CHAPTER V: THE HESSIANS IN THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST RUSSIA IN 1812
I. The preparatory marches.
Napoleon and Alexander had sworn eternal friendship at Tilsit… But nothing is eternal in this world, especially political oaths; from the summer of 1810, relations between France and Russia began to undergo a noticeable cooling, because Russia did not apply, as she had undertaken to do, the conditions of the Continental Blockade which was to bring the ruin of England by the destruction of its commerce on the continent.
In anticipation of an imminent war between the two empires, the French government considered it necessary to notably reinforce the garrisons of the towns of the Oder and that of Danzig. The Rhine troops were ideal for this role of foresight and protection of the territory of the Confederation: a Hessian regiment was therefore requested by Napoleon from the Grand Duke Louis of Darmstadt.
On 30 May 1811, the Regiment du Corps, with two battalions of musketeers, 34 officers and 1,543 men strong, accompanied by 2 pieces of artillery, left Giessen for Magdeburg under the orders of Colonel von Gall and Majors Weber and Dunker. It arrived there on 11 June and was sent from there to Stettin to put an end to the smuggling of English goods which was carried out by navigation on the Oder. Brought back in Autumn to Danzig, the Hessian regiment, incorporated into the Desaix Division of Marshal Davout’s corps, remained in this town until the Spring of 1812, when it was directed to Neutief (Baltiyisk), in Frische Nehrung (Vistula Split), with the mission to cooperate with the Prussian garrison of Pillau to prevent the entry of English boats into the Frische Haff (Vistula Lagoon).
Embarked on 5 June for Königsberg, the Regiment du Corps went from there, via Wehlau (Znamensk), Insterbourg (Chernyakhovsk), Gumbinnen, Stallupönen (Nesterov) and Pilwischki (Pilviškiai) to Kowno (Kaunas), where it arrived on 22 June. It was one of the points where the Grand Army gathered – which had never better justified its name – before invading Russia.
The Major General having invited the Grand Duke Louis on 16 January 1812 to prepare 4 new battalions, 3 squadrons and 1 battery of 6 artillery pieces, the latter mobilized and campaigned, in addition to the Regiment du Corps:
|The Regiment of the Guard,
|Colonel VON FOLLENIUS
|Major VON STEINLING.
|The Fusilier Battalion of the Guard.
|The Fusilier Battalion du Corps.
|3 squadrons of light horse,
|12 officers, 440 men.
|Colonel VON DALWIGK
|1st Foot Battery,
|4 pieces of 6 and 2 howitzers of 8,
|190 men and 143 horses.
All this contingent was placed under the orders of Prince Emile of Hesse and was originally to remain united: we will see later that it was, on the contrary, dispersed during the greater part of the campaign, and that it was only in Vilna, during the retreat of the army, that Prince Emile was able to group the remains of the Hessian troops and bring them back with him.
The infantry had obtained new Austrian fusils, bayonet scabbards, and 125 cartridges per man. The cavalry were mounted and equipped ‘as they had never been before’.
An order from Berthier of 9 February commanded the Hessian contingent to be on the 17th of the same month on their way to Magdeburg; it was then to be directed to Prussian Pomerania and Mecklenburg. In execution of these instructions, the Hessians left Darmstadt on 17 and 18 February 1812 in two columns: the first was made up of the Guard Regiment, the Guard Fusilier Battalion and the battery; the second of the Battalion of Fusiliers du Corps and the light horse.
By Giessen, Cassel, Wolfenbüttel, Brunswick, the Hessians reached Magdeburg on 5 March: the 2 battalions of fusiliers were united for the duration of the campaign in a “provisional regiment of light infantry” under the command of Colonel von Schönberg: this regiment had 31 officers, 1,514 men, 20 saddle horses, 7 carriages and 18 draft horses, plus 81 pack animals for the vivandières and laundresses of the corps.
1812–MARSHAL DAVOUT, Commander of the 1st Corps of the Grande Armée (Based on a contemporary print)
The Hessian infantry brigade – Guard and fusiliers – were attached to the Daendels Division of the corps of Davout:
“…The brigades of Berg, Hesse-Darmstadt and Baden, commanded by General Daendels, will form only one division which will carry the No. 26…”.
This division, which was to pass subsequently to the 9th Corps (Marshal Victor), was temporarily dispersed in the towns of Pomerania and Mecklenburg:
“…A battalion from Hesse-Darmstadt and a battalion from Baden must be returned as soon as possible to Küstrin to form the principal garrison of this place.”
“Another battalion from Baden and another battalion from Hesse-Darmstadt should be placed within a march of Stettin, so that when the division which is at Stettin receives the order to march forward, these battalions can proceed to Stettin for forming the garrison.”
“All of Berg’s brigade must be in Swedish Pomerania as well as the rest of the brigades of Hesse-Darmstadt and Baden, the battalion could be detached to guard the coasts of Mecklenburg.”
“…The garrison of Stettin will be formed by several battalions of the Daendels Division, as well as the garrison of Küstrin.”
