Battle of Eylau

4. Battle of Eylau, February 1807, vs Count von Bennigsen (Russia)

 The Battle of Eylau, fought in East Prussia, to the south of Konigsberg, during the War of the Fourth Coallition, was a bloody and inconclusive engagement which saw Napoleon's massive assaults fail to crush the Russian army. Though the battle can be considered a draw or even a French victory (the Grande Armée was left in control of the battlefield), Napoleon's failure to decisively defeat his enemies drew out the war, which would last for six more months until the French secured victory at the Battle of Friedland in June.

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After victories over the Prussians at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in October 1806, Napoleon's Grande Armée pushed into Poland almost unopposed. After a few fierce battles with the Russians in late December, Napoleon took up winter quarters to allow his army time to recuperate. In January, the Russians, under their new commander General Count von Bennigsen, attempted to surprise the French by falling on Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte isolated I Corps. Reacting with his typical oppurtunism, Napoleon ordered Bernadotte to retreat while he moved  to cut Bennigsen off.

Napoleon at Eylau

Though Napoleon's stratagem was ruined when a copy of his plan was captured by the Russians, Bennigsen was forced into a full retreat. During the pursuit of Bennigsen, the French army became more spread over the countryside than usual, while the Russians remained concentrated. This meant that when, on 7 February, the Russians finally turned to make a stand near Eylau, Napoleon was forced to enter battle badly outnumbered, with only 45,000 men and 300 guns to Bennigsen's 67,000 men and 400 guns. While the rest of the Grande Armée was ordered to reconcentrate rapidly, at 2 p.m. Marshal Soult's IV Corps and Marshal Murat's cavalry began deploying around Eylau. Reinforcements arrived shortly in the form of Marshal Augereau's VII Corps and the Imperial Guard.

The battle began late in the evening of the 7th, when French troops began pushing into the village of Eylau. The large, fierce engagement there lasted until 10 p.m. when the Russians withdrew, leaving the village in French hands. Napoleon, who had a professed dislike for night fighting, awaited the arrival of Marshal Davout's depleted III Corps (only 15 thousand strong) and Marshal Ney's VI Corps (14 thousand strong). Bennigsen, on the other hand, awaited the arrival of 9,000 Prussian reinforcements under von L'Estocq.

Eylau map 1Credit:

At dawn on 8 February, fighting resumed in poor visibility with a massive artillery duel. Napoleon ordered Soult's IV Corps to attack the Russian line so as to fix it in place and give Davout time to arrive. Soult was beaten back as Bennigsen launched an attack on the French left and then ordered cavalry against the head of III Corps, arriving on the French right. With the battle turning in Bennigsen's favor, Napoleon ordered Augereau to counter-attack the enemy left in order to relieve pressure on Davout.

However, as the VII Corps advanced it became lost in the billowing snow and arrived in front of the center of Bennigsen's army instead of the left. Hit with fire of a 70-gun Russian battery, as well as by the fire of blinded friendly artillery, VII Corps was decimated, with Augereau falling wounded. As the remnants of VII Corps retreated to Eylau the battle became desperate for four hours, with the center of the French line wavering, almost broken. Napoleon himself was nearly  captured, but members of his personal staff managed to hold the Russians off long enough for brigades of the Imperial Guard to come up. At this point the Emperor resorted to an immense cavalry charge by Murat to save the situation in the center.

In one of the greatest cavalry charges in history, Murat devastated the center of the Russian line in multiple attacks, mauling infantry and cavalry alike and overrunning the 70-gun battery. The charge played a pivotal role in the battle, relieving the pressure on IV Corps and VII Corps and allowing III Corps to deploy fully. Though Bennigsen's center was in absolute disorder, Napoleon now decided not to commit the Imperial Guard, a move which may very well have won the battle, since he didn't know where the Prussian reinforcements were. Instead Davout was ordered to join the battle in earnest and drive in Bennigsen's left wing.

Eylau map 2Credit:

Throughout the afternoon III Corps forced the Russian left back until, at 3:30 p.m., with the Russian line about to break, von L'Estocq arrived on the scene. The Prussians attacked Davout's exposed right flank, pushing the French to right back to their original positions. This would give Bennigsen a reprieve until Ney's VI Corps appeared on the field at about 7:00 p.m. Deploying quickly, Ney launched a determined assault on Bennigsen's right which lasted three hours. At 11 p.m., Bennigsen ordered his army to withdraw from the field discreetly, despite many of his generals arguing to continue the fighting on the next day. Napoleon's army only realized that the Russians had departed four hours later, at 3:00 a.m. in the morning of 9 February, but were in any case in no condition to offer pursuit.

The Battle of Eylau constituted the first major setback encountered by Napoleon's Grande Armée. In the two days of fighting, the Russians suffered around 15,000 casualties while the French suffered between 10,000-15,000. Though The Battle of Eylau can be considered a stalemate, it is considered a defeat for Napoleon on this list because the Emperor had every chance to win the engagement but failed to bring his army to bear effectively and did not seize the oppurtunity to decisively defeat Bennigsen. In the end, the battle was summed up by Marshal Ney who, riding over the fields of Eylau on 9 February, exclaimed "what a massacre! And without result".


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for the Top 5 Battles Napoleon Won please see