The events leading up to the Battle of Eylau, 8 February, 1807

Period : Directory / 1st Empire
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This timeline forms part of our close-up on: the Battle of Eylau, 1806.

30 June and 30 July: Prussia, realising that she was completely isolated, sought out Russia, signing preliminary deals renewing the defensive alliance of 1800. Frederick William had also written to the Tsar on 23 June, in which he called Napoleon “the enemy”.

16 October: The day after day the double defeat at Jena/Auerstedt, Frederick William wrote to Napoleon asking for an armistice. Napoleon refused fearing the arrival of Russian reinforcements.

22 October: Napoleon finally offered terms to Frederick William’s envoy Lucchesini. When these terms were not accepted, the French army completed the occupation of Prussia and its fortresses, thus forcing the Prussian king to the negotiating table.

November: Moldavia and Wallachia annexed by Russia in an attempt to preserve Russian influence at Constantinople, to bring the Sultan to heel and finally to attempt to bring Balkan Christians (including Serbs) over to the Russian side. It simply served to bring France and Turkey closer.

7 November: Blücher capitulated at Lubeck and on the following day Magdebourg surrendered to Maréchal Ney‘s corps.

10 November: Mortier occupied Hanover, and on 16 November a Franco-Prussian armistice was signed at Charlottenburg.

16 November: The truce of Charlottenburg which attempted to put an end to the Franco-Prussian struggle was finally signed by Prussian plenipotentiaries. It was not to be ratified by Frederick William. The latter’s advisers had warned him that the signing of such a treaty would put him at war with Russia, and that if Russian troops were expelled from East Prussia there would be revolt in Prussia’s Polish lands. Frederick William (it must be said) was also at this point backed up by his Russian ally’s army.

21 November: Napoleon passed the Berlin decree establishing a blockade of the British isles and hermetically sealing off the continent from British commerce.

25 November: Napoleon left Berlin to join the Grande Armée in Poland.

27 November: Napoleon arrived in Posen (the half-way point between Berlin and Warsaw). The town was decorated with triumphal arches and illuminations, and a sign ‘To the restorer of the Polish nation’. Napoleon there received a deputation of town dignitaries requesting the reconstitution of the kingdom of Poland; on the same day Russian troops under Bennigsen evacuated Warsaw to retire behind the river Narew.

28 November: Murat (dressed in a fantastically ornate uniform) and his troops enter Warsaw to much rejoicing. Poniatowski presented Murat with the sword of the sixteenth-century king of Poland, Stefan Batory.

6 December: The corps led by Ney crossed the Vistula at Thorn. Colonel Savary crossed the river with the 14e léger, the elites companies of the 76e de ligne and the 6e léger, aided by some Polish boatmen under sustained enemy fire. “This affair involved an extraordinary incident. The river, which is 400 toises wide at this point, was filled with ice floes; the boats bearing our avant-garde were held back by the ice and could not advance. On the other bank, Polish boatmen threw themselves into the middle of a hail of shot to free the boats. The Prussian boatmen tried to prevent them, and a fist fight ensued between them. The Polish boatmen threw the Prussians into the water and guided our boats to the right bank. The emperor asked the names of these brave men so as to reward them.” IIIrd Bulletin de la Grande Armée, Posen, 7 December.

11 December: The King of Saxony joined the Confederation of the Rhine and the college of kings.

15 December: The dukes of Saxe-Weimar, of Saxe-Gotha, of Saxe-Meiningen, of Saxe-Hilburghaussen, and of Saxe-Coburg also became members of the confederation (they all joined the college of princes).

18 December: After a fierce fight, Maréchal Davout took a small island at the mouth of the Wkra. (IVth Bulletin de la Grande Armée, Warsaw, 21 December, 1806).

19 December: Napoleon entered Warsaw between 1 and 4am, preceded by Davout. The emperor had left Posen on 16 December after having received a letter the night before from Murat informing him of the presence of significant Russian forces north of the river Narew.

22 December: With Napoleon’s encouragement, the Sultan declared war on Russia.

23 December: Davout won a victory against the Russians under General Ostermann-Tolstoi at the village Czarnowo after having established a bridgehead on an island at the confluence of the rivers Wkra and Narew. According to Rapp, Davout’s attack was directed by the Emperor. Though losing about 1,600 men, the Russians were able to retreat to join other Russian forces at Pultusk.

25 December: According to Capitaine Coignet, Napoleon used for the first time the affectionate nickname ‘grognard’ or ‘grumbler’ for the soldiers of the elite, Garde impériale, the 1st Regiment of Grenadiers à Pied. Not surprisingly, given the poor conditions on campaign and the infrequent payment of wages, the soldiers of the Grande Armée very often expressed their unhappiness with conditions.

