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A New Command
Russia and Prussia
The Spring Campaign
Prelude to Disaster
Plan That Never Worked
Master of Pirna
In the tail of his army
Beating drums
Whatever direction
29 August
The Prince
We have no substance
30 Aug - Middlegame
30 Aug - Endgame
Appendix A
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‘leading the advance with drums beating.’

General Count Ostermann – Tolstoy

For his part Württemberg fully understood the urgent need to try and stop Vandamme from blocking the defiles of the Erzgebirge Mountains and cutting off the escape route of the Russian and Prussian columns. He had been reinforced by 6,700 men of Major – General Baron Gregor von Rosen’s Ist Guards Infantry Division, which comprised some of the finest regiments in the Russian army, the Semenovsky, Preobrazhensky, Izmaiovsky and Guard Jäger, accompanied by a company of Guard marines. These troops, together with the overall commander of the entire Guard Corps, General Alesksei Ermolov and his staff, were a much needed addition to Württemberg’s tired and hungry soldiers. The problem was that their arrival coincided with a less welcome newcomer turning up, in the person of General Count Ostermann – Tolstoy, who arrived on the 26th August with orders from the Tsar stating that he was to take command of all allied troops on the right.[1] Ostermann was a strange man. Good looking with an air of the Byronic about him, he took the title of Count Ostermann, plus enormous estates and wealth from an uncle who was childless. He was brave, some said foolhardy, but nevertheless a presence on the battlefield that was well respected by the troops. He participated in almost every major engagement that Russia fought against Napoleon, sometimes going on campaign with his pet white crow and Eastern Imperial eagle. His dashing appearance and steadiness on the battlefield unfortunately did not compensate for his lack of military talent when it came to commanding anything larger than a division, and upon returning to the army in the spring of 1813, after a bout of illness, some noted that he was inclined to become over excited, which, in turn, was attributed to an unbalanced frame of mind. [2]

The first crisis occurred when, on the 27th August, after taking command, Ostermann received orders from Barclay de Tolly stating that if he thought that continuing down the main Teplitz road could be hazardous, then he should abandon it and seek another route of escape across the mountains. Given his mental state and his lack of any real understanding of the military situation, the panic driven Ostermann chose to quit the highway and cut across to join the other allied column marching down the Dippoldiswalde road. As Petre states:

Had these orders been carried out, the result would have been the meeting of 120,000 men on a single bad road from Dippoldiswalde to Bohemia. The resulting confusion would have been almost unimaginable, and by the time the crowd of disordered troops reached the passes leading down to Bohemia, Vandamme would have arrived at their mouths, via Peterswalde, quite unopposed.[3]

Fortunately for the allies, Eugen of Wüttemberg, who was a first cousin to the Tsar, flatly refused to comply with Ostermann’s orders, pointing out the danger and the need to block Vandamme’s route so that the other allied columns could make good their escape. Luckily he was supported in his views by general Ermolov, who was in possession of a good map of the area, which he used to explain to Ostermann the need to stay on the Teplitz highroad. Finally and only after Wüttemberg had promised to take full responsibility for whatever occurred, did the dithering count agree to keep to the road and try to slow down Vandamme’s progress.[4]

As previously stated, Vandamme had done nothing on the 27th August to try and cut the Teplitz highway, this in turn had allowed a great amount of the Russian baggage to get safely away into Bohemia. On the 28th August, believing that Marshal St Cyr was marching to unite with him and join in the chase, and after receiving Napoleon’s missive to “fall upon the prince of Wüttemberg,” Vandamme began to move, fighting off a heavy diversionary attack put in by the Russians around Krieschwitz, and finally advancing to Hellendorf. Here, at 8:30 p.m., he sent a message to Napoleon stating that he had “driven the enemy south with heavy losses and I will attack again at daybreak and march on Teplitz with my entire force unless I receive orders to the contrary.” [5] There is no doubt that Napoleon approved of what was taking place, writing to Murat on the 29th August that, “He is leading the advance with drums beating. They (the enemy) are all Russians. General Vandamme marches on Teplitz with his entire corps.”[6]


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[1] Lieven, Dominic. Russia against Napoleon, page. 403

[2] Lieven, Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 404  Quoting from the memoirs of Colonel von Helldorf and Eugen of Wüttemberg, Lieven states that the army knew of Ostermann – Tolstoy’s mental problems, also Ermolov remarked that at the battle of Kulm Ostermann was more trouble than the French. See Endnotes, page 584

[3] Petre, F.Lorraine, Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany 1813, page. 229

[4] Lieven, Dominic, Russia against Napoleon, page. 404

[5] Gallaher, John. G, Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible, page. 246

[6] Ibid, page. 246


Copyright © 2004  Graham Morris. 
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