Chapter 14

Summer and autumn in Latvia

Up in Latvia, the conditions under which Marshal Macdonald’s X Corps were operating bore absolutely no relation at all to the misery and deprivation being suffered by those in the central sector. At this point, Marshal Macdonald was closing up around Riga.

On 15th August the General Intendant of Courland, M. Chambaudoin, celebrated Napoleon’s birthday with a splendid ball. In the morning a Te Deum was sung and in the evening the town was illuminated, as was the ballroom. There were plenty of fine refreshments; 300 bottles of champagne were drunk, as well as Madiera1 and Hungarian wine; Medoc and other French wines were drunk from beer glasses.

We heard that Napoleon was at Witebsk on 22nd July; I bet he entered Moscow on his birthday!

Hartwich’s naive trust in the Emperor is slightly touching. He continued:

On 21st August I was sent to Shagory, to gather up local carts, horses and drivers, to form a convoy for some supplies that were expected. By 21st August I had about 116 wagons ready; the goods on the convoy from Okmiany were off-loaded onto these and sent on to Shagory. The only way to communicate with the Lithuanian peasants was with the Kantschu2 and you can quickly become absolutely sick of such a business. We had to watch the drivers more so than their horses, as they were forced men and wanted to get back home. We had to keep 500 drivers and 200 horses locked up in two barns, guarded by an officer and 35 men. They had to live on what they had brought with them — I had nothing to give them. Their misery rose day by day. I very soon found myself forced to let two horses and half the drivers from each team go home. Each day we toured the local farms to requisition bread.

The clash at Dahlenkirchen, 22 August. A village on the left bank of the River Duena, 14 km south east of Riga, also known as Olai and Schlock. A Russian victory (Rear Admiral Moeller, the 25th Infantry Division and a flotilla of gunboats) over the Prussians (Colonel von Horn’s 2nd Brigade). Colonel von Horn, with 1,450 men, bit off more than he could chew here and took on an enemy 3,000 strong. The Prussians lost 800 men to less than fifty Russian casualties. The Russians occupied Dahlenkirchen, but abandoned it again on 26 August.

On 13 August von Yorck’s Prussian division was 16,800 men strong; as a percentage of the march-in strength, this was an amazingly high figure, when compared with the formations of Napoleon’s central army group, where most of them were down to the 50 per cent level by this time. Prussian Captain von Schauroth had fought here; he was in Ruenthal on leave on 30 August and told Hartwich of his experiences that day:

The Russians, led by a deserter from the ‘Brown Hussars’3, rushed upon the outposts giving the Prussian passwords, and cut them down. They raced on until they reached the lines of the unprepared Pommeranian, East Prussian and Silesian Fusiliers, cut them down and scattered them. Most of the officers were killed or wounded. The surviving fusiliers alarmed their main body, which drove the 800 Russians back to Riga.

The clash at Olai, 22 August. A village in Latvia, midway between Riga and Mitau. A Prussian victory (Colonel von Raumer’s 3rd Brigade), over General Wiljeminov, with part of Riga garrison. A minor action in the continued low-key bickering, which characterised this front.

The second clash at Schlock, 22 August. A Baltic coastal village, on an island in the mouth of the River Aa, 18 km west of Riga. A minor Prussian victory (6th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Hussars, some 900 men), over an Anglo-Russian force of 3,300 under Rear-Admiral Moeller. This was another combined operation with the British gunboats transporting Russian infantry into the river. Losses were very light on both sides.

Meanwhile, up in Latvia with X Corps, things were rolling along at a comfortable clip, as Julius Hartwich recorded:

On 30th August Captain Senes and Lieutenant Fourcade of the French artillery and Lieutenant Muck of the 13th Bavarian Line Infantry Regiment came through with 50 heavy guns and ammunition wagons... We left Labiau on the 8th August... and reached Mitau on the 18th.

