"At Heilsberg Mashals Murat and Soult brought Bennigsen to action.
"... the word 'butchery' occurs in many accounts of Heilsberg."
But so savage a stand did the Russians make that only the arrival
of Marshal Lannes prevented the battle from ending in a French defeat."
- Christopher T. Atkinson
- Georges Blond
"... the word 'butchery' occurs in many accounts of Heilsberg."
The Year of 1807.
Prelude to Heilsberg.
Combats at Launau, Bewernick, Langwiese and Lawden.
- - - - - - - - Cavalry battle.
- - - - - - - - The Guard Fusiliers rescued Murat's cavalry.
The Year of 1807.
The year of 1807 was an eventful year, for it witnessed two massive wars: Franco-Russian War and Turkish-Russian war, the French invasion of Portugal, and several minor British military actions in Europe and elsewhere.
In January 1807 was born Robert Edward Lee (ext. link) one of the most celebrated generals in American history. He is best known for commanding the Confederate Army in the American Civil War (1861-65). Lee's victories against superior forces won him fame as a crafty and daring battlefield tactician.
Serfdom in Prussia and Russia.
In October 1807 the serfdom was abolished in Prussia. The October Edict (ext. link) upgraded the personal legal status of the peasantry and gave them ownership of half or two-thirds of the lands they were working. The edict applied to all peasants whose holdings were above a certain size. The peasants were freed from the obligation of personal services to the lord and annual dues; in return landowners were given ownership of 1/3 to 1/2 of the land.
Naval Battle of Mount Athos (Lemnos)
In February of 1807, after being informed of the outbreak of war with Turkey, Russian admiral Senyavin departed from Corfu for the Aegean Sea with the main body of his fleet and a number of ground troops.
In the meantime, the Russian Navy under Admiral Senyavin blockaded the Dardanelles and defeated the Ottoman fleet in the Battle of the Dardanelles, after which Selim III was deposed.
The naval Battle of Mount Athos (Battle of Lemnos) was a key naval battle of the Russo-Turkish War. Admiral Senyavin with 10 ships of the line crushed the Ottoman fleet of 10 ships of the line, 5 frigates, 3 sloops and 2 brigs. As a result of the battle, the Ottoman Empire lost a combat-capable fleet for more than a decade.
American Embargo Act of 1807.
Britain and France were at war; the U.S. was neutral and trading with both sides. Both sides tried to hinder American trade with the other. President Jefferson's goal was to use economic warfare to secure American rights, instead of military warfare. The Embargo Act was passed by the US Congress, during the second term of President Thomas Jefferson. It was partly brought upon by the 'Chesapeake Incident' involving Britain attacking a U.S. ship, and partly by Britain prohibiting on her trading partners from trading with France.
British success in Java.
The Java campaign of 1806–1807 was a campaign by British naval squadron under Rear-Admiral Sir Pellew against a naval squadron of the Kingdom of Holland, based on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. Victory allowed the British to focus exclusively on the French islands of Île Bonaparte and Île de France, which proved very difficult to subdue during the ensuing Mauritius campaign of 1809–1811.
British failures in Egypt, Buenos Aires and Constantinopole.
In March 16th the Royal Navy and 5,000 redcoats under General A. Mackenzie Fraser invaded
and occupied Alexandria in Egypt. The aim was to secure the port as a base for Mediterranean
operations and to prevent the French from taking advantage of it.
In July 1807 take place the disastrous British attack on Buenos Aires (today Argentine). In September 1807, after a Danish refusal to surrender their biggest city, Copenhagen, to the British, the warships bombarded the place killing 2.000 civilians and destroying 30 % of the buildings. Then during armistice the Royal Navy carried off the Danish fleet and "all the naval stores in the arsenal."
In September 1807, British ambassador from Constantinopole (today Turkey), had already pressed
for warships to be sent to bully the Turks. Admiral Collingwood sent number of ships to the
Dardanelles and shortly after this the British Cabinet decided to send Vice-Admiral Duckworth
with more ships to the Turkish capital "to demand the immediate surrender of the Turkish
Fleet , together with that of supply of naval stores from the arsenal ..."
The Napoleonic Continental System.
The Berlin Decree of 1806 forbade French, allied or neutral ships trading with Great Britain. By this means Napoleon hoped to destroy British trade. The Berlin Decree had initiated the Continental System. Great Britain responded with the Orders in Council of 1807 issued 11 November 1807. These forbade French trade with the United Kingdom, its allies, or neutrals, and instructed the Royal Navy to blockade French and allied ports. Napoleon retaliated with the Milan Decree of December 1807. The Milan Decree authorized French warships and privateers to capture neutral ships sailing from any British port. It also declared that any ships that submitted to search by the British navy were to be considered lawful prizes if captured by the French.
French Invasion of Portugal.
In 1807 Portugal refused Napoleon's demand to accede to the Continental System of embargo against Great Britain. Thus in October and November a French invasion under General Junot, followed. Lisbon was captured. By the way, Portugal tried to manage an equilibrium between Britain (Portugal's oldest ally) and aggressive France, opting for a policy of neutrality while continuing to trade with both countries. However, France was anxious to break the Anglo-Portuguese alliance in order to close Portuguese ports to British merchants.
After humiliating Prussia in 1806, the French Emperor
Negotiations between France, Britain and Russia, during the early months of 1806, broke down. Prussia had been lashed to fury by the discovery that Napoleon had attempted to bribe Great Britain with Hanover, which he had so recently ceded to Prussia.
Wishing to strike her before succour reach her from Russia, Napoleon anticipated her
ultimatum by marching against her towards the Elbe River.
In August 1806, the Prussian king, made the decision to go to war independently of any other great power.
(The Prussian army enjoyed great reputation since the times of King Frederick the Great !)
