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The Germans under the French Eagles: Our Allies the Bavarians Chapter V Part IV

The Germans under the French Eagles: Our Allies the Bavarians Chapter V Part IV

The Germans under the French Eagles: Our Allies the Bavarians

Chapter V Part IV: Campaign of 1812

By Commandant Sauzey

Translated by Greg Gorsuch

The Bavarians at Polotsk

THE FIRST BATTLE OF POLOTSK

On 7 August 1812, the 6th corps commanded by Gouvion Saint-Cyr and composed of the two Bavarian divisions Deroy and Wrede arrived from Beshankovichy at Polotsk; it came to reinforce the 2nd Corps, under the orders of Marshal Oudinot, Duke of Reggio, who, opposed to Wittgenstein, already had several battles against the Russians and was to prevent them from advancing on Dunabourg (Daugavpils) and the corps of Marshal Macdonald.

Oudinot, leaving Polotsk, came out of Beloye and reached Gramochicha; Saint-Cyr, on his left, after crossing the Duna at Valentzoui, had the mission to go to Swolna.  But Wittgenstein, stopping his march on Dunabourg, attacked on 11 August the 2nd Corps on the Swoïana; the Bavarians received consequently the order to move in forced marches on Beloye.  Oudinot fearing being cut off on his right, it was necessary that the Deroy Division on the 13th return from Beloye to Losowka, to an intermediate point between Beloye and Fnipowo where the 2nd Corps had stopped; this division was damaged by these successive forced marches and left on the road a mass of men exhausted by fatigue and hunger.

In front of the numerical superiority of Wittgenstein who received numerous reinforcements (several cavalry regiments, 2 reserve battalions of the Guard, 5 reserve battalions of 1st Division of Grenadiers) and who could put on line more than 30,000 men with an artillery of numerous and well supplied large calibers, Oudinot decided to fall back on Polotsk.  The Wrede Division would cover the movement which the 2nd Corps was to execute, by Losowska and Ghemselvo, and would then withdraw itself on Polotsk; as for the Deroy Division, sent directly on this city, it was established there, exhausted, behind the Polota.

On 16 August, at dawn, the two corps of the Duke of Reggio took their positions before Polotsk; the three divisions of the 2nd Corps (Le Grand, Verdier and Merle) occupied the right bank of the Polota, from the junction of the roads of Nevel and Beloye to the confluence of the Polota on the Duna.  Wrede, with his Bavarians, finishing his rearguard which the Russians had continued to follow all through the night, established his outposts on the road to Nevel, to the right of those of the Verdier division; he himself was flanked on his right by the Corbineau light cavalry brigade (7th and 20th Chasseurs and Polish 8th Lancers).  Behind these two divisions, the Bavarians of Deroy and the soldiers of Le Grand were massed near Polotsk; the Merle Division, the light cavalry brigade of Castex (23rd and 24th Chasseurs), the division of cuirassiers of Doumerc were on the left bank of the Duna and covered the rear of the army.

On the 16th, at noon, the Bavarian outposts were assaulted by the Russian advanced-guard of Colonel Vlastov; General Beckers, who commanded the Bavarian forward line, repelled this attack.  At 5 o’clock in the evening, Vlastov renewed his attempt:  but Colonel Habermann, bringing the Bavarian 5th and 10th Regiments in line with the 5th Light Battalion, counterattacked the attackers and kept the positions.  The Russians were no happier on our left, where another column, led by General Helfreich on the outposts of the Verdier Division, was also driven back; but General Verdier was wounded in this engagement; he was obliged to yield his command to General Valentin and to be transported the same evening to Vilna.

