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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”. 



Never in any of its campaigns, had the Grand Army suffered hardship as great; never had it to make such superhuman efforts, and for the first time, the decisive victory had eluded it.  “For two months, staff officers, colonels, officers had not removed their clothes, and for some four (the Emperor himself had been fifteen days without removing his boots), in a surroundings of snow and mud, without wine, without brandy, without bread, eating potatoes and meat, making long marches and counter marches, without any kind of let up and driven to the bayonet and grapeshot; very often forced to evacuate wounded by sleigh, in the open, for fifty miles.”  (Letter of Napoleon to the King of Naples, 1 March 1807.)  The evening of Eylau, the Grand Army was completely exhausted, unable to make another effort.  The Emperor, who for the first time, did not end a campaign by storm, “was very tired.”  (Letter of Napoleon to the Empress of February 9, 1807.)  He would wait for the right season to get another Austerlitz, another Jena.  Meanwhile, Napoleon would make every effort to increase his strength.

A powerful army led by a thought borne of scholarly strategic maneuvers is successful and decisive.

We first examine by what means Napoleon strengthened the Grand Army, we then devote ourselves to the military operations.


To restore the strength of the Grand Army, Napoleon executed with the whole French army, from Spain and Italy, to the Vistula, a great movement from left to right.  He appealed, in France, to Dejean; in Italy, to Prince Eugène; in Holland, to the King of Holland; in Germany, to Jérôme (Silesia), to Kellermann (Mainz), to Clarke (Berlin), to Lagrange (Cassel), to Mortier (the corps of observation in northern Germany).

Polish regiments were raised.

Spain itself had to provide up to 15,000 men.

On 20 February, the Emperor asked Mortier for three regiments. Brune, who received 3,000 Dutch from Cassel, could provide him a thousand.  A partial regiment stationed in Paris, another that was to arrive at Mainz, could be used for Mortier.

The 25th, the King of Holland received orders to strengthen his corps at Hamburg, to replace the men sent to Mortier.

“If the Hessians were not quiet,” wrote Napoleon to Lagrange, “you would soon be reinforced by the large number of conscripts that are moving to Marshal Kellermann.”

The same day he wrote to Jérôme:

“I told you to send me half of the Bavarian troops and move them to Warsaw with the Bavarian division which remains with you, get ready to move on Posen … You will reunite with the reserve corps.  Make directions for having the most cartridges and cannons that could be provided at Thorn.”

The Emperor brought from France and Italy all the regiments that are not essential to their defense.  Then he ordered sent to the Grand Army the conscription of 1807, which was levied in November 1806.  To this end, February 24, Napoleon appealed to Kellermann. “I need troops.”

Kellermann was charged, in Mainz, with the organization of provisional regiments.  From March to June, he formed twelve regiments of infantry, numbered from 9 to 20, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th provisional regiments were already in Berlin at the time of Eylau, and at the end of February the 3rd, 6th, 7th and 8th regiments were being trained in Mainz.

As soon as four regiments were organized, Kellermann sent on the next four.

Once the battalions that were in France had more than 600 men, each corps supplied a company of 180 men, directed to Mainz.

If the corps could provide only 100 to 120 men, it had to be balanced by others that provided 240 to 300.

When the regiments arrived at the Grand Army, they were dissolved, and the detachments were sent to their corps.

Through these twenty French regiments, Napoleon’s planned to strengthen the Grand Army by 50,000 men (letter from Napoleon to Clarke, March 19, 1807).  But these regiments were made up of untrained men, Napoleon confessed they were of little help (letter from Napoleon to Clarke, 16 April).

Napoleon had great difficulties remounting his new formations of cavalry.  Despite strict orders he had given, cavalrymen were sent to Germany without mounts.  Bourcier, who commanded the depot of Potsdam, was charged with mounting for the most part, using horses, provided by the Mecklenburg and Hanover.  Jérôme, in Silesia, was also forced to mount cavalrymen that were sent to him.

Napoleon called on the men and officers of the Grand Army who remained inside the Empire and were not absolutely essential to its defense (letter of March 1, to Clarke, of 15 March to Daru).

