The Battle of Kulm.

29th – 30th August 1813,

In June 2013 Gramo and DrBob visited the site of the Battle of Kulm in the Czech republic. Armed with nothing more than a compass and camera and fortified by a McDonalds breakfast, 10 chicken wings and a chesse salad, they spent two days travelling around the battlefield. Despite the distant rumbles of thunder, they took over 400 photographs.

These have been stitched into a fully interactive virtual tour. A full account of the battle, complete with newly prepared maps is shown on the following pages.

View the tour here.


View Larger Map

 For those who prefer a more traditional approach to history, the article is available as a short monograph priced £5.00 & pp. Please contact Graham for more details.

For other accounts of the battle and descriptions of the locality see these links:

http://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitva_u_Chlumce_(1813)    (English translation)

http://napoleon-knihy.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/bitva-u-chlumce-prestanova.html   (English translation)

http://www.prestanov.cz/bitva-u-chlumce-a-prestanova/d-4648    (English Translation)

 The Lost Opportunity.

The Battle of Kulm by Alexander von Kotzebue
The Battle of Kulm by Alexander von Kotzebue

A New Command.

General of Division, Dominique-Joseph-René Vandamme, count of Unsebourg, looking clean and dapper in a new uniform, mounted his horse and said farewell to his wife and child. He had been forced to leave Napoleon’s Grande Armée during the summer of 1812, just as the fateful Russian campaign was underway, owing to his constant bickering and insubordination towards the French Emperor’s younger brother, Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia. Now, after cooling his heels on his estate near Cassel in northern France during the autumn and winter of 1812-1813, Vandamme found himself back in favour with Napoleon, mainly due to the appalling losses in officers and men incurred during the disastrous advance and retreat from Moscow. Knowing full well Vandamme’s skill as a division commander, plus the urgent need to build a new and powerful army in order to reassert his control over his wavering allies, Napoleon had ordered his minister of war to write to the general and ask him to return to duty. Only too happy to oblige, in late February 1813, Vandamme rode away to take up his post as commander of three new divisions forming between the Weser and Elbe Rivers, these troops would be used to bolster the depleted French forces on the lower Elbe.1

General Vandamme
General Vandamme

With his prestige seriously dented, his once proud army reduced to rag – pickers, and his allies considering their options, only a man of Napoleon’s willpower, determination and ego could have shrugged off the disastrous 1812 Russian campaign and set about building a new Grande Armée in order to reassert his authority in Europe. By the early spring of 1813 he had created twelve army corps, and although most of the infantry regiments were made up of raw recruits, and the cavalry very weak for wont of horses and proper training, it was still, nevertheless, a fantastic achievement.

Russia and Prussia

The hardships and losses of 1812 were not confined to the French army. Russia had also suffered severely. Her army, in particular, was much reduced and its equipment in need of refurbishment. In early February 1813 many of the infantry regiments were down to one battalion, and these contained fewer than 400 men each, while the cavalry had shrunk from the established eight squadrons per regiment down to four, with no more than 80-100 men per squadron; in all, counting the artillery and Cossacks, around 110,000 men. On 5th February a “ukase” had prescribed the formation of a reserve army of 163 battalions, 92 squadrons and 37 batteries of artillery, to be assembled around Bialystock. From March to August 1813 this reserve supplied the field army with 68,000 infantry, 14,000 cavalry, and 5 batteries of artillery.2

The effect of the Russian victory in 1812, over the seemingly invincible French emperor, first surfaced when the Prussian contingent serving as part of the Grande Armée, under general Hans David Ludwig von York, defected to the Russians by signing the Treaty of Tauroggen  (30th December 1812). Thereafter the Prussian king, Frederick William III, signed the Treaty of Kalisch (3rd February 1813) with Russia, agreeing to surrender the land acquired by Prussia during the third partition of Poland to the Tsar, in return for Russia’s proliferation of the war against Napoleon until Prussia’s pre 1806 position had been restored.

 The Prussian army of 1813 was undergoing a rapid increase in strength. With the signing of the Kalisch treaty an edict was issued for volunteer Jäger aged between 17 and 24, and a Landwehr militia of all men from the age of 17 to 40 to be integrated into local units.3 The regular Prussian forces, which had been limited to 42,000 men by the Treaty of Tilsit (7th July 1807), formed the backbone of the new army. Thanks to the diligent work of General Gerhard Johann von Scharnhorst, a “Krumper” system had been set up allowing each company and squadron in the regular army to discharge a specific number of trained troops, and bring in an equal number of recruits for training. It was due to this constant flow of men that the restrictions placed on the size of the army by Napoleon were circumvented, allowing a further 33,642 trained men to join the colours.4 Therefore, counting various “Free Corps” units, plus artillery, the Prussians were eventually able to raise a force of around 120,000 men. The main problem, especially during the opening stages of the 1813 campaign, was the lack of weapons, uniforms, shoes and provisions; not to mention the fact that many of the fresh recruits were in need of drill and training. The Landwehr in particular suffered severely:

…Raised jointly by the provisional and royal authorities, its units were formed on a local and regional basis, with the provincial colours on their cap band and flags and the Maltese cross as their cap insignia. Up to the rank of captain, officers were elected whilst the higher grades were proposed by estates and appointed by the king. At first the Landwher lacked officers and equipment. Muskets were in short supply and pikes had to be issued to many of the troops. Overcoats, blankets, and packs were lacking, and some units were barefoot. As late as October 1813, one regiment, poor weavers from Hirschberg in Silesia, had no boots. Even so, the militia fought with unexpected élan during the 1813 campaign, though, like the early levies of the French Revolution; the militiamen were undisciplined, given to sudden panic and desertion. And like the French levies, they eventually learned to fight by fighting and to march by marching.5

The Austrian auxiliary force, which had also been committed to aiding Napoleon’s main thrust against Russia, slipped quietly away into Galicia once it became apparent that things had gone badly wrong for the French, not wishing to take sides until being sure of backing the winner. Thereafter Austria adopted a stance of armed neutrality, cloaking her real intentions under the mantel of offering to play mediator between Napoleon and the Russians and Prussians.

The Spring Campaign of 1813.

Never happy with the idea of continuing the war by advancing into Germany in the first place, the Russian commander, Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, coming under pressure from the Tsar, reluctantly ordered a concentration of his forces along the line of the river Elbe. The old soldier was not keen to keep pushing forward when he knew full well that Napoleon would soon take advantage of Russia’s weak and extended line of communication: ‘You must understand that any reverse will be a big blow to Russia’s prestige in Germany.’6 Lacking the troop numbers and resources available at this time Kutuzov was probably right, however by holding the line of the Elbe rather than taking up a position further west the Russians and Prussians allowed Napoleon more time, a luxury they themselves required in order to attempt to bring Austria in on their side and also allow much needed reinforcements to arrive from Russia.7

On 28th April Kutuzov died and the Tsar replaced him with general count Ludwig Adolf Peter Wittgenstein. Why Wittgenstein was picked for the job has remained something of a mystery. He was chosen most probably because the Tsar wanted to be seen as the man who rid Europe of the Corsican ogre, and he certainly resented Kutuzov being lorded as the ‘saviour of Russia.’8 As for Wittgenstein himself, although he had fought with distinction during the Polish War (1794-95), and at the battles of Austerlitz (1805); Friedland (1807), and Polotsk (1812), he nevertheless was way out of his depth commanding anything larger than an army corps and eventually he was replaced and pushed into the background; when the Austrians finally joined the coalition he had virtually nothing to command, his forces having been split – up.9

During the last days of April, Napoleon, with some 100,000 men of the Army of the Main, began to advance on Leipzig from the direction of Erfurt, while The Army of the Elbe, under Prince Eugéne, Napoleon’s stepson, and numbering around 30,000, approached from the direction of Halle in the north. The Russian and Prussian combined army of some 86,000 men were grouped just south of the French line of march, near the town of Lutzen. Here, on the 2nd May, Wittgenstein, aware that Napoleon was gradually building up his forces and would eventually outnumber the combined allied army, decided to strike the French before they could concentrate superior forces against him. The brave but reckless French Marshal Michel Ney, Duke of Elchingen and Prince of the Moskva, guarding the French right wing, was dilatory in his behaviour in not conforming to Napoleon’s orders for the concentration of his five divisions and to send out strong recognisance forces to determine the whereabouts of the enemy. On the 2nd May Wittgenstein attacked Ney’s III Corps scattered around the villages of Starsiedel and Grossgörschen south – east of Leipzig and a bloody but indecisive battle was fought. Although the allies were forced to retreat, the victory claimed by Napoleon did little more than bring the wavering Saxon king, Frederick Augustus I, back into an alliance with the French.

The orderly retreat of the Russians and Prussians after the battle enabled them to cross the Elbe River and take up a strong defensive position around the town of Bautzen in eastern Saxony. Here they were able to draw breath and consolidate, constructing a number of strong redoubts and entrenchments on the high ground behind the valley of the Blösaer Wasser River with troops pushed forward along the line of the Spree River and around Bautzen itself to fight a stalling advanced guard action; the combined strength of the allied army being some 96,000 men.

After the battle of Lutzen, Napoleon had rearranged his forces; disbanding the Army of the Elbe, he now created a new army under Ney numbering 84,000, while he himself commanded the main army, including the Guard, of almost 120,000. With the latter he engaged the allies at Bautzen in a containing battle on the 20th May. The following day Ney’s army came down on their right flank for the kill. However, due once again to Ney’s mishandling of the situation, which can only be attributed as the knock – on effect of Napoleon’s failure to place a less excitable and hot headed general in command of so large a force, the allies were able to make good their escape.

Although they had managed to evade defeat on two occasions, the Prussians and Russians were far from being in agreement on the actual course of action now to be taken. Barclay de Tolly now replaced Wittgenstein as commander – in – chief owing to the latter’s total mismanagement of affairs at all levels, and the alliance was held together tentatively, mainly by Tsar Alexander, who suggested that the army should retire in a south – easterly direction, covering Silesia and therefore being able to keep in touch with Austria whose intervention on the allied side was now fast becoming a necessity.10

On the 4th June, Napoleon, totally out of character in comparison to his former blustering concerning the plight the allies must be in after their twin defeats at his hand, agreed to an armistice. He also agreed to a Peace Congress to be held in Prague, his reasoning being his lack of cavalry and his uncertainty concerning the position of Austria.

With the benefit of hindsight it could be said that, on the one hand, Napoleon should have kept up the pressure. His lack of cavalry had not hampered him a great deal during the early stages of the campaign, indeed, it was his massive weight of infantry numbers that had swung the balance in his favour at both Lutzen and Bautzen, and given the fact that for the most part they were untried and untested in battle, they had fought splendidly. On the other hand, these same young recruits were worn out by forced marches and were unaccustomed to the French style of bivouacking, which meant sleeping where one could and foraging what was available. This, in turn, caused a colossal wastage from sickness and exhaustion. There was also the problem of defending the French line of communication, which required a substantial amount of manpower as large raiding parties of Cossacks were operating in the French rear area. With all this being said, Napoleon himself later stated that agreeing to an armistice was one of his gravest mistakes. By continuing to keep up the pressure and driving hard close on the heels of the undefeated but wavering and weary allied army he may indeed have secured a favourable peace very much on his own terms. The euphoria in the allied camp on hearing of Napoleon’s decision to agree to an armistice was the release – valve for the problems and pressure that had been building up over the previous months. When General Louis Andrault Alexandre de Langeron, a French noble who had entered Russian service at the beginning of the French Revolution, announced the news at Barclay’s headquarters it was received with great peals of laughter ‘…this explosion of happiness,’ wrote Langeron, ‘was by no means normal with Barclay. He was always cold, serious and severe in spirit and in his manner. The two of us laughed together at Napoleon’s expense. Barclay, all the generals and our monarchs were drunk with joy and they were right to be so.’ ((Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 327 – 328))

Prelude to Disaster

While Napoleon had been engaged in fighting the Russians and Prussians, general Vandamme was organizing a fledgling corps of three divisions to reinforce the depleted French forces on the lower Elbe River. The important city of Hamburg had been captured by Colonel Freiherr Ferdinand von Tettenborn commanding a small “free corps” of Cossacks and regular cavalry in March 1813, the French general in charge of the city, Claude Carra Saint – Cyr, having quitted the place and retired southwest, much to Napoleon’s displeasure. Vandamme was duly ordered to retake it, as it was the key to the lower Elbe region. However, before he could complete the training and organization of his new command Napoleon had placed Marshal Louis Davout in charge of the Thirty – Second Military District, which included Hamburg and all troops in the northern sector. Treating each other with respect deferential to each other’s rank and military performance, but without any show of friendship, Davout and Vandamme worked well together, the Marshal allowing Vandamme to proceed with retaking Hamburg, which fell to the French on 30th May.11

Prior to his reoccupation of Hamburg, Davout had received orders from Napoleon that as soon as the city was once again in French hands he was to “send General Vandamme with the Second and Fifth divisions and the necessary artillery in the direction of Mecklenburg and Berlin to cover the left flank of the corps that is advancing on Berlin.”12 As things turned out Vandamme became drawn ever closer to the centre of gravity around Napoleon himself, but as we shall see with the unfolding of events, he never came under the direct orders of the Emperor on the battlefield, and he certainly made better use of his skills as a general than the other commanders given independent control of large forces by Napoleon.

The Plan that Never Worked

All parties involved realised that the Armistice of Neumarckt was nothing more than a temporary pause in a campaign that could only be decided either by Napoleon regaining his   former control over Europe, or by the an allied victory that would push him firmly back across the Rhine, the Pyrenees and the Alps, confining him once and for all to the boundaries of France and ridding their lands of his menacing presence. To this end Austria, although appearing to play the part of mediator between the allied Coalition and the French emperor, was in fact preparing and strengthening her forces ready to throw in her lot on the side of the allies. Even the Austrian minister, Prince Clemens Lothar Metternich, who was sent to negotiate the peace talks, was well aware that Napoleon would never accept his proposals to give up all he had gained over the past thirteen years. Also negotiations taking place in Prague proved to be only a sham played out while all sides prepared for a renewal of the conflict, and the armistice was renounced on the 10th August with Austria joining the Coalition against France two days later.The vacillating and cunning Prince Charles John, Crown Prince of Sweden, former French Marshal Jean – Baptisie – Jules Bernadotte, also threw in his lot with the allies, although his motives were far from clear.

