The Campaign of 1814: Chapter 11 Part IV

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)







Cavalry fighting at Saint-Martin de Bossenay and Saint-Aubin.  --At the moment the Army of Silesia established itself at Méry, where Gneisenau arrived at Troyes with Colonel von Grolmann to take with the sovereigns and the Generalissimo final dispositions for combat, Schwarzenberg had already drafted provisions for retirement and sent his lieutenants orders which called them back to the right bank of the Seine.  However, before sending the orders, the Generalissimo wanted to positively determine the nature of the movement that the French were effecting.  Wanting to know if he had before him something other than cavalry, he had prescribed the Vth and VIth Corps to push an offensive reconnaissance:  Wrede, from Saint-Martin de Bossenay on Saint-Aubin; Wittgenstein, from Romilly on Pont-le-Roi.

The VIth Corps connecting to the right of the Army of Silesia was at Méry, covered in front at Châtres by the cavalry of Pahlen reinforced by the division of light cavalry of the Russian Guard led by General Diebitsch.  In the morning, the Cossacks of Pahlen, under the command of General Lisanevich had temporarily reoccupied Pont-le-Roi which they had to evacuate between 9 and 10 o'clock in the morning, when the French appeared with respectable forces near Saint -Hilaire.[1]  Oudinot continuing, indeed, his movement had appeared on Gélannes and forced the extreme outposts of Pahlen to retreat from Saint-Hilaire on Romilly.  After exchanging a few shots, the Comte de Valmy having noticed that the Russians deployed before him twenty squadrons of regular cavalry, had not thought strong enough to risk a cavalry charge and had confined himself to continue his march once the infantry joined him.  Pahlen not wanting a general engagement for his part and noting the presence of the French infantry, decided to retreat when he saw other masses of French cavalry moving from Origny-le-Sec against the positions occupied by the advanced guard of the Vth Corps.  Kellermann followed, crossed behind Les Granges and Maizières-la-Grande-Paroisse that two battalions occupied immediately, while his cavalry drove up to Châtres where Pahlen stopped.  The bulk of the 7th Corps established with Oudinot at Romilly.[2]

General Frimont had under direct orders from the General Headquarters, sent on Saint-Martin from Bossenay and on Saint-Aubin, two squadrons of dragoons of Knesevich and two squadrons of Archduke Joseph Hussars of the Spleny Division to scour the country to the Seine and report specific information about the forces and movements of the enemy.  These four squadrons were, together with the cavalry of Pahlen, trying to push up to Nogent.  Arriving at Saint-Martin from Bossenay they met the French cavalry coming towards this point.  Lieutenant Colonel von Hering, without even considering the situation, immediately threw his two squadrons of dragoons, followed in a second line by the hussars on the French vanguard being brought to the heights.  But it then left against the bulk of Milhaud 's cavalry which, without giving him time to recognize and recall his squadrons, launched its four regiments of cavalry.  Jostled, tumbled, routed, it was strongly thrown back to Orvilliers where it was rallied by the cavalrymen of Spleny.  It was then 3:30, and Frimont, aware of what had happened, immediately fell on Orvilliers with the Vieregg Brigade and the Russian cuirassiers.[3]

When it arrived at Orvilliers, the French cavalry had already reached the positions that it would occupy and stood at Origny-le-Sec and Ossey-les-Trois-Maisons.  It is from Orvilliers that Frimont sent news to Wrede.[4]  He, in fact, noticed two strong columns (probably ours, he wrote) retreating by the road of Troyes.  It was, as we have said, the cavalry of Pahlen retreating on Châtres and Mesgrigny before the squadrons of generals Jacquinot and Trelliard. "The enemy," he added "seems to have abandoned the pursuit on that side and wants to throw itself on my left flank."  As a result, he marched left to Échemines and Belleville to be more centered in his position and cover the road from Traînel to Pavillon, and as it was impossible to give an exact account of the French forces, he stayed the night at Échemines while Milhaud 's cavalry occupied Saint -Flavy and Marigny le-Châtel.

The Guards and Russian reserves remained in their positions along the Seine, and the IIIrd Corps had to stay at Montgueux.

The light division of Prince Maurice Liechtenstein was still in Villeneuve-l'Archevêque.  This general,[5] believing that the hussars of Hesse-Homburg still occupied Marcilly-le-Hayer and would go from there to Avon-la-Pèze, decided to stay still at Villeneuve-l'Archevêque, although "I might," he writes Schwarzenberg, "in accordance with the orders of Your Highness, be completely destroyed if I come to be attacked by a numerically superior enemy, since my closest support, the Crenneville Division, is five leagues from me.  I dread even more an attack of the enemy infantry and cavalry that occupies Thorigny and La Postolle, that moreover is more than a troop of cavalry from Sens, but of a brigade of five regiments under the command of General Amey posted not far from here." Liechtenstein , foreseeing an imminent attack, announced to the Generalissimo that he would begin his retreat at 4 o'clock.  This retreat seemed all the more necessary that, while receiving Platov's note announcing the presence of the Ataman in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, he learned from one of his parties that he had already gone beyond Dixmont.

