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

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

The Germans under the French Eagles: Volume V Our Allies the Bavarians

Chapter V Part III:  The Campaign of 1812

By Commandant Sauzey

Translated by Greg Gorsuch

It was not only the food which was the object of Napoleon’s preoccupations; the arming of the troops, the good condition of the fusils had motivated imperial instructions that headquarters immediately brought to the attention of the troops:

4th CORPS.

        —                                                                                                                                    Plock Headquarters, 1 June 1812.

“His Imperial Highness orders the following transcribed letter from the Prince Chief of Staff to be placed on the agenda:”

“The Emperor reminds the various army corps of the importance that should be given to the conservation of weapons.”

“His Majesty orders that the corps henceforth remove the fusils and sabers from the men sent to the hospitals, in order to ensure their preservation.”

“The fusils of the men who enter the hospitals will be transported in two cases of weapons which will be following the regiments; when the number of fusils exceeds 40 to 50, they will be handed over, at the first station the corps will make, to the artillery park of the division; the artillery commander will give a receipt… and will send all these weapons to the town of depot of the nearest general park, taking all the necessary precautions for the safety of the weapons.”

“…In the event of distance from the general park or from the depots, the weapons in question will be deposited with a town commander, who will give them a receipt and who will remain responsible for them until he finds the means of having them transported to a place where the artillery has established.”

                                                                                                The Chief of General Staff of the corps

                                                                                 under the orders of His Imperial Highness the Viceroy Prince.

                                                                                                                Signed: CHARPENTIER.

                Identical copy:

The Commander Adjutant,


A general review of armaments and ammunition was prescribed for 4 June; one would have to make sure that each soldier had 50 cartridges, 3 flints, and that there was no damaged ammunition:  Deroy reports on the 7th that “each infantry soldier is provided with 60 cartridges, as is settled in the ordinances of the King, and 3 flints:  the cartridges are in good condition, as well as the artillery caissons.”[1]

The 6th Corps marching diary shows us having its headquarters on 15 June in Willenberg, on 17 June in Ortelsburg, on 19 June in Johannisburg, on 21 June in Drigallen, the 22nd in Lyck, on the 23rd in Czimochin, on the 25th in Seïnie and on the 30th at Prenn (Prienai), on the Niemen: this precipitous march was due to the presence of the Emperor who had just arrived on the front of the army, preparing to cross the great river and enter enemy territory.

On 1 June, a sapper detachment was organized in the Bavarian divisions; each possessed, apart from its 4 engineering officers, about twenty infantrymen “temporary sappers”.  In 1809, we had seen Marshal Lefebvre deplore the lack of engineer troops in the Bavarian army; this gap was filled, and the measure gave excellent results.

Wrede reported on 9 June that General Minucci commanding the 3rd Brigade, “mortally ill”, had left the army and that this brigade was provisionally commanded by Colonel Count von Dalwig; he had 12,987 present under arms in his division, 357 men in hospitals and reports, since the dispatch of his last situation, a subtraction of 2 soldiers died from the infantry, a drowned man, one missing, 22 horses blown in the train, and 10 in his cavalry brigade[2]; more than 300 men were detached as bakers, nurses, to the food service, to the auxiliary company; 2 companies of the 5th Light Battalion escorted flour for the division; from 15 to 28 June, he would still have dead soldiers, the other 4 drowned, 2 invalids, and 7 dead horses.[3]  Deroy saw his manpower present, from 10,848 men on 19 June, decrease on the 25th to 10,371, and on 27th to 10,196.  On these same dates, patients in hospitals went from 228 to 261 and then to 256; note that the infantry almost alone provided this last figure:  the 2 light-horse regiments, out of a total of 975 combatants, had only 7 hospitalized cavalrymen, and 3 artillery gunners out of 313.[4]  It was the sick horses and not the riders who reduced the brigade of General Seydewitz of light horse a little; this brigade had 1,115 horses at the beginning of the month, and only 1,085 at the end.[5] The auxiliary company of the division was in perpetual motion; on the 19th, it was en route with a transport between Plock and Willenberg, on the 25th it was reported at Lyck, while the 6th Light Battalion was entirely employed in convoying food.

The 6th Corps, infantry, cavalry and artillery, had, as of 30 June, 23,576 men in the ranks, 611 sick and 2,180 detached.  The two cavalry brigades, each reduced to two regiments, mounted, that of General Seydewitz (in the 19th Division) to 1,014 sabers, including 39 officers, and that of General Preysing (in the 20th Division) to 941; in total, a mass of nearly 2,000 riders.[6]

Prince Eugene, who inspected the 6th Corps around Plock, testified to the Bavarian generals that he was pleased to find in their troops so few sick and stragglers, despite the privations the men and horses had been subjected to.