In execution of these orders, the Hessians left Magdeburg, crossed the Elbe at Dömitz, and their two columns met on 13 March in Rostock, where the Guard regiment and the artillery remained. Prince Emile was led on Stettin with the regiment of light infantry and the light horse; he succeeded on the 22nd and detached a squadron to Küstrin; a few days later, Marshal Davout having crossed Stettin on his way to Thorn, the Hessian light horse provided him with an escort of a squadron which accompanied him to this last town (29 March): the cavalrymen of Darmstadt were thus dispersed in all of Prussian Pomerania where they provide the correspondence service, and it was only in the middle of May that Colonel Dalwigk managed to concentrate his regiment in Köslin and the surrounding area.
1812- GENERAL MORAND, Governor of Swedish Pomerania (From the lithograph by A. Tardieu)
At the end of May, the regiment of fusiliers and the Hessian artillery sent to Stralsund, Rugen and Greifswald in Swedish Pomerania came under the orders of General Morand, governor of this province: they remained there for four months, monitoring the coasts to oppose the English landing attempts, and left on 19 September for Danzig, which they reached on 12 October. From there, these two bodies joined the theater of operations: they marched through Dirschau, Marienburg, Elbing, Königsberg, Tilsit, Kowno (1 November), on Vilna – where they rested six days, and entered the formation of a reinforcement brigade sent to General Wrede who was responsible for covering Vilna and operating against Wittgenstein during the retreat of the Grand Army. We follow, a little further on, the marches and operations of the Hessian fusiliers and the battery during the time they spent under the orders of the Bavarian general, until the moment when they made their junction on 9 December at Vilna with the rest of the Darmstadt contingent.
As for the Guard Regiment, it remained in Rostock from the middle of March until the end of June: it left with the congratulations of General Lagrange for the good behavior it had shown during its stay in Mecklenburg; its two battalions then went successively to Königsberg from where the 1st was directed on Kowno and from there (18 July) on Vilna; the 2nd battalion, leaving in its turn Königsberg (24 June), arrived on 10 August in Vilna where it made its junction with the 1st Battalion of the Regiment du Corps.
II. From the Niemen to Moscow.
The different elements of the Hessian contingent being dispersed as we have just seen, Prince Emile no longer had an effective command: he was called to the great Imperial district, followed the Emperor and assisted him at all the major affairs of the campaign: at the capture of Smolensk, at the battle of Moskowa, at the entry into Moscow, at the combat of Maloyaroslavets; the Prince, who was only twenty-two years old, was greatly appreciated by Napoleon’s staff for his enthusiasm and his real military qualities.
The Hessian contingent, hitherto employed as a troop guarding the army’s lines of communication and training reinforcement units for which the immense army would soon feel the need; we will not therefore find our allies from Darmstadt actively employed on the famous battlefields which mark the road to Moscow: their role, at first modest, would change at the time of the retreat when they bravely made all the sacrifices that would be required of them, even that of their lives.
The Regiment du Corps had reached Kowno on 22 June: on the 24th its 1st Battalion crossed the bridges of the Niemen with a company of French voltigeurs and pushed back some Cossacks… Hence the legend which ran in the army, that the Hessians had fired the first fusil shots in the campaign! – This battalion remained in Kowno as a troop of stages, while the 2nd was in charge of escorting the artillery park of the 2nd Corps and arrived on 28 June at Vilna: pushed by Osmiana and Minsk to Mohilev (Mogilev) on the Dnieper (8 July), this battalion then went to Orsha and remained in Dubrovno until 12 August, without having taken part in the battles of Mohilev, Smolensk and Moskowa (because of the escort service of the park of which it was always charged); it remained three days on the field of Borodino to collect the weapons of the dead; then directed to Fili, a neighboring village of Moscow, it took up its cantonments there after the occupation of the Russian Holy City by Napoleon.
As for the 2nd Battalion of du Corps Regiment, which remained in Kowno until 15 July, it left for Vilna where it formed a junction with the 1st Battalion of the Hessian Guards recently arrived in Kowno; the 2 Hessian battalions moved by Swenziany, Glubokoye, Kamen, on Vitebsk, reaching this town on 29 August: they rallied the other battalion of the Guards there, and the Hessians, now 3 battalions strong under the orders of Colonel von Gall, escorted by Rudnin and Inkowo a large convoy from Vitebsk to Smolensk; they stay ten days in this last city and took the road to Moscow; all the Guards Regiment having remained in Vyaz’ma (10 October) to constitute the garrison, the 2nd Battalion du Corps arrived alone in Mozhaysk where it was joined by its 1st Battalion coming from Borodino (20 October): the regiment du Corps, in full , would make cantonments near Moscow.
The Emperor had decided that the Hessian regiment of the Guards and that du Corps, which circumstances had temporarily united, would form a brigade in General Delaborde’s Young Guard Division; the Hessians showed themselves to be proud of this measure, and their young Chief, Prince Emile, pointed out to his soldiers the price of a distinction that no troop of the Confederation of the Rhine had yet received. The Guards Regiment numbered at this time 800 combatants and du Corps regiment more than 500.
III: Retirement. The Hessian infantry at Krasnoi and Berezina. Arrival in Vilna.
The day after the French entered Moscow, the City of the Tsars was set ablaze, only leaving the conquerors its ruins… Napoleon lost five precious weeks to negotiate with the Russians and vainly awaiting proposals for peace which did not reach him. During this month of Autumn, the already very weakened army suffered from the lack of food; its line of communication was threatened: an enemy army descended from the north to cut off our retreat, and another army came up from the Turkish border to prevent us from returning… Finally, the great ally of the Russians, Winter, was fast approaching … The Emperor gave in the middle of October the order to begin the retrograde march.
