of the 4th Corps was not placed under the command of Bessières, because it had a security role, covering its army and supporting the passage of the corps on its right.

“The main purpose of Marshal Bessières will be maneuvering to sweep the plain (the corps which are behind will be totally secure)” and its junction with the right with the cavalry of Marshal Soult.”

The ground between the Drewenz and the Vistula would be taken.

“His second goal would be to throw the enemy beyond the river Ukra and assist the passage of the corps of Marshal Augereau, that of Marshal Davout, and finally the cavalry of the Grand Duke of Berg.”  It would contribute to fulfilling the mission entrusted to Soult and Augereau.

“The third goal of Marshal Bessières will be to reconnoiter the enemy at Pultusk and Wittemburg to better understand  what their plans are.”

Napoleon assumed that the Russians left should be at Pultusk, the right at Wittemburg, up to the point of the sources of the Orzyc “where they pass over to the Prussians, who lined the little river Passarge, the right resting on the sea.”

The Emperor insisted on the primary role of the cavalry exploration, “which would be familiarize itself with the operations of the Russians.”

Finally, the last goal, “the fully influence the Prussians to retire.”  Napoleon was not worried for his left flank; but he gave this mission to Bessières that if in the case “their participation is not taken seriously in the supposed position they occupy.”  The Russians were the main army, the Emperor did not think it necessary to engage them.

Until Napoleon knew the plans of the Russians, he occupied with his corps the locations shown on the sketch. (Letter of December 13.)

The Grand Army has two masses placed perpendicularly one over the other, separated by an interval of 100 kilometers (Dobrzyn-Zakroczyn) and linked by the cavalry.

If the enemy is at Warsaw, the right mass becomes the mass of coverage, the left fills the role of mass maneuver and falls on the right flank of the Russians.

If the enemy is moving to Thorn, the mass of the left becomes the mass of coverage, the right one fills the role of mass maneuver and it easily crosses the Narew and falls on the left flank of the enemy.

See how the mass of the left operates in the event of an attack of the Russians towards Thorn.

The cavalry is midway between Thorn and Pultusk being 95 kilometers from Thorn (190 kilometers from Thorn to Pultusk).  As there are 50 kilometers from Thorn to Ryppin, it was 45 kilometers from the infantry.  If the enemy moves on Biezun-Thorn, it gives time for 4th and 6th Corps to concentrate in the middle of the line Strasbourg-Dobrzyn, since the most remote portions of the corps will travel 35 miles or less (70 kilometers from Strasbourg to Dobrzyn).  The 1st Corps and the Guard will arrive within one hour after the attack of the enemy (50 kilometers from Thorn at the concentration points of the 4th and 6th Corps).

If the enemy attacks the 6th Corps in Strasbourg, it will beat a retreat to Thorn, and as it is the same distance from Thorn to Strasbourg as from Thorn to Dobrzyn (60 kilometers), the 4th Corps would arrive no later at Thorn as it would take the 6th Corps, and the whole army is concentrated there.

Napoleon provided in the letter that even if the Russians would withdraw, he would then take his cantonments; the season was too bad for a campaign in Russia, he would march to a disaster like that which would happen to him in 1812.  Only “the Grand Duke of Berg would be pursuing them with the 30,000 or 40.000 horses that are in the army”, to accelerate their retirement and cause some losses.

Napoleon has made provision for all cases; the immobility of the Russians, the Russians retirement, Russian offensives at either Warsaw or on Thorn, or on the lower Vistula.

The day the Emperor decided to direct half of his army to Thorn, the bridge was completed in Warsaw.

In the night, Napoleon received a letter from Murat, announcing the retirement of the enemy; he cannot follow up with his plan to turn the right of the Russians; then, “the enemy can be only attacked by the cavalry, wrote to the Emperor to Murat, and this concerns you.  Try to communicate by the right bank of through Thorn and Ryppin “, which will be easy, now that the Russians withdrew, “send reconnaissance on to Biezun, to make your juncture with Bessières”.

The enemy beat a retreat, the 4th Corps no longer needed its cavalry to cover; so Napoleon decided that it would be placed under the command of Bessières, as soon as the 4th Corps had crossed the Vistula. Similarly, the cavalry of Davout, Lannes and Augereau were placed directly under the command of Murat to be employed as cavalry of exploration.  “With such a large quantity of cavalry you can cut the road from Kœnigsberg to Pultusk (to prevent any junction between the Russians and Prussians) and cut into the rear guard of the enemy ….. Your cavalry must crush the enemy, throwing them back in a panic … my infantry would rest.”

