Battle of Leipzig
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|Battle of Leipzig II|
|Part of the War of the Sixth Coalition|
Russian, Austrian, and Prussian troops in Leipzig.
Painting by Alexander Sauerweid
|Commanders and leaders|
|Gebhard von Blücher|
|French Grand Army||
October 18–19: 430,000
|Casualties and losses|
|38,000 dead and wounded
|54,000 dead, wounded or missing:
Army of Bohemia 34,000
Army of Silesia 12,000
Army of the North 4,000
Army of Poland 4,000
The Battle of Leipzig or Battle of the Nations (Russian: Битва народов, Bitva narodov; German: Völkerschlacht bei Leipzig; French: Bataille des Nations) was fought 16–19 October 1813, at Leipzig, in Saxony. The coalition armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden, led by Tsar Alexander I of Russia and Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg, decisively defeated the French army of Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. Napoleon's army also contained Polish and Italian troops, as well as Germans from the Confederation of the Rhine. The battle was the culmination of the 1813 German campaign and involved nearly 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.
- 1 Background
- 2 Prelude
- 3 Opposing forces
- 4 Preparations
- 5 Battle
- 5.1 16 October
- 5.2 17 October
- 5.3 18 October
- 5.3.1 Napoleon's attempt to sue for armistice
- 5.3.2 Coalition armies encircle Napoleon
- 5.3.3 Actions at Wachau, Lossnig and Dolitz
- 5.3.4 Action at Probstheida
- 5.3.5 Actions at Paunsdorf and Schönefeld
- 5.3.6 The Swedes fully participate
- 5.3.7 Action at Lindenau
- 5.3.8 Pro-Napoleonic Germans defect to the Coalition
- 5.3.9 The Grande Armée starts to retreat
- 5.4 19 October
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 Casualties
- 8 Aftermath
- 9 Legacy
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 External links
The French Emperor Napoleon I attempted to militarily coerce Tsar Alexander I of Russia into rejoining his unpopular Continental System by invading Russia 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, the Russian Tsar refused to surrender even as the French occupied the city, which was burnt by the time of its occupation. The campaign ended in complete disaster as Napoleon and his remaining forces retreated during the bitterly cold Russian winter, with sickness, starvation, and the constant harrying of Russian Cossack marauders and partisan forces leaving the Grande Armée virtually destroyed by the time it exited Russian territory. Making matters even worse for Napoleon, in June 1813 the combined armies of Great Britain, Portugal, and Spain, under the command of Britain's Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington, had decisively routed French forces at the Battle of Vitoria in the Peninsular War, and were now advancing towards the Pyrenees and the Franco-Spanish border. With this string of defeats, the armies of France were in retreat on all fronts across Europe.
Anti-French forces joined Russia as its troops pursued the remnants of the virtually destroyed Grande Armée across central Europe. The allies regrouped as the Sixth Coalition, comprising Russia, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, and certain smaller German states whose citizens and leaders were no longer loyal to the French emperor. Napoleon hurried back to France and managed to mobilize an army about the size of the one he had lost in Russia, but severe economic hardship and news of battlefield reverses had led to war-weariness and growing unrest among France's citizenry.
Despite opposition at home, Napoleon rebuilt his army, with the intention of either inducing a temporary alliance or at least cessation of hostilities, or knocking at least one of the Great Powers of the Coalition out of the war. He 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 Charles John of Sweden, Karl von Schwarzenberg, and Count Benningsen of Russia, followed the strategy outlined in the Trachenberg Plan: they would avoid clashes with Napoleon, but seek confrontations with his marshals. This policy led to victories at Großbeeren, Kulm, Katzbach, and Dennewitz. After these defeats, the French emperor could not easily follow up on his victory at Dresden. Thinly-stretched supply lines spanning now somewhat hostile Rhineland German lands, coupled with Bavaria's switching of sides to the Coalition just eight days prior to the battle, made it almost impossible to 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.
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. Oudinot was defeated at the Battle of Großbeeren, just south of the city. With the intact Prussian force threatening from the north, Napoleon was compelled to withdraw westward. He crossed the Elbe with much of his army between late September and early October, and organized 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, after the Battle of Kulm), and the Swedish force from the north.
