THE YAMBURG DRAGOON REGIMENT IN JUNE, 1812
From Istoriya 14-go Ulanskago Yamburgskago Eya Imperatorskago Vysochestva Velikoi Knyazhny Marii Aleksandrovny Polka, by Lieutenant Krestovskii 1st, St. Petersburg, 1873. (Starting at page 180.)
A division of the Yamburg Regiment in Kulnevs rearguard. Ensign Bolgovskiis unfortunate mistake with the French. Marches. Ensign Kirkor and the first skirmish. Retreat to Vilkomir. The affair at Devyaltovo. Losses in Butkevichs squadron. Retreat to the Drissa encampment. Wittgensteins corps receives a special mission. Reconnaissance duty.
The 1st Separate Corps, bearing in mind the nearness of the enemy, was since 6 June deployed in concentrated cantonment quarters between Dubiss and Neveya, and had sent out observation detachments. The Yamburg Regiment was occupying a small place called Zhvegi (1).
On the morning of 12 June Graf Wittgenstein found out that the French army was turning toward Kovno, and that same evening he began withdrawing to Vilkomir. The Yamburg Regiment was to go into a reserve under Major General Sazonov. As a result of this assignment, the regiment had to complete a long and fast march from Zhvegi to Vilkomir.
Marching out on the 12th, in less than 24 hours the regiment made a 70-verst march and for the time being was halted by Sazonov at Shaty (2). Here came an order from Wittgenstein (3) to detach two squadrons of the Yamburg Regiment and send them to Zheimy (4) as part of a force under Major General Kulnev.
This order was a result of the decision in Wittgensteins headquarters on 12 June to withdraw to Vilkomir, when it became plainly necessary to form a new rearguard under Kulnev to cover this retreat (5).
Two squadrons of the Yamburg Regiment (Majors Pryazhevskii and Butkevich), which had just managed to get to Shaty, had to immediately leave for Zheimy and occupy a line of advance posts. The squadrons sent out mounted patrols toward the enemy and set out observation pickets.
Operating against Wittgensteins corps was Marshal Oudinot who aimed to cut him off from our main army (6).
Major Butkevich, coming to Zheimy, sent out one patrol under the command of Ensign Bolgovskii across the Kovno-Vilkomir road, toward Vepry, with the object of spying out the enemy.
On 14 June the careless and perhaps too hot-headed young officer suddenly ran into a detachment of French cavalry which was making a reconnaissance in this area. There was nowhere to retreat, as well as too late, since the horses in his command were extremely tired. It must be noted that Bolgovskii and his men previously had to cover 70 versts from Zbegi to Shaty, then immediately go to Zheimy, and from there, without getting any rest, set off for 23 versts to Vepry. So in all it amounted to about 105 verstsand all without sleep, without rest, and without feeding the horses! He accepted the uneven battle and became the victim of his hopeless situation; he himself and his men, almost all battered and incapacitated by wounds, became prisoners of the enemy (7).
On the 15th Pryazhevskiis squadron occupied advanced posts in front of Zheimy. Ensign Kirkor stood with a picket on some gently sloping heights from which the dirt road in front could be observed for three versts. To his left, no more than half a verst away, there began the edge of a large forest, a strip of which reached far beyond Shaty, more than 20 versts, and which at the base of his gently sloping hill almost came up to the road itself. Suddenly, their appeared a line of enemy cavalrymen on the edge of these woods. Kirkor spread his men out and, coming around their flank, began a firefight. These were the first shots which our regiment, and at the same timeWittgensteins corps, as represented by our picket, exchanged with the enemy (8).
Here we took prisoner a deserter from the 33rd Regiment of the Line, who we sent to main headquarters.
Thanks to Oudinots diversion as noted, on the morning of the 15th Wittgenstein still managed to gather his corps together (except for Vlastov) in Vilkomir and give the troops a rest after three forced marches. Kulnev, attracting the attention of the enemy, at the same time safeguarded the withdrawal of Vlastovs column. During this time, Oudinot began to press our rearguard, which withdrew a little to Shaty and from there to Vilkomir.
All this time the Yamburgtsy held back raids by the enemy advance posts and forced the Polish lancers to keep a respectful distance.
On the morning of the 16th pickets from the Yamburg Regiment reported that the enemy was beginning a large-scale advance along the road from Shaty. At first only masses of cavalry could be seen, but soon infantry and artillery began to move out with them in equal numbers (9). From all indications it could be seen that Oudinot wanted to force us to battle, but Kulnev continued his guarded withdrawal, ordering the Yamburgtsy from time to time to engage the enemys mounted troops.
