Six Days in October: The Collected Correspondence of Marshal Davout

Started by James Sterrett, May 16, 2018, 08:48:07 PM

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James Sterrett

[And now we discover that there are Prussians in Weissenfels!]

DISPATCH -- FROM CONTROL -- 0800, 19th October

As the division of General Morand approaches Weissenfels, your piquets report it held in strength.  Perhaps at least two corps.

Moreover, on the road approaching Weissenfels from the East, your ablest men have reported the advance of the dragoons of General Klein.

While not certain, it is believed that Roustam and the other members of the Emperor's close guard have been seen in their midst.


[I presumed the report of Napoleon on the road east of Weissenfels was inaccurate.]

To Umpire:
Quick clarification - does the messenger know if the troops in Weissenfels are friendly or hostile?

From Umpire:
Decidedly Prussian.

To Umpire:


I could not work "Situation excellent, I am attacking" into my orders, but the spirit is there.  :)

From: Davout
To: III Corps
Copy to: Marshals Lannes, Augereau, Murat, Bernadotte
Time: 0800 19 October


We have met two corps of Prussians in Weissenfels.  Our emperor and his guard approach the town from the south.

We will attack to seize Weissenfels in order to cut the Prussians off from their retreat to Magdebourg and bring about their destruction.

1st Division will form up for attack immediately, and conduct the attack on my command.  Your left flank is the Salle river, your objective is the Salle River crossings at Weissenfels.   Report immediately when ready. 

2nd Division march fast and move to protect 1st Division's right flank.

Cavalry will protect the right flank of the 2nd division.  If the opportunity appears to tie in your patrols to those of the emperor, do so.

3rd Division will march fast to come up come up behind first division and prepare to reinforce its attack.  If the pioneers have a bridge ready by the time you arrive, you may be sent over it instead.

Pioneers will begin creating a bridge across the Salle river in order to create the option of maneuvering forces to cut the Prussians off from the north.

I will be with First Division HQ, ideally in a location to assess its right flank.

Marshal Lannes, please move up rapidly to reinforce this fight.

- Davout

[This was a really exciting moment of the game for me.  I thought I had finally contacted the Prussian main body and would be able to hold it in place long enough to encircle and destroy it.  Note the immediate construction of that bridge across the Salle.  III Corps never wound up using it - I wound up having caught a tiger by the tail in the form of Brunswick and Blucher! -but Marshal Lannes did make use of it.]

James Sterrett

DISPATCH -- LANNES to DAVOUT -- 0700, 19th October

From Marshal Lannes - at Bad Kossen, vicinity of Nambourg
To: V Corps, also Marshals Davout. Murat, Augereau, and Bernadotte
Time: 0500 19 October

We will continue to march today in trace of Marshal Davout's III Corps. The order of march will be the cavalry, 1st Division, 2nd Division, and 3rd Division. As yesterday, Foucher's cavalry is to maintain contact with the trailing division of Davout's III Corps.

My intent is to move to Weissenfels and cross the Saale there after III Corps has passed through. M. Bernadotte and presumably M. Ney are also converging on Weissenfels along the road from Zeitz. It may be that our progress will be significantly slowed in and around the town due to congestion. If so, we will halt at Weissenfels. Otherwise, once across the Saale, we will continue along with III Corps in moving north to Halle.


SENT 0500, 19th October

From: Marshal Lannes - Bad Koden, vicinity of Nambourg
To Marshals Davout and Lannes

Brother Marshals,

I am growing increasingly concerned about the separation of Marshal Murat from III & V Corps, as well as the remainder of the army. While it seems that Ruchel's Corps has been dealt a significant blow and is now trapped in Nambourg, I must wonder at the absence of the remainder of the rest of the very sizeable Prussian army. While we are driving farther and faster north and east into Saxony, we are doing so without the intelligence we should have through the efforts of a sizable screen of light cavalry.

In short, I do not believe that Brunswick is simply retreating, but rather that we are intentionally being drawn into Germany, with little idea what is in front of us - and next to nothing protecting our Line of Communications in our rear. It may be that Marshals Bessier and Soult have that well in hand, but I am concerned at the lack of communication to that effect.

