Battle of Eylau: the beginning of the end of Napoleon


About the battle that should not even have taken place, but in fact struck by his contemporaries for his cruelty and senselessness.

Battle of Eylau has become one of the most persistent and bloody for all of Napoleon’s career. At the beginning of February 1807, there was a battle in East Prussia, which is still a matter of controversy among historians. About the battle that should not even have taken place, but in fact struck by his contemporaries for his cruelty and senselessness – in our material.

War of the Fourth Coalition

After the defeat at Austerlitz (December 2, 1805) and release of the Austrian war, Emperor Alexander has decided to continue the war with France. A new ally in the fight against the “Great Army” became Prussia, a war which is so sought entry into Vienna and St. Petersburg in the previous year.

Initially, in Prussia, which was still alive memories of the brilliant victories Fridriha Velikogo at the French and the Austrians, the war against European hegemony embraced with enthusiasm. However, due to the lack of coordination allies and miscalculations of the Prussian command royal troops were defeated in the first days of the war: October 9, 1806, it was announced the beginning of the war, and already on October 14 in a double battle of Jena and Auerstadt, Prussian troops were defeated thanks, tactical genius of Napoleon and his generals.

Prussia seemed to be ready to accept the terms of surrender, 26 October, French troops and the emperor come to Berlin. However, contrary to the opinion of his entourage, King Frederick William III decided to continue the war, yielding to pressure Alexander I, who promised to send the army to cleanse Prussia from the French.
And indeed, in October, Russian forces moved to the borders of East Prussia, intending to act in concert with the Prussians. However, Napoleon lightning strike forestalled even the theoretical possibility of making allies united front.

Remains of the Prussian troops retreated to the Prussian territory of Poland and East Prussia. In winter 1806/07 campaign, he took part only a small corps of General Lestocq (about 10,000 Prussians at the end of November 1806).

Invasion of Poland

Napoleon with an army, pursuing the remnants of the Prussian troops entered the territory of Prussian Poland. November 28th the French entered Warsaw. Citizens gladly met Napoleon and his army and gentry gave magnificent balls in honor of the emperor. Against this, it seemed, the campaign is over 1806, the French quietly arranged in winter quarters, waiting for a new fight next spring. But it was not there.

Russian troops (the two armies, only about 120 000), crossed the border and equipped with supply base and the way the transport of food (the headquarters became Kenigsberg), moved up to the place called “Grand Army” and went into combat contact with its parts.

From late November days passed in endless skirmishes and battles of local significance. None of the armies was prepared for war in the conditions of the Polish winter: there was slush everywhere, guns got stuck in the mud, but the cruelest trials were yet to come.

commander leapfrog

For the Russian army, the situation was complicated by the fact that in the army, a period of anarchy, which is obviously complicated the planning and conduct of operations in the already difficult conditions.

Only January 13, 1807, he was appointed the commander of Leontiy Leontevich Bennigsen (actually Levin August Gotlib Teofil von Bennigsen) – General, who came from Hannover Germans, in the words of historian Mehring “a mediocre soldier.” He, however, was an experienced war (he was the 62nd year), fought back in the Seven Years’ War, and played a prominent role in the coup in 1801, because of what had to influence with the Emperor Alexander the yard.

The winter war

Immediately after assuming office, Bennigsen decided to attack. He had about 90,000 (plus Prussian corps Lestocq another 10 thousand). Apparently, the commander himself could not decide whether he seeks to give a decisive battle to the French, or just wants to oust the latter from some points. As a result, the actions of the Russian troops were piecemeal: it is easy to withdraw from the blow, without entering into battle. Part of Bernadotte’s corps managed to slightly pull, but he quietly departed.

Napoleon learned of the actions of Bennigsen, who though he was walking into a trap, stepping on the west, decided to stage. The French emperor had planned to strike at the Russian divisions sprawled, cut them, to press to the Sea and the Vistula and force surrender.

But intervened case: dispatches detailing the future operation were intercepted by Russian flying squad and the whole concept of the operation was opened Russian command. Russian troops retreated to the Yankov, which focused to 3 February, when the area began to take turns to approach part of the French army.

