Battle of Laubressel

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Battle of Laubressel
Part of the War of the Sixth Coalition
Date3 March 1814
LocationLaubressel, Aube, France
Result Coalition victory
Belligerents
Austrian Empire Austrian Empire
Russia Russian Empire
Kingdom of Bavaria Bavaria
Kingdom of Württemberg Württemberg
France Imperial France
Commanders and leaders
Austrian Empire Karl Schwarzenberg
Russia Peter Wittgenstein
Kingdom of Bavaria Karl von Wrede
Kingdom of Württemberg Prince Württemberg
France Jacques MacDonald
France Nicolas Oudinot
Strength
32,000 20,000
Casualties and losses
1,000–1,500 3,000, 7–11 guns

The Battle of Laubressel (3 March 1814) saw the main Allied army of Field Marshal Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg mount a three-pronged converging attack on the weaker army of Marshal Jacques MacDonald. The French forces under Marshal Nicolas Oudinot bore the brunt of the fighting, in which the Allies tried to turn their left flank. The French abandoned Troyes and retreated west as a result of the action. The village of Laubressel is located 10 kilometres (6 mi) east of Troyes.

After the French victory at the Battle of Montereau on 18 February, Schwarzenberg's army withdrew behind the Aube River. When Napoleon moved north against Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher's Army of Silesia, he left MacDonald and Oudinot to watch Schwarzenberg's army. After beating Oudinot at the Battle of Bar-sur-Aube, the Allies pressed the French back toward Troyes. At Laubressel, the Allies overpowered Oudinot's left wing. The Allies slowly pursued MacDonald's army, pressing it back to Provins before news of a victory by Napoleon brought Schwarzenberg's advance to a halt.

Background[edit]

French advance[edit]

On 18 February 1814, Napoleon defeated Crown Prince Fredrick William of Württemberg in the Battle of Montereau. After this setback the Austrian general Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg ordered the Army of Bohemia to retreat to Troyes. Schwarzenberg also asked his ally Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher to support his northern flank at Méry-sur-Seine and the Prussian general immediately complied. The Austrian intended to fight a battle on 21–22 February near Troyes. However, bad news from his commander in the south, Prince Frederick VI of Hesse-Homburg soon changed his mind. Marshal Pierre Augereau threatened to recapture Chalon-sur-Saône while Jean Gabriel Marchand menaced Geneva. Schwarzenberg ordered Vincenzo Federico Bianchi to take the Austrian I Corps and a reserve division and march to Dijon where they would join Hesse-Homburg's command.[1]

Black and yellow map of the Campaign of 1814 in 1:2,000,000 scale
Campaign of 1814 map shows Troyes at the lower center.

At Troyes, Schwarzenberg's 90,000 troops and Blücher's 50,000 faced about 75,000 soldiers under Napoleon. Though he outnumbered the French emperor by nearly two-to-one, Schwarzenberg's intelligence services consistently overestimated enemy strength. His troops had worn-out uniforms and were short of food in an area that had been stripped of supplies by both armies. On 22 February the French probed the Allied positions from Méry to Troyes. Marshal Nicolas Oudinot's infantry cleared Méry of Allied troops and gained a foothold on the far bank, but they could not hold it against Allied counterattacks.[2] In this clash, 3,600 men from Pierre François Joseph Boyer's division fought against 5,000 Russians from Alexei Grigorievich Scherbatov's VI Infantry Corps of Fabian Wilhelm von Osten-Sacken's command and 1,200 Prussians from Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg's I Corps.[3] That night Schwarzenberg directed his army to withdraw behind the Seine River, except for Ignaz Gyulai's III Corps, which would move southeast to Bar-sur-Seine.[2]

