The Spring Campaign 1807.
Combats at Launau, Bewernick, Langwiese and Lawdon.
Battle of Heilsberg


"At Heilsberg Mashals Murat and Soult brought Bennigsen to action.
But so savage a stand did the Russians make that only the arrival
of Marshal Lannes prevented the battle from ending in a French defeat."
- Christopher T. Atkinson


"... the word 'butchery' occurs in many accounts of Heilsberg."
- Georges Blond

The Year of 1807.

After humiliating Prussia in 1806,
Napoleon turned his attention to
subduing his mighty Russian foe.

The First Polish War.
"France's enemies happened to be
Poland's oppressors"

Battle of Eylau, February 1807.
"Quel massacre! Et sans resultat."

Map: Winter Quarters 1807.

The spring campaign.

Napoleon's pursuit of the Russians.
"Bennigsen, having failed in this attempt
at a surprise stroke, had nothing to do but
fall back" on fortified Heilsberg.







Prelude to Heilsberg.
Combats at Launau, Bewernick, Langwiese and Lawden.

- - - - - - - - Cavalry battle.
- - - - - - - - It was Russian cuirassiers' glory day.
- - - - - - - - Their attack upon French cavalry, for
- - - - - - - - daring and gallantry could not be exceeded.

- - - - - - - - The Guard Fusiliers rescued Murat's cavalry.

- - - - - - - - The French infantry pressed hard.
- - - - - - - - After suffering almost 50 % casualties
- - - - - - - - Bagration's die-hards fell-back.

French army at Heilsberg.

Russian army.
Deployment of Troops, Pontoon Bridges and Redoubts.


Fight for the redoubts.

Massive Russo-Prussian attack.

Lannes' arrival and furious counter-attack.

Casualties and aftermath.

French victory and ... Napoleon's love affair.


Battle of Friedland and Peace Treaty.


The Year of 1807.


Napoleon overlooking battle The year of 1807 was an eventful year, for it witnessed two massive wars: Franco-Russian War and Turkish-Russian war, the French invasion of Portugal, and several minor British military actions in Europe and elsewhere.

In January 1807 was born Robert Edward Lee (ext. link) one of the most celebrated generals in American history. He is best known for commanding the Confederate Army in the American Civil War (1861-65). Lee's victories against superior forces won him fame as a crafty and daring battlefield tactician.


Serfdom in Prussia and Russia.

Russian serfs In October 1807 the serfdom was abolished in Prussia. The October Edict (ext. link) upgraded the personal legal status of the peasantry and gave them ownership of half or two-thirds of the lands they were working. The edict applied to all peasants whose holdings were above a certain size. The peasants were freed from the obligation of personal services to the lord and annual dues; in return landowners were given ownership of 1/3 to 1/2 of the land.
The other German states imitated Prussia after 1815.
In Russia, however, the serfdome was abolished after the napoleonic wars and only in several western provinces (Baltic provinces of Estland, Courland and Livonia). In 1804 approx. 50 % of Russian factory workers were serfs. According to the census of 1857 the number of serfs was 23 million out of 62 million Russians.


Naval Battle of Mount Athos (Lemnos)
Russian Navy crushed Ottoman Navy.

In February of 1807, after being informed of the outbreak of war with Turkey, Russian admiral Senyavin departed from Corfu for the Aegean Sea with the main body of his fleet and a number of ground troops. In the meantime, the Russian Navy under Admiral Senyavin blockaded the Dardanelles and defeated the Ottoman fleet in the Battle of the Dardanelles, after which Selim III was deposed. The naval Battle of Mount Athos (Battle of Lemnos) was a key naval battle of the Russo-Turkish War. Admiral Senyavin with 10 ships of the line crushed the Ottoman fleet of 10 ships of the line, 5 frigates, 3 sloops and 2 brigs. As a result of the battle, the Ottoman Empire lost a combat-capable fleet for more than a decade.
On June 2, 1807 a massive Ottoman offensive aimed at Russian-occupied Bucharest, was checked at Obilesti by as few as 4,500 soldiers commanded by Miloradovich. On June 18 in Armenia, the 7,000-strong Russian contingent the Turkish force of 20,000 ! As a result of these defeats the Ottomans signed an armistice with Russia on 12 August.


American Embargo Act of 1807.

US flag in 1812 Britain and France were at war; the U.S. was neutral and trading with both sides. Both sides tried to hinder American trade with the other. President Jefferson's goal was to use economic warfare to secure American rights, instead of military warfare. The Embargo Act was passed by the US Congress, during the second term of President Thomas Jefferson. It was partly brought upon by the 'Chesapeake Incident' involving Britain attacking a U.S. ship, and partly by Britain prohibiting on her trading partners from trading with France.


British success in Java.

The Java campaign of 18061807 was a campaign by British naval squadron under Rear-Admiral Sir Pellew against a naval squadron of the Kingdom of Holland, based on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. Victory allowed the British to focus exclusively on the French islands of le Bonaparte and le de France, which proved very difficult to subdue during the ensuing Mauritius campaign of 18091811.


British failures in Egypt, Buenos Aires and Constantinopole.

British military flag In March 16th the Royal Navy and 5,000 redcoats under General A. Mackenzie Fraser invaded and occupied Alexandria in Egypt. The aim was to secure the port as a base for Mediterranean operations and to prevent the French from taking advantage of it.
The action however not only alienated Russian allies but was also a military catastrophe, with Fraser losing two battles at Rosetta (modern Rashid) on 29 March and 21 April. The crushed battalions suffered "almost 1.400 casualties". It forced the British to abandon the idea of expanding the conquered territory, and they were confined only to the city. Agreement to leave Egypt was signed in September, 1807.

In July 1807 take place the disastrous British attack on Buenos Aires (today Argentine). In September 1807, after a Danish refusal to surrender their biggest city, Copenhagen, to the British, the warships bombarded the place killing 2.000 civilians and destroying 30 % of the buildings. Then during armistice the Royal Navy carried off the Danish fleet and "all the naval stores in the arsenal."

In September 1807, British ambassador from Constantinopole (today Turkey), had already pressed for warships to be sent to bully the Turks. Admiral Collingwood sent number of ships to the Dardanelles and shortly after this the British Cabinet decided to send Vice-Admiral Duckworth with more ships to the Turkish capital "to demand the immediate surrender of the Turkish Fleet , together with that of supply of naval stores from the arsenal ..."
The Turks however showed no signs of being intimidated. They cannonaded the British forcing them to a hastily retreat on March 3rd. The British barely escaped being battered by 300 cannons. This military action ended up in humiliation.


The Napoleonic Continental System.

The Berlin Decree of 1806 forbade French, allied or neutral ships trading with Great Britain. By this means Napoleon hoped to destroy British trade. The Berlin Decree had initiated the Continental System. Great Britain responded with the Orders in Council of 1807 issued 11 November 1807. These forbade French trade with the United Kingdom, its allies, or neutrals, and instructed the Royal Navy to blockade French and allied ports. Napoleon retaliated with the Milan Decree of December 1807. The Milan Decree authorized French warships and privateers to capture neutral ships sailing from any British port. It also declared that any ships that submitted to search by the British navy were to be considered lawful prizes if captured by the French.


French Invasion of Portugal.

General Andoche Junot In 1807 Portugal refused Napoleon's demand to accede to the Continental System of embargo against Great Britain. Thus in October and November a French invasion under General Junot, followed. Lisbon was captured. By the way, Portugal tried to manage an equilibrium between Britain (Portugal's oldest ally) and aggressive France, opting for a policy of neutrality while continuing to trade with both countries. However, France was anxious to break the Anglo-Portuguese alliance in order to close Portuguese ports to British merchants.

Major events in the end of 1806 and in 1807.
Situation in Europe 
in the end of 1806 
and in 1807


After humiliating Prussia in 1806, the French Emperor
turned his attention to subduing his mighty Russian foe.


Negotiations between France, Britain and Russia, during the early months of 1806, broke down. Prussia had been lashed to fury by the discovery that Napoleon had attempted to bribe Great Britain with Hanover, which he had so recently ceded to Prussia.


Napoleon crushed the mighty Prussian army.

Wishing to strike her before succour reach her from Russia, Napoleon anticipated her ultimatum by marching against her towards the Elbe River. In August 1806, the Prussian king, made the decision to go to war independently of any other great power. (The Prussian army enjoyed great reputation since the times of King Frederick the Great !)
The Prussian ultimatum reached Napoleon on the 7th October.

