Chapter 18

Winter in Latvia – the last phase

Hartwich, now established as Prussian ADC to Marshal Macdonald in Eckau castle, takes up the story of the Latvian front again, on 14 November.

I returned to HQ [in Stalgen] just as lunch was about to be served. The Duke of Tarento stood there in undress uniform, with a powdered toupé, and welcomed me to the gathering. He asked after my comfort, took my despatches, read them and discussed them with Colonel Terrier, his chief of staff, who then withdrew in order to answer them. We then went in to dine, and I was placed opposite the marshal. He conversed with me frequently in a most friendly manner and I had to give him a run-down on my family background.1 Colonel Terrier came in with some prepared papers, which the Duke read attentively, making the occasional note on them in pencil, before handing them to Major Segnier(of the 4e Hussars) for delivery. I returned to Eckau at about 8 o’clock.

Next day, the Prussians attacked the Russians at Dahlenkirchen, Gallenkrug and Tomoschna; Macdonald advanced with seven battalions to Eckau; the Bavarians2 were in Friedrichstadt. We took three battalions of Russian infantry and about 70 cavalry prisoner.

It was bitterly cold. The men were accommodated in Dahlenkirchen church and the surrounding buildings... the ice on the Duena could already support cannon... The fighting continued on 16 November, but was indecisive. We were now aware that the Russian forces opposed to us were much stronger than we were.

On 18 October we withdrew to Tomoschna. My general3 sent me across to the Russian outpost at the Neue Mühle, as he had lost a valued keepsake of the Princess Pauline Borghese, a valuable box. The enemy were in position with four battalions and ten guns; I was received in most friendly fashion and almost drowned in brandy. Lieutenant von Goerbel, a Russian artillery officer, a Courlander who spoke German very well, promised to search for the item. Lieutenant General von Massenbach raided Friedrichstadt this day and had captured 300 men of Schmidt’s Freikorps cavalry.

On 19 October Oberst von Hühnerbein succeeded in driving a Russian force into some woods at Wallhof, where they were forced to surrender to the Poles and Westphalians. Their artillery escaped over the frozen River Duena. On 23 November, a groom appeared at Corps HQ with an English thoroughbred, chestnut with white markings, as a present for Colonel von Horn from Marshal Macdonald, as thanks for his efforts at Dahlenkirchen.4

Hartwich left us with some observations as to Marshal Macdonald’s staff methods: ‘When any of us were sent off on a mission, we first had to repeat exactly what we had to do to the marshal. He listened intently and, if satisfied, dismissed us with a friendly:“Partez, mon cher!”’ [Go, dear fellow!]

The 2nd Clash at Dahlenkirchen, 15 November. A village in Latvia, on the River Duena, 14 km south east of Riga. A Prussian victory for Colonel von Horn’s 2nd Brigade group over part of General Steinheil’s Army of Finland. The Russians employed ten battalions, five squadrons and many guns in this engagement; according to the bulletin, they lost 1,200-1,300 prisoners, including twenty-five officers, 1,500 muskets and fourteen drums. Apart from the Prussians, the 7th Division was engaged here this day. The Russians lost over 1,000 men; allied losses were ‘light’.

The blockade of Riga, Latvia, 24 July-18 December. The Russians successfully resisted all efforts of Macdonald’s X Corps.

As this desperate drama was being played out in the central sector, up in Latvian dreamworld, the young Prussian officer, Julius Hartwich recorded what was happening there:

On 27 November I was again sent over to the Russian lines, to deliver some letters to the new Governor of Riga, Marquis Paulucci. Baron Essen had been removed and hauled before a court-martial for burning down a suburb of the city for no good reason.

We stayed in Eckau, in comfort, until 19 December. Each morning I would drink my cup of coffee, which my servant brought to me in bed, then go to Colonel von Horn. Today, he was reading the daily papers and Russian bulletins, which he received from the outposts, who had found them scattered on the road by the Russians.

Officially we knew that the Emperor had withdrawn to Smolensk; we regarded Russian reports of their victories as being just fabrications for our consumption and laughed at them. I usually had to translate them for the general5, who sent them on to the Duke. Gradually, however, even the French began to lend credence to these reports. The general would stand by his map, tracing out the places mentioned and comparing the names of the generals reported captured with his table of army establishment.