The combined allied forces ranged against Napoleon were massed in three armies:

 

The Army Of Bohemia
Commander: Prince Karl Philipp Schwarzenberg
Austrians: 125,000
Prussian II Corps:  37,000 Kleist
Prussian Guard: 7,000
Russians: 80,000 Barclay de Tolly
TOTAL: 249,000
The Army Of  The North
Commander: Crown Prince of Sweden
Prussians: 72,000 Tauentzien/Bulow
Russians 30,000 Winzingerode
Swedes 23,000 Bernadotte
TOTAL: 125,000
The Army Of  Silesia
Commander: Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher
Prussians: 38,000 Yorck
Russians 370,000 Sacken/Langeron
TOTAL: 108,000
   
GRAND TOTAL: 482,000

 

After much hot air being expanded at a conference at the castle of Trachenberg, the Allies finally decided on a plan of operation that would entail each of their respective armies not accepting battle with the French when Napoleon himself was in command, but rather to fall back until such time that their combined forces manoeuvring against his centre of operations would outnumber him on the field.

During the armistice Vandamme was placed in command of the newly designated 1st Corps of the Grande Armée, with his headquarters at Magdeburg. He now had some forty battalions of infantry in three divisions, together with forty – six cannon, in all close to 25,000 men,13 However, the source material available for Vandamme’s corps at this time is conflicting.

The French army now numbered, not counting the troops holding the garrisons of the Elbe, Oder and Vistula Rivers, approximately 440,000 men, including almost 30,000 cavalry. With these Napoleon intended to concentrate the main army, under his personal control, in a strategically defensive position running from Bautzen to Görlitz, with entrenched camps around his centre of operations at Dresden and also at Königstein. These forces consisted of the I., II. III., VI., XI., and XIV corps together with the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th cavalry corps and the Imperial Guard; around 300,000 men. Marshal Charles – Nicolas Oudinot, Duke of Reggio, would move to threaten Berlin with a force of around 80,000 men, consisting of IV, VII, and XII corps, plus the 3rd cavalry corps, while Marshal Davout with 40,000 men (including 15,000 Danish troops) would also advance toward the Prussian capital , ‘…drawing on himself as many as possible of the enemy. Between Davout and Oudinot would be Dombrowski with 3,000 or 4,000 Poles and [general] Girard with 8,000 or 9,000 men. Altogether there would be about 120,000 men moving concentrically on Berlin.’14

To act on the defensive went totally against Napoleon’s principles of warfare, and thus he chose to strike first and fast against his old enemy, the wily old Prussian hussar, Field -Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher and his Army of Silesia, which had moved prematurely before the actual deadline for the end of the armistice, and which, in turn, diverted Napoleon’s attention away from other plans of action in order to meet the threat. Probably without much enthusiasm for retiring without a fight Blücher, in accordance with the Trachenberg Plan, pulled back out of Napoleon’s reach, causing the French to strike into a void. On 23rd August the French emperor, on obtaining the news that Schwazenberg and the Army of Bohemia were advancing, abandoned his quest to bring Blücher to battle and marched back to Dresden, leaving Marshal Étienne MacDonald, Duke of Taranto, with a force of 90,000 men to shadow his elusive pray.

Before commencing his maneuvering against Blücher, Napoleon had received information that a large force of Russians under Wittgenstein was marching to join the Army of Bohemia, and he even contemplated attacking these forces, writing to Vandamme, whose advance units were just arriving at Stolpen, to move his corps to Rumburg. Here he would find the 42nd division belonging to Marshal Laurent Gouvion St Cyr, which was to be attached to Vandamme’s command providing that St Cyr himself were not hard pressed. There were also some 3,000 cavalry of the French Imperial Guard under General Charles Lefebvre – Desnouettes, which he was also to have. He continued, “It is possible I might enter Bohemia at once and fall upon the Russians and catch them ‘en flagrant délit.’15 Thereafter Napoleon changed his mind and set his troops in motion to attack Blücher, leaving Vandamme with orders to fortify himself in the passes around Rumburg, here he would also receive  help from Marshal Claude Victor, Duke of Belluno’s  II Corps, together with the small Polish VIII Corps under Prince Josef Anton Poniatowski, newly created Marshal of the Empire. These 65,000 men Napoleon considered sufficient to hold the passes until he had destroyed the Army of Silesia.

The crucial stage of the campaign came on 25th August when Napoleon received an urgent message from Marshal St Cyr, informing him that his XIV Corps of some 20,000 men were about to be attacked at Dresden by the entire Army of Bohemia which had crossed the Erzgebirge Mountains. Napoleon had been contemplating a thrust against the rear of Schwarzenburg’s army by way of Pirna stating in a ciphered dispatch sent to St Cyr on the 24th August:

“My intention is to move to Stolpen. My army will be assembled there tomorrow. I shall spend the 26th there in preparation, and rallying my columns. On the 26th, in the night, I will send my columns by Königstein, and at daybreak on the 27th, I shall be in the camp at Pirna with 100,000 men. I shall operate so that the attack on Hellendorf begins at 7 A.M., and I shall be master of that place by noon. Then I shall place myself astride of that communication, and seize Pirna. I shall have two bridges ready to throw at Pirna, if necessary. Either the enemy has taken as his line of operation the road from Peterswalde to Dresden, in which case I shall be in his rear with all my army opposed to him, whilst he cannot assemble his in less than four or five days; or he has taken his line of operations by the road from Kommotau to Leipzig. In that case he will not retire, and will move on Kommotau; Dresden will be relived, and I shall find myself in Bohemia, nearer than the enemy to Prague, on which I shall march. Marshal St – Cyr will follow the enemy as soon as he appears to be disconcerted. I shall mask this movement by lining the bank of the Elbe with 30,000 cavalry and light artillery, so that the enemy, seeing all the river lined, will believe my army to be at Dresden… I assume that, when I undertake my attack, Dresden will not be attacked so as to be able to taken in twenty – four hours.”16

As things turned out the allied army was already closing in on Dresden, albeit without much show of haste, and the time wasted by the constant disagreements between the various monarchs and their advisors and generals concerning the correct plan of attack led them to lose precious time in organizing a quick and decisive assault before Napoleon could reach the field. Also the weather, which had been fine, became increasingly cold and wet during the evening of 26th August. The increasing wind accompanied by torrential rain began to cause rivers to rise rapidly, and turned roads and meadowland into quagmires of mud.

On the afternoon of 25th August Napoleon, now convinced that Dresden was in imminent danger of being attacked and captured by the Army of Bohemia, sent fresh orders to Vandamme with instructions to move his corps onto the Köenigstein Plateau and thereafter capture and occupy the town of Pirna on the River Elbe. In the meantime the Emperor himself would march to the relief of Dresden.

One can see that, although Napoleon had shelved the plan of marching against the rear of the Army of Bohemia with his main army, he nevertheless considered that Vandamme’s I Corp could still execute a similar manoeuvre, causing problems for the Allies if they were to be forced back into the defiles of the Erzgebirge Mountains, which indeed proved to be the case.

The battle of Dresden fought on the 26th – 27th August was, arguably, the last great encounter which could have altered not only the fate of Europe, but also the destiny of Napoleon himself. The two day battle fought on the second day in the most appalling conditions of mud and driving rain was, for the Allies, a fiasco which led to the loss of almost 30,000 men, in killed, wounded and prisoners, together with much material and baggage. Now was the time for Napoleon to throw everything he had into a pursuit that would have shattered the Army of Bohemia. Also, given the fact that all three Allied monarchs were with the defeated army, and would have been struggling to make good their escape before themselves becoming prisoners of war, it was certainly the French emperor’s best hope of ending the campaign in the style of Austerlitz and Jena. What he did do proved too little too late, and the fact that he fumbled and then dropped this golden opportunity, only goes to shows how much his military prowess had declined when confronted with making swift and decisive decisions on the grand scale that these vast campaigns required.

‘I will be master of Pirna tomorrow at an early hour’

Eugene of Wüttemberg
Eugene of Wüttemberg

Cognizant to the orders received from Napoleon on the 26th August to, ‘…advance to Basra and Hellendorf so that you can occupy the passes and fall on the rear of the enemy,’17 Vandamme, although informing Napoleon that he was perplexed as to the whereabouts of his heavy artillery (12 pounders) which, for reasons never fully disclosed had been sent to Dresden, nevertheless began to bridge the Elbe and push his corps across to engage the enemy.* These consisted of the Russian Second Corps and the 14th Infantry Division from the First Corps, together with four squadrons of regular cavalry and a detachment of Cossacks, plus 26 pieces of artillery, commanded by Prince Eugen of Württemberg and numbering around 13,000 men. They had been detached from Wittgenstein’s column as it advanced on the Teplitz road towards Dresden to keep watch on the Elbe near Königstein.  ((Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 397 – 398. There are no detail of where, and indeed if, Vandamme collected the French bridging train on the march, or if the pontoons were already in position. The latter seems improbable given the fact that Russian troops were in the vicinity of the crossing points. There are no permanent bridges at Königstein. Pontoons were installed at Pirna.))

The young French recruits, bolstered by a few hard – core veterans scattered throughout the various battalions and regiments under Vandamme’s command, were wet and hungry, but nevertheless still full of fight, albeit only to be guaranteed for a limited period, and buoyed by the news filtering in of the imminent return of their emperor and his Guard to Dresden; their spirits rose as they began to march across the rocking pontoons to confront the enemy, Vandamme informing Napoleon by dispatch that he would be, ‘master of Pirna tomorrow at an early hour.’18

Russian troops (Red) line of retreat to Kulm. French 1st Corps (Blue) follow up to Kulm.
Russian troops (Red) line of retreat to Kulm. French 1st Corps (Blue) follow up to Kulm.

Württemberg was well aware of Vandamme’s superiority in numbers and called for assistance from both Wittgenstein and Barclay de Tolly, but fully realising that this would take some time to materialise, he made preparations to fight a delaying action until help arrived. He did receive a temporary loan from the Grand Duke Constantine, the Tsar’s brother, who was marching with his corps along the Teplitz main highway on the morning of the 26th August on his way to join in the attack on Dresden. He dropped off the Empress’s Own Cuirassier Regiment under the command of Prince Leopold of Saxe – Coburg (the future king of Belgium), with instructions that they should be returned later that evening. Besides this Prince Eugen realised that, owing to the strung out state of Vandamme’s corps as it funnelled across the pontoons, he would be able to slow its deployment for some time with his artillery, owing to the wooded nature of the ground the French would have to negotiate after crossing the Elbe.19

These Russian tactics worked well, the French not being able, for some inexplicable reason, to get their artillery into action until late in the day. This allowed Württemberg’s gunners to lay down an unimpeded curtain of fire which crippled every attempt by the enemy to get through the woods and form for an attack. As evening approached on the 26th August, despite having inflicted over 1,800 casualties and held up Vandamme’s corp for a whole day, Württemberg fully realised that with his own losses close to 1,600 men, he would have to withdraw or be overwhelmed. This proved somewhat of a dilemma, as he could not cover both the allied right flank from being attacked by Vandamme, and the route back to Bohemia down the Teplitz highroad that the allies would require as a line of retreat if they were beaten at Dresden. Not knowing what the outcome would be, Württemberg therefore chose to hold up Vandamme as long as possible and stop him marching northward and coming down on the allied flank.20

In the most atrocious conditions the battle of Dresden slogged on throughout the 27th August, heavy rain preventing muskets from functioning and mud slowing down movement. Towards the end of the day it became obvious that the allies had suffered a serious defeat, their only option being to save what they could and retire back over the mountains into Bohemia. To this end Schwarzenberg ordered the army to retreat in three separate columns. The left wing, to march west to Freiberg, then south – west towards Commotau, the second column of the army would fall back through Dippoldiswalde where they would split, part moving to Frauenstein, part on Altenberg thence on to Dux in Bohemia. The third column, and the largest, containing mostly Russian troops and some Prussian units, would take the road south – eastward towards Dohna, thence to Berggieshubel and from there though Peterswalde and on to Teplitz.21 Like all seemingly straightforward orders in war, these movements proved totally impractical owing to the bottleneck that would have been created on the allied left along the Freiberg road, which was already cut by the French, and therefore forced them to divert south – west to Pretschendorf, and thereafter part moved via Dux, while others took the road to Marienberg, and then on to Commotau. The allied central column, consisting mainly of Austrian troops, had moved off on the evening of the 27th August, and made good its escape to Dippoldiswalde,  however, the Russians and Prussians making up the allied column on the right wing, under Field – Marshal Prince Barclay de Tolly and Field – Marshal Count Friedrich von Kleist, chose to ignore their marching orders, and instead of taking the Teplitz road as instructed, which would have placed them in a position to be caught in a vice between Vandamme and any troops sent by Napoleon to pursue them, caused the Russians to strike out directly down the Dippoldiswalde highway to Altenberg, while the Prussians took the ‘Old Teplitz Road’ going through Maxen, Glashütte and Barenstein, across the Erzgebirge Mountains, then descending down into the valley by way of Graupen. All of this caused much confusion and exhausted the poor troops who, after fighting and losing a futile battle over the course of two days in the most appalling conditions, were now herded along like cattle, many losing their boots in the glutinous mud, without hope of a respite from their fatigue and hunger until they had cleared the mountain defiles.22

With the allies in full retreat Napoleon, as he had done on former occasions, should have thrown everything he had into a full blown follow up pursuit, that he failed to do so, even allowing for the fact that rumour had just reached him of the defeat of two of his Marshals at the battles of the Katzbach ( Marshal MacDonald on the 26th August), and Gross – Beeren (Marshal Nicolas Oudinot, Duke of Reggio on the 20th – 23rd August), he nevertheless could do nothing to alter the situation, therefore now should have been the time to keep on the enemies heels, which would, in all probability, if he had placed himself in the vanguard, have resulted in the total ruin of the Army of Bohemia and may well have forced Austria out of the war. Indeed, his initial orders for the follow up of the defeated and battered enemy columns appeared substantial, providing the momentum was kept up – it wasn’t. Marshal Adolphe Mortier, Duke of Treviso, with two divisions of the Young Guard, together with Marshal St Cyr’s mauled but intact XIV Corps were to march on the road to Peterswalde and couple up with Vandamme’s forces. Marshal Auguste Marmont, Duke of Ragusa, with his VI Corps, to take the road to Altenberg, while the dashing but vain King of Naples, Joachim Murat, together with the II Corps under Marshal Victor, would advance along the road towards Freiberg. Napoleon himself even moved forward as far as Pirna on the 28th August, after which he took himself off back to Dresden, where news of the twin defeats suffered by MacDonald and Oudinot was confirmed, thus allowing the impetus to go out of the chase.