Disappointed that his Austrian colleague refused to give battle, Blücher asked for and received permission to operate independently. He hoped to rendezvous with two corps under Ferdinand von Wintzingerode and Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow, and thus reinforced, advance on Paris by a more northerly route. Meanwhile, on 23 February Schwarzenberg's army fell back eastward covered by a rearguard under the Bavarian general Karl Philipp von Wrede. The Allies sent an emissary to Napoleon to propose a truce, but nothing came of this effort when the emperor's conditions proved unacceptable.[4] Near Troyes, the 1,290 horsemen of Auguste Jean Ameil's 12th Light Cavalry Brigade and the 21st and 26th Dragoons clashed with Moritz von Liechtenstein's Austrian 2nd Light Division. The Austrian cavalry lost 311 men and three of their jäger companies were captured.[3]

In its withdrawal, Schwarzenberg's main body passed through Vendœuvres while other columns went via Piney on the north and Bar-sur-Seine on the south. In pursuit, Napoleon sent Étienne Maurice Gérard and the II Corps toward Vendœuvres and Marshal Jacques MacDonald and the XI Corps to Bar-sur-Seine. The French emperor held his reserves near Troyes so that he might react to Blücher's moves.[5] On 26 February, Oudinot's troops occupied Bar-sur-Aube while MacDonald moved southeast to seize Mussy-sur-Seine. The next morning, Napoleon finally received reports that Blücher's army was advancing on Paris and had gained a 3-day head start.[6]

Allied counteroffensive[edit]

Painting shows a clean-shaven man with a cleft chin, receding hairline and high-arching eyebrows. He wears a dark blue military uniform with much gold braid, many medals and a red sash.
Nicolas Oudinot

Napoleon ordered MacDonald to take command of 42,000 troops opposing Schwarzenberg by defending behind the Aube River. MacDonald would have the II, XI and VII Corps and the II Cavalry, V Cavalry and VI Cavalry Corps. Marshals Auguste de Marmont and Édouard Mortier had 10,000 men facing Blücher near Meaux. Napoleon took 35,000 troops and began marching northeast against Blücher's rear. Measures were taken to hide the fact that Napoleon was no longer facing Schwarzenberg's army.[7]

Painting shows a balding man with a moustache. He wears a very dark military uniform with gold epaulettes and several decorations.
Peter Wittgenstein

The Austrian commander quickly guessed that Napoleon was not in front of him. On 27 February, Schwarzenberg defeated Oudinot in the Battle of Bar-sur-Aube when the French marshal deployed his troops in an exposed position on the east bank of the Aube. Though Oudinot was slightly superior in numbers, he was caught with most of his artillery and half his cavalry on the west bank of the river and brought only 18,000 troops into action, suffering 3,500 casualties.[8] Another authority stated that the French lost 2,600 killed and wounded and 500 men and two guns captured. The Allies sustained 1,250 Russian, 400 Bavarian and 250 Austrian casualties.[3]

The day after his defeat, Oudinot withdrew his troops to Vendœuvres, weakly pursued by the Allies. Unaware of Oudinot's setback, MacDonald advanced to Laferté-sur-Aube where the Allies had destroyed the bridge. On 28 February soldiers from Gyulai's corps attacked Michel Sylvestre Brayer's division at Silvarouvres, seizing the bridge there. MacDonald abandoned Laferté-sur-Aube and began pulling back to Bar-sur-Seine. Casualties were about 600 men on each side.[9] On 1 March the Allies sent out two reconnaissance forces under Johann Maria Philipp Frimont and Peter Petrovich Pahlen. Frimont occupied Vendœuvres after some skirmishing with Gérard, while Pahlen operated on Frimont's right.[10]

Feeling less anxious about his enemies, Schwarzenberg ordered an advance on Troyes for 2 March. That day, finding Gérard's troops holding the Guillotière Bridge, Pahlen moved north through the villages of Mesnil-Saint-Père and Géraudot to reach Dosches. His probes in the direction of Laubressel were chased off by French forces. Peter von Wittgenstein's Russian corps occupied Piney while Wrede's Bavarian-Austrian corps spent the night near Vendœuvres. On the southern flank the corps of Crown Prince of Württemberg and Gyulai pursued MacDonald's forces. They drove Brayer's division from Bar-sur-Seine at a cost of 500 Allied and 100 French casualties. Brayer fell back to join XI Corps.[10]

Battle[edit]

Cassini map showing the city of Troyes at left and the village of Laubressel at center.
Cassini map shows the city of Troyes at the left, the village of Laubressel on a wooded height at right center and the Pont de la Guillotière where the road crosses the Barce River.

