The collapse of the Grand Empire
This, the fourteenth volume of our Correspondance Générale begins with hopes for peace but without interrupting war preparations. The ensuing campaign was difficult for Napoleon’s troops, ending with the massive defeat at Leipzig and the first intimations of the invasion of the “Sanctuary of the Nation”, to use Napoleon’s term.
An impossible peace
At the beginning of July 1813, Napoleon was in Dresden, splitting his time between the organisation of the Grande Armée and diplomatic negotiations, initially under Austrian mediation. The Emperor had had a few conversations with Metternich, and at the end of June and was convinced of Austria’s double game: “I saw Metternich and he seemed to me to be running many intrigues, much misrepresenting Papa Franz”; “The Emperor [Franz] has been deceived by Metternich, who had sold his soul to the Russians; furthermore, he is a man who thinks that politics is a question of lying”, so wrote Napoleon to Marie-Louise.
But it was not a simple as that. During the initial part of his arbitrage, Metternich was also faced with the bad will of the allies as they continually kept postponing the opening of the negotiations, from the 5th to first the 8th and then finally to 12th July. That being said, Napoleon was not unhappy with the delays, and he too was slow in appointing his plenipotentiaries, Narbonne and Caulaincourt. He even won a small diplomatic victory (the only one he was to achieve) by signing an alliance with Denmark which provided reinforcements to Davout’s troops around Hamburg.
With further delays, the French negotiators were not able to go to Prague until the extension of the armistice – finally pushed to 10 August. Grand-Ecuyer Caulaincourt received his instructions on 26 July. They were not as conciliatory as he had hoped. The parleying began on 29, and Napoleon wrote to the Grand-Ecuyer the same day: “If there is a desire to prolong the armistice, I am ready for that; if there is a desire to fight, I am ready for that too. You understand enough of my current position to know that I am prepared, even to go against the Austrians. Thus, if Russia and Prussia wish to commence hostilities whilst at the same time to negotiate, my chances only improve, all the more so because the armies which I had planned to observe Austria will remain in observation to my rear, and they can warn me of any caprices or changes in the Austrian system”.
The congress was only a mere shadow of what it was supposed to be. Whilst, formally it was to limit itself to the exchange of notes with no face-to-face discussions, in truth, however, no one really wanted to negotiate, even less make concessions. After 9 August, Napoleon no longer had any illusions as to what he called the “mad pretentions” and “infamous treason” of the Austrians. On the following day, Metternich closed a congress which had in fact never taken place: “The negotiations in Prague never took place: we never even exchanged credentials. The plenipotentiaries were never even able to meet”. This masquerade was concluded by Austria’s declaration of war, which had been planned even before the end of the discussions. France’s final counterproposals were rejected, granting Napoleon the possibly to feign a certain satisfaction: “Austria, France’s enemy, masked by the pretence of being a mediator, made everything complicated and made reconciliation impossible; but Austria having declared war is in a position that is quite simple and one that corresponds more to the situation. Europe has never been closer to peace: there is one complication the fewer”. There was to be a fight and Napoleon thought that he would win, almost without admitting that his father-in-law’s entry into war had fundamentally altered the balance of power.
This doomed attempt at compromise and peace, where Napoleon was subjected to Metternich’s machinations, runs through the 2,600 letters in this volume. Napoleon was naturally an attacker and a dominator, but here he was forced onto the defensive during this whole period, awaiting the reactions of his opponents, his allies, and his family. In order to be able bear this imposed passivity, he spent every minute, ever hour, trying to manage matters even down to the tiniest detail, firmly convinced that he was the only one who could solve the problems.
At the same time as the non-congress of Prague, during the summer of 1813, Napoleon wrote many letters, notes and instructions, etc, for the most part military, with the aim of getting the Grande Armée back up to strength, ready to fight and win. Beginning in June and carrying on throughout July and August; this period was by far the Emperor’s most active in epistolary terms. “Order”, “give the order”, “order to”, “have prepared”… As usual, the tone was direct and his attention to detail was extreme: the dividing up of units in the different army corps, matters related to artillery, gunpowder, arms, clothing, food supplies… his eye fell on everything.
Above all these myriad concerns lay the problem of horses and their supply. In the spring there were none: victories could not be completed by effective pursuit. For July alone, 98 missives (16% of the total) centre on this issue. At least 30,000 horses were needed, and for that horse markets had to be organised and money had to be found.
And politics muddied the waters further. In order to shore up faltering alliances, horse purchases had to be made in northern German lands, some in the 32nd military division and in the region of Frankfurt and Erfurt, and some in territories which were threatened but which Napoleon could not abandon, such as Holland, Poland and Prussia. The Danish alliance was also supposed to provide 10,000 mounts. But it was not just the horses themselves. There was also the question of saddles and harnesses to make the beasts operational. Some of these had to be made in Hamburg and Magdeburg, and others had to be brought from the stores in Wesel.
At the same time, on 2 July, Napoleon asked Belliard to present him with “a plan for the organisation of the army’s cavalry”, essential for the correct division of this arm amongst the troops. Part of this complete restructuration involved the transfer of cavalry units from the army in Spain to that in Germany. The Garde also came under Napoleon’s scrutiny: after having asked Mouton, on 18 July, for an update on the situation, on 12 August, Napoleon sent him his “organisation of the Garde on horseback” which he had just completed. It is true that in August there is drop (slight, it must be said) in the number of instructions, but nevertheless, by the 20th, this exceptional effort in materiel and reorganisation had created an excess of horses in the depots ready for the coming campaign. The infantry, artillery, baggage train and other sections of the army were also reorganised in preparation for the coming hostilities. There was also the issue of how to supply the fortresses on the river Elbe, namely, Magdeburg, Torgau, Wittenberg, Leipzig and Dresden.