Emperor Napoleon Approx. 150,000 French soldiers moved with such speed that Napoleon and Marshal Davout (nicknamed The Iron Marshal) were able to destroy the fearsome Prussian army in two quick battles, Jena and Auerstadt.
The defeats were a heavy blow to the Fourth Coalition against Napoleon. Jena cost Napoleon 5,000 losses, but the Prussians had a staggering 25,000 casualties. On the same day, further north at Auerstadt, Marshal Davout defeated the main Prussian army. Napoleon did not believe that Davout's single Corps had defeated the Prussian main body unaided, and responded to the first report by saying "Tell your Marshal he is seeing double", a reference to Davout's poor eyesight. As matters became clearer, however, the Emperor was unstinting in his praise.
Martin van Creveld writes, "Thus Napoleon at Jena had known nothing about the main action that took place on that day; had forgotten all about two of his corps; did not issue orders to a third, and possibly a fourth; was taken by surprise by the action of a fifth; and, to cap it all, had one of his principal subordinates display the kind of disobedience that would have brought a lesser mortal before a firing squad. Despite all these faults in command, Napoleon won what was probably the great single triumph in his career."
(Martin van Creveld - "Command in War")

Picture: triumphant French troops with captured Allied colors.

During the campaign the French troops captured hundreds of Prussian cannons, took tens of thousands of prisoners, captured most of the fortresses and some 340 colours !

Napoleon entered into Berlin in October and visited the tomb of King Frederick the Great. He instructed his marshals to remove their hats, saying, "If he was alive we wouldn't be here today."

The defeat of Prussian army in Jena and Auerstadt did not end the war. Some Prussian troops survived the catastrophe and joined those stationed in Eastern Prussia.
The victorious French troops eagerly followed them.


The French troops entered Polish lands.

Napoleon and his Guard 
in 1806-1807. In late autumn Napoleon's army entered land inhabited by the Poles. The French divisions moved through Posen (Poznan) and Kalisz. The roads in late autumn in central Europe were in a very poor state. This part of the continent was little known to the French.
"The topography of Poland was little known [to the French]. A survey detachment directly under imperial headquarters was accordingly organized to which was entrusted the task of mapping the country as the army advanced. The instructions issued to these 'surveyors' are not without interest. They were to move with the advanced guard of each corps and to send their work daily to imperial headquarters." (- F.D. Logan)

Napoleon hoped on finding the Russian armies and defeating them in a pitched battle. The French army crossed the Vistula River in several points and turned north-east. The French entered Eastern Prussia, inhabited by the Prussians and some Poles.
The theater of war was for the most part flat, marshy, and thickly wooded area. There were some small hills (approx. 500 feet above the sea) but only in the north-western corner. It is a land of 1,000 lakes, like the state of Wisconsin or Minnesota in the United States.

It was difficult to find an area sufficiently clear of continuous forest to allow of the deployment of larger force. It was also a difficult terrain for speedy maneuvers. There were only few roads and even fewer cities.


The First Polish War.
"France's enemies happened to be Poland's oppressors"
- Charles Summerville


The 1806 Polish Uprising was organized by General Dabrowski to help advancing French divisions in liberating Poland from Prussian occupation. The uprising was a decisive factor that allowed the formation of the Duchy of Warsaw by Napoleon. On 20 September the Emperor issued orders to form a division from Polish deserters from the Prussian army. There were so many that soon it was decided to form a second division.

Marshal Murat enters Warsaw. Marshal Murat and the French cavalry entered Warsaw to a rapturous welcome (picture -->). He was feted by the Poles igniting hopes of future kingship.
"In the 16th century Poland had been one of the most powerful countries in Europe ... within the space of 200 years, however, Poland had been eclipsed by its neighbours ... Soon the country's history culture and language were extinguished and its very name abolished. In this way was the white eagle of Poland devoured by the three black eagles of Prussia, Russia, and Austria. ...
The fact France's enemies happened to be Poland's oppressors was an obvious attraction, and many Polish soldiers volunteered for service in the French army." (Summerville - "Napoleon's Polish Gamble" p 15)

Napoleon conferring the Constitution
on Duchy of warsaw in 1807 Napoleon entered Warsaw in 1807 and French eagles soared over the Vistula. The Emperor however was hesitant about reenacting the Kingdom of Poland. It would enrage Russia and Austria.
In spite of the ovations given him by the Poles, he wrote: "Only God can arbitrate this vast political problem ... It would mean blood, more blood, and srtill more blood ..."
He was furious with Marshal Murat, for forwarding one petition in which it was prayed that the Polish kingdom might be reconstituted under a French commander.

The Duchy of Warsaw (French Duch de Varsovie) was finally established by Napoleon from the Polish lands ceded by the Kingdom of Prussia under the terms of the Treaties of Tilsit. Although it was created as a only a duchy, rather than a kingdom, it was commonly hoped and believed that with time the nation would be able to regain its former status, not to mention its former borders. The country was divided into departments. The branches of justice, war, finance and police, were assigned to Polish government. One of the first tasks for the new Polish government included providing food to the French and Polish divisions fighting against the Russians and Prussians. The Duchy of Warsaw became a bastion of France in central Europe.

Already in November 1806 Napoleon directed General Dabrowski to form Polish troops. Dabrowski issued a decree ordering the population to provide 1 infantry recruit from every 10 households, 1 cavalry recruit from every 45 households and 1 chasseur (light infantry) recruit from every estate.

Marshal Davout Napoleonic French Marshal "Louis Davout [The Iron Marshal] supervised the creation of the Polish army." (- John Elting) In January 1807 the Polish army consisted of 20.500 recruits and 3.000 volunteers. The army was organized into three legions (divisions). The constitution established the Polish army at 30,000 men. Prince Poniatowski became its Minister of War.
The troops were formed in three divisions, with each having four infantry and two cavalry regiments, and some artillery. The divisional commanders were Prince Poniatowski, General Dabrowski and General Zajaczek. General Fiszer became chief of staff. The troops were organized on French pattern.

In the beginning there were many Prussian muskets (reworked 1782 Model). Chlapowski write, "We received our muskets very quickly. They were of recent manufacture, taken from the Berlin arsenal from which the Prussians had not managed to evacuate them. The bayonets were much too long for them, so later we exchanged these for French ones. We had been drilling without weapons, but as soon as our muskets arrived, the recruits learned more easily how to march and trim their lines." (Chlapowski/Simmons - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" p 14)
Napoleon supplied Polish infantry with more muskets. From the letter sent by Marshal Berthier, Napoleon's chief-of-staff, to Prince Poniatowski: "I am informing you that the Emperor has given the order that 10,000 infantry muskets be sent to you from the arsenal at Magdeburg via Dresden today. His Majesty has ordered that 7,000 that are in Danzig should be sent to you, as well as 3,000 from Stettin, which will provide you with 20,000. You shall find attached a duplicate of the order for the 10,000 muskets that are at your disposition."

Polish infantry and French artillery
storming Prussian fortress of Tczew (Dirschau)
in 1806-7 On 27th January 1807 the Poles fought at Tczew (Dirschau, see picture -->), on 14th February they took Gniew (Mewe) and on the 20th captured Slupsk (Stolpen). On 23rd February they took Tczew (Dirschau). There were also Polish troops (infantry and cavalry) fighting at Friedland.

In March-May approx. 9.000 Polish troops participated in the siege of Danzig (Gdansk). In August Marshal Davout selected the best three infantry regiments and Napoleon took these units to Spain. "Napoleon took this force into French service on much the same basis as the Hessians served the British in the American Revolution." (Nafziger - "Poles and Saxons" p 12)

One of the Polish regiments, the Lighthorse Regiment (Chevauxlegeres) became part of Napoleon's Imperial Guard. According to American historian, George Nafziger, the Poles became "Napoleon's staunchest allies".


Battle of Eylau 1807. "Quel massacre! Et sans resultat"
The casualties at Eylau were such that the French soldiers
cried out for peace after the battle. Eylau was the first
serious check to the splendid Grande Armee, which in the
previous two campaigning seasons had carried all before it.


The winter campaign in 1806 in eastern Prussia and Poland exhausted the French troops mentally and physically. It was with extreme difficulty that the artillery could be moved along.

The battles in winter 1806, especially Golymin and Pultusk, cost many lives.

It was also very difficult situation for the Russian army. An unknown from name officer of Azov Musketier Regiment wrote: I am so numbed, mentally and physically, by hunger, cold, and exertion, that I hardly have the strength or the desire left to write this down. No army could suffer more than ours has done in these days. It is no exaggerated calculation to say that for every mile between Jonkerdorf and this place the army has lost 1.000 men who have not come within sight of the enemy... The poor soldiers glide about like ghosts."


Battle of Eylau.
Quel massacre ! Et sans resultat.

French cavalry at Eylau 1807.
Picture by Simon Fort. On 7-8 February 1807 Napoleon finally met the Russian army at Eylau (today Bagrationovsk).

Early in the battle, a frontal attack by the French (Marshal Augereau's corps) failed with extremaly heavy losses. It was due to the tremendous artillery fire from two Russian grand batteries and a timely and massive cavalry counterattack.

To retrieve the situation, Napoleon launched a massed cavalry charge led by Murat against the Russian center. This bought enough time for the French right wing to throw its weight into the contest.
Soon, the Russian left wing was bent back by Marshal Davout's attack and Bennigsen's army was in danger of collapse.

