International events, January – June 1807

Period : Directory / 1st Empire
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This timeline forms part of our close-up on: the Polish campaign, Friedland (14 June, 1807).
 
15 January: After the disastrous end to the British expedition to Buenos Aires in August 1806, a second expeditionary force was sent to the Spanish Rio del Plata region, under Lieutenant General Whitelocke. On 15 January, Whitelocke began a siege of the key coastal city of Montevideo.
 
30 January: The 8th corps under Mortier set siege to the town Stralsund (in Swedish Pomerania), 120 miles due north of Berlin and a key potential dropping off point for allied troops inimical to France, whether Swedish or British.
 
3 February: Whitelocke's forces capture Montevideo; Bennigsen manages to hold Napoleon at Jenkendorf (Ionkovo).
 
7-8 February: Battle of Preussisch-Eylau.
 
10 February: After receiving instructions from the British cabinet on 21 November, 1806, to seize the Turkish fleet and to obtain the right to garrison the Dardanelles and Alexandria, Vice-Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth led a British naval squadron entered the Dardenelles. This was an attempt to provide a diversion on behalf of Russia and to make it possible for them to remove troops from the Danubian provinces in order to be able to re-station them in Poland. It began badly, however. The Turks had had news of the expedition and had begun preparing defences. Duckworth was to retreat on 3 March, without having brought any military aid to Russia and having sustained damage from 300 Turkish cannon placed on the coasts (aided by French artillery specialists then in Constantinople in the entourage of the diplomat Sébastiani).
 
16 February, Combat at Ostrolenka: 15,000 Russian troops under General Essen attempted a diversionary move on Ostrolenka (directly north and close to Warsaw). The aim was to fix the French troops there and to prevent Napoleon from using them as reinforcements. Essen advanced his troops towards Ostrolenka down both sides of the river Narew. Savary, as interim commander of Lannes' corps (Lannes had been injured), drove back the Russian forces, first on one side of the river and then on the other, killing 1,300 and wounding 1,200. Whilst the French general Campagna was killed, the threat was beaten off and Savary received a gratification of 20,000 francs. Contrary to the 62nd Bulletin, Suvarov (son of the famous Suvarov who died in 1800) was not killed here, but was to live another four years. This combat marks the end of the of winter part of the Polish campaign. The following day, Napoleon ordered his troops to take up their winter quarters on the Passarge river (stretching from the Baltic down to Warsaw). As for the emperor himself, he took quarters in Osterode for the period 21 February to 1 April.
 
18 and 20 February, Planning of the siege of Danzig (Gdansk): In a letter dated 18 February, Napoleon noted to Marshal Lefebvre: “Your glory is linked to the taking of Danzig: you must go there.” (Correspondence no. 11,826). Later he wrote to Mortier on 23 February, remarking “[…]I am going to besiege Danzig […]”(Correspondence no. 11,842).
 
19 February: Spain joins the Continental Blockade and breaks off relations with Russia
 
23 February: Fall of the Silesian fortress of Schweidnitz to Jerome and Vandamme.
 
23 February, fall of Dirschau (Tczew): Dambrowski at the head of 3,000 (some totally inexperienced) Polish soldiers took this fortified town some 15 miles (25 km) south of Danzig. Dirschau stands on the west bank of the Vistula protecting the approaches to Danzig. The one-thousand-strong Prussian garrison under Major von Both possessed only two cannon. The Poles brought up one artillery piece, blew in the city gates and took the town. Some Prussians escaped to Danzig
 
25 February: The French army went into winter quarters on the river Passarge. The emperor in the château in Osterode with the guard and the reserve. The reserve cavalry stood between Osterode and the Vistula, set back from the Torun/Elbing (Elblag) line.

– The 1st corps, under Bernadotte and later Victor, stood to the extreme left of the army, occupying Braunsberg, Frauenburg (Frombork), Elbing (Elblag), the Baltic coast up to the Passarge, and Preussisch Holland.
– The 4th corps, under Soult, stood in the centre to the right of the 1st corps, at Liebstadt, Mohrungen and Liebemuhl. The 3rd corps, under Davout, covered Hohenstein to the sea via Deppen and Spanden.
– The 5th corps, under Masséna, stayed in Warsaw.
– The 8th corps, under Mortier, was at Dirschau.
– The 6th corps, under Ney, was placed in a forward position, between the Passarge and the Alle, from Guttstadt to Allenstein – his advance guard lay at Heilsberg.
 