‘all that which marches in the tail of his army’

Meanwhile, on the morning of the 27th August, after finally getting all of his forces across the Elbe and into line, albeit with some loss, Vandamme now had at his disposal, not counting the losses incurred during the previous days fighting, some 37,000 men. He placed the detached brigade of the 23rd Division, under General Joachim – Jérôme Quiot du Passage, on the plateau near Pirna, with a battalion of the 85th Line Regiment on the Kohlberg heights. On Quiot’s left stood the 42nd Infantry Division (detached from XIV Corps) of General Régis Barthélemy Mouton – Duvernet, with the 2nd Infantry Division of General Jean – Baptiste Domonceau continuing the line again to the left where the 1st Infantry Division of General Armand Philippon together with the 1st Light Cavalry Division under General Jean – Baptiste – Juvénal Corbineau held ground towards the village of Hennersdorf. The brigade of infantry commanded by Prince Henry LXI of Kostritz, attached to Vandamme’s corps from the 5th Infantry Division, together with the 21st Light Cavalry Brigade under General Martin – Alexis Gobrecht were drawn up in reserve behind Phillippon’s division. Although his heavy guns had still not arrived from Dresden, Vandamme had some 76 pieces of artillery now up and ready to take on the Russian batteries. The problem facing the 1st Corps commander was his lack of knowledge concerning the overall military situation. Napoleon’s orders to Vandamme were ambiguous to say the least. The general had complied with the order received on the 26th August to attack the enemy corps before him, being informed that the emperor himself was engaged in a battle at Dresden. He was then ordered to march on to Hellendorf as soon as possible, with the added directive that, “I hope that during the day you will find yourself in the rear of the enemy.”23 However, on the 27th August Vandamme, for some inexplicable reason never fully understood, never used the full weight of his command to brush Württemberg aside and march – on into the Teplitz valley. Instead he seems to have been at a loss to know just what the Russians were doing, or, indeed, where to strike at them. Also further orders received from Napoleon on the afternoon of the 28th August appear to contradict the previous ones concerning getting ahead of the enemy and now:

“The Emperor orders that you direct your movements towards Peterswald with the entirety of your corps, Corbineau’s (cavalry) division, the 42nd Division (Mounton – Duvernet of the XIV Corps), and the brigade of the II Corps commanded by Reuss. This will give you an augmentation of 18 battalions.Pirna shall be guarded by the troops of the Duke of Trévise (Mortier), who shall arrive there this evening. The marshal also has orders to relieve your position in the Lilienstein camp. GB (General of Brigade) Baltus (I Corps artillery) with your 12pdr battery and your park, shall arrive in Pirna this evening. The Emperor desires that you unite all the forces that he has put at your disposition and that with them you penetrate into Bohemia and throw back Prince Wüttemberg, if he chooses to oppose you. The enemy that we have beaten is withdrawing on Annaberg. His Majesty thinks that you should arrive before him on his lines of communications with Tetschen, Aussig and Teplitz, and take his equipment, his ambulances, his baggage, and, in the end, all that which marches in the tail of his army. The Emperor orders that the pontoon bridge at Pirna be raised so that another may be erected at Tetschen.”24

From the above order one can see that the blocking of the defiles into Bohemia is not part of Vandamme’s remit, rather, he is told to push back Württemberg and cut his line of communication. How Napoleon expected Vandamme to take possession of “all that which marches in the tail of his army” when he was supposed to be clearing a path for himself to get ahead of it is somewhat confusing. Obviously the emperor was expecting more from Marshal St Cyr and Murat than he in fact got. But it is strange that, given that his orders to Vandamme only mention dealing with Wüttembergs command, then how he was to supposed to capture all of the allied armies baggage and equipment, which was moving by several different routes, is hard to understand.*

‘leading the advance with drums beating.’

General Count Ostermann – Tolstoy
General Count Ostermann – Tolstoy

For his part Württemberg fully understood the urgent need to try and stop Vandamme from blocking the defiles of the Erzgebirge Mountains and cutting off the escape route of the Russian and Prussian columns. He had been reinforced by 6,700 men of Major – General Baron Gregor von Rosen’s Ist Guards Infantry Division, which comprised some of the finest regiments in the Russian army, the Semenovsky, Preobrazhensky, Izmaiovsky and Guard Jäger, accompanied by a company of Guard marines. These troops, together with the overall commander of the entire Guard Corps, General Alesksei Ermolov and his staff, were a much needed addition to Württemberg’s tired and hungry soldiers. The problem was that their arrival coincided with a less welcome newcomer turning up, in the person of General Count Ostermann – Tolstoy, who arrived on the 26th August with orders from the Tsar stating that he was to take command of all allied troops on the right.25 Ostermann was a strange man. Good looking with an air of the Byronic about him, he took the title of Count Ostermann, plus enormous estates and wealth from an uncle who was childless. He was brave, some said foolhardy, but nevertheless a presence on the battlefield that was well respected by the troops. He participated in almost every major engagement that Russia fought against Napoleon, sometimes going on campaign with his pet white crow and Eastern Imperial eagle. His dashing appearance and steadiness on the battlefield unfortunately did not compensate for his lack of military talent when it came to commanding anything larger than a division, and upon returning to the army in the spring of 1813, after a bout of illness, some noted that he was inclined to become over excited, which, in turn, was attributed to an unbalanced frame of mind.26

The first crisis occurred when, on the 27th August, after taking command, Ostermann received orders from Barclay de Tolly stating that if he thought that continuing down the main Teplitz road could be hazardous, then he should abandon it and seek another route of escape across the mountains. Given his mental state and his lack of any real understanding of the military situation, the panic driven Ostermann chose to quit the highway and cut across to join the other allied column marching down the Dippoldiswalde road. As Petre states:

Had these orders been carried out, the result would have been the meeting of 120,000 men on a single bad road from Dippoldiswalde to Bohemia. The resulting confusion would have been almost unimaginable, and by the time the crowd of disordered troops reached the passes leading down to Bohemia, Vandamme would have arrived at their mouths, via Peterswalde, quite unopposed.27

Fortunately for the allies, Eugen of Wüttemberg, who was a first cousin to the Tsar, flatly refused to comply with Ostermann’s orders, pointing out the danger and the need to block Vandamme’s route so that the other allied columns could make good their escape. Luckily he was supported in his views by general Ermolov, who was in possession of a good map of the area, which he used to explain to Ostermann the need to stay on the Teplitz highroad. Finally and only after Wüttemberg had promised to take full responsibility for whatever occurred, did the dithering count agree to keep to the road and try to slow down Vandamme’s progress.28

As previously stated, Vandamme had done nothing on the 27th August to try and cut the Teplitz highway, this in turn had allowed a great amount of the Russian baggage to get safely away into Bohemia. On the 28th August, believing that Marshal St Cyr was marching to unite with him and join in the chase, and after receiving Napoleon’s missive to “fall upon the prince of Wüttemberg,” Vandamme began to move, fighting off a heavy diversionary attack put in by the Russians around Krieschwitz, and finally advancing to Hellendorf. Here, at 8:30 p.m., he sent a message to Napoleon stating that he had “driven the enemy south with heavy losses and I will attack again at daybreak and march on Teplitz with my entire force unless I receive orders to the contrary.”29 There is no doubt that Napoleon approved of what was taking place, writing to Murat on the 29th August that, “He is leading the advance with drums beating. They (the enemy) are all Russians. General Vandamme marches on Teplitz with his entire corps.”30

‘in whatever direction it would take’

The Russians under Ostermann and Wüttemberg had put up a gallant and effective running rearguard action all the way to Hellendorf. Here, on the morning of the 29th August, with the rain having now stopped and a thick mist rising through the treetops, they once again halted, the Guard Jäger regiment slowing up the French advance long enough for two line infantry regiments to take up battle positions around the village. Not to be denied, and now irritated by the stalling tactics of the enemy Vandamme, well forward with his advanced units at an early hour, sent in Prince Reuss’ brigade in a two column attack against his stubborn and unyielding foe. The handsome 29 year old Prince Henry of Reuss – Schleiz – Koestritz had only been promoted to General of Brigade on 11th July 1813. His family were of the Older Reuss line, his father being Prince Henry (Heinrich) XLIII, and his mother Princess Louise of Reuss – Ebersdorf, her sister Augusta became Queen Victoria’s maternal grandmother. Riding forward with his staff in order see that his regiments and battalions coordinated their attack, Reuss was stuck by a cannon ball on his left thigh, tearing away the upper part of his leg. In excruciating pain he was transported back to Hennsdorf where he died a few agonising hours later.31

As the bleeding body of Prince Reuss was being carried from the field, Vandamme sent his Chief of Staff, General of Brigade Jean Revest, to take command of his brigade. After a stubborn resistance the Russians fell back to Peterswalde where, due to an order issued by the nervous and panic – minded Ostermann – Tolstoy, their rearguard commander, General Prince Ivan Shakhovskoi was told to hold his ground longer than Wüttemberg had intended, allowing the French time to start encircling the village. Once again the steadfastness of the Russian infantry, coupled with timely cavalry charge headed by Leopold of Saxe – Colberg’s cuirassier regiment, enabled them to extricate themselves and continue the retreat to Nollendorf.32

Fully expecting to be soon supported by Marshal St Cyr with his corps and Marshal Mortier with the Young Guard, Vandamme pressed the attack with vigour. What he did not know, and never would until it was too late, was that although St Cyr had originally been ordered to pursue the enemy (General Frederick Heinrich Kleist’s Prussian corps) towards Dohna. That is to say, he was actually marching on the left bank of the Elbe River, Dohna being only a few miles from Pirna, and therefore he was moving directly towards a link up with Vandamme. Now however, around 2:00 p.m on the afternoon of the 29th August, he received an order from Napoleon stating that, “You will follow the enemy to Maxen and in whatever direction it would take.” This meant that, since Maxen lay to the southwest, and although he would indeed still be following Kleist, albeit that is until he lost contact, he would now be moving away from Dohna and therefore away from Vandamme.33 Also, because of the bad news concerning the defeats sustained by his subordinates, Napoleon had halted Mortier’s Young Guard at Pirna. The remaining French pursuit columns under Murat and Marmont, although collecting vast amounts of discarded baggage and equipment, only managed a half – hearted attempt at getting to grips with the retreating allies – Vandamme was on his own.

 The 29th of August – Gambit.

On the night of the 28th August Ostermann – Tolstoy sent off a letter to the Emperor of Austria Francis II telling him to quit Teplitz as the French were advancing in great strength towards the town and he was not capable of stopping them. Without needing too much encouragement, Francis packed up and left, leaving a note warning of Ostermann’s tale of  gloom and doom for the Prussian King, Frederick William III, who had just arrived himself at Teplitz. Although never much of a rapid decision minded man (his wife had been the forceful one), the Prussian king realised the danger of allowing Vandamme to march unimpeded and seize the mountain defiles leading down to Teplitz. Not only this, but Tsar Alexander himself was still somewhere on the road leading from Altenberg through the Erzgebirge range. Therefore Frederick William sent one of his aides – de – camp’s, Colonel von Natzmer, closely followed, just to make doubly sure, by his military adviser, General von dem Knesebeck, with urgent instructions to stop the French advancing to Teplitz no matter what. These urgent pleas soon made Ostermann aware of the danger, not only to the allied army, but also to the possible safety of his own monarch and he therefore decided to offer battle around the three villages of Priesten, Straden and Karwitz.34

The Russian rearguard under Wüttemberg, by a series of bold and heroic actions, had kept Vandamme’s strung – out command at bay in a running fight that had lasted three days. Now, on the morning of the 29th August, with the temperature rising and a thick mist covering the ground, they rejoined the main body which was deployed across the rolling meadows about two kilometres east of Kulm. Here Ostermann and Ermolov intended to use the three villages as breakwaters against the French attacks. To the north Straden, close up against the foothills of the Erzgebirge Mountains, in the centre Priesten, and in the south Karwitz. The ground was of no real importance; for the most part it was open grassland, sparsely cultivated around the villages, each of which contained small gardens and were crisscrossed with tree and shrub lined ditches marking the boundaries between each garden. The houses were mainly constructed around a timber frame with thatch or shingle roofs which, in turn, made them susceptible to being set afire.35

The main road, dropping steeply down out of the mountains, ran through the small town of Kulm and on west through Straden and Priesten towards Teplitz, some seven kilometres further on. To the south of Kulm rose the Strisowitz Heights, quite steep and heavily wooded at the north and south, with pasture land across the east – west central area.

Straden ca 1913
Straden ca 1913

The Russian left, commanded by Ermolov, took ground around Straden with its Leather Chapel and the Sawmill, or Eggenmühle, just to the north. The Guard Jäger and the Murmon Line Infantry Regiment held the houses, barns and gardens, as well as the Sawmill and Leather Chapel while to their rear, in line behind the village, stood the Semenovsky and Izmailovsky Guard Regiments, with the Preobrazhensky Guard Regiment in support. The Guard Light Foot Battery #1 and Guard Heavy Battery #2, 24 cannon in total, were positioned 20 meters in front of the Guard infantry. The Guard Hussar Regiment of 4 squadrons was stationed behind the Semenovsky’s.

In the centre, commanded by Wüttemberg, the village of Priesten was held by elements of the Reval Line Infantry Regiment and the 4th Jäger Regiment, with the main body of both regiments drawn up in column behind the right rear of the village, together with Light Battery #27 and Position Battery #14, 23 guns in all. Also in column on the left rear of the village Major General Helfreich drew up part of the Russian 14th Division consisting of the Tenginsk and Tobolsk Line Infantry Regiments.

