The Campaign of 1814: Chapter 8, Part III

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)






3 TO 16 February 1814.


Deployment of the corps of Sacken.  --Battle of Montmirail.  --At 11 o'clock in the morning, the skirmishers engaged.  Sacken, notwithstanding the entreaties of his generals who had begged to take a position north of the road from La Ferté and reconcile the front combat troops with those of Yorck and the road from Château-Thierry, on the contrary, held to deploying his troops south of the road and ordered the 6th Russian infantry corps (General Lieutenant Scherbatov) to move right on Marchais-en-Brie and to support the advanced troops.  A battery of 36 pieces took position behind the ravine of Rut-Choisel, which covered the position of L'Épine-au-Bois, the center of Russian lines. Another battery stood at the center of the Russian line, north of L'Épine-aux-Bois. To the left of the main road north of La Haute- Épine, the cavalry of Vasilchikov and Karpov was to support a battery charged with holding under its fire the woods in front of the Plénois Farm and to seek to link its left with the Prussian cavalry of General von Jürgass.  The IIIrd Infantry Corps (General Lieven) was in reserve behind the L'Épine-aux-Bois.

Sacken, deciding to take Marchais that the French had come to occupy and to debouch on Montmirail by the valley of Petit-Morin, entrusted the attack on the village to General Heidenreich, whom he had given four battalions from the Pskov, Vladimir, Tambov and Kostroma Regiments, two companies of eiger, the Cossack regiment of Lukovkin and six guns.  This column, having on its left  its battery, which had stopped at the edge of the ravine, on its right the Cossacks, marched briskly on Marchais[1], under the protection of Russian batteries to which the French artillery, too weak, responded feebly, and managed to get beyond Courmont.  The Emperor, who was waiting for the entry in the line of Mortier, had planned with his right hand movement by which he hoped to cut communications between Sacken and Yorck and to engage the troops that he still had in reserve, charged General Ricard at noon, who he had sent temporarily to be under the command of Ney, to move from Tremblay on Marchais, while General Friant, made available by the arrival of Mortier, would occupy Le Tremblay, while the rest of the 1st Division of the Old Guard and Reserve Cavalry of Nansouty maneuvered on the left of the Russians.

"No undulation in terrain," General Ricard said in his report to Marmont,[2] "was even found on this part of the plateau in the interval between Le Tremblay and Marchais which made the scene of battle very long, very obstinate and very deadly.  This point, which formed the extreme left of the French army, was very important because it was used to pivot and masked the great movement that the Emperor was preparing with his right.  They attacked and took the village up to five times; we had officers who fought hand to hand with Russian officers, but we could never maintain our hold there because of the enormous superiority of the enemy forces, that were continually reinforced with fresh troops, while we successively engaged all of the bodies of my division.  Even the village of Tremblay was being compromised, when the Emperor, at my request, sent me a battalion of the Old Guard.  Upon arrival, I tried a last effort which was no more successful than the others.  One of my brigade generals was wounded, the other dismounted, all the chiefs killed or wounded, more than 60 officers were out of action and the ranks exhausted. However, this last movement was, like the others, remarkable for the spirit and intrepidity of the troops."

He was then nearly two o'clock.  The Emperor, alarmed at the progress of the right of Sacken had ordered Marshal Ney, to the right covered by the cavalry of Nansouty and reinforced by a part of the Friant Division and seven squadrons of Guards of Honor of General de France, to move just in front of La Meulière, falling back against L'Épine-aux-Bois and to shake up the first two lines of Sacken.  The Prince of Moskowa, taking advantage of the terrain and enjoying the overextension of the front of Sacken who had weakened his left to strengthen the attack on Marchais, stove in and broke the first line of the Russians, forcing the Russian batteries to cease fire and forced Sacken to send to L'Épine-aux-Bois the corps, hitherto held in reserve, of Lieven, whose arrival momentarily restored the fight.

North of the road, the cavalry of Vasilchikov had managed to stop the progress of the horsemen of Nansouty and connect its left with the Prussian cavalry.  But General Guyot, at that time sent by the Emperor, charged with four service squadrons of, debouching from La Haute-l'Épine and crushing the battalions who tried to cross the road to La Ferté, while General Friant took La Haute-l'Épine which Sacken had had the imprudence to strip.  At this time, the Russian center was already shaken; but to the right, Marchais was still under the control of  generals Bernodossov and Heidenreich.

Schack made Yorck aware of the reasons for which Sacken had continued to engage and the dispositions for he had taken.  Foreseeing the unfavorable outcome from having a battle fought under such conditions, the commander of the Ist Corps had immediately turned back his heavy batteries that could not take the rutted roads and had returned with the brigade of Prince William of Prussia, to Château-Thierry.  Always cautious and methodical, he was all the more so in assuring possession of this only line of retreat, he feared to see on one hand Macdonald coming silently behind him and on the other hand on his right, the French troops sorties from Soissons preventing crossing back to the right bank of the Marne.  As for his other two brigades (Pirch II and Horn), they were directed from Viffort on Fontenelle. But the roads were so bumpy that the head of his column (Pirch Brigade) did not debouch at the level of Fontenelle until 3:30, where Ney made his movement and began his attack on L'Épine-aux-Bois and where the French cavalry, extending to his right, was trying to win the road to Château-Thierry.  Katzler's cavalry had already deployed between Rozoy-Bellevalle and Fontenelle-en-Brie, and the cavalry reserve did the same between Fontenelle and Les Tourneux.

