The Aftermath of the retreat from Russia: shifting alliances
20 December: The last remnants of the Grande Armée entered Königsberg (modern Kaliningrad).
30 December: Convention of Tauroggen: Prussia took its first step towards abandoning her alliance with Napoleon.
Prussian General Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg – whose 15,000 men formed Napoleon's army's left wing but which had become isolated during the retreat – claimed neutrality and thus de facto joined the Russians and abandoning his French allies under Macdonald. He enshrined his decision in the armistice known as the Convention of Tauroggen, from the town where it was signed, not far from Tilsit. This marked the first break in the international chain of the French coalition. Whilst Yorck became a traitor in the eyes of the French, (and the Prussian King, Frederick William III initially claimed that Yorck had acted unilaterally), later it became clear that the king was not exactly unhappy with Yorck's action and it served the monarch in his political manoeuvres for it to be seen as independent. It is true that officially Yorck was arrested and brought before a court martial. However, a mere two months later, the Franco-Prussian alliance had completely broken down and the general was released. Certain Prussian towns (notably Landsberg an der Warthe (now Gorzów Wielkopolski in Poland), Neustadt, and Muchemburg in East Brandenburg) rose up against the French occupier. Alexander I then appointed the patriotic, but liberal Prussian politician Baron von Stein as governor (at the rank of state minister) of the lands soon to be liberated. Stein immediately went to East Prussia (with the patriotic poet, Arndt) to gather an Estates General in Königsberg, which led to the levying of a Landwehr, formed of volunteers and conscripts.
11 January: A “senatus-consulte” was published making legal for Napoleon to mobilise troops normally sedentary to a total of 350,000 (100,000 conscripts from the draughts for 1809 to 1812, 150,000 from the draught for 1813 and 100,000 from the National Guard). A further decree dated 5 April, 1813, permitted the mobilization of troops in the National Guard (in total 92,000 national guardsmen were to serve in the army in 1813).
3 February: A Prussian edict ordered the creation of a volunteer corps (almost a Landwehr) – a few weeks later numbers had swelled to 8,000.
22 – 27 February: The Treaty of Kalisz formalized the Russo-Prussian alliance, setting aside all previous distrust. A sacred – indeed quasi-religious – mission to impose peace and to depose Napoleon was laid out in the preamble to the treaty. As to the details:
– Prussia would supply 80,000 regular troops for the Northern Alliance and raise a Landwehr and other volunteer corps;
– article 6 stipulated that neither side would agree peace or ceasefire without the agreement of the other;
– article 7 made it a top priority to bring Austria into the war;
– as to the reconstruction of Prussia, it was to be recreated in a form that match that of pre-1806 but which not necessarily geographically identical. Difficult negotiations regarding precisely what Prussia's eastern frontier would be were left to a later date.
3 March: Anglo-Swedish alliance treaty. Britain in return for some trade advantages in the Baltic agreed to pay Sweden £1 million by October of the same year and to support Sweden's claim to possess Norway. Bernadotte agreed to put 30,000 men into the spring campaign against Napoleon.
4 March: Russians troops under Chernychov entered Berlin and French forces withdrew behind the Elbe. Wittgenstein and Yorck were to enter the capital on 11 and 17 March respectively, and the King himself was finally to re-enter his capital on 22.
16 March: Blücher's Prussian corps crossed the Silesian border into Saxony.
17 March: Prussia declared war on France. The King made a “call to the people” (An mein Volk) encouraging them to take up arms in a “war of liberation”. It was however not clear to whom Frederick William addressed his call. Was it to Germans in general, or just Prussians? In the end those who responded were of many different political colours, running from nationalists, via those who hated reform, to Prussian patriots rather than German pan-nationalists. But they all agreed on one thing: the expulsion of Napoleon from Germany.
Mid March. Britain re-opened diplomatic channels with Prussia and immediately sent 54 cannon and arms, ammunition and stores for 23,000 men to be shared by Prussia and Russia.
19 March: Frederick-William and Alexander I signed a manifesto or convention Breslau, calling all German Princes in the Confederation of the Rhine to support “freeing the common homeland at the risk of being deprived of their States.” The purpose was to broaden and consolidate an anti-Napoleonic alliance, not to start a national German uprising.
24 March: Sweden entered the anti-Napoleonic alliance and declared war on France.
27 March: Dresden fell to allied troops under Winzingerode, and Russian and Prussian troops fanned out towards Leipzig. This was not only for strategic reasons but also because Saxony could provision allied troops more easily, thereby realeasing pressure on Silesia. This action drove out Frederick-Augustus I, King of Saxony, and ally of France, out of his capital. The later however did not ( as he should have done) head for France but rather retreated towards Prague accepting Austrian intermediaries in his dealings with Napoleon. That he was gradually “changing his system” was shown by two refusals a) to allow French reinforcements into the fortress at Torgau and b) to put a division of heavy cavalry at the disposal of the Grande Armée.