These two attacks of the 16th left Oudinot no doubt about the intentions of his adversary and he immediately prepared for the battle he planned for the next day.  During the night of August 16 to 17, he summoned the generals, explained the situation to them and gave each his specific instructions.  All the cavalry, the Valentin Division (this behind Verdier), the entire artillery of the 2nd Corps would recross the Duna; the 12 pieces in battery on the ramparts of Polotsk were even replaced by two Bavarian batteries of the same caliber.  Le Grand would form the center of the army, at the fork in the roads of Nevel and Beloye.  Merle had part of his division to the left of that of Le Grand; the rest occupied the very town of Polotsk, which was defended by the deep ravine of the Polota and old ramparts. Wrede was ordered to abandon the advanced position he had just defended the day before; he moved behind the pond which was to the left of the village of Spas, crosses this village, crossed the Polota and established himself on the left bank of this stream with his eleven battalions in a single line; but one of his brigades, under the orders of General Vincenti, remained around Spas, key to the Bavarian line; the village itself was held by a battalion of the “Kronprinz” Regiment (2nd Regiment) and a company of fusiliers of the 6th Regiment; the rest of this regiment was placed on the right of the village and the 5th Light Battalion on the left.  Two bridges thrown over the Polota allowed the liaison of this front line with the two other brigades of General von Wrede.

                                                                                                                                                      (According to Military France.)

The Deroy Division was formed behind that of von Wrede; a third line was formed behind and to the right of the two Bavarian divisions by the brigade of light cavalry of General Corbineau; it had 400 horses and replaced in the 6th Corps the Bavarian light horse that the Emperor took to the Grande Armée…

The situation of Marshal Oudinot seemed at first glance quite critical.  The strength of the 2nd Corps, around 30,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry at the start of the campaign, fell to 12,000 infantry and a thousand cavalry due to lack of food, bad bivouacs, forced marches, casualties suffered in the first and bloody fights of Deweltowo, Jakubova, Klyastitsy and Swolna.  The Bavarians of the 6th Corps had also been tested, and yet they have not fought:  the 25,000 men whom Deroy and Wrede had paraded on 14 July before the Emperor, at the review of Vilna, were now reduced to 11,000 combatants; two months of excessive deprivation, the insanitary conditions of the bivouacs, the lack of bread and above all the vegetables to which the Germans were accustomed, the abuse of meat, the consumption of which was excessive, the poor state of clothing and particularly of shoes, finally the exhaustion caused by the last marches led to the death of several thousand soldiers and the exhaustion of an even larger number who clogged the hospitals, before filling the cemeteries…

On 17 August, at 7 o’clock in the morning, the Russian corps of Helfreich and Vlastov left the forest of Fromenow and emerged in the plain north of Polotsk; Prince Sibirsky supported them with another column and came to occupy a small height near the castle of Prismenitza, within range of cannon of Spas.  Covered by these advanced troops which threaten the entire French line, Wittgenstein launched Prince Iashvili (Yashil) at 8 o’clock to the village of Spas which 10 pieces of artillery were cannonading; the 24th Regiment of Russian eiger and the Regiment of Perm vigorously attacked the Bavarians: but Wrede was supported by the fire of the light battery Gothard, placed on the left bank of the Polota; the Russians failed in this first attack.

Iashvili soon returned with reinforcements: the grenadiers of the 5th Division and the Mohilev Regiment; despite the enraged fire of Bavarian artillery and the relentless resistance of General Vincenti who excessively defended each hedge and each ditch, the Russians entered Spas, bayonets lowered, and reach the church and the castle ditches; but the 2nd Battalion of the Bavarian 6th Regiment then entered the line; it crossed the Polota and opened fire on the enemy masses, while Vincenti who received at Spas the reinforcement of a company of the 5th Light Battalion and a company of the Regiment “Kronprinz” suddenly left the park of the castle and pushed back at “l’arme blanche”* the Russians outside the village.