The 2 battalions du Corps Regiment met on 20 October; Prince Emile joined them on the 20 at Ghiat, and the next day, 1 November, on its arrival at Vyaz’ma where the Guards Regiment was needed, he effectively took command of his brigade: it was 1,300 men strong and accompanied by 2 pieces of cannon attached since 1811 to du Corps Regiment. On 8 November we arrived in Smolensk where the brigade stayed until the 14th and received a reinforcement detachment: 3 officers and 331 men du Corps Regiment – and 50 men for the Guards.
The retreat continued, – and the cold increased, – and the enemy became more pressing every day; on 14 November, the Cossacks captured all the luggage of the Hessians.
BATTLE OF KRASNOI
On 17 November, Marshal Mortier brought the Delaborde and Roguet Divisions of the Imperial Guard to Krasnoi; the Hesse brigade was reduced to 1 battalion (49 officers and 492 men); at nine o’clock in the morning, the Regiment du Corps and 1 regiment of infantrymen of the French Guard engaged against the Russians in front of the city and formed in squares to resist the attack of a numerous enemy cavalry: the fire of the artillery severely tested the 2 French and Hessian regiments and dismantled 3 pieces of cannon in their ranks: however, the Russian squadrons were pushed back.
- – PRINCE EMILE OF HESSE, Commander of the Darmstadt contingent (After the portrait taken from Calendar of the Heart of Darmstadt for 1816)
In his Memories of Captivity in Russia, Hessian Lieutenant Peppler du Corps Regiment, recounts this fight in which his regiment was almost destroyed as follows:
“…the du Corps Regiment, on 17 November, still had about fifty lines; it fought formed in two ranks, and, in the evening, had scarcely more than 4 to 5 able-bodied men in most of the companies. 11 officers fell seriously wounded on the battlefield, and Colonel von Gall, who was standing near H. H. Prince Emile had two horses killed under him. The Prince set the example of fearlessness, resistance to fatigue and the military appearance. The ground on which the combat took place was covered with a thick layer of snow in which one sank to above the knee; if we think of the terrible cold against which our clothes could not guarantee us, of the frequent lack of food from which we had suffered for a long time, finally of the insufficiency of the means of aid for the wounded, one can get an idea of the sufferings and anguish in the presence of which the combatants found themselves during this bloody day. I commanded the 2nd Company of the 2nd battalion, and I returned in the evening with 1 non-commissioned officer, 1 drummer and 2 soldiers… The 11 wounded officers had been hastily transported to Krasnoi where they could hardly be given a summary dressing; Colonel von Gall found the time to go and see them, to address them a few words of consolation and a supreme farewell, before the enemy entered the city in flames, where all these brave fell prey to the fire or the ferocity of the Russians: none of them ever returned…”
We read in the report sent by Prince Emile to the Grand Duke of Hesse following the fight at Krasnoi:
‘…The Regiment du Corps withstood enemy fire with the confidence and persistence that characterized troops when they are tried. Formed in square, it repulsed the enemy cavalry and deployed again after this charge as on the training ground. Colonel von Gall had 2 horses killed under him. After the affair, when the regiment had entered the lines, General Delaborde congratulated them and expressed to the Hessian soldiers his feelings of admiration. The tirailleurs of the regiment fired with the enemy all day and killed many people…’
The losses of the Darmstadt brigade were considerable: 11 officers and 119 men hors-de-combat in the Regiment du Corps; only about twenty soldiers in the Guards Regiment which was not seriously engaged and only had to suffer from fire from two Russian batteries. The flag of the 2nd Battalion du Corps had its shaft broken by a cannonball; this regiment no longer had under arms, in the evening, more than 12 officers and 65 men.
Continuing its march, the army reached Orsha on 18 November and crossed the Dnieper there. The cold continued to increase and each bivouac looked, when it was left, like a real cemetery… On the 19th, in Dubrovno, the 1st Battalion of the Guards was charged for the day with the protection of the bridges; only the French Imperial Guard, in which the Hessian brigade was incorporated, was still marching in order… On the 20th, there remained more officers than soldiers in the Regiment du Corps… We reached Kokhanovo on the 21st, Bobr the 23rd: Delaborde’s Division had only the strength of a weak battalion; the Hessians formed a company of 100 fusils.
PASSAGE OF THE BEREZINA
We arrive at the most dramatic moment of this campaign, at the passage of the Berezina. The Young Guard reached Studianka on the morning of 26 November and crossed the river on the 27th at one o’clock in the evening. It crossed the bridges with 3 men abreast, at a very open distance, and would bivouac at Brili: the Hessian brigade had only a light fight on the right bank and did not suffer any losses, while the light horse was decimated on the left bank, as we will see in the following. Prince Emile was still followed by 50 soldiers: those of the Guards Regiment were commanded by Captain von Rosenberg; unemployed captains and lieutenants armed themselves with rifles and served as escorts for the flags of the regiments. We arrived on 29 November in Kostyuki: the thermometer showed 32 degrees of cold… The weak nuclei of the corps are decreasing more and more, and the unfortunate people who fell had no hope of being rescued…
Finally, after having crossed Osmiana on 6 December, the Hessians reached Vilna on the 8th: the brigade numbered only 31 officers and 24 men. Fortunately, it rallied in this city the provisional fusil regiment and the battery of Hesse who arrived there on the 9th after a violent fight at the same time as the small corps of the Bavarian General von Wrede.