6 March, professionalisation of the French baggage train: Considering the supply difficulties he had experienced during the Prussian campaign, Napoleon came up with an idea for improving the baggage train. “I would like to form baggage train battalions. Each battalion should have a governing body and be commanded by a man of the rank of infantry captain. Each company could be made up of thirty-two caissons, each pulled by four horses and driven by two men. […] Hence in each company there should be 32 caissons, 128 carthorses and 64 men. You should add a field forge, a carriage for replacement harnesses and other provisions for the repair of the caissons. Each company should be divided up into four squads of eight caissons, the whole commanded by a Maréchal des logis chef. Six companies could form a battalion, and so a battalion would comprise 192 carriages, 768 horses and 384 men.” (Correspondance n°11945)
 
16 March: 6,000 British troops under General A. Mackenzie Fraser invaded Egypt, swiftly taking Alexandria. The aim was to secure the port as a base for Mediterranean operations and to prevent the French from taking advantage of it. The action however not only alienated Russian allies (Russia saw Egypt as a sphere of Russian influence) but was also a military catastrophe, with Fraser losing two battles at Rosetta (modern Rashid) on 29 March and 21 April, with two entire regiments wiped out. Agreement to leave Egypt was finally signed on 19 September, 1807.
 
19 March to 24 May, Siege of Danzig: Given the inconclusive result at Eylau, Danzig was an important strategic position in the Polish theatre of operations. First of all, it was an important heavily fortified port with 60,000 inhabitants at the mouth of the river Vistula, and as such it was a direct threat to the French left – it lay within Prussian lands but to the rear of the February position of the French army and was a potential dropping off point for allied troops. It was also difficult to attack being only accessible from the west – all the other points of the compass being covered either by the Vistula (N) or wetlands (S and E). Furthermore, it had precious resources (powder, grain, eau de vie, etc) of great interest to the Grande Armée. The task of taking the city was in mid-February given to Maréchal Lefebvre and his 10th corps. The marshal was aided by generals Chasseloup-Laubat (the engineer) and Baston de Lariboisière (artillery), the two best specialists in their respective fields in the French army. General Drouot was chief of staff. The 10th corps comprised 2 Polish divisions under Dombrowski, 1 Saxon corps, 1 contingent from Baden, 2 Italian divisions and about 10,000 French troops, in total about 27,000 men and 3,000 horse. Inside Danzig stood 11,000 men and 300 guns under the Prussian commander General Count Friedrich Adolf von Kalkreuth. Napoleon was however to describe these men as 'canaille' (rabble) (Correspondence 12208).

The taking of Dirschau meant that Kalkreuth's Prussians were holed up Danzig. On 20 March, following Napoleon's orders to encircle the city, French General Schramm led 2,000 troops to the north bank of the Vistula beyond the outlying Weichselmunde fort, so as to occupy a position directly to the north of the city. On 2 April the ground thaws enough to be able to begin digging the siege trenches, a second trench being begun on 8 April (this is completed on 15 April and a third is finished on 25 April). With the fall of the Silesian fortress of Schweidnitz to Vandamme on 11 April, the large siege guns there can be transferred to Danzig – they arrive on 21 April. A Russian attempt was made on 10-15 May to bring 8,000 reinforcements to the city, led by General Kamenski, ferried in 57 transports and protected by the British sloop of war, Falcon, and a Swedish ship of the line. Owing to the absence of the Swedish vessel (bearing 1,200 troops), Kamenski was delayed in his operations. This allowed the Lefebvre time to reinforce. The Russian troops were beaten back losing 1,600 men and 46 officers (so contemporary British sources) or 3,000 (so Capitaine François). A further attempt by a British corvette (the 18-gun Dauntless) to bring badly needed supplies of gunpowder (150 barrels) via the river was disabled, boarded and taken by grenadier guards from Paris. After this failed attempt, mining continued (the blockhouse was blown up on 16 May). On 21 May Marshal Mortier corps arrived, making it possible to storm the Hagelsberg. Seeing that he could no longer defend himself, Kalkreuth sued Lefebvre for peace asking for the same capitulation terms given by the Prussian to the French in Mainz in 1793. The terms finally agreed (which had been agreed in advance with Napoleon – Correspondence no. 12,629) were that the garrison could out march with all the honours of war, with drums beating, matches lighted, and standards flying. The terms were generous because Napoleon was eager to put an end to the siege since the summer (and the fighting season) was approaching and he needed to remove the threat to his rear and to reposition the troops elsewhere. Dantzig capitulated on 24 May, 1807. Napoleon then ordered the siege of the nearby Weichselmünde fort, but the Russian general Kamenski positioned there had fled with his troops, and the garrison shortly afterwards capitulated. In recompense for Lefebvre's services, Napoléon granted him the title 'Duc de Dantzig' in a letter to the Senate dated 28 May, (Correspondence, no. 12,666), but he did not inform him directly, merely noting to the marshal on 29 May “I am […] very satisfied with your services, and I have already given proof of this, which you will discover when you read the latest news from Paris and which will leave you in no doubt as to my opinion of you” (Correspondence, no. 12,683).
 
