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

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

The Germans under the French Eagles: Our Allies the Bavarians

Chapter V Part VII: Campaign of 1812

By Commandant Sauzey

Translated by Greg Gorsuch

 

Rally at Plock and return to Bavaria

Murat had fixed on the Vistula the points where the nuclei of the different army corps were to reorganize; it was the city of Plock, for the Bavarian corps.  Wrede was informed of it by the following order which he found when arriving at Kowno.

ORDER

“Monsieur Count von Wrede is ordered to go to Balwierzyski with all the troops which remain to him from the 6th Corps, to gather to him all the reinforcements which are marching for his corps, and to march by Lyck and Villenberg in the direction of Plock on the Vistula, where he will until further notice be on the army’s right.  He will send me his reports as frequently as possible.”

Kowno, 12 December 1812.

The Prince of Neuchâtel, Major General

ALEXANDRE.

 

Rallying in Kowno all that he could pick up of Bavarians, a weak battalion of convalescents and the battery of Hofstetten, Wrede entrusted this herd to Colonel Théobald charged to lead it to Plock, and went to Lyck and Villenberg (19 December) to await there, reinforcements from Bavaria brought by — in three detachments of 1,500 men each — colonels Rodt, Hofnas and Rummel.  The Hofnas column, which arrived on 22 December in Villenberg, was directed towards Plock, which Colonel Rummel also reached on the 29th of the same month.

Bavarian infantry in 1812 (From a print of the time).

 

The state of affairs of the Bavarian corps at the time of its arrival on the Vistula, in the last days of the year 1812 are strikingly eloquent; a statement of 1 January 1813 for the 19th Division, presents as effective 102 officers, 1,968 men and 60 horses; at the same time General von Rechberg points out, in the column “Observations”, that 143 were unarmed;[1] the 20th Division had 130 officers, 1,640 soldiers, 69 horses…[2]  But the reinforcements that had just arrived allowed von Wrede to reconstitute a small division.  He gave command of it to General von Rechberg and formed it into two brigades under the orders of Generals von Lamotte and de Zoller.  The 1st Brigade included the 1st, 3rd and 6th Light Battalions, and 3 regiments combined with 2 battalions each; the second brigade was made up of the 2nd, 4th and 5th Light Battalions, and of 3 other infantry regiments, composed like the previous ones of 2 battalions and formed like them the amalgamation of the able-bodied men who had just campaigned with the soldiers various reinforcement detachments arrived from Bavaria.

 

The number of Bavarians was, on 6 January 1813, of 239 officers, 4,232 men and 109 horses.[3]  Many of the stragglers, the sick and the lost had joined at Plock.  The total force of Rechberg’s division on 15 January amounted to 256 officers, 5,585 soldiers and 145 horses; but among the number of men present, 1,291 were unarmed.[4]

 

The debris of the 6 light horse regiments, with their reinforcements, formed 3 combined squadrons under the command of Major Hertling and presented on 31 December 1812 a total of 9 officers, 330 riders and 330 horses; 15 January 1813, these figures were brought to 10 officers, 371 men and 375 horses.[5]

As for artillery, it provided on 1 January 1813 a situation by battery which deserves to be reproduced here; the figures it carries are impressive to the highest degree:

What had been the fate of Bavarian artillery material during this tragic campaign?  The Widemann Battery, attached to the light horse, had been lost during the retreat from Moscow, before the passage of the Wop; the Weishaupt Battery, at the Oschatz bridge, after the second battle of Polotsk; the Gothard, Gravenreuth and Halder Batteries had been abandoned at the rise of Ponary; the Dietrich Battery finally, dismissed from Polotsk in August because of the reduction in the strength of the Bavarian corps, had been directed to the big park at Michaelisky:  General Hogendorp having refused to provide them with the teams necessary to drive it beyond the Niemen, it fell –as well as the park — into the hands of the Russians after the abandonment of Vilna.  It was therefore a total of 6 batteries, or 36 pieces of artillery, that the Bavarians lost in Russia.  Fortunately they found on the left bank of the Niemen the 20 guns they had previously sent back, and thanks to them we were able to reconstruct on the Vistula, under the command of Major Berchen, four batteries (three batteries of 6 and one of 12 ) whose workforce reached, on 13 January, 21 officers, 314 men and 220 horses.[6]

