The Battle Of Eylau



The military historian, Dr David Chandler wrote [Chandler pp535]:

‘None of the great Napoleonic struggles is surrounded with more doubt and uncertainty than the battle of Eylau. Fact, myth and propaganda are almost inextricably intertwined, and different authorities give conflicting interpretations of almost every aspect and stage of the struggle’.

Much of the myth has come down to us in the form of eye-washing, by nineteenth-century battle painters, and brainwashing by some military historians who, even up to the present day, consider that men, horses, artillery and wagons can go dashing around a battlefield covered by almost a meter of snow, in temperatures of -16c, while intermittent blizzards raged.

Trying to piece together the individual events of this great battle is rather like attempting to unravel a tangled fishing line; just when you think you have found the correct loop to pass it through, the whole lot gets even more entwined. Dealing with the battle as a whole, therefore, is not the object of this paper, but by focusing our attention on one of the grand moments during its course, in this case Murat’s massive cavalry charge, we may come to understand just how complex, and at times how fabricated Napoleonic battles could be.

I do not intend to go into any details of the campaign leading up to the battle of Eylau other than to mention events just prior to the battle which may have effected the circumstances which occurred during its course; suffice to say that, like the battle itself, many other events which took place during this campaign are equally subject to doubt and conjecture.

The French Cavalry

After the defeat of the much-vaunted Prussian Army at the battles of Jena and Auerstadt (14thOctober 1806), Napoleon was able to replenish his cavalry horses at Prussian expense, and established a large depot at Potsdam. Here, and throughout Prussian conquered territory he was able to raise some 44,555 horses. These together with the mounts that had not been worn out or killed during the previous campaign gave the French a total of 60,000 comparatively fresh horses ([Petre pp26], [Rodgers pp35-52]). It must be remembered that a constant flow of remounts were always being supplied to the French army from depots in France, as well as captured horses and those requisitioned during a campaign in enemy territory. The overall total amount of horses that were supplied to the cavalry is impossible to calculate. The various specialized units such as Hussars, Cuirassiers, Dragoons and Chasseurs would each require different types of horses to fit their needs; also we must not forget that the French artillery required over 5,000 horses to pull their guns, limbers and ammunition wagons, as well as for field forges, forage and food wagons. There are also the staff officers and ADC mounts to be considered, these might number somewhere in the region of 1,500-2,000, depending on how many spare horses each officer could afford [Bowden pp27-31].

Most sources agree that Murat assembled over 10,000 cavalry for his attack at Eylau, these consisted of:

  • 2nd Division of Cuirassiers, 1,900 men (and horses?),
  • 1st Division of Dragoons, 2000 men (and horses?),
  • 2nd Dragoon Division, 2,200 men (and horses?),
  • 3rd Dragoon Division, 1,500 men (and horses?),
  • Imperial Guard Cavalry, 1,500 men (and horses?).

A total of 10,700 men [Murat]. The reason for the parenthesized question concerning the horses is due to the fact that during the week preceding the battle of Eylau the French cavalry had been engaged in a number of heavy engagements as well as having to manoeuvre in conditions which would cause many of their mounts to become unserviceable. I cite here two examples of how these figures do not tally with Murat’s estimates of the cavalry he led at Eylau.

On 6th February Murat’s heavy cavalry were engaged with the Russians at Hof:

‘Murat leading the dragoons he had with him and followed by d’Hautpoult’s cuirassiers, hurried across the bridge (at Hof). Their formation constricted by a narrow defile, the dragoons were overwhelmed, before they could reform beyond it, by the onslaught of Russian Hussars and Cossacks, and were carried back in confusion across the bridge’ [Petre pp58].

Since no information is forthcoming on the strength of Murat’s cavalry before the engagement at Hof, then we must rely on the figures given by Petre for 24th November 1806. Here he quotes from Corr.11, 302 of the French Archives, which give a figure of 9,200 for the combined Divisions of Beaumont, Kline, Becker, Milhaud (Dragoons) and Nansouty (Cuirassiers). Beaumont and Becker’s Dragoon Divisions were with Bernadotte and Savary respectively, while Grouchy’s Dragoon Division had been recalled from Ney’s command to join Murat [Epostio et al pp72].

