The Grand Army Battle of
LutzenOccupation of DresdenBattle of BautzenA Futile
CongressPassage of the BoberSurrender of VandammeSkirmish at
GoldbergBattle of the Katzbach Disorderly RetreatGeneral
IT was in the month of August, 1813, that I started for
Saxony to take up the command of the 11th corps of the Grand Army. The day
following my arrival at the Emperor's headquarters, I had orders to attack
Merseburg, which I carried, or rather stormed, after a stubborn resistance ; as
I knew that the place was defended by Prussian troops who had served under my
orders during the preceding campaign, and that they were commanded by the same
General, my onslaught was the more vehement.
We marched upon Lutzen and Leipsic. I was in position
between these two points ; the allies were in front of us on the left bank of
the Elster. The name of that river, which a few months later was so nearly
fatal to me, has remained engraven on my memory. The Emperor, believing that
all the enemy's forces were Collected at Leipsic, sent thither General
Lauriston, who commanded the left. He came up to me, and gave me orders to
support him if necessary ; but at that moment he received intelligence that the
allies, who had debouched from Pegau, were advancing towards us. The Emperor
would not believe it, because he was firmly convinced that their main force was
at Leipsic. Marshal Ney, who was with him, confirmed him in that idea, and
declared he had noticed nothing unusual on the Elster.
However, firing began, and was directed against the very
point occupied by the Marshal's corps ; it increased in violence, and
approached rapidly ; then the Emperor despatched the Marshal, and shortly
afterwards followed him. Warnings came in apace; but, notwithstanding them, the
Emperor left Lauriston in difficulties near Leipsic, and me in position to
support or protect him; but scarcely had he reached the central position, when
he changed my destination, and ordered me to march straight ahead towards the
Elster. I had not started, when a second order came, telling me to go more to
the right ; but, as the enemy continued to advance, a third order directed me
to march straight on to their guns.
We went at the double, and it was full time, for the enemy's
cavalry had already slipped in between me and Marshal Ney, who had lost much
ground. The enemy, having realized my movement, turned to retreat; but I had
had time to point thirty pieces of cannon, and they galloped rapidly through my
We continued to advance on their right flank, and forced
them into a position covered by a little artificial canal used for floating
wood. After crossingnot without lossa little valley, we crowned the
heights; the plain lay outstretched before us, but without cavalry it would
have been unsafe to venture there.
Suddenly the fire ceased all along the front of the army,
and was directed at us ; the enemy sent forward their cavalry reserves,
composed of the Guards of the sovereigns of Russia and Prussia, Thrice they
attempted to break our squares, but in vain; each time they were driven back
with loss, and the third time in such confusion as must have given great
advantage to our cavalry had we possessed any. Only a few squadrons covered our
left, commanded by the Marquis de Latour-Maubourg, who wished nothing better
than to charge. I sent to beg him to do so ; but the Viceroy, under whose
orders he was acting, refused, in spite of my entreaties, as he did not wish to
risk the little body of brave men who were our only resource. The battle was
gained by the infantry and the artillery. It took a second time the name of
The battle-field, our front especially, was strewn with dead
and wounded, whom, for want of means, we had been unable to move. Early next
morning the Emperor paid us a visit. He was very pleased. He praised us for our
energy of the previous day, and for the vigour of our attack, which had stopped
the victorious march of the enemy, and turned the scale in our favour.
During the day, after we had crossed the Elster, which the
enemy did not defend, the Emperor generously distributed rewards, promotions,
decorations, pensions, titles, majorats, etc., to my army corps. My reward was
the command of the advance guard.
The enemy did not long occupy Dresden ; they blew up the
bridge, and only defended the Elbe long enough to protect their retreat by the
right bank. While means for rebuilding or mending the bridge were being sought,
my infantry got across the breaches by means of ladders; as soon as it was
sufficiently repaired, the artillery crossed. The Emperor, who, on this
occasion, had taken upon himself the functions of baggage-master, stopped all
vehicles; but I obtained an exemption for some of those belonging to my corps,
and that evening took up my position on the heights above Dresden.
Next day I followed the traces of the enemy, but we had no
affair of importance till Bautzen. I thought that I was being followed by the
remainder of the army; but it had been allowed to rest, and I found myself
isolated in presence of that of the enemy. In order to impose upon them, I
spread out my troops like a spider's web, and waited the arrival of the other
corps. Successive summons made them hasten their advance. A single step
backward on my part would have exposed us to certain destruction; I therefore
preferred to run the risk of staying where I was, pretending to advance, and
lighting at night fires scattered among the different lines, so as to make
believe that the whole army was present.