Davout occupied Sierock, with a division at Pultusk; Augereau, Zakroczyn-Wyszogrod; Lannes, Warsaw; the first three corps’ sites that they had given December 9, assuming that the Russians would continue their retreat.

But on the night of the14th to 15th, the Emperor was receiving reports announcing “that the two routes of Grodno and Brest-Litowki were covered with Russians who marched in the direction of the Vistula.”  Their columns will therefore lead to Sierock and Pultusk.  Napoleon returned to the plan he developed in that eventuality: he would turn, with his mass on the left, the right of Russians, that he supposed was at Pultusk, while immobilizing with the mass of the right.  Ordering Ney to move on Pultusk by Ryppin and Biezun; to Soult, to cross the Vistula at Wroclaweck and move on Pultusk by Plonsk, “so to be on the right of Marshal Ney, who with his corps forms the left and in these positions you will find you are able to help each other according to circumstances.  Your main goal should be to move your right to unite with the corps of Marshal Augereau “who had crossed the Vistula at Zakroczyn.  Leval’s division was to occupy Thorn, until the 1st Corps arrived.  The light cavalry of Ney was ordered to remain under observation in Strasbourg, Culmsee and Culm, to monitor the Prussians.

The mass of the left presented with two corps in the first line (6th Corps on the left, right 4th Corps) and one in reserve (1st Corps) behind the center.

It is informed by the cavalry corps of Bessières that is to be linked with that of Murat.

The Emperor left with his Guard from Posen to Warsaw to be near the theater.

On 17 December, Napoleon realizing Soult encountered difficulties in crossing the Vistula at Wroclaweck ordered him to come and cross near Zakroczyn.  The 7th Corps established itself: the right on the Vistula, the left at Plonsk, where it would link with the 1st Corps.

The mass of the left included on the left Ney who moved through Biezun, and on the right Bernadotte who move on Plonsk.  It was always preceded by cavalry.

Napoleon’s intention was “to attack the enemy the 21st or 22nd” who was on the left bank of the Ukra.  The Emperor had a bridgehead on the Narew at the confluence of the Ukra, and another bridgehead on the Vistula near Zakroczyn.  But the work for the establishment of bridges at these two points was conducted very slowly.

On the 18th, at midnight, Napoleon arrived in Warsaw.  He would order a general attack when the bridge building of Davout ended, and, consequently, he could lead with all his cavalry, the 3rd and 5th Corps; by then Augereau should not be compromised; he recommended that Bernadotte maneuver carefully without too much commitment, until he communicates with Zakroczyn.  Soult would come in a second line near Wyszogrod.

On the 20th the cavalry established the link between the right wing and the left wing of the army. The 21st, Augereau was ordered to proceed to Plonsk to approach the Ukra; to facilitate this movement, Napoleon reinforced the brigades of Milhaud and Watier: Augereau and would have six regiments of light cavalry.

The bridge built by Davout on the Bug, being about to be finished, the Emperor gave the order to Murat’s cavalry be ready by to take the lead on the right bank.

The 4th Corps traversed the Vistula between Plock and Dobrzyków where the crossing was easier to perform than Wyszogrod, the point indicated by Napoleon.

According to a letter from the Chief of Staff to Soult, the Grand Army would occupy sites indicated on the sketch the 22nd.

It consisted of masses; that of the right was composed of the 7th Corps and 3rd Corps in the front line, the latter corps to debouche the bridge over the Bug to form to the right of the 7th Corps; second line was the 5th and 4th Corps; the 5th ready to also debouche from the bridge over the Bug, the 4th Corps to stand behind the left of the 7th Corps, ready to extend the first line and link the mass of the right with the mass of the left; the 1st Cavalry Corps covering the mass of the right.  As for the left it should be at Biezun; it consisted of 1st and 6th Corps, preceded by the cavalry Bessières; it was this mass that would fill the role the mass of maneuver.

On the 22nd, the bridge over the Bug being completed, the 3rd Corps and the 1st Corps of Reserve Cavalry were ordered to cross the Bug; Lannes was ordered to proceed from Warsaw to the bridge; Soult was ordered to move on Plonsk ready to press Racionz (Raciąż).

The 23rd in the morning, Napoleon arrived at the bridge that Davout had established on the Berg, ordering the 3rd Corps to debouche, then move near the Ukra near Pomiechowo and throw out the enemy beyond.

As at the crossing of the Danube at the Battle of Wagram, over the Niemen by Davout in 1812, the Emperor dictated all the details of the execution of the operation, instead of leaving it to Davout.