Napoleon took steps to return the laggards (letter dated March 6 to Duroc) and pull patients soon after their recovery (letter of March 19th to Berthier).

The Emperor gave the order, March 30, to send from Italy the divisions of Boudet and Molitor (fourteen battalions) to form a corps of observation in the second line behind Brune (Hamburg) and Mortier (Stralsund), which were intended to defend against the Swedes and the English.  This whole army of Germany was based on the strongholds of Hameln, Magdeburg, Stettin, Spandau, Küstrin, where provisional battalions would be sent.

Napoleon thought to call in from the Grand Army in the early days of June the 3rd battalions that were in the camps of Boulogne, Saint-Lô, Pontivy and the Vendée; this would be a reinforcement of 25,000 men.  To replace in France and in Italy all those men and those that he called upon since February, Napoleon sent Lacuée, March 19, a senate-consult and a draft decree to raise 80,000 men of the conscription of 1808; 20,000 men would be assigned to Italy,  24,000 to the 3rd battalions and 36,000 to form 5 reserve legions of six battalions.

No men of the conscription of 1808 would be sent to the Grand Army or outside the borders of Italy before the month of January (letter of Napoleon to Dejean, 30 May).

By organizing an army so powerful, Napoleon had not only to the strengthen the Grand Army and the defense of his own Empire, he wanted to face Austria in the event that power declared war against him.  To this end, he expected to have in June an army of 72,000 men in Italy and an army of 100,000 men in Silesia and Galicia.

The army of 72,000 men in Italy was composed of 60,000 men stationed in Italy (Marmont included) and 12,000 men taken from the south of France (letter from Napoleon to Eugène, May 6, 1807).

The army of 100,000 men would be formed by the 60,000 men of the corps of observation of Brune, 20,000 Poles and 20,000 men who were operating in Silesia.


From the day following Eylau, the Emperor dreamed of retiring to take up his winter quarters, safe from the Cossacks.

On February 9 he wrote to Duroc:  “It will soon become necessary for the headquarters to assemble in Thorn … It is possible that I will have to move to the left bank of the Vistula.”

To claim the victory, Napoleon remained from February 8 to 16 near Eylau and disposed his army as indicated on the sketch.

The army was protected in front by the cavalry, three corps formed the cover, a corps on the two roads leading to Kœnigsberg, a corps on the road to Friedland.  The mass of maneuver consisted of the 4th and 7th Corps and by the Guard.  The line of Kreutzburg-Mulhausen to Eylau, was 13 kilometers, the Grand Army could be assembled in three hours.

The 10th Corps, which had left Thorn February 6 and marched on Marienburg, was ordered to go to Osterode to protect the rear of the army and the link with the 5th Corps.

Savary, warned of an offensive against Ostrolenka by Essen, carried most of the 5th corps to Ostrolenka and repelled the Russians February 16.

On February 10, Murat wrote to Gross-Lauth from  Napoleon: “Everyone assures us that the Russian army has taken Waldau (east of Kœnigsberg).

On February 11, Davout sent word of Domnau:  “This morning, all reports indicate, the corps of General Lestocq, except the cavalry, have left Friedland and  are directed on Allenburg.”

The enemy seemed therefore to have abandoned any idea of an offensive; the Emperor then no longer thought to withdraw to the left bank of the Vistula.

The 12th of February, Napoleon announced to Daru that the communication line of the army would go through Thorn:  “My intention, he wrote him, was to put my army into quarters and arrange as follows: a corps at Bromberg, another at Liebstadt, another at Elbing, another at Osterode, the cavalry will be arranged in a column from Thorn to Osterode. The 10th Corps will besiege Danzig and Graudenz. The General Headquarters will be at Thorn.  A corps will occupy Warsaw, Pultusk , Sierock … By this means, communication of my army, from Magdeburg to Bromberg, will be through canals.”  In dispersing the Grand Army, Napoleon did not think that the Russians would resume the offensive during the winter.  He wished above all that the Grand Army could be supplied easily.  Moreover, he would not proceed with this project the same day he wrote to Daru with his intentions, he gave “orders for reconnaissance by the engineers of the Passarge River from the lakes of Hohenstein to the sea;  to determine a location for a bridge towards Marienwerder and to choose the place where we could establish a good bridgehead.  Reconnoiter the country of Marienwerder to the sea.”  We shall see later why it was important that Napoleon had a bridge at Marienwerder.  “My intention, he wrote to Berthier, is to vigorously push the siege of Danzig, and it is especially important to complete the fortifications of Thorn, of Sierock, of Praga and of Modlin.”

