Spearhead to Victory. Marshal Jean Lannes and the Reserve Corps at the Battle of Friedland, 14 June 1807.pdf

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Spearhead to Victory. Marshal Jean Lannes and the Reserve Corps at the Battle of Friedland, 14 June 1807.pdf
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  Spearhead to Victory. Marshal Jean Lannes and the Reserve Corps at the Battle of Friedland, 14 June 1807. Le Maréchal Lannes (1769-1809). Par   François Antoine   Gérard (1760-1843)   Paris, Musée de l'Armée.   1 “I found him a pygmy, but I lost him a giant.” 1   Marshal Jean Lannes, Duke of Montebello and Prince of Sievers (1769 – 1809) was born in Lectoure a small town of the départment du Gers  nestled in the beautiful region of Gascony. A region renowned as the birthplace of Alexandre Dumas’ famous musketeer d’Artagnan, for its succulent cuisine and celebrated Armagnac. With Masséna and Davout, Lannes was one of Napoleon’s ablest marshals, and with Murat and Ney, undoubtedly one of the bravest. The emperor always assigned to Lannes the most difficult missions of leading his advance-guard into combat, a task that Lannes consistently executed with courage and success until his death in 1809. Invariably at the tip of the spear, the fiery Gascon repeatedly found himself fighting against numerically superior enemy forces and valiantly held them in check, to provide enough time for Napoleon and the bulk of the Grande Armée  to arrive in the combat zone to finally deliver the coup de grâce . Lannes was a man of legendary courage who constantly led his men into the fray, in the process, he received multiple wounds: Three times at Arcole in the First Italian Campaign; a few years later, he was hit in the leg at the Battle of Abukir, during the Egyptian Expedition. Lannes was the first of only three marshals to be killed in action, alongside Jean-Baptiste Bessières, and Józef Poniatowski who both died in 1813 during the German Campaign. Despite his bravery, Lannes confessed that he was not immune to fear Those who pretend that they have never been afraid, are only liars, brutes or some tossers! I fear war, I told it to the Emperor, the first noise of it makes me shiver, but as soon as I have taken the first step, I only think of the job. You hear the music of this regiment… It is to make the men dizzy and lead them to death without them even figuring it out…To the soldier on the battlefield, all the officers must pretend, like they were at a wedding. 2  Throughout his prestigious military career, Lannes went from humble beginnings as the son of a farmer from South-West France to the pinnacle of the imperial court and the personal friendship of the Emperor. Napoleon and Lannes had a unique friendship, whereby the Gascon was one of the very few who kept on tutoyer   the Corsican, even after the latter became emperor of the French. 3  During the French Revolutionary Wars, Lannes started as a non-commissioned officer: on 20 June 1792, he became a second lieutenant; by Christmas Day 1793, due to his valor and leadership in combat, Lannes received the rank of colonel. On 7 September 1796, after the Battle of Bassano where he was wounded, Napoleon nominated him a brigadier general. On 10 May 1799, during the siege of Saint-Jean-d’Acre, after he received a bullet wound in the neck, Napoleon granted him the rank of major general. Back from Egypt, Lannes with officers such as Berthier, Marmont, and Murat took part in the coup d’état   of 18 Brumaire (9 November 1799) which legitimized Napoleon’s control of France as First Consul. Lannes participated in the Second Italian Campaign, in which he gained further glory when on 9 June 1800, he gallantly led his troops to victory at the Battle of Montebello. 1  Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonné,  Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène,  vol. 2   (Paris: Imprimerie de Lebègue, 1824), 42. 2  Quoted in Charles Lannes’ biography of his grandfather. According to the author, in 1808, the marshal acknowledged to his wife Louise de Guéhéneuc, how he dealt with fear, the second part of this excerpt was provided by Doctor Lanfranc, just a few days before the Battle of Aspern-Essling. Charles Lannes,  Le Maréchal Lannes, Duc de  Montebello  (Tours: Alfred Mame et fils, 1900), 13.   