A Prussian corps belatedly arrived and saved the day by pushing back the French wing. As darkness fell, a new French corps appeared on the flank. General Bennigsen wisely decided to retreat, leaving Napoleon in possession of the bloody battlefield.

Napoleon after the battle of Eylau The Russian casualties are estimated at 15.000, while the French have suffered 10.000 - 15.000 killed and wounded.
Riding over the battlefield one of the French generals said: "Quel massacre ! Et sans resultat" (What a massacre! And for no outcome.)

The French soldiers cried out for peace after Eylau. Eylau was the first serious check to the splendid Grande Armee, which in the previous campaigning seasons had carried all before it.


Winter break.

The rest of the winter and spring passed in quietness. Napoleon had said that the army would go into winter quarters. The army had to recover 60,000 wounded, missing and deserters. The hospitals were overcrowded. The Emperor appreciated surgeons' hard work and rewarded them with promotions and money. In France thousands of young men were called to arms. They were then rushed to the front and were drilled en route. The news from France however were not good. The slaughter at Eylau had had the worst effect. The military police combed the rear areas to round-up deserters.

Napoleon decided to build a military camp in Osterode. The French engineers constructed a palisade around a vast square inside which were streets bordered by wooden huts. Each street bore the name of one of the latest victories. The Imperial Guard had its own camp, built with a degree of luxury. In the centre was a brick building where Napoleon installed himself.
In spring 1807 though the weather was still severe, Napoleon rousted his troops out of their winter quarters for drills and frequent field exercises. During this campaign in winter and spring Napoleon was so tired that several times he fell asleep while sitting in the chair. He would later complain that he had not removed his boots for 14 straight days !


Map: Winter Quarters 1807.



The spring campaign of 1807.


Reconaissance, picture by Meissonier The French light cavalry patrols noticed some activity on the Russian side. The Emperor wrote: "Everything leads to the belief that the enemy is on the move, though it is ridiculous on his part to engage in a general action now that Danzig (Gdansk) is taken ..."
Napoleon left Finkenstein riding in a carriage and escorted by the cavalry of Imperial Guard. He wrote to Marshal Bernadotte: "I have yet to deduce what the enemy was trying to do. The whole thing had a smell of a rash move.

Marshal Ney In early June, General Bennigsen decided to attack the advanced corps of Marshal Ney in East Prussia. His plan for the destruction of Ney was very complicated. The scheme had in its favor the fact that Ney having his front being surrounded by woods, could not see what was going on at any considerable distance.

Nevertheless, Ney obtained sufficient information from his light cavalry to convince him that some serious movements were in progress before fim. He requested Marshal Soult to support his left and Marshal Davout to strengthen his position at Bergfried on the right.

Russian army on the road.
Film War and Peace. Bennigsen postponed the grand movement of the Russian army till the 5th.

Then he took on the offensive and after several small engagements had expanded its force and came to a standstill. The Emperor had not been idle, he ordered the Guard cavalry to assemble at Finkenstein, and sent orders to his marshals. His design now was, to cut the Russian army from the Baltic Sea and Koenigsberg (Prussian sea port) and its resources.

On the 9th, the French troops occupied the following positions:
- Marshal Soult's corps was at Altkirch
- Marshal Davout held the left bank of the Alle River above Guttstadt
- Marshal Murat's Reserve Cavalry was at Guttstadt
- Marshal Mortier was approaching Guttstadt
- Marshal Ney's corps was at Guttstadt
- the Guard was at Guttstadt

Bennigsen was furious at Ney's miraculous getaway: outnumbered by 3 : 1, it was an easy victory for the Russians. Fuming Bennigsen blamed Sacken for allowing Ney to escape. Then Bennigsen fell victim to a French ploy that stopped his advance in its tracks. The Russian general received a captured dispatch, addressed to Ney, stating that Davout's corps is about to fall on Bennigsen's rear. Thrown into a panic, Bennigsen shifts into reverse, ordering a retreat. First he marched to Guttstadt, and then to Heilsberg. But the dispatch is bogus, planted on the Russians in an effort to save Ney.


Napoleon's pursuit of the Russians.
"Bennigsen, having failed in this attempt
at a surprise stroke, had nothing to do but
fall back" on fortified Heilsberg.


"Bennigsen, having failed in this attempt at a surprise stroke, had nothing to do but fall back along the main road which leads to Konigsberg, for his numbers were inferior to those which the Emperor could bring now against him ... On the other hand he felt fairly sure ... of being able to maintain the defensive indefinitely as he so fell back ... first of all he had heavily fortified Heilsberg, a place on the main road ... and next because he had proved during all the winter fighting the stubbornness of the Russian line." (- Hilaire Belloc)

By his movements Napoleon gradually placed himself between the Russian army concentrating in Heilsberg and the Prussian sea port of Konigsberg. In that city was loacted a huge supply depot for Bennigsen's army. (See map.)

French army on the road.
Film War and Peace. Picture: French army on the road. Film "War and Peace" by S. Bondarchuk.

Meanwhile Napoleon eagerly followed the Russians with his army. "The emperor, with the whole Grand Army in his wake, is riding towards the final showdown with Bennigsen.
It is time to make the Polish gamble pay off. ...
Stretching miles to the rear, his columns advance, toiling dusty dirt tracks in suffocating heat. Since Mohrungen, 15 miles west of Deppen, the troops have breathed the scent of war: burning houses, rotting corpses. 11:02 AM 12/10/2015Napoleon finds Deppen a ruin, torched by Bennigsen before turning tail for Guttstadt. ... Napoleon is delighted by developments ..."
(Summerville - "Napoleon's Polish Gamble" p 118)

Russian army on the road.
Film War and Peace. Picture: Russian army on the road. Film "War and Peace" by S. Bondarchuk.

Warm wind blew over the fields and woods of Eastern Prussia. The Russian army was also on the road. The roads and meadows were crowded with marching infantry and cavalry, rolling artillery and ammunition wagons. The artillery took the main roads.
The ammunition wagons and carriages bounced and rattled along, their horses plodding on as unwillingly as ever, accompanied by the steady squelching of countless hooves, and the wheezing of the wheels. The infantry and cavalry marched across the fields trampling the grass and weeds.

Heilsberg (today Lidzbark Warminski in Poland) was a small town, situated on the left bank of the Alle River. In Heilsberg stood an old Teutonic castle. For many years it was a residence of the bishops of Warmia and a stronghold protecting the eastern border of their domain. By the power of the Second Peace Treaty of Torun signed in 1466, Warmia was incorporated into Poland. The year of 1772 brought the incorporation of Warmia into Prussia.

On the north side of the Alle River (Lyna River today), an undulating plain stretched in all directions. It was intersected by the course of the Spuibach Stream. On the left side of the stream was the Lawden Wood. Half a mile south-west of the wood was the village of the same name.

This whole area was familiar to the Russians. Between February and May they had made use of every fold of the terrain around Heilsberg. Majority of the earthworks stood on the southern bank of Alle River as Bennigsen anticipated the French to come from that direction.


Prelude to the Battle of Heilsberg.
Combats at Launau, Bewernick, Langwiese and Lawden.


The French were approx. 10 km away from Heilsberg and the main positions of the Russian army. The leading echelons of the French army were under Marshal Joahim Murat. With his plumed hat, gold-braided uniform, and magnificent warhorse, Murat was the very image of a cavalier. Behind Murat's cavalry was marching infantry and artillery.

Near the village of Launau (Laniewo today), 6 km from Heilsberg, stood Borosdin's small force. The Russians defended the defile. Borosdin's four regiments (Revel and Nizhovsk Musketiers, Finland Dragoons and Cossacks) and some artillery occupied the village itself and the plain nearby. About 8 AM the French troops had driven in Borosdin's force. The French then brought their batteries into position and opened fire upon the enemy.

Before 10 AM (or much earlier, according to Shikanov) Bennigsen received information from Borosdin that the French were advancing in the direction of Launau. Bennigsen sent GM Lvov with the task of supporting Borosdin. Lvov's force consisted of two jager regiments, Kexholm Musketiers, militia battalion, Kiev Dragoons and 2 horse guns.

Borosdin and Lvov took position at Bewernick. (See map below.)
The front was covered by jagers in skirmish order and Cossacks. Behind the village, on heightened ground, stood artillery and infantry formed in three columns. On the right were deployed dragoons and few guns.

The French advance was spearheaded by 24th Light Infantry Regiment of St. Cyr's division.
The attackers captured the village at 3 PM.

Cuirassiers The French 6th Cuirassier Regiment caught the Russian 2nd Jager Regiment in open field north of Bewernick. It was an advanced and somehow isolated position. The green-clad light infantry was decimated and fled in panick.

The Russian dragoons tried to hold off the triumphant French heavies with carbine fire.

Murat supported the cuirassiers with light cavalry: Soult's brigade and part of Lasalle's division.

Series of charges and countercharges left the heavy cavalrymen and their big horses tired.

