There are of course, many histories available on the Napoleonic era but the first distinction offered by this one must be the widely acknowledged regard with which its author, F. Loraine Petre is still held. Petre wrote several histories of the period and all are recognised as scholarship of the highest order and his contribution to the subject has rarely been surpassed in the years since their original publication. Napoleon's German campaign was decisive for the aspirations of the Emperor, France and the imperial allies that were resolved to bring him to ruin. All his hubris had brought about his greatest defeat as a consequence of the debacle that was the invasion of Russia and the retreat from Moscow. Most significantly, the avenging Russian army in concert with its finest ally, the bitter winter had deprived Napoleon, by the usages of war, disease and lethal cold, of virtually all the resources he had employed in his venture-a massive Grand Armee that could not be readily replaced for employment in future enterprises. Now with only a gallant army of 200, 000 men he had to fight against the odds in a contest which would prove too much for even his legendary personal military talents and further demonstrate the weaknesses of his lieutenants when in independent command. A series of battles would be fought in Germany at Saale, Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden, Dennewitz and finally at Leipzig and Hanau where defeat would propel the French into a retreat which would set them on the road back to the Paris and abdication of the Emperor. These are the battles of the beginning of the end of the First Empire of the French recounted by one of its finest historians. Essential for every student of the period. Available in soft cover and hard cover.
Napoleon had all along been exposing himself freely, urging on and encouraging his men, and personally leading them forward. “This is probably the day of all his career,” says Marmont, “on which Napoleon incurred the most personal danger on the battlefield. . . . He exposed himself constantly, leading back to the charge the defeated troops of the 3rd corps.”<br>
With the Prussians in Kaja, he felt himself compelled to send in Lanusse’s brigade of Young Guard. Some of Ney’s battalions were already beginning to break up, and the situation was desperate. Charging with the bayonet, Lanusse’s men, joined by those of Ney’s divisions, cleared Kaja of Prussians, There the Guard brigade halted, leaving the pursuit to Ney’s people. The awful struggle was renewed as the French again stormed Klein Görschen and Rahna, and again failed to break into Gross Görschen, This phase of the battle, since Yorck’s two brigades joined in it, had lasted an hour and a half. The details of it are impossible of description. Death and wounds had wrought havoc among men and officers alike. On the French side, Girard and Gouré were killed; Brennier and several of the brigade commanders were wounded; Ney had his horse killed under him. Here it was that the allies suffered an irreparable loss by the wounding of Scharnhorst, the re-organiser of the Prussian army.<br>
By 5.30 p.m. the Prussians had regained the upper hand, and driven Ney’s men back out of Klein Görschen and Rahna, so that Yorck’s and Blücher’s corps stretched across the space between the villages, with their right on the Flossgraben in front of Klein Görschen, their left on the Lützen road north of Rahna. The latter village was held by Berg.<br>
There remained less than two hours of daylight in which to decide this sanguinary battle, which was now very nearly “ripe” for Napoleon’s deciding stroke. His corps were closing in, Macdonald on the right flank of the allies, Bertrand on their left.<br>
Napoleon had been failed by Bertrand. who, at 1 p.m., had his leading division (Morand’s) behind Taucha, less than four miles from the battlefield. Yet, instead of marching to the cannon at once, he must needs halt and “await orders,” on the ground that, Miloradowich’s advanced guard having reached Zeitz, Napoleon might wish him to operate in that direction. But Zeitz was too far off for Miloradowich to be able to interfere in the battle, especially as his main body only reached it at 5 p.m. It was only on reiterated orders that Bertrand moved forward again after 3 p.m. To oppose his advance, Wittgenstein deputed the cavalry of the Russian Guard (Gallitzin), and that of Winzingerode, the latter being behind Dolffs. When he did that, the Russian reserve infantry was still not up, so he dared not send in Winzingerode’s infantry under Prince Eugen of Würtemberg.<br>
About 5.30 p.m. Morand’s division had advanced through Pobles to a point south of Starsiedel. Peyri’s Italians (of Bertrand’s corps) were still not over the Grünabach.<br>
About the same time, Marchand’s division of Ney’s corps had at last reached the right bank of the Flossgraben north of Klein Görschen, and Macdonald was approaching Eisdorf To meet these Winzingerode’s infantry was now used. Prince Eugen advanced with one of his brigades through Klein Görschen, whilst St Priest with the other occupied Eisdorf, into which Wittgenstein had already sent two Prussian battalions. He was intended to make a flank attack on Ney’s left from beyond the Flossgraben, whilst Eugen joined the frontal attack towards Kaja.<br>
But St Priest found himself threatened in Eisdorf by Macdonald’s advance, and Eugen had to deal with Marchand. St Priest at once reported the situation, whereupon Wittgenstein sent the 2nd Russian grenadier division, under Konownitzin, to support him south of Eisdorf.<br>
Marchand now threatened the right flank of the advance on Kaja, but Eugen’s men found a good defence in the trees and bushes along the Flossgraben. Here they managed to check Marchand’s right brigade, and to drive out his left, which had momentarily got into Klein Görschen, Now, however, Charpentier’s division of Macdonald’s corps had driven St Priest from Eisdorf, whilst Fressinet with the 31st division had occupied Kitzen.<br>
Wittgenstein had built up a strong defensive line from Gross Görschen to Hohenlohe, composed of St Priest’s brigade and the Russian grenadiers, behind which were numerous cavalry and the Russian Guard infantry in support. Against this line the Viceroy of Italy did not feel himself strong enough to advance. The time was 6.30; Napoleon’s final advance with the Guard was just commencing.<br>
About 6 p.m. the Emperor had decided that, if he was to win the battle before dark, the time for his decisive blow had arrived.<br>
He ordered Drouot to form a battery of 80 guns southwest of Kaja to sweep the space between the four villages. Between this battery and Kaja the Young Guard was drawn up in four columns, each of four battalions, in line, one behind the other. Behind the Young Guard was the Old, behind them the Guard cavalry. At 6.30 all was ready, and, with the words, “La garde au feu,” Napoleon ordered the advance.