Battle of Leipzig

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For the Thirty Years' War battle, see Battle of Leipzig (1642).
"Battle of the Nations" redirects here. For other uses, see Battle of the Nations (disambiguation).
Battle of Leipzig II
Part of the War of the Sixth Coalition
Battle of Leipzig 11.jpg
Russian, Austrian, and Prussian troops in Leipzig
Date 16–19 October 1813
Location Leipzig, Saxony
51°15′00″N 12°38′24″E / 51.25000°N 12.64000°E / 51.25000; 12.64000Coordinates: 51°15′00″N 12°38′24″E / 51.25000°N 12.64000°E / 51.25000; 12.64000
Result Decisive Coalition victory
Territorial
changes
The Confederation of the Rhine dissolves; Napoleon loses control of the territories east of the Rhine.
Belligerents
France First French Empire  Russia
 Austria
 Prussia
 Sweden
 Saxony (18–19 October) [1]
Württemberg (18–19 October)
Commanders and leaders
Imperial Standard of Napoléon I.svg Napoleon
France Duke of Elchingen
France Duke of Ragusa
France Duke of Taranto
France Duke of Belluno
France Duke of Padua
France Duke of Reggio
France Duke of Castiglione
France Marquis of Gouvion-Saint-Cyr

Flag of the Duchy of Warsaw.svg Prince Poniatowski 
Flag of the Kingdom of Naples (1811).svg Joachim I
Kingdom of Saxony Frederick Augustus I
Frederick I

Standard of the Emperor of Russia (1858).svg Alexander I
Russian Empire Count von Bennigsen
Russian Empire Count Barclay De Tolly
Russian Empire Grand Duke Constantine
Russian Empire Count Platov
Russian Empire Prince Wittgenstein
Russian Empire Prince Gorchakov
Russian Empire Count Diebitsch
Russian Empire Count Langeron
Russian Empire Nikolay Raevsky (WIA)
Austrian Empire Prince of Schwarzenberg
Austrian EmpireCount von Merveldt (WIA) (POW)
Austrian Empire Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg
Austrian Empire Johann von Klenau
Austrian Empire Ignác Gyulay
Sweden Crown Prince Charles John
Kingdom of Prussia Count von Blücher
Kingdom of Prussia Ludwig Yorck
Kingdom of Prussia Friedrich von Kleist
Kingdom of Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow
Units involved
France French Grand Army Coalition Army
  • Russian Empire Army of Poland
  • Austrian Empire Army of Bohemia
  • Kingdom of Prussia Army of Silesia
  • Sweden Army of the North
Strength
October 16–17: 225,000[2]
700 guns[3]
  • France 160,000[3]
  • 15,000
  • Kingdom of Italy (Napoleonic)Flag of the Kingdom of Naples (1811).svg 10,000
  • Kingdom of Saxony 40,000

October 18–19: 155,000

October 16–17: 380,000[2]
1,500 guns[3]
  • Russian Empire 145,000
  • Austrian Empire 115,000
  • Kingdom of Prussia 90,000
  • Sweden 25,000

October 18–19: 430,000

  • Includes defecting German troops
Casualties and losses
60,000 total:
34,000 dead and wounded, 26,000 captured
54,000 dead, wounded or missing:[2]
Russian Empire 4,000
Austrian Empire 34,000
Kingdom of Prussia 12,000
Sweden 4,000
Richard Caton Woodville - Charge of Polish uhlans at Leipzig (1912)

The Battle of Leipzig or Battle of the Nations (German: Völkerschlacht, French: Bataille des Nations) was fought by the coalition armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden led by the Russian Tsar Alexander I against the French army of Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, at Leipzig, Saxony. Napoleon's army also contained Polish and Italian troops as well as Germans from the Confederation of the Rhine. The battle marked the culmination of the autumn campaign of 1813 during the German campaign and involved over 600,000 soldiers, making it the largest battle in Europe prior to World War I.

Being decisively defeated for the first time in battle, Napoleon was compelled to return to France while the Coalition hurried to keep their momentum, invading France early the next year. Napoleon was forced to abdicate and was exiled to Elba in May 1814.

