Saxon Army 1806

Generally regarded as a mediocre fighting force, the Saxon Army fought extensively throughout the Napoleonic Wars, almost entirely in the capacity of an ally of the French. The army of this impoverished central European electorate played only a minor role in the War of the First Coalition, in which it served on the Rhine front. It did not see action again until 1806, and then only as an uneasy ally of Prussia. Like the army of its much more powerful neighbor, the Saxon Army continued to wear uniforms and employ tac- tics practically unchanged since the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). In 1806 the army numbered 19,000 men, organized into one battalion of the elite Leib-Grenadier Garde and twelve regiments of the line, all dressed in white coats, belts, and breeches, with black gaiters and bicorn hats-straight out of the age of Frederick the Great. The cavalry was variously composed between 1806 and 1815, but at the beginning of this period comprised four heavy (cuirassier) and five light (chevauléger, uhlan, and hussar) cavalry regiments. There were also foot and horse artillery batteries, a corps of engineers, and garrison infantry.

The Saxons fought at the decisive Battle of Jena, where they acquitted themselves well, but changed sides after the campaign, joining the group of central European states bound in alliance with France known as the Confederation of the Rhine. As a newly created kingdom, Saxony sent a small contingent to fight in the 1807 campaign against Prussia and Russia, where it performed well at the siege of Danzig, and at the battles of Heilsberg and Friedland.

Saxony thirty-two battalions of infantry, forty squadrons of cavalry and twelve batteries of artillery.

THE SAXON TROOPS

These troops were mainly integrated into Hohenlohe’s army and they have been counted as such. This dispersal didn’t meet with the approval of the Saxons, who would have rather remained a single autonomous national force. A lot of them anyway had only reluctantly taken up the Prussian cause. Their Grand Elector only sent the following regiments:

-two cuirassiers regiments (with four squadrons each): Kochitsky and Kurfürst;

-four light horse or dragoons regiments (four squadrons each): Clemens, von Polenz, Prince John and Prince Albrecht;

-the eight squadrons of Saxon hussars;

-nine infantry regiments (two battalions each): Elector, Clemens, Rechten, Bevilaqua, Low, Thümmel, Niesemenschel, Prince Maximilian and Prince Frederick-Augustus, together with the corresponding grenadier battalions.

The grenadiers of the Guard and two regiments of infantry remained at Dresden.

For the artillery, there was the Kotsch battery with mortars, the Hausmann and Ernst batteries of 8-pounders, the Bonniot battery of 12-pounders, the de Hoyer battery of 4-pounders and the Grossmann and Studnitz horse artillery batteries. In all, the Saxon artillery consisted of 16 foot batteries and two horse, but the origins of the batteries which served at Jena are not always well enough documented.

Action at Saalfeld, (10Octoer1806)

The first major confrontation in the 1806 campaign between French and Prussian forces. Marshal Jean Lannes, faced by a smaller force under the command of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Hohenzollern, was given the task of taking Saalfeld. A combination of French tactical initiative and poor Prussian deployment led to the defeat of the Prussian force and to the death of Prince Louis.

Early in the Prussian campaign, Prince Louis commanded the advance guard of Frederick Louis, Prince Hohenlohe’s corps of the Prussian army and was given orders to hold Saalfeld. Lannes, conversely, had instructions to take Saalfeld, provided the enemy were discovered to be numerically inferior to his forces. Lannes duly sent out cavalry patrols to ascertain the strength of the enemy. Prince Louis had deployed his force in three lines, outside the town, but he had made little attempt to occupy the villages on his flanks. The ground was also broken up by a number of streams running in steep ravines down to the river Saale. The river itself was directly to the rear of the Prussian position. As Lannes advanced from the wooded hills to the south of Saalfeld, he was able to observe the entire enemy position. Initially he deployed in skirmish order the first of his troops to arrive on the battlefield, and they quickly advanced under the cover of the ravines. He also deployed a battalion composed entirely of the elite companies (grenadiers and voltigeurs) of his infantry to pin down the Prussians defending Saalfeld.

The French then seized the villages that flanked the Prussian line and began to issue an effective fire on the exposed lines of troops. This bombardment continued for about two hours. By now Lannes had received reinforcements and was determined to attack the Prussian right wing. Prince Louis, realizing that his line of communications was threatened, weakened his center in order to deploy troops onto a low ridge to the right of his main line, called the Sandberg. He then took the decision to launch an attack in the center against a screen of French skirmishers. The troops in the center were Saxons, and despite their bravery in attack they were repulsed by the skirmishers on their flanks and fresh French troops to their front. Having blunted the enemy advance, Lannes began an artillery bombardment before launching his own assault. French troops attacked the Sandberg, which allowed a combined infantry and cavalry assault to be delivered against the Prussian center. The four Saxon battalions there quickly broke.

In an attempt to stabilize the situation, Prince Louis led five squadrons of his own cavalry forward, in the course of which he was killed in single combat by a French sergeant of hussars. The Prussian force was now broken, and in the cavalry pursuit that followed nearly thirty guns were taken, together with 1,500 prisoners. The Prussian survivors were forced to rally 4 miles to the north of Saalfeld. The French victory began to dispel the myth of Prussian invincibility and provided a vital morale boost for the French army prior to the decisive battles to be fought at Jena and Auerstädt only days later.

References and further reading Petre, F. Loraine. 1993. Napoleon’s Conquest of Prussia, 1806. London: Greenhill.

Saxon Napoleonic Line Infantry

Saxon Napoleonic Light Infantry

Saxon Heavy Cavalry – Napoleonic Wars

Saxon Light Cavalry – Napoleonic Wars

 

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