October 14, 1806

Prussia is sometimes described as an army with a nation, rather than the other way around, but despite its militarism, after Valmy in 1792, Prussia sat out much of the conflict that followed.  Although the Prussian army had kept up with tactical developments, in the coming conflict its high command would show itself as clearly lacking.

 After Napoleon crowned himself Emperor in 1804 the wars continued, and in 1805 Napoleon smashed a combined Austrian and Russian army at Austerlitz, bringing much of Europe under the domination of France.  Napoleon's reorganization of the German states into the Confederation of the Rhine rankled Prussia as well as Britain, whose monarch had also been elector of Hanover.  Prussia coveted Hanover, but France wanted it as a bargaining chip with Britain.  A coalition was formed to fight Napoleon, the fourth such combination of powers.  Prussia was joined by Britain, Russia, Sweden, and Saxony - with Saxony strong-armed into the alliance by Prussia.

Napoleon's supply base at Mainz (or Mayence) suggested a French attack from that direction.  In truth, Napoleon's supply system was flexible, and he could supply himself from several points while his army for the most part lived off the land.  So Napoleon's Mainz base lured the Prussians into sending part of their forces west in an attempt to cut the French lines of communication.

The Prussians planned an advance into Germany, but Napoleon predictably beat them to the punch and gained the initiative.  Napoleon's army advanced through the Thuringian Forest, a risky proposition as the rugged area was easily defensible if occupied by the enemy.  Emerging from the forest with his corps in a diamond formation, the army could improvise and easily react to the enemy in any direction.  Lack of good intelligence on Napoleon's part was not a major constraint due to the flexibility of his battalion carre formation and the organization of the army into all arms corps.  After pushing back a Prussian force at Saalfeld, Napoleon continued forward, but he remained unaware of the exact location of the Prussian army, suspecting that it may be at Gera.

Becoming aware that the enemy was to his west, Napoleon ordered his army across the River Saal at two points, Jena to the south where the majority of the army would concentrate against the Prussian army, and at Kosen near Naumburg to the north where Davout's III Corps would move to cut off the Prussia retreat.

As Napoleon's advance had been headed in the direction of Dresden, the capital of Saxony, then to Berlin, the Prussian and Saxon force was withdrawing in that direction with only a rear guard at Jena.  So while Napoleon would engage only a portion of the Prussian army under Hohenlohe at Jena, further north Davout would fight the majority of the enemy army alone, vastly outnumbered with a river to his back, near Auerstadt.  Meanwhile Bernadotte's I Corps was in limbo between his corps and Napoleon's army, participating in neither battle. It was not an ideal situation for Napoleon.  He had ignored intelligence that he was facing a rear guard, but as it turned out, the superiority and flexibility of his system proved more important. 

A) Cospeda Grund

The the fight at Saalfeld, Napoleon had two Corps, those of Lannes and Augereau, already west of the Saale.  On the night and morning of October 13-14, he concentrated his army at Jena, climbing to the Landgrafberg, then making his headquarters on what became known as the Napoleonstein.  Some of his artillery got stuck ascending the Cospeda Grund, the chokepoint the army was passing through, and the officers then decided that it was time to eat.  Napoleon pitched in, using his skills as an artillery officer to clear up the jam and get the guns to the summit.  

B) Napoleonstein

By the morning of October 14th, Lannes 20,500 man V Corps was concentrated beyond the Windknollen, where a windmill stood.  On the hill itself was the artillery, and near here at the Napoleonstein were the 5,000 men of the Imperial Guard.

Napoleon's understanding of the situation was flawed.  He believed that he faced up to 100,000 Prussians.  While it was true that roughly that number of men were within marching distance, the main Prussian army under Brunswick, around 63,000 men, was withdrawing north.  This left Hohenlohe's 35,000 men to cover the retreat.

Of these 35,000 men, Napoleon faced only the 8,000 man division under Tauentzien directly to his front.  Another force of 13,000 Prussians under Ruchel was within marching distance at nearby Wiemar.

In addition to Lannes' V Corps, Napoleon had another corps, Augereau's VII, across the Salle and to the south.  Soult's IV Corps and Ney's VI Corps were beginning to arrive at Jena. 

C) St. Hilaire of Soult's Corps
Although the night was clear, a morning fog restricted visibility.  In such a cramped space, Napoleon was in an unfavorable situation.  A Prussian attack, if successful, had the potential to destroy his force.  So early that morning, around 6am, Napoleon ordered Lannes to attack.  Suchet's division attacked on the right, with the brigades of Claparede, Reille, and Vedel advancing one after the other.  Claparede's brigade included an elite battalion composed of elite companies taken from their respective regiments.  Tauentzien's division, which had been near the summit of the Dornberg, advanced downhill and took position between the villages of Lutzeroda and Closewitz.  Suchet's advance opened up room for Gazan's division to attack on the left.

As Lannes' V Corps was attacking the bottleneck between Lutzeroda and Closewitz, St. Hilaire's division of Soult's IV Corps was advancing on their right through a wooded and hilly area to attack the flank of the Prussian division, protected by a handful of companies in advance of the main line.  Before St Hilaire entered the battle, however, Tauentzien's division had already been pushed back.

D) Dornberg

The 17th Legere, or Light Infantry, attacked through the open ground, or saddle, near here.  To their right, the elite battalion attacked Closewitz itself through the woods.  

E) Cospeda

After Suchet's attack developed on the right side of the panorama, Gazan's division started their attack from Cospeda itself, descending a slight valley and capturing a small wood to the front of Lutzeroda.

F) Dornberg

Tauentzien's right faced a valley with the Ziskauer Thal flowing along the bottom.  After the battle had developed on the east side of the Dornberg, Gazan's division attacked across this valley with the 21st Line in front.  The 21st's attack was on on the left side of the road here approaching the Dornberg on the far left of the panorama.  On the right side of the panorama, on the other side of the road, Tauentzien's line was composed of artillery and cavalry.

G) Dornberg

This road between Lutzeroda and Closewitz along the side of the Dornberg did not exist during the war.  Tauentzien's line was roughly parallel to this road a little further down the slope toward the Windknollen.  The Prussian line of roughly 8,000 men was 1,300 meters long.  Only a single regiment was in reserve, and when one of the front line regiments needed rest and resupply, the reserve regiment was rotated into the line.  After a long fight, the Prussians began to wear down, and Tauentzien ordered a retreat.  The right of  Tauentzien's division fell back to Isserstedt Woods while the left fell back to a windmill north of Krippendorf.

At Hohenlohe's headquarters at Kappellendorf Castle, the noise of battle had been heard, but no orders were given to the troops nearby to march to the sound of the guns.  Nevertheless, a Saxon division commander marched his men to Isserstedt, and later, just before 8am, Grawert ordered his division forward along with some cavalry and other troops.  Hohenlohe countermanded the orders until a personal appeal by Grawert changed his mind.

11 am

The map above represents 11am.  By then, Tauentzien's retreat allowed Napoleon to break out into open country.  A Prussian force under Holtzendorf fell back from the town of Dornburg, opening up the Saale to an unopposed crossing by Bernadotte.  Bernadotte's 20,000 men nevertheless arrived too late to be a factor in the battle.  Holtzendorf was unable to seal off Napoleon's breakout as he was intercepted by St. Hilaire's division and was pushed away from the main Prussian force.  Augereau's VII Corps was arriving on Napoleon's left opposite Isserstedt.  Ney's VI Corps had crossed the Saale and was nearing Jena, but Ney himself had gone ahead with his advance guard and was arriving on the field between Lannes and Augereau.  Lannes' V Corps had crossed the Dornberg and pursued Tauentzien until it ran into Prussian cavalry, then Grawert's division which had arrived at Vierzehnheligen.  Now, we go back to just after 10am to see the fighting near there.

H)Vierzehnheiligen From the East

Claparede with the elite battalion and the 34th advanced from Krippendorf to the windmill north of the village, capturing some guns then forming square and holding their ground.  Claparede's other regiments attacked Vierzehnheiligen from Krippendorf but were repulsed, then counterattacked by Tauentzien and Gettkandt's Hussars.  Having suffered through the fight so far, Tauentzien's division then withdrew to Kleinromstedt to rest and resupply as Hohenlohe's cavalry arrived.  This left Vierzehnheiligen unoccupied.

Napoleon ordered a grand battery formed to the left of V Corps, and the Imperial Guard arrived and took position to the rear of the guns.  Hearing St. Hilaire battle to his rear, Napoleon sent Vedel's brigade to assist.  Vedel's position on the left of V Corps was taken by Desjardin's Division of Augereau's VII Corps.

I) Vierzehnheiligen From the South

The impetuous Ney had rushed ahead of his main body with his cavalry and advance guard.  Along the road between the evergreen tree plantation and Vierzehnheiligen was a Prussian battery.  Hidden by the ground behind Steinwehr's artillery were250 cavalry of Holtzendorf .  The French 10th Chasseurs positioned somewhere between here and Altenburg Woods (no longer in existence) charged the battery, carrying off its caissons and defeating the 250 troopers protecting it.  More Prussian cavalry entered the fray, pushing the French cavalry back and even getting in range of the French grand battery before falling back.  

Soon afterward, French infantry occupied the Altenburg Woods, but Prussian infantry pushed them back.  Grawert's infantry formed line from the crest of the hill between the tree plantation and Vierzehnheiligen extending in the direction of Isserstedt.

10 am

J) From South of Krippendorf Windmill

Ney also sent troops into unoccupied Vierzehnheiligen where troops from Lannes' V Corps joined them.  Fire from these infantrymen caused the Prussian cavalry around the village to retire and be replaced by infantry from Grawert's division.  These Prussian infantry were along the lane in the photos above but closer to Vierzehnheiligen.  The Prussian cavalry extended the line along the slope at right.  The French 1/34th still occupied the windmill.

The Prussian infantry in front of Vierzehnheiligen engaged in a prolonged and one sided firefight with the French light infantry in the fields and the French infantry in the village.  Prussian artillery caught the village on fire.

Trying to break the impasse, Lannes ordered two regiments to attack the flank of Grawert's line.  The Prussians counterattacked with their cavalry and even shifting additional cavalry to this area.  The French attack was repulsed.  But with this shifting of enemy cavalry and the obvious fatigue of the Prussian infantry convinced Napoleon that the time was right to launch a full scale attack.

K) 1 pm - North of Isserstedt

On the left of Napoleon's line the 7th Chasseurs attacked.  French infantry also joined the attack, and soon the whole Prussian line was falling back.

L) From Tree Plantation Toward Isserstedt

Grawert's line extended through this field nearly extending to the west side of Isserstedt.  As the line collapsed, the Prussians fell back through or around the tree plantation and established another line on the reverse slope of the ridge.

M) From Tree Plantation

The previous panorama looking toward Isserstedt was from other side of the street on the extreme left of this panorama.  

The Prussian infantry, deployed in the field to the right of the road to Vierzehnheiligen facing Isserstedt Woods, also fell back through the tree plantation to the reverse slope of the ridge.

N) St. Hilaire Attacks Prussian Left

Meanwhile north of the Krippendorf windmill St. Hilaire's division was getting into action, advancing through the fields on the extreme left of the panorama as well as the right side - on the opposite side of the road.  The left flank of the Prussian line - less than fresh cavalry - was in the field in the left-center of the photo - stretching toward Vierzehnheiligen over the crest.  Outflanked, the Prussians fell back to Kleinromstedt.

O) Ridge South of Isserstedt

With the Prussian withdrawal, Desjardin's Division of Augereau's VII Corps moved through Isserstedt and faced south where Prussian troops were deployed on the ridge facing them.  The panorama above is from that ridge somewhere near the Prussian line.

The French attack on this position was primarily across the road to Grosschwabhausen in an area recently developed as a shopping center.

Elsewhere, beyond the tree plantation on the reverse slope, the main Prussian line was reorganizing to make a stand.

P) Kleinromstedt

The left-center  of the new Prussian line was near here at the southern end of Kleinromstedt.  North of here, Soult's IV Corps applied pressure.  South of Kleinromstedt, Lannes' V Corps fronted by a grand battery put the Prussians to flight.  In the panorama above, this was in the obscured area on the far right.

Murat launched his cavalry into the center of the Prussian line, putting infantry squares to flight.

At Jena, victory would be total.  While Napoleon lost about 7,500 men at Jena compared to around 20,000 total Prussian casualties.  More importantly, the outnumbered Prussian army was put to flight - pushed to the west, away from Dresden and Berlin while Davout's victory at Auerstadt cut off retreat to the north, and a ruthless pursuit completed the victories, a pursuit made possible by the all arms corps.  Fortresses surrendered with little prompting.  Although the war continued into 1807 and extended into what is now Poland and Belarus, Prussia was destroyed and rendered a client state.

Prussia was even forced to participate in Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia.  Only the failure of the 1812 invasion allowed Prussia to fight Napoleon in a war of liberation.  After battles at Lutzen, Bautzen, Leipzig, and many others, the French were finally ejected from Germany, and France itself was invaded until Napoleon abdicated in 1814 and again in 1815 after Waterloo.  In 1806, though, Prussia's situation looked bleak.  

Noted philosopher Hegel was in Jena during the battle, writing his chief work.  Hegel believed that the individual was less important than the state - that the state should be worshiped.  He interpreted the battle of Jena as the "end of history" and the end of his dream of a "universal homogeneous state".  Hegel, therefore, is often seen as tending toward the totalitarian.  Oddly enough, Hegel's "end", a temporary one, was accomplished by Napoleon, a liberal dictator sometimes described as a prototypical fascist!   

Prussia's decisive defeat in 1806 was caused by several issues.  The Prussian supply system was a constraint; while Napoleon's supply system worked with only 300 vehicles, the Prussian system had thousands.  Combined arms tactics were poor, and the light infantry often fought on its own rather than support the line.  Artillery was too heavy and poorly organized.  All arms divisions did exist, but the army did not understand their potential, all the while Napoleon had mastered the all arms corps.  Staffs were too small, slow, and inefficient, and the command system was too rigid.  Peacetime training had been pedantic rather than realisitc and stifled initiative and flexibility.  An overly centralized command was also a problem with detail oriented commanders trying to micro-manage.  As part of the Prussian army's reforms, a more decentralized command system called 'mission tactics' was adopted, and an efficient general staff was developed.  Frederick the Great had urged his subordinates to make important decisions themselves.  Now, the Prussian army returned to this philosophy, and the system would be used with great success by Moltke in the 19th century and by the German Army in the 20th century.  Today, the US Army is also making efforts to emulate this system, to create an army that can adapt and change.

Copyright 2012-13 by John Hamill

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