Battle of Dresden, 26-27 August 1813

Battle of Dresden, 26-27 August 1813

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Battle of Dresden, 26-27 August 1813

The only French victory of the Leipzig campaign and Napoleon's last on German soil, the battle of Dresden was Napoleon at far from his best. Marching against Napoleon the Allies had massed 80,000 men at the gates of Dresden by 25th August and if they had moved quickly they could have re-taken the city from the French, instead as often throughout the Napoleonic wars politics hindered the Allies, slowing them. The Allies halted for a council of war, this was a multinational army with all 3 Allied Monarchs present (Emperor Francis of Austria, Tsar Alexander of Russia and King Frederick William III of Prussia) each with their own objectives in the campaign and the Allied commander Marshal Prince Karl Von Schwarzenberg would often have his hands tied during the campaign.

The Town of Dresden was fortified to some extent with outlying areas being prepared with loopholes and firing steps and barricades. That said the defensive line was 8 km long and the French commander St Cyr had too few men to defend it, fact he had only one man per ten paces in most areas. Had the Allies acted quickly they would have overwhelmed the French but they were slow to act and lacked any real leadership. The attack began at 5 am on 26 August as Prussian troops advanced through the Royal gardens despite tough French opposition. As the Allies attacked it became obvious from the shouts of Vive l'Empereur that the French garrison was being reinforced, Napoleon had arrived. His mere presence spooked the Allies who now called for a withdraw (except Frederick William of Prussia), their attacks continued throughout the day on the 26th August and just as the Allies were on the verge of entering the town Napoleon ordered his 70,000 troops to attack.

The fighting that followed was bloody and slowly the French drove the Allies back. That night the Allies could reflect on their failure to enter the town as without clear leadership coordinating their attacks on an 8 km front his proved impossible. The next day (27 August) Napoleon attacked the now demoralised Allied flanks with a 6 am attack lead by two divisions of his Young Guard. The Allies planned to counter attack but several of their commanders were either injured or hesitated and their chance was lost. By 3pm the Allied left flank was beaten and they struggled to disengage in the thick mud, by 4pm the Allies were retreating not only away from Dresden but back to the safety of Bohemia leaving behind 38,000 killed, captured or wounded. General Dominique Vandammme tried to pursue the fleeing Allies but Napoleon failed to support him and he was cut off at the battle of Kulm two days later.

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Battle of Dresden, 26-27 August 1813 - History

Allied Order-of-Battle at Dresden: 26 - 27 August 1813: The Army Reserve

Army Reserve

Barclay de Tolly, GI Mikhail Bogdanovich, Count
Sabaneev, GL Ivan Vasilievich: Chief-of-Staff
Jachwill, GL: Chief-of-Artillery
Sivers, GM Egor Karlovich: Chief-of-Engineers

Right Wing [Russian]

24 battalions, 3 squadrons and 36 guns in 3 batteries

Wittgenstein, GC Ludwig-Adolf-Peter [Petr Christianovich], Graf von

Ingermannland Dragoon Regiment: 3 squadrons

Bug Cossack Regiment Nr. 2

Olonetz Opolochenie Battalion

Vologda Opolochenie Battalion

Advanced Guard
Roth, GM

Jager Regiment 20: 3 battalions

Jager Regiment 21: 1 battalion

Jager Regiment 24: 2 battalions

Jager Regiment 25: 2 battalions

Jager Regiment 26: 2 battalions

Selenginsk Infantry Regiment: 2 battalions

Light Battery Nr. 6: 12 guns

I Corps [part]

Gorchakov, GL Andrei Ivanovich, Count

5 th Division
Mezentov, GM

Infantry Brigade
Lukov, GM

Perm Infantry Regiment: 2 battalions

Mohilev Infantry Regiment: 2 battalions

Jager Regiment 23: 2 battalions

Infantry Brigade
Vlassov, GM

Kaluga Infantry Regiment: 2 battalions

Sievesk Infantry Regiment: 2 battalions

Position Battery Nr. 3: 12 guns

Light Battery Nr. 7: 12 guns

Left Wing [Prussian II Corps]

41 battalions, 32 squadrons and 112 guns in 14 batteries

Kleist, GL Friedrich-Heinrich von
Tippelskirsch, OB Ernst-Ludwig von: Chief-of-Staff

9 th Infantry Brigade
Klux, GM Franz-Friedrich-Karl-Ernst von/Schumalensee, OBL von

West Prussian Infantry Regiment Nr. 1: 3 battalions

Reserve Infantry Regiment Nr. 6: 3 battalions

Silesian Landwehr Infantry Regiment Nr. 7: 4 battalions

½ Silesian Schutzen Battalion

6-pdr Foot Battery Nr. 7: 8 guns

Attached unit

Neumark Dragoon Regiment: 4 squadrons

10 th Infantry Brigade
Pirch, GM Georg von/Jagow
OBL Friedrich-Wilhelm-Christian-Ludwig von

West Prussian Infantry Regiment Nr. 2: 3 battalions

Reserve Infantry Regiment Nr. 7: 3 battalions

Silesian Landwehr Infantry Regiment Nr. 9: 4 battalions

6-pdr Foot Battery Nr. 14: 8 guns

11 th Infantry Brigade
Zeiten, GM Hans-Ernst-Karl von
Carnall, OBL Arvid-Konrad von

Silesian Infantry Regiment Nr. 1: 3 battalions

Silesian Landwehr Infantry Regiment Nr. 8: 4 battalions

Reserve Infantry Regiment Nr. 10: 3 battalions

½ Silesian Schutzen Battalion

6-pdr Foot Battery Nr. 9: 8 guns

Attached unit

Silesian Hussar Regiment Nr. 1: 4 squadrons

12 th Infantry Brigade
Prussen, GM August-Friedrich-Wilhelm-Heinrich
Prinz von/Funck, OBL Friedrich-Wilhelm von

Silesian Infantry Regiment Nr. 2: 3 battalions

Silesian Landwehr Infantry Regiment Nr. 10: 4 battalions

Reserve Infantry Regiment Nr. 11: 3 battalions

6-pdr Foot Battery Nr. 13: 8 guns

Attached unit

Silesian Landwehr Cavalry Regiment Nr. 1: 4 squadrons

Reserve Cavalry
Roder, GM Friedrich-Erhard-Leopold von

Cavalry Brigade
Wrangel, OB August-Friedrich-Ludwig von

East Prussian Cuirassier Regiment: 4 squadrons

Brandenburg Cuirassier Regiment: 4 squadrons

Cavalry Brigade
Hake, OBL Georg-Leopold-Gustav-August, Graf von*

Silesian Cuirassier Regiment: 4 squadrons

Silesian Uhlan Regiment: 4 squadrons

2nd Silesian Hussar Regiment: 2 squadrons

Cavalry Brigade
Mutius, OB Johann-Karl-Jakob von

Silesian National Cavalry Regiment: 2 squadrons

Silesian Landwehr Cavalry Regiment Nr. 7: 4 squadrons**

Silesian Landwehr Cavalry Regiment Nr. 8: 4 squadrons**

Horse Battery Nr. 7: 8 guns

Horse Battery Nr. 8: 8 guns

II Corps Reserve Artillery: 8 batteries [64 guns]

Lehmann, Major Gottlieb-Peter***

12-pdr Foot Battery Nr. 3: 8 guns

12-pdr Foot Battery Nr. 6: 8 guns

6-pdr Foot Battery Nr. 8: 8 guns

6-pdr Foot Battery Nr. 9: 8 guns

6-pdr Foot Battery Nr. 10: 8 guns

6-pdr Foot Battery Nr. 11: 8 guns

6-pdr Foot Battery Nr. 21: 8 guns

7-pdr Howitzer Battery Nr. 1: 8 guns

29 battalions and 44 guns in 4 batteries

Miloradovitch, GI Mikhail Andreevich
Sipiagin, Colonel Nikolai Martemianovich: Chief-of-Staff

2 nd Guards Division
Udom I, GM

Russian Guard Brigade
Krishanovsky, Colonel

Lithuanian Guard Infantry Regiment: 3 battalions

Finland Guard Infantry Regiment: 3 battalions

Russian Guard Brigade
Scheltuchin II, GM

Leib-Garde Infantry Regiment: 2 battalions

Pavlov Guard Grenadier Regiment: 2 battalions

Euler, GM

Guard Light Battery Nr. 2: 12 guns

Prussian Guard Brigade
Alvensleben, OBL Johann-Friedrich-Karl-Gebhard von

Garde zu Fuss Regiment Nr. 1: 3 battalions

Garde zu Fuss Regiment Nr. 2: 3 battalions

Garde Jager Battalion

6-pdr Garde Foot Battery Nr. 4: 8 guns

III Grenadier Corps [part]
Raevsky, GM Nikolai Nikolaevich

1 st Grenadier Division
Tschoglikov, GM

Grenadier Brigade
Zwielikov, GM

Ekaterinoslav Grenadier Regiment: 2 battalions

Count Arakcheyev Grenadier Regiment: 2 battalions

Grenadier Brigade
Acht, Colonel

Tauride Grenadier Regiment: 2 battalions

St. Petersburg Grenadier Regiment: 2 battalions

Grenadier Brigade
Yemelianov, Colonel

Pernau Grenadier Regiment: 2 battalions

Kexholm Grenadier Regiment: 2 battalions


Position Battery Nr. 33: 12 guns

Light Battery Nr. 14: 12 guns

Reserve Cavalry

67 squadrons and 36 guns in 4 batteries

Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia

Guard Light Cavalry Division
Chevich, GM

Cavalry Brigade
Tchailikov, GM

Guard Hussar Regiment: 6 Squadrons

Guard Dragoon Regiment: 6 Squadrons

Don Guard Cossack Regiment

Cossack Brigade
Illowaiski, GM

Ataman Cossack Regiment

Illowaiski Nr. 12 Cossack Regiment

Rebrejev Nr. 3 Cossack Regiment

Don Cossack Horse Battery Nr. 1: 12 guns

Prussian Guard Cavalry Brigade
Werder, OB Hans-Ernst-Christoph von

Garde du Corps Regiment: 4 squadrons

Light Garde Cavalry Regiment: 6 squadrons.

Guard Horse Battery Nr. 4: 8 guns

Cavalry Corps

1 st Cuirassier Division
Depreradovich, GM Nikolai Ivanovich

Cavalry Brigade
Arseniev, GM

Chevalier Guard Regiment: 6 squadrons

Horse Guard Regiment: 6 squadrons

Cavalry Brigade
Rosen, GM Andrei Fedorovich, Baron von

Leibgarde Cuirassier Regiment: 3 squadrons

Guard Horse Battery Nr. 1: 8 guns

Guard Horse Battery Nr. 2: 8 guns

2 nd Cuirassier Division
Kretov, GM

Cavalry Brigade
Leontiev, GM

Gluchov Cuirassier Regiment: 5 squadrons

Pskov Cuirassier Regiment: 3 squadrons

Cavalry Brigade
Karatiev, GM

Astrakhan Cuirassier Regiment: 3 squadrons

Ekaterinoslav Cuirassier Regiment: 3 squadrons

3 rd Cuirassier Division
Duka, GM Ilia Mikhailovich

Cavalry Brigade
Gudovich, GM Nikolai Nikolaiovich

Military Order Cuirassier Regiment: 4 squadrons

Little Russia Cuirassier Regiment: 4 squadrons

Cavalry Brigade
Levaschov, GM

Novgorod Cuirassier Regiment: 4 squadrons

Starodoub Cuirassier Regiment: 4 squadrons

Army Reserve Artillery

Guard Position Battery Nr. 1: 12 guns

Position Battery Nr. 1: 12 guns

Position Battery Nr. 14: 12 guns

Position Battery Nr. 29: 12 guns

Position Battery Nr. 30: 12 guns

Horse Battery Nr. 3: 12 guns

Horse Battery Nr. 23: 12 guns

Horse Battery Nr. 10: 6 guns

*Some sources list OB Christian-Wilhelm-Ferdinand Laroche von Starkenfels as brigade commander.