I feel that we need M. Murat's cavalry back closer to the concentration of the army, to be used to locate the enemy and fix him for our attack. As it stands now we are likely to have a single corps blunder into the entire Prussian Army. Worse, were I Brunswick, I would be marching with all speed on Weimar, which as far as I know is undefended at this point.

By the way, where is our dear Emperor? Have either of you had communication with him since early yesterday morning?


To: Marshal Lannes
From: Davout
Time: 0800 19 October

I would have preferred Murat's cavalry closer at hand, but the emperor preferred this course of action.

In any event, the Prussians are now at hand to be killed.

As you approach the battlefield, please keep in mind the bridge I am preparing across the Salle.  I suspect my corps' role in this fight will be to pin the Prussians, and will have their hands full keeping the two corps engaged until our other forces can march up.   It may be that you can put in the decisive maneuver across their line of retreat northwards by using that bridge.

James Sterrett

Discussion with 1st Division commander (and copy to the rest of the corps' division commanders)

All this presumes that some quick terrain recce in Google Maps & Earth is 1) legal and 2) relevant.  Tell me if either or both are wrong and I will STFU.

The old city is practically in a crater, ringed all along the south side by hills.  It's a deathtrap.

I want the bridge - but given the probability of stiff resistance, *I want that crestline* - because once we have it, we can bring the bridge under artillery fire, as well as nearly any other target in town we desire, and pin the Prussians in the town.  3rd division or Lannes can cross our bridge and cut them off from the north.

[I included a screenshot from Google Earth here]

We need to pin the Prussians here.  If we do that best with our bodies, so be it; if we can do it by artillery fire, so much the better.

Depending on how we proceed, I will personally beg the emperor to award he Legion of Honor to the gun battery that knocks down the bridge and/or the infantry battalion that seizes the bridge.

We can win the war here.

James Sterrett

Message to the Emperor

Jim:  Delete the screenshot and text referring to it if it is not legal for the game (and tell me so I do not try again).  The wider issue is that you don't want people to be making their decisions unfairly - and if some of us are using one map, and others are using another, we're going to have that problem.  It isn't fair for anybody (even the Prussians) to get beaten up because other players or the umpire used a map they did not know they should use.

From: Marshal Davout
To: Emperor Napoleon, copy to Marshal Lannes and General Vialannes
Time: 0830 19 October

Esteemed Emperor!

As I have pondered our situation and surveyed the terrain, I am increasingly convinced of the need to move quickly to block the Prussian's retreat routes north and east.  (Should the Prussians move south...  let them move deeper into encirclement!)

Please note the attached sketch made by one of my staff officers; I think you'll agree he has quite an eye for detail.  The terrain offers us excellent opportunities to defeat the Prussians at Weissenfels, especially if we can hem the enemy in from the bluffs surrounding the city from the south of the river.

[Weissenfels screenshot was here]

As noted in my previous message, I have directed my pioneers to build a bridge so we can cross the Salle; I estimate it may be ready by noon and possibly by 1000.

If you would be willing to tie your forces at hand into my 2nd Division's right flank, then I can send General Vialannes' cavalry across the bridge, followed by my 3rd Division, and then by Marshal Lannes' corps. 

I believe you have several corps of infantry marching at your back with which the eastern exit can be secured.

General Vialannes is moving to secure my right flank and thus the gap between us at this time.

General Vialannes: On being relieved of your flank guard mission by other French forces, you are to move to the bridge currently under construction; on its completion, you are to cross it and move at best speed to ensure the Prussians cannot move north out of Weissenfels.  Seizing and securing the bridge is not required.  You should expect 3rd Division to be coming behind you.   If the Prussians are already on the road, do your best to harass and slow or stop them.

- Davout

Umpire to Davout:
This will be fine and will transmitted as is.

James Sterrett

DISPATCH -- MORAND to DAVOUT -- 1000, 19th October

Marshal Davout,

The men of your first division are in position with their left flank on the Saale River.

We await your orders.

C.A. Morand

Davout to Morand/Umpire:

I believe I am standing up near the line and can see (per earlier orders.)

If this is true:

If it looks like e stand a decent chance of gaining the crestline overlooking the town, attack now, objective is the crestline.