The tireless Cossacks mounted on their agile Don horses attacked the cuirassiers from the flank and rear, but never from the front. The way of doing battle is for the Cossacks the dispersed formation; the close formation is less natural to them.

French dragoons Then Latour-Maubourg led his dragoons in an all-out charge. Yermolov wrote that the cavalry attacked Russian infantry not only from the front but also from the rear. Yermolov was able to escape only because he had a fast horse ! Some of his guns were captured by the dragoons, before Raievski's jagers recaptured them.

Bagration Meanwhile Bennigsen sent orders to Bagration, who was retiring on the opposite side of the river, to cross by the pontoon bridges and to move again up the north bank and fend off the French. Soon Bagration was himself here, there, and everywhere, directing, assisting, and encouraging his jagers and cavalry. He was the type of general who was well suited for a rear guard action. Bagration was a very seasoned and energetic officer, exceptionally brave, and very popular with the troops.
"Soldiers called him The Eagle, while among the population he was known as "Bog-rati-on" The God of the Army. ... Napoleon himself considered Bagration to be the best general in the Russian army." (Mikaberidze - "Peter Bagration: The Best Georgian General of the Napoleonic Wars"

Bagration met Borosdin's and Lvov's forces near Bewernick (Bobrownik today) retiring before Murat and Soult. Bagration deployed his troops behind Bewernick and Langwiese. Bagration's artillery poured cannonballs and shells into the enemy's cavalry. The French halted and Murat decided to wait for Soult's corps as his cavalry alone was not enough to take on Bagration's force.


Cavalry battle.
At Heilsberg it was Russian cuirassiers' glory day.
Their attack upon French cavalry, for daring and gallantry
could not be exceeded. They succeeded in defeating
a body of enemy estimated at two times their number.


Murat's force, with the dragoons in the lead, advanced towards Langwiese. Numerous riders were rising and falling in unison with the motion of their horses. Bagration's cavalry then attacked Murat before he reached his destination. Murat rallied his troops but then he was again attacked, this time by even larger force of cavalry. It was newly arrived Uvarov's cavalry.

General Uvarov Kozhin and Fock threw their squadrons against the flank of Latour-Maubourg's 1st Dragoon Division. The timing of the attack was perfect as the French were in a vulnerable situation after endeavoring to sort themselves out after their fight with Bagration's cavalry.

Latour-Maubourg's dragoons (18 squadrons) were hit hard by the cuirassiers (15 squadrons) and folded almost instantly. The French fled with the Russians and Prussians hot on their heels. The victors however got under artillery fire from the French foot and horse batteries and were forced to fall back.

The situation stabilized for a short while.
It was however a proverbial silence before the storm.

French cuirassiers Murat rode to the front of the 3rd Heavy Cavalry Division and cried "Forward !" The cuirassiers drew their sabers and began their advance. De Gonneville of the 6th Cuirassiers writes: "At this moment the grand duke of Berg (Murat) came up to us; he came from our right rear, followed by his staff, passed at a gallop across our front, bending forwards on his horse's neck, and as he passed at full speed by General Espagne, he flung at him one word alone which I heard, "Charge !" In the front was GB Fouler's brigade (7th and 8th Cuirassiers). Murat throws himself into the thick of the fighting, heedless of all danger.

Cavalry battle On the fields by Langwiese - 1 km southwest from Lawden - developed a cavalry battle bewteen Uvarov's cavalry and d'Espagne's cuirassiers and Latour-Mauborg's dragoons. It was a bloody fight and very costly for the French.
Wounded were GD d'Espagne, GB Fouler, and colonels of 4th, 6th and 7th Cuirassiers. Colonel Fulgent of the curassiers received a serious head wound from a sabre from which he eventually died. Also wounded were Colonel Davenay and Colonel Offenstein of the cuirassiers. The only regimental commander to escape unscathed that day was Merlin of the 8th Cuirassiers, but one of the squadron flags of 8th was captured. Among the dragoons were wounded colonels of the 4th, 14th and 26th Dragoons.

Emperor Napoleon Napoleon watched the raging cavalry battle. He was surrounded by marshals and generals. Staff officers and adjutants were in the rear, hunched over the manes of their horses. They could hear the rumble of the cannonade and pillars of smoke rose into the air.

Napoleon kept looking in the direction where French cavalry have been fighting. The Emperor anxiously asked Murat 'what's going on over there ?'

Unable to relax the Emperor, Murat mounted his horse and rode to the front of 5th Hussars. In the past this regiment was part of the legendary Hellish Brigage led by GB Lasalle. At Heilsberg the 5th and 7th Hussars and 3rd Horse Chasseurs formed GB Pajol's brigade.

Charge of French
light cavalry. Murat charged with a headlong rashness but his horse was struck by canister. Horse and rider were knocked over together like a stand of muskets.
Murat - now without one boot, it was stuck in the strirup of killed horse - quickly mounted another horse. He took the entire brigade led by Pajol and advanced against the enemy. The reinforcements brought by Murat however changed very little. The French continued to suffer heavy casualties and the battle continued.

General Lasalle Meanwhile Colonel Dery and several other officers were wounded. Murat himself was surrounded by 12 Russian dragoons but the dare-devil General Lasalle (see picture) arrived and saved his life.
Atteridge, biographer of Murat, wrote: "He [Murat] caught and mounted a riderless horse, but was hardly in the saddle again when he was cut off and surrounded by a party of Russian dragoons. He was fighting for his life, when Lasalle in person arrived to the rescue, cutting down several of the enemy."

A well-mounted Saxon cavalry regiment charged into the fray but it didn't change the situation.

Cavalrymen in blue, white, red and green uniforms all intermingled in one confused mass. By day's end, each cavalryman sabre will be dripping with blood. Colonel Chipault of the French cuirassiers had received 56 sabre cuts !

1807: French cuirassiers 
vs Russian heavy cavalry, 
by Viktor Mazurovsky

If the cavalry fight between Uvarov and Murat was so impressive, why does it receive such little attention ? Quite possibly, most historians and scholars have concluded that the cavalry engagement was minor in comparison with the infantry and artillery actions and has been treated accordingly. Napoleon was very disappointed with behaviour of Murat's cavalry; "they did nothing I ordered" he said.

One of Lasalle's light cavalry brigades counterattacked the Russian cavalry. It allowed Espagne's cuirassiers to disengage. Another brigade of Lasalle's division (11th Chasseurs, Wurttemberg Leib Chevaulegers, and Bavarian Chevaulegers) supported Legrand's division against the Cossacks who harassed the infantry forcing them several times to halt and form squares.

It also seemed that the Cossacks were everywhere. The Wurttembergers' first two charges against the Cossacks enjoyed only very limited success. Then they were attacked by Russian dragoons from the left rear. The Wurttembergers took the green-clad Russians for Bavarian chevauxlegeres, who also wore green jackets. In about the same time the lance-armed Cossacks came from the direction of Lawden Wood and attacked the chevauxlegers. After a short fight the Wurttembergers were routed. In that moment arrived the Bavarian Chevaulegers. Some of the Bavarians fell back, while others joined Espagne's cuirassiers.
Major von Roeder of the Wurttembergers received a powerful saber cut to his head, which luckily was deflected by his helmet. Another German officer, Estocq, received seven lance thrusts, before surrendering to the Cossacks. The Leib Chevaulegers lost 60 killed and wounded. The Germans rallied behind Legrand's infantry division. The infantrymen formed themselves in squares and were ready to meet the Russian cavalry.
Then the Wurttembergers, together with Espagne's cuirassiers and some Baviarian chevaulegers, defeated Russian hussars advancing from the direction of Lawden Wood. With the Russian cavalry pushed back Legrand's infantry division was able to advance rapidly and captured Lawden.

In that time Napoleon was on a knoll studying Russian movements.


The Guard Fusiliers rescued Murat's cavalry.
The allied cavalry was checked by crisp volleys.


Officers of Guard Fusiliers General Savary received order from Napoleon himself to take Roussel's 4 battalions of Guard Fusiliers (picture) and 12 guns and support Murat's cuirassiers, dragoons and light cavalry. On came these gallant men of the Fusilier Brigade in magnificent formation and were almost swept away by the fleeing French cuirassiers and dragoons.
Marshal Murat met Savary and insisted that the guardsmen attack with bayonet. Savary was annoyed with Murat's actions: "It would be better for us if he (Murat) was less brave and had a little more common sense."

General Savary Savary then ordered his infantry and artillery to open fire at the enemy. The allied cavalry was checked by crisp volleys and many horsemen were unsaddled. The gallant commander of the Russian cuirassiers, GM Kozhin, was killed. One of the cuirassiers picked up his body, threw over saddle and rode away to the Russian lines.

Encouraged by this success, Murat rallied his cavalry and made a dash at the Russians. There was no more show of resistance and the Russians and Prussians disappeared to whence they came. It is due, however, to say that this attack of the Russian cavalry was of a most daring character, when the extent of their advance from all support is considered, and that they thus attacked the French positively in their own lines. Pity for their character that so dashing an advance should have been followed by so poor ending.

