"With a few thousand men, most of whom were inexperienced conscripts,
"To find a parallel we have to go back to Frederick the Great
one saw him (Napoleon) face the armies of Europe."
- Baron de Marbot
in his struggle against almost all the rest of Europe."
- Loraine Petre, London 1914
"To find a parallel we have to go back to Frederick the Great
Campaign of France.
Middle Rhine (Center)
Upper Rhine (South)
Marshal Ney, "The Bravest of the Brave"
fails to defend central France
"I will plant my war standard on Napoleon's throne"
The Old Guard defend the Master Point of France >
"The Emperor is now cooked well-done ..." >
Napoleon's victory Brienne >
Blucher's withdrawal >
Campaign of France, 1814.
The effects of Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig in October 1813 were momentous. It had smashed his stranglehold on Europe for good, liberated Germany and catapulted Prussia into the ranks of the Continent's leading powers. Saxony was temporarily governed by Russian General Prince Repnin.
The next campaign, the Campaign of France in 1814, has been greatly admired, and has been held up as the greatest effort of Napoleon's genius. If, on the one hand, we think this opinion places it too high, on the other, it is certainly a great example of what his genius could do in circumstances which, since the defeat at Leipzig, had become so desperate that no other general of the time would have even attempted to make head against them. "To find a parallel we have to go back to Frederick the Great in his struggle against almost all the rest of Europe." (Loraine Petre, London 1914)
Baron de Marbot writes, "No previous general had ever shown such talent, or achieved so much with such feeble resources. With a few thousand men, most of whom were inexperienced conscripts, one saw him face the armies of Europe, turning up everywhere with these troops, which he led from one point to another with marvellous rapidity. ... he hurried from the Austrians to the Russians, and from the Russians to the Prussians, ... sometimes beaten by them, but much more often the victor. He hoped, for a time, that he might drive the foreigners, disheartened by frequent defeats, from French soil and back across the Rhine. All that was required was a new effort by the nation; but there was general war-weariness..."
"To replenish the treasury, to create an army, to awe the turbulent
and then stand up single-handed against Europe in arms - these
were the tasks before him. He set the first example of self-sacrifice,
by giving into the public treasury 6,000,000 francs taken from his
private vaults in the Tuileries... " (Headley - "The Imperial Guard
Although Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig ended French hegemony in Europe, the Allies did not belive the war was over. They agreed to continue military operations to destroy Napoleon's army before it reached the Rhine River. "This plan achieved only partial success. Wrede managed to block Napoleon's line of retreat, but the emperor smashed through the Austro-Bavarian army at Hanau ... Napoleon commented that although he had made Wrede a count, he had failed to make him a general." (Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon" pp 12-13)
The exhausted French troops reached Frankfurt on 1 November, crossed the Rhine River, and established positions
on the right bank, facing Mainz and Strasbourg, respectively.
The Allies reached Frankfurt in the beginning of November.
Schwarzenberg however could do nothing, and the Tzar paraded into Frankfurt at
the head of his Guards.
Frederick Maycock writes, "Meanwhile the Tzar had made a triumphant entry into Frankfurt
on the 5th November and established his headquarters in the town, while Blucher's
advanced troops pushed forward towards the Rhine."
(Maycock - "The invasion of France, 1814" p 23)
The Allies in 1814.
The Allies were not sure what to do next and there was much talking going on.
Prussian general, Gneisenau, writes, "There is much diplomatic activity that is sometimes repugnant and absurd.
The Austrian and Russian diplomats, their numbers is legion, are very active. To them are
joined the Rheinbund princes." Sir Robert Wilson was unhappy with this situation, "Courts, galas, parades, banquets, etc., have succeeded the iron age."
The Allies, after some deliberations, decided for continuing the campaign. The reason was however not indifference to the suffering of the Allies soldiers nor bloodthirsty revenge as some suggested, but the belief that by exploiting Napoleon's weakness the war would end sooner with less loss than if they allowed the master of war to recover.
The Balance Seekers.
They were mostly Austrians and some Germans. Their leading figure was Austrian foreign minister and chancellor, Klemens von Metternich. Metternich thought about maintaining Napoleonic France to hold in check the ambitious Prussians and Russians. The question was not how the campaign should be continued but whether the war should be continued at all. They opposed the overthrow of Napoleon out of fear that the succeeding ruler of France might be a Russian puppet. The political balance in Europe was important for the members of this group. Some also feared that a Jacobin government could seize power in France.
The Prussian chancellor, Hardenberg, did not embrace the idea of invading France as he feared Russian hegemony.
Hardenberg's master, the King of Prussia, also wanted peace. The King endeavored to conserve the Prussian army, which he
would need for leverage at the peace table. He had participated in the campaigns of 1792 and 1793 against France.
"These operations firmly impressed on him the idea that despite the appearance of weakness,
France could prove unexpectedly formidable." (- Michael Leggiere)
The Austrian Minister of State/Minister of Foreign Affairs, Metternich, intended that the Austrian army should take as little part as possible in the struggle, and that the great proportion of the losses should be borne by the Prussians and Russians. "For his purpose the cautious Schwarzenberg was an ideal commander, as he was not in the least likely to run any necessary risk or jeopardise the safety of his army." (Maycock - "The invasion of France, 1814")
The commander-in-chief of Allied armies (Austrian general Schwarzenberg),
shared Metternich's moderate attitude toward Napoleon and France.
In the beginning of January he wrote,
"The moment has come when the emperor must become king of France."
In his opinion taking Paris would not necessarily end the war and could prove to be just as much of a disaster for the Allies as Moscow had been
for Napoleon in 1812.
Klemens Wenzel, Prince von Metternich
He was a very talented and self-assured Austrian politician.
When Napoleon suffered his catastrophic defeat i n Russia ,
Metternich extracted Austria from this alliance , reverted t o
neutrality, and soon joined the R u s s i a n s and Prussians.
In the subsequent war, he was chiefly anxious to ensure that
the balance of power did not swing too far in any direction ,
and that it would strengthen neither Napoleon nor the Tzar.
The driving and decisive force in this campaign were the Russian and Prussian armies. Both monarchs were in a close relationship and the King of Prussia very often supported the Tsar. The townpeople of Troyes even described the King as Tsar's aide-de-camp.
The Tzar, and the two leading Prussian generals, Blucher and Gneisenau, insisted on immediate pursuing the French troops and decisive campaign against Paris. For them any peace terms would be dictated in Paris and they were anxious to stomp their boots on French soil. Blucher was disposed to make a severe retaliation upon Paris for the calamities that Prussia had suffered from France. Tsar Alexander looked for revenge for Napoleon taking Moscow in 1812. The tzar said, "I shall not make peace as long as Napoleon is on the throne." Tzar's advisor, Heinrich von Stein, branded the French Emperor "the enemy of the human race."
Many Russian generals yearned for peace. There were several reasons for this; they were war weary after campaigning much longer than the Austrians and Prussians, and they thought Russia has no interest west of Rhine. They understood however that their master, the Tzar, was consumed by the idea of invading France. And there was the Crown Prince of Sweden, Bernadotte, who warned against the dangers of invading France and popular resistance. He did not hide his interest in the future of the French government.
Lord Castlereagh (ext.link) undertook to try to persuade the Tsar of the necessity for reopening negotiations but all his arguments failed to produce any effect on Alexander.
Tzar Alexander I of Russia (1777-1825)
Napoleon thought him a " shifty Byzantine " ,
to Castlereagh he had " grand qualities " but
adds that he was "suspicious and undecided".
In foreign policy he gained notable successes.
Under Alexander's long rule Russia acquired
Finland , Lithuania , and part of P o l a n d .
Allies' plans before the campaign.
The Allies were still undecided upon a general course of action. Many generals and diplomats remembered the misfortunes earlier coalition forces suffered by invading France.
Prussian chief of staff, General Gneissenau, had the following plans:
Gneisenau's plans enjoyed the war council's support; only some Austrians suggested
reducing the size of the army on the middle Rhine to increase the forces moving through Switzerland.
Surprisingly, the King of Prussia opposed Gneisenau saying, "He is a mischevious, meddling being who requires constant surveillance ..."
The King, after his misfortunes public (French occupation of his country 1806-1812) and
private (his wife died), prefered peace to any war.
Gneisenau and his supporters pressed for an immediate invasion of France and expressed opposition to any negotiations with Napoleon, maintaining that the Emperor "could only be defeated through war, war, and more war."
Chief of staff of the Austrian army, General Radetzky, had two plans.
On November 8th, Radetzky called for one of the Allies armies moving up to Switzerland and invading southern France.