If the enemy is holding the crestline more strongly than gives us a decent chance of taking it, commence cannon fire.

James Sterrett

DISPATCH -- NAPOLEON I to DAVOUT -- 1000, 19th October

SENT 0900, 19th October

To the admirable Davout!

At 9 this morning or thereabouts I received word not only of your missive passed on from Murat, but also that your advance guard is approaching Weissenfels from the West. We are maneuvering for preparations to assist in various ways, which in case of close contact with the enemy my courier should be captured, I will not detail here.

By the same token, you may assure Murat the next time you send him a courier, that his Emperor congratulates him on his plan (insofar as described in his recent report through you) and greatly rejoices at his bold courage! We shall take advantage of his plan in due time; meanwhile I have instructed court composers to add the Feat of Murat to a whole section of the opera they should be writing about our campaign. But the deeds of all my marshals will exhaust and enrapture a full night of an audience's attention!

That sounded more epic and solemn in my head before I penned it. But perhaps it depends on the audience.

At this time we have not made contact with East Wing directly, but this is not surprising, still being early morning. The Prussians would do well to cede the field now and regroup for a defense around Berlin, before our arms join up together and sweep them clean of the region!


Davout to Umpire:

So, what is first division doing?  :)  (I tried to position myself to be able to know what it was doing and when 2nd began to show up, by being on the right flank of 1st division.)

Or should I not expect any such levels of detail?  ( I am antsy about conducting the fight!   Minutes mater at this point, but absent reports I'm not able to use them.  BUT if you want to conduct this in a less-informed James-state then I will cheerfully STFU. I know quite well that the more detail you give the more I will use & the death spiral begins.)

Umpire to Davout:

You are shelling that ridge as there are troops upon it.  First division is in-line and ready.  Others nearly there.  You could likely see Bernadotte mustering from the South.

Forgot to fire that off yesterday.

Davout to Umpire:

OK.  Please let me know when...

* Second division: change of mission: Form up on the right of 1st Division and prepare to attack.

* Pioneers report when bridge is started with estimated time, and at around 1 hour from completion.

* 3rd Division: Mission is now to cross the river and cut off the Prussians.  Let the cavalry go first if they are there.

[III Corps' cavalry and 3rd division must have been frustrated by the frequent changes of mission at this point.]

James Sterrett

DISPATCH -- FROM CONTROL -- 1200, 19th October

Your bridging operation over the Saale is well under way.

It will likely be completed at 1400 hours.

The first division is in line and ready and will soon be joined by second to the right of the first.  Viallannes' cavalry is moving to be the first to cross the bridge once it is in place.


James Sterrett

DISPATCH -- AUGEREAU to DAVOUT -- 1230, 19th October

I send a copy of this message with my courier who is going to Napoleon. I also send copies taken by different riders to Davout and Soult!

"It could be a clever plan on the part of the Prussians to throw us off." I write that down as well to go along with the message copies.

In the meantime, my Corps continues to contain the Prussians in Naumbourg. It is now virtually impossible for the Prussians to assemble any sort of formation to even attempt a breakout.

Marshal Augereau,

A messenger in the service of General Ruchel was caught attempting to enter Naumbourg from the North.

The trembling man is brought before you cursing his misfortune and making quite plain -- albeit in German -- that he wishes he could have remained with the remainder of his force at Weisensee.

He also bore this message:


Hold tight the town! You have done well and shall prevail in the end. We are moving forces up from the south to come and relieve you.

Gen. Ruchel

James Sterrett

FROM CONTROL -- 1300, 19th October

Marshal Davout,

A rider from Marshal Augereau has arrived seeking after the source of the gunfire evident from your positions near Weissenfels.


To:  Marshal Augereau
From: Davout
Time: 1300, 19 October

Brother Marshal!

Thank you for the interesting Prussian message.  I don't believe there is any relief coming to either Prussian force from the south, and I do trust in your ability to contain the force you face.  It is interesting that it implies Ruchel himself is in Weissenfels.

The cannon fire you hear is mine; we are shelling the enemy at Weissenfels and preparing to attack them.

