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

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

The Germans under the French Eagles: Our Allies the Bavarians

Chapter V Part VI: Campaign of 1812

 By Commandant Sauzey

 Translated by Greg Gorsuch

 

The Bavarian cavalry in the Grande Armée.

We saw above that the Bavarian 1st and 2nd Light Horse Regiments had been detached from the 6th Corps near Posen to form, under the orders of French General Dommanget and with a regiment of Saxon light horse, the 17th Cavalry Brigade attached to the 3rd Light Cavalry Division; this division, first commanded by General Chastel, was part of the 3rd Corps of the Cavalry Reserve, at the head of which was General Grouchy.

GENERAL GROUCHY[1]

Commander of the 3rd Corps of the Cavalry Reserve.

 

After the passing in review of the Bavarians on 14 July at Vilna by the Emperor, the latter withdrew from the 6th Corps its last four regiments of cavalry; as a result, the Bavarian 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Light Horse and the Widemann Light Battery, united under the authority of General von Preysing, separated from the Bavarian corps which was heading towards Polotsk.

 

Following the movement of Prince Eugene, the light horse of Preysing took part in the battle of Bezenkowice, 24 July; they forded the Duna in which 1 non-commissioned officer and 6 horsemen of the 3rd Regiment drowned, and this bold demonstration had the effect of hastening the retreat of the Russian corps of Doctorow.  The next day, Pahlen attacked at Dolgaya by the Bavarian squadrons lost 7 pieces of cannon and had to fall back on Osterman’s corps.

 

The Grande Armée arrived in front of Vitebsk; Barclay de Tolly evacuated the city before the French 1st, 3rd and 4th Corps supported by the regiments of Nansouty, those of Montbrun and those of Preysing; the Russian general burned down his immense stores to prevent them from falling into our hands (28 July); Preysing directed on the 29th on Suraj and Wely with the 4th Corps, removed that day a large convoy of supplies that Winzingerode was forced to abandon to him.

 

Meanwhile, Davout occupied Minsk; Grouchy, with the 3rd Cavalry Corps — in which the 1st and 2nd Light Horse were located — reached Borisow on 17 July, and Kolbanowo on 18 July; this part of the army then joined by Balbinowiczi that with which the Emperor marched.

 

Despite a happy fight delivered on 23 July by Davout, Prince Bagration was able to join Barclay de Tolly.  The Grande Armée then went to Smolensk and crossed the Dnieper on 13 and 14 August; still accompanying the 4th Corps, Preysing and arrived, by Jacowiczi and Liasna, in Rassana, where he crossed the river as well as the corps of Grouchy who had on 14 August, in Krasnyy, a very warm engagement with General Neverovsky ; the latter had 6,000 infantrymen, 1,200 horsemen, 12 guns; the arrival of Murat followed by all the reserve of cavalry obliged the Russians to abandon the ground to us: they lost in this affair 2,000 men, 8 guns, and withdrew in squares on Smolensk.

 

BATTLE OF SMOLENSK

Barclay concentrated in front of this city where Napoleon attacked him on 16 August.  Ney (3rd Corps) formed the right of the French line; Davout (1st Corps) and Poniatowski (5th Corps) were in the center and on the right; on the far right, Murat directed his numerous squadrons; finally, Prince Eugène was in reserve with the 4th Corps.  All this first day, during which the 1st and 2nd Light Horse remained sixteen hours under fire and experienced losses, was spent in partial combat on the front, against the advanced troops of Rayevsky and Doctorow.  On the 17th, at 2 o’clock in the evening, the Emperor launched the 5th Corps on the enemy, supporting it with all of Murat’s cavalry and had it followed by the troops of Ney and those of Davout; after five hours of hard combat, the Russians were driven back into the walls of the city, which they abandon during the night after having broken the bridges of the Dnieper.  The French enter Smolensk the next day and found 200 pieces of cannon on the ramparts…

 

While Ney and Murat pursued the Russian rearguard of General Korff and attacked him on the 19th at Valoutina-Gora, Barclay stopped his movement of retreat; he reinforced Korff’s troops with the corps of Prince Eugene of Württemberg and thus opposed with 30,000 men the soldiers of Marshal Ney; this one managed to make the combat last until the arrival of Davout and then vigorously took the offensive; the Razout and Gudin Divisions rushed towards the enemy, Gudin fell fatally wounded…  But the Russians, broken up, abandon the battlefield which they had defended with obstinate tenacity.