General Nansouty seems to have disappeared into the ether as neither Petre nor Esposito and Elting mention him again; indeed Petre although mentioning his name in the text does not even give him a credit in his index, and we may therefore consider only the Cuirassier Division of General d’Hautpoult.

Not knowing the exact strength of the French Dragoons at Hof, we have to come to the conclusion that only one division was present, say 2000 troopers, but since this type of cavalry also fought on foot, they may not have been included in the correspondence because they fought dismounted [Chandler pp352].

The numbers of the French Cuirassiers engaged at Hof is also speculative, though the figure of between 1,000-1,200 seems to be a fair estimate; once again allowing for losses incurred on the march and in previous engagements. Only three Cuirassier regiments fought at Hof, 1st, 5thand 10th. The 11th regiment was not engaged [Bukhari pp41], but may have been held back as a result of the lack of horses, the remaining mounts going to fill-up the other three regiments.

I can find no details for the French Heavy Cavalry losses at Hof, but considering the severity of the weather and the fact that the losses given by Marshal Soult for his corps were 1,960 [Petre  pp159] then a conservative estimate would be 150-200 men and horses. There is also another consideration to take into account here, the fact that no army or portion thereof would attack an enemy in a prepared position without artillery support; therefore we must consider whether many of the French cavalry horses were used to haul their cannon onto the battlefield? Given the conditions under which this campaign was fought, we must definitely take into account the intensive labour involved in bringing these necessities of war, and their ancillary equipment to the right place at the right time; it is therefore quite possible that many of the heavy cavalry horses (being stronger) were used to double the team’s of the artillery to allow them to reach the battlefield.

The second argument against Murat’s figures on cavalry strengths comes from an examination of individual regiments, both light and heavy, that were on the field of Eylau.As an example I will use the Lasalle’s Light Cavalry Division.

General Lasalle’s division covered the French left flank, and contained the brigades of Colbert, Guyot, Dorosnel and Bruyere. Although the exact figures for these units will never be known, we can still arrive at a rough estimate of their strengths. The combined division was made up from:

    • 13th Chasseurs a Cheval (4 squadrons?),
    • 11th Chasseurs a Cheval (4 squadrons),
    • 10th Chasseurs a Cheval (4 squadrons),
    • 7th Chasseurs a Cheval (4 squadrons?),
    • 1st Hussars (4 squadrons?),
    • 5th Hussars (4 squadrons),
    • 7th Hussars (4 squadrons?),
    • 8th Hussars (4squadrons?)

If we allow for an average strength of 80 men and horses per squadron, then we arrive at the figure of 2,560 for this division alone. This will enable us to use a rough rule of thumb in determining the strengths of other units on the field.

Next we have to consider the Guard cavalry whom Murat includes in his total figures for the charge. These troops would not have constituted the whole of the Imperial Guard cavalry, as we may be sure that Napoleon would have kept one or two “duty squadrons” of his Guard Chasseurs a Cheval with him in the event of a misfortune. The main units of the Guard involved were the Guard Grenadiers a Cheval, and these numbered six squadrons (The original total for the Grenadiers a Cheval was four squadrons, but another two were added in 1805. See [Bukhari pp203]). As these were elite troops, then we can say that they would have been kept up to strength, even to the detriment of other units, and so we should put a figure of 100-150 men per squadron, giving them 600-800 engaged. The Guard Chasseurs a Cheval numbered five squadrons [Bukhari pp210] but whether or not all of these took part in the charge is debatable; therefore we should allow a conservative estimate of between 300-400 for this formation.