It seemed, that now the auspicious moment to attack an enemy piece by piece, to impose on his battle and destroy until he is focused. However, there Benningsen hesitated, and after trying to divisions of Soult and Legrand hit the flank of the Russian army and the interception of communications with Konigsberg, I decided to retreat.

fight rearguard

A series of rearguard actions hardest until Russian army retreated in the direction of the town of Eylau. Russian troops marched in three columns, the most difficult situation in parts of the rearguard under the command of Petra Ivanovich Bagration – every day they had to carry heavy fighting with the pursuing French cavalry to protect military convoys. In one of these battles took baptism of Denis Vasilevich Davydov.
By February 7 Russian army reached Eylau. A terrible sight was two army retreating and haunting. One Russian officer wrote that during the retreat “every passed mile was worth a thousand people army. The poor soldier crawls like a ghost, leaning on his gun. ”

And here is how describes the state of the French army by her doctor Baron de Percy: “Do the French army was not in such a wretched state. Soldiers on the march every day, every day in the bivouac. They make referrals to their knees in mud, falling from exhaustion and fatigue … Fire and smoke bivouacs made their faces yellow, emaciated, unrecognizable; they have red eyes, their uniforms dirty and smoky. “

February 7 guns rattled already before the city itself: Russian rearguard was instructed to keep the city, but during the battle, which lasted well into the evening, the French managed to take Eylau. During the day the city four times passed from hand to hand! The Russian army was driven back to the north-east of Eylau, Napoleon rate located right in the city, littered with piles of bodies and seriously injured during the battle.

The battlefield and force the parties

Napoleon was convinced that Russian will continue to retreat and did not dare to fight, as they have already left a favorable position when Yankov, but Bennigsen assessed the situation differently. Early in the morning February 8, 1807, Russian troops lined up for battle. French lined up across the street.

On the battlefield 4 km long along the front and five kilometers deep clash between the two armies. Bennigsen had about 70 thousand men and 400 guns. Napoleon was only 50 thousand (two corps, guard and the cavalry of Murat) with 300 guns, but he expected to approach Davoust housing (16,000), which is the beginning of the battle was a 4 hour road from the battlefields, and Ney’s corps (14 000), whose exact location was not known at all. To Russian also had to come up reinforcements – Prussian detachment Lestocq.

Benningsen proceeded from the principle of the defensive: the troops were distributed along the entire front, the infantry is built in two lines, the cavalry as divided between the center and the flanks, and heavy artillery reduced to three batteries. Besides, there were strong reserves – infantry (constructed in deep columns in the second line) and artillery (3 companies mounted artillery).

Napoleon planned to wait for approach Davoust, and then fall upon the left flank of the Russian army, cover it and cut off escape routes. The bulk of the cavalry was in reserve for emergencies.

Start a fight. Storm

The battle began at 8 am with artillery fire from both sides. The distance between the troops was minimal only 500-700 meters, and artillery infantry inflicted significant damage (especially Russian reserves where stray drifted nucleus “thinning” column infantry).

Bennigsen did not dare to attack the French approach to Davoust, though he had a real chance to force the fight and take advantage of the numerical superiority, to overturn the enemy until the arrival of reinforcements and resolve the case.

Two hours after the start of the battle at the headquarters Napoleon column Davoust noticed that came from the south. Napoleon decided to prepare an attack Davoust, which begins to pull to the right flank for most of his infantry – division of Saint-Hilaire housing and Augereau. According to the Emperor conceived the entire mass of the infantry had to attack the left flank of the Russian troops and destroy it while the center and the left flank of the letter of the enemy. But in the case of business again intervened.

Suddenly, flying snow storm, this storm in which the French infantry ranks were upset. When the snow stopped, it became clear that the division Augereau went astray and was directly opposite the Russian center – just 150 meters from the main battery. Such a gift Russian gunners were not expecting! Two did not have to ask, and the French troops hit barrage.

“Seventy cents belched hell, and a hail of grapeshot range on iron guns, banging on the living bulk of flesh and bones” – writes about this episode, Denis Davydov. “You can not even imagine what happened for 20 minutes with two magnificent infantry divisions. The mind rebels at the memory, never-before-war history is not known example of such terrible destruction, “recalls one of the French officers.

fight Corps

Then disorganized French infantry attacked a Russian infantry. Same Denis Davydov wrote that throughout his military career, he could not remember anything like that, “More than twenty thousand people on both sides of trihedral tip stabbed each other. Crowds toppled. ”

The French infantry was overthrown by the army center virtually ceased to exist. Russian infantry in pursuit of the enemy moved to the attack. So much so, that even one battalion reached Napoleon’s headquarters, but was attacked by guards and chopped.

I come battle the crisis. Davoust has not yet reached, and Russian is already eager to Eylau. At this point, Napoleon takes a resolute decision: to throw the cavalry on the Russian troops pursuing his infantry. Murat with dragoon brigade attacked the Russian cavalry, which is already actively involved in the persecution of the French (it helped to deal with the cavalry division of Saint-Hilaire), and overturned it, but the Russian infantry formed a square, repulsed the Dragoons attack.