When Yorck arrived at Fontenelle, Sacken had engaged everyone he had and lost all La Haute-l'Épine.  His left was in disarray; his shaken center still opposing with a desperate but useless resistance.  It was no longer to restore an irremediably compromised situation, but to disengage the Russian corps while there was still time.  Orders were therefore given to the Pirch Brigade to take position at Les Tourneux; to the Horn Brigade to form to the right, from Les Tourneux to Fontenelle; to the artillery (12 pieces) to be placed in battery between these brigades.[3]  It was all the more urgent to act and act quickly as the heroic impassibility and unshakeable strength of the exposed Russian troops was to be completely exposed by the French.

While the left of Sacken, driven from their positions, were trying to reach Yorck, while the cavalry of General Guyot charged, the right continued to hold fast to Marchais and support the fight without worrying about what was going on with the rest of the battlefield.

To facilitate the retreat of the Russian troops that the French cavalry had handled roughly, ultimately to disengage the defenders of Marchais, who had been too slow to get the order to fall back, Yorck brought the brigade of Pirch ahead of Les Tourneux and prescribed it to stop and throw back if it could the division of Michel that Mortier had established on the side of Plénois.  On his part, Napoleon decided to end the resistance of Marchais, sending to the division of Ricard a reinforcement of four battalions of the Guard led by Marshal Lefebvre and General Bertrand. "The debris of my division having an hour's rest, were united in a column;" said General Ricard, "everything went to the village to cries of: Vive l'Empereur! without firing a shot.  The enemy was thrown out and tumbled into ravines and woods that were behind; killing a lot of people, we proceeded with bayonets in the kidneys; taking over 500 to 600 prisoners."  General Ricard forgot to say that the Guards of Honor of General de France, debouching to the rear of the Russians had cut off their retreat and had stove in their squares.  It is true as Scherbatov claims, on the contrary, in his Journal that the defenders of Marchais succeeded, for the most part, to emerge and owed their salvation to two squadrons of Akhtyrka Hussars who charged the Guards of Honor , stopped them and prevented them from worrying the retreating Russian squares.  The Pirch Brigade was therefore unnecessarily dedicated to advancing from Les Tourneux to Plénois and Bailly to save Marchais.  After a brisk engagement, Michel's infantry, supported by some squadrons of Nansouty, flowed over the left of the Prussians, and drove them from the wood of Blanchet, despite the entry into the line of the Horn Brigade, throwing them back on Fontenelle.  The night ended the battle.

The intervention of the Prussian brigades had nevertheless saved the remnants of Sacken and allowed the Russians to win the road from Château-Thierry; but this fight, however short it had been, had cost the Ist Corps 31 officers and 854 men that the 1st Brigade had to leave on the field.  The Russians had lost in the day six flags, 13 cannons and 2,800 men, including 800 prisoners.[4]
The French, whose losses amounted to 2,000 men, exhausted by the efforts of two consecutive battles and spent by marches whose speed and difficulty were unheard of, bivouacked at 8 o'clock at night on the conquered positions and renounced pursuit.

Positions of the corps of Sacken and Yorck on the night of February 11th to 12th.  --The debris of Sacken's corps, covered by the cavalry Vasilchikov, marched all night through rain and arrived in the day at Viffort.  Despite all the efforts of men and although it was hitched up to 50 horses from the cavalry of Vasilchikov to each piece, it had, however, to leave 8 in the potholes of the road.[5]

The cavalry of General Katzler stood during the night of the 11th to 12th between Les Tourneux and Fontenelle; the 1st and the 7th Brigades, under the command of Horn,[6] retreated at midnight on Viffort to attempt to collect the reserve cavalry of General von Jürgass.  This cavalry, after resting part of the night in the presence of the French outposts, took a side road that joins the road from Château-Thierry behind Viffort and arrived at Les Noues at 12 in the morning.  Prince William of Prussia, established with his brigade at Château-Thierry, guarded the debouchments from the roads of Soissons and of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre.  His artillery and the reserve artillery were in battery on the right bank, the bulk of his infantry in position on the left bank, in front of the city, scouting in all directions with the 2nd Hussar Regiment (regiment the corps).

Order of Blücher.  --It was in an isolated house on the road between Fontenelle and Viffort where Yorck, concerned about the probable consequences of the combat at Montmirail, had spent the night in order to be closer to his rear, that Count Brandenburg joined him.