The return of hostilities in no way halted this febrile pace. Every pause in the fighting was an occasion for restructuring, passing supplies, making repairs and predicting where the next damage might come. After the victory at Dresden, general Mouton’s 1st Corps had to be rebuilt, and all of Macdonald’s corps had suffered badly. The weather furthermore was difficult and supplies erratic: “The army is not fed. It would be an illusion to see it any other way”. The defensive strategy adopted by the Emperor disrupted the supply chain, which had almost always worked supposing a forward movement. The campaign in Saxony became drawn out and the region could no longer feed the troops, forcing Napoleon to look for other solutions. Rationing came first: “Twenty-four ounces of bread, one ounce of rice and eight ounces of meat are not enough for a soldier. The regulations of all epochs allotted a soldier on campaign twenty-eight ounces of bread, and not even that was enough since they added vegetables and potatoes to be procured from the land. Today you are providing only eight ounces of bread, three ounces of rice and eight ounces of meat. The soldiers are suffering and only survive via the great consumption of meat”.
Other important matters – amongst many others – included tiredness and supply problems leading to a steep rise in insubordination and desertion. In response, imitating antiquity, Napoleon set up an exceptional legislative regime of remarkable harshness called decimation (reduction by a tenth). He ordered corps leaders to punish (i.e., shoot) one man in ten as an attempt to remedy the situation. Even then, order was barely restored. After Leipzig, Napoleon estimated the number of deserters as “more than 80,000 men” and immediately ordered that “some should be shot”.
1813 was also the year of extreme expansion in the levying of conscripts. The winter and spring call ups of 1813 repaired the damage caused by the Russian campaign and made possible the new campaign. But already by August, Napoleon was planning for the future: “Austria’s declaration of war means there will be some large battles, which will necessarily have an oncost in the numbers of men. […] The levy for 1815 looks to me too young, and it is a resource which will not be available before next year. Organise a meeting of the War, Interior and Police Ministers with the Director of Conscription, and draw up a project for a Sénatus-Consulte for the levy in Bayonne. This Sénatus-Consulte can be sent to the Senate, signed by the Régente”. The meeting produced the Sénatus-Consulte dated 9 October that called up 280,000 “Marie-Louise” men. There was furthermore a retroactive call-up of 120,000 conscripts for the years 1808 to 1814, and – giving the lie to what was said in August – October also saw the call-up of 160,000 men in advance on the year 1815.
Regardless of the actual results and the methods used to achieve them, it is yet again difficult not to be impressed by the Emperor’s ability to organise things, giving simple answers to ever more complex problems, whilst at the same time dealing with matters otherwise much less pressing such as the two-and-a-half-year-old King of Rome’s poems and the emoluments of the actors at the Comédie Française. Everything happened as if his apparent optimism was being fed by the incessant work via which he gave the illusion to others (but also to himself) of being in control of events. By this permanent performance, Napoleon thought he could encourage, enthuse and inspire confidence in his ministers and marshals, who, from the very beginning of the hostilities, had only one wish, namely, peace.
Hostilities start up again
The war began again for good on 16 August 1813. Via this volume, you can follow in detail the second part of the German Campaign, with several key or remarkable points, noted here.
- Dissension at Headquarters
Though Napoleon was more than ever ‘in control’ of the army, nevertheless relations within the dream team he had always formed with Berthier were beginning to be strained. The Major General had accumulated fatigue from previous campaigns and the intensive activity of the summer had affected his health. Like the others at headquarters, he would have preferred peace, whilst the Emperor wanted first and foremost to beat the allies in order to achieve in his eyes an honorable peace. This reciprocal lack of confidence and Berthier’s absences explain why Napoleon was frequently in direct contact with the leaders of the army corps, sending them his campaign plans directly or firing off criticisms.
- Napoleon’s plan
The paper trail revealed in this volume allows us to follow step by step Napoleon’s multiple attempts to orchestrate the perfect setting for the decisive battle. Once back from Mainz (where he had spent a few days with Marie-Louise), he finalised some extremely audacious plans and even profited from the cease-fire to reconnoitre the theatre of operations. The Marshals were also invited to acquaint themselves in detail with their future sectors of manoeuvre. Despite the fact that Austria had joined the coalition, the Emperor remained supremely confident and seemed perfectly at ease holed up between the Elbe and the Oder rivers, which he had chosen for purely political reasons so as to protect his Saxon ally. He finetuned his plans between 12 and 13 August and forwarded them to his Marshals: Oudinot and Davout were to march on Berlin, the primary objective, whilst Gouvion-Saint-Cyr was to provide cover by holding Dresden and blocking Schwarzenberg’s army there for eight days preventing it from threatening the Saxon capital or Leipzig. His role in the meantime was to face off Blücher to the east, before falling back upon Schwarzenberg. As per his usual custom, Napoleon intended to beat the allies separately and to break up the coalition. What he did not know was that the allies had come up with a plan at Trachenberg, following the advice of Bernadotte, Moreau and Jomini, whereby they would avoid battle wherever Napoleon was at the head, concentrating their energies on beating his lieutenants. It was only once the regions around Dresden and Leipzig had been “cleaned” of these secondary forces and the Grande Armée had been weakened that they would attack the chief.
- The missed opportunities of the summer of 1813
Napoleon attacked Blücher on 23 August 1813, following his plan, but Schwarzenberg’s offensive forced him to come back to Dresden, where he won a victory several days later. The pursuit of the defeated troops by the Marshals and Vandamme’s 1st corps was stopped in its tracks by the defeat at Kulm (30 August). The campaign plan was thrown into jeopardy, not least because the allies had made inroads into French forces at various places. The following weeks were characterised by changes in the plans, advances and retreats. When Ney was beaten by Von Bülow at Dennewitz (6 September), forcing Napoleon once more to return to his starting point, Leipzig-Dresden, the prospect of a great battle won by the French began to become even more unlikely. Nor were the coalition armies weakened, indeed they were now much superior in numbers: 864,320 against 550,000. At the end of this first phase of the campaign, the French army was exhausted by marches and counter-marches. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they were also continually harassed by “partisans”.
