3rd Guard Lancers in 1812

The Destruction of the 3rd (Polish-Lithuanian) Lancers of the Imperial Guard in 1812

Józef Gorayski’sMilitary Recollections

The 3rd Chevau-légers of the Guard, known as the 3rd (Polish-Lithuanian) Light Horse Regiment of the Imperial Guard (but more properly the 3e régiment de chevau-légers lanciers de la Garde Impériale), was created by imperial decree issued at Vilnius on 5 July 1812. These lancers were to form part of the Young Guard, along with the established 1st (Polish) Regiment and 2nd (Dutch) Regiment of Light Horse. The man nominated to command the unit was General Jan Konopka, a veteran of the Polish Legions and then colonel of the famous Vistula Lancers. The celebrated veterans of the Legions Jan Chłusowicz (cited as Khlusowitch in the memoirs) and Kazimierz Tański were appointed as lieutenant-colonels, and Adam Bierzyński (Byezhinsky) and Adam Sołtan assumed command of the first two squadrons. Jan Konopka quit Warsaw on 19 September 1812, and set off accompanied by some officers from the 1st Chevau-légers of the Guard also assigned to this new unit and taking their horses and baggage with them. At Grodno he enrolled volunteers mainly from among the students of Vilnius University, who were insufficiently experienced but full of enthusiasm. He decided to go on to Słonim (where the Konopka family owned an estate), hoping to increase the number of horses to 500 and complete the recruitment of personnel through more volunteers. Jan Konopka then remained in Słonim whilst he organized two Guard squadrons even though the situation there grew more and more uncertain as a result of the approach of some Russian forces under Admiral Tchichagov and the warnings of the Governor of Grodno, General Jean Antoine Brun, and the Austrian General Mohr. Konopka received orders from General Bronikowski on 17 October to join General Kossecki at Nesvizh, and, on the following day, sent word that he was leaving Słonim with 500 horse. Before he did so, he was informed that some Cossacks had been seen at Różana [Ruzhana] although the reconnaissance he sent in that direction did not encounter the enemy. General Konopka decided, therefore, to devote his attention to a farewell ball held on the night of 18 October 1812. It was then that some Russian troops under the command of General Tchaplitz (a Pole in Russian service), taking advantage of the darkness, sneaked into the city suburbs after silencing the regiment’s outposts. On 19 October1812, at three in the morning, a report came in that the Russians had massed in significant numbers before the city. Konopka sounded the alarm and sent off a number of civilians (including his wife and the wife of general Dąbrowski) along with the regimental treasury (which was lost) to Vilnius, under an escort of a platoon of lancers. Some of these were killed or were taken prisoner as they fought to delay the pursuit of the Cossacks. Having done this, General Konopka then launched the 2nd Squadron under Captain Sołtan towards Różana. Here he engaged the Cossack regiment, but he was thrown back by the numerically superior Pavlogrotskiye Hussars. Sołtan was then supported by the 1st Squadron under Bierzyński. They pushed the hussars out of the town three times, but the Russians received support from their Jägers and some foot artillery. A Polish attempt to mount an orderly retreat to Zdzięcioł and Nowogródek was left too late and proved futile. A wounded Konopka along with 14 officers and 215 lancers were taken prisoner. Only a handful of men managed to escape and reach Vilnius via different routes. General Konopka was driven off in a carriage to Kherson, whilst his subordinates were escorted away by the Russians towards the Caucasus. The 3rd Regiment had gold lace and yellow trim on their uniforms and that’s why it was called the Golden Chevau-légers (lancers). A single squadron was reformed from the unit’s survivors and, following a decree on 22 March 1813, these were incorporated into the 1st (Polish) Light Horse Regiment of the Imperial Guard under the command of Wincenty Krasinski. The decree was actually carried out in Freidberg on 11 April 1813. The memoirs of Józef Gorayski presented here attempt to refute the insinuations behind the criticism of General Konopka’s conduct by some of his contemporaries as well as some allegations made by some jealous officers regarding the poor organization of the regiment at Słonim, and the property acquired by General Konopka for his private use. It makes clear that the blame for Tchaplitz’s detachment being allowed to enter Słonim should fall on General Bronikowski as his order to abandon the depot was issued too late, and also on Feldmarschall Karl Schwarzenberg, whose dilatory “help” against the impending threat of Tchichagov’s Corps reflected an Austrian policy of not opposing Russian troops in 1812 and then openly breaking the alliance with France in the following year. 

Józef Gorayski’s military recollections first appeared in the monthly supplement to volume 14 of the Journal CZAS in 1859 (CZAS, 1859, Dodatek Miesięczny). Marek Tadeusz Łałowski translated the text, verifying the names and updating place names as necessary, and Jonathan North edited the text.

