The Prusso-Saxon Army at the Battle of Jena 14th. October 1806 Part III
by Peter Hofschröer
Miniature Wargames No. 18
Napoleon ordered V Corps (Lannes) to attack the village of Closewitz whilst IV Corps (Soult) advanced up the Rau valley and VII Corps (Augereau) up the Muehl valley to occupy the plateau. VI Corps (Ney) was ordered to support Lannes on his right flank as soon as Closewitz was occupied, but in fact became involved on his left. The Guard remained in reserve, and behind them were the Reserve Cavalry. Napoleon started the battle with 50 battalions and 30 squadrons (about 55,000 men). At about 11am a further 14 battalions and 45 squadrons (about 22,000 men) joined him, and by midday a further 18 battalions (about 18,000 men). The French had a total of 95,000 men, although not all of them were involved in the fighting. The Prussians and Saxons had about 35,000 men under Hohenlohe and were later joined by Ruechel's Corps of about 18,000. They had just over half the number of men the French had.
Battle of Jena - initial concentration of forces.
At about 5.30am Tauentzien deployed his division between Leutzeroda and Closewitz. The mist covering the fields was so thick that neither side could see what was before them. That is why Suchet's attack at 6am with a division of V Corps took so long to develop. A limited fire-fight carried on for two hours until it started to diminish. Tauentzien could now see that he was greatly outnumbered. The French pushed forward with more determination, losses mounted and the ammunition had almost run out when at last Hohenlohe ordered a withdrawal on Klein Romstedt. The Fusiliers and Jaeger fighting in the Isserstedt Forest fell back on the village. Tauentzien's withdrawal was accomplished in good order. Two battalions of the Saxon Grenadier Brigade from the right flank fell back on the Isserstedt Forest but as the French troops pursuing the Prussian fusiliers had already penetrated it, they were attacked from two sides and scattered. One battalion of the Brigade broke up during this retreat and two others lost contact, falling back on Apolda. The Saxon Howitzer Battery got stuck in a ditch and was captured by the French. Lannes sent his elite battalion (formed from the corps' grenadier and voltigeur companies) and the 34th. Line Regiment under General Claparède in pursuit of Tauentzien and the Corps followed up in two lines. However, its vanguard met unexpected resistance at the Windmill Hill to the north of Krippendorf as Tauentzien had turned to counter-attack his pursuers. At the same time, four Saxon battalions from his corps, which had broken camp on hearing gunfire, appeared to the south of Vierzehnheiligen. Napoleon ordered the 40th. Line to take Vierzehnheiligen but this attack failed and was not renewed as a vigorous musket and cannon fire was heard coming from an easterly direction. Desjardin's Division from VII Corps which had just arrived in Luetzeroda was sent in support and 18 guns from V Corps and the Guard were deployed in a "Grand Battery" to the south-east of Vierzehnheiligen. The Guard moved up in reserve. Tauentzien, having repelled the French pursuit, continued his withdrawal to Klein Romstedt. Vierzehnheiligen was unoccupied by either side.
5th. corps and Tauentzien - the first action.
General von Holtzendorff assembled his Detachment on hearing the noise of battle coming from Closewitz. St. Hilaire's Division from IV Corps moved against him. A delaying action in the woods south-west of Lehesten and Roedigen continued until Holtzendorff saw that he was well outnumbered and decided to withdraw. This was not easy as a ravine near Nerkwitz was to his rear. In order to gain time, he had his infantry stage a limited attack in echelons of battalions from the right flank, covered by skirmishers, sent his l2pdr. battery along with one battalion to a covering position behind Nerkwitz and had the remaining battalions withdraw from the left flank. As his cavalry moved off, the French cavalry brigade under Guyot from IV Corps attacked the Saxon chevauxlegers. The latter were thrown back and rode down parts of the Prussian cuirassiers, allowing Major-General von Sanitz to be captured. The infantry remained in good order and continued their march. As the French were already pushing on to Krippendorf, Holtzendorff felt unable to rejoin Hohenlohe by a direct route, so he fell back to Apolda. Prince Hohenlohe had therefore lost a sizeable part of his troops in two preliminary skirmishes and had only about 28,000 men left.
