Battle of Saalfeld
Arc de Triomphe: SAALFELD
October 10, 1806
One of the primary advocates for going to war with France, Prussian Prince Louis Ferdinand and his 8300 men had been ordered to block the advance of the French at Saalfeld. Marshal Lannes and his V Corps came into contact with the Prussians there on the 10th, and despite being ordered by Napoleon to not engage without Augereau's VII Corps support, Lannes immediately attacked. Lannes and General Suchet had noticed the Prussians had their back to the river, and estimated the Prussian forces to only be about half the size of V Corps. It was too good of an opportunity to wait.
Lannes attacked frontally while sending Suchet's division to turn the enemy's flank on his left. The superior numbers of the French quickly began pushing the Prussians back. Eventually Louis Ferdinand realized his flank was being crushed, but it was too late to withdraw in good order. As the Prussians struggled to rally and retreat, Lannes sent in his cavalry for the killing blow. In a last attempt to salvage the situation, Louis Ferdinand personally charged into the fray to rally his soldiers. Quartermaster Guindet of the 10th Hussars entered into personal combat with Prince Louis, and offered to spare his life if he surrendered. The Prussian prince refused, and within moments he was slain.
The battle was a disaster for the Prussians, losing one of their best commanders and suffering 900 killed. The French managed to take 1800 prisoners and 33 guns, while they lost less than 200 soldiers. The morale of the Prussian army was seriously shaken, and Saalfeld was only the beginning of their problems, as within a few days they would face the French at the twin battles of Jena and Auerstädt.
- Chandler, David G. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1966.
- Chandler, David G. Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1979.
- Chrisawn, Margaret. The Emperor's Friend: Marshal Jean Lannes. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2001.
- Marbot, Marcellis de. The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot. Trans. A. Butler. London: Longmans, Green, 1893.
Updated September 2023
© Nathan D. Jensen