RETIREMENT ON THE ODER AND THE ELBE

Hoping to defend the line of the Vistula, Prince Eugene — Murat’s successor in command of the army — threw troops into the towns and sent to Thorn, to form the garrison, the Bavarian 2nd Brigade with General de Zoller.  Wrede left Plock on 18 January with the 1st Brigade, the light horse and the artillery; crossing the Vistula on the ice, it was directed by Gostinin, Kutno, Krasnowice, Klodawa, Saldno and Weileczin on Gnesen, where it arrived on 26 January; its mission was to liaise with Thorn on the left and Modlin on the right; returning then to Glogau — town of depot of the Bavarians — all his artillery except a battery, he left the command to the General von Rechberg on 7 February and returned to Bavaria; he would not reappear in the Bavarian army as long as it fought alongside us; he will use all the military means of his country, reconstitute a new army, organize and train the Bavarian national guards, ask Bavaria for the greatest effort in men it has ever made; but it was not to support the interests of France, for already, oblivious of the glory conquered in the shade of our flags, it was acquired by our enemies; events will precipitate and when he reappears at the head of an army, it will be to stand against us at Hanau, after having signed with Austria a pact which delivered the Bavarian army to the coalition sovereigns and irreparably tearing up the treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine.

Facsimile of signatures:

of General BECKERS, Commander of the 20th Division of the 6th Corps (Plock, 1 January 1813).

of General von RECHBERG, Commander of the Infantry Division of the 6th Corps after the departure of General von Wrede (January 1813).

of Colonel DE ZOLLER, Commander of the Artillery of the 6th Corps on its rally at Plock (1 January 1813).

of Major BERCHEM, Commander of Artillery of the 6th Corps after the departure of Colonel De Zoller (5 January 1813).

of Major HERTLING, commander of the 3 combined squadrons of light horse at the rallying on the Vistula (31 December 1812).

 

 

 

But the Russians had in turn crossed the Vistula; on 9 and 10 February, Chaplits unsuccessfully attacked the Bavarians’ positions in Gnesen.  The general retreat on the Oder was decided, and Rechberg withdrew on the 11th on Pudwitz, and from there on Posen that the French and the Italians had just left; the 6th Light Battalion, with Lieutenant-colonel Palm, defended the Wartha bridge against Chaplits, while the Bavarians evacuated the city and headed towards Crossen, on the Oder, where they arrived on 16 February after painful night marches; their strength was then 113 officers, 2,253 men and 384 horses; they left 34 officers and 1,244 men in hospitals and lost 87 soldiers during the retreat.

Prince Eugene having then withdrawn the army onto the Elbe, Reynier, under whose command the Bavarians passed, moved from Bautzen to Dresden and recalled Rechberg to Meissen.  The latter, after destroying the Crossen bridge, headed on 22 February to Guben where he arrived on 27 February, then to Cottbus and Kalau (2 March); he reached Meissen on 9 March; the destruction of the bridge over the Elbe was prepared there, and a Bavarian regiment placed in cover on the right bank of the river.  While Reynier occupied Dresden with the 7th Corps made up of the two Saxon divisions and of the French division Durutte, Marshal Davout — to whom Prince Eugène entrusted the defense of the Elbe — approaching the capital of Saxony with the 6,000 men of the 1st Corps, arrived on 11 March in Meissen, where he set fire to the bridge.

The Bavarian brigade was so weakened by the typhus that Rechberg had to transform his battalions into companies and send the surplus cadres back to Bavaria: he had only 69 officers and 1,337 infantrymen; his battery had 4 officers and 51 artillerymen; Major Hertling still had about 200 light horse.

The appearance in the vicinity of Dresden of Lanskoy, commanding the vanguard of the corps of Winzingerode, caused Davout to recall to this city the 200 Bavarian light horses; Rechberg, charged with guarding with his infantry the left bank of the Elbe, distributed his brigade on one side up to midway between Meissen and Dresden, and on the other until below Strehla where he connected with the Saxons of the Torgau garrison.

Passed to Durutte’s command, the Bavarians met on 26 March with French troops who evacuated Dresden; Rechberg clashed the next day at Wilsdruff with the cavalry of the partisan corps of Orlov; the Bavarian battery stopped the enemy cavalrymen who were then driven back with a bayonet charge; then the Bavarians went to Nossen and had on 29 March, at Colditz, an engagement with the cavalry of Winzingerode which left 15 dead, 50 wounded on the battlefield and 16 prisoners in the hands of soldiers of the three light battalions.  Always supporting the Durutte Division in its retirement movement, Rechberg was supported by Altenburg, Gera and Roda (1 April) on Ekartsberg, Querfurt (April 5), Eislebett and Sonderhausen; liaison with Prince Eugene was then re-established in Magdeburg.  On 9 April, a Bavarian battalion sent to Rothenburg to break up the bridge and cover this crossing point of the Saale had a final engagement with the enemy.

