Battle of Fiedovoisky or Viazma, 3 November 1812

The battle of Fiedovoisky or Viazma (3 November 1812) was the first serious Russian attack on the French column during the disastrous retreat from Moscow.

Napoleon's army left Moscow on 19 October, heading south-west in an attempt to avoid the area they had devastated on their way east. At first all went well, but after a hard-fought battle at Maloyaroslavets (24 October 1812) Napoleon changed his plans and ordered his army to move north and return to its original road. The army had to cross the field of Borodino, before on 31 October Napoleon reached Viazma, where he stopped to gather intelligence.

Even at this early a stage in the campaign the army was stretched out over far too long a distance. On 3 November the Russians attempted to take advantage of the French position, launching an attack half way along the line and against the rearguard.

Portrait of Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout, 1770-1823
Portrait of
Marshal Louis-Nicolas
Davout, 1770-1823

At the start of 3 November Napoleon and the lead troops had reached Slavkovo. Ney's III Corps was at Viazma, with orders to take over the rearguard from Davout when the rest of the army had passed the town. Next in line was Prince Eugene's IV Corps, with Davout's I Corps forming the rearguard, which was then near the town of Fiedovoisky (or Fiodoroivskoy), fifty miles west of Borodino and five miles east of Viazma.

Ney was attacked by part of Kutuzov's main force, advancing north-west from Dubrovno. This attack was fairly half-hearted and was soon defeated.

The attack on the rearguard was more serious. Davout had at most 20,000 men in his corps, although the quality of his men was beginning to suffer. He was attacked by General Miloradovitch, who had 30,000 infantry from Eugen of Württemberg's corps and 20,000 cavalry. Davout was quickly surrounded and there was a real chance he would be overwhelmed.

Davout was saved for the moment by Prince Eugene, who sent two divisions under the command of General Broussier to rescue him. Eugene's men were able to break the ring around Davout, and the two corps were able to unite.

Portrait of Marshal Michel Ney (1769-1815)
Portrait of
Marshal Michel Ney

Even after this success there was still a real danger that both Eugene and Davout would be defeated. They were saved by Ney, who sent General Razout's division to their aid. Razout was able to open a narrow gap in the Russian trap and Davout and Eugene were able to escape to Viazma.

Davout's corps lost around 5,000 men in the battle, but it was also forced to abandon most of its baggage and guns. The morale of the previously impressive corps collapsed, and over the next few days it became something of a rabble.

Ney took over the rearguard duties, and performed them with great flair until the second battle of Krasnyi (17 November 1812). He was then cut off from the main army, and although Ney himself managed to escape the vast majority of his men were killed and captured.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 June 2014), Battle of Fiedovoisky or Viazma, 3 November 1812 ,

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