Tag Archives: Prince Bagration

The Battle of Saltanovka

On July 23, 1812, the battle of Saltanovka took place after the French had captured the nearby town of Mogilev (about 250 miles east of the crossing of the Niemen river).  This action prevented the Russian 2nd army under Bagration from joining up with the main Russian army under Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly .  The French were led by Marshal Davout.

At 7 am on the 23rd, the Russians advanced on the French front and also attempted to turn the French right.  The battle lasted all day with 9,000 French fending off 20,000 Russians.  The defeated Russians retreated east to Smolensk where they were able to join up with the main Russian army on August 4th.  The joining of the two Russian armies set-up the conditions for the battle of Smolensk.

Battle of Mogliev (Saltanovka)

Davout’s I Corps out-marched Bagration, reaching Mogilev on 20th July. Thus astride the road to Orsha and Smolensk and flanked by the Dnieper River he blocked the retreat of the Second Western Army. Bagration ordered Raevski’s VII Corps to launch a diversionary attack, while he sought to find a crossing of the Dnieper at Stari Bikhov.

General Ivan Paskevitch, commander of the 26th Division of Raevski’s VII Corps, describes the action:

“…Therefore the Prince ordered me to attack them [Davout’s troops] and after it to occupy the town [Mogilev]… Early in the morning of 11th [by Russian, Gregorian calendar, i.e. 23rd] we began to advance. Between us and the enemy was a distance of 5 km. In one and quarter kilometres we encountered his infantry of the advance guard and ousted them from the wood…

Marshal Davout himself expecting an attack, had beforehand prepared the defence. The bridge at Saltanovska had been demolished and the walls of the tavern were cut through with gun loopholes, situated on the left side of the ravine covering all the line of the French. The bridge at the Fatovoy Mill had been demolished and in the neighbouring houses loopholes were also made. Three battalions had been placed near Saltanovka; one battalion at Fatovoy, having for themselves in reserve another five battalions, four battalions were between Fatovoy and the village of Seltsen and near the ravine and in front of the last village had been placed two more battalions. …

The infantry of Marshal Davoust consisted of two regiments of Compans’ Division, in which were 25 battalions, the cavalry consisted of 48 squadrons, moreover the enemy expected to be reinforced by a detachment of General Pazholya’s and the Polish Legion of the Vistula, but these troops joined him only after the battle… [Against these, the] 26th Division had only eight battalions and the 12th ten battalions. All the [VII] Corps consisted of five regiments of the 26th Division and three regiments of the 12th Division, twenty squadrons of cavalry, three Cossack regiments and 72 guns. …

In the middle of the wood I met our engaged skirmishers, withdrawing from the French skirmishers. The enemy on this road outflanked our left. The firing of my first battalion had stopped and had overrun the enemy. I ordered [them] to drive them to the edge of the woods and followed with the rest of the troops. …leaving the woods… skirmished with the enemy, lying behind a small rising, in front of the town of Fatovoy. Behind them I caught sight of the glittering bayonets of two French columns. The distance between them was no more than 130 metres. The dense wood did not allow me to turn the troops in column, I was forced to move to the right by sections, to leave the wood and form them in front of the edge. The firing continued. …I ordered Colonel Ladizhenski to attack with a shout of ‘Ura!’ on the enemy as far as the stream, to overthrow [those] on the bridge, and having occupied the first houses on that side, to wait for my orders. The enemy was immediately overthrown and ran… as far as the bridge. Seeing that the battalion passed the bridge I brought forward 12 guns onto the height and ordered the Poltava Regiment, under the cover of the battery, to go also on that side. … Having moved up to the battery six more guns and having placed the Ladoga Regiment on the left flank, I set off to the right flank. To my astonishment I found that the enemy skirmishers were ensconced there in the ravine… our artillery, losing men and horses, drew off from the position. I stopped them. … Having ordered the [Poltava] Regiment to halt, riding farther and expecting to meet the Orlov and Nishki Novogorod battalions and seeing two battalions departing from the wood to the rear of my position, I galloped towards them, but to my surprise I saw at 30 paces French grenadiers. Colonel Ashar ordered about. The French charged our battalion… ‘Lads, forward!’ I shouted to the Poltava Regiment. They hesitated, ‘Ura! Charge! … From the men I heard a voice, ‘even the artillery is with us.’ ‘Well’, I said ‘hold there.’ Riding down towards the artillery arranged behind my position was a battery of four guns returning towards the Poltava Regiment … The enemy having seen their retreat, began with shouts of ‘Forward!’ The regiment made way and caseshot struck into the French battalions. They stopped, confused. I drew up to the Poltava Regiment, ordered ‘Forward!’ They charged and drove the enemy up to the bridge. …

The Nishki Novgorod and Orlov battalions at first overthrew the enemy and crossed the bridge, occupied an inn and the little village of several peasant huts on that side of the ravine. Barely had they been deployed, when from this small village four French battalions appeared; lying in the rye, they rose up at a distance of 60 metres, volleyed and charged with the bayonet. The fighting was entered into hand-to-hand. The French rushed on the white ensign of the Orlov Regiment and captured it by killing the ensign. [One of] our NCOs snatch it away from the Frenchman, but he was killed. The ensign was again lost. Once again it was seized up, and in the fight the staff was broken. At this time the adjutant of the Orlov Regiment rushed into the middle, took away the ensign and bore it from the fight. Colonel Ladizhenski was wounded in the jaw… Half of our two battalions were killed or wounded. They were forced to retreat and thrown back onto the wood. They were pursued by two battalions. Setting the battery, we fired for more than one and a half hours. …

At the time I heard on the right side a severe firefight. This was General Raevski attacking the front of the enemy’s position. The woods, surrounding the village of Saltanovka did not allow any other approach. On the main road was an enemy battery. At the end of the road… was a bridge. The Smolensk Regiment of the 12th Division moved forward with astonishing firmness, but could not seize the bridge. Generals Raevski and Vasilchikov dismounted to walk in front of the columns*, but the advantage of the [enemy] situation destroyed all the exertions of courage of our soldiers. They could not burst into the village and on the road endured all the fire of the enemy’s battery.” …

(*This was immortalised in Mykola Samokysh’s famous painting of Raevski, accompanied by his sons aged 11 and 17, at the head of the Smolenski Infantry Regiment).