After leaving the headquarters of Blücher, he had found the French on the road from Montmirail to Vertus and had
had to remove himself to a side road leading to Orbais to bring the order in which the Field Marshal joined the corps of Sacken and Yorck, to recross the Marne to the right bank and retreat hastily on Reims, the rallying point of the Army of Silesia.[7] Such an order arriving at such a time, should have had an affect easy to predict from a man of Yorck's character.  Sacken not only refused to withdraw to the right bank, while it was still possible to avoid a fight, but instead deploying north of the highway of Montmirail, he was too far from the Ist Corps to attempt a movement with his right.   His obstinacy forced him to commit Yorck, and when this intervention had forced upon him a cost of nearly a thousand men, the Prussian general was ordered to try to perform an operation the next day he wanted to do the day before and then could have done without difficulty, even by the left bank of the Marne, on Épernay, if the Russian general had agreed to answer his observations and his prayers.  These complaints were too numerous and too serious for a man of the caliber of Yorck to forget and forgive.

Macdonald at Meaux.  --Forced, by the natural depletion of forces which, for several days, he had asked so much effort, to give up the immediate and active pursuit which would have brought significant results, the Emperor had halted, however this time without too many regrets.  He hoped, indeed, that the immediate arrival of a reinforcement and especially the appearance of Marshal Macdonald in the rear and on the sides of the corps he had to fight, would complete the rout and destruction.

Unaware that earlier as a precaution, the Duke of Tarente[8] blew up the bridge at Trilport, the Emperor, during the battle of Montmirail, had sent to him, at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, to march with everyone he could find at Meaux to join him.  The Marshal, compelled to admit that the destruction of the bridge prevented him from debouching at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre announced that, given the lack of roads, he would march by the morning of the 12th by Coulommiers and La Ferté-Gaucher on Montmirail.[9]  Sick and bedridden, Macdonald had also relinquished on the 11th, the command of his troops to General Sebastiani, who had concentrated on La Ferté-sous-Jouarre instead of going to La Ferté-Gaucher.

The Emperor, however, was joined on the 11th, at 11 o'clock at night, by the Young Guard of General Curial. The cavalry brought him by General Saint-Germain (about 2,400 horses), during the day had skirmishes with the Cossacks of the extreme rearguard of Sacken, had followed and only arrived in the evening of the 11th near La Ferté-sous-Jouarre where that General awaited orders.

Blücher, with the corps of Kleist and Kapsewitch remains motionless at Bergères.  --The 11th in the morning, Blücher was at Bergères.  The corps of Kleist and Kapsewitch, recalled from Fère-Champenoise, having arrived early in the morning after a painful and unnecessary night march, had remained there since.  The 1st Silesian Hussars, East Prussian Cuirassiers and the 7th Landwehr Cavalry provided outposts on the side of the Étoges occupied by Marmont.  A party of Prussian cavalry, stationed at Morains-le-Petit, sent patrols to the side of Broussy-le-Grand and Fère-Champenoise.  But, although he had heard from Bergères the cannons from Montmirail, Blücher remained motionless and did not attempt any demonstration against the troops of the Duke of Raguse.[10]  The Emperor was so astonished by this immobility, so opposite to the character of Blücher, that he only believed him no longer at Vertus and thought he had retired on Épernay or Châlons.[11]  The inaction of Blücher had also worried Marmont who, to determine for himself the exact force of troops of the Field Marshal, had charged the evening of the 11th evening, an officer to reconnoiter the position of the Field Marshal.  This officer had managed to advance enough to see a steady line of fires and followed, extending from Vertus to beyond Bergères forward and covered by other lights that revealed to him the location of the outposts.  The report confirmed the information that the cavalry had already given to the Duke of Raguse and which signaled the presence of the Prussian cavalry with cannon on the main road in front of Bergères.  Marmont, who still did not know at this time the outcome of the combat at Montmirail, since his dispatch is the 12th, at 1:30 in the morning, but who knew that the enemy was in force two and a half leagues from Étoges, added:  "It is urgent that His Majesty provides for circumstances where we would be attacked and or we would need to be supported."[12]

12 February 1814.  --Blücher continues to remain at Bergères.  --Prussian reconnaissance towards Montmort-Lucy. --But Blücher had not yet considered attacking the Duke of Raguse.  He only had news except from Yorck through a note written before the battle of Montmirail, was a hint: the cannon rumble during the day of the 11th, then the morning of the 12th; but he hoped that Napoleon, happy with some success against the corps of the Army of Silesia, would immediately turn against the Great Army and he expected to see the troops stationed in Étoges mimic his movement and withdraw.  A rather insignificant fact seemed to confirm the assumptions of Field Marshal.  As outposts had reported a movement executed by some French troops from Étoges on Montmirail, Major von Watzdorf, aide-de-camp of  Kleist, was sent from Bergères, with 50 hussars followed by two companies.  The major was ordered to see if the enemy made a movement towards Épernay, to occupy, if practicable Montmort and to ascertain whether the enemy was not looking on extending its left through the woods of Vertus to outflank the position of the Field Marshal.  But the reconnaissance came at Loisy-en-Brie against the French outposts whose chain extended to Chaltrait-aux-Bois.  Knowing now that the French monitored the route of Épernay Watzdorf contented himself with sending a few scouts to Avize and to Épernay to get news and communicate with the flying corps of Colomb and Lützow which should have pushed to Épernay.  Another reconnaissance made by Count Nostitz with a cavalry regiment of Silesian landwehr on the entire line of French outposts did, however, allow Blücher to see that he only had before him the small corps of Marmont.[13]

Having with him only three weak regiments of cavalry, Blücher, devoured by anxiety, had to resign himself to immobility, to an inaction which he could only depart from in knowing the reason, that as soon as he received positive news of his lieutenants, as soon as he was informed of the results of their operations and the direction they had taken their corps.