In the end, on 10 April, Prince Eugene saw in Bavaria the 1,052 infantrymen and the 185 light horses of General von Rechberg, destined to enter into the composition of a new division which General Raglovich organized.  But the odyssey of these Bavarians was not over: they were confined on 12 April at Langensalza, on the way back to their homeland, and guarded badly… during the night, at 2 o’clock in the morning, the Free Prussian Cavalry Corps of Helwig entered the city amidst the sleeping soldiers of Rechberg; jostling the picket responsible for guarding the Bavarian battery, the Prussian riders grab the horses of the train, quickly harnessed them to the pieces and set off again with the 6 cannons…  All the battery was thus removed, except for one piece which fell into in a hollow path and was abandoned by the bold enemy partisans…

The small Bavarian corps arrived in Bamberg on 18 April; there were still 1,030 soldiers.  There, part of this troop was incorporated into the Raglovich Division, another was distributed into the reserve battalions, and the survivors of the 1st Infantry Regiment “König” and the 1st Light Battalion returned to Munich.

 

  1.  GENERAL RICARD.[7]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The Bavarian 13th Infantry Regiment in the 10th Corps of the Grand Army

Before the start of the war between France and Russia, Bavaria provided part of the Danzig garrison:  2 battalions of the 13th Infantry Regiment and 2 pieces of cannon detached from the 2nd Foot Battery.  These troops, although organically part of General Deroy’s division, were maintained at Danzig and entered into the composition of the 10th Corps placed under the orders of Marshal Macdonald; they counted with the Ricard Brigade, in the Grandjean

Division made up of Polish troops and a Westphalian regiment.  The Prussian auxiliary corps of Yorck, under generals Gravaert, Massenbach and Kleist, was also placed under the command of the Marshal who was to operate in Courland, on the far left of the line of the Grand Army.

After destroying the fortifications of Dunabourg, Macdonald approached Jacobstadt while the Prussians, on his left, settled in Mitau and observed Riga.  Attacked by the Russian General Lewis and beaten in Dahlenkirchen on 22 August, the corps of Gravaert reinforced by that of Kleist reoccupied on the 26th its old position and ended up driving back the Russians with whom he had new and fairly serious engagements in September, towards Eckau and on the Au.

Colonel Schlosberg was replaced in the Bavarian 13th Regiment by Colonel Buttler; after a rather long inaction, we find the regiment established in observation, at the beginning of October, with 8 Polish battalions and 3 squadrons of Prussian hussars in front of Dunabourg, Jacobstadt and Friedrichstadt, while the French General Bachelu occupied Eckau with Prussian and Polish troops; on 11 October, the Bavarian regiment was assembled in Friedrichstadt.

 

  1. MARSHAL MACDONALD, Commander of the 10th Corps of the Grande Armée.[8]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russian General Paulucci succeeded General Essen as Governor of Riga; at the announcement of the evacuation of Moscow by the French army, he took the offensive in Courland and had the line of Macdonald attacked by the Lewis Division; the Bavarian Major Boyk, driven back from Leuden in the first days of November, withdrew to Friedrichstadt from where he was also chased by the enemy; Macdonald had him supported by Prussian battalions and some Polish companies:  Friedrichstadt was taken over from the Russians (17 November); the same day, after a heated fight in Dahlen, the corps of Lewis and Wiliaminow were thrown back on Riga by the Prussians and the Poles led by Gravaert and Yorck.  Following these successes, Macdonald returned to Stolpen and the Bavarians returned to their former post in Friedrichstadt: they stayed there until 14 December.

The approach of Wittgenstein, who maneuvered so as to cut communications from the 10th corps, forced Macdonald to abandon Courland with the 6,000 men of Grandjean and the 14,000 Prussians of the Auxiliary Corps; he directed the Grandjean Division and 5 Prussian squadrons on Tilsit, where these troops arrive on the 27th after a combat delivered the day before, at Piktupöhnen, by the corps of Vlastov; Massenbach, whom the Marshal accompanied in person, reached Tilsit on the 28th, bringing 6 battalions and 3 Prussian squadrons; as for Yorck, he did not join the meeting point which was fixed to him…  He negotiated with the Russian General Diebitsch, Chief of Staff of Wittgenstein, and by an agreement concluded on 30 December in Taurogen he suspended all war operations, causing the 14 battalions and the 8 squadrons to take cantonments of neutrality with him among the Russian troops and recall the corps of Massenbach…[9]  This betrayal put Marshal Macdonald in greater danger:  abandoned by the whole Prussian corps which he feared to see turning against him, he immediately fell back on Danzig with the Grandjean Division, closely followed by the Russians whom Yorck’s flip-flop made more daring; his retirement was punctuated by incessant fighting: on 3 January 1813, in Labiau, where the two Bavarian artillery pieces were heavily engaged, — the 4th, in front of Königsberg, — the 5th, in Brandenburg, where the Bavarian 13th Regiment had around 40 wounded, including two officers; –On the 10th and the 11th, Colonel Buttler, in the rear guard of the division, put down the attacks of the garrison of the town of which the brave Rapp was governor; we will find the Bavarian 13th Regiment in the next chapter and see the glorious part it took in the famous defense of Danzig in 1813.