Background[edit]

The French Emperor Napoleon I attempted to militarily coerce Tsar Alexander I of Russia into rejoining his unpopular Continental System by invading it with about 650,000 troops collectively known as the Grande Armée and eventually occupied Moscow in late 1812 after the bloody yet indecisive Battle of Borodino. However, after the Russian Tsar refused to surrender even as they occupied the city, this ended in complete disaster as Napoleon and his remaining forces retreated during the brutal Russian winter and the constant harrying of Russian Cossack marauders and partisan forces, reduced the Grande Armée to a mere shade of its former self as it was virtually destroyed by the time it exited Russian territory. Also, his forces in Spain had been finally decisively routed at the Battle of Vitoria in the Peninsular War just more than three months before by the combined armies of Great Britain, Portugal and Spain under the command of Britain's Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington, which were now advancing towards the Pyrenees and to the Franco-Spanish border. With this string of defeats, the armies of France were in retreat on all fronts across Europe.

The anti-French forces then joined Russia as its forces pursued the remnants of the virtually destroyed Grande Armée across central Europe and regrouped as the Sixth Coalition, comprising Austria, Prussia, Sweden, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal and certain smaller German states whose citizens and leaders were no longer loyal to the French emperor. Meanwhile, Napoleon hurried back to France after the failed invasion of Russia and mobilized an army about the size of the one he had used during the invasion, although there was already severe economic hardship at home during that time and war-weariness due to the newly arrived news of the Russian fiasco, resulting in massive resistance from France's citizens.[4]

However, after rebuilding his army and despite opposition at home, Napoleon, with the intention of either inducing a temporary alliance or at least cessation of hostilities or knocking out of the war, at least one of the Great Powers of the Coalition, sought to regain the offensive by re-establishing his hold in Germany, winning two hard-fought tactical victories, at Lützen on 2 May and Bautzen on 20–21 May, over Russo-Prussian forces. The victories led to a brief armistice. He then won a major victory at the Battle of Dresden on 27 August. Following this, the Coalition forces, under individual command of Gebhard von Blücher, Crown Prince Carl Johan of Sweden, Karl von Schwarzenberg, and Count Benningsen of Russia followed the strategy outlined in the Trachenberg Plan to avoid clashes with Napoleon but to seek confrontations with his marshals, which led to victories at Großbeeren, Kulm, Katzbach and at Dennewitz. After these defeats, the French emperor could not easily follow up on his victory at Dresden and, due to his thinly-stretched supply lines that spanned over now somewhat hostile Rhineland German lands coupled with Bavaria's switching of sides to the side of the Coalition just eight days prior to the battle, replace his army's losses. As a result, by the time of the battle, the total strength of all Coalition armies east of the Rhine probably exceeded a million; by contrast Napoleon's forces had shrunk to just a few hundred thousand.

Prelude[edit]

With the intention of knocking Prussia out of the war as soon as possible, Napoleon sent Marshal Nicolas Oudinot to take Berlin with an army of 60,000, but was defeated at the Battle of Großbeeren. This defeat forced Napoleon to withdraw westward because of the new threat to the north, cross the Elbe with much of his army between late September and early October, and organize his forces around Leipzig to protect his crucial supply lines and oppose the converging Coalition armies arrayed against him. He deployed his army around the city, but concentrated his force from Taucha through Stötteritz, where he placed his command. The Prussians advanced from Wartenburg, the Austrians and Russians from Dresden, which they had recently retaken as revenge for their tactical defeat at Dresden at the Battle of Kulm, and the Swedish force from the north.

Opposing forces[edit]

The French had around 160,000 soldiers along with 700 guns[3] plus 15,000 Poles, 10,000 Italians, and 40,000 Germans belonging to the Confederation of the Rhine, totaling to 225,000 troops on the Napoleonic side.[2] The coalition had some 380,000 troops[2] along with 1,500 guns,[3] consisting of 145,000 Russians, 110,000 Austrians, 90,000 Prussians, and 30,000 Swedes. This made Leipzig the largest battle of the Napoleonic wars,[5] surpassing all of the wars' past battles of Borodino, Wagram, Jena and Auerstadt, Ulm and Dresden.