The right wing under Prince Dimitri Galitzin was composed mainly of cavalry and extended from the main road at Priesten to the outskirts of Karwitz. Here, from left to right in the first line, stood the 4 squadrons of the Tartar Uhlan Regiment, the 4 squadrons of the Empress Cuirassier Regiment and, on the extreme right of the line, the Illowaiski XII Cossack Regiment. The second line comprised of 2 squadrons of the Austrian Erzherzog Johann Dragoon Regiment, 2 squadrons of the Loubny Hussar Regiment and 2 squadrons of the Sepuchov Uhlan Regiment. In front of the cavalry stood the Guard Horse Battery #1 of 12 cannon. At the beginning of the battle the Russians had fewer than 15,000 men available to hold back over 35,000 French. However they were constantly being reinforced as, thanks to Frederick Williams’s foresight, a steady flow of allied troops had been ordered to concentrate at Priesten.36

The Battle of Kulm, 29th August 1813. Situation at 11:00 a.m.
The Battle of Kulm, 29th August 1813. Situation at 11:00 a.m.

The Battle of Kulm, 29th August 1813. Situation at 11:00 a.m.

RUSSIANS IN RED.

  1. Murmon Infantry Regiment; Guard Jäger Regiment; Semenovsky Guard Infantry Regiment; Preobragensky Guard Infantry Regiment; Ismailovsky Guard Infantry Regiment; Guard Hussar Regiment.
  2. Estonia Infanry Regiment; Grand Duchess Catherine Battalion; Toblosk Infantry Regiment; Tschernigov Infantry Regiment; Minsk Infantry Regiment; Revel Infantry Regiment; 4th Jäger Regiment.
  3. Russian cavalry regiments.

FRENCH IN BLUE.

  1. Revest’s (formely Reuss) 5th Infantry Brigade.
  2. Mouton – Duvernet’s 42nd Infantry Division arriving.
Kulm ca. 1913
Kulm ca. 1913

At 10:00 a.m. on Sunday 29th August Vandamme’s forward units, consisting of Revest’s brigade, cleared Kulm of the Russian skirmishers, as well as a group of townsfolk retuning from church, the latter running in blind panic across the fields towards Unter Arbesau, the former falling back on their main line. Thereafter an 8pdr foot battery accompanying Revest opened fire from the rising ground just beyond the town, its first salvos being answered by the Russian Guard Horse Battery #1, the smoke from this exchange of fire began to temporarily blot out parts of the landscape.

From his vantage point on the hillside above Kulm, near the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, Vandamme had an excellent view of the battlefield.  Now that the weather had cleared and the sun was shining, he could see through his telescope that columns of white uniformed Austrians as well as Green coated Russians were steadily coming down through the mountain defiles in the distance. Taking this as a sign that they were still being pursued by the French follow up forces of either Murat, Marmont or Victor, Vandamme immediately ordered Revest to attack Straden while he sent orders to hurry forward the remainder of his corps.37

The young conscripts in Revest’s now depleted brigade were damp and dirty, their eyes sunken into their heads through lack of sleep. They had been fighting and marching in rain and mud for days, nevertheless their morale was still high. They had forced the Russians out of one position after another and now they were going to kick them out of this one. Quickly forming into two columns, the 46th Line Regiment on the right, consisting of the three battalions, and the four battalions of the 72nd Line Regiment on the left, both regiments proceeded by a company in skirmishing order, passed through their gun line and began to advance over the rolling meadowland towards Straden. About halfway across they came under fire from the Russian batteries in front of the village firing solid shot, some of which tore bloody lanes through their ranks, but mostly passing harmlessly over their heads due to the soaking wet nature of the ground which, with each firing, gradually dug the gun trails into the soft earth causing the barrels to elevate slightly. Closing ranks the two French regiments continued to press forward until a belch of fire stabbed smoke boiled up around the village issuing from the muzzles of several hundred Russian muskets, and accompanied by a hail of canister shot from their artillery which caused them to falter. General of Brigade Revest, his face bespattered by blood from a canister blast that had riddled the men beside him and maimed and brought down his horse, untangled himself from the harness and proceeded on foot, encouraging his men to close up and go forward, which they did, pressing on into the village and pushing the Russians back to the Sawmill and Leather Chapel. The fighting was severe, with the Murmon regiment and Guard Jäger’s putting in every man to resist the French assault, which finally petered out and ebbed back across the fields as the Semenovsky Guard Regiment came up to support their beleaguered comrades. Not to be denied, and still presenting a bold front to the enemy, Revest’s thinning battalions once more formed to renew the assault, their spirits boosted by the arrival of three fresh regiments of the 42nd Division under General of Division Régis Barthélemy Mouton – Duvernet who, after filing these nine battalions through Kulm, began to form them into heavy columns in preparation for an attack between Straden and Pristen. Duvernet had distinguished himself at Arcola in Italy during Napoleon’s brilliant campaign of 1796 and thereafter had steadily risen in the ranks, becoming general of division just three weeks earlier on the 4th of August 1813. Although not an imposing figure, with his hair brushed well forward to cover his baldness, he was a brave fighting general and a good tactician who would end his days in front of a firing squad in 1816, shot as a traitor for rallying to Napoleon during the Hundred Days.

As Revest once more closed on Straden, Duverent’s troops came across the fields in tight packed battalion columns, this type of massing being one of the ways of ensuring that the recruits, many of whom lacked sufficient training, could be kept together as a coherent force when manoeuvring against the enemy. Unfortunately it also made them a fine target for the Russian artillery.38

As Duvenet’s men were deploying, the 1st Light Cavalry Division under General Jean – Baptiste – Juvénal Corbineau, clattered through the streets of Kulm and took up a position covering the French left flank. He was followed by the 21st Light Cavalry Brigade commanded by General of Brigade Charles Martin Gobrecht who drew out his squadrons just behind the French gun line to the east of the town. Although only light cavalry, these two units comprising hussars, lancers and chasseurs à cheval, were to perform prodigies of valour worthy of any units in the French Imperial Guard.

This time Revest, owing to the depleted state of his battalions, kept his brigade together, heading straight and hard for Straden, which was now on fire in many places and had been evacuated by the Russians who fell back to form a new line to the rear of the smoke billowing village with troops still holding the Sawmill and the Leather Chapel. After receiving a salvo from the Russian artillery, Revest’s troops pressed on through the burning buildings of Straden, with red hot sparks flying in all diredtions, and attempted to dress their ranks and move forward. This proved impossible to achieve owing to the blasting they received as they came within easy range of both canister and musket fire, which caused them to retire once more, leaving another carpeting of dead and wounded piled up on the ground.

On Revest’s left Duvernet’s troops had fared no better. The Tenginsk and Estonia Infantry Regiments, together with the Grand Duchess Catherine Infantry Battalion moved to meet the threat. These troops, supported by the Tobolsk and Chernigov Infantry Regiment went forward with a roar after delivering an unwieldy but still effective volley which, accompanied by a hail of canister from the 23 guns of Light Battery #27 and Position Battery #14, mowed down several hundred of Duvenet’s men, causing the rest to falter and fall back to the protection of their artillery line in front of Kulm. It was now 2:30 p.m., and while Duvernet’s and Revest reorganised and steadied their shaken battalions, the first infantry brigade of General Armand Philippon’s 1st Division arrived on the field, with the second brigade following at some distance.39

 

‘The Prince is a German and doesn’t give a damn…’

Vandamme rode up to meet Philippon personally. His orders for the taking of Straden and Priesten had not been delivered by word of mouth, but in writing carried by members of his staff. He knew full well that Revest, being, until the death of Prince Reuss, his personal Chief – of –Staff, would carry out these orders to the best of his ability, likewise he also trusted Duvernet in needing no personal encouragement to buckle down to the task at hand. However, thus far things had not gone well, mainly due to the fact that the whole of his corps was strung out on the twisting road leading down out of the mountains, and therefore it would take a long time to get everyone onto the battlefield. He also knew that, although he would have to use his troops piecemeal as they came up, he was left with no other option owing to the fact that to await the arrival of his entire force before attempting to shoulder the Russians out of the way might only result in their receiving reinforcements, which he had seen himself pouring from the passes earlier in the day, thus strengthening their position still further. Therefore he felt the need to give Philippon direct instructions while showing him the exact place on the battlefield where his troops would prove most effective.

General of Division Armand Philippon was a rakish looking Norman, born in Rouen. He had just turned 43 years of age on 27th August, and had a reputation for courage and steadiness under fire.  He had distinguished himself in Spain where he gained praise from all sides as French Governor of Badajoz and for his defence of the town during the second siege in 1811. Viewing the field though his glass the general now listened intently to what Vandamme was proposing. First, any further attacks would be made in accord by all units, hammering at the Russians all along the front so that they would be unable to spare any troops to shore up their line when a breakthrough became imminent. Secondly, and allowing for the fact that his 12pdr cannon had still not arrived, Vandamme ordered his chief of artillery, General of Brigade Pouilly de Baltus to place two more batteries in line with the ones already in action near Kulm and lay down a concentrated fire that would soften up the Russian position prior to the infantry attack.

At 3:00 p.m. the French guns bucked into action sending a hail of metal crashing into the Russian lines taking off heads, arms and legs and mangling torsos. But as fast as a gap appeared in their formation the stalwart infantry of Mother Russia closed ranks and stood their ground with grim determination awaiting the attack they knew would follow. They didn’t have to wait long. After twenty minutes of pounding the French guns fell silent as the massed battalions of infantry under Revest, Duvernet and Philippon closed on the Russian position.

Revest, taking heavy fire from the Russian Light Battery #27, attacked in two columns, the first, consisting of two battalions of the 42nd Line Regiment, clearing the defenders from the bonfire that was once Straden, went heads down for the wooded Sawmill (Eggenmühle) heights, the other, containing the remaining battalion of the 42nd and the much diminished four battalions of the 72nd Line Regiment came in obliquely between the Sawmill and Priesten, hitting the Russian line formed by the Guard Infantry Regiments. These tough élite troops, many with their feet wrapped in rags after losing their boots in the glutinous mud during the retreat, stopped the French in their tracks, but the two battalions of the 42nd, after successfully clearing the defenders from the Sawmill, poured a heavy and destructive fire into the Russian ranks which caused them to retire, but only momentarily. Seeing the plight of his guards, general Ermolov quickly bought them back to the attack, driving the French back with the bayonet, “and a roar from the throats of a thousand enraged guardsmen.”40

On Revest’s left, Duvernet and Philippon’s battalions moved against Priesten, Duvernet deploying four battalions of the 22nd  and 4th  Provisional Light Infantry Regiments on the right of the village, with a further two battalions of the 3rd Provisional Light Infantry Regiment continuing the line linking up with Revest’s left flank. The remainder of his division, now all on the field, and consisting of two battalions of 17th Provisional Line Infantry Regiment, two battalions of the 16th Provisional Line Infantry Regiment and four battalions of the 76th and 96th Line Infantry Regiments were held back in reserve. Duvernet’s divisional artillery of 6 – 6pdr guns and two howitzers were placed in the gun line by Balthus. To the left of Duvernet again came the massed ranks of Philippon’s 1st Brigade, one regiment in mixed order – line and column – the other in compact closed order colonne serrée, this type of formation once again ensuring that the poorly trained recruits could perform simple manoeuvres and be better controlled.

While Duvernet’s troops attempted to cut – in between Straden and Priesten, severing the Russian line, Philippon’s 1st brigade, after sending the 12th Line infantry Regiment to back – up Duvernet’s attack, made straight for Priesten village itself. The brigade was led by General of Brigade Etiénne – Francois – Raymond Pouchelon who, placing himself at the head of the 7th Light Infantry Regiment sent two of its battalions directly into the village, while the remaining two were directed to the right and left of it seeking to pinch – out the Russian defenders.41 ) The defending companies of the Revel and 4th Jäger regiments fell back on their supports who greeted the French with such a murderous fire from musket and canister that they were unable to deploy outside the village. As the torn and tattered 7th Light fell back to regroup Württemberg brought forward two artillery batteries to the left of Priesten, from where they plastered the French formations of Duvernet’s regiments and Pouchelon’s 12th Line Infantry Regiment with a perfect hail of canister in flank and rear causing them to recoil in some disorder.42 It was obvious that these guns must be silenced and this task was allocated to the troops of Pouchelon’s 2nd Brigade under General Raymond de Montesquiou Duke of Fezensac who were just arriving on the field.

The Russian line infantry regiments under Württemberg had now all been committed to the battle with no reserves remaining. The prince, in some desperation, pleaded with general Ermolov to let him have the relatively fresh Izmailovsky Guard Regiment to help beat back the next French assault he knew full well was about to break over him. Aleksey Petrovich Ermolov, a bull necked bulk of a man with a face that warned of no compassion, refused outright, creating a bitter argument in which Ermolov cried, ‘The Prince is a German and doesn’t give a damn whether the Russian Guard survive or not: but my duty is to save at least something of his Guard for the emperor.’ Ermolov may have had a point, the Izmailovsky’s having two of the only three remaining battalions still held in reserve, but Württemberg saw the danger far more clearly and realised that sacrifices had to be made.  Leaving Ermolov with a curt wave of the hand he rode over to where Ostermann was standing, telescope pressed to his eye watching the French collecting themselves for a fresh assault, and begged him to override Ermolov’s decision. This was granted, and the muddy but upright and proud guardsmen moved forward to meet the threat.43

The Battle of Kulm, 29th August 1813. Situation at 4:00 p.m.
The Battle of Kulm, 29th August 1813. Situation at 4:00 p.m.

RUSSIANS IN RED.

1. Russian Guard Regiments and Murmon Infantry Regiment;
2.Toblosk, Tschernigov, Minsk, Revel Infantry Regiments and 4th Jäger and Grand Dutchess Catherine Battalion.
3. Russian cavalry regiments.

FRENCH IN BLUE:
A. Revest’s Brigade.
B. Mouton – Duvernet’s 42nd Infantry Divison.
C. Corbineau’s Ist Light Cavalry Division and Gobrecht’s 21 Light Cavalry Brigade.
D. French gun line.