**Detached to GM Johann-Adolf von Thielemann.

***Some sources list OBL Johann-Karl-Ludwig Braun as II Corps artillery commander.

August 27 1813: Battle of Dresden

On August 27 1813, Napoleon is outnumbered two to one and almost surrounded at Dresden by Austrian, Russian, and Prussian troops. The day before the French garrison in the city had been attacked by troops led by the Austrian commander, Karl Philipp Fürst zu Schwarzenberg. Napoleon had arrived in the evening with reinforcements and had been able pushed the allies back.

On August 27, Napoleon had about 135,000 men to the allies 214,000. The allies had three monarchs on the field with the Emperor Francis of Austria, Tsar Alexander of Russia and King Frederick William III of Prussia all present. The presence of the monarchs probably did not help the allies. Considering his position, Napoleon decided that he had to attack. At about 6 a.m., he ordered an attack lead by two divisions of his Young Guard. The allies counterattacked but were stalled as heavy rain dug up the ground into debilitating mud. French troops rolled the allied left flank mired in the mud. At about 4 p.m. the allies retreated leaving about 38,000 killed, captured or wounded.The French suffered about 10,000 casualties.

The Napoleon’s tactical victory was wasted when the allies were able to retreat. Again, French pursuit was hampered by lack of the cavalry that had been killed the year before in Russia. The pursuit was also stalled because Napoleon had to leave the field when he was overcome by a fit of gastric spasma or a “violent cholic“. The Battle of Dresden thus remains a French victory, but the failure to rout the allies meant that it was to be Napoleon’s last on German soil.

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Battle [ edit | edit source ]

On the same day as Katzbach, Karl Philipp Fürst zu Schwarzenberg, the commander of the Austrian force of over 200,000 men of the Austrian Army of Bohemia (and accompanied by the Austrian emperor, the Russian tsar and the Prussian king), attacked Saint-Cyr. Napoleon arrived quickly and unexpectedly with reinforcements to repel this assault. Although outnumbered two to one, Napoleon attacked the following day (27 August), turned the allied left flank, and won an impressive tactical victory. The flooded Weisseritz cut the left wing of the Allied army, commanded by Johann von Klenau and Ignaz Gyulai, from the main body. Marshal Joachim Murat took advantage of this isolation and inflicted heavy losses on the Austrians. Ώ] A French participant observed, "Murat. cut off from the Austrian army Klenau's corps, hurling himself upon it at the head of the carabineers and cuirassiers. . Nearly all his [Klenau's] battalions were compelled to lay down their arms, and two other divisions of infantry shared their fate." ΐ] Of Klenau's force, Lieutenant Field Marshal Joseph, Baron von Mesko de Felsö-Kubiny's division of five infantry regiments was surrounded and captured by Murat's cavalry, which amounted to approximately 13,000 men, and 15 colours. Α] Gyulai's divisions also suffered serious losses when they were attacked by Murat's cavalry during a rainstorm. With damp flints and powder, their muskets would not fire and many battalions became an easy prey to the French cuirassiers and dragoons.

Then suddenly, Napoleon had to leave the field by virtue of a sudden fit of gastric spasma and the failure to follow up on his success allowed Schwarzenberg to withdraw and narrowly escape encirclement. The Coalition had lost some 38,000 men and 40 guns. French casualties totaled around 10,000. Some of Napoleon's officers noted he was "suffering from a violent cholic, which had been brought on by the cold rain, to which he had been exposed during the whole of the battle." Β]


Since 1806 writers and intellectuals such as Johann Philipp Palm, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Ernst Moritz Arndt, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, and Theodor Körner had been criticising the French occupation of much of Germany. They advocated limitations to the dynastic princes of Germany and a joint effort by all Germans, including Prussians and Austrians, to eject the French. From 1810, Arndt and Jahn repeatedly asked high-ranking figures in Prussian society to prepare such an uprising. Jahn himself organised the German League and made a major contribution to the founding of the Lützow Free Corps. These forerunners took part in the outbreak of hostilities in Germany, both by serving in the armed forces and by backing the coalition through their writings. [ citation needed ]

Even before the German campaign, there had been uprisings against French troops occupying Germany – these had broken out from 1806 onwards in Hesse and in 1809 during the Tyrolean Rebellion. These uprisings intensified in the same year under Wilhelm von Dörnberg, the initiator and commander-in-chief of the Hessian uprising, and Major Ferdinand von Schill. [ citation needed ]

Following the near-destruction of Napoleon's Grande Armée in Russia in 1812, Johann Yorck – the general in command of the Grande Armée's German auxiliaries (Hilfskorps) from the Confederation of the Rhine – declared a ceasefire with the Russians on 30 December 1812 via the Convention of Tauroggen. This was the decisive factor in the outbreak of the German campaign the following year. [ citation needed ]

On 17 March 1813 – the day Emperor Alexander I of Russia arrived in the Hoflager of King Frederick William III – Prussia declared war on France. On 20 March 1813, the Schlesische privilegierte Zeitung newspaper published Frederick's speech entitled An Mein Volk, delivered on 17 March and calling for a war of liberation. In addition to newly formed Prussian units such as the Landwehr and Landsturm, the initial fighting was undertaken by volunteers such as German volunteer troops, Jäger units, Free Corps (such as the Lützow Free Corps), and troops from Russia, (from the summer of 1813 onwards) Sweden under Crown Prince Charles John (the former French marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte), and Austria under Field Marshal Karl von Schwarzenberg. Already busy with maintaining naval supremacy and fighting in the Peninsular War, Great Britain did not take any direct part in the German campaign, though it sent subsidies to support it. [ citation needed ]

The Convention of Tauroggen became the starting-point of Prussia's regeneration. As the news of the destruction of the Grande Armée spread, and the appearance of countless stragglers convinced the Prussian people of the reality of the disaster, the spirit generated by years of French domination burst out. For the moment the king and his ministers were placed in a position of the greatest anxiety, for they knew the resources of France and the boundless versatility of their arch-enemy far too well to imagine that the end of their sufferings was yet in sight. To disavow the acts and desires of the army and of the secret societies for defence with which all north Germany was honeycombed would be to imperil the very existence of the monarchy, whilst an attack on the remnants of the Grande Armée meant the certainty of a terrible retribution from the new French armies now rapidly forming on the Rhine. [7]

But the Russians and the soldiers were resolved to continue the campaign, and working in collusion they put pressure on the not unwilling representatives of the civil power to facilitate the supply and equipment of such troops as were still in the field they could not refuse food and shelter to their starving countrymen or their loyal allies, and thus by degrees the French garrisons scattered about the country either found themselves surrounded or were compelled to retire to avoid that fate. Thus it happened that Prince Eugène de Beauharnais, the viceroy of Italy, felt compelled to retreat from the positions that Napoleon ordered him to hold at al costs to his advanced position at Posen, where about 14,000 men had gradually rallied around him, and to withdraw step by step to Magdeburg, where he met reinforcements and commanded the whole course of the lower Elbe. [8]

Meanwhile in Paris, Napoleon had been raising and organizing a new army for the reconquest of Prussia. Thanks to his having compelled his allies to fight his battles for him, he had not as yet drawn very heavily on the fighting resources of France, the actual percentage of men taken by the conscriptions during the years since 1806 being actually lower than that in force in continental armies of today. He had also created in 1811–1812 a new National Guard, organized in cohorts to distinguish it from the regular army, and for home defence only, and these by a skillful appeal to their patriotism and judicious pressure applied through the prefects, became a useful reservoir of half-trained men for new battalions of the active army. Levies were also made with rigorous severity in the states of the Rhine Confederation, and even Italy was called on for fresh sacrifices. In this manner by the end of March, 200,000 men were moving towards the Elbe, [d] and in the first fortnight of April, they were duly concentrated in the angle formed by the Elbe and Saale, threatening on the one hand Berlin and on the other, Dresden and the east. [8]

The coalition, aware of the gradual strengthening of their enemy's forces but themselves as yet unable to put more than 200,000 in the field, had left a small corps of observation opposite Magdeburg and along the Elbe to give timely notice of an advance towards Berlin and with the bulk of their forces having taken up position near Dresden, whence they had determined to march down the course of the Elbe and roll up the French from right to left. Both armies were very indifferently supplied with information, as both were without any reliable regular cavalry capable of piercing the screen of outposts with which each endeavoured to conceal his disposition, and Napoleon, operating in mostly unfriendly territory, suffered more in this respect than his adversaries. [8]

On 25 April, Napoleon reached Erfurt and assumed command. That same day, his troops stood in the following positions. Eugène, with Marshal Jacques MacDonald's and Generals Jacques Lauriston's and Jean Reynier's corps on the lower Saale, Marshal Michel Ney in front of Weimar, holding the defile of Kösen the Imperial Guard at Erfurt, Marshal Auguste de Marmont at Gotha, General Henri Bertrand at Saalfeld, and Marshal Nicolas Oudinot at Coburg, and during the next few days the whole were set in motion towards Merseburg and Leipzig, in the now stereotyped Napoleonic order, a strong advanced guard of all arms leading, the remainder—about two-thirds of the whole—following as "masse de manœuvre", this time, owing to the cover afforded by the Elbe on the left, to the right rear of the advanced guard. [8]

Meanwhile, the Prussians and Russians had concentrated all available men and were moving in an almost parallel line, but somewhat to the south of the direction taken by the French. On 1 May, Napoleon and the advance guard entered Lützen. Russian General Peter Wittgenstein, who now commanded the Coalition allies in place of Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, hearing of his approach, had decided to attack the French advance guard, which he mistakenly believed to be their whole force, on its right flank, and during the morning had drawn together the bulk of his forces on his right in the vicinity of Gross-Görschen and Kaya. [8]

Battle of Lützen Edit

At around 09:00 on 2 May, Wittgenstein began his attack on the French advance guard in Lützen, whilst the remainder of his army was directed against Napoleon's right and rear. Just as the latter were moving off the heads of the French main body suddenly appeared, and at 11:00 Napoleon, then standing near the Gustavus Adolphus Monument on the field of Lützen, heard the roar of a heavy cannonade to his right rear. He realized the situation in a moment, galloped to the scene, and at once grouped his forces for a decisive action—the gift in which he was supreme. Leaving the leading troops to repulse as best they might the furious attack of the Prussians and Russians, and caring little whether they lost ground, he rapidly organized for his own control a battle-reserve. At length when both sides were exhausted by their efforts, he sent forward nearly a hundred guns which tore into the enemy's line with caseshot and marched his reserve right through the gap. Had he possessed an adequate cavalry force, the victory would have been decisive. As it was, the coalition retreated in good order and the French were too exhausted for a pursuit. [8]

In the opinion of the military historian Frederic Maude writing in the Encyclopædia Britannica 11th Edition (1911) perhaps no battle better exemplifies the inherent strength of Napoleon's strategy, and in none was his grasp of the battlefield more brilliantly displayed, for, as he fully recognized, "These Prussians have at last learnt something—they are no longer the wooden toys of Frederick the Great", [8] and, on the other hand, the relative inferiority of his own men as compared with his veterans of Austerlitz called for far more individual effort than on any previous day. He was everywhere, encouraging and compelling his men—it is a legend in the French army that the persuasion even of the imperial boot was used upon some of his reluctant conscripts, and in the result his system was fully justified, as it triumphed even against a great tactical surprise. [8]

Battle of Bautzen Edit

As soon as possible the army pressed on in pursuit, Ney being sent across the Elbe to turn the position of the Coalition allies at Dresden. This threat forced the latter to evacuate the town and retire over the Elbe, after blowing up the stone bridge across the river. Napoleon entered the town hard on their heels, but the broken bridge caused a delay of four days, there being no pontoon trains with the army. Ultimately on 18 May the march was renewed, but the Coalition allies had continued their retreat in leisurely fashion, picking up reinforcements by the way. Arrived at the line of the Spree, they took up and fortified a very formidable position about Bautzen. Here, on 20 May, they were attacked, and after a two-day battle dislodged by Napoleon but the weakness of the French cavalry conditioned both the form of the attack, which was less effective than usual, and the results of the victory, which were extremely meagre. [8]