The French Grande Armée, under the supreme command of Emperor Napoleon, was in a weakened state; the majority of his troops, unlike before, now consisted of teens and inexperienced men conscripted shortly after the near destruction of the Grande Armée during Napoleon's ill-fated invasion of Russia. Napoleon conscripted these men to be readied for an even larger campaign against the newly formed Sixth Coalition and its forces stationed in Germany. Whilst he won several battles on the way, his army was steadily depleted as Grande Armée forces were systematically defeated in battles commanded by Napoleon's marshals while the commanders of the Coalition forces closely followed the Trachenberg Plan. The French Imperial cavalry was also depleted; they were of poor quality compared to those mobilized during the Russian campaign. This was the reason Napoleon could not keep his eyes on his lines of communications or even scout enemy positions, a fact that influenced the outcome of the battle at Grossbeeren, a settlement just south of Berlin, and also at many battles that took place during Napoleon's campaign in Germany.

The Coalition army was composed of four army-level commands: the Austrian Army of Bohemia under Karl von Schwarzenberg, the Prussian Army of Silesia under Gebhard von Blücher, the Russian Army of Poland under Levin August von Benningsen and the Swedish Army of the North under Charles John Bernadotte. The Swedes also had under their command a contingent of British Congreve rocket artillery auxiliaries[6] from the Royal Horse Artillery.

Preparations[edit]

Napoleon's plans[edit]

Napoleon and Poniatowski at Leipzig, painted by January Suchodolski

Despite being outnumbered, Napoleon planned to take the offensive between the Pleisse and the Parthe Rivers. The position at Leipzig offered several advantages for his army and for his battle strategy. The rivers that converged there split the surrounding terrain into many separate sectors. Holding Leipzig and its bridges, Napoleon could shift troops from one sector to another far more rapidly than could the Allies, who had difficulty commanding such numerous troops into a single sector of fighting.[7]

The northern front was defended by Marshals Michel Ney and Auguste de Marmont, and the eastern front by Marshal Jacques MacDonald. The artillery reserve and parks, ambulances and baggage stood near Leipzig which Napoleon made as his supply base during the battle. The bridges on the Pleisse and Weisse Elster Rivers were defended by infantry and a few guns. The main battery stood in reserve, and during battle was to be deployed on the Gallows Height. This battery was to be commanded by the artillery expert Antoine Drouot. The western flank of the French positions at Wachau and Liebertwolkwitz was defended by Prince Joseph Poniatowski and Marshal Pierre Augereau and his young French conscripts.

Coalition's plans[edit]

With the three monarchs of the continental Coalition powers, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, King Frederick William III of Prussia and Emperor Francis I of Austria, present in the field, a substantial staff supported the Coalition commanders. It was fraught with incompetence and petty rivalries with factions in conflict with each other; and its operations were prone to the vanities of the monarchs.

There was an election for the supreme commander of the forces during the battle. Initially, many considered Schwarzenberg as the one suitable to be the overall supreme commander for the Coalition forces in the battle. However, Alexander, the Russian emperor, complained about his incompetence in terms of battle planning compared to marshals Prince Volkonsky of Russia, Johan Christopher Toll of Sweden, and Karl Friedrich von dem Knesebeck and Gerhard von Scharnhorst of Prussia. Alexander, upon learning of Schwarzenberg's main plan - to call for a secondary attack on the bridge between Leipzig and Lindenau to be led by Blücher and Gyulay, and a main attack astride the Pleiße River to be led by Merveldt, Hessen-Homburg and the Prussian Guard - insisted that this was a disastrous tactic as it would not permit the Coalition army to fully encircle and outflank that of Napoleon or at least decisively defeat and destroy his army, and thus would possibly give the latter a chance to regain the strategic initiative in Germany. Most of the command staff agreed, and thus Alexander was named the supreme commander of all Coalition forces in Germany;[8] this was the second time that the Tsar had filled in as a battlefield commander since Austerlitz almost a decade prior during the War of the Third Coalition. However, not willing to plan the battle by himself as he had done during his disastrous defeat after that battle, Alexander had Schwarzenberg draft another battle plan based on his thoughts and views. Schwarzenberg then drafted a plan that was largely designed to let everyone do as they pleased. The plan was as follows: Blücher's axis of advance was to be shifted northward to the Halle road, the Russian and Prussian guards and the Russian heavy cavalry was to be amassed at Rotha in general reserve. The Austrian grenadiers and cuirassiers would advance between the rivers.[8] This strategy would ensure the encirclement of the French army in Leipzig and its vicinity, or at least inflict heavy losses upon them to assure the needed decisive results. Seemingly, though somewhat reluctantly, convinced, Alexander soon agreed to his plan, and he then ordered him to tell the other commanders to follow the plan.