On 3 March at 1:00 pm, Schwarzenberg planned to launch a major attack on his adversaries from three sides. He ordered Wrede's corps to attack west down the highway from Vendœuvres to Troyes and to occupy the Courteranges Woods. Wittgenstein was directed to move southwest from Piney and to meet Wrede's forces near Laubressel. The Crown Prince and Gyulai were instructed to press to the northwest from Bar-sur-Seine. To oppose the Allies, Oudinot ordered Guillaume Philibert Duhesme's division to defend the Guillotière Bridge. Henri Rottembourg's division was posted on the Laubressel plateau. The 2nd Division of II Corps linked the positions of Duhesme and Rottembourg, with Antoine Anatole Jarry's brigade on Duhesme's left. Oudinot's VII Corps and François Etienne de Kellermann's VI Cavalry Corps were to the northwest guarding the Saint-Hubert Bridge on the Seine. Closer at hand, Antoine-Louis Decrest de Saint-Germain's II Cavalry Corps was positioned at Saint-Parres-aux-Tertres. The XI Corps under Gabriel Jean Joseph Molitor was near Saint-Parres-lès-Vaudes on the west bank of the Seine southeast of Troyes. Also to the south was Édouard Jean Baptiste Milhaud's V Cavalry Corps with outposts in Rumilly-lès-Vaudes and Fouchères[11]

In the morning, Wrede's corps was led by Anton von Rechberg's Bavarian division and Anton Leonhard von Hardegg's Austrian division. The rest of his troops were at Vendœuvres with orders to move through Montiéramey. Wittgenstein's infantry began marching from Piney toward Laubressel, via the villages of Rouilly-Sacey and Mesnil-Sellières. They were preceded by Pahlen's advanced guard which quickly bumped into Rottembourg's French troops.[12] Pahlen's infantry, supported by one cuirassier, one uhlan and one hussar regiment plus four field guns, began skirmishing with Rottembourg's troops. The rest of his cavalry circled to the north through Bouranton in an attempt to envelop the French left flank. Pahlen's cavalry reached the unguarded village of Thennelières in the French rear where it attacked a weakly escorted artillery park. Saint-Germain's cavalry appeared and recaptured most of the park but not before the Russian horsemen carried off 200 prisoners. Saint-Germain pushed Pahlen's cavalry back beyond Bouranton. Kellermann's corps moved up to Saint-Parres-aux-Tertres to replace the II Cavalry Corps.[13]

Black and white print of a man with wavy hair and long sideburns. He wears a dark uniform with lots of medals on his chest.
Karl Philipp von Wrede

At 3:00 pm Wittgenstein launched a two-pronged attack after he heard Wrede's guns begin bombarding the French positions. On the right, Duke Eugen of Württemberg led the Russian II Infantry Corps against Bouranton while on the left Andrei Ivanovich Gorchakov led the I Infantry Corps against Laubressel. The attack consisted of battalion columns led by skirmishers and well-supported by artillery. Eugen's 3rd Division easily took Bouranton and moved toward Thennelière, only to be counterattacked by Kellermann's cavalry, which had joined the fighting. Eugen's 4th Division had difficulty fighting its way up the vineyard-covered Laubressel slopes. After reaching the crest, the 4th Division had to withstand attacks by Saint-Germain's cavalry. Rottembourg's infantry were only supported by six artillery pieces and suffered losses from the 32 Russian field guns deployed against them.[13]

Wrede sent four or five Bavarian battalions across the Barce near Courteranges. They moved through the woods to link up with Wittgenstein's Russians. With the Russians pushing Rottembourg off the Laubressel plateau, Oudinot issued orders to retreat. Gorchakov's advance had been slowed by the presence of 20 French cavalry squadrons, but now the Russian Kaluga Regiment launched an assault without orders. With King Frederick William III of Prussia watching, they took the heights in a rush. At the same time Antoine Alexandre de Bélair's brigade of the II Corps 2nd Division was hit by two Russian regiments in front and two more from the flank. Bélair's brigade dissolved and fled to the rear.[14]