The inexorable Russian advance
2 April: Meanwhile towards the Baltic coast, far away from the Saxon theatre, the Battle of Lüneburg took place south of Hamburg. Russian light forces, Chernychov's and Dornberg's Russian 'Flying columns', were successful a French division under General Morand. An earlier allied invasion of Hamburg under the Prussian general Tettenborn (late January 1813) had been successful, but those troops were finally forced to abandon the city (30 May) when faced with Davout's strong counter-offensive, Bernadotte's refusal to send reinforcements, and a general unwillingness on the part of Hamburg inhabitants to rise up and shake off their French occupiers.
3 April: 180 000 new conscripts were called up in France, some of whom belonged to an early conscription of the class of 1814. These were called the “Marie-Louise”.
3-5 April: Indecisive battle at Möckern between Wittgenstein's Russian army and Prince Eugene's army of the Elbe, but one which forced Eugene to retreat to the line of the Elbe river.
7 April: The Prussian Blücher camped south of Leipzig and was joined by Wittgenstein's and Miloradovitch's Russian troups.
15 April: Napoleon left Paris for the front. He was to reach Mainz a mere 48 hours later.
After initially intending to head north and liberate the fortresses at Stettin and then Danzig (modern Gdansk in Poland), and then prevented from executing this plan by Eugène's abandoning of Berlin and retreat to Magdeburg, Napoleon decided to head south towards Dresden in Saxony. The two advantages of this plan? This would be a sign to the Princes of the Confederation of the Rhine that he meant business. And it would also create a major military event on the Austrian border designed at discouraging Austria from entering the war on the allied side.
17 April: Torun (Thorn) French garrison surrendered, followed by Spandau on 24th.
28 April: Death of Russian chief general Kutuzov. Wittgenstein appointed as Russian generalissimo.
The Empire strikes back
30 April: The main French army, together with the one from the Elbe, advanced on Leipzig. Napoleon had 200,000 men at his disposal and between 25 and 28 April concentrated 140, 000 of them in a new Army of the Main near Weissenfels. The allies facing the Emperor, under Barclay de Tolly, numbered only 100,000.
1 May: As Lauriston's avant garde began occupying Leipzig, Marshal Béssières was killed by a cannonball during an encounter at Rippach.
2 May: French victory at Lützen.
Attempting to take advantage of Napoleon's army on the march and backed up against the river Saale, the allies moved into attack mode. However, Napoleon was expecting them. Much of the action on the allied side was sustained by the Prussians, with the Russian only entering in support later on in the afternoon. After much taking and losing of the villages around Grossgörschen, the superiority of numbers on the French side began to tell. Threatened both on the left and on the right, the allies were finally saved by nightfall, which allowed them to retreat and avoid a debacle. Shortage of cavalry however meant that the French could not capitalize on their victory. The allies made an orderly retreat, reaching Bautzen on 12 May.
8 May: Napoleon retook Dresden. Frederick Augustus, seeing the result at Lützen returned to alliance with France, and ordered the fortress at Torgau to open to French troops. General von Thielmann, the commander, delayed as long as he could and then fled to join the allies.
14 May: The coalition dug in at Bautzen, planning for a second Borodino.
20-21 May: Battle of Bautzen. French victory. The allied troops of 96,000 men were outnumbered by Napoleon's army, which stood twice as many by the end of the battle. The French emperor's battle tactics (of producing a strong feint along the whole line, causing the allies to bolster it with reserves and to strengthen the left, while the main French, overwhelming, attack was planned against the allied right) should have created a second Friedland. A crucial error late in the day on the part of Marshal Ney (he got overexcited and attacked the allied centre rather than its crumbling right) allowed the Russians and Prussians to make a remarkable retreat largely unscathed. The greater number of better cavalry also played a crucial role in saving the allies. A Saxon officer on Napoleon's staff, Baron von Odeleben, described the retreat as “a chef d'oeuvre of tactics. Although the lines of the allies had been as it were thrown on the centre, the French could not succeed either in cutting off part of their army or capturing their artillery”. So, despite his superiority in generalship and sheer numbers, Napoleon could not force the decisive victory. It only pushed the allies back behind their retreat lines. Furthermore, allied casualties were less than half those of the French forces.