 

The 4th Corps, remained in the suburbs of Smolensk, went on 20 August on the road to Saint Petersburg, as well as the Preysing cavalry division, –while Grouchy, employed in the pursuit, took part on the 25th with the 3rd Cavalry Corps in combat at Dorogobouge.

 

The whole army advanced on the road to Moscow; Preysing was at the forefront and had, near Ghiat, a brilliant engagement where Colonel von Seyssel stood out commanding the 4th Regiment of Bavarian Light Horse.

 

On the other parts of the theater of war, the operations had taken place fairly hours for our weapons.  On the far left, Macdonald, head of the 10th Corps, victoriously fought at Eckau and Dahlenkirchen the Russian troops of Generals Essen and Lewis, occupied Mitau with the Prussians of General Yorck and Dunabourg with the soldiers of Ricard. In Volhynia, the 7th Corps failed at Kobryn, where the Saxon brigade Klengel was surprised and taken; but the Podobna victory over the Russian army of Tormasov (12 August) soon restored the situation of General Reynier and that of the Prince of Schwarzenberg commanding the Austrian auxiliary corps.[2]

 

BATTLE OF MOSKOWA (7 SEPTEMBER)

The detailed narration of the legendary Moskowa Day has no place in this simple narrative; we will only follow the horsemen of Bavaria in the different phases of this battle where, by their value and their tireless intrepidity, they were able to acquire the most enviable glory and deserve, at the same time as the praises of their leaders, the applause of the soldiers of the Grand Army.

On the far right of the French, Poniatowski commanded the Poles of the 5th Corps, alongside whom Marshal Davout had drawn up his divisions between Chwardino and Psarëvo; near the soldiers of Davout were placed the troops of the 3rd Corps, and behind them those of the 8th; these two army corps were under the orders of Marshal Ney; to the left of our line, Prince Eugene established the 4th Corps and the Italian Royal Guard.  Opposite Borodino were the two cavalry divisions of Nansouty and, under the orders of General d’Ornano, the Italian light cavalry brigade of Villata and the four regiments of Bavarian light-horse of General Preysing.  Grouchy, with the 3rd Cavalry Reserve Corps, was in support of Prince Eugene.

 

The battle began on the whole front.  Davout attacked the enemy center with the divisions of Compans, Desaix, Friant and the cavalry of Nansouty; meanwhile, Eugene struggled against the corps of General Ostermann and launched against him his attack columns:  Morand, Gérard, Broussier, the Italian Guard crossed the Koloch’…  But the Viceroy saw the threat by eight regiments of Russian cavalry and by a corps of several thousand Cossacks; the entry into line of this mass of enemy horsemen compromised the holding of Borodino, where General Preysing only had left four weak platoons; he strengthened them there, but soon had to fall back with them on the Italian chasseur à cheval of Villata and the Bavarian light-horse of Seyssel.  The Russian squadrons submerged all this part of the battlefield…  Colonel Seyssel sent the 5th Light Horse to free the Widemann battery and charged soon after, himself, at the head of the 4th Light Horse to support the brigade of Italian cavalry.  The superiority of the enemy forced the Italian and Bavarian regiments of General d’Ornano to cross the stream of Borodino and come to reform behind the Italian Royal Guard which filed to the far left of our line and advanced in squares in front of which the enemy cavalry finally stopped and pushed back:  d’Ornano followed it closely and, in its tracks, crosses the Koloch’ again.

