Supplementary Appendix: The Flight of Generals Blücher and Hohenlohe, autumn 1806

The Flight of Generals Blücher and Hohenlohe, autumn 1806 [*]


While these scenes were acted at Berlin [Napoleon had entered Berlin on 27 October 1806], the wreck of the Prussian army, collected at Magdeburg under Prince Hohenlohe, was making an unsuccessful attempt to gain the banks of the Oder. With a force of near 40,000 men, but disheartened and dispirited, including the whole of the Prussian guards who had escaped from the battle of Auerstadt, that general set out from Magdeburg for Stettin, after sending forward detachments of cavalry, to destroy the bridges over which the French must pass to intercept his march.

He proceeded without interruption to Zehdenick, on the river Hevel. But, at that place, the advanced guard of his army, consisting of 6,000 cavalry, was attacked by the Grand Duke of Berg, and Generals Lasalle and Grouchy, with a body of light cavalry and dragoons, A hot action ensued, in which the Prussians were worsted, with the loss of 300 killed and 700 wounded.

After this affair, the French generals, who had no infantry to support them, pushed forward to Templin, which lay in the line of the Prince of Hohenlohe’s march, in order to stop his progress till their infantry under Marshal Lannes should come up. But the Prussian general, by making a detour through Furstenberg, avoided Templin, and reached Boitzenberg, without having been again compelled to fight. Near Boitzenberg another action ensued, in which 500 of the Prussian gensdarmerie were made prisoners.

[(Karte des deutschen Reichs, ed. C. Vogel [Gotha 1907], no. 8:]


A second detour by Schoenermark became necessary in order to reach Prenzlau, where the army hoped to find bread and forage, of which it stood much in need. But no sooner had the Prussians reached the heights of Prenzlau, than the French shewed themselves on their right. An engagement immediately ensued, in which the superior numbers and artillery of the latter compelled the former to retreat with precipitation into the town.

All hope of reaching Stettin was now extinguished. That city was seven German miles from Prenzlau. The Prussians were without bread or forage, and almost without ammunition. The French were preparing to renew the attack, and reinforcements were every instant coming up to join them. In this deplorable situation, Prince Hohenlohe saw no resource, but to accept the terms of capitulation offered to him, and accordingly surrendered with the whole forces under his command, amounting to about 17,000 men.

This misfortune happened on the 28th, and next day a body of 6,000 men, belonging to his army, which had pushed forward by another route to Pasewalk, was forced also to surrender. There appears to have been no fault of Prince Hohenlohe in this unfortunate retreat, unless it be true, as the French insinuated, that he lost two days unnecessarily at Magdeburg.

The rear of Prince Hohenlohe’s army, commanded by General Blucher, had reached Boitzenberg, and was preparing to set out for Prenzlau on the morning of the 29th, when intelligence arrived of the surrender of the main body of the army on the preceding evening. Blucher immediately resolved to change his route, and direct his course towards Strelitz, in the hope of meeting with the corps commanded by the Duke of Weimar, which had not been engaged in the battle of Auerstadt, and had since been attempting to cross the Elbe. His own corps was 10,500 strong, and consisted of the Prussian reserve, which after its defeat at Halle, had been taken from Prince Eugene of Wirtemberg, and placed under his command by Prince Hohenlohe.

On the 30th, Blucher had the good fortune to join, in the neighbourhood of Strelitz, the Duke of Weimar’s corps, of 10,000 men, which, after passing the Elbe at Havelberg, had reached Strelitz by the way of Rhinsberg, after falling in with a third corps, commanded by the Duke of Brunswick Oels; but, together with this fortunate occurrence, he received the unwelcome news that Soult had also crossed the Elbe, and was between him and that river with his army.

[Here Blücher’s route:]


Having taken the command of these three corps, Blucher resolved on making an attempt to pass the Elbe at Lauenburg, in order to reinforce the Prussian garrisons in Lower Saxony, and with that view directed his march through Mecklenburgh to the Lake of Schwerin, where he arrived on the 3d of November. In this march he was hotly pursued by the French, and several sharp actions took place, particularly at Wahren, and in the village of Fahre, near the Lake of Schwerin.

The French corps, commanded by the Prince of Ponte Corvo, pressed upon his rear; that of Soult on his left intercepted his communication with the Elbe, and frustrated his design of crossing that river at Lauenburg; while a third division, under the Grand Duke of Berg, advancing on his right, along the skirts of Swedish Pomerania, took prisoners some of his straggling columns, and prevented him from seeking refuge with his army under the walls of Stralsund.