3   In the French language, there is an official distinction in the use of the English ‘You’. Tu  being the most familiar and informal way, whereas Vous  is much more polite and formal.     2 On 14 June, Lannes played a crucial role in the decisive Battle of Marengo, where with his good friend future Marshal Victor, he held firm in front of repeated Austrian assaults, just before General Desaix rescued Napoleon from defeat and offered the latter, one of his most illustrious victories. On 14 November 1801, Napoleon appointed Lannes ambassador of France to Portugal. 4  On 26 March 1802, Lannes reached Lisbon where he spent the next two years sapping English diplomatic ascendancy over the Lusitanian Kingdom. 5  In May 1804, Napoleon named Lannes among the first eighteen marshals of the empire. During the War of the Third Coalition, Lannes became the commander of the Grande Armée ’s 5 th  Corps. In December 1805, during Napoleon’s greatest triumph at Austerlitz, Lannes distinguished himself on the left wing of the French army where he vanquished his direct opponent, Russian commander Prince Pyotr Bagration. In 1806, when the War of the Fourth Coalition started, Lannes still directed the 5 th  Corps and led the French advance-guard which on 10 October at the Battle of Saalfeld, then on 14 October at the Battle of Jena, destroyed the Prussian army. Like Marshals Augereau, Davout, Ney and Soult, Lannes acquitted himself exceptionally. On 26 December 1806, in the terrible conditions of the Battle of Pultusk, Lannes, despite being dangerously outnumbered by General Benningsen and his 50,000 Russians, obliged the latter to retreat. 6  Seriously injured during the fighting, Lannes recovered during the winter and missed the butchery of Eylau of 8 February 1807. On 14 June 1807, at the Battle of Friedland, Lannes and the Reserve Corps earned further acclaim when they held their line against Benningsen and his 60,000 soldiers. For more than eleven hours, and despite several furious attacks, Benningsen could not dislodge Lannes from his position, providing enough time for Napoleon to arrive and win a resounding victory against the elusive Russian general. 7  For his exceptional performance at Friedland, on 30 June 1807, Napoleon bestowed Lannes with the title of Prince of Sievers; further Imperial accolades soon followed as on 19 March 1808, Lannes officially became Duke of Montebello. Following Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, at the Battle of Tudela, on 23 November 1808, Lannes defeated Spanish General Castanos. 8  Between 8 January and 20 February 1809, Lannes directed the bloody siege of Saragossa, during which he crushed a fanatical Spanish resistance. On 26 March, Lannes left Spain for Austria where he arrived on 18 April. Lannes participated in his last conflict, the War of the Fifth Coalition. On 23 April, Lannes and his men stormed the walls of Regensburg in one of the Duke of Montebello’s most celebrated feat of arms. On 22 May, at the Battle of Aspern-Essling, Lannes was gravely wounded by a cannonball, and after being amputated of his left leg, died of his injuries on 31 May 1809. A year after his death, on Friday 6 July 1810, Napoleon offered his close friend full state and military honors, when le    Roland de la Grande Armée  was entombed in the Panthéon . 9   4  Lannes,  Le Maréchal Lannes, 58. 5  Jean-Claude Damamme,  Lannes: Maréchal d'Empire  (Paris: Payot, 1987), 119.  6  Regarding Pultusk and its terrible conditions, Lannes stated that “the battlefield was a veritable sea of mud, extremely difficult for both men and horses.” Quoted in Margaret Scott Chrisawn, The Emperor's Friend: Marshal Jean Lannes (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001), 161-63; Thoumas gave the figures of four divisions, 45,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry, and thousands of Cossacks. Thoumas placed the Fifth Corps strength at no more than 18,000 men. Charles Thoumas,  Le Maréchal Lannes  (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1891), 185-86; Also, Service Historique de la Défense, Correspondance Grande Armée: Lannes à Berthier, 27 décembre 1806. Carton 2c34.; Service Historique de la Défense: mémoires reconnaissances: Tranchant de Laverne, “Campagne de Prusse et de Pologne 1806-1807,” Carton MR 659. Hereafter abbreviated to SHD. For the Russian version of this ferocious encounter, see Levin August von Benningsen,  Mémoires du général Benningsen , vol. 2 (Paris: Chapelot Lavauzelle, 1907-1908), 247-48.   