All the Hessian contingent was finally reunited: but the regiments of the Guards and du Corps were reduced to a few men; that of the fusiliers had about 500 fusils, the battery three quarters of its strength; the two pieces attached to the Corps regiment had to be abandoned near Smolensk: not one of their artillerymen reappeared… As for the light horse, they no longer existed as a war fighting unit; the twenty or so cavalrymen who returned from the Berezina battlefield, with the remains of the Baden hussars, were in the service of Marshal Victor’s headquarters.
Before following the Hessians during the end of this tragic retreat, we will return to the fusiliers and the battery that we left arriving in Vilna on 2 November to serve as garrison troops – and, possibly, as reinforcements for the Great Army.
IV. The fusiliers and artillery of Hesse with von Wrede. Battles of Wileyka, Słowodka and Vilna.
We have seen in another volume of this study that General von Wrede, after the loss of Polotsk and the almost complete destruction of the Bavarian corps, had led the 1,200 soldiers who remained to him, as well as the cavalry brigade of Corbineau (of the 2nd Corps), in Dockchitsoui and Daniélowitchi where he stationed until 19 November with outposts in Gloubokoë.
He had oriented his policy in such a way as to remain independent between the 2nd and 9th Corps which fought under Oudinot and under Victor, – and the Grande Armée in retreat on Vilna; the Duke of Bassano, representative of the Emperor in this town, was easily persuaded by von Wrede that the small Bavarian corps – which was augmented by detachments from the rear, by the return of many convalescents and the arrival of numerous reinforcement troops, – was essential for the very safety of Vilna and that there would be danger for this place if he moved too far away from it, to cooperate with the 2nd Corps, for example: the Bavarian general had however the formal order to join Marshal Victor, as evidenced by this instruction from the Emperor:
‘My cousin, … let the Duke of Bellune know … that the Vilna reserve brigade, made up of the Westphalian 4th Regiment, 2 battalions from Hesse-Darmstadt, which at the end of the month arrived from Swedish Pomerania, and of 8 pieces of cannon, will also be under his orders…’
Victor, the senior commander of the troops who had remained behind, so hoped to be joined soon by the Bavarian Corps, that he addressed to General Hogendorp, Governor General of Lithuania, the order to send the following troops to von Wrede: the Francesky Brigade (1 French infantry marching regiment, 2 cavalry marching regiments) – and the Coutard Brigade (Westphalian 4th Regiment and Hessian Fusiliers Regiment). These troops were accompanied by 12 pieces of artillery including 6 from the Hessian battery.
Coutard left Vilna on 10 November in a cold of 25°C; he lost in this town, as a result of a fire, 8 of the best horses of the Hessian artillery, whose ammunition boxes were saved with great difficulty; when he arrived at Danielowitchi, a quarter of the artillery horses were already flagging: they are replaced by small Polish horses.
‘The Hesso-Westphalian Brigade made a very good impression on von Wrede when it joined the Bavarians: General Baron Coutard’s brigade was in very good condition and this General maintained severe and commendable discipline there….’
With his 3,000 soldiers, his 24 cannons, reinforced by more than 3,400 men by these last reinforcements, von Wrede outlined a movement on Gloubokoë to in chasing the Russian cavalry of General Vlastov, then push to Dockchutsouï, sending Francesky to Berezina, – but declared that the occupation of Borisow by the enemy prevented him from moving in the rear of Wittgenstein and thus threatening the extreme right of the Russian army…
His effective strength was melting day by day:
‘…General Coutard’s brigade shrank by a quarter in the space of eight days; the French cavalry had more than 300 sick, the physiognomy of the Westphalian and Hessian soldiers had changed so much in the last eight days — although the whole corps regularly received rations — that it was to be feared that the number of those present under arms would continue to decrease noticeably in a short time..’.
But the Russian Army of Moldavia arrived in line on the flank of the Grande Armée: von Wrede received from the Major-General an order of 28 November which commanded him to move on Wileyka, to gather food there, to make sure the bridges over the Wilia; he arrived at this point on 2 December and was attacked there by the enemy on the 4th: in this fight, the Bavarian general failed to be captured by the enemy cavalry and owed his salvation only to the Hessian Captain Meyer who took him in his square; von Wrede, grateful, asked and obtained the cross for this officer. Finally, the Russians were pushed back and the Bavarian corps arrived in Narocz in the evening; on the 5th, they marched on Słowodka where they stopped until the 9th, when the Russians were still trying to put an end to this handful of brave men: von Wrede sent back to Vilna out of prudence all his train and his artillery, except 2 pieces of cannon; after a combat in the streets of the village, the Cossacks were driven back and the retreat continued on Vilna during the night, in squares of battalion; the troops are exhausted… Artillerymen, at the end of their strength, climbed onto the guns where they soon died frozen; the regiment of the fusiliers of Darmstadt, in the rear guard, lost 68 men in the terrible night of December 6 to 7.
