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The Germans under the French Eagles: Our Allies the Bavarians Chapter VI Part I: Campaign of 1813

The Germans under the French Eagles: Our Allies the Bavarians Chapter VI Part I: Campaign of 1813

The Germans under the French Eagles: Our Allies the Bavarians

 Chapter VI Part I: Campaign of 1813

 By Commandant Sauzey

 Translated by Greg Gorsuch

 

1813 CAMPAIGN

  1. The defense of Thorn (Toruń). –Journal of the siege. The capitulation.  Return of the Bavarian Zoller Brigade to  Bavaria.
  2. Saxony Campaign. –The Raglovich Division.  Battles of Bautzen and Wurschen.  Hoyerswerda and Luckau  combats.
  3. After the armistice. –Situation of belligerents.  The armaments of Bavaria.
  4. The march on Berlin. –Battle of Luckenwalde. Check of Oudinot at Grossßeeren.  Ney’s failure at Jüterbog. The Bavarians at Dresden.
  5. Defection of Bavaria. Battle of Hanau.  The departure of General Maillot’s battalions.
  6. The Bavarians in defence of Danzig.

1 – The Defence of Thorn.

We saw, in the previous chapter, that the Bavarian Brigade Zoller had left at Plock on 6 January 1813 the Raglovich Division to go to Thorn, with the mission to defend this town of which the French General of Engineers Baron Poitevin de Maureilhan was governor.

Leaving Marshal Davout to continue his march on Posen with the 3,000 men and the 10 guns which represented the remains of the 1st Corps of the Grande Armée, Zoller arrived in Thorn with his brigade on 20 January.

Founded in the 13th Century by the Teutonic Order and fortified because of its important military situation, this city fell in 1703 into the hands of the King of Sweden Charles XII who hastened to dismantle it and transform it — a stronghold that it was — into an open city.  Napoleon decided to make it one of his points of support on the Vistula, because of its intermediate position between Danzig and Warsaw and the knot of routes it commanded in the main directions of Königsberg and Posen.  The old entrenchments destroyed by the Swedes were therefore raised and new works undertaken; Thorn was to be transformed into a solid bridgehead, a veritable fortress, and to contain substantial supplies of food and ammunition.  But events had not made it possible to complete the planned defensive works when the town had to sustain a siege.

The garrison included the debris of the 85th and 108th French Line Regiments — about 200 men, — with Colonel Pyat; 300 French artillerymen under the orders of Captain Alphonse, for the service of the 50 pieces of cannon composing the armament of the place;[1] some staff officers and French engineers, — and the Bavarian Zoller Brigade. The latter, with a strength of about 4,000 men, was composed of the 2nd, 4th and 6th Light Battalions (lieutenant-colonels Théobald, Herrmann and Merz) and 3 combined infantry regiments with 2 battalions, respectively from the 2nd and 6th, 3rd and 7th, 5th and 11th Bavarian Regiments (colonels Hofnas, Rodt and Lieutenant-colonel Fortemps).  By subtracting from these 4,000 soldiers the sick, the convalescents and the detached, there remained about 3,000 men to assure service at the beginning of the siege.  As a cavalry, the garrison had only 9 men with 6 horses.

The town, outside of its old demolished perimeter wall, was surrounded on its land fronts by a continuous entrenchment with eight unfinished bastions and two cavaliers (chevaux-frise?); the one located in front of the Saint-Jacques gate, commanding the Culm (Chełmo) route, was the only structure whose altitude reached that of the neighboring hills:  its 4 artillery pieces hit these heights, the plain and the course of the Vistula.  On the river side, two bastions; a battery at the old castle; the ditch which borders the enclosure, almost dry, was only 3 feet deep in two places.