The French had around 160,000 soldiers along with 700 guns 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. The coalition had some 380,000 troops along with 1,500 guns, 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, surpassing 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 now consisted of teens and inexperienced men conscripted shortly after the near destruction of the Grande Armée in 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. While he won several preliminary battles, his army was being steadily depleted as Coalition commanders, closely following the Trachenberg Plan, systematically defeated his marshals. The French Imperial cavalry was similarly insufficient, making it difficult for Napoleon to keep his eyes on his lines of communications or even scout enemy positions, a fact which influenced the outcome of the Battle of Großbeeren and others during the German campaign.
The Coalition army was organized into 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 company of the British Rocket Brigade armed with Congreve rockets, under the command of Captain Richard Bogue.
Despite being outnumbered, Napoleon planned to take the offensive between the Pleisse and the Parthe rivers. The position at Leipzig held several advantages for his army and 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 moving such large numbers of troops into a single sector.
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 his supply base for the battle. The bridges on the Pleisse and White 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.
With the three monarchs of the continental Coalition powers, Tsar Alexander I of Russia being at the head of the three along with King Frederick William III of Prussia and Emperor Francis I of Austria, present in the field, a substantial staff supported the Coalition commanders. Tsar Alexander I was also the supreme commander of all Coalition forces in the eastern front of the war, while Prince Schwarzenberg of Austria was the commander-in-chief of all Coalition forces in the German theatre. For the Tsar, this was the second time that he had filled in as a battlefield commander since Austerlitz almost a decade prior during the War of the Third Coalition. Initially, the command was plagued with incompetence and petty rivalries in conflict with each other and its operations were prone to the vanities of the monarchs, especially from the Russian emperor, but these largely evaporated as the battle raged on, with the command largely centering on the two main commanders during the battle.
There was a drafting in the battle plan, and marshals Prince Volkonsky of Russia, Johan Christopher Toll of Sweden, and Karl Friedrich von dem Knesebeck and Gerhard von Scharnhorst of Prussia took part in the planning. After the first plan was drafted, Schwarzenberg submitted it to the monarchs. However, Alexander, the Russian emperor, complained about his incompetence in terms of battle planning upon seeing the plan for himself. 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, he 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, giving him the potentiality of breaking the Coalition battle line at one point, thus creating a gap, and then concentrate forces to it and to the weakened sectors, thus would possibly give the latter a chance to regain the strategic initiative in Germany. The Prussian King attempted to opine to the Tsar but could do nothing so he treated the discussion as if it was none of his concern. But later events in the battle proved the Tsar's judgments correct. The action he had ordered Blucher to take met with great success north of Leipzig and the actions of Russian Guard was decisive in halting the French all-out attack on Gulden Gossa in the south. On the other hand, the actions of Austrians along Pleisse River, part of Schwarzenberg's initial plan, ended in failure.
However, not willing to plan the battle by himself as he had done during his disastrous defeat at Austerlitz almost a decade earlier, Alexander had Schwarzenberg draft another battle plan based on his thoughts and views. Schwarzenberg then drafted another 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. 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.
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.
Action at Dölitz
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 had 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.
Action at Markkleeberg
General Kleist, moving along the Pleiße, 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.
Action at Wachau
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.
Action at Liebertwolkwitz
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.
The northern front opened with the attack by General Langeron's Russian Corps on the villages of Groß-Wiederitzsch and Klein-Wiederitzsch in the centre 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.
Action at Möckern
The northern front was dominated by the battle of Möckern. This was a four 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 four metres 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.
Action at Lindenau
In the western front, the Austrian III Corps under general Giulay attacked the suburb of Lindenau and had success at first, forcing Marshal Michel Ney to divert Bertrand's IV Corps to hold the position. But soon the French held, the fighting later ground down into a stalemate, and the Austrians were driven back not far from the village. However, for the French, there was also a negative strategic consequence for this minor success; the said French corps was needed by Napoleon's for his attacks on the main Austro-Russian armies positioned at the south, and since they did not take part in the attack as they were that time also engaging the Austrians in Lindenau, his attack failed. The Austrian corps, as they were not yet completely driven out near the village, also served as the force that is to potentially cut off Grande Armee's retreat route.
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; however, Napoleon had stripped him of command in 1810, and he had later defected to the Coalition cause.
Napoleon's attempt to sue for armistice
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, which by this time were starting to run out of supplies and ammunition. 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.