 

 

[1] Situation report of the 19th Division, Bavarian 1st Division, at the time of 1 January 1813, signed by General Rechberg.

[2] Situation report of the 20th Division, at the time of 1 January 1813, signed by General Count Beckers.

[3] Situation of the division of the 6th Army Corps on 6 January 1813, signed by General Rechberg.

[4] Situation of the infantry division of the 6th Army Corps on 15 January 1813, signed by General Rechberg. –A “statement of the distributions made in the town of Plock during the day of 15 January 1813 mentions that, on vouchers for 4, 3, 2 or 1 day it distributed 1,734 loaves of 24 ounces, 8,938 loaves of 28 ounces, –905 and 3,353 rations of vegetables at 2 and 4 ounces, –11,519 rations of salt at 1/30 of a pound, –5,155 rations of brandy at 1 / 16th of a liter, – 632 rations of wild oats (at 9 liters), hay (at 10 pounds) and straw (at 10 pounds), and 92 rations of oats (at 10 1/2 liters), hay (at 14 pounds), straw (at 8 pounds); – finally, 1,122 rations of meat at 8 ounces and 9,938 at 10 ounces.”

[5] Report of the three combined squadrons, Raschions, 31 December 1812, — and Summary report of 15 January 1813.

[6] Summary situation of the 6th Corps artillery, 13 January 1813.

[7] RICARD (Étienne-Pierre-Sylvestre, Count).  Born in 1771, infantry second lieutenant in 1791, long attached to Marshal Soult as First Aide-de-Camp, Brigadier General in 1806, Division General in 1812; –he was singled out at Austerlitz, Eylau, Wagram, Portugal, Dunabourg, Moskowa, Krasnoi.  In 1813, he covered himself with glory at the Battle of Lützen, where he captured the village of Kaya fiercely defended by the enemy:  he was appointed the same day Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor.  He also fought at Bautzen, at Leipzig, then during the French campaign at Montmirail and under the walls of Paris.  He followed Louis XVIII to Ghent, who named him peer of France in 1815.

[8] MACDONALD (Jacques-Étienne-Joseph-Alexandre), Duke of Taranto, Marshal and Peer of France.  Born in Sedan in 1765, died in Courcelles (Seine-et-Oise) in 1840.  Served in the Irish regiment of Dillon in 1784.  Colonel in Jemappes, Brigadier General in 1795, Division General in 1796; took the Dutch fleet on the ice at Texel. Governor of Rome and Commander-in-Chief in Naples in 1798.  Disgraced for his liaison with Moreau, was not called back to service until 1809.  Captor of Laybach, victor at Raab; Marshal of France after Wagram and Duke of Taranto.  Spanish War in 1810 and 18111.  Commanding the 10th Corps of the Grand Army in Russia, 1812, and the 11th Corps in Germany, 1813; stands out at Lützen, Bautzen and Leipzig.  Negotiated with the Allies the abdication of Napoleon; created Peer of France at the first Restoration.  Commanding the troops of Lyon on the return from the island of Elba, returned to Paris with the princes and stood aside during the Hundred Days.  Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor since the Second Restoration until 1831.

[9] “The defection of General Yorck can change the politics of Europe!” cried Napoleon, when he learned of the events which had taken place in the 10th Corps.  In fact, the act of Yorck had as a direct consequence the alliance of Prussia with Russia, and then brought about the detachment of the powers of the Confederation of the Rhine from the French system.  De Pradt, in his work on the Congress of Vienna, assures that “General Yorck had struck the greatest and most decisive blow; no one has done more and better to overthrow the tyranny of Napoleon; his act has had on the Prussian people the effect of an electric shock.”

In his History of the Campaign and the Defection of the Prussian Auxiliary Corps in 1812, Colonel Vermeil de Conchard expressed himself in these terms:  “Placed between his strict military duty and patriotic interest, the situation for Yorck was delicate, and no one will judge the act of the Prussian general as obviously culpable without granting him singularly extenuating circumstances. ” –In anticipating the official action of his government, at that time allied with France, Yorck committed a military crime which, it is true, emancipated Germany from French influence, but nevertheless remained an indelible one stain to his soldier’s honor.