It was not long in coming. At 4:00 p.m. the French came forward again, Philippon’s 2nd Brigade, consisting of four battalions of the 17th Line Infantry Regiment and two battalions of the 36th Line Infantry Regiment heading straight for Priesten while Duvernet sent forward his relatively unscathed 2nd Brigade under the 33 year old General of Brigade Charles Auguste Creutzer in two attacking columns, the 16th  Provisional Line Infantry Regiment’s two battalions against the Leather Chapel and the Sawmill and the 76th and 96th Line Infantry Regiments in four battalions attempting to get around the northern flank of the Russian position by skirting through the wooded foothills. These were soon driven back by the concentrated fire of the Russian Light Battery # 14 and Position Battery#27, moved to the west of Priesten in the nick of time by Württemberg. The French advance on the Leather Chapel and Sawmill grinding to a halt and finally being forced back by a bold counter attack from the Semenovsky and Preobrazhensky Guards.44

Around Priesten the skeletal battalions of general Shakohovkoy’s 3rd Division and general Helfreich’s 14th Division once more braced themselves to receive the French. Württemberg, even with the aid of the Izmailovsky Guards, knew how desperate his position was. He therefore switched his artillery batteries swiftly from their position covering the west of the village and brought them forward just in front of his infantry line. Their fire, together with a massed volley from the infantry staggered the French leading units, tearing huge gaps in Fezensac’s brigade, causing it to lose momentum. Seizing the opportunity the Izmailovsky’s went in with the bayonet, joined on each side by all of Württemberg’s command who could still put one foot in front of the other. The sight and sound of these dirt and blood caked demons, yelling at the top of their voices as they came at them out of the smoke, proved too much for Fezensac’s young troops, their only thought now being to get away from these mad eyed fiends as quickly as possible, which they did in short order, breaking back to their own lines in some confusion which, once they had cleared their own guns, took a great deal of time to sort out. As if to spite the man who had given his permission for the guard regiment to be used, and to such good effect, a round shot from a French cannon came hurtling over the field tearing off part of Ostermann – Tolstoy’s left arm. As he was being carried to the rear he remarked, ‘I am satisfied. This is the price I paid for the honour of commanding the Guards.’45

 

‘We have no source of substance.’

The battle in the centre gradually settled down to an artillery duel, with the Russian batteries taking on the French gun line at Kulm. Over on the Russian left the French kept up harassing tactics, Duvernet sending in small scale spoiling attacks, more to keep up the morale of his men than with the intention of doing any real harm; his troops, like the Russians, were in need of rest and sustenance.

The Battle of Kulm, 29th August 1813. Situation at 5:00 p.m.
The Battle of Kulm, 29th August 1813. Situation at 5:00 p.m.

RUSSIANS IN RED:
1.Russian Guard Regiments, Murmon Infantry Regiment and Guard Hussar Regiment.
2. Estonia Infantry Regiment, Grand Duchess Catherine Battalion, Minsk Infantry Regiment, Revel Infantry Regiment, Toblosk Infantry Regiment and Tschernigov Infantry Regiment. 3. Russian cavalry.

FRENCH IN BLUE:
A. Revest’s Brigade.
B.Mouton – Duvernet’s 42nd Division.
C. Philipons 1st Division.
D. Corbineau’s and Gobrecht’s cavalry.
E.French gun line.
F. Domonceau’s 2nd Division arriving.

It was on the Russian right that the battle now evolved. Vandamme was becoming more and more agitated and impatient. He now ordered Philippon to try and outflank the enemy position by moving around Priesten. The available troops still in reasonably good fightingorder were the four battalions of Pouchelon’s 7th Light Infantry Regiment and part of the 1st Brigade of General of Division Jean – Baptiste Dumonceau’s 2nd Infantry Division, just arrived at Kulm, and consisting of the 13th Light Infantry Regiment, who’s four battalions formed on the right of the 7th Light.  These two regiments began to move forward at around 5:00 p.m., crossing the Sernitzbach stream and forming into battalion squares as the Russian cavalry on their right wing moved to hinder the French progress. This was thwarted when Corbineau, already covering the advance of the 7th and 13th Light with a brigade of cavalry on each flank, now bought forward the remainder of his division, forcing the Russian cavalry to retire. This allowed the French infantry to shake itself out back into attack columns which, after receiving a weak cannonade and a peppering of musket fire, finally got into and aroundthe right of the village which was now an inferno of flame. The weak Russian units, almost out of ammunition, had been joined by the last remaining reserve consisting of two companies of the Preobrazhensky Guard Regiment who now endeavoured a spirited but seemingly futile counter attack. The situation changed dramatically when, just as all seemed lost, the Russian Guard cavalry arrived after being held up in the mountain pass at Graupen. These welcome reinforcements were accompanied by the keen eyed and tousle headed, Major General Baron Ivan Ivanovich Diebitsch, a former Prussian officer now in Russian service, who announced, much to Württemberg’s relief and joy, that soon large numbers of fresh infantry would arrive together with more guns and cavalry.46

Lieven tells an interesting tale concerning Diebitsch’s arrival on the field:

Nikolai Kovalsky was a young officer of the Guards Dragoons in 1813. He recalls how the regiment was led down narrow and sometimes precipitous paths from the mountains into the Teplitz valley by staff officers and by two local shepherds who acted as guides. Apparently, when Diebitsch rode up to the Guard Dragoons and initially ordered them to charge no one moved because no one knew who he was. Only when he opened his coat and displayed his orders and medals did he get a response. First one dragoon, then more and finally the whole regiment moved forward. Ermolov tried to stop this disorderly attack which he had not authorized but it was too late. Kovalsky records that the French cavalry panicked and fled at their approach and the infantry did the same after just one volley. The weak French response undoubtedly owed much to the fact that while the Guard Dragoons’ were threatening their front the Guard Lancers were driving deep into their right flank and rear. Almost certainly it was the Lancers who did the most serious fighting because while the Dragoons’ losses were relatively modest, the Lancers lost one – third of their officers and men during the battle.47

The “panic” attributed to the French cavalry was probably no more than their retiring so that they would not come under friendly fire from their own infantry who they were masking. One should expect some bias from each side when reading so called eye witness accounts of what took place during the battle. Whatever the actual circumstances , the French were certainly forced to retreat, and in some disorder at that, scampering back to the protection of their gun line, which Balthus had now extended from Straden to Kulm containing and 24 cannon, their fire now adding to the boil of smoke coming from other batteries that Vandamme was establishing further to the left.48

With the collapse of Philippon’s attack Vandamme decided to suspend the fighting for the day and reorganise his divisions and brigades while awaiting the arrival of his ammunition train, which was still, together with General of Brigade Joachim – Jérôme Quiot du Passage’s infantry brigade, winding its way down the mountain road to Kulm. Of the 29,000 or so French troops who had begun the battle and had been arriving and drawn into the conflict during the course of the day, around 5,000 were casualties and another 600 taken prisoner. The Russian losses were equally severe, out of the original 14,700 men who commenced the battle, over 5,000 were either killed or wounded, 2,800 of these were from the Guard Regiments, the rest being from Württemberg’s corps.49 Both sides were in need of rest and sustenance and, for Vandamme, elements of doubt had begun to creep in with regard to his having to fight the next day without help arriving. That these doubts were real is confirmed by the dispatch that he sent to Napoleon at 6:30 a.m. the following morning where he informed the emperor:

“The enemy is determined to defend the road to Teplitz with vigour. His forces were strengthened [overnight]. I can only hold my position and await Your Majesty’s orders. I have concentrated my forces and am prepared to execute your instructions….My reserve artillery has still not joined me. I lack munitions. My company of horse artillery that followed the Twenty – third Division has not returned to the First Corps… we have no source of substance. The enemy has burned everything.”50

The 30th of August – Middlegame.

Vandamme’s fears were about to be realised. The French pursuit had become half hearted, and even though much abandoned baggage and material had been taken, the actual cutting off and destroying of the various allied columns had not occurred, the steam had defiantly gone out of the chase. The one enemy column that could have found itself in real trouble was the Prussian corps commanded by Lieutenant – General Friedrich Emil Fredinand Heinrich von Kleist. These troops had taken the Old Teplitz Road when falling back after the battle of Dresden and were being pursued by Marshal St Cyr who made a hash of trying to keep in touch with them and finally lost contact altogether. At around 4:00 p.m. on the afternoon of the 29th August Kleist’s forward units began to arrive at Fürstenwalde. Here they were met by an aide – de –camp from the Prussian king with orders to proceed through into the Teplitz valley as soon as possible and reinforce Ostermann – Tolstoy at Priesten. But Kleist demurred, stating that his troops were worn out and had to rest, besides which it was too late in the day for him to pull together all of his units, some of whom were still strung out along the  road. William’s A.D.C. had also informed Kleist that the defile leading down to Teplitz from Fürstenwalde was still blocked by Russian troops and baggage. Later that evening Colonel von Schöler arrived with a further message from the king instructing Kleist to take the south – eastward route to Nollendorf where he could fall upon Vandamme’s rear. Kleist needed no prompting in this matter as he himself had reconnoitred in the same direction and come to the conclusion that this was indeed his best way of reaching the battlefield.

A key figure in this decision was Kleist’s chief of staff, Lieutenant – Colonel Karl von Grolmann, who had studied Frederick the Great’s campaign in the region and knew the terrain well. Kleist’s decision was extremely courageous. By marching on to the Teplitz highway at Nollendorf he would be between Vandamme’s corps and the reinforcements which Kleist, Vandamme himself and almost every other general in the neighbourhood assumed Napoleon was sending down the highway to support the incursion into Bohemia. Kleist and Grolmann knew and weighed the risks and nevertheless committed themselves to marching via Nollendorf from first light. The allied victory at the battle of Kulm on the 30th August owed much to luck and accident but, contrary to some accounts, there was nothing accidental about Kleist’s appearance in Vandamme’s rear.51

During the night of the 29th – 30th August allied reinforcements began to arrive in large numbers together with General Barclay de Tolly and Feldmarschall Prince Karl von Schwarzenberg, both eagerly greeted by the Prussian King who had remained at Handstein sending out urgent messages for assistance throughout 29th August.* The Tsar and his entourage had now cleared the mountains and were on their way to join Frederick William, while the Emperor of Austria was still biding his time at Laun awaiting more favourable events.

The Asides of Glory
The Asides of Glory

A recent field of battle is never a pleasant place to spend the night, particularly when you know that the conflict will be renewed the following morning. Besides the screams of the wounded suffering under the archaic methods of surgery during this time; the moans and laments coming from friend and foe still lying unattended in the open, together with the possibility of being robbed and finished off by some marauding peasant if you happen to be one of these poor unfortunates, the basic necessities of existence, food, water and warmth, could still become a luxury few were able to obtain. Even lighting a fire would sometimes prove impossible, the glow from one giving away your position to the enemy, this in turn making any attempt at cooking a warm meal out of the question. There was also the often overlook but none the less serious problem which we will call, politely, “The Asides of Glory.”  With no time to dig proper latrines the thousands of soldiers on both sides had to answer the call of nature when and where they could, making parts of the battlefield into no – go  areas when attempting to bed down for the night. Also, for many soldiers going into battle for the first time and finding themselves caught in the moving mass of an advancing column formation, the bowel churning experience of death at first hand caused many a young recruit to have to march and fight with full breeches.

During the night Vandamme, now feeling less confident that help was on its way, held a meeting with his division commanders and Napoleon’s liaison officer, General Franҫois – Nicolas – Benoît Haxo, who had been attached to Vandamme’s staff as adviser on engineering and topographical matters, since it was thought he knew something about the local terrain – he didn’t. It eased Vandamme’s mind when all agreed that the position should be held until support arrived, and all were reasonably confident that after the drumming the emperor had given the allies at Dresden he was sure to be on his way with every available man to finish the job.52

Over on the allied side of the field Colonel von Schöler had ridden in to headquarters at 3:00 a.m. in the morning and informed Diebitsch that Kleist was going to attempt taking the road to Nollendorf. Thereafter Diebitsch, accompanied by General Count Karl von Toll, military adviser to the Tsar, conducted a reconnaissance of the battlefield after which they drew up a plan of attack which they presented to Barclay de Tolly. The plan entailed the Russians holding Vandamme fast on his right and centre between Straden and Priesten; this being achieved the Austrian divisions of Feldzeugmeister Count Hieronymus Karl von Colloredo – Mansefeld and Feldmarschalleutnant Friedrich Freiherr von Bianchi would outflank the French position to the south by way of the Karwitz and Böhmisch Neudorf, supported by Russian cavalry. If Kleist arrived in time the whole of Vandamme’s position would be hit front, flank and rear by superior numbers and crushed. Barclay de Tolly, who had been given command of all the allied forces for the continuation of the battle by Schwazenberg, agreed to the plan, setting the time for the commencement of operations at 6:00 a.m., this however being delayed somewhat by the late arrival of some of the Austrian formations.53 During the night the ragged remnants of the 1st Guard Division were pulled out of the line and placed in reserve, the 2nd Guard Division and the 1st Grenadier Division taking their place. Also the remainder of Württemberg’s corps, which had gone astray in the mountains, rejoined the main body. These troops, together with the massed squadrons of Russian cavalry and the Austrians, when they were finally all up, would give the allies some 50,000men with 130 cannon. If, or when, Kleist could join the fray he would bring another 25,000 men and 104 guns into play.

Battle of Kulm 30th August 1813. Situation at 7:00 a.m.
Battle of Kulm 30th August 1813. Situation at 7:00 a.m.

Allies (Russian and Austrian) in Red.

1. 2nd Guard Division and the Krementchug and Volhynie Line infantry Regiments.

2. Württemberg’s 2nd Corps and Russian 14th Division.

3. Russian Guard cavalry.

4. Austrians under Colloredo and Bianchi approaching.

5. Russian Line Cavalry. 6. 1st Guard Division.

French in Blue.

A. Duvernet’s 42nd Division.

B. Philippon’s 1st Division.

C. Dunesme’s 1st Brigade of Domonceau’s 2nd Division.

D. 1st Light Cavalry Division Corbineau.

E. Doucet’s 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division.

F. Quiot’s and Revest’s brigades.

G. Gobrecht’s 21st Light cavalry Brigade and Reserve Artillery.

H. French gun line.

 Across the way Vandamme, totally unaware of the fate that awaited him and his command, was still determined to be the aggressor. On his left, around the village of Böhmisch – Neudorf he place Dumonceau’s 1st Brigade under General of Brigade Franҫois Martin Dunesme, consisting of four battalions of the 13th Light Infantry Regiment in the first line and four battalions of the 25th Line Infantry Regiment in the second. An eight gun battery covered the front. Two companies of the 13th Light were in the village. On the right rear of Dunesme stood Corbineau’s 1st Light Cavalry Division, backed up by a strong reserve to their rear between Kulm and Schanda consisting of Quiot’s Brigade with the two battalions of the 55th Line Infantry Regiment and the four battalions of the 85th Line Infantry Regiment drawn up across the main Teplitz highway. On Quiot’s right were ranged the squadrons of Gobrecht’s 21st Light Cavalry Brigade with Revest’s now much reduced brigade to their rear. On Gobrecht’s right Dumonceau’s 2nd Brigade under General of Brigade Pierre Doucet54 took station with the three battalions of the 57th Line Infantry Regiment and the two battalions of the 51st Line Infantry Regiment to the left, moving later to the outskirts of Kulm. Sometime around 6:00 a.m. Vandamme’s reserve artillery finally managed to join the rest of the corps. This welcome addition of six heavy 12 pdr cannon and two howitzers plus a horse battery of eight cannon were placed in front of Gobrecht’s squadrons. On Corbineau’s right Baltus had now formed a gun line containing over 40 cannon and to the right of these again were ranged Phillipon’s 1st and Duvernet’s 42nd Divisions, extending the line to Straden and on to the Sawmill. With his whole corps now united Vandamme now had around 34,000 men and 84 guns.

