AS DEFEAT LOOMS, MURAT’S CAVALRY SAVES THE DAY IN PERHAPS THE GREATEST CAVALRY CHARGE IN MILITARY HISTORY
In October of 1806, Napoleon decisively defeated the Prussians in a lightning campaign that culminated at the twin battles of Jena-Auerstedt. This campaign was in response to Prussia joining Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Great Britain in the Fourth Coalition against Napoleon; following his defeat of Austria at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805.
Following Jena-Auerstedt, Napoleon overran much of Prussia in a blitzkrieg-like advance, destroying the remnants of the Prussian army at the Battles of Prenzlau and Lübeck. On the 25th of October, the French captured Berlin.
With the Prussian forces scattered, only Russia still had an army in the field to oppose him. Napoleon continued the campaign; marching the Grande Armee (75,000 strong) into East Prussia. Here he sought to bring the Russians, under General Leonty Leontyevich, Count von Bennigsen, to decisive battle.
As was normal practice, Napoleon’s Grande Armee marched widely dispersed; each Corps its own independent army; the overall movements coordinated by the Emperor’s headquarters through an efficient staff, headed by the talented Marshal Berthier. With his army scattered in a broad net, Napoleon now attempted to cast this over and bag Bennigsen’s Russians.
Galloping couriers were sent to all Corps commanders, ordering them to concentrate against and envelop the Russians. However, one such courier in-route to Marshal Bernadotte’s I Corps was captured by Russian Cossacks. Thus, warned that he was thrusting his head into a noose, Bennigsen began withdrawing away from the oncoming French. Napoleon pursued, and Bennigsen was brought to heal on the 7th of February, 1807, at the village of Eylau.