7  Chrisawn, The Emperor's Friend, 170-75. 8  Damamme,  Lannes: Maréchal d'Empire, 242.  9  Ibid.,   298-302.     3 During the Campaigns of Prussia and Poland, Marshal Lannes’ 5 th  Corps fought at Saalfeld, Jena, Pultusk, and Friedland. After the brutal Battle of Pultusk on 26 December 1806 Lannes and his troops were exhausted. Furthermore, as the  Bulletin de la Grande Armée reported, the marshal had been sick for the last ten days, and had been hit by a musket ball. Despite being victorious, Lannes could not pursue the Russians as they withdrew at nightfall. Overall, 5 th  Corps was too weary to move anywhere, therefore, “Lannes stayed with his troops at Pultusk until 31 December when Napoleon sent for him.” 10  After this hard-fought encounter in the snow, Napoleon ordered Lannes to Warsaw, directing him to pursue Russian General Jean-Henri Essen’s corps who was located between the Narew and the Bug and could potentially threaten communications between Warsaw and the Grande Armée. Lannes and his chief-of-staff General Compans argued that horrendous winter conditions, the poor health of their men, a dire lack of food and appalling Polish roads would render any troop movements impossible. 11  Napoleon was in no mood to accept any excuses, and ordered Lannes to give chase to the Russians, accordingly the 5 th  Corps departed Warsaw on 28 January 1807. 12  In a letter dated 31 January 1807, Lannes wrote to Napoleon informing him that due to his very poor health and a high fever, he could no longer assume his duty. He informed the Emperor that he was unable to leave his bed, and relinquished 5 th  Corps’ command to General Suchet. On behalf of the Emperor, Marshal Berthier reassured Lannes that Napoleon fully understood and ordered him to take some much-needed rest. For the time being, Napoleon ordered General Jean Savary to take over 5 th  Corps. 13  From the beginning of February to mid-April 1807, Lannes grudgingly accepted to spend time to recover. In mid-March, he was happily surprised when his wife Louise came to look after him for two weeks while he recuperated in Warsaw. 14  On 14 April, when Lannes returned to Imperial headquarters located in Finkenstein Castle, he found out that Marshal Masséna now commanded 5 th  Corps. 15  On 5 May, to give Lannes a new command, the emperor created le Corps de Réserve de la Grande Armée . 16  When Marshal Lannes resumed his duties, Napoleon assigned him to assist Marshal Lefebvre who directed the siege of Danzig. Napoleon’s patience with the old marshal was running thin as, 10  Chrisawn, The Emperor's Friend, 163.; Also see Correspondance de Napoléon I  er  , vol. 14, N o . 11521, 47 th  Bulletin de la Grande Armée, 30 décembre 1806, 121-22. Hereafter abbreviated to Correspondance de Napoléon.   11  On 13 January 1807, from the town of Sierock, General Campana wrote to Lannes: “We have one man out of eight who is sick; but these are only some light illnesses that some rest and good food heal.” Thoumas,  Le Maréchal Lannes,  191-92; About health conditions within French troops in Poland at the end of 1806, see SHD, mémoires reconnaissances, Journaux d'opérations, décembre 1806, Carton MR 655; Also, SHD, Correspondance Grande Armée: V ème  Corps, 28 janvier 1807, Carton 2c39; SHD, Correspondance Grande Armée: Napoléon à Lannes, 28 janvier 1807, Carton 2c39.   12  Chrisawn, The Emperor's Friend, 163-64. 13  Thoumas,  Le Maréchal Lannes,  194-95.; Chrisawn, The Emperor's Friend, 164. 14  Thoumas,  Le Maréchal Lannes,  195-96. 15  Finkenstein is located 120 miles northwest of Warsaw, between Danzig and the Russian army concentrated at Königsberg. Quoted in Chrisawn, The Emperor's Friend, 165. 16  The newly created Reserve Corps comprised Oudinot’s division formed with four brigades, Verdier’s division made of four regiments, and the division italienne  composed of four infantry and one cavalry regiments, this division was only going to join the Reserve Corps by the end of May. Altogether, Napoleon estimated that Lannes disposed of about 20,000 men. Correspondance de Napoléon , vol. 15, N o . 12536, Napoléon à Berthier, 5 mai 1807, 193-94; Also, SHD, Situations, Corps de Réserve, mai 1807, Carton 2c485; Contemporary sources estimated the true strength of Lannes’ Reserve Corps at 17, 683 men. Jacques Garnier, Friedland 14 juin 1807: Une victoire pour la paix  (Saint-Cloud: Éditions Napoléon 1er-Soteca, 2009), 23.   