March of Bianchi on Dijon.  --Positions of other corps and the Army of Silesia  --Orders of Schwarzenberg for the 21st.  --The IVth Corps took position behind Troyes at Ruvigny.  Bianchi had received at noon in Fontvannes, the orders directing him to formed up at Dijon the ​​27st.  Starting out immediately, he arrived the same night in Saint-Germain and Saint-Jean- de-Bonneval while the light division of Ignatius Hardegg, which covered his right, went by Chennegy to Saint-Mards-en-Othe.

The results of the reconnaissances made by the Vth and VIth Corps, the news of Seslavin, who rightly passed as the most skilled, the smartest and most skillful Allied partisan , having been sent to him from Joigny,[6] completely convinced Schwarzenberg to continue with the other corps of the Great Army their retreat behind Troyes.  "The enemy seemed determined to continue moving forward, therefore explains the dispositions, the Great Army will take a military position on the right bank of the Seine, just outside defiles.  The VIth Corps will be established on 22 February on the right bank of the Seine, on the heights of Villacerf.  The Guards and reserves, the IVth Corps and Count Nostitz with the grenadiers and Austrian cuirassiers will take position from Saint-Parres-aux-Tertres to Rouilly-Saint-Loup.  The IIIrd and Vth Corps, with the light division of Prince Maurice Liechtenstein still remain on the left bank of the Seine and cover the roads from Sens and from Nogent to Troyes, until they are forced to yield to the superior numbers of the enemy.  The Army of Silesia will remain in the angle formed by the confluence of the Aube and the Seine between Méry and Plancy covering the right of the Great Army."[7]

Blücher had kept his word, his headquarters was at Droupt-Saint-Basle, Yorck and Kleist at Droupt-Sainte-Marie, Sacken at Méry, and Langeron immediately behind him.

The Emperor believing Marmont in Sézanne, had ordered him to send the cavalry halfway from Sézanne to Nogent, to ensure communications with his army and monitor Arcis-sur-Aube.  He had even allowed moving from Arcis to the right bank of the Aube.  While continuing to charge him, with Mortier, to cover Paris by the roads of Reims, Chateau-Thierry and Montmirail, he warned that if Blücher should unite with Schwarzenberg, he would be called to rejoin the French Grand Army, finally, he would rather see this happen, not at Sézanne but Fère-Champenoise.  Grouchy had already, at 10 o'clock in the morning, ordered to come to Nogent by the shortest path.

Besides Soissons and Dormans , there occurred no incidents worth noting.

22 February 1814.  --Resolutions and orders of Schwarzenberg.  --Instead of orders for the next day's battle, for orders that he had instructed Gneisenau and Grolmann to bring him at Droupt-Saint-Basle, the Field Marshal would receive, on the night of the 21st to 22nd, a letter in which, Schwarzenberg, summarizing the instructions he had given a few hours earlier to his generals advised not to risk a battle with the defiles of Troyes behind him.  "This situation obliges him to take a position with the bulk of his army on the heights behind the city, he invited Blücher to hold on at Méry, if he were to be attacked."

At that moment then, Schwarzenberg made a final resolution which he, however, had not talked of yet.  It was decided not to accept battle at the exit of the defiles of Troyes, but to withdraw to Bar-sur-Aube and Chaumont, and, if necessary, on the plateau of Langres.  However, before announcing his plans to Blücher, he still wanted to make the next day of the 22nd, one of the general reconnaissances that can only lead to negative results and after this demonstration, to snatch from the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia consent that he feared would be denied if he clearly stated his plan the 21st in the evening.

"It is absolutely necessary" so begins the disposition for the grand reconnaissance of 22 February,[8] "to obtain reliable and accurate information on the movements of the enemy.  We deploy, for this reason, the following day (22) a general reconnaissance that we have invited the Field Marshal Blücher to participate in on the side of Méry."

"His Excellency Field-Marshal Blücher will push ​​forward near Nogent a cavalry corps of at least 5,000 to 6,000 with a few horse batteries, so as to arrive at the precise level of troops of the Great Army charged with performing the reconnaissance."

"Count Wittgenstein will send half of his cavalry, a horse battery and the light cavalry division of the Russian Guard of General Diebitsch by the road from Orvilliers and Origny to Saint-Hilaire and the farm of Marais, so that the cavalry turns Saint-Hilaire on the left, when the cavalry of the Army of Silesia advances in front across from the village.  Count Wittgenstein has to agree with Field Marshal Blucher on the details of this movement."

