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The Germans under the French Eagles: Our Allies the Bavarians Chapter V Part V: Campaign of 1812

The Germans under the French Eagles: Our Allies the Bavarians Chapter V Part V: Campaign of 1812

The Germans under the French Eagles: Our Allies the Bavarians

Chapter V Part V: Campaign of 1812

 By Commandant Sauzey

Translated by Greg Gorsuch

 

After the wounding of old General Deroy, –who succumbed on 23 August, –von Wrede took command of the two Bavarian divisions and sent them the following order of the day:

Polotsk Headquarters, 19 August 1812

Today, which will remain gloriously memorable in the annals of the Royal Bavarian Army, the 1st Division had the pain of losing the worthy and brave leader whom it had for so long at its head.  Consequently, and on the designations of the general-in-chief, I take command of the 19th Division and the 20th Division.”

“Soldiers of the 19th Division!  I want to be for you, with all my heart and with all my strength, as much as possible, what your old and valiant general so seriously wounded, the General of the Infantry Deroy, wanted.  He was your chief, your father!  He lived among you as if among his family.  I will try to do for you what he did himself, and, although it is difficult, to follow the example of this brave general.  Give me your confidence, you have mine, and I will share with you the fatigue and the dangers of war, as with the troops that I have had the honor of having under my command so far.”

The Commanding General,

WREDE.

 

The 19th Division was therefore commanded by General von Sibein, and General Beckers replaced von Wrede at the head of the 20th Division.

The reduction in strength forced Wrede to form each of his two divisions into two brigades only instead of three.

 

COMBAT OF BELOYE (22 AUGUST)

After its serious failure at Polotsk on 18 August, the Russian army rallied on the plain of Beloye on the 20th and also built two redoubts at Beloye on the day of the 21st.

The French army, for its part, having also put itself in order, Saint-Cyr sent the division of Wrede to Beloye.  The Bavarian general, leaving a brigade as reserve to observe the dangerous directions for him of Losowka and Nevel, emerged from the woods with another brigade and rushed on the Russians in front of Beloye; General Sibein, who led this attack, fell mortally wounded, and soon after Lieutenant-Colonel Gédoni, commander of the 1st Light Battalion, was killed in the midst of his skirmishers.  General Vlastov engaged a very large number of artillery; the Bavarians, whose Colonel Stroehl took the command, fought against adversaries four times superior in number; nevertheless, at the cost of heavy losses, the 1st and 6th Light Battalions, followed by the 1st and 9th Infantry Regiments and supported by the Halder light battery, captured Beloye and settled there; threats from a large Cossack cavalry on his flanks made Stroehl abandon the village overnight; he fell back to the entrance of the woods in which he settled, formed in echelon and covered on the flanks, opposite Beloye, by a chain of posts; the day of the 23rd passed thus, without new engagement.

This affair cost the Bavarians, in officers, 4 killed, 10 wounded and 2 prisoners; in soldiers, 17 dead, 94 wounded and 115 prisoners.[1]

The exhaustion of the troops and the enormous reduction in the number of combatants in the 2 army corps did not allow Gouvion Saint-Cr to push further; he therefore called back von Wrede on the 24th, making him establish outposts at Ghemselwo, between Beloye and Polotsk; the rest of the Bavarians were placed behind Ghemselwo; the Swiss and the Croats camped behind the 6th Corps, Le Grand at Spas and Maison (former Valentin Division) to the right of Le Grand, in the plain between the Polota and the Duna.

From 22 August to 15 October, the 2nd and 6th Corps remained in the same positions around Polotsk.

On 28 August, funeral honors were rendered to Generals Deroy and Sibein; these two brave soldiers were linked by a very old friendship; it was rumored in the 6th Corps that Sibein had not wanted to survive his brother-in-arms and had deliberately sought death…  They were buried side by side in the small cemetery of the Jesuit convent in Polotsk.