Battles of Les Caquerets and Château-Thierry.  --The 12th in the morning, the corps of Sacken continued its retreat on Château-Thierry.  The 1st and 7th Prussian Brigades, formed by two lines of battalions in mass, away from the deployment, to the right and to the left of the road, on the height of Noues, covered before their front with their skirmishers and flanked by their cavalry were charged to cover the movement.  They were supported by the cavalry reserve in battle formation not far behind.  A brigade of Russian infantry and the cavalry of Sacken were not slow to take a stand at some distance from the cavalry of General von Jürgass.

From daybreak, the French outposts had begun to push Katzler, who retreated slowly and going beyond Viffort came to form on the height of Les Caquerets while his skirmishers were still at Viffort.

At 9 o'clock in the morning, the French army had resumed its two columns: one headed by Mortier (Colbert and Christiani Divisions), marched through Fontenelle on Château-Thierry, following the column of General von Katzler; the other, under the orders of the Emperor himself, advanced first by road from La Ferté, to fall back on the right, between La Haute Épine and Viels-Maisons, by Rozoy on Montfaucon and Essises.  Ricard's division, greatly reduced by the losses sustained in Marchais, was left at Montmirail; General Friant and the cavalry of Saint-Germain, who had just joined, remained at Viels-Maisons.

Katzler always held his positions of Les Caquerets well, containing the skirmishers of column of Mortier which, moreover, did not seek to gain ground in front.  It seemed obvious that the French wanted to distract and occupy their opponent on his front to outflank its wings.  As soon as the Prussian general saw the French columns, he withdrew behind the heights occupied by the Horn Brigade and then on the order of Yorck, Château-Thierry and the right bank of the Marne.

Still, at that time, a fight could have been avoided whose outcome was not in doubt.  The French infantry was just beginning to deploy and the cavalry had not yet set off on its movement against the flanks.  This is what Yorck wanted to do; but, even though Sacken had recognized the need for forcefully recrossing onto the right bank, he could not resign himself to sacrifice luggage and convoys, and ultimately Yorck decided to hold onto the plateau. The bulk of the Russian force had gone to Château-Thierry to relieve the brigade of Prince William, to enable him to take position on the heights of the road to Soissons and serve to support the Prussian brigades during the final retreat; the Russian cavalry was responsible for covering the left flank of the Ist Corps.

But during this time, the two columns, that the French had directed against the wings of the Ist Corps had gained ground; their skirmishers had found a way to move forward to cover, thus facilitating the deployment and progress of the main body, and had obliged Yorck, to force his two brigades back to a second position behind the ravine and the farm of the Trinité, where the buildings, strongly occupied by the infantry, served as a fulcrum to his left; to his right rested a small wood.  The Prussian cavalry of Jürgass held behind the infantry was deployed on the right before Nesles; the Russian cavalry, supported by a few battalions of jäger, was formed at roughly the same level, to the left of the farm of  Petit-Balloy.

The Prussian brigades were to take a position, when there quickly appeared on the left, a large mass of French cavalry (the divisions of Colbert, de France, Laferrière, Lefebvre-Desnouettes, led by Marshal Ney), maneuvering to outflank the position and cut off the troops stationed on the plateau from the road from Château-Thierry in passing behind the farm of Grand-Balloy. "I noticed this movement," said General von Jürgass[14] "directing, the cavalry of the landwehr to this side and placing the brigade of dragoons platoons to left, when I received strict orders to stay put, because our left was sufficiently protected by the Russian cavalry.  The enemy was already on the heights in front of us, crushing with its fire the retreating troops of General von Horn.  I had just set in motion to return to my earlier position when Major von Brandenburg brought me the orders to move without delay to the left wing that was increasingly threatened by the enemy cavalry."

The Russian cavalry, with the exception of Smolensk regiment of dragoons, had indeed fallen back, exposing the left wing that only had coverage from the cavalry attached to the brigade of Horn, the Brandenburg Hussars, of Lieutenant-Colonel von Sohr.  Before the Prussian dragoons had time to deploy, the 10th Hussars, which preceded the French cavalry, threw itself on the landwehr cavalry and was on the verge of overrunning them when the timely intervention of Brandenburg Hussars forced it to retreat to the mass of the French cavalry that was coming now at a trot, the Guard Dragoons in the front line, the cuirassiers and horse grenadiers in the second.