Russian artillery then opened fire on Savary's force. According to Adolphe Thiers "The brave General Roussel, who was, sword in hand, amidst the Fusiliers of the Guard, had his head carried off by a cannon ball." (- Adolphe Thiers)
The same moment was described by St.Hilaire: "The fusilier-chasseurs of the Young Guard, commanded by General Savary, were put in motion to support the Saint-Hilaire division; those proved themselves as prodigious combatants with an intrepidity, which marked them throughout all the army. General Roussel, chief of staff of the Guard, who was in the midst of them, had his head carried off by a ball. General Curial, colonel of the fusilier-chasseurs of the Young Guard, was seriously wounded as a combatant at the head of this regiment with his accustomed courage." (St.Hilaire - "History of the Imperial Guard.")

French cuirassier One Russian cuirassier regiment was pursued longer than other allied units. The French were merciless. There were no quarters given. In that moment Russian lancer regiment was sent to counter-attack. The Russians cried 'Hurrahh !' but their fighting spirit evaporated quickly. They halted and then fled before making any contact with the enemy. The great cavalry battle was over.

Top left: part of picture of cavalry battle between the French cuirassiers and Russian guard cuirassiers at Friedland in 1807.
Top right: Lasalle at Wagram in 1809. In the end of the battle he was shot in the chest but continued to charge.
Then he was shot again. This time between the eyes by an Austrian infantryman and was killed instantly.

For more info on Bagration's and Borosdin's troops see Bagration's Advance Guard
(Russian Order of Battle of Heilsberg)


The French infantry pressed hard.
After suffering almost 50 % casualties
Bagration's die-hards fell-back.


Officer of Russian infantry With the repulse of Russian cuirassiers by French artillery and the Guard Fusiliers, the flank of Bagration's force was dangerously exposed. Meanwhile St.Cyr's infantry division attacked him frontally. Being pressed from the front and having his right flank exposed Bagration rapidly fell back. During crossing the Spuibach Stream Bagration's horse was killed.

Once on the 'Russian' side of the Spuibach, Bagration halted and redeployed his troops. St. Cyr attacked him two more times and two times Bagration threw him back. The French 24th Light, 4th and 28th Line suffered heavy casualties. Two brigade commanders, GB Vivies and GB Ferey were wounded. Exhausted St. Cyr's division was replaced with St.Hilaire's infantry division.

Attack of French infantry
formed in column. About 3 PM Saint-Hilaire went into action. The French drummers beat pas de charge. Senior officers, riding out in front of the ranks with their sabers unsheathed, barked out orders and words that even Russian veterans remembered having heard many times and that always made a deep impression on them.

The infantry marched through the fields, in cadence with the monotonous roll of the drums and took Bewernick. The Russians were awed by the French advance. After a vicious fight St.Hilaire succeeded in getting to the other bank of Spuibach.

The 18th Line Infantry (nicknamed "The Brave") was detached from Legrand's division and marched north to outflank the Russian lines. It was then attacked by Cossacks near the village of Grossendorf. The 18th found itself isolated and in a difficult situation. Two more battalions and one battery were sent and only then the 18th was able to withdraw.

Russian gun Meanwhile Grand Duke Constantine established a mighty battery on the southern bank of the Alle River and pounded St.Cyr's and St.Hilaire's divisions. This battery was commanded by Diebich or Diebitzsch. (This ambitious and skilled officer became - in 1830 - commander of the main Russian field army and fought against the Poles in 1831.)

Pillars of milky smoke drifted in clouds over the fields. After a cannon discharged and recoiled, the crew grabbed hold of the wheels, and pushed it back to its previous spot. It was hard work; the guns and the ammunition were heavy.

Bennigsen ordered Bagration's die-hards to march behind the main Russian frontline and rest. Bagration's jagers crossed the river and moved south where they took positions by the redoubts facing south and south-west. Bagration's light cavalry remained on the northern side of the Alle River and joined Uvarov's cavalry on the flank of army. About 6 PM Bagration himself joined Kamenski and his staff in the center of the Russian army.

French light infantry
fighting in wood. Legrand's infantry division and Savary's Guard Fusiliers attacked the Lawden Wood. The wood was defended by three weak jager regiments left there by Uvarov. After a fierce battle and several bayonet charges made by both sides the French captured the wood. Tactically it was very important as the wood gave support to the northern flank of the French line.


Russian army at Heilsberg.
Pontoon bridges, redoubts and deployment of troops.


Bennigsen's army was on the southern bank of Alle (Lyna) River near Heilsberg. The Russians ate their meal and sat near their stacked muskets, awaiting the call to arms. Some time later they began crossing the Alle on the pontoon bridges.

The Lifeguard Hussars were sent on the road toward Guttstadt (Dobre Miasto) south-west of Heilsberg. Two cavalry regiments were sent toward Jeziorany, south-east of Heilsberg, to link with a flying column commanded by GM von Knorring.

Russian army in 1805-1807.
Movie War and Peace, Russia. The Russian army in 1806 was an army in transition. "Among the army's deficiencies certain things stand out. There were few large scale maneuvers to familiarize everyone with the difficulties of moving large formations in concert. For most of the year, individual regiments were even billeted among scattered villages so that regimental esprit the corps was impossible to develop.
Initiatiative at all levels was discouraged. Units maneuvered according to parade ground drill while the tactical situation around them collapsed. Absteeism and drunkenness not to mention gambling and fraud plagued the officer corps. A surprising number of irregulars, supernumeraries, and non-combatants accompanied the army, clogging the roads and consuming scarce provisions. Irregula cossack formations behaved like freebooters, coming and going as they pleased. In a private communication, Wilson observed, In some respects this army resembles the Turkish army with its large, disorderly mass of camp followers. Yet, among continental armies, the Russians consistently provided the sternest battlefield opposition to the French." (Arnold - "Crisis in the Snows" p 63)

Russian and Prussian Order of Battle of Heilsberg


Bridges and pontoon bridges at Heilsberg.

Heilsberg (Lidzbark Warminski) Photo: Heilsberg in the first half of 20th century. You can see the massive castle (left), one of the bridges (right) and the Alle River.

The Russian army at Heilsberg was parted in two by the Alle (Lyna) River.
"This very serious inconvenience was redeemed by 4 bridges constructed in well-sheltered nooks, and allowing troops to be moved from one shore to the other. As according to all indications, the French would come along the left bank, the greater part of the Russian troops had been concentrated on that side. In the redoubts of the right bank, General Bennigsen had left only the Imperial Guard and Bagration's division, fatigued with the actions fought on the previous day. Batteries had been disposed to fire from one bank to the other." (- Adolphe Thiers)

One pontoon bridge was near the Redoubt #1.
Three pontoon bridges were set closer to Heilsberg.
Five bridges were in Heilsberg itself.

Picture: Heilsberg in early 18th century. View on the bridge and Alle River.





Redoubts at Heilsberg.

Redoubts Picture: making the redoubts. Film "War and Peace" by S. Bondarchuk, Soviet Union.

The Russians had made use of every fold of the terrain around Heilsberg. On the southern bank of Alle River stood in a semicircle numerous field works. They were strongly garrisoned until Benigsen moved his troops on the northern bank.

On the northern bank of Alle River stood 3 redoubts, probably 3 or 4 smaller earthworks were there as well. Major Karl-Friedrich von Both wrote shortly after the war about 6 redoubts on northern bank of Alle. Another author, Petre, mentioned just 3 redoubts, 1 earthwork by the river to defend the bridges, and further 2 earthworks interspersed. He also stated that the Redoubt #1 stood approx. 500 paces from the river, and Redoubt #2 stood approx. 900 paces north of the Redoubt #1. On Hoepfner's map are at least 7 redoubts and earthworks (fleches ?). The Redoubt #1 and #2 had walls 10 feet high and 12 feet thick.
Wooden logs supported the inner and outer walls.


Deployment of troops.

Russian line infantry of Napoleonic Wars The Russian infantry was deployed on both sides of the Alle River. The battalions were formed in lines and columns.

According to Russian author V.N.Shikanov, General Bennigsen didn't really know when and where exactly Napoleon will strike. Therefore he deployed his army on both sides of the Alle.

Deployment of Russian troops :

  • On the southern bank of Alle was Bagration's troops
    (excl. 20 squadrons of Shepelev's light cavalry brigade).
    Bagration's die-hards were too fatigued with the actions
    fought on the previous day.
  • On the northern bank, with its left flank resting on the
    small fieldwork near the river , stood the 8th Division.
  • In the Redoubt #1 was placed one battery. This redoubt
    and its surroundings were defended by line infantry.
  • Next to the 8th, on the right, was deployed the 6th Division.
  • In and nearby Redoubt #2 stood one battery and 4 guns
    (total of 16 pieces) and some infantry. Behind this redoubt,
    as a reserve were 5 squadrons of Prussian Towarzysze.
  • In Redoubt #3 was one battery and 2 guns (total of 14).
    It was also garrisoned by infantry.
  • The area behind the Redoubt #2 and #3 was defended by
    Kamenski's Reserve Division.
  • To the north, in and around the village of Grossendorf
    (Wielochowo) and beyond the lake, were Platov's Cossacks.
  • The Lifeguard Hussar Regiment "was out in front on the
    Guttstadt road, and two more cavalry regiments on that leading
    to Seeburg". But when it became certain that no attack was
    to be apprehended on he right bank (it was in the evening)
    these regiments were withdrawn to the cavalry reserve.