At this time, the differences between General von Yorck and the duke became more noticeable, as the failures of the French commissariat caused more frequent shortages among the troops, particularly of forage [for the cavalry]. In revenge, the French Intendant of X Corps, M. Chambaudoin, accused the Prussians of indulging in large scale smuggling [of forbidden English colonial goods].

There was an open breach between the men; it was suspected that the duke wanted to remove von Yorck from command so as to have tighter control of the Prussians.

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Looters attacked by a swarm of bees. Albrecht Adam. Author’s collection.

One night...Colonel Terrier6 arrived at von Yorck’s HQ with despatches. The duty ADC woke the general, who came out to read them. One letter was full of personal accusations and insinuations against von Yorck. Von Yorck read it through, twice, carefully, then folded it up and laid it down behind him on the table on which he was sitting.

Terrier was apparently expecting some outburst of rage from the general, that he could use as an excuse to have him removed from command. But Yorck was cunning, and said that he would only reply next day. Terrier was nonplussed and just stood there. The general gave him a sardonic smile. Terrier tried again and asked what answer he should give the marshal? What had the general decided to do? The general just said ‘De me coucher sitôt que vous serez parti’ [To go to bed as soon as you leave]. The baffled colonel then left.

One evening, after dinner with Colonel von Horn there was the habitual merry round of the officers of X Corps staff at Eckau, fuelled with the usual glasses of grog. On this occasion, a [French] Captain Salentin came up to von Horn and said that he wished to show him something. Expecting a joke, von Horn followed him over to a fine copper engaving on the wall. It showed a rampant lion standing atop a defeated hyena. Salentin pointed to the lion: ‘That is the Duke of Tarento; that,’ pointing at the hyena, ‘is the General Yorck.’

The colonel’s expression flashed from humourous to enraged. He stabbed his finger first at the lion and then at the hyena. ‘That’s me and that’s you!’ he spat out. He then grasped Salentin by the chest, opened the door of the room, threw him out and slammed the door shut behind him.

General von Yorck became more concerned about the strategic situation. The news came of Wittgenstein’s advance, the losses of Oudinot, St-Cyr and Wrede; but of the Grande Armée we heard nothing. Lieutenants Behm and Menzisepki were sent off to Wilna to get news. Both came back within a few days; they had been unable to get through and had only just managed to avoid the numerous Cossack patrols by means of good luck.

On 18 December the Schmidt Freikorps attacked our outposts at the Wehrschen Krug...We began to make preparations for our withdrawal. On this day, Major von Schenck... returned from Wilna, to deliver to Marshal Macdonald the order from the Viceroy of Italy, to fall back slowly on Tilsit; the army would stand in Kowno.

Two hours later, another courier arrived from Kowno, with another order, telling us to withdraw as quickly as possible on Koenigsberg. It was dated the 9th of December, 12 o‘clock midday, and stated that Kowno could no longer be held and was being abandoned. Next day I left Bausk with a frost-bitten fusilier in a sledge that I had ‘commandeered’, together with five horses and my servant, Lobes and plenty of supplies. In Bausk was Grandjean’s division, including the Polish and Westphalian troops, who had come in from Eckau.’

Hartwich describes General Grandjean thus:

General de Division Grandjean was a small, unpleasant man. His chief of staff, Colonel Nowitzky, was a real joke; in his personality and mentality he was a gossip-loving washerwoman. Like all of Grandjean’s ADCs he was closely related to him and they shared an intimate relationship. They called one another by the familiar ‘tu’; a rarity among the French. Here it was that I came to know a Prince Radziwill, who commanded a brigade of the 10th and 11th [Polish Infantry] Regiments.7

It was also here that I came to read the infamous 29th Bulletin, which Major von Schenk had brought from the Viceroy and which admitted monstrous losses.

We moved off on 20 December at 4 o’clock in the morning... it was unbearably cold. Marshal Macdonald had traded his plumed bicorn for a bearskin Colpack, as had many other staff officers. Many even wore bearskin coats and trousers, with the fur on the outside.

On 21 December we rested in Schawli... next day we reached Kielmy, where we bumped into two squadrons of the Isum hussars (grey uniforms) and the Isum hussars (blue and red)8 in the town square. We threw ourselves at them and they fled; we chased them and took some 80 horses from them.

