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The Battle of Auerstedt

 


 


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The second route takes us to the site and context for the Battle of Auerstedt, brilliantly won by Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout (1770-1823), known to his men as “the iron marshal'.
 
It begins at the Gedenkstätte Hassenhausen commemorative monument. It was at Hassenhausen that the main body of the Prussian army, commanded by the Duke of Brunswick, and a corps of the French army under Marshal Davout, collided. During the day, the « scrapping » between small groups and platoons rapidly turned into a battlefield covered with dead and wounded. The place of commemoration not only presents the events that preceded the fighting but also the suffering of those hit by the war, civilians as well as soldiers. Objects found on the battlefield and weapons of the period complete this exhibition, while a large diorama of lead figurines maps out the field and the combats that took place upon it.
 
Then comes the principal monument at Hassenhausen. It is similar to that erected at Vierzehnheiligen and was placed in front of the old presbytery.


Wounding of the Duke of Brunswick © Stadtmuseum Jena

Wounding of the Duke of Brunswick © Stadtmuseum Jena
  

Further to the west, situated on the B 87 between Taugwitz and Hassenhausen, stands the commemorative monument to the Duke of Brunswick, commander-in-chief of the main body of the Prussian Army, who was mortally wounded at the onset of the battle of Auerstadt, while leading a division of reinforcements that had just arrived on the battlefield. Galloping at the head of his troops, he came too close to French sharpshooters and a bullet struck through his left eye. The wound had serious consequences for the rest of the battle, as from this point onwards, there was no real coordination in the Prussian forces and the French forces were able to impose themselves, despite being confronted by an enemy much stronger in numbers. The Duke died three weeks later from his wound. The monument was inaugurated in April 1808 on the cemetery at Taugwitz at the request of Karl August, Duke of Weimar. In 1815, the monument was moved to mark the area in which the Duke of Brunswick was wounded.
Location: B 87 between Taugwitz and Hassenhausen.


Auerstedt © Stadtmuseum Jena

Auerstedt © Stadtmuseum Jena
  

A former military road leads from Auerstadt to the hill at Gemstedt on the B 87. Once at the summit, you can appreciate the landscape, the reason that the area is also known as the « Tuscany of the East ». Fields as far as the eye can see, gentle hills and wildlife. From here, visitors can profit from the best panoramic view of the battlefield of Auerstadt.
 
It was here, around 9am, that the main body of the Prussian army, commanded by the Duke of Brunswick, engaged with the IIIrd Corps of the Grande Armée, under the orders of Marshal Davout. Davout (whose hat was « removed » by a cannonball) managed to take advantage of the duke's wound and the ensuing disorder impose his will on the Prussian army. In the afternoon, the King of Prussia, Frederick-William II, inexperienced and indecisive, ordered his troops to turn around and march toward Weimar (in order to reinforce their comrades at Jena). It was only on the march that he learned of the resounding defeat of Hohenlohe and Rüchel at Jena, by which time it was no longer possible to change the course of events. Consequently, Prussia had therefore also been defeated at Auerstedt.
 
Surprised by the size of his marshal's victory, Napoleon initially disbelieved reports and was perhaps slightly jealous, although this soon passed and he gave warm recognition of Davout's talents. “Your general, who normally cannot see much (Davout often wore glasse) has today seen double”, said the emperor to one of Davout's staff officers who had come at 9 am the following day to announce the victory to the emperor. On 16 October, at 7am, the emperor wrote to the marshal as follows: “My cousin, I pay you my warmest compliments, with all my heart, for your fine conduct. I mourn the brave men you have lost: but they died on the field of honour. Communicate to your corps and your generals my satisfaction. They have won forever my esteem and recognition. Send me your news and have your army rest a while at Naumburg.” In the 5th Bulletin of the Grande Armée relative to the battle of Jena/Auerstedt (written on the 15th and published in the Moniteur on 23rd) Napoleon wrote: “Davout's corps worked miracles; not only did it contain but it victoriously drove back three leagues the main body of the enemy, which should have debouched along the Koesen. This marshal has displayed outstanding bravery and strength of character, the primary quality in a man of war”.
 
In recognition of the crucial role played by the commander of the IIIrd Corps, he was given the honour of entering Berlin first, on 23 October, and awarded the title of Duke of Auerstedt.
 
At the hamlet "Ziegelstein", route between Hassenhausen and Großheringen B 87 between Gernstedt and Eckartsberga, fork Alte Heerstrasse (Bettelfrau) in the direction of Auerstedt.


Auerstedt Castle © Stadtmuseum Jena

Auerstedt Castle © Stadtmuseum Jena
  

The visit continues to the south west in the direction of Auerstedt, where next port of call is the Auerstedt Castle Museum. This small museum occupies the first floor of the castle of Auerstedt that housed the Prussian king's headquarters on the eve of the battle. Vistors can admire a diorama representing the falling in of the Prussian troops, the Duke of Brunswick room and the Marshal Davout room which contains a vast exhibition of artefacts. The museum is managed by the Heimat- und Traditionsverein Auerstadt e.V.
 
Also worth seeing is the Weimar Classical Foundation collection of carriages at the Weimar Carriage Museum. The sumptuous carriages give an eloquent vision of luxury and mobility of a time when the world was dominated by horses. There is even “Napoleon's carriage”, but he never used it because it reminded him of a skull!
 
We end this route heading south-east (to the north of Jena) with a visit to the Neuengönna Ecomuseum. Run by the association «Jena 1806» e. V., the Neuengönna ecomuseum is dedicated to «peasant customs », «regional history» and «the battles of Jena and Auerstadt in 1806». This latter part of the exhibition is dedicated to the arms and equipment of the armies that fought here, as well as interesting objects found on the battlefields. The association not only manages the museum, but has also organised the restoration and maintenance of the monuments on the different battlefields of the area for many years. In this context, it initiated the creation of many information panels and commemorative monuments. Furthermore, the association «Jena 1806» e. V. is dedicated, in association with many German and international partners, to the re-enactment of the events of 1806.
 
June 2006


 

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