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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”. 

Napoleon sets in motion Mortier, Lannes, and the Cavalry Reserve.

At the news of the enemy attack, the Emperor set in motion, in the day, Mortier, the Reserve Corps of Lannes, and the Cavalry Reserve.  Napoleon’s plan was to cover the position of Saalfeld.

The order was to Lannes and Mortier to cover Christburg; for three divisions of cuirassiers, Espagne, Nansouty, Saint-Sulpice to meet at Marienburg; for three divisions of dragoons, Grouchy, Milhaud, Latour-Maubourg to gather at Osterode.

At 7 o’clock at night, the Emperor wrote to Masséna:  “It seems that the enemy attack Guttstadt in force and is making moves on the Passarge … Let me know on the spot what happens before you.”

From accounts received on the 5th of June, by Napoleon, it appeared that the main attack of the enemy occurred on Guttstadt.

6 June.  –On the 6th, at noon, the Emperor sent the following letter to Ney:  “It is proper to pull in your position, if you deem prudent, and when you retire, to march as slowly as possible, first behind Deppen, and then behind the lakes that I made you identify (lakes near Mohrungen and Libemühl).  I am gathering all my forces. My plan of operations depends on the position you and Marshal Soult take, when I can arrive; the rest should be done all day tomorrow ” (that is to say, on the 7th).

Among the corps of the second line, that of Mortier was the farthest; he was at Dirschau June 5, when he received orders to move on Christburg.  However, there are 60 kilometers from Dirschau to Saalfeld, where the army was to meet; because of this it would be two days for Mortier to get there, that is not be until the night of the 7th.

The corps of coverage were therefore given the days of 6 and 7 to rally at the position of Saalfeld; for this purpose, they should fall back fighting like a rear-guard.

The 6th at 9 o’clock in the morning, Soult sent the following report to the Emperor:

“I waited until now …, to be well informed if the troops who fought yesterday at Lomitten had fully withdrawn.  Since this morning there are only Cossacks on the right bank of the Passarge … All the rest have gone to join the troops that are before the 6th army corps, who seem to be in force.  At 5 o’clock, these troops were engaged with the 6th Corps, and the affair was very keen to 8, when it stopped … An officer who has just passed through, and who goes to your Majesty, said M. the Marshal carried out a retirement … Yesterday, I was myself too involved to be able to go to the aid of the 6th Corps … With two infantry divisions, I am in a position before Liebstadt just before these movements of the 6th Corps and the enemy changed their dispositions … On the hills of Schwedt and Wolfsdorf the enemy appears with more troops than there were yesterday; there are even more infantry, part of which came from Lomitten.”

During the day, the 4th Corps was not attacked.

The Emperor gave orders to the Guard to go immediately to Saalfeld.

At 8 o’clock at night he wrote to Davout:

“It is urgent that you’re in Osterode together with all your forces and the two divisions of dragoons … All my horse and my reserve infantry gather at Saalfeld and Mohrungen, as for myself, I’ll be at Saalfeld in an hour.  Do not leave anything at Allenstein and evacuate Marienwerder because it is by Marienburg and Danzig, that my line of operations will carry.  The enemy maneuver as if my line is on Thorn; you have chosen positions in Osterode, which offers so many advantages to hold the enemy, if it advances there.  You are the tip of my right; as of now, my intention is to pivot on you.”

For the date of the 6th, we find a note from Napoleon as follows:

“Marshal Ney at Deppen.
Marshal Soult before Liebstadt.
The Prince of Ponte-Corvo at Spanden and Braunsberg.
Marshal Ney may be at Mohrungen the 7th, and the 8th at Liebemühl.
Marshal Soult may be at Mohrungen the 7th, and the 8th between Saalfeld and Mohrungen.
The Prince of Ponte-Corvo can be the 7th at Holland.”

From this note and the letter to Davout, we can deduce the following considerations:

The 6th Corps, retiring on Deppen rather than Liebstadt, would interpose behind the Passarge, between the 4th and 3rd Corps; in his retreat, he would have his flanks covered by them.

In the case where the 6th Corps was forced to continue its retrograde movement, it would always act in the manner of coverage of maneuver; it would take position near the lakes that are near Liebemühl.  Its role would be to draw the enemy into this last point.  On the 8th, the Grand Army occupied the emplacements indicated in the sketch.  It presented a mass of coverage consisting of the 3rd and 6th Corps, and a mass of maneuver made up of the 4th, 1st Corps, the Guard, Reserve Cavalry, the corps of Lannes and Mortier; the latter mass debouching on the right flank of the enemy held in front by the 6th and 3rd Corps, and the cutting off Kœnigsberg.

We have seen that the corps of Lannes and Mortier and the cavalry reserve could be assembled on the 7th by the night, in front of Saalfeld.

In the day of the 6th, the 6th Corps was attacked at Deppen, but the Russians were constantly repulsed.

7 June.  –Davout wrote at 9 o’clock in the morning to the Emperor:  “I have no news of Marshal Ney, all the officers that I have sent could not reach him.  No news of the enemy … I left, nothing of the camp in the position of Allenstein, except three hundred and fifty horse.  Just as here they have not been disturbed.”  The 3rd Corps occupied, June 7, the locations indicated on the sketch.

