Campaign of France 1814
Europe Against Napoleon

"With a few thousand men, most of whom were inexperienced conscripts,
one saw him (Napoleon) face the armies of Europe."

- Baron de Marbot

"To find a parallel we have to go back to Frederick the Great
in his struggle against almost all the rest of Europe."

- Loraine Petre, London 1914

Prussian and Russian troops on the Rhine in January 1814.
Prussian and Russian troops on the Rhine in January 1814.

Austrian and Russian troops crossing the Rhine River in January 1814.
Austrian and Russian troops crossing the Rhine River in January 1814.


Campaign of France.

Allies and their armies.
The Balance Seekers >
The Hawks >
Allies' plans >
Troops and commanders >
Allies' order of battle >

Napoleon and the French army.
Rebuilding the army >
The marshals >
Deployment of troops >

Lower Rhine (North) + (map)
Prusso-Russian-British invasion of Holland >
Prusso-British invasion of Belgium >
The Russians crossed the Lower Rhine >

Middle Rhine (Center)
The warmongers cross the Middle Rhine >
Blucher/Gneisenau tandem versus Marmont >
The hunt for Marmont >
Blucher's first blow missed Marmont >
Blucher and Austrian trickery >
The Prussians and Russians press on >
Comments >

Upper Rhine (South)
"The Austrians paddled away
as fast as they could." >
Allies enter Switzerland and advance into France >
The French fortress of Huningue >
French resistance in Alsace. >
Schwarzenberg press the panick button. >
The Tzar enters France >
Cossacks ! >
"Ah, my task is formidable ..." >
Comments >

Marshal Ney, "The Bravest of the Brave"
fails to defend central France

"I will plant my war standard on Napoleon's throne"
- General Forward Blucher >

The Old Guard defend the Master Point of France >

"The Emperor is now cooked well-done ..." >

Comments >


Napoleon arrives and assumes the offensive.

Napoleon's victory Brienne >

Blucher's withdrawal >












Below: Map of the Campaign of France in 1814.
Deployment of Troops.
Map of war in 1814.
Deployment of troops
for the Campaign of France

Map of the Campaign of France in 1814.
Deployment of troops





Campaign of France, 1814.
"The Emperor's greatest antagonists are forced to admit
that he excelled himself in the winter campaign
which he conducted in the first three months of 1814."
- Marbot

Napoleon in 1814 by Meissonier The effects of Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig in October 1813 were momentous. It had smashed his stranglehold on Europe for good, liberated Germany and catapulted Prussia into the ranks of the Continent's leading powers. Saxony was temporarily governed by Russian General Prince Repnin.
On November 1 in the morning, the Old Guard was drawn up at Frankfurt and the Emperor was cheered lustily. This was the last Vive l'Empereur ! ever heard in Germany.

The next campaign, the Campaign of France in 1814, has been greatly admired, and has been held up as the greatest effort of Napoleon's genius. If, on the one hand, we think this opinion places it too high, on the other, it is certainly a great example of what his genius could do in circumstances which, since the defeat at Leipzig, had become so desperate that no other general of the time would have even attempted to make head against them. "To find a parallel we have to go back to Frederick the Great in his struggle against almost all the rest of Europe." (Loraine Petre, London 1914)

Baron de Marbot writes, "No previous general had ever shown such talent, or achieved so much with such feeble resources. With a few thousand men, most of whom were inexperienced conscripts, one saw him face the armies of Europe, turning up everywhere with these troops, which he led from one point to another with marvellous rapidity. ... he hurried from the Austrians to the Russians, and from the Russians to the Prussians, ... sometimes beaten by them, but much more often the victor. He hoped, for a time, that he might drive the foreigners, disheartened by frequent defeats, from French soil and back across the Rhine. All that was required was a new effort by the nation; but there was general war-weariness..."

Napoleon Bonaparte
"To replenish the treasury, to create an army, to awe the turbulent
and then stand up single-handed against Europe in arms - these
were the tasks before him. He set the first example of self-sacrifice,
by giving into the public treasury 6,000,000 francs taken from his
private vaults in the Tuileries... " (Headley - "The Imperial Guard
of Napoleon"

Although Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig ended French hegemony in Europe, the Allies did not belive the war was over. They agreed to continue military operations to destroy Napoleon's army before it reached the Rhine River. "This plan achieved only partial success. Wrede managed to block Napoleon's line of retreat, but the emperor smashed through the Austro-Bavarian army at Hanau ... Napoleon commented that although he had made Wrede a count, he had failed to make him a general." (Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon" pp 12-13)

The exhausted French troops reached Frankfurt on 1 November, crossed the Rhine River, and established positions on the right bank, facing Mainz and Strasbourg, respectively.
Frederick Maycock writes, "At the beginning of November the inhabitants of Mainz, long unused to the horrible realities of war, were appalled by the miserable state of the (French) troops, some 70,000 strong, who for 2 days defiled continuously across the bridges over the Rhine. The town was filled to overflowing with thousands of sick, amongst whom typhus and dysentery wrought such havoc that for several weeks the death-rate reached the alarming proportion of over 400 a day." (Maycock - "The invasion of France, 1814")

Tzar Alexander of Russia The Allies reached Frankfurt in the beginning of November.
Metternich wrote Schwarzenberg, "I desire that the Kaiser (Emperor of Austria) arrive (in Frankfurt) before the Tzar of Russia". Frankfurt was the city where 21 years earlier the Kaiser had been crowned Holy Roman Emperor.

Schwarzenberg however could do nothing, and the Tzar paraded into Frankfurt at the head of his Guards. Frederick Maycock writes, "Meanwhile the Tzar had made a triumphant entry into Frankfurt on the 5th November and established his headquarters in the town, while Blucher's advanced troops pushed forward towards the Rhine." (Maycock - "The invasion of France, 1814" p 23)
The Kaiser of Austria entered the city the following day. The king of Prussia arrived in Frankfurt on 13 November. Numerous German princes, generals, ministers and courtiers also made their way to Frankfurt.


The Allies in 1814.
"There is much diplomatic activity."
- Prussian General Gneisenau

The Allies were not sure what to do next and there was much talking going on. Prussian general, Gneisenau, writes, "There is much diplomatic activity that is sometimes repugnant and absurd. The Austrian and Russian diplomats, their numbers is legion, are very active. To them are joined the Rheinbund princes." Sir Robert Wilson was unhappy with this situation, "Courts, galas, parades, banquets, etc., have succeeded the iron age."
The old Blucher writes, "... in Frankfurt is now an entire army of monarchs and princes, and this assembly makes a mess of everything, and will no longer conduct the war with energy, and I fear that we will dream away everything."

The Allies, after some deliberations, decided for continuing the campaign. The reason was however not indifference to the suffering of the Allies soldiers nor bloodthirsty revenge as some suggested, but the belief that by exploiting Napoleon's weakness the war would end sooner with less loss than if they allowed the master of war to recover.

The Balance Seekers.
"I will tell you, peace must be concluded."
- Klemens Wenzel, Prince von Metternich

They were mostly Austrians and some Germans. Their leading figure was Austrian foreign minister and chancellor, Klemens von Metternich. Metternich thought about maintaining Napoleonic France to hold in check the ambitious Prussians and Russians. The question was not how the campaign should be continued but whether the war should be continued at all. They opposed the overthrow of Napoleon out of fear that the succeeding ruler of France might be a Russian puppet. The political balance in Europe was important for the members of this group. Some also feared that a Jacobin government could seize power in France.

The Prussian chancellor, Hardenberg, did not embrace the idea of invading France as he feared Russian hegemony. Hardenberg's master, the King of Prussia, also wanted peace. The King endeavored to conserve the Prussian army, which he would need for leverage at the peace table. He had participated in the campaigns of 1792 and 1793 against France. "These operations firmly impressed on him the idea that despite the appearance of weakness, France could prove unexpectedly formidable." (- Michael Leggiere)
The Tzar however managed to convince the King to Russian ideas.

The Austrian Minister of State/Minister of Foreign Affairs, Metternich, intended that the Austrian army should take as little part as possible in the struggle, and that the great proportion of the losses should be borne by the Prussians and Russians. "For his purpose the cautious Schwarzenberg was an ideal commander, as he was not in the least likely to run any necessary risk or jeopardise the safety of his army." (Maycock - "The invasion of France, 1814")

The commander-in-chief of Allied armies (Austrian general Schwarzenberg), shared Metternich's moderate attitude toward Napoleon and France. In the beginning of January he wrote, "The moment has come when the emperor must become king of France." In his opinion taking Paris would not necessarily end the war and could prove to be just as much of a disaster for the Allies as Moscow had been for Napoleon in 1812.
Schwarzenberg however, remained skeptical of the likelihood of negotiations with the emperor.

Klemens Wenzel, Prince von Metternich
He was a very talented and self-assured Austrian politician.
When Napoleon suffered his catastrophic defeat i n Russia ,
Metternich extracted Austria from this alliance , reverted t o
neutrality, and soon joined the R u s s i a n s and Prussians.
In the subsequent war, he was chiefly anxious to ensure that
the balance of power did not swing too far in any direction ,
and that it would strengthen neither Napoleon nor the Tzar.


The Hawks.
"No more peace with Napoleon!
He or I, I or He: we cannot
longer reign together!"
- Tzar Alexander of Russia

The driving and decisive force in this campaign were the Russian and Prussian armies. Both monarchs were in a close relationship and the King of Prussia very often supported the Tsar. The townpeople of Troyes even described the King as Tsar's aide-de-camp.

The Tzar, and the two leading Prussian generals, Blucher and Gneisenau, insisted on immediate pursuing the French troops and decisive campaign against Paris. For them any peace terms would be dictated in Paris and they were anxious to stomp their boots on French soil. Blucher was disposed to make a severe retaliation upon Paris for the calamities that Prussia had suffered from France. Tsar Alexander looked for revenge for Napoleon taking Moscow in 1812. The tzar said, "I shall not make peace as long as Napoleon is on the throne." Tzar's advisor, Heinrich von Stein, branded the French Emperor "the enemy of the human race."

Many Russian generals yearned for peace. There were several reasons for this; they were war weary after campaigning much longer than the Austrians and Prussians, and they thought Russia has no interest west of Rhine. They understood however that their master, the Tzar, was consumed by the idea of invading France. And there was the Crown Prince of Sweden, Bernadotte, who warned against the dangers of invading France and popular resistance. He did not hide his interest in the future of the French government.

Lord Castlereagh ( undertook to try to persuade the Tsar of the necessity for reopening negotiations but all his arguments failed to produce any effect on Alexander.

Tzar Alexander I of Russia (1777-1825)
Napoleon thought him a " shifty Byzantine " ,
to Castlereagh he had " grand qualities " but
adds that he was "suspicious and undecided".
In foreign policy he gained notable successes.
Under Alexander's long rule Russia acquired
Finland , Lithuania , and part of P o l a n d .


Allies' plans before the campaign.
"... the Austrians considered combat as a means
to be employed in the last extreme, and sought to
obtain geographic objectives through maneuver;
the Prussians ... searched for battle to destroy
the organized forces of the enemy."
- Lefebvre de Behaine

The Allies were still undecided upon a general course of action. Many generals and diplomats remembered the misfortunes earlier coalition forces suffered by invading France.

Gneisenau Prussian chief of staff, General Gneissenau, had the following plans:
- the Allies should form 4 armies, three of them would cross the upper, middle and lower Rhine, and one move into Holland (it would deny Napoleon the resources of this country)
- to threaten as many French fortresses as possible to force the enemy to have concern for all. Should Napoleon form a strong field army the poorly defended 100-150 fortresses would fall; conversely, should he defend them, fewer troops would be available for the field army facing the Allies army.
Without fortresses Napoleon won't be able to dominate the country and collect his new recruits and taxes. And ammunition, food, muskets, sabers, cannons, and horses cost a lot of money.
Gneisenau dismissed as unlikely the intended cooperation between the Austrians invading southern France and the British-Portuguese army coming from the west. They were considered as secondary theaters of war.

Gneisenau's plans enjoyed the war council's support; only some Austrians suggested reducing the size of the army on the middle Rhine to increase the forces moving through Switzerland. Surprisingly, the King of Prussia opposed Gneisenau saying, "He is a mischevious, meddling being who requires constant surveillance ..." The King, after his misfortunes public (French occupation of his country 1806-1812) and private (his wife died), prefered peace to any war.
Gneissenau's supporters however enticed the Tzar with flattery, calling him the king of kings and the Supreme Chief of the Coalition. "Gneisenau resorted to blatant flattery to entice [Tsar] Alexander.
'Instead of being satisfied with chasing the enemy from the borders of your empire' he explained to the tsar, 'Your Imperial Majesty saved Europe by carrying the war into the heart of Germany. You can rescue Europe once more ... you are the soul of the union of all people who were oppressed or menaced by France. Your Majesty can still save Europe if you hasten the movement of the army assembled on the Rhine ..." ( - Michael Leggiere)
And the Tzar needed the Prussian hawks against the Austrians.

Gneisenau and his supporters pressed for an immediate invasion of France and expressed opposition to any negotiations with Napoleon, maintaining that the Emperor "could only be defeated through war, war, and more war."

Radetzky Chief of staff of the Austrian army, General Radetzky, had two plans.
- one suggested that all three Allies armies should take winter quarters along the Rhine, from Switzerland to Holland. The troops required rest, they lacked uniforms, food, and ammunition. Revitalizing on the march in winter and in enemy's territory did not appear feasible.
- the second plan called for two armies taking winter quarters, one army invading Holland, and a small Austrian force moving into Italy.

On November 8th, Radetzky called for one of the Allies armies moving up to Switzerland and invading southern France. Blucher then would invade Holland. By advancing through Switzerland the Austrains could impose a pro-Austrian government on the Swiss and link up with Austrian troops in northern Italy. And there was another reason, the weakest point of the French frontier alwayz had been along the Swiss border.
Radetzky suggested postponing the Rhine passage until 1 January to reorganize the armies and replenish ammunition and food supplies. He feared a prolonged delay of the invasion and did not want to give Napoleon time to convert 100,000 demoralized troops into 300,000 men strong army.
The Kaiser of Austria wanted to move into winter quarters, rest the troops, and begin a spring campaign with the slow but systematic siege of enemy's fortresses. The Austrians believed Napoleon would make peace after the loss of his frontier provinces.

Clausewitz Klaus von Clausewitz, very influential Prussian military theorists, rejected the idea regarding the dispersion of Allies troops. He thought that after Allies victory at Leipzig they should immediately cross the Rhine in one mass, defeat Napoleon again and/or take Paris, and end the war.
He argued that the Allies should have rested on the Rhine for only few days before crossing the river in mid-November !

Radetzky thought that the advance of such huge army on a single axis was dangerous. There were numerous obstacles on the way; the Vosges Mountains, Moselle and Meuse Rivers, and two or three rows of fortresses, including the massive fortress of Mainz.