1 April: Napoleon set up his headquarters in the Château at Finkenstein. He was to stay there for two months. «I have just moved my headquarters to a very fine château, rather like the one which belongs to Bessières. Here I have many fireplaces, and this is something I like very much; since I often get up in the night, I like to see a fire burning». (Correspondence n°12263)
 
7 April: Early call up in France of the draught for the year 1808. The Gazette de France dated 10 April noted: «an arrêté (bill) passed the Prefect for the Département de la Seine, enjoined all the conscripts for 1808 to report, before 10 May, to the chef-lieu or chief town of their arrondissement in order to sign up. All young men born in the period January to December 1788 form part of this draught».
 
16 – 18 April, Battle at Anklam and Armistice of Schlachtow, Swedish Pomerania: Mortier beat Swedish forces under Essen at Anklam, leading to the armistice of Schlachtow, on 18 April. The attack was ordered because Swedish troops had crossed the strategically important river Peene. Napoleon wrote to Maréchal Brune: “Since the Swedes have crossed the Peene, you should concentrate all your forces to harass their right flank. From 12 to 15, Maréchal Mortier will attack them with a considerable number of men.” To Maréchal Mortier he wrote: “I have spoken to your ADC and given him verbally all the dispositions which I have ordered and which shall be brought to you by the Major General. I hope that on 12 of 15, you will be able to push the Swedes back. Your first aim should be to cover Stettin; the second, to cover Berlin. In order to do this, it is indispensable that you drive the Swedes back the other side of the Peene.” (Correspondance n° 12327 and 12328, Finkenstein, 7 April, 1807)

After the Armistice of Schlachtow, the Swedes retained their part of Pomerania and Stralsund. Mortier's corps was thus free to rejoin the rest of the Grande Armée preparing to face the Russians.
 
26 April: Russia and Prussia signed the secret convention of Bartenstein (Bartoszyce). Terms included:

– To secure Austrian, British and Swedish help in forcing France back to the Rhine, Hanover being as a result restored to Britain and the Tirol and the Mincio frontier in Italy being promised to Austria;
– That Prussia and Russia would agree not to sign separate peace treaties with France and to combine to push the French out of Germany.
 
27 April: A Persian delegation to Napoleon came to Finkenstein, which in turn led to the signing of the Treaty of Finkenstein on 4 May. Previous to the treaty, the Persian Shah, Fatah Ali, had attempted to enrol British assistance in his fight against the Russian occupation of Georgia. When Britain preferred to privilege links with Russia, the shah turned to France. The shah's envoy, Mirza Reza, negotiated a treaty whereby France recognised Georgia as a Persian territory and that Russia should retreat. Persia was to break off all relations with Britain (up till this point her ally) and to declare war on her. Persia was also to attack British possessions in India.
 