Napoleon chooses the position of Osterode to assemble his army.

The 17th,  Napoleon wrote to Duroc:  “The army will be rallied at roughly the center position of Osterode; it is a distance of thirty miles from Pultusk and the same from the mouth of the Vistula.”  The Emperor said rallied at roughly because he couldn’t concentrate his whole army at Osterode.  He was forced to disperse it so that it could live off the land, but he disposed his corps so as to ensure an area of strategic maneuvers and consequently the possibility of rallying all his forces on Osterode, in case of attack.

The central position of Osterode had the advantage of covering Warsaw, Danzig and Thorn, and consequently the whole Vistula from Warsaw to Danzig.  This position indirectly covered Warsaw and Danzig, Thorn directly.

A Russian army, going to Danzig, would cross the Passarge, but couldn’t continue its movement without running the risk of being attacked on its flank by the Grand Army and later thrown into the Frische Haff and the Vistula.

Similarly, a Russian army that was heading towards Kœnigsberg through Wittemburg would be taken in flank by the Grand Army and thrown into the marshes that extend from Johannisburg to Angerburg.

In the latter case, the Grand Army, concentrated in Osterode, would make its line of operations on Marienwerder; so it was important that Thorn was strengthened to be safe from hostile parties (letter of February 12th to Berthier).

If the Russian army came down the right bank of the Narew, the 5th Corps would defend the Omulew, the Orzyc Rivers perpendicular to the direction of movement of the enemy and all the Grand Army, arriving from Osterode, would fall in its right flank.

If the enemy moved on the right or left bank of the Bug, the 5th Corps, holding Pultusk, Sierock, Modlin, Praga would resist, and all the Grand Army, arriving from Osterode, would debouche on the flank of the enemy.  Also it was very important that the support points of the 5th Corps were rapidly and strongly fortified (letter of February 12th to Berthier).  Napoleon again considered this case in a letter to Berthier, 16 March 1812, when he then hypothesized if the Russians would go to Warsaw before he had time to execute his strategic deployment on the Vistula.  The 5th, 7th and 8th corps would defend Warsaw and the 1st Corps, becoming the vanguard of the Grand Army, would proceed through Osterode on the flank of the Russians.  It would be followed immediately by the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Corps, which would debouche at Thorn from Krosen, from Berlin, from Küstrin and from Glogau. The Russians kept in place by 80,000 men would be taken in flank by 250,000 men.

Returning to 1807.

The Grand Army is directed to its cantonments.

On 16 February the Grand Army began to move and head towards its quarters, the 6th Corps forming the rearguard.

On the 19th, the Grand Army occupied the position indicated on the sketch; its various corps were at the vertices of a trapezoid with three sides of 14 kilometers and one 20 kilometers, the diagonals of 20 kilometers; it could be quickly assembled at any  point in the trapezoid.

As another attack from the Russians was feared, the Grand Army had concentrated its march. “Since the battle of Eylau, the enemy rallied behind the Pregel” (60th Bulletin of the Grand Army, February 17).

In this bulletin, the Emperor is of the opinion that with the thaw it was impossible it is to attack the Russians:  “We conceived the hope of forcing him into that position, if the river had been frozen but thawing continues, and this River is a barrier beyond which the French army has no incentive to throw itself.”

The 19th, Napoleon sent the following letter to Berthier:

“Give the order that all furnace makers of the army are turned over without delay to Osterode to build ten kilns.  We have chosen sites for magazines capable of containing flour for a thousand rations of bread and 50,000 biscuit rations.”

Osterode, as was Bamberg in 1806, as would Donauwerth in 1809, became the focal point of the army. Napoleon would have as soon as possible all the food he needed by his army, in other words a concentration of rations.