The same evening, the Russians were driven beyond Czarnowo.

Bessières, meanwhile, threw back a vigorous enemy attack on Biezun.

Augereau was ordered to continue his movement towards Ukra; he would move on Nowe Miasto; Soult was to focus on Plonsk, “in a manner to sustain yourself if committed in a serious matter.”

The intervention of Augereau would attract the attention of the enemy at Nowe Miasto and oblige them to move part of its forces, which would disengage them from the 3rd and 5th Corps and facilitate their debouchments.

The Chief of Staff wrote to Bernadotte, who commanded the left wing of the army:  “The Emperor, who gone to the bridge of the Bug, will issue you orders from there at 9 o’clock in the morning to let you know the direction you have to take. ”  But an estafette had at least 80 kilometers to go from the bridge of the Bug up to Biezun over very broken terrain.  Napoleon, instead of being on the right wing of his army and focusing all his attention to the crossing of the Bug, should have been more central so his orders would arrive as quickly as possible to his various corps.  He will commit the same mistake at the beginning of 1812 in his handling of Vilna, where he held to the left of his army.

Moreover, Bernadotte ignored the general plan of the maneuver; he ignored the role he had to fulfill.  Napoleon gave the order to move on Biezun; there, “he will discover the direction he should take.”

If he did not reach the point that he was assigned at the prescribed time, if the Russians changed their dispositions, if the orders of Napoleon sent to the right wing were not carried out on time, Bernadotte would not contribute to the implementation of the plan.

Napoleon committed the same mistake in 1812; he did not show his right wing the plan he designed.  Moreover, in most maneuvers, Napoleon kept to himself the plan he had formed.  He did not seek, by general instructions, do develop the initiative of his subordinates; the day would come when they would command armies; either in Spain or in Germany in 1813, and they would no longer have Napoleon to lead them, they would not develop a plan of maneuver, they would be beaten.

In this letter to Bernadotte, however, the Emperor contemplates the possibility of his not succeeding “the order which will indicate the direction to take.”  Asks “if you can fulfill this,” he said, “determine whether the enemy is in force at Pultusk or any other place, you must lead. ” In his attack, Bernadotte helped to extricate the right wing of the Grand Army.

On the 24th, Davout crushed the Russians at Nasielsk; it was immediately followed by the 5th Corps.  The 7th Corps, followed by the 4th Corps, was directed on Nowe Miasto, which was the enemy’s right; the cavalry reserve joined the two masses and moved by Borkowo to Nasielsk.  Nearby it crushed the enemy cavalry near the first point.

The 7th Corps effected its crossing of the Ukra at Kolozomb and to beat the 15,000 men who defended it.  Soult was moving on Sochoczin to stand behind the left of the 7th Corps.

Bessières, instead of pursuing the enemy after the battle of Biezun and maintaining contact, remained motionless.

The morning of the 25th, Napoleon began to see more clearly the positions of the Russians.  The corps he had fought at Nasielsk withdrew by Strzegocin either to Golymin or Pultusk.  Ciechanow was occupied by the enemy, he then thought that it had detached a division to Nasielsk another to Nowe Miasto and other portions to Sierock, and with all their might, Russians will take the position left of Golymin the right at Ciechanow.  He gave orders to the 5th Corps to move to Pultusk on one of their lines of retreat, as he had directed Davout at Naumburg in 1806.  Napoleon added the dragoon division of Becker to Lannes.

The 3rd and 7th Corps would move on Golymin, the 3rd on the right, the 7th on the left; behind the left was the 4th Corps, ready to extend the first line.

Bernadotte with Bessières, the 1st and 6th Corps, found the enemy’s right near Ciechanow; the reserve cavalry of Murat joined the frontal attack and the enveloping attack.

On the 25th, the cavalry reserve upset an enemy column at Lopaczyn, which crossed the Sonna and fell back on Strzegocin.

Napoleon decided to bring his headquarters to the center of his army, at Lopaczyn.

The 26th, at 3 o’clock in the morning, Napoleon could no longer counting on Bernadotte to turn the right of the enemy gave orders to Soult to lead his corps to Ciechanow with the light cavalry of Watier.  At 6 am, he ordered Augereau to move his light cavalry to Golymin to link with Soult.

As for his cavalry reserve, it would await orders until “the Emperor knows what is happening at Strzegocin and Golymin.”

At 9 o’clock in the morning, Napoleon wrote Murat: “The enemy left at 2 o’clock in the morning from Golymin; the intention of the Emperor is that you go with your cavalry and fall on its flanks; General Beaumont will pursue their rear; the Emperor desires that you no mistake in the direction of the enemy.”