The Coalition allies broke off the action at their own time and retired in such good order that Napoleon failed to capture a single trophy as proof of his victory. The enemy's escape annoyed him greatly, the absence of captured guns and prisoners reminded him too much of his Russian experiences, and he redoubled his demands on his corps commanders for greater vigour in the pursuit. This led the latter to push on without due regard to tactical precautions, and Blücher took advantage of their carelessness when at the Battle of Haynau (26 May), with some twenty squadrons of Landwehr cavalry, he surprised, rode over and almost destroyed General Nicolas Maison's division. The material loss inflicted on the French was not very great, but its effect in raising the morale of the raw Prussian cavalry and increasing their confidence in their old commander was enormous. [8]

The Occupations of Hamburg Edit

Meanwhile, on 19 May 1813, a Swedish corps of 15,000 occupied Hamburg without orders from Bernadotte, following a Danish declaration that they would hold the city for Napoleon, irrevocably binding Denmark to France, an action that would guarantee full Swedish cooperation in North Germany. The Swedish occupation of Hamburg came as welcome news to the Allies, insofar as holding a wealthy center of finance was a blow against Napoleon. However, Bernadotte's initial misgivings at extending his troops so far from the Allied lines were validated when Marshal Davout approached Hamburg with a large French force of 35,000, intent on retaking the city. The Swedes quietly withdrew on 26 May and Davout would occupy the city until after Napoleon's abdication in 1814. It would be the last major action of the Spring before the Armistice of Pläswitz. [9]

Still, the coalition continued their retreat and the French were unable to force them into battle. In view of the doubtful attitude of Austria, Napoleon became alarmed at the gradual lengthening of his lines of communication and opened negotiations. The enemy, having everything to gain and nothing to lose thereby, agreed finally to a six weeks suspension of arms under the terms of the Truce of Pläswitz. In Maude's opinion, this was perhaps the gravest error of Napoleon's military career. [10]

During the armistice, three Allied sovereigns, Alexander of Russia, Frederick Wilhelm of Prussia, and Bernadotte of Sweden (by then Regent of the Kingdom due to his adoptive father's illness) met at Trachenberg Castle in Silesia to coordinate the war effort. Allied staffs began creating a plan for the campaign wherein Bernadotte put to use his twenty years of experience as a French general, as well as his familiarity with Napoleon. [11] The result was the Trachenberg Plan, authored primarily by Bernadotte, with contributions from the Austrian Chief of Staff, Field-Marshal Lieutenant Joseph Radetzky, that sought to wear down the French using a Fabian Strategy, avoiding direct combat with Napoleon, engaging and defeating his marshals whenever possible and slowly encircling the French with three independent armies until the French Emperor could be cornered and brought to battle against vastly superior numbers. [12]

Following the conference, the Allies stood up their three armies: The Army of Silesia, with 95,000 Prussians and Russians, commanded by Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher, the Army of the North, 135,000 Swedes, Russians, Prussians, and German troops from Mecklenburg, the Hanseatic region and North Germany, under the independent command of Sweden's Crown Prince Bernadotte, and the primary Allied force in the field, with which the Allied sovereigns Alexander, Francis and Frederick William oversaw the Campaign, numbering 225,000 Austrians and Russians commanded by Prince Karl von Schwarzenberg. [13] [14]

As soon as a suspension of arms (to 15 August) had been agreed to, Napoleon hastened to withdraw his troops from the dangerous position they occupied with reference to the passes leading over the mountains from Bohemia, for he entertained no doubt now that Austria was also to be considered as an enemy. Finally he decided to group his corps round Gölitz and Bautzen whence they could either meet the enemy advancing from Breslau or fall on his flank over the mountains if they attempted to force their way into Saxony by the valley of the Elbe. This latter manoeuvre depended, however, on his maintenance of Dresden, and to this end he sent the I Corps up the Elbe to Pirna and Königstein to cover the fortifications of Dresden itself. His instructions on this point deserve the closest study, for he foresaw the inevitable attraction which a complete entrenched camp would exercise even upon himself, and, therefore, limited his engineers to the construction of a strong bridge head on the right bank and a continuous enceinte, broken only by gaps for counter attack, around the town itself. [15]

Then Napoleon turned his attention to the plan for the coming campaign. Seeing clearly that his want of an efficient cavalry precluded all ideas of a resolute offensive in his old style, he determined to limit himself to a defence of the line of the Elbe, making only dashes of a few days duration at any target the enemy might present. [15]

Reinforcements had been coming up without ceasing and at the beginning of August Napoleon calculated that he would have 300,000 men available about Bautzen and 100,000 along the Elbe from Hamburg via Magdeburg to Torgau. With the latter he determined to strike the first blow, by a concentric advance on Berlin (which he calculated he would reach on the 4th or 5th day), the movement being continued thence to extricate the French garrisons in Küstrin, Stettin and Danzig. The moral effect, he promised himself, would be prodigious, and there was neither room nor food for these 100,000 elsewhere. [15]

Towards the close of the armistice Napoleon learned the general situation of the Coalition allies. The Crown Prince of Sweden, Charles John, formerly Marshal Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, with his Swedes, a Russian corps, a North German contingent of 10,000, two Prussian corps, and various Prussian levies, 135,000 in all, lay in and around Berlin and Stettin and knowing his former marshal well, Napoleon considered Oudinot a match for him. Blücher with about 95,000 Russians and Prussians were about Breslau, and Schwarzenberg, with nearly 180,000 Austrians and Russians, lay in Bohemia. In his position at Bautzen he felt himself equal to all his enemy's combinations. [15]

Battle of Dresden Edit

The advance towards Berlin began punctually with the expiration of the armistice. However Napoleon, in command of the main French army, waited to see more clearly his adversaries' plans. At length becoming impatient he advanced a portion of his army towards Blücher, who fell back to draw him into a trap. Then the news reached Napoleon that Schwarzenberg was pressing down the valley of the Elbe, and, leaving Macdonald to observe Blücher, he hurried back to Bautzen to dispose his troops to cross the Bohemian mountains in the general direction of Königstein, a blow which must have had decisive results. But the news from Dresden was so alarming that at the last moment he changed his mind, and sending Vandamme alone over the mountains, he hurried with his whole army to the threatened point. This march remains one of the most extraordinary in history, for the bulk of his forces moved, mainly in mass and across country, 90 miles (140 km) in 72 hours, entering Dresden on the morning of 27 August, only a few hours before the attack of the Coalition allies commenced. [15]

Dresden was the last great victory of the First Empire. By noon on 27 August the Austrians and Russians were completely beaten and in full retreat, the French pressing hard behind them, but meanwhile Napoleon himself again succumbed to one of his unaccountable attacks of apparent intellectual paralysis. He seemed unaware of the vital importance of the moment, crouched shivering over a bivouac fire, and finally rode back to Dresden, leaving no specific orders for the further pursuit. [16]

French defeats Edit

The Coalition allies, however, continued to retreat, and unfortunately for the French, Vandamme, with his single corps and unsupported, issued out of the mountains on their flank, threw himself across their line of retreat near Kulm, and was completely overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers (Battle of Kulm, 29 August). In spite of this misfortune, Napoleon could claim a brilliant success for himself, but almost at the same moment news reached him that Oudinot had been severely defeated at the Battle of Grossbeeren (23 August) near Berlin by Bernadotte as had Macdonald at the Battle of Katzbach (26 August) by Blücher. [17]

Napoleon's movements Edit

During the next two days Napoleon examined his situation and dictated a series of notes which have been a puzzle to every strategical thinker ever since. In these he seems suddenly to have cut adrift from every principle the truth of which he had himself so brilliantly demonstrated, in them he considers plans based on hypothesis, not knowledge, and on the importance of geographical points without reference to the enemy's field army. [17]

From these reveries he was at length awakened by news which indicated that the consequences of Macdonald's defeat had been far more serious to the morale of that command than he had imagined. He immediately rode over to establish order, and his manner and violence were so improper that Caulaincourt had the greatest difficulty in concealing the scandal. [17]

Blücher, however, hearing of Napoleon's arrival, at once retreated and Napoleon followed, thus uncovering the passes over the Bohemian mountains, a fact of which Schwarzenberg was quick to take advantage. Learning of his approach, Napoleon again withdrew to Bautzen. [17]

Then hearing that the Austrians had counter-marched and were again moving towards Dresden, Napoleon hastened back there, concentrated as many men as could conveniently be handled, and advanced beyond Pirna and Königstein to meet him. But the Austrians had no intention of attacking him, for time was now working on their side and, leaving his men to starve in the exhausted district, Napoleon again returned to Dresden, where for the rest of the month he remained in an extraordinary state of vacillation. On 4 October he again drew up a review of the situation, in which he apparently contemplated giving up his communications with France and wintering in and around Dresden, though at the same time he is aware of the distress amongst his men for want of food. [17]

Leipzig campaign Edit

Meanwhile Blücher, Schwarzenberg, and Bernadotte were working round Napoleon's flanks. Ney, who had joined Oudinot after Grossbeeren, was defeated at the Battle of Dennewitz (6 September) by Bernadotte's Army of the North, with Prussian troops doing a majority of the fighting until the end of the battle when Swedish and Russian troops arrived and routed the French. [18] [19] Suddenly Napoleon's plans were again reviewed and completely changed. Calling up St Cyr, whom he had already warned to remain at Dresden with his command, he decided to fall back towards Erfurt, and go into winter quarters between that place and Magdeburg, pointing out that Dresden was of no use to him as a base and that if he were to have a battle, it was much better have St Cyr and his men with him than at Dresden. [17]

On 7 October Napoleon drew up a final plan, in which one again recognizes the old commander, and this he immediately proceeded to put into execution, for he was now quite aware of the danger threatening his line of retreat from both Blücher and Schwarzenberg and the North Army yet only a few hours afterwards the portion of the order relating to St Cyr and Lobau was cancelled and the two were finally left behind at Dresden. From the 10 to 13 October Napoleon lay at Düben, again a prey to the most extraordinary irresolution, but on that day he thought he saw his opportunity. Blücher was reported near Wittenberg, and Schwarzenberg was moving slowly round to the south of Leipzig. The North Army under Bernadotte, unknown to Napoleon, lay on Blücher's left around Halle. [17]

Napoleon decided to throw the bulk of his force on Blücher, and, having routed him, turn south on Schwarzenberg and sever his communications with Bohemia. His concentration was effected with his usual sureness and celerity, but whilst the French moved on Wittenberg, Blücher was marching to his right, indifferent to his communications as all Prussia lay behind him. [17]

This move on 14 October brought him into touch with Bernadotte, and now a single march forward of all three armies would have absolutely isolated Napoleon from France but Bernadotte's nerve failed him, for on hearing of Napoleon's threat against Wittenberg he decided to retreat northward, and not all the persuasions of Blücher and Gneisenau could move him. Thus if the French movement momentarily ended in a blow in the air, it was indirectly the cause of their ultimate salvation. [17]

Battle of the Nations Edit

On the 15 October Napoleon concentrated his forces to the east of Leipzig, with only a weak detachment to the west, and in the evening the Coalition allies were prepared to attack him. Schwarzenberg had 180,000 men available at once and 60,000 on the following day Blücher had about 60,000, but Bernadotte now could not arrive before 18 October. [17]

Napoleon prepared to throw the bulk of his force upon Schwarzenberg and massed his troops south-east of the town, whilst Schwarzenberg marched concentrically against him down the valley of the Elster and Pleisse, the mass of his troops on the right bank of the latter and a strong column under Giulay on the left working round to join Blücher on the north. The fighting which followed was most obstinate, but the Austrians failed to make any impression on the French positions, and indeed Giulay felt himself compelled to withdraw to his former position. On the other hand, Blücher carried the village of Möckern and came within a mile of the gates of the town. During the 17th there was only indecisive skirmishing, Schwarzenberg waiting for his reinforcements coming up by the Dresden road, Blücher for Bernadotte to come in on his left, and by some extraordinary oversight Giulay was brought closer in to the Austrian centre, thus opening for the French their line of retreat towards Erfurt, and no information of this movement appears to have been conveyed to Blücher. Napoleon when he became aware of the movement, sent the IV Corps to Lindenau to keep the road open. [17]