4 since the end of February 1807, the latter made little progress and did not speedily capture the city as Napoleon wished it. 17  Napoleon instructed Lannes and Oudinot to block Russian General Kamensky’s 7,000 troops which recently disembarked on the peninsula to relieve the garrison commanded by Prussian General Friedrich Kalkreuth. 18  In his orders to Lannes, Napoleon made clear that the hero of Montebello was not to let his men take part in the siege works, his sole mission was to stop Kamensky’s relief force. 19  On 15 May 1807, Russian troops which under Kamensky came from the Fort of Weichselmünde, located at the mouth of the Vistula, attacked French General Schramm who with his troops guarded Holm Island. Rapidly appraised of the situation, Lannes with Oudinot’s four battalions crossed the Vistula, engaged the Russians, and threw them back. At the end of the fighting, French casualties were twenty-five dead and 200 injured, Russian casualties amounted to 900 dead, 1,500 wounded and 200 prisoners. 20  After this last Allied attempt to relieve the city, hopes of saving Danzig were all but gone. On 24 May, Lefebvre announced to Napoleon the surrender of the city which became official at midday on 26 May. “After a blockade of nearly three months, and fifty-four days of siege, Danzig, and its forts were all within French hands. As a reward, Lefebvre received the title of Duke of Danzig.” 21  After the fall of Danzig, Lannes and the Reserve Corps returned to their Marienburg’s headquarters and readied themselves for the forthcoming campaign. They did not wait long as on 5 June 1807, Berthier wrote to Lannes confirming that the Russians started their offensive and the Reserve Corps had to leave Marienburg immediately to march toward Christburg. 22  In the early hours of 5 June, General Benningsen launched a front-wide offensive that put Napoleon on the defensive. As the fighting resumed, the Russians launched diversionary attacks against all French Corps, yet Benningsen’s specific objective was the destruction of Marshal Michel Ney’s 6 th  Corps. The ‘bravest of the brave’ held the line in a dangerously exposed salient that Benningsen intended to reduce. During the two days of the Battle of Guttstadt, Ney and his men undeterred by their numerical inferiority and by the threat of being cut off from the rest of the French army managed to extract themselves while stubbornly fighting their way back to safety. 23   17  Regarding the siege of Danzig, please see the account left by the Engineers Corps’ general in charge of the siege works, François-Joseph Kirgener, Précis du siège de Dantzick fait par l'armée française en avril et mai 1807   (Paris: Imprimerie de Migneret, 1807); As well as Camille St-Aubin, Siège de Dantzick en 1807   (Paris: Chez Plancher, 1818); Also chapter 1,  Le siège de Danzig  from Frédéric Naulet, Friedland (14 juin 1807). La campagne de Pologne, de  Danzig aux rives du Niémen  (Paris: Économica, 2007), 5-52. 18  On 10 May 1807, eleven Allied ships moored in front of Danzig, to allow Major General Kamensky’s Corps to relieve the city. His corps was made of five infantry regiments and one Cossack regiment, altogether about 7,000 men. Naulet, Friedland  , 41. 19  Chrisawn, The Emperor's Friend, 165-166.; As well as SHD, Correspondance Grande Armée: Berthier à Lannes, 11 mai 1807, Carton 17C165; Finally, see  Correspondance de Napoléon , vol. 15, N o . 12580, Napoléon à Lannes, 12 mai 1807, 275-76. 20   Correspondance de Napoléon , vol. 15, N o . 12593, 74 th  Bulletin de la Grande Armée, 16 mai 1807, 290-91. 21  Garnier, Friedland  , 18; Naulet, Friedland  , 47-9; As well as SHD, Correspondance Grande Armée: Lefebvre à Napoléon, 24 mai 1807, Carton 2c47. 22  SHD, Correspondance Grande Armée: Berthier à Lannes, 5 juin 1807, Carton 17C165; Naulet, Friedland  , 94.   23  At the Battle of Guttstadt, Ney had 17,000 men and fought against about 63,000 Russians. In the process, Ney lost about 3,000 casualties, 1,600 prisoners and two guns, nevertheless, Ney lost space that would not efficiently be used by Benningsen. Strategically, even though he retreated to safety, victory was Ney’s. Garnier, Friedland  , 25-28.
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