 

Murat’s cavalry –French cuirassiers of Nansouty, of Latour-Maubourg and Saxon cuirassiers of Thielmann– captured the great redoubt; Eugène then renewed his offensive movement; his left was covered by Grouchy, the first and second Bavarian light horse forming the first line; the French infantry surrounded, then captured the large battery of 21 pieces established on the Russian right and was maintained there, using the squadrons of Grouchy, against all the attacks of Doctorow whose cavalry came three times to break on the 4th Corps bayonets; five successive attempts of the Russian infantry did not obtain a better result, thanks to the repeated charges of the four regiments of Preysing which were distinguished on this part of the battlefield, where the Captain von Moncriff of the 5th Light Horse found the death of the brave.

 

For its part too, the Dommanget Brigade was prodigious and its losses were considerable:  in the 1st Regiment of Light Horse, Colonel von Wittgenstein was killed; Major von Deux-Ponts, a captain, a lieutenant were fatally injured; of all the regiment’s officers, only one senior officer and two lieutenants were not injured…  In the 2nd Light Horse, five officers were injured; Colonel von Bourscheidt, knocked down under his killed horse, almost fell into the hands of the enemy.  General Dommanget, very seriously wounded himself, had to pass to Colonel von Bourscheidt the command of the brigade; the latter, in the middle of the battlefield, gathered in one body the remains of the 1st and 2nd Light Horse and placed them under the orders of Major von Lerchenfeld, the only superior officer who remained unharmed in the brigade which now had only 180 horses…

 

General Dommanget wrote on 25 September, from Moscow where he had been transported, to the King of Bavaria:

“Sire,”

“Your Majesty’s 1st and 2nd Light Horse Regiments sustained their old reputation in the various battles and at the Battle of Mojaisk where I was seriously wounded at the head.”

“The battle of the 7th cost your 1st Regiment particularly:  a cannonball carried the arm and the left flank of the Count von Wittgenstein:  the brave colonel died with as much courage as he was intrepid before the enemy; Major von Deux-Ponts received his last orders.”

“Major von Deux-Ponts, being in command of the regiment, led them in various charges with the firmness and aplomb of a very distinguished superior officer, but in his turn he was shot; the wound were serious, but he is young, he will heal; it would be a great loss for the 1st Regiment with which he is adored, and who already likes to see in him the colonel who replaces the Count von Wittgenstein.”

“With the exception of Messrs. Schmid and Strommer, all the officers of the 1st Regiment were more or less injured.”

“The 2nd Regiment also suffered; Colonel Baron von Bourscheidt, an officer of known bravery, received a bruise; Major Bernard received a Biscayan in the head; a few other officers were also injured but not seriously as far as I know.”

“At the capture of Smolensk, I had asked for crosses of officers and legionaries, to reward the valor of the brave men of the two regiments of your Majesty; the requests has been renewed since the battle of the 7th.  It will be a day of happiness for me that on which the Emperor will grant the rewards so justly deserved, and I will hasten to report them to Your Majesty.”

“I have the honor to be, with the deepest respect, Sire, of Your Majesty, the most humble and very obedient servant.”

General Baron DOMMANGET.[3]

 

General Dommanget was too optimistic: Major von Deux-Ponts soon died of his wound.

As for Prince Eugene, he had risen in esteem during the battle among his soldiers; always present at the place where the danger was greatest, directing all the attacks and decisive movements himself; it was a miracle that he received no injuries; however, he had a horse killed under him; according to German historians, “his conduct in this memorable day was that of a real hero.”[4]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 PRINCE EUGENE    (From a lithograph by Delpech.)

 

Here is in what terms and in what form the victory of the Moskowa was announced to the Bavarian corps, then established before Polotsk:

 

GREAT ARMY.                                                                                 At headquarters in Polotsk, 30 September 1812.

