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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”. 


January 27.  –On January 27th, The Emperor, definitely learning that the enemy had taken the offensive, lifted his winter quarters and gave orders to assemble his army (which would require three to four days) and march on the enemy.

Murat was ordered to leave immediately for Willenberg where he would reunite with the corps of Soult and everything would fall under the hand of his reserve cavalry; this cavalry and the 4th Corps would form under his command, the general advanced guard.

The rest of the cavalry reserve would assemble at Mlawa; Murat would then be assigned an objective, according to circumstances.

Orders to Augereau directed his army on Mlawa; Davout to meet his at Pultusk.

The Emperor began to execute the plan he outlined to Mortier in a letter dated November 25, in which he dealt with the case where the enemy would take the offensive on the lower Vistula.

His army would reunite behind Willenberg; preceded by his general vanguard, he would then move against the left flank of the enemy.

If they then, instead of continuing its movement towards the lower Vistula followed Bernadotte, the latter would carry out a covering maneuver; he would withdraw from position to position on Thorn where he would be supported by the troops that were being collected by Lefebvre.

Ney, instead of supporting the 1st Corps, would “lead him back on Thorn” and cover the gathering of the Grand Army.  Murat was directed to follow the enemy with the part of the cavalry reserve which was assembling at Mlawa, and would immediately support the gathering at Willenberg.

The reserve cavalry corps and the 6th formed the general advanced guard of the army, and the Grand Army, thus facing left, would fall on the left flank of the enemy, kept in check by Bernadotte.

This maneuver was planned by Napoleon on 9 October 1806, in the situation where Lannes was repulsed near Grafenthal by superior forces[1]. The 5th Corps was ordered to withdraw to Coburg where the 7th Corps was, to draw the enemy in that direction.

The 1st and 3rd Corps would debouch by the roads of Schleiz to Saalfeld and Ebersdorf to Grafenthal respectively, on the left flank of the enemy, kept in check by the 5th and 7th Corps.

This maneuver was planned for the Grand Army before crossing the Franken-Wald, in the situation where the Prussians would move against the 7th Corps in Frankfort[2].

Returning to 1807.  The 5th Corps was entrusted with a special mission: to contain the corps of Essen in the peninsula between the Bug and the Narew; Napoleon directed him to take the offensive, so that the Russians would be unaware of the departure of the Grand Army.  For the same purpose, Davout was ordered to conceal the movements of the Grand Army.

January 28.  –On the 28th the Emperor, learning that the enemy had not continued to follow Bernadotte to Thorn, resolved “to break the enemy’s center, and jump on the left and the right parts of his enemies who had not retreated in time.”

He would therefore take the offensive by Willenberg northward, “the 1st of February, the Emperor will be at the head of his advanced-guard.”

The disposition that would be adopted in moving forward was a diamond formation, which would penetrate like a wedge into the enemy and then face either right or left.  This was the disposition that was made before Jena. “The battalion square of 200,000 men,” which allowed him to address immediately, either Jena, or Leipzig.    

On the 28th, the Emperor gave the following orders:

The 31st in the evening, the Grand Duke of Berg will be before Willenberg on Ortelsburg, Soult at Willenberg, Ney at Hohenstein, Davout at Myszyniec, Augereau at Neidenberg-Janow, the Guard at Chorzellen.

Taking for the principal axis of movement of the Grand Army the direction of Chorzellen-Willenberg-Ortelsburg, the Emperor cut off the retreat of the Russians from reaching any of the points for crossing the Alle; the Grand Army, whose corps were on the left of that river would only need to face left to be quickly concentrate before the enemy in one of these points.

The 31st in the evening, the Grand Army would still have a front of 80 kilometers.

The 1st Corps, which had a special mission to cover Thorn would gather at Osterode.

The 6th Corps had been brought forward a little to align with the army.

So that the 3rd Corps reunited as quickly as possible at Myszyniec, everything on the right bank of the Narew would go by Makow and Rozan and what was on the left bank, wide of Pultusk crossing at Ostrolenka.

Napoleon wrote to Clarke: “As a corps could be cut off and thrown to the bottom of the Vistula and maybe further, I’ve recommended to send everyone to Stettin and keep an eye on what happens, in order for Marshal Mortier to be able to prepare, the guidance, and prevent the enemy, not only to cross the Oder, but to contain and retard its progress so that the crops that follow aggressively have time to reach it.”

