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"The Battle Of Eylau (Dr. Chandler)" Topic

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1,244 hits since 15 Nov 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0115 Nov 2017 4:05 p.m. PST

"Much of the myth has come down to us in the form of eye-washing, by nineteenth-century battle painters, and brainwashing by some military historians who, even up to the present day, consider that men, horses, artillery and wagons can go dashing around a battlefield covered by almost a meter of snow, in temperatures of -16c, while intermittent blizzards raged.

Trying to piece together the individual events of this great battle is rather like attempting to unravel a tangled fishing line; just when you think you have found the correct loop to pass it through, the whole lot gets even more entwined. Dealing with the battle as a whole, therefore, is not the object of this paper, but by focusing our attention on one of the grand moments during its course, in this case Murat's massive cavalry charge, we may come to understand just how complex, and at times how fabricated Napoleonic battles could be.

I do not intend to go into any details of the campaign leading up to the battle of Eylau other than to mention events just prior to the battle which may have effected the circumstances which occurred during its course; suffice to say that, like the battle itself, many other events which took place during this campaign are equally subject to doubt and conjecture.
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Barenakedleadies Inactive Member15 Nov 2017 5:45 p.m. PST

thanks tango!

C M DODSON16 Nov 2017 12:43 a.m. PST

Interesting stuff indeed. As a skier visiting wintery places this research makes a great deal of sense. I for one would not like to sleep in a great coat on the snow at night.

I can not understand how anyone could function physically and mentally in such conditions let alone fight. They were made of sterner stuff in those days obviously.


FatherOfAllLogic16 Nov 2017 8:22 a.m. PST

Good article, but…..

He says that the falling temps made the coats weigh twice as much. How? If they got wet and then froze maybe. Otherwise, no. His experiment with gear outside was off too. He stuffed wool into the boots and coat to provide warmth, then states that everything froze stiff. Sorry, that wool won't stay warm for very long, unlike what a human body would do.

He also talks about the weapons not working well because of the cold. Unlike modern high tolerence machined weapons, I would think the very simple flintlock mechanism on a musket would work ok in the cold (unless it got very wet). As for cannon, a handful of snow thrust into the muzzle might suffice?

I live in northern Wisconsin in terrain similar to Eylau and at early February think about the travails of the horses and men.

Tango0116 Nov 2017 11:12 a.m. PST

Glad you enjoyed it my friend.


42flanker16 Nov 2017 1:02 p.m. PST

His comments about the effect of intense cold on other leather equipment, not subject to human warmth might stand up to scrutiny. And it is possible snow might not be the most reliable source of moisture for swabbing out a gun. If the frost was hard it would be difficult to employ and if softer would soon turn to much around the guns. I guess a bucket full of slush might do.

With regard to guns he did leave an old-fashioned fowling piece outside and recorded how the cold affected its working parts adversely.

As for cold hands being unable to operate weapons, I have asked re-enactors about this and they have said that once one is up and firing cold hands needn't be too much of problem. Of course, frost bite, numbness and hypothermia might be more of a profound problem for real soldiers in the field for days or weeks.

Prolonged service under damp,wintry conditions could affect the reliability of small arms ammunition, artillery munitions less so.

Overall, the representation of cavalry depleted by exposure, fatigue or malnourishment, trying to drum up a charge in deep snow or across frozen ground seemed to me to be a telling image, and a problem worth considering.

James Arnold16 Nov 2017 2:18 p.m. PST

I greatly appreciate Graham's thoughtful attention to matters of weather and its impact of the battle. A Russian officer recorded on the eve of battle: "Tonight will be terrible. It is frantically cold and we have no fire." Regarding the battle, I think he was mislead on many points by Petre et al. I do not want to come across as self-promotional, however my book, "Crisis in the Snows: Russia Confronts Napoleon the Eylau Campaign", co-written with Ralph R. Reinertsen, uses a much more complete set of primary sources than the authors cited. We devote twelve pages to Murat's charge, which, we calculate involved 5,000 troopers (for example all the dragoon divisions had three squadrons per regiment, not four; Grouchy and Klein had four regiments each, not six). This is not to take away from Graham's provocative and thoughtful work, but merely to say that I think his sources for the battle itself were problematic.

Andrew Preziosi Supporting Member of TMP16 Nov 2017 5:39 p.m. PST

James Arnold, in "Crisis in the Snows" spends quite a bit of paper on just how the Russian Irregular Cavalry, supported by Hussars from time to time, absolutely ran the French Dragoon divisions into the ground.

So, that aspect of the battle that was presented in the aricle I can easily believe.

WKeyser20 Nov 2017 12:54 a.m. PST

I will have to say that Arnolds book Crisis in the Snows has one of the best descriptions of the cavalry charge and the battle as a whole that I have read. This includes Chandler, and Petre. It was the first time from dozens of descriptions that I really got what seems to be an accurate picture of the charge. Great book as are all Arnold Napoleonic books.


Sparta20 Nov 2017 4:52 a.m. PST

One up for Crisis in the snows – one of my alltime favourite Napoleonic books – changed my perspective on the battle completely.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP20 Nov 2017 5:16 a.m. PST

Altama Desert boots were not the best choice for Red Square in -23degrees C. Both soles cracked just in front of the heel within half an hour. I was jolly cross…………..

Tango0120 Nov 2017 10:34 a.m. PST

Totally Agree!….


Le Breton Inactive Member20 Nov 2017 12:37 p.m. PST


Try USAF "Maintainer" boots spec'd for standing out is the cold where the only un-frozen liquids are corrosive or strong solvents. 200-ish dollars list price, can find for much less in surplus. Many size/width combinations. One color choice. Steel and composite toe options. Replace the laces with paracord for that "tacti-cool" look.


By the way …. your Altama's likely failed not from the cold but from the God-forsaken mix of poisons that they try to use in Moscow to melt snow/ice off the roads. Most walking/metro folks leave shoes in the office, and commute in old boots instead.

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