War of the Sixth Coalition

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War of the Sixth Coalition
Part of Napoleonic Wars
MoshkovVI SrazhLeypcigomGRM.jpg
Battle of Leipzig
Date 1812–1814
Location Europe
Result Coalition victory, Treaty of Fontainebleau, First Treaty of Paris
Belligerents
Original Coalition
 Russia
 Prussia
 Austria
 United Kingdom
 Sweden
 Spain
Portugal Portugal
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Sicily
 Sardinia

After Battle of Leipzig

France French Empire

Until January 1814

Commanders and leaders
Russian Empire Alexander I
Russian Empire Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly
Russian Empire Prince Wittgenstein
Kingdom of Prussia Frederick William III
Kingdom of Prussia Gebhard von Blücher
Austrian Empire Karl Schwarzenberg
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
Sweden Prince Charles John
Kingdom of Bavaria Karl Philipp von Wrede[2]
France Napoleon I
France Nicolas Oudinot
France Louis Nicolas Davout
Kingdom of Italy (Napoleonic) Eugène de Beauharnais
Poland Józef Poniatowski 
Kingdom of Naples Joachim Murat
Strength
approx. 800,000, 1,200,000+ after Napoleon's allies defect approx. 550,000. After German defection 400,000
Map of Europe in 1812, in red the Sixth Coalition.

In the War of the Sixth Coalition (1812–1814), a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and a number of German States finally defeated France and drove Napoleon into exile on Elba. After the disastrous French invasion of Russia, the continental powers joined Russia, the UK, Portugal and the rebels in Spain. With their armies reorganized, they drove Napoleon out of Germany in 1813 and invaded France in 1814, forcing Napoleon to abdicate and restoring the Bourbons.

The War of the Sixth Coalition included the battles of Lützen, Bautzen, Dresden and the epic Battle of Leipzig (also known as the Battle of Nations), which was the largest battle in European history before the First World War. Ultimately, Napoleon's earlier setbacks in Russia and Germany proved to be the seeds of his undoing, and the Allies occupied Paris, forcing his abdication.

Invasion of Russia[edit]

In 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia to compel Emperor Alexander I to remain in the Continental System. The Grande Armée, consisting of as many as 650,000 men (roughly half of whom were French, with the remainder coming from allies or subject areas), crossed the Neman River on 23 June 1812. Russia proclaimed a Patriotic War, while Napoleon proclaimed a "Second Polish War". But against the expectations of the Poles, who supplied almost 100,000 troops for the invasion force, and having in mind further negotiations with Russia, he avoided any concessions toward Poland. Russian forces fell back, destroying everything potentially of use to the invaders until giving battle at Borodino (7 September) where the two great armies fought a devastating but inconclusive battle. Following the battle the Russians withdrew, thus opening the road to Moscow. By 14 September the French had occupied Moscow but found the city empty. Alexander I (despite having almost lost the war by the standards of the time) refused to capitulate, leaving the French in the abandoned city of Moscow with little food, shelter (large parts of Moscow had burned down) and winter approaching. In these circumstances, and with no clear path to victory, Napoleon was forced to withdraw from Moscow. So began the disastrous Great Retreat, during which time the retreating army came under increasing pressure due to lack of food, desertions, and increasingly harsh winter weather, all while under continual attack by the Russian army led by Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov, and other militias. Total losses of the Grand Army were at least 370,000 casualties as a result of fighting, starvation and the freezing weather conditions, and 200,000 captured. By November, only 27,000 fit soldiers were among those who crossed the Berezina River. Napoleon now left his army to return to Paris and prepare a defence of Poland against the advancing Russians. The situation was not as dire as it might at first have seemed; the Russians had also lost around 400,000 men and their army was similarly depleted. However, they had the advantage of shorter supply lines and were able to replenish their armies with greater speed than the French, especially because Napoleon's losses of cavalry and wagons were irreplaceable.