The Niemen has just been crossed by the Great Army; and Napoleon’s offensive runs along the whole line from Tilsit — where Macdonald commanded the 10th Corps and Prussian contingent — to Volhynia where Schwarzenberg led the Austrian auxiliary corps.

“So here is the war declared,” — writes old Deroy to Albignac — “and the Emperor beyond the Niemen!  I think we will follow soon; however, we may well not be in the first battle…”[7]

Following in the footsteps of the 4th Corps, the Bavarians from Jeleniewo advanced through Strosdy, Sinnow and Penn, and in turn crossed the Niemen at Piloni (2 July), from where Gouvion Saint-Cyr quickly led the Deroy Division by Nowoe-Kietowich (4 July) on Gudakimie, and the Wrede Division on Anouchichki; these last points were reached on 6 July and the 6th Corps stayed there for a whole week, during which it was happily joined by its luggage and its food carts which had not been able to follow the columns since their entry into enemy territory, because the speed of the march.

General Dessolles, Prince Eugene’s chief of staff, had conveyed to the Bavarians the opinion that the 4th Corps was moving on Vilna “by a little brisk steps and that M. le comte Saint-Cyr should try to follow them as quickly as possible.”[8]

This pace made the Bavarians a little breathless, and Deroy wrote on 1 July:

“… If H. M. the Emperor thus continues his victorious march at an accelerated pace, there will be no way to join him and contribute to his conquests!”[9]

Saint-Cyr believed that his army corps was one of those which lost the least teams at this time, “without doubt because of the care which the Germans take of their horses.”

His satisfaction must have been relative, however, because the numbers were declining visibly; those of Deroy, from 4 to 9 July, decreased from 10,425 men present to 10,080;[10] the commander of the 19th Division reported that each infantry battalion and each cavalry regiment had been joined by a filled ammunition caisson, “so that each soldier, with his 60 cartridges in his pockets, had 120 shots to fire”; 11 park or battery carriages were in Thorn to acquire ammunition, with 1 artillery officer, 25 soldiers and 50 horses in the train; finally, he announced the arrival of Lieutenant-Colonel von Laroche with 3 companies of the 6th Light Battalion (325 men) bringing 660 oxen for the division; the other 3 companies of this battalion, 1 company of the 1st Light Battalion, 1 company of the 8th Line Regiment and the auxiliary company are still detached for the transport of food.

Von Wrede, on 10 July, had 12,284 men in the line, 559 soldiers in hospitals, 790 men posted at Lyck, Nikolaïken and Semmo.  He, too, had the ammunition caissons of the battalions joined; since 5 July, he had reported the death of an officer, that of an infantryman who died on the march, and finally 3 desertions.[11]  An officer and 8 riders of the 5th Light Horse were detached to General Gouvion Saint-Cyr.

On 11 July, the 6th Corps received an order from the Major General to go to Vilna the next day.  Deroy went there by Stare Troki and Wrede by Nowe Troki.  The Bavarians were approaching the city, when suddenly the Emperor appeared unexpectedly in the middle of their columns; he reviewed them on 14 July, complimented them on their fine attitude and congratulated General Deroy for having, despite being very old, wanted to share the fate of his soldiers in such a distant land, and consecrate to the glory of his sovereign and from his homeland at the end of his glorious career.  On the same day, the 6th Corps set off for the Duna and ceased to be under the direction of Prince Eugene.  Napoleon at the same time removed from Saint-Cyr his last 4 light-horse regiments, “which he had found very beautiful”; he reunited them with the Grande Armée, as well as the Widemann Light Battery.

“The loss of this cavalry,” — says Saint-Cyr, — “was very harmful to the 6th Corps, first because there was no question of replacing it and then that it was to paralyze the operations of a corps not to give it in a suitable proportion.”

The rapid march of the Bavarian corps towards the Duna by Gouboukoë, Uschatz and Beshankovichy (Biešankovičy), sustained for eight days in a row, and the almost absolute lack of food while it provided this effort, made it leave behind, at each stage a battalion worth.