At the beginning of September, the Bavarians came to camp in front of the city, behind the Swiss, each of their two divisions successively raising the outposts of Ghemselwo.  The neighboring territories had been divided among the army divisions which exploited them for their subsistence.  But the unhealthy climate of the banks of the Duna, especially at the time of the hot summer, the numerous stagnant waters in the region, the absence of fresh vegetables and especially the potatoes so dear to the Bavarians, soon brought in their camp dysentery and typhus.  The 2nd Corps had received some reinforcements and had about 14,000 men in the middle of October, while the 6th Corps, particularly affected by diseases, was reduced at this time to a few hundred fighters.

The Bavarians counted 10,276 present under arms on 21 August, and 8,284 men in hospitals;[2] on 15 September, these 10,000 fighters are reduced to 7,814, and on 15 October to less than 2,000…

The fortnight’s report provided on 28 August by the 19th Division brings out in a striking manner, in its military simplicity, the irreparable emptiness caused from that moment in the ranks:

 

Officers Troops
Effectives: present under arms……………………. 149 3,804
detached………………………………….. 36 1,620
hospitals………………………………….. 75 3,508
prisoners………………………………….. 3 113
stayed behind……………………………. 1,318

 

Colonel Baron von Stroehl had commanded the division since the deaths of Generals Deroy and Sibein, for lack of a general.

As the only colonel currently in the division commanding the division, Lieutenant-Colonel Baron von Laroche commanded the 1st Brigade, as the oldest senior officer present in the brigade.

Major Fick was detached from the 1st Light Battalion to command the 9th Regiment.

Colonel Baron von Zoller had commanded the 2nd Brigade since 18 August, when General von Raglowich was wounded.

Major Palm was detached from the 6th Light Battalion to command the 10th Regiment.

In this unfortunate and glorious division, the 2 light battalions were commanded by captains and all the infantry regiments by majors…  Under the heading “Report on MM. The general officers, superiors, staffs and others of all weapons which left the army; movements of troops, discipline and events ,” Lieutenant-Colonel Hertling, Chief of Staff of the Division, writes the following lines:

“Infantry General Deroy, commander of the 19th Division, wounded on 18 August, died on 23 August.”

“Brigadier General Sibein, commander of the 1st Brigade, wounded on 22 August, died on 23 August.”

“Brigadier General Raglowich, commander of the 2nd Brigade, wounded on 18 August, went to Vilna on 28 August to be healed.”

“Brigadier General Baron von Rechberg, commander of the 3rd Brigade, went to Vilna due to illness.”

“Colonel Wrèden, of the 8th Line Regiment, wounded on 18 August, died on the 19th; and Colonel Earl of Preysing, of the 10th Line Regiment, wounded on 18 August, died on 24 August.”

“Lieutenant-Colonel Gédoni, commander of the 1st Light Battalion, was killed in the 22 August fight.”

“Major Baron von Gravenreuth, serving as the 19th Division Chief of Staff, was seriously wounded on 22 August and had an amputation of his right leg.”

“Colonel von Lamotte commanding the 9th Line Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel von Bernclau, commanding the 3rd Light Battalion, Majors Counts Ysenburg and Treuberg of the 9th, and Baron Bullingen and Troelstsch of the 10th Line Regiment, were forced to leave for some time, because of the wounds, their regiments and battalions, to get healed.”

“The 3rd Infantry Brigade was, because of the decrease in brigades and the lack of generals and superior officers, provisionally dissolved (sic) and redistributed, the 6th Light Battalion in the 1st Brigade, and the 8th Line Regiment in the 2nd Brigade.”[3]

 

It is in this same report that we learn the replacement of “all the ammunition consumed (sic) by the combats of 17, 18 and 22” by ammunition from the park.

 

Facsimile of signatures:

of Major GRAVENREUTH, provisional chief of staff of the 19th Division; Lieutenant-Colonel HERTLING, Chief of Staff of the 19th Division; General VON SEYDEWITZ, commanding the 21st Cavalry Brigade (19th Division).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also learn that the Widemann light battery detached with the cavalry took along as equipment, in addition to its 4 pieces of 6 pounders and its 2 howitzers of 7-7 1/2 lines (inches), 2 caissons and 4 wursts (ammunition wagons) of 6, 2 wurts of howitzers, 1 forge, 1 coal cart and 1 small wares cart; as ammunition, 460 ball cartridges of 6, –178 shells with sabot and 46 bullet boxes.