22 May: Metternich suggested an armistice to the combattants. Though the French caught up with and harried the retreating Russians and Prussians, they were unable to derive any advantage in the face of remarkable skill in the Russians rearguard and cavalry. Napoleon himself, eager to finish off the Russians, drove on his avant garde, but at Hollendorff as he was leading his troops through the village, a ‘magic' cannon ball tore through his entourage, killing General Kirgener and mortally wounding Duroc, a bitter blow for Napoleon as he greatly liked the latter.
26 May: Allied victory at the battle of Hainau: the cavalry rear-guard of the coalition took the French pursuers under General Maison by surprise.
27 May: the Grande Armée reached the rivers Katzbach and Oder.
28 May: The French relieved the siege of Glogau.
29 May: Barclay de Tolly replaced Wittgenstein as commander in chief of the Prusso-Russian army.
30 May: Davout reacquired Hamburg.
3 June: Oudinot, on his way to Berlin, was stopped at Luckau by the Prussian Bülow.
4 June: The Armistice of Pleiswitz, Napoleon's great mistake.
Regardless of the continuation of hostilities, diplomacy had continued to function. The allies were hoping for the intervention of Sweden and a decision from Vienna finally to join them. However, on the back of two victories and in a powerful position to divide and conquer the allies and to cause and uprising in Poland, Napoleon (perhaps with a little more boldness) could have continued the campaign two more weeks, driven a wedge between the allies and obtained better peace conditions. The allies were at their lowest after the defeat at Bautzen with the Russians desperately lacking suuplies and ammunition considering a retreat in Silesia and the abandoning of Prussia. The Prussians were considered how to make a last stand in Prussian territories which they could feasibly defend. The Prussian had not risen up (this was to be no second Spain) and the Landwehr had not been a success. And Austria was still playing hard to get. For the allies to stay close to the Austrian border in the expectation of alliance was becoming untenable – the land near Schweidenitz could not be defended by 100,000 men. However, Napoleon too had lost men, had a great deal of men sick and injured, and he lacked the cavalry to force a decisive victory. Furthermore, his conscripts, though they fought with bravery, needed a little respite. And more time would allow him to bring up more men and also more cavalry. So he accepted the proposal by Austria of negotiations and a congress (potentially in Prague). It is very likely that Austria was laying a trap for Napoleon, and he was not unaware of this. However he thought he could control events given a rest period. On hearing the news, Barclay de Tolly received Langeron (so the latter noted in his memoirs) “with a great burst of laughter: this explosion of happiness was by no means normal with Barclay. He was always cold, serious and sever in spirit and in his manner. The two of us laughed together at Napoleon's expense.”
10 June: Napoleon entered Dresden and moved into the palace of the King of Saxony. He quickly managed to reconstitute an army, and soon the cavalry comprised 40,000 soldiers.
12 June: Agreement between Russia, Prussia and Austria. The allies tried to convince Austria to reject the alliance with France.
14 and 15 June: Convention of Reichenbach (Silesia), between Prussia, Russia and the United-Kingdom. Britain agreed to provide financial support (£2 million) to the allies. Two thirds went to Russia, and one third to Prussia. In exchange, Prussia and Russia promised not to make any agreement with France without English approval.
21 June: Battle of Vitoria in Spain. (see below)
26 June: Stormy encounter between Napoleon and Metternich in Dresden. The two men argued for six hours in the Marcolini Palace. Napoleon then realized he could not rely on Austria.
27 June: Despite the argument of the day before, Napoleon accepted Metternich's Austrian mediation, fearing to lose Austria to the allies. Metternich, on behalf of Austria, promised to bring his diplomacy into line with Prussia and Russia, should France reject the requests of these two monarchies. Austria signed an agreement with Russia and Prussia, stipulating that Francis I was committed to join the allies and to declare war on France, should Napoleon not accept his conditions, which were: to give up the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and some Hanseatic cities, including, Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck; to allow the reconstitution of Prussia as it was in 1806. Berlin and Moscow also requested the disappearance of the Confederation of the Rhine (Napoleon's armed influence in Germany). Austria also hoped to obtain the restitution of Illyria and of the whole of Galicia, should a European peace be signed.
Meanwhile further South…: the fall of French Spain
March 1813: British troops massing around Lisbon in preparation for an entry in Spain. British cavalry present for the first time in the Iberian Peninsula since the retreat to Coruña in 1808-1809.
22 May 1813: British offensive operations began in Spain. Wellington made a secret, unexpected advance along the north bank of the Duero whilst troops under Hill made a feint against Salamanca. Perceiving that they were being outflanked by Wellington's men, French troops in Salamanca withdrew from the city at the end of May and headed for the fortress city of Burgos.