Although the Lithuanian Dragoons had for a moment managed to control the French first line, all the Prussian cavalry could not constrain the withdraw of the Russian cavalry.  But this cavalry, which had taken position, made a half turn and leaving the plateau without a fight, descended into the valley.  The French cavalry, after having mauled the Smolensk Dragoons and pushed a new general charge of all the Prussian cavalry, was master of the plateau overlooking the valley of the Marne,[15] and from the top of which it saw at its feet crammed into the valley and hurrying to the city, the disordered debris of both the Sacken and Yorck corps.  Abandoned by the cavalry, overwhelmed on their left, driven on their front by the French infantry, threatened on their right by the French squadrons coming from Nogentel, having only the Brandenburg Hussars to support whose leader had refused to separate from the brigade to which he was attached, the remains of two Prussian brigades seemed lost.  The good provisions of Horn and the dedication of Sohr[16] would however allow the left of this troop to get to Château-Thierry despite incessant charges of the French cavalry.  Prussian troops of the right wing and General Heidenreich. with the Tambov (Тамбов) and Kostroma Regiments, were less happy.  Outflanked by the service squadrons led by Belliard, exposed by their skirmishers by searching in the brush and bushes, the squares were broken, slashed and crushed.  The battalions that Yorck had sent out from Château-Thierry were forced to retreat before the French infantry, and General Heidenreich, now judging further resistance useless, was forced to lay down their arms with the few people who remained.

The debris of the corps of Yorck and Sacken were thrown back into Château-Thierry and the rear guard was followed so quickly on the side of Nogentel by the cavalry, on the side of Étampes by the infantry, whose skirmishers filled the houses and the left bank, that in order to ensure the breaking up of the bridges and to prevent the French from extinguishing the fire lit at the last moment on the arch to summarily repaired the stone bridge, the battery of 12 that had been established the heights of the right bank had to open fire and continue to fire while the troops of the Ist Corps quickly continued their retreat in the direction of Soissons.

The Prussians lost in battles of the 12th, 22 officers, 1229 men, 6 cannons and some of their baggage; the Russians, 1500 men, 3 cannons and almost all of their equipment.  The day had hardly cost the French 500 to 600 men. Nothing would have escaped if, as the Emperor had hoped and as he had ordered, Macdonald could have debouched in time at Château-Thierry, while the French cavalry crushed the Russians and Prussians on the plateau of Nesles.

Retirement of Yorck and Sacken towards Soissons.  --Yorck[17] did not pause long on the heights of the right bank of the Marne.  Expecting to be pursued by the Emperor, he immediately had Prince William of Prussia[18] who had arrived at midnight in Oulchy-le-Château with the 8th Brigade and the artillery reserve, to file off followed at a few hours interval by the corps of Yorck and Sacken.  A part of the 2nd Hussars of the corps was still in Montreuil-aux-Lions, watching La Ferté-sous-Jouarre; the rest of the regiment flanked the march and established themselves in the evening at Vaux-sous-Coulombs, with vedettes in Crouy-sur-Ourcq.  The Cossacks of Karpov remained alone near the right bank of the Marne, at Château-Thierry, while the French cavalry scouts pushed to Dormans.

13 February 1814.  --Yorck and Sacken continue their retreat.  --Yorck and Sacken had continued their retreat almost without stopping.

Prince William of Prussia noticed at Oulchy-le-Château, that a cross-road, practicable even for artillery, led by Mareuil-en-Dole to Fismes, where it joined the main road from Mézières to Reims, considerably shortening the march executed, first of Soissons and from there on Reims.  He immediately informed Yorck and went on to Mareuil as soon as he received the requested authorization.  Yorck followed the same route, and passing through Cramaille and Saponay, Mareuil and Mont-Saint-Martin, he established in the evening of the 13th, his headquarters in Fismes. General von Jürgass, with two regiments of dragoons and some battalions of the brigade of Prince William of Prussia, covered his left to Soissons, pushed up to Hartennes-et-Taux and joined in the evening the main body established at Ville-Savoye.  Some parties of cavalry were sent to the right in the direction of Épernay.

The corps of Sacken, after following one of the columns of Yorck to Saponay, reached Fère-en-Tardenois, where it was joined by the Cossacks of Karpov.  These horsemen had abandoned the right bank of the Marne at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, when the French troops had succeeded in crossing the river, and they informed Sacken they had heard cannons in the direction of Montmirail .

Each of these movements was reported to Emperor.[19] The prestige attached to his person, the ascendancy that his presence exercised over the masses was such that the population of Château-Thierry, forgetting the violence that it had been the victim, received a liberator, pressed around him and acclaimed.  Everyone worked to restore the bridge and graced by boats brought by residents even under fire by last Allied troops, they succeeded, after ferrying all night and all morning to cross a few companies that swept the right bank and threw Karpov onto the extreme Russian rearguard established at Chesneaux.

Marshal Mortier follows the retreating corps.  --Despite the zeal of the people, despite their dedicated support and the feverish activity deployed by the soldiers, the bridge was only restored in the afternoon.