Grawert's Division broke camp only at about 8am and moved up so that its left flank was near Klein Romstedt. Hohenlohe sent an officer to Ruechel, asking for his support. To cover the advance of the infantry, the Prussian cavalry swept around both sides of Vierzehnheiligen and the horse artillery unlimbered in front of the village and started to fire at the French artillery line south-east of the village which was visible through the mist only from its gun flashes. The gap between Vierzehnheiligen and the Isserstedt Forest was covered only by a light screen of French skirmishers. In the meantime, Ney's vanguard (2 battalions of grenadiers and voltigeurs and 25th. Light Regiment) moved up along with his corps cavalry brigade (2 regiments). His two divisions were however well to the rear. The French 10th. Chasseurs, covered by a small wood, surprised the Prussian Horse Battery Steinmetz and took its guns. Its escort, two squadrons of Holtzendorff cuirassiers, were thrown back and took parts of the Henckel Cuirassiers and Prittwitz Dragoons with them. They rallied quickly, attacked and broke the Chasseurs. In the pursuit, the Prussians reached the squares of the grenadiers and voltigeurs which opened fire at 20 paces, rode past them into the Guard artillery which fired canister, and even pressed on near to the Emperor himself. Only the cavalry brigade of V Corps stopped the advance. The Prussians withdrew and rallied, then fell back in good order, taking a number of captured chasseurs with them. The recaptured cannon of Steinmetz's Battery had to be left as the chasseurs had removed the limbers. In the meantime, the Prussian infantry had moved up and was following the cavalry at the fast pace with beating drums. The morale of the troops was high and they thought that the misfortune of Saalfeld was to be put right. When the left flank of Grawert's Division was about 500 paces from Vierzehnheiligen, the Prince ordered a halt. He thought it unwise to go off into the unknown in such a thick mist. Furthermore, his orders were to cover the march of the Main Army to the River Unstrut, but not to get involved in any serious fighting. But now he was in a dilemma. The Duke of Brunswick had ordered him not to go on the offensive, but his military sense urged him not to withdraw in the face of an uncommitted enemy. As enemy skirmishers had in the meantime gone into Vierzehnheiligen, he had the skirmishers of the Regiment Grawert and 60 fusiliers from the Battalion Pelet drive them out. A wood on the right flank of the division was similarly occupied. Four battalions of Saxons moved up. Major-General von Cerrini took command as his brigade of grenadiers had been put out-of-action. Behind the left flank, four and a half of Tauentzien's battalions moved up, having received fresh supplies of ammunition at Klein Romstedt. In reserve was the Brigade Dyherrn and three fusilier battalions. The cavalry covered the flanks. Lannes' skirmishers drove the Prussians out of Vierzehnheiligen and occupied it in force. The small wood was also taken. The French artillery bombardment grew in intensity and started to cause significant losses. The mist dispersed and as the French were concealed in the undulating countryside, behind the villages and woods, they did not appear to be present in large numbers. Thus, at about 9.30am, Hohenlohe ordered the attack. The Prussian infantry formed up in echelons of two battalions from the left flank and drove back the entire French line until it came to Vierzehnheiligen where it came to a halt, receiving a vigorous fire from the hedges and gardens. The Prussians sent in their skirmishers which were soon repelled. The lines then opened up with volley fire and then continued with independent fire. This firefight by troops standing in line in the open against an enemy skilfull
y using the available cover was clearly one-sided. To stand still when attacking was obviously in contradiction to all Prussian military principles and was not intended by Hohenlohe. Why then was this attack not continued? The Prince's adjutant, Major von der Marwitz, reported:
Situation at 10am.
'No enemy were to be seen other than those right in front of us in Vierzehnheiligen and behind this village. So the Prince decided, seeing this as the very last effort needed, to send in a couple of battalions and have them take it with the bayonet when General Grawert rode up to him and congratulated him on winning the battle. The Prince declined the congratulations and told General Grawert of his decision to storm the village now. The latter requested that this should be delayed. He pointed at our half-ruined battalions which had been standing under continuous fire for two hours, at the single line with no reserve, for Tauentzien's and Dyherrn's beaten troops could not be counted, with so many gaps that they could hardly be called a formation, and concluded with the remark: "In this position we can and must halt until General Ruechel arrives with his corps and then we can complete the victory by taking the village. But if one or two attacks are beaten off now, then there would be a hole in the line which we could not fill and which the enemy could used to deprive us of victory". (These quotes are taken from von der Marwitz's report as published in "1806- Das Preussische Offizierkorps und die Untersuchung der Kriegsereingnisse" Berlin 1906) The Prince accepted this suggestion as the officer he had sent to General von Ruechel had just returned with the answer that this corps was marching via Kapellendorf to the battlefield which was not more than 12km, so he could not be far. He was also counting on the arrival of General von Holtzendorff as he had been sent an order to rejoin the main body and his direction of march would lead him to the flank and rear of the French position behind Vierzehnheiligen. Obviously Hohenlohe did not know that Holtzendorff was marching off in the opposite direction. Vierzehnheiligen was set alight by the Prussian bombardment. Lannes attempted to throw back Grawert's left flank with two regiments of Gazan's Division but was repelled by the Saxon Kochtitzky Cuirassiers and several squadrons of chevauxlegers. Dejardin's Division pushed forward on Lannes' left, moving between Vierzehnheiligen and Isserstedt, so Grawert extended his right flank by moving up Cerrini's Saxon Brigade against Isserstedt where Fusilier Battalions Erichsen and Rosen along with Jaeger Companies Werner and Valentini could not hold out much longer as they had almost run out of ammunition. Dyherrn's Brigade formed up behind them.
