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
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.
|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
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.
|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.
|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.|
|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.
|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
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.
|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.
|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.|
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.
|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.
|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.|