Battle[edit]

The Battle of Leipzig

16 October[edit]

The allied offensives achieved little and were soon forced back, but Napoleon's outnumbered forces were unable to break the allied lines, resulting in a hard-fought stalemate.

Austrian II Corps captures Dölitz[edit]

The Austrian II Corps, commanded by General von Merveldt, advanced towards Connewitz via Gautzsch and attempted to attack the position. By the time Napoleon arrived on the battlefield along with the Young Guard and some Chasseurs, Merveldt found that the avenue of advance was well covered by the French battery and some skirmishers who have occupied the houses there and did not permit the Austrians to deploy their artillery in support of the attack. Merveldt himself in an unlucky turn was wounded and captured by the French after he went straight into the Saxon-Polish lines at the Pleisse River. Repulsed, the Austrians then moved to attack nearby Dölitz, down a road crossed by two bridges and leading to a manor house and a mill. Two companies of the 24th Regiment ousted the small Polish garrison and took the position. A prompt counterattack by the Saxons and Poles ejected the Austrian troops and the battle seesawed until the Austrians brought up a strong artillery battery and blew the Poles out of the position. The Poles left bodies everywhere in their furious defense and set fire to both the manor and the mill during their retreat.[9]

Battle of Markkleeberg[edit]

General Kleist, moving along the Pleisse River, attacked Marshals Poniatowski and Augereau in the village of Markkleeberg. The Austrians repaired a bridge and took a school building and manor. The French counterattacked, throwing the Austrians out of the school and back over the river. French attacks on the manor only resulted in mounting casualties for the French and Poles. The Russian 14th Division began a series of flanking attacks that forced the Poles out of Markkleeberg. Marshal Poniatowski stopped the retreat and the advancing Russians. Catching four battalions of the Prussian 12th Brigade in the open, Poniatowski directed attacks by artillery and cavalry until they were relieved by Russian hussars. Marshal Poniatowski retook Markkleeberg, but was thrown out by two Prussian battalions. Austrian grenadiers then formed in front of Markkleeberg and drove the Poles and French out of the area with a flank attack.[9]

Attack on Wachau[edit]

The Russian II Infantry Corps attacked Wachau near Leipzig with support from the Prussian 9th Brigade. The Russians advanced, unaware that French forces were waiting. The French took them by surprise on the flank, mauling them. The Prussians entered Wachau, engaging in street to street fighting. French artillery blasted the Prussians out of Wachau and the French recovered the village.[10][11]

October 16 actions

Battle of Liebertwolkwitz[edit]

Liebertwolkwitz was a large village in a commanding position, defended by Marshal MacDonald and General Lauriston with about 18,000 men. Johann von Klenau's Austrian IV Corps attacked with 24,500 men backed up by Pirth's 10th Brigade (4,550) and Ziethen's 11th Brigade (5,365). The Austrians attacked first, driving the French out of Liebertwolkwitz after hard fighting, only to be driven out in turn by a French counterattack. At this point, Napoleon directed General Drouot to form a grand battery on Gallows hill. This was done with 100 guns that blasted the exposed Russian II corps, forcing the Prussian battalions supporting it to take cover. Russian General Württemberg was notable for his extreme bravery directing his troops under fire. The hole had now been opened as Napoleon wished and at this point, Marshal Murat was unleashed with 10,000 French, Italian, and Saxon cavalry. However, Murat's choice of massive columns for the attack formation was unfortunate for the French force, as smaller mobile formations of Russian, Prussian, and Austrian cavalry were able to successfully harass Murat's Division, driving them back to their own artillery, where they were saved by the French Guard Dragoons. The young Guard Division was sent in to drive out the allies and give Napoleon his breakthrough. They recaptured both Liebertwolkwitz and Wachau, but the Allies countered with Russian Guard and Austrian grenadiers backed by Russian cuirassiers. The units lived up to their elite reputation, forming squares that blasted French cavalrymen from their horses and overran the French artillery batteries. On the southern front, although Napoleon gained ground, he could not break the Allied lines.[9]

Northern attack[edit]

The northern front opened with the attack by General Langeron's Russian Corps on the villages of Groß-Wiederitzsch and Klein-Wiederitzsch in the center of the French northern lines. This position was defended by General Dabrowski's Polish division of four infantry battalions and two cavalry battalions. At first sign of the attack, the Polish division attacked. The battle wavered back and forth with attacks and counterattacks. General Langeron rallied his forces and finally took both villages with heavy casualties.