13 June: As Wellington once more threatened to appear behind French line, the French troops abandoned Burgos and headed northeast, blowing up the fort; errors in the placing of the explosives resulted in hundreds of soldiers' deaths.
21 June: The Battle of Vitoria
The main body of Wellington's army (from their hill positions) watched the French forces cross the Ebro and enter the town of Vitoria largely unmolested, though there were some skirmishes notably at Subijana (twenty or so miles due West of the town) on 19 June when some of the French rear-guard was taken (cavalryman George Woodberry of the 18th Hussars refers to 3,500 prisoners!). Whilst Joseph was outnumbered, he had decided to stand and offer battle hoping that the comte Clauzel, commander of the Armée du Nord, would come to his aid in time. However Clauzel did not arrive, and the king of Spain did not help himself by neglecting to destroy the bridges over the Zadorra river on his right wing which would have hampered British and allied troop movements and permitted his retreat to France. In the end, the British general Graham's pressure on this flank forced the French into a difficult retreat from the other, eastern side of Vitoria on minor roads towards Pamplona. Indeed, on 21 June 1813, Joseph's troops were decidedly on the back foot at this battle which was to mark the end of the French presence in Spain, and they could not withstand the high morale and energy of the attacking British and allied soldiers. Driven back from their forward positions on high ground above the Zadorra river, the French retreated into the town where the baggage train and camp followers were all massed. In the ensuing confusion as British cavalry squadrons and infantry platoons poured through the town, the commander in chief, King Joseph, was nearly captured and the major general commander of the army, Jourdan, lost his marshal's baton. The defeat was catastrophic: losses of 7,500 men, one third of which prisoners, Spanish afrancesado administrators of the kingdom retreating with the French were set upon by locals, and nearly 150 cannon were taken (the whole of the artillery park), not to mention the loss of the entire secretariat (including the army's secret code) and treasury of the kingdom. The British rank and file could not believe their eyes at the gold on offer (some even thought that the French had deliberately opened the coffers to slow down the enemy attack…), and officers were still confiscating hundreds of doubloons from British rank and file weeks after the battle. With much of the British van giving up the chance for booty, the remaining French forces around Joseph managed to retreat towards Pamplona for the denouement of Joseph's reign in Spain…
1 July: Learning of Joseph's debacle at Vitoria, Napoleon sent Soult to drive Wellington back.
28-30 July: Soult was defeated at the battle of Sorauren, effectively marking the end of French control in Spain.
7 October: After a series of hard-fought victories in the Pyrenees against Soult's retreating forces, Wellington crossed the river Bidasoa and set foot in France.
Threats and promises, obstinacy and perfidy: armed negotiations and the descent into conflict
30 June: Napoleon accepted Austrian mediation. The armistice was prolonged until 10 August. A congress was planned (to be held in Prague) from 10 July.
1 July: Napoleon learnt about the French defeat at Vitoria (see above).
3 July: Narbonne was sent to Prague as an ambassador with Austria.
5 July: The Comédie Française at Dresden
The Comédie Française had been summoned to Dresden on 20 June, to entertain the Emperor and the troops. In his memoirs, Alexandre Dumas, recounting the experience of people he knew later in life, writes that “Talma and Saint-Prix arrived and the Comédie Française was almost complete. A theatre had been constructed for the troop in the orangery of the palace in which the Emperor was living”. Perhaps with a note of hindsight, he records how the atmosphere was “veiled by terror”. The first play performed was La Gaguere imprévue, and on 24 June the company performed Phedre. The company stayed in Dresden until 10 August.
29 July: Real opening of the Congress of Prague. In the negotiation, the allies proposed that as a starting position Napoleon should agree to give up Germany, Holland, Spain and Italy. Napoleon played for time (of which he had none), refused to give his negotiators full powers and only took the talks seriously towards 8 August.
10 August at midnight: Metternich put an end to the Congress and Austria declared war on France.
11 August: Napoleon changed his mind and considered some concessions to the allies. In a note to Caulaincourt, he agreed to give up the Confederation of the Rhine, Illyria (apart from Trieste), and the North of Germany. He only expressed the wish to extend the negotiations regarding the Hanseatic cities. He also gave full powers to his diplomat to negotiate in his name. It was however too late. Indeed the allies had probably hoped that war rather than compromise would be the outcome, and refused to countenance Napoleon's proposals.
13 August: Napoleon's reply reached Metternich and the allies, but the war had already been declared on France two days ago.
