1812 The Russian Campaign
Since February 1812, the Emperor had been issuing instructions that the army was to be organised and able to cross the Niemen by June of that year.On 21st February, Marshal Davout received the order to begin the concentration of his forces. Gudin’s Division gathered at Magdeburg, crossed the Elbe on the 29th and headed for Stettin, where the general formed a depot for the sick and lame of the regiments. On the l0th March, the whole Corps was gathered on the right bank of the Oder, Gudin’s Division occupied Stargard, 10 leagues from Stettin. Napoleon suppressed the name of Corps of Observation of the Elbe, and the Corps of Marshal Davout took the name of 1st Corps of the Grand Army. The Corps was formed by the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th French Divisions, commanded respectively by Generals Morand, Friant, Gudin, Compans, and Desaix. The 21st formed part of the 3rd Division of the Corps, with the 7th Legere and 12th Ligne. It belonged to Longchamps’ Brigade, and counted an effective strength of 4,344 men.
On l0th April, Davout arrive at Thorn, on the Vistula, and established his headquarters there; the town was occupied by Gudin’s Division and the cavalry Division of General Bruyere. During the stay at Thorn, Colonel Ducrest was designated for promotion,22nd April, and replaced by Colonel Teule, who did not join the Regiment until the end of June.
The general movement of the army from the Vistula to the Niemen began on 6th June. Davout’s Corps, which formed the extreme left of the army, marched down the Vistula, on the right bank, as far as its mouth, near Elbing, followed the shore of the Gulf of Danzig as far as Braunsberg and from there marched to Tapiau on the Pregel, then to Gumbinnen, where the Emperor reviewed it on the 17th June. On the 22nd, the lst Corps arrived at Kowno, on the Niemen, it was precisely the day on which the Emperor officially declared war on Russia. On the night of 23-24 June they threw three bridges of boats across the Niemen, Gudin’s Division, preceded by the light cavalry, crossed the river first, and on the 24th, at daybreak, it was ranged in line on the plain in serried columns of battalions. The lst Corps, forming the advance-guard of the army, headed for Vilna, by Zismory and Jewe. It met, on the way, only Cossacks, who fled at its approach, setting fire to castles and barns. On the 28th the Corps made its entry into Vilna, where the Lithuanians received the soldiers with joy and helped them to repair the bridge over the Vilia. Before this first movement of the army the Russians retired into the entrenched camp of Drissa, on the left bank of the Dvina. From the 28th June to lst July the weather became dreadful, and the bivouacs extremely uncomfortable. The soldiers, obliged to lie in the mud, had to endure great suffering.
Davout left Vilna on the evening of the 30th, to pursue Bagration, but, Napoleon withdrew from him the three divisions of Morand, Friant, and Gudin, he retained them near him at Vilna, to carry out the movement which he had projected against Barclay de Tolly. While Davout was entering Minsk, 8th July, and then set off with his troops for Mohilev, Napoleon sent Murat, with the three crack divisions of Davout, which he appreciated more than the Guard itself, in the direction of Dressa, between that town and Polotsk. Before arriving they spent some time at Opsa and took position towards Ouchatsch, having on their right Prince Eugene, on their left Marshal Ney, and in reserve at Gloubokoe the Imperial Guard. In the presence of this deployment of forces Barclay de Tolly set off, on the 19th, to march up the Dvina, heading for Vitebsk, to join Prince Bagration between that town and Smolensk. Napoleon followed this movement by Beschenkowiczy, fought the combats of Ostrovno and Vitepsk, made himself master of this last place and remained there for about fifteen days; the three divisions of the lst Corps were camped between Vitepsk and Babinoviczi. On the 8th August was with the lst Corps at Donbrovna and its environs; the three divisions, Morand, Friant, and Gudin, joined him on the 15th, happy to find again their old chief, from whom they had been separated for more than a month.
Battle of Smolensk 17th August
On the 16th, the 1st Corps arrived before Smolensk, and the five divisions of which it was composed were placed in the centre of the army, facing the suburbs of Micislav and Roslave, which were protected by entrenchments and each defended by 7 or 8,000 infantry. The attack on the suburbs of Micislav was confided to General Gudin. The division, led by its general and by Marshal Davout in person, attacked the suburb defended by the division of Kaptsevitch. This was first pushed back with the bayonet as far as the entry to the suburb; the 12th and 21st, which formed the head of the column, launched themselves across the streets in pursuit of the Russians and drove them up to the ditches of Smolensk, where they were fired on at point-blank range, only finding, for entry into the town, a few practicable gaps in the wall. The battery of 12 pounders of the Division was directed against the walls. They ejected the enemy from the towers by shells setting them on fire. The combat lasted all night; the Russians set the town on fire, and the French entered the following morning.
