Capitulation of Erfurt

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Capitulation of Erfurt
Part of the War of the Fourth Coalition
Petersberg Citadel, Erfurt
Date16 October 1806
Location Erfurt, Kingdom of Prussia
Result French victory
Flag of France.svg First French Empire Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Prussia
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Joachim Murat Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Prince of Orange
16,000 12,000, 65 guns
Casualties and losses
None 12,000, 65 guns

In the Capitulation of Erfurt on 16 October 1806 a large body of troops from the Kingdom of Prussia under Lieutenant General the Prince of Orange surrendered to Marshal Joachim Murat of France, at the city of Erfurt (now in Germany). The Prussian soldiers were demoralized by their shattering defeat at the Battle of Jena–Auerstedt on 14 October and unwilling to put up much resistance. The event occurred during the War of the Fourth Coalition, part of the Napoleonic Wars. Erfurt is located on the Gera River about 40 kilometers west of Jena.

Kingdom of Prussia Former German state (1701–1918)

The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1918. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871 and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.

William I of the Netherlands King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg 1815 - 1840

William I was a Prince of Orange and the first King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

Joachim Murat Grand Duke of Berg and King of Naples

Joachim-Napoléon Murat was a Marshal of France and Admiral of France under the reign of Napoleon. He was also the 1st Prince Murat, Grand Duke of Berg from 1806 to 1808, and King of Naples from 1808 to 1815. Murat received his titles in part by being Napoleon's brother-in-law through marriage to his younger sister, Caroline Bonaparte, as well as personal merit. He was noted as a daring, brave, and charismatic cavalry officer as well as a flamboyant dresser, for which he was known as "the Dandy King".


Only eight days before, Emperor Napoleon I of France invaded the Electorate of Saxony with a large army and quickly inflicted two minor setbacks on his enemies. This was followed by the catastrophe of 14 October. In the aftermath of the battle, the organization of the Prussian army disintegrated. Large numbers of Prussian fugitives from the battle entered Erfurt and could not be induced to leave. When Murat's French cavalry arrived before the city, it was surrendered without any fighting.

Electorate of Saxony State of the Holy Roman Empire, established when Emperor Charles IV raised the Ascanian duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg to the status of an Electorate 1356

The Electorate of Saxony was a state of the Holy Roman Empire established when Emperor Charles IV raised the Ascanian duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg to the status of an Electorate by the Golden Bull of 1356. Upon the extinction of the House of Ascania, it was feoffed to the Margraves of Meissen from the Wettin dynasty in 1423, who moved the ducal residence up the river Elbe to Dresden. After the Empire's dissolution in 1806, the Wettin Electors raised Saxony to a territorially reduced kingdom.


At the beginning of October, three Prussian armies assembled in the Electorate of Saxony under Feldmarschall Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, General of Infantry Frederick Louis, Prince of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen, and General of Infantry Ernst von Rüchel. Hohenlohe's army included 20,000 Saxons. [1] In the center, Brunswick concentrated at Erfurt, Hohenlohe defended Rudolstadt in the east, and Rüchel held Gotha and Eisenach in the west. General Karl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach's division of Rüchel's right wing felt south toward the French line of communications. General Eugene Frederick Henry, Duke of Württemberg's Reserve lay far to the north at Magdeburg. [2]

General of the Infantry (Germany) military rank of a General officer in the German infantry

General of the Infantry is a former rank of German Ground forces. Present it is an appointment or position to an OF-6 rank officer, responsible for particular affairs of training and equipment of the Bundeswehr infantry.

Frederick Louis, Prince of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen German general

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

Ernst von Rüchel German general

Ernst von Rüchel was a Prussian general who led an army corps in a crushing defeat by Napoleon at the Battle of Jena on 14 October 1806. He commanded troops from the Kingdom of Prussia in several battles during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793 and 1794. Afterward he held various appointments as a diplomat and a military inspector. In 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars he held an important army command but has been criticized for his actions at Jena. Wounded, he managed to escape the French pursuit, but never commanded troops in combat again.