I thus passed several days, until at length our supports
came up. We attacked at Bautzen, crossed the Spree, and I took a considerable
share in the Battle of Wurschen, which brought us into Silesia, after two sharp
skirmishes, at Bischofswerda, and before reaching Löwenberg. The former of
these towns caught fire during the engagement; I believe the fire was the act
of marauders after we had occupied it. An armistice was concluded during the
action at Jauer, and after the occupation of Breslau. We went into cantonments;
I took the district of Löwenberg for my army corps. We had done enough to
retrieve the honour of our arms after the terrible misfortunes of the preceding
campaign. France and the army earnestly longed for peace.
A Congress met at Prague, but it was obvious that none of
the Powers were acting in good faith. Austria was the soul of the Congress; she
had in reality remained neutral since the reopening of hostilities, but, as
afterwards transpired, she had bound herself by treaty with Russia and Prussia
as early as the previous February. A significant proof of this was given by the
manner in which the enemy retired before the armistice; they grouped themselves
at the foot of the mountains of Bohemia, instead of recrossing the Oder. Driven
into the position they had taken up, they could have no choice but to lay down
their arms, supposing always that Austria meant to make her pretended
neutrality respected ; that was apparent.
The negotiations fell through, and hostilities recommenced,
the allies being reinforced by the Austrians, and soon afterwards by the
defection of the Bavarians. Before the truce was broken off, I had orders to
reconnoitre all the outlets from Bohemia, from the Saxon frontier as far as the
Bober, which was the line of demarcation on my front, while my right extended
to the mountains. At the same time the allies entered Bohemia. They moved
thither their principal forces, and attacked me two or three days before the
expiration of the armistice. They expected to take me unawares, but I was ready
for them, as, instead of cantoning my troops. I had formed camps sufficiently
near each other to be able to concentrate promptly on any threatened point.
The day after my return to Löwenberg I received news
that the enemy were attacking. I went half-way to the point indicated, but
could neither see nor hear anything. The enemy's movements were concealed by
hillocks and other obstructions on the ground. As I received no further news, I
concluded that the post attacked had been forced, and that the detachment which
defended it had been unable to fall back upon Löwenberg according to their
In order to clear up this doubt, and while my breakfast was
preparing, I took a picket of cavalry, and rode out slowly and carefully to the
point whence news had reached me that the enemy were advancing. On reaching it
I found all quiet, and learned that the enemy had advanced, but had immediately
retired again. Information had been sent to me by an orderly, I never received
it, as the man must have lost his way or got drunk.
I had ridden three leagues out to this point, and as many
from Löwenberg, in my first reconnaissance; our horses needed rest as much
as we did ourselves. I accepted a meagre breakfast, heartily offered, with
Just as I was remounting my horse to return, an officer
galloped up as fast as he could ride, to tell me that the enemy had crossed the
Bober at the very point I had quitted, that the attack had been so sudden that
there had not been time to harness my carriages, which were probably taken ; he
was not certain about this, because, as soon as the enemy appeared, he had
hastened away in search of me. I concluded that it could be only a brush at the
outposts, and decided to return ; but ere I had ridden half a league, fresh
information and fugitives confirmed what I had first heard. I was thus cut off
from the principal point, and from almost all my forces.
I waited a few hours more for the return of the scouts whom
I had sent out; their reports all tallied. At last I decided to make a great
detour, and bring in my outposts ; we marched all the rest of the day and
through the night, and reached Löwenberg worn out with fatigue. There I
learned what had occurred. Lauriston's corps, which had joined me the previous
day, had attached itself to my troops, and together they had driven the enemy
back across the Bober. They had had some losses, and my carriages were gone.
In consequence of the account of this event that I sent to
the Emperor, he hastened up with some reserves and the Guard. We had taken some
prisoners, and learned that the principal attack of the allies was to be made
on the left bank of the Elbe. The Emperor, nevertheless, thought that he would
still have time to force the passage of the Bober ; we did achieve it, took
Bautzen, and pushed on as far as Goldberg.
The Emperor returned to Dresden. On his way he heard that
the Emperors of Austria and Russia had debouched from Bohemia, and were
marching upon that town. As he descended the mountain overlooking it, he could
see the position of the allies. He was just in time to beat them and force them
to retire, but unfortunately they were not pursued with sufficient vigour. The
Emperor only sent Vandamme with his corps against them, and he, believing
himself supported, pushed on boldly, and entered the defile of Toplitz.
As one of the enemy's corps had become cut off, the allies
returned and attacked Vandamme, who was soon attacked also from behind by this
same corps, which was only seeking a way out. Thus taken between two fires, in
this sort of funnel, Vandamme surrendered, was made prisoner, and nearly all
his troops with him. The Emperor, it was said, was unwell, and had returned to
Dresden with his reserves and his Guard while this disastrous event was in
progress. As usual, Vandamme got all the blame, but this time he had only been
guilty of an excess of zeal.