At last, we arrived at Devyaltovo. Here Kulnevs rearguard was reinforced with fresh troops who replaced some of his units. From Devyaltovo to Vilkomir, for a distance of six versts, the rearguard was delayed for more than four hours as they repulsed attacks by very skillfully positioned enemy artillery and by skirmishers who were taking cover in the bushes. But more than anything it was bold cavalry charges which saved us as they came one after the other, hardly leaving room for cavalry to maneuver. In this business Butkevichs squadron lost six men, which when combined with the nine dragoons who were with Bolgovskii, brought our losses to fifteen men and fifteen horses (10). The rearguard fought stubbornly and fully accomplished the mission with which it was charged: Wittgensteins main forces and reserve were able to pass through the town and cross over the Sventa. Especially helpful in this was our cavalrys last attack, which Kulnev loosed upon the enemy just in front of the town itself, when our rearguard skirmishers were occupying wicker fences and palisades. In the evening we quit Vilkomir accompanied by the sound of explosions in the burning magazines which we were able to set afire, and that night, under the cover of musket fire from our jägers, we were already across and on the Sventas other bank. "This affair, in itself not especially important," noted Dovre in his Journal, "was noteworthy for the extreme orderliness of General Kulnevs withdrawal." (11) Wittgenstein retreated to Perkele.
From the 17th there began very disagreeable weather which hindered the movement of the forces, especially the supply trains. On the 19th the 1st Corps was already in Soloky. All this time we were making fast forced marches which were necessary in order to concentrate our various corps at one location, since they were spread out over a great distance. This movement was the reason for the extreme exhaustion of our men, a result of which was that on the 24th our regiment sent sixteen lower ranks and one officer to the temporary hospital in Dünaburg (12). Meanwhile on the 28th, the 1st Corps, retreating from Soloky through Braslav to Druya, used three bridges to cross to the right bank of the Dvina at Druya, and was here soon reinforced by new reserves (13). But on the 29th it moved up the right bank and deployed opposite Leonpol, to the right of the Drissa encampment. The Yamburg Regiment, located now on the extreme right flank of the 1st Army, bivouacked at a farm at the village of Balin. On this same day we were gladdened by Graf Wittgensteins order of the day which announced that the backward movement of the 1st Corps was finished and that General Kulnevs detachment was designated the vanguard.
End of translation.
(1) Précis de la campagne du I corps de larmée doccident pendant lannée 1812 ("Voen.-Uch. Arkh." No. 1,922).
(2) Report of Maj. Gen. Sazanov to Wittgenstein for 13 June, No 85 ("Voen.-Uch. Arkh." Sect. II No 1,855.)
(3) For 12 June, No. 126.
(4) Ten versts from Shaty.
(5) The vanguard (located near Jurburg), which up to this time had been commanded by Kulnev, was turned over to Colonel Vlastov and formed a separate column on 1st Corps right flank. It withdrew through Ponevezh to Vizhuny and there joined up witht eh 1st Corps. The new vanguard entrusted to Kulnev and concentrated in the area around Zheimy, was made up of the following: 25th Jäger Regiment; two battalions of the 5th Divisions Combined Grenadier Regiment; two squadrons of the Yamburg Dragoons; and Light Battery No. 27 (Précis et ctr."Voen.-Uch. Arkh." No. 1,922).
(6) Oudinots corps consisted of 28 battalions and 20 squadrons totaling 37,000 men. His cavalry included the 7th, 20th, 23rd, and 24th Chasseurs á Cheval and the 8th (Polish) Lancer Regiment, i.e. the brigades of Casteks and Corbineau (Bogdanovich, Vol. I, page 506).
(7) Service lists of the Yamburg Regiment.
(8) Service lists of the Yamburg Regiment.
(9) Graf Wittgensteins report to Barclay de Tollly, from 16 June, as No. 12. ("Voen.-Uch. Arkh." Sec. II, No. 1,873.)
(10) Monthly returns of the Yamburg Regiment for 1812.
(11) Précis et ctr. ("Voen.-Uch. Arkh.", No. 1,922.)
(12) Ensign Savinych.
(13) Eight battalions and three composite regiments, under the command of Major Generals Gamen and Repnin.
Translated by Mark Conrad, 1996.