Allies' troops and commanders in 1814.
"Not even at the commencement of the Revolution
had France been beset by such formidable circle
of foes ..." - Frederick Maycock, p 25

The Allies armies needed reinforcements, especially the Russians and Prussians. While the Russians fought the longest (1812, 1813, 1814), the Russians and Prussians fought the hardest. The total casualties of Allied armies at Leipzig were 50.000-55.000 killed, wounded and captured.
- Prussians' losses were 15.500 or 20 % of their forces
- Russians' losses were 20.000 or 13 % of their forces
- Austrians' losses 7.500 or 7 % of their forces
- Swedes' losses 400 men or 2 % of their forces
The troops needed food, supplies, and rest. Many Allies soldiers were sick, they contracted typhus after moving into billets recently occupied and infected by enemy's troops. Dysentery also spread. The Prussian I Army Corps alone had to leave 5,500 men in hospitals when the invasion of France commenced.

The Allies imposed on the German princes (perviously allied with Napoleon) a contribution of 44 millions of francs to be paid in 2 years and used for the maintenance of Russian, Austrian, Prussian, Swedish, and Hanoverian troops. In addition the German princes had to mobilize their armies and supply the Allies with 145,000 line troops and 145,000 Landwehr. It was not easy for Bavaria, Wurtemberg, Baden, and other German states, to meet Allies expectations. They lost their best troops during Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812.

Convoys with supplies and equipment and replacements from Prussia, Russia, and Austria arrived before the end of 1813.

The Allied armies were under the commander of Schwarzenberg. Michael Leggiere writes, "Although not on par with Napoleon, Wellington, or the Blucher/Gneisenau tandem, Schwarzenberg's understanding of strategy and operations surpassed the active French marshals as well as most of his contemporaries among Austria's allies. ... Placing Austrian national interests above those o the Coalition remains the understandable yet inexcusable fault of the Allied commander in chief."

Schwarzenberg (1771-1820)
"Although not on par with Napoleon (Bonaparte)
Wellington, or the Blucher / Gneisenau tandem ,
Schwarzenberg's understanding of strategy and
operations surpassed the active French marshals"
- Michael Leggiere

Age of Allies monarchs and commanders, from the oldest to the youngest:
72 years old - Blücher (Prussian commander-in-chief)
54 years old - Gneisenau (Prussian chief-of-staff)
53 years old - Barclay de Tolly (Russian commander-in-chief)
48 yeras old - Radetzky (Austrian chief-of-staff)
46 years old - Francis II, Kaiser of Austria
45 years old - Wellington (commander of British-Portuguese army)
44 years old - Frederick William III, King of Prussia
43 yeras old - Schwarzenberg (Austrian commander-in-chief)
37 years old - Alexander I, Tzar of Russia

Though Blucher was the oldest one, he had lost none of his energy and but little of his youthful vigour, while the way in which he endured the hardships of the campaign was truly marvelous. Napoleon was 45 years old, Marshal Marmont 40, Davout 44, Marshal MacDonald 49, and Marshal Victor 50 years old. Prince Poniatowski was killed at Leipzig, October 1813, in the age of 50.


Allies' order of battle, 1814.
"We were indeed superior to the enemy in numbers"
- Mikhailovski-Danilevski, Tzar's secretary

This is difficult to estimate with any degree of accuracy the exact number of troops with which the Allies commenced their invasion of France in 1814.

    Commander in chief of Allied armies - Schwarzenberg
    The Tzar prefered Archduke Charles ( Austria )
    who defeated Napoleon at Aspern-Essling 1809
    but Metternich insisted on Schwarzenberg. This
    choice caused controversy because Metternich
    disregarded several senior Austrian commanders.

    "Army of the North" under Brnadotte - 82,000 men
    Swedish 'Corps' - 31,000 men and 62 guns
    Corps under Walmoden - 5,000 men and 24 guns
    III Army Corps (Prussian) under Bulow - 30,000 men and 96 guns
    Army Corps (Russian) under Wintzingerode - 16,000 men and 60 guns

    "British Auxiliary Corps" in Netherlands - 9,000 men

    "Army of Silesia" under Blucher - 105,000 men
    I Army Corps (Prussian) under von Yorck - 21,000 men and 82 guns
    II Army Corps (Prussian) under Kleist - 16,000 men and 72 guns
    Army Corps (Russian) under Sacken - 25,000 men and 94 guns
    Sacken's force consisted of Shcherbatov's VI Infantry Corps,
    Lieven-III's XI Infantry Corps, Vasilchikov's Ccavalry Corps,
    and one Cossack corps
    Army Corps (Russian) under Langeron - 43,000 men and 136 guns
    Langeron's force consisted of St.Priest's VIII Infantry Corps,
    Olsufiev's IX Infantry Corps, Kaptzevich's X Infantry Corps,
    Korff's Cavalry Corps, and one Cossack corps

    "Army of Bohemia" ("The Grand Army") under Schwarzenberg - 150,000 men
    Advance Guards - 11,300 men and 40 guns
    1st Light Divison (Austrian) under Bubna - 6,500 men and 24 guns
    2nd Light Divison (Austrian) under Liechtenstein - 4,800 men and 16 guns
    I Army Corps (Austrian) under Colloredo - 15,500 men and 64 guns
    II Army Corps (Austrian) under Alois Liechtenstein - 12,700 men and 64 guns
    III Army Corps (Austrian) under Gyulay - 14,500 men and 56 guns
    IV Army Corps (German) Crown Prince of Wurttemberg - 14,000 men 24 guns
    Because the IV Army Corps (Austrian) under Klenau resumed the siege of Dresden
    the VII 'German' Corps became the new IV Army Corps in Schwarzenberg's army
    V Army Corps (German-Austrian) under Wrede - 43,000 men and 172 guns
    Approx. 34,000 Bavarians with 124 guns, and Frimont's 9,000 Austrians with 48 guns
    VI Army Corps (Russian) under Wittgenstein - 21,000 men and 56 guns
    Wittgenstein's corps consisted of two weak Russian infantry corps, I and II,
    and Pahlen (Russian) cavalry corps. All three corps fought very hard at Leipzig.
    Reserve Corps (Austrian) under Prince Friedrich - 18,000 men and 100 guns
    Here was the flower of the Austrian armies, two grenadier and two cuirassier divisions.

    "Reserves" under Grand Duke Constantine [Tzar's brother] - 40,000 men
    III 'Grenadier' Infantry Corps (Russian) - 11,500 men and 90 guns
    V 'Guard' Infantry Corps (Russian) - 13,000 men and 36 guns
    'Guard and Cuirassier' Cavalry Corps (Russian) - 8,500 men and 16 guns
    Prussian Guards - 7,000 men and 16 guns

In February and March of 1814, reserve troops (66,000 men) reached France:
II 'German' Corps - 6,000 men
IV 'German' Corps - 20,000 men
V 'German' Corps - 25,000 men
VIII 'German' Corps - 15,000 men

In February and March, Allies reinforcements (33,000 men) reached Netherlands:
Thuringian-Anhlat 'Brigade' - 12,000 men
Saxon two 'Columns' - 12,000 men
III 'German' Corps - 9,000 men

In Pyrenees:
British-Portuguese Army under Wellington - 75,000 men
Spanish Army under Prince of Angola - 60,000 men
Wellington's and Spanish reserves - 50,000 men

In Germany: 'German' Landwehr - 100,000 men
In Prussia: Reserve Corps (Prussian) - 20,000 men
In Saxony: 'Polish Army' (Russian) under Bennigsen - 35,000 men
In Austria: Reserve Corps (Austrian) under Duke Ferdinand - 20,000 men
In Poland and Lithuania: Reserve Army (Russian) under Lobanov-Rostovski - 60,000
In Italy: Bellegarde's corps and other troops - 100,000 men (70,000 Austrians, 30,000 Neapolitans)
In Great Britain the home defence forces included 50,000 regulars and 75,000 militia

Other troops:
IV Army Corps (Prussian) - 40,000 men
Siege of Glogau (Russians and Prussians) - 15,000 men

Total: 1,185,000 regulars and Landwehr
(of this force "only" 405,000 invaded France)

The Russian troops were pretty much disbursed among the Allies forces. Mikhailovski-Danilevski writes, "While the tzar confined his troops to the care of foreign commanders. He freely exercised a general influence over both military and diplomatic affairs and thus was in continual verbal and written communication with the leading commanders as well with the ministers of the courts." There were more than 250,000 Russian troops, including 205,000 men under the command of Barclay de Tolly. General Alexei Arakcheyev was responsible for maintaining the regiments and artillery at full capacity. Volkonski was the chief of general staff of the Russian forces.
The Russian supply system proved inferior to that of the Austrian army and superior to the Prussian system. Ammunition arrived from Russian depots in orderly manner, notwithstanding the difficulties posed by the tremendous distance.


Napoleon and the French army in 1814.
" Napoleon is in the most awful situation
. . . I a m most eager to see how his genius
will extract himself."-Friedrich v.Muffling

French infantry in winter 1814 Approx. 75,000 French troops crossed the mighty Rhine River on November 3 and entered France. Napoleon passed thousands of stragglers, wagons, draft horses, and troops of organized soldiers (of the 75,000 only 40,000 carried weapons) and entered Mainz. He then dispersed the available troops to form a cordon along the left bank. General Griois of Guard Artillery, writes, "The Rhine, which we were going to put between ourselves and the enemy, seemed to us an impassable obstacle; and while we deplored what we were abandoning and what we had already lost, France, such as it still remained, appeared to us beautiful and large enough, under a leader like Napoleon, to soothe many sorrows."

Napoleon reached Paris on 9 November.
The government-controlled media blamed the distater in 1812 in Russia on the winter, and the massive defeat in 1813 in Germany on the treachery of France's allies (Prussia and Saxony). Many Frenchmen however believed that Napoleon squandered an opportunity to make peace in July 1813, just few months before the battle of Leizpg.
The Emperor faced growing opposition in Paris, the countryside generally remained loyal (but not enthusiastic). Frederick Maycock writes, "The Emperor's warlike policy met with no opposition from the Senate, but in the Chamber of Deputies, in spite of the fact that the President had been appointed by the Emperor ... a very different spirit prevailed. The session was opened by Napoleon with great pomp, and he delivered a stirring speech ... and concluded by calling on the deputies to shrink from no sacrifices necessary to ensure the safet of their native land. His oratory however produced very little effect, and it was obvious that a large proportion of the deputies desired peace on almost any terms and were bitterly opposed to the continuation of the struggle." ( Maycock - "The invasion of France, 1814")

On 14 November, Napoleon orchestrated a spectacle to recapture the hearts of the Parisians. The Guard Cavalry paraded with the Autro-Bavarian standards captured in the battle of Hanau.

On 20 November Napoleon took residence in Tuileries for the next 2 months. Because of the fragile situation in Paris it was impossible for Napoleon to quit this city immediately. Baron de Marbot writes, "Sadly, loyalty to the Emperor was so much diminished in the Senate and the legislative body, that there were leading members of these assemblies, such as Tallyrand, ... and others, who through secret emissaries informed the allied sovereigns of the dissatisfaction among the upper-class Parisians with Napoleon, and invited them to come and attack the capital."
The Allies had a network of informants and paid spies and knew of Napoleon domestic crisis. General Gneisenau writes, "According to our reports, confusion and discontent rule the French interior."

On 7 January 1814, Napoleon received the shocking news describing the retreat of Marshal marmont and Marshal Victor from the frontier provinces. Victor crossed the Vosges Mountains and united with Milhaud's cavalry corps. The emperor also dispatched Marshal Ney from Paris.
Ney reached Nancy on the 9th.

Napoleon's sister Caroline, and brother-in-law Marshal Murat defected to the Allies on 11 January. Napoleon had hoped Murat's 25,000 Neapolitan troops would unite with Eugene's 50,000 men. Instead the Neapolitans joined the Austrians.

"On January 25 1814, Napoleon climbed into his carriage at 3 AM in the courtyard of the Tuileries, to travel to the front in Lorraine. Over most of France snow was falling. In their cottages, the peasants huddled over the fire. Looks were gloomy and words few and bitter. Virtually everywhere there were supporters of peace at any price." ( Georges Blond - "La Grande Armee" p 416)

On the Spanish border Suchet had 40,000 men and Soult 60,000 men.


Rebuilding the French army.
"I needed 2 months, if I had them,
they [ Allies ] never would have
crossed the Rhine." - Napoleon

The vast plains of Russia had swalled up the Grand Army: the mighty battles of 1813 had destroyed another Grand Army, and in the end of that year new decrees were issued calling for more troops. Napoleon had 100,000 troops (75,000 exhausted veterans and 25,000 in fortresses) along the Rhine. They formed a cordon protecting the eastern provinces of France. Napoleon intended to form a very strong reserve behind the cordon. The Emperor needed time to accomplish it.

There were 100,000 men under Marshal Soult and Suchet in southern France facing Wellington's 125,000 British, Spanish and Portuguese troops. "Soult's army also received a large number of recruits during Jnauary, but this was more than balanced by the strong drafts of veterans he was ordered to send to the Emperor." (Maycock - "The invasion of France, 1814" p 235)

In Italy 50,000 French troops under Eugene faced 75,000 Austrians under Bellegarde.

Napoleon desperately needed time to rebuild his army, "I needed 2 months, if I had them, they [Allies] never would have crossed the Rhine." The new recruits however could not be combat-ready before March. Approx. 280,000 recruits filled the lists in compliance with the first two decrees in October. But the desertion was very high and only 100,000 reached their regiments in December. Most of them received no military training in depots. The decree in November called for 178,000 unmarried and married men but only 30,000 had joined their regiments by 31 January and 35,000 were en route. With the fall of Holland and Belgium into Allies hands, desertions of these nationals accelerated.
The Imperial Guard increased to 27,500 men (17,500 infantry, 5,000 cavalry, 5,000 artillery and engineers). Marshal Mortier, a giant man, took command of this powerful formation. Napoleon intended to increase the Guard to 85,000 men !
Another source of manpower was the National Guard. The following regiments of line infantry were formed in 1813 from the cohorts of National Guard: 135th, 136th, 137th, 138th, 139th, 140th, 141st, 142nd , 143rd, 144th, 145th, 146th, 147th, 148th, 149th, 150th, 151st, 152nd , 153rd, 154th, 155th, and 156th.
Napoleon planned to field 380,000 men by 15 January. The Emperor proved how much could be achieved in circumstances so desperate that no other general of the time would have even attempted to make head against them.