2nd AND 6th CORPS.                                                                      PLAN OF THE DAY.

 

Copy of a letter from His Excellency the Duke of Bassano, dated Vilna on 6 September 1812.  To His Excellency the Marshal Count Gouvion Saint-Cyr, Commander-in-Chief of the 2nd and 6th Army Corps.

Monsieur Marshal.

“I had the honor to announce to you that His Majesty’s army had won a brilliant victory on the 7th of this month.”

“After having successively withdrawn from Vyaz’ma and Ghyath, the enemy had expressed the intention to defend themselves at Mojaïsk and to do battle.  He effectively took refuge two leagues in front of this village.”

“The Emperor had left Ghyath on the morning of the 4th.  The days of the 4th and 5th were used to maneuver.  An enemy corps of 10,000 men was flushed from a strong position it had on the heights of the left bank of the Koloch’.”

“During the day of the 6th, at two in the morning, the Emperor crossed the outposts of the Russian army and recognized that it occupied a beautiful and strong position supported by several mamelons crowned with artillery.”

“On the 7th, before daybreak, His Majesty was surrounded by marshals on the site of the redoubt taken the day before.  At 5:30 in the morning, the sun rose without clouds.  “It is the sun of Austerlitz,” said the Emperor, and the army accepted the augury.”

“At 6 o’clock, the cannonade began.  In an instant the attack became general.  The Prince Viceroy, who formed the left attacked and took the village of Borodino on the left bank of the Koloch’.  Marshal Duke of Elchingen, protected by a battery of 60 pieces of cannon, was directed at the center of the Russian army.  At 8 o’clock, the enemy’s positions were captured, their redoubts taken and our artillery crowned its mamelons.  The enemy who saw the battle lost, when he thought it had barely begun, persisted in wanting to resume the strong positions it had been unable to keep.  300 pieces of cannon struck its infantry masses and its efforts were useless.”

“The enemy had its right-wing redoubts.  They defended them with obstinacy, and even thought they could still tempt fortune by advancing on this point their reserve, of which the Imperial Guard was a part.  But its columns were still crushed by our artillery.  For two hours they received the fire, not daring to advance, not wanting to retreat, and therefore renouncing the hope of winning.  A charge of cavalry commanded by the King of Naples put them in the greatest disorder, and soon their defeat was completed.”

“At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the battle was over and the enemy in full retreat.  Their loss was enormous.  It is estimated that 40,000 or 50,000 men were killed and injured.  40 of their generals were killed, wounded or taken. General Bagration was wounded; 12,000 to 13,000 corpses, 8,000 to 9,000 Russian horses were counted on the battlefield; 60 pieces of cannon and 5,000 prisoners remained in our power.”

“We had 2,500 men killed and three times injured.  Our loss can thus be evaluated at most 10,000 men.  The army regrets several killed generals, among which the General of Division Count Montbrun, and the generals Caulaincourt, Compère, Plauzonne.  The Prince of Eckmühl had a horse killed under him.  His Majesty’s troops covered themselves with glory and showed their great superiority over the Russian troops.”

“The battle took place 2 leagues from Mojaïsk and 25 leagues from Moscow, near the small river of the Moskowa, from which it takes its name.”

“The Emperor was never exposed on this memorable day.  No body of the Imperial Guard, either on foot or on horseback, acted, and it did not lose a single man.”

“Receive, Monsieur Maréchal, the assurance of my highest consideration.”

Signed:  The Duke of BASSANO.

 

Identical copy:

The General Chief of the General Staff

of the 2nd and 6th Army Corps.

Baron de LORENCEZ.

 

After the victory, Murat occupied Moscow on 14 September with the corps of the cavalry reserve:  the 1st and 2nd Light Horse therefore entered with the King of Naples into the conquered enemy’s capital.  The 4th Corps, which had remained a few versts from the city with the cavalry of d’Ornano (Villata Brigade and Preysing Division), only entered it on 15 September and went to settle on the road to Twer, covered by the Bavarian cavalry.