From Dresden to the Treaty of Ried
14 August: Blücher opened hostilities.
15 August: Napoleon joined the Grande Armée.
17 August: In the evening, Murat, Caulaincourt and Berthier pleaded to Napoleon to abandon the war. They also asked general Belliard to try to influence the Emperor. Belliard conveyed to Napoleon a rumour circulating among the French soldiers according to which the allies had offered the Elbe as a new border for the Confederation of the Rhine, also that Jerome would remain king of Westphalia and for Holland to be re-established as a separate kingdom from France under Louis Bonaparte's authority. Moreover, according to this rumour, the French Empire would retain the Meuse and Escaut strongholds; its other borders would be the Rhine and the Pyrenees, and France would also retain Spain and Italy. Belliard told the Emperor of a favourable opinion in the Grande Armée regarding these rumours, but Napoleon refused to consider anything less for his Empire than uncompromising domination of Europe.
18 August: Victory of Davout at Lauenburg.
23 August: Defeat of Oudinot at Grossbeeren.
26-27 August: Victory of Napoleon at Dresden. On 26th, Macdonald was defeated on the Katzbach, near Liegnitz. The allies had attempted to storm Dresden on 26 but it had failed and French troops there were well placed to resist. Attacks on the city on 27 had to be abandoned – the right had lost control of the Teplitz highway via which they were to retreat and the left (Austrian troops) had become detached from the centre. Napoleon was unable to catch and destroy the allies retreating towards Bohemia – though they had taken difficult minor roads which rendered transport exceedingly difficult. Indeed, Prince Eugen's bravura and skill avoided Vandamme's forces which could have destroyed them in their retreat. The performance of the Russian in the retreat and subsequent battle of Kulm was exemplary.
29-30 August: A combination of Russian tenacity and extreme bravery at one of the most ferocious battles of the Napoleonic wars. On the first day, 14,700 Russian soldiers kept 30,000 French troops at bay. On the second, the Russians assumed a do or die strategy, attempting to beat Vandamme before he received reinforcements from Napoleon in Dresden. Heavily outnumbered by Russian, Austrian and Prussian forces, Vandamme was however attacked from the front and behind at the same time was trapped. Though he did manage to extract his cavalry (which escaped back to Dresden up the Teplitz highway), the French marshal himself was captured and exiled to Viatka. In the face of the catastrophic attack on Dresden, the victory at Kulm had a great effect on allied morale.
6 September: Defeat of Ney in Dennewitz.
9 September, 1813: Treaty of Toeplitz
Austria, Prussia and Russia met in the town of Toeplitz and signed the eponymous treaty there. In fact, there were two bilateral agreements, one between Russia and Austria and the other between Russia and Prussia. With Alexander I in the ascendant, the three parties reaffirmed the promise of Kalisch (see above) never to treat independently with Napoleon and accepted the validity of agreements made with third parties (a reference to separate agreements with Sweden and Britain). Austria and Prussia would return to their pre-1805 power though not necessarily with identical possessions. Most importantly, in a secret article (though most of the two treaties was secret), the three countries agreed on a possible dissolution of the Confederation of the Rhine. Austria probably gained most out of the document, leaving Russia to settle the Prussian problem and holding on to her territory in Polish lands and keeping her options open regarding the future of Austrian influence in Italy. The Confederation of the Rhine was indeed dissolved in 1813 after the Battle of Leipzig, and was replaced by the Germanic Confederation.
10 September: Austria managed to engage negotiations with her historic enemy, Bavaria, negotiations which would finally lead to an agreement signed in Ried on 8 October (see below). Once the armistice was signed on 17 September, Bavaria then came over to the coalition as Austria's ally. She had however proved a reticent bride, Bavaria's ruler and diplomats tried to hold out for strict neutrality, but when Napoleon could no ensure the integrity of Bavaria's border against Austria and when the Tsar refused to aid Bavaria against possible Austrian invasion, the south German kingdom feared for her survival if she did not join the alliance. Austria vowed to guarantee the kingdom's sovereignty and independence, promising fully contiguous German territory as compensation for the lands which Austria would repossess on the peace. In fact, the political ramifications of Bavaria's defection were much more important than Bavaria's participation at Leipzig or afterwards, in that the treaty at Ried and Bavaria's actions provided a pattern which other Napoleonic client state could emulate, actions furthermore which they saw could succeed. Frederich of Württemburg, for example, was to leave the French cause just before the battle at Leipzig causing the implosion of the Confederation of the Rhine, and Frederick August of Saxony too was to attempt to join the allies, although his cozying up to Napoleon in the run up to Leipzig meant that Russia and Prussia refused his overtures and his lands were taken.