Approx. 150,000 French soldiers moved with such speed that Napoleon and Marshal Davout (nicknamed The Iron Marshal) were able to destroy the fearsome Prussian army in two quick battles, Jena and Auerstadt.
Picture: triumphant French troops with captured Allied colors.
During the campaign the French troops captured hundreds of Prussian cannons, took tens of thousands of prisoners, captured most of the fortresses and some 340 colours !
Napoleon entered into Berlin in October and visited the tomb of King Frederick the Great. He instructed his marshals to remove their hats, saying, "If he was alive we wouldn't be here today."
The defeat of Prussian army in Jena and Auerstadt did not end the war.
Some Prussian troops survived the catastrophe and joined those stationed in
The French troops entered Polish lands.
In late autumn Napoleon's army entered land inhabited by the Poles. The French divisions moved through Posen (Poznan) and Kalisz. The roads in late autumn in central Europe were in a very poor state.
This part of the continent was little known to the French.
Napoleon hoped on finding the Russian armies and defeating them in a pitched battle.
The French army crossed the Vistula River in several points and turned north-east.
The French entered Eastern Prussia, inhabited by the Prussians and some Poles.
It was difficult to find an area sufficiently clear of continuous forest to allow of the deployment of larger force. It was also a difficult terrain for speedy maneuvers. There were only few roads and even fewer cities.
The First Polish War.
The 1806 Polish Uprising was organized by General Dabrowski to help advancing French divisions in liberating Poland from Prussian occupation. The uprising was a decisive factor that allowed the formation of the Duchy of Warsaw by Napoleon. On 20 September the Emperor issued orders to form a division from Polish deserters from the Prussian army. There were so many that soon it was decided to form a second division.
Marshal Murat and the French cavalry entered Warsaw to a rapturous welcome (picture -->).
He was feted by the Poles igniting hopes of future kingship.
Napoleon entered Warsaw in 1807 and French eagles soared over the Vistula. The Emperor
however was hesitant about reenacting the Kingdom of Poland. It would enrage Russia and Austria.
The Duchy of Warsaw (French Duché de Varsovie) was finally established by Napoleon from the Polish lands ceded by the Kingdom of Prussia under the terms of the Treaties of Tilsit. Although it was created as a only a duchy, rather than a kingdom, it was commonly hoped and believed that with time the nation would be able to regain its former status, not to mention its former borders. The country was divided into departments. The branches of justice, war, finance and police, were assigned to Polish government. One of the first tasks for the new Polish government included providing food to the French and Polish divisions fighting against the Russians and Prussians. The Duchy of Warsaw became a bastion of France in central Europe.
Already in November 1806 Napoleon directed General Dabrowski to form Polish troops. Dabrowski issued a decree ordering the population to provide 1 infantry recruit from every 10 households, 1 cavalry recruit from every 45 households and 1 chasseur (light infantry) recruit from every estate.
Napoleonic French Marshal "Louis Davout [The Iron Marshal]
supervised the creation of the Polish army." (- John Elting)
In January 1807 the Polish army consisted of 20.500 recruits and 3.000 volunteers. The army was organized into three legions (divisions). The constitution established the Polish army at 30,000 men. Prince Poniatowski became its Minister of War.
In the beginning there were many Prussian muskets (reworked 1782 Model). Chlapowski write, "We received our muskets very quickly. They were of recent manufacture, taken from the Berlin arsenal from which the Prussians had not managed to evacuate them. The bayonets were much too long for them, so later we exchanged these for French ones. We had been drilling without weapons, but as soon as our muskets arrived, the recruits learned more easily how to march and trim their lines." (Chlapowski/Simmons - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" p 14)
On 27th January 1807 the Poles fought at Tczew (Dirschau, see picture -->), on 14th February they took Gniew (Mewe) and on the 20th captured Slupsk (Stolpen). On 23rd February they took Tczew (Dirschau). There were also Polish troops (infantry and cavalry) fighting at Friedland.
In March-May approx. 9.000 Polish troops participated in the siege of Danzig (Gdansk). In August Marshal Davout selected the best three infantry regiments and Napoleon took these units to Spain. "Napoleon took this force into French service on much the same basis as the Hessians served the British in the American Revolution." (Nafziger - "Poles and Saxons" p 12)
One of the Polish regiments, the Lighthorse Regiment (Chevauxlegeres) became part of Napoleon's Imperial Guard. According to American historian, George Nafziger, the Poles became "Napoleon's staunchest allies".
Battle of Eylau 1807. "Quel massacre! Et sans resultat"
The winter campaign in 1806 in eastern Prussia and Poland exhausted the French troops mentally and physically. It was with extreme difficulty that the artillery could be moved along.
The battles in winter 1806, especially Golymin and Pultusk, cost many lives.
It was also very difficult situation for the Russian army. An unknown from name officer of Azov Musketier Regiment wrote: “I am so numbed, mentally and physically, by hunger, cold, and exertion, that I hardly have the strength or the desire left to write this down. No army could suffer more than ours has done in these days. It is no exaggerated calculation to say that for every mile between Jonkerdorf and this place the army has lost 1.000 men who have not come within sight of the enemy... The poor soldiers glide about like ghosts."
Battle of Eylau.
On 7-8 February 1807 Napoleon finally met the Russian army at Eylau (today Bagrationovsk).
Early in the battle, a frontal attack by the French (Marshal Augereau's corps) failed with extremaly heavy losses. It was due to the tremendous artillery fire from two Russian grand batteries and a timely and massive cavalry counterattack.
To retrieve the situation, Napoleon launched a massed cavalry charge led by Murat against the Russian center. This bought enough time for the French right wing to throw its weight into the contest.
A Prussian corps belatedly arrived and saved the day by pushing back the French wing. As darkness fell, a new French corps appeared on the flank. General Bennigsen wisely decided to retreat, leaving Napoleon in possession of the bloody battlefield.
