Platoon Commander Kursk

Modern-Day Napoleonic Battles & Travels, Part the Fifth

The continuing chronicles of last summer’s wanderings ~

Jim Owczarski, 2 December 2017

On the evening of October 13, 1806, Napoleon I, emperor of the French, made his headquarters here at the site of what is now the Jena Battlefield Museum.

If the displays are to be believed, a recent proprietor was given to dressing up as Napoleon annually and playing at Jena.  I admire this.

The museum itself is well enough done, although certainly not to be compared with that at Waterloo or even Austerlitz, and the staff person on duty was far more interested in the F1 race he had on television than a few slightly soggy American tourists.

Throughout that evening in 1806, though, Napoleon had been urging Marshal Lannes’ V Corps to make its way up the Landgrafenberg to the plateau above Jena in the hope that he would be able to attack the Prussians with the first light of the morning.  It will be remembered that Napoleon misunderstood the orientation of the Prussian army and what he thought to be the bulk of it was actually only a fraction — the balance deployed further North and East facing Davout’s III Corps at Auerstedt.  Nevertheless, the Emperor knew that he had to get his men up on the plateau and at the Prussians as quickly as possible to push North and permit his army to fully deploy.  As the night wore on, however, his army failed to materialize and he eventually made his way back down the Landgrafenberg to the city to find out what was amiss.  What he found was an army, particularly an artillery arm, struggling with the difficult terrain.

This photograph does a very poor job of portraying how steep the climb up the Landgrafenberg is.  I climbed this in daylight, without the burden of either pack or cannon, on roads that have been, slightly, improved to facilitate access to the restaurant that now sits at the top.  I can tell you that, despite this,  it was a difficult ascent.

Yeah, um, screw this.

Once at what you hope to be the top, you emerge onto a plain beneath the plateau from which Napoleon began the battle.  Lannes’ V Corps would have encamped here overnight.

All the comforts of home.

At the top of the hill seen above is the so-called Napoleonstein.  For the better part of a century and a half there was a rock up there that supposedly marked the location from which the Emperor watched the opening phases of the battle.  This is not likely the case but, during the Soviet occupation of East Germany, Jena’s battlefield became an artillery range and Soviet gunners, the locals told me, loved “playing at Jena” (their phrase) near the stone.  The original stone has been removed and replaced by the monument below.

My little sentinel.

Wherever Napoleon may have stood, the view from the Napoleonstein is spectacular, looking down over the Jena valley to the South and giving an excellent view of the southern half of the battlefield to the North.

As the mists of the morning of October 14, 1806, lifted, Napoleon pushed his men over the plain North of the Landgrafenberg and towards the Dornberg Heights.  I’ve said this on many occasions but wish to make a record of it here.  My friend Doug Miller (panzerde in the forums) and I have been fighting out the battle using John Tiller Software’s “Campaign: Jena-Auerstedt”.  Until you walk the ground between the Napoleonstein and the Dornberg Heights, you do not understand how daunting that task would have been had the Prussian high command not frozen in place as Napoleon advanced.

Perhaps we could go around?  There’s a dip in the near foreground where runs a modern highway.

There were Prussians at the crest of the ridge you see above, and skirmishers deployed below.  Their commander, however, could not convince his superiors for several hours that the advance of the French was in earnest.  Worse, one of the Prussian commanders who attempted to come to the aide of the troops defending the Heights was specifically countermanded as insubordinate.  As a consequence, the French were able to drive to the top of the Dornberg and Napoleon would watch, with his Imperial Guard, much of the rest of the battle from the spot depicted below.

I so wanted to climb to the top of that mound, but it looked serious, official, and potentially deportation-worthy.

Once over the heights, Napoleon confronted the now better-organized troops of the Prussian army on a line centered on the small village of Vierzehnheiligen.  Still a thriving, if small, village, it has become the center of Prussian remembrances of the 1806 battle.  So much so that stretching from the eastern edge of the village to the Krippendorf windmill a few kilometers away, there is a row of trees planted along the line of what would have been the Prussian deployment, each dedicated to the cause of world peace.  The below photograph is taken from a point at near the end of this line and is looking back at the Dornberg Heights.  I won’t lie.  I got chills imagining columns of men marching in their thousands towards this spot.

I can hear the kettle drums and the cries of Vive L’Empereur!  The village of Krippendorf is in the low ground in the foreground.

The below view is taken from roughly the same spot but pivoting West to depict the line running back to Vierzehnheiligen.  This entire line was held by the men of General Julius von Grawert’s division.

The monument is to a fallen regimental commander who died at the spot.

At the far end of the line to the East is the Krippendorf windmill — only recently destroyed by a storm and lovingly restored — that was used by one of the French battalions trying to outflank Grawert’s lines.

Fair amount of fun to climb about on.

The battle for Vierzehnheiligen was really the last act of the Battle of Jena.  The reason is that, not only did Grawert’s division come up to defend it from Napoleon’s advance, but the remaining Prussians and Saxon’s, minus Ruchel’s corps, came up behind it and turned the small village into a bloody, fiery cockpit.  It was set ablaze and changed hands several times before falling to the French in the early afternoon.  It’s appropriate, therefore, that the official monument to the battle is at the site of what was once its parish church and is now a social center.

There’s also a mass grave in honor of the unknowns of the battle just off at left.

The Prussian army shattered after the fall of Vierzehnheiligen and French corps that had been marching North throughout the morning trying to find the left (eastern) flank of the Prussian army finally had a chance to turn to the West and drive them from the field.  There were still, however, profound acts of bravery on the part of the Prussians.  Below is the monument to the regiment “von Winkel” that stood in square, even as the French swept forward, to permit their fellows to make good their escapes.

Its state of disrepair made me a little angry.

Further to the North, a bit East of the village of Kappelendorf, stands the Ruchel Monument commemorating the last Prussian action at the battle.  If you ever do travel to Jena, know that it is remarkably difficult to find, off as it is on a road that looks closed to the public.  Climbing to the top of this tower, however, gives one a spectacular view of the fields over which the last stages of the battle played out as no fewer than four French corps chased the shattered Prussians West, only to be met by the men of Ruchel’s corps which had been summoned from the area near Weimar late in the day.

One wouldn’t think something this large would be that hard to find.

 

This is the view to the South and East from the top of the tower.  The von Winkel monument is hidden in the line of trees at the right.

Overall, I loved the battlefield at Jena.  It’s in relatively good shape, the course of the battle can be tracked with a fair amount of precision, and there’s convenient beer when the day is done.

And I loved Auerstedt even more.


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