Blucher then would invade Holland. By advancing through Switzerland the Austrains could impose a pro-Austrian government on the Swiss
and link up with Austrian troops in northern Italy. And there was another reason, the weakest point of the French frontier alwayz had been
along the Swiss border.
Klaus von Clausewitz, very influential Prussian military theorists, rejected the idea
regarding the dispersion of Allies troops. He thought that after Allies victory at Leipzig they should immediately cross the Rhine
in one mass, defeat Napoleon again and/or take Paris, and end the war.
Radetzky thought that the advance of such huge army on a single axis was dangerous. There were numerous obstacles on the way; the Vosges Mountains, Moselle and Meuse Rivers, and two or three rows of fortresses, including the massive fortress of Mainz.
Allies' troops and commanders in 1814.
The Allies armies needed reinforcements, especially the Russians and Prussians.
While the Russians fought the longest (1812, 1813, 1814), the Russians and Prussians
fought the hardest. The total casualties of Allied armies at Leipzig were 50.000-55.000 killed, wounded and captured.
The Allies imposed on the German princes (perviously allied with Napoleon) a contribution of 44 millions of francs to be paid in 2 years and used for the maintenance of Russian, Austrian, Prussian, Swedish, and Hanoverian troops. In addition the German princes had to mobilize their armies and supply the Allies with 145,000 line troops and 145,000 Landwehr. It was not easy for Bavaria, Wurtemberg, Baden, and other German states, to meet Allies expectations. They lost their best troops during Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812.
Convoys with supplies and equipment and replacements from Prussia, Russia, and Austria arrived before the end of 1813.
The Allied armies were under the commander of Schwarzenberg. Michael Leggiere writes, "Although not on par with Napoleon, Wellington, or the Blucher/Gneisenau tandem, Schwarzenberg's understanding of strategy and operations surpassed the active French marshals as well as most of his contemporaries among Austria's allies. ... Placing Austrian national interests above those o the Coalition remains the understandable yet inexcusable fault of the Allied commander in chief."
"Although not on par with Napoleon (Bonaparte)
Wellington, or the Blucher / Gneisenau tandem ,
Schwarzenberg's understanding of strategy and
operations surpassed the active French marshals"
- Michael Leggiere
Age of Allies monarchs and commanders, from the oldest to the youngest:
Though Blucher was the oldest one, he had lost none of his energy and but little of his youthful vigour, while the way in which he endured the hardships of the campaign was truly marvelous. Napoleon was 45 years old, Marshal Marmont 40, Davout 44, Marshal MacDonald 49, and Marshal Victor 50 years old. Prince Poniatowski was killed at Leipzig, October 1813, in the age of 50.
Allies' order of battle, 1814.
This is difficult to estimate with any degree of accuracy the exact number of troops with which the Allies commenced their invasion of France in 1814.
The Tzar prefered Archduke Charles ( Austria )
who defeated Napoleon at Aspern-Essling 1809
but Metternich insisted on Schwarzenberg. This
choice caused controversy because Metternich
disregarded several senior Austrian commanders.
"Army of the North" under Brnadotte - 82,000 men
"British Auxiliary Corps" in Netherlands - 9,000 men
"Army of Silesia" under Blucher - 105,000 men
"Army of Bohemia" ("The Grand Army") under Schwarzenberg - 150,000 men
"Reserves" under Grand Duke Constantine [Tzar's brother] - 40,000 men
II 'German' Corps - 6,000 men
IV 'German' Corps - 20,000 men
V 'German' Corps - 25,000 men
VIII 'German' Corps - 15,000 men
In February and March, Allies reinforcements (33,000 men) reached Netherlands:
In Germany: 'German' Landwehr - 100,000 men
(of this force "only" 405,000 invaded France)
Napoleon and the French army in 1814.
Approx. 75,000 French troops crossed the mighty Rhine River on November 3 and entered France. Napoleon passed thousands of stragglers, wagons, draft horses, and troops of organized soldiers (of the 75,000 only 40,000 carried weapons) and entered Mainz. He then dispersed the available troops to form a cordon along the left bank. General Griois of Guard Artillery, writes, "The Rhine, which we were going to put between ourselves and the enemy, seemed to us an impassable obstacle; and while we deplored what we were abandoning and what we had already lost, France, such as it still remained, appeared to us beautiful and large enough, under a leader like Napoleon, to soothe many sorrows."
Napoleon reached Paris on 9 November.
On 14 November, Napoleon orchestrated a spectacle to recapture the hearts of the Parisians. The Guard Cavalry paraded with the Autro-Bavarian standards captured in the battle of Hanau.
On 20 November Napoleon took residence in Tuileries for the next 2 months. Because of the fragile situation in Paris
it was impossible for Napoleon to quit this city immediately.
Baron de Marbot writes, "Sadly, loyalty to the Emperor was so much diminished
in the Senate and the legislative body, that there were
leading members of these assemblies, such as Tallyrand,
... and others, who through secret emissaries informed
the allied sovereigns of the dissatisfaction among
the upper-class Parisians with Napoleon, and invited them
to come and attack the capital."
On 7 January 1814, Napoleon received the shocking news describing the retreat of Marshal marmont and Marshal Victor from the
frontier provinces. Victor crossed the Vosges Mountains and united with Milhaud's cavalry corps.
The emperor also dispatched Marshal Ney from Paris.
Napoleon's sister Caroline, and brother-in-law Marshal Murat defected to the Allies on 11 January. Napoleon had hoped Murat's 25,000 Neapolitan troops would unite with Eugene's 50,000 men. Instead the Neapolitans joined the Austrians.
"On January 25 1814, Napoleon climbed into his carriage at 3 AM in the courtyard of the Tuileries, to travel to the front in Lorraine. Over most of France snow was falling. In their cottages, the peasants huddled over the fire. Looks were gloomy and words few and bitter. Virtually everywhere there were supporters of peace at any price." ( Georges Blond - "La Grande Armee" p 416)
On the Spanish border Suchet had 40,000 men and Soult 60,000 men.
Rebuilding the French army.
The vast plains of Russia had swalled up the Grand Army: the mighty battles of 1813 had destroyed another Grand Army, and in the end of that year new decrees were issued calling for more troops. Napoleon had 100,000 troops (75,000 exhausted veterans and 25,000 in fortresses) along the Rhine. They formed a cordon protecting the eastern provinces of France. Napoleon intended to form a very strong reserve behind the cordon. The Emperor needed time to accomplish it.
There were 100,000 men under Marshal Soult and Suchet in southern France facing Wellington's 125,000 British, Spanish and Portuguese troops. "Soult's army also received a large number of recruits during Jnauary, but this was more than balanced by the strong drafts of veterans he was ordered to send to the Emperor." (Maycock - "The invasion of France, 1814" p 235)
In Italy 50,000 French troops under Eugene faced 75,000 Austrians under Bellegarde.
Napoleon desperately needed time to rebuild his army, "I needed 2 months, if I had them,
they [Allies] never would have crossed the Rhine." The new recruits however could not be combat-ready before March.
Approx. 280,000 recruits filled the lists in compliance with the first two decrees in October.
But the desertion was very high and only 100,000 reached their regiments in December.
Most of them received no military training in depots.
The decree in November called for 178,000 unmarried and married men but only 30,000 had
joined their regiments by 31 January and 35,000 were en route. With the fall of Holland and Belgium into Allies hands, desertions of
these nationals accelerated.
The time was very short however and there was shortage of everything. The veterans' desperately needed new uniforms. The recruits wore civilian clothes under their greatcoats. The cavalry lacked sabers and pistols, the infantry needed muskets. The 5th Light Infantry Regiment had 545 men and only 150 muskets. The 153rd Line Infantry Regiment had 1,088 men and 142 muskets. There were 6,000 horses for 9,500 cavalrymen. Several regiments received horses that under normal conditions would have been considered undersized. "The government eventually decreed spade labor to prohibit ploughing and force peasants to surrender their horses." (- Michael Leggiere)
Another problem was typhus (fever and red spots over arms, back and chest, progressing to delirium, gangrenous sores, and the stink of rotting flesh.) According to Joseph M. Conlon in 1812, more French soldiers died of typhus than were killed by the enemy. In November and December of 1813 typhus claimed thousands of soldiers (15,000 in IV Corps alone !) and civilians.
The numerous campaigns made the military service unpopular. It became necessary to hunt up the refractaires
with mobile columns, and the generals reported that they were afraid to use their young sldiers for this purpose.
Houssaye writes, "Numbers of men took to the woods to avoid the conscription, and they were there pursued by mobile columns, while
bailiffs took possession of their parents' houses, and in some districts none but women and childrewn worked in the fields.
Arresting those who attempted
to avoid conscription. Picture
by T. de Thulstrup.
The French marshals in 1814.
