Volume II

Chapter 24 (Part I)

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“The Battle of Jena has avenged
the offence of Rossbach and decided,
in seven days, the issue of a campaign
which will completely calm this war
frenzy that had taken possession
of Prussian minds.”

5th Bulletin of the Grande Armée

 

As on the battlefields of Jena and Auerstädt, French and Prussians were putting an end to the massacre that Prussia had sought and organised to the satisfaction of Queen Louise, on 16 October, Berlin was madly celebrating.

For the population had just heard that the Napoleonic Army had been brilliantly defeated by that of the descendants of Frederick the Great. And rumour spread that the Prince of Hohenlohe had annihilated Marshal Bernadotte’s Corps and, better still, that the marshal himself had been taken prisoner.

The wildest rumours spread from street to street, and soon throughout Germany . An Austrian diplomat, von Gentz, who returned from a mission in the Prussian camp for his government, reported that there was general rejoicing in Leipzig and Torgau.

In the Prussian capital, enthusiasm was so great that there was even a project to open a subscription for a national fund to reward the hero of the day, Hohenlohe, with the tidy sum of one million German thalers to thank him for his achievement.

So, on 16 October, Berlin was illuminated and rejoicing.

The Prussian Army opposed to the French had lived up to its old reputation that dated from the time of Frederick the Great. And there seemed to be no reason to doubt this.

These illusions were to be short-lived, however.

 

USELESS AND BELATED GRIEF OF LOUISE OF PRUSSIA


Louise of Prussia

Among the Berliners who were celebrating and merrily drinking to the health of the great commanders of the Prussian Army and to the defeat of Napoleon, was doctor von Huffeland, the Queen’s personal physician.

That night he was celebrating with one of his friends, the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte. At around 6 a.m , for libations had continued late that night, an anxious voice called up to him, asking him to go to the castle urgently, for Queen Louise was waiting for him.

When the doctor arrived, the woman he found was no longer the proud young Amazon determined to wage war, but a woman in tears. He related the scene in his Souvenirs:

“All is lost! I’m crying for the destruction of the Prussian Army. It did not live up to the King’s expectations. All is lost; there is no longer a Prussian State , or a Prussian Army, or national glory…”

Then the Queen decided to leave for Memel (known today as Klaïpeda), a town of 6,000 inhabitants on the Baltic Sea , with her children and her doctor, far from the pomp and splendour of the court in Berlin .

Yet as she was preparing to leave her castle, Queen Louise, was still unaware of the extent of the defeat of the Prussian Army.

In Berlin , it was only around midday , with the arrival of a messenger sent by Frederick-William, that a climate of anxiety started to sweep through the town. On a bill posted in the city, Berliners read:

 

“The King has lost a battle. The first duty of our citizens now is to remain calm. That is what I ask of the inhabitants of Berlin. The King and his brother are alive!”

“ Berlin , 17 October 1806 ”

It was signed by the Governor of Berlin :

“Graf [Count] Von der Schulenburg”

 

After celebrating the French defeat on the 16 October, horrified Berliners discovered the awful truth the following day. Their proud Prussian Army had been utterly defeated by Napoleon and his soldiers.

Just as rapidly as the good, but false, news of the French defeat had swept through the town, the real bad news now spread even more rapidly together with some alarming rumours. A German author who witnessed the scene wrote, “ Berlin looked like a bee-hive as all the bees were about to fly off.”

A somewhat poetical description of the feverish haste with which panic-stricken members of Berlin’s high society packed their bags, as terrified peasants flocked into the city from the surrounding countryside, bringing with them, their mattresses, carts and furniture, which they dumped haphazardly in the streets.

 

 

“NEVER WAS AN ARMY ROUTED LIKE THIS BEFORE….”

What had happened after the two enemy armies were defeated by Napoleon and Marshal Davout?

Prussians retreating after the twin battles of Jena-Auerstädt. What remained of the Prussian Army would soon be tracked down by the French cavalry and totally annihilated.

 

At first, the army commanded by Brunswick , then by Frederick-William, retreated in reasonably good order from the battlefield of Auerstädt. But as both armies retreated in the direction of their respective supply depots, neither of them were aware of the fate of the other, until the men vanquished at Auerstädt ran into those vanquished at Jena . Then, the orderly retreat turned into what can only be described as a frenzied headlong flight, and the road between Auerstädt and Erfurt was soon covered with haversacks, rifles and abandoned luggage. Some even unharnessed the artillery horses to flee more rapidly.

The King, who had lost his authority, had no choice but to abandon the lamentable horde that had, but a short time ago, been his proud Prussian Army.

The captured colours and standards taken from the Prussians and Saxons were triumphantly brought to Napoleon as trophies on the night of the battle.

 

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Born in Gascony , Joachim Murat (1767-1815) was the son of a village inn-keeper. He enlisted in a cavalry regiment in 1787, but was discharged from the army during the French Revolution, then reintegrated in 1795 by General Bonaparte. He served as his aide de camp in Italy in 1796, and was promoted to general the same year. Upon his return to France , after the Egyptian Campaign, he married the First Consul’s young sister, Caroline, in 1800, and the same year he commanded the cavalry in the Marengo Campaign. In 1803, he was briefly named Governor of Paris, then in May 1804, Napoleon made him Marshal of the French Empire, and Prince in 1805. At the head of French Cavalry, he had played a decisive role in the Austerlitz Campaign. He was a remarkable leader of men and a fiery cavalry commander, but he showed little aptitude for strategy and was incapable of carefully planned action. As Napoleon later remarked, “Never was cavalry commanded by anyone more determined, more brave…”

 

All the Germans who witnessed these scenes, and later left accounts of what they saw, confirm that the disgraceful behaviour of the Prussian commanders, who had shown so much contempt for the French in the past, lasted several hours.