Built on the right bank of the Vistula, Thorn was connected to the left bank by a bridge which crossed a fortified island; at the end of this were, on the left bank, some houses dominated at 150 paces by three small hills.  Other hills averaged a thousand steps, and it was on these heights that the defense established its outposts.  The exterior works consisted of a few blockhouses and earthen works for the infantry which were not connected to the main body by covered paths; the main one was that of the Backerberg, in front of the Bromberg gate, 400 paces from the glacis; a continuous entrenchment, in the ground, encompassed this work and leaned on one side to the Vistula, the old castle of Dybow (Dybów), in ruins, but with a large tower itself surrounded by a good wall, also served to house a position.

In the main town, neither barracks, nor hospital, nor any construction was resistant to bombs.  The engineering officers, under the direction of the Chief of Battalion Tolosé, installed a palisade work to cover the side front of the Vistula then completely frozen.  One worked incessantly to improve the other existing works, which we filled with palisades; the town’s ditch was deepened and freshened.

The Russian General Barclay de Tolly, master already of Bromberg, posted on 18 January light troops, with General Chaplits, to invest Thorn; as soon as he learned of the enemy’s approach, General de Maureilhan hastened to bring into the place all the cattle which the Bavarian columns could bring from the surroundings; the sick were evacuated to Posen as of 30 January, — despite the appearance, from the 22nd, of many Cossacks with whom the garrison skirmished but who withdrew at the fusil fire.

In the rapid narration of the siege, we will compare the journal of the besieged with that held by a Prussian officer attached to the body of the besiegers;[2] the comparison will be interesting and will clarify the situation completely, each of the belligerents being able to say only what they saw from the other’s works or activities.

 

JOURNAL OF THE BESIEGED

22 January.  –The Cossacks make their first appearance.

30 January.  –The enemy cavalry becomes too numerous for activity around the town so that one could not continue to evacuate the patients without risk on Posen.

7 February.  –We see Russian infantry on the left bank, at a great distance.  Two companies will strengthen the garrison on the island.

8 February.  –The enemy summons the town for the first time.  There are numerous movements of Russian columns on both banks of the Vistula.

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JOURNAL OF THE BESIEGERS

22 January.  –Arrival of the Cossacks in front of Thorn.

30 January.  –Arrival of the regular Russian cavalry, which prevents all evacuations from the town.

7 February.  –Arrival of the corps of General Voinov, composed of 7,000 infantrymen, 3,000 horsemen, 14 pieces of cannon.

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9 February.  –The garrison exits from the left bank.  The 700 Bavarians of Colonel Rodt take part and return with 3 killed men, 3 officers and 34 wounded soldiers.  The Russians settle on the hills on the left bank opposite the bridge of the Vistula.

10 February.  –The enemy artillery installed on the hills of the left bank began its fire on the island and on the town.  The ramparts respond and dismantle a Russian piece.  The Bavarians have 3 men killed, 3 officers and 3 men injured.  The enemy began building batteries on the right bank, opposite the Faubourg (suburb) of Saint-Jacques.

12 February.  –The governor learned from prisoners that General Chaplits would have, on the left bank, 7,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry and 30 guns, but that he has just been recalled to Posen; he will be replaced by General Langeron.

14 February.  –The town was summoned a second time by General Langeron.  Arrival of a strong column of Russian artillery by the road to Culm; the artillery of the town stopped the march of the enemy cavalry which approached Thorn.  On the same day, Bavarian lieutenant-colonels Fortemps and Théobald carried out a reconnaissance on both banks of the Vistula; but the thaw prevented the two detachments from supporting each other; they had to retreat to the town after a heated fight.[3]

22 February.  –The French Captain Savary, in charge of the defense of the castle of Dybow with 40 men and a howitzer, was attacked by a strong Russian column; he inflicted some on the enemy by the heavy fire which he maintained, –by blare of bugles, beating of drums, the movements which he carried out with his small troop, to which he sometimes made switch their uniforms…  The enemy withdrew with casualties.[4]

The thaw of the ice, which occurred that day, brought 30 Bavarians with the boats which linked the island to the bridgehead: they were saved with great difficulty, at the level of Dybow.

