1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Friedland (Prussia)

FRIEDLAND, a town of Prussia, on the Alle, 27 m. S.E. of Königsberg (pop. 3000), famous as the scene of the battle fought between the French under Napoleon and the Russians commanded by General Bennigsen, on the 14th of June 1807 (see Napoleonic Campaigns). The Russians had on the 13th driven the French cavalry outposts from Friedland to the westward, and Bennigsen’s main body began to occupy the town in the night. The army of Napoleon was set in motion for Friedland, but it was still dispersed on its various march routes, and the first stage of the engagement was thus, as usual, a pure “encounter-battle.” The corps of Marshal Lannes as “general advanced guard” was first engaged, in the Sortlack Wood and in front of Posthenen (2.30–3 a.m. on the 14th). Both sides now used their cavalry freely to cover the formation of lines of battle, and a race between the rival squadrons for the possession of Heinrichsdorf resulted in favour of the French under Grouchy. Lannes in the meantime was fighting hard to hold Bennigsen, for Napoleon feared that the Russians meant to evade him again. Actually, by 6 a.m. Bennigsen had nearly 50,000 men across the river and forming up west of Friedland. His infantry, in two lines, with artillery, extended between the Heinrichsdorf-Friedland road and the upper bends of the river. Beyond the right of the infantry, cavalry and Cossacks extended the line to the wood N.E. of Heinrichsdorf, and small bodies of Cossacks penetrated even to Schwonau. The left wing also had some cavalry and, beyond the Alle, batteries were brought into action to cover it. A heavy and indecisive fire-fight raged in the Sortlack Wood between the Russian skirmishers and some of Lannes’s troops.


The head of Mortier’s (French and Polish) corps appeared at Heinrichsdorf and the Cossacks were driven out of Schwonau. Lannes held his own, and by noon, when Napoleon arrived, 40,000 French troops were on the scene of action. His orders were brief: Ney’s corps was to take the line between Posthenen and the Sortlack Wood, Lannes closing on his left, to form the centre, Mortier at Heinrichsdorf the left wing. Victor and the Guard were placed in reserve behind Posthenen. Cavalry masses were collected at Heinrichsdorf. The main attack was to be delivered against the Russian left, which Napoleon saw at once to be cramped in the narrow tongue of land between the river and the Posthenen mill-stream. Three cavalry divisions were added to the general reserve. The course of the previous operations had been such that both armies had still large detachments out towards Königsberg. The afternoon was spent by the emperor in forming up the newly arrived masses, the deployment being covered by an artillery bombardment. At 5 o’clock all was ready, and Ney, preceded by a heavy artillery fire, rapidly carried the Sortlack Wood. The attack was pushed on toward the Alle. One of Ney’s divisions (Marchand) drove part of the Russian left into the river at Sortlack. A furious charge of cavalry against Marchand’s left was repulsed by the dragoon division of Latour-Maubourg. Soon the Russians were huddled together in the bends of the Alle, an easy target for the guns of Ney and of the reserve. Ney’s attack indeed came eventually to a standstill; Bennigsen’s reserve cavalry charged with great effect and drove him back in disorder. As at Eylau, the approach of night seemed to preclude a decisive success, but in June and on firm ground the old mobility of the French reasserted its value. The infantry division of Dupont advanced rapidly from Posthenen, the cavalry divisions drove back the Russian squadrons into the now congested masses of foot on the river bank, and finally the artillery general Sénarmont advanced a mass of guns to case-shot range. It was the first example of the terrible artillery preparations of modern warfare, and the Russian defence collapsed in a few minutes. Ney’s exhausted infantry were able to pursue the broken regiments of Bennigsen’s left into the streets of Friedland. Lannes and Mortier had all this time held the Russian centre and right on its ground, and their artillery had inflicted severe losses. When Friedland itself was seen to be on fire, the two marshals launched their infantry attack. Fresh French troops approached the battlefield. Dupont distinguished himself for the second time by fording the mill-stream and assailing the left flank of the Russian centre. This offered a stubborn resistance, but the French steadily forced the line backwards, and the battle was soon over. The losses incurred by the Russians in retreating over the river at Friedland were very heavy, many soldiers being drowned. Farther north the still unbroken troops of the right wing drew off by the Allenburg road; the French cavalry of the left wing, though ordered to pursue, remaining, for some reason, inactive. The losses of the victors were reckoned at 12,100 out of 86,000, or 14%, those of the Russians at 10,000 out of 46,000, or 21% (Berndt, Zahl im Kriege).