My military recollections of the campaigns of 1812 and 1813

by Józef Korczak Gorayski I arrived in Warsaw in June 1812 in order to enlist into the Grand Army of Napoleon and to join the Polish troops marshalling for the coming war, however I paused there following the advice I received from the former Field Marshal Adam Czartoryski (or Tchartoryski), who was then the Marshal of the Confederation. When I informed him that I wanted to serve in the army, he summoned Mr Tarhalski to an interview, and announced these memorable words: “My dear Tarhal, accommodate Mr Joseph comfortably in my house, and in the meantime I will find him a suitable rank in the army, one worthy of the grandson of my good and old friend”.  A few days into my stay, the Prince whispered this to me whilst we were at dinner: “Well, Mr. Joseph, tomorrow at 11 o’clock in the morning, we will travel to meet General Konopka [in Vilnius]; I expect he will give you the rank of lieutenant in a regiment of the Imperial Guard which he is forming – will you agree?” Next day, in all the splendour befitting the prince’s high rank and dignity, we reached the courtyard of the spacious Rosengart hotel [in Vilnius]. Through the open windows of his hotel apartment General Jan Konopka saw that the prince had just arrived, and came out into the courtyard with some officers in order to greet him with the respect he was due. When we entered the apartment, the prince, after further polite introductions, said: “I have come to you, general, in order to present to you Mr Józef Gorayski, grandson of my beloved friend, and also a talented young man who has attended the school of engineers in Vienna for a few years and already holds the rank of officer. I know him well, since for the last few years he has often resided at my house. He wants to serve the country; I could think of no better place for him than under the command of a nobleman as distinguished as you the honourable general.” General Konopka thanked the prince for his politeness and asked me to come back to see me later in the day. When I did so, the general asked me various personal details despite, as he later told me, already having been told the answers by Prince Paweł Sapieha. He drew our interview to a close by asking me whether I had enough funds to equip myself. When I informed him that I had brought with me some fine riding horses and 1,000 ducats, he told me that from this day on I would hold the rank of Lieutenant First Class. He added that I should set aside 300 ducats in order to equip myself and then report to him every morning. My duties would be varied: overseeing the barracks and training the lancers, but, most of all, being available to serve on the general’s staff. In my new service uniform I, along with the general, attended the prince’s fêtes and dinners, as well as at those of Ambassador Pradt, to whom I was presented to along with the rest of the general’s staff. Being a good rider, I took every opportunity to show off my new uniform whilst mounted on Alina, my Arabian mare. She stood out amongst the officers’ horses on account of her beauty.  That September, once there was a semblance of organization in the unit, two of our squadrons set off to join the Grand Army via Słonim, where we had our depot, and where we were to complete the regiment. The first squadron was commanded by Adam Bierzyński, the second by Adam Sołtan – a handsome man who had already distinguished himself as an officer in the horse artillery regiment formed by Włodzimierz Potocki. I was assigned to command a company in the 1st Squadron in place of a Captain Giełgud who had preferred the position of colonel in an infantry regiment in Vilnius and so never joined our unit. The lieutenants in our company were [Ludwik] Trzciński (given as Tchinski) and Michał Mycielski, who came straight from Berlin, and who would later distinguish himself as a brave general. Having been in Warsaw I only caught up with the regiment at Pułtusk. I remember that we passed through Białystok and Grodno, and then rode directly to Słonim to assemble the first two squadrons. Throughout the march we were drilled every day. When we reached Słonim there were a dozen officers already assembled: General Konopka, Colonel [Jan] Chłusowicz, lieutenant-colonels Adam Bierzyński and Adam Sołtan, captains Łopot, [Michał] Tyszkiewicz and Ronikier, and lieutenants: Trzciński, Mycielski, Prince Antoni Jabłonowski, Wiktor Lenkiewicz, Stamirowski, Feliks Boznański and myself, along with several young (Polish) Lithuanians. There were also a few non-commissioned officers, very noble-minded young men, such as Prince Woroniecki, Skarbek, and Koncewicz. Each day was spent training and in completing all four companies. The evenings were spent dining with the general, who had a very pretty Italian wife. He would often invite his own family over as they lived in the vicinity of Słonim, and they included his sister and famous beauty, the former wife of General Bezobrazoff and later the wife of Mr Tatishchev, the Russian ambassador to Vienna. Also present with us was the wife of General Dąbrowski, née Chłapowska, who was en route to join her famous husband.