 

On 22 September, Preysing, with the 700 horses remaining in his division and 2 pieces of the Widemann battery, came to occupy between Moscow and Mojaïsk the Gladzin castle around which the Broussier Division settled.  On 26 September, d’Ornano was sent to the castle of Miszowo, on the road to Smolensk, with the Villata Brigade, part of the Bavarian squadrons and two of Widemann’s guns, while Preysing with the rest of his cavalry and 4 pieces occupied the village from Jondino; these points remained held until 15 October, without further meeting with the enemy; but illnesses and the lack of food make the Bavarians lose, during this period, from 15 to 20 men per day.

 

On 15 October, part of the 4th Corps having been moved on the road to Borovsk, d’Ornano accompanied them there with all his cavalry and the Bavarian light battery.  The baggage of the Bavarians is captured by the Cossacks during this movement, and the 350 horses which still made up the 3rd and 4th Light Horse were in such a state of weakness that it was impossible for these regiments to attack the enemy.  Widemann, fortunately keeps them at a distance with cannon shots …

 

The Emperor recognized the impossibility of dealing with the Russians; on the other hand, the fire in Moscow did not allow him to make troops from the winter quarters there:  therefore the retreat of the Grand Army was decided.

 

BATTLE OF WINKOWO (TARUTINO)

On 18 October, Sébastiani’s cavalry division was surprised by Bennigsen, whose entire army approached Moscow; Miller’s Russian cavalry, followed by the corps of Stroganov, advanced victoriously …  The arrival of Murat re-established the situation and arrested the enemy, while the 5th Corps with Poniatowski, repelled the attack of Ostermann.  The Bavarian 1st and 2nd Light Horse were heavily involved in this fight; of this beautiful brigade, there were still 33 horses left at the start of the day; in the evening, it only had 14…  From that moment, it disappeared as a fighting body and would no longer be mentioned in the history of the campaign…

 

The Emperor left Moscow on 19 October.  Prince Eugène, uniting the 4th Corps at Massilowo on the 21st, sent the Delzons Division to Maloyaroslavets with the Bavarian 6th Light Horse; this regiment skirmished near Borovsk with the Cossacks of Doctorow in a happy charge which was worth to eight of its officers a laudatory quotation of the General d’Ornano (23 October).

 

BATTLE OF MALOYAROSLAVETS

The previous commitment was only the prelude to more general action.  Unable to get ahead of the 4th Corps at Maloyaroslavets, Doctorow attacked the Delzons Division there on 24 October.  At the sound of the cannon, Prince Eugène ran from Borovsk followed by the Broussier Division, then by the entire 4th Corps.  Doctorow, for his part, was reinforced by Kutuzov.  But Davout sent the Viceroy the Gérard and Compans divisions, and the Russians were forced to abandon the battlefield where the Italian Guard has filled with glory.  The weak squadrons of d’Ornano and Preysing had been placed in retreat at the entrance of the forest during this affair, to the end of which the light battery Widemann was sent to the park of the 4th Corps; having only couplings for its pieces, it had to abandon all the rest of its equipment.

 

BATTLE OF VYAZ’MA

The 4th Corps, preceded by Preysing’s squadrons, was on the march on Vyaz’ma on 3 November when it was attacked by the Russian vanguard of Miloradovich and soon after by the Choglokov and Paskevich divisions. Eugène immediately stopped to assemble his troops, give his artillery time to arrive and Davout to support him; General Preysing, who commanded the remains of the French, Italian and Bavarian cavalry of the 4th Corps, covered the rear of the battle line and protected during their march, against the attacks of the enemy cavalry, and the French batteries whose movements were slowed down because of the weakness of their teams.  Numerous Russian squadrons threatening our left, Colonel von Seyssel charged them at the head of the 4th Light Horse, jostled them and captured 1 officer and 42 enemy dragoons.  Unable to prevent the French 1st and 4th Corps from joining up with Ney’s corps and gaining Vitebsk, the Russians, after five hours of struggle, broke off the fight which cost the Bavarian cavalry as much as the battle of Moskowa:  each of the Presying’s four regiments now had only one squadron; the 5th Regiment did not even reach this strength.