"Napoleon's constant criticism sapped zeal from his generals,
increased their despondency, and made them loathe to show any initiative.
Aside from the emperor's frustrating use of misinformation to overestimate his own forces and underestimate those
of the enemy, the psychological impact of his rants is immeasurable.
Napoleon's admonishments drip with his own utter frustration of being
bound like Prometheus (ext.link) to the rock of Paris.
Napoleon and his marshals, picture by Meissonier
The Campaign of France provides testimony of one of the most fundamental principles of war:
unity of command. Had the four marshals (Ney, Victor, Marmont, and MacDonald) coordinated
their operations they could have stopped the Allies at Moselle for several days. It would give
the emperor the time he needed to rebuild his army.
Napoleon divided the eastern border into three sectors commanded by three marshals; MacDonald, Marmont and Victor.
The three marshals (MacDonald, Marmont, Victor) thought about preserving their troops
There were also garrisons occupying the numerous
fortresses in the Old and New France and along the frontier. Unfortunately many of them fell into a lamentable state of disrepair (France was accustomed to wage offensive campaigns in distant countries and neglected their fortresses.)
There were several reasons why it was important to defend them in 1814:
Between 16 and 24 November Napoleon received evidence from Marmont and Victor regarding the march of massive Allies army up the Rhine. The rumors in Frankfurt were that the Russians, preceded by thousands of Cossacks, will march on Basel in Switzerland. The bridge in Basel was very important as it couldn't be substituted since in winter the Rhine will have drift ice and it will be impossible to assemble a pontoon bridge.
Meanwhile Napoleon issued a decree to raise 280,000 recruits.
French line voltigeur
For more info read the chapter below.
Military operations on the Lower Rhine (North)
This theater of war on the lower Rhine (German: Niederrhein) encompasseed Holland and Belgium.
The landscape of Holland was dotted with windmills, which have become a symbol of this country.
Belgium is home for two main linguistic groups, the Flemings and the French-speakers, plus a small group of German-speakers. The coastal plain consisted mainly of sand dunes. Further inland lies a smooth, slowly rising landscape with fertile valleys. The thickly forested hills and plateaus of the Ardennes are rugged and rocky. From the 16th century many battles between European powers were fought in the area of Belgium, causing it to be dubbed "the cockpit of Europe".
"For defensive purposes - as well as an ominous portent for future offensives - the Prussians concurred that Holland and Belgium offered the opportunity to flank French defenses along the Rhine and launch a rapid strike against Paris." ( Michael Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon")
Prusso-Russian-British invasion of Holland.
British envoys in Frankfurt demanded an Allied offensive in Holland. The Prussians were also very interested in this project. William Frederick (see picture -->), the Prince of Orange, asked Great Britain for support. The British promised to provide 25,000 muskets and send 5,000 troops under General Graham to Holland.
The Austrians feared that the Prussians sought to expand their political influence
by gaining the support of liberated Dutch and Belgians. Thus Schwarzenberg did not issue orders for invasion of
Holland, but the British needed Prussian troops in Low Countries.
In early November Holland revolted against French rule. In mid November General Dirk van Hogendorp proclaimed Holland free and Prince of Orange the highest political authoprity in the country. (During the French invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon appointed Hogendorp as the governor of Vilnius. It surprised and greatly dissapointed Polish patriots loyal to Napoleon. They considered Vilnius as Polish city.)
The Allies responded to the new developments with sending Beckendorff (or Benkendorf, Benckedorf) with 3,500 men (incl. 1,500 Cossacks) to the Netherlands.
Beckendorff's left was secured by Narishkin's three regiments of Cossacks, and his right by Balabin-II's five regiments of Cossacks. News that Cossacks had crossed the frontier sparked the anti-French revolt in Amsterdam.
Bulow's Prussian corps and Wintzingerode's Russian corps, who after occupying Hanover and
Westphalia, had advanced on Munster and Dusseldorf. Bulow was then ordered to dispatch
Borstell's brigade to besiege Wesel (defended by French and Italian soldiers) on the German
bank of Rhine. Bulow's main body was about to follow Borstell.
British General Taylor arrived at Scheveningen with 20,000 muskets for the Dutch troops. There were however no Dutch authorities to receive the weapons and no empty buildings could be found to store them. Thus the Prussians put their hands on the muskets and armed their Westphalian Landwehr.
Although Bulow was greeted as liberator of Holland, he became annoyed with the Dutch for failing to field troops. He hoped that they would be able to occupy the captured fortresses, thus sparing the Prussians from dispersing their forces. Bulow urged the Dutch to adopt aggressive Prussian conscription methods and confiscate the wealth of any Dutchman who shirked his military responsibility.
The British were also dissapointed with the Dutch. John Stanhope writes, "the (Dutch) people are as dull and motionless as their canals. ... with the exception of some cries of Orange boven, some orange ribbons that begin to fade, and some triumphal arches that savor too strongly of French Prefecture and old drilling to Napoleon's victories, no travelers would know there was such a thing as war, much less that their independence was at stake."
General Friedrich von Bülow.
Throughout his life Bülow was devoted to music,and
his musical ability brought him to the notice of King.
He did not , however , neglect his military studies .
In 1813, Bulow fought against Oudinot in defence of
Berlin, and defeated Marshal Ney at Dennewitz.
In 1814 Bulow invaded Netherlands and received a
hero's welcome in Holland.
Colomb's flying column raided the region east of Antwerp from 14 to 20 December.
British General Graham landed on the island of Tholen with 7,000 - 9,000 men and a small artillery force. General Bulow established communication with Graham, but the British postponed joint operations by insisting that they needed rest.
Bulow also kept communication with the Russian corps under Wintzingerode (16,000 men), but this general delayed his movements. Wintzingerode also recalled three Cossack regiments from Benckendorf's force.
Bulow complained to the Crown Prince of Sweden, but Bernadotte's own duplicity and misleading letters complicated matters. For example the Crown Prince of Sweden assured Wintzingerode that the situation in Holland did not require Russians' presence.
Lack of support from Graham and Wintzingerode, and insufficient manpower, restricted Bulow's Prussians from invading Belgium.
But the damage was already done, the French civil and military administration in Netherlands
was in the state of panic. Lefebvre de Behaine writes, "What he (Colomb) did not know was the
indescribable panic his passage caused, the strategic and political consequences were infinitely more serious than those of the Neuss Affair. Generals and prefects lost their heads.
... On the 19th the prefect of the Meuse Inferieure complained
that he had not received any couriers from Paris for 10 days, the road to Brussles had been cut.
The military units in Belgium were devastated by the desertion of Belgians, Dutch, and Germans."
Leggiere writes, "Despite the clear indications that Schwarzenberg's massive army was preparing to drive across the upper Rhine, the emperor allocated more forces in the opposite direction in the hopes of holding Belgium and retaking Holland."
Then Napoleon recalled Decean and appointed the young General Maison as commander of French forces in Belgium. On 17 December the elite 1st Old Guard Division and 1st Guard Cavalry Division were moved toward Namur. Unfortunately the orders from Paris remained behind events. (It took one week for orders to travel between Paris and the frontier.)
The cordon system was considered weak and Napoleon knew that more than any other commander in the world. However he needed to shelter the departmental administration that fed his war machine, guaranteed the steady flow of revenue, and provided the resources to create his new army. Once the new army was under arms Napoleon would happily abandon the cordon system.
On 19 December, French General Roguet with 7,000 men and 30 guns marched from Antwerp. He drove back Benckendorf's flying column
and besieged Breda (10,000 inhabitants) and its garrison (1,600 men, mostly Benckendorf's Russians).
The French artillery pounded Breda until they exhausted their ammunition.
Prusso-British invasion of Belgium.
Great Britain insisted on Allies to capture the huge arsenal and the port in Antwerp. And Prussian General Gneisenau strongly advised that "After the conquest of Holland, Belgium must also be turned." For the Prussian army Holand and Belgium offered the opportunity to flank French defenses along the Rhine. Now and in any future conflicts.
It was however very difficult for Bulow to capture Antwerp and invade Belgium on his own.
Wintzingerode and Bernadotte either were too slow or refused to cooperate with him.
Wintzingerode for example, recalled Beckendorff's flying column from Breda, and turned down
Bulow's request for Chernishev's Cossacks.
Bulow's own force was too small to invade Belgium. He already had to dispatch several detachments to occupy the
numerous forts in Holland, and guard his communications and observe MacDonald. (Borstel's strong detachment was in Wesel.) Frustrated Bulow writes, "Only by great deeds and timely British assistance was the outcome (at Breda) not the complete opposite. ... I have a very good understanding with the British Gen. Graham ... he agrees with all that I wish.