Marshal Mortier, could only cross the bridge with the cavalry of generals de France and Colbert and Christiani's division  at 4 o'clock, stopping in the evening at Rocourt-Saint-Martin, six kilometers from Oulchy-le-Château.[20]

Orders of the Emperor.  --The 13th in the morning, the Emperor still ignoring the movements of the Great Army of Bohemia, believing Nogent still held and Blücher had retired on Épernay or on Châlons, ordered at 10 o'clock, General Ricard to turn to join Marshal Marmont.  Marshal Macdonald was to gather as one, under the title 11th Corps, the troops of the 5th and 11th  Corps, and stand ready to march with the corps, reinforced by the division of National Guards forming at Meaux.[21]

At 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the Emperor received the news from the Seine and the Yonne.  The movement of the great Allied army forced him to abandon his first projects.  Dealing with all at once, sending orders to Soissons, to Montereau and to Paris, he prescribed Macdonald to concentrate at Montereau, where he wanted to gather on the 15th, an army of 27,000 men and 10,000 horses;[22] to Saint-Germain, directed by Coulommiers on Nangis; to the Duke of Trévise, to pursue the enemy and call the people to arms.  The Guard alone remained in place.  But serious events would prevent the Emperor to move in person, from the 13th to save Marshals Oudinot and Victor, as he planned.

The Battle of Étoges.  --Marmont at Fromentières.  --The 13th in the morning, a dispatch from Marmont (sent from Étoges at 4 o'clock in the morning) made known the reasons for the Duke of Raguse, having with him 2,500 men and 1,800 horses, lacking ammunition for the infantry, decided to stay at Étoges and believed it foolhardy to throw a handful of men on the superior forces of his opponent whose concentration at Bergères had been reported by his outposts.

The immobility of the marshal had increasingly led Blücher to believe and that the lack of cavalry made it impossible to confirm, that the Duke of Raguse was tasked to mask the march of the Emperor towards Sézanne and his movement to the Seine.  The news he received from Yorck and which informed him of the events of Montmirail and the resolution taken by the two generals to withdraw on Château-Thierry, also convinced him in his assumptions and his resolution to attack Marmont, a resolution he had taken the evening of the 12th.  Blücher still hoped to fall on the rear of Napoleon debouching at Montmirail.

Joined around 7 o'clock in the morning at Bergères by the cavalry brigade of Colonel Count von Haack (Silesian Cuirassiers and the 8th Silesian Landwehr Cavalry and two horse batteries) that was destined to form his rear guard, the advanced guard of General von Zieten left at 9 o'clock.  Colonel von Blücher (son of the Field Marshal) formed the tip with the 1st Silesian Hussar Regiment, the Cossacks, a battalion of fusiliers and 4 pieces.  The bulk of this vanguard, under the orders of Zieten, consisted of the East Prussian Cuirassiers, a 160 horses of the 7th Landwehr Cavalry, the 11th Infantry Brigade and 4 pieces,  in all 2,000 men and 700 horses who had for support 3,000 men of Russian infantry.  Behind them came the corps of Kleist and Kapsewitch marching one by the main road, the other by Soulières.  The debris of Olsufiev's corps, about 1800 men, under General Udom, remained temporarily at Bergères.

Near 12:30, Marmont, posted on the plateau Étoges and having extended his left for better observation, saw the head of the column of Blücher.  The advanced guard of the Field Marshal tried to outflank the left of the marshal and came against the post he had established at La Charmoye, while the tip of the Prussian vanguard continued to bear  right on Étoges. Once the deployment was completed, Marmont, who was able to recognize the numerical superiority of his opponent, who had already prepared everything for his retrograde movement, made his retreat in good order, but not without having exchanged a few shots with the advanced guard.  After a few insignificant engagements between the cavalry and infantry of the extreme rear guard, he withdrew, first on Champaubert, then Fromentières.  The arrival at Vauchamps of the weak division of General Ricard[23] (800 men), brought his total to 3,300 men.  From 7 o'clock in the evening, he informed the Chief of Staff of these events and warned that if, according to information he had gotten, the Field Marshal took a position with the bulk of his forces before Étoges he would go on the 14th, early, to establish at Montmirail.[24]

The 13th in the evening, while Marmont's troops had been established between Fromentières and Janvilliers with General Ricard behind at Vauchamps and General Leval announced the arrival of his division at Viels-Maisons and asked for orders from the Chief of Staff,[25] the vanguard of Zieten settled in camp ahead of Champaubert.  It had sent parties to the left towards Sézanne to meet the horsemen of Diebitsch, with detachments of Major von Watzdorf covering the right at La Chapelle-sous-Orbais.  The corps of Kleist and Kapsewitch had stopped behind Champaubert in the evening where Blücher moved his headquarters.


[1] Journal of Prince Scherbatov, Role of his corps at Montmirail. (Topographical Archives, binder no 50, no 47353.)

[2] Report of General Ricard to Marshal Marmont, Montmirail, 13 February. (Archives of the War.)

[3] The brigade had barely execute the orders of Yorck, when the General learned from an officer prisoner he would have to deal with the Emperor and the corps that came from Champaubert where they had crushed Olsufiev.

