Image: Reconstruction of the battle of Ostroleka 1807.
Eylau Campaign, 214 Years Ago Today
Napoleon Pulls Back
16 February, Monday—Ostrolenka
In the morning, Savary marched across the bridge at Ostrolenka, to stop Essen’s command, the 9th (less Wolkonski) and 10th Divisions, coming down the right bank of the Narew. Before the Russians had a chance to deploy, the division of Honoré-Theodore-Maxime Gazan de la Peyriere drove them back along a narrow road flanked by woods.
In the meanwhile, a brisk artillery fire at Ostrolenka warned Savary that his troops on the left bank were engaged. The Russians moving forward in three columns had been firmly met by Honoré Charles Michel Joseph Reille, commanding the three brigades in Ostrolenka, amongst which were part of Oudinot’s grenadiers. Though he was driven into the town, the flanking artillery fire from across the river had already checked the Russians. Savary now passed the river with the rest of Oudinot’s grenadiers and Louis Gabriel Suchet’s division, the latter called in from the Omulew. Issuing from the town, Savary drew up his troops in two lines. On the left, leaning on the river, the grenadiers and the cavalry; in the center,Suchet; on the right, François Frederic Campana’s brigade (Gazan’s division). In this formation he moved against Wolkonski’s position on the sand hills. Thence he dislodged them with a loss of about 1000 men and 7 guns.
With the repulse of Essen’s offensive, Ostrolenka was now secure, and Savary prepared to enter winter quarters. However, the distance from the magazines in Warsaw was too great for his corps to subsist. At that distance, about eighty miles, fodder for the teams took up more capacity in the wagons than flour.
The wagons bringing supplies to Eylau foundered in melted snow and mud. The Emperor resolved to abandon the forward position where his supply system was stretched almost to its limit. While contemplating a withdrawal across the Vistula, Napoleon trumpeted an official justification.
Eylau, February 16, 1807
We had begun to enjoy a little repose in our winter quarters when the enemy appeared on the Lower Vistula, and attacked I Corps. We broke up, and marched against him. We have pursued him, sword in hand, 80 miles. He has fled to his strongholds, and retired beyond the Pregel. In the battles of Bergfried, Deppen, Hof, and Eylau, we have taken from him 65 pieces of cannon and sixteen standards, besides his loss of more than 40,000 men in killed, wounded, and prisoners. The heroes who, on our side, remain in the bed of honor, have died a glorious death. It is the death of a true soldier. Their relatives will always have a just claim to our care and benevolence.
Having thus defeated all the enterprises of the enemy, we shall return to the Vistula, and resume our winter quarters. Those who may dare to disturb these quarters shall have reason to repent; for, whether beyond the Vistula or on the other side of the Danube, whether in the middle of the winter, or in the beginning of autumn, we shall still be found French soldiers and soldiers of the Grande Armée.
The French reserve parks, baggage, and sick, departed for Osterode. Compans, Augereau’s Chief of Staff, led the remnants of VII Corps, 5,300 men, toward Heilsberg via Guttstadt, preceded by an Avant Garde of two battalions. All outposts along the Frisching River remained in position, to conceal the movement going on behind them.
Napoleon Again Offers Terms
Tsar Alexander sent word requesting clarification on Napoleon’s conditions for an armistice. Napoleon instructed Talleyrand to send a note that he would agree to open negotiations, and proposed Memel as the meeting-place. The hard-working General Henri Gratien Bertrand brought Friedrich Wilhelm terms far more favorable than any suggested since Jena—an offer to restore all but about one-quarter of his dominions. But, he warned, the throne of Prussia was now Napoleon’s to grant or withhold, and he refused the idea of a conference at which England would be represented. The King of Prussia could not overcome the arguments of the Queen and the war party to make the decision for an easy way out of the war. Friedrich Wilhelm despatched Colonel Kleist to negotiate with Napoleon.
—From OSG's Special Study Nr. 3, page 55.