23 February.  –General Voinov sent a summons to the garrison of Dybow, to which he announced the arrival of 12,000 Russians coming from Bromberg and a park of Prussian siege artillery brought from Graudenz (Grudziądz) by going up the Vistula.

24 February.  –New and unnecessary summons before Dybow.  The impact of the ice flow almost completely destroyed the bridge between the island and the bridgehead, whose garrison, unable to return to the town, withdrew behind Dybow.  The wreckage caused by the ice makes it difficult for vehicles to communicate between the town and the island’s battery.

25 February.  –General Langeron appeared before the town:  he requested its immediate capitulation, which was refused to him; he then called for an interview with the governor; the latter does not consent to grant it.  On the same day, the Russian general wrote to General de Maureilhan, renewing his proposal to return the city and at the same time sent him a packet of newspapers.  The governor persists in his attitude.

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JOURNAL OF THE BESIEGERS

22 February.  –The Vistula breaks up.  The battalion entrenched at Dybow repulsed an attack directed against them.

The 5th Company of the 1st Prussian Artillery Brigade (Lieutenant Rohn) left from Graudenz, accompanying a siege artillery park and destined for Thorn, composed of:

6 guns of 24 pounds;

12 12-pounders;

4 howitzers of 10 pounds;

10 mortars of 10 pounds;

6 mortars of 50 pounds.

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27 February.  –The Russians are working on their batteries on the left bank.  Langeron addressed to the Bavarians a proclamation urging them to desert.  The number of patients, which was growing rapidly, obliged the governor to give up the sending of numerous detachments outside the town.

3 March.  –One reports a third case of desertion in the Bavarian brigade.  Langeron having addressed a new summons, the governor sent him his answer by a Polish officer whom he instructed to report information about the enemy; on returning at night, this officer fell from his horse on the glacis; his horse, which escaped him, wanted to enter the city, alarming the posts at all the gates and ends up being killed by a bullet…

5 March. –The lowering of the waters allowed the bridge to the island to be restored and the defense works to be improved; 200 men were employed on the works.  Typhus breaks out in the town.[5]

6 March.  –The rumor spread in the garrison that Napoleon marched on Posen, that he entered Berlin, that French and Polish detachments were seen 5 miles from the town…

8 March.  –A violent cannonade of the Russians takes place during the night and resumed in the morning.  The patients became so numerous that the number of men on duty was reduced by 96.

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JOURNAL OF THE BESIEGERS

Night of March 7 to 8.  –Fire opened by the batteries on the left bank.  The headquarters oversees the construction, by the besieged, of two large boats armed with two cannons, which it may want to use to descend to Danzig.

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10 March.  –Russian batteries make a violent fire.  The town responds blow for blow.

13 March.  –Violent fire.  A night attack by the enemy on the outposts was repelled.

15 March.  –The money missing in the town, the governor decided that the inhabitants will buy salt and food in the military stores.  The garrison completed the construction of boats intended to transport it to Danzig, despite the cannons of Graudenz under which it will be necessary to pass…

16 March.  –Violent fire.

17 March.  –The enemy shows great activity on the left bank where he builds earthworks; but observers make it known that the Russians have only two cannons on this bank of the Vistula, and that they often change their position to impose them on the garrison.  The number of sick people continually increasing, the ordnance officers, the stretcher bearers, the musicians and all the employees returned to the ranks of their companies.

19 March.  –A bomb ignites a fire, which was soon extinguished.

20 March.  –The fire of the Russians lasted all night, without killing or injuring anyone in the city.

22 March.  –The two Bavarian lieutenants placed as observers in the tower of the town hall signal a Russian general who performed a reconnaissance, followed by a large escort of dragoons and Cossacks.  The enemy cannonade the blockhouse of the Saint-Jacques gate:  its fire was put out by that of the town.