They reached Kenno on the 8th by Slob-Choumska: Coutard had only 1,000 soldiers, Francesky only 300 infantry and 150 cavalry; there were a thousand Bavarians left; but half of these survivors have frozen hands and feet.
Finally, on 9 December, through Racom, we approached Vilna; Coutard held the right of the road, the Bavarian 1st Division the left, the 2nd was in reserve. The Cossacks were kept at a distance; when we see a long line of troops in front of the town: everyone in von Wrede’s corps thought that it was help coming out of Vilna… But a cannon shot soon made it known that we have business with the enemy: a parliamentarian sent by the Russian general Chaplits came to summon von Wrede to surrender without delay, because he is cut off from the French army and surrounded on all sides:
“The Emperor Napoleon gave me the order to go to Vilna,” — replied the Bavarian general, ” I will know how to open the way!”
Ten Russian guns soon opened fire on the Bavarian corps which continued its march, formed in squares and covered by skirmishers… The 2 Bavarian guns were pinned down, their horse teams unable to advance… At this time, Lanskoy and Seslavin attacked the city; but Marshal Ney came out with a column of 600 men from Loison’s division: this effort was enough to free the Bavarians, drive back the Russians and their artillery: Wrede and his troop were saved.
V. The end of the retreat. – Review of Wirballen. The Provisional Battalion.
The Guard left Vilna on 10 December; in spite of von Wrede’s claims, the regiment of fusiliers and the battery of Hesse joined the remains of the brigade that Prince Emile brought to Kowno on the 12th it was at the border of Russia.
At this time, the remains of the Grande Armée amounted to about 45,000 men; but, of this number, there was hardly anything but the Imperial Guard, infantry and cavalry – a thousand men – which had preserved its organic ties; all the rest was disbanded. With the 70,000 soldiers who made up the wing armies of the Grand Army, Macdonald’s corps and Prussian auxiliary troops from Yorck to the north, Reynier’s Saxon corps and Austrians of Schwarzenberg to the south, that was all that remained of the soldiers of Napoleon: the Russian campaign seemed to have dried up our military force, and the astonishment of the allies was extreme, a few months later, to find in front of them in the plains of Saxony a new and ardent French army which seemed to have emerged from the ground like by magic.
To achieve this miracle, the Emperor left the army on 5 December at Smorghoni and reached Paris, leaving the command to the King of Naples.
The Guard crossed the Niemen on 13 December at Kowno. While the rear guard, which arrived that very day with Marshal Ney, delivered a last and glorious fight in front of the city to allow the flow of all that we still had on the right bank of the Niemen, the Regiment of Fusiliers provided with the Hessian battery an escort of 80 men responsible for ensuring the passage of the pieces through the city in flames; at the cost of incredible difficulties, in the midst of the congestion of army carriages and under fire from the Russians contained by the “Brave des Braves”, Captain Karlsen, commanding this escort, managed to make the entire battery cross the city and the bridge of the Niemen: he was, for this fact, named Commander of the Hessian order Pour la mérite with this flattering mention of the Grand Duke: ‘For having saved my artillery’.
They took the road to Gumbinnen; the horses were exhausted and died in their collars… For lack of teams, the battery successively abandoned all its caissons, except two… But it could keep its pieces with which it arrived on the 16th at Wirballen.
- –MURAT, KING OF NAPLES (After the lithograph of A. Dupont)
The brigade was reviewed by Murat: it presented the following personnel under arms:
|Regiment of the Guards……………………………
|— du Corps………………………………….
|— provisional of fusiliers………………
The King of Naples complimented the Hessians, “the only troops,” — he said to Prince Emile, — “which are in parallel with the Imperial Guard!”
From Wirballen, the retreat continued on Gumbinnen and Insterbourg (19 December) where Marshal Lefebvre inspected and congratulated the troops of Darmstadt; the Guard stopped at this point and rested there: also many men who had remained behind joined and increased the numbers: that of the Hessians rose from 206 to more than 500 men. On the order of the Major-General, 24 officers and 122 men of the brigade were sent to the hospitals of Danzig; then, the march was resumed by Waldau (29 December), Königsberg (30) and Elbing (5 January 1813) where we learned of the betrayal of the Prussian General Yorck who negotiated with the Russians, leaving Marshal Macdonald in a more difficult situation.
The brigade passed successively to Marienburg, Dirschau (13 January) where the fusiliers delivered the last rearguard combat of the campaign, and Stargard. Lieutenant-Colonel von Falck, who came by courier from Darmstadt, brought Prince Emile the order which returned him to the Grand Duchy: all that remained of Hessian infantry still valid and capable of bearing arms was amalgamated into a provisional battalion placed under the orders of Colonel von Schönberg – made Officer of the Legion of Honor – and Major von Buchenroden; this battalion included:
|men of the Regiment
|of the Guards.
|of the Fusiliers.
|piece of cannon and 19 artillerymen.
|Total: 20 officers and 496 men.
All surplus officers and NCOs were sent back to Darmstadt to supervise new organizational training.
The provisional battalion remained attached to the Imperial Guard and followed the movement of French troops on Thuringia. The battery had marched from Insterbourg, through Danzig and Stettin, on Darmstadt, where it arrived on 26 February with an officer, 21 men, 24 horses, 5 artillery pieces and 1 caisson: the piece and the caisson left with the provisional battalion joined in Meiningen the Hessian troops mobilized for the campaign of 1813.