Coalition armies encircle Napoleon
The Coalition launched a huge assault from all sides, this time completely encircling Napoleon's army. 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, 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, von Bennigsen (both Russian), and Prince von Hessen-Homburg (Austrian) to the south, and Giulay (Austrian) to the west.
Actions at Wachau, Lossnig and Dolitz
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.
Action at Probstheida
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 Napoleon's 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. 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 them.
Actions at Paunsdorf and Schönefeld
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. 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 after his marshals' failure to take the city in the battles of Grossbeeren and Dennewitz.
Platov's Russian heavy artillery began to fire on 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 town itself was still held by five Franco-Saxon battalions. Richard Bogue, captain of the British Rocket Brigade, advanced with his unit and began firing Congreve rockets into the town, causing the defenders to fall back in disorder. Bogue, seizing the moment, charged at the head of his escort squadron of cavalry; this small force was in turn being driven out of the village when a barrage of rockets fired in close support again caused the French troops to break ranks. The French fell back to Sellerhausen pursued by two Prussian battalions, while the Rocket Brigade formed on the left of a Russian battery and began firing on the retiring columns, causing near-panic. At this time, Captain Bogue was shot in the head by a skirmisher. Shortly after, the reserve French Young and Old Guard drove the allies out of Paunsdorf again, but eventually Ney judged the position untenable and ordered a withdrawal.
More heavy fighting occurred in Schönefeld. Coalition troops repeatedly assaulted French positions there, but were forced back. French infantry attacks on Coalition positions produced similar results. Repeated assaults by Russian musketeers and grenadiers under General Langeron finally drove the French out of Schönefeld. The heavy fighting in Paunsdorf and Schönefeld set both villages on fire.
The Swedes fully participate
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.
Action at Lindenau
On the western front, the French IV Corps under Bertrand finally drove the Austrian III Corps under Gyulay away from Lindenau. This broke the encirclement which the Coalition forces earlier had made against the Grande Armee, clearing the way for its retreat which would take place later the next day.
Pro-Napoleonic Germans defect to the Coalition
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.
The Grande Armée starts to retreat
The battle during the day of 18 October was one of attrition. French troops held on to their respective positions, but were steadily being worn out and depleted by fierce and intensifying Coalition attacks throughout the day. Later that night, Napoleon was treating the battle as a lost cause. At this time, 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. After this, the Emperor began to stage the retreat for the Grande Armée westward across the Elster River.
During the night the French army had been ordered to withdraw silently from Connewitz, Probstheida, Stotteritz, Volkmansdorf, and Reudnitz, all to cross the river via Leipzig and the single bridge in the river. Those in Lindenau were to move to Weissenfels. Weak rear guards occupied the villages in order to conceal the retreat, and support troops were placed in the outer suburbs by the wind mills and near the walls of the city. The garden and cemetery walls by the Grimma Gate were pierced with loopholes as well as the gates themselves. Skirmishers were posted in the farm houses, in the brush, in the parks, and everywhere possible. Leipzig was to be occupied by the Reynier's VII Corps, Poniatowski's VIII Corps and Macdonald's XI Corps. They were ordered to hold it for a day or a bit longer, in order to allow the rest of the army, its artillery, and its equipment sufficient time to effect the evacuation. The Coalition cavalry advance posts were ordered to attack without relief the French advanced posts during the night to determine whether or not the French were attempting to withdraw. However, they failed to realize that the French were, in fact, pulling out from the battle area. Therefore, the evacuation continued throughout the night.
The Coalition only learned of the French evacuation at 7:00 on the morning of the 19 October. Soon thereafter between 8:00-9:00 am they launched a full-scale assault from the north, south and east against the then-retreating French. 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 Halle and Grimma gates they fell upon barricades and houses full of French soldiers. Civilians were forced into hiding as the bloody urban combat raged through the city.
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 tens of thousands of others. Marshal Poniatowski was one of the many who drowned while attempting to cross the river.
By the end of the battle at the afternoon of 19 October, all the remnants of the French army had crossed the Elster River and began a good-ordered retreat. The battle had ended conclusively and decisively with the nations of the Coalition as the victors, and 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. Even though the heavy casualties the Coalition army incurred and the exhaustion from the bloody 4-day battle they fought made it impossible for them to promptly pursue the retreating Grande Armée, the French were also already very exhausted after the battle, and were themselves retreating at a fast pace towards the Rhine River.
