Fabian Vilgelmovich (Fabian Gotlib) von der
Excerpts from the 1806 Diary
Fabian Vilgelmovich (Fabian Gotlib) von
der Osten-Sacken (b. 31 October 1752, Revel – d. 19 April
1837, Kiev) was born into a family of German barons from Courland;
although his family name was Osten-Sacken, he is often referred to
as Sacken. After enlisting as a sub ensign in the Koporsk Infantry
Regiment on 29 October 1766, he participated in the Russo-Turkish
War in 1769-1770, fought at Khotin and transferred as an ensign to
the Nasheburg Infantry Regiment. In 1771-1773, Sacken served in
Poland . By 1785, he served as a captain in the Infantry Cadet Corps
and transferred as a lieutenant colonel to the Moscow Grenadier
Regiment on 24 November 1786. He joined the Rostov Musketeer
Regiment on 30 July 1789 and took part in the Russo-Turkish War of
1789-1791. Promoted to colonel on 21 August 1792, Sacken received
the Order of St. George (4th Class, 7 December 1792) and transferred
to the Chernigov Musketeer Regiment in 1793. He served against the
Poles in 1794. On 9 October 1797, Sacken became a major general and
chef of the Ekaterinoslavl Grenadier Regiment; two months later, he
became chef of the Pskov Grenadier Regiment on 22 January 1798. In
1799, Sacken served in the Russian corps in Switzerland and fought
at Zurich, where he helped to cover the Russian retreat before being
wounded in the head and captured by the French. Released in 1800, he
became chef of the St. Petersburg Grenadier Regiment on 14 January
In 1805, Sacken commanded a corps in the Grodno and Vladimir gubernias.
In 1806-1807, he led one of the columns in Bennigsen’s army and
fought at Pultusk, Jankovo, Eylau and Launau. During the operations
around Guttstadt in June 1807, his column moved very slowly and
allowed Ney’s corps to escape. Allegedly, Sacken, who had strained
relations with Bennigsen, intentionally delayed the advance in order
to undermine entire operation and have Bennigsen removed from the
army. Bennigsen accused Sacken of insubordination and held him
responsible for the failure of the maneuver at Guttstadt. The
military court found Sacken guilty and relieved of command on 10
Osten-Sacken spent the next five years in St. Petersburg before
taking over as a commander of the Reserve Corps in the 3rd Reserve
Army of Observation in early 1812. In October 1812, he covered the
advance of Chichagov’s army to the Berezina and fought at Slonim
and Volkovysk. In 1813, he commanded a corps in the Army of Silesia
and fought at Leignitz, Kaizerwalde, Bunzlau and Katzbach. He was
promoted to general of infantry on 11 September 1813 with seniority
dating from 26 August 1813. He distinguished himself at Leipzig and
was awarded the Order of St. George (2nd Class) on 20 October 1813.
In 1814, he participated in the battles at La Rothière (received
the Order of St. Andrew the First Called), Craonne and Paris. He was
appointed the Govenor General of Paris on 31 March 1813 and served
until June 1814, receiving a special golden word with inscription
“March 1814 – City of Paris to General Sacken.”
In 1815, Sacken commanded the 3rd Corps in Poland before becoming
the commander-in-chief of the 1st Army and a member of the State
Council on 20 June 1818. Three years later, he was honored with the
title of Count of the Russian Empire on 20 April 1821. He became
chef of the Uglitsk Infantry Regiment on 9 February 1826; this unit
was then renamed as the Osten-Sacken’s Infantry Regiment. Sacken
was promoted to field marshal on 3 September 1826. During the Polish
Uprising in 1830-1831, he governed the Kiev, Podolsk and Volhynia gubernias.
He was conferred the title of Prince of the Russian Empire on 20
November 1832. During his career, Osten Sacken also received the
Orders of St. Vladimir (1st Class), of St. Alexander of Neva, of St.
Anna (1st Class), the Prussian Orders of Red and Black Eagles, the
Austrian Order of Maria Theresa, a medal “For XXXV Years of
Distinguished Service” and two golden swords (one with diamonds)
The diary was published in Russkii Arkhiv, 38 (1900): 169-174 and
represent excerpts from Osten-Sacken’s manuscript, which however
was never published in full. Currently, the editor is trying to
track down and publish the original manuscript, and if you have any
information on this topic, please contact him.