Ney wrote at 6 in the morning from the camp at Deppen to the Chief of Staff:

“The enemy made constant marches and countermarches on the plateau of Deppen, right bank of the Passarge … there is great indecision in its enterprise; it seems very embarrassed.”

Indeed, the Russians did not attempt any attack that day.

The Emperor wrote to Bernadotte, at 11 o’clock in the morning, from Saalfeld:

“I am still guessing what the enemy wanted to accomplish; all this seems so much like swinging wildly to me.  Today I assemble at Mohrungen my reserve infantry and cavalry, and I’ll try to find the enemy and engage in a general battle, to finish this.”

The Russians did not continued their offensive, Napoleon could not execute the plan he had conceived the day before.

The Emperor sent to the 4th Corps the division of dragoons of Latour-Maubourg; to the 3rd Corps, that of Milhaud; the 1st Corps already had the division of Sahuc.

The rest of the Cavalry Reserve, the Guard, Lannes and Mortier were at Mohrungen.

Offensive of Napoleon.

The Grand Army being concentrated, Napoleon would take the offensive; on 7th in the evening he wrote to Davout to move on Deppen.

8 June.  –But because of a delay in transmitting the order and the movement that Davout had already begun on Osterode, he warned the Emperor that all his army corps “will not be at Deppen before 6 o’clock in the morning, tomorrow June 9.”

At four thirty in the evening, the Emperor wrote to Soult: “It is likely that I will move tomorrow on Guttstadt.”  It was there that the center of gravity of the enemy forces seemed to be, “then you need to move with your entire army corps at your hand.”

On the order of the Emperor, Ney had advanced to Wolfsdorf and crushed a Russian column.  He linked his left with the right of Soult, who had moved forward.

9 June.  –Murat, who commanded the vanguard of the Grand Army crushed the Russian rearguard and entered Guttstadt.

10 June.  –On the 10th Murat found the Russian army in position at Heilsberg; Napoleon’s plan was to hold the Russians in this position, with some of his forces, while the rest of his army would close their two roads of escape to Kœnigsberg, that by Landsberg and that by Eylau.  He then would deliver a final battle under very advantageous circumstances.  The tail of the Grand Army was still at Guttstadt the 10th in the night and Grossendorf is 25 kilometers from Guttstadt crossing the left bank of the Alle, Napoleon still needed the whole day on the 11th for the execution of his plan.

On the 10th Murat, then Soult and Lannes attacked the Russians at Heilsberg.  The 1st Corps, which had crossed the Passarge, was ordered to move on Landsberg.  The 3rd Corps was directed to Grossendorf and 6th and 8th Corps on the road to Eylau.

But, the 11th in the evening, the Russian army began to evacuate the position and retired to Friedland.

The road to Kœnigsberg was open, Napoleon would be focused on this city, trying to overtake the Russians and ready to fight if the opportunity presented itself.

In case the Russians attacked on his right flank, he would take his line of operations by Marienburg and Braunsberg.

On 13 June the Russian army was still on the right flank of Napoleon, therefore he devised the following plan:

The Grand Army was facing right.  Lannes, becoming the vanguard would move his light cavalry on Domnau scouting on Friedland and Schippenbeil  The Guard, the 8th, 6th and 1st Corps, Grouchy Nansouty, Espagne will concentrate on Eylau.  The brigade of Durosnel and the division of Latour-Maubourg will move on Bartenstein, linking on their left to the right of the light cavalry of Lannes.

The 4th Corps and Murat (Saint-Sulpice, Milhaud, Lasalle), would move as soon as possible on Kœnigsberg, pushing before them the Prussians who occupied the road of Kreutzburg.  Murat would link with his right with the light cavalry of Lannes.

The 3rd Corps, on the road of Eylau to Kœnigsberg, would link the main body of drops established at Eylau with Murat and the 4th Corps, would be ready to support one or the other mass.

In the case where the enemy would debouche at Friedland during the execution of this plan, Murat, with the 3rd Corps, would fall on the right flank of the Russians, leaving the 4th Corps and a division of dragoons to deal with the Prussians.  Napoleon would take his line of operations on his left, where the Russians, who believed that their line of operations through Heilsberg, sought to cut this last point.

Lannes was still near Eylau when Murat, with the 4th Corps, began his movement on Kœnigsberg, Murat perform his march in two bounds, to ensure the opportunity to join the Grand Army in ample time in case of a Russian attack.

Murat, in his first leap, would occupy the right bank of the river Frisching; he execute his second jump when he heard that Lannes acknowledged that Domnau was not occupied.

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, Napoleon wrote Murat that “every indication is that the enemy is no longer in a position to.”

At 9 o’clock at night, the Emperor wrote to Lannes,  “My aide has just arrived.  He does not give me enough information to let me know if it is the enemy army that debouched at Friedland or only one party.  In any case, the division of Grouchy is on the march … Marshal Mortier also sent his cavalry to support yours and starts to move with his corps.”