- Harassment by “partisans”
Ever since the Grande Armée had entered Moscow, the Russians had adopted a strategy similar to guerrilla warfare. Bands of light troops (Hussars, Chasseurs, and Cossacks), which though partly formed with regular troops Napoleon referred to as “partisans” because they used irregular tactics, harried the Grande Armée’s communication lines for as long as the French army marched on Russian soil. Given this strategy’s success, such bands pursuing irregular warfare methods were redeployed in Germany with fresh reinforcements (notably Prussians and Saxons) raised during the winter of 1813. These small, very mobile groups were often seconded by the locals and in the spring of 1813 had already been successful in certain raids. Napoleon preferred pitched battles and so had a very low opinion of this type of warfare: “I hope the enemy will suffer a setback which will cure them of this excessive use of partisans”. That being said, his method for fighting back was to do precisely the same thing. On 2 July, he ordered Belliard to create out of every cavalry corps columns “of “partisans”” numbering 1,500 men, led by a Brigadier General, whose only instructions will be to quarter the countryside in reconnaissance for where the army can go and to seek out enemy partisans.” But he was also conscious that the scope of such measures would perforce be limited and that it would be difficult to prevent these “partisans” from crossing the Elbe. Several orders were sent out commanding generals to take care “that the enemy should not take from us convoys of artillery or funds, or be able to descend upon detachments of isolated men”. Despite the precautions, the semi-irregulars led by Thielmann, by Tchernichev and by Colomb all managed to get behind French lines to capture convoys or detachments. On 18 September, General Bruno was captured in a night attack. Furious, Napoleon ordered that “light troops should never spend the night in a town […]; they must makes bivouacs, and change bivouacs every night, so as to sleep a league or half a league from the place where they were at sundown. This is the way never to be taken by surprise, and it is the lack of similar precautions that has led to such accidents taking place. […] We must announce that it will be the death penalty for patrol commanders of light troops who spend the night in a town”.
Enemy “partisans” were not content merely to make occasional seizures, but with the help of locals they managed to besiege and take entire towns. In mid-September, the Saxon General Thielmann with his 2 – 3,000 cavalrymen took Weissenfels and several towns between Dresden and Leipzig. Napoleon sent in mobile columns “to act against these partisans”. It took the columns fifteen days to drive their opponents towards Bohemia. Though the French were successful in the end, the enemy tactic had paid off. The multiplication of groups of semi-irregulars occupied the minds of those in charge of military emplacements, and sometimes they imagined more Cossacks than were actually present. On 1 and 2 October, Napoleon wrote lambasting those who since August had been seeing “considerable enemy forces […] everywhere [when in reality there were none]”. In the same way he had Maret scold the minister at Gotha, Saint-Aignan, for having “shown such ineptitude and ignorance by sending out circulars everywhere announcing that 10,000 horsemen were descending upon Gotha”. On 2 October, he summed up the situation in a long letter to the Major General criticising the lack of experience and lack of sang-froid of the commanders of military emplacements: “They must have madly lost their heads in Erfurt and in Eisenach, if they believe that the enemy is on their heels and at the same time that it are heading for Brunswick and for Hannover. […] These are groups of fifty or so men who are making all this noise, and our young generals are bringing these chimaeras to life by their hurry to spread all these false rumours”.
- The battle for “intelligence”
The principal targets for “partisan” operations were imperial courriers and estafettes. On 17 September, Napoleon complained to Marie-Louise slippery opponents “had descended upon the rear of the army and intercepted communications”. Several days later he noted that the estafettes which “left Paris on 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 [September]” had not yet made it through. Though they finally arrived on 23 September, he nevertheless reminded Berthier of the necessity of protecting the passage of government correspondence. The measures taken were of little use, since the Russian general Chernichov boasted that he had become “Napoleon’s archivist” during that period. Letters from Napoleon were likewise probably intercepted. In the course of September and October, his correspondence with Marie-Louise, usually so regular, suffered interruptions of sometimes several days. Louis Madelin noted these ‘holes’ remarking that the letters had not necessarily been seized by ‘partisans’; Napoleon noted the same thing. Since the archives of the estafette are missing, we do not know precisely how much was intercepted. We have managed to fill in some of the gaps for October, but there still some lacunae.
Napoleon was well aware of the risks to his correspondence, and often sent doubles (indeed triples and more) of his letters. Most of all, he almost systematically encoded all or parts of the texts of his letters, each addressee having their own code. Since the enemy did not possess the key, deciphering was thought to be unlikely. However, after Jomini changed sides, the Emperor feared that “the code used by headquarters with army commanders had fallen into enemy hands” and he advised Eugène not to use it: “this has nothing to do with the specific code which general Flahaut, my ADC, brought you a while ago for your private correspondence with me”. Whilst the method was effective in order to avoid revealing sensitive information in the event of the interception of the mails, the time required for decoding substantially delayed the responses.
This search for information by intercepting correspondence was also practised by Napoleon. In July and August, all travellers from Allied-controlled areas were systematically interrogated, spies were sent to Berlin or the spa towns to gather as much information about enemy movements. Just before the Battle of Leipzig, the Emperor rejoiced at the capture of Councilor Krafft who was carrying “important papers, including among other things, the allies’ conditions for peace”. Some see this interception as marking the beginning of the concentration of the Grand Army on Leipzig, but it was principally Murat’s reports on the situation south of the city which made the movement imperative.The situation on the chessboard had become clearer.
The Battle of Leipzig
With his usual creative force Napoleon imagined a great number of combinations, but all of which were subject to the reactions of his enemies, which were often either not what he was expecting, or which he only knew of in part or too late. It was as if the Emperor no longer had a steady hand.
Indeed it was in such a manner that he learned – after a run-in with Sacken on 1st October – that, contrary to what he believed, it was the Russians and not the Prussians under Blücher who were in Meissen. He immediately understood that the old Marshal was headed northward  to join Bernadotte, but instead of attacking them, he preferred to delay his own movement in order, he said, “to let them gain further confidence.” He did not realise that Bernadotte and Blücher’s men had already come together and as a result he wasted precious time. It was only on 5 October, after the fight at Wartenbourg (3 October), that he tried to react, and still his plan of action was only really decided in the night of the 6th to the 7th. At 1 o’clock in the morning he wrote to Murat: “Your main aim must be to delay the enemy’s march on Leipzig, never letting yourself be cut off from the Mulde, in such a way that we can all approach Leipzig at the same time, keep your distance from the enemy, or, if necessary, launch a general battle”. Then at seven o’clock: “The whole army of Silesia has come to Wartenburg, and there is no one between Dresden and Goerlitz, nor between Dresden and Berlin. Marshal Saint-Cyr remains in Dresden. Keep the Austrians back as long as you can, so that I can beat Blücher and the Swedes before they reach Schwarzenberg’s men ». And so on. Napoleon’s plans evolved practically hour by hour, and on 7 October he was reduced to writing to Gouvion Saint-Cyr that his “ideas will be fully clear tomorrow” with “the hope of attracting the enemy to a battle “.