As for the Light Horse Regiment, the history of which we will quickly follow in the following pages, it remained gathered at Marienwerder on 4 January 1813 where it was directed to Darmstadt, where they arrived on 17 February.
The Hessian contingent had fearlessly and loyally participated in this legendary war against Russia, and the great white shroud of the Moscow Winter covered forever – mixed with our own soldiers – a great number of brave soldiers from Darmstadt.
VI: The Odyssey of the Darmstadt light horse in 1812. – Lukomlia, Batury, the Berezina.
We left the Hessian light horse regiment assembled at the end of May around Köslin, between Colberg and Danzig; it soon received orders to move to the latter city, to enter the formation of the 9th Corps of the Grande Armée under the command of Marshal Victor.
This corps was to assemble in Tilsit and consist of the following units:
|1 Baden brigade, 1 Berg brigade.
|3 French brigades.
|1 Polish brigade, 1 Saxon brigade.
|of cavalry FOURNIER:
|Hessian Light Horse, 3 squadrons.
|Lancers of Berg, 4 squadrons.
|Baden Hussars, 4 squadrons
|Colonel DE LAROCHE
|Saxon Light Horse “Prince Jean”,
The mission of the 9th Corps was to serve as a reserve service for the Grande Armée and as a support for the 3rd and 6th Corps to cover the left of the main body of the army, in its movement towards Moscow.
During its stay in Danzig, the Hessian regiment was reviewed by General Rapp, governor of the town, who had it maneuvered in front of him and addressed to Colonel von Dalwigk his compliments on the good behavior and the instruction of his squadrons; these praises must be deserved, in the opinion of the Colonel himself, because the latter wrote from Danzig to Prince Emile in one of his reports:
“I find the regiment, compared to other cavalry regiments I have seen so far, is still the best.”
From Danzig, the Darmstadt light horses reached Marienburg (27 July), Elbing, Königsberg (14 August): they established themselves in bad cantonments around this city, which the 9th Corps left only on 30 August to move down to Kowno by both banks of the Niemen, then to Vilna (9 September), Minsk, Orsha, and Smolensk (29 September).
From the departure of Tilsit to Smolensk, the cavalry division had been the vanguard of the army corps; in Vilna, General Fournier gave the order to kill all the wounded horses of the division which could not be restored in fifteen days.
General Barbanègre commanded in Smolensk, where the 9th Corps had to await the Grande Armée.
But the operations of the campaign modified these forecasts: the 6th Corps (Bavarians) and the 2nd (Oudinot) had to evacuate Polotsk and separate during this retreat; Marshal Victor detached the Daendels Division to cover the movements of the 2nd Corps which met with the 9th on 29 October in Czaśniki: after a fight, on 31 October, between the Russians and the 2nd Corps supported by the Daendels Division, the two corps retreated together on Senno (2 and 3 November) where Marshal Victor assumed their command of direction following an injury which prevented Oudinot from retaining command of the 2nd Corps: then, Victor led the two army corps to Tchéreïa, on the road from Moscow to Smolensk, the way by which the retreating Grand Army was approaching.
- – GENERAL FOURNIER, Commander of the cavalry of the 9th Corps (After the lithograph by A. Tardieu)
The 2nd and 9th Corps would now protect the march of the Grande Armée by covering it on its right against the enterprises of the Russian army of Wittgenstein. General Victor organized his troops as follows:
|LEGRAND (of the 2nd Corps).
|DAENDELS (of the 9th Corps).
|MERLE (of the 2nd Corps).
|PARTOUNEAUX (of the 9th Corps).
|MAISON (of the 2nd Corps).
|GIRARD (of the 9th Corps).
|of cuirassiers (DOUMERC).
|Brigade of light cavalry of the 2nd Corps.
|FOURNIER division (of the 9th Corps).
The two reunited corps moved to Torbinka on 4 November and General Fournier occupied Crasnagora castle that day; the 5th, the small French army marched on Tchéréïa and Lukomlia to threaten the right flank of the Russians: the cavalry reached Lukomlia, – except the Baden hussars remained in Crasnogora where they seized some Cossacks.
On the morning of the 6th, three Russian squadrons hustled the outposts of General Fournier and fell back on the village of Lukomlia: the Hessian Light Horse quickly mounted their horses and gained, behind the locality, the assembly point assigned to the division; they were there alone and did not wait for the arrival of the other regiments to intervene: they attacked the Russians when they wanted to emerge from the village, pushed them back, killed 10 men and took 20 prisoners; the Saxon Light Horse and the Lancers of Berg arrived when the combat was already over… Colonel Dalwigk, during the rapid evacuation of Lukomlia at the time of the arrival of the enemy, had fallen with his horse and had only avoided being taken thanks to the dedication of a few of his light horse who freed him and put him back on horseback in the midst of the enemy riders.