The time was very short however and there was shortage of everything. The veterans' desperately needed new uniforms. The recruits wore civilian clothes under their greatcoats. The cavalry lacked sabers and pistols, the infantry needed muskets. The 5th Light Infantry Regiment had 545 men and only 150 muskets. The 153rd Line Infantry Regiment had 1,088 men and 142 muskets. There were 6,000 horses for 9,500 cavalrymen. Several regiments received horses that under normal conditions would have been considered undersized. "The government eventually decreed spade labor to prohibit ploughing and force peasants to surrender their horses." (- Michael Leggiere)

Another problem was typhus (fever and red spots over arms, back and chest, progressing to delirium, gangrenous sores, and the stink of rotting flesh.) According to Joseph M. Conlon in 1812, more French soldiers died of typhus than were killed by the enemy. In November and December of 1813 typhus claimed thousands of soldiers (15,000 in IV Corps alone !) and civilians.

The numerous campaigns made the military service unpopular. It became necessary to hunt up the refractaires with mobile columns, and the generals reported that they were afraid to use their young sldiers for this purpose. Houssaye writes, "Numbers of men took to the woods to avoid the conscription, and they were there pursued by mobile columns, while bailiffs took possession of their parents' houses, and in some districts none but women and childrewn worked in the fields.
Meanwhile the Minister of the Interior published official instructions in the newspapers to the effect that women and children could advantageously take the place of men in the field work, and that spade labour should be employed instead of ploughing, which had become impossible owing to the shortages of horses." (Houssaye - "Napoleon and the campaign of 1814" pp 2-3)

Arresting those who attempted
to avoid conscription. Picture
by T. de Thulstrup.


The French marshals in 1814.
"In part because of his political insecurity,
Napoleon did not want to see a new star rise
on the merits of battlefield exploits."

"Napoleon's constant criticism sapped zeal from his generals, increased their despondency, and made them loathe to show any initiative. Aside from the emperor's frustrating use of misinformation to overestimate his own forces and underestimate those of the enemy, the psychological impact of his rants is immeasurable. Napoleon's admonishments drip with his own utter frustration of being bound like Prometheus ( to the rock of Paris. ...
Most of the marshals who remained active in 1813 and 1814 were good divisional commanders and tacticians, but nothing more. Their ineffectiveness cannot be attributed t the simple explanation they had reputations to lose rather than gain. Napoleon assumed the subordinateds whom he entrusted with independent command had gained sufficient knowledge for this awesome responsibility though experience. On many occasions, but particularly in 1813 and 1814, they proved him wrong. In the empire's hour of need Napoleon's commanders demostrated they had little understanding of his strategic and operationbal principles of war.
In order for the French empire to survive, Napoleon's generals needed the education, training, and skills to wage war on par with the great captain himself and remain one step ahead of France's enemies. In part because of his political insecurity, Napoleon did not want to see a new star rise on the merits of battlefield exploits. ... He placed his faith in them, still believeing he could direct the war from Paris. Time and again their failures proved they had not been properly prepared for their tasks. Even a military genius like Napoleon could not direct the operations of multiple armies in multiple theaters from his throne." (Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon")

Napoleon and his marshals, picture by Meissonier
The Campaign of France provides testimony of one of the most fundamental principles of war:
unity of command. Had the four marshals (Ney, Victor, Marmont, and MacDonald) coordinated
their operations they could have stopped the Allies at Moselle for several days. It would give
the emperor the time he needed to rebuild his army.


Strength and deployment
of the French troops.
Napoleon's plans.

Napoleon divided the eastern border into three sectors commanded by three marshals; MacDonald, Marmont and Victor.
- On the lower Rhine, between Koblenz and Zwolle, MacDonald had 18,000 men
(The bulk of V Army Corps and III Cavalry Corps between Duisburg and Cologne,
and the bulk of XI Army Corps and II Cavalry Corps between Wesel and Zwolle).
In Holland and Belgium, 20,000 men in fortresses and 15,000 men in the field.
- On the middle Rhine were Marmont's 20,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry and 66 guns.
They formed the IV and VI Army Corps and the powerful I Cavalry Corps. Bulk of
these forces stationed in Mayence (Mainz) and surrounding area. Additionally there were
25,000 men in hospitals. Marmont informed Napoleon that the Austrians had moved their
artillery to Mannheim and that workers had been summoned for bridge building.
- On the upper Rhine between Strasbourg and Basel, and the border with Switzerland,
stood Victor with 12,000 men and 25 guns. These men formed the II Army Corps and
V Cavalry Corps. The II Corps stationed near Strasburg while the V Cavalry Corps stood
further south. Approximately 10,000 National Guards arrived by 1 January to occupy the
frontier fortresses. Many of them had never fired a musket.
- Behind the cordon were 15,000 men of the reserves: 1st and 2nd Old Guard Division,
1st and 2nd Young Guard Division, the Guard Cavalry, and the superb Guard Artillery.

The three marshals (MacDonald, Marmont, Victor) thought about preserving their troops
for the emperor ' s future use . They rapidly fell back to avoid annihilation of their forces.
Napoleon however expected his marshals to hold the enemy's army as close to the border
as possible. Abandoning any territory meant fewer conscripts for his new army (loss of
manpower) and less money (smaller tax revenues) to arm the new troops and wage the war.

There were also garrisons occupying the numerous fortresses in the Old and New France and along the frontier. Unfortunately many of them fell into a lamentable state of disrepair (France was accustomed to wage offensive campaigns in distant countries and neglected their fortresses.) There were several reasons why it was important to defend them in 1814:

  • they were save place to organize and train the new coscripts
  • they offered a symbol of hope and resistance to pro-French inhabitants
  • collaborators would think twice before aiding the enemy for fear of retribution
  • in case of defeat in battle and retreat, the Allies would find themselves forced to mask the fortresses with a force large enough to contain the garrison and guard their lines of communication. The Allies would feel the bite of strategic consumption caused by rear-area security measures.
  • the fortresses were very useful in the political posturing that would take place during the eventual peace negotiations.

The Emperor saw little threat from the south (upper Rhine and Switzerland) and believed the enemy would continue their offensive either across the middle Rhine or through Low Countries and invade Holland. Michael Leggiere writes, "... Allied movements all along the entire right bank of the Rhine kept the French puzzled. On 10 November, Marmont reported the movement of the 'Bavarian Army' to the upper Rhine. ... French patrols observed Russian and Prussian troops along the lower and middle Rhine, and apparently the Austrians moved further upriver. ... These reports, provided by both civilian and military sources, affirmed the emperor's belief that the Allies planned to mask the middle and upper Rhine to operate against Holland and Belgium."

Between 16 and 24 November Napoleon received evidence from Marmont and Victor regarding the march of massive Allies army up the Rhine. The rumors in Frankfurt were that the Russians, preceded by thousands of Cossacks, will march on Basel in Switzerland. The bridge in Basel was very important as it couldn't be substituted since in winter the Rhine will have drift ice and it will be impossible to assemble a pontoon bridge.

Meanwhile Napoleon issued a decree to raise 280,000 recruits.
The conscript were often without food or accommodation, and it was useless to complain to the overworked officers of the depot, who lost their heads among the crowds of recruits waiting to be organised and lacking every necessary.

French line voltigeur


For more info read the chapter below.

Military operations on the Lower Rhine (North)
Bulow versus Marshal MacDonald.


Holland landscape This theater of war on the lower Rhine (German: Niederrhein) encompasseed Holland and Belgium. The landscape of Holland was dotted with windmills, which have become a symbol of this country.
The main cities are Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague. Holland was divided by into parts by three large rivers (Rhine, Meuse, and Waal). This ongoing struggle to master the water played an important role in the development of Holland as a maritime and economic power.

Belgium is home for two main linguistic groups, the Flemings and the French-speakers, plus a small group of German-speakers. The coastal plain consisted mainly of sand dunes. Further inland lies a smooth, slowly rising landscape with fertile valleys. The thickly forested hills and plateaus of the Ardennes are rugged and rocky. From the 16th century many battles between European powers were fought in the area of Belgium, causing it to be dubbed "the cockpit of Europe".

"For defensive purposes - as well as an ominous portent for future offensives - the Prussians concurred that Holland and Belgium offered the opportunity to flank French defenses along the Rhine and launch a rapid strike against Paris." ( Michael Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon")


Prusso-Russian-British invasion of Holland.
"... Bulow has made a glorious campaign in Holland
- a campaign which will live forever in the annals of
military history." - General Gneisenau

William Frederick, the Prince of Orange British envoys in Frankfurt demanded an Allied offensive in Holland. The Prussians were also very interested in this project. William Frederick (see picture -->), the Prince of Orange, asked Great Britain for support. The British promised to provide 25,000 muskets and send 5,000 troops under General Graham to Holland.

The Austrians feared that the Prussians sought to expand their political influence by gaining the support of liberated Dutch and Belgians. Thus Schwarzenberg did not issue orders for invasion of Holland, but the British needed Prussian troops in Low Countries.
Micahel Leggiere writes, "London needed Prussian manpower to execute the invasion and liberation of the Low Countries, particularly because previous British expeditions to Holland had not faired well. Although the British wanted the French out of Holland, they refused to weaken Wellington to do so."

In early November Holland revolted against French rule. In mid November General Dirk van Hogendorp proclaimed Holland free and Prince of Orange the highest political authoprity in the country. (During the French invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon appointed Hogendorp as the governor of Vilnius. It surprised and greatly dissapointed Polish patriots loyal to Napoleon. They considered Vilnius as Polish city.)

Beckendorff or Benkendorf Cossacks on western Europe The Allies responded to the new developments with sending Beckendorff (or Benkendorf, Benckedorf) with 3,500 men (incl. 1,500 Cossacks) to the Netherlands.
( Count Alexander von Beckendorff was a general and diplomat, and his sister was a socialite and political force famous at Paris and London.)

Beckendorff's left was secured by Narishkin's three regiments of Cossacks, and his right by Balabin-II's five regiments of Cossacks. News that Cossacks had crossed the frontier sparked the anti-French revolt in Amsterdam.

Bulow's Prussian corps and Wintzingerode's Russian corps, who after occupying Hanover and Westphalia, had advanced on Munster and Dusseldorf. Bulow was then ordered to dispatch Borstell's brigade to besiege Wesel (defended by French and Italian soldiers) on the German bank of Rhine. Bulow's main body was about to follow Borstell.
Bulow formed his advance guard of 3,000 men (4 battalions, 2 dragoon regiments, and 12 guns) and placed under von Oppen. Prior to crossing the border, Bulow learned that Beckendorff's Cossacks had entered Amsterdam. He immediately dispatched two regiments of cavalry to assure the Prussians a presence in that important city. Bulow arrived in Utrecht and established communication with Beckendorff. Then he sent von Oppen's advance guard in flying columns that advanced in several directions.

British supplies. British General Taylor arrived at Scheveningen with 20,000 muskets for the Dutch troops. There were however no Dutch authorities to receive the weapons and no empty buildings could be found to store them. Thus the Prussians put their hands on the muskets and armed their Westphalian Landwehr.

Although Bulow was greeted as liberator of Holland, he became annoyed with the Dutch for failing to field troops. He hoped that they would be able to occupy the captured fortresses, thus sparing the Prussians from dispersing their forces. Bulow urged the Dutch to adopt aggressive Prussian conscription methods and confiscate the wealth of any Dutchman who shirked his military responsibility.

The British were also dissapointed with the Dutch. John Stanhope writes, "the (Dutch) people are as dull and motionless as their canals. ... with the exception of some cries of Orange boven, some orange ribbons that begin to fade, and some triumphal arches that savor too strongly of French Prefecture and old drilling to Napoleon's victories, no travelers would know there was such a thing as war, much less that their independence was at stake."

General Friedrich von Bülow.
Throughout his life Bülow was devoted to music,and
his musical ability brought him to the notice of King.
He did not , however , neglect his military studies .
In 1813, Bulow fought against Oudinot in defence of
Berlin, and defeated Marshal Ney at Dennewitz.
In 1814 Bulow invaded Netherlands and received a
hero's welcome in Holland.

Colomb's flying column raided the region east of Antwerp from 14 to 20 December.
They sparked riots, dispersed conscripts, and terrified French authorities.

British General Graham British General Graham landed on the island of Tholen with 7,000 - 9,000 men and a small artillery force. General Bulow established communication with Graham, but the British postponed joint operations by insisting that they needed rest.

Bulow also kept communication with the Russian corps under Wintzingerode (16,000 men), but this general delayed his movements. Wintzingerode also recalled three Cossack regiments from Benckendorf's force.

Bulow complained to the Crown Prince of Sweden, but Bernadotte's own duplicity and misleading letters complicated matters. For example the Crown Prince of Sweden assured Wintzingerode that the situation in Holland did not require Russians' presence.

Prussians Lack of support from Graham and Wintzingerode, and insufficient manpower, restricted Bulow's Prussians from invading Belgium.

But the damage was already done, the French civil and military administration in Netherlands was in the state of panic. Lefebvre de Behaine writes, "What he (Colomb) did not know was the indescribable panic his passage caused, the strategic and political consequences were infinitely more serious than those of the Neuss Affair. Generals and prefects lost their heads. ... On the 19th the prefect of the Meuse Inferieure complained that he had not received any couriers from Paris for 10 days, the road to Brussles had been cut. The military units in Belgium were devastated by the desertion of Belgians, Dutch, and Germans."
The French cordon along Rhine began to collapse and Marshal MacDoald was in bad mood. He wrote, "It is absolutely necessary that the emperor knows the truth, it is worth hearing. There is a great deal of discouragement, everyone is tired of war, the continuous marches and movements."
The news of Allies invasion of Holland reached Paris. "The rumor that the barrier of the Rhine had been forced reverberated in Paris and at the court of Napoleon, and a simple operation, magnified by the imagination of newsmongers, was transformed into the actual passage of an army of 60,000 men." (Beauchamp - "Histoire des campagnes" 1:56)

Leggiere writes, "Despite the clear indications that Schwarzenberg's massive army was preparing to drive across the upper Rhine, the emperor allocated more forces in the opposite direction in the hopes of holding Belgium and retaking Holland."
French General Decean Napoleon named General Decean commander-in-chief of French forces in Belgium. He also sent orders to organize the National Guard at Antwerp and strengthen several fortresses. The emperor hoped that the 3rd Young Guard Division, and 2nd and 3rd Guard Cavalry Division will help to retake Breda and stabilize the situation in Netherlands.

Then Napoleon recalled Decean and appointed the young General Maison as commander of French forces in Belgium. On 17 December the elite 1st Old Guard Division and 1st Guard Cavalry Division were moved toward Namur. Unfortunately the orders from Paris remained behind events. (It took one week for orders to travel between Paris and the frontier.)

The cordon system was considered weak and Napoleon knew that more than any other commander in the world. However he needed to shelter the departmental administration that fed his war machine, guaranteed the steady flow of revenue, and provided the resources to create his new army. Once the new army was under arms Napoleon would happily abandon the cordon system.