Battle of Möckern[edit]

French infantry defend a barricade against a Prussian assault. The overwhelming result of the battle forced Napoleon to abandon his control over Germany.

The Northern front was dominated by the battle of Möckern. This was a 4 phase battle and saw hard fighting from both sides. A manor, palace, walled gardens, and low walls dominated the village. Each position was turned into a fortress with the walls being loopholed for covered fire by the French. The ground to the west of the position was too wooded and swampy for emplacement of artillery. A dike ran east along the river Elster being 4 meters high. Marshal Auguste Marmont brought up infantry columns behind the positions in reserve and for quick counter-attack against any fallen position. Blücher commanded Langeron's (Russian) and Yorck's (Prussian) corps against Marmont's VI Corps. When the battle hung in the balance, Marmont ordered a cavalry charge, but his commander refused to attack. Later, an attack by Prussian hussars caused serious loss to the French defenders. The battle lasted well into the night. Artillery caused the majority of the 9,000 Allied and 7,000 French casualties, and the French lost another 2,000 prisoners.[12]

17 October[edit]

There were only two actions on 17 October, one an attack by the Russian General Sacken on General Dabrowski's Polish Division at the village of Gohlis. In the end, the numbers and determination of the Russians prevailed and the Poles retired to Pfaffendorf. Blücher, who was made a field marshal the day before, ordered General Lanskoi's Russian 2nd Hussar Division to attack General Arrighi's III Cavalry corps. As they had the day before the Sixth Coalition's cavalry proved to be superior, driving the French away with great losses.

The French received only 14,000 troops as reinforcements. On the other hand, the coalition was strengthened by the arrival of 145,000 troops divided into two armies, one commanded by Russian General von Bennigsen from the Army of Bohemia's first line and the other, the Army of the North which consisted mainly of Swedish troops, commanded by Prince Charles John of Sweden. The Swedish prince was the ex-French Marshal Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte. He had been one of Napoleon's most trusted field marshals, but Napoleon had stripped him of command in 1810, which led to his defection to the Coalition cause.

18 October[edit]

Napoleon's attempt to sue for armistice[edit]

It was evident that the Allies would encircle Napoleon and his army, and he knew that not retreating from the battle would mean capitulation for his entire army. So Napoleon began to examine whether the roads and bridges of Lindenau could be used to withdraw his troops, or at the very least to secure a bridgehead crossing on the Pleisse River. However, he was not yet in the mood for withdrawing as he thought to achieve one more great victory for France. He also thought that a strong, formidable rear guard in Leipzig itself could repulse any Allied assault, which could buy him and his forces more time to withdraw from the battle.

During this time Napoleon sent General von Merveldt, who had been captured two days earlier, back to the Allies on parole. Merveldt was given a letter to Tsar Alexander I, Prussian King Frederick William III, and Austrian Emperor Francis I in which Napoleon offered to surrender to the Coalition the fortresses he held along the Oder and Vistula, on the condition that the allies allow him to withdraw to a position behind the Saale. He added that, if approved, they should sign an armistice and undertake peace negotiations. However, all the monarchs declined the offer.[13]

Coalition armies encircle Napoleon[edit]

Battle of Leipzig, 18 October actions

The Coalition launched a huge assault from all sides. In over nine hours of fighting, in which both sides suffered heavy casualties, only the resilience and bravery of the French troops prevented a breakthrough[citation needed], but they were slowly forced back towards Leipzig. The Sixth Coalition had Field Marshal Blücher (Prussian) and Prince Charles John of Sweden to the north, the Generals Barclay De Tolly, Bennigsen (both Russian) and Prince von Hessen-Homburg (Austrian) to the south, and Ignác Gyulay (Austrian) to the west.