Napoleon’s fear was that the enemy might escape again. But even he himself was hesitating about what to do: to march on Berlin, to continue his operation against Blücher or to resign himself to a general battle in Leipzig … it was this last option that he would finally choose. On St Helena he claimed that this change of plan was decided after the defection of Bavaria and the generals’ lack of fighting spirit. Nevertheless on this date his orders show that he was unaware of the Ried treaty that had been signed a few days before between the Bavarians of Wrède and the Austrians. Be that as it may, on 13 October, all his letters conclude that the army was going to converge around Leipzig. The hesitations had come to an end: the time had come to fight.
After 16 October, Napoleon’s correspondence alone is insufficient to give a full picture of the events. Some letters, however, testify to the total opacity of the movements of Bernadotte and Blücher before the battle. Then there is nothing, until the orders to retreat indicated in the letters of 19 October. During the battle and in the precipitous movement of retreat towards France, the Emperor had little time to write: fifty letters, not more, until the end of October.
Retreat, justification and reaction
After the disaster in Leipzig, Napoleon thought he could settle in Erfurt. But the pressure of the allies forced him to retreat to Mainz. After having pushed aside the Bavarians (who had now clearly crossed over to the other camp) in Hanau (30 October), he reached the Rhine capital on 2 November 1813. Marmont, who spent nearly the whole of each day with him, described a “gloomy and silent” Napoleon, understandably “confronted as he was with his unfortunate position, but then he always ended up at the end of each conversation with hope. When there were many of us with him, his language of hope for the future was more proud and more determined”. In his correspondence, on the other hand, the Emperor leaves little room for doubt or questioning. You will only find self-confidence, enthusiasm, encouragement or occasional reprimands. He is convinced that he will succeed because in his mind he has never failed. To admit failure would be to renounce, something which he cannot conceive.
The Emperor had now to face the weariness of the great chiefs of the army. This phenomenon did not begin with the defeat of Leipzig, but until then he had managed to bolster their morale with his vigorous missives. In the aftermath of the “Battle of the Nations”, this method of auto-suggestion of his bewildered many. In one letter he claimed to have the upper hand, before conceding, towards the end, that he “made great losses”. Only an unfortunate interplay of circumstances and Bavaria’s “inconceivable and unexpected betrayal” had disturbed all his plans, and had “forced him to bring war closer to the frontiers.“. On 3 November, he greatly disturbed his ministers by placing all confidence in his own genius and his soldiers. He asked Cambacérès to say “a word to pusillanimous councillors of state and senators. I am told on all sides that they show great fear and little character. So be sure that my infantry, artillery and cavalry are so superior to those of the enemy that there is nothing to fear, and that as soon as I get to know the enemies I’m dealing with, and as soon as I don’t have to fear betrayals or spanners in the works, I’ll beat them as fast as I beat the others. Conscripts and money are needed, but France will provide even less than the other powers. I am angry that I am not in Paris; they would have seen me more peaceful and calm than at any other time or circumstance of my life. Then, to Savary, he wrote that: “Your alarms and your fear in Paris make me laugh; I thought you were worthy of hearing truths” while he asked Mollien that he wanted “ministers to show calm and confidence”. By his will alone, he hoped to energize. By putting all his own strength into the battle, he expected that everyone do the same. Did he succeed? Officially, yes, without doubt, but Cambacérès noted in his memoirs that by this date “we had lost much of the admiration that Napoleon had long inspired. The misfortunes which befell him in Leipzig destabilised much of the public against him, destroying the aura of glory with which he had been constantly surrounded”. Did he realise that this progressive detachment was taking place? Nothing in his correspondence allows us to say that.
In Mainz, hoping that the allies would let winter pass before crossing the Rhine, he set to work to rebuild an army, for the third time this year, one that was capable of resisting the invasion that threatened the “sacred territory” of France.
His first concern was to provide for the needs of the men, who arrived in the city after a painful retreat. He recomposed decimated units and attempted to restore discipline. At the same time, he redistributed the commandments along the Rhine to ensure its defence: “the three marshals, the Dukes of Taranto, Ragusa and Bellune, will find themselves having the superior command from Holland to Switzerland.”. In September, in anticipation of this, he had prepared some strongholds for a retreat on the frontier river. At the beginning of November, the strongholds on the Moselle, in the Lorraine, Alsace, Holland and Switzerland were besieged. Immediately after the collapse of the Bavarian alliance was known in Paris, Clarke and Cambacérès took the initiative to levy the national guards of the departments bordering the Rhine. Napoleon approved their action and asked that the measure be extended to the Alpine, Côte d’ Azur and Italian departments: “By this means, the whole border from Nice to Zwolle will be guarded by the national guards, and furthermore we will be able to have further cohorts for Holland and Piedmont.”.
In order to establish a general defence of what remained of the Empire, the Emperor also dedicated himself to peripheral theatres. In August, Eugene had been given a wide freedom of action and decision: “I am too far from you to give you positive orders. Cover the Illyrian provinces and Italy; make good arrangements and attack the enemy if he is inferior to you in strength”. The Viceroy of Italy’s freedom of action was reduced after Leipzig. This failure freed Austrian troops who risked attacking him in the Peninsula. From 24 October, Napoleon sent him reinforcements, namely, the Italian troops present in Germany and Spain. The same day, Murat left the Grande Armée to join his kingdom of Naples. In their last interview, he had promised the Emperor to rescue the Kingdom of Italy with 30,000 men. But, as we know, the game of deception between the Emperor and his brother-in-law had begun. Murat had already gone over to the enemy camp. The final act would be played at the beginning of January 1814, but for the time being, at least on the surface, Joachim-Napoleon remained in the French fold.
The Spanish front also required a great deal of attention and was even more worrying. Napoleon learned of the defeat at Vitoria on 1 July. Faced with the scale of the disaster, he dismissed Joseph and appointed Soult his “Lieutenant General in Spain”, instructing him to reorganise his army and resume the offensive against Wellington. On the strength of these instructions, the Marshal now enjoyed great freedom of action but remained subject to the Minister of War. Once the reorganisation had been completed, he was able to resume fighting on 24 July. Upon receipt of a letter from the Duke of Dalmatia, Napoleon allowed himself to believe (and passed on the news) that the Spanish army would take Pamplona and liberate Saint-Sébastien. This was not the case. The offensive was defeated on 28 July, and Soult was forced to return to France on 31 July. Later, Soult would be reduced to defending the Pyrenean hinterland and the border. Napoleon nevertheless considered a counteroffensive possible and distributed part of the conscription to the regiments of the Southwest. In the eastern part of Spain, Suchet’s activities followed their course more calmly, and he still occupied part of Catalan territory. But since Vitoria, the Emperor knew in his heart of hearts that the Iberian Peninsula was lost and believed that the only possible solution was diplomatic. In November, he began negotiations leading to the Treaty of Valençay and the return of the Spanish crown to Ferdinand VII.
The general defence of the Empire continued from Paris, with Napoleon returning on 9 November 1813. The failure and subsequent collapse of Imperial influence in Europe had led to the desertion of foreign troops in the spring, and they passed to the enemy at the first opportunity. On 15 November, Napoleon dictated a long letter to Daru asking him to do some “serious work” on foreigners serving in French ranks as well as prisoners in France because “no foreigner can be counted on. This can only be extremely dangerous for us”. It was decided to have the last Germans, Spaniards, Swiss, Illyrians etc. disarmed and removed, for security reasons as well as in order to recover horses and weapons, which had become scarce at the end of the year 1813. Providing guns to the army after Leipzig was indeed another equation to solve for the Emperor. So he took some from here, redistributed some there, bought from private individuals, removed the guns from the dragoon regiments (an old recipe of the Convention), allowed customs officers to retain theirs, etc. With virtuosity, he juggled with supplies, sometimes forgetting distances and administrative delays.
Opposition from within
As soon as Napoleon withdrew to Erfurt, he admitted to Cambacérès, that the conscription call of 9 October [120,000 men] would not be sufficient. It was therefore necessary to make it possible for this conscription to provide 140,000 men which even then “in France’s current position, are not enough for me. I am expecting 100,000 resisters”. He then called for a new commission to be convened to study two projects that would enable him to obtain 300,000 new conscripts, but he wanted “men and not children”: “We are no braver than our younger generation; but, if they don’t have the strength, they fill the hospitals, and even, at the slightest uncertainty, these youngsters shows the character of their age. It takes men to defend France”. The Senatus-consulte of 15 November finally called up 300,000 conscripts from the classes Year XI to 1814 of which 150,000 had to be made available without delay. Another 150,000 would be only in case of invasion. On 20 November, a decree brought the levy of 9 October of the classes 1808 to 1814 to 160,000 men, bringing to 620,000 the number of conscripts called up in less than six months (1,527,000 in one year).
This rise in the number of levies led to an increase in resistance and open rebellions. Previously peaceful departments, such as the North or the Lys, were over-run by gangs of violent and hostile dissenters. Napoleon dispatched a mobile unit under the command of General Henry, who was a specialist in this matter. With the contraction of the Empire and the changing alliances of the vassal states, the burden of conscription and renewal of the army’s numbers lay solely on France. Whereas conscription had functioned correctly until 1812, thereafter it became less and less tolerable to the French people and contributed to their falling out with the Emperor.
All these emergency arrangements were demanding increasing amounts of money. Since the beginning of 1813, the fixing of the State budget amounted to “squaring the circle”. The sale of communal goods decided in the spring had not returned the expected amount and expenditure was constantly increasing while revenues were decreasing. It became necessary therefore to increase (what was not yet called) the “tax burden”. On 3 November, Mollien was ordered to impose “double the salt tax”, “double the movable contribution” and “fifty cents of war tax on the combined rights, on tobacco, on the post, on the grants of all the cities”. The turn of the screw was decreed two days later.
These events were taking place against the backdrop of a renewed religious crisis, with the false-Concordat of Fontainebleau and the now direct and unmasked opposition of the great prelates. This restlessness found an even greater echo among royalist circles. Protected by Savary, they were in the process of constructing the image of the “Corsican Ogre”. Strangely enough – but did he have a choice? – Napoleon was nevertheless pursuing a policy of conciliation of the elites, reprimanding his Minister of Police for having exiled certain Jacobins from Paris, annulling the residency bans against well-known royalists, some of whom joined the Chevaliers de la Foi.
More difficult to control was the opposition within the Chambers, who became very sensitive from December onwards. The registration of the Senatus-consulte of 9 October concerning the conscription ignited sparks; the one of 15 November on the organisation of the Legislative Corps sets fire to the powder. The military setbacks had fuelled the tensions, and the committee study of failed negotiations upset all the more the usually more docile chambers. In the Corps Legislatif, the Laîné report openly opposed Imperial policy, even showing hostility towards Napoleon. In an excited atmosphere, a large majority voted that it be printed. However, the Emperor ordered the text to be seized, declaring the session closed, an act of authority that would only postpone the inevitable confrontation until later.
Dissatisfaction within the family
In this context of oppositions and contractions of the Empire, the Bonaparte family was not of great help to the sovereign. That being said, he was not obliging in return.
In the eyes of Napoleon, Joseph had lost Spain: “All the nonsense that takes place in Spain comes from my misguided complacency for the King who is not only incapable of commanding an army, but does not even know how to deliver justice and leave the command to the military”. The eldest Bonaparte was under house arrest in Mortefontaine under police surveillance. He was not allowed to seek to meet the Empress nor come to Paris under penalty of being arrested. But, contrary to Napoleon’s fears, Mortefontaine did not become “a centre of intrigue” but a haven of rest for the ex-king of Spain, and his court in exile, but also for Catherine of Westphalia who, because of the war, had moved away from her husband.
Jerome was the second to suffer from the Imperial wrath. He had to abandon his kingdom, amid confused and rather unglamorous circumstances. The Emperor’s words were cruel: “In general, I feel humiliated by the ridiculous role played by this prince who has neither administrative qualities nor common sense. If he had remained in Cassel, his troops would not have been overwhelmed and he would have retained control of his kingdom. If he had had the first notions of common sense, he would have had around 8 to 10 thousand French, Swiss and Italians around him. I’ve been telling him that for a long time. The worst kind of all is that of the whippersnappers”. He forbade him, like Joseph, to go to Paris but ordered him to take back Westphalia, which he did … but only for a few days. The final collapse took place a few days after Leipzig.