Being in possession of Spas, Wittgenstein directed his entire 5th Division against this point.  For the third time, the Russians rushed to the Bavarian line; General Vincenti, wounded by a bullet in the chest, left the command to Colonel Spauer; the enemy arrived at the first houses of the village, which the artillery fire had burnt down and which thus formed a new and unexpected bulwark for the Bavarians; nevertheless, the losses of the latter were so great that Wrede reinforced the defenders of Spas by the last four companies of the 5th Light Battalion and two companies of the 11th Regiment which ended, at night, by remaining masters of the village.[1]

On our left, Le Grand was attacked by the Russian 25th Eiger Regiment, the Tulsky and Estonia Regiments, the reserve battalions of the 11th, 18th and 36th Eiger Regiments supported by 24 pieces of artillery; but, here again, the Russians’ effort broke against our solid infantry “which remained unshakable like a steel wall.”[2]

The night stopped the fight; we had kept our positions, at the cost of fairly heavy losses:  37 officers and 547 men for the Bavarian division of Wrede, the only one which would have been engaged in the 6th Corps; in the 2nd Corps, the division of Le Grand also suffered a lot from the fire of the Russian artillery, the large calibers of which could not answer only with its pieces of 3:  it had approximately 300 men out of combat.

Oudinot, worried about the repeated attacks by the Russians on Spas, had sent around 2 o’clock in the afternoon General Dulauloy, commanding the artillery of the 2nd Corps, to General Saint-Cyr to urge him to evacuate Spas and to fall back on Polotsk:  but Saint-Cyr refused, making himself strong to hold this important position; the retreat of the Bavarians would in fact have enabled the enemy to arrive safely at the walls of Polotsk, no obstacle being able to delay its march if he managed to cross the Polota behind Spas; Saint-Cyr, in such a retreat, would have found himself with the Duna on his back and, as General d’Albignac said, “the 60 pieces of artillery from the 6th Corps would have paid the cost of this day.”

At 5 o’clock in the evening, Marshal Oudinot had gone ahead of Spas, in the midst of the skirmishers, to judge the situation; he had just congratulated Wrede on the fine conduct of his Bavarians when he was seriously wounded in the shoulder and had to send immediately to inform Saint-Cyr that he was giving him command of the 6th Corps when the latter was bandaging a strong contusion of Biscayan which he had received in the morning in the thigh, and despite which, however, he had not wanted to give up the direction of his troops on the battlefield.

The Russians had withdrawn to the entrance to the woods, their outposts remaining in contact with ours. Wittgenstein, from his headquarters at the Prisménitza castle, could observe the entire Franco-Bavarian line and watch our every move, while his were masked by the forest.  He remained inactive during the night of 17 August and throughout the morning of 18 August, thus allowing Gouvion Saint-Cyr to skillfully make his arrangements for a general attack by the Russian army.

On 18 August in the morning, Saint-Cyr gathered the generals of the 2nd and 6th Corps:  he had just been warned that Wittgenstein sent a detachment on the Duna, north of Polotsk, about three quarters of a league from the city, and had begun there the construction of a pontoon bridge, a bridge which could not be completed and used during the day.  His answer was taken to fight battle the same day and to mass all his forces on the right of his line, so as to compensate for his general numerical inferiority by the powerful effort which he would make on the left wing of his adversary.  To succeed with exhausted troops like his, it could only be a short fight:  the attack would not begin until 5 o’clock in the evening; until then, he must deceive the Russians on his plan and make them believe that everything was in preparation for a retreat on the left bank of the Duna.

Consequently, all army baggage was directed at 10 o’clock in the morning on the road to Beshankovichy by the left bank of the Duna (which dominates the right bank), with orders to stop and park a league and half of Polotsk, behind the woods:  this movement, which could not escape the Russians, would convince them in the idea of ​​an imminent retreat of the French in the direction of Vitebsk and the Grande Armée.  At noon, the Valentin Division and all the artillery of the 2nd Corps returned from the left bank to the right bank; this passage could be carried out quickly, the road being cleared of all the baggage carts which have gone to Beshankovichy.

The order of battle was thus regulated:  the 6th Corps would hold the right; the Deroy Division, which relieved the Wrede Division in the emplacements of the previous fighting, would cross the Polota on the bridge, would pass through Spas, and turning on the right by its head of column, would follow a defile sufficiently pronounced to mask its movement; it would then face left.  Wrede, crossing the Polota in turn, must leave Spas on his left and extend the right of Deroy.  Thirty Bavarian pieces in battery to the right of Spas would cover these movements.