The Prussian 9th brigade occupied the abandoned village of Wachau while the Austrians, with General Bianchi's Hungarians, threw the French out of Lößnig. The Austrians proceeded to give a demonstration of combined arms cooperation as Austrian cavalry attacked French infantry to give Austrian infantry time to arrive and deploy in the attack on Dölitz. The Young Guard Division threw them out. At this point, three Austrian grenadier battalions began to contest for the village with artillery support.[14]

The Swedes fully participate[edit]

In the meantime, at the behest of his Swedish officers, who felt embarrassed that they had not participated in the battle, the Crown Prince Charles John gave the order for his light infantry to participate in the final assault on Leipzig itself. The Swedish jägers performed very well, losing only about 121 men in the attack.

Battle of Probstheida[edit]

The fight of the 19th Hungarian regiment of Austrian army against the French infantry.

The bloodiest fighting of the battle occurred in Probstheida, a village just southeast of Leipzig. Here, about 60,000 soldiers under Barclay de Tolly were marching and advancing towards the village in two columns, one Prussian under von Kleist advancing through Wachau, and one Russian under Wittgenstein advancing through Liebertwolkwitz. Barclay was pressured by the monarchs, especially the Russian tsar, to take the village since it was the key to the positions of Napoleons troops, and although von Kleist opposed this, the monarchs' orders were paramount, so Barclay had to follow their orders anyway.

The French dispositions at the village, however, were heavily fortified, thanks to the high and thick garden walls that gave excellent protection for the French infantry. The defense was also strengthened with artillery and strong infantry reserves behind the village. A day earlier the Russians had taken most of the losses incurred during the battle, so it was the Prussians who took the initiative.

The Prussian jägers attempted to enter the village by storm but were quickly driven back. Then the artillery of both sides opened fire upon the village; despite the enormous amount of artillery that the Coalition had brought with them, the more powerful French Imperial Guard Artillery gradually gained the upper hand. The Prussians conducted a series of attacks against the French positions at the village, but because the French artillery repulsed each attack, their efforts were in vain. The French cuirassiers, under Murat, charged upon the weakened Prussian lines and drove them back. Counter-charges by the numerous Russian cavalry saved the infantry by repeatedly driving back the French cavalry, albeit with heavy losses. The Prussians again conducted a charge upon French lines, but this charge was less successful than the first one.[15] The third assault was now conducted, this time, by the Russians, commanded by Raevsky, the hero of Borodino who had arrived a few days earlier from his homeland after a delay due to sickness. The assault on the village was somewhat more successful than the first two, taking the gardens and destroying several French infantry units, but it was eventually driven back by the French Imperial Guard, who had just arrived at the scene. Despite von Schwarzenberg's request that the Russian tsar send the Russian Guard, the tsar ordered that more assaults were to be undertaken against the village. However, despite their successful, stubborn defense, the French were now in dire straits as they were dangerously short of manpower, and thus the fighting became only a hollow tactical victory for Napoleon.

Coalition assaults on Paunsdorf and Schonefeld[edit]

During that morning, Sweden's Bernadotte and Prussia's Blücher held a conference in Breitenfeld. It was agreed that Bernadotte's Army of the North would pass the Parthe River at Taucha with a reinforcement of 30,000 men drawn from Blücher's Army of Silesia. Blucher agreed to dispatch Langeron's army corps, and to renounce his rank and his rights as army commander, putting himself at the head of his Prussians.[16] The advance of the Swedish army towards Leipzig had been slow, purportedly because Bernadotte had received word that Napoleon planned a renewed attack towards Berlin[17] after his marshals' failure to take the city in the battles of Grossbeeren and Dennewitz.

Platov's Russian heavy artillery began to fire upon the Saxons around Paunsdorf. Langeron placed pontoon bridges over the Parthe River and a flying bridge via Mockau; large masses of troops had now moved to the east bank of the river. Meanwhile, Russian and Austrian forces began attacking French and Saxon positions in Paunsdorf, but after counterattacks by French infantry and deadly canister shots from Franco-Saxon batteries, were driven back. After being driven back, the Coalition troops were pursued by French infantry before being counterattacked by Austrian hussar and Grenzer cavalries, in turn driving the French back. The fighting around Paunsdorf seesawed in the meantime. Then, as the Prussian infantry under General Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow arrived in Paunsdorf, the Russian heavy artillery, Prussian horse cannons and the Swedish Congreve rockets, manned by British auxiliaries, began firing on the town. Prussian and Austrian troops now took the village by storm and forced the French back to Sellerhausen. Two Prussian battalions and Swedish Congreve rockets pursued the French; the French rallied, however, killing the British commander of the rocket troops, Captain Richard Bogue,[18] and driving the Prussians back.