5 May: “Last Tuesday, 5 May, at 5 in the afternoon, at The Hague, the young Prince Royal of the Netherlands, Napoleon Charles, born in Paris on [11] October, 1802, died in the arms of his august parents […] The mourning for the young prince is felt more keenly as a result of the high hopes which people had for him because of the excellent qualities which his precocious spirit had already shown…”

The young prince whom Napoleon at one point intended to succeed him was to be immortalised alongside his mother in David's painting of the coronation. Napoleon was not to learn of the child's death until 14 May – two days earlier he had written to his doctor Corvisart hoping that the infant had been vaccinated and that he would only have had chicken pox. On hearing the terrible news, he wrote to Josephine (Napoleon Charles' grandmother) on 14 May: “I understand the suffering which the death of poor little Napoleon must be causing you; you can imagine the pain I feel…” (Correspondance n°12577)
 
27 May: The Sultan Selim III overthrown and replaced by Mustafa IV. Improved Franco-Ottoman relations after the disastrous British action in the Dardanelles (March 1807) weakened the position of Sultan Selim III at home. His janissaries were hostile to his reform policies and saw alliance with France as dangerous. They also felt that the Sultan's anti-Islamic reforms were directly responsible for the decline of the Ottoman empire. A mutiny in part of the army ensued, and six days later the Great Mufti of Constantinople backed the rebels by promulgating a fatwa calling for the deposition of Selim III.
 
2 June: After repulsing a series of Russian attempts to Cross the Danube, Turks recapture Bucharest.
 
3 June: Turks defeat Serb offensive at Loznica; Russians Defeat Turks at Bazardik (Dobric).
 
4 June: Bennigsen seizes the initiative, launching two diversionary attacks at Spanden (against Bernadotte) and Lomitten (against Soult) and attacks the French centre under Ney at Guttstadt. Heavily outnumbered, Ney performs a measured retreat over the following three days. But Bennigsen hesitates in his success. Worse still, he is tricked by a captured but spurious French despatch from Ney to Berthier stating that Davout is about fall on Bennigsen's rear with 40,000 men. Bennigsen orders a retreat on Guttstadt and then onto Heilsberg, allowing Napoleon time to regroup.
 
10 June: A head-on French attack led by Murat and Soult on the Russians' exceedingly strong position at Heilsberg (modern Lidzbark Warminski) is repulsed. Murat's cavalry charge is seen as particularly rash. Napoleon was much frustrated by the great loss of life for no result (20,000 casualties, both sides combined). When Napoleon subsequently attempted a more logical flanking action, Bennigsen abandoned the town. The French entered the town, empty apart from Russian and Prussian wounded, at 4am on 12 June.
 
12 June: Lestocq and Bennigsen retreat towards Königsberg, the Prussian along the line of the coast and the Russian along the right bank of the river Alle. Napoleon too is heading for Königsberg, in search not only of the final showdown but also food for his army. Predicting that the best place to intercept Bennigsen would be at Friedland, he directs Lannes to reconnoitre the site and sends Murat, Soult and Davout (circa 60,000 men) to Königsberg. He stations the remaining troops at Eylau (a day's march from Friedland).
 
13 June: Lannes' advance guard establishes itself at Friedland. Bennigsen, arriving later, dislodges it and then attempts to get his whole army across the river Alle. Lannes's main body (15,000 men) now arrives from the west. At the same time, the retreating Lestocq is mauled by Soult's troops at Kreuzberg. Lestocq then meets up with Kamenski and his troops (those who had failed to spring the siege of Danzig) and retreats into Königsberg, fires the suburbs and withdraws behind the city walls.
 
14 June, Battle of Friedland (modern Pravdinsk): In the early morning, Bennigsen decides to cross the river, deal with Lannes' troops and then re-cross the river. However, the geography of Friedland impedes him (winding river, large lake, sinuous streets in the town). Bennigsen set up his troops in front of Lannes, and started by attacking his left wing, and a see-saw fight ensues. Holding on by his teeth, at 8am Lannes receives reinforcements from Grouchy's dragoon divisions and Mortier's 8th corps. The battle gradually fades towards midday when Napoleon arrives on the scene. He sees that Bennigsen has an untenable situation, has a brief lunch, then dictates his plans to his corps commanders: a powerful attack on Bennigsen's left by Ney's 6th corps, followed by attacks by the centre and the left, thus firing on three sides against the Russians hemmed in against the river. Despite desperate attempts to retreat, the Russian forces suffer more than 20,000 casualties. Napoleon however does not pursue them in order to complete the rout. He spares them, thus preparing the way for his diplomatic volte-face, the treaty with Alexander.
 
16 June: Capitulation of Königsberg.
 
21 June: Franco-Russian armistice.
 
25 June, Peace of Tilsit: Napoleon meets Alexander at Tilsit (Sovetsk).


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