 

After this affair, the 4th Corps reached Dorogobouge and headed for Vitebsk.  The Wop, whose waters led to the bridge built on the orders of Prince Eugene, was crossed by the infantry and the cavalry; but it was necessary to abandon almost all the artillery whose exhausted horses could not drag the cannons in the waters of the river…  The Bavarian battery Widemann lost there its last two pieces, which fell into the hands of the Cossacks of Platov with a great part of the artillery equipment of the 4th Corps.  Eugene arrived on 10 November in front of Dukhovshchina; he found the Russian General Ilovaysky established there with a strong body of cavalry and cannon; the 14 pieces that remained in the 4th Corps, the bayonets of the Italian Guard and the sabers of the Bavarian horsemen opened a bloody path through the Russians; the enemy was driven back and the Viceroy occupied the village where he fortunately found food for his hungry soldiers.

 

Following this combat, Prince Eugène marched on Smolensk, instead of heading for Vitebsk; he had to be covered in his movement by the Broussier Division and the Preysing light horse; but the latter experienced such losses in the last engagements against the Cossacks that they found themselves reduced to a handful of horsemen; they could no longer be counted thereafter, among the organized bodies, and the debris of the Bavarian cavalry division, drowned in the flood of isolated of all arms and from all nations accompanying the army, would not rally until their arrival on the Vistula.

 

With the rear guard of the Grand Army from Vilna to the Niemen.

We left the Bavarian corps of General von Wrede at Slobodka, on 8 December, at the time when an order from Berthier prescribed him to go to Rukoni to ensure, under the direction of Marshal Ney, the rearguard service of the Great Army.

 

The latter, deceiving the efforts of the three Russian armies which had concentrated to annihilate it towards Borisow and Studianka, had however crossed the Berezina after the most glorious and bloodiest of combats; at the cost of abandoning a considerable mass of isolated, stragglers and equipment, it had embarked on the road to Vilna and soon reached this city, miserably reduced by the losses suffered in the last battle and by those that the incessant marches of the retreat entailed in a terrible cold and almost without food of any kind.

 

The Loison Division, composed of French battalions and German troops of the Confederation of the Rhine, arrived at Vilna, coming from Königsberg; immediately sent with the Neapolitan cavalry to the front of the retreating army to collect it and protect its march, it had arrived on 5 December at Osmiana, at the moment when the cold, which had become particularly intense, brought the thermometer down to 20 degrees below from zero; this unhappy division, cut down by a few nights of bivouac and reduced to less than 3,000 men, withdrew to Vilna after the passage of the remains of the Grande Armée; it was joined there on 9 December by the Bavarians in particularly dramatic circumstances for the latter.

 

Wrede, in the single night of December 6 to 7, had lost at Slobodka 30 men dead from cold; over 300 officers and soldiers had frozen feet, hands, noses or ears; the Coutard Brigade was decimated, the Bavarian 1st Light Battalion was reduced to 38 men and the 9th Infantry Regiment to 85; typhus hit the exhausted soldiers hard, especially the horsemen:  nearly 200 horses were driven by hand, due to lack of men to ride them.  Despite the worrying situation in which his troops find themselves, Wrede remained on the 7th in Slobodka and spent the 8th in Slob-Choumska; Coutard, in the rear guard with the Hessian 1st Infantry Regiment and the Westphalian 4th Line pushed back an attack of the Russians; the column reaches Kenna.  In the evening, at the Coutard bivouac had only 1,000 soldiers, the Franco-Polish regiment 150; a thousand Bavarians remained; half of the survivors have frozen feet and hands.