The soldiers who had distinguished themselves at the combat of Smolensk were the object of a special report from Marshal Davout, in which figure the names of Lieutenant Viard, of the 21st. This officer had been commanded to advance with a section of the lst Company of voltigeurs, against the suburb of Micislav, after ejecting the enemy the Governor of the place led two companies against Viard. Lieutenant Viard sustained with his section the fire of these two companies, but, seeing that he was soon to be enveloped and forced to yield to numbers, he ordered his voltigeurs to fire on the general, who was killed along with his aide de camp. The enemy, disconcerted by this loss fled in great haste.
The 21st had a great number of wounded, among whom were Captains Canat, Bossy,
Ladragne, Funiez, Lieutenants Vaillant, and Bivaud Second-Lieutenants Hocede,
Demont, and Poncelot, and Adjutant Basset.
Combat of Valoutina 19th August
On the 18th, towards the evening, the Regiment set off in pursuit of the Russians. Davout crossed the Dnieper on the morning of the 19th, and marched partly on the Moscow road, partly on the road to St Petersburg. Gudin’s Division followed the Moscow road. The Russians had retired onto the heights of Valoutina, at first chased from this position by Marshal Ney, they made their retreat towards a last post which they resolved to keep at all costs. The ground favoured the defence, the Russians taking post behind a muddy stream on top of a long bank covered intermittently with patches of woodland and thick scrub. The road crossed the stream on a little bridge, which they had destroyed. To take the position, it was necessary to force the road, which descended a little to the right into a sort of bog, next crossed the stream, the bridge having been destroyed, and finally climbed up into the middle of undergrowth full of skirmishers, and crossed the bank lined with troops and artillery. Ney pushed back the Russian advanced guards as far as the stream, but to open a passage he needed considerable reinforcements. Of the five divisions of Marshal Davout, Gudin’s Division was the only one to arrive in time to support Marshal Ney. We shall borrow from M. Thiers the story of the unheard of efforts of General Gudin to force the Russian position in the combat of Valoutina, one of the bravest deeds of arms in our military history. - “General Gudin, arriving towards five o’clock in the afternoon at the little bridge, which had just been replaced, put himself fearlessly at the head of his Division, to take at any price, the sort of cutting which was beyond the little bridge. He formed his Division in columns of attack, while Marshal Ney, with Ledru’s Division, prepared to support him, Razout’s Division occupied the enemy on the left, and, on the right, Murat, galloping with his cavalry, looked for a passage across the marshes.
The signal being given, Gudin launched his columns of infantry, who defiled over the bridge to cries of ‘Vive l’Empereur’, and met without being shaken, on the flank the fire of the skirmishers, and in front, that of the artillery emplaced on the bank. They crossed the bridge at the charge, climbed the bank and met a troop of grenadiers who received them at the point of the bayonet. They threw themselves on the Russians, forcing them to recoil, and succeeded in debouching onto the plateau. There, however, fresh battalions assailed them and obliged them to retreat. The brave Gudin took them back to the assault, and a terrible melee started then in the area between the stream and the foot of the bank. The men collided with each other, wrestled hand to hand and fought with cold steel. In the midst of the awful conflict, Gudin having dismounted, and sword in hand led his soldiers on, he was hit by a ball which shattered his thigh, and falling into the arms of his officers, he designated General Gerard to replace him. This officer, of a rare energy, took command, and leading his soldiers again against the enemy, again climbed the bank and appeared a second time on the plateau. Barclay de Tolly, wishing to make a last effort, launched the brave division of Konovnitsyn against the Divisions of Gudin and Ledru, commanded by Gerard and Ney, in order to push them from the plateau which they had succeeded in conquering. Gerard and Ney received the attack, bending an instant under its violence, but then returning to the charge, they hurled themselves onto the Russian infantry with a fury and put them to rout. At 10 p.m., they were still masters of the opening and the Russians were forced to retire definitively.
The 7th Legere, the 12th Ligne, 21st Ligne, and the 127th Ligne, which composed the division, had attacked with such impetuosity that the enemy had persuaded themselves that they had been engaged with the Imperial Guard. General Gudin had both his legs carried away by a shell and died two or three days afterwards at Smolensk. He was one of the most distinguished officers of the army. He was commendable for his moral qualities as much as for his bravery and intrepidity. The Regiment had to regret a great number of its own: Chef de Battalion Camusat, Captain Belot, Second-Lieutenants Jacquot and Laurent had been killed on the field of battle. Among the wounded were: Chef de Battalion Fuzieu, Captains Goussier, Jobert, Constant, Lachenal, Lieutenants Sarrobert, Blondeau, Boisson, Vallot, Nollet, who died of his wounds. Second-Lieutenants Bressongay, Senechal, Froissard, Brard, Jannot, Arnefaut, Rousseau, Adjutant Lenglet, Sergeant-Majors Pepet and Thouvenin, Sergeants Henri and Bricard.