On the 18 October the fighting was resumed and by about noon Bernadotte came up and closed the gap to the north-east of the town between Blücher and the Austrians. At 14:00 the Saxons, who had remained faithful to Napoleon longer than his other German allies, went over to Bernadotte's Army of the North a week after the Crown Prince had issued a proclamation calling for the Saxons to rejoin their former commander (Bernadotte had commanded the Saxons during the Wagram Campaign). [20] All hope of saving the battle had now to be given up, but the French covered their retreat obstinately and by daybreak next morning one-half of the army was already filing out along the road to Erfurt which had so fortunately for the French been left for them. [17]

Retreat of the French and Battle of Hanau Edit

It took Blücher time to extricate his troops from the confusion into which the battle had thrown them, and the garrison of Leipzig and the troops left on the right bank of the Elster still resisted obstinately—hence no direct pursuit could be initiated and the French, still upwards of 100,000 strong, marching rapidly, soon gained distance enough to be reformed. Blücher followed by parallel and inferior roads on their northern flank, but Schwarzenberg knowing that the Bavarians also had forsaken Napoleon and were marching under the command of General Karl Philipp von Wrede to intercept his retreat, followed in a most leisurely fashion. Blücher did not succeed in overtaking the French, but the latter, near Hanau, found their way barred by Wrede with 40,000 men and over 100 guns in a strong position. [17]

To this fresh emergency, Napoleon and his army responded in most brilliant fashion. As at Krasnoi in 1812, they went straight for the enemy and after one of the most brilliant series of artillery movements in history, directed by General Drouot, they marched right over the enemy, practically destroying the whole force. Henceforward, their march was unmolested and the French reached Mainz on 5 November. [17]

When the last of the French troops crossed Rhine back into France, divided counsels made their appearance at the headquarters of the coalition. Every one was weary of the war, and many felt that it would be unwise to push Napoleon and the French nation to extremes. Hence a prolonged halt arose, utilized by the troops in renewing their equipment and so forth, but ultimately the Young German party, led by Blücher and the principal fighting men of the army, triumphed, and early in 1814 the coalition invaded France. [21]

At the same time, Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington invaded France over the Pyrenees. Leaving Marshals Jean-de-Dieu Soult and Louis-Gabriel Suchet to defend southwestern France, Napoleon fought and lost a campaign in northeastern France, that ended with the occupation of Paris, the abdication of Napoleon, his exile to Elba, and the Bourbon Restoration under King Louis XVIII. [ citation needed ]

The campaign ended the French period (Franzosenzeit) in Germany and fostered a new sense of German unity and nationalism. It also marked the exit of Sweden as a player in German affairs after 175 years, as Sweden ceded Swedish Pomerania to Prussia for its recognition of the Treaty of Kiel (including the Union of Sweden and Norway) and £500,000. [22] The German Confederation, formed at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, was a precursor to the modern German nation state, which was, however, only realized more than half a century later under Prussian leadership, with the exclusion of Austria, including Germans in the Sudetanlands of Bohemia. The popular image of the campaign in Germany was shaped by the cultural memory of its veterans, especially the many students who volunteered to fight in the Lützow Free Corps and other units who later rose to high positions in the military and political spheres. A new boom in remembrance of the war occurred in 1913, on the centenary of its outbreak. [ citation needed ]

  1. ^ Dissolved following Battle of Leipzig. [1]
  2. ^ Duchy of Warsaw as a state was in effect fully occupied by Russian and Prussian forces by May 1813, though most Poles remained loyal to Napoleon. [citation needed]
  3. ^ In the German states it became known as the Befreiungskriege (Wars of Liberation) or Freiheitskriege (Wars of Freedom) – both terms were used at the time, both by liberals and nationalists who hoped for a unified Germany and by conservatives after the Bourbon Restoration to mean restauring the old aristocratic order and freeing Europe from French hegemony and occupation. It is also known as the europäische Befreiungskriege (European Wars of Liberation), to distinguish it from the 1808 Spanish Uprising during the Peninsular War.
  4. ^ Napoleon always gave them 300,000, but this number was never attained (Maude 1911, p. 229).
  1. ^ Hans A. Schmitt. Germany Without Prussia: A Closer Look at the Confederation of the Rhine. German Studies Review 6, No. 4 (1983), pp 9-39.
  2. ^ abcMaude 1908, p. 156.
  3. ^Maude 1908, p. 149.
  4. ^ abMaude 1908, p. 148.
  5. ^ abBodart 1916, p. 46.
  6. ^Bodart 1916, p. 130.
  7. ^Maude 1911, pp. 228–229.
  8. ^ abcdefghijMaude 1911, p. 229.
  9. ^ Scott, Franklin D. (1935) Bernadotte and the Fall of Napoleon. Pp. 67–73. Harvard University Press, Boston.
  10. ^Maude 1911, p. 229–230.
  11. ^ Barton, Dunbar (1925). Bernadotte Prince and King. P. 74. John Murray, London.
  12. ^ Leggiere, Michael V (2015). Pp. 52–55.
  13. ^ Barton D. Plunket (1925). Pp 76–77
  14. ^ Leggiere, Michael V (2015). Pp. 52–53
  15. ^ abcdeMaude 1911, p. 230.
  16. ^Maude 1911, pp. 230–231.
  17. ^ abcdefghijklmnMaude 1911, p. 231.
  18. ^ Leggiere, Michael (2002). Napoleon and Berlin. Pp. 204-205.
  19. ^ Barton, Dunbar (1925). Bernadotte Prince and King. Pp. 92-94. John Murray, London.
  20. ^ Barton, Dunbar (1925). Bernadotte Prince and King. Pp. 104-105. John Murray, London.
  21. ^Maude 1911, pp. 321–232.
  22. ^ Barton, Dubar (1925). Bernadotte Prince and King. Pp. 138-139
  • Barton, Sir Dunbar (1925). Bernadotte Prince and King. London: John Murray.
  • Bodart, G. (1916). Losses of Life in Modern Wars, Austria-Hungary France. ISBN978-1371465520 .
  • Clodfelter, M. (2017). Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492-2015 (4th ed.). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN978-0786474707 .
  • Leggiere, Michael (2002). Napoleon and Berlin. ISBN978-0-8061-4656-0 .
  • Leggiere, Michael V. (2015). Napoleon and the Struggle for Germany Vol. II. Cambridge. ISBN9781107080546 .
  • Maude, Frederic Natusch (1908). The Leipzig Campaign, 1813. London: Swan Sonnenschein.
  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain:
  • Maude, Frederic Natusch (1911). "Napoleonic Campaigns". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 212–236.
  • Scott, Franklin D. (1935). Bernadotte and the Fall of Napoleon. Harvard University Press.
  • Lüke, Martina (2009). Anti-Napoleonic Wars of Liberation (1813–1815). In: The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest: 1500–present. Edited by Immanuel Ness. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 188–190.
  • Lars Beißwenger: Der Befreiungskrieg von 1813. In: Josef J. Schmid (Hrsg.): Waterloo – 18. Juni 1815. Vorgeschichte, Verlauf und Folgen einer europäischen Schlacht Verlag nova & vetera, Bonn 2008, 978-3-936741-55-1, (Studia academica historica 1), S. 85–142. : Preußen. Aufstieg und Niedergang. 1600 – 1947. 6. Auflage. DVA, München 2007, 978-3-421-05392-3.
  • Ewald Grothe: Befreiungskriege. In: Friedrich Jaeger (Hrsg.): Enzyklopädie der Neuzeit. Band 1: Abendland – Beleuchtung. Metzler, Stuttgart u. a. 2005, 3-476-01991-8, Sp. 1139–1146.
  • Karen Hagemann: „Mannlicher Muth und Teutsche Ehre“. Nation, Militär und Geschlecht zur Zeit der antinapoleonischen Kriege Preußens. Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 2002, 3-506-74477-1, (Krieg in der Geschichte 8), (Zugleich: Berlin, Techn. Univ., Habilschrift, 2000).
  • Heinz Helmert, Hans-Jürgen Usczek: Europäische Befreiungskriege 1808-1814/15. Militärischer Verlauf. Militärverlag der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, Belin 1976, (Kleine Militärgeschichte: Kriege).
  • Eckart Kleßmann (Hrsg.): Die Befreiungskriege in Augenzeugenberichten. Lizenzausgabe. Ungekürzte Ausgabe. Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, München 1973, 3-423-00912-8, (dtv 912 Augenzeugenberichte).
  • Horst Kohl: Blüchers Zug von Auerstedt bis Ratkau und Lübecks Schreckenstage (1806). Quellenberichte. Neuauflage der Erstausgabe von 1912. Bearbeitet von Carola Herbst. Godewind Verlag, Wismar 2006, 3-938347-16-3.
  • Märsche und Balladen aus den Freiheitskriegen 1813–1815. Studios Berlin-BRIO-Musikverlag, Berlin 2009, (CD). : Die Geschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Hamburg 1966.
  • Carl Mönckeberg: Hamburg unter dem Drucke der Franzosen 1806–1814. Historische Denkwürdigkeiten. Reprint der Ausgabe Hamburg, Nolte, 1864. Godewind Verlag, Wismar 2006, 3-938347-66-X.
  • Hermann Müller-Bohn: Die Deutschen Befreiungskriege 1806–1815. Erstes Buch: Unter französischem Joche. Veränderte Neuauflage. Bearbeitet von Hans J. Herbst. Godewind Verlag, Wismar 2006, 3-939198-77-3.
  • Ute Planert: Der Mythos vom Befreiungskrieg. Frankreichs Kriege und der deutsche Süden. Alltag – Wahrnehmung – Deutung 1792–1841. Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 2007, 978-3-506-75662-6, (Krieg in der Geschichte 33), (Zugleich: Tübingen, Univ., Habilschrift, 2003/04).
  • Bogdanovich Modest I. (1863) (in Russian). History of the War in 1813 for the independence of Germany (История войны 1813 года за независимость Германии) at in DjVu and PDF formats
  • (in German) Collection of historical eBooks about the War of the Sixth Coalition
  • (in German) Befreiungskriege on BAM-Portal
  • (in German) »Leipzigs Drangsale« [permanent dead link] on EPOCHE NAPOLEON
  • (in German) Complete online facsimile of a diary of 1813
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  • (in German) Battle of Leipzig
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  • (in German) Zur Hundertjahrfeier 1813–1913. Raphael Tuck's postcard series 932

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The Battles of Dresden and Kulm 26-30 August 1813

The Coalition opposing Napoleon based their strategy for the Autumn 1813 campaign in Central Europe on the Trachenberg Plan, which stated that their armies should retreat if faced by the main French army under his personal command. They should attempt to defeat detached French corps and to cut Napoleon’s lines of supply.

Napoleon, however, was not worried about being cut off from France provided that he retained control of Dresden. He had established a large supply base there during the period between the signing of the Truce of Pläswitz on 4 June 1813 and the recommencement of hostilities on 16 August.

At the start of the Autumn campaign Napoleon moved eastwards with the intention of defeating Prince Gebhardt Blücher’s Army of Silesia, which was advancing towards Saxony. On August 21 Blücher learnt that he faced Napoleon, so retreated in accordance with the Trachenberg Plan.

Napoleon continued to advance for another day, but then received a message from Marshal Laurent St Cyr warning him that Dresden was threatened by Prince Karl Philip zu Schwarzenberg’s Army of Bohemia. Napoleon saw an opportunity to defeat the Army of Bohemia, the largest of the three Coalition armies in Central Europe: the other was Bernadotte’s Army of Northern Germany.

Napoleon therefore turned the bulk of his army back towards Dresden, taking the Imperial Guard (Marshal Adolphe Édouard Mortier), I (General Dominique Vandamme), II (Marshal Claude Victor) and VI Corps (Marshal Auguste Marmont) and the 1 Cavalry Corps. The Army of Bober under Marshal Jacques MacDonald was left to guard his eastern flank.