The Emperor thought that as soon as he began his attack, the enemy troops who were engaged on the lower Vistula would retreat; in which case, Bernadotte was ordered to push on, so that all the forces of the Grand Army would be available to oppose the enemy.

On his way from Warsaw to his advanced guard, Napoleon went to Pultusk to give instructions to the 5th Corps, which would remain isolated from the army.

After taking the offensive, “the 5th Corps will mainly aim to cover the right bank of the Narew from the River Omulew up to Sierock; to guard the position of Sierock, and the portion of the shore of the Bug, from Sierock up to the Austrian border “(5 kilometers from Sierock).

The 5th Corps was to be based on the bridgeheads of Pultusk, Sierock, and if necessary take its line of communication by Modlin, instead of taking it by Praga.

On 30 January, at midnight, crossing at Przasznic, Napoleon wrote to Davout to prepare to stand at Ortelsburg; to Murat, to be ready to proceed with Soult on Passenheim.  The army would move on Allenstein, a point for crossing the Alle; it would form a diamond while marching with a front 30 kilometers.  In five days, Napoleon had thus deployed on his left his army, which occupied a front of 110 kilometers (Hohenstein to Pultusk) to a depth of 50 kilometers (Pultusk to Warsaw).

January 31.  –On January 31, Napoleon arrived at his vanguard at Willenberg; ordering Murat and Soult to move on Passenheim; Ney, to stand midway between Gilgenburg and Allenstein.

The 1st Corps was assigned to cover the line of communication of the army, in case the enemy would try to outflank the left of the army; he will capture Gilgenburg, and so the enemy does not realize it, he will execute the movement by a night march, leaving before the enemy a regiment of light cavalry to keep the fires of the bivouacs lit.  Afterwards, the regiment will move to Thorn, returning to its convoys and detachments.  If the 1st Corps cannot perform this maneuver, it will continue its movement on Thorn, but will resume the offensive vigorously when the enemy starts its retirement.

Napoleon did not want the enemy noticing the movement of the 1st Corps that must eventually place it behind the left of the Grand Army; so the enemy would not have followed the 1st Corps and threatened the line of communication of the Emperor, before the Grand Army would have pierced the center of the enemy.

During the day, Napoleon received a letter of Davout telling him of enemy movements in front of his right; instead to moving on Ortelsburg, Davout rallied his army and send strong reconnaissance on Johannisburg and Nikolaïken.

February 1.  –The main body of the enemy was to the west of the Alle, Napoleon continued his movement on Allenstein with the rest of the army.  The purpose of the Emperor “is turning the corps which is vis-à-vis Lobau and is opposite to Marshal Bernadotte.  It can be assumed that this corps will seek to withdraw to Allenstein or on Guttstadt”, which are two major crossings on the Alle.

Before daybreak, Napoleon wrote to Soult to move 2 divisions on Passenheim and 1 on Ortelsburg; his light cavalry to cover Mensguth, scouting the roads of Bischofsburg and Nikolaïken; it will bind (then) his right with Davout.

Murat will take care of scouting on Wartenburg, Allenstein and Hohenstein, binding to Ney.

According to orders issued on 1 February in the evening, the Grand Army would occupy the locations indicated by the sketch.

Napoleon wrote, on 1 February, to Lefebvre:  “It is possible that the enemy being entirely cut off,  had no other recourse than to throw himself on Thorn (as Wurmser after Bassans had attacked Mantua).  Lefebvre will hold there and the enemy column which would strike a blow will be hotly pursued” (as the army of Napoleon in 1796).

Davout reported to Napoleon, that day, that there was no enemy on his right; then the army could proceed in its entirety on Allenstein and placed facing left.

Orders to the 3rd Corps were to be at Ortelsburg on February 2, leaving a rearguard at Myszyniec to connect with the 5th army corps and protect the right’s line of communication, such as the 1st Corps covered the left.

Orders to the 7th Corps were to sleep tomorrow 2 to four miles from Allenstein; the 7th Corps was in the second line, its cavalry would meet that of Murat, Ney’s cavalry and that of Bernadotte was sufficient to protect the left flank of the Grand Army.

Orders to Ney and Soult were to stand at Allenstein.