As we have seen, the Dragoon and Cuirassier divisions suffered losses during the engagement at Hof, and it is most probable that they also incurred a substantial loss of horses in each unit owing to the lack of forage, and the general hardships of the campaign (just how they were re-shod under these conditions would be an interesting paper in itself). If we allow the same numbers per squadron for each regiment in each division as we gave to the light cavalry division under General Lasalle, we arrive at the following:

Klein’s Dragoon Division:
  1st Regiment of Dragoons (4squadrons?);
  2nd Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
  4th Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
  14th Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
  20th Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
  26th Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
Grouchy’s Dragoon Division:
  3rd Regiment of Dragoons (4squadrons?);
  6th Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
  10th Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
  11th Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
  17th Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
  22nd Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
Milhaud’s Dragoon Division
  5th Regiment of Dragoons (4squadrons?);
  8th Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
  9th Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
  12th Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
  16th Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
  21st Regiment of Dragoons (4 squadrons?);
d’Hautpoul’s Cuirassier Division
  1st  Cuirassier Regiment (4 squadrons?)
  5th  Cuirassier Regiment (4 squadrons?)
  10th Cuirassier Regiment (4 squadrons?)
  11th Cuirassier Regiment (4 squadrons?)

Again allowing for each squadron 80 men and horses, which is a good allowance under the circumstances, then we arrive at the figure of 7,280 for the combined Dragoon and Cuirassier Divisions. If we now add the Guard cavalry to this total, and add in the possibility of the Guard Chasseurs a Cheval also contributing one or two squadrons to the charge, then we have an overall count of approximately 8,300. Next we must take off the numbers killed or wounded at Hof, and also, and this is a crucial factor, the loss of horses and reallocation of same to other tasks as well as those unfit from pure exhaustion, this leaves us with no more than 7,000-7,500 men and horses engaged, a far cry from the 10,000 plus quoted in the sources. Of course the latter number was estimated on the “full” squadron strengths, and not on how these strengths would have been eroded during a campaign.

The Men and The Horses

The average Dragoon trooper carried approximately 10 kilos of equipment on his person, these included helmet, uniform, sword and scabbard, cartridge-pouch with 10-20 cartridges, sheep or deer hide breeches or linen overalls. (None of the latter is mentioned in any sources until 1812 for the cuirassiers, but may have been ‘improvised ‘by some troopers while on campaign [Bukhari pp20]). Knee-high leather boots which were worn with a woollen insert around the knee to stop rubbing, cross belts and sword belt; he would also have worn whatever he could underneath his tunic for warmth. The Cuirassiers uniform and equipment was much the same as the Dragoon, with the exception of their wearing the front and back cuirass from which they took their name. These items of body Armour added a further 8 kilos to the wearer, when straps and fixings were added.

As well as the above equipment, each trooper had the following: a saddle of leather with bridle and stirrups: a black leather crupper: martingale: leather pistol holsters: portmanteau with straps that held a cloak or cape on the top: sheepskin half-shabraque or saddlecloth with holster covers: stable and parade halters and pistols or musket. Any additions to the trooper’s comforts, as well as his need to carry rations for himself and his charger during campaign would further increase the weight on the horse.

The problem of shoeing horses under the conditions that prevailed in the weeks leading up to the battle of Eylau has been alluded to before in this article, but it is worth considering other aspects of this problem when dealing with the battle.  I quote here an extract from Colonel Girois, who commanded the artillery of the 3rd French Cavalry Corps in the 1812 Russian campaign as an example, ‘ We now encountered a new difficulty: the slippery surface of the hardened snow offered no purchase to the horse’s feet. We had reserves of ice-nails all right, but we had not yet used them for shoeing the horses. Even this would not have sufficed, because after several hours march their diamond-sharp heads were worn and they became absolutely useless, as we discovered later. Iron crampons are much better, but we should have needed more time and resources than we had to shoe our horses in this way’. (Quoted in [Brett-James pp220]).

Not only the fact of the horses needing such things as ‘ice-nails and crampons’ should be taken into account, but also the method by which these were supplied and transported. For all the horses of the cavalry and artillery, the ancillary support wagons plus officers and staff, the French army would have required approximately 500,000 ice-nails and crampons, they would also require 50 field forges working flat-out at shoeing 50 horses each per day for a week, a prospect I find hard to accept; therefore I consider that most of the French cavalry remained with normal horseshoes together with all the hardship that this entailed.