"The bulk of the VIth Corps, made ​​available by the arrival of the Army of Silesia in Méry, will make camp at Fontaine- les-Grès, so that they can be used to support its cavalry and support in case of a general attack on the Army of Silesia to its right, the Vth Corps on the left."

"The cavalry of the Russian Guard with its artillery will leave its current positions.  It will make it to Saint-Martin- de- Bossenay at noon precisely and it will support the reconnaissance of Wittgenstein."

"The Vth Corps will be in position at Prunay at noon and will remain there until further notice.  The cavalry of the corps will occupy Avon-la-Pèze and will leave half of its troops with two horse batteries for Traînel so that its regiments arrive up to that point at noon precisely."

"The light division of Prince Maurice Liechtenstein will have its main body in position at Villeneuve-l'Archevêque, sending strong reconnaissance on Thorigny and the road from Sens."

"The IIIrd Corps will establish at Villemaur one of its brigades responsible for reinforcing Prince Maurice Liechtenstein."

"The other corps will remain in the positions they occupy today.  It is strongly recommended that all troops sent in reconnaissance move forward en masse and in close order.  Once the enemy is spotted , they will move at a trot to surprise the enemy outposts, to rout and follow them closely so as to arrive at the same time as them on the main enemy corps."

"If one of these reconnaissance reaches one of the points indicated without seeing the enemy, it will continue to advance, connecting to the right and left, as far as the ground will allow, with the other reconnaissance."

"As soon as a reconnaissance sees that the column which it is the closest to is engaged with the enemy, and if it does not find traces of the enemy before it, it will detach to the side of the column that fights, troops who will seek to disengage the reconnaissance attacked by turning the flank of the enemy."

"When the reconnaissance is completed, the cavalry will fall back to the corps to which it belongs, leaving a few small posts on the points evacuated by the enemy.  We especially seek prisoners, to be immediately directed to my headquarters."

"I invite the commanders of the cavalry to send me at Grès, one at the beginning and one at the end of the reconnaissance, two reports in which they will inform me of what they saw."

Orders of Napoleon.  --All these grand dispositions, adopted never the less, too late and made impracticable by events and movements of the 21st, were superfluous.  Before moving to meet the French, the Allies will be, instead, attacked by the Emperor, before pushing on Troyes, where he expected to be the 23rd, needing to cover his left and his rear to ensure the passage of Méry.

From the evening, at 9 o'clock, he renewed and further accentuated the movement orders given to his corps of the first and second lines.  The Reserves of Paris of the Duke of Padoue were in echelon from Bray to Montereau; Boyer de Rébeval had come to Nogent; Charpentier to Pont-le-Roy; Grouchy with his cavalry and the division of Leval to Granges; Bordesoulle went to Anglure and Plancy to connect with Marmont; Gerard to Villemaur, getting as near to Troyes as possible and communicating with Faux-Villecerf with Prunay that would be occupied by Macdonald intended to move on Échemines and La Pavillon.  The cavalry and infantry of the Old Guard moved between Les Granges and Grès where Oudinot, whose outposts would be established at La Malmaison, would have his headquarters.

The Emperor also wished to know before midnight, what was the situation of food convoys .  "You can send out all the orders", he wrote to the Chief of Staff  the 21st at 9 o'clock at night, "except those for the Duke of Reggio, the Duke of Tarente and the headquarters which must come to Granges.  These orders cannot be sent until I am sure that the bread is assured, because we will be in a desert."[9]

A 11:30 at night, the Chief of Staff sent the orders destined for Macdonald.   He added this in those that he sent to Oudinot at Romilly:  "The Emperor regrets that you did not seize Méry tonight and the Count de Valmy did not cut up the enemy's cavalry.  You must have Méry early tomorrow, making yourself master of the part of the city that is on this side, and as soon as you get there, throw up a bridge to take the other part."[10]

Finally, supplementing the measures he had indicated, the Emperor, before leaving Nogent prescribed:  the prefect of Seine-et-Marne shall, on his order, go to Provins, to ship daily to the army 40,000 rations of bread, 80,000 of meat, 100,000 of brandy (eau-de-vie), Count Daru shall send daily from Paris to the army 60,000 rations of bread biscuit, 60,000 of rice, 60,000 of meat and 60,000 of brandy ; always have at Nogent, where you must complete the ovens in 48 hours, 3,000 quintals of flour, 500,000 of brandy rations and 1,000 beef and always keep the stores full. He added:   "If I have to fall back from Troyes on Nogent and these stores were not ready, the army will be starving and all would be lost...We are in danger of not knowing how to live, for all the countryside of Troyes here has been ravaged and the land is, moreover, less fertile."[11]

Positions of the Allied armies in the morning of the 22nd.  --The French corps set in motion at the break of day; but the Allied positions were no longer the ones Schwarzenberg had had in mind when he wrote the provisions relating to the reconnaissance.  The VIth Corps, relieved by the Army of Silesia at Méry, had given it the outposts and the bridge.  The march of the French making the reconnaissance impossible, Wittgenstein had been ordered to go onto the right bank of the Seine and come to Villacerf.  Before performing this movement, he destroyed all the crossings of the Seine from Rilly-Sainte-Syre to Saint-Benoît- sur-Seine.  Pahlen with the advanced guard stopped at Chauchigny.