Louis had been taking a back seat since he had been expelled from the throne of Holland. After the evacuation of Amsterdam, he thought he had a card to play and offered his services to his brother. In response, he received a barrage of criticism, was threatened with arrest if he did not stick to the Senatus-consulte of the reunion of Holland. The Emperor explained this in a letter to Cambacérès: “It is my destiny to see myself constantly betrayed by the dreadful ingratitude of men to whom I have shown the most generosity, especially by this one, for whose own education I deprived myself of everything, even necessities, at the age of twenty. You know that the libellous words he published against me were printed with emphasis by Austria, after the declaration of war, as if to blacken my character and increase the animosity that was erupting on all sides”.
As for the others, Elisa, who all the while was in with Fouché, remained faithful to her brother, while Eugene kept him informed of Metternich’s attempts to approach and Pauline sold her jewellery to help the war effort. But in spite of these reassuring proofs, Napoleon complained to Marie-Louise: “Take pity on me for having such a bad family, I who showered them with riches”.
A collapse on the horizon…
The attitude of the Napoleonids reflected that of all the allies of the flagging French power. One by one, yesterday’s confederates changed sides: Bavaria, Württemberg, the Germanic princes… Only the Saxon sovereign remained in the French alliance longer than made sense. But with his territory occupied by the Grande Armée, could he do anything else? In the heat of the battle of Leipzig, it was his army who finally made the decision for him. Soon, Denmark, under military pressure, turned the scales. And finally, Switzerland, who for the first time in its history decided to choose neutrality… but this tactic did not stop the coalition troops pouring into its valleys. Napoleon was now alone against Europe.
The Allied sovereigns, who waiting to decide what to do about the Rhine from mid-November onwards, met in Frankfurt to discuss the future of the campaign. This political interlude allowed them to set their war goals and to amass on the frontier river a force of 500,000 men at the ready. It became more and more obvious that they had to finish with Napoleon. After very timid reciprocal approaches (which we can hardly call “negotiations”), Metternich rushed ahead with a printed statement putting the allies in the position of peace bearers wishing to re-establish the European balance. Napoleon’s response was significant by its weakness: he was obliged to make parliamentary committees study the question and published their conclusions in the Moniteur of 28 December. But this political manoeuvre was without effect: since the Prague masquerade Napoleon had lost the battle of opinion and no one believed that he sincerely wanted peace.
The first blows to the Imperial “sanctuary” were made in Holland. The uprising in Holland, from 15 November onwards, facilitated the offensive by Von Bülow and the loss of the country for the French. This advance led Napoleon to believe that the bulk of the Allied attack was to be carried out on Belgium: “There is nothing to fear for Strasbourg, the enemy would have to be mad to attack on this side. Cologne and Wesel are the obvious places to think that the enemy should aim for”. But he was mistaken and the few movements he ordered, to counter the first signs of the invasion in Holland and on the Jura, would be of no use.
After twenty years of conflict and domination, France was about to experience the first major military invasion in its contemporary history. We close this volume at the moment when the Empire and Napoleon were on the brink of collapse.
(translation, Peter Hicks and R Young)
 For the outline here of this episode in the history of the Empire we consulted Louis Madelin’s L’histoire du Consulat et de l’Empire (Librairie Hachette, Paris, 1950) – whose Volume 13 has also provided us with a title for this introduction – and Jean Thiry’s Leipzig, 30 juin-7 novembre 1813 (Bergers-Levrault, Paris, 1972) and Thierry Lentz’s Nouvelle histoire du Premier Empire, vol. 2, (Fayard, Paris, 2004).
 To Marie-Louise, 1st July 1813, n° 35135.
 To Marie-Louise, 6 July 1813, n° 35291.
 To Berthier 19 July, n° 34395.
 To Caulaincourt, 29 July, n° 35662.
 To Cambacérès, 9 August 1813, n° 35795.
 To Cambacérès, 12 August 1813, n° 35837.
 To Maret, 17 August 1813, n° 35964.
 Until the last moment, however, Napoleon left open the possibility of new – and this time real – negotiations. The allies chose to turn a deaf ear.
 To Clarke, 7 July, n° 35278.
 To Mollien, 6 July, n° 35258, 35259.
 To Davout 12 July, n° 35371.
 Jean-François Brun, «Le cheval dans la Grande Armée», in Revue Historique des Armées, n° 249, 2007, p. 38-74.
 To Davout, 19 July, n° 35502.
 To Davout, 22 July n° 35532
 To Belliard, 2 July, n° 35141.
 To Clarke, 23 July, n° 35553.
 To Mouton, 18 July, n° 35492.
 Jean-François Brun, L’économie militaire impériale à l’épreuve de la VIe coalition, PhD thesis supervised by Abel Poitrineau, Université Blaise Pascal (Clermont Ferrand, France), 1992, chapter 8, p. 15 etc.
 To Daru, 23 September, n° 36434. Since dysentery and fever were the soldiers’ main causes of illness, rice was often the focus of discussions and orders. There are 35 entries for rice in the September correspondence.
 This legislation was envisaged from 1811 (Correspondance générale, n° 27725). Napoleon attempted to apply this form of justice in 1814 (see François Houdecek « L’autre visage de la campagne de France : Napoléon face aux désordres de l’armée », in Patrice Gueniffey, Pierre Branda, 1814, La campagne de France, Perrin, Paris 2016, p. 73 etc.). Decimation was applied for the first time in the Roman army in 471 BC (Livy, Ab Urbe condita, II, 59). This form of justice was subsequently practised until the Augustan period. In the French army it seems to have been applied only during the Empire.
 To Clarke, 7 December 1813, n° 37440.
 To Cambacérès 15 August 1813, n° 35921.
 Jean Marc Largeaud, «
Autour des ‘Marie-Louise’», in Le Télémaque, February 2012, n° 42, p. 174 (https://www.cairn.info/revue-le-telemaque-2012-2-page-42.htm).