French troops On 19 December, French General Roguet with 7,000 men and 30 guns marched from Antwerp. He drove back Benckendorf's flying column and besieged Breda (10,000 inhabitants) and its garrison (1,600 men, mostly Benckendorf's Russians). The French artillery pounded Breda until they exhausted their ammunition.
Prince Gagarin's flying column, however, drove one of the French posts and entered Breda with a transport of 18 heavy guns and 500 Dutch soldiers.
The reinforcements however did not discourage the French and Bulow directed one of his brigades under Krafft to break the stalemate. Krafft reached Breda but the French managed to hold their position until another Allied forced arrived, the British marched through Zevenbergen.
Outnumbered and outguned Roguet and Lefebvre-Desnouettes decided to raise the siege and fall back on Antwerp. Krafft's Prussians pursued the enemy on the 24 December, catching the French rear guard between Dorst and Ulvenhout. "The Prussian 1st Leib Hussar Regiment routed the French Guard Chasseurs and took several prisoners. Heavy fog forced the Prussians to end the pursuit but enabled the French to reach Antwerp." (Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon" p 184)


Prusso-British invasion of Belgium.
"Castlereagh informed Hardenberg that Prussia
would earn London's full gratitude if Bulow's
troops captured Antwerp." - Michael Leggiere

Great Britain insisted on Allies to capture the huge arsenal and the port in Antwerp. And Prussian General Gneisenau strongly advised that "After the conquest of Holland, Belgium must also be turned." For the Prussian army Holand and Belgium offered the opportunity to flank French defenses along the Rhine. Now and in any future conflicts.

It was however very difficult for Bulow to capture Antwerp and invade Belgium on his own. Wintzingerode and Bernadotte either were too slow or refused to cooperate with him. Wintzingerode for example, recalled Beckendorff's flying column from Breda, and turned down Bulow's request for Chernishev's Cossacks.
Wintzingerode Wintzingerode (picture -->) was expected in Dusseldorf on 6 January with 7,500 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. When the Russian reached Dusseldorf he refused to cross the Rhine maintaining that drift ice and MacDonald threatened his communications across the river.

Bulow's own force was too small to invade Belgium. He already had to dispatch several detachments to occupy the numerous forts in Holland, and guard his communications and observe MacDonald. (Borstel's strong detachment was in Wesel.) Frustrated Bulow writes, "Only by great deeds and timely British assistance was the outcome (at Breda) not the complete opposite. ... I have a very good understanding with the British Gen. Graham ... he agrees with all that I wish.
On the other hand, Wintzingerode belongs to those who quite literally do not care for the general cause; whether I would bring him over the Rhine with good will is another question." The only option left to Bulow was the small British corps under Graham. (The British besieged Bergen-op-Zoom).

Frustrated Bulow spoke even of resigning before he was surprised by the Tzar.
Alexander issued order to Wintzingerode to cross the Rhine immediately.

The French were nervous because of the drift ice on the rivers, it could crush their pontoon bridges. Maison's force of 15,000 men stood in Antwerp. In Brussels was the 1st Tirailleur Division (Young Guard) of General Barrois.

MacDonald's field army consisted of:
- V Infantry Corps (7,500 men)
- XI Infantry Corps (11,000 men)
- II Cavalry Corps (2,250 men)
- III Cavalry Corps under Arrighi

The bulk of MacDonald's force (7,500-10,000 men) stood near Nijmegen, while the rest were spread along the Rhine. There were also garrisons, some were small and some strong (for example 6,000 men in Wesel). MacDonald wrote the French army headquarters that "in a few days there will be an invasion of Belgium; the Allies maneuver by their wings and distract us in the center. ... The barriers of the Rhine and Moselle are breeched ... " MacDonald then suggested the following:
- withdrawal of his army to France
- rally the garrisons of the frontier fortresses
- strengthening his force by collecting all conscripts
The same suggestions were made by Marshals Marmont and Victor.

Napoleon estimated Allies' strength in Holland at no more than 15,000 men.

Marshal MacDonald MacDonald feared that Bulow's Prussians would reach Namur ahead of him and sever his line of retreat to France. Exelmans' cavalry reported 10,000 Allied troops marching toward Liege. It was a false information but it alarmed MacDonald.

Maison thought Bulow had 10,000 men in Beda and assumed that the Prussians will push south toward Liege and Namur to sever MacDonald's line of retreat. He assumed that Bulow won't attack him in Antverp for fear of exposing his rear to the coming from the Rhine MacDonald's troops.

One of Maison's detachments attacked Bulow's advance guard (700 men) and pursued it almost to Breda. The French discovered several bridges the enemy has thrown across the Waal River. Maison dispatched several patrols to observe the Prussians and the British. He was a seasoned commander and distinguished himself in the battle of Leipzig. ("Battle of the Nations"). Maison however felt chained to Antwerp by Napoleon's orders and forced to dismiss any notion of attack against Bulow's flank if the Prussian dared to move between Maison and MacDonald.

British General Graham Bulow met Graham, a veteran of the Peninsular War, on 8 January. "The fact that the senior Graham waived his rank and declared his readiness to subordinate himself to the Prussian general in deference to the greater numebr of troops under Bulow's command certainly promoted good relations." (- Michael Leggiere)

Bulow assembled 18,000 men (4th, 5th and 10th Infantry Brigades, Reserve Cavalry) around Breda. The 3rd Brigade was still in Gorinchem. Graham offered half of his corps. Bulow sent several squadrons of Prussian light cavalry across the Belgian frontier to determine the French positions and movements.

Bulow's forces left Breda on 10th January but due to poor maps he spent the rest of the day redirecting the troops. Brigade of Young Guard (from Roguet's division) made several counterattacks before withdrawing in good order. The numerous Prussians followed them and the skirmishing continued. The French skirmishers contested every step of the retreat and uneven land divided by hedges screened them from Prussian cavalry and artillery. The Young Guard lost 600 killed and wounded, and approx. 200 prisoners. The Prussians' losses were almost 500 killed and wounded, including General Borstell.

One of Bulow's Prussian brigades and two British battalions brushed off a French detachment in front of Antwerp and moved within 1000 paces of the city. Allies artillery then pounded the enemy in the port.

In the next two days the French made several counter-attacks. Approx. 200 French dragoons penetrated the Prussian picket line "and reached the enemy camp before the Prussians could react. The French troopers inflicted several casualties on the unsuspecting Prussians.
As quickly as they appeared the French melted into the darkness, but Maiosn's sortie achieved its purpose. Acknowledging the vulneranility of his brigades, Bulow postponed further operations. ... Bulow decided to maintain the gains of the 13th as forward posts and withdraw his main body to Breda, where it remained until the end of January." (- Michael Leggiere)


The Russians crossed the Lower Rhine.
The Prussians and the British lacked sufficient power
to drive the French from Belgium until the Russians
crossed the Rhine River and changed the situation.


Chernyshev On 12th or 13th January, Wintzingerode authorized Chernyshev's flying column (4 battalions, 12 guns, and small cavalry force) to cross the Rhine. Rhine was breached and within the next day or two the French garrisons left Bonn and Koln. Their field troops left the left bank of Rhine and were instructed by Marshal MacDonald to fall back on Liege.

During the retreat the German, Dutch and Belgian conscripts deserted in hundreds.
The French local authorities withdrew from the Netherlands in great haste.

On the 16th MacDonald's headquarters were in Maastricht. Then he joined his rear guard while the bulk of his force moved to Namur. MacDonald's flight south-west and then south worried Maison, he felt abandoned and left without support. MacDonald ignored his protests. The marshal reached Namur on the 20th.

Meanwhile Wintzingerode was in no hurry to pursue to French and support Bulow. Although he already has sent Chernishev's flying column across the Rhine, Wintzingerode wasted several days before putting the bulk of his force on the road to France.

The British were completely focused on Antwerp and almost hypnotized by the French fleet anchored in its harbor. Bulow's Prussians were resting in Breda. The Prusso-British force began its march south on 30 January. Heavy guns were removed from several Dutch forts for use against Antwerp.

Isolated Maison decided to evacuate Brussels, abandon Belgium, and withdraw to France. He left behind only several detachments in various fortresses, including Antwerp.

Graham's British 1st and 2nd Division took Merxem "after a lively firefight" and got very close to Antwerp. The Prussians overwhelmed the French at Deurne and also approached Antwerp. The Prusso-British artillery bombarded Antwerp on the 3rd, 4th and 5th but achieved only modest results.

Bulow received order to leave Antwerp and march through Brussels to Laon in France.


Ferdinand Wintzingerode (1761-1818).
He served in French , Austrian , and Russian armies .
During Napoleon ' s Invasion of Russia in 1812 he led
the first Russian partisan group near Smolensk . The
French captured him in Moscow and sent to France as
prisoner. The Russians however captured the convoy
of prisoners and set him free.
In 1813 Wintingerode commanded a strong Russian
corps and distinguished himself inthe battle of Leipzig


Military operations on the Middle Rhine (Center)
Blucher versus Marshal Marmont.
"In two days our army will cross the Rhine River
in order to wish the French a Happy New Year"
- Gneisenau

The Middle Rhine (German: Mittelrhein) Valley stretches between Koblenz and Mannheim. The region’s thriving economy has always invited fortification, from the ancient Roman forts to the great towers and castles of the Middle Ages. Forty castles and fortresses, stretched along a mere 65 km of the middle Rhine, constitute one of the most outstanding features of the World Heritage Site. Such a concentration of castles within such a small area is to be found nowhere else in the world!
The other river of importance is Moselle (German: Mosel). It is a left tributary of the Rhine, joining it at Koblenz. The Moselle valley was a defensive area, with powerful fortresses like Metz and Thionville. In January 1814 the French army headquarters were placed in Metz.

Blucher was eager and ready to attack Marmont. He writes, "We have no shortages and our men are in the best spirit. As long as we do not make a dumb mistake everything is expected to go well. I have 50,000 Russians with me; they show me a confidence that is unequaled and have named me the 'German Suvarov'. The bravery of our troops is extraordinary and our Landwehr is in no way inferior to our veteran troops. For all of his suffering the king will be completely compensated since he will receive his entire monarchy back and still more.
The noble Tzar Alexander is a friend of uncommon form."


The warmongers cross the Middle Rhine.
"As long as the Rhine has been called the Rhine
no army of 80,000 men has crossed it so easily ..."
- Blucher


Picture: Blucher's Prussians enter France in January 1814. By Wilhelm Campehausen.

Blucher and Gneisenau issued orders for the Army of Silesia to cross the Rhine on 1 January:
- at Mannheim: Army Corps (Russian) under Sacken. It included Shcherbatov's VI Infantry Corps, Lieven-III's XI Infantry Corps, Vasilchikov's Cavalry Corps, and one Cossack corps
- at Kaub: I Army Corps (Prussian) under von Yorck.
The Army Corps (Russian) under Langeron would follow Yorck.
The forces immediately under Langeron included Olsufiev's
IX Infantry Corps, Korff's Cavalry Corps, and one Cossack corps
- at Koblenz: St.Priest's VIII Infantry Corps from Langeron's force
- for the siege of Mainz: Kaptzevich's X Infantry Corps from Langeron's force
The advance guards of each army corps would cross the river in boats. Pontoon bridges would be constructed to enable the main force to follow. Heavy artillery would destroy French fortifications. Flying columns would disorganize French communication and supply lines.

The bearded Cossacks swarmed the left bank of Rhine spreading the news that Blucher is coming.

It was not an easy thing to cross the Rhine in the beginning of January. Blocks of drift ice rode the current like battering rams. The night was clear and cold and frost chilled the troops. Before midnight one of Yorck's brigades assembled on the riverbank. Yorck's men found several boats and Langeron's pontoons also arrived. Several heavy cannons were brought forward by the Prussians. Approx. 200 fusiliers (Prussian light infantry) paddled across the river and after 15 minutes greeted the left bank with a loud Hurrah ! Although the 60 French infantrymen posted on the left bank were surprised , they confronted the Prussians. After short firefight however the French fell back. Boats continued to ferry Prussian infantry across the Rhine so by 8 AM Yorck had 6 battalions on the left bank. Langeron's Russians completed the 120 yards long pontoon bridge by 9 AM. They finished the second part of the bridge - another 120 yards - by 4 PM.

Sacken's advance guard (6 jager battalions) crossed the Rhine near Neckar in boats. The French redoubt opened fire but failed to prevent the Russians from landing. Muffling writes, "Sacken's men sprang into the trench and mounted the breastworks on each other's shoulders." After three failed attacks they stormed the redoubt again, captured 7 guns and 300 men. The rest of the French garrison was killed after a vicious bayonet fight. The King of Prussia observed the combat and thanked the Russians. Austrian engineers attached to Sacken sttarted constructing the pontoon bridge.
Michael Leggiere writes, "Downstream the Rhine at Koblenz, St.Priest's Russians caught the French in the midst of rotating their posts. ... To expedite the passage and confuse the French, the four regiments of ... Pillar's 17th Division would cross the river downstream of Koblenz ...
Around 9 PM, 82 boats were in place, and St.Priest commenced his operation. Concealed by fog, Pillar's engineers hastily constructed a footbridge between the right bank and the Niederwerth island in the middle of the Rhine. From the island, 500 men supported by Cossacks crossed in boats to the opposite bank. Word soon reached Koblenz of the presence of Cossacks on the left bank.
With only 350 men and 4 guns at his immediate disposal, Durutte sent a patrol north of the city to confirm the rumor; he took a position with the reminder of his men outside Koblenz. He received a very unnerving report: the officer charged with the reconnaissance claimed the amount of noise made by the Russians on the banks of the Rhine signaled the presence of a large force. ... According to Langeron's journal, St.Priest's entire operation to take Koblenz cost the Russians only 165 casualties. Langeron claims the Russians took 500 prisoners, 12 guns, and a convoy of flour, clothing, and hospital supplies."

Map: campaign on the middle Rhine River in early 1814.
Marshal Marmont was in the process of moving south with part of his force to support Marshal Victor when Blucher's right wing under Langeron (French emigree !) and left wing under Sacken (Blucher's favorite Russian general) crossed the Rhine River. Napoleon send reinforcements to Marmont but some of the men were without uniforms and muskets. Most of them were hastily trained.
on map:

1. - In one of the principal squares of Coblentz, the Prefect had erected a monument recording the French occupation of Moscow and bearing the following inscription: "To the great Napoleon, in honour of the immortal campaign of 1812." The Russian governor left the monument intact, but added beneath the inscription: "Seen and approved by the Russian commander of Coblentz - 1813"
2. - The King of Prussia who observed the crossing and the combat near Mannheim, thank the Russian soldiers.

It was a bold move from Blucher and Gneisenau to have their army cross a large river in several separate forces and with the French-occupied fortress (Mainz) in their midst. The point of passge did not allow any mutual support on the day of the crossing. If Marmont attempted to stop the crossing at one of the points, Blucher would be in serious trouble. The Prussian tanden (Blucher/Gneisenau) accepted the separation of their forces as an inherent danger, but believed the element of surprise would counter this risk. They were right, they crossed the river without meeting any noteworthy resistance.

von Yorck and Prussian infantry "From the left bank of the Rhine to the Tuileries, no one in France expected the Silesian Army to cross the Rhine where and when it did. But why ?
Was Blucher's theatrics and propaganda so convincing that Napoleon actually believed the old Prussian would hibernate in Frankfurt while Schwarzenberg launched a winter offensive across the upper Rhine ? Apparently so, but the emperor should have known better - perhaps the wish was the father of the thought.
'That I moved my quarters to Frankfurt has saved the lives of many people since the French did not expect our crossing,' wrote Blucher to Hardenberg, 'they could have made endless difficulties for me if they had been ready.' Moreover, although Victor fell apart, it was Blucher's surprise and rapid advance against Marmont that provided the coup de grace for the cordon system and the defense of the Rhine frontier. Marmont was in the process of moving south to support Victor when Blucher's army crossed the Rhine." ( - Michael Leggiere )


Blucher/Gneisenau tandem versus Marmont.
Napoleon thought that the danger was on both flanks
on the lower Rhine in Holland and upper Rhine in Switzerland.
He did not want Marmont to be distracted by Blucher's actions
on the middle Rhine and urged the marshal to march south and
support Victor. "Clearly the master of war had been duped."
- Michael Leggiere

Blucher and Gneisenau wanted to accomplish at least two things:

  • - to prevent Marmont from concentrating his troops
    This could be accomplished with flying columns and Cossacks disrupting the French communications, and Yorck's army corps marching rapidly on Bingen and Kreuznach. It was important to keep the roads free of baggage.
  • - to sever Marmon't line of retreat by pincer movement by Yorck and Sacken

    Napoleon did not realize the threat from Blucher/Gneisenau. On the 1st, 2nd and 3rd January he urged Marmont to march south and support Marshal Victor in Alsace. Napoleon did not want Marmont to be distracted by the fear that Blucher/Gneisenau's Army of Silesia will cross the river.
    Michael Leggiere writes, "Clearly the master of war had been duped." Marmont decided that he could not march south and support Victor. Instead he moved his headquarters, west and away from the Rhine. Victor begged Marmont not to abandon him.

    Marshal Marmont sent d'Audenarde's 1st Brigade (from Doumerc's Cavalry Corps) toward Mannheim. The two dragoon regiments (500 men each) cut through the small detachment of 100 Cossacks and then threw back another detachment of 300 Allies cavalry. Audenarde continued east until he met Karpov's 2,000 Cossacks. The 1,000 dragoons had little time to deploy before Karpov's bearded warriors charged. The French lost 225 killed, wounded and prisoners, and fell back to Mutterstadt.

    Ricard decided to march with his 3,000 infantry and few guns from Kreuznach to Koblenz. He intended to rescue Durutte's division and "to act together according to circumstances." Marshal Marmont was unhappy with Ricard's decision, the marshal wanted him to concentrate his division and move west, away from the river. Ricard soon learned that the Allies crossed the Rhine in Kaub and his division would be cut off from Mainz and Marmont. Ricard decided to fall back after all. Luckily he was joined by Durutte's division at Kirchberg and together they moved on Trier.

    Marshal Marmont (1774-1852)
    He was defeated by Wellington at Salamanca
    and by Blucher at Mockern (Leipzig) in 1813.


    The hunt for Marmont.
    "If Marmont halts for one day we will make him
    a may-pole and have him dance a round-dance."
    - F.K. Muffling, Prussian officer

    The Prussians captured Marmont's courier and the letter that revealed the marshal's intention to fall back to the Saar River. Karpov's 2,000 Cossacks rode southwest to find Marmont's main force.

    St.Priest's (Russian) corps crossed the Rhine in Koblenz and marched down the river. A small detachment of 250 Russians (200 jagers, 25 Cossacks, and 1 gun) ran into a French detachment coming from Bonn. The French were under Jacquinot (from Sebastiani's V Cavalry Corps) and immediately attacked the enemy. The Russians lost their gun and suffered 50 % casualties !

    Sacken's Russians using fog to surprise the enemy, drove small French detachments from Bad Durkheim and Alzey. It severed Marmont's communications with Morand's V Army (Infantry) Corps locked in the massive fortress of Mainz.

    Blucher halted Yorck's (Prussian) corps for one day, his men needed rest, and the roads were icy. Meanwhile Kaptzevich's Russians crossed the Rhine and besieged Mainz. Langeron dispatched an advance guard (six jager and one cossack regiment, 6 guns) on the road to Bingen. Bingen was surrounded by a wall and a moat. It was defended by 800 men and 2 guns. There were also 200 sick soldiers in hospital. After one hour of fighting the French abandoned Bingen and withdrew toward Mainz. General Olsufiev was ujnured.

    Marmont marched on Kaiserslautern, where he arrived on the 4th December.
    Sacken's Russians and Yorck's Prussianss followed him closely.
    Blucher's headquarters were established at Kreuznach.
    Blucher and Gneisenau planned to attack Marmont with Sacken, while Yorck would would try to reach the crossings on Saar River. Marmont's options were limited, either he speed up his withdrawal or he will be cut off from Saar (and the Metz fortress).

    Marmont was still in Kaiserslautern on the 5th and Blucher hoped to catch up with him. Ricard's and Durutte's infantry divisions also escaped Allies and joined Marmont in Kaiserslautern. The French marshal however realized that Blucher intended to fix his front with the Russians, whereas the Prussians reached the crossings on the Saar before him. Marmont continued the retreat despite the exhaustion of his young soldiers. He left two cuirassier regiments as rearguard, and marched another 23 miles. On the morning of the 6th they finally reached Saar. Yorck's advance guard was 20 miles northeast of Saarbrucken. The 1st Honor Guard Regiment attacked them and the Prussians fell back.

    Marshal Marmont besides escaping encirclement by Langeron from the north,
    and Sacken from the south, reached Kaiserslautern before Blucher (General Forward)
    could arrive. Morand's corps, and one regiment of Honor Guard were left in Mainz.


    Blucher's first blow missed Marmont.
    Marmont wanted to deceive Blucher into
    believeing he would defend the river.

    During his retreat from the Rhine to the Saar Marmont lost only 1,500 men. His biggest problem however were the deserters. Marmont writes, "All of the soldiers who are not from old France have deserting the flag... All of the Dutchmen who enlisted have now left. The 11th Hussar Regiment, composed mainly of Dutchmen, dissolved instantly, and because the deserters were taking their horses with them, I was forced to put on foot those who were left and to give the horses to the most trusted soldiers."

    Marmont issed order to destroy Saarbrucken's bridge and firmly moor all the barges on the Saar (French: Sarre) to the left bank. Marmont collected all troops (12,000 men and 36 guns) available to defend the river. Blucher thought Marmont has more than 15,000 men. The French were very tired and Marmont gave them one day rest. Meanwhile Marmont's force was strengthened by more than 3,000 men sent from Metz. Marmont wanted to deceive Blucher into believeing he would defend the river. The Saar was flooded from melted snow, it made difficult for Allies to construct any new bridges.

    Blucher received report that Marmont still occupied Kaiserslautern. Michael Leggiere writes, "According to the locals, Marmont retreated southwest to Homburg on the road to Saarbrucken. This extremely important report, which did not reach Blucher's headquarters until the night of the 6th, would have changed the field marshal's plans had it been forwarded in a timely manner. What did arrive at Silesian Army Headquarters was the report of a staff officer who conducted recoinnaissance south of Kaiserslautern, where the inhabitant informed him that the French still occupied the town. He forwarded this report without personally verifying the intelligence. As a result, the operation against Kaiserslautern continued. Thus, Blucher's first blow in the campaign of 1814 missed and Marmont escaped." The pursuit to cut the French from the Saar failed.

    Blucher decided to drive across Saar and reach Metz before Marmont. Yorck's cavalry reconnoitered both downstream and upstream, but could not locate a suitable crossing point. The few fords were defended by fieldworks and guns.

    Meanwhile one of Yorck's small detachments reached Trier, held by few French troops.
    After one day of skirmishing the French evacuated Trier's magazines to Grevenmachern. Trier's deputation met the Prussians and requested mercy for the city. It was granted and the city surrendered. The old bridge had been left undamaged and the Prussians led their cavalry right through the city and across the Moselle River. The French withdrew to Luxemburg.

    In February 1945 the US 3rd Army broke across the Saar River at two points. General George S. Patton's troops tore at the fortified hills into which the Germans had been chased east of the Saar River.


    Blucher and Austrian trickery.
    "Thus Napoleon and Blucher could maul each other,
    with the vast majority of Austrian troops far from
    the field of battle. The end result - dead Prussians,
    Russians, and French - would certainly strengthen
    Metternich's peace party." - Michael Leggiere

    Blucher received letter from Schwarzenberg, the Austrian commander-in-chief. This letter "contained the seed that later sprouted Prussian accusations that the Austrians purposefully bled dry the Silesian Army for the sake of post-war leverage at the peace table." (- Michael Leggiere)
    Schwarzenberg explained that he won't be strong enough to reach the Langres Plateau and march on Paris. He had stripped his main force too much by pursuing secondary objectives. Schwarzenberg also suggested that Blucher's Army of Silesia should move south on Nancy so the two armies get closer, just in case of any French offensive.

    "In this way Schwarzenberg baited Blucher.
    Possessing an army three times the size of Blucher's, Schwarzenberg would use his own numerous corps to secure his flanks and pursue Austrian interests such as supporting Bubna's operations in southern France. He planned to push his weak center to Langres, while Blucher moved up in support. Schwarzenberg would accept battle only if he could execute his movements in unison with those ot the Silesian Army. Thus, he requested that Blucher turn south to Nancy ... In this way the two armies could act concentratically, as at Leipzig.
    Should Napoleon arrive at Langres with a large army, then it would be Blucher whose head would be on the chopping block. With the Army of Bohemia dispersed and Blucher's army reduced by strategic consumption, this supposed French army would enjoy numerical superiority according to Schwarzenberg's own estimates. Thus Napoleon and Blucher could maul each other, with the vast majority of Austrian troops far from the field of battle. The end result - dead Prussians, Russians, and French - would certainly strengthen Metternich's peace party.
    On the other hand, if Blucher could not change the axis of his march to make this cooperation possible, Schwarzenberg would be compelled to orient the Bohemian Army further south. This would force Napoleon either to divide his main force into two wings ... or lead the French army against Blucher. In the first case, the French amperor would not be in a position to reinforce either wing, exploit any advantage, or replenish battlefield losses.
    The second case would place Napoleon and an unsupported Blucher in a position to trash each other." (- Michael Leggiere)

    Blucher however preferred to drive with his Prussians and Russians deeper into France, rather than unite with the slowly moving and dispersed Austrians. The Prussian tandem (Blucher/Gneisenau) targeted the French army as their main objective.


    The Prussians and Russians press on.
    "Should the Silesian Army (under Blucher) reach Paris first,
    I will have the bridges of Austerlitz and Jena destroyed,
    including Napoleon's victory monument." - Gneisenau

    The cold returned and the waters receded, now the Allies could utilize the river's many fords. Sacken's Cossacks led by Karpov crossed the Saar immediately and the Prussians light troops were about to follow them. Blucher ordered Yorck's cavalry and one battery of horse artillery to cross the river on 10 January, and together with Cossacks, block Marmont's retreat to Metz. The marshal decided to evacuate the line of the Saar on the 9th and fall back on Metz fortress. His rearguard was formed by 10th Hussar Regiment.

    Michael Leggiere writes, "Rather than defend the river or attack one of Blucher's corps as it crossed, Marmont chose to retreat. A pitched battle with the Silesian Army never crossed his mind - as well it should not have, consideting the mission the marshal believed he had to complete and the numerical inferiority of his forces. Delivering his cadres to the haven of Metz remained Marmont's priority ... Marmont would have served his master far better if he had contested the Saar and waged a war of attrition west of the Moselle rather than uncovering the border of old France. Napoleon's absence from the front and the time required for communicatiuons between the master and his lieutenants severely impeded the defense of the frontiers. How much territory would the marshals surrender before the emperor finally left Paris to take personal command of the army ?"

    French mines partially destroyed the stone bridge in Saarbrucken. Thus the Prussian engineers constructed two bridges, a footbridge for infantry and a trestle bridge for artillery. Yorck's troops began crossing on the 10th.

    Marmont was on his way to Metz, with his troops marching in good order.
    The marshal's force included:
    - Ricard's 1st Infantry Division
    - Lagrange's 3rd Infantry Division
    - Durutte's 32nd Infantry Division
    - Doumerc's I Cavalry Corps
    - Reserve Artillery


    "Blucher, and still more Gneisenau ... drive on Paris
    with such truly childish rage that they trample
    underfoot all principles of war ..." - Schwarzenberg

    Blucher failed to catch up with Marmont for the following reasons:
    - Marmont's epic march on 5 January The French young soldiers covered 45 miles in 24 hours in winter, with artillery, baggage train, and on icy roads. Despite demoralising desertions by the German and Dutch recruits, the French kept order, marched fast, ate little, and fought often.
    - several days of rest were granted by Blucher to Yorck's (Prussian) army corps
    - poor performance of Prussian and Russian light cavalry. Although they were much more numerous than their opponents' their use was inadequate. The numerous Allied light troops also failed to maintain steady contact with the enemy. For example Scheibler's flying column followed Milhaud's force only for short time and then lost contact with the enemy altogether ! The Allies should have been more diligent in reconnoitering Marmont's lines at Kaiserslautern and detecting his withdrawal. Considering Blucher's army operated in German regions of the French Empire, the Prussian cavalry should have been more efficient in gathering intelligence. The landwehr cavalry was poor in reconnaissance duty.

    Unfortunately Marmont's speedy retreat triggered a panic among the French civil officials that caused imperial authority to collapse, thus robbing Napoleon of manpower, revenue, and material. "The least disturbing rumor prompts them (civilian authorities) to flee, which spreads alarm throughout the land." (- Armand Caulaincourt)

    To Schwarzenberg, Blucher's headlong advance must have seemed rash to the verge of madness, and indeed the Austrian commander had some grounds for his strictures. "The Army of Silesia was now divided into three portions, the leading corps, under Blucher (Sacken's Russians(, being between the Aube and the Marne; the next corps, under Yorck, was on the Moselle, and the third still on the march from the Rhine. In fact, before many days had passed, the impetous leader of the army of Silesia was only saved from what might have been serious disaster by one of those trivial accidents which so often exercise a vital influence on the fortunes of a campaign." (- Frederick Maycock)

    Blucher's Army of Silesia was now divided into three isolated forces. Sacken was in Nancy.
    Yorck's corps was stretched across a long front and charged with operations against fortresses.
    Langeron's Russians were far behind Sacken and Yorck, still on the march from the Rhine.
    If Marmont and Victor united their forces they could kick the Old Forward between the legs.
    To the slow and timid Schwarzenberg, Blucher's headlong advance must have seemed rash
    to the verge of madness . If Napoleon was there Blucher would pay dearly for his mistake .

  • ~

    Military operations on the Upper Rhine (South)
    Schwarzenberg versus Marshal Victor.

    The theater of war on the upper Rhine in 1814 encompassed Switzerland, Vosges Mountains and Alsace. The Upper Rhine (German: Oberrhein) is the part of the Rhine that flows northbound after Basel, to Strasbourg. The largest cities: Strasbourg, Basel, and Freiburg.

    The Vosges Mountains extend along the west side of the Rhine valley in a north-north-east direction. The rounded summits of the Higher Vosges are called ballons in French or "balloons". On the eastern slope vineyards reach to a height of 400 m (1300 ft.) The green meadows provided pasture for herds of cattle, with views of the Rhine valley, and the distant snow-covered Swiss mountains.

    Alsace is located on Rhine left bank. Alsatians played an active role in the French Revolution. In 1789, after receiving news of the Storming of the Bastille in Paris a crowd of people stormed the Strasbourg city hall, forcing the city administrators to flee and putting symbolically an end to the feudal system in Alsace.At the same time, some Alsatians were sympathetic to the invading Austrian and Prussian armies who sought to crush the nascent revolutionary republic. Although Alsace has been a German language speaking region, today (2009) Alsatians speak French, the official language of the country they have been a part of for most of the past three centuries.


    The "Austrians paddled away
    as fast as they could."

    "In the days just prior to the invasion, Allied commanders attempted to induce the commandants of Huningue, Neuf-Brisach, and its outworks on the right bank of the Rhine, Ft. Mortier, to surrender. ... Failing to bribe the French commandants with gold, commissions in the Coalition armies, and even Austrian decorations, a detachment of 500 to 600 men from Gyulay's III (Austrian) Corps crossed the Rhine on the night of 17018 December to attempt a coup de main at Neuf-Brisach. Although a dense fog allowed the Austrians to surprise the French forward posts, they wasting time pillaging the suburb of Geiswasser. After having lost the element of surprise, the Austrians did not wait to be attacked and recrossed the Rhine with their loot of linen, calves, and goats. ..." ( Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon")


    Allies enter Switzerland and advance into France.
    "Austrian trickery" over neutral Switzerland upsets the Tzar.

    After some negotiations the Swiss agreed to witdraw their troops from the Rhine and relinquish the city of Basel to the Allies. Most of the Army of Bohemia moved into Switzerland, while Schwarzenberg established his headquarters in Freiburg. Suddenly the Austrians were everywhere in Switzerland making the surprised Tzar quite upset. Alexander said to Metternich, "you have grieved me in a way that you can never repair."
    Few days earlier the Tzar promised to respect Swiss neutrality and the Austrians expressed their support for Alexander's plan. Both, Russia and Austria, however wanted influence over the Swiss, and now the tricky Austrians (Metternich !) outmaneuvered the Tzar. Wittgenstein's Russian corps did not follow the Austrians into Switzerland, instead Schwarzenberg ordered Wittgenstein to observe Rhine from Manheim to Strasbourg.

    "Soldiers !
    We enter Swiss territory as freinds and liberators.
    Your conduct must be appropriate for this role."
    - Schwarzenberg


    The French fortress of Huningue.
    Schwarzenberg issued orders to his army for
    the crossing of Rhine and advance into France.

    On 17-18 December the Austrians attempted to surprise the French battery "on the isle of Cordononniers that faced Huningue by crossing the Rhine in barges. Another Vauban fortress, Huningue stood on on the left bank of the Rhine, one mile downstream of Basel. ... The detachment guarding the isle belonged to the 675-man National Guard Legion of the Lower Rhine. Described by a contemporary as 'superb and animated by the best spirit,' the guardsmen charged the Austrians before they could clamber out of their boats. After sustaining several casualties, the Austrians paddled away as fast as they could." ( Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon")

    The Emperor appointed his ADC, General Pierre François Dejean, as the commander of Huningue. Between 1802 and 1810 Dejean was the Minister of Administration of War. He was still on the way while the enemy besieged the fortress.

    On 20 December Schwarzenberg issued orders to his army for the crossing of Rhine and advance into France.

    From the Huningue fortress' walls, the French observed masses of Austrian and Bavarian troops. The Bavarians were under General Wrede. Wrede assigned the task of storming Huningue on the left bank to Bavarian division under Becker. (In two days however only half of Becker's division would be left to continue the siege.) Six Wurzburger battalions operated against the fortress on the right bank. Wrede surveyed the fortifications of Huningue twice and was convinced that the fortress was virtually unassailable. To Wrede's great disappointment the French commander, Colonel Chancel, rejected a demand to surrender Huningue. Chancel ordered his 3,000 men to get ready for a fight, then he ordered to raze the trees and fences and to burn houses that were too close to the walls of the fortress.

    Huningue (or Hüningen)
    It was fortified by Vauban and a bridge was built across the Rhine.
    The city of Basel was well within range of French heavy artillery.


    French resistance in Alsace.
    "All I can do is delay their movement for a few days
    and lock myself in Strasbourg." - Marshal Victor

    While one of Wrede's Bavarian divisions under Becker besieged Huningue, another division under Rechberg moved against Belfort. The 500 men of Civic Guard (without infantry muskets), and the depots of the 63rd Line Infantry and 14th Chasseurs (without horses) provided the fortress' garrison. The French commander however refused to surrender. Delamotte's Bavarian division had more luck, they captured small magazines at Lausanne and Blamont with 23 guns and ammunition. Behind the Bavarians marched Frimont's two Austrian division. Frimont crossed the bridge in Basel on the 24th, and proceded north to Mulhouse and Colmar.

    A flying column under Scheibler was detached from Frimont's force and speedily moved through Mulhouse to Colmar. It consisted of two Cossack regiments (780 men) and some Bavarians and Austrians (250 men). They have captured a convoy of 12 ammunition wagons, arrested the local French authorities in Colmar, and demanded provisions. Scheibler learned that Milhaud's cavalry would reach the city so he abandoned it and forwarded this information to Wrede.
    In the night part of Milhaud's cavalry force (Montelegier's dragoon brigade) entered Colmar. Milhaud himself arrived soon. The dragoons discovered a company of French light infantry which remained hidden during Scheibler's raid.

    The French dragoons cornered the elusive and annoying
    Cossacks near St. Croix, and put them to the sword.

    Montelegier's 2nd Brigade (2nd, 6th, 11th Dragoon Regiment) left Colmar and near St.Croix met Scheibler's flying column. The Cossacks, Bavarians and Austrians threw back the 2nd and 6th Dragoons. The 11th Dragoons however countercharged and overwhelmed the enemy. The Allies rallied. But when Collaert's 1st Brigade appeared on Scheibler's line of retreat, the Bavarians and Austrians began their withdrawal. The Cossacks attempted to flee but were cornered by the dragoons and many were cut down. The Bavarians and Austrians lost order and fled with the dragoons hot on their heels. To Schleiber's horror the inhabitants of St.Croix barricaded the streets and opened fire. The Allies had to force their way through the town. They lost 210 killed while the French dragoons suffered only 80 killed. Scheibler received 3 saber cuts but somehow managed to escape.

    Milhaud learned from his patrols and from civilians that approx. 100,000 Allies troops crossed the Rhine at Basel. And that his victory at St.Croix did not prevent the Allies from "creeping closer to Colmar." Milhaud was joined by General Dejean who was en route to the fortress of Huningue. Dejean was unable to go any furter and remained with Milhaud.
    Why Colmar was important for the French ?
    Because it controlled several roads through the Vosges Mountains, covered the highway to Strasbourg, and was in the center of Alsace with pro-French population. By holding this the French could encourage and support the insurrection against the Allies. The Alsatians even pledged to pay for their muskets. Milhaud sent report to Marshal Victor. Victor expressed concerned that he would soon be placed in a critical situation. He wrote, "All I can do is delay their movement for a few days and lock myself in Strasbourg." Victor also failed in supporting the inhabitants of Colmar. The Alsatian peasants could have built palisades and trenches, guard the passes through the Vosges, etc.
    The marshal however sent Forestier's 3,000 infantry with 20 guns, and Jamin's small force, to Milhaud. The three, Milhaud, Forestier, and Jamin, were to hold the Bavarians and Austrians.

    To calm down the marshal a little bit, Napoleon informed him that the Young Guard would occupy the passes of the Vosges Mountains. The 1st Old Guard Division and the 1st Guard Cavalry Division received orders to procede to Langres Plateau (for Austrians the "Master Point of France").


    Schwarzenberg press the panick button.
    The commander-in-chief thought that
    Napoleon himself was coming to get him.

    At Schwarzenberg's headquarters the loss of Colmar, and the defeat at St. Croix (described above) took on tragic proportions. The commander in chief thought that Milhaud's dragoons were the advance guard of the French army led by Napoleon himself. Was Napoleon ready to cross the Rhine in Strasbourg and attack his flank and rear ?!
    Schwarzenberg was also shocked that the inhabitants of St.Croix took to arms. (The people of Alsace feared the return of the archaic feudal regime of the German princes, and prefered Napoleon.) It made him very worried about his communication and supply lines. To make things worse, the fortresses of Huningue and Belfort refused to surrender.
    The good news were that Bubna's (Austrian) Light Division reached Geneva and the French garrison of 1,500 men surrendered. It opened to the Austrians the passes of Italy. (I bet it made Metternich happy.)

    To make things even more confusing for Schwarzenberg, Allies cavalry patrols provided contradictory details that exaggerated the strength of Victor's army. To improve the situation Schwarzenberg issued order for the organization of six flying columns and more cavalry patrols:
    - the first flying column would move (again) on Colmar toward Strasbourg.
    - the second flying column was to move toward Nancy
    - the third column would send detachments toward Langres
    - the fourth column would go between the Saone and Loire rivers
    - the fifth column would go on Besancon
    - the sixth column under Seslavin was to run across southern France to Wellington's headquarters and deliver the Allied operations plan. But nothing came of this idea because Wittgenstein used Seslavin's force for linking up with Blucher's army.

    Schwarzenberg ordered the IV Army Corps under Crown Prince of Wurttemberg (14,000 Wurttembergers with 24 guns) to march rapidly to Freiburg and then cross the Rhine and support Wrede (34,000 Bavarians with 124 guns, and Frimont's 9,000 Austrians with 48 guns).
    Why Schwarzenberg did not order Wittgenstein's Russians to cross the Rhine, I don't know. Victor was too weak and could not prevent them from crossing the river. Wittgenstein would have eased the pressure that Schwarzenberg now anticipated. The only answer is that the Allies commander-in-chief thought Napoleon with a massive army must be somewhere between Strasbourg and Metz.

    Michael Leggiere writes, "A desperate Schwarzenberg appeared ready to sacrifice all of Metternich's meticulous work by summoning Blucher, Gneisenau, and the rest of the war-mongering Prussians across the Rhine. ... Blucher did not have to be asked twice to cross the Rhine." :-)

    Schwarzenberg's Army of Bohemia marched through Basel and then began to spread out from Mulhouse and Belfort to Geneve and Bern. In Bern was the I Army Corps (Austrian) under Colloredo. In Neuchatel was II Army Corps (Austrian) under Alois Liechtenstein. In Biel was III Army Corps (Austrian) under Gyulay. In Glovelier was the elite (Austrian) Grenadier Division under Bianchi. In Porrentruy was (Austrian) Infantry Division under Crenneville.On the road to Mulhausen and Colmar were Frimont's two (Austrian) infantry divisions. The Rhine was about to be crossed by the Wuerttembergers under Crown Prince. Wrede's Bavarians and Wurzburgers besieged Belfort and Huningue, and took Blamont. Bubna's (Austrian) Light Division reached Geneva on the 30th. Tzar's forces were about to join Schwarzenberg's army. Alexander himself was already in Schwarzenberg's headquarters in Freiburg. The Russian and Prussian reserves (Guards, Grenadiers, Cuirassiers) under Grand Duke Constantine were on their way to the Rhine.


    The Tzar enters France.
    "... we crossed the Rhein River in Basel
    and loud Hurah! announced that we were
    finally in France" - Mikhailovski-Danilevski

    The Tzar joined Schwarzenberg in Freiburg and then followed the Austrians to Basel. The Russian monarch had in his immediate disposal only the Reserves under Grand Duke Constantine. They were the flower of Russian Imperial army.
    Mikhailovski-Danilevski writes, "On January 1st we crossed the Rhein River in Basel and loud "Hurah !" announced that we were finally in France, the goal of our march, where, in the heart of Napoleon’s power, we were going to give him coup de grace. ...
    Our quarters in France were very dissatisfying; we found that the French are less educated than Germans, so our officers, taught by their tutors that France was El Dorado, were unpleasantly surprised to see poverty, untidiness, ignorance and low spirits in villages and towns. French, since Revolution, have experienced so many sufferings ... However skillful were maneuvers of the enemy, our numbers suppressed him ... " (Mikhailovski-Danilevski - "Memoires 1814-1815")

    Platov's Cossacks crossed the Rhine at Basel on 1 January. Then they passed the IV Army Corps and crossed into Lorraine. Platov headed toward Epinal.

    Schwarzenberg ordered Wittgenstein's (Russian) force to cross the Rhine.
    "At 2:00 AM on 2 January, the Russian offenssive finally began with a two-pronged landing attempt on the isle of Ft.Vauban. Six jager companies clambered into 24 boats downstream of Sollingen with the objective of reaching the northeast side of the island. A smaller detachment of two jager companies set sail in canoes upstream of Sollingen in the hope of disembarking on the southern tip of the island. Until that hour, the night had been clear and quiet, yet fog quickly blanketed the river after the noon set. Slightly disoriented by the fog, the boatmen lost control of their craft in the Rhine's swift current. As the boats separated, the Russian soldiers could feel the vessels gain speed. Some managed to muscle their way back to the right bank by way of frantic rowing, but the current slammed others onto the left bank; none of the boats reached the isle of Ft.Vauban.
    On the left bank, the jager engaged the French posts guarding this stretch of the Rhine. Alerted by the crackle of musketry, Ft.Vauban's garrison took up arms and formed a line of skirmishers along a jetty.
    French small-arms fire turned a second Russian attempt to reach the isle by boat. Despite this setback, the engineers of the Austrian 10th Pontoon Company started work on the bridge. To protect the engineers, Eugene directed some infantry and 2 guns to a sand bar. The artillery forced the French to withdraw from the jetty and allowed the Russians to make a third attempt to reach the island. ... Sometime after 10:00 AM, the Russians entered Ft.Vauban, whose defenders fled across the Rhine to Drusenheim, after losing 18 men.
    One hour later, Russian troops reached the left bank and occupied Ft.d'Alsace; the entire operation cost Eugene 40 casualties. Around 1:00 in the afternoon, the Austrian engineers completed the bridge to the island. Two Cossack regiments crossed, forded the Red Rhine, and struck the roads to Lauterbourg, Hagueanu, and Strasbourg. Pysnitzky's 4th (Infantry) Division followed the Cossacks, occupying the bridgehead and forwarding an advance guard to Roeschwoog to cut the road from Lauterbourg to Strasbourg." (- Leggiere, pp 272-273)

    In two days Schwarzenberg ordered to turn over the investment of Strasbourg to Badenese troops and march west.