The infantry of the Vth Corps had also early in the morning, made ​​a retrograde movement from Savières to Saint-Lyé.  Wrede was established there on a line perpendicular to the course of the Seine, his right resting on the river, his left at Montgueux.  His cavalry, under General Frimont, having left early in the morning, from Belleville and Échemines, arrived at 9 o'clock at La Pavillon and was deployed in battle formation on several lines in the plain of La Malmaison in front of the Vth Corps infantry.  The Bavarian brigade of Diez formed its rearguard.  Count Antoine Hardegg covered the right of Frimont.  He had on the road from Nogent to Troyes, the Schwarzenberg Uhlans and Archduke Joseph Hussars and connected with the VIth Corps established on the right bank of the Seine at Villacerf.  The Bavarian general expected to see at any time the French push in force towards Troyes by the banks of the Seine and by the roads from Nogent and from Sens to Troyes.[12]

While wanting more than ever to avoid the general battle before Troyes, he nevertheless held to not to giving way too quickly and to oppose the enemy with forces that although sufficient to retard its progress, could not, because of their similar composition and distribution, fully engage.  One therefore, placed behind the Vth Corps, the cavalry of the Russian Guard and to its left the IIIrd Corps which stretched from Montgueux up to the exit of the defile of Fontvannes on the road from Sens.

The IVth Corps stood its ground at Rouilly, behind Troyes.

Battle of Méry.  --The vanguard of Yorck, under the command of Katzler, had barely set up at Mesgrigny and to replace the troops of Pahlen, when the advanced guard of the 7th French Corps (the Gruyer Brigade of  the Boyer Division), attacked quickly, dislodged them and briskly pursued up to Méry, that was occupied by some regiments of Prince Scherbatov, of the corps of Sacken.  General Boyer immediately charged the brigade of Gruyer to chase the Russians from the part of the town on the left bank and then follow them onto the right bank.  While Blücher acted to take up arms and form his army in battle formation behind Méry, riding on the road from Arcis, Gruyer plunged with bayonets on the Russians, crushing them, engaging at the bridge and following the infantry of the Dnieper Regiment, forcing two Cossack regiments of General Tallisin to retreat and at the head of three battalions, managed, after passing through all part of the town on the right bank, to debouch despite the fire.  Arrived at this point, he saw the army of Blucher in battle formation in front of him.  Attacked by Prussian troops of the Ist Corps, the soldiers of Gruyer held out until their general was wounded.  They then conceded and, followed by the Russians and Prussians, they fell back onto the left bank of the Seine.  They tried several times, in vain, to force the passage again.  General Boyer, forced to give up, merely lined the left bank with his skirmishers and tried in vain to save the bridge that the Russians eventually burned.[13]

Blücher, knowing now that the French movement was on Troyes, resent, towards evening, the corps of Yorck and Kleist to Droupt-Sainte-Marie.  Two battalions of Yorck and two battalions of Sacken occupied the part of Méry situated on the right bank and skirmished almost all day with the French.  The corps of Langeron occupied the former positions of the VIth Corps.  During the night, some parties of French cavalry, who managed to cross the Aube by ford, alarmed the headquarters of Blücher, but discovered in time by the outposts , they were forced to withdraw shortly after.[14]

The 9th Brigade (General von Klüx) belonging to the IInd Prussian Corps of Kleist, led by General von Röder and having come from Thionville and from Luxembourg, had arrived at Arcis-sur-Aube.  It consisted of six and a half battalions, of cuirassiers and Silesian lancers, Neumark dragoons.  It was ordered to stay temporarily at Arcis.

During the battle of Méry, the bulk of the 7th Corps had taken the position of Grès. The cavalry of Valmy had met the Allied cavalry half a league from Grès and had reached within cannon shot of La Malmaison; but by the strong lines of infantry appearing on the right side of Valmy, he was stopped and placed his outposts in the hills below La Malmaison.  In the evening, Oudinot let the Chief of Staff know that the vast line of lights he saw, proved positively that the Allies had decided to withdraw on Troyes.[15]

Cavalry battle of  Pavillon.  --To the right of Oudinot, Milhaud 's cavalry had appeared at 1 o'clock in the afternoon on the heights behind Pavillon.  It was deployed to the right and left of windmills and had pushed a dense chain of scouts into the ravines that it carefully searched; the chain marched from there to La Malmaison.