 To Clarke 27 September, n° 36525.
 To Mme de Montesquiou, 14 August, no 35909; to Rémusat, 12 August, n° 35856.
 As had been the practice for 10 years, corps commanders relayed information from the field through Berthier’s services. The 1813 campaign left the largest number of documents (AN, AFIV 1658-1666). These documents were widely studied by Captain Fabry in his studies of the Emperor’s operations from 28 August to 30 October, 1813 (2 vol. Paris, Chapelot, 1911-1913; 1 vol. Laval, Bameoud, 1913) in which he analysed the information circulating between the different French états-majors hour by hour.
 To Macdonald, n° 35753.
 To Marmont 13 August, n° 35887.
 To Marmont 12 August, n° 35851.
 Bruno Colson, Leipzig, la bataille des Nations, Perrin, Paris, 2013, p. 8 etc.
 On the succession of plans constructed by Napoleon see: Jacques Garnier, L’art militaire de Napoléon, une biographie stratégique, Paris, Perrin, 2015, p. 243 etc.
 For details and timeline of the campaign, see the maps and chronology in the appendices.
 Jean-François Brun, L’économie militaire impériale à l’épreuve de la VIe coalition, op.cit., chapter XX, p. 9 etc.
 To Maret, 15 September, n° 36330.
 To Belliard, 2 July 1813, n° 35141.
 To Le Marois, 8 August, n° 35787.
 To Berthier, 19 September, n° 36370.
 To Berthier, 14 September, n° 36315.
 To Maret, 22 August, n° 36045.
 To Maret, 1 October, n° 36593.
 To Berthier 2 October 1813, n° 36608; see also to Lefebvre Desnouettes, 1st October, n° 36613.
 To Marie Louise 17 September, n° 36350.
 To Lefebvre-Desnouettes, 20 September, n° 36402.
 To Nansouty 1st October, n° 36597.
 The documents of the estafette of 30 September travelling to Dresden were published in London in 1814 (Copies of the original letters and despatches of the generals, minister grand officers of state at Paris to the Emperor Napoleon at Dresden intercepted by the advanced troops of the allies in the North of Germany, John Murray, London, 1814). This anonymous publication introduced the published documents by praising the merits of “partisans”, especially Chernichev. Cambacérès talks about the capture of this estafette in his letter of October 13th (Jean Tulard, Cambacérès, lettres inédites à Napoléon, t. 2, 1808-1814, Paris, Klincksieck, 1973, p. 1082, n° 1307). It is conceivable that seven estafettes destined for the Emperor were intercepted.
 At the beginning of October, an estafette containing a missive for Marie-Louise was captured (to Marie-Louise, October 9, n° 36710). Later, the estafettes coming from Paris on the 23rd, 24th and 25th of the same month were also lost (to Cambacérès and Marie-Louise, 31 October, nos 36864, 36867), so that Napoleon was obliged to ask the ministers for duplicates of their letters (to Cambacérès, 2 November, n° 36885). On Cambacérès’ assessment of this subject see Jean Tulard, Cambacérès, lettres inédites à Napoléon, op. cit., n° 1341.
 Louis Madelin, Lettres inédites de Napoléon Ier à Marie Louise, Éditions des Bibliothèques Nationales de France, Paris, 1935, p. 174-177.
 To Cambacérès, 31 October, n° 36864.
 The estafette was part of the services of the Grand Equerry, Caulaincourt, part of whose archives were deposited in the National Archives (95 AP), a second part (of which the estafette) remains in private hands.
 To Eugène 20 August, n° 36010. Odeleben (Relation circonstanciée de la campagne de 1813 en Saxe, Paris, 1817, vol. 1, p. 243) notes that just before the battle of Dresden a marshal’s official code key (possibly Mortier’s) was lost by the officer who had it, making it necessary to recompose one urgently.
 On October 27, Cambacérès acknowledged receipt of an encrypted letter dated October 9 and would not know what “it contains until tomorrow” (Jean Tulard, Cambacérès, lettres inédites à Napoléon, op. cit., n° 1325).
 See the PhD thesis of Michel Roucaud, Le renseignement militaire opérationnel sous le Consulat et l’Empire (1799-1815), supervised by Bernard Gainot, Paris I Sorbonne, 2015, 405 p.
 To Ney, 13 October, n° 36810.
 G. Clément, Napoléon en Allemagne, la campagne de 1813, Le livre chez vous, Paris, 2005, p. 407.
 Bruno Colson, Leipzig, la bataille des Nations, Perrin, Paris, 2013, p. 41 etc.
 The word appears almost ten times in the correspondence of August and September (see in particular nos 36951, 36079).
 See in particular the comings and goings of searching for the bodies of Langeron, Sacken and Yorck between 4 and 5 October (nos 36640, 36643).
 To Macdonald 1st October, n° 36591.
 This movement had been planned in the summer (see letter to Gouvion Saint-Cyr, 17 August 1813 n° 35961).
 To Murat, 7 October, n° 36693.
 To Murat, 7 October, n° 36694.
 To Gouvion, 7 October, n° 36687.
 See notably nos 36775 et 36782 to Berthier and Marmont of 11 October.
 This passage was actually added by Las Cases, after his return to Europe in the light of his later readings. (see Le Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène. Le manuscrit retrouvé, Paris, Perrin, 2017, p. 642)
 Comte de Las Cases, Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, annotated by Marcel Dunan, Paris, Flammarion, 1951, vol. 2, 2 September 1816, p. 289.
 To Berthier, 14 October, n° 36815.
 On the battle of Leipzig, in addition to the above-mentioned study by Bruno Colson, Stéphane Calvet’s Leipzig la guerre des peoples (Paris, Vendémiaire, 2013) is of interest.
 To speed up the retreat, Napoleon had to decide to burn “a lot of the baggage train, both for the infantry and artillery” (Clarke, 25 October, n° 36854). This destruction of material included documents from Napoleon’s Cabinet. Far from reaching the extent of the destruction of 1812, the “destructions” of 1813 only got rid of a few letter draughts which were replaced by simple summaries of the letters sent. A few other letters bear the note: “the minute of this letter was burnt in the army” (Minute, Archives Nationales, AFIV 901, July 1813, n° 93, 310, 359, 368 ; AFIV 904, October 1813). Part of the letters were found in copy at the Service Historique de la Defence (1 M 2081), National Archives (AFIV 904). Some minutes have disappeared, such as a letter to Gaudin on financial difficulties mentioned in the letter to Cambacérès dated 25 October 1813 (n° 36850) which is missing from the minutes collection.
