Saturday, October 22, 2011

French council of war on Peine battlefield

2000 4 August 1813

By 2000 on 4 August 1813 it was clear to Marshal Davout he had suffered a major defeat at Peine. XIII corps was in rout towards Hanover, and both V and VI corps were reduced to half strength. He was facing a Prussian army of at least double his strength.

He had only agreed to fight Peine because IV corps promised to arrive in time. When they failed to do so he thought that they had been engaged by 4th Prussian corps. In fact they had marched south and taken Brunswick

As night fell Davout called a council with Laurison (V corps) and Marmont (VI corps). He explained the position as follows:


I have just returned from Peine where I have tried, but failed, to stem the headlong retreat of XIII corps. The earliest that General Poniatowski can hope to rally his corps would be tomorrow night in or near Hanover. However if the Prussians pursue then such a rally is most unlikely. We can look for no support from XIII corps.

My last communication from General Reynier was written at 2000 3rd August 1813. He confirmed that IV corps was at Wesendorf and that he intended to bring his corps to join us at Celle. His failure to do so had led me to fear that he has been delayed by 2nd Prussian corps and prevented from joining us. We can look for no support from IV Corps

V and VI corps have only received light casualties during today’s battle. However both have suffered heavy casualties during Second Helmstedt. Together they can field:

1 cavalry brigade

4 infantry brigades

1 artillery brigade

I estimate that Blucher has

2 cavalry brigades

8 infantry brigades

3 artillery brigades

V and VI corps are in a very exposed position, and must retreat during the night to Celle. Despite this they will be capable of fighting again at first light on 5 August 1813.

If the Prussians take Hanover we will have lost our major supply depot. We will then have to organise a new depot of Hamburg. This would require at least two infantry brigades and would take seven days. During that time we would have to accept attrition at the rate of one casualty per day.

We must now decide whether it would be advisable to engage the Prussians at first light, or whether it would be wiser to retreat to Hamburg, recover our casualties and prepare a new main supply base.

We have three options:

First Halt at Celle and fight if attacked

Second Advance from Celle and attack the Prussians at Peine

Third Retreat at daybreak towards Hamburg

I strongly recommend that we halt at Celle and establish communication with IV corps.

I invite your comments and recommendations.


Laurison voted to retire to Celle

Marmont voted to attack Peine at first light

After the meeting Davout issued the following orders:


General Laurison recommended that we retreat to Celle and halt there to rest and reorganize.

Marshal Marmont recommended that we attack Peine. In support of his suggestion Marmont reports that a captured Prussian hussar maintained that a French corps was at Brunswick

Given the lack of contact with General Reynier since he confirmed he was marching to join us at Celle, I find it most unlikely that he has somehow appeared at Brunswick. I suspect that this is much more likely to be a ploy of the wily Blucher to tempt us to hold our position so that he can attack us with his much larger army.

If he is indeed at Brunswick, he will no doubt retreat towards Wesendorf when he hears of our recent defeat.

It is my considered opinion that it would be far too dangerous for us to fight a second day’s battle when we are now outnumbered two to one.

We will retreat to Celle at first light. Hopefully this will force Blucher to move north, and allow XIII corps to halt at Hanover and recover there. Once we are deployed at Celle I will send cavalry patrols towards Wesendorf to locate IV corps.

At first light we will retreat to Celle. As VI corps is nearest to that town they will lead the march. V corps will follow behind. Both corps combined are so reduced in numbers that they can only field one full corps. There will be sufficient space in J5 for them to move together.

I will continue to command both corps during the march, as it is quite possible that Blucher will attack us on the march.


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