Napoleon planned to attack Schwarzenberg’s communications on 26 August and inflict a decisive defeat on the Army of Bohemia, which was spread out and vulnerable. This meant that his troops would have to march 120 kilometres between 22-26 August. This was beyond the capabilities of the Austrian Army, so Schwarzenberg did not consider the possibility that he might find himself facing Napoleon at Dresden.

Late on 25 August, however, Napoleon was informed by General Gaspard Gourgaud, who he had sent to inspect the defences of Dresden, that it would fall within a day unless St Cyr’s XIV Corps was reinforced. Napoleon called off the attack early the next day and ordered most of his army to march to Dresden. Vandamme’s corps was to attack the Army of Bohemia’s rear.

This was a decisive mistake by Napoleon. He sent more troops to Dresden than were needed to hold it, and fewer with Vandamme than were required to carry out his plan of destroying the Army of Bohemia by attacking its rear.

David Chandler says that ‘[t]he decision to switch practically the whole army to Dresden cost Napoleon the campaign.’[1]

Dominic Lieven, commenting on Napoleon’s original plan, argues that:

‘Had Napoleon carried out this plan it is very possible that he could have ended the campaign within a fortnight with a victory on the scale of Austerlitz or Jena.’[2]

St Cyr had established a line of improvised outposts on the outskirts of Dresden, based on the cover provided by walled gardens, houses and barricades. Five earthen artillery redoubts were constructed behind this line, but three of them could not support each other, and another had a restricted field of fire. Further back were the fortifications of the Altsadt, or old town, which had been partly rebuilt after the French captured the city earlier in the year.

Battle of Dresden 26-27 August 1813

The Army of Bohemia attacked Dresden on the morning of 26 August. Fighting died down by noon, by when the French had been pushed back to the redoubts.

By 11am the Coalition commanders, including the Russian, Austrian and Prussian monarchs, had taken up a position on the Räcknitz Heights, from where they could see French reinforcements arriving. Shouts of ‘Vive l’Empereur’ were heard by the Coalition troops, revealing that Napoleon was present.

The main attack by the Coalition was planned for 4pm. Tsar Alexander I of Russia wanted to call it off in accordance with the Coalition strategy of avoiding battle with Napoleon himself. Emperor Francis I of Austria declined to offer an opinion, but King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia wanted to fight on, since the Coalition had a numerical advantage of 158,000 to 70,000.[3]

Schwarzenberg was ordered to postpone the main assault until the monarchs could agree, but the new orders were transmitted slowly, and the attack went ahead. Napoleon left St Cyr in charge of the defence, which held, and formed three counter-attacking forces under Marshal Joachim Murat, Marshal Michel Ney and Mortier.

Napoleon launched his counter-attack at 5:30pm. By dark the French had retaken almost all of the line of outposts that they had held at the start of the day.

Napoleon was reinforced by Marmont and Victor’s corps overnight, taking his force to 120,000. The Army of Bohemia’s strength also increased, but only to 170,000 as potential reinforcements did not arrive.

Vandamme had crossed the Elbe with 40,000 men, forcing the 12,500 men of Eugen of Württemberg back. They were reinforced by 26,000 troops under General Alexander Ostermann-Tolstoy, preventing Vandamme from threatening the Army of Bohemia’s flank.

The Coalition plan for 27 August was to put 120,000 troops in the centre, with only 25,000 on each flank. The left flank was to be reinforced by 21,000 more men under General Johann von Klenau, but they failed to reach Dresden in time to take part in the battle

Napoleon, however, intended to hold the centre with 50,000 troops under Marmont and St Cyr, and to carry out a double envelopment, with 35,000 men on each flank. Murat commanded on the right and Ney and Mortier on the left.

Both French flank attacks went well: on their right the French took 13,000 prisoners from the Coalition’s left flank force. The French were hard pressed in the centre where they were considerably outnumbered. However, the Coalition cancelled an attack intended to create a gap between the French centre and left flank because the rain had created mud that made it impossible to bring up artillery.

Faced with defeat on both flanks and a threat from Vandamme to their rear, the Coalition commanders decided to withdraw overnight. Their morale cannot have been helped by a cannonball that nearly hit the Tsar. They had suffered 38,000 casualties and inflicted only 10,000.

An aggressive French pursuit could have turned a major victory into a rout that would have ended the campaign. If Vandamme could had beaten the Army of Bohemia to Teplitz it would have been trapped.

However, Napoleon was not well, and he had now received news of French defeats at Gross Beeren on 23 August and the Katzbach on 26 August. Marmont had told his Emperor at the start of the campaign that it was a mistake to divide his forces, saying that:

‘I greatly fear lest on the day which Your Majesty gains a great victory, and believes you have won a decisive battle, you may learn you have lost two.’[4]

The prediction had taken less than a fortnight to come true.

Napoleon left the pursuit to his subordinates, which meant that it was not well co-ordinated. Vandamme became isolated, and on 29 August was forced by Ostermann, who now commanded 44,000 troops, to fall back to Kulm. The next day the Coalition enveloped Vandamme by chance, when 12,000 retreating troops under General Friedrich von Kleist stumbled into the rear of I Corps. The majority of its troops managed to escape, but 13,000, including Vandamme, were captured.

Battle of Kulm, 29 August 1813

Battle of Kulm, 30 August 1813

Napoleon won a great victory at Dresden, but the changes to his original plan, a tardy pursuit and defeats elsewhere meant that it was not a war winning victory. The Coalition plan of avoiding battle with Napoleon, but seeking it with his subordinates was working: Napoleon had won the only battle in the campaign so far at which he been present, but the Coalition had won the other three.

[1] D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1966), p. 906.

[2] D. C. B. Lieven, Russia against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814 (London: Penguin, 2010), p. 395.

[3] Troop numbers are from Chandler, Campaigns, pp. 906-12.

[4] Quoted in Ibid., p. 903 M. V. Leggiere, Napoleon and Berlin: The Franco-Prussian War in North Germany, 1813 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002), p. 136 and F. L. Petre, Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany, 1813 (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1974, first published 1912), p. 178.

Battle of Dresden, 26-27 August 1813 - History

By Eric Niderost

Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr was in a tight spot, and he knew it. It was the morning of August 26, 1813, and Saint-Cyr and his French XIV Corps were defending Dresden, the capital of Saxony, from a large and menacing Allied army that outnumbered his own by at least four to one. But if Saint-Cyr had any doubts about his ability to hold the city, he kept them to himself. Nicknamed “the Owl,” Saint-Cyr was an intellectual whose cold, efficient manner commanded respect, if not love, from his soldiers. The battle had started around 5 am, with Austro-Russian attacks increasing in scale and intensity. The French had been forced to give ground, but so far their strongpoints had held against all odds.

Fortifying the “Florence on the Elbe”

Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr.

As the sun rose higher, Dresden was revealed in all its glory, a baroque gem of a city known far and wide as “Florence on the Elbe.” It was like a fairy tale come to life, with jewel-like palaces rising at every turn and the city skyline crowded with splendid church domes and fanciful towers that spiked the sky. Saint-Cyr had trained as a painter in his youth and was a fine musician. He might have appreciated the splendors all around him had he not been preoccupied with more urgent military matters.

Indeed, the arts of peace took second place to the necessities of war. A few weeks earlier, Napoleon had ordered a major strengthening of Dresden’s defenses. Dresden was a city of some 30,000 souls that straddled the Elbe River. The Altstadt, or Old City, and its patchwork quilt of suburbs lay on the left bank, while the smaller Neustadt (New City) nestled on the right bank. The Old City was ringed by a partly demolished medieval wall. Major streets were barricaded, houses were fitted with gun loopholes, and artillery platforms were erected. The Gross Garten, or Great Garden, a landscaped park that lay to the southeast, surrounded by a wall, guarded Dresden’s approaches in that direction and was considered a strongpoint.

Napoleon directed that the seven gates to the suburbs be blocked and the Pirna Gate be strengthened by excavating a ditch in front of it that could be filled with water. Saint-Cyr was counting primarily on the 13 redoubts that ringed the city like a necklace. So far, they had successfully stopped all Allied attacks—but how long could they hold out?

Shortly after 9 am, Saint-Cyr heard something between the booming cannon reports. At first indistinct, it became clearer as hundreds of soldiers took up the cry: “Vive l’Empereur! Vive l’Empereur! Vive l’Empereur!” Saint-Cyr was elated. The swelling chorus of cheers meant only one thing—Napoleon had arrived in Dresden. With the emperor present, potential defeat might well be changed into victory. Napoleon’s charisma was so great that he instilled everyone, from Saint-Cyr down to the lowest private, with newfound confidence in their ultimate triumph.

Reeling From the Failed Russian Invasion

The contest for Dresden was part of Napoleon’s last-ditch effort to shore up the crumbling remains of his grand empire. In 1812 he had invaded Russia with a multinational army of 600,000 men. The Russian campaign played out like a Greek tragedy: Napoleon’s hubris led to disaster. He lost more than 500,000 men in the debacle, as well as 200,000 trained cavalry, artillery, and transport horses. Ironically, the men could be replaced, but the horses could not. Cavalry was the eyes and ears of an army, the shock troops that galloped forward to clinch a victory when the enemy retreated. Napoleon’s relative lack of cavalry was to figure heavily in the 1813 campaign.

Eager to throw off the French yoke, Prussia joined Russia in what became the nucleus of the Sixth Coalition against France. In those early months of 1813, Austria remained neutral. In spite of its dynastic ties with Napoleon—Austrian-born duchess Marie Louise was his wife and empress—Austria had little love for the man they considered a Corsican upstart. By the same token, Vienna had little affection for Russia either, and feared czarist expansion into central Europe.

For the moment Vienna thought it wise to wait, using the time to play the role of honest broker between the opposing sides. Austria’s chief diplomat, Prince Clemens von Metternich, played his cards well, arranging a personal interview with Napoleon while secretly negotiating with Russia and Prussia. By the time the German campaign opened in April 1813, Napoleon had managed to muster an army numbering nearly 200,000 men and 372 guns—a miracle of improvisation under very trying circumstances. Yet on closer inspection, the new Grand Armée bore little resemblance to the famous Grand Armée that had won the Battles of Austerlitz, Jena, and Friedland only a few years earlier.

Napoleon at Fontainebleau, Mar. 31, 1814.

Napoleon glumly acknowledged his lack of cavalry. He wrote that he could finish matters very quickly “if only I had 15,000 more cavalry but I am rather weak in that arm.” The army’s troubles went deeper than that. It took time to adequately train cavalry, and time was something in very short supply. Most of the troopers were young, and 80 percent had never even ridden a horse. They were hastily trained and barely knew such basic skills as taking care of a mount. The senior officers were veterans and the ranks were stiffened by old NCOs who had been promoted to lieutenants. In some cases, even retired officers were recalled to the colors.

The infantry wasn’t much better. Most were callow youths, eager but lacking the strength and stamina needed for a grueling campaign. An inspection report ruefully admitted that “some of the men are of rather weak appearance.” Barely out of their teens—and some much younger—they scarcely knew how to load and fire their Charleville muskets.

Even after the catastrophic Russian campaign, Napoleon’s name still retained much of its magic. If the emperor was with them, these young recruits were sure that France would emerge victorious. And despite their youth and inexperience, these new soldiers fought well. French officer Jean Barres recalled: “Our young conscripts behaved very well [in battle] not one left the ranks. Our company was disorganized: it lost half its sergeants and corporals but we were confident in the genius of the emperor.”

Austria Joins the Sixth Coalition

In May 1813 Napoleon won two hard-fought battles at Lutzen and Bautzen, but the shortage of cavalry and the sheer exhaustion of his young conscripts prevented them from becoming decisive victories. In June the emperor agreed to an armistice. He later regretted the decision, calling it one of the worst mistakes in his career.

At the time there were good reasons to seek breathing space. The French had lost 25,000 men since the beginning of the campaign. Even more significantly, another 90,000 were on the sick lists. Thousands more were stragglers, not deserters but unable to keep up with the marching and countermarching through the length and breadth of Germany. The young recruits had fought well, but if the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak.