As Lieutenant-Colonel von Laroche himself fell ill at the end of August, it was Major Fick who had to take command of the 1st Brigade.[4]

A comparative look at the situations provided during the month of September by the 19th Division will allow us to realize the rapid decrease in combatants and the lamentable increase in the number of patients:

4 Sept. 9 Sept. 13 Sept. 14 Sept. 21 Sept.
Present…………………………… 3,795 3,607 3,393 3,282 2,170
Wounded……………………….. 4,103 4,265 4,569 4,829 5,149
Remaining in rear…………… 1,170 1,169 1,139 1,139 1,083

 

In the 20th Division, the situation was the same; it went on worsening until mid-October, when the Russian army of Wittgenstein increased to nearly 60,000 men pronounced its attack on Polotsk which was only defended by the 15,000 soldiers of the 2nd Corps and 1,700 Bavarians, — all that remained valid in the 6th Corps.

Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr had fortified the outskirts of the city; a great redoubt for 16 pieces of cannon rose in front of Polotsk, at the junction of the Nevel and Beloye roads; another was built on the left bank of the Polota; the crenellated village of Spas was flanked by 2 structures; the cemetery was organized for artillery and the castle of Stronia received 12 pieces of cannon.  A part of the Bavarian artillery was transported onto the left bank of the Duna, on prepared sites, from where its guns flanked the left of the French positions.

 

SECOND BATTLE OF POLOTSK (18, 19 AND 20 OCTOBER)

As of 16 October, the approach of the Russians was signaled to Gouvion Saint-Cyr; the 17th, our whole line of outposts were attacked:  the expected battle becoming imminent, the Marshal sent Colonel Stroehl with 600 Bavarians and the light cavalry of General Corbineau on the side of Disna, in front of the division of Finland, –800 other Bavarians, with Colonel von Lamotte, at the castle of Stronia, –and the last 300 in the great redoubt of 16 pieces, under the command of General Beckers.

On the 18th, at 9 o’clock in the morning, the Le Grand Division of the 2nd Corps was attacked in front of Spas, and the Maison Division on the way to Nevel; the enemy showed 45,000 men and over 100 pieces of cannon.  The fight soon became fierce between Spas, Polota and Duna, where Le Grand and Maison ended up staying in their positions of redoubts 4 and 5.[5]

On our center, the furious attacks of the Russians, led by Prince Iashvili against Spas and the great redoubt around 4 o’clock in the evening, had no result; the Swiss regiments placed in front of the redoubt withdrew after a most glorious combat where they lost more than half of their force, and as soon as they had cleared the firing range of the artillery, the pieces of the redoubt, that von Wrede came to direct in person and those of batteries on the left bank of the Duna caused such voids in the thick mass of the attackers that they had to beat a retreat; the volunteers from Petersburg and Novgorod, drunk on vodka, however, reached the redoubts:  the fire at a short distance from the Bavarians and an offensive movement by the Swiss finally threw them back, inflicting terrible losses on them.  It was at this point in the battle that Major Van Douve was fatally wounded with a cannon shot, alongside General von Wrede.

In short, by evening, Gouvion Saint-Cyr had not lost an inch of ground; the battle cost him more than 4,500 men killed or wounded; Le Grand had only 2,000 soldiers left, Maison 3,000…  Nevertheless, the attitude of the troops had been so remarkable that the Marshal decided not to retire the next day unless the enemy attempted a new and serious attack.

On the 19th, in the morning, the two armies remained in each other’s presence without the Russians pretending to want to start the fight again:  his failure the day before had cooled Wittgenstein’s ardor.  But the events which took place on the left bank of the Duna obliged the Marshal to modify his provisions.