We had spent a dozen days or so busy forming our regiment at Słonim when we suddenly found out on 17 October that the Russians were not far off and were on the road from Pinsk. The general sent lancers to reconnoitre the area immediately, and they reported back that there was only a Cossack regiment approaching Słonim. We thought that Prince Schwarzenberg with the Austrian Corps, positioned just a few miles from us on the way to Vilnius, was supposed to be covering us, but on 18 October the general ordered both our squadrons to muster, and addressed us with these words: “My children, today or tomorrow, we shall encounter a whole regiment of Cossacks. Are you willing, though you lack weapons and ammunition, and are less than half their number, to demonstrate your valour, meet this regiment in battle and defeat it, and, by doing so, show the Emperor and our more senior brothers in the Guards that we are worth of being their comrades?”. “Of course!”, we all shouted, “Vive l’Empereur! Vive la Garde!”.

Then the General dismissed us, advising us to be ready for the order to mount, because the moment for battle was approaching. He spent the day sending the women and the baggage train to Vilnius, whilst the officers sent off their spare horses and baggage at five o’clock on the morning of 19 October. That same morning we formed our squadrons and made ready for battle.

The general had sent Lieutenant Prince Antoni Jabłonowski with a platoon of his lancers off down the road towards the enemy in order to gather information on the situation. Jabłonowski, however, did not return for he was ambushed and taken prisoner. At seven that morning we caught sight of a mass of approaching Cossacks. The general therefore ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Sołtan to advance with his 2nd Squadron in order to engage the enemy. The Cossacks fell back through a nearby village but, beyond it, they swung around and, supported by a significant body of hussars, attacked our lancers and forced them to withdraw. Just then an aide-de-camp arrived from the general bearing orders which resulted in the 2nd Squadron, then being driven down the causeway which led to the bridge over the river Szczara [Shtchara], being supported by the 1st Squadron of Colonel Bierzyński, which, held in reserve near the causeway, were now launched in an attack against the pursuing hussars. We all carried out a very vigorous and effective charge against an enemy which was three times stronger and pushed them back all the way to the village, scattering the hussars after some hand-to-hand fighting. Meanwhile, the 2nd Squadron was reformed, and it joined us, so that together, despite the enemy being much stronger, we felt sure of victory. The enemy began to retreat but then, suddenly, just beyond the village, the 2nd Pavlograd Hussars and a cloud of Cossacks took us in flank. We only had time to note that they also had some infantry and artillery supporting their cavalry.

These belonged to the main body of [Eufemiusz Czaplic] Tchaplitz’s corps and they had already started the process of surrounding us. (General Tchaplitz, whom I met in Paris in 1818, later confirmed this fact to me personally.) So we turned around and galloped off as fast as we could towards the causeway. There, however, we saw that the enemy, sweeping in from the right of the causeway, would be first to reach the bridge, and so some of us swerved to the left and plunged into the river. What happened to my colleagues I do not know, but I went under and was so submerged that the top of my cap was underwater. However, I sat firm in my saddle and did not lose hope (praying to Our Lady of Czestochowa,[1] whose image I carried around my neck). The extraordinary courage and strength of my chestnut horse, which I had bought a few days before from Lieutenant Trzciński for 100 ducats, allowed us to cross the river, and to leap up the riverbank, but the Cossacks had already crossed the bridge. Seeing this, I spurred my horse, and my brave chestnut caught up with our fleeing lancers. We continued to flee for half an hour until we reached the nearby forest, then my horse unexpectedly collapsed. My comrades seeing me go down, thought I had been killed, and when I finally arrived in Vilnius, I found my servant and groom had already obtained a death certificate confirming my demise.  I crawled unscathed into a ditch but I was extremely tired, soaking wet and covered with mud. I then slipped into some thick undergrowth maybe 50 paces away from the road. There I heard shooting, some yelling and the shouting of the Cossacks, but I eventually fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. I slept a few hours. I did not dare move when I woke up, although all was now quiet. But when I began to shiver from cold in my wet uniform and considered the danger of meeting carnivorous animals at night, I quit my bushes to seek shelter elsewhere. I spent more than an hour wandering along some forest paths before I saw an old peasant hauling a cart of firewood and decided to speak to him as he seemed to be a good man. He said he was on his way to the village of Harabaszowice [Kharabashovitze], belonging to Count Tyman. I had heard that this count lived near Słonim, and that he had a son who was then a Russian colonel. So I asked the peasant to guide me to the manor, where I was known to the family, and that I would reward him for the transport. He replied to me: “Well, I shall do that, because I see you are from these pretty uhlans who were in the town, and today they fought against the Muscovites. Lie down on the cart, and I will cover you with brushwood, because if they see you, they would seize you – it is not too far to the village”. It was already growing dark as the driver gathered up some brushwood and used them to hide me on the cart. We had not gone far when we encountered some drunken Cossacks who were singing and whistling, but by now we were close to the village and the count’s properties so we passed undisturbed. When we reached the manor house the lights had already been lit. I announced myself as a Guards officer. For the next half an hour a succession of people came and went asking me numerous questions, and repeatedly requesting my name. Then the lady of the house and her two daughters appeared, and they politely invited me to follow them to a room where one of their cousins lay exhausted in bed. He was a sergeant from my company, a certain Koncewicz (Kontzevitch), who had escaped from the Russians in a similar fashion as I had. When he saw me, he cried out: “This is my captain!”, and after that I was immediately permitted to stay in the count’s house. Before moving in to the manor house, I gave a ducat to the good peasant, taking it from the 200 ducats sewn into my sash. I was quartered in the same room as an old count. My time in their care was pleasant, we were even cheerful as the Tyman family was very polite and their two daughters were very jovial. Both of them played the piano, so the time passed enjoyably with dance and music. Their family was a very respectful family, and they informed me they were related to the Czartoryskis.