At 10 o’clock at night, Ney was started on his march on Domnau, then a few hours after the cavalry divisions, the Guard and the 1st Corps.

On June 14, just after the arrival of the main army, Lannes, reinforced by Grouchy and Nansouty held out in his fight against the enemy, skillfully concealing his forces and holding the Russians in uncertainty.

At midday, Napoleon gave the order of battle, he wrote to Murat rejoin the Grand Army with Davout as soon as possible.  In case the enemy was in great force, the Emperor would be content to bombard them, and await the arrival of Murat to fight a final battle on the morrow.

At 5 o’clock in the evening, the corps were in their assigned places by the order of battle, and Napoleon decided to give battle to the enemy.  At the end of the day, the Russian army was completely defeated.

The 16th, Kœnigsberg capitulated; the 19th, the Emperor arrived in Tilsit; the 21st, an armistice was signed between Napoleon and Alexander.  On July 8, the final peace was concluded.

The defeat of the Russians at Friedland had brought this decisive result. Soon it was evident, however, that the Russian army had again escaped one more the blow of Napoleon and she could withdraw intact into Russia.

An idea of Bennigsen which Napoleon could not have counted on had led it to Friedland.  Bennigsen, who had not clung to the 6th Corps at the beginning of his offensive and, consequently, had not fallen into the trap that the Emperor had proffered to Bennigsen, who, at Heilsberg, was able to retire before Napoleon and had time to turn, allowing Bennigsen to come to Friedland affording it another shot at the Grand Army.

If we do not find the genius of Napoleon in the victory that ended the campaign, which was due to lack of Bennigsen, not following the same course as the rest of the campaign.  We can only admire the judicious steps taken by the Emperor on the Passarge and which enabled him to successfully meet any enemy attack.  If Napoleon had had to deal with a penetration of an enemy with an idea of an offensive opening, he would had made him pay dearly.

Let us examine the places occupied by the Grand Army from March 10 and the intended provisions that the Emperor was to take to defeat any enemy attack.  With an enemy as a partial to the offensive that the Germans, we see that these provisions are applicable to the case of a war of France with Germany.  We can assume a First Army, based on Verdun and Toul, representing the 1st and 4th corps; a 2nd Army, based on Epinal and Belfort, representing the 3rd Corps; a 3rd Army on the Meurthe, representing the 6th Corps; a 4th Army behind the gap between the 1st Army and 2nd Army, representing the Guard and Oudinot.  Our line cannot be turned; it anchored with Switzerland, on our left; the Belgian border filling the role of the Baltic.  The corps of the 1st Army, would be staggered as were the 1st and 4th corps on the Passarge.

If the main German was on the 1st Army, it resists, then the 3rd Army, followed by the 4th Army and part of the 2nd Army, debouches on their left flank.

In case of the major attack of the Germans on the 3rd Army, it falls back from one position to another position, as it was to be for the 6th Corps, supported on either side by a portion of 1st and 2nd Armies acting as did the 3rd and 4th corps.  The 3rd Army is interposed between the 1st and the 2nd Army, drawing to itself the enemy. The 4th Army and 1st Army then debouche near Toul, in the right flank of the Germans.

Let us refer to the means employed by Napoleon for information on the intentions of the enemy.  Some argue that the cavalry can only provide this information; that therefore, it should form large masses of cavalry, and war begins with heavy fighting between the opposing cavalry.  Napoleon, the master of war, has never used his cavalry in this way, when his army was found near the enemy.

In 1806, during the reassembly, the cavalry was only slightly ahead of the infantry; it doesn’t stir, indeed, except in combination with light infantry; it is the same in 1809.  We have seen how it was in January 1807.

During the cantonments  of the Grand Army in January and March 1807, a division dragoons was assigned to each corps of coverage.  But these divisions of dragoons were to be employed as battle cavalry.  The light cavalry only was used for security.

The Emperor did not form corps of cavalry to find information on the movements of the enemy on his flanks, and yet, it was supported by infantry; however, we have seen used on the side of Willenberg, Murat with 6,000 cavalry and 6,000 infantry.  He gave orders to his cavalry to lead his army when looking for an enemy army (November and December 1807) or when he takes the offensive: offensive on Allenstein (late January 1807), offensive on Guttstadt (June 7, 1807).

For information on the movements of the enemy, he takes prisoners, carried off the bailiffs; he maintains spies; we can find from Alsace-Lorraine valuable auxiliaries.  And thanks to the resistance of his corps of coverage he will gain information on the intentions of the enemy.  We have seen his corps of coverage resist on the Passarge, based on the bridgehead to enable them to combine defense with an offensive movement and recognize the importance of attacking enemy forces; if need be, the corps of coverage executes a sortie to feel out the enemy.

In using these means of active resistance Napoleon recognized where the main attack of the enemy was, where is its center of gravity was.  He makes no decision before he knows exactly the intentions of the enemy.  Once his resolution is made knowingly, he acted with speed and power, by giving all his means of action their maximum efficiency.