Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Battle of Eylau

'... The eventful action commenced with day-break on the 8th of February. Two strong columns of the French advanced, with the purpose of turning the right, and storming the centre, of the Russians, at one and the same time. But they were driven back in great disorder by the heavy and sustained fire of the Russian artillery. An attack on the Russian left was equally unsuccessful. The Russian infantry stood like stone ramparts—they repulsed the enemy—their cavalry came to their support, pursued the retiring assailants, and took standards and eagles. About mid-day, a heavy storm of snow began to fall, which the wind drove right in the face of the Russians, and which added to the obscurity caused by the smoke of the burning village of Serpallen, that rolled along the line.


Under cover of the darkness, six columns of the French advanced with artillery and cavalry, and were close on the Russian position ere they were opposed. Bennigsen, at the head of his staff, brought up the reserves in person, who, uniting with the first line, bore the French back at the point of the bayonet. Their columns, partly broken, were driven again to their own position, where they rallied with difficulty. A French regiment of cuirassiers, which, during this part of the action, had gained an interval in the Russhm army, were charged by the Cossacks, and found their defensive armour no protection against the lance. They were all slain except eighteen.


At the moment when victory appeared to declare for the Russians, it was on the point of being wrested from them. Davoust's division had been manoeuvring since the beginning of the action to turn the left, and gain the rear, of the Russian line. They now made their appearance on the field of battle with such sudden effect, that Serpallen was lost, the Russian left wing, and a part of their centre, were thrown into disorder, and forced to retire and change their front, so as to form almost at right angles with the right, and that part of the centre which retained their original position.


At this crisis, and while the French were gaining ground on the rear of the Russians, L'Estocq, so long expected, appeared in his turn suddenly on the field, and, passing the left of the French, and the right of the Russians, pushed down in three columns to redeem the battle on the Russian centre and rear. The Prussians, under that loyal and gallant leader, regained in this bloody field their ancient military reputation. They never fired till within a few paces of the enemy, and then used the bayonet with readiness and courage. They redeemed the ground which the Russians had lost, and drove back in their turn the troops of Davoust and Bernadotte, who had been lately victorious.


Ney, in the meanwhile, appeared on the field, and occupied Schloditten, a village on the road to Konigsberg. As this endangered the communication of the Russians with that town, it was thought necessary to carry it by storm; a gallant resolution, which was successfully executed. This was the last act of that bloody day. It was ten o'clock at night, and the combat was ended.


Fifty thousand men perished in this dreadful battle—the best contested in which Buonaparte had yet engaged, and by far the most unsuccessful. He retired to the heights from which he had advanced in the morning, without having gained one point for which he had struggled, and after having suffered a loss considerably greater than that which he had inflicted on the enemy. But the condition of the Russian army was also extremely calamitous. Their generals held a council of war upon the field of battle, and without dismounting from their horses. The general sentiment which prevailed among them was, a desire to renew the battle on the next day, at all hazards. Tolstoy undertook to move forward on the French lines—L'Estocq urged the same counsel, They offered to pledge their lives, that, would Bennigsen advance, Napoleon must necessarily retire; and they urged the moral effect which would be produced, not on their army only, but on Germany and on Europe, by such an admission of weakness on the part of him who had never advanced but to victory. But Bennigsen conceived that the circumstances of his army did not permit him to encounter the hazard of being cut off from Konigsberg, and endangering the person of the King of Prussia; or that of risking a second general action, with an army diminished by at least 20,000 killed and wounded, short of ammunition, and totally deprived of provisions. The Russians accordingly commenced their retreat on Konigsberg that very night. The division of Count Ostreman did not move till the next morning, when it traversed the field in front of Preuss-Eylau, without the slightest interruption from the French, who still occupied the town....'

The indecisive Battle of Eylau concluded on February 8, 1807, with human loss exceeding 10,000 on each side. Russian forces were led by Count Bennigsen, while the French fought under Napoleon. There is more text on this battle in Walter Scott's "The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte".

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