Indeed, around 11 o’clock in the morning, he had learned that the Russian General Steingell, with the Finnish Division which reinforcements carried to 15,000 men, was fighting towards Disna against the small Bavarian body of Colonel Stroehl and gaining ground on the rear of the army by driving him back before him.  The Bavarian Colonel had only 600 fusils, remnants of the 5th and 11th Line Regiments and the 5th Light Battalion, with half a battery; resisting foot by foot and losing in this fight 40 officers and 336 of his soldiers, he delayed the enemy enough to allow the Marshal to send General von Wrede to collect him with the help of a battalion of the French 19th Line, before that the enemy had time to emerge from the woods on the left bank of the Duna and thus take Polotsk from behind; Wrede, boldly attacking the head of the Russian column managed to check it, at nightfall, half a league in the woods, Saint-Cyr then entrusted to the Bavarian General 7 battalions taken from the divisions of the 2nd corps –about 2,000 men , –and gave him the mission to stop the corps of Finland.

 

                                                 Facsimile of Colonel VON STROEHL’s signature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the morning of the 20th, Wrede organized the troops placed under his orders in three columns; he would personally lead the center column composed of the 19th and 37th of the French Line, 9 light Bavarian pieces, 6 pieces of 12, 6 squadrons of the light cavalry brigade Corbineau and the 7th Cuirassiers, would attack the Russians in the defile that forms the road from Polotsk to Bononia through the woods and would endeavor to reject them on the Ouchatz; on the right, Colonel Stroehl with his Bavarians, 3 pieces of light artillery and 30 light horse would follow the Duna until the mouth of the Ouchatz; finally on the left, General Amey at the head of the 2nd Swiss, the 124th Line, a detachment of the 11th Light, a French horse half-battery and 3 squadrons of the Corbineau brigade, must march on Rondnia and fall on the enemy’s right flank.

 

The Russians were assaulted in the Bononia forest at a fast pace:  the order was not to fire and attack with bayonet. In two hours, Wrede was master of the forest, which is 2 leagues long: he took 1,800 men from the enemy whose vanguard was destroyed or dispersed; at the outlet of the forest, towards Bononia, Steingell deployed 8,000 men; his artillery supported him, placed on the left bank of the Ouchatz; Wrede attacked immediately and numbers must yield to valor; the fire of enemy pieces was soon extinguished, the cavalrymen of Corbineau — Polish 8th Lancers, 7th and 20th Chasseurs– stood out, and the Russians, jostled and thrown back on Disna left 1,200 men on the battlefield.

 

Unfortunately, General Amey’s column did not arrive in time to take part in this combat; his intervention would have been decisive and could have led not only to the capture of Russian artillery but also that of most of the corps of Finland.

 

However, Saint-Cyr, worried by the arrival of Steingell on his rear, had decided to evacuate Polotsk on the night of 19-20 October; the movement had started when fire caught on General Le Grand’s camp; fearing that we might escape, Wittgenstein then ordered a general attack; the whole night we fought fiercely in front of Polotsk, while the retreat was carried out without leaving behind a cannon or a caisson; the city, which was in flames, was defended foot by foot; the Swiss crossed the last bridges of the Duna that General Aubry destroyed behind them at 3 o’clock in the morning.  The defense was splendid; the Swiss, the Croats and the Bavarians distinguished themselves there, just like the old French troops.

 

Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr, wounded in the foot, gave the army, on the 21st, the order to withdraw to Ouchatz, and all the detached troops to rejoin their corps; then he passed command to General Le Grand: but he was ill and could not keep it, and it was General Merle who had to assume it at this difficult time.

 

The Bavarians posted above Polotsk, at the castle of Stronia, joined the small corps of von Wrede at Bononia; the latter had established his line on the river Ouchatz with his headquarters at Bononia, and the detachment of Colonel Stroehl at the mouth of the Ouchatz on the Duna; he sent back to their divisions the troops of the 2nd Corps which he had with him, retaining only the cavalry of Corbineau and the 7th Cuirassiers.

