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Russian General of cavalry Levin Bennigsen, ran his tongue along his thin lower lip not wishing to waste any of the warming spirit he had just sipped from his flask. It was 5.30 am on the morning of the 10th June 1807, and although the days became stiflingly hot and oppressive the nights and the early mornings still harbored the cold and damp. Bennigsen made a half turn in the saddle to study the faces of his staff who were drawn up a little way behind him, then drove his spurs into the flanks of his horse and rode towards a mound of freshly turned earth which was being constructed into the form of a field fortification. 

General Graf Benningsen

The Polish countryside gave readily to the spade and the pick; the sandy soil was easily compacted into substantial walls that were capable of absorbing cannon and musket balls. Bennigsen had supervised the construction of a whole line of redoubts and earthworks across the open rolling country just northwest of the little town of Heilsberg on the River Alle, in what was then Prussian territory. The whole position had been prepared in the early spring and was now being strengthened still further as the Russian army arrayed itself to meet the advancing French forces under their Emperor, and supreme warlord, Napoleon Bonaparte.

After the defeat of the Prussians at the twin battles of Jena and Auerstadt on October 14th 1806, Napoleon's hopes for a general peace had still not materialised, although he was master of Berlin, his military objectives were far from being realised. As the shattered remnants of the once proud Prussian army fell back towards the Baltic, in an attempt to join forces with their Russian allies, Napoleon soon became aware that what had began as a swift and brilliant campaign now looked as if it would be drawn-out far longer than he had anticipated.

The French Emperor had no wish to fight a protracted war during the winter of 1806 - 1807, as there was urgent business to attend to in Paris, where as soon as he had left on campaign, the usual outbreaks of plotting and intrigue had taken place. His army was also in need of rest and reorganization, and the great expanse of Poland meant that food would always be in short supply, owing to the scattered nature of villages and towns. Morale was also at a low ebb even after their resounding victories over the Prussians, and the average French soldier did not expect to have to go floundering around in the mud and snow of a Polish winter; however with the Russian determination to continue the war, together with Britain's open hostility towards the French 'Continental System', Napoleon saw no other option than to crush the Russian bear before it could get its claws into Europe.






Copyright 2004  Graham Morris. 
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