26 December: The Grande armée saw relative success at three engagements in the most atrocious meteorological conditions: one to the north, where Ney’s troops dislodged Lestocq‘s Prussians from Soldau and kept them separated from their Russian allies; another at Golymin (south east of Soldau), where the advance guard of Buxhöwden’s Second Army under Prince Gallitzin was dislodged from its strong position before the village of Golymin (Gallitzin was however able to secure his retreat to the north east largely unscathed); and the major encounter at Pultusk where Lannes‘ unsupported Second Corps faced Bennigsen’s Russian troops sited to the north of Pultusk. After a bitter struggle knee-deep in mud and driving snow, Lannes (supported just in time by General d’Aultane) managed to dislodge the enemy and force them into retreat. Sources put French losses at about 4,000 (some of which lost to ‘friendly fire’, as recounted by Thomas Bugeaud of the 64th regiment under Soult, others having committed suicide) against 5,000 on the Russian side. The general strategic result was inconclusive since Napoleon’s attempted encircling and destruction of the enemy had failed.


1 January: At the coaching inn at Blonie, on the road to Warsaw, Napleon saw Countess Marie Walewska for the first time. She had come with other Poles to cheer the emperor. On seeing her later in Warsaw, Napoleon took Marie as his lover which was to last long after the Polish campaign and to lead to the birth of a son, Alexandre Walewski. Marie Walewska was to remain loyal to the emperor, even going to visit him on the island of Elba.

7 January: In reply to the Berlin decree (21 November, 1806), Britain retaliated with Orders in Council, declaring that all ports in France and in her colonies would be blockaded. Having been besieged since 6 December, 1806, by Jerome Bonaparte and Vandamme, the town of Breslau (Wroclaw) surrendered on 7 January, 1807, officially capitulating on the 8th. An order was sent to Prince Jerome to blockade Brieg, Kosel and Schweidnitz and to keep a reserve corps of infantry, cavalry and artillery in Breslau. (Correspondance n°11575)

14 January: Establishment in Warsaw (by decree) of a temporary Polish governing commission (Komisja Rzadzaca), of which Stanislaw Malachowski (1736-1809) was to be president.

25 January: The Combat at Mohrungen took place between Bernadotte and Bennigsen. According to the XVIth bulletin of the Grande Armée “a Russian column headed for Liebstadt, beyond the small river called the Passarge […]. When he learned of this movement, the Prince de Ponte-Corvo (Bernadotte), concentrated his troops and with Rivaud’s division headed them off, meeting them at Mohrungen […] The enemy was beaten and routed completely, driven back four leagues and forced to cross back over the Passarge.” (XVIth Bulletin de la Grande Armée, Warsaw, 27 January, 1807) Historians today however realise that Bernadotte was heading south in an attempt to stay in contact with Ney and the rest of the Grande Armée. Running into 10,000 Russian under General Markov (driving with Bennigsen towards Dantzig and the Vistula line) at Mohrungen (15 miles north of Osterode), Bernadotte’s troops pushed the Russian aside but lost 1,000 soldiers (wounded or captured) in the process) and continued south towards Lautenberg. The Russians lost about 1,500 men.

3 February: At the Battle of Olsztyn (Allenstein) or Inkowo, Napoleon engaged Bennigsen, but since the battle was begun too late the result was inconclusive and Bennigsen managed to get his troops away. On 5 February Ney was sent to meet Lestocq and his Prussian troops to prevent him from linking up with Bennigsen. Lestocq however left his wounded and rearguard at Waltersdorf to hold Ney off. The rearguard was duly captured along with much artillery, but they had resisted long enough to give Lestocq time escape with 7 to 8,000 men.

8 February: There took place the appalling (and inconclusive) bloodbath at Eylau, pitching French against Prussian and Russian forces, 66,500 men (Quintin, Dictionnaire…d’Eylau, 2006) versus 82,500 (Quintin, op. cit., 2006) respectively. Despite the fact that both sides lost tens of thousands of men (so traditional accounts, but Quintin only gives a mininum of 4,200 for the Grande Armée, op. cit.), Eylau is usually recorded as a French victory since the Russians retreated after the confrontation leaving the French in control of the battlefield. Napoleon noted in a letter to General Duroc, on 9 February, 1807: “There was a particularly bloody battle yesterday at Preussich-Eylau. The battlefield was ours in the end, but the fact is both sides lost many men and the distance makes my losses all the more crucial. Corbineau was taken by a cannonball; Maréchal Augereau was lightly wounded; d’Hautpoul, Heudelet, and four or five other generals were wounded.” (Correspondance n°11789) The Russians took 1,200 prisoners and 6 eagles. The French held 2,500 prisoners (mostly wounded) 23 guns and 16 standards.

9 February: Murat, supported by Ney, set off in pursuit of the allies. Napoleon visited the battlefield, visibly moved by the slaughter. After a week’s bivouac on the battlefield, the French army went into winter quarters around Osterode. The allies retreated towards Königsberg.

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