    Russian military flag. Every infantry regiment of the first line under Gorchakov, had two battalions deployed in lines and the third battalion (grenadier battalion) behind them in column as a reserve. Most cavalry regiments probably stood in columns by squadron. Or - if under heavy artillery fire - they were formed in thin lines.

    The artillery batteries had 12 pieces each (8 cannons and 4 unicorns).
    The guns were of two calibers: medium 6pdrs and heavy 12pdrs.

  • ~

    French army at Heilsberg.


    So, the Russians were about to fight. Adolphe Thiers writes, "After so many presumptuous demonstrations, the enemy's general (Bennigsen) could not but feel a temptation not to run away so swiftly, but to stop and fight, especially in a position where a great many precautions had been taken to render the chances of a great battle less disadvantageous."

    The French were ready to fight !
    French generals and staff officers
of the Napoleonic Wars Although in general the French troops in spring of 1807 were still excellent they were not as good as those at Austerlitz, Jena, Auerstadt, and Eylau. "The rank and file of the (French) army was but little, if at all, past its best. In the earlier part of the campaign, its youngest men were the conscripts of 1806 who had, owing to their premature enrolment, already undergone a years' training. Many of the troops had been with Napoleon in his earlier campaigns and in Egypt, very many had been at Ulm and Austerlitz, the majority had just emerged from the briliant campaign of Jena.
    They were now preparing for a renewed war against fresh enemies; the hardest task that an army can undertake. Even these hardened and enthusiastic warriors contemplated with dread the prospect of a fresh winter campaign in an inhospitable and difficult country, and Napoleon was often remonstrated with, as he rode alongside of his men, for insisting on their advance to Poland.
    French military flag of 1804-12 To such complaints he would reply with the rough jests which his veterans loved to hear from him ... In action, the infantry was still splendid, and did not as yet require to be formed in deep columns of many battalions, such as was macdonald's at Wagram, three years later. The cavalry was excellent and well mounted, though, in the latter respect, they fell short of many Russian cavalry regiments. The artillery was highly trained and invariably made good practice." (Petre - "Napoleon's Campaign in Poland, 1806-1807" pp 27-28)


    French Order of Battle


    Photo taken in 2002 
by Jan Kowalik.
    Photo: Northern part of the battlefield.
    View from from the Lawden Wood occupied by the French
    on the Russian main positions at Heilsberg.
    Photo by Jan Kowalik.


    Map of Battle of Heilsberg 1807.



    Fight for the Redoubts.
    At 7 pm the French infantry captured
    one of the Russian redoubts. By 8 pm
    however the Russians retook it.


    Until now the French engaged only part of the Russian army: Bagration's force and part of cavalry. Once Bagration moved out of the way, the French came to the main Russian line fortified with redoubts. Jean Barres of the Guard Foot Chasseurs was at Heilsberg. He wrote, "When we reached the heights above the plain before the town of Heilsberg, not far from the left bank of the Alle, there had been sharp fighting since the morning. Placed in reserve, we could make out the two armies engaged, and the incessant attacks delivered by the French, to seize some elevated redoubts, which, down on the plain, covered the front of the Russian army." (Barres - "Memoirs of a French napoleonic officer" pp 107-108)

    Russian artillery in action. With Bagration's troops out of the way, the powerful Russian artillery deployed along the entire position and opened fire. Up and down the line, men were reeling and falling, horses plunging and mad with wounds, the men yelling, shells bursting, it was as if the last day of Pompei.

    The cannonballs were throwing up chunks of soil where they struck. Smoke, splinters, blood, wreck and carnage were indescribable. The galling fire of so many cannons made a tremendous moral effect on the infantry and cavalry. If the cannonball struck column of infantry, the first man would have his head taken off, the next was shot through the breast, the next through the stomach, and the fourth and fifth had all their bowels torn out. Many wounded horses were limping over the field and suffering. Colonel of the French 4th Line Regiment and commanders of both battalions were wounded.

    French general in combat. Finally Legrand's infantry division rushed forward as it was intolerable to stay under such a galling fire. Savary's Guard Fusiliers left the safety of the Lawden Wood and marched on Legrand's flank. On the columns pushed, closing the gaps, dressing the line, their pace breaking into a run as they neared the redoubts. The Russian battalions stood motionless, with their flags snapping in the wind.
    Legrand's division was one of the best infantry divisions in the French army. It consisted of the 18th Line Infantry Regiment (nicknamed The Brave), the 26th Light Infantry, the superb Tirailleurs Corses (nicknamed Les Cousins de l'Empereur), and the excellent Tirailleurs du Po. During the napoleonic wars the 26th Light won 7 battle honors, more than any other infantry regiment in the French army (except the 6th and 10th Light).

    By now Murat's cuirassiers and some dragoons were moved from the flank to the reserve. The remaining dragoons and the light cavalry guarded the northern flank against Cossacks and Uvarov's cavalry.
    Meanwhile Bennigsen brought over the Alle River the whole of Dohturov's corps (3rd, 7th and 14th Division). Grand Duke Constantine's 1st (Guards) and 2nd Division formed the reserve.

    French light infantry
advancing in column. The 26th Light Infantry stormed the Redoubt #2. With muzzles of their cannons projecting through the embrasueres and ammunition close at hand, the Russian gunners awaited the French.
    Adolphe Thiers writes: "General Legrand then detached the 26th Light to attack that of the three redoubts which was within his reach. That gallant regiment dashed off at a run, carried the redoubt in spite of General Kamenski's troops, and kept possession of it, after an obstinate fight.
    But the officer who commanded the enemy's artillery, having had his guns drawn off at a gallop, quickly removed them to the rear, to a spot which commanded the redoubt and covered the 26th with grape, which made prodigious havoc."

    Behind the 26th Light marched the 105th Line Infantry Regiment.
    This unit was also decimated by enemy's artillery and musket fire.
    Colonel of the French 105th Line Infantry was wounded twice.
    The two Russian battalions defending the redoubt Number 2 also suffered heavy casualties.

    Nothing however could stop the 26th Light, they carried the redoubt about 7 PM. According to Military Journal of the IV Army Corps it was the 26th Light, but according to Russians the 26th was repulsed and the redoubt was taken by the Guard Fusiliers. Shikanov thinks that the 26th Light could indeed take the redoubt but the Fusiliers held it while the 26th Light continued its advance. The Russians claimed that they saw the Guard Fusiliers very near to the redoubt.

    Half of the Prussian Towarzysze Regiment (lancers) attacked the 26th Light before being driven back by musketry. The Prussians returned to Bennigsen's line passing between columns of Russian infantry.

    Russian Musketiers. 
Movie War and Peace, Russia. The men of GM Warneck's Brigade (Perm, Kalouga and Sievsk Musketiers) of the Reserve Division were near the Prussian lancers and could see in the fading daylight the outline of enemy formations.
    The Russians began their steady advance against the 26th Light Regiment. Soon came the yellow flashes, followed by loud explosions, and the field was blanketed in smoke and blood. Although the Russians suffered heavily they were moving at the double quick as steadily as if at drill. The men of the 26th Light turned the captured guns against the musketiers and opened fire.

    St.Hilaire had sent 55th Line Infantry to support the brave 26th Light. Sweeping forward like an incoming tide, the 55th Line Infantry battled their way toward the redoubts, only to find their valor matched by that of their opponents. Although General Warneck and numerous officers and men fell, the Russian infantry pressed forward.

    French bayonet charge. Soon some French and Russian subunits crashed together with a force that caused a murderous rebound, and rippling aftershocks sent men tripping and sprawling in the pack ranks that followed.

    All order disintegrated in a wild, frenzied fight of point-blank shots and clubbed muskets, and the wounded and dying were trampled underfoot.

    Finally the Kalouga Musketiers, having its grenadier battalion in the front, retook the Redoubt #2 at bayonet point.

    Picture: Artillery defending a redoubt.
    Cavalry charging in the background.


    Massive Russo-Prussian attack.
    The fleeing French infantrymen run in the direction of
    Lawden Wood where stood d'Espagne's cuirassiers.
    The cavalry became disordered. The French infantry
    lost 2 flags.


    The Russians prepared a massive counterattack. Forward moved the 2nd, 3rd and part of the 6th Division. Shikanov mentions two other musketier regiments advanced with the 2nd Division. The best of them was the 2nd Division because it consisted of the excellent Pavlovsk Grenadiers and the St. Petersburg Grenadiers.