The Russian casualties are estimated at 15.000, while the French have suffered 10.000 - 15.000 killed and wounded.
The French soldiers cried out for peace after Eylau. Eylau was the first serious check to the splendid Grande Armee, which in the previous campaigning seasons had carried all before it.
The rest of the winter and spring passed in quietness. Napoleon had said that the army would go into winter quarters. The army had to recover 60,000 wounded, missing and deserters. The hospitals were overcrowded. The Emperor appreciated surgeons' hard work and rewarded them with promotions and money. In France thousands of young men were called to arms. They were then rushed to the front and were drilled en route. The news from France however were not good. The slaughter at Eylau had had the worst effect. The military police combed the rear areas to round-up deserters.
Napoleon decided to build a military camp in Osterode. The French engineers constructed a palisade around a vast square inside which were streets bordered by wooden huts. Each street bore the name of one of the latest victories. The Imperial Guard had its own camp, built with a degree of luxury. In the centre
was a brick building where Napoleon installed himself.
Map: Winter Quarters 1807.
The spring campaign of 1807.
The French light cavalry patrols noticed some activity on the Russian side.
The Emperor wrote: "Everything leads to the belief that the enemy is on the move,
though it is ridiculous on his part to engage in a general action now that Danzig (Gdansk) is
In early June, General Bennigsen decided to attack the advanced corps of Marshal Ney in East Prussia. His plan for the destruction of Ney was very complicated. The scheme had in its favor the fact that Ney having his front being surrounded by woods, could not see what was going on at any considerable distance.
Nevertheless, Ney obtained sufficient information from his light cavalry to convince him that some serious movements were in progress before fim. He requested Marshal Soult to support his left and Marshal Davout to strengthen his position at Bergfried on the right.
Bennigsen postponed the grand movement of the Russian army till the 5th.
Then he took on the offensive and after several small engagements had expanded its force and came to a standstill. The Emperor had not been idle, he ordered the Guard cavalry to assemble at Finkenstein, and sent orders to his marshals. His design now was, to cut the Russian army from the Baltic Sea and Koenigsberg (Prussian sea port) and its resources.
On the 9th, the French troops occupied the following positions:
Bennigsen was furious at Ney's miraculous getaway: outnumbered by 3 : 1, it was an easy victory for the Russians. Fuming Bennigsen blamed Sacken for allowing Ney to escape. Then Bennigsen fell victim to a French ploy that stopped his advance in its tracks. The Russian general received a captured dispatch, addressed to Ney, stating that Davout's corps is about to fall on Bennigsen's rear. Thrown into a panic, Bennigsen shifts into reverse, ordering a retreat. First he marched to Guttstadt, and then to Heilsberg. But the dispatch is bogus, planted on the Russians in an effort to save Ney.
Napoleon's pursuit of the Russians.
"Bennigsen, having failed in this attempt at a surprise stroke, had nothing to do but fall back along the main road which leads to Konigsberg, for his numbers were inferior to those which the Emperor could bring now against him ... On the other hand he felt fairly sure ... of being able to maintain the defensive indefinitely as he so fell back ... first of all he had heavily fortified Heilsberg, a place on the main road ... and next because he had proved during all the winter fighting the stubbornness of the Russian line." (- Hilaire Belloc)
By his movements Napoleon gradually placed himself between the Russian army concentrating in Heilsberg and the Prussian sea port of Konigsberg. In that city was loacted a huge supply depot for Bennigsen's army. (See map.)
Picture: French army on the road. Film "War and Peace" by S. Bondarchuk.
Meanwhile Napoleon eagerly followed the Russians with his army.
"The emperor, with the whole Grand Army in his wake, is riding towards the final showdown
Picture: Russian army on the road. Film "War and Peace" by S. Bondarchuk.
Warm wind blew over the fields and woods of Eastern Prussia.
The Russian army was also on the road.
The roads and meadows were crowded with marching infantry and cavalry, rolling artillery and ammunition wagons.
The artillery took the main roads.
Heilsberg (today Lidzbark Warminski in Poland) was a small town, situated on the left bank of the Alle River. In Heilsberg stood an old Teutonic castle. For many years it was a residence of the bishops of Warmia and a stronghold protecting the eastern border of their domain. By the power of the Second Peace Treaty of Torun signed in 1466, Warmia was incorporated into Poland. The year of 1772 brought the incorporation of Warmia into Prussia.
On the north side of the Alle River (Lyna River today), an undulating plain stretched in all directions. It was intersected by the course of the Spuibach Stream. On the left side of the stream was the Lawden Wood. Half a mile south-west of the wood was the village of the same name.
This whole area was familiar to the Russians. Between February and May they had made use of every fold of the terrain around Heilsberg. Majority of the earthworks stood on the southern bank of Alle River as Bennigsen anticipated the French to come from that direction.
Prelude to the Battle of Heilsberg.
The French were approx. 10 km away from Heilsberg and the main positions of the Russian army. The leading echelons of the French army were under Marshal Joahim Murat. With his plumed hat, gold-braided uniform, and magnificent warhorse, Murat was the very image of a cavalier. Behind Murat's cavalry was marching infantry and artillery.
Near the village of Launau (Laniewo today), 6 km from Heilsberg, stood Borosdin's small force. The Russians defended the defile. Borosdin's four regiments (Revel and Nizhovsk Musketiers, Finland Dragoons and Cossacks) and some artillery occupied the village itself and the plain nearby. About 8 AM the French troops had driven in Borosdin's force. The French then brought their batteries into position and opened fire upon the enemy.
Before 10 AM (or much earlier, according to Shikanov) Bennigsen received information from Borosdin that the French were advancing in the direction of Launau. Bennigsen sent GM Lvov with the task of supporting Borosdin. Lvov's force consisted of two jager regiments, Kexholm Musketiers, militia battalion, Kiev Dragoons and 2 horse guns.
