Napoleonic Wars: Montmirail Campaign 10-11 February 1814 (Part 3)

On the evening of the 10th Sacken’s advance guard reached La Freté-sous-Jouarre, 20 miles west of Montmirail, to find MacDonald gone and the bridges there and at Trilport destroyed. Late that evening orders came from Blücher summarily recalling him to Montmirail to join Yorck who was to come down the Château-Thierry road from the north to meet him. No doubt much of his corps was strung down the road to the east, but taking into account the appalling conditions of the roads the head of his infantry column could scarcely hope to arrive at Montmirail before the early afternoon of the 11th.

Château-Thierry surrendered to the cantankerous Yorck at about 9 o’clock on the morning of the 10th. He received his orders to abandon his excellent highway and march southwards to Montmirail with the loud-voiced derision with which he was wont to greet any orders for a superior authority. He knew Sacken was some distance to the west and unable to arrive at Montmirail for some time; he shrewdly suspected that Napoleon was already either near or on the Montmirail road. In accordance with his instructions, therefore, he intended to avoid action and take refuge north of the Marne. If he occupied Montmirail he might find himself alone and opposed to Napoleon, a situation few generals contemplated with equanimity. On the other hand , if he could persuade Sacken to swing north by the minor roads form Viels-Maisons, six miles west of Montmirail, he would shorten Sacken’s march by six miles and add the same distance to Napoleon’s.

It cannot be said with certainty how far these considerations influenced Yorck, but he left 5,000 men to hold Château-Thierry and the crossing over the Marne, pushed and advance guard into Viels-Masisons, and bivouacked with the remained of his corps, about 11,000 strong, in the area of Viffort, eight miles north of the junction between the Château-Thierry and Paris roads. Paradoxically, for his army of the three took least part in the battle next day, on that chill winter evening he was closer to Montmirail than either of the other two.

Sacken, an able, thrusting general, arrived at Viels-Maisons probably about midday on the 11th. At this time a considerable portion of his army must still have been marching up. Rain fell steadily out of the dark, heavy sky and the field were mere bogs in which guns and wagons sank up to their axles. At this time he must have received a message from Yorck advising him of his plans. The Prussian advance guard in Viels-Maisons, having contacted Sacken, withdrew to the friendly shelter of Château Rozoy-Bellevalle three and a half miles to the north. Pirch II, with a brigade from Yorck’s corps, occupied Fontenelle on the high ground overlooking the road from the north and about a mile and a half from the road junction. Pirch II expelled some voltigeurs from the village and could confirm that Monmirail was held in strength. The rest of Yorcks troops were well to the north. If both corps were going to pass through Châteu-Thierry, roads were likely to become congested.

Now Sacken faced a problem. He had to move with his baggage and heavy guns to the north knowing the French would attack his right flankas he did so. He had to protect the road while heavy guns and transports filed by. The ground, if unfit for whelled transport, was very open and particularly to the north towards gently sloping hills behind which Fontenelle nestled. Aasouth of the road by the villages of Marchais and Le Tremblay, and south of them a steeply sloping ravine down to the Petit-Morin that nearly ran up to the road itself by Montmirail. The country south of the road was therfore more suitable for infantry while the flat open country north of it was ideal for cavalry. The muddy ground would slow down a charge, but since it could not take heavey artillery, on balance it was probably best suited to cavalry action.

Sacken commanded the Allied VI and XI Infantry Crops-VI having three and the XI two weak divisions-and a cavalry crops under General Wassilshikov; his army numbered about 20,000 men with 90 guns. He directed his VI Corps to hold Marchaise about 1,000 yards south of the road and the XI to hold the road and the farmhouse of Les Grenaux about 300 yards north of it. Wassilshikov with his cavalry was to be deployed to the north of the farmhouse and to keep touch with Pirch in Fontenelle.

Sometime after midday Sacken put his plan into effect. On his right, VI Corps without much difficulty drove Ricard’s division of weary conscripts who had been fighting and marching almost continuously for the last 24 hours, out of Marchais. On the left his XI Corps against negligible opposition took up a position astride the Paris road with its left established in the Les Grenaux Farm. Having firmly blocked the Paris road and with Pirch across the Château-Thierry road at Fontenelle, Sacken felt comfortable enough. He started moving his transports and heavy guns to the north towards Montmirail and the main Château-Thierry road.

SOURCE: Napoleon: The Last Champaign’s 1813-15; BY: James Lawford

Napoleonic War: Montmirail Champaign 1-10 February 1814 (Part 2)



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