Research Paper: Military Theory: Jomini on Napoleon

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[. . .] These reasons, and the necessity for gaining space beyond the Saale, are doubtless, as Colonel Lanrezac thinks, what prompted Napoleon to push on the ist May, without waiting for the complete concentration of his army. His orders for that day required the Elbe army to advance from Merseburg to Schladebach; HI. corps and cavalry of the Guard, from Weissenfels on Liitzen." (Shoffner, 2002)

Two Failures of the Calvary

Two unfortunate failures of the Calvary are reported to have misled the allied headquarters: (1) Russian Calvary failed to report a whole French division in the four villages about Kaja and another at Starsiedel; (2) the Prussian Calvary reported French troops of all arms in the villages just beyond Droysig. (Shoffner, 2002) At the Battle of Lutzen it came down to just two hours of daylight and the battle had not in reality started yet. Napoleon knew he had to take decisive action if he were going to win this battle before dark. It is reported "he ordered Drouot to form a battery of 80 guns southwest of Kaja to sweep the space between the four villages. Between this battery and Kaja the Young Guard was drawn up in four columns, each of four battalions, in line, one behind the other. Behind the Young Guard was the Old, behind them the Guard cavalry. At 6.30 all was ready, and, with the words, " La garde au feu," Napoleon ordered the advance. " (Shoffner, 2002) The Tsar and King of Prussia left the battlefield about 9 pm and when they heard that the French were in possession of the nearest road to their rear it is reported "they were compelled to admit that no course but immediate retreat was open to them." (Shoffner, 2002)

Muted Victory at Liitzen

Napoleon at Liitzen won a battle but the victory was not decisive enough "to restore his lost prestige in Europe." (Shoffner, 2002) The intent of Napoleon was to "cover his march with the whole of Ney's 45,000 men, backed by the guard at Liitzen, and with Marmont and Bertrand coming up from Weissenfels." (Shoffner, 2002) In the event that Wittgenstein had assembled his army by 7 am as it was intended then there would have been time for Napoleon to "bring against his flanks Marmont and part of Bertrand's corps, McDonald's corps, two of Lauriston's divisions and Ltour-Matbourg's Calvary which added to Ney would have been approximately 140,000 men against Wittgenstein's 70,000. Napoleon's orders for the assembly were "very defective" because Napoleon was dealing with things "that should find no place in general orders, they entirely failed to prescribe a proper order of the march to the crossing of the Elster." (Shoffner, 2002) The result was a great deal of delay in fact, the army was four hours later reaching the battlefield.

The failure of Napoleon's subordinates resulted in Napoleon's failure to utterly destroy the other army. It is reported that the blame "must fall chiefly on Ney, who failed either to assemble his corps at Kaja, or to make the reconnaissance's on Pegau and Zwenda ordered by Napoleon at 4am." (Shoffner, 2002 ) Had Ney sent his forces out by at least 6am then it is reported that Napoleon "would have known for certain by 8 that he was to have the hoped-for battle. Macdonald and Marmont would have been hurried up at their best speed, Lauriston would probably have been ordered to observe Leipzig with one division, whilst the other two pressed forward on Pegau. Bertrand, too, would have been urged on from the opposite direction, and Ney's whole corps, with the Guard behind it, would have strongly occupied a line having its left supported by the four villages, its right in Starsiedel." (Shoffner, 2002)

Fault in Hesitation

It is reported that the idea of Ney in regards to reconnaissance in force appears to have been sending a few patrols partway up the slope to the Monarchen Hiigel where just as much as could have been seen from Gross Gorschen. It appears that the Russian's were taken off guard when they realized that the "weak flank guard" was instead a strong division however, it is stated "The shock would have been much greater if, instead of one division in the village quadrilateral and one at Starsiedel, he had found five divisions there, as there would have been had Ney carried out Napoleon's orders. Marmont would have been approaching, as he actually was, and the Guard would have been up from Liitzen in an hour. Marmont and Ney alone had 70,000 men, and, when he commenced his attack, Wittgenstein had only about 56,000 within reach." (Shoffner, 2002)