Borosdin and Lvov took position at Bewernick. (See map below.)
The French advance was spearheaded by 24th Light Infantry Regiment of St. Cyr's division.
The French 6th Cuirassier Regiment caught the Russian 2nd Jager Regiment in open field north of Bewernick. It was an advanced and somehow isolated position. The green-clad light infantry was decimated and fled in panick.
The Russian dragoons tried to hold off the triumphant French heavies with carbine fire.
Murat supported the cuirassiers with light cavalry: Soult's brigade and part of Lasalle's division.
Series of charges and countercharges left the heavy cavalrymen and their big horses tired.
The tireless Cossacks mounted on their agile Don horses attacked the cuirassiers from the flank and rear, but never from the front. The way of doing battle is for the Cossacks the dispersed formation; the close formation is less natural to them.
Then Latour-Maubourg led his dragoons in an all-out charge. Yermolov wrote that the cavalry attacked Russian infantry not only from the front but also from the rear. Yermolov was able to escape only because he had a fast horse ! Some of his guns were captured by the dragoons, before Raievski's jagers recaptured them.
Meanwhile Bennigsen sent orders to Bagration, who was retiring on the opposite side of the
river, to cross by the pontoon bridges and to move again up the north bank and fend off the
French. Soon Bagration was himself here, there, and everywhere, directing, assisting, and
encouraging his jagers and cavalry.
He was the type of general who was well suited for a rear guard action.
Bagration was a very seasoned and energetic officer, exceptionally brave, and very popular with the troops.
Bagration met Borosdin's and Lvov's forces near Bewernick (Bobrownik today) retiring before Murat and Soult. Bagration deployed his troops behind Bewernick and Langwiese. Bagration's artillery poured cannonballs and shells into the enemy's cavalry. The French halted and Murat decided to wait for Soult's corps as his cavalry alone was not enough to take on Bagration's force.
Murat's force, with the dragoons in the lead, advanced towards Langwiese. Numerous riders were rising and falling in unison with the motion of their horses. Bagration's cavalry then attacked Murat before he reached his destination. Murat rallied his troops but then he was again attacked, this time by even larger force of cavalry. It was newly arrived Uvarov's cavalry.
Kozhin and Fock threw their squadrons against the flank of Latour-Maubourg's 1st Dragoon Division. The timing of the attack was perfect as the French were in a vulnerable situation after endeavoring to sort themselves out after their fight with Bagration's cavalry.
Latour-Maubourg's dragoons (18 squadrons) were hit hard by the cuirassiers (15 squadrons) and folded almost instantly. The French fled with the Russians and Prussians hot on their heels. The victors however got under artillery fire from the French foot and horse batteries and were forced to fall back.
The situation stabilized for a short while.
Murat rode to the front of the 3rd Heavy Cavalry Division and cried "Forward !" The cuirassiers drew their sabers and began their advance. De Gonneville of the 6th Cuirassiers writes: "At this moment the grand duke of Berg (Murat) came up to us; he came from our right rear, followed by his staff, passed at a gallop across our front, bending forwards on his horse's neck, and as he passed at full speed by General Espagne, he flung at him one word alone which I heard, "Charge !" In the front was GB Fouler's brigade (7th and 8th Cuirassiers). Murat throws himself into the thick of the fighting, heedless of all danger.
On the fields by Langwiese - 1 km southwest from Lawden - developed a cavalry battle
bewteen Uvarov's cavalry and d'Espagne's cuirassiers and Latour-Mauborg's dragoons.
It was a bloody fight and very costly for the French.
Napoleon watched the raging cavalry battle. He was surrounded by marshals and generals. Staff officers and adjutants were in the rear, hunched over the manes of their horses. They could hear the rumble of the cannonade and pillars of smoke rose into the air.
Napoleon kept looking in the direction where French cavalry have been fighting. The Emperor anxiously asked Murat 'what's going on over there ?'
Unable to relax the Emperor, Murat mounted his horse and rode to the front of 5th Hussars. In the past this regiment was part of the legendary Hellish Brigage led by GB Lasalle. At Heilsberg the 5th and 7th Hussars and 3rd Horse Chasseurs formed GB Pajol's brigade.
Murat charged with a headlong rashness but his horse was struck by canister.
Horse and rider were knocked over together like a stand of muskets.
Meanwhile Colonel Dery and several other officers were wounded.
Murat himself was surrounded by 12 Russian dragoons but the dare-devil General
Lasalle (see picture) arrived and saved his life.
A well-mounted Saxon cavalry regiment charged into the fray but it didn't change the situation.
Cavalrymen in blue, white, red and green uniforms all intermingled in one confused mass. By day's end, each cavalryman sabre will be dripping with blood. Colonel Chipault of the French cuirassiers had received 56 sabre cuts !
If the cavalry fight between Uvarov and Murat was so impressive, why does it receive such little attention ? Quite possibly, most historians and scholars have concluded that the cavalry engagement was minor in comparison with the infantry and artillery actions and has been treated accordingly. Napoleon was very disappointed with behaviour of Murat's cavalry; "they did nothing I ordered" he said.
One of Lasalle's light cavalry brigades counterattacked the Russian cavalry. It allowed Espagne's cuirassiers to disengage. Another brigade of Lasalle's division (11th Chasseurs, Wurttemberg Leib Chevaulegers, and Bavarian Chevaulegers) supported Legrand's division against the Cossacks who harassed the infantry forcing them several times to halt and form squares.
It also seemed that the Cossacks were everywhere.
The Wurttembergers' first two charges against the Cossacks enjoyed only very limited success.
Then they were attacked by Russian dragoons from the left rear. The Wurttembergers took the green-clad Russians for Bavarian chevauxlegeres, who also wore green jackets. In about the same time the lance-armed Cossacks came from the direction of Lawden Wood and attacked the chevauxlegers. After a short fight the Wurttembergers were routed.