'Along the entire line, one battalion volley followed another, with no effect in many places. The area around the entrance to the village was the scene of the most terrible slaughter and blood letting' (von der Marwitz). The French artillery fire had an increasing effect on the closed lines. Their skirmishers dared to come nearer and nearer, shooting into the ranks and often selected the officers as their target. In the meantime, the massive French reserves completed their deployment. Division St. Hilaire in Soult's Corps, used previously against Holtzendorff's detachment, advanced to the north of Vierzehnheiligen with three regiments in the first line and one in the second with Guyot's Cavalry Brigade, taking Grawert's left flank. The 2nd. and 3rd. Divisions of this corps approached Krippendorf. The Guard supported Lannes. To the south of Vierzehnheiligen, Desjardin went over to the offensive and threw back Grawert's right flank, particularly Cerrini's Brigade, in a northwesterly direction, taking many cannon. Although Dyherrn's Brigade was sent in here and the Henckel Cuirassiers made a successful attack as the cavalry brigade of VII Corps tried to cut into the infantry, a hole almost 2km wide opened up between Grawert's buckled right flank and Niesemeuschel's Saxon Division in the Schnecke. Heudelet's Division, part of Augereau's Corps, moved against it. Both of Ney's divisions moved up behind Desjardin. A large body of cavalry became visible to the south of Krippendorf.
Situation at 11am.
After midday, Napoleon went over to the decisive attack. The French pushed forward on the entire front, outflanking the Prussian left, surrounding the right, their front echelons consisting of skirmisher-screens and lines, the rear echelons in battalion columns. The French artillery moved up to canister range and poured a devastating hail of shot into the exhausted Prussian lines, already at half strength and down to their last few cartridges. Over three French corps smashed into Grawert's ten decimated battalions. At about 1pm, the Prussians began to waver. Hohenlohe rallied the 2nd. Battalion of Regiment Sanitz himself, but the flood of retreating units grew and he had to order a general withdrawal. Orders were issued, but just after the orderly withdrawal had started Murat's cavalry divisions swept into Grawert's men, routing his right flank and taking many prisoners. The 5th. Bulletin of the Grande Armée states: 'The enemy made an orderly retreat at 1pm, but it became a terrible disorder at the moment that our divisions of dragoons with the Grand Duke of Berg at the head were able to take part in the affair.' The heavy guns could not be moved and were left behind. The Saxon grenadier battalions maintained excellent order as Grawert fell back on Tauentzien where he reformed his troops.
Ruechel's vanguard appeared. Had this corps arrived earlier, then the course of the entire battle may have been altered. Vierzehnheiligen may well have fallen into Prussian hands and the French would have had to devote a significant effort to clearing it, allowing the Prussians to effect a safe withdrawal. Hohenlohe would then have been withdrawing in the face of a committed and exhausted enemy.
Situation at 1pm.