Before concluding these memories of this respectable sanctuary, I must mention that when communication with Vilnius became easier I thanked them for their hospitality and determined to rejoin the army. The honourable lady of the house was kind enough to promise me that she would convey me by carriage past those places where there were Russian detachments. As she was the mother of a colonel, she was known and respected everywhere, and so, on 26 October, she had four horses harnessed to her carriage, and drove me a few miles to the residence of Mr Zieliński, a former warrant officer in Polish service and a very worthy and honourable citizen who treated us very well. Then, after lunch, he sent me on to Lida with his steward. There was a detachment of French troops stationed there and immediately upon catching sight of a Guards officer they sent me post-haste to Vilnius. At Vilnius I sought out the depot of the 1st Polish Regiment of Lancers of the Guard under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Piotr Krasiński, and, a little later, in Troki [Trakai] near Vilnius I found the remains of our 3rd Regiment of the Guard under Colonel [Kazimierz] Tański, who had been sent there to replace the previous colonel. Some officers from the 1st Regiment were also transferred to our regiment, including Captain Ambroży Skarzyński, Lieutenant Julian Krasiński and a few others.

When I reported to the governor of the city of Vilnius and related those events that had transpired at Słonim, I was told that I should also meet the French minister, Prince Bassano [Hugues Maret], and give an exact account of the Słonim affair and our encounter with the enemy. I was ushered in to see the minister at once, even though many people were waiting for an interview. The minister met me very politely with “Etes vous l’Officier de la garde Impériale qui a été à l’affaire de Słonim, ou a été fait prisonnier le général Konopka et son Etat Major?.[2] When I replied: “Oui mon Prince”,[3] he declared: “Соmmе је suis très occupe dаns се momеnt, jе vous prie de venir à une heure déjeuner avec moi, alors nous aurons plus de temps de causer”.[4]

Returning at one o’clock I found the minister in his room at a table where there were place settings for three individuals. I gave him a faithful report, not only on the encounter with the Russians, but also about our entire stay in Słonim, as the minister very much wished to hear it. I acquitted General Konopka of the charge that he had only wished to stay in Słonim on account of his family and for his own amusement. Lunch was then served. The minister, sitting in the middle, bade me sit to the side of him whilst on the other side was his secretary, a certain Monsieur, with whom I became acquainted at Krakow in 1813 when he acted as first secretary to Minister Bignon for three months. Throughout this delicious meal the prince questioned me on various details, and afterwards he motioned towards a table upon which were writing implements: “Vous aurez la bonté de m’écrire une petite relation touchant l’affaire dont nous avons parlé, tout simplement comme une narration, et j’en ferai faire un extrait pour l’envoyer à S.M. l’Empereur”.[5] So I sat down and wrote out exactly what I had told him verbally. The prince looked at this report and told me: “Bien, bien, c’est tout ce que je voulais”[6] and invited me to the ball which was supposed to take place at his residence in a few days’ time. I would accompany Piotr Krasiński.