Formation of the Sixth Coalition[edit]

The Convention of Tauroggen was a truce signed 30 December 1812 at Tauroggen (now Tauragė, Lithuania), between Generalleutnant Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg on behalf of his Prussian troops (who had been compelled to augment the Grande Armée during the invasion of Russia), and by General Hans Karl von Diebitsch of the Russian Army. According to the Treaty of Tilsit, Prussia had to support Napoleon's invasion of Russia. This resulted in some Prussians leaving their army to avoid serving the French, like Carl von Clausewitz, who joined Russian service. When Yorck's immediate French superior Marshal MacDonald, retreated before the corps of Diebitsch, Yorck found himself isolated. As a soldier his duty was to break through, but as a Prussian patriot his position was more difficult. He had to judge whether the moment was favorable for starting a war of liberation; and, whatever might be the enthusiasm of his junior staff-officers, Yorck had no illusions as to the safety of his own head, and negotiated with Clausewitz. The Convention of Tauroggen armistice, signed by Diebitsch and Yorck, "neutralized" the Prussian corps without consent of their king. The news was received with the wildest enthusiasm in Prussia, but the Prussian Court dared not yet throw off the mask, and an order was despatched suspending Yorck from his command pending a court-martial. Diebitsch refused to let the bearer pass through his lines, and the general was finally absolved when the Treaty of Kalisch (28 February 1813) definitely ranged Prussia on the side of the Allies. Seeing an opportunity in Napoleon's historic defeat, Prussia re-entered the war, proclaiming a crusade of German Liberation against Napoleonic France.

On 9 January 1812, French troops occupied Swedish Pomerania to end the illegal trade with the United Kingdom from Sweden, which was in violation of the Continental System. Swedish estates were confiscated and Swedish officers and soldiers were taken as prisoners. In response, Sweden declared neutrality and signed a secret treaty with Russia against France and Denmark–Norway on 5 April. Later on 18 July, the Treaty of Örebro formally ended the wars between the United Kingdom and Sweden and Russia. On 3 March 1813, after the United Kingdom agreed to Swedish claims to Norway, Sweden entered an alliance with the United Kingdom and declared war against France, and on June the same year the former formally entered the coalition.[3]

War in Germany[edit]

Napoleon vowed that he would create a new army as large as that he had sent into Russia, and quickly built up his forces in the east from 30,000 to 130,000 and eventually to 400,000. Napoleon inflicted 40,000 casualties on the Allies at Lützen (2 May) and Bautzen (20–21 May 1813). Both battles involved total forces of over 250,000 – making them some of the largest conflicts of the wars so far.

The belligerents declared an armistice from 4 June 1813 and lasting until 13 August, during which time both sides attempted to recover from approximately quarter of a million losses since April. During this time Allied negotiations finally brought Austria out in open opposition to France (like Prussia, Austria had slipped from nominal ally of France in 1812 to armed neutral in 1813). Two principal Austrian armies were deployed in Bohemia and Northern Italy, adding an additional 300,000 troops to the Allied armies. In total the Allies now had around 800,000 frontline troops in the German theatre with a strategic reserve of 350,000.

Napoleon succeeded in bringing the total imperial forces in the region up to around 650,000 (although only 250,000 were under his direct command, with another 120,000 under Nicolas Charles Oudinot and 30,000 under Davout). The Confederation of the Rhine furnished Napoleon with the bulk of the remainder of the forces with Saxony and Bavaria as principal contributors. In addition, to the south Murat's Kingdom of Naples and Eugène de Beauharnais's Kingdom of Italy had a combined total of 100,000 men under arms. In Spain an additional 150–200,000 French troops were being steadily beaten back by Spanish and British forces numbering around 150,000. Thus in total around 900,000 French troops were opposed in all theatres by somewhere around a million Allied troops (not including the strategic reserve being formed in Germany). The figures are however slightly misleading as most of the German troops fighting on the side of the French were unreliable at best and on the verge of defecting to the Allies.[citation needed] It is reasonable to say that Napoleon could count on no more than 450,000 troops in Germany. Thus he was effectively outnumbered by about two to one.