    Russian and Austrian troops enter France in Jan 1814.
    Tsar Alexander in green uniform and on white horse,
    followed by Colonel of Lifeguard Cossacks in red coat.


    Cossacks in France .
    The Cossacks made the rear-area security
    and communication incresingly problematic
    for the French.

    The Cossacks spread terror and began pillaging the frontier already in the first days of the campaign. The rear-area security and communication became incresingly problematic for the French. On the 7th approx. 200 Cossacks entered Rambervillers and seized the mayor of the town until the townspeople complied with their demands. To stop the Cossacks General Grouchy moved Briche's 3rd Dragoon Division (1,600 men) to Rambervillers. The cavalry was enthusiastically received by the townspeople while the startled Cossacks fled. Jamin's 1st Division was on the road from Nancy to Rambervillers.
    On the 17th the Cossacks entered Vaucouleurs. "After the men of the 1st Division, 4th Dragoon Division, and 4th Honor Guard Regiment dispersed to find food for their aching stomachs, Milhaud and his officers settled down for lunch at an inn situated near the levy. After looking forward to a moment of quiet, the French officers suddenly sprang to their feet with sinking hearts. Outside the inn they could hear the savage cries of the Cossacks. ... The Russians inflicted numerous casualties before departing with several prisoners." (- Leggiere, p 452)

    The Cossacks captured the prefect of the Vosges Department, Mr de Flegny,
    forced him to strip naked and then looted his possessions.

    Platov's Cossacks terrorized the population around Epinal. Pire's cavalry attacked one of Cossacks detachments but the enemy fled as best they could.

    Another group of Cossacks captured an officer carrying a letter to Marshal Victor.
    On the 8th the Cossacks intercepted Victor's letter to General Meunier (commander of the 1st Voltigeur Division of Young Guard). On the 12th the Cossacks intercepted letter from the French headquarters to Marshal Victor.
    The bearded warriors held many crossroads and nothing moved without attracting their attention. General Briche complained about the Cossacks preventing his cavalry patroils from obtaining reliable intelligence.

    Cossacks and Bashkirs attack Napoleon and his staff near Brienne.

    Cossacks attacking the Honor Guard.
    Picture by Detaille (France).


    "Ah, my task is formidale ... "
    - Schwarzenberg to his wife

    Learning about Wittgenstein's crossing, Marshal Victor sent an urgent dispatch to Marshal Marmont (who defended the middle Rhine) to unite their forces. He also asked Napoleon to support him with 30,000 men. Then on 2 January word reached Victor that Blucher's Army fo Silesia had crossed the Rhine further downstream and severed his communications with Marmont. Victor's universe was shattered.

    In contrast with the marshal, General Milhaud thought about fighting. In Colmar stood Milhaud's force of 3,000 cavalry (majority were dragoons) and 1,500 infantry. Schwarzenberg ordered Wrede to gather his Bavarians and move against Milhaud. The Wuerttemburgers and some of the Austrian troops were getting ready to support Wrede. Marshal Victor however chose to evacuate Colmar and instructed Milhaud to fall back and unite with him. On the 5th the marshal issued order for the II Infantry Corps and V Cavalry Corps to evacuate Alsace.

    Schwarzenberg assigned the best and most powerful of the Austrian corps, the Reserve Corps under Hessen-Homburg, to the siege of Besancon. Hessen-Homburg was to be supported by the II Army Corps under Liechtensiten and the 2nd Light Division. Michael Leggiere writes that Schwarzenberg's decisions "illustrates his senseless prudence." (- Leggiere, p 269)
    The (Austrian) Division under Bianchi relieved the Bavarians at Belfort. And once Wittgenstein's Russians crossed the Rhine, the Bavarians under Wrede and the Wurttemberguers moved north through Colmar. The Austrian detachment under Simbschen occupied the St.Bernard Pass, opening the road to Italy. The (Austrian) I Army Corps under Colloredo spent another day "enjoying the scenery around Montbeliard." The (Austrian) 1st Light Division under Bubna was turned around and sent toward Dijon. Schwarzenberg also ordered the construction of solid bridgeheads, just in case he has to retreat across the Rhine :-)


    Schwarzenberg's decisions
    "illustrates his senseless prudence."

    - Marshal Victor failed to support the Alsatians. The Alsatian peasants could have built palisades and trenches, guard the passes through the Vosges, etc.
    - Victor failed to defend the Vosges Mountains. Armand Caulaincourt writes, "Twenty Cossacks have seized each of the passes of the Vosges; Victor has not even fired a musket." He suggested that the emperor replace Marshal Victor with General Dejean "who has zeal."
    The passes were very important, Napoleon writes, "... it is important to defend the passes of the Vosges, it is the best defense that we have. If you cannot attack the enemy, you must at least stop and delay his march." Napoleon needed time but just how much time and at what cost remained the questions that clouded Victor's judgement ?
    - Napoleon misled Victor by inflating the number of reinforcements. Victor believed that if he received 12,000 men he would be able to make tactical counter-strikes and maintain his position.
    - Orders and instructions from Paris to Victor's headquarters almost always arrived too late. Napoleon finally appointed Marshal Ney as the commander of troops in Lorraine. Although Victor repeatedly called for Napoleon to take the command in the field or at least to appoint a commander in chief, he intimated his refusal to serve under Ney.

    - Wrede, the general whom Napoleon routed at Hanau in 1813, acted too timidly. He would only emerge from the Vosges Mountains with one division.
    - Wittgenstein's exhausted Russian advanced in snail pace
    - Marches and counter-marches, realignment of troops, were inherent parts of orders issued by Schwarzenberg. They rendered lip-service to a speedy offensive but took measures that contradicted the best principles of napoleonic war.
    - Schwarzenberg's left wing advancing south (into southern France, northern Italy) was far too strong. There were no French regular troops in the field to oppose them. Garrisons, raw recruits, and National Guard were not serious threat to the powerful Austrian army. Schwarzenberg's rigth wing was also too strong. Schwarzenberg's center however was weak and unable to smash the dispersed enemy and march straight on Paris. To do so the commander in chief requested support from Blucher's much smaller army !
    - Schwarzenberg assigned a massive force to the siege of Besancon. It included the best Prussian, Russian, and Austrian troops (Guards, grenadiers, heavy cavalry, etc.) But at the same time this force was without heavy, siege artillery. It doesn't make much sense.
    - the idea of linking up with Wellington is bizarre. What was he thinking ? Sunbathing with Wellington on the French riviera while Blucher and the French emperor exchanged blows in front of Paris ?

    Schwarzenberg's strategy and leadership however corresponded to the goals of Austrian politics.
    Speedy offensive on all fronts led to a draconian peace dictated in Paris by the Tzar and the Prussian tandem Blucher/Gneisenau. As a result France would be too weak, while Russia (and Prussia!) would gain more than Austria and shape future of Europe according to their interests.


    Marshal Ney fails to defend central France.
    "Ney, who never appeared to be committed to the 1814 campaign,
    continued his record of impotence in situations that required him
    to exercise independent command." - Michael Leggiere

    After the cordon along the Rhine River had fallen, Napoleon placed the defense of central France in the hands of Marshal Ney, nicknamed "The Bravest of the Brave." Ney first informed the emperor that he had not received his salary in 5 months and asked Napoleon to pay his expenses. But the emperor offered no response.
    Ney was a battle-hardened commander, an extremely brave leader on the battlefield. He won fame in 1807 in the battle of Friedland. In 1812 he led his corps against Russian fortified center at Borodino. Ney complained bitterly about being made to "take the bull by the horns."
    During the retreat from Moscow, Ney commanded the rearguard. After being cut off from the main army, Ney managed to rejoin it, which delighted Napoleon. For this action Ney was given the nickname ‘the bravest of the brave’ by the emperor. Ney fought at Berezina and helped hold the vital bridge at Kovno, where legend has it that Ney was the last man to cross the bridge and exit Russia. Ney's exploits at Waterloo are very well known. Regardless of his exploits on battlefield, his conduct as an independent commander in 1813 and 1814 was poor.
    His intellect was not of a sufficiently high order to enable him to penetrate his opponent's designs or forecast his probably movements, hence as strategist he was feeble and uncertain and quite out of his depth in command of an independent force.

    Marshal Michel Ney (1769 - 1815)
    Ney was one of the most popular Napoleonic marshals.
    He was known as Le Rougeaud or "Ruddy" by his men
    and nicknamed "The bravest of the brave" by Napoleon.
    He was described as being a very brave man
    but also touchy, quarrelsome and thoroughly
    insubordinate to any commander but Napoleon himself.

    Napoleon expected Ney to concentrate Victor's and Marmont's armies, exploit his central position around Metz and along the Moselle River, and use interior lines to stop the Allies.

    Blucher planned to march on Metz with 50,000 of his veterans and hit the weak enemy very hard. (He thought that in Metz assembled more than 40,000 raw conscripts.) Blucher and Gneisenau wanted to establish a huge depot for their Prusso-Russian army in Metz. If Ney managed to concentrate strong force, Blucher would maneuver until Wrede's Bavarians or Wittgenstein's Russians arrived. The Old Forward still had no clue that Schwarzenberg sent the two southwest instead of northwest.
    In the worst scenario, for example if Napoleon arrived, Blucher could use his numerous cavalry to exctricate himself from a bad situation and cover his speedy retreat.

    Metternich (Austrian minister of foreign affairs) hoped to stop Blucher by urging the King of Prussia to issue orders for the Prusso-Russian army to stop at Metz, this ploy failed.

    On 11 January Prussian patrols reached Moselle River and then rode close to Metz. On 12 January Marmont's troops reached the suburbs of Metz. Marmont's fate was now in Victor's hands (Victor had to hold Nancy and the upper Moselle.) MacDonald was near Mezieres.

    The French detachment in Epinal defended the town only for few hours before leaving it to the Bavarians, Wurttembergers, and Cossacks. Then the Wurttembergers left for Langres, the Cossacks bands moved between Meuse and Moselle, and the Bavarians occupied Epinal and its surroundings. Ney reached conclusion that in this situation any lingering in Nancy would be useless. Under the cover of Meunier's 1st Voltigeur Division (Young Guard) Ney's troops evacuated Nancy. Soon Victor's troops reached the city before leaving it in the night. The withdrawal made a negative impression on the townspeople and "caused general dejection" according to Caulaincourt.

    To Ney's surprise the Allies neither followed him nor attempted to take Nancy. The enemy was moving in a snail pace, and only a small Allies detachment reached the city on the 14th. The enemy entered the capital of Lorraine without firing a shot. Ney left Nancy "without removing or destroying the harnessing gear in the remount depots, the cartridge magazines, and tobacco store valued at 6 million francs; Dejean had suggested distributing several pounds to each soldier and giving the rest to the population rather than leave it to the enemy. More important, Ney neglected to destroy the bridges at Frouard and Bouxieres just north of Nancy." (Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon" p 368)
    General Lanskoi with four regiments of Russian hussars found the two bridges intact and crossed the Moselle.

    On 14 Jnauary Marshal Augereau arrived at Lyon, to plan the defense of France's second city.

    On the 16th patrols from Bubna's (Austrian) Light Division proceeded all the way to the walls of Lyon. Soon a sharp skirmishing erupted between Bubna's and Augereau's posts.


    "I will plant my war standard
    on Napoleon's throne" - Blucher

    After Marshal Victor left Nancy, Marshal Marmont decided to depart Metz (the city was evacuated but not the fortress). Marmont took Doumerc's I Cavalry Corps, Decouz's 2nd Voltigeur Division (Young Guard), and Lagrange's infantry division and left the city on 16 January. Yorck's Reserve Cavalry led by Jurgass could not cross the Moselle on the 16th to pursue Marmont but instead had to ride to Pont-a-Mousson, which caused a delay. Marmont withdrawal forced other French troops to abandon the line of Moselle.

    The emperor raged over the wimpiness of Marmont and Victor and the abandonment of the Moselle without a fight. Marshal Berthier, Napoleon's chief-of-staff, writes, "His Majesty orders you not to quit the Moselle unless you are defeated. ... Above all he is very troubled to see that you evacuated Nancy because of the arrival of enemy's cavalry without awaiting the infantry." Berthier wrote Marmont, "... nothing is more ridiculous than the way this marshal (Victor) is evacuating the countryside ..."

    On the 16th Napoleon authorized Caulaincourt to seek an armistice.

    Blucher was ecstatic, he writes, "The iron is hot, in a few months there must be peace ..."
    His only frustration was Schwarzenberg's refusal to allow Wrede's Bavarians to cooperate with the Army of Silesia. "On 17 January, Blucher and Sacken entered Nancy with their respective staffs. The intimidated mayor, city magiustrates, and some of the inhabitants solemnly greeted the leadership of the Silesian Army at the gates. ... At city hall, the mayor uttered what Muffling describes as 'forced phrases' in which 'his fear of Napoleon was unmistakenable ... on the other hand, our respectable Cossacks were very imposing, with their long, well-pointed pencils under their arm, indicating their skill in writing history." (Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon")

    Blucher informed the Tzar about his acomplishments and
    ordered his speech in Nancy translated into French and
    circulated in the thousands.

    The Prussians however failed to intimidate the garrisons of Luxemborg, Thionville and Metz. The garrison of Thionville (6,000 men under Hugo) launched sorties on the 17th and 22nd. (On the 22nd approx. 500 Frenchmen battled for six hours with two battalions of Landwehr.) The garrison of Metz (12,000 men under Durutte) launched several sorties. General Yorck wrote Blucher, "I cannot refrain from expressing that the garrison of Metz in particular appears to be very dangerous to our communications." The garrison of Saarlouis also resisted the enemy.

    Based on Bulow's success against the Dutch forts, Field Marshal Blucher expected Yorck to succeed. Blucher and Gneisenau however wanted the fortresses invested by few troops only and still have Yorck's Prussians and Sacken's Russians available for a decisive battle as soon as possible. The fortresses would be taken by Langeron's Russians who formed Blucher's second line.
    For almost one week Yorck's I Army Corps was unable to capture any of the fortresses. Muffling, no friend of Yorck, wrote, "General Yorck made a journey from one fortress to the other but was only committed to leaving his calling card before all and continued his tour." Yorck left the fortresses to Langeron but his further advance was delayed by the flooding of Moselle, Saar, and Meuse. As a result he missed the battles of Brienne and La Rothiere.