Frustrated Bulow spoke even of resigning before he was surprised by the Tzar.
The French were nervous because of the drift ice on the rivers, it could crush their pontoon bridges. Maison's force of 15,000 men stood in Antwerp. In Brussels was the 1st Tirailleur Division (Young Guard) of General Barrois.
MacDonald's field army consisted of:
The bulk of MacDonald's force (7,500-10,000 men) stood near Nijmegen, while the rest were spread along the Rhine.
There were also garrisons, some were small and some strong (for example 6,000 men in Wesel).
MacDonald wrote the French army headquarters that "in a few days there will be an invasion
of Belgium; the Allies maneuver by their wings and distract us in the center. ... The barriers of the Rhine
and Moselle are breeched ... " MacDonald then suggested the following:
Napoleon estimated Allies' strength in Holland at no more than 15,000 men.
MacDonald feared that Bulow's Prussians would reach Namur ahead of him and sever his line of retreat to France. Exelmans' cavalry reported 10,000 Allied troops marching toward Liege. It was a false information but it alarmed MacDonald.
Maison thought Bulow had 10,000 men in Beda and assumed that the Prussians will push south toward Liege and Namur to sever MacDonald's line of retreat. He assumed that Bulow won't attack him in Antverp for fear of exposing his rear to the coming from the Rhine MacDonald's troops.
One of Maison's detachments attacked Bulow's advance guard (700 men) and pursued it almost to Breda. The French discovered several bridges the enemy has thrown across the Waal River. Maison dispatched several patrols to observe the Prussians and the British. He was a seasoned commander and distinguished himself in the battle of Leipzig. ("Battle of the Nations"). Maison however felt chained to Antwerp by Napoleon's orders and forced to dismiss any notion of attack against Bulow's flank if the Prussian dared to move between Maison and MacDonald.
Bulow met Graham, a veteran of the Peninsular War, on 8 January. "The fact that the senior Graham waived his rank and declared his readiness to subordinate himself to the Prussian general in deference to the greater numebr of troops under Bulow's command certainly promoted good relations." (- Michael Leggiere)
Bulow assembled 18,000 men (4th, 5th and 10th Infantry Brigades, Reserve Cavalry) around Breda. The 3rd Brigade was still in Gorinchem. Graham offered half of his corps. Bulow sent several squadrons of Prussian light cavalry across the Belgian frontier to determine the French positions and movements.
Bulow's forces left Breda on 10th January but due to poor maps he spent the rest of the day redirecting the troops. Brigade of Young Guard (from Roguet's division) made several counterattacks before withdrawing in good order. The numerous Prussians followed them and the skirmishing continued. The French skirmishers contested every step of the retreat and uneven land divided by hedges screened them from Prussian cavalry and artillery. The Young Guard lost 600 killed and wounded, and approx. 200 prisoners. The Prussians' losses were almost 500 killed and wounded, including General Borstell.
One of Bulow's Prussian brigades and two British battalions brushed off a French detachment in front of Antwerp and moved within 1000 paces of the city. Allies artillery then pounded the enemy in the port.
In the next two days the French made several counter-attacks.
Approx. 200 French dragoons penetrated the Prussian picket line "and reached
the enemy camp before the Prussians could react. The French troopers inflicted several casualties on the
The Russians crossed the Lower Rhine.
On 12th or 13th January, Wintzingerode authorized Chernyshev's flying column (4 battalions, 12 guns, and small cavalry force) to cross the Rhine. Rhine was breached and within the next day or two the French garrisons left Bonn and Koln. Their field troops left the left bank of Rhine and were instructed by Marshal MacDonald to fall back on Liege.
During the retreat the German, Dutch and Belgian conscripts deserted in hundreds.
On the 16th MacDonald's headquarters were in Maastricht. Then he joined his rear guard while the bulk of his force moved to Namur. MacDonald's flight south-west and then south worried Maison, he felt abandoned and left without support. MacDonald ignored his protests. The marshal reached Namur on the 20th.
Meanwhile Wintzingerode was in no hurry to pursue to French and support Bulow. Although he already has sent Chernishev's flying column across the Rhine, Wintzingerode wasted several days before putting the bulk of his force on the road to France.
The British were completely focused on Antwerp and almost hypnotized by the French fleet anchored in its harbor. Bulow's Prussians were resting in Breda. The Prusso-British force began its march south on 30 January. Heavy guns were removed from several Dutch forts for use against Antwerp.
Isolated Maison decided to evacuate Brussels, abandon Belgium, and withdraw to France. He left behind only several detachments in various fortresses, including Antwerp.
Graham's British 1st and 2nd Division took Merxem "after a lively firefight" and got very close to Antwerp. The Prussians overwhelmed the French at Deurne and also approached Antwerp. The Prusso-British artillery bombarded Antwerp on the 3rd, 4th and 5th but achieved only modest results.
Bulow received order to leave Antwerp and march through Brussels to Laon in France.
Ferdinand Wintzingerode (1761-1818).
He served in French , Austrian , and Russian armies .
During Napoleon ' s Invasion of Russia in 1812 he led
the first Russian partisan group near Smolensk . The
French captured him in Moscow and sent to France as
prisoner. The Russians however captured the convoy
of prisoners and set him free.
In 1813 Wintingerode commanded a strong Russian
corps and distinguished himself inthe battle of Leipzig
Military operations on the Middle Rhine (Center)
The Middle Rhine (German: Mittelrhein) Valley stretches between Koblenz and Mannheim.
The region’s thriving economy has always invited fortification, from the ancient Roman forts to the great towers and castles
of the Middle Ages. Forty castles and fortresses, stretched along a mere 65 km of the middle Rhine, constitute one of the most outstanding
features of the World Heritage Site. Such a concentration of castles within such a small area is to be found nowhere else
in the world!
Blucher was eager and ready to attack Marmont. He writes, "We have no shortages and our men are in the best spirit. As long as we do not make a dumb mistake
everything is expected to go well. I have 50,000 Russians with me; they show me a confidence
that is unequaled and have named me the 'German Suvarov'.
The bravery of our troops is extraordinary and our Landwehr is in no way inferior to our veteran
troops. For all of his suffering the king will be completely compensated since he will receive his entire monarchy back and still more.
The warmongers cross the Middle Rhine.
Picture: Blucher's Prussians enter France in January 1814. By Wilhelm Campehausen.
Blucher and Gneisenau issued orders for the Army of Silesia to cross the Rhine on 1 January:
The bearded Cossacks swarmed the left bank of Rhine spreading the news that Blucher is coming.
It was not an easy thing to cross the Rhine in the beginning of January. Blocks of drift ice rode the current like battering rams. The night was clear and cold and frost chilled the troops. Before midnight one of Yorck's brigades assembled on the riverbank. Yorck's men found several boats and Langeron's pontoons also arrived. Several heavy cannons were brought forward by the Prussians. Approx. 200 fusiliers (Prussian light infantry) paddled across the river and after 15 minutes greeted the left bank with a loud Hurrah ! Although the 60 French infantrymen posted on the left bank were surprised , they confronted the Prussians. After short firefight however the French fell back. Boats continued to ferry Prussian infantry across the Rhine so by 8 AM Yorck had 6 battalions on the left bank. Langeron's Russians completed the 120 yards long pontoon bridge by 9 AM. They finished the second part of the bridge - another 120 yards - by 4 PM.
Sacken's advance guard (6 jager battalions) crossed the Rhine near Neckar in boats.
The French redoubt opened fire but failed to prevent the Russians from landing.
Muffling writes, "Sacken's men sprang into the trench and mounted the breastworks on each other's shoulders."
After three failed attacks they stormed the redoubt again, captured 7 guns and 300 men.
The rest of the French garrison was killed after a vicious bayonet fight.
The King of Prussia observed the combat and thanked the Russians.
Austrian engineers attached to Sacken sttarted constructing the pontoon bridge.
Map: campaign on the middle Rhine River in early 1814.
It was a bold move from Blucher and Gneisenau to have their army cross a large river in several separate forces and with the French-occupied fortress (Mainz) in their midst. The point of passge did not allow any mutual support on the day of the crossing. If Marmont attempted to stop the crossing at one of the points, Blucher would be in serious trouble. The Prussian tanden (Blucher/Gneisenau) accepted the separation of their forces as an inherent danger, but believed the element of surprise would counter this risk. They were right, they crossed the river without meeting any noteworthy resistance.
"From the left bank of the Rhine to the Tuileries, no one in France expected the Silesian Army
to cross the Rhine where and when it did. But why ?
Blucher/Gneisenau tandem versus Marmont.
Blucher and Gneisenau wanted to accomplish at least two things:
This could be accomplished with flying columns and Cossacks disrupting the French communications, and Yorck's army corps marching rapidly on Bingen and Kreuznach. It was important to keep the roads free of baggage.
Napoleon did not realize the threat from Blucher/Gneisenau. On the 1st, 2nd and 3rd January
he urged Marmont to march south and support Marshal Victor in Alsace.
Napoleon did not want Marmont to be distracted by the fear that Blucher/Gneisenau's Army of
Silesia will cross the river.
Marshal Marmont sent d'Audenarde's 1st Brigade (from Doumerc's Cavalry Corps) toward Mannheim. The two dragoon regiments (500 men each) cut through the small detachment of 100 Cossacks and then threw back another detachment of 300 Allies cavalry. Audenarde continued east until he met Karpov's 2,000 Cossacks. The 1,000 dragoons had little time to deploy before Karpov's bearded warriors charged. The French lost 225 killed, wounded and prisoners, and fell back to Mutterstadt.
Ricard decided to march with his 3,000 infantry and few guns from Kreuznach to Koblenz. He intended to rescue Durutte's division and "to act together according to circumstances." Marshal Marmont was unhappy with Ricard's decision, the marshal wanted him to concentrate his division and move west, away from the river. Ricard soon learned that the Allies crossed the Rhine in Kaub and his division would be cut off from Mainz and Marmont. Ricard decided to fall back after all. Luckily he was joined by Durutte's division at Kirchberg and together they moved on Trier.
Marshal Marmont (1774-1852)
He was defeated by Wellington at Salamanca
and by Blucher at Mockern (Leipzig) in 1813.
The hunt for Marmont.
The Prussians captured Marmont's courier and the letter that revealed the marshal's intention to fall back to the Saar River. Karpov's 2,000 Cossacks rode southwest to find Marmont's main force.
St.Priest's (Russian) corps crossed the Rhine in Koblenz and marched down the river. A small detachment of 250 Russians (200 jagers, 25 Cossacks, and 1 gun) ran into a French detachment coming from Bonn. The French were under Jacquinot (from Sebastiani's V Cavalry Corps) and immediately attacked the enemy. The Russians lost their gun and suffered 50 % casualties !
Sacken's Russians using fog to surprise the enemy, drove small French detachments from Bad Durkheim and Alzey. It severed Marmont's communications with Morand's V Army (Infantry) Corps locked in the massive fortress of Mainz.
Blucher halted Yorck's (Prussian) corps for one day, his men needed rest, and the roads were icy. Meanwhile Kaptzevich's Russians crossed the Rhine and besieged Mainz. Langeron dispatched an advance guard (six jager and one cossack regiment, 6 guns) on the road to Bingen. Bingen was surrounded by a wall and a moat. It was defended by 800 men and 2 guns. There were also 200 sick soldiers in hospital. After one hour of fighting the French abandoned Bingen and withdrew toward Mainz. General Olsufiev was ujnured.
Marmont marched on Kaiserslautern, where he arrived on the 4th December.
Marmont was still in Kaiserslautern on the 5th and Blucher hoped to catch up with him. Ricard's and Durutte's infantry divisions also escaped Allies and joined Marmont in Kaiserslautern. The French marshal however realized that Blucher intended to fix his front with the Russians, whereas the Prussians reached the crossings on the Saar before him. Marmont continued the retreat despite the exhaustion of his young soldiers. He left two cuirassier regiments as rearguard, and marched another 23 miles. On the morning of the 6th they finally reached Saar. Yorck's advance guard was 20 miles northeast of Saarbrucken. The 1st Honor Guard Regiment attacked them and the Prussians fell back.
Marshal Marmont besides escaping encirclement by Langeron from the north,
and Sacken from the south, reached Kaiserslautern before Blucher (General Forward)
could arrive. Morand's corps, and one regiment of Honor Guard were left in Mainz.
Blucher's first blow missed Marmont.
During his retreat from the Rhine to the Saar Marmont lost only 1,500 men. His biggest problem however were the deserters. Marmont writes, "All of the soldiers who are not from old France have deserting the flag... All of the Dutchmen who enlisted have now left. The 11th Hussar Regiment, composed mainly of Dutchmen, dissolved instantly, and because the deserters were taking their horses with them, I was forced to put on foot those who were left and to give the horses to the most trusted soldiers."
Marmont issed order to destroy Saarbrucken's bridge and firmly moor all the barges on the Saar (French: Sarre) to the left bank. Marmont collected all troops (12,000 men and 36 guns) available to defend the river. Blucher thought Marmont has more than 15,000 men. The French were very tired and Marmont gave them one day rest. Meanwhile Marmont's force was strengthened by more than 3,000 men sent from Metz. Marmont wanted to deceive Blucher into believeing he would defend the river. The Saar was flooded from melted snow, it made difficult for Allies to construct any new bridges.
Blucher received report that Marmont still occupied Kaiserslautern. Michael Leggiere writes, "According to the locals, Marmont retreated southwest to Homburg on the road to Saarbrucken. This extremely important report, which did not reach Blucher's headquarters until the night of the 6th, would have changed the field marshal's plans had it been forwarded in a timely manner. What did arrive at Silesian Army Headquarters was the report of a staff officer who conducted recoinnaissance south of Kaiserslautern, where the inhabitant informed him that the French still occupied the town. He forwarded this report without personally verifying the intelligence. As a result, the operation against Kaiserslautern continued. Thus, Blucher's first blow in the campaign of 1814 missed and Marmont escaped." The pursuit to cut the French from the Saar failed.
Blucher decided to drive across Saar and reach Metz before Marmont. Yorck's cavalry reconnoitered both downstream and upstream, but could not locate a suitable crossing point. The few fords were defended by fieldworks and guns.
Meanwhile one of Yorck's small detachments reached Trier, held by few French troops.
Blucher and Austrian trickery.
Blucher received letter from Schwarzenberg, the Austrian commander-in-chief.
This letter "contained the seed that later sprouted Prussian accusations that the Austrians purposefully bled dry the
Silesian Army for the sake of post-war leverage at the peace table."
(- Michael Leggiere)
"In this way Schwarzenberg baited Blucher.
Blucher however preferred to drive with his Prussians and Russians deeper into France, rather than unite with the slowly moving and dispersed Austrians. The Prussian tandem (Blucher/Gneisenau) targeted the French army as their main objective.
The Prussians and Russians press on.
The cold returned and the waters receded, now the Allies could utilize the river's many fords. Sacken's Cossacks led by Karpov crossed the Saar immediately and the Prussians light troops were about to follow them. Blucher ordered Yorck's cavalry and one battery of horse artillery to cross the river on 10 January, and together with Cossacks, block Marmont's retreat to Metz. The marshal decided to evacuate the line of the Saar on the 9th and fall back on Metz fortress. His rearguard was formed by 10th Hussar Regiment.
Michael Leggiere writes, "Rather than defend the river or attack one of Blucher's corps as it crossed, Marmont chose to retreat. A pitched battle with the Silesian Army never crossed his mind - as well it should not have, consideting the mission the marshal believed he had to complete and the numerical inferiority of his forces. Delivering his cadres to the haven of Metz remained Marmont's priority ... Marmont would have served his master far better if he had contested the Saar and waged a war of attrition west of the Moselle rather than uncovering the border of old France. Napoleon's absence from the front and the time required for communicatiuons between the master and his lieutenants severely impeded the defense of the frontiers. How much territory would the marshals surrender before the emperor finally left Paris to take personal command of the army ?"
French mines partially destroyed the stone bridge in Saarbrucken. Thus the Prussian engineers constructed two bridges, a footbridge for infantry and a trestle bridge for artillery. Yorck's troops began crossing on the 10th.
Marmont was on his way to Metz, with his troops marching in good order.
Blucher failed to catch up with Marmont for the following reasons:
Unfortunately Marmont's speedy retreat triggered a panic among the French civil officials that caused imperial authority to collapse, thus robbing Napoleon of manpower, revenue, and material. "The least disturbing rumor prompts them (civilian authorities) to flee, which spreads alarm throughout the land." (- Armand Caulaincourt)
To Schwarzenberg, Blucher's headlong advance must have seemed rash to the verge of madness, and indeed the Austrian commander had some grounds for his strictures. "The Army of Silesia was now divided into three portions, the leading corps, under Blucher (Sacken's Russians(, being between the Aube and the Marne; the next corps, under Yorck, was on the Moselle, and the third still on the march from the Rhine. In fact, before many days had passed, the impetous leader of the army of Silesia was only saved from what might have been serious disaster by one of those trivial accidents which so often exercise a vital influence on the fortunes of a campaign." (- Frederick Maycock)
Blucher's Army of Silesia was now divided into three isolated forces. Sacken was in Nancy.
Yorck's corps was stretched across a long front and charged with operations against fortresses.
Langeron's Russians were far behind Sacken and Yorck, still on the march from the Rhine.
If Marmont and Victor united their forces they could kick the Old Forward between the legs.
To the slow and timid Schwarzenberg, Blucher's headlong advance must have seemed rash
to the verge of madness . If Napoleon was there Blucher would pay dearly for his mistake .
Military operations on the Upper Rhine (South)
The theater of war on the upper Rhine in 1814 encompassed Switzerland, Vosges Mountains and Alsace. The Upper Rhine (German: Oberrhein) is the part of the Rhine that flows northbound after Basel, to Strasbourg. The largest cities: Strasbourg, Basel, and Freiburg.
The Vosges Mountains extend along the west side of the Rhine valley in a north-north-east direction. The rounded summits of the Higher Vosges are called ballons in French or "balloons". On the eastern slope vineyards reach to a height of 400 m (1300 ft.) The green meadows provided pasture for herds of cattle, with views of the Rhine valley, and the distant snow-covered Swiss mountains.
Alsace is located on Rhine left bank. Alsatians played an active role in the French Revolution. In 1789, after receiving news of the Storming of the Bastille in Paris a crowd of people stormed the Strasbourg city hall, forcing the city administrators to flee and putting symbolically an end to the feudal system in Alsace.At the same time, some Alsatians were sympathetic to the invading Austrian and Prussian armies who sought to crush the nascent revolutionary republic. Although Alsace has been a German language speaking region, today (2009) Alsatians speak French, the official language of the country they have been a part of for most of the past three centuries.
"In the days just prior to the invasion, Allied commanders attempted to induce the commandants of Huningue, Neuf-Brisach, and its outworks on the right bank of the Rhine, Ft. Mortier, to surrender. ... Failing to bribe the French commandants with gold, commissions in the Coalition armies, and even Austrian decorations, a detachment of 500 to 600 men from Gyulay's III (Austrian) Corps crossed the Rhine on the night of 17018 December to attempt a coup de main at Neuf-Brisach. Although a dense fog allowed the Austrians to surprise the French forward posts, they wasting time pillaging the suburb of Geiswasser. After having lost the element of surprise, the Austrians did not wait to be attacked and recrossed the Rhine with their loot of linen, calves, and goats. ..." ( Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon")
Allies enter Switzerland and advance into France.
After some negotiations the Swiss agreed to witdraw their troops from the Rhine and relinquish the city of Basel to the
Allies. Most of the Army of Bohemia moved into Switzerland, while Schwarzenberg established his headquarters in
Freiburg. Suddenly the Austrians were everywhere in Switzerland making the surprised Tzar
quite upset. Alexander said to Metternich, "you have grieved me in a way that you can never repair."
We enter Swiss territory as freinds and liberators.
Your conduct must be appropriate for this role."
The French fortress of Huningue.
On 17-18 December the Austrians attempted to surprise the French battery "on the isle of Cordononniers that faced Huningue by crossing the Rhine in barges. Another Vauban fortress, Huningue stood on on the left bank of the Rhine, one mile downstream of Basel. ... The detachment guarding the isle belonged to the 675-man National Guard Legion of the Lower Rhine. Described by a contemporary as 'superb and animated by the best spirit,' the guardsmen charged the Austrians before they could clamber out of their boats. After sustaining several casualties, the Austrians paddled away as fast as they could." ( Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon")
The Emperor appointed his ADC, General Pierre François Dejean, as the commander of Huningue. Between 1802 and 1810 Dejean was the Minister of Administration of War. He was still on the way while the enemy besieged the fortress.
On 20 December Schwarzenberg issued orders to his army for the crossing of Rhine and advance into France.
From the Huningue fortress' walls, the French observed masses of Austrian and Bavarian troops. The Bavarians were under General Wrede. Wrede assigned the task of storming Huningue on the left bank to Bavarian division under Becker. (In two days however only half of Becker's division would be left to continue the siege.) Six Wurzburger battalions operated against the fortress on the right bank. Wrede surveyed the fortifications of Huningue twice and was convinced that the fortress was virtually unassailable. To Wrede's great disappointment the French commander, Colonel Chancel, rejected a demand to surrender Huningue. Chancel ordered his 3,000 men to get ready for a fight, then he ordered to raze the trees and fences and to burn houses that were too close to the walls of the fortress.
Huningue (or Hüningen)
It was fortified by Vauban and a bridge was built across the Rhine.
The city of Basel was well within range of French heavy artillery.
French resistance in Alsace.
While one of Wrede's Bavarian divisions under Becker besieged Huningue, another division under Rechberg moved against Belfort. The 500 men of Civic Guard (without infantry muskets), and the depots of the 63rd Line Infantry and 14th Chasseurs (without horses) provided the fortress' garrison. The French commander however refused to surrender. Delamotte's Bavarian division had more luck, they captured small magazines at Lausanne and Blamont with 23 guns and ammunition. Behind the Bavarians marched Frimont's two Austrian division. Frimont crossed the bridge in Basel on the 24th, and proceded north to Mulhouse and Colmar.
A flying column under Scheibler was detached from Frimont's force and
speedily moved through Mulhouse to Colmar. It consisted of two Cossack regiments (780 men) and some Bavarians and Austrians (250 men).
They have captured a convoy of 12 ammunition wagons, arrested the local French authorities
in Colmar, and demanded provisions. Scheibler learned that Milhaud's cavalry would reach the city
so he abandoned it and forwarded this information to Wrede.
The French dragoons cornered the elusive and annoying
Cossacks near St. Croix, and put them to the sword.
Montelegier's 2nd Brigade (2nd, 6th, 11th Dragoon Regiment) left Colmar and near St.Croix met Scheibler's flying column. The Cossacks, Bavarians and Austrians threw back the 2nd and 6th Dragoons. The 11th Dragoons however countercharged and overwhelmed the enemy. The Allies rallied. But when Collaert's 1st Brigade appeared on Scheibler's line of retreat, the Bavarians and Austrians began their withdrawal. The Cossacks attempted to flee but were cornered by the dragoons and many were cut down. The Bavarians and Austrians lost order and fled with the dragoons hot on their heels. To Schleiber's horror the inhabitants of St.Croix barricaded the streets and opened fire. The Allies had to force their way through the town. They lost 210 killed while the French dragoons suffered only 80 killed. Scheibler received 3 saber cuts but somehow managed to escape.
Milhaud learned from his patrols and from civilians
that approx. 100,000 Allies troops crossed the Rhine at Basel.
And that his victory at St.Croix did not prevent the Allies from "creeping closer to Colmar."
Milhaud was joined by General Dejean who was en route to the fortress of Huningue.
Dejean was unable to go any furter and remained with Milhaud.
To calm down the marshal a little bit, Napoleon informed him that the Young Guard would occupy the passes of the Vosges Mountains. The 1st Old Guard Division and the 1st Guard Cavalry Division received orders to procede to Langres Plateau (for Austrians the "Master Point of France").
Schwarzenberg press the panick button.
At Schwarzenberg's headquarters the loss of Colmar, and the defeat at St. Croix (described above) took on tragic proportions.
The commander in chief thought that Milhaud's dragoons were the advance guard of the French army
led by Napoleon himself. Was Napoleon ready to cross the Rhine in Strasbourg and attack
his flank and rear ?!
To make things even more confusing for Schwarzenberg, Allies cavalry patrols provided
contradictory details that exaggerated the strength of Victor's army.
To improve the situation Schwarzenberg issued order for the organization of six flying columns
and more cavalry patrols:
Schwarzenberg ordered the IV Army Corps under Crown Prince of Wurttemberg (14,000 Wurttembergers with 24 guns) to march rapidly to Freiburg
and then cross the Rhine and support Wrede (34,000 Bavarians with 124 guns, and Frimont's 9,000 Austrians with 48 guns).
Michael Leggiere writes, "A desperate Schwarzenberg appeared ready to sacrifice all of Metternich's meticulous work by summoning Blucher, Gneisenau, and the rest of the war-mongering Prussians across the Rhine. ... Blucher did not have to be asked twice to cross the Rhine." :-)
The Tzar enters France.
The Tzar joined Schwarzenberg in Freiburg and then followed the
Austrians to Basel. The Russian monarch had in his immediate disposal only the
Reserves under Grand Duke Constantine. They were the flower of Russian Imperial army.
Platov's Cossacks crossed the Rhine at Basel on 1 January. Then they passed the IV Army Corps and crossed into Lorraine. Platov headed toward Epinal.
Schwarzenberg ordered Wittgenstein's (Russian) force to cross the Rhine.
In two days Schwarzenberg ordered to turn over the investment of Strasbourg to Badenese troops and march west.
Russian and Austrian troops enter France in Jan 1814.
Tsar Alexander in green uniform and on white horse,
followed by Colonel of Lifeguard Cossacks in red coat.
Cossacks in France .
The Cossacks spread terror and began pillaging the frontier already in the first days of
the campaign. The rear-area security and communication became incresingly problematic for
On the 7th approx. 200 Cossacks entered Rambervillers and seized the mayor
of the town until the townspeople complied with their demands.
To stop the Cossacks General Grouchy moved Briche's 3rd Dragoon Division (1,600 men) to Rambervillers.
The cavalry was enthusiastically received by the townspeople while the startled Cossacks fled.
Jamin's 1st Division was on the road from Nancy to Rambervillers.
The Cossacks captured the prefect of the Vosges Department, Mr de Flegny,
Platov's Cossacks terrorized the population around Epinal. Pire's cavalry attacked one of Cossacks detachments but the enemy fled as best they could.
Another group of Cossacks captured an officer carrying a letter to Marshal Victor.
Cossacks and Bashkirs attack Napoleon and his staff near Brienne.
"Ah, my task is formidale ... "
Learning about Wittgenstein's crossing, Marshal Victor sent an urgent dispatch to Marshal Marmont (who defended the middle Rhine) to unite their forces. He also asked Napoleon to support him with 30,000 men. Then on 2 January word reached Victor that Blucher's Army fo Silesia had crossed the Rhine further downstream and severed his communications with Marmont. Victor's universe was shattered.
In contrast with the marshal, General Milhaud thought about fighting. In Colmar stood Milhaud's force of 3,000 cavalry (majority were dragoons) and 1,500 infantry. Schwarzenberg ordered Wrede to gather his Bavarians and move against Milhaud. The Wuerttemburgers and some of the Austrian troops were getting ready to support Wrede. Marshal Victor however chose to evacuate Colmar and instructed Milhaud to fall back and unite with him. On the 5th the marshal issued order for the II Infantry Corps and V Cavalry Corps to evacuate Alsace.
Schwarzenberg assigned the best and most powerful of the Austrian corps,
the Reserve Corps under Hessen-Homburg, to the siege of Besancon.
Hessen-Homburg was to be supported by the II Army Corps under Liechtensiten
and the 2nd Light Division. Michael Leggiere writes that Schwarzenberg's decisions
"illustrates his senseless prudence." (- Leggiere, p 269)
- Marshal Victor failed to support the Alsatians.
The Alsatian peasants could have built palisades and trenches, guard the passes through
the Vosges, etc.
- Wrede, the general whom Napoleon routed at Hanau in 1813,
acted too timidly. He would only emerge from the Vosges Mountains with one division.
Schwarzenberg's strategy and leadership however corresponded to the goals of Austrian politics.
Marshal Ney fails to defend central France.
After the cordon along the Rhine River had fallen, Napoleon placed the defense of central France
in the hands of Marshal Ney, nicknamed "The Bravest of the Brave."
Ney first informed the emperor that he had not received his salary in 5 months
and asked Napoleon to pay his expenses. But the emperor offered no response.
Marshal Michel Ney (1769 - 1815)
Ney was one of the most popular Napoleonic marshals.
He was known as Le Rougeaud or "Ruddy" by his men
and nicknamed "The bravest of the brave" by Napoleon.
He was described as being a very brave man
but also touchy, quarrelsome and thoroughly
insubordinate to any commander but Napoleon himself.
Napoleon expected Ney to concentrate Victor's and Marmont's armies, exploit his central position around Metz and along the Moselle River, and use interior lines to stop the Allies.
Blucher planned to march on Metz with 50,000 of his veterans and hit the weak enemy very hard.
(He thought that in Metz assembled more than 40,000 raw conscripts.)
Blucher and Gneisenau wanted to establish a huge depot for their Prusso-Russian army
If Ney managed to concentrate strong force, Blucher would maneuver until Wrede's Bavarians or
Wittgenstein's Russians arrived. The Old Forward still had no clue that Schwarzenberg sent the two
southwest instead of northwest.
Metternich (Austrian minister of foreign affairs) hoped to stop Blucher by urging the King of Prussia to issue orders for the Prusso-Russian army to stop at Metz, this ploy failed.
On 11 January Prussian patrols reached Moselle River and then rode close to Metz. On 12 January Marmont's troops reached the suburbs of Metz. Marmont's fate was now in Victor's hands (Victor had to hold Nancy and the upper Moselle.) MacDonald was near Mezieres.
The French detachment in Epinal defended the town only for few hours before leaving it to the Bavarians, Wurttembergers, and Cossacks. Then the Wurttembergers left for Langres, the Cossacks bands moved between Meuse and Moselle, and the Bavarians occupied Epinal and its surroundings. Ney reached conclusion that in this situation any lingering in Nancy would be useless. Under the cover of Meunier's 1st Voltigeur Division (Young Guard) Ney's troops evacuated Nancy. Soon Victor's troops reached the city before leaving it in the night. The withdrawal made a negative impression on the townspeople and "caused general dejection" according to Caulaincourt.
To Ney's surprise the Allies neither followed him nor attempted to take Nancy.
The enemy was moving in a snail pace, and only a small Allies detachment reached the
city on the 14th. The enemy entered the capital of Lorraine without firing a shot.
Ney left Nancy "without removing or destroying
the harnessing gear in the remount depots,
the cartridge magazines, and tobacco store valued at 6 million francs; Dejean had suggested
distributing several pounds to each soldier and giving the rest to the population rather than leave it to the enemy.
More important, Ney neglected to destroy the bridges at Frouard and Bouxieres just north of Nancy."
(Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon" p 368)
On 14 Jnauary Marshal Augereau arrived at Lyon, to plan the defense of France's second city.
On the 16th patrols from Bubna's (Austrian) Light Division proceeded all the way to the walls of Lyon. Soon a sharp skirmishing erupted between Bubna's and Augereau's posts.
After Marshal Victor left Nancy, Marshal Marmont decided to depart Metz (the city was evacuated but not the fortress). Marmont took Doumerc's I Cavalry Corps, Decouz's 2nd Voltigeur Division (Young Guard), and Lagrange's infantry division and left the city on 16 January. Yorck's Reserve Cavalry led by Jurgass could not cross the Moselle on the 16th to pursue Marmont but instead had to ride to Pont-a-Mousson, which caused a delay. Marmont withdrawal forced other French troops to abandon the line of Moselle.
The emperor raged over the wimpiness of Marmont and Victor and the abandonment of the Moselle without a fight. Marshal Berthier, Napoleon's chief-of-staff, writes, "His Majesty orders you not to quit the Moselle unless you are defeated. ... Above all he is very troubled to see that you evacuated Nancy because of the arrival of enemy's cavalry without awaiting the infantry." Berthier wrote Marmont, "... nothing is more ridiculous than the way this marshal (Victor) is evacuating the countryside ..."
On the 16th Napoleon authorized Caulaincourt to seek an armistice.
Blucher was ecstatic, he writes, "The iron is hot, in a few months there must be peace ..."
Blucher informed the Tzar about his acomplishments and
The Prussians however failed to intimidate the garrisons of Luxemborg, Thionville and Metz. The garrison of Thionville (6,000 men under Hugo) launched sorties on the 17th and 22nd. (On the 22nd approx. 500 Frenchmen battled for six hours with two battalions of Landwehr.) The garrison of Metz (12,000 men under Durutte) launched several sorties. General Yorck wrote Blucher, "I cannot refrain from expressing that the garrison of Metz in particular appears to be very dangerous to our communications." The garrison of Saarlouis also resisted the enemy.
Based on Bulow's success against the Dutch forts, Field Marshal Blucher expected Yorck to
succeed. Blucher and Gneisenau however wanted the fortresses invested by few troops only and still have
Yorck's Prussians and Sacken's Russians available for a decisive battle as soon as possible.
The fortresses would be taken by Langeron's Russians who formed Blucher's second line.
The Old Guard defend the Langres
The emperor originally directed the Old Guard to Belgium before ordering them south to Langres Plateau. The veterans crossed the Ardennes Mountains, and then the western Lorraine, and on the 10th they started arriving at Langres. The first to enter the town was the elite 1st Guard Cavalry Division (3,000 men) under General Leveque. The population greeted the veterans with joy. Next came the flower of the French infantry, the 1st Old Guard Infantry Division (4,800 men) under General Friant. They were followed by the superb Guard Artillery (60 guns). Marshal Mortier arrived on the 12th.
The Old Guard was exhausted after marching non stop for 15 days.
The presence of the Old Guard indicated to Schwarzenberg that the emperor himself would soon arrive at Langres.