 Marmont, Mémoires du duc de Raguse, 1792 à 1841, Paris, Perrotin, 1857, p. 9.
 To Marie Louise, 22 October, n° 36840.
 To Cambacérès, 25 October, n° 36850.
 Jean Jacques de Cambacérès, Mémoires inédits, presentation and notes by Laurence Chatel de Brancion, Paris, Perrin, 1999, vol. II, p. 489.
 He was able to say to Clarke: “You have seven months until May: with 30,000 rifles a month you will have 210,000 rifles” (to Clarke 10 November, n° 36975.)
 Marmont in his Mémoires (op. cit., Paris, Perrotin, 1857, p. 7) borrowed this expression from Napoleon.
 To Berthier, 3 November, n° 36903.
 To Clarke, 3 November, n° 36913.
 To Eugène 14 August 1813, n° 35902. Eugene remained of course in close contact with Clarke, but also with the Emperor, as his correspondence shows: Albert Du Casse, Mémoires et correspondance politique et militaire du Prince Eugène, Michel Levy Frères, Paris 1860, vol. 9, p. 333 etc.
 The first known letter to Eugène is dated 3 November 1813 (n° 36920). Others, most likely dating from 24 October, are probably lost.
 To Berthier, 24 October, n° 36848.
 To Eugène, 3 November 1813, n° 36920.
 See Vincent Haegele, Murat, la solitude du cavalier, Paris, Perrin, 2015, p. 669 etc. Also of interest is H. Weil, Le prince Eugène et Murat, 1813-1814, Paris, Albert Fontemoing, 1902, 5 volumes.
 To Cambacérès, 1er July, n° 35112.
 To Le Marois, 5 August, n° 35736.
 To Daru, 15 November, n° 37061.
 To Cambacérès, n° 36855.
 See letters to Cambacérès and Clarke of 25 October, nos 36853, 36855.
 To Clarke, 10 November, 36975.
 Alain Pigeard, La conscription sous le Premier Empire, http://www.napoleon.org/histoire-des-2-empires/articles/la-conscription-sous-le-premier-empire.
 Henry is the executor of Napoleon’s low works, and conducts moving columns in Mayenne (1808), Normandy (1811-1812), and Sarthe (January 1813) (see this name in the indexes of previous volumes of the Correspondance générale).
 Annie Crépin, « La conscription des années sombres », in Patrice Gueniffey, Pierre Branda, 1814, La campagne de France, Perrin, Paris 2016, p. 45.
 Pierre Branda, Le prix de la Gloire, Napoléon et l’argent, Paris, Fayard, 2007, p. 370.
 To Mollien, n° 36925.
 Jean-Paul Bertaud, Les Royalistes et Napoléon, Paris, Flammarion, 2009, p. 283.
 To Cambacérès, le 8 July 1813 (n° 35299). See also Thierry Lentz, Savary le séide de Napoléon, (Paris, Fayard, 2001, p. 336). Savary, an open-minded advocate of peace, was often the recipient of the Imperial wrath. Nevertheless, the minister remained a zealous executor.
 It dealt with the non-renewal of deputies as a result of the war, but above all, with the appointment of the Speaker of the House by the Emperor, a reform considered humiliating by many deputies. Following the cabinet shuffle (No. 37659) Regnier lost the justice portfolio and was appointed Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.
 Thierry Lentz, Nouvelle histoire du Premier Empire, vol. 2, Fayard, Paris, 2004, p. 506 etc.
 To Clarke, 1st July, n° 35116.
 In accordance with the orders received, the minister reproached Joseph for his rapid journeys to the capital (he actually came to visit his mistress, the Marquise de Montehermoso). For this, he drew a lively (and incomprehensible) reprimand from Napoleon (23 October 1813, n° 36847).
 See Thierry Lentz, Joseph Bonaparte, Paris, Perrin, 2015, p. 404.
 Jacques Olivier Boudon, Napoléon et la campagne de France, 1814, Paris, Armand Colin, 2014, p. 24.
 To Cambacérès, n° 36707.
 To Cambacérès, n° 36948. During his stay in Austria, Louis had indeed had regular contact with Francis I and Metternich. Murat had apparently also tried to convince him to play the Austrian card. He preferred to remain deaf to the alarm bells of betrayal, unlike Caroline and her husband, whose choices were already made.
 Emmanuel de Waresquiel, Fouché, les silences de la pieuvre, Paris, Tallandier/Fayard, Paris, 2014, p. 504 etc.
 To Eugène, n° 37320.
 To Marie-Louise, n° 36956.
 The armistice signed with Bernadotte in December 1813, turned into peace on 15 January 1814 and marked the change of alliance of Denmark.
 Allied troops were divided into three masses: under Schwarzenberg around Basel (180,000 men), under Blücher against Mainz (136,000 men) and under Bernadotte to the north with 100,000 against Hamburg, 25,000 against Wesel and 20,000 against Bülow in the Netherlands.
 To the Sénat and to the Conseil d’état, nos 37645, 37658, 37659.
 To Marmont, 19 November, n° 37167.This last phase demonstrated even more the gap between Napoleon’s determination and the reality on the ground. The defence of Holland illustrated this well: often the instructions were sent out when they could not be applied for lack of means. Even more problematic, they arrived too late, after the enemy had already moved.
 The eastern border had not been neglected. As early as mid-November, Clarke was ordered to defend the squares of Belfort, Huningue and Geneva “as well as all the castles on the Swiss border” (to Clarke, nos 36876, 36985).
 The Fondation Napoléon and the director of this volume would like to thank most warmly all the people who worked on this volume, and especially Michèle Masson, Patrick Le Carvèse and Jean-Pierre Vérité for their proof-reading work; Jean-Pierre Pirat for the production of the maps; Bertrand Fonck and Michel Roucaud for their work on the index; and the curators of the Archives Nationales, the Archives du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères and of the Service Historique de la Défense.