Battle of Jena
The battle at Jena did not start well for the Prussians. Believing that he was confronting the main Prussian army, Napoleon had sent a huge force of approximately 90,000 men in total to Jena. The 34,000 Prussians there were in fact part of the second, smaller army commanded by Prince Hohenlohe, and were hopelessly outnumbered.
The day of the battle started off with dense fog, which limited visibility and did nothing to help the Prussians attempting to halt the French advance. With 55,600 men, and a further 40,000 troops expected later that day, Napoleon attacked the Prussian’s left flank.
The first engagement occurred at around 6:00am, when approximately 20,000 French troops under Lannes attacked the Prussian advance guard under the command of Tauentzien, inflicting heavy losses. Tauentzien ordered his troops to evacuate and pull back to Vierzehnheiligen. Though the French pursued them, they seem to flag a little, motivating Tauentzien to mount a counterattack. Whilst this was successful, French had made much progress on his flanks. Outnumbered and facing attacks by the French cavalry, the Prussians retreated towards Vierzehnheiligen and the main force under Hohenlohe. With the advance Prussian guards defeated and withdrawing, Napoleon deployed his Grand Armee to shore up forces in action and assume formation, ready for the final stages of the battle.
Battle of Jena
By Gregory Fremont-Barnes
As Napoleon’s huge forces arrived at around 9:00am, Hohenlohe realised that this was no local attack by a French flank detachment. Worried by the arrival of Tauentzien retreating divisions, and unsure what to do given the clear superiority of French numbers, Hohenlohe urgently requested reinforcements from Weimar. By 11:00am, more French corps under Soult and Ney arrived on the scene (from the northeast and south respectively), although a rash advance by Ney was repulsed by the Prussians. However, Hohenlohe did not press his advantage, and decided to halt his troops in an unprotected position, instead of attempting to fight defensively as they made a retreat. Divisions under Napoleon’s command arrived to storm the Prussian line. Bombarded by French artillery and skirmishing fire, the Prussians were decimated where they stood. Hohenlohe finally ordered a general retreat, which quickly turned into a rout as they were pursued by the French cavalry. Rüchel’s reinforcements of 15,000 reserves were too slow and arrived too late to help.
What was left of the army fled towards Weimar, where further Prussian troops were stationed. Napoleon had destroyed most Hohenlohe’s forces, suffering 5,000 French casualties in the process. He was confident of victory in the knowledge that Davout and Bernadotte should be moving directly across the line of retreat, ready to cut the Prussians off.
Despite being the smaller of the two battles in terms of numbers, Jena would be the one that became famous. It was a personal victory for Napoleon: he was convinced he had swiftly destroyed the main Prussian army. The French superiority of numbers and artillery combined with poor leadership in the Prussian ranks should have ensured a relatively easy victory. Meanwhile, to the north in Auerstedt, the situation was somewhat reversed.