The next day I received orders that I would be temporarily assigned to the staff of the Governor of Lithuania, General Count [Dirk van] Hogendorp, serving under the Head of the Vilnius Department, General [Roch] Godard. However, being in possession of some fine horses, I frequently accompanied Count Hogendorp himself, particularly when, along with Marshal Victor, Prince of BelIuno, there was an inspection of the fortifications and the units which were quartered around the city. When not on duty, I paid visits to the houses of several of my friends and also called upon the two generals’ wives from Słonim. Just after writing my report to the minister, the Duke of Bassano, I received an order dated 1 November 1812, written and signed by General Count Stefan Grabowski, which bade me immediately write out a duplicate of the report on the Słonim affair, since one was required at once, and before 4 o’clock, so that it could be taken by courier to Imperial Headquarters. So I immediately sat down and wrote it out from memory as best I could. On 16 November I fell ill with a debilitating fever, probably as a result of the cold bath which I had taken crossing the Szczara River near Słonim. However, the best doctor in Vilnius treated me. This was Dr [Jędrzej] Śniadecki, brother of the famous astronomer from Krakow, whom I had been on good terms with whilst studying in Krakow. This honourable professor healed me in a dozen or so days, but still in a weakened state, I then learned that the Emperor had passed through Vilnius, and that the administration was evacuating the town. I was unable to learn what was happening with our newly formed regiment, in which I had been promised promotion, so there was nothing else to do but to seek out Colonel Tański the temporary commander of the 3rd Regiment of the Guard. From his quarters we were sent to Troki when the Cossacks put in an appearance near Vilnius. But from Troki we were ordered to retreat to Gdansk [Danzig] and then to Elbląg [Elbing]. At Gumbinnen the commander of the regiment informed me that Marshal [Jean-Baptiste] Bessières, Prince of Istria, in his capacity as commander of the Guards, was sending me to Warsaw to recruit young men of good family into our regiment.I was delighted to comply and I had enough money for the journey as I had sold my famous chestnut mare to the marshal for 800 ducats. I spent a few days agreeing a price with him because the mare was just so beautiful and brave that I was sorry to lose her.  I remained with Colonel Tański for a little longer and it was only at Nordenberg [now Norki] on 18 December 1812 that I received orders from the commander of the regiment permitting me to leave for Warsaw, while the rest of the detachment continued on to Elbląg. Reaching Warsaw after 20 December I reported at once to the commander of a squadron in our regiment, Ambroży Skarzyński, and assumed my duties. Since we were only temporarily in Warsaw, because every now and then we heard that the Russians would soon arrive, had a succession of temporary commanders. Among them was the Prince Dominik Radziwiłł, whom we greatly respected. He gave me detailed instructions regarding recruitment into the Guards. On 1 January 1813, Prince Józef Poniatowski, the Commander-in-Chief, selected us along with Prince Wincenty Woroniecki (also from the Guards), to accompany his entourage to deliver New Year’s greetings to Prince and Field Marshal Schwarzenberg. As something of a linguist I was then instructed to report to the Field Marshal to see if I could be of service. There, I found several officers from Vienna, including Władysław, known as Hampus, Krasicki, Karol’s brother.

In the first half of January 1813 I was granted permission to take leave for 14 days in order to settle some personal affairs regarding my estate, with orders to then return to Krakow where some detachments of troops from Warsaw, Kalisz etc, were to concentrate. Having arranged things as best I could at home, I reached Krakow at the end of January and there I found Colonel [Jan] Kozietulski, Captain [Wincent] Toedwen, the two Jordan brothers (Hermelans and Wincenty), Trzcinski, [Stanisław] Rostworowski, and other officers from the Guards.

Krakow was the location of the reorganized corps being formed under Prince Józef Poniatowski and it numbered some 15,000 men in addition to various units of the French army. All the troops gathered there were to be under the overall command of the prince and also under his orders, with the emperor’s permission, there were also a few hundred from the Guards under the direct command of Colonel Kozietulski. The whole corps was assembled and new regiments were being formed, including a lovely regiment of Krakus Lancers commanded by Major Kajetan Rzuchowski [Zhukhovski in the original].

General [Jan] Umiński wanted to have me serve as his aide-de-camp. He was an extremely active and brave general who was greatly esteemed by the prince. During the three months we remained in Krakow he was careful to favour me, and so, sensing that there would be many opportunities to distinguish myself in the upcoming campaign under such a capable general, and at the same time enjoying his support and promises, I decided to accept the offer. Prince Joseph had already learned from the General Umiński himself that he wished to have me at his headquarters, and so he promoted me to Captain First Class on the staff as I found when I received the nomination during our passage through Austria. Later, Edward Potworowski was appointed as second aide-de-camp, and he was a very brave and capable officer. At the beginning of May 1813, the army commanded by Prince Józef Poniatowski left Krakow in order to join the Grand Army in Saxony. We set off in five columns, and each column was under a general and positioned in such a way so that each column was separated from the next by the distance of one march, that is one day away. We followed the wide post road which ran through [Bielsko] Biała, Weisskirchen, Austerlitz, Brno, and then passed Olomouc and Prague to Saxony, and all the way to Zittau. We belonged to the fifth column under General Prince Antoni Sułkowski. He was a very young to be a general of division, being only 27 years old, but he was amongst the bravest, most refined and most active of the Polish officers. He was as handsome as he was polite. General Umiński and our entire staff would call on the prince each day. His chief of staff was Lieutenant-Colonel [Jan] Zabiełło, and his adjutant [Wincenty] Zbijewski. Both of them were excellent officers.

