Napoleon Announces the Fall of the Last Major Prussian Stronghold After His Victory at Danzig, Allowing Him to Turn His Attention to the East and the Russians

In an important letter to his Secretary of War, he seeks to defend his flank against the English and Swedish, and plant spies in contested areas

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Napoleon’s dual mindset – confident, ego-driven yet practical – can be well seen by reflecting on the fact that although he felt he was destined to rule the Continent and could lay Europe at his feet, yet he felt his chances of victory were greatly undermined if he had to fight all...

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Napoleon Announces the Fall of the Last Major Prussian Stronghold After His Victory at Danzig, Allowing Him to Turn His Attention to the East and the Russians

In an important letter to his Secretary of War, he seeks to defend his flank against the English and Swedish, and plant spies in contested areas

Napoleon’s dual mindset – confident, ego-driven yet practical – can be well seen by reflecting on the fact that although he felt he was destined to rule the Continent and could lay Europe at his feet, yet he felt his chances of victory were greatly undermined if he had to fight all three Continental powers at the same time, and thus always sought the ability to control the battlefield.

The historic victory at Austerlitz dealt Austria a powerful blow, but it also awakened Prussia to the danger France could play as it moved closer and closer. A new coalition, the Fourth, was formed in late 1806 with Prussia and Russia the largest Continental powers.

Danzig held an important strategic position. As well as being a key heavily fortified port with 60,000 inhabitants at the mouth of the river Vistula, it was a direct threat to the French left, as it lay within Prussian lands but to the rear of the French army as it advanced eastward. It was also a potential dropping off point for allied troops, that could threaten the French army by opening another front to their rear. Danzig was also difficult to attack, yet Napoleon felt he had no choice.

On March 23 the French batteries opened fire. Russian forces made an attempt between May 10-15 to bring 7,000 reinforcements to the city. These and other efforts of the Russians and Prussians failed. Danzig capitulated on May 24, 1807. Napoleon then ordered the siege of the nearby Weichselmünde fort and that garrison capitulated shortly afterwards.

Napoleon was pinning down the enemy. He wanted his Generals Guillaume-Marie-Anne Brune and Gabriel-Jean-Joseph Molitor to defend Colburg, which was in French hands, and to protect against English or Swedish attacks, but they had not arrived on the scene.

Letter signed, Finkenstein Palace in Prussia, May 28, 1807, to General Clarke, his Minister of War, showing his well-known impatience for Brune and Molitor to arrive so he could proceed with his plans.

“I have received your letter of the 25th. I am shocked that Marshal Brune has not yet arrived at Stettin. I presume that Boudet’s division has arrived by now. I have announced to you the taking of Danzig. Weichselmunde has also surrendered, such that all is accomplished on this end. We found at Danzig immense extensive stores, above all in wheat. The enemy may yet try something to unblock Colberg. It is to Marshal Brune to go to its help. I await news of Molitor’s division. Write to Marshal Kellermann and to the prefects of the Rhine River relative to the prisoners who escaped France. If you can find in Berlin a good agent that could be sent to Koenigberg, he might serve as a useful spy. Travel from Berlin by sea can now be done quite quickly and in this season one can travel very rapidly by the Baltic.”

Brune and Molitor arrived, and the latter was named Governor of Swedish Pomerania as a further buffer. Feeling free, Napoleon’s eyes turned to a further advance along the Baltic Sea toward Russia. Less than a month later, Napoleon defeated the Russians at Friedland and the Treaty of Tilset, which marked the high water mark of Napoleon’s empire.

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