In that moment arrived the Bavarian Chevaulegers. Some of the Bavarians fell back, while others joined Espagne's cuirassiers.
In that time Napoleon was on a knoll studying Russian movements.
The Guard Fusiliers rescued Murat's cavalry.
General Savary received order from Napoleon himself to take Roussel's 4 battalions of Guard Fusiliers (picture) and 12 guns and support Murat's cuirassiers, dragoons and light cavalry.
On came these gallant men of the Fusilier Brigade in magnificent formation
and were almost swept away by the fleeing French cuirassiers and dragoons.
Savary then ordered his infantry and artillery to open fire at the enemy. The allied cavalry was checked by crisp volleys and many horsemen were unsaddled. The gallant commander of the Russian cuirassiers, GM Kozhin, was killed. One of the cuirassiers picked up his body, threw over saddle and rode away to the Russian lines.
Encouraged by this success, Murat rallied his cavalry and made a dash at the Russians. There was no more show of resistance and the Russians and Prussians disappeared to whence they came. It is due, however, to say that this attack of the Russian cavalry was of a most daring character, when the extent of their advance from all support is considered, and that they thus attacked the French positively in their own lines. Pity for their character that so dashing an advance should have been followed by so poor ending.
Russian artillery then opened fire on Savary's force.
According to Adolphe Thiers "The brave General Roussel, who was, sword in hand, amidst the Fusiliers of the Guard, had his head carried off by a cannon ball." (- Adolphe Thiers)
One Russian cuirassier regiment was pursued longer than other allied units. The French were merciless. There were no quarters given. In that moment Russian lancer regiment was sent to counter-attack. The Russians cried 'Hurrahh !' but their fighting spirit evaporated quickly. They halted and then fled before making any contact with the enemy. The great cavalry battle was over.
Top left: part of picture of cavalry battle between the French cuirassiers and Russian guard cuirassiers at Friedland in 1807.
Top right: Lasalle at Wagram in 1809. In the end of the battle he was shot in the chest but continued to charge.
Then he was shot again. This time between the eyes by an Austrian infantryman and was killed instantly.
For more info on Bagration's and Borosdin's troops see Bagration's Advance Guard
The French infantry pressed hard.
With the repulse of Russian cuirassiers by French artillery and the Guard Fusiliers, the flank of Bagration's force was dangerously exposed. Meanwhile St.Cyr's infantry division attacked him frontally. Being pressed from the front and having his right flank exposed Bagration rapidly fell back. During crossing the Spuibach Stream Bagration's horse was killed.
Once on the 'Russian' side of the Spuibach, Bagration halted and redeployed his troops. St. Cyr attacked him two more times and two times Bagration threw him back. The French 24th Light, 4th and 28th Line suffered heavy casualties. Two brigade commanders, GB Vivies and GB Ferey were wounded. Exhausted St. Cyr's division was replaced with St.Hilaire's infantry division.
About 3 PM Saint-Hilaire went into action. The French drummers beat pas de charge. Senior officers, riding out in front of the ranks with their sabers unsheathed, barked out orders and words that even Russian veterans remembered having heard many times and that always made a deep impression on them.
The infantry marched through the fields, in cadence with the monotonous roll of the drums and took Bewernick. The Russians were awed by the French advance. After a vicious fight St.Hilaire succeeded in getting to the other bank of Spuibach.
The 18th Line Infantry (nicknamed "The Brave") was detached from Legrand's division and marched north to outflank the Russian lines. It was then attacked by Cossacks near the village of Grossendorf. The 18th found itself isolated and in a difficult situation. Two more battalions and one battery were sent and only then the 18th was able to withdraw.
Meanwhile Grand Duke Constantine established a mighty battery on the southern bank of the Alle River and pounded St.Cyr's and St.Hilaire's divisions. This battery was commanded by Diebich or Diebitzsch. (This ambitious and skilled officer became - in 1830 - commander of the main Russian field army and fought against the Poles in 1831.)
Pillars of milky smoke drifted in clouds over the fields. After a cannon discharged and recoiled, the crew grabbed hold of the wheels, and pushed it back to its previous spot. It was hard work; the guns and the ammunition were heavy.
Bennigsen ordered Bagration's die-hards to march behind the main Russian frontline and rest. Bagration's jagers crossed the river and moved south where they took positions by the redoubts facing south and south-west. Bagration's light cavalry remained on the northern side of the Alle River and joined Uvarov's cavalry on the flank of army. About 6 PM Bagration himself joined Kamenski and his staff in the center of the Russian army.
Legrand's infantry division and Savary's Guard Fusiliers attacked the Lawden Wood. The wood was defended by three weak jager regiments left there by Uvarov. After a fierce battle and several bayonet charges made by both sides the French captured the wood. Tactically it was very important as the wood gave support to the northern flank of the French line.
Russian army at Heilsberg.
Bennigsen's army was on the southern bank of Alle (Lyna) River near Heilsberg. The Russians ate their meal and sat near their stacked muskets, awaiting the call to arms. Some time later they began crossing the Alle on the pontoon bridges.
The Lifeguard Hussars were sent on the road toward Guttstadt (Dobre Miasto) south-west of Heilsberg. Two cavalry regiments were sent toward Jeziorany, south-east of Heilsberg, to link with a flying column commanded by GM von Knorring.
The Russian army in 1806 was an army in transition.
"Among the army's deficiencies certain things stand out. There were few large scale maneuvers to familiarize everyone with the difficulties of moving large formations in concert. For most of the year, individual regiments were even billeted among scattered villages so that regimental esprit the corps was impossible to develop.
Bridges and pontoon bridges at Heilsberg.
Photo: Heilsberg in the first half of 20th century. You can see the massive castle (left), one of the bridges (right) and the Alle River.