The Le Grand Division, leaving Polotsk, would go up the Polota and using the ravine of this river to mask its progress would come to Spas and would deploy to the left of Deroy; it would itself be extended to its left by a brigade of the Valentin Division and covered on its right by the light brigade of Corbineau; 12 Bavarian pieces of 12 would occupy the center of our line between Spas and the junction of the Nevel road; another battery of 12 pieces of 12, French ones, would be on the road to Nevel, supported by the 3 cuirassier regiments (4th, 7th and 14th); the 2nd Brigade of the Valentin Division on the way to Beloye; the Croats of the Merle Division with the light cavalry brigade of Castex, on the far left, leaning on the Duna and protected by 24 pieces of the 2nd Corps; finally, in general reserve, 4 Swiss battalions with General Candras, in front of Polotsk, behind the Polota.

From his district of Prisménitza, Wittgenstein noticed a certain agitation in Polotsk and on the Franco-Bavarian line; he interpreted it as the preludes of a retirement and took the post changes that we were relieving them as the preparatory movements of the surprise he would undergo…  He remained full of confidence and only ordered that one complete, –below Polotsk, the construction of the pontoon bridge which should allow him the next day to take our army in flank at the same time as he would attack it in the rear…

However, all of Saint-Cyr’s troops silently gained their locations; the artillery, pulled well close to the spot by defile, was ready to be put in battery; 5 o’clock sounded at the bell tower of Polotsk and a cannon shot gave the signal for the attack.  Immediately, the 30 Bavarian pieces suddenly opened fire, as well as the 24 pieces of 12 directed by General Aubry, commanding the artillery of the 6th Corps; this general officer replaced in the army artillery command General Dulauloy, who had left for Vilna with the wounded Marshal Oudinot.  The Deroy Division debouched from Spas, the Raglowich Brigade at the head (3rd Light Battalion, 10th and 4th Regiments); the 4th Light Battery (Gravenreuth) accompanied this brigade which first alone in the front line intrepidly held up to the Russian fire.  These there ran to arms and quickly put 80 pieces in battery.  Under a terrible cannonade, Raglowich deployed the head of his column and marched boldly on the Russian batteries: soon, he fell wounded, and at his side also fell Colonel Preysing of the 10th Regiment and Lieutenant Colonel von Bernclau of the 3rd Light Battalion.  All the Russian 5th Division, its reserve battalions, the corps of Vlastov, the Hussars of Grodno, 36 pieces of artillery, crushed the 10th Regiment and the 3rd Light Battalion which were driven back on Spas.  But Deroy deployed the 4th Regiment, which stopped the enemy by its battalion fire and then threw itself on them with the bayonet; the Russians retreated, followed closely by the Sibein Brigade led by General Deroy in person…  At this moment, a bullet came to mortally wound this old general to the glory and honor of the Bavarian army; he fell giving the order to his 3rd Brigade to arrive as quickly as possible…  His soldiers wanted to avenge him: the 8th Regiment took 3 cannons; the 9th, led by General Saint-Cyr himself, was placed in the general reserve to the right of Spas, while a battalion of the “König” Regiment and the light battalion Gédoni guarded the bridges of the Polota.

To the right of the Deroy Division, Wrede advanced the 3rd and 7th Line Regiments (Beckers Brigade), the Laroche Light Battalion and a detachment of the 5th Light Horse; these troops slipped along Polota without being seen by the Russians and ended up on the extreme left wing of the enemy, closely supported by the Vincenti and Habermann Brigades.