The Emperor thus had by the night of the 2nd night, at this point, the reserve cavalry, 3 army corps and the Guard approximating 60,000 men; 40 kilometers back at Ortelsburg, the 3rd Corps had 20,000 men.

The Chief of Staff reminded Murat, who commanded the general vanguard (cavalry and 4th corps), of the role of an advanced guard.  “If the enemy is inferior, that is to say no more than 13 to 14,000 men, he must attack and try to get something in his retirement.  If, however, the enemy had combined its forces, you make a stand before him.”  In this way, the army commander will direct the battle; it will not escape him, as happened in 1870, among the Prussians in several of their victories.

Orders to Soult were to “march aggressively”.

An advance guard that marches to meet the enemy has to march in maneuvering formation.

The enemy mounted about 25,000 men on the day of the 2nd of February, the general vanguard stood on the defensive and did draw a little cannon fire.

But as the various corps were too far from Allenstein and that communications between them were poorly established, Napoleon could not support his vanguard with his army; also he thought that the enemy would not profit by withdrawing to the other crossing point of the Alle, Guttstadt.  “The news we could gather is that General Bennigsen is at Mohrungen … It is more than probable that at this moment he is retreating.” The Emperor therefore moved on Guttstadt-Kœnigsberg in an attempt to hit him.  The 1st Corps, which should no longer have an enemy before him, would come to Osterode, enabling it to fulfill two goals: take part in a battle if there is one, and ensure the communication of Napoleon on Thorn.  Napoleon would abandon his line of operations on Warsaw, which was too convoluted a route; indeed, during this campaign, he would change the lines of operations several, giving further proof of his genius. (See his letter of September 22, 1808 to the King of Spain: “To change the line of operation is an operation of genius.”)

February 3. –February 3, in the morning, Napoleon gave his orders to march on Guttstadt.

Orders to the general advanced guard were to move, to Augereau to capture Allenstein, to Davout to reach Wartenburg, to Ney to be between Osterode, Allenstein and Guttstadt.

If the enemy did not seek to cut the road from Thorn, the 1st Corps should advanced along with the army.

The army would form a diamond therefore with a 30 kilometers front, flanked on its left rear by the 1st Corps in Osterode, behind his right by a division of the 3rd Corps at Mensguth to protect his line of communication.

The general advanced guard started executing the prescribed movement on Guttstadt, until there was a report of the enemy positioned at Jonkowo.

Napoleon had crushed its outposts in order to debouche at the Allenstein bridge; he established his headquarters at Gottkendorf, where he gave his orders for the attack.  The corps of Ney and a division of Soult, supported by the 7th Corps and the Guard would be responsible for the attack in front; the rest of the 4th Corps and the 3rd Corps, the decisive attack; the 4th Corps would outflank the Russian left by the bridge of Bergfried; the 3rd Corps would be formed to its right at Spiegelberg.

When the enemy saw that it would be overwhelmed, it retreated.

February 4.  –The day was spent in fighting with the enemy rearguard; in the evening, the Grand Army occupied the locations indicated by the sketch.

The 5th in the morning, Napoleon, not knowing the intentions of the enemy, could only give general instructions to its various corps.

February 5.  He thought, however, that the enemy would try to arrive before him in Landsberg, the important thing was to outflank the Russian left.

Murat was ordered to send reconnaissance to the north and head with all his cavalry to the point where the enemy would be found in position; it is likely that the Russians were established between Liebstadt and Guttstadt to give time for the movement of their baggage train.  Murat maneuvered on their left flank; Soult, backed by Davout, who would evacuate Guttstadt, always operated on their left flank.

A division of dragoons (Grouchy) was attached to the 3rd Corps, as the Becker division had been attached to Lannes, when the 5th Corps had moved on Pultusk, on one line of retreat of the enemy.

The attack on the center would be made by Guard and the 7th Corps.  Ney had a special mission to destroy the Prussian column which had been cut off from the Alle; but in the case where it would disappear in the countryside, the 6th Corps should not go past Liebstadt to be near the army.

Napoleon wanted his forces concentrated, and the largest front they should have was 20 kilometers (Guttstadt-Liebstadt).

If the Russians took a position between these two points Ney had to march on their right flank.

The enemy was retreating, Bernadotte was ordered to join him.

