Danzig (modern day Gdansk) is a city which, by virtue of it’s unique geographical position, was destined to be coveted and so became the focus of conflict. It stands at the mouth of the River Vistula on the shores of the Baltic Sea and provides access to the wider seaways. It has always been valuable as a port of departure for goods (particularly the vast grain crops of the interior) and as a focus for incoming materials of commerce and war. For great nations poor in sea ports it was seen as an essential possession and so Prussia and Russia fought over it. For Poland, it was no less important, but embodied far greater significance as a part of the national motherland. By the start of the 18th century, Poland had ceased to have significant influence over its own affairs and was in thrall to its more powerful neighbours. The rise of Napoleon Bonaparte offered a possible ally able to deliver liberation. Unfortunately, in 1812 the emperor embarked on the great folly that was to be instrumental in the destruction of the First Empire—the invasion of Russia. Danzig was, of course, essential to his flawed strategy as a base of supply and later became a destination for the remnants of the shattered Grand Army after it’s apocalyptic retreat from Moscow. By early 1813 Danzig was under siege. The garrison of French and Polish soldiers and their allies, led by Jean Rapp, gave a magnificent account of themselves against the attacking Russians. This special Leonaur edition, with maps and illustrations not found in the original source material, contains two accounts of a little reported action of the Napoleonic Wars. One is a first hand account by an infantry officer of the French 30th Division, the other an historical overview of the siege and the events that brought it about. An essential addition to any Napoleonic Wars library.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The contest now became dreadful; the Prince D’Aremberg, whose wounds, received in the campaign of Moscow, were not yet closed, had three horses killed under him; that brave and noble officer had the grief to behold his intimate friend, and eleve, the interesting Cinturione, perish by his side, in the flower of his age. This admired youth, a page to the Emperor Napoleon, sprung from a family which gave doges to ancient Liguria, had only a few days before received the rank of sub-lieutenant, and in this engagement fought for the first time, at the head of his troop; he was the pride and hope of his parents, and scarcely had attained his sixteenth year, when he fell far from his own mild and genial clime, near the shores of the tempestuous Baltic.
From Ohra to the post of Heubude, the fighting raged on every side; night itself could not terminate the attacks; whilst the combatants were engaged in various different places, under the walls of Dantzic, a freezing wind blew along the banks of the Vistula, and a cold rain fell in torrents; yet it was the month of August, a season generally burning in those northern climates, where the summers, although short, are warm; a little while before, the heat of the day was insupportable; and now, by an extraordinary revolution in the atmosphere, the disorder and confusion of the elements were mingled with the fury of the combatants. In vain were the efforts of the Russians directed, almost solely against the positions of Belvidere and Ohra; the French remained masters of them, and every approach to those posts was covered with heaps of the enemy’s slain; the next day, however, the enemy again endeavoured to gain possession of them.
Ten thousand Russians advanced in good order against Belvidere, and endeavoured to scale the fortifications; they were repulsed, and again returned to the charge, a second time fell back, and once more rushed forward, besieging with so much obstinacy, and such an immense number of troops, this important height, that General Rapp, unwilling to sacrifice his troops in defence of a post, which, for so many days, had cost such invaluable blood, and which it would be impossible hereafter to preserve, gave orders to evacuate it.
As the post of Belvidere gave the Russians the command of Langfuhr, they only wanted now to possess themselves of the fortified houses in the suburb, where three hundred Bavarian and Westphalian troops had strongly barricaded themselves. While the enemy made in vain the most serious efforts to conquer the resistance made in Langfuhr, the fury of his attacks against the redoubts of L’Etoile, Schidlitz, and Stoltzenburgh, was not abated; but on no one of these different points was his valour crowned with success. Exasperated at the determined resistance they had experienced, the Russians endeavoured to force the French, by setting fire to the surrounding houses, to fall back on the walls of Dantzic, and re-enter that city.
It was now night, and thousands of Cossacks wheeling round huge masses of infantry, appeared, bearing in one hand a lance, in the other a lighted torch. The village of Zikankenberg appeared first in flames. This village, built on a hill, had been before deserted by its inhabitants, and no cry was beard to interrupt its silent conflagration; but in Langfuhr it was otherwise; there the inhabitants, chased from their burning roofs, strove to save themselves from the flames, and to carry off what they could from the wreck of their property, almost wholly lost to them forever. The distracted crowd flew to seek an asylum with the inhabitants of Schidlitz and Stoltzenburgh; but whilst they pursued their way towards those suburbs, flames appeared on every side, and women, children, and old men, uttering the most piercing cries, and spreading themselves around the country, were met by the fugitives from the other burning villages; all those wandering and wretched people, mingling their griefs and distraction together, increased the horror and confusion of the dreadful scene; but still, they hoped to find a shelter from the dangers that pursued them, in Schellmull, and the village of Heubude; they turned that way, but the fire had got before them, and rapidly communicated from the one to the other of those places.
On every side, fire, carnage, and death were beheld; from every quarter the ear was assailed with the noise of burning houses, and clashing of arms; a population reduced to indigence and despair, without habitation or food, intermingled with hordes of savage troops, completed the horrors of this frightful siege. From the heights of the ramparts, the inhabitants of the interior of the city beheld, in awful silence, the horrible spectacle before them; for more than a league around, villages and separate houses were burning with fury, and threw so clear a light on the surrounding fields, that the very children could be distinguished accompanying their mothers in their flight—the heavens were as red as fire, and the surrounding waters seemed to roll with flames. Meantime, the three hundred Westphalian and Bavarian troops defended the fortified houses of Langfuhr; surrounded by smoking ruins, and an outrageous enemy, they rejected and repulsed every summons to surrender their post, in which they remained immoveable.
The governor, on being acquainted with their imminent danger, wished to relieve them, notwithstanding the difficulties of a sortie: the troops he sent to defend and rescue them from their perilous situation, on seeing the houses surrounded by flames, and on every side heaps of slain, supposed their companions had perished, and that it would be useless to seek them in the midst of a conflagration, which left no hope of safety for those it had so totally enveloped. They then re-entered the place, spreading consternation at the intelligence they communicated. The governor and garrison, with the most lively feeling, regretted the loss of those brave men, who were so valuable to them by their numbers, and so endeared to them by their courage.
The following morning, the garrison was as yet discoursing with sadness on the fate of their friends, when about sunrise these heroes were beheld advancing in good order towards the gates of the city. Those brave men had almost miraculously escaped from the circle of fire which surrounded them; they forced a passage through the piles of burning rubbish which encompassed them, and, having cut their way through the Russian battalions, arrived in the city: it would be impossible to express the joy their unhoped for return diffused through the garrison; on every side they were welcomed, with all the demonstrations that the most lively and fraternal friendship could suggest.