27 March.  –The Russians execute material movements on the right bank; the artillery of the town thwarted them with its fire.

29 March.  –The governor had a general reconnaissance of enemy work carried out, driving back the Russian cavalry.  We learn that ammunition and artillery for the Russian and Prussian troops from the siege arrived by boat, from Graudenz.  The Bavarian brigade has only 1,500 combatants; it has 700 dead since the beginning of the siege; the rest are in the hospital.  There is no longer any fresh meat, but only cured meats made for four years.  Drugs are failing.

1st April.  –The enemy occupied in force all the surroundings close to the town; he works on all sides on his batteries.  The garrison built a blockhouse in front of the Old Gate.

4 April.  –Enemy cannonade coming from the left bank.

5 April.  –The Russian artillery park seems considerably increased.[6]

Night of 6 to 7 April.  –First night of bombing.  By day, we see that the Russians built a battery overnight in front of Dybow; the pieces in the those –those of the castle in particular– respond to it.

Night of 8 to 9 April.  –The enemy has opened the trench; he built two new batteries.  In the day, the town fires on the workers who cover themselves with fascines and gabions and on the mortar batteries.

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JOURNAL OF THE BESIEGERS

Night from 1st April to 2 April.  –The garrison attempts to burn down the ships which bring the siege artillery to half a mile below the town with two fire boats; this attempt fails thanks to the premature explosion of the machines.

Night of 6 to 7 April.  –Construction in front of Dybow of a trench and a battery of 2 mortars and 2 licornes which opened its fire during the night.

7 April.  –Reconnaissance of the town by General Oppermann, commanding the engineers, –General Wezelisky, commanding the artillery. –Lieutenant-Colonel Michaud, Engineer Commandant; we decide to attack from the north and west fronts.

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10 April.  –Despite the fire in the town, the attacker, during the last night, completed his work and armed two new batteries which started their fire at noon; until 7 o’clock in the evening, 328 bombs and 330 cannonballs fell on the town, with no other harm than a Bavarian and a resident killed and a French gunner wounded; the structures suffered little damage.

Night of 10 to 11 April.  –The Russians attacked our outposts and managed to occupy the ridges where they begin to settle despite the fire from the town; but after a fierce battle the heights are reoccupied by the besieged.

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JOURNAL OF THE BESIEGERS

Night of 8 to 9 April.  –Opening of the trench, in the presence of Generals Barclay de Tolly and Langeron, under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Michaud commanding the engineers, by 168 sappers and pioneers and 2,000 workers with 1,500 support men.  The first parallel has started on two different points.  Opening of 4 batteries.

Battery no I, of 4 mortars.

Battery no II, of 8 pieces of 12 and 8 licornes.

Battery no III, of 6 mortars.

Battery no IV, of 8 pieces of 12 and 4 licornes.

These batteries are directed at the Backerberg.  Mortar batteries started fire on the morning of the 9th.

Night of 9 to 10 April.  –We finish batteries II and IV; battery IV is armed by day, battery II at noon; they then open fire on the Backerberg.

Night of 10 to 11 April.  –Open battery V, of 8 pieces of 12 and 2 licornes; it is directed against bastion no 6.  The besiegers attack the Backerberg; in this attack, Lieutenant-colonel Michaud, commander of the Russian engineers, has his right arm carried away.  The Backerberg was captured, its works destroyed, but the position was then abandoned by the troops of the siege.

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11 April.  –The enemy has built new batteries close together and starts at 9 o’clock in the morning, a fire that lasts the whole day, injuring the drum-major of the 2nd Light Battalion and several inhabitants, killing a French artilleryman; a bomb blew up the magazine of the no 2 cavalier at 6 o’clock in the evening, killing three French artillerymen.  The fire from the town managed to extinguish one of the Russian batteries.  The enemy, on this day, fired more than 800 bombs, shells or balls.

12 April.  –8 new mortars bombard the town.  The enemy has 40 siege pieces in action, in 9 batteries.  Bavarian officers on watch counted more than 1,600 cannon shots during the day.