Negotiations with Austria soon broke down. Metternich, feeling that Napoleon was vulnerable, secretly cast his lot with the Allies. Austria in effect demanded that the Napoleonic empire be dismantled east of the Rhine. Prussia would be restored to its 1805 boundaries and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and Confederation of the Rhine would be abolished.

The terms were purposely outrageous, and predictably Napoleon rejected them. On August 12, Austria declared war against France and formally joined the Sixth Coalition against the emperor. Sweden also joined the Allies, led by Swedish crown prince—and former French marshal—Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. Counting reserves and second-line troops, the coalition could now field some 800,000 men.

Field Marshal Prince Karl Philip von Schwarzenberg.

As always, Great Britain was the coalition’s paymaster. The island nation pledged two million pounds to Russia and Prussia, and Austria would also share in the largesse. Fueled by British gold and backed by enormous reserves of manpower, the Allies felt confident they could defeat France. But they were still fearful of Napoleon, and there was much debate in Allied headquarters about how to neutralize his genius on the battlefield.

The Allies would have three main field forces: the Army of the North, the Army of Silesia, and the Army of Bohemia. The Army of the North, some 110,000 Prussians and Swedes under the command of Crown Prince Bernadotte, would be in the Berlin region. Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher’s Army of Silesia (95,000 men) would be massed around Breslau. The main Allied force was the Army of Bohemia, 230,000 strong, led by Field Marshal Prince Karl Philip von Schwarzenberg.

Three Bothersome Monarchs

The Allies were divided on how to open the new phase of the campaign. Plans were put forward, only to be rejected after passionate squabbling. But one thing united all parties: a healthy fear of Napoleon’s genius. They had been given a bloody nose at Lutzen and Bautzen and were not anxious to repeat the experience. Eventually, a plan was adopted that grudgingly acknowledged the emperor’s gifts. The Allied armies would assiduously avoid battle if Napoleon was present, and if he was advancing in person with his main army they would retire as quickly as possible. Allied forces would threaten his line of communications and, if possible, defeat Napoleon’s subordinates whenever an opportunity to do so presented itself.

The basics of the plan came from Schwarzenberg’s chief of staff, General Count Johann Josef Radetzky von Raditz. Radetzky was essentially proposing a war of attrition, wherein Napoleon would be worn down by a series of fruitless marches and countermarches. Radetzky was unknown at the time but was destined to find a sort of immortality many years later when composer Johann Strauss composed “Radetsky’s March.”

Schwarzenberg was a competent soldier who was prone to moments of hesitation and tended to be overcautious. Archduke Charles of Hapsburg, the Austrian emperor’s brother, might have made a better choice as commander in chief. While it was true that Napoleon had defeated Charles at Wagram in 1809, the archduke had a record of notable victories during the course of his 20-year career. Charles had actually defeated Napoleon at Aspern-Essling, a rare accomplishment. Some have said that sibling rivalry might have played a part in the archduke being passed over. In any event, Emperor Francis I decided to give Schwarzenberg the coveted position.

Czar Alexander I of Russia, Emperor Francis I of Austria, and King Frederick William III of Prussia accompanied the Army of Bohemia and were present at Schwarzenberg’s headquarters. The harried prince found them three albatrosses around his neck, often intervening at inappropriate times and adding to the confusion when crucial decisions had to be made. The presence of the three monarchs also brought in a host of court flunkies, hangers-on and political parasites. “It is really inhuman,” Schwarzenberg complained, “what I must tolerate and bear, surrounded as I am by fools, eccentrics, projectors, intriguers, asses, babblers, and niggling critics.”

Marching on Dresden

At first, Schwarzenberg’s goal was Leipzig, but eventually Dresden became the target. By August 25, the Army of Bohemia’s advance guard under General Peter Wittgenstein was approaching the city’s southern fringes. Saint-Cyr launched a desperate attack on Wittgenstein that drove back the Russo-Prussian force and threw Allied plans into confusion. The French marshal had bought some time.

Napoleon had originally been trying to catch Blucher’s Army of Silesia, which was moving over the Bobr River to the east. Blucher was rapidly retiring, conforming to a will-o’- the-wisp strategy of avoiding a pitched battle when Napoleon was present. But when he heard of Saint-Cyr’s plight, the emperor eventually decided to bring the bulk of the Grand Armée to Dresden. Not only was Dresden the capital city of his ally, King Frederick Augustus of Saxony, but it was also Napoleon’s hub for the entire campaign. Artillery parks and supplies were stockpiled there. If the Allies could be caught napping, Napoleon hoped to make Dresden a second Austerlitz.

Once again, too much discussion and internal wrangling almost wrecked the Allied war effort. After much debate, Schwarzenberg decided that the Army of Bohemia would launch a demonstration or reconnaissance in force against Dresden. A full-scale assault might come later.

Five columns would participate in the effort, but there would be little or no coordination between each column. Worse still, attacking troops had no equipment to help them bridge ditches and no scaling ladders to help them climb the French redoubts. The whole plan was a slapdash affair, typical of the half-baked compromises that all too often came out of Allied councils of war.

The command structure of the demonstration would be simple, as befitted an operation with limited objectives. The Army of Bohemia would be divided into two distinct wings. The left wing, led by Schwarzenberg himself, would consist of the Austrian III Corps, Austrian IV Corps, Austrian Reserve Corps, and Reserve Artillery. Wittgenstein would command the right wing, a multinational force that included the Russian Advance Guard Division, Russian I Corps, Prussian II Corps, and reserve artillery.

“The Victory is Ours”

When Napoleon arrived in Dresden his mere presence galvanized the city. Crowds gathered and soldiers tried to press near to get a better glimpse of him as he rode by. There he was—the man of destiny in his gray overcoat and legendary black cocked hat, surrounded by a small staff. He had arrived first the rest of the army was on its way.

The Imperial Guard—both Young and Old—arrived in the city an hour after Napoleon. The roads were choked with dust and the heat was stifling, but the Guard was in good spirits, because here was a chance for action. Although their mouths were dry and parched with thirst, they entered Dresden singing, “The victory is ours!”

At about the same time, Emperor Francis was engaged in a debate that involved Czar Alexander, King Frederick William of Prussia, and senior Allied officers. When the Allied command realized that Napoleon was in Dresden, the fear and consternation were palpable. Most of the planners favored immediate withdrawal. Only Frederick William insisted that they launch the planned major offensive, an advance that was supposed to involve some 150,000 men. The Prussian king was overruled, but it took time for withdrawal orders to travel down the chain of command. Before that could happen a signal cannon boomed, announcing the start of the general assault. For better or worse, the Allies were now going to take on Napoleon himself.

When Napoleon entered Dresden, he made his way to the front lines to inspect French positions and consult with a relieved Saint-Cyr. The emperor swept the horizon with his telescope, taking note of enemy positions and the progress the Allies had made thus far. He wanted to know what had happened before he arrived on the scene. The fighting, he was told, had been uncoordinated but intense. The Prussians had managed to break into the Grand Garden, but their progress was impeded by stubborn French resistance. The attack was seconded by Russians, who came into the garden via its northeastern corner. After two or three hours of see-saw fighting, the Prussians and Russians had managed to secure about half the garden, including a small baroque palace in its landscaped center.

Napoleon, in his familiar gray private’s overcoat, enters Dresden on his way as usual to the front lines of the battle. His men sang, “The victory is ours!”

Around 7:30 am the Russians attacked the ground between the Grand Garden and the Elbe, but their advance was stalled by heavy French artillery fire from the river’s right bank. French shells tore through green-coated ranks, forcing the survivors to fall back in disorder. Although Napoleon’s infantry and cavalry had declined in quality, his artillery was still as formidable as ever. Around 11 am there was a pause in the fighting that lasted several hours. It gave Napoleon time to finish his inspections and devise his own offensive plans. The emperor generally approved of how Saint-Cyr had conducted the battle thus far, but noted that there had been flaws in the French defenses even before the first shot had been fired. Some of the redoubts were relatively weak, with only one cannon each on their ramparts.

Napoleon was also unhappy that French engineers had failed to demolish a large building that stood in front of Redoubt 4. The Allies had taken advantage of the glaring omission and now occupied the building. Some of the French redoubts had been placed in such a way that they did not have mutually supporting fields of fire. Napoleon saw to it that these strongpoints were made stronger—one redoubt got a battery of 12-pounder cannons.

The French Imperial Guard paused at Neustadt Bridge, one of the spans that crossed the Elbe and linked the New City with the Old City. The guardsmen sank to the ground, weary after the long forced march, and used their knapsacks as pillows. Others gratefully accepted drinks of brandy the locals offered, downing the fiery liquid in one or two gulps.

The French Reserve Cavalry arrived at 2 pm, led by the flamboyant Joachim Murat, former marshal of France and current king of Naples. A legend in his own time, Murat was the finest cavalry commander of the Napoleonic Wars. His cavalry included both heavy and light cavalry, armored cuirassiers, lancers and chasseurs ever ready to engage enemy horsemen and exploit any breakthrough that should occur.

Fighting at the Grand Garden

The battle began again at 3 pm. Once again, the battered Grand Garden was the focus of heavy fighting. The Russians surged forward, men of the 20th, 21st, 24th, 25th, and 26th Jagers and the Selenguinsk Infantry Regiment. They moved forward through the garden, then assaulted French Redoubt 2, a tide of green uniforms lapping at the base of its walls.

To counter the Russian move, Marshal Adolphe Edouard Mortier led Napoleon’s Young Guard into action. The guardsmen lived up to their reputations, driving the czarist troops back with heavy loss and recapturing half the garden. In the center, in the area between Redoubt 3 and Redoubt 4, the Allies initially had better luck. Austrians advanced on Redoubt 3 through a hurricane of French artillery fire and musket volleys. The French 27th Light Infantry was particularly steady, firing and loading with clockwork regularity.

The Austrian advance stalled, but then something like a miracle occurred. French fire from Redoubt 3 weakened, then stopped altogether. The redoubt’s garrison had run out of ammunition. Heartened by this unexpected turn of events, the white-coated Austrians renewed the attack, crossing Redoubt 3’s protective ditch and scrambling up its walls. The French were waiting with fixed bayonets.

The Great Garden, center, was the focal point of bitter fighting as the outnumbered French sought to keep their hold on Dresden. Torrential rain slowed the Allied advance—more of Napoleon’s fabled luck.

After a furious and bloody bayonet fight—rare in the Napoleonic Wars—the French gave way, with survivors retreating into the Maszcynski Garden immediately behind the redoubt. The Austrians followed, but soon the tables were turned. French reserves came to the rescue of their beleaguered comrades, pouring out of the garden like a swarm of angry bees. The Austrians were forced to relinquish their hard-earned prize, and several hundred white coats, trapped by Redoubt 3’s surrounding walls, were compelled to surrender. After the battle, some 180 French and 344 Austrians were found dead in Redoubt 3.

The Allies had little luck on the far left, either. Beyond the Weisseritz River, the Austrians under General Friedrich von Bianchi suffered rough handling by French artillery batteries in front of Friedrichstadt and flanking fire from French Redoubt 5. Some Austrian units managed to reach the Elbe River, but were forced to retire to avoid being cut off by Murat’s French, Polish, and Italian cavalry.

By nightfall most of the Allies’ initial gains had been wiped out by successful French counterattacks. Lost redoubts were back in French hands, and even the Great Garden was a French possession. There was a growing sense of jubilation in the Grande Armée, a euphoria enhanced by the arrival of two additional corps—Marshals Auguste Marmont’s VI Corps and Claude Victor’s II Corps—which arrived that night, footsore but in good spirits.

With the fighting temporarily at an end, Napoleon went back to the king of Saxony’s palace to plan for the next day. The addition of Marmont and Victor brought the French army up to about 120,000 effectives. The Allies still outnumbered them at 180,000, but Allied morale was low. The day had started out promising, but they had lost almost all their hard-fought gains. A sense of futility pervaded the Allied camp. The French had lost 2,000 killed and wounded, but Allied losses were much greater—4,000 dead and wounded and another 2,000 taken prisoner. Despondency spread through Allied ranks, and many feared worse was to come

That night torrential rain soaked the battlefield, causing the Weisseritz River to rise and creating a large watery obstacle. With the river in flood, it formed a barrier between the Allied left and center, save for a single bridge at Plauen. If the bridge fell into French hands, communications—indeed, all contact—would be severed between the two Allied groups.