 

Seeing that it was impossible for him to keep his artillery, Wrede sent Lieutenant-Colonel Zoller to Vilna with 15 guns and only kept three with him.  It was then, on the night of December 8 to 9, that the Bavarian corps received the order to move to Rukoni; he arrived there on the 9th, and Wrede immediately established General Coutard’s Hessian-Westphalian brigade on the right of the road, the Bavarian 1st Division on the left, his 3 pieces of cannon in between, and the Bavarian 2nd Division in reserve.  The few French horsemen still mounted joined the detachments of the 3rd, 5th, and 6th Light Horse, and the Cossacks were kept at a distance while the small body approached Vilna. At noon, it was only an hour’s march from the city when we saw, in front, a long line of troops:  everyone, in von Wrede’s corps, thought that aid was coming out of Vilna:  but a cannon shot soon revealed that we were dealing with the enemy, and a parliamentarian sent by the Russian General Chaplits came to summon Wrede to surrender without delay, because he was surrounded on all sides…  On the Bavarian general’s refusal, 10 Russian pieces opened fire; Wrede however, formed in a square and covered by skirmishers, continued his march; General Stroehl was wounded, the Bavarian artillerymen spiked two guns whose horses could no longer advance…  Finally, they arrived in the suburb of Vilna, at the moment when Lanskoy and Seslavin attacked the city; but Marshal Ney came out with 600 men of the Loison Division, collected the Bavarians and drove back the Russians and their batteries beyond the heights where they had established themselves:  Wrede and his troop were saved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1812–LE MARÉCHAL NEY.[5]

 

Murat, to whom the Emperor left command, seeing the Russians in front of Vilna, abandoned the city with the remains of the army and instructing Ney to protect the retreat with the Wrede and Loison divisions; the Marshal therefore maintained the enemy there, allowing all the time necessary for the evacuation of the city by the still organized corps…  Then, he left it in turn on 10 December, at the head of the Bavarians of Wrede and soldiers of Loison; Tettenborn with the light cavalry of the corps of Kutuzov, Chaplits with the advanced guard of Chichagov, Platov and his Cossacks then rushed into Vilna and took 9,000 stragglers, wounded or dying …

 

Lieutenant-Colonel Zoller could not drive his 15 guns further than the foot of the terrible climb of Ponary; when the rear guard arrived there, Wrede found his abandoned artillery there among all the vehicles of the army; the men still fit of the company of the body of the Bavarian Regiment “König” saved some carts of the equipment of the Emperor, helping them to climb the hill, –and the troop continuing their retirement, reached Evé in the evening, where they stopped without lighting a fire so as not to disclose their presence at the enemy; –they took a little rest and left at 11 o’clock in the evening.

 

On 11 December at 8 o’clock in the morning, the rearguard stopped for a moment at Ezomorovi:  a light horse officer and 24 men were captured by the Russians for having deviated from the column and having wanted to be sheltered a moment in a neighboring barn…  At noon, the enemy approached and attacked; Wrede immediately stood up and ranged on the left the Bavarian 1st Division which had 170 soldiers under the orders of General von Lamotte; on the right, General Beckers placed the survivors of the 2nd Division; all resistance seemed impossible, when Marshal Ney appeared: the “Brave of the Braves” revived the Bavarians, takes with him the Lamotte Division and clears the road threatened by the Cossacks.  These movements separated the two Bavarian divisions: Wrede, surrounded by numerous enemy cavalry, cannonaded by the artillery pieces on sleds that the Russians lead with them, painfully continued his march, in the middle of the squadrons of Platov and Chaplits.

 

During the night, the rear guard pushed the crowd of stragglers in front of it, with cries, prayers and blows.  At daybreak, around 7 o’clock in the morning, it stopped, took up position and rested on arms until 10 o’clock in the morning.