- Davout

James Sterrett

DISPATCH -- BERNADOTTE to DAVOUT -- 1300, 19th October

Dispatch to Davout
The 1st Corps is attacking north from south of Weissenfels .
Marshal Bernadotte

To: Marshal Bernadotte
From: Davout
Time: 1300, 19 October

Excellent!  We are preparing to attack as well.

- Davout

James Sterrett

2nd Division status?

To Umpire:

Please let me know when 2nd division is on line and ready.  I'm also curious if the cannonade is having any appreciable effect on the Prussians...

(And if I am asking for too much detail, then tell me!  :)  )

Umpire to Davout:

The bombardment has certainly scurried them to their fascine-laden ditches, but both corps seem deployed to defend.

2nd Division is in-line and prepared to attack.

The bridge is nearly complete.  Crossing will begin shortly.

Davout to Umpire:

Fascine-laden ditches, eh?  So they are dug in here, with two corps, and they had some time to prepare.  Interesting. 

James Sterrett

DISPATCH -- LANNES to DAVOUT -- 1400, 19th October

To: Marshal Davout
From: Lannes
Time: 1100 19 October

The Emperor is an opium addict with an onion for a head.

I come. Allons Y!


SENT 1200, 19th October

From: Lannes
To: Marshal Davout, copies to Marshal Augerau, Marshal Murat, Emperor Napoleon

Marshal Davout,

My cavalry patrols have captured numerous stragglers in the vicinity of Naumbourg. All are from Weimar's division. The captured men indicated that they are the only division in Naumbourg. The town is burning, and the division seems to be completely cut off.

This would seem to confirm that the forces facing Marshal Augereau are the remnants of Ruchel's Corps. Ruchel would appear to be completely beaten at this point.

There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 110,000 more Prussians out there. Marshal Davout, do you have any identification of who you are facing at Weissenfels, and how many of them there are? Have the Prussians concentrated there, is this a rearguard, or might we need be concerned about a large force falling on our flank from the direction of Leipzig?

In addition to cavalry patrols rounding up stragglers, which I will continue, I have my staff officers interrogating locals along my route concerning Prussian forces that have passed through recently.


From: Marshal Lannes
To: Emperor Napoleon, copy to Marshal Davout
Sent: 1200 19 October

Your Majesty,

My corps is located just northeast of Naumbourg, moving along the road to Weissenfels. At our current rate of march we should arrive in a position to support Marshal Davout at around 4 of the clock. Leading elements of V Corps, namely the corps cavalry under Foucher, should arrive sooner and have orders to exploit north toward Halle across Marshal Davout's bridgehead.

I am riding ahead with the cavalry to make my headquarters with Marshal Davout.


To:  Marshal Lannes, Augereau, Bernadotte, Murat; Emperor Napoleon
From: Marshal Davout
Time: 1400 19 October

Marshal Lannes believes that the remnants of Ruchel's corps are bottled up by Marshal Augereau; though in that regard the capture of a messenger from Ruchel to those bottled forces is interesting.  (It claims there are Prussian forces to the south.  I rather doubt this is true since we have come through those routes.  Possibly it is an error for forces moving south, which is possible.)

From my vantage point, at the front lines along the western side of Weissenfels, I have just learned that my cannonade has sent the enemy "scurrying into their fascine-lined ditches".  This suggests that the Prussians have prepared this position, and thus that they have had the time to do so, and may be inclined to make a stand.

Second, I am informed that there are two corps in the town.  Potentially, this means that Ruchel's forces are split between the two towns, and we face part of Ruchel plus another corps.  This is a worst-case assumption as it would place another Prussian corps operating out of contact.

I believe that the Prussians appear have learned that they cannot face us in the open field, and therefore have decided to dig in and force a siege.  If they have stopped running, then one way or another we can defeat them.

If they seek to delay us, then I do not know why.  Perhaps our Emperor has a better understanding of the strategic picture - are the Russians moving far faster than anticipated, such that a delay of a few weeks might enable their arrival?

I do not know how well we will perform assaulting their breastworks, but as Bernadotte is preparing to attack from the south I will do likewise once I have two divisions on line, with the aim of taking the rim of the bluffs overlooking the town.