The Russian army at Heilsberg was parted in two by the Alle (Lyna) River.
One pontoon bridge was near the Redoubt #1.
Picture: Heilsberg in early 18th century. View on the bridge and Alle River.
. . .
Redoubts at Heilsberg.
Picture: making the redoubts. Film "War and Peace" by S. Bondarchuk, Soviet Union.
The Russians had made use of every fold of the terrain around Heilsberg. On the southern bank of Alle River stood in a semicircle numerous field works. They were strongly garrisoned until Benigsen moved his troops on the northern bank.
On the northern bank of Alle River stood 3 redoubts, probably 3 or 4 smaller earthworks were there as well.
Major Karl-Friedrich von Both wrote shortly after the war about 6 redoubts on northern
bank of Alle. Another author, Petre, mentioned just 3 redoubts, 1 earthwork by the river to
defend the bridges, and further 2 earthworks interspersed. He also stated that the Redoubt
#1 stood approx. 500 paces from the river, and Redoubt #2 stood approx. 900 paces north of
the Redoubt #1. On Hoepfner's map are at least 7 redoubts and earthworks (fleches ?).
The Redoubt #1 and #2 had walls 10 feet high and 12 feet thick.
Deployment of troops.
The Russian infantry was deployed on both sides of the Alle River. The battalions were formed in lines and columns.
According to Russian author V.N.Shikanov, General Bennigsen didn't really know when and where exactly Napoleon will strike. Therefore he deployed his army on both sides of the Alle.
Deployment of Russian troops :
(excl. 20 squadrons of Shepelev's light cavalry brigade).
Bagration's die-hards were too fatigued with the actions
fought on the previous day.
small fieldwork near the river , stood the 8th Division.
and its surroundings were defended by line infantry.
(total of 16 pieces) and some infantry. Behind this redoubt,
as a reserve were 5 squadrons of Prussian Towarzysze.
It was also garrisoned by infantry.
Kamenski's Reserve Division.
(Wielochowo) and beyond the lake, were Platov's Cossacks.
Guttstadt road, and two more cavalry regiments on that leading
to Seeburg". But when it became certain that no attack was
to be apprehended on he right bank (it was in the evening)
these regiments were withdrawn to the cavalry reserve.
Every infantry regiment of the first line under Gorchakov, had two battalions deployed in lines and the third battalion (grenadier battalion) behind them in column as a reserve. Most cavalry regiments probably stood in columns by squadron. Or - if under heavy artillery fire - they were formed in thin lines.
The artillery batteries had 12 pieces each (8 cannons and 4 unicorns).
French army at Heilsberg.
So, the Russians were about to fight. Adolphe Thiers writes, "After so many presumptuous demonstrations, the enemy's general (Bennigsen) could not but feel a temptation not to run away so swiftly, but to stop and fight, especially in a position where a great many precautions had been taken to render the chances of a great battle less disadvantageous."
The French were ready to fight !
Photo: Northern part of the battlefield.
View from from the Lawden Wood occupied by the French
on the Russian main positions at Heilsberg.
Photo by Jan Kowalik.
Map of Battle of Heilsberg 1807.
Fight for the Redoubts.
Until now the French engaged only part of the Russian army: Bagration's force and part of cavalry. Once Bagration moved out of the way, the French came to the main Russian line fortified with redoubts. Jean Barres of the Guard Foot Chasseurs was at Heilsberg. He wrote, "When we reached the heights above the plain before the town of Heilsberg, not far from the left bank of the Alle, there had been sharp fighting since the morning. Placed in reserve, we could make out the two armies engaged, and the incessant attacks delivered by the French, to seize some elevated redoubts, which, down on the plain, covered the front of the Russian army." (Barres - "Memoirs of a French napoleonic officer" pp 107-108)
With Bagration's troops out of the way, the powerful Russian artillery deployed along the entire position and opened fire. Up and down the line, men were reeling and falling, horses plunging and mad with wounds, the men yelling, shells bursting, it was as if the last day of Pompei.
The cannonballs were throwing up chunks of soil where they struck. Smoke, splinters, blood, wreck and carnage were indescribable. The galling fire of so many cannons made a tremendous moral effect on the infantry and cavalry. If the cannonball struck column of infantry, the first man would have his head taken off, the next was shot through the breast, the next through the stomach, and the fourth and fifth had all their bowels torn out. Many wounded horses were limping over the field and suffering. Colonel of the French 4th Line Regiment and commanders of both battalions were wounded.
Finally Legrand's infantry division rushed forward as it was intolerable to stay under such
a galling fire. Savary's Guard Fusiliers left the safety of the Lawden Wood and marched on Legrand's flank.
On the columns pushed, closing the gaps, dressing the line, their
pace breaking into a run as they neared the redoubts. The Russian battalions stood motionless, with their flags snapping in the wind.
By now Murat's cuirassiers and some dragoons were moved from the flank to the
reserve. The remaining dragoons and the light cavalry guarded the northern flank
against Cossacks and Uvarov's cavalry.
The 26th Light Infantry stormed the Redoubt #2. With muzzles of their cannons projecting
through the embrasueres and ammunition close at hand, the Russian gunners awaited the French.
Behind the 26th Light marched the 105th Line Infantry Regiment.
Nothing however could stop the 26th Light, they carried the redoubt about 7 PM. According to Military Journal of the IV Army Corps it was the 26th Light, but according to Russians the 26th was repulsed and the redoubt was taken by the Guard Fusiliers. Shikanov thinks that the 26th Light could indeed take the redoubt but the Fusiliers held it while the 26th Light continued its advance. The Russians claimed that they saw the Guard Fusiliers very near to the redoubt.
Half of the Prussian Towarzysze Regiment (lancers) attacked the 26th Light before being driven back by musketry. The Prussians returned to Bennigsen's line passing between columns of Russian infantry.