The Myth and The Glory

With the above being said, such armchair prose as,:

At any other season the marshy country around Eylau would have made deployment difficult, but in February 1807 the bitter East Prussian winter was at its height. Lakes, streams and swamps were all covered by thick ice, and everything lay under three feet of snow. The battlefield was a vast white landscape, on which massed cavalry might charge full out.

are pure nonsense, and are typical of writers who have probably never walked through a meter of snow, never mind riding ‘full out’ over a battlefield covered with the stuff! Other examples are all too easy to find,

‘General Grouchy’s dragoons charged (sic) first, to sweep the ground, and clear it of enemy cavalry’, [Thiers pp429]


‘ In marvelous fettle (sic) 80 squadrons of splendidly accoutered horsemen (sic) swept forward’. [Chandler pp543-544]

There are many more like these which I am sure the reader has been inspired by in imagining the panoply of battle; the truth however is that what we see in films, and what the war gamer can do with his uncomplaining miniature armies is very different to what takes place during a real battle. Even the most diligent and painstaking military historian normally succumbs to flowery prose, especially when writing some work that will appeal to the general reader as well as the academic: in many cases there are just causes for some elaboration, but if we wish to find the truth, then we must cut away the flowers and get down to the roots.

carabiner01 carabiner11

If the military historian can manipulate our way of thinking then how much more so the military artist? Nineteenth century battle painters, although producing some uplifting scenes of military glory did, by and large apply too much artistic license to many of their works. The splendid craftsmanship of the French military painter, Edouard Detaille will be forever associated with the Napoleonic legend, but even his meticulous brushwork covers the truth with a veneer of glorious improbabilities. The fact that he used the same composition on at least two paintings, one of the French Guard Cavalry at Eylau, and the other that of French Carabiniers during the Russian campaign of 1812, should make us wary of his historical data. In the painting of the French Grenadiers a Cheval at Eylau, Detaille shows the stalwart Grenadiers receiving Russian cannon fire in firm ranks wearing only their tunics, with their cloaks still rolled on their portmanteaus. They stand in a few centimeters of snow mounted on sweating horses while their commander, Colonel Lepic tells his troopers to hold their heads up saying that they are being assailed by cannonballs not turds. All of this is of course very heroic stuff (or is it, when the cream of the French army appear to be afraid of being killed?), but we must not forget that it aims to show the glory of French arms, and was painted not long after France had been defeated in the Franco-Prussian war and therefore needed some kind of uplifting experience. The other problem with this painting comes from the interpretation that we give to just what Lepic actually said, and indeed if it was at all possible for his men to hear him anyway with a howling wind blowing and with his back to most of them! Also it may have been that the Grenadiers were not ducking their heads to avoid Russian cannonballs, but merely lowering them from the cutting effect of the wind and snow stinging their eyeballs!

‘The Battle of Eylau’ L. Flameng
‘The Battle of Eylau’ L. Flameng

Yet another painter who puts his skills to good use in the form of artistic propaganda is L.Flameng, whom even David Chandler considers to give, ‘A romantic reconstruction of Murat’s famous cavalry charge’ [Chandler pp246-247].  In this epic battle scene Flameng depicts Murat at the head of the French Cuirassiers, dressed in Russian Boyar type garb, wielding a riding whip and mounted on a rearing horse. We see tails, manes and horsetail plumes flapping in the wind, whereas, in fact, this whole hairy mass would have been, if not frozen stiff, at least incapable of this type of movement. Again we see the French cavalry without the protection of their winter cloaks, while their Russian adversaries, many of whom look like old age pensioners, stand in huddled amazement in their greatcoats awaiting their fate. As with Detaille we are presented with an image of French cavalry greatness; mounted on what appear to be prime racehorses, they are seen charging “full out” in a few centimeters of snow with no apparent effects from the appalling conditions under which they have spent the night, but rather as if they have just come from a full-dress parade.