Ney overthrew the 5th, at Deppen, the Prussian column, pursuing it up to Liebstadt where he stopped.

The other corps, pushing the enemy columns before them, stood still in the evening:

Davout, north of Guttstadt and Freymarkt,

Soult and Murat at Freymarkt,

The 7th Corps at Sommerfeld,

The Guard at Arensdorff,

The army was united in a diamond, allowing it to face right or left; the 6th and 3rd Corps, which respectively occupied the left bank of the Passarge and the right bank of the Alle, permitting them to debouche beyond each of these rivers.

February 6. –The 6th, at 2 o’clock in the morning, Napoleon, learning that the enemy forces gathered at Landsberg gave Murat orders to move on this point; he will be supported by Soult, and the 7th Corps, Guard and the 6th Corps, who were ordered to move.  Davout will initially focus on Heilsberg, then to outflank the left of the enemy.

Bernadotte was order to destroy the column of Lestocq, who, having been overthrown by Ney, would be withdrawing on Mohrungen.

The commanders of army corps would send reports to Freymarkt, where the Emperor was about 7 o’clock; it was from here that he would give orders for the attack.

Napoleon, receiving a letter from Ney reporting that he had not quite accounted for all of the column of Lestocq, ordered him to finish it, to move on Wormditt to cut him off while it would be taken in rear by Bernadotte.

The 6th, Davout defeated an enemy rearguard at Heilsberg; Napoleon with Murat, the 4th and 7th Corps crushed another at Hof.

February 7. –On the 7th, the Emperor with Murat, the 4th and 7th Corps and the Guard were heading on Eylau and captured the city after a fierce battle.

Napoleon, thinking Lestocq was crushed and had turned back, gave orders to Ney to move  to Krenzburg ready to cut off the retreat to Kœnigsberg of the Russians after the battle.  Bernadotte would handle Lestocq.

Orders were to Davout to stand between Eylau and Bartenstein, a mile and a half from Eylau, that is to say to the right of the line of battle to attack the Russian left flank.

The following day, February 8, the battle of Eylau was fought.

Napoleon remained master of the battlefield, but this was not the decisive victory he hoped that would end the campaign like Austerlitz, as Jena.

The Russian army, as at Golymin, retired in good order, ready to deliver a new fight.  But if the maneuvers at Eylau had not yielded conclusive results, we must attribute it to fate, not unlike Napoleon at Pultusk, as later for Landshut.

The letter which the Emperor had sent to Bernadotte, in which he outlined the plan of his maneuver, fell into Russian hands, the enemy, warned so it could retire in time to avoid being cutoff.

If this campaign is not perfect in its execution, it is nonetheless one of the most beautiful designed by  Napoleon.

At first, when his infantry occupied the bridges of the Oder at Stettin, Küstrin, Frankfort, he launched his cavalry up the Vistula, up to Posen, to have time to concentrate his army on the Oder, moving there the mass that operated against Blücher.

When he learned that the last remnants of the Prussian army would surrender, that the Russians were not yet by October 30 in Warsaw, he ordered his three army corps to meet at Posen, Schneidemühl, Driesen; he planned to execute the maneuver if they were attacked by the Russians.

When he moved his army on the Vistula, he considered all possibilities: retreat of the Russians, the Russians attack, either at Warsaw or on the lower Vistula, or finally against Thorn (before or after the crossing of the Narew by his army of the right), immobility of Russians: in the latter case, he designed the maneuver of Pultusk.

When he took his winter quarters, he deployed his forces in order to ensure freedom of maneuver; he supported his army through bridgeheads which he gave an essentially offensive role.

When at last the enemy took the offensive in late January, the Emperor performed the plan he has devised November 25, at his departure from Berlin; he quickly bends his army on his left, ready to fall on the left flank of the enemy, whether he carries on to Thorn, or whether it continues its movement towards the lower Vistula.

Napoleon gave a striking proof of his genius, not only in the design of these different plans of maneuver, but also in the ease and skill with which he could change his line of operations, and the judicious use of his cavalry that he divided or grouped given the circumstances of war.

We can therefore say that, despite the uncertain outcome of Eylau, the Napoleon of 1807 was still the Napoleon of Jena.


[1] See Maneuver of Jena, by M. the General Bonnal.

[2] See Maneuver of Jena, by M. the General Bonnal.