Up in Latvia, Julius Hartwich visited Ruenthal castle on 6 September, apparently a gem of a building, built by the Duke of Courland and presented by Czarina Catherine to her lover, Prince Subow, when Russia annexed that province. It was a most impressive building, sited within formal gardens and containing an extensive, multilingual library —‘as elegant as it was comprehensive’. All the artillery and engineer parks had been concentrated here:

There were 42 officers, as well as generals Darencay and Taviel.4 About 1,500 French gunners and engineers were lodged in the outbuildings of the castle and in huts. All the artillery parks [of the X Corps] are concentrated in Ruenthal... Among them is the Elba Sapper Battalion.

Hartwich recorded that it froze hard in Latvia on the night of 6/7 September. His tour of duty, requisitioning drivers and teams for convoy duty, ended on 15 September. He returned to Mitau, just in time to hear the gun-salutes and to attend the Te Deum in the German church there, which was being sung in thanks for news of Napoleon’s ‘victory’ at Borodino.

Julius Hartwich had been sent to the island of Schlock, in the mouth of the River Aa, about 3½ Meilen from Duenamuende. He did duty here from 17- 26 September. In Duenamuende lay some twenty gunboats, which were often used to transport troops behind the allied coastal garrisons to mount spoiling raids. Garrison duty at Schlock — which was a post to be evacuated if seriously threatened - was considered a high-risk occupation. His duty here was cut short by a change in the local balance of forces.

On the night of 26/27 September General von Yorck sent us an order to evacuate our post. Steinhiel’s division5 from Finland had arrived in Riga, and the Russians now intended to make a push for the corps’ artillery parks in Ruenthal. The Prussian outpost at Dahlenkirchen had been pushed back and it was expected that the gunboats would be used against Mitau.

We could thus not fall back up the River Aa, but would have to go through the woods via the hamlet of Tuckum. These woods were partially swampland and very hazardous to cross. The existing tracks were made up of logs and would often break under the weight of a horse.

We left Schlock at 2 o‘clock in the morning... As it grew dark, we set up a bivouac and drew rations from the manor farm of Hardersch in Bershof. We set off again at 4 o’clock on the morning of 28 September and reached Mitau at 11. Here we were given billets; I was sent to the Hotel St Petersburg, where I was well taken care of. There was a beautiful, heavy quilt in my room; I asked Herr Morell, the owner of the inn, if he would sell me it on credit; he at once agreed... To my delight, it folded down so that it would fit into my knapsack.

The 2nd Clash at Eckau, 27 September. A village 12 km east of Mitau (now Jelgava), 40 km south of Riga in Latvia. A Russian victory for General Count Steinheil’s Finnish Corps (3,000 men and six guns) over Prussian General von Massenbach’s cavalry brigade of 850 men and twelve guns. The Prussians lost 203 casualties; the Russian losses are not known.

The expected Russian offensive in Latvia began, but it was extremely cautious and the Prussians fell back south before it. Their main target was Macdonald’s siege train at Ruenthal. Julius Hartwich takes up the tale:

At two o‘clock [on the afternoon of 28 September] we began our withdrawal to Ruenthal. We joined General von Kleist’s corps... Marching in column is as boring as it is tiring, especially if it takes place in the rain and through heavy mud... We reached Ruenthal, after covering 5 Meilen, at 4 o’clock in the morning of 29 September. We all slumped up against the trees and were quickly asleep. I did not wake again until the sun was high in the sky.

Mother Roerdanz, the queen of all sutleresses, a harpey for her country and a benefactress to most of the battalion, was my special protectoress since I had once saved her from a beating which the major had ordered. She had carefully watched for my ‘resurrection’. I was scarcely awake, when she pressed a mug of steaming coffee into my hand, then spiked it with a generous dose of Cognac.

We were on the left wing of Yorck’s corps, which had been defeated the previous day and pushed back to here. We were about 2,000 paces north of Ruenthal. In front of us were the [artillery] parks, some arranged in a circle, some of the guns, mostly 12-pounders, were deployed as batteries. We were to occupy the intervals between the batteries. We were set to work, rolling the larger cannonballs out in front of the guns, in random fashion, to disrupt any cavalry charges. We worked with a will; as the weather improved, so did our spirits... We ate our bread soup and the occasional jokes and songs were heard around the camp fires... At about two o’clock the order came to put on our equipment, then to take up arms.

