Europe

Jena-Auerstadt

Losers rarely advertise their losses, so it came as no surprise that it took us three hours, one speeding ticket, a schnitzel-and-wine break, and a 19th century map to find this intersection in Saxon Germany on the road from Jena to Auerstadt.

On this spot on the morning of14 October, 1806, the French Emperor Napoleon led his 40,000 troops with his habitual brilliance in outmaneuvering and destroying the 143,000-strong Prussian Army. An afternoon reprise confirmed the result, and then the ungentlemanly Emperor changed the rules of modern warfare by ruthlessly running down and decimating the remnants of the defeated Prussians. 

The impact on military history cannot be exaggerated. Every major strategist and tactician of the future German Army fought here as junior officers and apparently learned from their own Generals’ mistakes. But if there is any sign of the battle besides this tiny monument, we couldn’t find it. Interestingly enough, the inscription on the reverse only describes the few minutes when Prussian counterattacks came within a hair’s breadth of ruining the Emperor’s day. The rest of the morning–and history–went another way.

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