After the Emperor had quitted me and returned to Dresden to
fight the allies, as I have related, he sent for me; and after telling me that
he had need of Marshal Ney, put under my orders Ney's own army corps, together
with that of Lauriston and General Sebastiani's cavalry. Ney and Sebastiani
were carrying on operations in the neighbourhood of Leignitz, and, I know not
through what misunderstanding, had retreated. The Emperor spoke to me of the
immediate necessity of a diversion, and told me that it was with this object
that he was uniting these four army corps, including my own, under my orders.
He instructed me to advance rapidly with them, and threaten Breslau and the
outlets of Bohemia into Silesia.
I immediately returned to my corps, and we started without
delay. We met some cavalry near Goldberg, and a brush that ensued was
disadvantageous to us; notwithstanding the efforts of Generals Reiset and
Audenarde, my horse gave way. I hastened to rally them, and put myself at their
head to lead a charge. I started them, and believed myself followed, when the
enemy's cavalry came to meet me; as I knew that my men had retreated, I could
do nothing but retreat too.
My infantry debouched, and passed through a deep ravine.
General Meunier was beginning to form a square, which at that moment bore a
striking resemblance in shape to an egg. Seeing me pursued and hard pressed, he
proposed that I should join him, I refused, and passed near him. The enemy did
not expose themselves to his fire ; they were only anxious to mask their own
retreat. We followed them eagerly, but were obliged to draw rein to give
General Souham, who was commanding Ney's corps, and General Sebastiani time to
The former received orders to leave the point where he was
and make for Jauer, and to turn the enemy's right, while I made a front attack
upon them at the Katzbach; General Lauriston commanded my right. General
Sebastiani arrived, driving before him a strong detachment of cavalry, that had
become placed between two fires. It escaped us, however, by a rapid flank
It had been steadily raining ever since the previous day.
From the heights whence the enemy retired we thought we
could make out the leading columns of General Souham's army; I ordered some
squadrons and light artillery to make a reconnaissance, and meanwhile I went
myself to the right of my line at some distance away, and told Lauriston to
send some light troops across the Katzbach to feel the strength of the enemy
upon his left. These orders were all clearly given, and yet not one of them was
properly carried out. General Souham, for instance, who had received his early
in the day, failed to execute the movement intended to turn the enemy's right.
His corps marched behind Sebastiani's cavalry, which were still advancing to
the heights, although I had simply ordered a few squadrons forward merely for
reconnoitring purposes. It was on returning from my right wing that I learnt
these counter-movements. The enemy, whose centre was rapidly retreating, but
who were not uneasy for their right, retired, and I saw their artillery coming
Among other movements, the great fault was committed on our
side of taking a number of guns to the heights. The ground was already soaked,
and they could only be moved with extreme difficulty, I ordered most of them to
come down, but the road was encumbered with other guns, and with the cavalry
who were going up. I instantly foresaw what would happen, and, as a
precautionary measure, sent forward a division of infantry to protect the two
bodies on the plateau. The rain still continued; the men could not use their
muskets. I went down in person and freed the base of the hill. The road was not
more than twelve or fifteen feet wide; it was impossible to turn, the only
thing to be done was to let all those who had started gain the summit, turn
there, and come down again ; and that took time.
While we were in this dilemma, the enemy deployed a large
body of cavalry, protected by the artillery, and the infantry followed in
columns. I had no news of General Souham, I did not even know if he had
received my orders; the movements of the enemy were proof positive that, if he
had received them, he had done nothing to put them into execution. Without his
corps I could do nothing, much less give battle, although the enemy were
already calling this affair by that name. Meanwhile, Lauriston, yielding a
little on his left, crossed the river with a portion of his troops, and made a
charge with all his cavalry.
In the centre our guns, sunk in the mire up to the axles,
could not be moved; the artillery soldiers and gunners unharnessed them, and
brought back the horses ; the enemy dared not descend. I have already said that
the infantry could make no use of their weapons; posted on the slope of the
hill, they were safe from the attacks of the cavalry. Then the front column of
Souham's corps came up to make bad worse, and to still further encumber General
Sebastiani's position. The latter was in despair at the loss of his guns.
Souham stammered out some reasons why he had failed to operate upon the points
I had indicated.
It was getting late ; the rain fell unceasingly, the ground
was soaked, the ravines were filling, the streams overflowing; in such a
disheartening state of affairs I ordered a retreat to Goldberg. A night march
under such circumstances occasioned great disorder ; the rain never ceased.