 

While the 2nd Corps was moving on the Oula, strongly pressed by Wittgenstein, Wrede had concentrated the 1,200 soldiers which remained to him, first in Arékowa from where it covered the road of Vilna, –then, on 23 October, in Babinitschi.  Let him speak to tell of the sad accidents that mark this period of the campaign for the Bavarian troops:

“… As the horses in my battery of 12, which I had with me, were in a state that I couldn’t move any longer, I decided to send them back by Ouchitz, as well as the caissons of the 6th Corps (in which –for more than six weeks when the regiments of the 6th Corps had only formed companies, –the flags were packaged– 22 in number), as well as a part of the equipment of the general staff, to join the rest of my artillery, given the little infantry I had left, five batteries became useless to me and since the 19th had followed the movement of the large park of the 2nd Corps.  This battery of 12, the caisson and the baggage arriving at Ouchitz, found the bridge broken, unable to determine anyone to have it restored for their passage…”

“The enemy had attacked my vanguard on the height of Babinitchi and forced it to fall back on my infantry…  It attacked me in the evening in the position of Koblitschi, but was repulsed…”

“I remained in my position until 11 o’clock in the evening; but having learned the unfortunate event of the evacuation of Ouchatz and the break in the bridge (made) without warning, and only by this unfortunate event the battery of 12, the caisson and the luggage which had filed by Ouchatz –not being able to recross the water any more– had fallen into the hands of the enemy, I necessarily had to withdraw in the night, because the next day I would have been surrounded by all of the enemy’s forces.”

“I had a great loss in Plissa, where I had gathered all the arms of the dead soldiers; for the lack of horses, the carts on which they were loaded (51 in number) could not be taken by the enemy, they were burned.  In general, His Majesty the King, my master, has had very great losses in the past eight days, I beg Your Serene Highness to inform His Majesty and His King of them .”[6]

 

In another letter, addressed from Vilna to the Duke of Bassano, Minister of External Relations, Wrede seems to take a fairly philosophical side with this painful adventure:

“…A battery of 12, which I wanted to file towards the large park was moved on the road to Ouchatz.  It dragged after it the caissons of the 6th Corps and all the flags…  All this train was taken by the enemy between Ushaz and Szedlice, because no one had warned me that the entire 2nd Corps had crossed the Ushaz River, and because they had neglected to maintain communications with me by patrols.  In the end the thing, rather annoying in itself, is done, and we must console ourselves as best we can…”[7]

This loss of all the Bavarian flags marks the beginning of the independent operations of General von Wrede, between the 2nd Corps which he did not want to join anymore and the Grande Armée which is far enough still not to involve him in its movement.  Arguing of the need to “cover the road to Vilna”, the commander of the Bavarian corps headed for Arékowa on the evening of the 21st; during this march, at midnight, the 7th Cuirassiers charged the Cossacks of Steingell at Wteren; the 22nd, it was the Corbineau Brigade which was happily engaged against the Russians; then the small Bavarian corps withdrew by Zwonia on Woron and Pouichna (25 October), from where it is moved on Dockchitsoui, Boïare and Daniélowitchi (29th); there it found 80 caissons from its artillery park and a detachment of 200 men who had been kept as garrisons at Gloubokoë; thanks to this support, Wrede was at the head of 4,000 men, including the squadrons of Corbineau whose services he so much appreciated “for the interests and the glory of the Bavarian army” which he offered for the decoration of the military order of Max-Joseph generals L’héritier and Corbineau, colonels Dubois (of the 7th Cuirassiers), Saint-Germain and Lagrange (of the 7th and 20th Chasseurs) and Lubienski (of the Polish 8th Lancers). Wrede remained in Dainiélowitchi until 19 November, with outposts in Gloubokoë.

Each of the Bavarian battalions was formed into a single company with an average force of 80 rifles; infantry regiments had only 2 companies, light battalions only 1 company.  All officers and non-commissioned officers in excess are sent back to supervise the reinforcements and had to return with them to the front.  On 6 November, the infantry of the 6th Corps counted only 1,937 soldiers in the rank.