The Russian army enters Paris in 1814.

Following the end of the armistice Napoleon seemed to have regained the initiative at Dresden, where he defeated a numerically-superior allied army and inflicted enormous casualties, while sustaining relatively few. However at about the same time Oudinot's thrust towards Berlin was beaten back and Napoleon himself, lacking reliable and numerous cavalry, was unable to fully take advantage of his victory. He withdrew with around 175,000 troops to Leipzig in Saxony where he thought he could fight a defensive action against the Allied armies converging on him. There, at the so-called Battle of Nations (16–19 October 1813) a French army, ultimately reinforced to 191,000, found itself faced by three Allied armies converging on it, ultimately totalling more than 430,000 troops. Over the following days the battle resulted in a defeat for Napoleon, who however was still able to manage a relatively orderly retreat westwards. However as the French forces were pulling across the Elster, the bridge was prematurely blown and 30,000 troops were stranded to be taken prisoner by the Allied forces.

Napoleon defeated an army of his former ally Bavaria at the Battle of Hanau before pulling what was left of his forces back into France. Meanwhile Davout's corps continued to hold out in its siege of Hamburg, where it became the last Imperial force east of the Rhine.

Peninsular War[edit]

Main article: Peninsular War

Meanwhile, Arthur Wellesley Duke of Wellington finally broke the French power in Spain and forced the French to retreat over the Pyrenees and into France itself. In a strategic move, Wellington planned to move his supply base from Lisbon to Santander. The Anglo-Portuguese forces swept northwards in late May and seized Burgos; they then outflanked the French army, forcing Joseph Bonaparte into the valley of the River Zadorra. At the Battle of Vitoria, 21 June, the 65,000 French under Joseph were routed by 53,000 British, 27,000 Portuguese and 19,000 Spaniards. Wellington pursued and dislodged the French from San Sebastián, which was sacked and burnt.

The allies chased the retreating French, reaching the Pyrenees in early July. Soult was given command of the French forces and began a counter-offensive, dealing the allied generals two sharp defeats at the Battle of Maya and the Battle of Roncesvalles. Yet, he was put again onto the defensive by the British army and its Portuguese allies, lost momentum, and finally fled after the allied victory at the Battle of Sorauren (28 and 30 July).

All the participants of the War of the Sixth Coalition. Blue: The Coalition and their colonies and allies. Green: The First French Empire, its protectorates, colonies and allies.

The Battle of the Pyrenees saw Wellington fighting very far from his supply line and winning by a mixture of manoeuvre, shock and persistent hounding of the French forces.

On 7 October, after Wellington received news of the reopening of hostilities in Germany, the allies finally crossed into France, fording the Bidasoa river. On 11 December, a beleaguered and desperate Napoleon agreed to a separate peace with Spain under the Treaty of Valençay, under which he would release and recognize Ferdinand VII as King of Spain in exchange for a complete cessation of hostilities. But the Spanish had no intention of trusting Napoleon, and the fighting continued.

The Peninsular War went on through the allied victories of Vera pass, the Battle of Nivelle, the Battle of Nive near Bayonne (10–14 December 1813), the Battle of Orthez (27 February 1814) and the Battle of Toulouse (10 April). This last one was after Napoleon's abdication.

In Spain, the French forces were harassed and hounded constantly by a large element of the Spanish population. The French forces, having to deal with this guerilla war, in-fighting among its marshallate, and the British campaign by the Duke of Wellington based in the Peninsula, were eventually forced to retreat into France after large losses of troops, culminating in the abdication of Napoleon and his banishment to the Isle of Elba.

Russian cossacks in Paris in 1814

War in Denmark[edit]

In December 1813, the Swedish army attacked Danish troops in Holstein. General Anders Skjöldebrand defeated the Danes at Bornhöved on 7 December 1813. Three days later, the Danish Auxiliary Corps scored a victory over the Swedes at Sehested. However, the Danish victory could not change the course of war.

