Battle of Saalfeld

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Battle of Saalfeld
Part of the War of the Fourth Coalition
Heldentod der Prinzen Louis Ferdinand bei Saalfeld.jpg
The death of Louis Ferdinand of Prussia , as depicted by Richard Knötel
Date10 October 1806
Saalfeld, Germany
Result French victory
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg  Kingdom of Prussia
Flag of Electoral Saxony.svg  Electorate of Saxony
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Jean Lannes
Flag of France.svg Claude Victor-Perrin
Flag of France.svg Louis Gabriel Suchet
Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Prince Louis Ferdinand  
12,800 men
12 guns [1]
8,300 men
44 guns [1]
Casualties and losses
c.200 dead or wounded [1] 1,700-1,800 men killed, wounded or captured
33 guns (15 Prussian, 18 Saxon)
Colours of "Müffling", "Kurfürst", and "Prince Clemens" regiments [1]

The Battle of Saalfeld took place on the 10 October 1806, at which a French force of 12,800 men commanded by Marshal Jean Lannes defeated a Prussian-Saxon force of 8,300 men under Prince Louis Ferdinand. The battle took place in Thuringia in what was the Ernestine duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. The battle was the second clash in the Prussian Campaign of the War of the Fourth Coalition.

Saalfeld Place in Thuringia, Germany

Saalfeld is a town in Germany, capital of the Saalfeld-Rudolstadt district of Thuringia. It is best known internationally as the ancestral seat of the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha branch of the Saxon House of Wettin, which was renamed the House of Windsor during their British reign in 1917.

The Grande Armée was the army commanded by Napoleon I during the Napoleonic Wars. From 1805 to 1809, the Grande Armée scored a series of historic victories that gave the French Empire an unprecedented grip on power over the European continent. Widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest fighting forces ever assembled, it suffered terrible losses during the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and never recovered its tactical superiority after that campaign.

Jean Lannes Marshall Of France

Jean Lannes, 1st Duc de Montebello, Prince de Siewierz, was a Marshal of the Empire. He was one of Napoleon's most daring and talented generals. Napoleon once commented on Lannes: "I found him a pygmy and left him a giant". A personal friend of the emperor, he was allowed to address him with the familiar "tu", as opposed to the formal "vous".



French Movements

Jean Lannes Julie Volpeliere (d'apres Gerard) - Le marechal Lannes (1769-1809), 1834.jpg
Jean Lannes

Napoleon had arranged the Grand Armée into three columns to cross the Thuringian Forest to attack the Prussian-Saxon army. [2] The westernmost column was headed by V Corps commanded by Jean Lannes, with Pierre Augereau’s VII Corps following behind. They had orders to march from Coburg via Gräfenthal due at Saalfeld on the 11 October. V Corps set out on 8 October, and by the end of 9 October was at Gräfenthal with light cavalry on the road to Saalfeld. [3] At 5am on 10 October, Lannes with Louis-Gabriel Suchet’s division and Anne-François-Charles Trelliard brigade of light cavalry of V corps began advancing down the road to Saalfeld, aware that a Prussian-Saxon force was in front of them.

Napoleon 19th century French military leader and politician

Napoleon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French as Napoleon I from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815 during the Hundred Days. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over much of continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.

Thuringian Forest mountain range in the German state of Thuringia

The Thuringian Forest, is a mountain range in the southern parts of the German state of Thuringia, running northwest to southeast between the valley of the river Werra near Eisenach and the Thuringian-Vogtlandian Slate Mountains. The geographical boundary with the latter range follows approximately a line from Gehren via Großbreitenbach to Schönbrunn near Schleusingen, defined by the rivers Schleuse and Neubrunn on the southwestern slope, and Talwasser, Wohlrose and Möhre on the northeastern slope.

The V Corps of the Grande Armée was a military unit during the Napoleonic Wars. The corps was originally formed in 1805 and was reorganized several times until it was discontinued in 1815.