Pushing the Sixth Coalition Back

Early the next morning, Napoleon ascended a church tower to analyze Allied positions with his telescope. At dawn the rains had ceased, replaced by a clammy fog that hovered in some areas and covered at least some of the previous day’s carnage. The rain would soon return, and would play its part in the events of the day. The emperor was planning a double envelopment with two powerful attacks on the Allied flanks—Marshals Michel Ney and Mortier from the left, Victor and Murat’s cavalry from the right. The center would be held by Saint-Cyr and Marmont, the Imperial Guard being held in reserve.

The story was the same at Redoubt 3, where Austrian troops were also driven off after fierce bayonet combat. TOP: Russian Jagers swarm over French-held Redoubt 2 before being driven back by the hard-fighting Young Guard.

The Allied plan of battle was straightforward, even unimaginative. About two-thirds of their army would attack Napoleon’s center. That left Generals Bianchi (left wing) and Wittgenstein (right wing) with 25,000 men each to hold the flanks. But in leaving their flanks relatively weak, the Allies played right into Napoleon’s hands. The second day of battle opened at 6 am with Mortier and Ney pushing Wittgenstein’s soldiers out of Blasewitz Woods. TheYoung Guard tried to take Leubnitz but was repulsed three times by a courageous garrison of Prussians and Russians. The Allied-held village of Seidnitz also successfully resisted Napoleon’s onslaught, at least for a time.

In general, however, Napoleon’s plans were succeeding, and it looked like a major victory was in the cards. The Allies were being forced back, in some cases a mile or more. French artillery proved itself superior again to Allied guns, pounding Allied strongpoints and smashing enemy cavalry and infantry formations.

Murat’s Last Hurrah

On the French right the stage was set for one of the greatest cavalry actions of the Napoleonic Wars. It was led by Joachim Murat, dressed in a Polish-style tunic, violet breeches, and canary-yellow boots. The theatrical costume was typical of the man, conveying his devil-may-care, swashbuckling image.

Marshal Joachim Murat.

Dresden was going to be Murat’s last hurrah. Within a few months he was going to switch sides, abandoning Napoleon’s cause to save his own throne. The emperor considered Murat an “imbecile” and “without judgment” off the battlefield, assessments that were harsh but had the ring of truth. But for now, dripping with gold braid and a feathered hat, he was in his element. Murat marshaled his horsemen into two lines. The first line had two sections. The section near the Elbe River consisted of General Louis Pierre Chastel’s 3rd Light Cavalry Division, mostly chasseurs. The section near Cotta was made up of cuirassiers and dragoons of General Jean-Pierre Dourmerc’s 3rd Heavy Cavalry Division. The second line was just as powerful, namely General Etienne de Bordesoulle’s 1st Heavy Cavalry Division, made up of both French and Saxon cuirassiers.

It was an impressive spectacle—rank after rank of superb horsemen moving with precision and dispatch. Thick, viscous mud from the rains slowed the advance to a fast walk. Five squadrons of Saxon cuirassiers smashed into some Austrian hussars, driving them back in disorder. General Baron Joseph von Mesko’s Austrian 3rd Light Infantry Division was the next target of Murat’s rampaging horsemen. Mesko stood his ground at first, forming his division into anticavalry squares. A volley or two sent the first French troopers packing, but they soon returned with a horse battery, which unlimbered at close range and fired round after round of canister into the packed squares.

It was more than flesh and blood could stand, and the shattered remnants surrendered. Some of Mesko’s other squares still held out, white-coated islands in a sea of French and Saxon cuirassiers. The armored warriors slashed and stabbed at will with their long swords. In normal situations, cavalry would be powerless to break an infantry square. But the rains had come again, and many of Mesko’s men found their muskets were useless because their powder was wet.

Demoralized, hungry, and exhausted, the bedraggled troops on the Allied left also discovered they were trapped. The French had taken Plauen, together with its vital bridge. Regiment after regiment laid down their arms. Two companies of Austrian infantry, their backs against the Weisseritz River, tried to maneuver, but the marching was in vain and only delayed the inevitable. French dragoons followed them, loading their carbines under their cloaks to shield the weapons from the rain. Their ploy was successful, and the horsemen managed to shoot a devastating volley into the white-coated ranks. The two companies surrendered, accepting their fate. The Austrian 3rd Light Division had ceased to exist. Mesko himself was captured by a trooper from the French 23rd Dragoons. The Allied left wing was destroyed, with 13,000 prisoners and 150 standards taken.

One of Napoleon’s Last Triumphs

In the center, Saint-Cyr and Marmont were hard pressed, and when the fighting died down in the late afternoon, Napoleon fully expected a third day’s fighting. But the Allies had had enough. There was some talk of an attack to separate the French left from the center, but the proposed ground was a morass. The Allied command knew full well that their entire left wing had been wiped out—hardly an encouraging state of affairs. Czar Alexander narrowly escaped death when a cannonball flew near him. The projectile hit General Jean Moreau, one of Napoleon’s enemies who had been exiled from France. The stricken Frenchman had both legs amputated, but the surgery failed to save his life.

On the second day of the battle, exiled French General Jean Moreau was fatally struck by a cannonball that narrowly missed Russian czar Alexander.

Schwarzenberg ordered a night retreat. By any standard Dresden was a great French victory, one of the emperor’s last unalloyed triumphs. The Allies had lost 38,000 men, the French barely 10,000. For a brief moment it seemed as though Napoleon’s star was once again in the ascendant. Early on May 28, the French realized the Allies were gone. Napoleon ordered a pursuit, but he was less attentive to the details because he became gravely ill. Soaked to the skin by the driving rain, he was seized with violent stomach pains. Distracted by illness, he did not supervise the pursuit as closely as he would normally have done. News that his subordinates had been defeated in his absence at Katzbach and Kulm all but canceled out Napoleon’s great triumph at Dresden. It would prove to be his last significant victory.

The Battle of Leipzig

9 October : In France, early call up of the class conscripts for 1815 .

8-11 October : Napoleon attempts to catch and defeat Blücher's army at Düben fail.
Having managed to inveigle Bernadotte into collaborating thoroughly with his forces, Blücher and von Bülow (with their respective North German and Silesian armies) had the crossed the Elbe and were stationed around Düben. News of Blücher's movements had reached the Emperor on 5 October , and the latter hoped to catch and defeat Blücher in the south before Schwartzenberg's 200,000 could reach Leipzig. Blücher and Bernadotte however retreated west away from Napoleon's forces, crossing the Saale river and finally reaching Halle. Despite French pursuit of the allies along the right bank of the Elbe, their attempts in the end came to nothing. Napoleon was forced to leave Düben and to fall back to Leipzig.

13 – 16 October : Hoping to destroy the Army of Bohemia (under Schwarzenberg) near Leipzig, rather than to force his way over the Saale and through Blücher and Bernadotte's armies (of Silesia and the North, respectively), Napoleon gave order for all the corps to converge on Leipzig. However, crucially, he was indecisive over Gouvion Saint-Cyr and his 33,000 men in Dresden, whom he ordered to remain in that Saxon city, causing them to be absent from the battle. In the end, Napoleon managed to concentrate 160,000 men, including 22,000 cavalrymen. The allies on the other hand were not concentrated like Napoleon on one central spot but approaching the battlefield from three sides, Blücher (more or less with Bernadotte) from the north, Benningsen from the east and Schwartzenberg from the south. They numbered 220,000 at the beginning of the battle, however on the key southern part of the battle theatre they were at a significant disadvantage. As a direct result of the ineptitude of Schwarzenberg's initial plan (namely, to bring huge numbers of Austrian soldiers in from the West, over rivers swollen by the stormy weather), the allies could only bring 100,000 (of which 24,000 reserves had not yet arrived) to bear against Napoleon's 138,000 troops spread across southern plain, from Liebertwolkwitz in the east to Wachau and Dösen in the west. Not surprisingly, the day one of the battle ended as a French victory.

16 October: Blücher robbed Napoleon of an expected victory on a stormy autumn day…
In the battle to the south of Leipzig, Napoleon on the knoll at Liebertwolkwitz directed a ferocious cannonade at the Russia forces facing them. Eugen of Würtemberg wrote in his memoirs that the deluge of cannon balls at Leipzig was similar to that at Borodino but that ordeal had lasted for much longer. Napoleon wanted to immobilize the enemy along a defensive line of villages and small hills between Dösen, on the right of the French army, and Liebertwolkwitz, before launching a counter-attack on the left and in the centre, thereby rolling up the allied forces against the river Plaisse, to the west of the battlefield. In the north, Ney had to contain 55,000 Russians and Prussians led by Blücher, whom Napoleon thought was still far away.

The battle started well for Napoleon, as the allies attacking in three columns the French left (Liebertwolkwitz), in the centre (Wachau) and to the right (Dölitz), the latter being their principal attack. As they tired themselves all morning failing to cross the river Elster to the West (as Russian generals had predicted), and despite a 200-gun cannonade, they did not menace the French right or indeed bolster Russian troops to the south, thus giving French forces a greater numerical advantage in that theatre. However, fortunately for the allies, Napoleon was not able to mount his general attack early enough. Firstly, Marmont's troops could not bring his troops south to support the attempt to break through the allies, as Napoleon had planned, because he was detained north of Leipzig by Blücher. Rather like at Waterloo, the Blücher arrived on the battlefield earlier than expected (in fact at 10am), significantly altering the course of the battle. Gyulai's Austrian attack at Lindenau (due west of the city) furthermore caused a yet another hemorrhage of troops since it threatened Napoleon's communication line back to France – Bertrand's fourth corps had to be sent to hold the village. Furthermore, Macdonald to the east who was to pin down the Austrians at Seifertshain was unable to get into position early enough. So, it was not until 2pm that Napoleon was able to make his move, what he later called “the decisive moment”. Eugen's decimated Russian divisions at Wachau were finally supported by Austrians (notably heavy cavalry under Count Nostitz and infantry under Bianchi and Weissenwolf) against 16,000 of the French Young Guard. And Murat's famous cavalry charge of 12,000 horsemen (which nearly put the allied rulers to flight) similarly came to nothing. The other major French attack on Gossa was also finally repulsed though at huge human cost – the Russian artillery had however performed well, forcing Drouot's guns to pull back. At the end of the day (apart from a few villages which Blücher had capture to the north) the positions were largely the same. However, this effective draw was worse for Napoleon than for the allies since they had more than 100,000 fresh troops still to come.

17 October: Day of pause for most of the combatants, though a Russian hussar charge to the north drove French forces right back into the north-western suburbs of the city. The allies were happy to wait for reinforcements and Napoleon himself had few reinforcements to expect (Gouvion Saint-Cyr's men crucially could not come from Dresden) and his Saxon allies were being to doubt their position. Napoleon should have begun organizing his retreat, sending the baggage on and building additional crossings to the Elster river. In the end, he decided that he attempt the decisive coup, a tactic that had been successful for him so many times in the past.

18 October: The French Army overcome by sheer numbers.
The battle started in the morning with the same positions as on the evening of the 16, but the allies simultaneously attacked Napoleon's forces from the North and from the South near Leipzig, whilst 60,000 of Bernadotte's soldiers were approaching from the East. Bernadotte himself led 30,000 men North of Leipzig to begin the battle. Blücher was fighting opposite the village of Schönefeld. This strong village on the northern outskirts of Leipzig changed hands many times during the day before it fell to Langeron's forces around 6pm. One of the better-known episodes of the battle recounts how two of Marmont's Saxon divisions under general Reynier turned their coats and joined the allies – the cavalry from Wurtemberg also changed camp – but the relatively small number of men involved had little effect on the course of the battle. Trapped by his determination to remain on the battlefield, Napoleon faced almost 320,000 allies with only 170,000 French soldiers. He had however begun planning the retreat, the only question remaining would be how to save as much of the army as possible whilst holding the rearguard action.