Here I must mention something which occurred during our passage through Austria, and which may have proved tragic had not Emperor Francis made an honourable decision and prevented such an outcome. When the entire army had already crossed the Polish frontier and our column had reached Frydek [-Mistek], Prince Poniatowski received notice that all the columns should stop at the place where they were, and that all the troops, apart from the officers, would march from that point forwards without arms. The weapons were to be put in crates and transported by the Austrian corps, which was marching behind us under the leadership of General Frimont, and we were informed that only at the Saxon border would the weapons be returned to us. This was a shock to us, because when we had been given permission to pass through Austrian territory no mention had been made of such terms. Our soldiers immediately declared that they would not give up their weapons, and would rather force their way through Austria than accept such an insult. I do not know where the proposal came from or who was behind it, but I do remember that we spent almost two weeks in one place, ready to break through Kozel to Wroclaw [Breslau] at any moment. However, Prince Józef sent generals [Aleksander] Rożniecki and [Józef] Rauthenstrauch to Vienna, and after some negotiations and correspondence, Emperor Francis allowed us to proceed under arms and in the same order we had left Krakow.

The rest of our march was carried out in harmony with the Austrian army, so much so that Prince Józef paid a visit to Brno to see the Archduke Ferdinand d’Este,[7] and we spent two days there. After marching along a pretty road through Moravia and the Czech lands, in which we were well received, we finally approached the town of Zittau in Saxony on 10 June. There in the course of the armistice which had been declared we reorganized ourselves for the next two months. Following this new arrangement the forces under Prince Poniatowski were termed VIII Corps of the Grand Army, whilst, at the same time, various cavalry units went to form IV Cavalry Corps under the command of General [François Etienne] Kellermann (Duc de Valmy), son of that famous [François Christophe] Kellermann, and a man who once won the battle of Marengo in a charge when [Louis] Desaix was killed.

The hostilities were to recommence on 16 August with an attack led by General [Jan] Umiński leading the entire vanguard of VIII Corps. Due to the fact that the day before hostilities were to open was 15 August, the name-day of the Emperor in which all kinds of festivities were normally held, our corps held a ball earlier, on the 10th. It was held at Zittau and it was very enjoyable, although we were also content that in a few days we should have the opportunity to distinguish ourselves, or at least that is what we expected.

On the morning of 15 August we entered a small town in the Czech lands called Friedland [Frydlant]. The enemy fell back, sending an envoy to ask General Kazimierz Umiński the meaning of his advance, given that no orders had been received to recommence hostilities? The general replied that he had been ordered to open an offensive. The next day we pushed on towards Reichenberg [Liberec], and there was only some skirmishing between minor cavalry detachments until 20 August when General Umiński’s vanguard encountered the corps under General [Adam] Neipperg (later husband of the French Empress Marie Louise). Reichenberg fell into our hands, but, on the night of 23 August, two regiments of Westphalian Hussars under the command of Colonel Hammerstein passed over to the enemy, leaving us in a very critical situation as we only had one squadron of [Kazimierz] Dziekoński’s cuirassiers commanded by the valiant Lieutenant-Colonel [Eustachy] Wołłowicz and the famous regiment of Krakus Lancers under the brave Kajetan Rzuchowski. Generał Umiński immediately sent me racing off, escorted by just three lancers from the company of Prince Roman Puzyna, to Prince Poniatowski’s headquarters in the town of Gabel in order to personally report to him about the defection of the Westphalians, and to ask him for cavalry reinforcements as, otherwise, we might easily find ourselves surrounded. When I reached Prince Józef’s headquarters he informed me: “I cannot give you any cavalry, because I just do not have enough of them as the emperor has had me send a large number to General [Jacques] Lauriston. However, I will give you a brave battalion of voltigeurs, commanded by a very capable commander Lieutenant- Colonel [Maciej] Rybinski”. Reinforced by this very brave battalion our vanguard was constantly in action, carrying out its orders, which sometimes came from the emperor himself, and we were everywhere at once, despite our lack of numbers. We performed well in the encounters at Friedland, Reichenberg, Herrnhut, Stolpen, Bautzen, Rumburg, Pirna, Altenburg, Borna, and Wurzen and so on. Throughout those two months we were continuously marching this way or that, skirmishing with enemy detachments, and then came October. That was the month when it seemed as though a great battle would be fought in the vicinity of Leipzig. Among the many skirmishes we fought in as a prelude to that decisive encounter, I must mention one in particular that concerned me. Just a few miles from Leipzig we came across a large castle near the village of Borna. There the Neapolitan king [Joachim Murat] had established his headquarters along with the staff of the cavalry corps, which, on 10 October, had just defeated Wittgenstein and was advancing on Leipzig. Just as General Umiński and his men were marching by the castle, a significant body of enemy infantry also appeared. The king sent orders to the general that he should first stop and then disperse the enemy. Observing that there was a forest by the side of the road, the general had our infantry enter the forest in order to keep the enemy occupied, and this tactic succeeded for a few hours, however, when the enemy noticed that our infantry were inferior in numbers, he began to press us harder, so much that it looked as though we would be forced to withdraw from the forest. By that time General Umiński had brought up what he could from the reserves, as well as some artillery, and he bade me return to the forest accompanied by the regimental bands. These were to play some martial airs and various signals designed to trick the enemy into thinking that a new regiment had arrived. Hearing our musicians, our retreating infantry started to cheer and went forwards so impetuously that the Russians, really believing that reinforcements had reached us, turned tail. The Krakus cavalry, which had been positioned on the road next to the guns, now launched a charge that proved so successful that the enemy had completely withdrawn by that evening. Meanwhile, King Murat’s rearguard reached us, and as a result, we made camp in peace and quiet that night. That evening the king asked to see an officer from amongst those we had taken prisoner, so the general had me escort a Russian infantry officer to the king. When we entered the courtyard, I saw that dinner was being served in the castle. When I went up to the first floor, I spied a room with a relatively large table which could seat ten but which was set for three people only: the king, Prince Józef Poniatowski, and General Rożniecki. I went in, accompanied by the royal adjutant and the officer whom we had taken captive, and halted in the middle of the room. The king stood up with his companions and they all approached me at once.  I gave a short report to the king about our successful skirmish and presented the prisoner to him. Then the prince, who stood next to the king, said a few flattering words about me and General Umiński, and the king turned to me, declaring: “Fort bien, je me ferai un plaisir de vous décorer”.[8] The captive officer was handed over to the care of the adjutant, and the king showed me to a large well-lit refectory in which at least 60 officers of various ranks were eating, telling them: “Il faut qu’il dine aussi, nous ayant fait tranquillement diner”.[9] As soon as I entered the hall, I was recognised almost at once by the adjutant of the King of Saxony, General [Hippolyt] Błeszyński, who invited me to sit beside him. Having eaten a good dinner and consumed a bottle of even better wine, I then returned to my quarters, or rather to a patch of land covered in wet straw, the kind of bed we were spending our nights on as we marched towards Leipzig. After finishing my dinner, and just as I was getting up to leave, the king’s adjutant approached me and asked: “Capitaine, veuillez bien m’ecrire votre nom, aussi bien que celui de votre Général”,[10] probably so we could receive the promised Neapolitan medal. The next day, as a result of fatigue, and having been exposed to the elements for the two months and constantly sleeping in the open and on the bare ground, I fainted and a debilitating fever began. It was so bad that I had to be transported in a cart so I could rest. On the 13th, we reached Leipzig and on the 14th Murat’s entire cavalry corps was involved in the fighting. On 16 October, the great Battle [of the Nations] began, and it would last for three days. By then I was already in Wachau, the place where Kellermann charged the cuirassiers under Levashev, but I was so weak, that General Umiński, seeing that I was seriously ill, told me to lie down, telling me: “Go rest, the medal you deserved on so many occasions will reach you one day, but now you must rest.”