On 25 July, Deroy reported on the bivouac of his division at Papirna that he had 10,112 men present and 708 in hospitals, 37 horses blown in the last march; his battery of 12 at 4 leagues behind, his park at 12 leagues…[12]  The next day, he claimed only 8,860 men under arms, but 796 in hospitals, 13 deserters and 47 horses of the train blown; the battery of 12 had not joined, nor had the park remained far behind the column .[13]  On 29 July, in Beshankovichy, the 19th Division had only 6,383 present, but had 1,011 men in hospitals and 2,243 infantry soldiers left behind, stragglers or sick; the 1st Light Battery, Captain Vandouve, engaged the passage of the cavalry on the Duna and fired 15 cannonballs of 6 and 8 shells; 6 soldiers of the train of this battery were taken prisoner, “having wanted to take oats for their horses at a place on the other side of the Duna which had been indicated to them by the brigadier of the cavalry.”  Major Gravenreuth, Chief of Staff of the division, ended his report with these words: “Our stay here will create for us a large number of stragglers.”[14]  In fact, on 3 August, the figure for those present had risen to 6,571; the division also had 1,615 men and 31 seconded officers (1 company at the headquarters of the general-in-chief, the rest in transporting food, escorts to sappers, bakery, etc.); 25 officers and 1,886 soldiers were in hospitals: but under this heading we understand the stragglers who have not returned and who are “supposed to be sick”…[15]

Von Wrede was not more favored; from 10 to 20 July he lost 2 soldiers in the marches, 7 deserters, 19 dead horses; the number of his “presents” fell from 11,221 (on 20 July) to 10,753 (on the 24th of the same month); on the other hand, if he had only 922 soldiers in hospitals on the first of these dates, he had 1,336 on the second …[16]  The situation got worse on 30 July; in five days, a loss of 6 dead, 5 deserters, — effectives present reduced to 10,351, — 1,596 men in hospitals.  On the figures of those present, the infantry counted 9,463 soldiers; but as 653 stragglers or en route are included in this number, only 8,810 non-commissioned officers and soldiers remained under arms.[17]

The Emperor had arrived at Vitebsk; if the Russians had not seriously defended the line of Niemen, if he had not been able to attract them to the great battle which he desired, he would at least follow them quickly and try to prevent the junction of the two enemy armies from West; to keep his left against the corps of Wittgenstein, which would soon strengthen the division of Finland made available following the Abo convention between Alexander and Bernadotte, the Emperor sent to Oudinot the Bavarian Corps which he placed under his orders; the 2nd and 6th Corps would operate together on the left of the Grande Armée and Saint-Cyr received consequently, on 5 August the mission to gain Polotsk and to meet there with the corps of Marshal Oudinot.

Leaving Beshankovichy, the two Bavarian divisions reach Krowle on 6 August and Polotsk the following day; they crossed the Duna and establish themselves in front of the city, Deroy on the left and Wrede on the right of the Valyntsy road.

The Widemann light battery went directly to Vitebsk, where it was ordered to join the 4 regiments of Bavarian light horse commanded by General von Preysing.

[1] General Deroy to d’Albignac (Luberadz, 7 Jul 1812).

[2] Situation of the 20th Division at Willenberg, at the time of 9 June 1812.

[3] Situation of the 20th Division at Ricacey, at the time of 28 June 1812.

[4] Summary states of the troops of the 19th Division, established at Johannisburg and Sulwaki on the dates of 19 and 25 June, and the situation of that division at Jeleniewo, 27 June 1812.  We have, in the latter document, that the artillery of the division provided 200 shells of 6, 28,560 infantry cartridges and 4,000 fusil flints to the Bavarian detachment at Danzig.

[5] Situations of the 19th Division’s cavalry brigade 9 and 14 June 1812, signed by General Seydewitz.

[6] Summary situation, written in the hand of d’Albignac, dated 30 June (Papers of the General de Albignac).

[7] General Deroy at d’Albignac (Jeleniewo, 26 June 1812).

[8] General Dessolles to Gouvion Saint-Cyr (Kranie, 2 July 1812).

[9] General Deroy to d’Albignac (Balwierzyski, 1 July 1812).

[10] Situation of the 19th Division, at Gudkiemie, 9 July 1812.

[11] Summary situation of the 20th Division, at Anouchichki, 10 July 1812.

[12] Summary situation of the 19th Division, bivouac of Papirna, 25 July 1812.

[13] Situation of the 19th Division, Delichanow headquarters, 26 July 1812.

[14] Summary situation of the 19th Division, at Beshankovichy, 29 July.  This piece carried the curious “observation” which the following reproduces without modification:



Stragglers and sick who remain in the rear













1st Line Regiment





9th             —





1st Light Bataillon










4th Line Regiment





10th      —





3rd Light Bataillon









8th Line Regiment





6th Light Bataillon























stragglers and sick



[15] Summary situation of the 19th Division, at Beshankovichy, 3 August 1812.

[16] Summary state of the troops of the 20th Division, at Czarnia, on 20 July and summary situation of the 20th Division, at Matprin, 24 July 1812.

[17] Situation of the troops of the 20th Division, at Nirczowka, 30 July 1812.