As the first streaks of dawn began to lighten the eastern sky the opposing pickets began taking pot shots at each other and anything else that moved. The fires in Straden and Preisten had died down but smoke from the smouldering remains of some of the buildings still drifted across the fields. This, coupled with the throat chocking residue still lingering in the eddies and folds of the ground from the discharge of thousands of black powder weapons from the previous day’s fighting and a thin veil of morning mist, all mingled together forming an ankle deep shroud that covered much of the landscape between the hostile lines.

At 7:00 a.m., Vandamme, who had established his headquarters in Kulm, gave the order to attack, pre-empting the allies own offensive plans. He still considered that the enemy left flank was the most vulnerable, possibly his intention was to roll it up towards Karwitz thus enabling his forces to swing anti – clockwise and clear the road to Teplitz?  This being the case the French battalions under Duvernet drove hard against this part of the allied line with reat determination, causing the defending Russian Volhynie and Krementsoug regiments to fall back before their onslaught, their discomfiture being added to by the fire from a battery of artillery, which Duvernet had managed to set up on the wooded heights above the Sawmill. These guns enfiladed the Russian formations mowing men down in windrows. Some of the wounded that had managed to drag themselves into the Sawmill for protection found that it was a deathtrap, its timber frame soon caught fire, blazing rapidly until the whole building was a mass of flame, finally collapsing in a volcanic like shower of shooting sparks and embers, the unfortunate men inside being burned to death.55

Duvernet’s attack was being so vigorously pressed home that the Volhynie and Krementsoug regiments had to be supported by the weary and worn Russian 1nd Guard Division, together with several batteries of artillery brought forward to help restore the situation. These reinforcements held up the French advance for a while but it was obvious that more help would be needed to shore up the tottering left flank.

In the centre the French and Russians made no attempt at getting to grips at close quarters, contenting themselves with a long range bombardment of each others position, which did little damage but did obscure much of the field with billowing clouds of smoke.

It was a different story on the allied right. Here the Austrian divisions of Colloredo and Bianchi began moving forward to outflank Vandamme’s position at around 7:00 a.m., their progress hindered by the sudden arrival of one of Barclay de Tolly’s aides who requested urgent assistance to be sent to the beleaguered left flank. This was soon forthcoming as Bianchi detached the brigade of General Phillip August Hessen – Homburg together with his supporting artillery and sent it northward. Hessen – Homburg’s troops made good progress, marching through the village of Marschen behind the allied lines, and then pressing on towards the billowing broil of smoke that marked their eventual destination. Unfortunately their path took the slogging white coats a little too close to the French batteries around Straden who suddenly switched part of their fire from supporting Duvernet’s attack and brought down a withering concentration of metal on the close packed Austrian regiments. Quickly moving his troops to their left, Hessen – Homburg detached his own brigade artillery to add its weight to the Russian gun line then engaging the French batteries in counter battery fire.56

Finally getting clear of the killing zone imposed by the French guns, Hessen – Homburgmanaged to arrange his brigade ready for an attack. In the first line he placed the two battalions of Infantry Regiment No 2*, and behind these he drew up two battalions of Infantry Regiment No 33, a company from each regiment being detached and sent to try and get around the French left flank along the wooded foothills. The rest of the brigade went forward in battalion columns, joined on their right by the three battalions of the Russian Volhynie Regiment.  The distinctive uniforms of the Austrian “Hungarian” regiments, with their white uniforms and light blue breeches, their yellow battle flags emblazoned with the black double headed eagle of Imperial Austria fluttering above their marching masses alladded a dash of theatre and colour to the otherwise grim surroundings, but not for long. Keeping straight on the Austrian and Russian columns began to receive the undivided attention of Duvernet’s artillery, as well as from other French batteries around Straden that had caught a glimpse of them through the occasional break in the rolling clouds of smoke.Disregarding the solid shot that tore long furrows into their ranks, the Austrians and Russians pressed on, leaving a patchwork of green and white bodies in their wake. Soon – all  too soon – the French guns switched their ammunition to the monster shot gun like canister, who’s roar  was joined by the leather ripping sound of hundreds of muskets as Duvernet’s infantry got off a ragged but none the less destructive volley, this blizzard of lead and iron mowing down many in the first ranks of the advancing columns who, seemingly undeterred by the carnage around them, now came to a halt and delivered a volley in return, thereafter dashing forward with lowered bayonets in an attempt at getting to grips with the French before they had time to reload. Not intending to wait around and get impaled on this gleaming line of steel that each young recruit imagined was meant for him alone, Duvernet’s infantry brokeback to their main line around Straden, his artillery harnessing up and also beating a hasty retreat. The line on the allied left now being once more stabilised; Barclay de Tolly once more concentrated on the issue of outflanking Vandamme’s left flank.

By 8:00 a.m. Colloredo’s 1st Austrian division had moved through Karwitz towards the French flank. Here, suddenly realising that by pushing even further to his right, and using the Strisowitz heights to shield his movements he could get completely around Vandamme’s entire position, eventually joining up with Kleist’s corps and cutting off any hope of retreat, Colloredo sent an urgent message to Barclay asking his permission to attempt this undertaking. This was given, but under the proviso that part of the Austrian force should still be sent to contain what troops the French might have around Böhmisch – Nuedorf. In concurrence with these new directives Colloredo moved his division further to the right, heading for the southern tip of the Strisowitz Hill, while Bianchi’s 2nd Austrian Division filled the gap fronting Böhmisch Neudorf.57

Sitting his horse on the outskirts of Kulm Vandamme, who was conferring with General Domonceau, an old acquaintance of his who had fought alongside him at the battle of Bergen in 1799, suddenly noticed the enemy movement around Karwitz. Ordering the 13th Light Infantry Regiment and a battery of artillery forward to slow the enemy’s progress he also sent orders for Quiot’s brigade to be ready to move towards Unter Arbesau. He was still watching these movements when, at around 9:00 a.m., a courier arrived from Dunesme stating that heavy enemy columns had been seen ascending the high ground to his left. Riding to a more elevated point Vandamme, placing his telescope to his eye, directed its gaze southward, scanning along the hazy outline of the Strisowitz heights. At first nothing was noticeable owing to the screen of trees that covered the southern end of the hill. However signs of movement were soon detected as the heads of the Colloredo’s Austrian columns broke cover, arching their advance along the heights towards Auschine.

Not having sufficient troops to cover so great an area, Vandamme ordered Domonceau to pull back from Böhmisch – Neudorf and concentrate his division on the rising ground just to the south of Kulm, his left wing anchored in Unter Arbesau. Taking several batteries out of Baltus’s gun line around Straden, Vandamme placed these in front of Domonceau’s formations where they quickly came into action against the Austrian and Russian guns that had been brought forward from Karwitz.

Seeking to keep the French occupied along their whole front until the trap was closed, the Russian cavalry, consisting of the Empress Cuirassier Regiment, The Tartar Uhlan Regiment and the Illowaiski Cossack Regiment, under the command of the 29 year old Major General Vladimir Karlovich Knorring, moved to engage Dunesme’s brigade as it was pulling back in accordance with instructions. Forming battalion squares, Dunesme’s two regiments faced the oncoming squadrons with a hedgehog of steel, loosing off a volley that brought down men and horses in jumbled heaps and caused them to swerve away to right and left. Attempting to avoid the bristling fire vomiting squares of infantry, Knorring’s cavalry went for the French artillery, cutting to pieces a battalion of the 13th Light, which was attempting to protect the guns. However, with no infantry support forthcoming the Russian horse were driven back by a spirited counter charge put in by General of Brigade Heimrodt’s 3rd Light Cavalry Brigade. Seeing the Russian horse recoil Bianchi brought forward his brigade artillery, accompanied by several Russian batteries to the rise of ground north – east of Böhmisch – Neudorf and began to lay down a barrage of fire that deterred any follow up by the French58

Seeking to pin down the French until Colloredo’s enveloping movement was complete; Barclay now ordered a general assault all along the line. On the left the Volhynie and Krementsoug regiments, together with the 1st Grenadier Division and backed up by Hessen – Homburg’s Austrian brigade, engaged Duvernet’s and Philippon’s formations around Straden. In the centre the 2nd Guard Division moved to threaten Philippon’s flank and the French gun line, with the massed squadrons of the 1st and 2nd Cuirassier Divisions coming up on their right against the apex of Vandamme’s line just south of Kulm. Bianchi also pushed forward the Mariassy and Quallenberg brigades in preparation for an all out attack on Dunesme’s thinning battalions. Over on the far right of the allied line things were about to change dramatically.

30th August – Endgame.

Whoever has a true Prussian heart, follow me.
Whoever has a true Prussian heart, follow me.

Sometime around 11:30 a.m., Colloredo, who’s Austrians had been engaged in a series of fire fights with Dunesme’s 1st Brigade since crossing the Strisowitz Hill, were about to storm Unter Arbesau when he heard the rumble of artillery in the direction of Tellniz. Not being sure of just what this sudden eruption of gunfire was the prelude to, Colloredo halted his troops, sending several of his staff to ascertain the cause. Down in Kulm the first booming of the cannon to the north – east  was greeted with much relief and joy by Vandamme and the offices about him, as it was thought that at last either the emperor or St Cyr had arrived on the field. This bout of euphoria was short lived however for soon an aide came galloping up on a lathered horse with the dispiriting tidings that the Prussians were now in their rear. Realising that instead of being the hunter he had now become the quarry, Vandamme immediately ordered a fighting withdrawal of his forces, containing and delaying the enemy for as long as possible while he organised a breakthrough against Kleist’s Prussians.

Lieutenant – General Friedrich Ferdinand Heinrich von Kleist
Lieutenant – General Friedrich Ferdinand Heinrich von Kleist

The fate of the French I Corps had been suddenly placed in the hands of a diminutive Prussian Junker who, until now, had just been another general officer, and something of a plodder at that, who had heeded the call to free the fatherland from the Napoleonic yoke. Kleist had the appearance of a well rounded and well fed farmer, with his chubby face and ample girth. He was, however, a solid leader of men and a reliable corps commander. Now, early on the morning of the 30th August, his entire force was on the march, his forward elements arriving at Tellniz at around 11:30 a.m. This advance guard consisted of the Silesian Hussar Regiment and two battalions of the 7th Reserve Infantry Regiment, supported by Horse Battery #7. The rest of Kleist’s corps consisted of the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Brigades, his reserve cavalry brigade and accompanying artillery.

The Battle of Kulm August 30th 1813. Situation at 1:00 p.m.
The Battle of Kulm August 30th 1813. Situation at 1:00 p.m.

Allies (Russian, Austrian and Prussian) in Red:

1. Russian 2nd Guard Division; Hessen – Homburg’s Austrian Brigade; Volhynie and Krementchug Infantry Regiments.

2. Russian 14th Division and Württemberg’s 2nd Russian Corps.

3. Russian Guard cavalry.

4.  1st and 2nd Russian Cuirassier and Russian and Line cavalry.

5. Russian 1st Guard Division.

6. Russian Empress Cuirassier Regiment; Tartar Uhlan Regiment; Serpuchov Uhlan Regiment; Cossack Regiment #; Bianchi’s and Colloredo’s Austrian Infantry Brigades.

7. Kleist’s Prussian Reserve cavalry.

French in Blue:

A Mouton – Duvernet’s 42nd Division.

B. Pouchelon’s 1st Brigade, 1st Division.

C. Dunesme’s 1st Brigade and Doucets 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division.

D. French Cavalry.

E. Creutzer’s 2nd Brigade of Mouton – Duvernet’s 42nd Division moving to attack Schanda.

F. Quiot’s Brigade.

G. Revest’s Brigade. H. French gun line.

Vandamme’s first priority was to contain the Austrian columns under Colloredo while at the same time attempting to punch a hole through the net that now threatened to trap him. Using his interior lines to good effect the French commander first ordered Corbineau’s 1st Light Cavalry Division to hold Knorring’s Russian cavalry who were supporting Colloredo’s advance, while Gobrecht’s 21st Light Cavalry Brigade remained in reserve to the north of Kulm. He then moved Quiot’s 2nd Brigade to support Dunesme at Unter – Arbesau. Next he turned Creutzer’s 2nd Brigade of Mouton – Duvernet’s 42nd Division to attack the Prussian threat to his rear, while Revest’s Brigade also did an about turn and prepared to follow in its wake. Mouton – Duvernet’s 1st Brigade and Philippon’s 1st Division would execute a staged withdrawal from in front of Straden and Priesten, falling back until such time that they too could add their weight in forcing a way through the Prussians. All of this took time however, and it was well past 1:30 p.m. before Creutzer managed to get his attack going against Kleist’s now thickening battle line, by which time Vandamme’s attention had been drawn to a column of Prussians advancing to occupy Ober – Arbesau over on the French left rear. He immediately ordered Dunesme to clear them from the village, at the same time sending Gobrecht to support this attack with his cavalry. Leaving the 13th Light Infantry Regiment to hold the plodding Austrians in front of Unter – Arbesau, Dunesme quickly formed the tattered and battered 25th Line Infantry Regiment into two columns and sent them wearily trudging to the assault, while Gobrecht’s squadrons came trotting down to cover their left flank.