Ruechel's Corps was bivouacked in Weimar when at 9am, Hohenlohe's first request for support arrived. Ruechel set off for Jena immediately and sent to Hohenlohe for more precise orders. On hearing the noise of battle, the march was accelerated. At 10.30am, a message from Hohenlohe arrived, reporting that the enemy was being driven back on all fronts. Ruechel sent his cavalry along with a horse battery on in front at the trot. As the advance continued, Ruechel came across the wounded trickling back. A courier arrived with a message asking for urgent assistance near Frankendorf, 1km from Kapellendorf, the Prince's adjutant, Major von der Marwitz arrived with a further request for assistance and reported that Hohenlohe's Corps was totally beaten. Ruechel's infantry marched through Kapellendorf and formed up for the attack in echelons by regiment. It must have been about 1pm by the time all this had happened. Hohenlohe arrived and about 1.30pm led these troops along with part of his own cavalry in a futile attack to gain time for his broken divisions to fall back. A defensive posture would have achieved a similar result without such losses. The front echelon reached the peak of the Sperlingberg to the south of Gross-Romstedt and decided to attack Soult's artillery when Guyot's light cavalry brigade and one of Murat's dragoon brigades charged. Regiments Alt-Larisch, Strachwitz and Winning threw them back with battalion volleys, the Gettkandt and Koehler Hussars flung themselves onto the French and pursued them. The infantry, despite increasing losses, continued their advance, throwing back the skirmishers protecting the French batteries and came to within 200 paces of them. The guns ceased fire and limbered up. At this point, St. Hilaire's Division attacked the Prussian left flank. The artillery of the Guard and Lannes' Corps moved up. Ruechel and many of his staff were wounded, control was lost and soon the entire line started to fire irregularly and then fell into disorder. Some battalions tried to press home with the bayonet, but were beaten back with canister fire. The entire first line was thrown back. For a time, the second line covered the retreat and some units were rallied. Losses were horrific. In a short space of time, Regiment Winning lost 17 officers and 764 men, the French 1st. Cuirassiers rode it down and scattered it. Regiment Wedell was attacked in the flank by two infantry regiments and finally ridden down by the 10th Cuirassiers. Those that could get away did, but many units were cut off, ridden down or taken prisoner. Fusilier Battalion Rabenau was surrounded by French cavalry and wiped out. Battalions Erichsen and Rosen suffered the same fate once they had run out of ammunition. Niesemeuschel's Saxons tried to fall back in two squares but were taken prisoner by French cavalry. The Gettkandt and Bila Hussars forced a way through, some of the few that managed to make their escape.
Not to be forgotten is that the French suffered bitter losses too. For instance, Suchet's Division lost over 30% of its strength, Ney's vanguard some 20%. The battle only became easy for the French once the Prussian battalions had been decimated and run out of ammunition. Until then, every inch of the battlefield was hotly contested.
Suggestions for Gaming this Battle
The information provided here is intended to facilitate a reconstruction of this battle on a grand tactical level. It is at this level and not the tactical level at which the major differences between the French and Prussian armies lay. Perhaps the best way of simulating the disjointed nature of the Prusso-Saxon command structure would be to play the different parts of the battle in different rooms. The player representing Napoleon would be allowed to visit each room in person, as and when required, thereby simulating the united French command structure. However, the player representing Hohenlohe is to remain in one room, namely that in which the part of the battle he is directing personally is situated. He should not be allowed to see the other parts of the battle but can send written orders or receive visits from his subordinate commanders. If the subordinate commanders leave their room, then their troops are not allowed to take offensive action until their commander returns. In this way the limitations of the allied command structure at divisional and brigade level can be reflected also.
French troops in Leipzig after the Battle of Jena (Geissler).
Returning stragglers and escaped prisoners-of-war from the Prussian forces (Knoetel).
French soldiers requisitioning (Knoetel).
A rather overdramatised scene from the French occupation of Prussia (Knoetel).
As few English language works as possible on this campaign have been consulted as most contain distorted and semi-fictional accounts of the events of 1806. Instead, a number of German and French sources based largely on archive and other primary material were used including:
Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807 by Oscar von Lettow-Vorbeck (4 vols., Berlin 1891-1896).
Etudes Tactiques sur la Campagne dé 1806 by Pascal Bressonnet (Paris 1909).
Geschichte der Preussischen Armee by Curt Jany (4 vols. Reprinted Osnabrueck 1967).
Die Defechtsausbildung der Preussischen Infanterie von 1806 by Curt Jany (Berlin 1903).
Der Preussische Kavalleriedienst vor 1806 by Curt Jany (Berlin 1904).
1806 - Das Preussische Offizierkorps und die Untersuchung der Kriegsereignisse (Berlin 1906).
Rossbach und Jena by Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz (Berlin 1883).
Geschichte der Saechsischen Feld-Artillerie by von Kretschmann.
Die Chursaechsischen Truppen im Feldzuge 1806 by A. von Montbé (Dresden 1860).
My thanks to Hans-Karl Weiss of Bamberg and Howard Giles of Banbury for their assistance with parts of this series.
Index of Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers