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Bernadotte at Dornburg

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Bernadotte at Dornburg

Postby Skarpskytten » November 30th, 2017, 2:16 pm

For Marshal Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, October 14, 1806 was just an ordinary day at work. He had Napoleon's orders to march with his corps to Dornburg, and that was what did. The same day two battles took place not far away, one near Jena and one at Auerstedt. In this double battle, the Grande Armée destroyed the Prussian army and settled a war that had started only days before. Bernadotte's soldiers did not participate in either battle. Over the years, Bernadotte has been getting shot again and again for this sin against Mars; he has been accused of being a dawdler or a coward, even a traitor who should have been shot out of hand for disobeying his orders.

The charges are unfounded. They come from the emperor himself, who used Bernadotte to cover up his own mistakes. According to Napoleon's plans, the war would be won at Weimar on October 16th. Instead, he himself had defeated only a part of the Prussian army at Jena, while Marshal Davout's unsupported corps had defetead the enemy's main army at Auerstedt despite a substantial numerical inferiorty. To cap it all the battles were fought two days too early. The emperor had completely misjudged the enemy's dispositions, Davout's corps should have been destroyed. Now, the empreror must to save his ego and his reputation of military infallibility. Bernadotte's army at Dornburg was not only a 20000 man strong proof of the scale of the emperors misjudgment - it also made the Marshal to an obvious scapegoat.

Napoleon thus invented an "exact order" to Bernadotte to be in Dornburg on October 13, one that Bernadotte had allegedly not followed. The emperor also claimed that the marshal had had orders to march along with Davout on the 14th, which consequently should not have had to fight the battle at Auerstedt alone. But instead Bernadotte made an "incorrect march" according to his master. In his St Helena writings, the emperor silently droped the first part of his case against Bernadotte and placed all his money on the treachery against Davout.

A look in the order records from those days shows something else. On October 13, Bernadotte had the task of taking his corps "in the direction of Dornburg". That was what he did - until he was reached by an imperial order to hold while the situation got clearer. In a new order for the 14th, Bernadotte was allowed to march with Davout, but also also told that Napoleon "hoped" that he intended to bring his corps to Dornburg. The proposal to march with Davout would require a time-consuming counter march. Bernadotte chose to follow the emperor's expressed "hope" (i.e. order) and at ten o'clock on the 14th of October his corps was in Dornburg. The emperor really did not have much to complain about.

Napoleon is one of history's alleged great men, and much was great in him: his hunger for power, his ruthlessness, his narcissism. He was also a masterly liar and a great forger of history. Yet many a historian have swallowed his lies over the years; and still it is part of the historian's job description to look through such smoke screens. That Napoleon's pen is false should not surprise anyone. As for Bernadotte, there is no lack of evidence for him being a mediocre general, but the events of 13 and 14 October 1806 are not one of them.

---

This is a translation and slight revision of a text by me first published in the swedish magazine "Militär historia".

It is based on an article by John Cook (http://www.napoleon-series.org/military ... _bern.html) and the second part of the Bernadotte biography by Torvald T:son Höjer (in swedish).
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Re: Bernadotte at Dornburg

Postby Josh&Historyland » November 30th, 2017, 4:59 pm

What I've read of the incident in English has been in Cronin and Chandler, there's not very much mention in Barnett, who lays the blame on Napoleon. And as the article suggests opinions are divided. Critics say he should have marched to the sound of the guns. Defenders say he had to follow orders & in the long run did more to help destroy the Prussian army by keeping back than by engaging, though this was lucky rather than skilful. His talent truly shined away from the battlefield it seems.
It's the old Grouchy 1815 conversation only this is related to a victory. Bernadotte in my estimation was not a traitor, nor a bad soldier for this action. Though had Davout been beaten that might be different, war is as much about luck as anything else. Napoleon gave him a set of orders and didn't countermand them. By acting on his initiative Bernadotte risked putting his troops into a position Napoleon didn't want them in, the Emperor was famously unpredictable about things like initiative and the lack of it.
It seems like a rock and a hard place scenario to me. Napoleon seeming to choose to be angry that Bernadotte didn't march to the sound of the guns.
The parallels between these battles and those of 1815 are interesting. Napoleon said of Ney at Waterloo that he had compromised him as his did at Jena, and Bernadotte essentially cast in Grouchy's role of choosing wether to disobay Imperial orders or follow them.

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Re: Bernadotte at Dornburg

Postby Senarmont198 » December 1st, 2017, 6:58 pm

Josh,

Barnett blames Napoleon for everything. There are myriad errors in fact in Barnett. It is not a reliable source for the period in general and Napoleon in particular.
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Re: Bernadotte at Dornburg

Postby Senarmont198 » December 1st, 2017, 7:06 pm

Regarding Bernadotte's conduct on 14 October 1806:
For a soldier, it is inexcusable. Bernadotte willfully abandoned a comrade in the face of the enemy and did nothing to contribute to the next day's actions.

The intent of the order Bernadotte received early on 14 October, as well as the spirit in which it was written is perfectly clear. If Bernadotte was not in Dornburg as ordered, he was to march with Davout. Bernadotte clearly failed in his mission to get to Dornburg and then disobeyed orders by not marching with Davout.

And Bernadotte was already supposed to be in Dornburg by the 13th, not Naumburg. So, again, with the situation changed, and Bernadotte's assigned objective not reached, Bernadotte should have marched and fought with Davout.

Perhaps the following will be helpful. I have found it so.

The following is from Napoleon’s Apogee: Pascal Bressonet’s Tactical Studies 1806-Saalfeld, Jena, and Auerstadt, Translated and Annotated by Scott Bowden, 122-124:

‘On 13 October, while in Naumburg, Murat and Bernadotte received at four o’clock and at six o’clock in the evening, respectively, the first of the Emperor’s orders, and had decided to being marching towards Dornburg, when the arrival of the message for marechal Davout, written at three o’clock in the afternoon, halted the 1st Corps’ movements. Bernadotte wrote to the Major General (Berthier) the following letter:

Naumburg, 13 October 1806, eight o’clock in the evening:

‘Marechal Davout has given me at this minute, Monsieur le duc, your letter of today, brought by M. [lieutenant] de Perigord, your aide-de-camp; according to its content, I have though it necessary to stop the movement for which I accounted in my previous letter, dated of this evening at six o’clock, since you ordered marechal Davout to maneuver to the enemy’s left only if marechal Lannes was attacked this evening near Jena, and you added that if the attack did not occur, he will receive the Emperor’s instructions for the next day. Since I believe that these measures will be inclusive of all [the corps], I stopped my troops where they were, and I wait for new orders. I am still with my entire corps around Naumburg. I am ready to execute the movements that the Emperor orders.’

As for Murat, having received at four o’clock the two messages that had been sent to him at seven and nine o’clock in the morning, he did not hesitate to go to Dornburg; not having been affected by the message which stopped Bernadotte, Murat reached Dornburg fairly late and personally went to Jena during the night.

The night of the 13th to the 14th was spent in Naumburg by marechaux Davout and Bernadotte, who were waiting for the Emperor’s orders. These orders are not recorded in the registry [also known as the Journal] of the Major General. We know them only through what is said in the Journal des operations du 3e corps, which is quoted here:

‘Early on the 14th, marechal Davout called his divisional generaux and other officers to Naumburg in order to give them their orders, pursuant to those that had been received from the Emperor during the night. The orders from Napoleon arrived at three o’clock in the morning; they were dated the 13th, written at ten o’clock in the evening and dispatched from Imperial Headquarters on hills overlooking Jena. The Emperor, who had scouted a Prussian army that stretched over one league in front of and on Jena’s hills up to Weimar, had planned to attack the next day. He therefore ordered marechal Davout to move towards Apolda, so that his corps could fall upon the rear of that army. He left the choice of the road up to the marechal, as long as he took part in the battle. His Serene Highness the Major General [Berthier] added: ‘If marechal Bernadotte (Prince of Ponte Corvo) is with you, you can march together, but the Emperor hopes that Bernadotte will already be in his assigned position at Dornburg.’

‘Marechal Davout distributed the orders to all his generals, who left immediately to carry them out; then Davout went to see Beradotte, commander of the 1st Corps, who had indeed arrived in Naumburg during the night. The Marechal gave him written notice [emphasis added] of the orders he had just received from His Majesty, and asked him to declare what he was going to do. Bernadotte told Davout that he would not move towards Apolda with the 3d Corps, but would instead march for Kamburg [and from there, on to Dornburg}.’

Both marechaux had therefore received the order to go to Apolda, sur les derrieres de l’ennemi (against the rear of the enemy, emphasis in the original), marching together in case Bernadotte was still in Naumburg. Bernadotte had not received any other order, otherwise he would have mentioned it in his explanatory letters to the Major General, dated 14 October from Apolda, and dated 21 October from Bernberg. ‘It was only at four o’clock in the morning’, he wrote in the letter, ‘that I received your letter to marechal Davout which said that the Emperor really wanted me to be in Dornburg.’ Berthier’s letter to marechal Davout was very clear: ‘If marechal Bernadotte is with you, you can march together, but the Emperor hopes that he will be at his assigned position in Dornburg.’

For anyone obeying the spirit of military matters, it is clear what the quote means: that on 13 October, at ten o’clock in the evening, in Jena, Napoleon preferred Bernadotte to be in Dornburg during the night, as to have him in position in order to cooperate with the action which should allow the army to come onto the plain. The intervention, on the morning of 14 October, of the 1st Corps coming from Dornburg against the flank and rear of the Prussian defenses in Closewitz and Lutzeroda would have really simplified taking over these places, ensured the Emperor of their possession, and guaranteed the army’s deployment, with a minimum of time and effort.

But it is clear that if, at the time that Davout’s order to march to Apolda arrived, Bernadotte was still in Naumburg, he could not have arrived in time to join in the first fighting. In such a case, it would be preferable that the 1st Corps join with the 3d Corps, and that both combine their march through Apolda against the rear of the Prussian army, which would already be engaged with the Emperor’s forces concentrated in Jena.

Did Bernadotte not understand, or did he not want to understand this reasoning? It is not for us to judge. It would seem however that his desire to leave his colleague had supplanted everything else for him. So, during the entire day of 14 October, like what happened with [Drouet] d’Erlon at Ligny, Bernadotte remained useless between two battles; but, contrary to Drouet d’Eron, Bernadotte’s inactivity was due to suspicious motives.’

The following is some of what happened in the area before the actions of the 14th by both Davout and Bernadotte:
As for contact with the Prussians on the afternoon of the 13th, Davout wrote in his Journal of Operations: ‘By this Prussian movement it was easy to conclude that a large body of troops was moving towards Freiburg or Kosen. In any case, it was important to secure Kosen’s gorge.’-Bressonet, 247.

‘By five-thirty [13 October], Davout observed Prussian forward posts settle in front of him. Knowing from reports and scouts that the enemy had concentrated his forces near Eckartsberga, he logically came to the conclusion, seeing the line of Prussian vedettes, that these forces were stationed there. Therefore, almost certainly, the enemy would not try an attack against Kosen that evening. It was sufficient to post a detachment large enough to keep the bridge from a possible enemy party.’-Bressonet, 247.

‘Bernadotte, entrusted with supporting Murat, had reached Meineweh on 12 October. On 13 October, knowing that the enemy was still in Erfurt as confirmed by Murat and by all the reports received, Bernadotte began conforming to orders given for such a case, that being to march to Naumburg, where the 1st Corps settled next to marechal Davout’s corps.
When Murat received the Emperor’s order, dated at none o’clock in the morning from Gera, to ‘go as soon as possible with Bernadotte’s corps to Dornburg,’ the two commanders in question got together, and at six o’clock in the evening Bernadotte told the Major General of the decisions taken:

‘We have decided,’ he wrote, ‘to leave immediately for Kamburg and Dornburg. Despite the troops’ exhaustion, and even though they have not had their soup yet, I will be marching within the next 30 minutes and I will be in Kamburg before midnight; I will have the troops rest a while, and tomorrow morning before dawn, I will be in Dornburg…’

The 1st Corps indeed resumed its march, with marechal Bernadotte had not yet left Naumburg when Davout received the message from the Major General, dated from three o’clock, giving the night’s orders. As soon as he received this message, Bernadotte stopped the movement of his army corps.’-Bressonet, 248-249.

Bernadotte did not obey his orders from Napoleon and Berthier and essentially abandoned Davout in the face of the enemy. And Bernadotte failed to go into action at all against the Prussians on 14 October.
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Re: Bernadotte at Dornburg

Postby Josh&Historyland » December 2nd, 2017, 12:24 am

Sen,

I'm aware you don't like Barnett's work, but rest assured I didn't base my words on his take, there wasn't enough to base anything on. My compliments on bringing so much first hand material, as I cannot do likewise, I will confine myself to commenting on what you have written.

A few things nevertheless, because although your reply is indeed thorough, there are wiser heads than I who give Bernadotte the benefit of the doubt as such I wish to investigate this. Though I'd not rule out some manner of intrigue, I don't think the Prussian campaign was a particularly good time for Bernadotte to twist a knife.

There is a comparison with Murat's audacious initiative, this is unfair as Murat was prone to doing this, and Bernadotte was not. Good management surely indicates that no General shares the same intention.

First, the orders speak of reaching an objective and then if not having reaching it, marching with Davout. The first quote shows why Bernadotte had not reached his prime marching objective, events and taken a course that Bernadotte halted short to await further orders (not from Davout though). I'd like to know if the deadline you say he was supposed to arrive at Dornburg by was ever put in writing? Was the situation really changed? You argue yes, and specifically we can see Napoleon hoped Bernadotte would be in position by the time Davout met him, but the road to Dornburg was still free, thus his initial instructions were still possible. He had wrongly second guessed the situation at headquarters but not failed (yet) to achieve anything and so moved to put it right.

Napoleon's and Berthier's first orders regarding the March in Dornburg intend him to march there but if he cannot reach it, I read this to mean is prevented by enemy action or presence, then he is to march with Davout. This is somewhat ambiguous to me. For it doesn't order Bernadotte to take orders from Davout, nor to fight with him in preference to occupying Dornburg, which again was still available to be marched on from what I can seen. This is borne out by Bernadotte's reaction to Davout's orders from Berthier, and he resumed his march from Naumberg. This was obviously the spirit of the orders which Bernadotte interpreted. Stress is given to his reaching Dornburg as his principle objective. He had yet to fail to achieve it at any moment and thus continued, I think it could be argued, to interpret his orders as such.

You speak allot about the "spirit" of the orders, and so there must be more than one way of looking at it. This is a common subject but note, it is only common where the orders are vague. If there is a spirit to read, if there is something to be read between the lines then the orders are surely flawed.
Given that I believe Jena, and certainly Davout's fight was not particularly expected, Headquarters didn't see the need to stress what should happen to the Dornburg intention if there was a fight. Note the stress is on manoeuvre rather than combat.
Should Bernadotte be censured for not marching to the sound of the guns, or heeding messages from Davout? Yes probably, but should that criticism be upheld? I can't say. Many generals have had to make that call, famously, as I said before, Grouchy and he chose to interpret the spirit of his orders in a different way to both his senior generals and the judgement of history.

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Re: Bernadotte at Dornburg

Postby Senarmont198 » December 2nd, 2017, 7:39 pm

I think the bottom line on this subject is that Bernadotte's corps was not engaged at all on the 14th, and that is the critical factor as to whether or not he was wrong to move towards Dornburg and not stay and support Davout-which he could have done.

It is also interesting to note, that of the 96,000 troops available to Napoleon at Jena, only about 58,000 were engaged. However, the others were there and available-Bernadotte was not.
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Re: Bernadotte at Dornburg

Postby Josh&Historyland » December 3rd, 2017, 5:44 pm

And indeed does it matter? Given victory was won, and his corps was therefore, due to its inactivity able to make itself useful the following day. What makes the incident important is how it made enemies of Bernadotte and Davout, and put yet more distance between the former and Napoleon.
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Re: Bernadotte at Dornburg

Postby Senarmont198 » December 4th, 2017, 12:21 am

I believe it is always important to support your comrades and fellow commanders. Bernadotte failed to do this, and to my mind it was done on purpose. He disobeyed orders and failed in his mission.
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Re: Bernadotte at Dornburg

Postby DaveH » December 6th, 2017, 8:51 pm

Anyone, who is interested in this, should read an article written by John Cook in First Empire mag - but he wrote an initial version here http://www.napoleon-series.org/military/battles/1806/c_bern.html and takes particular aim at Elting's claims of treachery, which Cook describes as "absurd".

At its roots, we are once again getting back into Napoleonic propaganda and the complete distortion of Napoleon's command system by authors, who seek to pretend that Napoleon somehow devised the origins of the Prussian corps/Auftragstaktik system, used by modern armies ever since. It is pretended (and hence Kevin's reference to the "spirit" of the orders) that corps commanders were given operational objectives with a great deal of room for personal initiative. That feeds into "ought" to have marched to guns for Bernadotte and Grouchy when Desaix allegedly did at Marengo - in fact he didn't and only queried his orders as he knew about Napoleon's expectations in 1800. Ask one of those simple questions: When did any commander "march to guns" and you will soon discover the myth.

Corps commanders them selves did not know the underlying operational concept - they were just given orders to march to somewhere. Then, 1806 is the first campaign, where Napoleon suffered a key failure of intelligence - his spies had brought key info in Italy and now it seems just before Austerlitz. In contrast, the divisions in the Prussian command realistically made it impossible for any spy to get the key info correct, although it also appears that the spy who comes back to ney's position and i sent back to N's HQ (Elting writes a very nice vignette about this) may have deliberately passed on false information. Anyway, the upshot was that Napoleon fixed on the idea that the whole Prussia army was in one position, which he could assault from in from in front with Bernadotte wheeling in from the inside right and Davout from the outside right to strike the Prussian left. Napoleon's men struck the Prussians earlier than expected at Jena, while Davout ran into a large Prussian force at Auerstadt. To have admitted this would have removed the aura of infallibility around Napoleon and so, he blamed Bernadotte (who was also blamed for Eylau being inconclusive, although as Chandler notes, the supposed messenger sent to Bernadotte was "conveniently dead"). I don't blame Napoleon - his political position was so precarious that someone had to be blamed. What of Bernadotte - John answers the point far better than I, but in short, he had no "scope for initiative" and even if he did, which guns should he marched to - Napoleon's or Davout's?
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Re: Bernadotte at Dornburg

Postby Josh&Historyland » December 7th, 2017, 12:51 am

Yes, that's a very sensible post and link, Dave, it throws some more light on the subject and offers a robust defence in the name of fairness. To my mind the arguments for the defence make much more military sense than the incompetence and Treachery arguments. I'm always mindful of the time it takes to move large numbers of troops, and I found those elements compelling. I do tend to agree that treachery wasn't the motivation, it can't have been. Bernadotte was far too intelligent to choose such a ham fisted moment and indeed method. Not least is the fact, borne out by the article, that there just wasn't enough information on the actions he was supposedly avoiding for him to act.

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