Chef de Bataillon Fuzieu, in the uncertainty as to where the position of the enemy was, at the approach of night, having gone alone on reconnaissance, and finding himself face to face with a Russian officer, he clapped him on the shoulder, crying to the soldiers of his battalion to fire, that it was the enemy. Adjutant Lenglet received a shot in the left arm, at the moment when he was making prisoner a Russian general. The brilliant bravery of which he made proof that day gained him the decoration of the Legion of Honour.
The day after the combat of Valoutina, the Emperor distributed on the field of battle rewards to all the regiments which had distinguished themselves. The 21st had for its share twenty-five decorations, shared between six captains, eight lieutenants and Second-Lieutenants, and eleven non-commissioned officers. The choices had been made in a circle, in front of the Emperor, with the acclamation of the troops. These rewards given on the field of battle, in the midst of the dead and dying, of the debris and the trophies of victory, made an imposing spectacle. The enemy had so hurried his march after the combat of Valoutina, that, during the day of the 20th, our troops made eight leagues without finding even cossacks. They collected everywhere the wounded and the laggards. The Russians, in retreating, refused to engage, and sought to lead on the French army rather than repell it. Nevertheless, they at last tried to oppose a serious obstacle to our march. The old General Kutusov was given command of the Russian army, and he resolved to give battle in front of Moscow. He took position at Borodino and in the surroundings, in an advantageous position, covered by entrenchments and redoubts. Having arrived at Ghjat, Napoleon gave two days of rest to his troops. On 4th. September, Davout departed as advanced guard and headed for Gridnewa, on the 5th, he descended into the plain of Borodino, following the slopes of the Moskowa River. The centre of the army consisted of the lst and 3rd Corps, and of the Imperial Guard, having in front of it the cavalry of Murat, It followed the main road, flanked to the left by the Viceroy, at the head of the 4th Corps, and to the right by Prince Poniatowski. Battle of the Moskowa, 7th September -On the 7th, at two o’clock in the morning, Napoleon gave his orders to the marshals commanding the army corps. The divisions of Morand and Gudin were place, for the day, under the orders of Prince Eugene, who had the mission of taking the village of Borodino, and of debouching by three ways onto the heights, while Generals Morand, Gerard, who had succeeded Gudin, had to march on the Grand Redoubt and capture it. At 5.30 a.m., the sun rose, and disengaged itself from the thick mist which covered the horizon, and appeared radiant on the field of battle. The assembly was beaten at the head of each regiment; the captains of each company formed their troops into a semi-circle, and themselves read aloud the following order of the day:
“Soldiers, here is the battle which you have desired so much. Henceforward the victory depends on you; it is necessary to us; it will give us abundance, good quarters for the winter, and a prompt return to the Fatherland. Conduct yourselves as at Austerlitz, at Friedland, at Vitepsk, at Smolensk, and the most remote posterity will cite your conduct during this day: they will say of you: he was at that great battle under the walls of Moscow.”
At 6.00 a.m. they were in movement at all points. At 8.00 a.m, the two divisions of Morand and Gerard crossed the Kolocza to execute the orders that they had received. At a critical moment, Morand’s Division captured, alone, the Great Redoubt, even though it was defended by the fire of eight pieces of artillery. During this time, Gudin’s Division had stayed at the foot of the work. But soon the redoubt was retaken by the Russians, and the infantry of Morand was about to be pushed into the ravine which faced it, when the divisions of Gerard and Broussier arrived to help them, they rallied the troops of Morand, engaged in a terrible combat, and stayed masters of the plateau. At 3.00 p.m, Prince Eugene concentrated the divisions of Morand and Gerard to attempt to a new effort on the Great Redoubt, of which the Russians had stayed masters. The 9th. Line and the cuirassiers of Caulaincourt penetrated there first, but, to maintain themselves there, these troops had need of the support of other regiments. The Viceroy, at the head of the 17th, 21st, and 35th, had the charge beaten, took his sword in his hand, the soldiers, fired by his example, shook themselves, marched bayonet lowered, attacked the redoubt frontally, and broke in at the moment when the cuirassiers of General Caulaincourt were obliged to abandon it. The Viceroy next had his troops cross the ravine which separated them from the enemy troops, posted beyond, and put them fully to rout. The attacks had succeeded equally well along the whole line of battle, and by night, the Russian army was in full retreat. The losses of the French did not exceed 30,000 men. The 21st had, for its part, a great number of officers disabled. Lieutenants Bouvier and Demangeon, and Second-Lieutenant Lerables were killed on the field of battle. In the numbers of wounded figured Chefs de Bataillon Fuzieu and Duthoya, Second-Major Lafitou, Captains Jobert and Constant, Lieutenants Decouz, Chenu, who died of his wounds, Magnin, Cugnot, Renoux, Charreau, Brard, Masclet, Second-Lieutenants Raoult de Maintenay, Demouton, Fetou, Gerard, Adjutant Basset, Sergeants Michaux and Meunier, this last was wounded twice .
