Prelude to Eylau: Benningsen's Report to the Czar
Original Document Translated by Gregory Troubetzkoy
Baron Benningsen was the over-all Russian commander, and was expected to make periodic reports to the Czar. One such report, a letter written in his own hand, is in the J. David Markham collection. Written a week before the battle of Eylau, it shows the rather optimistic view of the Russian commander. This letter, never before seen by the public, is translated below. Note that French was often the official language for many military documents. The translation was provided by Gregory Troubetzkoy.
Outline of the operations of the Russian army, from its arrival in the former Prussia until January 31, 1807.
The information which I received from every quarter upon entering this province made me aware that I would find two French corps, one commanded by Marshal Ney had occupied positions on the Alle river and pushed its forward observation posts to Bishofstein, Seebourg and even Rossel. The other under the command of Bernadotte was pillaging Elbingen and appeared to be about to move on Koenigsberg. I began by chasing away all the detachments of the cavalry of Ney's corps which were to be found on the right bank of the Alle. We made many prisoners, among others a squadron of the 3rd hussar regiment, its commander, captain St. Aubain-le-Brun and 2 officers that Prince Dimitri Galitzin captured in the village of Langheim. On the 10th I was making preparations to attack the various points on the Alle, but the enemy did not linger there and I made the crossing of this river without meeting the least obstacle. Marshal Ney fell back in disorder to Allenstein. I continued to make demonstrations in his direction and turned with all our forces towards the positions taken up by Marshal Bernadotte. The 12th general Barclay de Tolly sent to Passenheim a squadron of Issoum hussars with about 60 Cossacks. This detachment met there 2 squadrons of French cavalry, attacked them, destroyed them utterly and took 29 dragoon prisoners and the captains Dervaux and Cachelot. The same day general Marcoff with the advance guard surprised at Lipstadt a detachment composed of 3 regiments of cavalry and several hundred infantry. It did not fare any better. We took 270 prisoners and 18 officers among which Colonel Fabre, 300 Frenchmen fell on the spot.
The next day there was a more significant engagement. Marshal Bernadotte got wind of the approach of the Russian army, came with all his forces to Mohrungen, established his headquarters there and moved 1/2 a league ahead of the town, on the road to Lipstadt. General Marcoff attacked this corps with forces which were too unequal to hope for an advantage. He was pushed back, but then having been reinforced by the cavalry of general Anrepp, the enemy decided to disengage. In this very bloody encounter the French lost over 1,000 men and 2 flags. We had 700 killed and wounded. But the most keen loss that we sustained was that of the brave general Anrepp, killed by skirmishers, in the most unhappy manner and regretted by the whole army.
While this affair took place in front of Mohrungen, Prince Michael Dolgoruky struck with a regiment of dragoons in the rear of the enemy lines and sneaked into their headquarters. He captured the wagons of the Marshal, his men, his dishes, some women and a sizable strong box containing contributions levied in Elbingen and captured over 400 prisoners. The number of these grows constantly and not a day goes by that we don't get at least 50 more. Three French generals are already in our hands, generals Foultrier and Lasseur have been taken by our troops and the third -- the division general Victor by the Prussian garrison of Colberg.
After these different engagements which were all decided in favor of our army, I brought it here and had it take up a concentrated position in this general area. The right wing is anchored on the Vistula. After 17 consecutive marches I deemed it necessary to stop for a moment. But tomorrow I will go forward again and will attack Marshal Ney's corps. In the meantime I have managed to chase the enemy from this province, to cover Koenigsberg and to produce consternation and disorder in this portion of the French army which are already very apparent. Such are the brilliant results to which we have been led to in our march toward East Prussia and the perseverance and courage with which His Imperial Majesty's troops have executed this exhausting operation. The enemy surprised in its quarters, defeated in every occasion, has withdrawn with a hurry and disorder which underline only too well the deplorable situation in which it is now.
It remains yet for me to mention the Prussian army which is under my orders and to give it its just due. Our successes seem to have electrified it, it is beginning to perk up somewhat and come out of the depression in which its reverses had plunged it momentarily. The garrison of Dantzig has moreover gotten the upper hand over the advance guard of the Polish insurgents, which having been attacked near Dirschau was beaten and lost several canons and its war-chest.
At the General Headquarters of Mohrungen this 31st of Jan. 1807
Baron de Benningsen