 

While the Bavarians are busy removing from Lake Gloubokoë the 27 pieces of artillery that General Vivier had thrown there at the approach of the Russians and manage to save 9 which are sent to Vilna, General von Wrede directed his politics so as to remain independent between the 2nd and 9th Corps which fought under Oudinot and Victor, and the Grand Army which was in retreat on Vilna.  In his correspondence with Maret, Duke of Bassano, representative of the Emperor to his troops covering the Lithuanian capital; when Oudinot asked him to return the Corbineau brigade to the 2nd Corps, Wrede “took it upon himself” to keep it with his Bavarians; he was ready to hear him join the marshals “under whose orders he was placed by the Emperor”:  but at the time of the execution, he claimed to be himself too threatened to execute this movement ; when the circumstances allowed him to do so, he would not be able to rally his leaders despite the cannon shots would fire to announce their arrival…  In short, he managed to remain useless, without being attacked, until at the moment when the torrent of the retreat of the Grande Armée flowed before him, and when the Emperor instructed him, under the orders of Ney, to ensure the general rearguard to the Niemen.

 

The Bavarian General’s correspondence with the Duke of Bassano will serve as a canvas for us to follow the details of the movements of the 6th Corps, from the beginning of November until 8 December 1812.

Oudinot having written to General Corbineau “that he did not learn without astonishment that his brigade followed a direction other than that of the 2nd Corps”, Wrede, as soon as he learned of this letter, hastened to inform the Duke of Bassano “that he was immediately removed from the orders of His Excellency the Marshal Duke of Reggio, and that this general would leave on 8 November early in the morning to join the 2nd Corps by forced march.”  But he warned at the same time Maret that it was not with the 1,937 infantrymen who remained to him that he could, after the departure of the cavalry of Corbineau, hold in front of Gloubokoë against the enemy who approached it with more force; so he was going to be forced to take a position back.  “I am very sorry to be forced to this movement, — he adds, — and I beg Your Excellency to be so good as to inform the Major General.”[8]

But Wrede did not want his squadrons to go away; on 10 November, he did not hesitate to write to Corbineau: “I urge you, and I take it under my responsibility, to stop where the courier carrying this letter will find you on your march; you will take up position at Dockchutsoui or Szwilo…  You see that in this position you are within reach of making your junction with the 2nd Corps…  and that in the meantime you are fulfilling the goal that His Excellency the Duke of Belluno has made me designate.”  This goal was, for the Bavarian corps reinforced by all the troops of Vilna, to be moved on Ushaz, Disna or Polotsk.  And as if to encourage Corbineau, by the prospect of an imminent action, not to join the 2nd Corps, Wrede ends by saying to him: “I hope, my dear general, that in a few days I will be able to heat the behind of M. Wittgenstein.  Asking you to make the greatest secret, please accept my high consideration.”[9]

With the reinforcements announced to him by General de Hogendorp, Governor General of Vilna, and the arrival of new Bavarian troops, Wrede already saw himself at the head of 13,000 men, of a large artillery, and he submitted to Maret the project of a beautiful operation on the Ouchatz and the Duna when the 2nd and 9th Corps will be in motion, an operation which will inevitably keep him away from Vilna…[10]  The Duke of Bassano, a little concerned about his guard moving away from him, advised the Bavarian general to do nothing before having positive orders.[11]  Wrede hit the nail on the head, and let his correspondent know that his letter “must have urged him to suspend a movement which he nevertheless believed was necessary and advantageous …”[12]

He therefore renounced to cooperate in the operations of the 2nd and 9th Corps and would not move away from Vilna “before H.E. the Duke of Bassano has the kindness to order it.”