Meanwhile, Le Grand, finally arrived in line to the left of the Bavarians, attacked the Prisménitza castle with his weak division and suffered terribly from the fire of Russian artillery:  Wittgenstein had just reinforced his battle corps with the 11th Regiment of Eiger, the regiments of Tulsky, Estonia, Tenginst, a battalion of Nowoginsk, a squadron of Chevalier Guards, then with the regiment of Protazow and the cuirassiers of the Guard.  Twice, Le Grand saw his soldiers retreat under fire, twice he brought them back to combat.  In the end, his attacks combined with that of the Bavarians brought the castle of Prisménitza to fall into our hands.  Wittgenstein, overwhelmed on his left by the continuous progress of the Bavarians who took 14 pieces of cannon from him, seeing his center threatened, decided to retreat by the defiles of the woods of Ghemselwo; but, to cover this movement, he called on his cavalry:  Prince Repnin, using the plain that extends between Spas and the Duna and taking advantage of the clouds of smoke produced by the fire of 200 artillery pieces, poured on to the brigade of Corbineau, breaking it, crossed and took one of the batteries of 12 from General Aubry and threw into disorder several battalions of the Le Grand Division.

The division of cuirassiers of General Doumerc had unfortunately moved towards the Duna, near the Castex Brigade battling with the enemy cavalry[3]:  but the 4th Cuirassiers that an aide-de-camp of General Saint-Cyr had been looking for, came back with a downed bridle, fell on the Russian cavalry, repulsed it in its turn and took back all our cannons except two.  In this melee, General Saint-Cyr, prevented by his injury from the day before from riding a horse and forced to be transported by carriage, was overthrown with its team and failed to be taken; he was however more fortunate than Colonel Colonge, commander of the Bavarian artillery, who was at the side of the general and was wounded several times by saber cuts by the enemy cavalry.

 

                                                     General Deroy, Commander of the 19th Division of the 6th Corps.[4]

                                                                  (Meyer Collection.)

At 10 o’clock in the evening the battle was over.  Twelve hundred prisoners and 14 pieces of cannon remained in our hands.  The darkness of the night and the fatigue of our cavalry prevented any pursuit; a division of fresh cavalry let loose on the Russians at the end of this day would have changed their defeat into disaster:  General Saint-Cyr bitterly regretted the absence of the 6 regiments of Bavarian light horses, which would have allowed him to take advantage of his success to destroy Wittgenstein’s army.

The Russians, as we saw the next morning, had suffered enormous losses:  about 10,000 men; their disorder was inexpressible, and all the mixed regiments flowed through the woods overnight, by Beloye, in the most horrible confusion.

The victors themselves were exhausted; one had to be given time to rebuild and restore; they had lost 3,000 to 4,000 men.

In the affairs of August 16, 17 and 18, the 6th Corps had suffered the following losses, noted on the situation established on 21 August and signed by Lieutenant-Colonel Palm, Chief of the Bavarian General Staff:[5]

 

KILLED

WOUNDED

PRISONER

KILLED

BY

FATIGUE

TROOPS

 

     

 

OFFICER

TROOPS

OFFICER

TROOPS

OFFICER

TROOPS

 

19th Division (Deroy)

3

40

47

410

1

265

15

20th Division (Wrede)

4

69

41

695

5

84

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOTAL

7

109

88

1,061

6

319

17

a total loss, for the Bavarians, of 101 officers and 1,536 men.

This situation covers in the margin:

                                                                                                                           Staff:  Wounded officers.

The General of Infantry general commanding the 19th Division, von DEROY.

Brigadier General von RAGLOWICH.

Brigadier General von VINCENTI.

Colonel von COMEAU, Chief of Staff of the 20th Division.

Lieutenant Colonel Baron von HARTLING, First Aide-de-Camp to General von DEROY.

Lieutenant DOBENECK, Second Aide-de-Camp to General von DEROY.

Major GRAFENREUTH, Chief of Staff of the 19th Division.

Captain VOLDERNDORFF, of the General Staff.

Captain NAZZI, engineer commander.

Captain Prince von TAXIS, orderly officer.