General Charles Martin, Baron Gobrecht was a forty year old swashbuckler so typical of many cavalry commanders in the French army. He was born at Cassel in northern France in 1772 and was a personal friend of Vandamme, becoming his aide de camp in 1795. Gobrecht transferred to the cavalry and served with distinction at the battle of Bergan in 1798. Thereafter he once again served as aide to Vandamme in 1799, and was seriously wounded in the head at the battle of Castricum. On recovering he became chef d’escadrons of the 4th Dragoons, becoming a member of the Legion of Honour in 1804. As Colonel of the 30th Dragoons in 1812 he was made Baron of the empire for his conduct at Ostrowno. That he was a commander who led from the front is verified by the fact that during the 1812 Russian campaign Gobrecht had five horses shot from under him while at the head of his regiment.

Now, bringing his brigade up on Dunesme’s left, Gobrecht’s squadrons bore down on the Silesian Hussar Regiment who were covering the flank of their own infantry around Ober – Arbesau. While Gobrecht’s 9th Chavauléger – Lancer Regiment hit the Prussians on their exposed right, his other regiment, the Anhalt Chasseurs à Cheval, struck them in front. The ensuing mêlée was short lived with the Prussian hussars being driven back in disorder. Not content with this the rampaging French horsemen next went for a battery of Prussian artillery which had just unlimbered in preparation to giving support to their now fleeing brethren in the cavalry. Unable to get off a salvo owing to their own cavalry being in the line of fire, the Prussian gunners were sabered and pierced as they stood beside their pieces, three guns being captured before the remnants of the battery managed to make good its escape. Rallying his squadrons, the colonel of the 9th Chavauléger’s, Jean – Maximillen Fredo, was hit by a musket ball in the groin, dropping him from his horse.59

Gobrecht now called for reinforcements as he could plainly see that large columns of Prussian infantry were now forming for an attack. These troops belonged to the 10th Brigade and were commanded by the recently promoted fifty year old Major – General Georg Dubislav Ludwig von Pirch I, the number after his name relating to the fact that there were two generals with the surname Pirch serving in the Prussian army.

By 2:00 p.m. lack of numbers was beginning to tell and Vandamme had to pull one of Creutzer’s battalions over to support Gobrecht, together with three cannon taken from Baltus’s gun line. These, helped by the sparing hit and run tactics conducted by the French cavalry, managed to slow down the Prussian advance. As it was, Vandamme did not want to be drawn off balance by devoting too much effort over on, what had now become his right rear, preferring to concentrate as much force as possible for a breakthrough directly back along the main highway leading to Nollendorf and Peterswald. Sacrificing his artillery to achieve this purpose Vandamme ordered their caissons burned and munitions destroyed. After holding up the enemy for as long as possible all cannon in the gun line were to be spiked, the gunners retiring as best they could following the infantry break out. In his notes Vandamme wrote, “The general seeing that his orders for the retreat were not being carried out precisely as he had given, decided to remain behind and personally conduct the retreat. He exposed himself on many occasions and was in constant danger directing the rear guard.”60 Given the fact that Vandamme was still hoping for (in his view) the long awaited marshals baton, it is not surprising that he would wish to portray himself in a favourable light, even when surrounded by the debris of defeat, however this should not detract from the fact that, like the captain of a sinking ship, he held on until the end making sure that as many of his troops as possible got off the field.

Getting off the field was certainly a priority in the minds of most of the young French soldiers. On the right the men of Mouton – Duvernet’s 42nd Division, finding their line of retreat becoming more and more constricted owing to their being pressed back against the steep side of the mountains, began to break up, many throwing away their weapons and trying to scramble away up the hillside. Others formed into squares standing their ground until these too began to disintegrate, many leaving the ranks and joining the general flow of fugitives leaving the battle. Doucet’s 2nd Brigade of Dumonceau’s 2nd Division fared better; falling back in good order through Kulm heading for Tellnitz, they were closely followed by what still remained of Revest’s brigade and also Fezensac’s 2nd Brigade of Philippon’s 1st Division, Ponchelon’s 1st Brigade remained defending the gun line until Kulm was cleared of other units, then followed the general line of retreat. Dunesme’s 1st Brigade of Domonceau’s division, together with Quiot’s brigade, held back the Austrians and Prussians around Ober – Arbesau, while Gobrecht’s 21st Light Cavalry Brigade, now joined by the 2nd Brigade of Cavalry under Aime – Sulpice – Victor – Pelletier Montmarie, from Corbineau’s 1st Light Cavalry Division made a spirited charge against the 10th Silesian Landweher Regiment who had just arrived on the field and were deploying to protect a battery of 12pdrs which had come into action across the main highroad. The Landweher managed to get off a ragged half hearted volley before the French troopers got in amongst them hewing and skewering at will, causing all three battalions of the regiment to break back in disorder. Seeing the chance to build upon this Vandamme ordered Quiot’s and Revest’s brigades to follow up with a bayonet attack forcing a breach in the Prussian lines.61

As the French began to push through with cold steel the fugitives from the Silesian Landweher crashed headlong into the 2nd Silesian Regiment who were coming up to support them, their impact having a knock on effect causing still more troops to leak out of their ranks, dropped their weapons and running back in terror. This rearward surge being stopped, but only briefly, when Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich August, a cousin of the of the Prussian king, dismounted and grabbed the standard of the second battalion of the 2nd Silesian Regiment crying, “Whoever has a true Prussian heart, follow me!” Not many did. Those that followed the prince were soon forced to retire before the onslaught of men who no longer cared for the niceties of war, killing anything and everyone that stood in the way of their getting clear of the fighting.62

Having punched an opening in the Prussian lines Vandamme’s next task was to make sure as many of his troops pushed on through as possible before the converging allied units blocked it off once more. In particular he had to deal with the other brigades of Kleist’s corps which were now approaching, part of their artillery already unlimbering and preparing to open fire. With his infantry formations now rapidly breaking up Vandamme called on Corbineau’s cavalry to clear the way.

Collecting his squadrons Corbineau led them straight at the enemy gun line, which suddenly erupted in a burst of flame stabbed smoke as some of the gunners managed to let fly with canister shot. Men and horses came crashing to the ground amid flaying hooves and riddled bodies, but the main body pressed on, driving hard into and through the Prussian cannon, scattering all before them and causing a chain reaction of panic that transmitted itself to the Prussian infantry attempting to form squares to meet the oncoming rush of sabre slashing horsemen. Having no time to complete their formations the footsore and weary infantry began to break up, some attempting to follow their officer’s orders for an orderly withdrawal, but the majority running for their lives into the hills. Not content with the havoc they had already caused Corbineau’s squadrons, realising that they had to keep up the momentum, reformed in preparation for another charge, allowing many thousands of French fugitives to escape.

The Battle of Kulm 30th August 1813. Situation at the end of the battle.
The Battle of Kulm 30th August 1813. Situation at the end of the battle.

Allied forces (Russian, Austrian and Prussian) in Red:

1. Russian 1st Grenadier Division;Volhynie and Krementchug Infantry Regimant; Hessen – Homburg Austrian Infantry Brigade.

2. Württemberg’s 2nd Russian Corps and Helfreich’s 14th Russian Division.

3. Russian 2nd Guard Division.

4. Russian Cavalry.

5. Russian 1st Guard Division.

6. Russian 1st and 2nd Cuirassier Divisions.

7. Bianch’s Austrian Division and Colloredo’s Austrian Division.

8 – 8 – 8 Kleist’s Prussian Corps.

French in Blue:

A. French cavalry break – out.

B. Mixed units of the 1st Corps attempting to leave the field.

The capture of General Vandamme
The capture of General Vandamme

The sacrifice of the French cavalry was not in vain. By 3:30 p.m. the Russians and Austrians had now pinched – in the French position around Kulm, taking over 7,000 prisoners and all of their artillery.  A further 8,000 had been killed or wounded during the course of the advance to Kulm and the subsequent two day battle, but this still meant that over 10,000 had managed to break through. Although Dunesme had been killed leading his brigade in a fighting retreat from Ober – Arbesau and Quiot had been taken prisoner defending Kulm, many of the 1st Corps high ranking officers had managed to stay with their commands. Vandamme himself was one of the last to attempt to leave the stricken field, being taken prisoner in the foothills above Kulm where he had been organising the evacuation of his troops. A senior Russian officer, Paul Andréiévitch Kolzakov, who was aide – de – camp to the Grand Duke Constantine has left a description of the circumstances surrounding Vandamme’s capture, although, given the fact that we only have his word for it, may just be a story made up to impress the readers of his Mémoires. Kolzakov claimed that as he was returning from delivering a dispatch to Kleist he had to dismount owing to the fatigued state of his horse. In front of him there was some confusion and several French officers were seen riding towards him closely followed by a group of Cossacks, with more coming in from other directions. The officers were soon surrounded and the Cossacks were about to finish them off when Kolzakov claimed: “I heard a loud cry, ‘Russian General save me!’…I cried out ‘Halt, Cossacks, halt! Do not strike them!’ I was able to stop them in time. The French were surrounded on all sides and made prisoners.”

The French General [Vandamme] dismounted animated by what he was going to do. His chubby face [he had not suffered the ordeal of Russia] was all red and sweat ran in great drops down his cheeks that were covered in dust, as was all of his uniform. After catching his breath he turned towards me; thinking that I was a general officer – without doubt because of the naval hat [Kolzakov was a captain in the Russian navy] – he said, “I give you, General, my sword that has served me during many years of glory for my country.” I refused to receive it, saying that he would have to give it personally to Tsar [Alexander], to whom he would be conducted, and I asked him his name. I learned that it was General Vandamme himself63

The allied casualties numbered over 9,000 killed and wounded, the Russians bearing the brunt of the fighting on the first day, with the Prussians and Austrians sustaining greater losses during the second day of battle. This victory following close on the heels of the other French defeats at the Katzbach and Gross Beeren boosted the allied morale and cancelled out their defeat at Dresden but things could have been very different:

Undoubtedly the allies had been extremely lucky. There can be few victories in history won by such a chaotic and inefficient command structure. Not merely could the campaign have ended in disaster, in all logic it ought to have done so once the retreat from Dresden began. The allies owed much to luck, though also to the courage and endurance of their troops, especially the Russians on the first day at Kulm. Some of the allied generals had performed well. Kleist had shown real courage in advancing into Vandamme’s rear. Ermolov displayed inspiring leadership on the first day at Kulm, and Colloredo did well on the second. Above all, Eugen of Württemberg stands out as the allied general who contributed most to making victory possible.64

 

Appendix A.

Vandamme’s 1st Army Corps.

In March 1813 Vandamme was named commander of the Thirty – Second Military Division. He was also given the Second Infantry Division under General  Jean – Baptiste Dumonceau, the Fifth Infantry Division under General Franҫois – Marie Dufour, and a depot training division stationed at Wesel on the Rhine. On the 6th of April Napoleon (who always exaggerated numbers) was writing that Vandamme had 28 infantry battalions when, in fact, he could only muster between eight and ten. This is taken from John G. Gallaher’s book, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page 230. Again, on page 241 he states that Napoleon had designated the First Corps of the Grande Armée to Vandamme, and that it would contain three infantry divisions and forty – six pieces of artillery. No detail of the composition is mentioned by Gallaher. However, Scott Bowden, in his work, Napoleon’s Grand Armée of 1813, tells us that on the 15th of August the French 1st Corps contained the 1st Division – General Philippon; 2nd Division – General Domonceau; 23rd Division – General Teste, and also the attached 27th Division General – Dombrowski, together with the 1st Corp Cavalry Brigade under General Gobrecht and the Reserve Artillery (page. 241 -243).

Things then get totally mixed up as one unit after another is taken away from Vandamme’s command, while still others are added. The reasons for all this are obscure, since to tinker about with a formation that should be a harmonious fighting unit is not conducive with each part jig sawing into a coherent and familiar whole well known and understood by its leader.

Just why Napoleon split – up General Teste 23rd Division, then gave Vandamme the 42nd Division under Mouton – Duvernet, which was part of St Cyr’s Corps, with instructions to, ‘keep it, if St Cyr were not hard pressed.’ (Petre.Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany 1813, page. 186). St Cyr was very hard pressed as things turned out, but Vandamme still retained the division. Just who informed St Cyr in the middle of a battle that he had been deprived of one of his divisions is not forthcoming.

The detachment sent to Aussig, just as the battle of Kulm began, is another odd mix –up of troops, commanders and numbers. Scott Bowden and George Nafziger ( Napoleon’s Grand Armée of 1813 page 340 – 341,and Napoleon at Dresden page. 222) give 300 Sappers together with (in part) the 57th Line Infantry Regiment; the 6th (company?) of the 9th Light Infantry Regiment, the 22nd Demi – Provisional Brigade consisting of the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Light Infantry Regiment; 3rd Battalion of the 12th Light Infantry Regiment; 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 76th Line Regiment; 9th Light Cavalry Division (in part), the 36th Light Cavalry Brigade under Colonel Rosseau, consisting of two squadrons of the 3rd Hussar Regiment and two squadrons of the 27th Chasseur à Cheval Regiment. No artillery mentioned, except by Nafziger who does not quote any source for this. This would mean that the “detachment” at Aussig would have numbered over 2,000 men. General of Brigade Creutzer is given as the commander of these forces, but he was engaged at the battle of Kulm with his 2nd Brigade of Mouton – Duvernet’s 42nd Division on the 29th– 30th August.

 

Just where Rosseau’s 36th Cavalry Brigade came from is a puzzle. None of the sources mention it being attached to Vandamme’s Corps. Originally it had been part of General Pire’s 9th Light Cavalry Division, and was still with this unit at Leipzig in October 1813. However, the 36th Light Cavalry Brigade was commanded by General Stanislaw Klicki (5th French Cavalry Corps under General Pajol), Rosseau only being the Colonel of the 3rd Hussars, which had three squadrons, not two as stated by Bowden. Also some sources do not mention the 27th Chasseurs – à – Cheval, but give the 36th Light Cavalry Brigade two regiments of hussars – the 3rd and 13th. Very confusing.

Napoleon himself states that Vandamme had attached to his corps, “Corbineau’s (cavalry), the 42nd Division (Mouton – Duvernet of the XIV Corps), and the brigade of the II Corps commanded by Reuss. This will give you an argumentation of 18 battalions.” (Nafziger quoting from Simon, Kriegeserignisse, pg 38.) But Levien states that Vandamme had, “…not just his own First Corps of three strong divisions but also three big infantry brigades (?) and a cavalry division…” (Russia against Napoleon, page. 398).  Leiven also gives Vandamme’s command as totalling over 35,000 men. He also mentions the figures given by Maximilian Ehnl, Schlacht bei Kulm, Vienna, 1913, page 132, stating 39,000 French infantry and 3,000 French cavalry. Colonel H.Aster’s work, Die Kriegsereignisse zwischen Peterswald, Pirna, Königstein und Priesten im August 1813 und die Schlacht bei Kulm, Dresden,1845, gives Vandamme  34,000 of all arms.