“I sent a report to General Raevski that I had encountered on the left flank, not 6 000 but maybe 20 000. Therefore it was necessary to dislodge them, [he must] dispatch to me reinforcements of several battalions. General Raevski answered that the attacks on him were beaten off, but that he had lost many men and consequently could not send any more than one battalion.

It was about 4 pm, my troops were already tired, only the cavalry not being in the fighting and that only because the woodland position did not allow the use of them. I obtained the despatch of a battalion of the 41st Jäger Regiment and went into the woods in a wide enveloping movement on the right flank of the enemy. The elderly Colonel Savoini was ordered to appear from the woods and descend on the enemy, in order that he… [could] cross the bridge at Fatovoy and attack the French at bayonet point. On the left I found Colonel Ladizhenski with the Nizhegorod battalion, who directed a vigorous skirmish across the ravine… General Raevski’s adjutant arrived with orders to retire. …

To provide time for the troops to organise, I ordered the artillery to move off, two guns from the flank being left at the entrance to the wood… The others passed through the wood at a trot. The skirmishers were told that when the last two guns were removed, they could rush back on the flanks of the artillery. This was all carried out precisely. The enemy, seeing this apparent retreat, rushed headlong on us, but here, being met by caseshot from the two guns and the battalion fire of the two regiments, they stopped and we passed the wood so successfully that I did not lose any guns. …

We continued to retreat, covering the horse on the flanks and occupied the heights behind us. … The cannonade did not stop.”

Raevski’s reported to Bagration that 2 458 officers and men had been killed, wounded or missing. French casualties were of a similar proportion. An officer of the Poltava Infantry Regiment, who had lost an arm from a cannonball,

“calmly picked it [his arm] up and left the battlefield. As he was passing Bagration, he saluted him with the remaining hand.”

The rearguard action at Mogilev allowed Bagration’s engineers to build a bridge over the Dnieper at Stary Bikhov by which his Second Western Army crossed, and continued its retreat to Smolensk, via Mtsislav.

Taken from Spring, L (2009) 1812: Russia’s Patriotic War. The History Press, Stroud Gloucestershire, UK. p. 44–48.

Writing to Poniatowski on 26th July, Davout stated, “I see that the battle of the 23rd put great confusion into their projects, but they will follow them in part, and my first manoeuvre is not to let myself be separated from the emperor, who to-day must be in Vitebsk. Raevski’s two divisions must be looked on as hors de combat.”

Taken from 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. p. 82

This post was contributed by James Fisher.

Prelude to the Battle of Saltanovka

When the Grande Armée crossed into Russia in June, they split their forces with some heading north, others east (with Napoleon) and some to the south.  The Russians had a number of different armies and Napoleon wanted to make sure they were all covered.

On July 21, Marshal Louis Nicolas Davout made contact with advance elements of Prince Pyotr Bagration’s  2nd army.  The terrain of the impending battle favored the French with a field surrounded by forests and a deep ravine with a stream along the bottom.  This would prevent the Russians from bringing their numerical superiority to bear on an open field.

Davout spend the night of the 22nd preparing the field of battle.  He had one bridge barricaded while the sappers (engineers) took down a bridge and a dam.  They also cut loopholes in the neighboring buildings.  The attack by the Russians would come the next morning.

Family Feud

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.
Bagration escaped.
Sources:
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

The Battle of Saltanovka

On July 23, 1812, the battle of Saltanovka took place after the French had captured the nearby town of Mogilev (about 250 miles east of the crossing of the Niemen river).  This action prevented the Russian 2nd army under Bagration from joining up with the main Russian army under Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly .  The French were led by Marshal Davout.

At 7 am on the 23rd, the Russians advanced on the French front and also attempted to turn the French right.  The battle lasted all day with 9,000 French fending off 20,000 Russians.  The defeated Russians retreated east to Smolensk where they were able to join up with the main Russian army on August 4th.  The joining of the two Russian armies set-up the conditions for the battle of Smolensk.

Prelude to the Battle of Saltanovka

When the Grande Armée crossed into Russia in June, they split their forces with some heading north, others east (with Napoleon) and some to the south.  The Russians had a number of different armies and Napoleon wanted to make sure they were all covered.

On July 21, Marshal Louis Nicolas Davout made contact with advance elements of Prince Pyotr Bagration’s  2nd army.  The terrain of the impending battle favored the French with a field surrounded by forests and a deep ravine with a stream along the bottom.  This would prevent the Russians from bringing their numerical superiority to bear on an open field.

Davout spend the night of the 22nd preparing the field of battle.  He had one bridge barricaded while the sappers (engineers) took down a bridge and a dam.  They also cut loopholes in the neighboring buildings.  The attack by the Russians would come the next morning.