The State of France Remedies Proposed by the Emperor Napoleon's Self-Indulgence Perplexities of both Combatants in Poland Opening of the Campaign Heilsberg Friedland The Result Indecisive The Strategic Problem The Statesman's Point of View The Armistice Napoleon's Resolution The Czar's Obligations to Prussia His Attitude toward Napoleon.
Accordingly, with about sixty-five thousand men he began a rapid and circuitous march northwesterly and around behind the impenetrable belt of dark forests, past Lake Spirding to Heilsberg, where he found Ney in full retreat on January twenty-second. But he had overestimated the strength of his Russians; they were too exhausted to strike quickly.
The Russian habit at that time usually was to live almost from hand to mouth; but that a carefully-prepared position like that of Heilsberg should be left without adequate supplies is unpardonable. On the two next days the rival hosts marched northward, the one to seize, the other to save, Königsberg. They were separated by the winding vale of the Alle.
The Russians attacked our cantonments on the 5th of June, and were sharply repulsed at every point. On the 10th there was a fierce encounter at Heilsberg which some historians describe as a battle. The enemy were once more defeated. I shall not go into any detail about this affair, since Marshal Lannes' corps took very little part in it, not having arrived until nightfall.
A few months after Eylau, Benningsen repulsed an attack which Napoleon imprudently made on his intrenched camp at Heilsberg, which placed another feather in his cap; nor did the smashing defeat he met with four days later, at Friedland, lessen his reputation. The world is slow to think poorly of a man who has done some clever things.
The Russians, having been defeated on the 10th of June at Heilsberg, retreated hastily and got a day ahead of the French who, by the evening of the 13th, were concentrated beyond Eylau, on the left bank of the Alle. The Russians occupied Bartenstein on the right bank of this river, which the two armies now descended on opposite sides.
But the course of this river favoured Napoleon as much as it hindered Bennigsen. The Alle below Heilsberg makes a deep bend towards the north-east, then northwards again towards Friedland, where it comes within forty miles of Königsberg, but in its lower course flows north-east until it joins the Pregel.
Bennigsen had withdrawn beyond the river Alle; Soult and Lannes, with Murat in advance, were sent up its left bank to Heilsberg; Davout and Mortier were to pass farther on, as part of a general movement to surround; Ney and the guard were held in reserve, while Victor was despatched to block Lestocq.
The first shock occurred on the morning of the tenth, in the neighborhood of Heilsberg; for Bennigsen had sent a considerable number of his troops back over the river to feel the enemy. The Russians were slowly driven across the plain, fighting fiercely as they went, until by six in the evening they reached the heights near the town, which had been intrenched.
An army marching from Heilsberg to the old Prussian capital by the right bank would therefore easily be outstripped by one that could follow the chord of the arc instead of the irregular arc itself. Napoleon was in this fortunate position, while the Russians plodded amid heavy rains over the semicircular route further to the east. Their mistake in abandoning Heilsberg was now obvious.