Saturday, June 26, 2010

Battle Of Shevardino, 5th September 1812

On September 4th the French army again moved forward. Behind a ravine, near Gridnevo village, a heated fight developed between the Russian rear-guard under the command of Lieutenant-General Konovnitsyn, and the French troops of the King of Naples, Murat, supported by the Viceroy of Italy, Eugene. Night stopped the battle, and Konovnitsyn's troops that had held the field of battle retreated to the Kolotsky Monastery in darkness. It was a very difficult time for these rear-guard forces because they had been a engaged with a very large enemy cavalry force, and Napoleon's main forces had kept them in constant sight, forcing Konovnitsyn to continue fighting while retreating.

Kutuzov needed to either retreat more quickly or he needed to do what he had originally planned, to stop near the Kolotsky Monastery, fortify this position by absorbing the rear-guard of Konovnitsyn into his main force and await Napoleon.

Early in the morning of September 5, after throwing bridges over the stream separating the two armies, Compans' 5th Division rolled forward, supported by 1st and 2nd Reserve Cavalry Corps. They pushed through Fomkino and Doronino in dense columns preceded by a cloud of skirmishers, pushing the Russian pickets in front them.

A French battery unlimbered near Valoueava, on a low ridge where it was supported by seven companies of skirmishers. Those guns fired in support of the advancing infantry, limbering up to move ahead with the column, unlimbering to fire on the Russians time and again until they were finally within cannister range of the Shevardino redoubt itself. After firing for nearly two hours they moved against the village of Doronino and the adjacent woods.

At the same time Poniatowski advanced against Yelnia, driving out the Russian garrison there. Some Russian dragoons charged, driving back the exposed French skirmishers, while a small force of hussars slammed into the French column marching against the Russian guns. The French were driven back.

While the Russian skirmishers were retreating on the Russian right, one of their dragoon regiments attacked and disordered two French columns then also and threw back a French cavalry probe. But the advance of Poniatowski's Poles up the Old Smolensk Road threatened their flank and forced them to withdraw in turn.

Gen. Maj. Lowenstern misread the situation, reporting to Bagration about the valiant and successful defense of the redoubt. When he returned to his command he found the artillery and some of the infantry streaming back toward the main Russian lines. He responded quickly and sent another battery and a brigade of 27th Division forward to support the position. The 27th advanced to pointblank range and engaged the French with musketry.

Two French regiments then moved to attack the left of the Russian 27th. Two other regiments on the right of the French 5th Division were to turn the Russian right. Simultaneously, Morand and Friant moved on the village of Shevardino, but were stopped by a violent Russian fusillade. Four French guns moved up under the cover of the infantry and began to fire cannister into the dense Russian ranks. Shaken by the artillery fire, those Russians crumbled under a bayonet assault. The French swept into the redoubt to find their fire had already killed everyone in it.

What had begun as a small engagement for maneuvering room had rapidly escalated into a general battle between the two armies' wings. Prince Gorchakov sent the 2nd Grenadier Division to relieve the battered 27th Division. The rest of 8th Corps was sent to retake the redoubt,. which they did after a bloody assault. The sole intention of Gorchakov was to hold it long enough to let night fall and end the battle.

The French columns began to close in on the 2nd Grenadier Division from the left. The Russians counterattacked with two cuirassier regiments (Little Russia and Gloukhov). One flank of the cuirassiers was covered with 2 squadrons of Kharkov Dragoons and the other flank with 2 squadrons from Chernigov Dragoons. The French 111th Line Infantry Regiment tried to form square against the charging cavalry. One battalion was destroyed while other battalions became disordered. Louis Gardier of 111th wrote: "... Russian cuirassiers, who claimed to be our allies and indeed looked like the Saxon cuirassiers, appeared. Assuming that they arrived to charge the enemy, we allowed them to pass nearby. But they rallied behind us and charged, killing anyone who came under their sabers." The cuirassiers killed 300 men and captured 3 guns. The disordered 111th Line Regiment was then shattered by a friendly fire from a French battalion standing near the village.

General Friant's infantry division already stood north of Shevardino. Its 2 Spanish battalions of the Régiment Joseph Napoléon marched toward the village when Russian dragoons charged them. The Spaniards formed squares and opened fire. The dragoons fell back. The remaining regiments of Friant's 2nd Infantry Division (15th Light, 33rd Line, 48th Line, and artillery - all French units) were much less molested by the cavalry. Russian cavalry also pressed elsewhere on the field, forcing the French to take defensive measures.

Darkness finally fell, but it did not end the battle. The French began to turn the redoubt's southern flank. By this time the redoubt had been half destroyed by the violence of the assaults. Around 11:00 p.m. Bagration received the order to withdraw his forces. Kutuzov had decided to give up the redoubt and move Bagration eastward, to the Semenovsky ditch to form the left flank of the Russian army. The Semenovsky or "Bagration's" fleches were hastily built but would play a colossal part in the great battle to come.

His rear guard was made up of a cuirassier division and a musketeer battalion. As the Russians withdrew, the French cavalry came forward once again. The Russian rearguard commander ordered infantry to raise their voices and beat their drums as loudly as possible in an effort to exaggerate their numbers in the darkness, while the cuirassiers advanced to meet the French. The engagement was fought in total darkness, and in its confusion the Russians managed to complete their withdrawal. The French had confronted 18,000 Russians with 35,000 of their own men, with both sides losing about 8,000 in the engagement.

Both armies settled into their bivouacs and camp fires soon lit the Russians' positions to the east. But the French sat sullen in the darkness. The late hour of the fight had denied them chance to prepare the few comforts of a field encampment.

Battle Of Shevardino (napoleonistyka)

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