Prussian-Saxon movements

Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia Louis Ferdinand of Prussia.jpg
Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia

Prince Louis Ferdinand commanded the Advanced Guard of Frederick Louis, Prince of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen’s army and on the 9 October the Prince his headquarters at Rudolstadt, with detachments at Saalfeld, Schwarza  [ de ], and Bad Blankenburg. The Prince had received a message from Hohenlohe that the Prussian-Saxon army would be advancing across the River Saale to support Bogislav Friedrich Emanuel von Tauentzien's force after the Battle of Schleiz, [4] and that Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel’s main army would be advancing to Rudolstadt. In the evening of the 9 October Oberst Leopold Ludwig Maximilian Nordeck zu Rabenau (who commanded a detachment at Saalfeld) reported to Prince Louis that a French column of between 16,000 to 20,000 men had left Coburg heading for Saalfeld and that a post of 30 hussars stationed at Gräfenthal and the Jäger Company "Valentini" stationed at Hoheneiche  [ de ] had both retreated to Arnsgereuth after clashing with the French. [5] Knowing that the main body of the army under Hohenlohe was due to advance across the River Saale on the 10 October, Prince Louis therefore decided that his forces needed to stop the French column from either crossing the Saale at Saalfeld and interfering with Hohenlohe’s movements or from moving up the western side of the Saale to Rudolstadt, which they would reach before Brunswick’s army. [6] During the 9 October a fusilier company commanded by August von Gneisenau was sent to Arnsgereuth to support the troops there, and having confirmed that the French were advancing on Saalfeld and in strength, the Prussian troops withdrew from Arnsgereuth to Lerchenhügel  [ de ], just outside Saalfeld, with advance posts in Garnsdorf  [ de ]. [7]

Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia (1772–1806) prince of Prussia and composer

Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, was a Prussian prince and a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars.

Frederick Louis, Prince of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen German general

Frederick Louis, Prince of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen was a Prussian general.

Rudolstadt Town in Thuringia, Germany

Rudolstadt is a town in the German Bundesland of Thuringia, close to the Thuringian Forest to the southwest, and to Jena and Weimar to the north.

At 7am Prince Louis began concentrating his troops at Saalfeld, and by 9am he had arranged his forces for battle. The troops were arranged in a line stretching from in front of Saalfeld to behind Crösten  [ de ] and Beulwitz  [ de ] facing the woods the covered the hills above Saalfeld and the Saale valley. The Prince left Generalmajor Karl Gerhard von Pelet's detachment at Blankenburg. [8]


Battle of Saalfeld Desmoulins - Victoire du marechal Lannes sur les troupes prussiennes a Saalfeld sur la Saale en Thuringe.jpg
Battle of Saalfeld

At around 9.45AM, the advanced guard of V Corps, consisting of the corps' Bataillon d’élite (formed of the elite companies of battalions left at depots), the 17th Légère Regiment, and two cannons, made its way towards Saalfeld and occupied the heights overlooking the town. The French light cavalry brigade and the advanced guard began to engage the Prussian-Saxon army. The Bataillon d’élite supported by French skirmishers pushed out the Prussian troops from Garnsdorf and occupied it. [9] As the French troops advanced and the Prussian-Saxon army prepared to fight them, Marshal Lannes noticed that the right flank of the Prussian-Saxon army was completely uncovered, and while the cavalry and French advanced guard engaged the Prussians around Garnsdorf and Saalfeld, he ordered rest of Suchet's division to march northwards through the woods to outflank the Prussian and Saxon line. To cover these moves, the 17th Légère Regiment formed a skirmish line that extended from Saalfeld to Beulwitz. [10]

Company (military unit) military unit size designation

A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–150 soldiers and usually commanded by a major or a captain. Most companies are formed of three to six platoons, although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure.

Light infantry Type of infantry

Light infantry is a designation applied to certain types of foot soldiers (infantry) throughout history, typically having lighter equipment or armament or a more mobile or fluid function than other types of infantry, such as heavy infantry or line infantry. Historically, light infantry often fought as scouts, raiders and skirmishers—soldiers who fight in a loose formation ahead of the main army to harass, delay, disrupt supply lines, and generally "soften up" an enemy before the main battle. After World War II, the term "light infantry" evolved, and now generally refers to rapid-deployment units that specifically emphasize speed and mobility over armor and firepower. Some units or battalions that historically held a skirmishing role have kept their designation "light infantry" for the sake of tradition.

Skirmisher historical profession

Skirmishers are light infantry or cavalry soldiers deployed as a vanguard, flank guard, or rearguard to screen a tactical position or a larger body of friendly troops from enemy advances. They are usually deployed in a skirmish line—an irregular open formation much more spread out in depth and breadth than a traditional line formation. Their purpose is to harass the enemy—engaging them in only light or sporadic combat in order to delay their movement, disrupt their attack, or weaken their morale.