On 23 December we reached Niemokszty... wherever we arrived, the Cossacks had been there before us; and all of them had asked the way to ‘Parischi’. To us it was clear that they wanted to get to Paris, but the French officers just could not believe that these sons of the Black Sea coast had even heard of their capital city. The poor inhabitants were closely interrogated as to where this mysterious ‘Parischi’ lay, some of them were beaten to extract the information. The [French] staff in every hut were studying their local maps furiously to find the place.

On 24 December I celebrated Christmas Eve with a bottle of wine in Skaudwile. On 25 December we captured two Isum hussars in a sledge near Tauroggen. We found very comfortable quarters with a Polish depot commissar, who was well supplied with everything. The hussars that we had captured were carrying letters from corps HQ to General von Diebitsch in Memel. These gave us a clear insight into the strategic situation around us. General von Yorck was most pleased.

On 26 December we left Tauroggen and crossed the Prussian frontier at Meldiglauken, to the loud cheers of the troops. Tears came to my eyes when I thought of all that I had survived.

We marched on Piktupoenen.

The skirmish at Piktupoenen, 26 December. A small village in Latvia between Tilsit on the River Memel and Tauroggen. A skirmish between Prussian cavalry and a small force of Cossacks. This was the last action of any note, a pathetic whimper, of the Russian campaign, which had begun with such a dramatic show of overweening power, on the River Niemen, just six months before.

We bumped into a Russian picket and rushed them, capturing two battalions, a gun, an ammunition wagon and 60 cavalry. We learned that Tilsit was occupied by the enemy.

On 27 December Grandjean’s division arrived in Piktupoenen. We entered Tilsit at 10 o’clock at night; the Russians had left. The astounded inhabitants told us that the Russians had been there for eight days and had conducted themselves perfectly.

Marshal Macdonald came in on 28 December... The Leib-Husaren had a clash with about 2,000 Kalmucks and a regiment of dragoons and lost quite a few men. We then entered Ragnit, where we stayed until 31 December. All hospitals in the place were full of unfortunates who had managed to drag themselves back out of Russia; most of them died.

I was sent off to the Russian lines to try to bring about an exchange of prisoners; it was here, from Colonel von Benckendorf, that I learned of the pact agreed between Generals von Yorck and von Diebitsch.9

At first, the Russians would not let me leave, as they feared that I would tell the French of this event and this might have negative consequences for the remaining Prussians, still with the X Corps. Eventually, they agreed to let me go, as I had promised to say nothing.

Back at X Corps HQ, I told General Bachelu the story agreed with the Russians, that the prisoners had already been sent back to St Petersburg and that nothing more could be done. I then met Marshal Macdonald walking down the street; he asked me where I was going. I replied that I wished to return to my battalion. ‘Retournez! Je vous souhaite tout le bonheur possible pour votre personne, remerciez à tous les braves Prussiens pour la bravoure qu’ils ont montré dans les temps que je les ai commandé. Adieu.’[Return! I wish you all the best, please convey my thanks to all those fine Prussians for the bravery which they showed while under my command. Adieu.] He then embraced me and kissed me.

From this it is clear that the marshal already knew of the Convention.

Napoleon had left orders for the remnants of the army to be rallied on the line of fortresses along the River Vistula: Danzig, Thorn, Graudenz, Plock, Modlin; to protect most of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. This was just not credible, given the massive losses and the pitiful condition of the few survivors. To quote Segur:

The rallying of the army on the Vistula had been illusory. The Old Guard numbered 500 combatants at most; the Young Guard was practically nonexistent; of the I Corps there remained 1,800 men; of the II, 1,000; of the III, 1,600; and of the IV, 1,700. Moreover, the majority of these soldiers - all that was left of an army of 600,000 - were just about able to use their weapons. While we were in this powerless state the right and left wings of the army broke away at the same time, Austria and Prussia having deserted us; and Poland became a trap which could be easily sprung on us. On the other hand, Napoleon, who had never willingly surrendered anything, expected us to defend Danzig; and we were obliged to rush all the forces that could still keep the field to that city.

On 16 January 1813 Murat abandoned the wreck of the Grande Armée in Marienwerder to return to Naples; Prince Eugene took over command.

Notes

1

The marshal referred to Hartwich as ‘Artwick’.

2

13th Infantry Regiment.

3

Von Yorck.

4

Von Horn’s horse had been cut in two by a cannonball during the action.

5

General von Yorck.

6

Macdonald’s Chief of Staff.

7

In the 28th Polish Division.

8

II and III Russian Cavalry Corps.

9

The Convention of Tauroggen.

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