Then Murat collects heavy cavalry Hautpoul (cuirassiers) and 2.5 dragoon division and by constructing their huge column leads to the Russian infantry. “Buzzed the field, and the snow-blasted 12 thousand rallied horsemen and cavils rose from under them like a whirlwind out of the thunderclouds. Brilliant Murat in rotary suit their expected, followed by a large retinue, was burning in front of the storm, with drawn swords, and flew like a feast, in the midst of battle. Gun, rifle fire and slingshot bayonets outstretched nasheed infantry, not blocked the disastrous tide. The French cavalry all crushed, trampled all, broke through the first line of the army and in the rapid burst of his reach to the second line and reserve “- says Denis Davydov.

Russian infantry, and really had a hard time, it seemed that a little bit more and just tear the riders Murat Russian army into two parts. However, the aid has hastened the cavalry on the flanks of the Russian army. I struck up a grand cavalry cutting.

Russian threw into battle cuirassier and dragoon regiments and the whole mass slowly began to roll back to the French position. Then Napoleon resorted to the last argument – he was thrown in the Guards cavalry: horse grenadier mounted gendarmes and cavalry rangers. the terrible battle raged with renewed vigor. And just then came Davoust.

attack Davoust

With the approach of the fight in the center of Dawa died down – the French cavalry broke (although with heavy losses) to their infantry. Russian is no longer pursued, the two sides were so exhausted by then that no longer even think about any action in the center. But a new battle raged on the left flank of the Russian army.

By 14 o’clock Davoust already seriously wedged in the Russian defense took Sausgarten then Zerpalen and the surrounding heights, which unfolded in the battery 30 guns, which led enfilade fire on the Russian infantry. In fact, the front bent at 90 degrees on the left flank, and Davoust struggled on, trying to strike at the rear of the Russian troops. Now, it seemed that the victory is already in the hands of the French: in the army began to spread the panic, many left the system and escaped to Konigsberg.

It came to the rescue reserve artillery Yermolov, who turned 36 tools Dawa against the advancing infantry. Exhausted by the March and the continuous battle, the French stopped and just at this moment (about 16 hours) on the battlefield appeared Lestocq.

Fresh forces were immediately put into action that helped to stabilize the situation on the left: the key points were repulsed, the French dropped to Sausgartenu where Davoust himself has personally led his infantry in a sense. Next Lestocq could not move. By the 18th the battle seemed to be stopped. And then we began to approach the advanced part of Ney’s corps. Is it all starts over again?

Her sluggish attacked Shotten, who was with the rear of the right flank of the Russian army. But since this flank retained the greatest fighting capacity, then there is the French were pushed back, and Ney had no success. It was dark, and the battle subsided itself approximately in 21 hours.

Results of the battle

Grand carnage worth two armies of almost 50 thousand people, most of which fell in a small area between the Russian and the French center. The French killed 7 generals were captured 4 banners. This is how the battlefield doctor Percy writes, “Never before has so many bodies do not lie in such a small space, the snow was stained with blood everywhere, bodies were piled up everywhere, thousands of guns, hats, cuirasses were scattered on the roads and in the fields.”

Even after dark, it was not clear what to do: to renew the battle on the following day or to depart? Napoleon decided to stay on the battlefield, he was awake all night waiting for news about the enemy. Benningsen hesitated, but when he was informed that in the ranks remain no more than 30 000 (the rest were killed, wounded, captured or fled), he decided to retreat to Konigsberg.

The French learned about the withdrawal of the Russian army in the morning, no serious persecution was not organized. Moreover, the French army was still 8 days remained in place, not having the strength for further action. At the first opportunity, Napoleon led the troops into winter quarters. Russian, moving to Konigsberg, just settled into winter quarters. For three months the army to heal the wounds, before once again began to take action.

Immediately after the battle the two sides were quick to declare victory, but at its end, the battle is most like to battle a draw: neither of the armies has achieved the defeat of the enemy, which cost both sides about the same price (21 thousand loss of the French, 25 thousand Russian) . With some degree of fairness Battle of Eylau can be called a Pyrrhic victory for Napoleon, which was left to the battlefield.

According to its strategic implications, the Battle of Eylau had some significant results, however, if we look at the previous battles of Napoleon, where he repeatedly won an impressive and confident of victory, Eylau contrasts sharply with the previous successes of the commander.

The battle for the first time made the French soldiers question the invincibility of their emperor, and among the opponents of Napoleon, this battle was a sign that Napoleon can and must be fought on the battlefield.

Of course, the emperor still takes revenge in the same summer, defeating the Russian army at Friedland. Of course, the battle at Eylau, still far from a foreign campaign victories, but that the battle is considered by many military historians a kind of turning point in the history of the Napoleonic Wars. Beginning of the end of Napoleon’s genius.