A few moments later, Yorck received a dispatch from Blücher (Vertus, 10 February, 3 o'clock in the afternoon) telling him the movement of the Emperor on Sézanne and requiring him to be rejoin him the 11th at Étoges.

[4] The total of prisoners taken from the Russians and Prussians at Champaubert and Montmirail was tabulated by Berthier as 75 officers and 2,470 men, in total 2,545, including 708 taken at Montmirail and 1837 at Champaubert. (Archives of the War.)

[5] Journal of Operations of General Nikitin and Journal of Operations of Sacken. (Topographical Archives, no 16643.)

[6] General von Pirch II was seriously injured on 11 February at Les Tourneux.

[7] Major Mareschal writing to Schwarzenberg, from Bergères, 11 February at 10 o'clock in the morning, says about this:  "General Sacken was yesterday at La Ferté. Yorck at Château-Thierry.  They had orders to go to Montmirail. We had ordered just to seek to find a crossing, if possible without fighting, on the right bank of the Marne." (K. K. Kriegs Archiv., II, 281).

[8] The Marshal tried in vain to pretend he had not given the order to destroy the bridge at Trilport.

[9] Macdonald to the Chief of Staff and King Joseph, 11 February, 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and 12 February, 4 o'clock in the morning. (Archives of the War.)

[10] We read of this in the biography of General Grolmann (Militär-Wochenblatt. Beiheft, 1843) that this officer, then Colonel and Chief of Staff of the corps of Kleist, had, in the presence of the impossibility of concentrating the Army of Silesia at Champaubert, advised in vain to withdraw to Reims.  It is curious that Blücher specifically directed the corps of Sacken and Yorck to this city at the moment they were engaged at Montmirail.

According to the Journal of Count Nostitz, Blücher had perfectly heard the cannon and volleys from Montmirail. Should he stay quietly at Bergères and Vertus, or push aside Marmont to try to take part in the battle being delivered by Sacken?  Blücher opined for the latter course, but ceded to the presentations of Gneisenau and Müffling.  It was too far from Montmirail to still get there in time.  Knowing too incompletely the forces that were ahead to be sure of success and, moreover, there was every reason to believe that Yorck and Sacken were strong enough to make headway against the French.

For the same reason the idea of marching on Épernay was rejected because Gneisenau and Müffling only admitted in the same way that corps of Yorck and Sacken might be thrown back on the right bank of the Marne.

Nostitz also adds:  "We remained, so to speak, impassive spectators of a fight that lasted until the night and ended with the complete defeat of Sacken left to himself."

[11] Chief of Staff to Marmont, 11 February, 8 o'clock at night. (Archives of the War).

[12] Marmont to the Chief of Staff, Étoges, 12 February, 2:30 in the morning. (Archives of the War.)

[13] Kriegsgeschichtliche Einzelschriften, Heft, V, 1889: Tagebuch des Generals der Kavallerie Grafen von Nostitz.

Nostitz says a French parliamentarian responsible for personally delivering to Blücher himself decorations belonging to the Field Marshal and taken by the French at Étoges, presented himself at the front.  Complying with the formal orders of the Field Marshal who had defended leaving to bring the parliamentarian to him.  Nostitz sent back the French officer, who refused to turn over the objects of which he was the bearer. Nostitz added that Marshal Marmont seized on this pretext having to know the precise whereabouts of Blücher.

[14] Report of General von Jürgass dated 17 February on the battles of Montmirail and Château-Thierry.

[15] Report of General von Jürgass dated 17 February on the battles of Montmirail and Château-Thierry.

[16] 'The biography of Lieutenant General von Sohr furnishes us details that seem strange to the eyes of the reader, on the subject of the episode that marked the last moments of retreat on Château-Thierry.

"The rear-guard of Katzler," Beitzke says in his Life of Lieutenant General von Sohr, "the Horn Brigade and the cavalry reserve were charged to cover the crossing of the rest of the army.  The rear-guard of Katzler was posted for this reason on the heights of Montfaucon; behind it the Horn Brigade took a position with its cavalry on its left.  The reserve cavalry and the brigade of von Steinmetz (a) closest to Château-Thierry, were also still on the left bank of the Marne."

(a) Steinmetz had replaced General von Pirch wounded the day before.

"The advanced troops of Katzler were soon to be thrown back; the Horn Brigade, attacked and outflanked on its right, ran the risk of being cut off from the bridge.  It only remained to withdraw quickly, and as it was crossing a clay soil, heavy and wet, the retirement was carried out in disorder."