The men of GM Warneck's Brigade (Perm, Kalouga and Sievsk Musketiers) of the Reserve Division were near the Prussian lancers and could see in the fading daylight the outline of enemy formations.
St.Hilaire had sent 55th Line Infantry to support the brave 26th Light. Sweeping forward like an incoming tide, the 55th Line Infantry battled their way toward the redoubts, only to find their valor matched by that of their opponents. Although General Warneck and numerous officers and men fell, the Russian infantry pressed forward.
Soon some French and Russian subunits crashed together with a force that caused a murderous rebound, and rippling aftershocks sent men tripping and sprawling in the pack ranks that followed.
All order disintegrated in a wild, frenzied fight of point-blank shots and clubbed muskets, and the wounded and dying were trampled underfoot.
Finally the Kalouga Musketiers, having its grenadier battalion in the front, retook the Redoubt #2 at bayonet point.
Picture: Artillery defending a redoubt.
Cavalry charging in the background.
Massive Russo-Prussian attack.
The Russians prepared a massive counterattack. Forward moved the 2nd, 3rd and part of the 6th Division. Shikanov mentions two other musketier regiments advanced with the 2nd Division. The best of them was the 2nd Division because it consisted of the excellent Pavlovsk Grenadiers and the St. Petersburg Grenadiers.
The French infantry however stubbornly held their ground with musketry and artillery fire. Once the advancing Russian columns halted under the terrific artillery fire, the 10th Light (one of the best in the French army), 43rd, 46th and 57th Line (nicknamed "The Terrible") charged with the bayonet. The Russian masses wavered and then slowly fell back.
After a short break the Russian infantry returned and attacked with even greater vigor.
The greencoats captured (battalion) Eagle of the 36th Line Infantry Regiment.
Picture: Russian gunners. Manning a gun for hours was plain hard work. After 5-6 shots have been fired quickly after another, the cannon usually became hot that it has to be cooled down by making the sponge wet with water and sponging the tube several times.
St.Hilaire's division suffered heavy casualties from artillery fire. The colonel of 14th Line was wounded. Saint-Hilaire was considered by Napoleon as the bravest of all generals of the infantry. ("The brave General Saint-Hilaire, the pride of the army, as remarkable for his wit as for his military talents ..." - Baron Lejeune)
The 55th Line Infantry Regiment was then attacked by Prussian cavalry and Russian infantry and was overthrown.
They also lost their eagle, colonel, and number of officers.
The eagle of 55th Line Regiment was captured by NCO Anton Antonov of Pernov Musketiers.
After war the Pernov was awarded with georgievskiie znamenia.
The confusion in this sector of the battlefield was riotous.
Legrand's division and Savary's Fusiliers were formed in hollow squares, containing the
Russian prisoners. The squares were then repeatedly attacked by Russian and Prussian cavalry and forced to
retire behind Spuibach Stream.
Almost the whole French line was pushed back beyond Spuibach. Only the Lawden Wood was in French hands. Darkness was falling and the victorious Russians decided to go back to their redoubts. The battle seemed over for the night.
Lannes' arrival and furious counter-attack.
Marshal Lannes arrived with his corps. At about 10 PM he sent Verdier's division from the Lawden Wood forward against the Redoubt #2. Warned by a French deserter of the impending attack, Bennigsen was prepared to meet it.
The Russian general sent the 14th Division on the right flank. The commander of this division, Olsufiev, was wounded and replaced by GM Alexeiev.
Verdier's division, supported by the 75th Line (of Legrand's division), advanced across the plain separating the two armies.
The boldly advancing French infantry received such a load of iron that they rapidly fell back on the Lawden Wood. Bennigsen then sent several jager battalions against the wood. The French infantrymen however repulsed them.
It was dark, about 11 PM, when the last shots were fired. There was however no silence, the groans of the wounded and their heart-wrenching cries for water and help, made it impossible to rest. "Bennigsen, a prey to acute pain and to great perplexities, passed the night at bivouac, wrapped in his cloak. It requires a strong mind to defy at once physical pain and moral pain. General Bennigsen was capable of enduring both." ( Adolphe Thiers - "History of the Consulate and the Empire of France under Napoleon." p 308 Vol II, publ. in 1849 in Philadelphia.)
Rain fell in the night.
Casualties and aftermath.
In the morning all the horrors of battlefield were clearly visible.
There were thousands upon thousands of wounded and killed soldiers who had been already
stripped of all clothes. Large patches of grass were covered with blood.
The level of suffering for the soldiers was beyond compare.
There were bodies without heads, without legs, shot through the belly, with blown away
foreheads, with holes in their chests, wounded, kicking horses.
At noon the odour of the corpses festering in the sun became so horrible the troops had to retire some distance. The men were thirsty and hungry. Gonneville of the 6th Cuirassiers recorded: "The baggage had not come up; we had no bread or anything else to eat. I had a little tea made in a bit of a canister shot case."
According to Shikanov the Russians suffered 6,000 casualties at Heilsberg.
Loraine Petre writes: "The loss in this great battle was enormous on both sides.
Soult's corps alone admittedly lost 6,601 the total loss of the French was at least
10,000. According to L Petre the Russians had lost 2,000 or 3,000 killed and 5,000 or 6,000 wounded; in all, not less than
7,000 or 8,000 besides prisoners. The 1st Division, and the greater part of the
Russian cavalry, had not been engaged at all. With such losses, it is easy to judge how fierce was the
Baron Marbot writes: ".. Colonel Sicard was mortally wounded. He had already been wounded at Eylau, and although scarcely recovered from his injuries, had returned to take part in the renewed fighting. Before he died, the good colonel requested me to say his farewell to Marshal Augereau, and gave me a letter for his wife. I was very much upset by this painful scene. "
Napoleon and the Guard Cavalry enter Heilsberg.
