Engagement of Valjouen, 17 February 1814

The engagement of Valjouen (17 February 1814) was the second of two French victories on the same day that caught Schwarzenberg's Army of Bohemia just as it was preparing to retreat to avoid being caught by Napoleon (French Campaign of 1814).

Earlier in February Napoleon had concentrated his efforts against Blucher's Army of Silesia, inflicting defeats on Blucher at Champaubert (10 February), Montmirail (11 February), Chateau-Thierry (12 February) and Vauchamps (14 February), a period known as the Six Days Campaign. While Napoleon was winning victories on the Marne, Marshal Victor was being forced to retreat on the Seine. Napoleon was forced to move south to restore the situation, and after an impressive forced march reached  Guignes on the Yerres on 16 February. At this point two of Schwarzenberg's columns were vulnerable to attack – Wrede's Bavarians were around Donnemarie-Dontilly, north-west of Bray, with one division to the north at Nangis. On the Allied right Wittgenstein had his main force in Nangis, with his leading troops further to the north-west at Mormant.

Battles of the French Campaign of 1814
Battles of the
French Campaign
of 1814

The French offensive began early on 17 February. Gerard's division, with help from the cavalry, defeated and almost destroyed Pahlen's command at Mormant, inflicting over 2,000 casualties for the loss of only 200 men.

In the aftermath of their victory at Mormant, Napoleon split up his forces to continue the pursuit of the retreating Allies. Oudinot's VII Corps was sent east towards Provins and Nogent. Macdonald's XI Corps was sent towards Donnemarie to press Wrede's Bavarians. Victor's II Corps was sent towards Villeneuve-les-Bordes, along the road from Nangis. Each of these forces pushed back their opponents, but Gerard's division from Victor's corps encountered the hardest fighting.

Gerard's division moved south from Nangis at around 1.30pm, with Huguet-Chataux's division next in line and Duhesme's division in the rear. On the previous day Wrede's Bavarians had been at  Donnemarie-Dontilly, with one division further north at Nangis. As the French advanced, Wrede was ordered to retreat, and on 17 February Lamotte's 3rd Bavarian Division had moved south past Valjouan. Lamotte had orders to retreat further, but the sounds of fighting from his north worried him, and he decided to take up a defensive position just to the south of the village of Villeneuve. His position was covered on both flanks and the rear by a large forest (still present). As he waited some of the troops defeated at Mormant arrived, and retreated through his lines, reformed, and continued on their way to Bray.

Gerard decided to attack the Bavarian position, and called for help from the rest of Victor's corps. At about 3.30pm he ordered La Hamelinaye's brigade to attack,  and the 86th Line quickly threw the Bavarians out of Villeneuve. The retreating Bavarians were pressed by some French cavalry, but not vigerously. Lamotte then decided to retreat in a square back towards Donnemarie. Gerard managed to launch one infantry attack on this square after it had gone about a mile, but lacked the cavalry to cause real problems. Lamotte lost around 3,000 men, but managed to escape with the rest of his division.

When the news of these two defeats reached Schwarzenberg he ordered most of his troops to cross back to the south of the Seine and then retreat on Troyes. Wurttemberg was ordered to stay on the north (right) bank and defend Montereau, to protect the left flank of the retreating Allied army.

On the French side Gerard lost around 800 men. Victor was ordered to make an overnight march to Montereau, but he ignored these orders and allowed Wurttemberg to arrive and prepare to defend the bridges. Napoleon was furious – Victor was removed from command of his corps, and Gerard replaced him. He was thus in command during the battle of Montereau.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (22 April 2016), Engagement of Valjouen, 17 February 1814 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/engagement_valjouen.html

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