"At this moment, Sohr was ordered to move forward with his regiment; he was to cover the left and try to gain ground in front.  We soon saw that almost all the enemy cavalry was on this side.  Therefore the reserve cavalry was advanced,  which came without mounting to form behind the hussars of Sohr.  Finally, the Russian cavalry took position in a second line behind the reserve cavalry.  Sohr was at that time, and just for this battle, under the command of the cavalry reserve, General von Jürgass.  A large column of cavalry was advancing against him; but forced to file between the different farm buildings (b), the cavalry had to remain in the column and could not be deployed until after passing this defile.  Sohr realized this fact and asked permission to charge.  He was forbidden and ordered to confine himself to watch its movements.  When this cavalry was deployed en masse in two lines, the Allied cavalry marched in front of it, taking with it the regiment of Sohr and followed by the second line of Russian cavalry.  The French cavalry continued to advance on its side.  The Brandenburg Hussars came against the 10th Hussars, broke it and threw it back on the second line.  During this charge, an enraged French hussar came against Sohr and had already graced him with several saber blows absorbed by the fur of his dolman, when Captain von Schulz and Lieutenant Count Arnim came to his rescue and disentangled the slashing hussar.  The 1st West Prussian Dragoons who charged to the right of Sohr, did not fare as happily and was brushed aside by the French cavalry.  Its retirement had uncovered the right of Sohr who had to withdraw.  Several other regiments were also forced to withdraw.  The Russian cavalry which formed the second line, instead of continuing its march forward and rescuing the Prussian squadrons, turned around and retreated in a pretty big mess.  But the state of the road prevented the enemy, whose big horses could not cover the broken ground, to push them back further.  The enemy cavalry had also followed without taking the time to reform its squadrons.  Arriving on the hills covered with vineyards on the banks of Marne, it discovered ravines and other obstacles that forced it to stop."

(b) He means here the Pétré farm and that of Grand-Balloy.

"Sohr took the opportunity to quickly rally his regiment and deploy them in the valley.  He came this way to observe the movements and noticed the Prussian troops on his right trying to reach Château-Thierry.  Determined to save the infantry, he sent half a squadron to get an accurate account of the situation.  But this half-squadron almost immediately recoiled from the enemy which had resumed its advance.  Sohr joining at this time his half-squadron saw the fusilier battalion of the corps, the last Prussian troops still on the left bank, harassed and exhausted, trying to reach the city.  Moving at a gallop toward this battalion, raising the spirits of the men whom he promised not to abandon, he managed to stop them and make them form a square.  Then, as the French cuirassiers had to break through in column to cross a hollow road, it charged before it had time to deploy again.  Obliged to yield to the numbers, he withdrew into the fusiliers, who, having taken courage, withdrew in good order under the protection of his hussars.  The French cavalry had not yet given up the pursuit and tried several times to again break the square.  But each of its attacks, the battalion halted, received the charge with volleys, and immediately after the execution of these shots, Sohr charged again, while the battalion continued its retreat.  The French cavalry unsuccessfully renewed its attempts four times.  Thus the battalion reached, finally, the main avenue of chestnut trees leading to Château-Thierry.  The French cavalry gave up its attacks and then Sohr, having nothing to do on this side, quickly traversed Château-Thierry to cross last of all to the right bank of the Marne."

[17] Before evacuating Château-Thierry, the Allies, and especially the Prussians, gave themselves up to the most unbridled looting and acts of incredible barbarism.

See FLEURY, The Invasion of the Country in the Northeast, pages 101 to 107, and the Minutes of the City Council of Paris, meeting on 26 February 1814, the Minutes of Reception of the Deputation of the Council of Château-Thierry.

[18]Prince William of Prussia distinguished himself particularly in the sacking of Château-Thierry.  "He was taking dinner with me," wrote the postmaster, Mr. Soulière, to M. de La Valette, "when he was forced to retreat.  Not being able to eat with me, he took everything that was available.  He took one of my old postilions named Lejeune, to show him the way to Reims by the traverse.  My wife had asked not to take this postilion who was not able to keep up:  he responded to this that, on his word of honor, he would take him half a league or so and he would return him.  The barbarians had him executed after Bézu-Saint-Germain."  (FLEURY, page 108.)

FLEURY also demonstrated the fact that neither the French soldiers, or the inhabitants of Château-Thierry had retaliated against the sick and wounded Russians and Prussians.

[19] A resident of Château-Thierry, taken as a guide by Sacken was back saying that the Russians had taken a right from Oulchy, heading for Reims by Cramaille and Fismes; that the Russian corps, marching in the greatest disorder, had abandoned en route a large number of ammunition wagons; artillery consisted of 18 pieces; having to leave in the road a cannon which had a broken gun carriage, and the commanding general of the corps, repeated if he could not reach Châlons, he would blow his brains out rather than fall into the hands of the French. (Archives of the War.)

This information would be confirmed later by Marshal Mortier.

[20] Marshal Mortier to the Chief of Staff. (Archives of the War.)

[21] Chief of Staff to General Ricard and Marshal Macdonald, 13 February, 10 o'clock in the morning. (Archives of the War.)

[22] Correspondence, no21243.

[23] General Ricard to General Curial, Vauchamps, 13 February. (Archives of the War.)

[24] Marmont to the Chief of Staff, 13 February, 7 o'clock at night. (Ibid.)

[25] General Leval to the Chief of Staff, Viels-Maisons, 13 February, 6 o'clock at night (Ibid.)


Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2013


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