French victory and ... Napoleon's love affair.
Russian artillery from the southern bank of the Alle River cannonaded St.Cyr's infantry.
Then Bennigsen received information that Marshal Davout (The Iron Marshal) with his superb corps had been sighted on the Landsberg road. Bennigsen at first failed to appreciate the significance of the French appearance in that place. He conceived that the French were moving on Konigsberg, and that Lestocq's Prussians, might not be strong enough to resist the advance and cover Konigsberg. Bennigsen therefore detached Kamenski with 9,000 men to join him and ordered Lestocq to retire to Konigsberg.
Meanwhile Davout's leading echelon met Platov's Cossacks.
Before midnight Bennigsen finally understood what is in store for him, he crossed the Alle River and quickly marched away. His movement was unperceived by the French. Jean Barres of the Imperial Guard wrote: "The day closed without result ... and we bivauacked on the ground we occupied, amidst the dead ..."
There was no rest for Bagration's troops. "Bagration once more, with Platov's Cossacks, took the post in which he had already shown such marked capacity, the command of the rear guard. It was not tll the morning of the 12th was well advanced that the last troops had passed the river, burning the bridges behind them, as well as the camp on the right bank." (- Petre)
Left: Napoleon's wife, Josephine.
Meanwhile Napoleon entered the town of Heilsberg, wrote a short letter to young and beautiful Marie
Countess Walewska and then left. Marie was 16 (17) years younger than Napoleon.
"Their affair was passionate." (- wikipedia.org 2009)
From Napoleon's point of view, it is certain that his object, in so far as it consisted
of compelling Bennigsen to evacuate the position he had prepared with such care,
could have been attained with trifling loss on the next day.
As Davout's corps appeared beyond Bennigsen's right flank, there can be no doubt that he
would have felt himself bound, as he actually did on the 11th, to seek temprorary safety, once more, on the right bank of the Alle River.
"Bagration's conduct of his rear guard action against Soult was admirable as his fight on the previous evening before Guttstadt. His steadfast resistance wore out the enemy, before they even arrived within striking distance of Bennigsen's line of battle. Similarly, Uvarov, and the Prussian cavalry behaved magnificently towards Lawden against Murat, Savary, and Legrand. The promptitude with which the Grand Duke Constantine supported Bagration, by his battery on the right bank of the Alle, must not be forgotten." (Petre - "Napoleon's campaign in Poland, 1806-1807" p 304-305)
Battle of Friedland and Peace Treaty.
Map: Movements of French, Prussian and Russian troops after the battle of Heilsberg.
General Leontii Bennigsen led his decimated army in retreat along the right bank of the Alle River in the direction of Konigsberg. In Konigsberg were located huge military magazines. Alle River makes a great bend to the east and north, so that the French, moving across the chord while he followed the arc, were able to outstrip him. Bennigsen crossed to the left bank of Alle only to find his way barred by Marshal Lannes' corps.
Friedland was a battle Bennigsen should never have fought. It would have been wiser for Bennigsen to have fallen back, behind the Pregel River, and united there with Lestocq's Prussian corps, which had been moving parallel with the Russian army but nearer the Baltic Sea.
Friedland was a total disaster for Bennigsen's army and one of Napoleon's greatest victories. Napoleon with 70,000 men defeated Bennigsen's 75,000-men strong army. The French have suffered 7,000 casualties, while the Russians lost 28,000 killed, wounded and prisoners.
Picture: Battle of Friedland.
Bennigsen's defeat at Friedland strengthened the peace party at the Russian court. Grand Duke Constantine (Tsar's brother, commander of the Russian Imperial Guard), Prince Czartoryski (a Pole, friend and advisor of Tsar), Kurakin (Ambassador of Russia in Vienna in 1806 and in Paris in 1808), and many others, were now in the ascendant.
Few days after the battle of Friedland, Napoleon and Tzar Alexander met at Tilsit and
the Peace Treaty was concluded. Napoleon and Tsar Alexander met on a raft in the
middle of the Nemunas River. Marshal Davout had his entire III Army Corps in white trousers for the review celebrating the peace treaty.
Napoleon also convinced Alexander to instigate the Finnish War against Sweden in order to force Sweden to join the Continental System. Russia agreed to evacuate Wallachia and Moldavia, which had been occupied by Russian troops. The Ionian Islands, which had been captured by Russian navy, were to be handed over to the French. Prussia lost about half its territory: the left bank of the Elbe was awarded to the newly-created Kingdom of Westphalia, and the Polish lands in the Prussian possession were set up as the Duchy of Warsaw. Prussia was to reduce the army to 40,000 men.
The treaty ended war between Russia and France and began an alliance between the two empires which rendered the rest of Europe almost powerless. However, Napoleon's matrimonial plans to marry the tsar's sister were stymied by Russian royalty.
The French and Russian Guards got together to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Tilsit.
"The engineers had built a large wooden hut in which the officers of the Guard were to feast their
"The French and Russian Guards got together to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Tilsit." - Georges Blond
(Review of Russian troops, picture from film "War and Peace" by S. Bondarchuk.)
Sources and Links.
Barres - "Memoirs of a French napoleonic officer"
Shikanov - 'Piervaia Polskaia Kampaniia 1806-7"
von Höpfner - "Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807" Vol. III and IV
Petre - "Napoleon's Campaign in Poland, 1806-1807"
The Department of History at the US Military Academy - series of campaign atlases
Georges Blond - "La Grande Armee" publ. in 1995
Adolphe Thiers - "History of the Consulate and the Empire of France under Napoleon." publ. in 1849
Sir Wilson - "Brief remarks on the Character and Composition of the Russian Army,
and a Sketch of the Campaigns in Poland in the Years 1806 and 1807"
Summerville - "Napoleon's Polish Gamble"
Napoleon, His Army and Enemies