Hemmed in on all sides, he had no alternative but to throw himself into Lubeck, or with troops exhausted by hunger and fatigue, to risk an engagement with an enemy greatly his superior in numbers. In Lubeck he hoped to enjoy some repose, and refresh his men after the severe fatigues they had undergone.


But his indefatigable enemy was at hand. One of the gates of Lubeck was forced, and a combat ensued in the streets and squares of that city, in which the Prussians were worsted, and many corps of their army cut literally in pieces, besides 4,000 made prisoners. [1]


The unfortunate citizens of Lubeck, who had no concern in the quarrel of which they became the victims, suffered all the horrors incident to a place taken by a storm, and were abandoned for some hours to the lust, cruelty, and rapacity of the conquerors.


Blucher made good his retreat from this scene of horror and devastation, and reached the frontiers of Danish Holstein with the small remains of his army; but less able than ever to hazard an engagement with the French, and not daring to violate the neutrality of the Danish territory, he was there forced to surrender. The dismal affair of Lubeck took place on the 6th of November, and on the following day Blucher surrendered at Swartau [correct: Ratekau] with his army, which was now reduced to less than 10,000 men. [2]


The surrender of the army under General Blucher left no corps of Prussians in the field upon the German side of the Oder; and his obstinate and skillful resistance, as it was the most glorious, so it was the last of their exertions to avert the total ruin and downfall of their monarchy. Their fortified places seemed emulous which should first open its gates to the enemy, and those which were best supplied with the means of defence were commonly the first to surrender. [3]


[*] C. H. Gifford, History of the Wars Occasioned by the French Revolution from the Commencement of Hostilities in 1792 to the End of the Year 1816, 2 vols. (London 1817), 1:516–17. Map: “Central Europe: Wars of the Third Coalition 1805–7,” Cambridge Modern History Atlas, ed. Sir Adolphus William Ward et al. (London 1912), map 92. Back.

[1] First illustration: Die Schlacht bei Lübeck am 6ten November 1806 [Halle 1806]; Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz; second illustration below: Bataille de Lubeck et prise de cette ville (Paris n.d.); Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Estampes et photographie. Back.

[2] As shown on this map (Karte des deutschen Reichs, ed. C. Vogel [Gotha 1907], no. 7), Caroline is quite correct in pointing out in her letter to Luise Gotter on 28 November 1806 (letter 418) that Blücher had fought his way to between Lübeck and Kiel. Back.

[3] That, as Caroline points out in her letter to Luise Gotter on 28 November 1806 (letter 418), nearby towns such as Kiel were receiving refugees is not surprising. See the remarks of Francis Loraine Petre, Napoleon’s Conquest of Prussia 1806 (London 1907), 282–85:

Whatever pity may be felt for Blücher in his forlorn situation on the night of the 6th of November must be tempered by a consideration of the terrible misfortunes in which, by deciding on using their city as a fortress, he had involved the peaceful and neutral citizens of Lübeck. The state of discipline in the French army at this period has already been described. Even had French troops marched into Lübeck unopposed, it might have been expected that the inhabitants would have suffered, to some extent, from their lawlessness.

But under the circumstances in which Lübeck was taken [eventually street-to-street and house-to-house fighting], it was hardly reasonable to expect that the French soldiery would accord the unhappy city treatment other than, under the usages of war, was to be expected by a fortress taken by storm. In such conditions it is almost impossible to retrain excesses, even in a well-disciplined force which has had to fight in the very houses and streets of the conquered place. . . .

As soon as it had fallen into the hands of the French, scenes of pillage, rape, and murder commenced. . . . These troops, as has been said, saw in a the city merely a place by storm, to plunder which they considered their right under the usages of war. Bernadotte and the other superior officers . . . personally exerted themselves in trying to stop the pillage; but their men, exasperated by the desperate resistance in the streets and houses, were out of hand, and determined to wreak their vengeance on the inhabitants, whom they refused to distinguish from the Prussian soldiery. . . .

Whatever may be said of the conduct of Napoleon’s armies generally, the sack of Lübeck, horrible though it was, is not the worst count in the indictment against them. Blücher, on the other hand, must bear a large share of responsibility for what occurred. With his beaten army, so far inferior to his opponents in every way, he could hardly be justified in exposing even a Prussian town, ill fortified as Lübeck was, to an assault; when we consider that the city was neutral, it seems impossible to exonerate him.

He was, however, probably thinking little of Lübeck in its agony; for his own day of humiliation had arrived. As day broke on the 7th November he found himself at Ratkau with the shattered remnants of his 21,000 men whom he commanded but ten days ago. . . . Hundreds of bodies of his gallant men were floating towards the sea in the Trave [River] and Wakenitz [River], or encumbering the streets of Lübeck. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott