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Traveling the 1814 Campaign
The Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of the Nations, was the crucial event during the campaign of 1813. Napoleon's defeat at the hands of the massed Coalition forces sent him retreating across Germany and back to France. Within three weeks, he was at St. Cloud planning for the defense of France. Many writers have remarked on the remarkable optimism of Napoleon. Some attribute it to his tremendous ego, other to the particular strength of his character. Wherever it derived from, it was put to a serious test following Leipzig. The year had cost over half a million French lives. His marshals were increasingly discontented if not mutinous. The French economy had been devastated by nearly two decades of continuous war and a punishing British blockade. The situation was bleak for Napoleon and the French nation.
The Coalition forces crossed the French frontiers in early January. It was simply a matter of time before Napoleon would give battle. Napoleon's challenge, badly outnumbered and running short of seasoned soldiers, was how to address these deficiencies and emerge victorious. Never daunted,Napoleon, carefully prepared his plans. The two main opposing armies; the northern Army of Silesia and the southern Army of Bohemia, remained separated on entering French territory by almost 200 miles. The Emperor's practice when confronting superior numbers was to divide and conquer, attacking the separated forces in turn before they could unite. Conveniently, his adversaries provided him with just such an opportunity. What differed from standard practice however was the fact that either Army outnumbered his meager forces substantially. While Napoleon could scrape together of a mere 120,000 men , Blücher commanded 110,000 and Schwarzenberg a further 210,000. Prince Bernadotte (Napoleon's erstwhile Marshal, now Crown Prince of Sweden) commanded a further 100,000 following behind Blücher and operating in the Netherlands.
The defensive Campaign of 1814 evolved in three phases. In late January 1814 Napoleon countered the first Coalition incursions into France. Despite initial victories against overwhelming numbers, the Armies of Silesia and Bohemia combined and Napoleon and his armies retreated. However, Napoleon surprised Blücher at Brienne and gave pause to the over-confident Coalition forces. Despite a momentary setback, coalition forces recovered quickly and three days later at La Rothière, Napoleon was put to flight again. But as Napoleon himself was fond of saying, "you throw into the fray, to see what happens next watching for an opportunity to emerge." Committed to the fray, Napoleon as he so often had done in his past battles waited to see if his opponent would make a mistake that he could move to exploit. Unlike the battles of the past however, he was not holding back his strategic reserve for such an opportunity. He was fully committed to a desparate defense of France.
The second phase of the campaign resulted from just such a mistake. During the month of February, the Coalition forces moved on Paris, not as a single Army, but as two separate columns, offering Napoleon the opportunity he was looking for. This phase was marked by a string of victories that demonstrated Napoleon's superb strategic ability: moving fast, striking hard, and appearing where he was not expected. With only 31,000 troops, he defeated Olssufiev at Champaubert and Sacken at Montmirail. He forced Sacken and Yorck to withdraw across the Marne and destroyed Blücher's advance guard at Vauchamps. Blücher suffered through a disorganized retreat and lost 7,000 men in only 4 days. Turning south, Napoleon moved on Schwarzenberg in detail and defeated Wittgenstein and Wrede at Nangis and then Wurttemburg at Montereau. Within days, both the Armies of Bohemia and of Silesia were in headlong retreat. These victories encouraged Napoleon to reject the Coalition forces offer of Peace based on the 1792 French frontiers.
The third phase, following the Battle of Bar-sur-Aube in late February, saw fate turn against the Emperor. Schwarzenberg at Bar-sur-Aube defeated Macdonald and Napoleon was beaten by Blücher at Laon. Despite the fact that Napoleon, never distracted by defeat, managed a victory at Arcis-sur-Aube, he subsequently gambled badly hoping to cut the Coalition lines of communication and compel their retreat. The coalition armies proved more resilient and continued to move on Paris before Napoleon could catch up. Marmont and Mortier's defeat by Schwarzenberg on his drive towards Paris at La Fére-Champenoise opened Paris to the Coalition forces.
Despite a cleverly waged campaign, the Coalition forces denied Napoleon the victories that he needed. Faced by the exhaustion of his resources, both physical and emotional, his weakness was exposed. The entry of the Coalition forces into Paris, and loss of confidence of both politicians and Marshals forced Napoleon to abdicate.
Today, the 192km between Paris and Châlons-en-Champagne is most conveniently covered via the A4-E50. Traveling via Meaux, Château-Thierry to Châlons. This route does not differ that greatly from the route traveled in 1814 following the River Marne. Alternate routing follows south of the Marne on N3/RD3 through Épernay.
26 January 1814
27 January 1814
28 January 1814
29 January 1814 The Battle of Brienne
Blücher and his chief-0f-staff Gneisenau had settled into the Chateau at Brienne to plot strategy. Late in the morning, Grouchy's cavalry attacks in force. While Napoleon was forced to wait to attack in force, Grouchy was able to contain the isolated corps of Blucher. At 3pm, Ney and Victor arrive on the battlefield and Napoleon wastes no time in directing them. Net advances with two brigades on the Village of Brienne, while one of Victor's brigades attacks the chateau itself. While the battle ranges, the raw recruits under Ney give good account and beat back Pahlen's cavalry. Victor however concedes some ground in the area of the chateau. They fight back valiantly and by 10pm to the light of burning buildings, they break through to the chateau itself and both Blücher and Gneisenau escape out one gate as the French come in through the other. It is a near run escape foe the Coalition commander. It is also a humiliation for the over-confident Blücher.
The chateau today…The action around the village can today be…
Because of this sharp action, Napoleon has successfully blooded his new recruits and given the Coalition forces something to be concerned about. Casualties on both sided are high. The French lose 3,000 to the Coalition forces 4,000.
30 January 1814
D396 runs between Brienne and Dolancourt today along the Aube. Trannes is approximately 11.5km from Brienne on this road. Faced with the humiliation of Blücher in his overeager advance, Schwarzenberg transfers additional troops to support his numbers.
31 January 1814
But how does one determine who is an ally in the heat of battle? In this case, Schwarzenberg has devolved operational control on Blücher to allow for continuity of command. The vast mixture of uniforms and nationalities means that all Coalition forces tie a white band around their arms to provide a distinguishing feature. How do the Coalition forces communicate, with so many languages and countries of origin?
1 February 1814 Battle of La Rothière
Around 1pm, Blücher dispatches Sacken to attack the centre at La Rothière. The advance is supported by Russian artillery. Nansouty's cavalry noting that the Russian guns are firing at a high elevation and therefore exposed to attack move in and cause significant havoc before the guns could be re-aligned. During the fighting, the blizzard continues to rage. Throughout the day, the French stubbornly resist attacks despite being hopelessly outnumbered. Ney's troops return and move to reserve position behind the centre. The Württembegers direct their attack on La Giberie and Chaumiesil. Around 4pm, the left, under Marmont begins to crack under General Wrede's attacks at Morvilliers. Additional fresh Coalition troops are committed with the arrival of Barclay's Russians. Napoleon recognizes the danger of his position ad decides that he must act immediately to affect a fighting withdrawal. Committing Ney's reserves he counter-attacks Barclay's new troops and regains control of La Rothière. He dispatches remaining reserves to bolster Marmont. A mistaken attack by Wurttemberg's Coalition cavalry on Wrede's Bavarians allows Marmont to rally his men and conduct an orderly retreat towards Brienne.
Outnumbered, by a ratio of 3:1, Napoleon takes advantage of the continuing blizzard and skillfully conducts an orderly withdrawal along the Lesmont Road towards Troyes. For two days, they resolutely move towards Troyes. They are able to hold their own and affect a withdrawal across the Aube at Lesmont. On the morning of 2 February, Napoleon departs via Lesmont for Piney, a short distance along D180/D960. On 3 February, he leaves Piney at 9am and arrives in Troyes at 3pm.
The battlefield at La Rothière of 1 February can be explored by traveling south from Brienne along D396 and the River Aube approximately 6km. At La Rothière despite its extraordinary efforts, Napoleon's forces suffer the loss of 2,000 men he can ill afford along with 50 artillery pieces (Maycock contends 6,000 and 70). This quickly restored the Coalition fighting spirit as they had beaten Napoleon in an all out battle of French soil. Unfortunately, the Coalition forces squandered an opportunity for pursuit and settled in to plan a faulty move on Paris and celebrate their victory.
2 February 1814
3 February 1814
The day does not fare as badly for the French as the battle of the previous day would suggest. An attempt to sever the Arcis-Troyes road is foiled by Grouchy's cavalry. Losses have forced Napoleon to reorganize all his cavalry into a single corps under Grouchy . At Arcis-sur-Aube, Marmont forces back a push by General Wrede. At Vitry, Marmont's forces defend successfully against Yorck. At Sens, an attempt by Platov's Cossacks against Allix's garrisons is sharply rebuffed.
5 February 1814
Châtillon-sur-Seine is today a charming town of ….The castle, located in the city was the site of the negotiations. Representing France was General Armand de Caulaincourt, Duke of Vincenza. Caulaincourt, a trusted member of Napoleon's entourage had spent four years as Napoleon's ambassador to St. Petersburg. The talks at Châtillon have been represented as a delaying action on the part of the Coalition forces. With Napoleon on the run the Coalition forces felt that they could achieve peace soon enough through a successful military conclusion. They made no new offers to encourage Napoleon's acceptance.
6 February 1814
Further complicating Napoleon's thoughts was the fact that France was being offered only a return to the borders of 1792 in return for cessation of hostilities. Napoleon rejected these terms because he felt that France required her ‘natural frontiers' of the Rhine, and he remained distrustful of the Coalition forces ultimate intentions.
Blucher, however is offering Napoleon an opportunity. Convinced that he only faces Macdonald's retreating and dispirited troops coming from the north and further convinced that Schwarzenberg's forces in the south are occupying Napoleon, he has scattered his columns.
8 February 1814
Napoleon is in a whirl. He decided that he could leave a force to hold the Army of Bohemia at Nogent and attack Blucher's lines of communications to the north to discover which path he has chosen to march on Paris. Marmont is dispatched to take 8,000 men to Sézanne. Napoleon quickly confirmed that General Yorck was close to Épernay with no more than 18,000 troops.
Napoleon accomplishes a military feat dragging his troops through nearly impassable secondary roads and the crossroads at Sèzanne. The artillery struggles through mud and affects a remarkable re-disposition.
9 February 1814
10 February 1814 The Battle of Champaubert
11 February 1814 The Battle of Montmirail
Moving quickly to Montmirail, Napoleon engages XXX on the next morning. Take RD933 West.
12 February 1814
14 February 1814 Battle of Vauchamps
15 February 1814
16 February 1814
17 February 1814 The Battle of Mormant
Napoleon realized that an Austrian contingent has advanced beyond Montereau he decides to moves his forces quickly to take the bridges spanning the Marne and advance on Troyes before Schwarzenberg can concentrate his forces there. Marshal Victor is tasked with taking Montereau. Unfortunately, before movement, Napoleon has cause to censure his Marshal for retiring too rapidly before Schwarzenberg. This strikes a nerve with Victor, whose actions the next day are the result.
At Montereau are the divisions of the Prince of Württemberg. While he orders Victor to attack before daybreak, Victor dawdles and instead of attacking with coordinated units, he reluctantly attacks in succession. As a result, the Württemberg successfully repulse his attacks and decimate three of his divisions. His son-in-law, General Chataux is mortally wounded. When Napoleon arrives, he appraises the situation and instructs Victor that he may return home and consider himself dismissed. Despite Napoleon's personal command and a restored tactical situation, the lack of ammunition puts an end to French action. The victory is salvaged only by the fact that the Prince of Württemberg fears a flank attack and orders a retreat through Montereau.
The result of the day is a victory for the French who have forced a retreat and accounted for 5,000 coalition casualties. Unfortunately, Victor's delaying had allowed for the withdrawal of the Austrians from the area, which Napoleon had hoped to prevent. Victor appears before Napoleon in tears and begs not to be dismissed from the battlefield. While Napoleon has little patience for ineptitude, he had always used the egos of his Marshals to his advantage and was conscious of the outcomes. He allowed Victor to stay and gave him command of two of his Guard divisions. Napoleon makes his headquarters, the Chateau of Surville, overlooking the town.
To his north, Blucher starts to correct the earlier mistake of separating the two columns in their advance on Paris. He concentrates his forces at Châlons and begins to move towards Schwarzenberg's Army on the Aube.
20 February 1814
Marshals Ney and Oudinot who express their misgivings about continuing the fight against such heavy odds confront napoleon still at Nogent. Napoleon, ever the optimist tells them their numbers are mistaken and refuses to accept their entreaties to sue for peace. Enraged, Napoleon supposedly seizes Oudinot who had stooped to replace a log on the fire and demands that the Marshals admit that their sole aim in appearing before him was to deter him from further operations. Despite the ruffled feelings, Napoleon dines with the Marshals following the exchange.
Seeking to set up the strategic situation so he can fall on Schwarzenberg's exposed flank, he immediately dispatches General Boyer to seize Mery its bridges across the Seine.
Expecting to find a few Austrians guarding the bridge at Mery, Boyer is surprised to find almost 50,000 Prussians from Blucher's forces moving south to join up with the Army of Bohemia. While Napoleon advances to Chatres, about 5km from Mery, the coalition forces give battle. The Prince of Luxembourg treats with Napoleon who stalls for time.
The campaign thus far has been less than conclusive and both sides are still pursuing diplomatic means as a sideline to the military operations. While there has been significant engagements, all forces remain active and in the field. As a result, neither side feels forced to make diplomatic concessions and all negotiations are carried out half-heartedly.
22 February 1814
The Coalition forces avoid giving battle when Napoleon is personally present. Despite the fact that he has less than 30,000 troops in the area, compared with Coalition forces strength of over 250,000, the Coalition forces abandon Mery, but not before burning the town and destroying the bridges that Napoleon so coveted. Throughout the campaign, the knowledge that the Emperor was present was a continual fear for the Coalition armies. Napoleon's reputation has survived the ignominious retreat from Russia and as Arthur Wellesley was said to have claimed: "Napoleon's presence on the battlefield was worth 40,000 troops."
Chatres is located about 31 km from Nogent on the south bank of the Seine along N19. Mery is located on the Seine a further 4km from the N19 along D373.
24 February 1814
After treating with the Coalition armies, Napoleon finally enters Troyes to rapturous approval of the townsfolk.
26 February 1814
Napoleon's grand strategy now starts to fall apart as he is challenged by a third Army. Elements of the Army of the North under Bülow and Wintzingerode have begun to push on Laon. All along, Napoleon has skillfully inserted himself between Blücher and Schwarzenberg and optimized his ability to maneuver through the use interior movement. He can move further faster and skillfully attack the coalition armies in detail, thus favouring his lesser numbers. A third force of substantial numbers is now operating outside of his immediate area and threatening Paris.
Since crossing the Rhine, the Army of the North, under Napoleon's once-Marshal Bernadotte, has been staying outside of France. Bernadotte has long harboured the hope that the Coalition forces would place him on the throne of France to replace Napoleon. Not wanting to antagonize the French he has refrained from giving battle in France. Following the council of war at Brienne, the Coalition forces have detached two substantial corps under von Bülow and Wintzingerode to attach them to Blücher's Army of Silesia.
27 February 1814 Battle of Bar-sur-Aube
28 February 1814 Action at Lizy and la Fertè-Milon
To the north, Mortier and Marmont are active against Kleist's Prussians and in a hard fought engagement force the Coalition force to retire.
1 March 1814 Action at Lizy and la Fertè-Milon
Mortier and Marmont are now reinforced with an additional 6,000 troops dispatched from Paris. They are thus able to deflect continued Coalition attacks in the Crouy and May area.
Napoleon meanwhile has reached La Fertè-sous-Jouarre and crosses the Marne with 35,000 troops under Marshals Ney and Victor. He has moved his troops the 100km from Troyes to Jouarre in three days. Blücher's Army of Silesia has been checked, held by Marmont and Mortier, he now retreats towards the north after destroying the bridged over the Marne. Napoleon quickly starts to rebuild them.
Blücher is now pushing to join with the troops from the Army of the North.
2 March 1814
The bridged repaired, Napoleon moves across the Marne. He races for Fismes and an opportunity to cut off Blucher's retreat. This is the high point of the campaign of 1814. Great victories behind him and the ability to destroy one of his main enemies in his grasp, Napoleon is in his element. Soissons, the town that the Coalition forces need in order to cross the Aisne. Napoleon knows that Soissons in French hands and thus denied to the Coalition forces. He has them in his clutches.
3 March 1814
The Coalition forces have invested the siege of Soissons. 43,000 from the Army of the North oppose the French defenders numbering 1,400. Unfortunately, the commander of the garrison at Soissons, General Moreau is easily swayed by Coalition entreaties. He feels he is sparing the townsfolk suffering by giving over to the Coalition forces. The Polish troops garrisoning the town demand to fight to the death but are deceived by Moreau.
Additional bad news follows this day as he learns that Marshal Oudinot has been surprised at La Fère and had surrendered the town, along with an arsenal of 100 guns.
Napoleon has no recourse and moves north across the Aisne at Berry-au-Bac towards Craonne.
7 March 1814 Battle of Craonne
In a hard fought engagement, the French are the victors by virtue of possessing the battlefield at the end of the day. It has however been a costly engagement for both sides and Napoleon does not have the troops to suffer the casualties that he is prone to accept. While the Coalition forces lost 5,000 men, Napoleon lost 6,000 including Victor and eight generals who were wounded.
9 March 1814 Battle of Laon
13 March 1814 Capture of Reims
The émigré general Saint-Priest occupies Reims with 15,000 Russian troops. The vanguard of the French forces rushed the town and captured a Russian regiment heading to the cathedral. Napoleon arrived at 4pm and the town was firmly in French hands.
Unfortunately, in the south of France at this same time, Marshal Soult had been beaten near Orthez and its Royalist mayor without a fight had surrendered Bordeaux. The Duke of Angouleme in the name of the Bourbons had entered to shouts of "long live the King."
Blucher ceases to be the focus of the Napoleon's attention as Schwarzenberg suddenly loses fear of fighting Napoleon in person and has started tom move towards his armies and arcing away from his direct march on Paris.
20 March 1814 Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube
Napoleon arrives during the afternoon.
25 March 1814 Battle of la Fére-Champenoise
Marshals Marmont and Mortier are attacked by the bulk of the Army of Bohemia.
26 March 1814
Realizing that he is badly outnumbered, Napoleon withdraws from the battle, however he is not beaten and his intellectual capabilities design a tremendous gamble. Choosing not to march to block the vastly greater numbers as they move on Paris, Napoleon constructs a vast sweeping maneuver to allow his forces to attack the Coalition rear from Lorraine. He calls in all available reserves in the area and begins to move to the east. He will threaten the Coalition communications with Germany and cause them to move away from Paris to protect their lines.
Two events however conspired to ruin Napoleon's efforts. The security of his own communications had long been a problem. Often duplicate dispatches were sent by a number of riders to ensure they reached their destinations. While ciphers were used, these had been compromised over time and the Coalition forces were easily reading captured communications. On March 23, a courier with a letter to Marie-Louise was captured and the Coalition forces read that his intention was "to move to the Marne in order to push the enemy armies further away from Paris and bring me closer to my base."
The following day two couriers were captured by Cossack squadrons carrying letters from Paris. Officials bemoaned the fact that the populace was on the verge of revolt and ammunition was nearly exhausted. They expressed the hope that the Emperor could draw the Coalition forces away from Paris, as it could not withstand any action.
The result of these captured communications left no doubt in the Coalition commanders as they met in council. The best way to end the war was to march on Paris.
27 March 1814
Napoleon arrives at Vitry. He discovers it strongly garrisoned against him and preventing his crossing of the Marne. Here Macdonald presents a communication recovered from a captured coalition courier. There is no doubt, 200,000 coalition troops are marching on Paris. While Macdonald holds fast that the coalition disposition changes nothing in their strategic reasoning, Napoleon orders all troops to hold fast in current position as he hurries to Saint Dizier.
It would be later learned that the Allies were in fact concerned by Napoleon's moves on their rear. Nevertheless, they were reassured in their progress by Talleyrand and other ministers that everyone wanted peace and that the population would welcome them as saviors.
28 March 1814
At Saint Dizier with his staff, Napoleon decides that he must head for Paris and rally the populace personally. The march on Lorraine is scrapped. He orders the immediate dispatch of 50,000 men he has between Vitry, Saint Dizier and Doulevant to march for Paris.
29 March 1814 Skirmishes on the Paris Approaches
As Joseph Bonaparte finally makes efforts to defend Paris, Mortier and Marmont battle with Coalition advance units at the Charenton Bridge. At 9am following a final council meeting, Marie-Louise along with the King of Rome and many of the French ministers depart for Blois escorted by Chasseurs of the Guard.
Napoleon and the Guard reach the outskirts of Troyes near midnight and catch some sleep.
30 March 1814 The Battle of Paris
Napoleon hands over command of the Armies in the field to Marshal Ney and rides for Paris desperate to take personal leadership of the defense. He leaves Troyes at dawn. The Coalition forces attack at Charenton, Belleville and advance towards Montmartre, which resided outside of Paris proper at the time. At 3pm in the afternoon French defenses are largely failing and Marmont makes a last charge in hope of throwing the Coalition forces off balance and buy enough time for Napoleon to arrive. Marshal Moncey, who has not seen action since Italy, defends the Clichy gate with national guardsmen.
Marie-Louise and the King of Rome wait at Blois for Napoleon's summons to join him.
31 March 1814
At 3pm, Napoleon has reached Sens and pushes on towards Paris. At 10:30pm, he reaches the Fromenteau relay near Juvisy. Here, Napoleon learns of the capitulation of Paris from General Belliard. In a rush, Napoleon condemns the defenders for cowardice and demands that Belliard turn the army around and return with him to Paris. He ponders for a while and realizes that it is time for negotiation before any military action and begins to dispatch orders to Caulaincourt giving him full powers to conclude a peace. He then departs for Fontainebleau.
With great fanfare and ceremony the victorious Coalition forces enter Paris. The Tsar accompanied by the King of Prussia and Prince Schwarzenberg ride at the head of the Coalition columns through the Pantin gate. They are preceded by Cossacks. General Sacken is declared military governor of Paris.
1 April 1814
A provisional government is declared in conjunction with Coalition forces. Talleyrand-Perigord is named as president. Its first act is to declare the Army's personal allegiance to Napoleon void.
Meanwhile at Fontainebleau, Napoleon ponders his future. He is attended by a number of Marshals as well as the remaining troops numbering some 30,000.
2 April 1814
The Old Guard finally arrives at Fontainebleau. Napoleon had left them at Troyes as he returned hoping to forestall the capitulation back on 28 March. His augmented troops now at Fontainebleau total approximately 60,000.
3 April 1814
The Provisional government deposes Napoleon as head of state. At the same time Napoleon announces to Marshals Lefebvre, Oudinot and Ney that he will march on Paris and proceeds to outline his plans. He will await the forces, which he has called, to concentrate in the south and in the meantime will buy time to enact his plans. His marshals however are wavering. Marmont has begun to treat with Prince Schwarzenberg.
4 April 1814
Napoleon abdicates in the name of his son, the King of Rome. This is however an abdication which is conditional upon the regency of Marie-Louise in the name of her son. Whether Napoleon was genuine in this or whether he was simply playing for time is up for conjecture.
5 April 1814
Napoleon abdicates in the name of his son, the King of Rome. To add insult to injury, Marshall Marmont, unsure of his loyalty and future dispositions is somewhat deceived by the Coalition forces and leads his army across their lines and into submission, thus depriving Napoleon of 50,000 troops.
6 April 1814
Napoleon is faced with a further complication. Talleyrand's intervention has convinced the Coalition forces that regency under Marie-Louise for her son, the King of Rome would only mean rule by Napoleon through his wife. They decide that they cannot accept his abdication in favour of his son enacted on the 5th. Napoleon, still hoping to march on Paris with the 60,000 troops he has concentrated near Fontainebleau, meets with his Marshals. Unfortunately, their uneasiness to suffer any further compels Napoleon to charge that the Army will still march to his orders. Marshall Ney bravely steps forward at this point and counters, that "No, the Army will obey its commanders." In this, he may well have been incorrect. The personal loyalty of the individual soldiers to Napoleon remained very strong, but without commanders, he judged his cause doomed. Napoleon signed an unconditional abdication and awaited the Coalition forces further actions.
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Last Modified 13 November 2005