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Craonne 1814

Letter from fusilier Matthieu LEGOUX of the 1er Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne to his mother (Spring 1814):

My dear mother,

After a long march under the rain, I finally arrived with other stragglers to the French bivouac near the little village of Craonnelle accompagnied by my friend Flassan.

We were getting ready to sleep in a ditch or near a fire when we found fusilier Figo of our regiment. This comrade kindly offered to give us a spot under his shelter which allowed us to have a dry night's sleep.

In the early morning, having wolfed down breakfast, we got equipped to carry out drill and battalion-leve manoeuvers under the orders of lieutenant Caporal (2nd platoon comprising of the 1st, 6th and 18th regiments and the 17th light infantry) and captain Sans-Soucis (our battalion commander).

At noon, our platoon received orders to quickly eat and to start marching on the enemy which was being sought out by our light cavalry. We hurriedly ate and got our packs on, ready to march. Once the platoon was assembled under arms, we marched in the direction of the plateau of Craonne.

Having arrived in proximity to the enemy, we heard that our skirmishers from the 17th light infantry were being engaged. The hedges around the battlefield made manoeuvring difficult but we worked our way through them in order to catch the Prussians on their flank. Once we had cleared these obstacles, we saw that our battalion's third platton (comprised of soldiers from the 8th infantry) had beaten us to the task and had already engaged the enemy forces. We therefore pressed the enemy, who was giving way to our numbers but still in good order, without firing a shot.

After chasing the foe a certain distance, our lieutenant decided to reposition us near a castle so that we could catch our breath. Shortly after having arrived in our new position the Prussians, who were being hard pressed by our battalion's first and second platoons, appeared on the path leading to the castle. We therefore deployed along this way behind a stone wall and the enemy, having no choice under our bullets, was forced to retreat into the village around the church.

From our strong positions, we carried on our deadly fire into them whilst the rest of our battalion cornered them against the church. It really was a terrible massacre.

We then returned to our camp in order to treat our wounded (of which figured Figo) and to spend another night.

After a few hours rest, the captain order our platoon to awaken in the middle of the night and to set out towards the enemy to assess his positions. We progressed in silence in order not to be spotted once when caught sight of the enemy's fires in the distance.

Whilst approaching, our men thought they could see the white Saxon uniforms before them and some fired inhaste, therefore giving away our position and the element of surprise, but no fire was returned. A volunteer was then found to investigate why the Saxons were not firing back but he returned to advise us that we had in fact fired on some large white rocks!

Our lieutenant then sent forwards the men of the 17th light infantry to carry out a diversion on the right of the enemy's camp. We were directed to it's left. When we heard our skirmishers starting to fire with the enemy, it was our signal to close with our foe. We then clashed with an enemy troop which fired on us, causing great confusion in our ranks but responded and scattered them. We followed them and then started firing at another force that appeared to our right. Unfortunately, these men turned out to be some of our dragoon who had come to support us on foot.

After this skirmish, we were allowed to return to our bivouac to get some rest. It was a short night and the following morning, after another quick breakfast, we set off to take the plateau from the enemy.

Our platoon was covered by soldiers of our third platoon, who were doing a grand job of pushing the Prussians before us. We managed to turn the enemy on his flank and therefore cut him off for his main line of retreat. But the enemy was still determined to resist us and threw us back with a bayonet charge. We therefore retreated, covered by our skirmishers, to a better position.

The Prussians, unable to follow us, retired towards their encampements and we therefore gave chase once again. We were now in what was left of the village of Craonne and still chased the enemy who was withdrawing on the plateau in confusion. It was therefore time for us to cut his retreat once and for all.

We positioned ourselves on the enemy's flank once more that forced him to give ground. From our new position, we could see the rest of our battalion closing in on the enemy and it was another massacre as the Prussians were boxed in and defeated. We even repulsed a bayonet charge when the enemy was trying to force his way out of our trap.

Our captain and lieutenant expressed their satisfaction in our conduct. The battle had been won.

We returned to the bivouac and collected up our belongings in order to continue chasing the Prussians. We thought of our comrades in the regiment would were hit during these engagements (notably Figo) before marching off under the rain once more.

I will leave you for the moment and promise that I will write again as soon as possible.

Your devouted son,

Matthieu

Some are returning from a foraging expedition.

Soldiers of the Saxon regiment "Prinz Anton" get geared up...

...when a French cavalry patrol is spotted!

The Prussian Landwehr gets into position...

...with a screen of Badish skirmishers.

The fighting is hot, with nearly 12.000 victimes...

Despite the losses, the battle is a French victory.

News report from the BBC



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