17 September: Bavaria and the coalition signed an armistice.
23 September: The Prussians retreated up to the Spree.
30 September: Cossacks drive Jérôme Bonaparte from his Westphalian capital, Cassel.
The Cossack commander Alexandre Chernyshev led a daring raid behind enemy lines with five Cossack regiments and six squadrons of regular cavalry and four guns. He crossed the Elbe on the night of 14 September and headed for Kassel, hoping to spark off a revolt throughout the whole region. Moving extraordinarily quickly (on one day they covered 85 kilometers), his forces attacked Kassel early in the morning of 29 September. It was a daring bluff, but Jerome was also shaken by the contemporary fall of Brunswick and a popular revolt in Hesse: he fled before the limited number of enemy troops, leaving General Allix to hold off the attackers, and headed for Coblenz. Allix held out for a day but capitulated on 1 October when the inhabitants of the capital rose up and invaded Allix's residence. Chernyshev seized extensive stores in Kassel and 79,000 thalers – there were however no firearms to plunder. The Russians then abandoned the city almost as quickly as they had arrived. Indeed the raid had almost no strategic value for the allies, other than to spread lack of confidence in the French occupiers. The main damage was being done diplomatically by Metternich who was at that time on the verge of bringing Bavaria into the allied coalition.
1 October: Blücher prepared to cross the Elbe at Wartenburg with boats, from the left bank of the river, to join Bernadotte. Wartenburg, in the Elster region, was in an area with a fortress occupied by the French. Ney was told of Blücher's plan and sent General Bertrand to prevent the Prussian general from crossing. General Bertrand was commanding the Morand Division, the Italian Fontanelli Division and the General Franquemont's Division from Wurtemburg (about 12,000 men, against Blücher's 60,000 men).
2 October: Blücher crossed the Elbe at Wartenburg, having built a bridge in the night of 2/3 October, and his troops arrived on 3 October before Wartenburg.
3 October: Blücher's troops lost 5,000 men following an attack by the French. Blücher then attacked and seized the village of Bleddin against the Wurtemburg troops (composed of only 2,000 men). French General Hullot was sent by Bertrand to take over the village of Bleddin, but his attempts were unsuccessful. General Bertrand was then forced to retreat to Kemberg, being unprotected on his right, and he could not prevent the Silesian army from crossing the river. In Kemberg, General Bertrand was hoping to be joined by Reynier and Dombrovsky's reinforcements, which were positioned along the Mulde. Ney thought it necessary to retreat to Klitzschena, because his right side was unprotected. He feared he would be attacked by Bernadotte's army on both sides of the Mulde. He sent information to the Emperor about the situation, asking him to make a decisive choice, because he predicted that before 6 October, the enemy would be able to make for Leipzig with more than 100,000 men. England acceded to the Töplitz treaty. Illyria was invaded by Austrians.
3-4 October: Marmont, having learnt of the recent events, made for Düben on the Mulde with his men, to support General Bertrand. Marmont received the Wurtemburgers as reinforcements and faced the enemy, which presented itself in force. Marmont had a good position which enabled him to defend himself successfully, in spite of the enemy's several attacks. Ney, who was worried by the situation, sent news to Marmont that he was retreating to Kamens, information which caused Marmont to retreat as well, especially because they were threatened on the left. The two Marshals met but could not agree – Marmont found Ney in a position of “exaggerated and thoughtless fear”. Meanwhile, Blücher and Bernadotte also consulted each other and decided to build solid bridgeheads at Wartenburg and at Roslau so as to be able to cross back the Elbe safely, should they be pursued, and then to go back up the Mulde to Leipzig as soon as they could. These decisions gave a 3-4 day respite to Ney and Marmont.
The coalition was then in an ever-more favorable situation, although the two allied armies were carefully treading on the edge of a circle, with Napoleon in its centre.
4-5 October: During the night, Napoleon received Marmont's letter (dated 4 October), with some information about General Bertrand's situation. Napoleon then immediately commanded Marmont to rebuild the bridge at Düben and to meet with Ney and Dombrovsky. He added: “It is urgent to drive the enemy back across the river, before it gets reinforcements.” He also commanded General Drouot to direct a division of the Garde on Meissen, situated on the right bank of the Elbe, so that Oudinot might establish his headquarters in this city.