With all the above being taken into account I conclude that Vandamme had, counting artillery and ancillary wagon trains and engineers, around 35,000 men at the commencement of operations on the 27th August. Allowing for the losses sustained during the pursuit he could put no more than 33,000 men into the battle fought on the 29th – 30th August.

 

Appendix B.

 Petre (Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany 1813) states:

He [Napoleon] had also a right to expect Vandamme to confine himself to the task prescribed for him, namely, the capture of all that was on the enemy’s communications at Teplitz, Tetshen, and Aussig, and not to engage in an enterprise which was too great for his strength. Where Napoleon seems really to have been to blame was in assuming, on insufficient grounds, that the enemy was going to Annaberg, and in putting himself, by returning to Dresden, in a position where he was not able to correct that false assumption. It was not until at least eight hours later, perhaps a good deal more, that he wrote to Mortier to find out what was happening with Vandamme, and to support him with two divisions if necessary. [He did much the same after the battle of Ligny in 1815, when he failed to order the immediate pursuit of the Prussians] Clearly the order to Mortier should have been dispatched by 5:00 p.m.on the 29th, and should have ordered him to march at once. Mortier would have received that order, at the latest, by 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. He would have reached Peterswald early on the morning of the 30th, and would have in all probability, have met and destroyed Kleist there, or at any rate come upon his rear between Peterswald and Nollendorf.

There is also Du Casse’s story concerning various correspondences that Napoleon had destroyed after the battle of Kulm when he thought Vandamme had been killed. See Petre, page 246.

 

 

Bibliography.

Aster. Colonel H, Die Kriegsereignisse zwischen Peterwald, Pirna, Königstein und Priesten im August 1813 und die Schlacht bei Kulm, Dresden, 1845.

Bowden. Scott, Napoleon’s Grand Armée of 1813, Emperors Headquarters Publications, 1990.

Brett – James. Antony, Napoleon Against Europe, Macmillan and Co Ltd, 1970

Gallaher. John. G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible: General Dominique Vandamme, University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.

Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe 1807 to 1814, Allen Lane, an inprint of Penguin Books, 2009.

Lawford. James, Napoleon: The Last Campaigns 1813 – 1815, Roxby Press, 1977.

Nafziger. George, Napoleon at Dresden: The Battles of August 1813, Emperors Press, 1994.

Nosworthy. Brent, Battle Tactics of Napoleon and his Enemies, paperback edition, Constable and Company Ltd, London, England, 1995.

Ehnl. Maximilian, Schlacht bei Kulm, Vienna, 1913.

Petre. F. Loraine, Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany 1813, Greenhill Books, 1992.

Rothenberg. Gunther E, The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon, paperback edition, Indiana University Press Bloomington, 1980

 

 

  1. Gallaher. John G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page 230. []
  2. Petre. Lorraine F, Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany 1813, page 26 []
  3. Rothenberg. Gunther E, The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon, page. 194 []
  4. Petre. Lorraine F, Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany, page. 22. See also the detailed account of Scharnhorst’s reforms in Dr Charles E. White’s work, The Enlightened Soldier, Westport Connecticut, USA, 1989. []
  5. Rothenberg. Gunther E, The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon, page. 195 []
  6. Beskrovnyi (ed.), Pokhod, no 131, Kutuzov to Winzengerode, 24th March/5th April 1813, p.132. Quoted in Lieven.Dominic. Russia against Napoleon, The Battle for Europe 1807 to 1814, page. 309 []
  7. Ibid,  page.310 []
  8. Lawford. James, Napoleon, The Last Campaigns 1813-15, page.17 []
  9. Ibid,  page.17 []
  10. For full details of the French and Allied manoeuvres after Bautzen, together with the state of the opposing armies see Petre. F Loraine, Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany 1813, page. 142 – 159. Also Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 322 – 328. []
  11. Gallaher. John G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 230 – 234 []
  12. Quoted in; Gallaher. John G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 238 []
  13. Gallaher. John G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 241. See appendix A for details []
  14. Petre F.Loraine, Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany 1813, page. 171 []
  15. Corr. 20,408, to Vandamme, Quoted in, Petre F.Loraine, Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany 1813, page, 186 []
  16. Corr. 20,449, dated Görlitz, 24th August. Quoted in, Petre F.Loraine, page. 191 []
  17. Gallaher. John G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 243 []
  18. Gallaher. John G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 243 []
  19. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 398 []
  20. Ibid, page. 398 – 399 []
  21. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 399 – 400 []
  22. Ibid, page. 401 For a more detailed account see also, Petre F. Lorraine, Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany 1813, page. 227 – 230 []
  23. Gallaher. John G,  Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible,  page. 244 []
  24. Nafziger, George. Napoleon’s Dresden Campaign; The Battles of August 1813, page. 205 – 206. For more details see Appendix B []
  25. Lieven, Dominic. Russia against Napoleon, page. 403 []
  26. Lieven, Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 404  Quoting from the memoirs of Colonel von Helldorf and Eugen of Wüttemberg, Lieven states that the army knew of Ostermann – Tolstoy’s mental problems, also Ermolov remarked that at the battle of Kulm Ostermann was more trouble than the French. See Endnotes, page 584 []
  27. Petre, F.Lorraine, Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany 1813, page. 229 []
  28. Lieven, Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 404 []
  29. Gallaher, John. G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 246 []
  30. Ibid, page. 246 []
  31. Gallaher, John.G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 246. There is some confusion here regarding Hellendorf and Nollendorf. Petre (page. 233) states that Ruess was killed in the action at Hellendorff. Gallaher gives Nollendorf as the place where he fell. As general Revest had already taken over command of Reuss’ brigade at Hollendorf  later on the 29th August, then Gallaher seems to have got the names mixed up? []
  32. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 406. []
  33. Gallaher, John. G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 247 []
  34. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 407 []
  35. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 407 – 408 []
  36. Nafziger. George, Napoleon at Dresden, page. 214 – 215 []
  37. Nafziger, George, Napoleon at Dresden, page. 215 []
  38. Owing to the rate that troops were being fed into the Napoleonic mincing machine the manoeuvres performed by the veterans with such glorious results at Austerlitz, Jena and Auerstädt had been watered down, not least because of the terrible losses incurred by NCO’s and officers, now Napoleon’s battles became a slogging match with little or no finesse in regard to the use of the linear formations and the grand tactical methods that had so much been a part of their success in the early years. For more details see, Nosworthy. Brent, Battle Tactics of Napoleon and his Enemies. []
  39. Petre, Nafziger and Lieven all give slightly different accounts of what took place during the battle. Petre states that it was 2:00 p.m when Philippon arrived on the field; Nafziger says he arrived at 3:00 p.m.; Lieven takes the middle course giving the time of his arrival as just after 2:00 p.m. None of these authors give any details of what Duvernet’s nine battalions really did, indeed Nafziger completely ignores these troops and supplies no information what so ever as to their actions after they arrived on the battlefield. With this being said I have used my own judgment and some artistic licence in my “Narrative” when describing the battle. []
  40. Nafziger. George, Napoleon at Dresden, page. 217 []
  41. Once again the various sources give different accounts of this phase of the battle. Lieven states that Philippon had four regiments (two brigades) on the field (page 409). Petre gives Philippon fourteen battalions (page 235). Nafziger gets totally mixed up stating that , “Philipon arrived with two brigades,” then states , “Not waiting for his entire force to be present.” And to frustrate us even further he also says that, “Part of Pouchelon’s brigade advanced on Straden…The other part, Fezensac’s 2nd Brigade…” Thus mixing up two separate brigades as the same unit. (page 217 []
  42. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 409 []
  43. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 409 []
  44. Nafziger. George, Napoleon at Dresden, page. 217 []
  45. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 410 []
  46. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 410 []
  47. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 410 – 411. Quoting from, ‘Iz zapisok pokoinago general – maiora N.P.Koval’skago,’ Russkii vestnik, 91/1, 1871, pp.78 -117, especially p. 102; ‘Zapiski N.N.Murav’eva – Karskago’, RA, 24/1, 1866, pp. 5 – 55, especially pp. 22 – 6; P. Bobrovskii, Istoria liebgvardii ulanskago E.I.V. gosudarynyi Imperatritsky Aleksandry Fedorovny polka, SPB, 1903, p. 231. []
  48. General Sir Robert Wilson who was attached to the allied army as an observer noted, ‘The lancers and dragoons of the guard charged through garden – ground and ravines [sic] upon the right column [of French infantry], which threw down its arms and fled with the most rapid haste, but many hundreds were killed and several hundred made prisoners. The other column retired with more order but no less speed.’ Quoted in Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 411 []
  49. See Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 411. Nafziger gives the allies 6,000 for the first day of the battle but no detail for the French, page. 222, and Petre states that, ‘The losses had been heavy; the Russians lost 6,000 men and the French probably nearly as many.’ page. 236. Therefore for the French, who had been attacking, I have given a slightly higher casualty figure. There are no figures available for Russian prisoners and it is hard to understand how Vandamme would have dealt with them anyway if very many had been taken? []
  50. Vandamme to Napoleon, 30th August 1813, Archives Nationales, AFIV 1661A Plaq.4. Quoted in, Gallaher. John, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 248 – 249 []
  51. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 413. Quoted from the extracts of Friederich, Herbstfeldzug, pp. 90 – 92, and Ehnl, Kulm, pp. 112 – 118.

    *Most of the sources mention the commanders and monarchs, plus their numerous staffs being at Preisten. Since this village had been the scene of some of the worst fighting on the 29th August, and that it had been set on fire, then I consider Handstein as being the place where the main headquarters of the allied army would have been, later removing to Dux. See Petre, page. 238 []

  52. Gallaher states that Vandamme was still under the impression that Napoleon was at Pirna personally conducting operations. Given this Vandamme could receive new orders by noon on the 30th August. He still thought that St Cyr and Mortier could be approaching.  Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 249 []
  53. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 414. Gallaher says that Schwarzenberg was not quick in developing his forces on the morning of the 30th August. Since he had placed Barclay de Tolly as overall field commander it could be that Schwarzenberg, well known for his slowness of action, saw no reason to hurry the Austian troops forward. Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 249 []
  54. During the advance on Kulm Vandamme had detached a battalion of Doucet’s brigade, together with 300 sappers and two guns to Aussig conforming to his orders to prepare to lay a pontoon bridge there. Nafziger states that he also detached several infantry regiments from the 42nd Division as well as 400 cavalry from the 32nd Light Cavalry Brigade under General Creutzer and also sent these to Aussig. (Napoleon at Dresden, page. 222) Since general Creutzer was Duvernet’s 2nd   “Infantry” Brigade commander, and that there was no such cavalry brigade as the “ 32nd Light” with Corbineau’s division, then all this, coupled with the fact that no source material is quoted to back up these claims, appears to be a mix – up in translation? I have therefore allowed for “all” of Duvernet’s division, with the exception of the battalion and the sappers at Aussig, being on the battlefield during the 30th August.

    []

  55. Nafziger. George, Napoleon at Dresden, page. 224 []
  56. Nafziger. George, Napoleon at Dresden, page. 224 – 225

    *Once again Nafziger makes a mistake in his description of the battle. He states that Hessen – Homburg had the Infantry Regiment No 2, Hiller (the name relating to the colonel – in – chief of the regiment) in the first line and Infantry Regiment No1, Hiller in the second line. There was no Infantry regiment No 1 Hiller. Infantry Regiment No 1 was known as the Kiser Joseph II Regiment. The Austrian colonel – in – chief names can be confusing; therefore I have used only their regimental numbers. []

  57. Again Nafziger confuses the issue by stating that the original plan was to move, ‘over the plain against the “Wappiage.” This is the first time this place or thing is ever mentioned in his description of the battle. No such word as Wappiage can be found in the English dictionary. Nafziger does not even show it on any of his maps (which are also questionable in terms of accuracy) and therefore I have ignored it. []
  58. Nafziger. George, Napoleon at Dresden, page. 226. Nafziger’s main source material for most of this part of the battle comes from K. Und K, Kriegsarchivs, Befreiungskrieg Vol IV, which he has translated. Being written by the victors he obviously considers that it must be a factual account of what took place? []
  59. Nafziger. George, Napoleon at Dresden, page 231-232. Here it is stated that Fredo (Nafziger does not give a name) was mortally wounded. According to the Napoleonic Series, French Cavalry Regiments and their Colonels, he was wounded. No information concerning the wound is forthcoming so that my “guess” is a good as any other. []
  60. Gallaher.John G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 250 []
  61. Nafziger. George, Napoleon at Dresden, page 239 []
  62. Nafziger. George, Napoleon at Dresden, page 239. Once again the readers of Nafzigers translation have to make up their own minds just when and what is happening, since he changes the times of events and gets mixed up with units and places, spending too much time on trivia and not enough time on honing his writing skills. []
  63. Quoted in Gallaher. John G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page.251 – 252.   Other stories concerning Vandamme’s capture and subsequent behaviour are not backed up by any creditable sources. []
  64. Lieven. Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 417 []

4 thoughts on “The Battle of Kulm.”

  1. Reading Lieven’s Russia Against Napoleon, I wanted to go online to see some detailed maps that would better illustrate the battle of Kulm than his very simplistic maps. Finding your site, I was very impressed by your clear and scholarly presentation of this interesting battle. Great work!

    1. Dear Bruce,
      Thank you for your kind remarks concerning my Kulm article.
      The battle deserves more interest as it certainly shows how Napoleon finally bit – off – more – than – he – could – chew. By not throwing his whole support with Vandamme after Dresden he threw away the best opportunity of victory.
      Best wishes,

      Graham J.Morris (Battlefield Anomalies)

  2. great piece and has inspired me to look at the battles of 27-29th. Just need to lock down the French fighting strengths . I have Nafziger’s OOB for 30th, but no idea of Division or Brigade strengths.

    1. Greeting Des!
      Thanks for visiting the site. I will put together a OOB strength of French units at Kulm, thereafter you can contact me at:-
      graymo1815@gmail.com – better than trying to post too many detailed listing on site.

      Best wishes,
      Graham

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