Battle of Paris (1814)
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The Battle of Paris was fought on March 30–31, 1814 between the Sixth Coalition - consisting of Russia, Austria, and Prussia - and the French Empire. After a day of fighting in the suburbs of Paris, the French surrendered on March 31, ending the War of the Sixth Coalition and forcing Emperor Napoleon to abdicate and go into exile.
In 1813, Napoleon was retreating from his failed invasion of Russia. Coalition armies were joined together and defeated the French at the Battle of Leipzig. Austrian emperor Francis I was interested in seeking peace with the French, but both Tsar Alexander I of Russia and King Frederick William III of Prussia wished to invade France. Just as Napoleon had entered Moscow a year earlier, Alexander wished to enter Paris. Until this battle no foreign army had entered Paris in nearly 400 years.
The Austrian, Prussian and Russian armies were joined together and put under the command of Field Marshal Count Barclay de Tolly who would also be responsible for the taking of the city, but the driving force behind the army was the Tsar of Russia and the King of Prussia, moving with the army. The Coalition army totaled about 150,000 troops. Napoleon had left his brother Joseph Bonaparte in defense of Paris with about 20,000 regular troops under Marshal Auguste Marmont along with an additional 6,000 National Guards and a small force of the Imperial Guard under Marshals Bon Adrien Jeannot de Moncey and Édouard Mortier.
The Coalition army arrived outside Paris in late March. Nearing the city, Russian troops broke rank and ran forward to get their first glimpse of Paris. Camping outside the city on the 29th, the Coalition forces were to assault next morning. Early in the morning of March 30 the Coalition attack began when the Russians attacked and drove back the Young Guard near Romainville in the center of the French lines. A few hours later the Prussians, under Blücher, attacked north of the city and carried the French position around Aubervilliers, but did not press their attack.
The Württemberg troops seized the positions at Saint-Maur to the southwest. The Russians attempted to press their attack but became caught up by trenches and artillery before falling back before a counterattack of the Imperial Guard. The Imperial Guard continued to hold back the Russians in the center until the Prussian forces appeared to their rear.
The Russian forces then assailed the Montmartre Heights, where Joseph's headquarters had been at the beginning of the battle. Control of the heights was severely contested, and Joseph fled the city. Marmont contacted the Coalition and reached a secret agreement with them. Shortly afterwards, he marched his soldiers to a position, where they were quickly surrounded by Coalition troops; Marmont then surrendered, as had been agreed.
Alexander sent an envoy to meet with the French to hasten the surrender. He offered generous terms to the French and, although willing to avenge Moscow more than a year earlier, declared himself to be bringing peace to France rather than its destruction. On March 31 Talleyrand gave the key of the city to the Tsar. Later that day the Coalition armies entered the city with the Tsar at the head of the army followed by the King of Prussia and Prince Schwarzenberg, the marching Russians now being generally seen by the local Parisians as the most powerful empire in the continent. On April 2, the Senate passed the Acte de déchéance de l'Empereur, which declared Napoleon deposed.
Napoleon had advanced as far as Fontainebleau when he heard that Paris had surrendered. Outraged, he wanted to march on the capital, but his marshals would not fight for him and repeatedly urged him to surrender. He abdicated in favour of his son on 4 April. The Allies rejected this out of hand, forcing Napoleon to abdicate unconditionally on April 6. The terms of his abdication, which included his exile to the Isle of Elba, were settled in the Treaty of Fontainebleau on April 11. A reluctant Napoleon ratified it two days later. The War of the Sixth Coalition was over.
- Compton's Home Library: Battles of the World CD-ROM