Prince Louis was aware that he was engaged with a larger force, and then at 11AM, Saxon Souslieutnant Heinrich August von Egidy brought a verbal order from Prince Hohenlohe to remain at Rudolstadt and that the offensive across the Saale had been abandoned. Prince Louis decided to try and disengage with the French and retreat to Rudolstadt. He ordered second battalion of the "Müffling" Regiment to Schwarza to hold the bridges, and sent troops under the Saxon Generalmajor Friedrich Joseph von Bevilaqua  [ de ] to extend the right of his line to the hills either side of Aue am Berg  [ de ] (known as the Oberhayn and Sandberg). [11] He also ordered the "Prince Xaver" and "Kurfürst" regiments to take the offensive by attacking the plain between Siechentbal and the Kesselthal streams. [12] The skirmishers of the 17th Légère Regiment supported with the 34th Ligne Regiment (which had moved out of the woods into Beulwitz) repelled the Saxon regiments, who then fell back in disorder. [13] Prince Louis rallied these troops, and fearing that he would lose communication with General Bevilaqua and his troops, he ordered another attack, and by midday the "Kurfürst" regiment had captured Crösten. Thinking that his centre was secure, Prince Louis gave further orders for a withdrawal. The French had entered Saalfeld and were pushing the Prussian troops back to Wöhlsdorf  [ de ], where Prince Louis headed to rally these troops. [14]

Second lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer military rank in many armed forces, comparable to NATO OF-1a rank.

Line infantry type of infantry

Line infantry was the type of infantry that composed the basis of European land armies from the middle of the 17th century to the middle of the 19th century. For both battle and parade drill, it consisted of two to four ranks of foot soldiers drawn up side by side in rigid alignment, and thereby maximizing the effect of their firepower. By extension, the term came to be applied to the regular regiments "of the line" as opposed to light infantry, skirmishers, militia, support personnel, plus some other special categories of infantry not focused on heavy front line combat.

Maps of the Battle of Saalfeld
Battle of Saalfeld 9AM.jpg
Battle of Saalfeld 10.30AM.jpg
Battle of Saalfeld 11.30AM.jpg
Battle of Saalfeld 1PM.jpg

At just before 1PM, Marshal Lannes gave the signal for the offensive. [15] The 34th, 40th, and 64th Ligne headed towards the Saxon troops around Aue am Berg, whilst the French cavalry, with the 88th Ligne behind them, moved forward between Crösten and Saalfeld. Prince Louis decided this was a moment to engage the French cavalry with the Prussian and Saxon cavalry, attacking an exposed flank of the 21st Chasseurs à Cheval. However, the second line of French cavalry then enveloped the Prince's outnumbered cavalry line. Order in the Prussian and Saxon cavalry began to break down, and they fled joining the troops retreating from Saalfeld. In the confused mass around Wöhlsdorf, many were cut down by the French hussars and some drowned trying to escape across the Saale. Prince Louis tried to cut his way out towards Schwarza, during which he was attacked by Quartermaster Guindet of the 10th Hussars. Although wounded, Prince Louis refused to surrender and was killed. [16]

Meanwhile, on the Prussian-Saxon right, General Bevilaqua tried to reinforce the Sandberg with the "Prinz Clemens" regiment, but then seeing the rout at Wöhlsdorf, Bevilaqua ordered a retreat to Scwharza. As the first battalion of the "Prince Clemens" Regiment moved down the slope it was attacked repeatedly by the 21st Chasseurs à Cheval, and the Saxons broke under the onslaught. the 21st Chasseurs à Cheval then assaulted and successively broke the second battalion "Prinz Clemens" Regiment and first battalion "Müffling" Regiment. As these troops dispersed, General Bevilaqua was captured. [17]

There was a final conflict at Schwarza and Pelet's force engaged the French around Unter-Wirbach. Pelet's force was largely intact but had to retreat to Stadt-Ilm, which it reached at 10PM. The French cavalry pursued the remains of the Prussian and Saxon units to Rudolstadt, but the French infantry halted at Schwarza. Some of the Prussian and Saxon troops that had escaped onto the east side of the Saale withdrew towards Rudolstadt. [18]


Prince Louis’ force had been completely dispersed as a fighting force. [19] Only Pelet's detachment was intact, and they were forced to take a long route to rejoin Hohenlohe.