From notes on the 1805 Campaign
26 January [7 February] 1806. I dined with [Mikhail] Kutuzov
today. Orders and brilliants are showered for the [exploits] in the
previous campaign [in Moravia in 1805]. Kutuzov is constantly in
good spirit. He and his supporters are convinced that his retreat
was equal to that of Xenophon.1]
From notes on the 1806 Campaign
The Jews are plundering our army; they ruin locals and leave our
troops in complete misery and hardship. General [Levin] Bennigsen
protects them as if they were his own children.
His actions only raise suspicions that he shares their profits.
1  December. Plan of operations against the enemy is drafted.
The division is split into two parts, one is placed under command of
Titov, while Sacken, in charge of the other part, proceeded to
Novomesto. The enterprise failed and the troops were bivouacked
together for the first time at Novomesto. The 3rd Division returned
to Makovo, where it took up a strong position. On 5th [17 December,]
Sacken received first instructions from Kamensky. On the 9th [21
December], Lestocq’s courier arrived. Barclay reports that the
enemy seized Plotsk. The night of the 11th was spent in commotion.
An intense cannonade can be heard. On the 12th [24 December], our
posts along the Vkra River were driven back. Field Marshal [Mikhail]
Kamensky quickly arrived at Sakhochin. He did not allow Sacken to
remain with his division but requested him to march at once with one
regiment to support Bennigsen at Stregochin. On the 13th [25
December], at 1:00 a.m., we marched from Sakhochin via Strasbourg
and reached Stregochin at dawn. However, Bennigsen already moved to
Pultusk. Sacken with the Lithuanian and Chernigov regiments remained
at Stregochin. [Mikhail] Barclay de Tolly was in the advance guard.
In the evening, everyone marched to Pultusk.
The road was so poor that one part of the artillery was stuck in
mud. On the 14th [26 December] the troops reached Pultusk at dawn.
They were deployed in battle order at once. At 10:00 a.m. the enemy
appeared and began his attack but he was repelled at all places with
heavy casualties. That night, [strong] wind and snow ended the
battle. The enemy retreated.
On 15 [27 December], contrary to a common sense, we retreated during
the night, abandoning wounded and sick on the battlefield and [some]
cannon [still] stuck in the mud. A complete chaos spread among the
troops; everyone, literally, fled headlong as if after a complete
defeat. The soldiers had not received bread for two days in a raw.
Falling from exhaustion, covered in mud, we [finally] reached Rozhan.
16 [28 December] Even here [at Rozhan] Bennigsen did not feel
himself in safety. At dawn, he ordered everyone to retreat in utter
disorder, and so we march - without halting anywhere or receiving
any food, pillaging villages and noblemen’s estates – to
We were finally given a break on 17 December. The troops were
deployed in astounding order – as if for [prepared] for slaughter.
Everything done or said is completely devoid of common sense.
Literally, all of this is a genuine chaos of Babylon.
18 [30 December]. From the start of the campaign until today no one
bothered to inquire about Sacken’s opinion on military operations,
despite the fact that he is the most senior officer after Bennigsen.
The troops crossed the Narew River at dawn and took up position on
the left bank of the river.
On the 19th [31 December], the corps moved in one column towards
Meshkov, where the tail [the rear units] finally arrived at night.
[Local] houses are devastated, soldiers spread around and pillage
neighboring villages. Anticipating the enemy, we always place our
soldiers in houses. But now, with the [French] at long distance from
us, the soldiers were billeted in their tents in the fields; they
are not given any food.
At last, on the 20th [December; 1 January 1807], we occupied our
quarters. The 3rd Division is deployed at Czartory. Order is
established and pillaging is quickly brought to an end. Our
headquarters is set up at Novograd.
23rd [December, 4 January 1807]. Bennigsen informs us about rumors
that the enemy had crossed the Narew and is at Chervintsy. We remain
idle. News are expected from Barclay. We constantly short on bread.
Our actions now become not only hardly comprehensible but rather
nonsensical. The weather is like befitting the autumn and winter is
not setting in yet.
25 [December, 6 January 1807]. Attempts are being made to construct
pontoon near Novograd but the ice creates serious hurdles to this; a
bridge on boats fails as well. The winter begins at last.
26 [December, 7 January 1807]. Sacken moves from Czartorow through
Novograd and Lomza to Pnev. After futile movement to Czekhocin,
Grodno, Slasovo, Mogeshi and Zabelu, the army proceeds to Prussia .
1  January 1807. Another years has passed in discontent, sorrow,
hardship, misery and dangers of every kind. It brought me no
pleasure or joy. We entered the old Prussia .