"There was then," says Taxis,[16] "actually cavalry on the highway, that of the regiment of Archduke Joseph Hussars, greatly weakened by its losses sustained on the 17th near Donnemarie and Villeneuve.  Around 7 o'clock in the evening, a strong column of French cavalry debouched on the highway, crushing the hussars, sending by order of Wrede, to ask for help from the Grand Duke Constantine, who still had 6,000 horses available. The French cavalry continued to advance; it was already about to take a half-battery position to the right of Frimont and envelope Schwarzenberg. Fortunately a vigorous charge, led by Colonel von Geramb, of the Archduke Joseph Hussars, managed through the darkness to reach the Generalissimo, and the French, who only wanted to feel out the Allies ceased their attacks."

Wrede then remained motionless in his position until he received at midnight the order to cover the general retreat of the army onto the right bank and to hold Troyes as long as possible, to give the equipment and material time to file off.  "Thus ended without any result," writes Wrede, "the day in which we were promised a battle.  It seems that, at night, the party of the defense managed to make itself heard once more, since the morning of the 23rd the Sovereign went to Vendeuvre, followed up to Lusigny by Schwarzenberg."

At 9 o'clock at night, Macdonald arrived at Échemines[17] and his reconnaissance sent to his left and his right to communicate with Oudinot and Gerard had not yet returned.

The guards and reserves profiting from Macdonald's stop in front of Échemines and that Wrede covered the immediate vicinity of Troyes, came, by a night march through Pont-Sainte-Marie, to occupy Saint-Parres-aux-Tertres, the defile of Troyes on the road of Vendeuvre.[18]

Cavalry battles of Molinons, Saint-Liébaut and Rozoy.  --March of Bianchi on Tonnerre.  --The light division of Prince Maurice Liechtenstein only had time to meet, at Fontvannes, the troops of Field Marshal Lieutenant Count Crenneville.  In the morning, the cavalry of General Roussel had rushed to Molinons, ahead of Villeneuve-l'Archevêque, the Light Horse Regiment of the Emperor, having put their twenty men out of action and taken some riders and an officer.  The rear-guard , under the command of Prince Gustav of Hesse-Homburg, that Liechtenstein had established on the evening of the 22nd at Saint-Liébaut, was pursued by the tip of the cavalry of Roussel, and its posts provided by the light horse of O'Reilly had been harassed by the French cavalry a short distance from the village.[19]

Platov also had, the day before, a skirmish with a cavalry party of the division of Roussel (26th Dragoons) who had mishandled his Cossacks at Rozoy[20] (halfway from Sens to Villeneuve-sur-Yonne).  He slightly pulled back on Joigny at the moment when General Allix leaving Nemours pushed to Ferrières and where the French, leaving Gien, reoccupied Montargis.

Bianchi, with the Ist Corps had continued his march between the Seine and Yonne by the cross road of Saint-Phal and arrived on the evening of the 22nd at Avreuil, always covered on his right by the light division of Ignatius Hardegg which leaving a large post guarding his flank in Auxon, had pushed up to Ervy.[21]

On the side of Marmont and Mortier, the 22nd had passed without incident.  Marmont had been informed of the movement that would take Mortier from Villers-Cotterêts on  Chateau -Thierry, from where the Duke of Treviso would be better able to cover La Ferté-sous-Jouarre and move on Montmirail.

Schwarzenberg's orders for the night of the 22nd.  --Following the events of the day, Schwarzenberg[22] ordered the IIIrd Corps to be closer to Troyes on the night of the 22nd to 23rd, where later on the 23rd in the morning, it was to rest its right at Sainte-Savine, in a manner to cover the line of retreat that was assigned to it and that went from Les Maisons-Blanches on Bar-sur-Seine.  The IIIrd Corps having to have before its front the light division of Maurice Liechtenstein and to the left the cuirassiers of Nostitz.

The Vth Corps, leaving one division with orders to stay at Troyes only until the 24th in the morning, then to cross the city to settle in Pont-Sainte-Marie.  The VIth Corps and the guards remained at Villacerf and Saint-Parres-aux-Tertres, ready to move on the threatened points.

Sending Colonel von Grolmann to Troyes.  --Letter of Blücher to the Emperor of Russia.  --Insignificant in itself although they were, if we only consider the military operations, the 22nd, on the contrary, was one of those that deserves to be the subject of scrutiny, both because of events marking the last moments of the Allied sovereigns stay in Troyes but also for the important resolutions which were decided.

