Battle of Klyastitsy
29 July – 1 August (17-20 July OS) 1812 marks the Battle of Klyastitsy in Napoleon’s Russian Campaign when Lieutenant General Peter zu Wittgenstein’s 15,300 Russian infantry & 1,870 Russian & 370 Cossack cavalry defeated Marshal Nicolas Oudinot’s 22,200 French & 1,300 Portuguese infantry & 4,094 French cavalry. Oudinot marched on St. Petersburg. He crossed the Dvina River near Polotsk. He moved to cut off Wittgenstein’s rear. Marshal Etienne MacDonald’s corps was near Riga. Wittgenstein risked being trapped & overwhelmed. He attacked.
On 29 July, Major Gen. Yakov Kulnev’s cavalry (360 Russians: Grodno Hussars; 370 Cossacks: Platov No. 4 Don Cossacks) attacked Oudinot’s vanguard (2,288 horse: 23-24e Chasseurs à Cheval; 8e Chevau-Légers). Kulnev drove the French back. Oudinot occupied Klyastitsy on the Nischa River.
Wittgenstein decided to attack while Oudinot was dispersed. At 14:00, 30 July, Kulnev’s cavalry & infantry (2,493: No. 23-24 Jägers) & a 12-gun horse battery attacked Oudinot’s vanguard near Yabukovo. Kulnev surrounded the village. The French held firm all day.
At 03:00, 31 July, Kulnev attacked again. Oudinot sent Division Gen. Jean Verdier’s div. (10,203 foot: 11e Légère; 2e, 37e & 124e Ligne). Major Gen. Gregor von Berg’s div. (7,036 foot: No. 25-26 Jägers; Kaluga, Mohilev, Perm & Sievesk Inf.) joined Kulnev. Oudinot sent DGs Claude Legrand’s (infantry: 10,000 French: 26e Légère; 19e, 56e & 128e Ligne; 1,300 Portuguese: 3e Portuguese) & Jean Doumerc’s (1806 horse: 4e, 7e & 14e Cuirassiers). After fierce fighting, Yabukovo fell. Wittgenstein drove the French back to Klyastitsy & captured Oudinot’s carriage.
Oudinot retreated to the Nischa’s far bank.
He set up a powerful battery. He ordered the bridge to be burned. Kulnev forded the river. The Pavlovsky Grenadiers 2nd battalion charged across the burning bridge. They broke into Klyastitsy. Wittgenstein’s infantry followed them. Klyastitsy fell. Oudinot retreated further. Wittgenstein’s exhausted infantry halted. Kulnev gathered his own & the remaining cavalry (1,140: Converged Cuirassiers; Iambourg, Pskov & Riga Dragoons) & an infantry bn. He took up pursuit.
On 1 August, Kulnev crossed the Drissa River. He was ambushed at the Boyarshchino Heights. Oudinot’s artillery fired down into Kulnev’s force. Kulnev was mortally wounded when a cannonball tore his legs off above the knees. As a result, his men retreated. Verdier pursued them until reaching Golovchitsa. He met Wittgenstein’s main force there. In the resulting fight, Wittgenstein was slightly wounded in the cheek. He defeated Verdier. Oudinot fortified Polotsk & retreated beyond the Western Dvina. The battle was over.
Wittgenstein lost 4,300 dead/wounded.
In a report to the Tsar, he claimed Oudinot lost 3,000 dead, 10,000 wounded, 912 captive & his entire baggage train. Gaston Bodart estimates Oudinot lost 3,700 dead/wounded. This was Russia’s first major victory in the war. It proved they could defeat the French in the open field. The French advance on St. Petersburg had failed. Wittgenstein now directly threatened Napoleon’s supply lines. Napoleon had to send General Laurent Saint-Cyr’s corps to help contain him.
In St. Petersburg, a massive cannon salute announced Wittgenstein’s victory. Tsar Aleksándr I Pávlovich proclaimed him “Savior of St. Petersburg.” He received the Order of St. George (2nd Class), a yearly pension of 12,000 rubles & the honorary title “Defender of Petrov City.” Lastly, a song commemorates the deed, ending in the words: “Praise, praise you, hero! That the city of Petrov is saved by you!”