Jena-Auerstedt Campaign Map, 8-16 October 1806 Jena-Auerstedt 1806 Campaign Map.JPG
Jena-Auerstedt Campaign Map, 8–16 October 1806

On 8 October, Napoleon's 180,000 troops began crossing the Saxon border through the Franconian Forest. His troops formed in a batallion carré (battalion square) made up of three columns of two army corps each, plus the Cavalry Reserve, Imperial Guard, and some Bavarian allies. [3] On 9 October, the French won the minor Battle of Schleiz. [4] The next day, Marshal Jean Lannes' V Corps crushed the division of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia at the Battle of Saalfeld, killing the young prince. [5]

Imperial Guard (Napoleon I)

The Imperial Guard was originally a small group of elite soldiers of the French Army under the direct command of Napoleon I, but grew considerably over time. It acted as his bodyguard and tactical reserve, and he was careful of its use in battle. The Guard was divided into the staff, infantry, cavalry, and artillery regiments, as well as battalions of sappers and marines. The guard itself as a whole distinguished between the experienced veterans and less experienced members by being separated into three sections: the Old Guard, Middle Guard and Young Guard.

Kingdom of Bavaria kingdom in Central Europe between 1806–1918, from January 1871 part of the German Empire

The Kingdom of Bavaria was a German state that succeeded the former Electorate of Bavaria in 1805 and continued to exist until 1918. The Bavarian Elector Maximilian IV Joseph of the House of Wittelsbach became the first King of Bavaria in 1805 as Maximilian I Joseph. The crown would go on being held by the Wittelsbachs until the kingdom came to an end in 1918. Most of Bavaria's present-day borders were established after 1814 with the Treaty of Paris, in which Bavaria ceded Tyrol and Vorarlberg to the Austrian Empire while receiving Aschaffenburg and Würzburg. With the unification of Germany into the German Empire in 1871, the kingdom became a federal state of the new Empire and was second in size, power, and wealth only to the leading state, the Kingdom of Prussia. In 1918, Bavaria became a republic, and the kingdom was thus succeeded by the current Free State of Bavaria.

Battle of Schleiz battle

The Battle of Schleiz took place on October 9, 1806 in Schleiz, Germany between a Prussian-Saxon division under Bogislav Friedrich Emanuel von Tauentzien and a part of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte's I Corps under the command of Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Comte d'Erlon. It was the first clash of the War of the Fourth Coalition, part of the Napoleonic Wars. As Emperor Napoleon I of France's Grande Armée advanced north through the Frankenwald it struck the left wing of the armies belonging to the Kingdom of Prussia and the Electorate of Saxony, which were deployed on a long front. Schleiz is located 30 kilometers north of Hof and 145 kilometers southwest of Dresden at the intersection of Routes 2 and 94.

On 12 October, Napoleon ordered his army to make a left wheel to the west. The Prussian generals decided to retreat, using the Saale River to protect their flank. Brunswick marched the main army north from Weimar, while Hohenlohe stood on the defensive near Jena as a flank guard. [6] Rüchel's orders were to stay at Weimar until Saxe-Weimar returned with his division. [7] The double Battle of Jena-Auerstedt occurred on 14 October as Napoleon attacked Hohenlohe while Brunswick ran into Marshal Louis Davout's III Corps. The troops of Brunswick, Hohenlohe, and Rüchel were driven in rout from the two battlefields. Brunswick's army lost 13,000 men and its commander was mortally wounded. Hohenlohe and Rüchel suffered as many as 25,000 casualties. [8]

Saale river in Germany

The Saale, also known as the Saxon Saale and Thuringian Saale, is a river in Germany and a left-bank tributary of the Elbe. It is not to be confused with the smaller Franconian Saale, a right-bank tributary of the Main, or the Saale in Lower Saxony, a tributary of the Leine.

Weimar Place in Thuringia, Germany

Weimar is a city in the federal state of Thuringia, Germany. It is located in Central Germany between Erfurt in the west and Jena in the east, approximately 80 kilometres southwest of Leipzig, 170 kilometres north of Nuremberg and 170 kilometres west of Dresden. Together with the neighbour-cities Erfurt and Jena it forms the central metropolitan area of Thuringia with approximately 500,000 inhabitants, whereas the city itself counts a population of 65,000. Weimar is well known because of its large cultural heritage and its importance in German history.

Jena Place in Thuringia, Germany

Jena is a German university city and the second largest city in Thuringia. Together with the nearby cities of Erfurt and Weimar, it forms the central metropolitan area of Thuringia with approximately 500,000 inhabitants, while the city itself has a population of about 110,000. Jena is a centre of education and research; the Friedrich Schiller University was founded in 1558 and had 18,000 students in 2017 and the Ernst-Abbe-Fachhochschule Jena counts another 5,000 students. Furthermore, there are many institutes of the leading German research societies.

At 5:00 AM on 15 October, Napoleon began issuing orders to exploit his tremendous victory at Jena. He heard about Marshal Louis Davout's triumph at Auerstedt four hours later. Murat's Cavalry Reserve was split, with half directed to advance west to Erfurt and half northwest to Buttelstedt. Napoleon sent Marshal Michel Ney's VI Corps toward Erfurt to back up Murat's horsemen, and ordered Marshal Nicolas Soult's IV Corps to Buttelstedt. The emperor instructed Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte's untouched I Corps to march to Bad Bibra north of Auerstedt so that he could prevent the fleeing Prussians from escaping east across the Elbe River. In consideration for the troops that had done the hardest fighting on the 14th, he allowed Marshal Jean Lannes' V Corps and Marshal Pierre Augereau's VII Corps to remain near Weimar and Davout's III Corps to march a short distance to Naumburg. [9]

Auerstedt Ortsteil of Bad Sulza in Thuringia, Germany

Auerstedt is a village and a former municipality in the Weimarer Land district of Thuringia, Germany. Since 31 December 2012, it is part of the town Bad Sulza. It lies 25 miles (40 km) northeast of Weimar. On October 14, 1806, the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, a decisive victory for Napoleon I of France, took place near Auerstedt. As a result, the leader of the victorious French forces, Louis-Nicolas Davout, was appointed Duc d'Auerstaedt.

Buttelstedt Ortsteil of Am Ettersberg in Thuringia, Germany

Buttelstedt is a town and a former municipality in the Weimarer Land district, in Thuringia, Germany. It is situated 11 km north of Weimar. Since 1 January 2019, it is part of the town Am Ettersberg.

Michel Ney French soldier and military commander

Marshal of the Empire Michel Ney, 1st Duke of Elchingen, 1st Prince of the Moskva, popularly known as Marshal Ney, was a French soldier and military commander during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He was one of the original 18 Marshals of the Empire created by Napoleon. He was known as Le Rougeaud by his men and nicknamed le Brave des Braves by Napoleon.


Wichard von Mollendorf WichardvonMoellendorff.JPG
Wichard von Möllendorf

After the battles on the 14th, a large number of refugees appeared at Erfurt. At first they were refused entrance, but later the gates were opened and soon the city thronged with at least 12,000 demoralized soldiers. Attempts were made by some officers to return the troops to their regiments, but the men refused to cooperate. By noon on the 15th, Murat was near Erfurt with the leading elements of his cavalry. General-Major von Jung-Larisch stood in battle line in front of the city. His position was poor, with the Gera River at his back, so he ordered his infantry to retreat into the city. Murat's horsemen charged and drove Jung-Larisch's cavalry back across the river, capturing an artillery battery. Losses for this action are not given. [10]

Duke Karl of Saxe-Weimar Karl august von sachsen-weimar.jpg
Duke Karl of Saxe-Weimar

The Duke of Saxe-Weimar's division, which missed the 14 October battle, soon appeared west of Erfurt. Feldmarschall Wichard Joachim Heinrich von Möllendorf attempted to organize an orderly retreat from Erfurt northwest to Bad Langensalza, ordering Saxe-Weimar to cover the move. The wagon train was to lead the retreat, followed by the cavalry, then the infantry. Möllendorf, who had been wounded at Auerstedt, then collapsed and proved unable to carry out the operation. [11]

At 2:30 PM, Murat sent French Colonel Claude Antoine Hippolyte Préval into Erfurt under a flag of truce. The Frenchman demanded an immediate surrender, which the Prussian fortress commandant at first refused. Saxe-Weimar waited near Erfurt in the hope that large numbers of troops would join the retreat, but few did so. In the evening, Saxe-Weimar withdrew toward Langensalza. After joining with General Johann Friedrich Winning's detachment, he commanded 12,000 troops and 24 guns in 14 battalions, 30 squadrons, and three batteries. [12]