13 April.  –The enemy reinforced his work during the night.  Its fire started again at 4 o’clock in the morning and lasted until 8 o’clock at night; directed towards the city and no 2 cavalier, it caused significant damage to the town hall, to the Saint-Bernard church, in the old quarter where the most solid houses were.  A non-commissioned officer was killed, 3 men injured.  The fire from the town caused damage to the Russian batteries, but failed to stop the enemy workers.  The besieger fired 1,470 shots, the besieged 1,200.

14 April.  –The night was calm and employed to repair the damage caused to the works of the town.  The enemy advanced its approaches; he installed new mortars; a large convoy of ammunition and artillery arrived from Graudenz: observers count more than 100 carts in the morning.  The 13 batteries armed against the town fired more than 1,500 shots during the day.

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JOURNAL OF THE BESIEGERS

11 April.  –Explosion in one of the local magazines.  The four mortars from battery no I are brought into battery no V.

Night of 11 to 12 April.  –Opening of battery no VI, with six mortars of 50 and two of 10; it begins shooting at day.  Batteries II and IV now defeat bastion no 6.

Night of 12 to 13 April.  –Battery no V is completed and armed.  8 pieces of 12 and 2 licornes are brought from battery no II to battery no V, and replaced in battery no II by 10 field pieces.

Night of 13 to 14 April.  –Opening of  battery no VII, for 2 mortars.

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Night of 14 to 15 April.  –The enemy has taken possession of all the heights during the night, behind which it can now mass its attack columns before launching them onto the corps de place; if he had continued his effort, he could enter the city by force…

15 April.  –Supported by the artillery of the town, the Bavarians take back one of the works lost in the previous night; French Colonel Pyat also attacked the besiegers who withdrew to the shelter of the fire on the town.  The garrison had 17 killed or wounded.

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JOURNAL OF THE BESIEGERS

Night of 14 to 15 April.  –Occupation of the Backerberg by 1,500 Russian infantrymen, under whose protection the second parallel was open 300 or 400 steps from the glacis of the town.

15 April.  –Batteries VI and VII take the works in the town from behind.  A battery, built in the island of Vistula located above Thorn, bombards Dybow, the island of Thorn and the city.

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As can be seen from the preceding double account, on the morning of 15 April, the besieger was at the foot of the glacis.

What was the garrison situation at the time?  Artillery ammunition was lacking, and infantry cartridges had just been taken apart — the supply of which was still considerable — to make 2,000 artillery shells.  Of the 4,000 men present at the beginning of the siege, only 1,500 French and Bavarians were under arms:  1,000 have died, and the rest are laid down in hospital by typhus or unable to fight.  The Russian fire put out of service a number of guns; finally, the population was homeless and without food.

General de Maureilhan convened a council of war which unanimously decided to continue the defense, if the enemy did not grant the garrison to return with its weapons to national soil.  The white flag was hoisted on 15 April at noon, and French Lieutenant-Colonel Laroche went to the besieging camp to submit the capitulation proposal to the Russian Chief of Staff, General Sabaneyev; it was agreed that the term “prisoners of war” would not be used in the drafting of the capitulation, –but Sabaneyev did not want to allow the “armed” departure of the garrison, despite the fact that this clause had been accepted by the Russians for the exit of the defendants from Pillau; Laroche then requested the dismissal of the inhabitants:  this proposal having been rejected, he broke off the negotiation.  General Zoller went to find Sabaneyev and insisted that the proposed conditions be accepted:  he experienced the same refusal.

The time spent in these negotiations had not been wasted by the besieged who had made ammunition for their artillery.  So, when the enemy batteries resumed fire, they were vigorously answered.  A fifth Russian superior officer was killed by a local ball…  But, after a few hours of combat, the defense cannons were again on the verge of running out of ammunition.