General von Yorck, hearing that the Russians had stopped advancing, intended to mount an assault on their left flank and rear.

This was to be the clash at Mesoten.

The clash at Mesoten, 29 September. A village in Latvia, 30 km south east of Mitau, on the River Aa. A minor victory for Prussian General von Yorck’s advanced guard over General Alexejew’s 21st Division. The Prussians had 5,400 men and six guns; their losses were ‘very light’. The Russians had 9,000 infantry, only 200 cavalry and twelve guns; their losses were also light. The superior Prussian cavalry was able to dominate the enemy in the open terrain.

As Hartwich previously told us, the Prussians in Latvia were to mount a flanking raid on the Russians from Ruenthal. The superior Prussian cavalry gave them the edge, but losses were very light on both sides. Hartwich’s account of the action sets the scene:

If I am not mistaken, Mesoten castle belongs to the von Pahlen family. The first shot was fired at 4 o’clock, but the fighting was very low key. Our battalion was on the left wing up against the Aa. Action stopped at nightfall on our side of the river, but the 3rd and 5th Regiments, on the far bank, pushed the enemy back to Kiope and Graefenthal.

The clash at Graefenthal, 29 September. A village in Latvia, south west of Riga. A victory for Prussian General von Yorck, with the 2nd and 3rd Brigades, over Russian General Rachmanov’s 6th Infantry Division of the Finland Corps. This was another low-key action; the Prussians had 7,000 men and ten guns; they lost some 260 men. The Russians had 1,800 men and six guns; their casualties are not fully known, but they lost 303 prisoners.

The clash at Lautschkruge, 30 September. A hamlet south of Riga in Latvia. A victory for General von Yorck’s Prussian Corps over General Count Steinheil’s Finland Corps. The Prussians had 12,000 men and sixteen guns and their losses were light. It is not clear what strength Steinheil had, or his total casualties, but 608 were captured when the Prussian cavalry caught two battalions of the 3rd Jaegers in the act of forming square and forced them to surrender.

Hartwich’s account continues:

We broke camp and set off. We had gone scarcely a kilometre when we met the enemy. There were about five battalions, some in line, some in column, with their skirmishers deployed before them. ‘They had four guns, as far as I can remember. Not long into our advance, a shot killed Major von Reuss’ horse; then another knocked his shako off and a third hit the heel of his boot. Despite all this, he led us bravely onwards. We were three fusilier battalions, the Regiment Nr 2 (East Prussian), half a battery and three squadrons. The enemy had maybe 6,000 men... I was sent out with the 12th Company to skirmish; scarcely had we deployed, than Lieutenant von Hoepfner was hit in the foot. My flankman, Kulmey, one of the best one could wish for, was hit in the head at my side. The popular Fusilier Strutsch was badly wounded by a bullet and Fusilier Jenrich from Nitzahn was shot in the side. Muttering a silent ‘Our Father’ I asked God to keep me from harm, as it was pretty hot here. It was my task to push on to Lautschkruge, through a sort of sunken road, edged to both sides with willow hurdles. These were still occupied by the enemy, who retired when they saw that our advance was determined. We ran after them at full speed so as to enter the courtyard [of the farm] right after them... I was in the act of getting some twenty men together, when I saw, from the corner of my eye, a Russian Jaeger pop up over the hurdles to my left about ten paces from me and take aim at me. I had the idea to twist my pack around onto my chest, just as he fired. The ball penetrated the pack, but was stopped by all the thickly-folded blanket and clothing. It even dented the seal of my commission as I later discovered; I kept it as a souvenier.