Marshal Joachim Murat Murat2.jpg
Marshal Joachim Murat

With Möllendorf out of the picture, the resolve of the fortress commandant weakened and broke. That night, he signed the articles of capitulation. Included in the terms were the surrender of the Petersberg fortress and large quantities of gunpowder and munitions. [12]

Altogether, about 12,000 Prussian and Saxon troops under command of the Prince of Orange became prisoners and 65 artillery pieces were captured. Colors (in parentheses) from the following units were surrendered to the victors, Infantry Regiments Grenadier Garde # 6 (2), Schenck # 9 (4), Wedel # 10 (4), Arnim # 13 (1), Brunswick # 21 (1), Winning # 23 (4), Zenge # 24 (1), Alt-Larisch # 26 (1), Hohenlohe # 32 (2), Prince Ferdinand # 34 (2), Prince Heinrich # 35 (2), Zweiffel # 45 (1), Hessen # 48 (4), and Wartensleben # 59 (2), and Dragoon Regiment Irwing # 3 (4). [13]

Another authority states that between 9,000 and 14,000 Prussian troops fell into French hands at the surrender. [14] The number may include up to 8,000 wounded. [12] At the time of the capitulation, Murat had about 16,000 troops near Erfurt. [13] The 7,000 cavalry immediately available included General of Division Étienne Marie Antoine Champion de Nansouty's 1st Cuirassier Division, General of Division Jean-Joseph Ange d'Hautpoul's 2nd Cuirassier Division, and General of Division Marc Antoine de Beaumont's 3rd Dragoon Division. [15]

As the first batch of prisoners were being marched from Erfurt to Frankfort-on-the-Main, the column encountered 50 troopers of the Pletz Hussar Regiment # 3. The hussars scattered the inadequate escort and released between 4,000 and 5,000 prisoners. When he heard about it, an enraged Napoleon blamed Murat for the fiasco. However, Saxe-Weimar was unable to exploit this success. He tried to round up the released prisoners but they all ran away, and none could be returned to their units. [15]


Erfurt's surrender permitted Napoleon to reroute his line of communication from Mainz on the Rhine's west bank, to Frankfort-on-the-Main, Eisenach, Gotha, and Erfurt. He abandoned the more circuitous route through Würzburg and Forchheim. [14]

After the surrender, Murat advanced to Langensalza with his three divisions but Saxe-Weimar was able to break contact. General of Division Louis Klein's 1st Dragoon Division, General of Division Louis Michel Antoine Sahuc's 4th Dragoon Division, and General of Brigade Antoine Lasalle's light cavalry pursued the Prussians farther to the east, near Weißensee and Buttelstedt. [15] The Battle of Halle occurred on 17 October between Bernadotte's corps and Duke Eugene of Württemberg's Reserve. In the action, the French inflicted 5,000 casualties on the Reserve. [16]

Historian Francis Loraine Petre remarked that Erfurt was the first of a series of "pusillanimous capitulations" by Prussian fortress commanders. He wrote that Napoleon's plans might have been delayed if the city had held out for just a few days. Instead, the French emperor was able to immediately launch the entire army after his fleeing enemies. [12]


  1. Chandler, David. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: Macmillan, 1966. 456
  2. Chandler Campaigns, 459
  3. Chandler Campaigns, 467-468
  4. Petre, F. Loraine. Napoleon's Conquest of Prussia 1806. London: Lionel Leventhal Ltd., 1993 (1907). ISBN   1-85367-145-2. 84-85
  5. Chandler Campaigns, 470-471
  6. Chandler Campaigns, 472-473
  7. Petre, 139
  8. Chandler, David. Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. New York: Macmillan, 1979. ISBN   0-02-523670-9. 214-216
  9. Petre, F. Loraine. Napoleon's Conquest of Prussia 1806. London: Lionel Leventhal Ltd., 1993 (1907). ISBN   1-85367-145-2. 192-193
  10. Petre, 193
  11. Petre, 194
  12. 1 2 3 4 Petre, 195
  13. 1 2 Smith, Digby. The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill, 1998. ISBN   1-85367-276-9. 226
  14. 1 2 Chandler Campaigns, 498
  15. 1 2 3 Petre, 196
  16. Smith, 226-227

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See also