When Napoleon crossed into Russia, he was hoping to defeat each of the Russian armies in turn. His youngest brother, Jérôme, King of Westphalia, was in
Positions on June 23, 1812
Source: Napoleon in Russia: The 1812 Campaign by Alan Palmer
command of an army to the south of Napoleon’s main body and opposite Prince Bagration’s 40,000 strong army. Jérôme had twice as many troops.
He explained this when he wrote to Jerôme from Königsberg on 15th June;
“As soon as I shall have crossed the Niemen, I shall perhaps resolve to advance on Vilna. I shall then present my flank to the army of Bagration. It will then be essential that you should follow him up closely so that you may take part in the operation I shall make against that army. If I should succeed in separating it from other Russian troops, so as to fall on its right flank, you should be able to attack it at the same time that I do”.
And again on 21st June;
“You are to lean on the centre. In case the enemy turned your right, your line of operations would be on Königsberg. Try to have the Poles reach Augustovo the 23rd, and send a vanguard on Grodno
with a lot of light troops. Send forward your bridge in that direction. It is probable that I shall give you the order to move on Grodno with all your army… You will be in continuity with the army, so that everything can act together as a mass, and we will then operate against Bagration according to the position he will occupy.”
Jérôme did capture Grodno, but for the next three days, Napoleon heard nothing from his brother. When a courier did arrive on July 3, the only information he had was that Jérôme had dismissed General Dominique-Joseph-René Vandamme
for suspected embezzlement (or perhaps armed robbery). Napoleon was furious that this was the only news he received and responded the next day:
“I can only show my displeasure at the little information you have sent me… My operations are held up for lack of news from Grodno… It is impossible to wage war like this. You think and talk of nothing but trifles. I am sorry to see how petty all your interests are… You are compromising the success of the whole campaign on the right flank. It is impossible to wage war like this.”
Meanwhile, Bagration’s army was slipping away and Jérôme did little to stop him. Through Marshal Berthier
, Napoleon rebuked his brother again: “…the fruits of my maneuvers and the most magnificent chance in the war have been lost through… strange ignorance of the elementary principles of strategy.”
Napoleon secretly authorized Marshal Davout
, commander of I Corps, to take command of Jérôme’s VII Corps if he thought he had caught Bagration. On July 13, Davout thought that he had done just that and informed Jérôme that he was taking command of his troops. Napoleon, however, had neglected to tell his brother of this arrangement and Jérôme was furious. He halted his army, dispatched a letter to Napoleon saying that he had “resolved not to serve under anyone but him,” and a few days later returned to Westphalia, accompanied by his bodyguard.
Dodge, TA (2008) Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, First Published 1904-07. Frontline Books (and imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd), Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK. 286 pp. Thank you to James Fisher for providing this information.
Napoleon in Russia: The 1812 Campaign, Alan Palmer