Lauriston was anxious to take the road by which he had crossed the mountains. I
remarked that it would most likely be impracticable; he insisted and I yielded,
the more readily that the continuity of our retreat would thereby be rendered
easier. But what I had suspected proved to be the case; he found the roads
flooded, and was compelled to retreat. One of his divisions flanked him,
receiving orders to follow such a direction as would eventually bring about its
junction with him and us ; we had to protect Lauriston's line of
communications. At one very bad place several carriages were driven off the
road, and got into the fields, where they remained, mine among others. I came
up at this moment ; the ammunition waggons were unloaded so that they might be
more easily moved, but nevertheless we lost some. We gained a fairly sheltered
place, where we posted the cavalry.
Near there we expected to meet General Lauriston's covering
division that had flanked his corps; it was not to be seen ; inquiries and
searches were instituted, but there was still no news of it. All the troops
were marching in disarray, wet to the skin, and, as Lauriston's and my corps
were retiring on Löwenberg, we learnt that the bridge over the Bober had
been dismantled, as the river had overflowed, and thus that our means of
passage was cut off. In consequence of the floods, which were out in all
directions, I was unable to communicate with Souham or Sebastiano, who were
retiring upon Bunzlau, where there was a wooden bridge already very rickety;
the engineers did their utmost to preserve it.
I waited four-and-twenty hours for Lauriston's division ;
the cavalry sent me word that they could no longer hold the position where I
had posted them, and their searches for the division had been fruitless.
Meanwhile, although water covered the road leading to Bunzlau, along which
Souham and Sebastiani were marching, a rumour spread among the troops that the
road was practicable, as there was only water on it up to the knees; thereupon,
without orders, they started off in confusion, as it was impossible to restrain
them, I therefore let them go. I was compelled to recall the . cavalry, and to
abandon the wandering division, convinced that it would find its own way out of
the difficulty somehow; but I afterwards had the grief of learning that, owing
to the slowness of the General in command [General Puthod] it had been obliged
to surrender. .
The rain had ceased, and the sun reappeared; we made a
forced march, and eventually reached Bunzlau, where I found Generals Souham and
Sebastiani. A large portion of their corps had crossed the bridge, as the two
others had done, and continued a disorderly march to Bautzen ; I sent orders to
them to rally there. I could not gauge our losses ; with the exception of the
artillery on the heights of Jauer, and the little division, they were
inconsiderable. Having rallied all the troops, I took up my position. I had
sent a report of all these circumstances to Dresden. The Emperor, to whom the
loss naturally appeared great, imagined that it was greater even than it was ;
he expected to find the troops demoralized and in disorder, and was agreeably
surprised at finding them reunited and in good spirits.
The enemy had followed us, but on seeing our position
appeared unwilling to risk an attack. The Emperor gave them no alternative.
Having arrived with his reserves and his Guard, and saying nothing to me except
that my news to him had been bad, he ordered me to advance and attack. We were
soon ready, and marched forward eagerly; the enemy were driven back by our
cavalry, which had been placed for the time under the command of Murat; but
they made a good stand on the mountain of Hochchellenberg.
While we were attacking them there, the Emperor, seeing
General Sebastiani near me, came towards us, and addressed him in the most
violent language; I was indignant, and showed it. His complaint against the
General was not the loss of his artillery on the plateau at Jauer, but that of
his last cannon. Sebastiani, as I then learned from the Emperor, had sent him,
without informing me, a private report; he interrogated the aide-de-camp who
brought this report, pressed him with questions, and was told by him that his
General, who had only one gun left, which he feared to lose, had sent it on
with the baggage waggons, which, by another misfortune, had fallen into the
enemy's hands. The Emperor added that the loss of artillery was the fortune of
war; but that what irritated him was the seizure of that particular piece,
seeing that artillery was provided for the protection of the troops, and not to
be defended by baggage waggons. I warmly and heartily stood up for Sebastiani.
The Emperor departed, leaving the command to me, with orders to follow the
Sebastiani was furious, and with reason, for he had not been
spared even in presence of his own men. He wished to blow his brains out, cause
himself to be killed, or send in his resignation. With great trouble I
succeeded in calming him.
The enemy rapidly retreated, and our pursuit did not tarry.
They crossed the river Queiss, which I left between us ; as fresh
reinforcements reached them they tried to turn us. My orders were not to expose
myself to any serious action; in my turn, therefore, I retired, but slowly; we
thus continued alternately advancing and retreating. They also did not seem
very anxious to attack, unless they could feel certain of getting the best of
it; but as they displayed numerous forces, I fell back to within a few leagues
of Dresden. We were very badly off for provisions and forage. The detachments
which I was compelled to send out to search the villages were often obliged to
come to blows, and soldiers who went out singly generally fell into the hands
of the enemy. We were thus being slowly undermined, but the moment was not far
off at which decisive operations would put a limit to this state of things; the
allies were preparing for it.