8 October: Bavaria joined the coalition with the Treaty of Ried.
Bavaria found itself in an increasingly difficult position in the first days of October. With the allied armies on her doorstep and Napoleon unable, and perhaps unwilling, to send her help against her traditional enemy Austria, Bavaria as a close ally of France and key member of the Confederation of the Rhine was facing military defeat and then territorial dismantlement. Though attempts were made in the negotiations by Bavarian negotiator Wrede (advised by Montgelas and King Maximilian Joseph) to maintain strict neutrality, in the end Bavaria came over into the coalition as Austria's ally, with Austria guaranteeing Bavaria's sovereignty and independence and promising complete compensation in contiguous German territory in return for the lands it would have to hand over to Austria at the peace. Furthermore, 36,000 troops were also placed at Austria's disposal. This defection from the French cause led directly to that of Würtemmberg and the collapse of the Confederation of the Rhine.
The Battle of Leipzig
9 October: In France, early call up of the class conscripts for 1815.
8-11 October: Napoleon attempts to catch and defeat Blücher's army at Düben fail.
Having managed to inveigle Bernadotte into collaborating thoroughly with his forces, Blücher and von Bülow (with their respective North German and Silesian armies) had the crossed the Elbe and were stationed around Düben. News of Blücher's movements had reached the Emperor on 5 October, and the latter hoped to catch and defeat Blücher in the south before Schwartzenberg's 200,000 could reach Leipzig. Blücher and Bernadotte however retreated west away from Napoleon's forces, crossing the Saale river and finally reaching Halle. Despite French pursuit of the allies along the right bank of the Elbe, their attempts in the end came to nothing. Napoleon was forced to leave Düben and to fall back to Leipzig.
13 – 16 October: Hoping to destroy the Army of Bohemia (under Schwarzenberg) near Leipzig, rather than to force his way over the Saale and through Blücher and Bernadotte's armies (of Silesia and the North, respectively), Napoleon gave order for all the corps to converge on Leipzig. However, crucially, he was indecisive over Gouvion Saint-Cyr and his 33,000 men in Dresden, whom he ordered to remain in that Saxon city, causing them to be absent from the battle. In the end, Napoleon managed to concentrate 160,000 men, including 22,000 cavalrymen. The allies on the other hand were not concentrated like Napoleon on one central spot but approaching the battlefield from three sides, Blücher (more or less with Bernadotte) from the north, Benningsen from the east and Schwartzenberg from the south. They numbered 220,000 at the beginning of the battle, however on the key southern part of the battle theatre they were at a significant disadvantage. As a direct result of the ineptitude of Schwarzenberg's initial plan (namely, to bring huge numbers of Austrian soldiers in from the West, over rivers swollen by the stormy weather), the allies could only bring 100,000 (of which 24,000 reserves had not yet arrived) to bear against Napoleon's 138,000 troops spread across southern plain, from Liebertwolkwitz in the east to Wachau and Dösen in the west. Not surprisingly, the day one of the battle ended as a French victory.
16 October: Blücher robbed Napoleon of an expected victory on a stormy autumn day…
In the battle to the south of Leipzig, Napoleon on the knoll at Liebertwolkwitz directed a ferocious cannonade at the Russia forces facing them. Eugen of Würtemberg wrote in his memoirs that the deluge of cannon balls at Leipzig was similar to that at Borodino but that ordeal had lasted for much longer. Napoleon wanted to immobilize the enemy along a defensive line of villages and small hills between Dösen, on the right of the French army, and Liebertwolkwitz, before launching a counter-attack on the left and in the centre, thereby rolling up the allied forces against the river Plaisse, to the west of the battlefield. In the north, Ney had to contain 55,000 Russians and Prussians led by Blücher, whom Napoleon thought was still far away.
The battle started well for Napoleon, as the allies attacking in three columns the French left (Liebertwolkwitz), in the centre (Wachau) and to the right (Dölitz), the latter being their principal attack. As they tired themselves all morning failing to cross the river Elster to the West (as Russian generals had predicted), and despite a 200-gun cannonade, they did not menace the French right or indeed bolster Russian troops to the south, thus giving French forces a greater numerical advantage in that theatre. However, fortunately for the allies, Napoleon was not able to mount his general attack early enough. Firstly, Marmont's troops could not bring his troops south to support the attempt to break through the allies, as Napoleon had planned, because he was detained north of Leipzig by Blücher. Rather like at Waterloo, the Blücher arrived on the battlefield earlier than expected (in fact at 10am), significantly altering the course of the battle. Gyulai's Austrian attack at Lindenau (due west of the city) furthermore caused a yet another hemorrhage of troops since it threatened Napoleon's communication line back to France – Bertrand's fourth corps had to be sent to hold the village. Furthermore, Macdonald to the east who was to pin down the Austrians at Seifertshain was unable to get into position early enough. So, it was not until 2pm that Napoleon was able to make his move, what he later called “the decisive moment”. Eugen's decimated Russian divisions at Wachau were finally supported by Austrians (notably heavy cavalry under Count Nostitz and infantry under Bianchi and Weissenwolf) against 16,000 of the French Young Guard. And Murat's famous cavalry charge of 12,000 horsemen (which nearly put the allied rulers to flight) similarly came to nothing. The other major French attack on Gossa was also finally repulsed though at huge human cost – the Russian artillery had however performed well, forcing Drouot's guns to pull back. At the end of the day (apart from a few villages which Blücher had capture to the north) the positions were largely the same. However, this effective draw was worse for Napoleon than for the allies since they had more than 100,000 fresh troops still to come.
