Sunday, August 19, 2012

Battle of Smolensk VI - Pursuit

It was in the early hours of August 19 that the French pursuit got under way.  Ney began to drive eastward out of Smolensk, pushing before him Barclay's rear guard, while Murat, after fording the river at a weir near the confluence of the Dnieper and the Stragan Brook, set of down the Moscow road.  Once it became clear that the enemy was heading for Moscow and not St. Petersburg, Napoleon ordered General Junot to take his fresh corps forward as quickly as possible through Prudichevo, over the Niemen and on to Lubino in an attempt to block Barclay's line of retreat.  However, neither the man nor the time was right for the task.  It took Junot all day to find a way over the Dnieper at Prudichevo, and even when his men were safely over he refused to attck despite repeated entreaties of his colleagues and the specific orders of the Emperor.  Meantime, Ney and Murat were engaged in heavy fighting against Generals Eugen (Barclay's rear guard commander) and Tutchkov around the defile of Valutino.  Gallant General Gudin was fatally wounded when he lost both legs during the fierce fighting, but the French proved incapable of driving back the tenacious Russians, while Junot's refusal to attack the Russian flank proved fatal to any hopes of trapping the main enemy army.  All day, Barclay's columns streamed off eastward in the wake of Bagration's formations.  "Junot h let the Russians escape," the Emperor bitterly complained.  "He is losing the campaign for me."  The enemy's escape was not wholly Junot's fault, however.  It is revealing that Napoleon left the front and retired to Smolensk at 5:00 pm to rest; this was no longer the brilliant general of boundless energy of former campaigns.

~ D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, p. 789

1 comment:

Archduke Piccolo said...

I recall a refight of the Smolensk battle in a series in which we used a modified version of Paddy Griffith's Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun. I don't recall now whether I was Davout, or Napoleon. At any rate, it was a sog all day, as the French battered their way over the walls, battered their way through the town, and battered their way across the river, fiercely resisted the while. We worked out afterwards that we would have lost a deal more casualties than the French did on the day, but then, so had the Russians...