Fusilier Burdewig of the 11th Company heard the impact, and shouted out: ‘Herr Leutenant, that was you!’ So I owe my life to that quilt from Mitau...The impact of the ball threw me to the ground, but I sprang up again and we took the farm, together with 30 prisoners, including my Jaeger. I had only grabbed him by the collar and the waistbelt, but he was in such shock, that he at once begged for mercy. We took some other farmsteads, each one involved a mêlée, then we turned on Kensinshof, where we were repelled. It was not until a platoon of the 5th Fusiliers took the place in rear, that it fell to us. Now the enemy, who had been retreating, turned on us and things really got lively. The Browns6, and a detachment of the Green Hussars7 took the enemy in flank and three battalions were captured. A squadron of Russian dragoons - I think the Smolensk Regiment due to their white collars8— and the Grodnow Hussars now rushed up, but were driven off by our Tirailleurs and those of the East Prussian regiment, which were hidden a in a copse. Lieutenant von Schack, of my detachment, won the Pour le Mérite for this action, and NCO Schildner captured Lieutenant von Firks of the Grodnow Hussars. This was end of the action for the day; the Russians opened up with heavy artillery fire from Annenburg, but it did us no damage, as most shots either went over our heads or dropped too short.

We bivouacked at Kensinshof and the men had their first hot meal for three days... Apart from the captain, I was the only officer not wounded that day. On the battlefield we had the chance to admire the excellent leather equipment of the 3rd and 5th Russian Jaeger Regiments.

The clash at the Garosse River, 1 October. A minor river, south of Riga. A minor Prusso-Polish victory over part of the Riga garrison under General Essen. Yorck’s advanced guard and Kosinski’s Polish contingent totalled 3,600 men and four guns. Details of the Russian strengths and losses are not known. They continued their withdrawal into Riga.

Close on the heels of their victory at Lautschkruge, the Prussians in Latvia closed up to the line of the Garosse River. It was a stream running through level countryside, with high, steep banks. At Garossenkruge, it joins the River Aa. There was a stone bridge over the former river, which became the target of both sides. The Prussian skirmishers were deployed in the bushes both up and downstream of the bridge and caused the Russians considerable casualties. The Prussians bridged the stream using willow hurdles and trusses of straw and took the enemy in flank. Julius Hartwich was shot across the face at point-blank range, but suffered nothing more serious than singed eyebrows. A Russian counter-attack drove them back over the Garosse, when the action again degenerated into a desultory artillery duel. The accuracy of the Russian artillery seems to have been extremely poor. The 5th Polish Infantry Regiment9 and the Prussian Leibhusaren mounted a flank attack, which caused the Russians to withdraw. Julius Hartwich recalled:

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King Friedrich of Württemberg, one of Napoleon’s closest allies and absolutely unforgiving to his officers and men. Author’s collection.

After the enemy had withdrawn, I went into one of the barns and discovered a pig wandering about; we killed it with a musket shot and enjoyed an excellent supper. There was plenty of straw to use as bedding.

The Russians fell back to Riga. They had lost 3,400 prisoners alone. The Prussians lost forty-two officers, eighty-one NCOs, 1,094 men and 185 horses. Lieutenant von der Horst had defected to the enemy.

By his actions over the last few days, General von Yorck had foiled the superior Russian offensive and saved the artillery park of Macdonald’s X Corps. On 4 October, the Prussians withdrew to Mitau and bivouacked around the state hospital there. Next day they took up a defensive position near to Garossenkrug. On 9 October, Hartwich’s regiment marched to Eckau and built a hutted camp around the church there. Each hut consisted of a pit, three to four feet deep, roofed with sheaves of straw and held five men. Stone hearths were set to one side of the pit. Rations for the officers at this time consisted of a pound of meat, 100 grammes of grain cereal (which was sometimes replaced by 80 grammes of rice), one sixth of a pint of brandy and 20 grammes of salt. The men received only half an officer’s ration of meat and brandy.10

This information is an astounding revelation. By this point, anyone outside the pampered circle of Napoleon’s court or Imperial Guard in the central sector of the Russian invasion had been starving for months. It is almost incredible to read that Hartwich and his fellow officers became so bored with eating their daily soup and old beef, as ‘the lads had their work cut out to keep us supplied with tooth-picks.’ He also tells us that they had received no pay since 1 August, as the continual procession of ‘allied’ armies - as he put it - had exhausted all stocks of cash in Prussia.

Occasionally we would save up our beef rations and steep it in vinegar, and instead of cooking the potatoes in butter, we boiled them in the marinade... We would like to buy a ham, but the whole area is bare, so we will just have to put up with the old bull’s meat. I have discovered a source of butter, which I am keeping very secret, otherwise we would have to cook our potatoes in salt, like the other honest people.