    The French infantry however stubbornly held their ground with musketry and artillery fire. Once the advancing Russian columns halted under the terrific artillery fire, the 10th Light (one of the best in the French army), 43rd, 46th and 57th Line (nicknamed "The Terrible") charged with the bayonet. The Russian masses wavered and then slowly fell back.

    Russian infantry After a short break the Russian infantry returned and attacked with even greater vigor. The greencoats captured (battalion) Eagle of the 36th Line Infantry Regiment.
    The French then abandoned the area around Redoubt #2. The Russian musketiers and Prussian cavalry (Ziethen's dragoons and Towarzysze Regiment) rushed after the fleeing enemy. The French infantry run in the direction of Lawden Wood where stood GD d'Espagne's 3rd Cuirassier Division. The cuirassiers became disordered and fled too.
    GD Oudinot suggested the Emperor go to the safety. Oudinot added jokingly that if the Emperor refuses then Oudinot's grenadiers will take him by force. The Prussians then pursued the cuirassiers into the midst of the French artillery where they cut down number of gunners. French infantry formed squares and opened fire, forcing the Prussians to retire to their original position.

    Russian gooners Picture: Russian gunners. Manning a gun for hours was plain hard work. After 5-6 shots have been fired quickly after another, the cannon usually became hot that it has to be cooled down by making the sponge wet with water and sponging the tube several times.

    St.Hilaire's division suffered heavy casualties from artillery fire. The colonel of 14th Line was wounded. Saint-Hilaire was considered by Napoleon as the bravest of all generals of the infantry. ("The brave General Saint-Hilaire, the pride of the army, as remarkable for his wit as for his military talents ..." - Baron Lejeune)

    The 55th Line Infantry Regiment was then attacked by Prussian cavalry and Russian infantry and was overthrown. They also lost their eagle, colonel, and number of officers. The eagle of 55th Line Regiment was captured by NCO Anton Antonov of Pernov Musketiers. After war the Pernov was awarded with georgievskiie znamenia.
    Prussian hussars capture
French Color. Picture by Knotel. Prussian historians claimed that the Prittwitz Hussars captured the Eagle. German artist Knotel painted a picture showing this moment. There is however no data, no names of Prussian soldiers who captured the Eagle, no nothing to back up this claim. So it looks like the Russians and not the Prussians did it.

    The confusion in this sector of the battlefield was riotous. Legrand's division and Savary's Fusiliers were formed in hollow squares, containing the Russian prisoners. The squares were then repeatedly attacked by Russian and Prussian cavalry and forced to retire behind Spuibach Stream.
    With Legrand's division and Savary's Fusiliers falling back, St.Hilaire's and St.Cyr's divisions found themselves close the Redoubt #1 but with exposed flank. So they, too, began withdrawal during which they have suffered heavy losses from the Russian artillery.

    Almost the whole French line was pushed back beyond Spuibach. Only the Lawden Wood was in French hands. Darkness was falling and the victorious Russians decided to go back to their redoubts. The battle seemed over for the night.


    Lannes' arrival and furious counter-attack.
    Warned by a French deserter of the
    impending attack, Bennigsen was
    prepared to meet it.


    Marshal Lannes arrived with his corps. At about 10 PM he sent Verdier's division from the Lawden Wood forward against the Redoubt #2. Warned by a French deserter of the impending attack, Bennigsen was prepared to meet it.

    Russian bayonet charge. The Russian general sent the 14th Division on the right flank. The commander of this division, Olsufiev, was wounded and replaced by GM Alexeiev.

    Verdier's division, supported by the 75th Line (of Legrand's division), advanced across the plain separating the two armies.

    French veteran The boldly advancing French infantry received such a load of iron that they rapidly fell back on the Lawden Wood. Bennigsen then sent several jager battalions against the wood. The French infantrymen however repulsed them.

    It was dark, about 11 PM, when the last shots were fired. There was however no silence, the groans of the wounded and their heart-wrenching cries for water and help, made it impossible to rest. "Bennigsen, a prey to acute pain and to great perplexities, passed the night at bivouac, wrapped in his cloak. It requires a strong mind to defy at once physical pain and moral pain. General Bennigsen was capable of enduring both." ( Adolphe Thiers - "History of the Consulate and the Empire of France under Napoleon." p 308 Vol II, publ. in 1849 in Philadelphia.)

    Rain fell in the night.

    It is said that in 1815 at Waterloo Wellington was warned by a French deserter (royalist)
    of the impending attack of the Middle Guard. Wellington was prepared to meet it.
    Less than 30 min. before the attack a French deserter officer of horse carabiniers rode up to British 52nd Foot yelling 'Vive le Roi !' He met the British saying 'That scoundrel Napoleon is with his Guard over there. He will be upon you shortly.' According to Ensign Leeke of the British Guard it was "... a French cuirassier officer came galloping up the slope and down the bank in our front, near to Sir John Colborne, crying 'Vive l'Roi !'" Wellington had brought a number of units in from both flanks to support the troops facing Middle Guard. Wellington was able to shorten his front line due to the arrival of Blucher's Prussians. It was Blucher's indirect contribution to the defeat of Middle Guard. The troops from the flank were Vivian's cavalry brigade, Vandeleur's cavalry brigade and other smaller units. Halkett's and Du Platt's brigades had come forward to support Hougoumont and flank the Middle Guard. Chasse's division deployed behind British infantry between Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. In this situation it's not surprising that the attack of the Middle Guard at Waterloo failed.


    Casualties and aftermath.
    At noon the odour of the corpses festering in the sun
    became so horrible the troops had to retire some distance.


    In the morning all the horrors of battlefield were clearly visible. There were thousands upon thousands of wounded and killed soldiers who had been already stripped of all clothes. Large patches of grass were covered with blood. The level of suffering for the soldiers was beyond compare. There were bodies without heads, without legs, shot through the belly, with blown away foreheads, with holes in their chests, wounded, kicking horses.
    Faddei Bulgarin of Grand Duke Constantine Uhlans met a Frenchman who had his face shott off by canister. No skin, no eyes, no jaws, only tongue was left in the throat of this sufferer. Chalikov asked if there is a volunteer to shot thim and end his pain. There was not one man who wanted to do it. Finally the blacksmith of this regiment, a Swede named Tortus, agreed to do it. He drank vodka and took the Frenchman into a forest. The uhlans heard one shot and the matter was over. Bulgarin wrote that the entire night his every dream was about this poor guy.

    At noon the odour of the corpses festering in the sun became so horrible the troops had to retire some distance. The men were thirsty and hungry. Gonneville of the 6th Cuirassiers recorded: "The baggage had not come up; we had no bread or anything else to eat. I had a little tea made in a bit of a canister shot case."

    According to Shikanov the Russians suffered 6,000 casualties at Heilsberg.
    The French lost 12,600 (1.398 killed, 10.359 wounded and 864 prisoners).
    Each side had 7 generals wounded.

    Loraine Petre writes: "The loss in this great battle was enormous on both sides. Soult's corps alone admittedly lost 6,601 the total loss of the French was at least 10,000. According to L Petre the Russians had lost 2,000 or 3,000 killed and 5,000 or 6,000 wounded; in all, not less than 7,000 or 8,000 besides prisoners. The 1st Division, and the greater part of the Russian cavalry, had not been engaged at all. With such losses, it is easy to judge how fierce was the struggle.
    Casualties among the generals and senior officers were heavy. "... the brave General Roussel, chief of staff of the Guard, had his head blown off by a shell. Curial was severely wounded marching at the head of the Fusiliers-Chasseurs who covered themselves with clory. Major Vrigny and Captains Schramm, Deshayes, and Labusuquette were among the wounded." (Lachoque - "Anatomy of Glory" p 97)

    Baron Marbot writes: ".. Colonel Sicard was mortally wounded. He had already been wounded at Eylau, and although scarcely recovered from his injuries, had returned to take part in the renewed fighting. Before he died, the good colonel requested me to say his farewell to Marshal Augereau, and gave me a letter for his wife. I was very much upset by this painful scene. "


    Napoleon and the Guard Cavalry enter Heilsberg.


    French victory and ... Napoleon's love affair.
    After receiving information that Davout's corps
    had been sighted Bennigsen abandoned his
    position , and quickly marched away.


    Russian artillery from the southern bank of the Alle River cannonaded St.Cyr's infantry.

    Marshal Davout Then Bennigsen received information that Marshal Davout (The Iron Marshal) with his superb corps had been sighted on the Landsberg road. Bennigsen at first failed to appreciate the significance of the French appearance in that place. He conceived that the French were moving on Konigsberg, and that Lestocq's Prussians, might not be strong enough to resist the advance and cover Konigsberg. Bennigsen therefore detached Kamenski with 9,000 men to join him and ordered Lestocq to retire to Konigsberg.

    Meanwhile Davout's leading echelon met Platov's Cossacks.