On 16 April, General de Maureilhan considered that he was reduced to mercy and proposed, in the morning, to capitulate under the conditions he had refused to accept the day before:  the disarmed garrison would return to its country under escort; this offer was immediately accepted, and a Russian battalion came to occupy the half-moon and Culm Gate during the day, as well as the no. 2 tambour and cavalier.

Lieutenant Duponteil, Aide-de-Camp to Zoller, and the French Captain Malherbe left on the 18th from Thorn to bring the news of the capitulation, the first to the King of Bavaria, and the second to Prince Eugene; at one o’clock in the afternoon, French and Bavarians left the town, music playing, and laid down their arms on the glacis…  The next day, after crossing the Vistula on the bridge of 86 pontoons and 800 steps in length built by the Russians at Schwarzloch, they went to the Oder by Kalisch and Steine; there, crossing this river, they were directed on Bunzlau (12 May) and after a rest of 12 days in this last city, on Glatz; but, as the advice that the clauses of the capitulation might not be observed and that they were going to be interned at Glatz or Silberberg, the Franco-Bavarians of the former garrison of Thorn filed by a night march on the 29th but in the evening, on Trentenau, in Austrian territory, and from there, via Rechenberg, to the Saxon town of Zittau (2 June).  Two days later, the Bavarians separated from the French and General de Maureilhan, gained Pyrna, crossed the Elbe and managed, without falling into the hands of the Prussians or the Russians, to reach the borders of Bavaria on 15 June with General Zoller .

A handful of men, against a ten times greater number of adversaries, had defended Thorn during three months of blockade and eight days of open trench; at the end of the siege, 1,500 Bavarians and 170 French remained in the presence of 15,000 Russo-Prussians; the siege corps had lost 3,000 men; the garrison about 1,000, and it left in the hospitals of the place 1,211 patients, with some doctors.

The local artillery was supplied with 200 rounds per piece and 150 with mortar: a total of 10,860 rounds. She fired 12,881; these 2,000 excess shots were made, as we have seen, with infantry munitions.

The 60 pieces of the besiegers fired about 24,000 shots including 5,626 siege artillery projectiles thus distributed:

1,663 10 and 50 pound bombs,

889 shells of licornes,

3,074 12-pound balls,

and the rest in field artillery projectiles.

Of the 769 houses in the town of Thorn, 100 were demolished, 400 remained uninhabitable; the suburbs (360 houses, 1 hospice, 2 hospitals) were completely destroyed.

(Fold out map of the Defense of Thorn, from Hoburg)

The Emperor, dissatisfied with this capitulation, ordered that the conduct of General de Maureilhan would be examined by a board of inquiry.  The defender of Thorn remained in disgrace and without command until the return of Bourbons who called him back to service after having given him the cross of Saint-Louis…

Service and hospital situation of the Thorn garrison during the siege of 1813.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] These 50 cannons were 9 howitzers, a few field guns, old iron cannons and 2 mortars — one of which, had burst, and was surrounded by a strong band of iron. (Hoburg, Belagerungen der Stadt Thorn, page 76.)

[2] Hoburg, in his work on The Sieges of Thorn, follows for the siege of 1813 the Journal of the Prussian captain Schöpff, who assisted in the ranks of the Prussian artillery.

[3] Völderndorff reports that a Bavarian returned to the city the day after this affair with crutches and only one leg:  the second was tied on his bag…  He said that was amputated by a cannon shot and found by the Cossacks; he had been treated (!)  by the latter who forced him to return in this way to the town…  (Volume III, p. 411.)

[4] The brave Savary will remain brilliantly in this isolated post until the end of the siege, despite the many attempts by the Russians to seize Dybow, and despite the fire of the enemy siege batteries.

[5] From this time, the daily number of dead is 10 to 15 men per day; it will reach the figure of 50 at the end of the siege.

[6] 38 Prussian siege pieces had arrived from Graudenz, with excellent Prussian gunners.