Meanwhile, my bridge is complete and my cavalry will soon begin moving across it.  Given the timing of Lannes' expected arrival at 4pm, I will plan to keep my 3rd division on the south side of the river as a reserve for my attack.  My cavalry will continue as planned to scout forward for Lannes' advance to cut the Prussians off from the north. 

I suggest we also cut them off from retreat to the east.

- Davout

James Sterrett

Orders to Davout's Corps, 1400 19 October

To:  III Corps, Marshal Lannes
From: Davout
Time: 1400 19 October


This is not a skirmish, but one of the decisive battles of this campaign. The Prussians have chosen their ground; we shall make them die on it.

When 2nd Division is on line, we will attack in order to seize the bluffs overlooking Weissenfels.  Local initiative to exploit further success is encouraged.  The enemy is dug in and will probably require some convincing to force his departure.  Extensive bombardment is authorized if it appears it will be effective against their positions.  I welcome tactical suggestions from the division and brigade commanders on ways to make the attack succeed. [Jim: The point there is that I'm trying to attack intelligently without micromanaging and/or forcing you to go into fractal levels of detail.]

3rd Division is now the attack reserve; do not cross the bridge.

Marshal Lannes is expected to arrive at around 4pm and is expected to cross the bridge in order to cut the enemy's northern retreat route.

III Corps Cavalry will continue their current orders - across the bridge and towards the road - in order to prepare the way for Marshal Lannes' rapid advance.  Assist his forces as required until he has secured the northern route.  Expect to return to III Corps' area south of the river once this is complete.

- Davout

James Sterrett


At the head of General Fouchet's division, Marshal Lannes has arrived near enough to Marshal Davout's position near Weissenfels to permit direct communication between the two of you.

Both men would surely see what Marshal Davout already knows, viz.: the III Corps is hotly engaged in a full assault on Weissenfels.

There will be a significant decision point attending the 1600 orders phase.


Marshal Lannes!

We have more than just a whiff of grapeshot this afternoon.

To the best of my knowledge (despite the pricking of my thumbs), the current plan still makes the most sense.  If my current attack utterly fails, my third division should hold the line, and we need to cut the Prussian's line of retreat.  If the Prussians hold my attack, but not catastrophically, then my 3rd division remains in reserve and we need to block the Prussian's line of retreat.  If the Prussians break in front of me, then I shall commit the 3rd division to help harry them - and we will still need to block their line of retreat. 

If you have an alternate line of reasoning, please explain it!

As far as I am aware, Bernadotte is attacking Weissenfels from the south, and I believe further French forces are following him.  I am presuming that they will cut off the enemy's route to Leipzig.

- Davout

Lannes to Davout:
I quite agree, Marshal. I see no cause to change from our current course. I will lead V Corps across at your bridge and move to blockade the town from the north. Let us put a cork in this bottle and seal up the Prussians inside!

James Sterrett

The Battle of Weissenfels -- 1400-1600, 19th October


The battle has begun in earnest.

On the left, the divisions of Morand and Friant have fiercely engaged the Prussians defending the town.  Their sector appears to be defended by a single division, but it is not a small one and appears in reasonably good order.  Your forces were driven back, but not with great loss.

The center has been more difficult, there the smaller divisions of Gudin and Viallannes have squared off against at least two Prussian divisions.  However, the presence of the Emperor was seen in the center and seems to have done much to avert what could have been disaster in an area where you estimate your disadvantage at some 2:1.

To your right, the Prussians seem to have left only to have left a single division, and a disordered one at that, to defend against the troops of Generals Dupont and Klein.  Here they were dealt a bloody nose and the defenders seem far more wary than in the other sectors.

You face a decision:  the bridge over the Saale is built and the men of Viallannes division could readily cross, but this would take them off the line in what must be regarded as a difficult sector.

Your men await your orders for the next battle rounds.


Davout to Lannes:

Marshal Lannes, the bridge is yours - I believe your troops are arriving at it now in any event, there's no point slowing them to get my cavalry across now.

III Corps will prepare for a renewed assault, intending to maintain the pressure on the Prussians so Bernadotte can succeed.  I want to keep a close eye on these enemy divisions, to see if they begin to shift.