The next day, 7 November, another attack by the Russians, this time showing 5 squadrons, 2 battalions of grenadiers and 2 pieces of cannon; the bridge of Lukomlia was defended with obstinacy by the carbines of the Hessian Light Horse and the Lancers of Berg, and it took two hours for the enemy infantry to succeed in seizing the village and establishing itself there; the Russian cavalry then crossed and attacked the two German regiments; but it was stopped by the fire of a mounted half-battery from Baden and the arrival of Marshal Victor’s vanguard formed by Legrand’s division: this one goes immediately on Lukomlia from where it drives out the enemy which then retreats.
The Hessians had 19 wounded in the fighting of 6 and 7 November; in an order of the day following these affairs, General Legrand praised the conduct of the Hessian Light Horse, of the elite company of Berg’s Lancers and of the Baden horse battery:
“…Everyone from the first officer to the last soldier showed the best goodwill, and I especially congratulate Captain von Breidenbach and Lieutenant von Busseck, Hessian Light Horse, who charged twice with a fraction of the regiment and twice repulsed the enemy: – Lieutenant Bosfeld who supported the skirmishers, – and Lieutenant Count Ysenburg, commanding the grand guard of Captain Kuchler…”
Marshal Oudinot’s injury enabled him to take back command of the 2nd Corps which then separated from the 9th: the latter advanced in the direction of Czaśniki; on 12 November, at Truchanowicz, the vanguard formed by the Baden Hussars and the Hessian Light Horse charged and hustled the Russian cavalry and artillery: Colonel von Cancrin, of the Baden Hussars, was killed in this affair. The 13th, there was a new engagement in Mieleskowiczi in which the Hessians were not engaged.
On 14 November, the second combat of Czaśniki took place: the 9th Corps attacked the Russians, without result; while Girard’s division carried out an offensive movement, covered on its right by the cavalry which the unfavorable terrain prevented intervention, the rest of the infantry marched on Woitzenka where the Partouneaux Division placed itself on the left flank of the enemy. The army corps bivouacked on the spot, in terrible cold; the decisive attack must take place the next day. But instructions from the Emperor were brought during the night by Colonel Château, Marshal Victor’s first aide-de-camp: the 9th Corps, instead of fighting, retreated on 15 November to approach the line of march of the Army Guard and would bivouac in Sobolie; it then won Pulski (16th) on the road to Senno, Ulianoqicz (17th), and Tchéréïa (20 November) where it replaced the 2nd Corps called on the road from Smolensk to Vilna. The 9th Corps was at Chlopnicki on 22 and 23 November, and on 24 November at Batury where the rearguard commanded since the 14th by General Delaitre (2 cavalry regiments – including the Hessian Light Horse, 4 infantry battalions and 2 mounted artillery pieces) were seriously engaged, supported by 2 Baden battalions. The cold was so intense that the riders could not stay in the saddle for more than half an hour: General Delaitre allowed them to dismount and make fires, like the infantry; in this engagement, the regiment of Hessian cavalry repulsed by the enemy was collected by a French battalion. The army corps arrived on the 25th near Lochnitz, at two in the afternoon, and established itself at the bivouac on the main road, near this locality: it was there that they saw the debris arriving of the Grand Army…
After a deadly night, the 9th Corps moved on 26 November on Borisow, and on 25 November on Studianka: only the Partouneaux Division and the Delaitre cavalry brigade remained in Borisow, in the rear.
BATTLE OF BEREZINA (28 NOVEMBER)
While Ney and Oudinot, after having crossed the river, fought on its right bank with 9 to 10,000 men against the 30,000 Russians of Chichagov and ensure the army, stands up to Wittgenstein’s army. Partouneaux’s division, with the exception of one battalion, fell into Russian hands. The Delaitre brigade was also a prisoner. The Marshal only had Girard’s division, Berg’s brigade, and Colonel von Laroche’s cavalry brigade (Baden hussars and Hessian Light Horse); the Baden infantry brigade, commanded by Count Hochberg, having already crossed the Berezina: but Victor called it back and it crossed the bridges to come and fight on the left bank in the ranks of the 9th Corps which then counted, with this reinforcement , 5,000 infantry, 350 cavalry and 14 pieces of cannon.
The role of the 9th Corps was all of glory and sacrifice: it was to, through its resistance, allow what remained of the army parks as well as the crowd of stragglers and isolated people to cross the river, to follow the organized bodies which crossed the bridges on the 27th and in the night of the 27th to the 28th, and to avoid captivity or destruction.
On the morning of the 28th, a Baden patrol sent to hear about Partouneaux’s division, the fate of which was still unknown, was pushed around by the Russian cavalry and picked up by Captain Boyneburg’s Hessian squadron: the latter was retreating when he encountered Marshal Victor: while he was reporting to him, a Russian cannonball hit the ground so close to them that it covered them with earth and snow.
The line occupied by the 9th Corps was formed on the right by the Baden brigade placed between Berezina and the village of Studianka; in the center by Berg’s brigade established on the plateau; on the left by Girard’s division: as the latter had no point of support, Colonel von Laroche’s cavalry – Baden Hussars and Hessian Light Horse – was placed behind it.
Victor fought without ceding an inch of ground to the end of his strength, against Wittgenstein’s 30,000 soldiers and 60 guns.
What the cavalry did on that day, we know with regard to the Baden hussars, thanks to the Memoires of the Count von Hochberg, commanding the contingent of Baden. General Fournier, wounded at the start of the action, left the command to Baden Colonel von Laroche: the latter, during the day, was himself seriously wounded and taken prisoner; but he was delivered by the hussars of Baden, who were damaged in the battle and of which hardly 50 men crossed the Berezina the following day under the orders of the Lieutenant von Preen.