‘The Charge of the Grenadiers a Cheval, Eylau 1807’. F Schommer
‘The Charge of the Grenadiers a Cheval, Eylau 1807’. F Schommer

The work of another military artist, F. Schommer also shows the French Guard Grenadiers a Cheval charging (sic) into battle, once again they are dressed for a ride in the park, and once again they dash across a sprinkling of snow which seems to have collected more on their bearskin bonnets than on the ground. It really is a shame that we have let ourselves be hoodwinked by this type of sham battlefield reporting. The facts may not have been quite what the salons of Paris desired to put on their walls, but nevertheless the use of rhetoric, and flowing brush strokes should not sanitize the dirty, bloody truth of war.

The Charge

The preparation for Murat’s charge (?) must indeed have trodden the snow down greatly, and also the movement of large bodies of infantry would add to this reduction in its depth; however snow does not disappear when ridden over or walked through by masses of men and horses, but rather remains deep in places and at others becomes so compacted that it turns into a veritable ice-rink; also the fact that the ground underneath the snow was iron hard from the severe frosts of the previous days must have made any movement treacherous. These factors must be taken into account when we consider the method employed by the French cavalry for their attack.

There is some proof of the way in which the French advanced to the attack, which comes from, ‘ Souvenire de Capitain Parquin’. Parquin tells us that, ‘Towards two o’clock in the afternoon an enormous mass of cavalry (Russian) was set in motion and advanced towards us at a walk; the snow and marshy (sic) ground not permitting any faster pace‘ [Rogers pp50].  With such an eyewitness account we may therefore safely say that the conditions would be the same for the French as for the Russians, and that when Murat led his squadrons forward he would have chosen a formation that took this into consideration.

It is my opinion that the French cavalry adopted a en muraille formation, in great depth. The en muraille deployment consisted of each regiment forming its squadrons in line immediately beside each other. There were no intervals between each squadron, and they rode forward boot to boot [Nosworthy pp??]. The front of Murat’s column would therefore be approximately 300 meters wide and, allowing for all of the reserve cavalry and the Guard forming one behind the other, and only minimal space between each regiment, would be some 900-1,200 meters from the head of the column to its rear. Indeed just such a formation is depicted by one of the more down to earth battle-painters, Simeon Fort in one of his Aquarelle’s, “La bataille d’Eylau”, (musee de Versailles). Here we can see that, given the conditions of the field, and just as importantly the condition of the men and horses, that Murat used his troopers like a battering ram, or bulldozer, to literally smash his way through the Russian lines. Not only this, but when we take into account the fact that trumpet calls would be difficult to communicate to each squadron over an extended distance owing to the wind, and that officers orders would not be heard due to the same factor, then this type of tight grouping would make control and command far more reliable. At a walking pace the French cavalry would not over-exert their already much fatigued mounts, and the fact they were attacking Russian infantry and cavalry who were “masking” their own artillery as they advanced after the defeat of Augereau’s Corps meant that they only had to receive the fire of Russian muskets, and possibly not much of this either when we reflect on what the weather could do, not only to these weapons, but also to the cartridges and powder used to make them effective.

[Petre pp185] tells of the Russian cavalry, ‘going down before the shock’, and this could be taken quite literally when we picture the great mass of flesh and steel of the French juggernaut smashing aside anything that stood in its way, and that the momentum of so many thousands pressing on from behind would make this impact even greater.

[Petre pp185] Petre hints at what the French formation was like when he writes, ‘this great line of cavalry, followed by others, poured in successive waves up the slope’. The ‘slope’ however creates yet another problem, since the Russians were advancing in their turn they would have been descending from their position, which was on a slight rise of ground, and just what slope the French cavalry had to climb is debatable. Not only that but with the onset of sporadic blizzards any form of gradient would cause drifting which in turn would make the snow even deeper and difficult to negotiate. That the Russian cavalry and infantry were halted in their forward movement is not in dispute, but just how they received the French attack has never been fully explained.