The Prussians seem to have passed the time in Eckau very well, putting on concerts and organizing other games and entertainment for themselves. Once again, compare this with the wall-to-wall misery, death, destruction and deprivation which had trailed in Napoleon’s wake for so many hundreds of thousands since June.

On 14 October we moved off to the Misse, where we set up camp at Gallenkrug; the enemy had started skirmishing at Dahlenkirchen on 13 October and had pushed our outposts in. Marshal Macdonald thus ordered a general advance. For some days now, he has sited his HQ in Stalgen castle on the Aa, between Mitau and Bausk, right behind the centre of Yorck’s corps. Previously it had been with Grandjean’s [7th] division.

We were with the advanced guard of Colonel von Horn’s right wing of the Prussian corps, together with Colonel von Tresckow’s Dragoner-Regiment Nr 1. At dawn on 15 October, I noticed that the Russians had withdrawn; we advanced to the customs post at Tomoschna,11 where there was a large sugar refinery.

There followed a clash with the Russians, in which Captain Ledaskowsky’s Polish half horse artillery battery12 caught them wading across the shallow River Duena in a hail of canister and caused them heavy casualties.

During this action, we could see the three fine, tall towers of Riga before us... Despite the cold wet weather, the bivouacs in the heavy timbers of the sugar beet stores were warm and there was plenty to eat.

On 17 October the Prussians were involved in another clash with the Russians - including the Grodnow Hussars and a regiment of regular Cossacks - around a brickworks, just outside Riga. The Prussians lost six men killed and 18 wounded, but took 70 prisoners. The quality of the Russian musketry again seems to have been as low as that of their artillery. Next day the Prussians fell back to Eckau, where they stayed, peacefully, until 23 October.

Hartwich tells us of a dramatic drop in temperature on the 21st of the month, with heavy snowfall. Next day:

We were very pleased to be issued with fur coats. Those for the men were second hand items and were not very inviting; the dusty miller’s old coat stood in the ranks next to the blackened item worn by the blacksmith and the tar-worker - but each one was a blessing. We officers each received a new, sheepskin coat, complete with a large hood, which fitted over the shako. The men wore their bandoliers over their coats; we officers wore our waist sashes over ours.

On 22 October, we took post about Eckau... There were two companies of French sappers at the castle, and on the other side of the sunken road to Mitau were two battalions of Polish troops and a Westphalian battalion.13

Next day - a Sunday - the Prussians had just finished church service in Eckau, when the alarm was beaten; but nothing transpired. Another skirmish took place on 29 October. It was at this point that the joyous news of Gouvion Saint-Cyr’s victory over Wittgenstein in the 2nd Battle of Polotzk was received. The bulletin claimed 8,000 Russians captured; in fact, the contest was, at best, a draw and the allies were soon forced to evacuate Polotzk.

On 12 November we officers were called to Eckau castle to greet General Bachelu.14 When I got there, Colonel von Horn asked me if I spoke French; I answered that I did... On 13 November Colonel von Hünerbein tested me in French, then took me to General Bachelu and introduced me to him as the Prussian ADC to Corps HQ. The general was most friendly and at once gave me some French orders to translate. Colonel von Horn gave me a horse - taken from a Cossack - and saddlery and I was allocated quarters in the attic of the castle.

Notes

1

More contraband.

2

The Russian horsewhip.

3

1st Silesian Hussars.

4

Albert-Louis Taviel was Chief of the Artillery, X Corps; Darencay was not a French general, according to Six.

5

Steinheil’s Finland Corps would later move south east to join Wittgenstein in the second battle of Polotzk.

6

The 1st Silesian Hussars.

7

2nd Silesian Hussars.

8

The Smolensk regiment had yellow facings; it may have been the Finland or Mitau Regiments; the Irkutsk and Siberian regiments, which also had white facings, were with Barclay’s 1st Army.

9

7th Division.

10

Exactly how this discrimination was justified would be of interest.

11

On the River Keckau.

12

1st Company, 1st Polish Horse Artillery Regiment, 7th Division.

13

7th Division.

14

Commanding 3rd Brigade, 7th Division.

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