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Fabian Vilgelmovich (Fabian Gotlib) von der Osten-Sacken

Excerpts from the 1806 Diary

Translated By Alexander Mikaberidze, FINS

 

Biography

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 1801.

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 June 1807.

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) for courage.

The Diary

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.[2] His actions only raise suspicions that he shares their profits.

            1 [13] 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.[3]

            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 Ostrolenka.

            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.[4]

            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 [13] 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 [26] 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 village of 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 pillaging.

            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[5] 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.

Notes:

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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 defensive stance.

[4] Editor: Sacken refers to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babylon and the chaos that prevented its construction.

[5] Editor: Benckendorff was one of Emperor Alexander’s flugel adjutants.

 


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