Prince Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, commanding the French cavalry, was also astounded by the Prussians’ reaction for he had hardly expected a disaster of this nature. Here is what he wrote in his report to the Emperor on the night of the battle:

Never was an army routed like this before, never was terror so widespread or so great. Officers are openly declaring that they will no longer serve; all are abandoning their standards and returning home. There is nothing to resist our cavalry; all have given up, all have fled shamefully.”

On the eve of what had been a really astounding day, even Prince Murat, who was as strong as a giant, was so exhausted that he was unable to date his report correctly:

Weimar , 14th October 1186 1606 1806.”

And he added, to explain his crossing out:

“Your Majesty will be so good as to excuse my scribbling, but I am alone and dead tired.”

 

Under the circumstances, it was hardly surprising, for Murat, like the others, had fought all day at Jena before hotly pursuing the Prussians as far as Weimar, all of twenty-seven kilometres from the battlefield, and on the previous day, he had covered no less than sixty kilometres at the head of his squadrons!

Let us also spare a thought here for the unfortunate horses, who were always innocent heroes and victims in the Coalition Wars against Napoleon.

 

THE WIDE RANGE PURSUIT

 

However exemplary had the French victory been at Jena-Auerstädt, for total victory, the Prussian Army still had to be destroyed. One question remained: which road would the stream of Prussian fugitives take?

As a general pursuit (for in which directions?) was impossible, the Emperor ordered a wide range pursuit. In other words, Napoleon was going to order his marshals to pursue and envelope the defeated Prussian armies separately. On 15 October, as the inhabitants of Berlin were preparing to celebrate, he gave his corps commanders his final instructions for the wide range pursuit.

Bernadotte was to sever the road to Weimar at Neustadt, Davout was to cover Naumburg, and Murat was to proceed to Erfurt . Two of the corps, those belonging to Marshals Augereau and Lannes, were to rest for they had suffered considerably, but this, of course, was hardly to the satisfaction of the ever impatient commander of the V Corps, who immediately wrote:

 

If your Majesty leaves us here all day, he will greatly distress the generals and troops commanding the V Corps.”

 

Lannes received an order informing him that he was to be ready to march.

 

On the 18 October, as the Emperor headed for Berlin, he passed by the battlefield of Rossbach which was adorned with an insolent memorial commemorating the Prussian victory won on 5 November 1757, during the Seven Years War, by Frederick II (better known as Frederick the Great), when he defeated the French troops of Louis XV.

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On the 18 October 1806 , Napoleon arrived at the battlefield of Rossbach, where almost half a century earlier French troops had been defeated by the soldiers of Frederick the Great during the Seven Years War.

Immediately after the double victory of Jena-Auerstädt, the monument was perceived as insulting by the French Army, and Napoleon had the column dismantled.

 

FREDERICK-WILLIAM APPEALS TO THE
EMPEROR AND ATTEMPTS TO FOOL HIM

Let us recall here (cf. Chapter 21) the sincere and very moving letter that the Emperor wrote to the King of Prussia on the 12 October, just two days after the first engagement at Saalfeld, asking him to make peace. The letter was delayed and arrived too late because an excessively stubborn Prussian officer stupidly refused to consider the French staff officer from Imperial Headquarters bearing the message as an official emissary simply because he was not preceded by a trumpeter, as was the custom.

So the letter had only reached Frederick-William when it was too late.

On 19 October, at Halle , a member of the Prussian King’s entourage, the Count of Dönhoff, gave Napoleon the King’s belated reply.

 

At headquarters, 15 October 1806

I only received the letter that Your Imperial and Royal Majesty made me the honour of addressing me on the 12th of this month yesterday morning, when our troops were already engaged, and I hasten to reply immediately upon dismounting. The sentiments that Your Majesty expresses, despite the differences that have arisen between us, make it invaluable to me, and I recognise Your Imperial Majesty’s generosity of spirit which is expressed in his intention of making people happy, rather than in shedding the blood of so many thousands of men…”

 

Frederick-William

But who, exactly, was responsible for shedding the blood of “so many thousands of men…”?

And Frederick-William ended his letter by asking for a suspension of arms, “while we work at establishing the happiness of our subjects.”

An extremely touching letter. But then why didn’t Napoleon revoke the instructions he had given to his Corps d’Armée to pursue the enemy?

The answer to this is to be found in the reply that he immediately wrote to his correspondent:

The Imperial Camp at Halle , 19 Octobre 1806

My Royal Brother, I received Your Majesty’s letter. I deeply regret that the letter I sent by one of my aides- de- camp who arrived at your camp on the 13th did not stop the battle from taking place on the 14th. Any suspension of arms that would give the Russian Army time to arrive, and whom Your Majesty apparently called upon for help this winter, is too contrary to my interests for me to subscribe to it, however much I may wish to spare victims and preserve humanity from harm…

Understandably, Napoleon could not take such a risk, for Frederick-William had already come to an agreement with Alexander who had promised to help him. In short, Frederick-William was trying to fool Napoleon by playing for time hoping that the Russians would arrive in time to save him.

But when the Tsar heard of the Prussian Army’s pitiful performance on the 14th, he was in no great hurry to arrive with his troops. Nevertheless, the first encounter between Russian forces and French troops would soon take place when, on the 26 December 1806 , Marshal Lannes, with only 18,000 men was to clash with 50,000 Russians. And defeat them.

Considering the threat, the Emperor had no choice but to let his marshals pursue the Prussians.

 

 

To be continued…