    Before midnight Bennigsen finally understood what is in store for him, he crossed the Alle River and quickly marched away. His movement was unperceived by the French. Jean Barres of the Imperial Guard wrote: "The day closed without result ... and we bivauacked on the ground we occupied, amidst the dead ..."

    There was no rest for Bagration's troops. "Bagration once more, with Platov's Cossacks, took the post in which he had already shown such marked capacity, the command of the rear guard. It was not tll the morning of the 12th was well advanced that the last troops had passed the river, burning the bridges behind them, as well as the camp on the right bank." (- Petre)

    Countess Walewska Josephine Left: Napoleon's wife, Josephine.
    Right: Napoleon's young lover, Countess Walewska.

    Meanwhile Napoleon entered the town of Heilsberg, wrote a short letter to young and beautiful Marie Countess Walewska and then left. Marie was 16 (17) years younger than Napoleon. "Their affair was passionate." (- 2009)
    "I want no one but you. ...
    Marie, my sweet Marie,
    my first thought is of you ...
    Love me my pretty one, and
    hold your bouquet tight !"
    - Napoleon

    She gave him a son, Alexandre, and remained faithful to him until he was exiled. At fourteen Alexander refused to enter the Russian army, escaping to London and thence to Paris, where the French government refused to extradite him to the Russian authorities. After the fall of the November Uprising in 1831 he took out letters of naturalization in France and entered the French army. In 1855 Count Walewski succeeded Drouyn de Lhuys as French minister of foreign affairs. (


    "But Heilsberg cannot be described as a French success.
    As at Eylau, Napoleon is left in possession of a battlefield,
    not a decisive victory."
    (Summerville - "Napoleon's Polish Gamble" p 124)


    Napoleon with a map. From Napoleon's point of view, it is certain that his object, in so far as it consisted of compelling Bennigsen to evacuate the position he had prepared with such care, could have been attained with trifling loss on the next day. As Davout's corps appeared beyond Bennigsen's right flank, there can be no doubt that he would have felt himself bound, as he actually did on the 11th, to seek temprorary safety, once more, on the right bank of the Alle River.
    "Of the tactics of the French in this terrible combat, there is not much that is favourable to be said. Napoleon attacked a very strong position with very inferior forces, for it was not till too late in the day to save the situation that Lannes' corps, Ney, and the Guard could reach the battlefield." (Petre - "Napoleon's campaign in Poland, 1806-1807" pp 303-304)

    Uvarov Bagration "Bagration's conduct of his rear guard action against Soult was admirable as his fight on the previous evening before Guttstadt. His steadfast resistance wore out the enemy, before they even arrived within striking distance of Bennigsen's line of battle. Similarly, Uvarov, and the Prussian cavalry behaved magnificently towards Lawden against Murat, Savary, and Legrand. The promptitude with which the Grand Duke Constantine supported Bagration, by his battery on the right bank of the Alle, must not be forgotten." (Petre - "Napoleon's campaign in Poland, 1806-1807" p 304-305)

    Napoleon's Strategy and Tactics.


    Battle of Friedland and Peace Treaty.
    The treaty ended war between Russia and France
    and began an alliance between the two empires
    which rendered the rest of Europe almost powerless.
    Prussia lost about half its territory.


    Map: Movements of French, Prussian and Russian troops after the battle of Heilsberg.
    (Strategy of the Central Position was used by Napoleon in situations where his armies were weaker than its enemy. During the period after Heilsberg Napoleon placed his army BETWEEN the Russians and Prussians.
    This strategy necessitated bold leadership, careful timing, and aggressive movement, for it required the army to get BETWEEN the enemy concentrations, thereby preventing them from uniting. By movong swiftly into the central position, Napoleon could concentrate the bulk of his forces against the more threatening enemy contingent and seek a decisive battle, while a corps or two undertook to hold off the other enemy contingent as long as possible. This strategy brought him fantastic victories vs stronger enemies. Even in 1815 "the Emperor came within a hairsbreadth of bringing off a major succes by using this system." (Chandler - "Waterloo ..." p 76) According to David Chandler only Napoleon' computer-like mind and his fast marching army were suited to accepting this type of challenge.)

    General Leontii Bennigsen led his decimated army in retreat along the right bank of the Alle River in the direction of Konigsberg. In Konigsberg were located huge military magazines. Alle River makes a great bend to the east and north, so that the French, moving across the chord while he followed the arc, were able to outstrip him. Bennigsen crossed to the left bank of Alle only to find his way barred by Marshal Lannes' corps.

    Friedland was a battle Bennigsen should never have fought. It would have been wiser for Bennigsen to have fallen back, behind the Pregel River, and united there with Lestocq's Prussian corps, which had been moving parallel with the Russian army but nearer the Baltic Sea.

    Friedland was a total disaster for Bennigsen's army and one of Napoleon's greatest victories. Napoleon with 70,000 men defeated Bennigsen's 75,000-men strong army. The French have suffered 7,000 casualties, while the Russians lost 28,000 killed, wounded and prisoners.

    Battle of Friedland.
Schlacht bei Friedland.
Bitwa pod Frydlandem.
Bataille de Friedland
    Picture: Battle of Friedland.

    Bennigsen's defeat at Friedland strengthened the peace party at the Russian court. Grand Duke Constantine (Tsar's brother, commander of the Russian Imperial Guard), Prince Czartoryski (a Pole, friend and advisor of Tsar), Kurakin (Ambassador of Russia in Vienna in 1806 and in Paris in 1808), and many others, were now in the ascendant.

    Napoleon and Tsar Alexander at Tilsit
determine the future of Europe. Few days after the battle of Friedland, Napoleon and Tzar Alexander met at Tilsit and the Peace Treaty was concluded. Napoleon and Tsar Alexander met on a raft in the middle of the Nemunas River. Marshal Davout had his entire III Army Corps in white trousers for the review celebrating the peace treaty.
    France and Russia secretly agreed to aid each other in disputes France pledged to aid Russia against Turkey, while Russia agreed to join the Continental System against Britain.

    Napoleon also convinced Alexander to instigate the Finnish War against Sweden in order to force Sweden to join the Continental System. Russia agreed to evacuate Wallachia and Moldavia, which had been occupied by Russian troops. The Ionian Islands, which had been captured by Russian navy, were to be handed over to the French. Prussia lost about half its territory: the left bank of the Elbe was awarded to the newly-created Kingdom of Westphalia, and the Polish lands in the Prussian possession were set up as the Duchy of Warsaw. Prussia was to reduce the army to 40,000 men.

    The treaty ended war between Russia and France and began an alliance between the two empires which rendered the rest of Europe almost powerless. However, Napoleon's matrimonial plans to marry the tsar's sister were stymied by Russian royalty.

    Fete given for the Russian Guard 
by the Grenadiers in 1807 at Tilsit. 
Picture by Chereau. The French and Russian Guards got together to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Tilsit. "The engineers had built a large wooden hut in which the officers of the Guard were to feast their erstwhile opponents.
    On the 30th the sun shone briliantly in a cloudless sky. In a well-chosen meadow, a cannon-shot from the town, planks nailed to trestles formed picninc tables for the 'brotherly feast', arranged around a square in which the band would play.
    The meal consisted of soup, beef,
    mutton, pork, goose and chicken.
    To drink: beer, brandy in barrels
    at the ends of the tables.
    The Guards ate standing.
    Russian and French Guard. The Russians, initially suspicious and awkward, were reassured by the French. Coignet has left a detailed account of this feast, and although he may have exaggerated some details, he did so inadvertently, having written his memoirs more than 30 years after leaving the service and one can understand that this was in no way a formal banquet.
    'These hungry men [the Russians] could not restrain themselves: they knew nothing of the reserve which one should exhibit at table.
    They were given brandy to drink, which was the drink of the meal and, before offering them a glass, it was proper to drink and then to pass them a goblet in white metal containing a quarter of a litre. The contents immediately disappeared; they swallowed a morsel of meat as large as an egg with each swig." (Georges Blond - "La Grande Armee" p 158)

    "The French and Russian Guards got together to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Tilsit." - Georges Blond
    (Review of Russian troops, picture from film "War and Peace" by S. Bondarchuk.)


    Sources and Links.
    Recommended Reading.

    Barres - "Memoirs of a French napoleonic officer"
    Shikanov - 'Piervaia Polskaia Kampaniia 1806-7"
    von Hpfner - "Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807" Vol. III and IV
    Petre - "Napoleon's Campaign in Poland, 1806-1807"
    The Department of History at the US Military Academy - series of campaign atlases
    Georges Blond - "La Grande Armee" publ. in 1995
    Adolphe Thiers - "History of the Consulate and the Empire of France under Napoleon." publ. in 1849
    Sir Wilson - "Brief remarks on the Character and Composition of the Russian Army,
    and a Sketch of the Campaigns in Poland in the Years 1806 and 1807"
    Summerville - "Napoleon's Polish Gamble"


    French and Russian Order of Battle of Heilsberg

    Napoleon, His Army and Enemies