On the one hand, it's Blücher who, when he received orders directing him to remain on the defensive at Méry, as he saw the bulk of the French army continue its movement against Troyes, accepted the plan developed by Colonel von Grolmann.  If this project was approved, the Army of Silesia would separate again from the Great Army marching by Sézanne on Meaux and seeking to operate in route and unite with Winzingerode and Bülow.  Blücher would push with them then and at the head of 100,000 men on Paris.  Grolmann was immediately sent to Troyes to get Schwarzenberg to abandon his retreat and decide to deliver without delay a battle that would decide the fate of the campaign, a battle Blücher felt strong enough to risk giving nothing from his single army.  The Colonel would speak of the possible separation of the two armies only after being well assured of the impossibility of convincing Schwarzenberg and the sovereigns.

When Grolmann arrived at Troyes, it was already too late to have any chance to get the desired change.  Orders were sent for retirement and partly executed.  The Army of Silesia was not, it is true, within the instructions in question, and Grolmann could therefore write to Blücher, from Troyes, the 22nd, at 10:30 at night:  "That he was forced to wait until tomorrow to report the final answer, but he hoped to make the proposal submitted accepted by the approval of the sovereign."

To facilitate Grolmann's mission, that he did not conceal the importance or difficulty, the Field Marshal further addressed a personal letter to the Emperor of Russia in which confirming and strengthening the arguments of Grolmann he begged Alexander to authorize marching on Paris after picking up Bülow and Winzingerode on the way.

Arrival of Lord Castlereagh at Troyes.  --Surrender of Napoleon's letter to the Emperor of Austria and that of Berthier to Schwarzenberg.  --The direct intervention of Blücher was particularly timely as Lord Castlereagh , who arrived in the meantime from Châtillon, had to report to the Emperor of Russia, that he thought the time had come to obey the orders of his government and take this opportunity to make peace.  According to him, "the Coalition was about to dissolve."

Finally, at 5:30 in the evening, a French spokesperson brought into Troyes, while Alexander conferred with Lord Castlereagh , a dispatch from Berthier to Schwarzenberg and a letter from Napoleon to the Emperor Francis[23], a letter in which Napoleon offered to present his army to a man of sound judgment, as Schwarzenberg, Bubna or Metternich, and offered to sign terms of peace without delay on the basis of what Austria had asked at Frankfurt and that he and the French nation had accepted as an ultimatum.

All, at that time, seemed to advocate an immediate peaceful solution.  The 21 February report of Seslavin and of which we have already spoken, had produced a profound impression.  The letter from the Emperor, despite the exaggerations it contained, had revived fears that the events of the day were partly confirmed.  There was hesitation, there was still doubt; one could not admit that the Emperor had around him an army superior in number to that of the Allies. However, it was known that there had been arriving from the army in Spain considerable reinforcements; we were even more ready to exaggerate their force as we could not explain the source and origin of the numerous cavalry which had just been in action.  The letter from the Emperor, the report of Seslavin,[24] the declarations of Lord Castlereagh made ​​a battle impossible; it was decided, then, pending the final solution that would be made in the council of war the next day, to continue the retirement on Bar-sur-Aube.

23 February 1814.  --War Council of Troyes.  --The Allied sovereigns propose an armistice.  --23 February at 8 o'clock in the morning, before leaving Troyes the sovereigns, held with the King of Prussia a council of war attended by Schwarzenberg, the principal officers of the General Staff and diplomats in the city.  In the frame of mind in which we stood at that time, the presence of diplomats could leave no doubt about the outcome of that council.  Having started a retirement, it was necessary to negotiate, to stop with an armistice the progress of the Emperor and to help formulate, following new successes, new claims that may be put before the Allied powers unable to agree on the continuation of negotiations hoping to lead to a peace treaty.  As a result, we charged, Prince Wenzel Liechtenstein, one of the aides of Schwarzenberg, to deliver within the hour to Berthier a letter in which the Allies proposed an armistice.  Pending the return of Prince Liechtenstein, it was important, as we would not know the content of the answer he had to report, to put on a good face and try to impose this attitude on the troops of Napoleon.  It was resolved, therefore, to defend throughout the day of the 23rd, the course of the Seine from Bar-sur-Seine to Méry and only continue the retreat on Bar-sur-Aube when the evening approached.