I must mention the fact that close by, near Wachau, Murat lead a charge on the left with ten cavalry regiments, whilst on the right the Prince of Valmy (Kellermann) lead IV Polish Cavalry Corps against the cuirassiers of Levashev. These were nearly destroyed, although the French General [Pierre] Pajol was killed at the head of the dragoons.[11] This battle lead to some calling it the battle of Wachau, a suburb of Leipzig itself. The corps of Prince Poniatowski was positioned in a southern suburb of the city close to where [Austrian] General Merfeld was taken prisoner that evening by General Curial.

From 16 October I remained in bed until the first days of November suffering from a high fever and losing consciousness. Fortunately, I had two good people with me: my valet and my groom, two very good and faithful men. These honest people looked after me, because as I was lying in bed, I had little idea as to what was happening outside. On 19 October I did once catch a glimpse of the emperor through one of the back windows as he was passing by with Seweryn Fredro,[12] the lieutenant-colonel of the Guard lancers. Later, I learned from some of my men who had also been captured that my wonderful horses had been taken away, and also the extremely depressing news that Prince Józef had drowned [in the Elster River]. When I was a little better, General [Józef] Rautenstrauch visited me in my quarters. He was fond of me and had been a suitor for my sister, Eve. He told me that he had learned from my valet that I did not have sufficient funds, and so left me 50 ducats. I paid the sum back to him with much gratitude when I later returned home to Poland. As soon as I was well enough to walk I paid a visit to General Rożniecki, our chief of staff who had wanted me nominated for the Cross of the Legion of Honour. He had been captured too and whilst in captivity had been tasked by Prince Repnin, the Commander of Leipzig, to look after the Polish prisoners. Accordingly, General Rożniecki issued me with a passport from the Russian authorities so I could travel to Poznań. Before I left, I visited Teodor Szydłowski, the seriously wounded adjutant of Prince Poniatowski. He was a wonderful and talented, if rather stout, officer who had been shot as he rode next to the prince. God be praised and he was lucky too, for he soon recovered from what had seemed to be a mortal wound. Also there was a wounded lieutenant, Edward Potworowski, adjutant to General Umiński, for whom I did a small favour, but I did not have the pleasure of seeing him again. When I arrived at Poznań, I sought out General Umiński who took me to his estate in Smolice, a few miles from Poznań, so I could rest for a few weeks in comfort. From there, I went to Krakow, wanting to spend some time with my family, but there was a governor there who could not abide Poles such as me and so I left almost immediately. Returning to [Polish] Galicia, and to my manor house at Moderówka, I then retired from military service. I was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honour and was informed of this by the Prince of Valmy, that famous General Kellermann from Marengo, with whom I had served several times during the campaign and whom I had pleasure of visiting often in Paris in 1818.  The Neapolitan Cross promised to me by King Murat himself was also granted to me in France, as it was to the former prince’s adjutant, Józef Szumlański, but it never reached me. I was also awarded the Polish Cross [Virtuti Militari] by General Kazimierz Umiński, and, in 1815, General Rautenstrauch asked me to come to Warsaw in order to remind him about this fact, but I did not. On 2 June 1858, I received the Medal of Saint Helena as a Comrade of the Emperor Napoleon.