Völderndorff, in his Military History of the Bavarians in the Reign of Maximillian-Joseph, is often very apologetic with regard to the glory of his compatriots:  according to him, it was a counter-attack of the Sibein Brigade –of the Deroy Division– which was due the recapture from the Russian cavalry of the pieces of 12 which this cavalry had seized; d’Albignac puts this action to the feats of the 4th Cuirassiers, led by the brave general von Berckheim. Völderndorff does not speak either of the engagement of the 7th and 14th Cuirassiers on the edges of the Duna, at the sides of the Croats, an engagement which made the greatest honor for these two regiments.  Finally, he gives figures for the losses suffered before Polotsk on 16, 17 and 18 August, which are in discord with the official Bavarian situations that we have in our hands.

The figure of officers killed or wounded in the Bavarian divisions, which is so high compared to that of soldiers put out of action, is easily explained; even before the first battles in Polotsk, the number of officers “present” was much greater than necessary, because of the considerable reduction in the strength of the troops; the companies hardly counted that 30 to 60 men in the line; thus, on 21 August, the Bavarian 9th Line, in its 12 companies, had only 442 men (Völderndorff says 240), — the 10th Line 453 (and not 350), — the 4th Light Battalion 370 (not 280).

Facsimile of signatures:

that of Major PALM, 1st Aide-de-Camp to General von Wrede, acting as Chief of Staff of the 20th Division before     the arrival of Colonel von Comeau;

that of Colonel COMEAU, Chief of Staff of the 20th Division;

that of Lieutenant-Colonel von DEUX-PONTS, Chief of Staff of the 20th Division to replace Colonel von Comeau    seriously wounded at the 1st Battle of Polotsk.

Here is the account that Saint-Cyr sent to the Chief of Staff, following his victory at Polotsk:

Report of General Gouvion Saint-Cyr to the Major General

on the battle of 18 August 1812 in Polotsk.

                My lord,

“I think that the Duke Reggio will have reported to Your Highness on the day of the 17th, at least until the moment when his injury had forced him to leave the battlefield; the rest of the day the troops continued their successes, and at 9 o’clock in the evening the Russians were repelled on all points after having suffered the most considerable losses, having attempted during the course of the day six or seven attacks which were repulsed with bravery superior to the determination they put into it.  This affair brings the greatest honor to the Le Grand Division, which was placed at the junction of the Sabej and Nevel roads, and to the Bavarian corps placed on the left bank of the Polota, behind the village of Spas, on which the enemy worked relentlessly to retake, despite having been driven out five or six times, and where the 20th Division and General von Wrede, who commanded it, covered themselves with glory.  Bavarian General Vincenti, who deserves praise for the way he behaved, was injured there.”

“In the evening of that day, I felt the need to attack the enemy.  I made my arrangements to attack the 18th at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  I did my utmost to deceive the enemy on my design; around one o’clock I sent off the army equipment, who were behind Polotsk, on the left bank of the Dwina and on the road to Oula; I had the art of having this movement covered and communicated by the troops which the Duke of Reggio had crossed over on the left bank.  During the night of 17-18, they gathered behind Polotsk, at the tail of the equipment; the division of cuirassiers arrived there from Semenets, the brigade of light cavalry of General Castex, from Rondnia.”

“At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the column of equipment had gone in sight of the enemy, and the troops designated above crossed the Dwina with most of the French artillery and returned to Polotsk.  At around 5 o’clock, all the troops and artillery were in position to head towards the enemy without him having seen anything of our preparations.  At 5 o’clock precisely, all the artillery started its fire, and our infantry columns came out under its protection to attack the left and the center of the enemy.  The division von Wrede came to the right of the village of Spas and attacked with great bravery and intelligence the left side of the enemy; General Deroy’s division came out through the very village of Spas; the Le Grand Division to the left of this village, being linked itself by its left to the Verdier Division, a brigade of which observed the right of the enemy, which was placed on the road to Ghemselwo. The Merle Division covered the front of the city of Polotsk and part of the back.”