Seeing his flank turned, Gérard gave instructions for a retreat. Apparently Jarry was acting commander of the II Corps 2nd Division, because he and Rottembourg joined their divisions and made an orderly withdrawal after abandoning Laubressel. Their movement was supported by cavalry and artillery. Wrede chose this moment to directly assault the Guillotière Bridge with four Bavarian battalions while shifting other troops to his left. In the confusion, Duhesme missed the first orders to pull back and was nearly surrounded by enemies when Gérard sent them a second time. Hounded by the Austrian Knesevich Dragoons Nr. 3 and the Szekler Hussars Nr. 11, Duhesme's troops nevertheless fought their way back to Saint-Parres-aux-Tertres after suffering 400 casualties and losing two guns. The Crown Prince remained inactive on the left, allowing Molitor's XI Corps and Milhaud's cavalry to fall back without interference.[14]

Results[edit]

Painting of a square-faced man with a cleft chin and long sideburns. He wears a blue military uniform with gold epaulettes and several awards.
Étienne Gérard

One source gave French losses as 2,600 killed and wounded and 460 captured while the Russians lost 1,200 and the Bavarians 300. Another source stated the Allies captured 1,500 French soldiers and seven guns, while sustaining about 1,000 casualties.[14] A third source estimated that the French lost 1,000 killed and wounded plus 2,000 soldiers and 11 guns captured out of 20,000 troops engaged. The Allies lost 1,000 killed and wounded out of 32,000 troops engaged.[15] MacDonald, who was sick, had only 21,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry to face the much larger Allied army. He determined to retreat in a deliberate manner so that his wagon trains could keep up.[16]

Anxious that Napoleon might suddenly show up, Schwarzenberg ordered Wittgenstein and Wrede to attack the city at once. Gérard held out on the east bank of the Seine until 11:00 am when he withdrew into Troyes. The Allies fought their way into the suburbs but were stopped at the city walls.[16] They brought up howitzers and began shelling Troyes. During a lull in the bombardment the French garrison slipped out and joined MacDonald's retreating army. Oudinot did not think a strong rearguard was needed in La Chapelle-Saint-Luc. Consequently, the Bavarian cavalry suddenly appeared behind Kellermann's cavalry, throwing it into panic. Luckily for the French, when VI Cavalry Corps stampeded their infantry held steady, but 400 prisoners were swept up by the Allies.[17]

In Troyes, the Allies went on a 2-day orgy of pillage and violence. After they recovered from this, Wittgenstein and Wrede headed out after the French while the Crown Prince and Gyulai advanced toward Sens.[17] Schwarzenberg himself stayed in Troyes until 12 March. By 16 March the Allies had pushed MacDonald's army back to Provins. That day Schwarzenberg found out about Napoleon's victory at the Battle of Reims and the French capture of Châlons-sur-Marne and his advance stopped.[18]

Forces[edit]

French order of battle[edit]

MacDonald's Army before Troyes[12]
Corps Division Inf/Cav (Sporschil)[12] Inf/Cav (Fr. Archives)[19] Gunners (Fr. Arch.)[19] Guns (Fr. Arch.)[19]
II Corps:
Étienne Maurice Gérard
Guillaume Philibert Duhesme 1,970 1,883[20] 128[20] 6[20]
Jacques Félix de La Hamelinaye 1,800 1,027[20] 134[20] 6[20]
Corps Artillery - - 476[20] 11[20]
VII Corps:
Nicolas Oudinot
Henri Rottembourg 2,628 2,496 129 8
Jean François Leval 4,365 4,021 249 ?
David Hendrik Chassé 2,515 2,215 265 12
Michel-Marie Pacthod 4,027 4,027 177 6
Corps Artillery - - 304 18
XI Corps:
Gabriel Jean Joseph Molitor
Joseph Jean Baptiste Albert 1,520 3,357 321 -
Michel Sylvestre Brayer 1,370 2,134 264 -
François Pierre Joseph Amey 2,681 772 70 -
Corps Cavalry: 13th Hussars - 301 - -
Corps Artillery - - 1,305[note 1] 48
II Cavalry Corps:
Antoine-Louis de Saint-Germain
Antoine Maurin 1,325 1,082 106 4
Jacques-Antoine-Adrien Delort 1,270 704 143 6
V Cavalry Corps:
Édouard Jean Baptiste Milhaud
Hippolyte Piré 1,421 1,421 - -
André Briche 1,700 1,700 - -
Samuel-François Lhéritier 1,269 1,269 - -
Corps Artillery - - 265 14
VI Cavalry Corps:
François Etienne de Kellermann
Charles Claude Jacquinot 1,258 1,665[21] - -
Anne-François-Charles Trelliard 1,747 2,028 195 6