More heavy fighting also occurred in Schönefeld. Coalition troops repeatedly commenced assaults on French dispositions there, but were forced back. But the French infantry attacking Coalition positions were also forced back. Repeated assaults by Russian musketeers and grenadiers under General Langeron drove the French out of Schönefeld. With that village falling to the Allies, the village of Paunsdorf also fell. The heavy fighting in Paunsdorf and Schönefeld eventually set these villages on fire.

Saxony defects to the Coalition[edit]

During the fighting, 5,400 Saxons of Jean Reynier's VII Corps defected to the Coalition. At first French officers saw the Saxons' rushing towards the advancing Prussians as a charge, but treachery became evident as they saw the Saxons asking the Prussians to join with them for the impending assault. Reynier himself witnessed this, and he rallied the remaining Saxons at his disposal, but to no avail, because Württemberg's cavalry also deserted from the French; this forced the French line in Paunsdorf to fall back.[19]

19 October[edit]

Retreat of Napoleon on 19 October 1813, showing the explosion of the bridge

By the fourth day of the battle, Napoleon was treating the fighting as a lost cause. He had already begun withdrawing the majority of his army across the river Elster throughout the night of 18–19 October. But before this, he promoted Poniatowski to the rank of Maréchal d'Empire or Imperial Marshal, the only foreigner of all his marshals who was given this title, and the latter swore that he would fight to the last stand, which he did.[20]

The Allies only learned of the French evacuation at 7:00 on the morning of the 19 October. But they were held up in Leipzig because of a ferocious street-to-street rearguard action fought by Oudinot's troops. As the Russians and Prussians entered the city through the Grimma Gate they fell upon barricades and houses full of French soldiers. Civilians were forced into hiding as the bloody urban combat raged through the city.[21]

Napoleon's retreat continued smoothly until early afternoon when the general tasked with destroying the only bridge over the Elster delegated the task to a Colonel Montfort. The colonel in turn passed this responsibility to a corporal, who was unaware of the carefully planned time schedule. The NCO ignited the fuses at 1:00 in the afternoon while the bridge was still crowded with retreating French troops and Oudinot's rearguard was still in Leipzig. The explosion and subsequent panic caused a rout that resulted in the deaths of thousands of French troops and the capture of thousands of others. Marshal Poniatowski was one of the many who drowned while attempting to cross the river.[22]

Conclusion[edit]

The battle of Leipzig was the bloodiest in the history of the Napoleonic Wars. Casualties on both sides were astoundingly high; estimates range from 80,000 to 110,000 total killed, wounded or missing. Napoleon lost about 45,000 killed and wounded. The Allies captured 15,000 able-bodied Frenchmen, 21,000 wounded or sick, 325 cannon and 28 eagles, standards or colours, and had received the men of the deserting formerly pro-French German divisions. Among the dead was Marshal Józef Antoni Poniatowski, a nephew to the last king of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski. The Pole, who had received his marshal's baton just the previous day, was commanding the rear guard during the French retreat and drowned as he attempted to cross the river. Corps commanders Lauriston and Reynier were captured. Fifteen French generals were killed and 51 wounded.

Out of a total force of 430,000, the Allies suffered approximately 54,000 casualties. Schwarzenberg's Bohemian Army lost 34,000, Blücher's Silesian Army lost 12,000, while Bernadotte's Army of the North and Bennigsen's Army of Poland lost about 4,000 each. The number of casualties the Coalition army suffered made it impossible for them to pursue the retreating Grande Armée, but the French themselves were already exhausted after the battle, and while most of them deserted even before crossing the French border resulting in further destruction of the army, some others hurried back to France to begin their hard-fought defense until the early spring of 1814.

Aftermath[edit]

The Russian army enters Paris in 1814.