We were looking for a way to repair the indiscretions committed the 21st and 22nd.  At the moment, as on the 21st, when there was still thought of a battle before Troyes, one had acted with incomparable superficiality, completely neglecting to take some precautionary measures which alone could, in case of defeat, ensure the salvation of the army, or in case of retreat, which was already thought at the general headquarters, making a retrograde movement.  If the Emperor was able to attack the Allies with all his forces in the day, especially in the morning of the 22nd, the armies of Silesia and Bohemia would have found themselves in a more critical situation.  When Blücher came to relieve the Russians at Méry and then momentarily occupy Mesgrigny with a feeble advanced guard, there was no one to cover the bridge at Méry.  It therefore became extremely difficult for the 50,000 men of the Army of Silesia to debouch on the left bank, as the French firmly held Mesgrigny.  If Blücher, having succeeded in gaining a foothold on the left bank, was later, after a failure experienced by the army or by the effect of a retrograde movement of Schwarzenberg , withdrew onto the right bank, retiring by the one bridge would have become an almost impossible operation.  To his left, it was the same for the VIth Corps that had in reality only the crossing at Villacerf, where it was also found unnecessary to cover with a bridgehead.  The rest of the army of Schwarzenberg would have had to defile through Troyes in no less unfavorable conditions.  Different corps there would be crowded without being able to debouch to the right bank, if the French had pushed and pursued after winning a battle by them so near Troyes, it would have been possible for them to reach it the same evening and on the heels of the Allies defeated at the banks of the Seine.

Orders of Schwarzenberg for the days of 23 and 24 February.  --The 23rd in the morning, when the sovereigns had ratified the resolution that Schwarzenberg had already taken on his own initiative, the Generalissimo remedied these serious drawbacks and adopted the necessary measures to ensure for the guards and reserves and the IVth Corps the time they needed to form in column of route and execute their movement towards Vendeuvre.

Before leaving Troyes, the Generalissimo[25] ordered the movements that his army would execute in the afternoon of the 23rd towards Vendeuvre.  At 4 o'clock, the guards and Russian and Prussian reserves began their movement and would take position behind Vendeuvre.  The 24th with the dawn they would continue their march on Bar-sur-Aube, leaving at Vendeuvre only a division of Russian cuirassiers in support and available to the Crown Prince of Württemberg.  Blücher would maintain a small rearguard at Méry and regulate the retrograde movements of his army by special provisions that would be based on circumstances.

The IVth Corps would follow the guards and reserves and deploy in front of Vendeuvre.  The Crown Prince of Württemberg will securely hold the bridges Verrières and Clérey until the arrival of the cuirassiers of Nostitz, responsible for cutting.  The IVth Corps was strengthened, moreover, at this time, at Vendeuvre by the 5th Infantry Regiment, Prince Frederick, landwehr regiments nos 3, 4, 5 and 6, departing Württemberg 25 January and led by Major General von Lalance.

The VIth Corps occupied Villacerf by a rearguard and went on Piney when night came.  The 24th, it would go to Dienville and detach a party on Lesmont.

The IIIrd Corps, after covering the outskirts of Troyes up to 9 o'clock at night, would fall back during the night by the Maisons-Blanches on Bar-sur-Seine.  Prince Maurice Liechtenstein form the rear guard and executed the 24th, the same movement with his light division.

The Vth Corps covering the retreat of the army, held Troyes until the 24th at 4 o'clock in the morning, would retire slowly and settle behind the positions occupied by the IVth Corps at Vendeuvre, which it will give to at this time the division of Russian cuirassiers which had reinforced them during the last two days.  Before retiring, it would take up the pontoon bridges at Saint-Lyé and Culoison, and bring with them the equipment.


[1]Wittgenstein to Schwarzenberg, Méry, 21 February (K.. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 633) and Pahlen to Wittgenstein, Châtres, 21 February, 9 o'clock in the morning (Ibid., II, 633 b.)

[2]Oudinot to the Chief of Staff, Romilly, 21 February, 6:30 pm. (Archives of the War. )

[3] Field Marshal Lieutenant Spleny to General of Cavalry Count Wrede, note in pencil from 21 February, 3:30 (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 586 a) and Frimont to Wrede, note in pencil, 21 February, 3:45 (Ibid., II, 586 a.)

[4]Frimont to Wrede, note in pencil, from Orvilliers, 4 o'clock and 4:15 (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 586 b).

[5]Prince Maurice Liechtenstein to Schwarzenberg, Villeneuve-l'Archevêque, 21 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II,  621.)

[6]Report of Seslavin, Joigny, 21 February 1814, 10 o'clock in the morning.  -- "The headquarters of Napoleon will go  today from Fontainebleau to Sens, where a part of the Guard and 2 regiments of dragoons will be found.  Napoleon is looking for a great battle and will deliver it anywhere we will try to resist.  The enemy army consists, in terms of cavalry, of 14 regiments of cuirassiers, 14 regiments of hussars, 24 of dragoons and 30 of chasseurs à cheval.  The cuirassiers and guard head to the left of Sens, by the road from Troyes.  The whole army, including conscripts, is 180,000 men strong.  The enemy leaving Sens, appeared today around Villeneuve-le-Roi.  After a few skirmishes, General Platov abandoned Villeneuve-le-Roi withdrawing to Joigny.  The rumor in the enemy army, is that a spokesman has been sent to our army.  Conforming with the orders of His Majesty the Emperor, I move to the right wing of our army.  If I could not have made ​​forced marches from Orléans, I could have been cut off from the Yonne."