In the south, Napoleon and his staff guided the successful French defence of Probstheida, thereby not permitting the allies to outflank the French to the allied right. As the greater numbers of men on the allied side gradually began to create an advantage, Napoleon gradually began pulling his troops back through the city and away to the North West. At this point shortage of ammunition was beginning to become a problem. Napoleon was later to write to Clarke, that he could have saved everything if he had had then “30,000 rounds”. However, not all had gone smoothly for the allies – Bernadotte's 60,000-strong Army of the North was not to arrive before mid-afternoon, a fact which caused the thinning of other allied regiments and rendered the taking of Probstheida impossible. Furthermore, Russian attacks of the Halle gate had led to great casualties and little advance – though the subsequent diversion of French troops to hold that key gate made it possible for Russian forces finally to seize and hold Schönefeld.

19 October: French defeat and retreat.
What was at stake during the fighting of the 19 October was the fate of the French army. The allies tried to block it in Leipzig, whilst Napoleon was organizing the retreat. Schwarzenberg, by that point commanding the whole of the allied forces, launched five columns against the French rearguard. Whilst the French fought tooth and nail in the gardens and the houses of Leipzig as they retreated, one significant problem remained, namely, the existence of only one bridge over the river Elster. Though a good number of the army escaped, when the allies broke through the Halle Gate and came within firing distance of the Elster bridge at about Midday, the retreat was significantly compromised. As it happened, a corporal was in charge of blowing the bridge up since his commanding officer had headed off to get precise instructions as to when to act. In a panic and under fire, the corporal detonated the charges, destroying the bridge and with it the hopes of retreat of 30,000 soldiers (and 30 generals, including Lauriston and Reynier), who were soon to be captured, 260 cannon and 870 ammunition wagons. Traditional accounts put French losses at 60,000 men, though the true total is probably closer to 100,000 killed or wounded, against 54,000 for the allies – by the time the French army reached Erfurt there were 70,000 under arms and 30,000 stragglers.

Whilst it was true that Napoleon had this significant part of his army and deprived the allies of a decisive victory, the fight was by no means over. However for the first time, and the majority of the military encounters to come would be on French soil…

The Battle of Dresden: A Soldier’s Account

In the Battle of Dresden, fought on August 26-27, 1813, French troops under Napoleon Bonaparte defeated a much larger Austrian, Prussian and Russian force commanded by Austrian Field Marshal Karl Philipp Schwarzenberg. The battle took place on the outskirts of Dresden, then capital of the Kingdom of Saxony in what is today Germany.

Battle of Dresden, 26 August 1813, by Carle Vernet and Jacques François Swebach

After Napoleon’s defeat in the Russian Campaign of 1812, members of the Sixth Coalition tried to liberate the German states from French domination. Dresden was occupied by a French garrison of fewer than 20,000 men. When Napoleon learned that Schwarzenberg’s army was advancing on the city, he rapidly sent reinforcements, giving the French 70,000 troops on the first day of the battle. They effectively pushed back 158,000 coalition troops, causing Schwarzenberg to lose ground. That night, a heavy rain fell. When the battle resumed on August 27, Napoleon had approximately 120,000 troops at his command, thanks to the arrival of two additional corps. He went on the offensive against the coalition force, which now numbered some 200,000.

All three of the allied monarchs were present at the Battle of Dresden: Emperor Francis I of Austria, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, and King Frederick William III of Prussia. Jean-Victor-Marie Moreau was also at the battle, giving advice to the Tsar. Moreau was a French general who helped Napoleon come to power but then became his rival and was banished from France. He had recently returned to Europe from the United States, where he had been living since 1805.

Captain Jean-Roch Coignet, a grenadier in Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, takes up the tale.

The rain fell in torrents but the enthusiasm of our soldiers was unabated. The Emperor directed all our movements. His guard was in a street to our left, and could not go out of the city without being riddled by a redoubt defended by eight hundred men and four pieces of cannon.

There was no time to lose. Their shells were falling in the midst of the city. The Emperor called up a captain of fusiliers of the guard named Gagnard (of Avallon). This brave soldier presented himself to the Emperor with his face a little askew.

‘What have you in your cheek?’

‘My quid, sire.’

‘Ah! You chew tobacco?’

‘Yes, sire.’

‘Take your company, and go and take that redoubt which is holding me up.’

‘It shall be done.’

‘March along the palisades by the flank, then charge right on it. Let it be carried at once!’

My good comrade set off at a double by the right flank. Within a hundred feet of the barrier of the redoubt his company halted he ran to the barrier. The officer who held the bar of the two gates, seeing him alone, thought that he was going to surrender, and so did not move. My jolly soldier ran his sabre through his body and opened the barrier. His company made two leaps into the redoubt, and forced them to surrender. The Emperor, who had watched the whole affair, said, ‘The redoubt is taken.’ …

I hastened to my comrade…, I embraced him, and taking him by the arm, I led him to the Emperor, who had made a sign to Gagnard to come to him. ‘Well, I am well pleased with you. You shall be put with my old grousers: your first lieutenant shall be made captain your second lieutenant, lieutenant and your sergeant-major, second lieutenant. Go and look to your prisoners.’ The rain was falling so heavily that the Emperor’s plumes drooped upon his shoulders.

As soon as the redoubt was taken, the old guard went out of the city and formed a line of battle. All our troops were in line in the low grounds, and our right wing rested on the road to France. The Emperor sent us off in squads of three, to carry orders for the attack all along the line. I was sent to the division of cuirassiers. On my return from my mission, I went back to the Emperor. He had in his redoubt a very long field-glass on a pivot, and he looked through it every moment. His generals also looked through it, while he, with his small glass in his hand, watched the general movements. Our right wing gained some ground our soldiers became masters of the road to France and the Emperor took his pinch of snuff from his waistcoat pocket.

Suddenly, casting his eye towards the heights, he shouted, ‘There is Moreau! That is he with a green coat on, at the head of a column with the emperors. Gunners to your pieces! Marksmen, look through the large glass! Be quick! When they are half-way up the hill, they will be within range.’ The redoubt was mounted with sixteen guns of the guard. Their salvo made the very earth shake, and the Emperor, looking through his small glass, said, ‘Moreau has fallen!’

A charge of the cuirassiers put the column to rout, and brought back the general’s escort, and we learned that Moreau was dead. [Moreau died on September 2 as a result of wounds sustained at the Battle of Dresden.] A colonel, who was made prisoner during the charge, was questioned by our Napoleon in the presence of Prince Berthier and Count Monthyon. He said that the emperors had offered to give the command to Moreau, and he had refused it in these words: ‘I do not wish to take up arms against my country. But you will never overcome them in mass. You must divide your forces into seven columns they will not be able to hold out against them all if they overthrow one, the others can then advance.’

At three o’clock in the afternoon the enemy made a hasty retreat through the cross-roads and narrow, almost impracticable, byways. This was a memorable victory but our generals had had enough of it. I had my place among the staff, and I heard all sorts of things said in conversation. They cursed the Emperor: ‘He is a —, they said, ‘who will have us all killed.’ I was dumb with astonishment. I said to myself, ‘We are lost.’ The next day after this conversation, I made bold to say to my general, ‘I think our place is no longer here we ought to go on to the Rhine by forced marches.’ ‘I agree with you but the Emperor is obstinate: no one can make him listen to reason.’

The Emperor pursued the enemy’s army as far as Pirna but just as he was about to enter the town, he was seized with vomiting, caused by fatigue. He was obliged to return to Dresden, where a little rest soon re-established him. General Vandamme, upon whom the Emperor relied to keep in check the remnant of the enemy’s army, risked an engagement in the valleys of Toeplitz, and was defeated on the 30th of August [at the Battle of Kulm]. This defeat, those of Macdonald on the Katzbach and Oudinot in the plain of Grossbeeren, destroyed the fruits of the victory of Dresden. (1)

Prussian writer and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann was also in Dresden during the battle.

He had experience of a bombardment one of the shells exploding before the house in which Hoffmann and Keller, the comedian, with bumpers in their hands to keep up their spirits, watched the progress of the attack from an upper window. The explosion killed three persons Keller let his glass fall. Hoffmann had more philosophy he tossed off his bumper and moralized: ‘What is life!’ said he, ‘and how frail the human frame that cannot withstand a splinter of heated iron!’ He saw the field of battle when they were cramming with naked corpses the immense fosses which form the soldier’s grave the field covered with the dead and wounded, with horses and men powder-waggons which had exploded, broken weapons, shakos, sabres, cartridge-boxes, and all the relics of a desperate fight. He saw, too, Napoleon in the midst of his triumph, and heard him ejaculate to an adjutant, with the look and the deep voice of the lion, the single word, ‘Voyons.’ (2)

Napoleon later described the Battle of Dresden as the best action of the campaign. In Napoleon in America, he commends Narcisse Rigaud, who served at the Battle of Dresden as his father’s aide-de-camp.

The Battle of Dresden was Napoleon’s last major victory on German soil. In October 1813, after his defeat at the Battle of Leipzig, Napoleon began to retreat into France. In March 1814, coalition troops entered Paris. Napoleon was forced to abdicate the French throne and was exiled to Elba.


When Napoleon lost most of his army in Russia, some may have thought there was a possibility it would mark the end of his attempts at conquest. They were dead wrong as the setback only served to increase his determination. Unbeknownst to him, Prussia was already taking steps to abandoning its alliance with the French. On December 30, 1812, the Prussian General von Wartenberg, who led a group of 15,000 German auxiliaries in Napoleon&rsquos army, declared a ceasefire with the Russians in the Convention of Tauroggen.

Meanwhile, Napoleon was able to raise a large army in quick time. During his campaigns, he had been able to call on his allies for support, so there was still a large number of available Frenchmen. By the end of March 1813, he had around 200,000 men marching on the Elbe. He would need these extra troops because, in February, Prussia had signed the Treaty of Kalisz with Russia which formalized their alliance. On March 17, Prussia declared war on France while Britain sent 23,000 men, along with munitions, to Russia and Prussia.

Battle of Leipzig &ndash Wikipedia

Napoleon began his Spring Campaign in April and marched into Germany. At this point, the allies were unable to generate more than 200,000 men and elected to bide their time and avoid facing Napoleon in open battle for the time being. The Battle of Lutzen on May 2 was the first major fight of the German Campaign and ended in a victory for Napoleon with the aid of the Duchy of Warsaw. However, he was not able to pursue the combined Prussian and Russian forces due to heavy losses.

Nonetheless, the Russian-Prussian army was in full retreat and was eventually chased by Napoleon and Marshal Ney. At the Battle of Bautzen on May 20-21, the French won again but suffered over 20,000 casualties. It is claimed that Ney may have failed to block their retreat which robbed the French of complete victory. On June 4, Napoleon signed the Armistice of Pleischwitz which was extended to August 10. He hoped to use the time to increase his troop and cavalry numbers while also training his men. The allies also used their time well and, boosted by Austria joining the Coalition they were ready for the French when hostilities resumed.

Battle Notes

Allies Army
• Commander: Bianchi
• 4 Command Cards
• 2 Tactician Cards (Optional)

9 1 1 2 2 1 2 1 5

French Army
• Commander: Murat
• 5 Command Cards
• 3 Tactician Cards
• Move First

6 2 1 2 1 1 1 2 1 5

8 Banners

Special Rules
• The four villages represent a temporary french victory objective (turn start). French gain 1 temporary banner at turn start for each objective hex occupied beyond the second (thus, 2 banners if occupy all four) (Temporary Victory Banner Turn Start)
• The Allies gain 1 Temporary Victory Banner if the French control 0 villages. Allies start with 1 Victory Banner
• The river is not fordable
• Heavy cavalry unit types may not move three spaces when ordered by a cavalry charge
•Mud: Artillery moves a maximum of 1 space per turn, regardless of Command or Tactician Card effects.

Watch the video: Battle of Dresden 1813 Napoleonic Wars (July 2022).


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