 

Oudinot having returned to the command and demanding to be joined by his light cavalry when he was about to resume the offensive, Corbineau finally had, to the great regret of von Wrede, to be placed at the disposal of the Marshal; but, by notifying the French general of this order which reached him through the Duke of Bassano, Wrede added: “I therefore urge you, my dear general, to do your best to approach the 2nd Corps and to make your juncture as soon as circumstances will allow…  I was again told this morning that we had heard a cannonade from Lepel…”[13] To Maret, Wrede said that” all of Corbineau’s efforts to unite himself to the 2nd Corps had been useless until now, and that, if he went alone with his brigade to Borisow, he risked being attacked, on the way by superior forces.”[14]

 

In the meantime, the expected reinforcements had arrived; Wrede was at the head of a small army of 10,000 men. General Francesky had brought him from Vilna 2 battalions of the 7th in march, 2 cavalry regiments in march (cuirassiers, light and dragoons) and 6 pieces of artillery –more than 3,400 men; –and General Coutard joined him with the Westphalian 4th Regiment, the 1st Regiment of Hesse-Darmstadt, 6 pieces of 6 and 2 howitzers: 2,600 men; the convalescents who had joined the Bavarian divisions increased their effectives by 1,300 men for the 19th Division and 1,700 for the 20th; Bavarian artillery counted 16 pieces of 6, 8 howitzers, 20 caissons, –more than 500 gunners and soldiers of the train; finally, the cavalry consisted of about thirty Polish gendarmes and 90 Bavarian light horsemen of the 3rd and 5th Regiments.  Bavarian patients and stragglers returned in large numbers, since the 6th Corps remained on the spot, so it was weapons that were missing; Wrede reported to the Chief of Staff that the number of his soldiers would increase by 2,000 combatants still if he could have fusils, and if he urged the governor of Vilna:[15]  they sent him 1,000.

Now that the 6th Corps was so well reinforced, would it finally take part in the operations?  Let the Duke of Bassano speak, and we will see the reply of the Bavarian general.

 

“…Monsieur the Duke of Reggio,” –writes Maret to von Wrede– “suitably judging that you make a movement to get closer to him (towards Ragan and Swiada), to assist his march, to make a diversion, or at least to advance yourself to Berezina…  These instructions will arrive late, but by telling you what the Duke of Reggio expected from you, they will put you in the case of calculating what he still expects…”[16]

 

Wréde replied the next day, informing the Duke of Bassano that the enemy was now occupying Gloubokoë…  He then added:

“Your Excellency was fair enough in his letter to admit himself that the instructions with regard to this movement to be made would reach me late; but it will be still more just to agree that since a Russian corps has approached me , I can no longer march on Berezina leaving the road to Vilna free, which would make it very easy for the enemy to push parties in the direction of Vilna as far as he would like.”

Then he spoke of going first to Gloubokoë to drive out General Vlastov’s cavalry and to keep his corps in check; he ends thus:

“As I do not want to waste a moment to operate in the direction of the 2nd and 9th Corps, I will put myself in motion, and it will not be until the day after tomorrow, arrived at Gloubokoë, that I will be able to have the honor to communicate to Your Excellency the further direction of the movements that circumstances could dictate to me.”[17]

 

Effectively, Wrede went to Gloubokoë on the 19th that Colonel Andropov’s Russian cavalrymen had evacuated…  In the letter he addressed from this point to the Duke of Bassano, he deplored that he had not yet received any orders, either from Victor , or Oudinot; he announced, however, that the Chief of Staff had sent him notice, dated from Smolensk on 11 November, that “he is to know his instructions.”  Leaving 600 Bavarians at Gloubokoë to cover Vilna, he pushed up to Dockchutzoui and sent General Francesky to Berezina, still to find the intractable 2nd Corps there…  And although he had already declared that this movement, being too late, had little chance of achieving the connection which was the goal, he confessed that he was executing it so that one could not blame him for not having followed the instruction of the Duke of Reggio!…  And he adds:

“It is very painful and unpleasant for me, after so much effort that I have already made on my side to have news of the movements of the 2nd Corps, that I cannot receive any positive instruction from Their Excellencies the Dukes of Bellune and Reggio…”[18]

 

