The Evening Before Jena on the Landgrafenberg...
Marshal Jean Lannes’ V Corps had moved onto the Landgrafenberg, northwest of Jena, after dark on 13 October 1806. Noticing that Lannes’ corps artillery had not yet arrived on the plateau, Napoleon became impatient and told Lannes to remain with his corps and that he would go and find the missing guns. Accompanied by a single imperial aide-de-camp, the two of them backtracked down the plareau and finally found the halted artillery column in a ravine. The column was stalled because instead of the trail that led to the top of the plateau, the column found itself in a ravine and the lead field piece had become stuck between two rocks, and there was no room for the rest of the column to turn around and get out of the ravine. Worse, the officers in command of the artillery left it there in order to look for food for dinner.
Napoleon’s comments, if any, were undoubtedly sulphuric, but instead of wasting time on recriminations on those now in charge of the artillery column, Napoleon got to work, first inspecting the stuck artillery piece. He gave quick, succinct orders on what to do to extricate the offending piece, recalling the skills he had learned as a lieutenant and captain of artillery. The piece was quickly freed and able to move, followed by the rest of the artillery column. Lannes would have his artillery with him shortly with or without the hungry officers who had abandoned it. It would be interesting to know what both Lannes and Napoleon said to the absent officers when they caught up with the column on the Landgrafenberg.
This short, interesting interlude showed Napoleon revert to what he once was-a captain of artillery with the requisite skills to attack unexpected problems. It is usually overlooked in history that Napoleon was a skilled artillery officer.
‘If there is no one to make gunpowder for cannon, I can fabricate it; gun carriages I know how to construct. If it is necessary to cast cannon, I can cast them; if it is necessary to teach the details of drill, I can do that.’ – Napoleon.
At Waterloo’s Ending...
The Armee du Nord was rapidly falling apart after the failure of the Guard’s assault on the allied center. Still, there were French troops in order and ready to resist the allied attack that shortly followed the Guard’s repulse.
The two battalions of the 1st Grenadiers a Pied of the Old Guard were steady and in square and would eventually retire from the field in perfect order. The Grenadiers a Cheval, the senior Guard cavalry regiment, would retire from the field at the walk.
One Old Guard artillery company fired its last rounds and the gunners were ordered to stand by their pieces with lighted portfires and to go through the loading process to make ready to fire once more against the pursuing allied cavalry. The gunners dutifully obeyed and after once again going through their crew drill, they stood by their now empty weapons. The pursuing allied cavalry, believing that they were to once again to be fired upon by French artillery attempted to avoid the expected incoming rounds. They noticed that the guns did not fire, although the French Guard gunners were dutifully standing by their pieces.
Finally realizing that the French artillerymen were out of ammunition, the pursuit began again, the allied cavalrymen noting that they had been duped, albeit for only a few minutes-time that allowed, however brief, other French troops to continue their hurried retreat.