“The enemy, although entirely surprised, having complete confidence in its forces and its immense artillery made up of 108 pieces, received at first our attacks with infinite calm and composure; but finally, before dark, his left was entirely collapsed and his center in a complete rout after having defended his positions with much bravery and great relentlessness.  We could have taken a very large number of prisoners, if the woods had not been as close to their position.  The enemy has left us the battlefield covered with an immense quantity of its dead, twenty pieces of cannon and a thousand prisoners.  On our side, we had killed and wounded; among the latter are Major General Deroy, General Raglowich, Colonel Colonge commanding the Bavarian artillery, etc.”

“I cannot praise your Highness too much for Generals Le Grand and von Wrede, Deroy, Raglowich, and for the artillery General Aubry who directed the artillery of the 2nd Corps with great distinction.”

“General Merle repulsed with great intelligence, with a part of his division, an attack that the enemy had made on our left to protect its retreat at the wood.  The Croats stood out in this charge, supported by part of General Castex’s cavalry.  In general, I claim the benevolence of His Majesty; the troops deserved encouragement and rewards.  His Majesty would give me great pleasure if he dropped one of his graces on M. de Mailli, my aide-de-camp, bearer of this letter, whose zeal I have a lot to praise myself.”

“I also have nothing but praise for the chiefs of staff of the 2nd and 6th Corps.”

“I have the honor to be, with deep respect, etc…”

                                                                                                                                Count GOUVION SAINT-CYR.

The 14th Bulletin of the Grande Armée recorded these events as follows:

Extract from the 14th Bulletin of the Grande Armée.

                                                                                                                                Smolensk, 23 August 1812.

“After the fight of the Drina, the Duke of Reggio, knowing that the enemy General Wittgenstein had been strengthened with twelve third battalions of the garrison of Dunabourg and wanting to draw him into a fight below the defile under Polotsk, came to arrange the 2nd and 6th Corps for battle under Polotsk.  General Wittgenstein followed him, attacked him on 16th and 17th and was vigorously repelled.  The Bavarian division of Wrede, of the 6th Corps, stood out.  When the Duke of Reggio was making his arrangements to take advantage of the victory and corner the enemy on the defile, he was hit in the shoulder by a Biscayan.  His injury, which was serious, forced him to be transported to Vilna, but it did not seem that he should be worrying about the consequences.”

“General Count Gouvion Saint-Cyr took command of the 2nd and 6th Corps.  On the evening of the 17th, the enemy had withdrawn beyond the defile.  General Verdier was injured.  General Maison was recognized as a Major General, and replaced him in command of his division.  Our loss was estimated at 1,000 men killed or injured.  The loss of the Russians was threefold; they made 500 prisoners.”

“On the 18th, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, General Gouvion Saint-Cyr, commanding the 2nd and 6th Corps, debouched on the enemy by having his left attack with the division of the Count von Wrede.  The fight started on the whole line; the enemy was put in a complete rout and pursued for 2 leagues, as much as the day light permitted.  20 pieces of cannon and 1,000 prisoners remained in the power of the French army.  Bavarian general Deroy was injured.”

The victory of Polotsk earned Saint-Cyr the baton of Marshal of France.  The Emperor granted him the patent by decree of 27 August 1812.  On the same date, the 15th Bulletin of the Grande Armée said:

“The rout of the enemy was complete in the battle of Polotsk.  The brave General Deroy was wounded on the field of honor, 72 years old and with nearly sixty years of service.  His Majesty appointed him Count of the Empire with an endowment of 30,000 francs of income.  The Bavarian corps having behaved with much bravery, His Majesty granted awards and decorations to this army corps.”

Decree of 27 August 1812.

                                                                                                At the Imperial Headquarters of Zaskowo, 27 August 1812.

“Napoleon, Emperor of the French, King of Italy, Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine, etc., etc.”

“We have decreed and ordered the following:”

“1. — The officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the Bavarian army, amputated as a result of wounds received in the days of 17 and 18 August 1812, in the battles which took place in the vicinity of Polotsk, are recognized for the pension for officers, non-commissioned officers and amputee soldiers of the French army.”

“The widows of the soldiers of the Bavarian army killed on the battlefield in the same cases, are similarly to be seen as the widows of the French soldiers who died on the battlefield.”