The Russian Army

The formation of the Russian army at the commencement of the battle tells us a great deal about how they manoeuvred on the battlefield. Much criticism has been leveled at Benningsen’s deployment of his forces, but there may have been good reason for him choosing to concentrate his army in the way he did. [Petre pp179] tells us of the Russians, ‘standing out when the atmosphere was clear, in sharp relief against the white snow on the bare slope, without any cover whatever‘. The reason for the Russian commander forming his troops into compact masses could well have been the state of the ground. When we consider that the snow was several feet deep, then to move companies and battalions in linear formation would have coursed the ranks to become disordered and distorted while stumbling through heavy snow drifts, likewise the same for the cavalry; whereas solid columns were able to manoeuvre rather like a snow plough enabling them to keep some form of alignment. The argument that the Russians must have formed lines otherwise Murat’s cavalry could not have been said to have broken through several of these during the charge depends on ones idea of how these ‘lines’ were made up. I can find no mention of the Russians forming squares during the French cavalry attack, normally the only way of meeting such a threat without disaster. What I consider happened was this – once again allowing for the state of the ground- each regiment/battalion in column formation faced their flank files outward and their rear rank back to receive the attack. Those formations that had become disordered during the advance from the main position simply lay on the ground allowing the enemy cavalry to pass over them while lunging upwards with their bayonets, thus causing much damage to the poor horses. Some strong evidence that many of the Russian infantry prostrated themselves in the snow comes from several sources, and the fact that they rose up again and faced to their rear as the French cavalry retired seems to suggest that it was a planed action which allowed for the conditions of the ground, and the fact that the attacking cavalry could not employ their normal battlefield formations [Jomini pp361].

There is no mention of the capture of any Russian artillery pieces, nor of the cavalry rendering them useless by driving nails into the vents, or breaking the sponge staves so that they could not be swabbed out [Fuller pp531]. No standards seem to have been captured, and very few, if any prisoners were taken. Napoleon was not convinced that the charge had done anything other than stall the Russians, and he certainly did not expect to exploit it by sending in the Foot Guards to complete the victory. It was nothing more than a desperate throw by a desperate man, who had insufficient resources on the field, and treated his enemy with contempt. The Great Cavalry Walk should be seen as part of a battle in which both sides were, in all probability, performing in slow motion. The high death toll on both sides seems to indicate a bloody fight to the finish, but in reality most of those reported killed probably died from the cold and sheer exhaustion. The expression to “Lie like a Bulletin” may have derived not from Napoleon wishing to play down the real numbers of his soldiers who had been killed in action, but to cover up his own failure in not supplying them with adequate food and clothing before entering into a campaign for which he, and they were totally unprepared.

 The Weather

The cold had been intense for several days before the battle, and both the Russians, French and Prussian forces must have suffered terribly as a result. [Petre pp163ff] tells us that, ‘So firmly were they (the lakes and streams) locked in the grasp of frost, and so completely concealed by the snow, that troops of all arms, horses, wagons, guns, passed over their frozen surface, without being aware that water lay beneath their feet’, and again, ‘The gunners knew not there was ice; had they known it, it is by no means certain that they could have broken it through the three feet or more of snow protecting it from all but a plunging fire’. This creates yet another problem during the charge, and with the battle as a whole. Just how did the artillery of both sides manage to swab-out their cannon if the water all around the area was frozen? Not only this but even if they were reduced to melting snow for the purpose, how did they manage to stop this from freezing solid again once in wooded buckets? We may be sure that it would have been almost impossible to have fires burning next to each cannon during the whole course of the battle to melt the snow, so just how did the artillery manage? Was this a possible cause for misfiring, and was the reason Marshal Ney later said that he could see the flashes of the cannon but not hear their report, due to the fact that the guns were unable to discharge properly [Lachouque pp165]?