Despite this battle and the battle of Schliez, Napoleon was still not fully aware of location of the Prussian army. After four days of further marches, the French engaged the Prussians and Saxons at the twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt on the plateau west of the river Saale.

Order of battle

French V Corps [1] [20] [21] Advanced Guard Division [22]
Commander-in-chief : Marshal Jean Lannes

Chief of staff : Général de Division Claude Victor-Perrin

1st Division
Général de Division Louis-Gabriel Suchet

1st Brigade
Général de Brigade Michel Marie Claparède

  • 1st and 2nd battalions, 17th Légère Regiment (2,047 officers and men)
  • Bataillon d’élite (751), formed of carabiniers and voltigeurs of the 3rd battalions of the 17th and 21st Légère, and the grenadiers and voltigeurs of 4th battalion 34th Ligne, 3rd battalions of 40th, 64th, and 88th Ligne.

2nd Brigade
Général de Brigade Honoré Charles Reille

3rd Brigade
Général de Brigade Dominique Honoré Antoine Vedel

Divisional Artillery

  • 15th company, 5th Foot Artillery Regiment (108)
  • 3rd company, 3rd Horse Artillery Regiment (68)

(2x12lb, 6x8lb, 2x4lb cannons, 2x6" howitzers)

Cavalry Brigade
Général de Brigade Anne-François-Charles Trelliard

Strengths as at 1 October 1806.

Generalleutenant Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia

General staff: Stabskapitän Georg Wilhelm von Valentini  [ de ]

Detachment at Blankenburg
Generalmajor Karl Gerhard von Pelet  [ de ]

  • Fusilier Battalion No. 14 "von Pelet"
  • Jäger Company "Masars"
  • 3 squadrons, Saxon Hussar Regiment
  • ½ Horse Artillery Battery No. 2 "Gause" (4 guns)

Troops at Saalfeld
Prussian Troops

  • Jäger Company "Valentini"
  • Fusilier Battalion No. 13 "Rabenau"
  • Fusilier Battalion No. 15 "Rühle"
  • 5 squadrons, Hussar Regiment No. 6 "Schimmelpfennig von der Oye"
  • ½ Horse Artillery Battery No. 2 "Gause" (4 guns)
  • 2 battalions, Infantry Regiment No. 49 "Müffling"
  • 6lb Foot Artillery Battery "Reimann" (12 guns)

Saxon Troops
Generalmajor Friedrich Traugott von Trützschler  [ de ]

Generalmajor Friedrich Joseph von Bevilaqua  [ de ]

  • 5 squadrons, Saxon Hussar Regiment
  • 1st and 2nd battalions, Infantry Regiment No. 1 "Kurfürst"
  • 1st and 2nd battalions, Infantry Regiment No. 4 "Prinz Clemens"
  • 1st and 2nd battalions, Infantry Regiment No. 9 "Prince Xaver"
  • 4lb Foot Artillery Battery "Hoyer" (8 guns)

16 additional guns attached to the infantry regiments

Detachment at Pößneck
Generalmajor Christian Ludwig Schimmelpfennig von der Oye  [ de ]

  • 5 squadrons, Hussar Regiment No. 6 "Schimmelpfennig von der Oye"

Total strength 9 October 1806: 7,500 infantry, 2,700 cavalry, 44 guns

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  19. Bressonnet, Pascal (1909). Études tactiques sur la campagne de 1806 (in French). Paris: Chapelot. p. 48. OCLC   610334571.
  20. Chandler, David G. (1993), Jena 1806 : Napoleon destroys Prussia, Osprey Campaign Series, 20, London: Osprey, pp. 40–41, ISBN   9781855322851
  21. Foucart, Paul (1890). Campagne de Prusse (1806), d'après les archives de la guerre, par P. Foucart, ... Prenzlow-Lubeck (in French). Paris: Berger-Levrault. OCLC   461415300.
  22. von Lettow-Vorbeck, Oscar (1891). Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807 (in German). Berlin: E.S. Mittler und Sohn. p. 226. OCLC   9959799., Bressonnet, Pascal (1909). Études tactiques sur la campagne de 1806 (in French). Paris: Chapelot. p. 9. OCLC   610334571.

Further reading


Maps of the Battle

Coordinates: 50°39′00″N11°22′01″E / 50.6500°N 11.3669°E / 50.6500; 11.3669