“The Battle of Jena has avenged
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
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.
“NEVER WAS AN ARMY ROUTED LIKE THIS BEFORE….”
What had happened after the two enemy armies were defeated by Napoleon and Marshal Davout?
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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…