The battle ended the First French Empire's presence east of the Rhine and brought the German states over to the Coalition. It also dealt a harsh blow to Napoleon himself, who was decisively defeated in battle for the first time in the Napoleonic Wars, damaging his reputation as a military genius. Tsar Alexander now urged all of his subordinate commanders including those of Prussia, Austria and other nations to push the gigantic Coalition army on the offensive after the battle, and, having decisively won the battle, was more than determined to carry the war onto French soil. Meanwhile, Napoleon and his entourage were already fleeing ahead of his army back to France in order to organize its defense. Since the battle had ended with the Coalition nations as the victors, the German Campaign was a complete failure for the French, although they achieved a minor victory when an army of the Kingdom of Bavaria attempted to block the retreat of the Grande Armée at Hanau. French forces would not enter Germany again until the occupation of Saarbrücken region during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

With the Kingdom of Italy now abolished and the German states of the Confederation of the Rhine defecting to the Coalition cause, the Coalition army pressed its advantage and invaded France in early 1814 as the Tsar commanded. Though he repeatedly engaged some of their units during his counteroffensive campaign, Napoleon was eventually forced from the throne of France after Paris fell to the Coalition and exiled to the island of Elba; the First French Empire capitulated for the first time.

After the battle, Tzar Alexander I visited Eve Frank a who claimed to be a Messiah.[23]

Legacy[edit]

Völkerschlachtdenkmal: Memorial to the Battle of the Nations, Leipzig, completed in 1913.

In addition to the 91-metre-high Monument to the Battle of the Nations (Völkerschlachtdenkmal), the course of the battle in the city of Leipzig is marked by numerous monuments and the 50 Apel Stones that mark important lines of the French and Allied troops.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Defected to the allies 18 October
  2. ^ a b c d e Chandler 1966, p. 1020
  3. ^ a b c d e "Leipzig : Battle of Leipzig : Napoleonic Wars : Bonaparte : Bernadotte : Charles : Blucher". Napoleonguide.com. Archived from the original on 24 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  4. ^ Merriman, John (1996), "A History Of Modern Europe" W.W. Norton Company, p. 579.
  5. ^ Stone, David R. (2006) A Military History of Russia: From Ivan the Terrible to the War in Chechnya. Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 107. ISBN 0275985024
  6. ^ Peter Hofschroer, The Battle of the Nations (Osprey Military Campaign), 1813
  7. ^ Digby Smith, "1813: Leipzig - Napoleon and the Battle of the Nations"
  8. ^ a b (Esposito & Elting - "Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic wars."
  9. ^ a b c Battle of Leipzig 1813 : Battle of Nations : Napoleon : Schlacht : Bataille[dead link]
  10. ^ Battle of Leipzig 1813 : Battle of Nations : Napoleon : Schlacht : Bataille[dead link]
  11. ^ William Cathcart (first edition 1850) Commentaries on the War in Russia and Germany in 1812 and 1813, London: J. Murray. Reissue: Demi-Solde Press, ISBN 1-891717-14-6.
  12. ^ Battle of Leipzig 1813 : Battle of Nations : Napoleon : Schlacht : Bataille[dead link]
  13. ^ Nafziger - "Napoleon at Leipzig", p. 191
  14. ^ Battle of Leipzig 1813 : Battle of Nations : Napoleon : Schlacht : Bataille[dead link]
  15. ^ Smith, Digby George. 1813: Leipzig : Napoleon and the Battle of the Nations.
  16. ^ Nafziger, Napoleon at Leipzig, p 215
  17. ^ Nafziger, Napoleon at Leipzig, p 216
  18. ^ Haythornthwaite, Philip (2012). Wellington's Specialist Troops. Osprey Publishing, p.14. ISBN 1780969783
  19. ^ Howard Giles, unknown book and date of publishing
  20. ^ Bowden - "Napoleon's Grande Armee of 1813" 1990, p. 191
  21. ^ Digby Smith - "1813: Leipzig - Napoleon and the Battle of the Nations", p. 256
  22. ^ Chandler, 1966,p 936
  23. ^ 1788: Ein Messias im Isenburger Schloss - die "Frankisten" in Offenbach, Lothar R. Braun

References[edit]

  • Chandler, David G. (1966), The Campaigns of Napoleon, The MacMillan Company ;
  • Smith, Digby (1998), The Napoleonic Wars Data Book, Greenhill 

External links[edit]