Marshal Mortier (1768-1835)
Marshal Mortier was a giant man of friendly character
son of a wealthy French merchant and English mother.
As a modest and honest man he surpassed all marshals
in 1814.For his battlefield exploits he was awarded with
the command of the Old Guard.
On the 12th a small detachment of Old Guard found 5,000 Austrian infantry, artillery and light cavalry on the highway to Vesoul.
The Austrians easily routed the enemy and pursued them with 300 men and 4 guns.
Marshal Mortier dispatched 200-300 foot grenadiers and chasseurs to take care of the pursuers.
Mortier sent several cavalry patrols in various directions. Their agressive actions surprised and intimidated the enemy. Austrian General Giulay had no clear idea of the size of Mortier's force and decided to stop his advance on Langres and wait for reinforcements. Meanwhile Mortier learned from his cavalry patrols of enemy's strength and location. The marshal realized the Allies were moving on his center and both flanks.
Mortier decided to evacuate Langres on the 17th. The marshal complained that after the Old Guard left the townpeople of Langres voluntarily opened the gates to the Allies.
The fresh Wuerttembergers decided to pursue the Old Guard.
Ney's impotence convinced Mortier to continue his retreat and save Napoleon's best troops.
Schwarzenberg entered Langres on the 18th, he has achieved his strategic goal.
Exhausted veteran of Old Guard,
picture by Keith Rocco.
"The Emperor Napoleon is now cooked
On 18 January Marshal Marmont arrived in Verdun on the Meuse River.
Blucher received news from the north that Wintzingerode's Russians are pursuing MacDonald's army and started their march to Liege. In the south Schwarzenberg's army reached the Langres Plateau. It appeared that all the pieces were falling into place. Blucher was delighted.
Napoleon was fed up with his marshals and decided to leave Paris and join the field army. On January 25 he climbed into his carriage to travel to the front. Blucher writes, "The Emperor Napoleon is now cooked well-done and can no longer resist."
Napoleon's ADC, General Dejean, warned the emperor over the conducts of the three marshals.
He wrote, "It is of the greatest urgency that a single person has the command here, because the marshals can not
nor will not cooperate." Victor's behavior bordered on insubordination.
If Marmont and Victor united their forces on Moselle, they could kick the
Old Forward between the legs. Blucher had two corps in the first line, Yorck's and Sacken's.
Yorck's corps was stretched across a front of 70 miles and charged with operations against
several French fortresses. Yorck had neither siege artillery to break any of the forts
nor bridging equipment to cross the river immediately and pursue the enemy.
If Schwarzenberg decided to continue his offensive instead of halting in Langres, the result would have been the destruction of Ney, Marmont and Victor. The Austrian commander in chief intentionally wasted the opportunity to end the war in January. Perhaps realizing the basic fact that the chances of outmaneuvering Napoleon never favored an opposing commander, he hope Metternich would end the war at the peace table. It infuriated the Tzar who openly charged Schwarzenberg with sabotaging the war effort.
Napoleon arrives and assumes the offensive.
Napoleon had appointed his wife, Marie Louise, as regent and had left Paris to place himself at the head of the French army. From the beginning of this campaign Napoleon had "put on his Italian boots" and disconcerted the Allies by the rapidity of his maneuvers. He was able to race from one Aliies' army to the other and confront them successively.
"It was during the Tzar Alexander's stay at Langres that Napoleon quitted Paris for the army.
He had put off his departure from day to day, waiting
for the arrival of troops from Spain, and for the results of his exertions in the formation and equipment of armies:
but receiving daily reports of the rapid advance of the Allies into the heart of France, it was impossible for him to
remain longer in Paris, and he therefore resolved to open the campaign, though his preparations
for war were not yer completed. ...
The emperor arrived to Chalons to the cries of the townpeople Vive l'Empereur ! The army was overjoyed, the trumpets sounded, the drums beat, and the regimental colours were unfurled. The young French soldiers were greatly discouraged by the retreat and the weather, but the arrival of the Emperor revived their drooping spirits. The frost had broken and they struggled painfully forward along the country roads, knee-deep in mud. The artillery would never have got through the woods at all, had not the peasants brought in their farm horses and even harnessed themselves to the guns.
Napoleon had only some 60,000 men available for field operations:
"Napoleon spent the night o the 25th in receiving reports from his generals ... and though he had only
some 65,000 men available, including Mortier's detachment toward Troyes, he wisely determined to strike at once,
before his opponents became aware of his proximity. ...
Part of Blucher's army still lay quite unconscious of the proximity of their opponents.
There was a small combat at St.Dizier but the Old Forward had looked upon this affair
as an unimportant cavalry combat. It was only the fortunate capture of French despatch enlightened him as
to the presence of Napoleon.
Blucher had only 25,000 men at Trannes (south of Brienne and La Rothiere) and lost touch with the reminder of this army,
consequently, Schwarzenberg determined to join him with part of his mighty army and the
Russian Guards. Soon the Allies had 100,000 men at Trannes.
The emperor finally left P a r i s to place himself at the head of the field army.
He had "put on his Italian boots" and disconcerted the Allies by the rapidity
of his maneuvers. The emperor immediately placed himself between Sacken
and Yorck, cutting Blucher's army in half !
The warlike Sacken was isolated and Yorck was unable to join him because
Marmont blocked his road. To rescue the Old Forward's army from a disaster
the timid Schwarzenberg moved his army from Langres toward La Rothiere.
Napoleon's victory at Brienne.
Blucher posted Olsufiev's (Russian) IX Infantry Corps (two divisions) at Brienne.
Pahlen's (Russian) Cavalry Corps was to deploy to the north-east.
When Grouchy debouched from the Bois d'Ajou Wood he found himself opposed to Pahlen's cavalry.
It was not until 3 PM that he felt himself strong enough to attack. Pahlen fell back through Brienne
to take position south of the town.
Both, Napoleon and Blucher, were compelled to bring their troops into action piecemeal; the former because, if he was to gain the tactical result he hoped for,
he was bound to begin early, before Blucher could slip away.
Marshal Ney arrived with two divisions of the Young Guard. He then led 6 battalions against Brienne, attacking the town by the Mezieres Road, while Duhesme renewed his attack from the wood.
Pahlen's cavalry charged Duhesme in left flank. Duhesme's division lost 8 guns and was driven in confusion on the Young Guard. "Napoleon certainly made a grave tactical mistake in keeping all his cavalry on the right, whilst Blucher's was all on the opposing wing. There was all on the opposing wing. There was thus no cavalry to protect Duhesme's left as he advanced on Brienne. The French attack wwas completely driven back by the success of the Russian cavalry which Blucher used with great wisdom and just at the psychological moment." (Petre - "Napoleon at bay, 1814" p 24)
Darkness fell and the fighting stopped. Blucher thinking the combat is over for the day, retired to the chateau near Brienne. He was almost caught by the French who entered the chateau by an unguarded road. Victor's infantry then stormed Brienne itself and drove the Russians almost completely from it.
Blucher ordered Sacken to retake Brienne, while Olsufiev stormed the chateau. By midnight Sacken finally captured most of the town. Olsufiev however failed in taking the chateau. "The day had cost each side about 3000 men. On the French side Admiral Baste was killed, and Decouz mortally wounded. ... Blucher now ordered a silent retreat from Brienne on Bassancourt, covered by the cavalry. This was unmolested by the French who only reentered Brienne at 4 AM." (Petre - "Napoleon at bay, 1814" p 23)
The Emperor was unfortunate in just missing the capture of Blucher and the chief-of-staff of the Prussian army, General Gneisenau. Petre writes, "It is almost impossible to estimate the influence on the whole campaign which would have been exercised by the capture of these two generals, representing as they did almost the whole of the energy and determination on the side of the Allies."
Battle of Brienne, 1814
On the morning of the 30th Blucher fell back on La Rothiere, and then on Trannes Heights. He appeared to intend holding fast. His positions were unaltered on the next day. On the 31st the Allies decided to attack Napoleon and the command was delegated to Blucher, perhaps largely with the idea of placating him. The Old Forward was to be allowed to "try a battle."
Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon" (excellent book)
Lefebvre - "Napoleon from Tilsit to Waterloo"
Heath - "La Rothiere 1814"
Petre - "Napoleon at Bay, 1814" publ. in 1977
Houssaye - "1814"
Maycock - "The invasion of France, 1814"
Georges Blond - "La Grande Armee" publ. in 1995
Houssaye - "Napoleon and the campaign of 1814" publ. 1914
Mikhailovski-Danilevski - "History of the Campaign in France"
The Department of History at the US Military Academy.
Conlon - "The Historical Impact of Epidemic Thyphus"
Napoleon, His Army and Enemies