“2. — Our Ministers of War and of the Imperial Treasury are responsible for the execution of this decree.”

And the Emperor wrote to General Deroy the same day:

                                                                                                                                Zaskowo, 27 August 1812.

“Mr. Major General Count Deroy, I am writing this letter to you to express all my satisfaction with the fine conduct which you have held in combat at Polotsk and the regret that I have found you wounded.  I myself want to inform you that I have appointed you Count of the Empire and granted you an endowment of thirty thousand francs, which can be transmitted to your children; and, wishing to reassure you on the fate of your family, I send you a certificate of six thousand francs in pension for the Countess Deroy.  This letter being for no other purpose, I pray to God that he has you, General Count Deroy, in his holy guard.”

                                                                                                                                NAPOLEON.

The 6th Corps received 81 crosses from the Legion of Honor, which were distributed as follows:

Staff

4

9th

Infantry Regiment

 

4

Engineers

3

10th

 

5

Artillery

10

11th

 

3

1st

Infantry Regiment

 

5

1st

Light Battalion

 

3

2nd

 

5

2nd

 

1

3rd

 

5

3rd

 

3

4th

 

4

4th

 

2

5th

 

5

5th

 

3

6th

 

4

6th

 

2

7th

 

5

Health Services

1

8th

 

4

 

 

 

 

 

King Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria announced these distinctions to the Bavarian troops by a plan of the day 8 November 1812; he sent at the same time to the surgeons and doctors of the 6th Army Corps 4 Bavarian medals of gold and 15 of silver accompanied by pensions ranging from 300 to 100 guilders.[6]


*Grande Armée slang for: 1) a cutting or thrusting weapon (such as a sword or lance) rather than gunpowder weapons like firearms or cannon. 2) The cavalry, especially hussars and lancers.

[1] The Bavarian artillery of the 19th Division consumed the following ammunition during the combat on the 17th:

                Cartridges of shells of 12………………..16

                        —       of shells of 6………………….33

                       —       of balls of 6……………………69

                Howitzer……………………………………….11

(Summary situation of the 19th Division, on August 18).

[2] Völderndorff, v. III, p. 100.

[3] See, for the details of this fight, Memoirs of General Marbot, Vol. III, page 119 and following.

[4] DEROY (Bernard-Erasme, Count). –Born in Mannheim in 1743, he entered the military career from the age of 7. Lieutenant General in 1792, he took part with the coalition in operations against France until 1801.  When Bavaria became in 1805 an ally of France, he was responsible for the conquest of Tyrol, where he received a serious injury; he led his division in 1806 to the capture of the Prussian fortresses of Silesia and directed, after the peace of Tilsit, the finances of Bavaria.  In 1809, he distinguished himself in Abensberg and in the Tyrolean campaign.  Commander of the 19th Division in 1812, under General Gouvion Saint-Cyr, he was fatally wounded on 18 August at the victory of Polotsk: he had 61 years of effective service.  “General Deroy died pure and with all his glory, happy to have finished his long career in the field of honor and not to have witnessed the day of 15 October 1813 (date on which von Wrede reunites with the Austrians the Bavarian army), where the troops of Bavaria, which had hitherto fought with the French, turned their weapons against them, and betrayed at the moment of danger those whose fortunes they had shared.  General Deroy had received from Emperor Napoleon the great cordon of the Legion of Honor. ” — (New Biography of Contemporaries, vol. V, p. 364.)

[5] Papers of General d’Albignac.

[6] The Bavarian medal for health officers was founded on 8 October 1812 by Maximilian-Joseph.  It was gold or silver, showing on one side the image of the founder, on the other a garland of oak and laurels with the inscription: Ob milites inter prælia and arte et virtute servatos.  The silver medal was distributed to health officers up to the rank of battalion surgeon; the gold medal, to higher grades.  They are worn to the left of the coat, on the same ribbon as the military medal and gave entitlement to a pension. (Wahlen, Orders of Chivalry, Bavaria).