Coalition order of battle[edit]

Schwarzenberg's Army[22]
Corps Division Guns
III Corps:
Ignaz Gyulai
10,000
1st Division: Louis Charles Folliot de Crenneville 6
2nd Division: Johann Karl Hennequin de Fresnel 16
3rd Division: Prince Louis of Hohenlohe-Bartenstein 16
Corps Artillery 18
IV Corps:
Crown Prince of Württemberg
15,000
Cavalry Division: Prince Adam of Württemberg 12
1st Division: Christian Gottgetreu von Koch 12
2nd Division: Christoph Friedrich von Döring 12
Corps Artillery 6
V Corps:
Karl Philipp von Wrede[23]
20,000
1st Bavarian Division: Anton von Rechberg 14
2nd Bavarian Division: Karl von Becker 14
3rd Bavarian Division: Peter de Lamotte 14
1st Austrian Division: Anton Leonhard von Hardegg 6
2nd Austrian Division: Ignaz Splény de Miháldi 18
Corps Artillery 38
VI Corps:
Peter Wittgenstein
14,000
I Infantry Corps: Andrei Ivanovich Gorchakov 36
II Infantry Corps: Duke Eugen of Württemberg 36
Cavalry Corps: Peter Petrovich Pahlen -
Corps Artillery 24

Notes[edit]

Footnotes

  1. ^ This total may include gunners attached to the divisions.

Citations

  1. ^ Petre 1994, pp. 86–87.
  2. ^ a b Petre 1994, pp. 88–89.
  3. ^ a b c Smith 1998, pp. 499–500.
  4. ^ Petre 1994, pp. 90–91.
  5. ^ Petre 1994, pp. 92-93.
  6. ^ Petre 1994, pp. 98–99.
  7. ^ Petre 1994, pp. 100–101.
  8. ^ Petre 1994, pp. 156–158.
  9. ^ Nafziger 2015, pp. 289–290.
  10. ^ a b Nafziger 2015, p. 291.
  11. ^ Nafziger 2015, p. 292.
  12. ^ a b c Nafziger 2015, p. 293.
  13. ^ a b Nafziger 2015, p. 294.
  14. ^ a b c Nafziger 2015, p. 295.
  15. ^ Smith 1998, pp. 506–507.
  16. ^ a b Nafziger 2015, p. 296.
  17. ^ a b Nafziger 2015, p. 297.
  18. ^ Petre 1994, pp. 158–159.
  19. ^ a b c Nafziger 2015, pp. 648–654.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h Nafziger 2015, pp. 724–726.
  21. ^ Nafziger 2015, p. 628.
  22. ^ Nafziger 2015, pp. 698–705.
  23. ^ Nafziger 2015, pp. 557–558.

References[edit]

  • Nafziger, George (2015). "The End of Empire: Napoleon's 1814 Campaign". Solihull, UK: Helion & Company. ISBN 978-1-909982-96-3. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  • Petre, F. Loraine (1994) [1914]. Napoleon at Bay: 1814. London: Lionel Leventhal Ltd. ISBN 1-85367-163-0.
  • Smith, Digby (1998). The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill. ISBN 1-85367-276-9.

Coordinates: 48°17′59″N 4°12′46″E / 48.29972°N 4.21278°E / 48.29972; 4.21278