- -MARSHAL VICTOR, Commander of the 9th Corps of the Grande Armée.
Regarding the participation of the Hessian Light Horse in the Battle of Berezina, we will quote the report addressed to Prince Emile of Hesse by Colonel Dalwigk, commanding the regiment:
(Day of 28 November).
‘Around eleven o’clock in the morning, at the return of the patrols, the regiments moved in tight columns to their positions, the artillery was put in battery, and the cavalry made responsible for covering it until further notice.’
‘These movements were hardly carried out when the enemy light troops appeared and engaged with ours in a combat of skirmishers; the Russian artillery entered in line, and a crossfire of artillery took place above our cavalry which did not suffer from it, because the balls passed too high or else hardly ricocheted up to us. Soon a Russian infantry regiment (the 34th) emerged; it came out of a small wood and formed a square in sight of a battery on our right. I charged it, but I had to fall back on the battery. With the help of the Baden Hussars, I renewed my charge, I pushed the square and we took everything that was not cut up. This small advantage gained over the enemy filled us with confidence and we continued our attack, in spite of the artillery fire and the musketry. We had to cross a narrow defile beyond which the enemy cavalry was in reserve in the shelter of a wood. This circumstance made our march difficult, and the Russian cavalry – mostly cuirassiers – did not give us time to deploy; it violently attacked the Hessian Light Horse and the Baden Hussars (the latter still with four small squadrons); our exhausted horses could not withstand the shock, and our riders were almost all killed or taken prisoner…’
‘50 Light Horse and as many hussars nonetheless rallied under the cannonballs, and with this small troop I stand up to the enemy until the night, and covering the Saxon infantry regiment “von Low” that was formed square in front of the threatened attack of the Cossacks.’
‘At six o’clock in the evening, the artillery fire ceased, the enemy withdrew to their positions, and we kept our own…’
On the evening of 28 November, the light horse of Darmstadt only had 25 to 30 men in condition to fight; among the casualties of the day were Captain Boyneburg (injured in the left knee and right arm), Lieutenant Glock, Lieutenant Boltog (one bullet and bayonet in the thigh), Lieutenant Count von Ysenburg (lance wound in the chest and three bruises from bullets)…
The 9th Corps crossed Berezina during the night and the bridges were broken on the 29th at nine o’clock in the morning.
During these tragic hours, the Hessian regiment suffered further losses: Captain Küchler, ill and carried with the corps baggage, fell with them into the hands of the Russians; Lieutenant Brandis, also ill, drowned while crossing the bridges… Colonel von Dalwigk, exhausted by fatigue and overwhelmed by fright, had lost the use of speech… He nevertheless remained at the head of the debris of his regiment; when crossing the Berezina, having moved away from his riders, he fell into the water and disappeared when he was saved by a Hessian soldier from the train who recognized by his white coat an officer of his nation… Lieutenant Lippert, sent on patrol and cut off across the bridges by the enemy, threw himself into the water with his 12 riders, made his way through the ice floes and managed to land on the other bank…
On 29 May (sic), the 9th Corps went to Zembin, preceding the 2nd, 3rd and 5th Corps; the remains of the Baden Hussars and the Hessian Light Horse, which constituted the only cavalry of the 9th Corps, are ordered to serve at the headquarters of Marshal Victor, and accompany him by Ilia (3 December), Malodeczno, Vilna (8 December) and Kowno (12 December); from there they went to Marienwerder. Crippled, sick or lost men on the way, isolated people joined at this point; 4 January 1813 the regiment had 5 officers, 83 riders and 36 horses.
On 9 January, it received the order to participate for Stettin: but on arriving at Neu-Stettin, Colonel von Dalwigk learned from an instruction from Major General Berthier that the regiment was sent back to Darmstadt.
The light horse of the Hessian Guard therefore headed for their homeland via Berlin, Brunswick and Cassel. Of the three magnificent squadrons mobilized for the campaign against Russia, it returned to Darmstadt on 17 February 1813, 42 men and 21 horses: all the rest had fallen on the field of honor, prisoner in the hands of the enemy, dead in retirement or remaining in hospitals – sad holocaust of this legendary and unforgettable campaign!
 Note from the Emperor to the Chief of Staff on the composition of the new corps assigned to the Grande Armée, Paris, 3 March 1812.
 Instructions from the Major General to Marshal Davout. Paris, 6 March 1812.
 The Emperor to the Chief of Staff. Paris, 16 March 1812.
 K. Esselborn, Friedrich Peppler, pp. 7-8.
 Keim, p. 217.
 Our Allies the Bavarians, pp. 250 and following.
 The Emperor to the Major General, instruction for Marshal Victor. Moscow, 6 October 1812.
 General von Wrede to the Chief of Staff. Daniélowitchi, 17 November 1812.
 General von Wrede to the Duke of Bassano. Dockchutzouï, 21 November 1812.
 Zimmermann, p. 159.
 Zimmermann, p. 166.
 Zimmermann, p. 173.
 (1) Sauzey, Le Contingent de Bade, pp. 63-65.