17 October: Day of pause for most of the combatants, though a Russian hussar charge to the north drove French forces right back into the north-western suburbs of the city. The allies were happy to wait for reinforcements and Napoleon himself had few reinforcements to expect (Gouvion Saint-Cyr's men crucially could not come from Dresden) and his Saxon allies were being to doubt their position. Napoleon should have begun organizing his retreat, sending the baggage on and building additional crossings to the Elster river. In the end, he decided that he attempt the decisive coup, a tactic that had been successful for him so many times in the past.
18 October: The French Army overcome by sheer numbers.
The battle started in the morning with the same positions as on the evening of the 16, but the allies simultaneously attacked Napoleon's forces from the North and from the South near Leipzig, whilst 60,000 of Bernadotte's soldiers were approaching from the East. Bernadotte himself led 30,000 men North of Leipzig to begin the battle. Blücher was fighting opposite the village of Schönefeld. This strong village on the northern outskirts of Leipzig changed hands many times during the day before it fell to Langeron's forces around 6pm. One of the better-known episodes of the battle recounts how two of Marmont's Saxon divisions under general Reynier turned their coats and joined the allies – the cavalry from Wurtemberg also changed camp – but the relatively small number of men involved had little effect on the course of the battle. Trapped by his determination to remain on the battlefield, Napoleon faced almost 320,000 allies with only 170,000 French soldiers. He had however begun planning the retreat, the only question remaining would be how to save as much of the army as possible whilst holding the rearguard action.
In the south, Napoleon and his staff guided the successful French defence of Probstheida, thereby not permitting the allies to outflank the French to the allied right. As the greater numbers of men on the allied side gradually began to create an advantage, Napoleon gradually began pulling his troops back through the city and away to the North West. At this point shortage of ammunition was beginning to become a problem. Napoleon was later to write to Clarke, that he could have saved everything if he had had then “30,000 rounds”. However, not all had gone smoothly for the allies – Bernadotte's 60,000-strong Army of the North was not to arrive before mid-afternoon, a fact which caused the thinning of other allied regiments and rendered the taking of Probstheida impossible. Furthermore, Russian attacks of the Halle gate had led to great casualties and little advance – though the subsequent diversion of French troops to hold that key gate made it possible for Russian forces finally to seize and hold Schönefeld.
19 October: French defeat and retreat.
What was at stake during the fighting of the 19 October was the fate of the French army. The allies tried to block it in Leipzig, whilst Napoleon was organizing the retreat. Schwarzenberg, by that point commanding the whole of the allied forces, launched five columns against the French rearguard. Whilst the French fought tooth and nail in the gardens and the houses of Leipzig as they retreated, one significant problem remained, namely, the existence of only one bridge over the river Elster. Though a good number of the army escaped, when the allies broke through the Halle Gate and came within firing distance of the Elster bridge at about Midday, the retreat was significantly compromised. As it happened, a corporal was in charge of blowing the bridge up since his commanding officer had headed off to get precise instructions as to when to act. In a panic and under fire, the corporal detonated the charges, destroying the bridge and with it the hopes of retreat of 30,000 soldiers (and 30 generals, including Lauriston and Reynier), who were soon to be captured, 260 cannon and 870 ammunition wagons. Traditional accounts put French losses at 60,000 men, though the true total is probably closer to 100,000 killed or wounded, against 54,000 for the allies – by the time the French army reached Erfurt there were 70,000 under arms and 30,000 stragglers.
Whilst it was true that Napoleon had this significant part of his army and deprived the allies of a decisive victory, the fight was by no means over. However for the first time, and the majority of the military encounters to come would be on French soil…
(P.H., October, 2013)
– LENTZ Thierry, Nouvelle Histoire du Premier Empire, volume II : L'effondrement du système napoléonien, 1810-1814, Paris : Fayard, 2004.
– LIEVEN Dominic, Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807-1814, London: Penguin, 2010.