During the evening and night of the 7th-8th  February the temperature dropped from -5c down to a numbing -16c. Under such conditions harness becomes inflexible, and clothing does not only double in weight but also freeze solid. Swords become frozen to scabbards, while muskets and cartridges are difficult if not impossible to use to best effect, to say nothing of the hands that are needed to perform the tasks of using them. That the frost was intense is verified by Baron Larrey who tells us that while performing operations on the battlefield, and inside a barn at that, the instruments fell from the attendant’s hands with the cold [Petre pp165].

effects_boots_musket snow_ice_effects_equipment

During a cold spell in December 1999, I left various articles of military and civilian equipment outside overnight in temperatures of between -4c-5c; there had been a light fall of snow, but no more than around 3-4 centimeters. Among the military articles were a Grenadier Guard officer’s greatcoat and an old German Jager pack from the First World War. The straps on the pack although not new were nevertheless well treated with saddle soap and modern leather protection spray. The greatcoat was also in very good condition, and I had placed woolen material inside the arms and inside the body of the coat to facilitate some form of bulk and warmth. Nevertheless the straps on the pack became almost impossible to unfasten, and only several minuets of working at them made them yield to my efforts, which was performed with reasonably warm hands! The greatcoat had also become ridged, and considering that even with body heat being generated, which may have allowed more flexibility to the material, under the conditions that prevailed at Eylau, unless the soldiers moved around all night, then these items of clothing must have become unbelievably stiff and inflexible.

The other items left to the elements were a pair of modern leather riding boots, and an ancient 1850’s ball and cap shotgun, which has the same basic actions as the musket. The boots were also stuffed with wool and other fibers to keep in some warmth but these, like the straps on the pack, became almost rock hard and painful to move in. The old shotgun had been well greased, and its firing mechanism was in working order; however even this did not prevent it form freezing around the trigger and firing plate, whilst the ramrod became almost welded into its bracket supports underneath the barrel. Finally, our local stable confirmed that they do not exercise horses on fresh snow or frozen ground; the problems with falls and spills, coupled with broken or dislocated legs renders all but a gentle walk out of the question.


Bowden Bowden, Scott, ‘Armies at Waterloo’. Empire Press, Arlington, 1983
Bukhari Bukhari, Emir, ‘Napoleons Cavalry’. Osprey Publishing, London, 1979
Chandler Chandler, David, ‘The Campaigns of Napoleon’. Weidenfield and Nicolson, London, 1966
Esposito et al Esposito and Elthing, ‘A Military Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars’. West Point, 1963
Fuller Fuller, General J.F.C. ‘The Decisive battles of the Western World’. Vol. II, London, 1963
Brett-James Brett-James, Anthony, ‘1812 Napoleons Defeat in Russia’. Macmillan, London, 1966
Jomini Jomini, Baron Henri, ‘Vie de Napoleon’. Paris 1827
Johnson Johnson, David, ‘Napoleons Cavalry and its Leaders’. Batsford Books, 1978
Lachouque Lachouque, Henry, ‘Napoleons Battles’. George Allen and Unwin, 1966
Nosworthy Nosworthy, Brent, ‘The Anatomy of Victory-Battle Tactics 1689-1763’. New York, 1990
Petre Petre, F. Loraine, ‘Napoleons Campaign in Poland 1806-1807’. Greenhill books, 1989
Rogers Rogers, Colonel C.B. ‘Napoleons Army’. London, 1974
Thiers Thiers, Adolph, ‘History of the Consulate and Empire’ Vol. IV. London, 1847
Murat Murat’s report from the, ‘Archives Historiques’. Quoted in [Petre]. List of Works Consulted.



Guard Grenadier at Eylau', Eduard Detaille.   Musee Conde, France.
Guard Grenadier at Eylau’, Eduard Detaille. Musee Conde, France.
'French Carebiners In Russia'. Eduard Detaille.    Musee de L'Emperi, Provence
‘French Carebiners In Russia’. Eduard Detaille. Musee de L’Emperi, Provence

‘The Charge of the Grenadiers a Cheval, Eylau 1807’. F Schommer
‘The Charge of the Grenadiers a Cheval, Eylau 1807’. F Schommer
‘The Battle of Eylau’ L Flameng, (Musee du Louvre, Paris)
‘The Battle of Eylau’ L Flameng, (Musee du Louvre, Paris)
 Effects of snow on boots and musket.
Effects of snow on boots and musket.
Effects of snow on equipment.
Effects of snow on equipment.
‘The Battle of Eylau.' Simeon Fort. (Musee de Versailles)
‘The Battle of Eylau.’ Simeon Fort. (Musee de Versailles)

Plan of the battle.
Plan of the battle.