The day before, Murat had lost the column he had crushed.

Augereau, directed on Golymin must take the forces in the flank that were pulling out from this point.  Napoleon, foreseeing where they would move towards the side of Pultusk, wrote to Davout: “It is proper for you to follow so that Lannes is not alone in suffering the attack.”

The 5th Corps took possession of Pultusk, after a vigorous resistance of the Russians.  The 3rd and 5th Corps, part of the cavalry reserve beat the Russians at Golymin; they then retired on Ostrolenka.

At night, the 4th Corps reached Ciechanow; Watier was at Mosaka on the flank of the line of retreat of the Russians on Ostrolenka.

As for the left wing of the army, it did not understand the role it was to play.  Bessières, who commanded the cavalry of exploration, should, without waiting for any orders, have launched his cavalry on Ciechanow where enemy forces were reported.  Instead of doing this, he remained motionless for several days at Biezun, where the 1st Corps had joined it.

The 6th Corps, seeking to cut off the Prussians from the Russians, beat them the 26th at Soldau and threw them back on Neidenburg.

The victories of Napoleon at Pultusk, Golymin and Soldau were not decisive.  The maneuvers that he planned had failed were partly his fault, in parity with that of Bernadotte and Bessières, as explained above.

Napoleon would have to wait until next June 14 to destroy the Russian army.

The majority of Russians having pulled back by Makow on Ostrolenka, Napoleon immediately directed his cavalry reserve on this point, but because of the mud and lack of food, it could only weakly follow the enemy, never the less, they were somewhat shaken by the battles fought by Napoleon .  It marched in the following order: light cavalry, dragoons, cuirassiers.

Behind the cavalry, the mass of the  right of the Grand Army occupied a front of 35 kilometers. Lannes on the right at Pultusk, Davout in the center near Golymin, Soult on the left at Kolakzowo; in the second line, the 7th Corps was behind the center.

The enemy, after the battle of Pultusk, had retired through Rozan on the right bank of the Narew. Lannes pursued by his light cavalry and dragoon division supported by a brigade of infantry.

The Chief of Staff wrote Bernadotte:

“The direction of the Emperor is that you move on Wittemburg and first at Chorzellen (Chorzele) cross the River Omulew; the object of your movements being to make the enemy believe that the Emperor wants to focus on Grodno.”

By withdrawing along the right bank of the Narew, Russians could use as the defensive line the Orzyc and the Omulew, rivers whose course is perpendicular to the direction of their right.  Napoleon, with his mass of the right, attacking in front, while Bernadotte, debouching to their right flank at first Chorzellen then at Wittemburg would force them either to withdraw or to give battle in conditions unfavorable for them.

As for Ney, he would contain the Prussians and push up to Neidenburg, standing still yet within reach, so that two army corps could unite their forces in accordance with the circumstances.  Ney would fill the same role as had been assigned April 22, 1796 in the Laharpe division, whose mission was contain the Austrians while the main mass of Bonaparte’s army continued its operations against the Piedmontese, which was placed at such a distance from this mass it could lend its support.[10]

The 29th, Napoleon, fearing that the Russians would stop at Makow, on the Orzyc to give him battle, thought to concentrate his army; he gave orders to Soult to move on this point. “In this case, Murat should not attack, but take a position as Soult, pending the arrival of the corps of Davout, Augereau and Lannes.”  These bodies were 17 kilometers from Makow: Pultusk (5th Corps), Golymin (3rd and 7th Corps).

But the Russians continued their retreat to Ostrolenka, followed by the cavalry reserve.

Bessières decided to bring his cavalry forward, but it did not reach the position of the 6th Corps.

Soult’s cavalry was sent to Prasznitz to join the right and left of the army.


[1] See the Maneuvers of Jena, by M. the general Bonnal.

[2] See the Maneuvers of Ulm, by M. the general Bonnal (course of the School of War).

[3] See the Maneuvers of Jena.

[4] See the Maneuvers of Lützen (course of the School of War).

[5] See the Maneuvers of Jena, by M. the General Bonnal.

[5a] card cut and folded so it can stand upright, and its upper part has some resemblance to a monk’s cap: thus, crushes like a house of cards. translator.

[6] See the Maneuvers of Landshut, of M. the General Bonnal.

[7] See the Maneuvers of Lützen (course of the School of War).

[8] See the maneuver Vilna by General Bonnal (during the War College).

[9] See the maneuver Vilna by General Bonnal.

[10] See in the Journal of Military Sciences in 1897, Study 1796-97, by J. C