[7]STÄRKE, Eintheilung und der Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)

[8]Provisions for grand reconnaissance of 22 February, Headquarters of Troyes, 21 February 1814.

[9] Correspondence, no 21345.

[10]Chief of Staff to Macdonald and Oudinot, 21 February, 11:30, night. (Records of Berthier, Archives of the War.)

[11]Correspondence, nos 21347 and 21352.

[12]STARKE, Eintheilung und der Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt- Armee im Monate Februar. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)

[13]Blücher to Schwarzenberg, Droupt-Sainte-Basle, 22 February (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 649.):


 "When the enemy attacked Méry today, a fire of unprecedented violence broke out in the city and forced me to leave with my artillery at a trot.  The infantry continued to defend the main bridge, but it had not been able to destroy it.  The city was evacuated in the afternoon with my infantry, fearing, while awaiting reinforcements, to no longer be able to pass through the streets on fire."

"The enemy took advantage of this retreat, crossed the bridge immediately and led three battalions in front of the city, in the plain, where I made ​​an attack and managed to throw them back on the other side of the bridge.  Until the night we occupied the right bank and the enemy the left bank."

"I await your orders here."

"A prisoner captain said that it is the 7th Corps (Marshal Oudinot) who attacked Méry, the 11th Corps went further to the right. The 7th Corps consists of two divisions which left Bayonne by wagon 19 January and arrived at Meaux 5 February.  This corps is comprised of 14 battalions about 400 men in strength each.  At a level occupied by my left, we have seen, at noon , a large column of troops of the three arms moving, on the left bank of the Seine, against Troyes."

See also the report of Prince Scherbatov (Topical Archives of Saint-Petersburg, no 44585).


"The recklessness of Blücher was nearly fatal.  To warm up, the Field Marshal had made a fire in a house near the bridge.  While he criticized the dispositions taken by Scherbatov, the fusillade had redoubled in intensity; the French drawing up for their attack, would bend the string of Russian skirmishers.  Gneisenau, Valentini, Scherbatov and Nostitz decided Blücher should leave the house, then at the dike, from the top of which the Field Marshal watched the course of the march.  At this time, Scherbatov and Valentini were injured.  Nostitz took the arm of Blücher to hasten his march.  After a few steps the Field Marshal himself was shot in the ankle by a bullet that only bruised, and it was with great pain that Nostitz managed to bring him to the point where they found their horses.  If the Field Marshal had remained a few minutes longer on the front, it would have been certainly impossible to escape the French skirmishers." (From the diary of Count Nostitz.)

[14]General Boyer had, moreover, noticed all these movements and reported at 5:30 in the evening, the presence of 5,000 infantry between Méry and villages on the road to Villacerf, as well as that of the cavalry of Blücher he estimated at 15 squadrons that had deployed behind the infantry.  At 8 o'clock at night, he let Oudinot know that the Russian and Prussian skirmishers were reinforcing the bridge and on the right bank and that it seemed impossible to restore the bridge which continued to burn as did the city. (General Boyer to the Duke of Reggio, Méry, 22 February, 5:30 and 8 o'clock at night. Archives of the War.)

[15]Oudinot to the Chief of Staff, Les Grès, 22 February. (Archives of the War.)

[16] TAXIS, Tagebuch. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., XIII, 32.)

[17]Macdonald to the Chief of Staff, Échemines, 22 February, 9 o'clock at night (Archives of the War.)  The corps of Macdonald was still very weak and in a pretty sad state.  Milhaud only had 1800 horses and 12 cannons.  Molitor's division only had one brigade general and consisted of only 2,776 men.  The Albert Division accounted for a total of 4,004 men.  That of Amey could put into the line 749 men.  The total strength of the 11th Corps, including artillery and engineering, but without the cavalry of Milhaud, was 8,979 men with 28 guns.

[18]STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)

[19]Prince Maurice Liechtenstein, report on his retreat, Bar-sur Seine, 24 February. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 691.)

[20]Marches of the Roussel Division. (Archives of the War.)

[21]STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)

[22]STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)

[23]Correspondance, no 21234.

[24]There, however, is every reason to believe that the report of Seslavin had not yet arrived at that time.  It does not appear in fact in the register of dispatches received on the date of 25 February.

[25]STÄRKE, Eintheilung und Tagesbegebenheiten Armee der Haupt-Armee im Monate Februar. (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 1.)


Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2014

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