1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Eylau

By

Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Eylau

Napoléon on the field of Eylau by Antoine-Jean Gros

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Eylau - Conflict:

The Battle of Eylau was fought during the War of the Fourth Coalition, which was in turn part of the Napoleonic Wars.

Battle of Eylau - Dates:

Napoleon battled the Prussians and Russians on February 7-8, 1807.

Armies & Commanders:

French

  • Napoleon
  • 45,000 men
  • 200 guns

Prussians & Russians

  • General Levin August, Count von Bennigsen
  • General Anton Wilhelm von L'Estocq
  • 67,000 men
  • 460 guns

Battle Eylau - Background:

Riding high from its victories over the Prussians at Jena and Auerstedt in October 1806, Napoleon's Grande Armée pushed into Poland. Following a series of minor actions, he elected to enter winter quarters to give his men a chance to recover from the campaigning season. Opposing the French were Russian forces led by General Count von Bennigsen. Seeing an opportunity to strike at the French, he began moving against the isolated corps of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. Sensing a chance to cripple the Russians, Napoleon ordered Bernadotte to fall back while he moved with the main army to cut off the Russians.

Slowly drawing Bennigsen into his trap, Napoleon was foiled when a copy of his plan was captured by the Russians. Pursuing Bennigsen, the French army became spread over the countryside. On February 7, the Russians turned to make a stand near Eylau. Quickly trying to reconcentrate his army, Napoleon entered the coming battle badly outnumbered. Arriving at Eylau around 2:00 PM, the corps of Marshal Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult and the cavalry of Marshal Joachim Murat began deploying and were quickly reinforced by the corps of Marshal Pierre Augereau and the Imperial Guard.

Battle of Eylau - Fighting Begins:

Entering the fight with 45,000 men to Bennigsen's 67,000, Napoleon was awaiting the arrival of Marshal Louis Nicolas Davout and Marshal Michel Ney with their corps. Late in the day on the 7th, French troops began pushing into Eylau, opening a bitter struggle for the village that lasted well into the night. Costing each side around 4,000 casualties, sources are divided as to whether Napoleon ordered the attack or if French forces moved of their own accord with the goal of securing shelter from the winter weather. With darkness covering the field, both sides broke off the battle.

Battle of Eylau - Blood in the Snow:

Fighting resumed after dawn on February 8, with a large-scale artillery duel as heavy snow storms swept across the battlefield. Awaiting the arrival of reinforcements, Napoleon ordered Soult's IV Corps to attack the Russian lines with the goal of fixing them in place. Moving forward, Soult was beaten back as Bennigsen ordered an attack on the French left as well as sent cavalry against the head of Davout's corps which was arriving on the right. With the battle turning in the Russians' favor, Napoleon ordered Augereau to attack the Russian left with his VII Corps to relieve pressure on the right.

Ill with fever, Augereau had to be helped onto his horse. Moving out, his corps was supported by the division of General Louis Vincent Le Blond de Saint-Hilaire. As the VII Corps advanced it became lost in the blowing snow. Wandering off course, Augereau's men arrived at the center of the Russian lines instead of the left. Hit with fire from a 70-gun Russian battery, as well as the blinded French artillery, the VII Corps was badly decimated with Augereau falling wounded. Advancing correctly, Saint-Hilaire's outnumbered division had little impact on the Russian lines.

Retreating back on Eylau with 3,000-4,000 survivors, the remnants of the VII Corps were soon attacked by Bennigsen's reserve infantry. Fighting a desperate battle, in which Napoleon was nearly captured, the center of the French line began to waver. Though reinforced by brigades from the Imperial Guard, Napoleon ordered Murat to charge forward with his cavalry to save the center. Riding out in one of the grandest charges of the war, Murat's men split into two wings with one turning to rescue Saint-Hilaire's men and the other charging into the Russians attacking Eylau.

Battle of Eylau - Murat Attacks:

Rejoining, Murat charged into the center of the Russian lines, destroying the batteries that had devastated the VII Corps. Retiring back to the French lines, Murat's horsemen had rescued the situation and allowed Davout's corps to deploy and join the battle. Though the Russian center was in shambles, Napoleon opted not to send the Imperial Guard forward as it was known that a 9,000-man Prussian force under General Anton Wilhelm von L'Estocq was in the area.

Instead, he advanced Davout's corp with assistance from Saint-Hilaire. As the afternoon wore on, they were able to push back the Russian left. Around 3:30, with the Russian line about to break, L'Estocq appeared and struck at Davout's exposed flank, forcing the French to fall back to their original positions. With the arrival of evening, Ney's corps marched onto the field around 7:00. Immediately deploying, they pressed an attack into the Russian right which lasted until 10:00. An hour later, Bennigsen ordered the army to quietly withdraw from the field. The exhausted French did not realize that the Russians had departed until around 3:00 AM on February 9.

Battle of Eylau - Aftermath:

A stalemate, the Battle of Eylau was the first major setback encountered by Napoleon and the Grande Armée. In two days fighting, the Russians suffered around 15,000 casualties. For the French, the battle cost between 10,000-15,000. Some estimates suggest that both armies incurred around 25,000. The Battle of Eylau led to a continuation of the fighting which did not end until the Battle of Friedland in June. Decisively defeating the Russians, Napoleon's victory at Friedland effectively ended the War of the Fourth Coalition.

Selected Sources

 

 

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Conflicts & Battles
  5. Battles & Wars: 1800s
  6. Napoleonic Wars
  7. Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Eylau

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.