The occupation of Borizow by the enemy prevented Wrede from moving as he intended it (he says, at least) –on the rear of Wittgenstein; his little corps was melting from day to day:

“General Coutard’s brigade has shrunk by a quarter in the space of eight days; the French cavalry has more than 300 patients; the physiognomy of the Westphalian and Hessian soldiers has changed so much in the past eight days although the whole corps regularly receives rations, that it is to be feared that the number of those present under arms will decrease appreciably within a short time.”[19]

 

Renouncing to meet in Oudinot and informed of the arrival in line of the Army of Moldova on the left flank of the Grande Armée, Wrede reported his position to the Major General who sent him on 28 November, from Zanowcki, the order to go to Viléika, to collect food there and to ensure bridges on the Vilna; then, on 3 December, Berthier asked him where the 10,000 Bavarian recruits that had left Munich several months ago were and advised him to have his parks, hospitals and shops evacuated to Vilna; the next day, he was the order to go to Narocz and keep the bridge; the Emperor approved the movement of the Bavarians in the direction of Slobodka.[20]  Finally, on 8 December at 9 o’clock in the evening, the Chief of Staff wrote one last time to Wrede, from Vilna; he ordered him to go to Rukoni, where he would receive orders from Marshal Ney charged with commanding the rear guard of the Grande Armée and supported by the troops of the 2nd and 9th Corps; the Duke of Bellune must fall back on Vilna on the 9th and leave the care of the rear guard to the soldiers of von Wrede:

“His Majesty” –said Berthier at the end– “counts on your talents and your zeal in this circumstance, where you will be able to render great services to the army.”[21]

 

We will find later the Bavarians making up the rear of the army from Vilna to Niemen.  Let’s go back to five months ago and quickly follow the 6 light-horse regiments that the orders of the Emperor removed from the 6th Corps uniting them to the great French mass marching on Moscow.

[1] State of the officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers killed, wounded or taken prisoner of war during the day of 22 August 1812.

 

[2] Situation of the 6th Corps at the time of 21 August, signed by Lieutenant-Colonel Palm, Chief of the General Staff.

 

[3] Situation of the troops composing the 19th Division of the 6th Corps on 28 August 1812.

 

[4] Summary situation of the 19th Division, 5 September 1812.

 

[5] See Appendix V, at the end of the volume, the sketch of General d’Albignac for the second battle of Polotsk.

 

[6] Report of General Count von Wrede to the Chief of Staff, Daniélowitchi, 30 October 1812 . –Völderndorff, Observations, pages 29-30.

 

[7] General Count von Wrede to the Duke of Bassano, Woron, 25 October 1812. –Völederndorff, Observations, pages 36-37.

 

[8] General von Wrede to the Duke of Bassano.  Daniélowitchi, 7 November 1812.

 

[9] General von Wrede to General Corbineau.  Daniélowitchi, 10 November 1812.

 

[10] General von Wrede to the Duke of Bassano.  Daniélowitchi, 10 November 1812.

 

[11] The Duke of Bassano to General von Wrede.  Vilna, 11 November 1812.

 

[12] General von Wrede to the Duke of Bassano.  Daniélowitchi, 13 November 1812.

 

[13] General von Wrede to General Corbineau.  Daniélowitchi, 11 November 1812.

 

[14] General von Wrede to the Duke of Bassano.  Daniélowitchi, 14 November 1812.

 

[15] General von Wrede to the Major General.  Daniélowitchi, 17 November 1812.

 

[16] The Duke of Bassano to General von Wrede.  Vilna, 16 November 1812.

 

[17] General von Wrede to the Duke of Bassano.  Daniélowitchi, 17 November 1812.

 

[18] General von Wrede to the Duke of Bassano.  Dockchutzoui, 23 November 1812.

 

[19] General von Wrede to the Duke of Bassano.  Dockchutzoui, 27 November 1812.

 

[20] Major General to General von Wrede.  Smorghoni, 8 December 1812.

 

[21] Major General to General von Wrede.  Vilna, 8 December 1812, 9 o’clock in the evening.