February 8th, 1807 marked the first time that the armies of Napoleon had not concluded a battle with an emphatic victory. The Battle of Eylau was a short conflict comprising the armies of the French Empire against those of the Russian Empire who, late in the battle, would be joined by forces of the Kingdom of Prussia.
The battle was part of the War of the Fourth Coalition in the ongoing Napoleonic Wars, which would eventually see many major Eurasian forces including Britain, France, Austria, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire, Hungary, Italy, Holland and Poland involved in war. This began with the dismantling of the Holy Roman Empire which had stood for centuries in the War of the Third Coalition.
Napoleon’s dictatorship saw unprecedented expansionism on the European continent by the Empire of France and his quick and decisive victories ensured great loyalty, respect and admiration. However, the Battle of Eylau served to be one of Napoleon’s first failures after his poor decision making lead to the deaths of thousands of troops with many more wounded. Moreover, the decisive action of the belated Prussian troops and the effective withdrawal of troops by Napoleon’s adversary Levin August von Bennigsen of the Russian Empire left the French with little but a snowy field littered with corpses.
Though Napoleon would go on to win the War of the Fourth and Fifth coalitions, his failed strategy undermined his perfect record and would ultimately encourage the forces opposed to him to rally together against him, irrespective of their differences, to end the First French Empire.