Another Hesitation

The same fault of hesitation in attack is reported to have occurred as well at Starsiedel and this hesitation provided time for Girard to get his men into order as well as providing time for Marmont to come up and release Girard to support Souham." (Shoffner, 2002) Bertrand is reported to have failed Napoleon since he wasted two hours "waiting for orders at only a distance of 31 miles from where he heard the battle raging." (Shoffner, 2002) Bertrand had been given orders to march against the enemies left flank and it is reported that as such Bertrand "had not business to halt,,,: (Shoffner, 2002) Lauriston was ordered to leave just one division in Leipzig and while he had not specific orders to march against the enemy's right, a "corps commander of the modern French or German school would have marched without orders, or at least started in anticipation of them, and sent urgent demands for them." (Shoffner, 2002)

Late Arrivals to the Battlefield

Napoleon is reported to have expressed to an aide-de-camp of Lauriston, the opinion that the generals' inaction was "more forcible than polite." (Shoffner, 2002) Napoleon is reported to have stated to Lauriston "What were you doing yesterday when we were fighting here? You were warming your behinds in the sun!" (Shoffner, 2002) However, Napoleon did not send definite orders. It is reported to not be clear why it is that Macdonald and why Latour-Maubourg arrived so late since it is only six miles from Markranstadt to Eisdorf. It is stated that the orders from Ney reached Marchand about 12:30 however, Marchand was not up until after 4pm. There were only three miles to cover and it took Marchand six hours to cover that distance. Napoleon lost many of his troops who became stragglers, deserters, and marauders and this is attributed by Lanrezac to be resulting from:

(1) The extraordinary exertions which Napoleon demanded form his men; and (2) The bad organization of his administrative services, which almost compelled the soldier to maraud in order to live. (Shoffner, 2002)

It would appear from the information gained in these incidents that Napoleon ill-used his time in combination to his orders being followed too strictly to the letter with no use of common sense or being completely ignored or ill-reasoning being used to contradict the strict following of his orders. Napoleon failed to ensure that his men had supplies, potable water, proper clothing, medicine and sufficient rest and nutrition. The closer that the forces came to Moscow the more horrendous the conditions of Napoleon's army.


The work of Allen (1998) reports that the army suffered from a new malady in the form of "high fever, red rash, and pale color. Many of those infected died relatively quickly, it was the scourge of typhus that had settled in on Napoleon's army." Allen states that typhus in Napoleon's army was 'endemic, that is, ubiquitously present…the French had never encountered this disease, at least not in the form it was about to experience." (1998)

Linens A Critical Point

Baron J. Laney, Chief Surgeon in Napoleon's army was outstanding in his field in system development for the medical and sanitary requirements but even he was in no way ready for what was to occur and since he did not know what caused typhus no effective preventive measures could be taken and even if they could have the lack of potable water was too large an obstacle to overcome. Discovery of a critical point occurred at Vilna by Napoleon's forces in that they had survived living off the land and by procuring from the locals however, the Poles dressed differently and what was seemingly insignificant was in reality critical in that they were not able to acquire any fresh linens. This resulted in clothing being worn for long stints and when the men huddled at night to brace one another and for warmth the lice would crawl from one to the other and spread the disease. An eyewitness account describes Bourgogne sleeping on a reed mat awakened by lice activities and it is reported as follows:

"[Borgogne] A passage from an eyewitness finding himself literally covered with them, he stripped off his shirt and trousers and threw them into the fire. They exploded like… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Military Theory: Jomini on Napoleon.  (2013, April 25).  Retrieved July 18, 2019, from

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"Military Theory: Jomini on Napoleon."  25 April 2013.  Web.  18 July 2019. <>.

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"Military Theory: Jomini on Napoleon."  April 25, 2013.  Accessed July 18, 2019.