14  January. We reached Lipstadt. Learning about the appearance
of some enemy patrols, the entire army of over 70,000 men took up
battle position on the heights dominating this town and spent most
of the night at bivouacs. The day before, Anrep was killed near the
Georgenthal while Bernadotte slipped away from us.
15th [27 January]. The army moved to Mohrungen. Sacken’s division
arrived at Spiegelberg on the 20th and, on the night of 22nd, it
reached at Jankovo, where the army was deployed in battle order. The
enemy made attempts to built bridges over the Alle River. Our army
retreats senselessly, and, as usual, Bennigsen is first to flee. On
the 23rd, we move to Wolfensdorf. The enemy, taking advantage of our
withdrawal, attacks our rear guard and inflicted heavy casualties on
it. On the 24th, the army continues its retreat and, on the 25th, it
makes a night-time withdrawal to Landsberg. The enemy catches up
with us around noon. Several combats ended unsuccessfully for us due
to poor direction on our part.
26th [January, 7 February 1807]. We again march at night and, by the
morning, the army reaches Preussisch Eylau. The enemy is at our
heels. Bennigsen made a mistake of not occupying the town with
sufficient forces. The enemy immediately rushed into the town but
was later driven out. Yet, Somov soon got scared, retreated and the
enemy recaptured the town.
27 [January, 8 February] Sunday. The battle of Preussich Eylau. Due
to Bennigsen’s negligence, we did not occupy the town and failed
to reinforce the hill on our left flank though it dominated the
entire position. We remained in our position from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00
p.m. Our artillery, having exhausted its ammunition, had to
withdraw. Bennigsen could not be found anywhere on the battlefield.
At 3:00 p.m. the left flank [was forced] to change its position. The
army remained on the battlefield until the night and, as expected,
it then retreated. It moved to Schonflis, where it took a battle
position on the 30th. After two days, it was finally deployed near
the Konigsberg fortress on 2 February.
5th [12 February]. I visited hospitals, which are in most miserable
condition. We have over 8,000 wounded, many of whom still have not
been treated. Some 100 [wounded] are dying every day.
6th [18 February]. Prince Bagration, commanding the advance guard,
departed for St. Petersburg. He despised the way of life many
pursued here – everyone is involved in intrigue of some kind.
7th [19 February]. Residents of Konigsberg suffer from the burden of
our troops’ presence. It seems that they bribed Bennigsen and his
associates since the army received order to set up its bivouacs in
the vicinity of Konigsberg, which are completely devastated from
12th [24 February]. I traveled to Preussisch Eylau to see the
battlefield. It is horrendous: majority of Bennigsen’s victims
still had no proper burial.
15th [27 February]. [Alexander] Benckendorf
delivered to Bennigsen the Order of St. Andrew and a pension of
12,000 rubles. Sacken sent a letter to the tsar asking him to
relieve him of duty.
20th [February, 3 March]. The advance guard is deployed near Launau.
A bitter battle is fought with the enemy from dawn to dusk. The
woods were lost and captured again. Finally our troops gained
advantage at large portion of places.
21 [February, 4 March]. In the afternoon, we resume our attack on
the enemy, who bitterly defend the woods but was finally forced to
abandon it. [Ataman Matvei] Platov appeared with his Cossacks.
24 [February, 7 March]. Divisions received order to bivouac and
Sacken stopped at Rimerswalde.
Editor: Xenophon was ancient Greek commander and mercenary, who
served with some 10,000 Greeks in the Persian army and conduct the
famed retreat from Persia to Greece in the 5th century BCE.
Editor: Sacken and Bennigsen had developed very tense relationship
during the 1806-1807 campaign and eventually Bennigsen would have
him court-martial for alleged insubordination. Sacken’s memoirs,
thus, reveal the author’s resentment against this general.
Editor: During the battle of Pultusk, A Russian army of some 35,000
soldiers, led by Levin Bennigsen fought some 25,000 French soldiers
under Marshal Lannes. The Russians resisted the French attacks, and
withdrew the next day. Bennigsen, although claiming victory, sould
have better disposed his forces since he had a chance to defeat
Lannes's corps before French reinforcements arrived. Bennigsen,
however, believed that he was numerically superior forces and that
Napoleon himself was in the vicinity, which led him to adopt a
Editor: Sacken refers to the Biblical story of the Tower of
Babylon and the chaos that prevented its construction.
Editor: Benckendorff was one of Emperor Alexander’s flugel