 

Then the enemy reappeared; and it was necessary to fight until the evening, by gaining back as much or as little ground as possible; this rear-guard of 2,000 men was soon to be 1,000, then about 500, finally 60 men…  A few versts beyond Eve, Ney had stopped the Russians and according to his practice gave for rest the first hours of the night, when, around 10 o’clock in the evening, he and von Wrede realized that they were alone:  ​​their last soldiers had left them as well as their weapons which one saw shining in bundles near their abandoned fires.[6]

 

General von Lamotte, seeing himself cut off from the 2nd Division, had gone to Kowno; on the morning of 12 December, he had only about 60 men around him, 20 of whom were able to fight and about 20 officers; leaving Major Jett with 6 officers to command this small troop, he left with the excess officers, crossed the Niemen on the ice during the night of 12 to 13 and managed to gain Kowno.  The 13th in the morning, Major Jett and his small group were captured by the Cossacks…

 

Wrede had however rallied on the morning of 12 December about 150 soldiers; he led them to Kowno, where he arrived during the night of December 12 to 13.  The city was occupied by an artillery company, 300 Germans who formed the garrison and 400 men with General Marchand; Ney took command and immediately used these weak troops in the defense of the city to allow the waves of the disbanded not to be captured yet; he would also protect, by delaying the enemy on this point, the retreat of the King of Naples who took the road to Königsberg by Gumbinnen. A work in the ground, in front of the gate of Kowno which opened on the road to Vilna, seemed to the Marshal a fortification sufficient to stop the Russians one day:  two pieces of cannon supported by some platoons of Bavarian infantry were therefore placed in this redoubt.  The enemy began its attack; but Marshal Ney, gun in hand, gives everyone the example of the most sublime devotion and kept the Russians back with his handful of men until the night, when he began his last rearguard!…

[1] GROUCHY (Emmanuel, Marquis of).  Born at the Château de Villette (S.-et-O.)  In 1766, lieutenant in the Life Guard (Gardes du Corps) in 1783, lieutenant colonel of the 12th Horse Chasseurs in 1791, brigadier general the following year, general of division in 1794.  Distinguished in the Ouest (1795), in Piedmont (1799), with Moreau (1800).  Colonel-general of the chasseurs in 1809, count of the Empire; available during the first Restoration, resumed service at the Hundred Days and commanded, after Ligny, the corps responsible for observing Blücher:  the latter however managed to arrive at Waterloo…  Forbidden in 1815, retired; Louis-Philippe gives him back his rank of marshal (1831) and called him to the Chamber of Peers (1832), –Death in Paris in 1847.

[2] See the volume The Saxons in Our Ranks for details of the Kobryn affair and the battle of Podobna.

 

[3] Völderndorff, v. III, p. 483-484.

 

[4] Völdernoff, v. III, P. 455.

 

[5] NEY (Michel), born in Saarlouis in 1769, son of a cooper; first a notary’s clerk, he enlisted in 1788 with the 4th Hussars; lieutenant in 1792, colonel in 1794, general in 1796.  He distinguished himself at Hohenlinden (1800), had the Swiss cantons sign the mediation form (1803); marshal in 1807. –The campaigns of 1805, 1806, 1807 put the cap on his reputation:  made Duke of Elchingen in 1808, he received in 1812 the title of Prince of Moskowa.  The “brave of the brave” immortalizes himself during the retreat from Russia.  In 1813, winner at Weissenfels, he was defeated at Dennewitz.  Joined with Louis XVIII after the first abdication, he was driven by general enthusiasm and joined the Emperor on the return from the island of Elba.  After Waterloo, where he has three horses killed under him, accused of treason by the government of the Restoration, he was arrested, sentenced to death by the Chamber of Peers and shot the next day.

 

[6] Marco Saint-Hilaire, History of the Russian Campaign.