I would just like to mention here a few events that are of particular interest to me, and remained planted in my mind as the most memorable.

Not far from the town of Herrnhut, a local man was caught and charged for spying. General Umiński immediately ordered a court martial to try him, and as it seemed to me that he was not a spy, I voted against his conviction. This man heard our heated dispute which, however, ended with the death sentence. When the firing squad came to perform the execution, this poor man, led to the place and seeing me standing by, stepped forwards and said these words to me: “Herr Hauptmann, ich sterbe unschuldig, sie waren so gut, ich werde Gott für sie bitten”.[13] He was taken off right away and a few minutes later he was shot. After this scene, I was much moved and wondered how the officer with whom I had argued about the life of this unfortunate man really felt.

The second incident was as follows. At Altenburg we followed the retreating enemy, and it was imperative for us to enter the city where some of the enemy’s troops were still based. I had the idea of informing the commander of the squadron of our cuirassiers that the general wished him to flush the enemy from the city, and I then charged alongside the squadron. As I was riding down the street, I met Sergeant Edward Zaklik on a wounded bay horse. This charge was a great success. We entered the city, and the count who owned the land the city was built on hosted a generous dinner in his castle for the generals and our entire staff. I sent Sergeant Zaklik to the castle to perform guard duty, and they looked after him. He then rested there and his horse recovered there, too. General Umiński later told me with his wry smile: “If the charge had not succeeded, my dear captain, you would have been subject to a court martial.” Finally, I also want to mention here the famous charge of the Krakus Lancers, which resulted in us taking the Cossack standard at Herrnhut. General Umiński sent me with this flag to Prince Józef, and the prince then had [Henryk] Kamieniecki take it to the emperor. Though the latter was captured on his way, the banner was not lost because Kamieniecki cleverly hid it in his shako, and Ludwik Kicki, being sent to visit him, swapped his shako for Kamieniecki’s. The emperor, reviewing us at the fortress of Königstein on the way to Dresden, sang the praises of this regiment because of this event.


[1] Our Lady of Czestochowa. A famous historical shrine to the Virgin Mary in the Castle of Częstochowa in central Poland.

[2] Are you the officer of the Imperial Guard who was in the battle at Słonim, and in which General Konopka and his staff were captured?

[3] Yes, Prince.

[4] Being very busy at the moment, do come back at 1 o’clock for lunch; we will find more time to chat.

[5] Have the goodness to give me a short description of the battle we just talked about, just as you told it to me; I’m going to make a summary out of it and send it to the emperor.

[6] Good, that is just what I wanted.

[7] During the war of the 5th Coalition against France, Ferdinand d’Este had, in 1809, led a corps of 36,00 against the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, a key element of the plan of the anti-Napoleonic alliance. On 19 April at the Battle of Raszyn near Warsaw, he failed to eliminate the far smaller army of the Grand Duchy under the command of Prince Józef Poniatowski, as a result of which Poniatowski was able to take the initiative and overran significant areas of Austrian Galicia including Krakow. This Polish offensive forced the main Austrian corps to quit Warsaw in June and the Austrians finally withdrew from the whole of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw when Napoleon defeated them at Wagram.

[8] Very good, it will be a pleasure to decorate you with a Cross.

[9] Let him also eat, for he is the reason we are eating undisturbed.

[10] Captain, please let me write your name and the name of your General.

[11] In fact, both Pajol and Levashev were both badly wounded.

[12] The brother of Maximilian Fredro, the famous playwright and author of the Memoirs entitled ‘Topsy Turvy Talk’ describing the Napoleonic campaigns.

[13] Captain, I am dying an innocent man, but you were so kind I will pray to God for you.