On the morning after the Battle of the Moskowa, the army set off in pursuit of the Russians, Davout’s Corps followed the Moscow road. It entered the city on the 14th October and was placed in the part which extends from the Smolensk Gate to that of Kalouga. They counted on finding provisions and a shelter for the winter, but the Goverenor, Rostopchin, had had the city put to the fire and the immense magazines which it contained were devoured by the flames. The army, reduced to 100,000 men had to march back as far as Poland. Davout’s Corps left Moscow on 19th October, and took the road to Fominskoie via Ignatovo.
Combat of Malojaroslavetz On the 24th, Prince Eugene attacked the Russians at Malojaroslavetz with 17,000 men, later reinforced by the Divisions of Gerard and Compans. These latter advanced towards the end of the day to the right of the town. The enemy was obliged to retreat so precipitously that they threw 20 pieces of artillery into the river, leaving 8 to 10,000 men dead or unfit for combat. Lieutenant Chicaud, of the 21st was wounded in this combat, and later died from his wounds.
Gerard’s division pursued the enemy for six leagues, but had to retrace its steps, the Emperor having ordered the army to take the Mojaisk road.
On 26th October, Davout was ordered to form the rear-guard of the army which was heading for Mojaisk to rejoin the main road to Smolensk, by the cross-roads of Wereja, the army crossed the field of battle of the Moskowa. Davout bivouacked there on the evening of the 30th, and the rear-guard set off on the 31st to go to sleep halfway to the little village of Ghjat.
On lst November, General Gerard was ordered to protect, as extreme rear-guard, a jam which had formed at Czarewo-Zaimitche, he passed the night, himself and the soldiers of his division, without eating or sleeping, exclusively consecrated to the safety of the rest of the army.
Combat of Viasma 3rd November
On 2nd November, 12,000 Russians flanked by a cloud of cossacks, cut the road between Marshal Davout and the Viceroy, a league from Viasma Gerard's Division, which formed the rear-guard of the 1st Corps, had to sustain a desperate combat where it chiefly had to suffer from the enemy artillery fire. The 21st had, among other officers killed, Lieutenant Charreau and Second-Lieutenant Ragot, among wounded were Captain Ourblain, Lieutenants Delcamp, Second-Lieutenants Belgrand, Lepoutre, Herel, and Gasson.
After a slow and dolorous march during which the soldiers threw away their weapons, and the cannons were abandoned through lack of teams, and both food and munitions were lacking, the army arrived at last at Smolensk. Davout, who had reached there on the l0th, stayed there until the 16th. The Russians profited from this stay at Smolensk by placing themselves at the defile of Krasnoe with the intention of barring the passage to us. The Marshal, who had left Smolensk on the 16th. , slept with his divisions at Koritnia. They had heard a very lively cannonade during the day it was Broussier's Division which had found itself at grips with the Russians at Krasnoe. Davout had no more cavalry, and the number of his troops did not pass 8,500, yet he resolved to march to the aid of General Broussier. On the l7th he marched on Krasnoe with the four divisions that he had under his hand, Gerard's Division, which marched first, was formed in serried column. It fell upon the enemy with the bayonet, opened a way through the Russian troops of General Miloradowich, and established itself on the plateau of Krasnoe, having saved the debris of Broussier's Division. Marshal Davout left again the same evening, and took position on the l8th at Dombrovna, in front of Orscha. Davout's Corps comprising four divisions with a total strength of 4.000 armed men marching ranged round their flags and pulling their artillery crossed the Berezinaduring the evening of 26th November, advanced on the Vilna road where it arrived on the 9th December. On the 5th Napoleon had left for Paris leaving command of the army to the King of Naples. On the 12th Davout made his entry into Kowno on the Niemen. Marshal Ney arrived there on the 14th. but not being able to defend the gates of the town he was pursued as far as the market place by cossacks, who were going to surround him, when Gerard assembled some soldiers of his division fell on the Cossacks who turned tail and fled.
A council of war was held at Kowno, it was there judged impossible to rally the debris of the army elsewhere than on the Vistula. The cadres of the lst Corps, and in particular, those of the 21st, gathered at Thorn, and it was towards this rallying point that the soldiers of the Regiment scattered on the roads were directed. On 8th January, 1813, there was a strength of 34 officers and some 150 men in a state to carry arms, among whom were the recruits of the 2nd Demi-Brigade de Marche, which they had met on the way.