“Give the order to construct without delay two bridges over the Vistula; the 1st at Marienburg, the other near Marienwerder.”

The establishment of these two bridges was of great importance to the Emperor, in case of attack of the enemy either at Warsaw or on the Allenstein-Hohenstein front, similarly on Guttstadt.  In the first case, Napoleon would abandon his line of operations through Thorn, he would make it through Marienwerder and focus on the flank of the enemy.  In the second case, he will take on a line of communications through Marienwerder and deliver battle near Osterode.  In the third case, he would make his line of operations by Marienburg, and while his corps of coverage withdrew from position to position towards Osterode, he would debouch with a mass of maneuver on the Lower Passarge in the rear of the enemy, cutting off the retreat from Kœnigsberg.

Returning to the letter to Berthier:

“Give the order to General of Engineering Kirgener to go to Thorn to reconnoiter the work to be done to fortify the city and the bridgehead on the Vistula, and give this work proper direction and activity.”  In the case where Napoleon took his line of operations on the lower Vistula, and, consequently, his army would face east, Thorn will be safe from a hostile party.

“Please make three reconnaissances:

1o Of all the lakes and rivers that surround and like Osterode the position of Hohenstein with Saalfeld and Deutsch-Eylau.”

In case the enemy attacked a corps of coverage at Hohenstein Napoleon might not have any time to assemble the whole army at Osterode.  Then taking his line of operations by Marienwerder, it could resist at  one position to another position until the corps that would be on the low Passarge, becoming mass of maneuver, would debouche on the left flank.

“2o That of the Passarge River from its source to the sea.

3o That of the Alle from Guttstadt up to Neidenburg. We will know how this line could be good to cover the line of encampment.

The Emperor here indicates his intention to put his corps of coverage on the this line.

The same day, February 19th, Napoleon wrote to Duroc:

“Until this moment, the enemy has not moved to Kœnigsberg … The army goes into winter quarters behind the Passarge.  My headquarters will be based in Osterode. One can consider the campaign ended.”

Order for making of cantonments.

The following 20th, Napoleon gave orders for making of permanent quarters.  The corps of the Grand Army occupied the locations shown on the sketch.  That day, Lefebvre established his headquarters at Subkau on the left bank of the Vistula.  The 7th Corps was disbanded and its regiments were distributed in other corps.

The Grand Army had four corps of coverage and one mass of maneuver, consisting of the Guard, Oudinot, and three divisions of cuirassiers.  This mass of maneuver would be the rallying point for the corps of coverage, or it would strengthened some of them, while others act as maneuver coverage.

Of the corps of the first line, only the 4th Corps received no divisions of dragoons, but Napoleon sent one on February 26.  Sahuc was detached to the 1st Corps, Grouchy to the 6th Corps, Milhaud to the 3rd Corps, the Count of Mons was with the 5th Corps.

The Emperor was applying the same principle when he made quarters of the Grand Army on 1 January 1807.  Each frontline corps was then assigned a division of dragoons.

There are 25 kilometers from Osterode to Hohenstein, 40 from Osterode to Guttstadt and 40 from Osterode to Wormditt, 80 from Osterode to Braunsberg.  In a day and a half at most, the whole army, except the 1st Corps, could be concentrated at Osterode “which, on prepared ground, gives two more days to the 1st Corps to arrive.” Napoleon put the thought in light on a quartering project for the Grand Army, June 17, 1807, after Friedland.  “When the general commanding the corps of the advanced guard,” he said, “would find that the enemy wants to start a new campaign, he could turned back on his third camp, where in one day, four army corps would be found assembled, which, on a prepared ground, gives two days to the reserves and all the cuirassiers to unite.”

Returning to the order of 20 February.

The furthest fractions from the 1st Corps (Braunsberg) was 80 kilometers from Osterode; the 1st Corps would have three days to join the Grand Army; it would arrive just in time.  In the meantime, the bulk of the Grand Army would retreat from position to position on terrain that Napoleon had reconnoitered.  (See the previously ordered reconnaissance by Napoleon’s letter of 19 February to Berthier.)