The battle of Leipzig was the bloodiest in the history of the Napoleonic Wars. Casualties on both sides were astoundingly high, such that even locals had a hard time disposing of the corpses, and even then the corpses were still visible the next year. 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 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, severely 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 ever 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. The time he went back to Paris at the year's end, his first words on entering the Senate, after his return from the battle disaster, sad and low in mood, were, "A year ago all Europe marched with us; today all Europe marches against us." While most of his troops deserted even before crossing the French border resulting in further destruction of his army, some others hurried back to France to begin their hard-fought defense until the early spring of 1814. French forces would not enter Germany again until the occupation of Saarbrücken region during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.
With the German states of the Confederation of the Rhine defecting to the Coalition cause and Prussia officially once again becoming one of the continent's great powers after their severe setbacks of 1806, the Coalition army pressed its advantage and invaded France in early 1814 as the Tsar commanded. Though Napoleon repeatedly engaged some of their units during his counter-offensive campaign, he 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.
In addition to the 91-metre (299 ft) 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.
- Defected to the allies 18 October
- Chandler 1966, p. 1020
- "Leipzig : Battle of Leipzig : Napoleonic Wars : Bonaparte : Bernadotte : Charles : Blucher". Napoleonguide.com. Archived from the original on 24 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-10-16.
- With Napoleon in Russia, The Memoirs of General Coulaincourt, Chapter VI 'The Fire' pp. 109–107 Pub. William Morrow and Co 1945
- Philip Dwyer, Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power (2013), pp 431-74
- Merriman, John (1996), "A History Of Modern Europe" W.W. Norton Company, p. 579.
- 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
- Bernadotte had asked for a British garrison for Straslund so as to liberate the more Swedish troops for service in Germany; he was sent six battalions under Major-General Gibbs, plus the Rocket Brigade. Only the 2/73rd took to the field under General Wallmoden and were present at the Battle of Gohrde
- Digby Smith, "1813: Leipzig - Napoleon and the Battle of the Nations"
- (Esposito & Elting, "Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic wars."
- Battle of Leipzig 1813 : Battle of Nations : Napoleon : Schlacht : Bataille
- 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.
- Chandler, Campaigns, pp 926-928
- Nafziger - "Napoleon at Leipzig", p. 191
- Smith, Digby George. 1813: Leipzig : Napoleon and the Battle of the Nations.
- Nafziger, Napoleon at Leipzig, p 215
- Nafziger, Napoleon at Leipzig, p 216
- Europe against Napoleon, The Leipzig Campaign 1813, p186/7, by Antony Brett-James, MacMillan 1970
- Van Riper, A. Bowdoin (2007). Rockets and Missiles: The Life Story of a Technology. JHU Press. p. 16. ISBN 0801887925.
- Fuller, John Frederick Charles (1955). The Decisive Battles of the Western World, and Their Influence Upon History: From the defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588, to the Battle of Waterloo, 1815. Eyre & Spottiswoode. p. 481.
- Chandler, Campaigns, pp 933-934
- Howard Giles, unknown book and date of publishing
- Bowden - "Napoleon's Grande Armee of 1813" 1990, p. 191
- Nafziger, Napoleon at Leipzig, p 233-234
- Digby Smith - "1813: Leipzig - Napoleon and the Battle of the Nations", p. 256
- Chandler, 1966,p 936
- J.T. Headley, The Imperial Guard of Napoleon
- Chandler, David G. (1966), The Campaigns of Napoleon, The MacMillan Company;
- Smith, Digby (1998), The Napoleonic Wars Data Book, Greenhill
|Wikisource has the text of the 1879 American Cyclopædia article Leipsic.|
- “Easily ranking as one of the largest battles in History”
- Allied Order-of-Battle at Leipzig: 16-18 October 1813
- French order of battle: II–XI Army Corps
- French order of battle: Cavalry Reserve and the Imperial Guard
- How Britain helped win the nineteenth century's 'the most important' battle – The Daily Telegraph, 8 October 2013
- (German) http://www.voelkerschlacht1813.de/
- (German) http://www.voelkerschlacht-bei-leipzig.de/
- (German) http://www.leipzig1813.com
- (German) http://www.leipzig-concert-1813.de