On 14 January 1814, the Treaty of Kiel was concluded between Sweden and Denmark–Norway. By the terms of the treaty, Norway was to be ceded to the king of Sweden. However, the Norwegians rejected this, declaring independence and adopting their own constitution on 17 May. On 27 July, Swedish forces invaded Norway. After a short war, an armistice (the Convention of Moss) was concluded on 14 August.

Norway agreed to enter into a personal union with Sweden as a separate state with its own constitution and institutions, except for the common king and foreign service. The Union between Sweden and Norway was formally established on 4 November 1814, when the Parliament of Norway adopted the necessary constitutional amendments, and elected Charles XIII of Sweden as king of Norway.

War in France[edit]

After retreating from Germany, Napoleon fought a series of battles, including the Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube, in France, but was steadily forced back against overwhelming odds. During the campaign he had issued a decree for 900,000 fresh conscripts, but only a fraction of these were ever raised. In early February Napoleon fought his Six Days' Campaign, in which he won multiple battles against numerically superior enemy forces marching on Paris. However, he never managed to field more than 70,000 troops during this entire campaign against more than half a million Allied troops. At the Treaty of Chaumont (9 March) the Allies agreed to preserve the Coalition until Napoleon's total defeat. The Allies entered Paris on 30 March 1814 after a short battle.

Abdication and peace[edit]

Napoleon's exile to Elba, from a British engraving, 1814.

Napoleon was determined to fight on, proposing to march on Paris. His soldiers and regimental officers were eager to fight on. But Napoleon's marshals and senior officers mutinied. On 4 April, Napoleon was confronted by his marshals and senior officers, led by Ney. They told the Emperor that they refused to march. Napoleon asserted that the army would follow him. Ney replied, 'The army will follow its chiefs.'

Napoleon abdicated on 11 April 1814 and the war officially ended soon after, although some fighting continued until May. The Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed on 11 April 1814 between the continental powers and Napoleon, followed by the Treaty of Paris on 30 May 1814 between France and the Great Powers including Britain. The victors exiled Napoleon to the island of Elba, and restored the Bourbon monarchy in the person of Louis XVIII. The Allied leaders attended Peace Celebrations in England in June, before progressing to the Congress of Vienna (between September 1814 and June 1815), which was held to redraw the map of Europe.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Duchy of Warsaw as a state was in effect fully occupied by Russian and Prussian forces by May 1813, though most Poles remained loyal to Napoleon
  2. ^ Commanded Bavarian forces nominally allied to the French Empire until Bavaria defected to Allied cause on 8 October 1813
  3. ^ Merriman, John (1996), "A History Of Modern Europe" W.W. Norton Company, p. 579.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cate, Curtis. The War of the Two Emperors: The Duel Between Napoleon and Alexander: Russia, 1812 (Random house, 1985)
  • Delderfield, Ronald Frederick. Imperial sunset: The fall of Napoleon, 1813-14 (Stein and Day, 1984)
  • Leggiere, Michael V. The Fall of Napoleon: Volume 1, The Allied Invasion of France, 1813-1814. Vol. 1 (Cambridge University Press, 2007)
  • Lüke, Martina (2009). "Anti-Napoleonic Wars of Liberation (1813–1815)". In Ness, Immanuel. The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest: 1500–present. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 188–190. ISBN 9781405184649. 
  • Muir, Rory. Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon, 1807–1815 (Yale U.P. 1996)
  • Riehn, Richard K. 1812: Napoleon's Russian campaign (1990)
  • Rothenberg, Gunther Erich (1999). The Napoleonic Wars. London: Cassell. ISBN 0304359831. 
  • Riley, Jonathon P. Napoleon and the world war of 1813: lessons in coalition warfighting (Psychology Press, 2000)
  • Spring, Lawrence. 1812: Russia's Patriotic War (2009)

External links[edit]