9 thoughts on “The Battle Of Eylau”

  1. Thanks to the fantastic illustrations in what we knew as “The Funcken Books”, I became, in my wargaming teens, a slavish worshipper at the shrine of Napoleonic French cavalry “Gloire”. I swallowed whole an article in “Tradition” about the great charge at Eylau. Two score years on, I have developed a scepticism about the official French account of Eylau. If French accounts of the charge are correct, we have the unique spectacle of an army fighting on despite having its centre smashed, and its left wing bent back (On what, if the centre had gone?), yet which still held the field at 10:00pm, and only moved off because its supply system had broken down. I am very much with you, and your analysis.I would go further, and say (uncontroversially) that french Cavalry in the Napoleonic wars wasn’t really that good. Anyone who disagrees may like to explain why the cavalry at Fuentes achieved considerably less against the allied right wing than the Cossacks did at Borodino in their attack on the Young Guard.

    1. Dear Chris,
      Thank you for visiting the site and your interesting comments concerning French cavalry.
      Waterloo shows us a bad example of British cavalry control and command during an engagement, however, the French were equally as bad when one considers occasions such as the ones you mention, plus their poor performance overall during the Spanish campaigns.

      Best wishes,

      Graham J. Morris (Battlefield Anomalies)

  2. Dear Graham,

    I greatly appreciate your thoughtful attention to matters of weather and its impact of the battle. I honor you for your own experiments with leaving equipment outside in the snow. Regarding the battle, I think you were mislead on many points by Petre et al. I do not want to come across as self-promotional, however my book, “Crisis in the Snows: Russia Confronts Napoleon the Eylau Campaign”, co-written with Ralph R. Reinertsen, uses a much more complete set of primary sources than the authors you cite. We devote twelve pages to Murat’s charge, which, we calculate involved 5,000 troopers (for example all the dragoon divisions had three squadrons per regiment, not four; Grouchy and Klein had four regiments each, not six). This is not to take away from your thoughtful work, but merely to say that I think our work has greatly expanded and in many cases debunked some of the sources you relied upon.

    1. Dear James,
      Thank you for visiting the site and your comments on my Eylau article.
      The problem still remains, regardless of new sources or debunked old ones, that the field was covered in snow and that it was well below zero throughout the day of battle. I still consider that both sides just lumbered at each other, rather like two worn out boxers throwing punches in slow motion.
      I plan a trip to the site in 2019 to meet a group of local historians who are studying the battle and attempting to examine the field in detail. I will keep you posted.

      Best regards,

      1. Dear Graham,

        I envy you your trip.

        Regarding Eylau: if you like, send me a contact point and I will e-mail you the part of my book that relates the cavalry actions (both Hof and Eylau) as I understand them.



  3. “the fact that no army or portion thereof would attack an enemy in a prepared position without artillery support;”

    Yet, that is precisely what you say occurs when the French 18th and 26th are sent against the Russian rearguard positions before Eylau.

    1. Dear Thomas,
      Thank you for visiting the site and comments submitted.
      The French attack without artillery support before Eylau cannot be called an attack against a prepared position, since the Russians were only attempting to slow the French down before retiring to their main positions beyond the village.

  4. Thanks for the useful and insightful essay!

    Regarding swabbing the cannons, though: a fired cannon would be extremely hot. I would imagine that any snow thrust down it would melt instantly.

    1. Thanks for visiting the site Rachel!
      I do not think that snow would do the trick, thrust down the barrel. A wet sponge contains just enough water to clean out the residue from a previous firing, however, a load of snow conjures up problems concerning how much will steam off and how much will still be sloshing about in the barrel?
      Best Regards,
      Graham J.Morris (Battlefield Anomalies)

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