    The Old Guard defend the Langres
    Plateau, the Master Point of France.

    "... we will count on the protection
    of the heavens." - Schwarzenberg

    The emperor originally directed the Old Guard to Belgium before ordering them south to Langres Plateau. The veterans crossed the Ardennes Mountains, and then the western Lorraine, and on the 10th they started arriving at Langres. The first to enter the town was the elite 1st Guard Cavalry Division (3,000 men) under General Leveque. The population greeted the veterans with joy. Next came the flower of the French infantry, the 1st Old Guard Infantry Division (4,800 men) under General Friant. They were followed by the superb Guard Artillery (60 guns). Marshal Mortier arrived on the 12th.

    The Old Guard was exhausted after marching non stop for 15 days.
    They have just been utterly exhausted mentally and physically, and a dissease was spreading among the troops. Due to shortage of ammunition Mortier ordered the manufacture of 60,000 cartridges from the powder and lead that he purchased at his own expense. (Imagine Marshal Ney doing this. Instead the Bravest of the Brave asked Napoleon to pay his salary and expenses.)

    The presence of the Old Guard indicated to Schwarzenberg that the emperor himself would soon arrive at Langres.

    Marshal Mortier (1768-1835)
    Marshal Mortier was a giant man of friendly character
    son of a wealthy French merchant and English mother.
    As a modest and honest man he surpassed all marshals
    in 1814.For his battlefield exploits he was awarded with
    the command of the Old Guard.

    On the 12th a small detachment of Old Guard found 5,000 Austrian infantry, artillery and light cavalry on the highway to Vesoul. The Austrians easily routed the enemy and pursued them with 300 men and 4 guns. Marshal Mortier dispatched 200-300 foot grenadiers and chasseurs to take care of the pursuers.
    The French advanced in the night in complete silence.
    Austrian patrols hailed them with Wer da !
    Receiving no reply the Austrians fired scattered shots and fled as fast as they could. The veterans followed them until reaching Chatenay-Vaudin where they met more Austrian troops. Colonel Adam divided his force into three troops and reserve. Two troops marched calmly and confidently against the superior enemy, while a third troop blocked the Austrians' line of retreat. Then they charged with fury overthrowing everything on their path. Every Austrian was killed except the commander and 27 men, all of whom surrendered.

    Mortier sent several cavalry patrols in various directions. Their agressive actions surprised and intimidated the enemy. Austrian General Giulay had no clear idea of the size of Mortier's force and decided to stop his advance on Langres and wait for reinforcements. Meanwhile Mortier learned from his cavalry patrols of enemy's strength and location. The marshal realized the Allies were moving on his center and both flanks.

    Mortier decided to evacuate Langres on the 17th. The marshal complained that after the Old Guard left the townpeople of Langres voluntarily opened the gates to the Allies.

    The fresh Wuerttembergers decided to pursue the Old Guard.
    They attacked the rearguard of Mortier's force at Choignes. They captured all the houses on the left bank of the Marne, crossed the bridge, and took the rest of the small town. Mortier dispatched only one battalion of grenadiers to deal with them. The veterans fixed bayonets and charged at the Wurttembergers. The jagers broke and fled toward the river with the grenadiers hot on their heels. The grenadiers suffered only 5 wounded while the corpses of the jagers littered the streets and the bridge.
    After this combat the Wuerttembergers' advance guard kept a respectful distance from Mortier. They spent a horrible night bivouacked in the open field on ground so drenched that the men sunk into mud up to their shins.

    Ney's impotence convinced Mortier to continue his retreat and save Napoleon's best troops.
    The Austrians, Bavarians and Wurttembergers attacked Mortier at Bar-sur-Aube. Each side lost 1,000 killed and wounded. But when the Allies waited for reinforcements and then tried to outflank Mortier, the marshal fell back.

    Schwarzenberg entered Langres on the 18th, he has achieved his strategic goal.
    Langres, the Master Point of France, was in his hands. Schwarzenberg intended to halt bulk of his army and Metternich had absolutely no objections to this project. The Tzar however was furious and absolutely determined to carry on the campaign alone, if necessary. The King of Prussia refused to abandon his Russian ally to whom he owed so much, though in his heart he was somewhat inclined to agree with the clever Austrian minister.

    Exhausted veteran of Old Guard,
    picture by Keith Rocco.


    "The Emperor Napoleon is now cooked
    well-done and can no longer resist."
    - Blucher

    On 18 January Marshal Marmont arrived in Verdun on the Meuse River.
    The Russian and Prussian cavalry raced to catch up with the French.
    On the 19th five regiments of Cossacks led by Platov crossed the Meuse. Sacken's infantry reached the river on the 21st. Despite the emperor's anger, Marshal Victor moved to abandon the Meuse leaving Marmont's force exposed on the flank. Victor's decision to abandon the Meuse River angered Napoleon, Bertier, and Marmont. Victor also neglected to destroy the bridges ! Marmont writes, "It is deplorable that we neglected to destroy the bridges at Vaucouleurs because with surveillance and slight means we could have held the enemy at this line for 7 to 8 days."

    Blucher received news from the north that Wintzingerode's Russians are pursuing MacDonald's army and started their march to Liege. In the south Schwarzenberg's army reached the Langres Plateau. It appeared that all the pieces were falling into place. Blucher was delighted.

    Napoleon was fed up with his marshals and decided to leave Paris and join the field army. On January 25 he climbed into his carriage to travel to the front. Blucher writes, "The Emperor Napoleon is now cooked well-done and can no longer resist."


    Blame for the inability of the three marshals
    to unite and coordinate their operations falls
    on Napoleon.

    Napoleon's ADC, General Dejean, warned the emperor over the conducts of the three marshals. He wrote, "It is of the greatest urgency that a single person has the command here, because the marshals can not nor will not cooperate." Victor's behavior bordered on insubordination.
    The raw French troops had suffered considerably in moral from the continual retreat.

    If Marmont and Victor united their forces on Moselle, they could kick the Old Forward between the legs. Blucher had two corps in the first line, Yorck's and Sacken's. Yorck's corps was stretched across a front of 70 miles and charged with operations against several French fortresses. Yorck had neither siege artillery to break any of the forts nor bridging equipment to cross the river immediately and pursue the enemy.
    Sacken's corps was in and around Nancy. His hard marching infantry and artillery needed rest. Only his cavalry were active. Langeron's Russians were far behind Sacken and Yorck, still on the march from the Rhine. Platov's Cossacks were excellent raiders but not a serious force on the battlefield.
    If Blucher's advanced and isolated troops (Sacken's Russians) were routed by the marshals, it would force the Prussian leader to slow down his advance, regroup, and wait for reinforcements. It would also made a great impression on the slow and timid Schwarzenberg, who looked for any excuse to halt his army in Langres.

    If Schwarzenberg decided to continue his offensive instead of halting in Langres, the result would have been the destruction of Ney, Marmont and Victor. The Austrian commander in chief intentionally wasted the opportunity to end the war in January. Perhaps realizing the basic fact that the chances of outmaneuvering Napoleon never favored an opposing commander, he hope Metternich would end the war at the peace table. It infuriated the Tzar who openly charged Schwarzenberg with sabotaging the war effort.

    Blucher's Russians and Prussians covered 190 miles in 25 days (7.5 miles/day).
    Schwarzenberg's Austrians and Bavarians marched 125 miles in 28 days (4.5 m/day)
    Allies' marches were not too impressive due to winter blizzards, ice, and sieges.
    The poorly clothed and hungry French troops managed to march (8 miles/day) .
    The Old Guard covered 200 miles in 15 days (13.5 miles/day).
    The desertions however became serious problem for the French. (The Allies treated kindly the deserters. Muffling writes, "All deserters who came to us were dismissed with passes to their homes ...")


    Napoleon arrives and assumes the offensive.
    The arrival of the Emperor revived the
    drooping spirits of the young soldiers.

    Napoleon had appointed his wife, Marie Louise, as regent and had left Paris to place himself at the head of the French army. From the beginning of this campaign Napoleon had "put on his Italian boots" and disconcerted the Allies by the rapidity of his maneuvers. He was able to race from one Aliies' army to the other and confront them successively.

    "It was during the Tzar Alexander's stay at Langres that Napoleon quitted Paris for the army. He had put off his departure from day to day, waiting for the arrival of troops from Spain, and for the results of his exertions in the formation and equipment of armies: but receiving daily reports of the rapid advance of the Allies into the heart of France, it was impossible for him to remain longer in Paris, and he therefore resolved to open the campaign, though his preparations for war were not yer completed. ...
    On leaving the capital he gave orders, for the first time since he had mounted the throne, that prayers should be read in all the churches for the success of his arms." (Mikhailovskii-Danilevskii - "History of the campaign in France, in the year of 1814")

    The emperor arrived to Chalons to the cries of the townpeople Vive l'Empereur ! The army was overjoyed, the trumpets sounded, the drums beat, and the regimental colours were unfurled. The young French soldiers were greatly discouraged by the retreat and the weather, but the arrival of the Emperor revived their drooping spirits. The frost had broken and they struggled painfully forward along the country roads, knee-deep in mud. The artillery would never have got through the woods at all, had not the peasants brought in their farm horses and even harnessed themselves to the guns.

    Napoleon had only some 60,000 men available for field operations:
    - between Vitry and St.Dizier Marshal Victor's 15,000 men
    - east of Chalons Marshal Marmont's 12,500 men
    - at Chalons Marshal Ney's 15,000 men
    - at Troyes Marshal Mortier's Old Guard 17,500 men
    MacDonald's force (10,000 men) was not available for immediate operations and took no part in Napoleon's first offensive movement. MacDonald was engaged with Yorck's Prussians in the valley of the Marne.

    "Napoleon spent the night o the 25th in receiving reports from his generals ... and though he had only some 65,000 men available, including Mortier's detachment toward Troyes, he wisely determined to strike at once, before his opponents became aware of his proximity. ...
    By moving to his left to gain touch with the Army of Bohemia, Blucher had exposed his main line of communications through Verdun and Mannheim, and he would have been well advised to halt on the right bank of the Meuse until he could have concentrated his whole force, instead of pushing forward with only part of it. The point of junction for the two armies (Blucher's and Schwarzenberg's) had been fixed too far westward, and Schwarzenberg's detour to teh left, to avoid the Vosges (Mountains) and turn the Meuse and the Moselle had taken him far too the south.
    On the morning of the 26th, Napoleon marched with some 35,000 men from Chalons to Vitry, continuing his advance next morning, and after a brush with some Cossacks, covering the front of the Army of Silesia, drove the weak Russian detachment from St.Dizier. He now learned that Blucher, with a slightly smaller force, was moving through Brienne to the Aube, and determined to fall upon him before he could effect his junction with the leading corps of Schwarzenberg's army." (Maycock - "The invasion of France, 1814")

    Part of Blucher's army still lay quite unconscious of the proximity of their opponents. There was a small combat at St.Dizier but the Old Forward had looked upon this affair as an unimportant cavalry combat. It was only the fortunate capture of French despatch enlightened him as to the presence of Napoleon.
    Mikhailovskii-Danilevskii gives more details, "Napoleon remained only 12 hours in Chalons. From that town he went on to Vitry, and the day following to St.Dizier, where he attacked the detachment of General Lanskoi, who had been left there by Blucher to keep up his communications ... with the advanced troops of von York. By this movement Napoleon cut off the corps of the Prussian Field Marshal from that of York, who was in the country around Metz, observing the fortresses on the Meuse. ...
    On reading Lanskoi's report of his having been driven out of St.Dizier by superior numbers ... Blucher took this attack for an ordinary reconnaissance, and, of course, paid no attention to it. ... About mid-day, a prisoner was brought in to him from the advanced posts. This was Colonel Bernard ... From this officer he received detailed information of the ultimate projects of Napoleon, who, by cross roads and forced marches was now advancing straight on Brienne through Montierander. All doubt was now at an end."

    Blucher had only 25,000 men at Trannes (south of Brienne and La Rothiere) and lost touch with the reminder of this army, consequently, Schwarzenberg determined to join him with part of his mighty army and the Russian Guards. Soon the Allies had 100,000 men at Trannes.
    Napoleon took up position south of Brienne and was within easy communication with MacDonald's force coming from the north and reaching Chalons and Mortier's troops situated near Troyes. The emperor awaited Marmont's force.

    The emperor finally left P a r i s to place himself at the head of the field army.
    He had "put on his Italian boots" and disconcerted the Allies by the rapidity
    of his maneuvers. The emperor immediately placed himself between Sacken
    and Yorck, cutting Blucher's army in half !
    The warlike Sacken was isolated and Yorck was unable to join him because
    Marmont blocked his road. To rescue the Old Forward's army from a disaster
    the timid Schwarzenberg moved his army from Langres toward La Rothiere.


    Napoleon's victory at Brienne.
    The Emperor was unfortunate in just missing
    the capture of Blucher and the chief-of-staff
    of the Prussian army, General Gneisenau.

    Blucher posted Olsufiev's (Russian) IX Infantry Corps (two divisions) at Brienne. Pahlen's (Russian) Cavalry Corps was to deploy to the north-east. When Grouchy debouched from the Bois d'Ajou Wood he found himself opposed to Pahlen's cavalry. It was not until 3 PM that he felt himself strong enough to attack. Pahlen fell back through Brienne to take position south of the town.
    Grouchy successfully attacked Pahlen's rear guard and followed the Russians. Pahlen then halted his force and counterattacked, the French were beaten off with the loss of 3 cannons. Olsufiev's infantry corps was still at Brienne.

    Both, Napoleon and Blucher, were compelled to bring their troops into action piecemeal; the former because, if he was to gain the tactical result he hoped for, he was bound to begin early, before Blucher could slip away.
    Sacken arrived with part of his infantry and deployed across the road from Brienne to Bar-sur-Aube.. Napoleon arrived on the battlefield and immediately issued an order to the artillery to pound the Russians. Under the cover of the artillery fire Marshal Victor deployed, with Duhesme's infantry division debouching from the wood. Duhesme's infantry stormed Brienne, was driven out, and stormed again. The Russians threw them back the second time and also succeeded in capturing 2 guns.

    Marshal Ney arrived with two divisions of the Young Guard. He then led 6 battalions against Brienne, attacking the town by the Mezieres Road, while Duhesme renewed his attack from the wood.

    Pahlen's cavalry charged Duhesme in left flank. Duhesme's division lost 8 guns and was driven in confusion on the Young Guard. "Napoleon certainly made a grave tactical mistake in keeping all his cavalry on the right, whilst Blucher's was all on the opposing wing. There was all on the opposing wing. There was thus no cavalry to protect Duhesme's left as he advanced on Brienne. The French attack wwas completely driven back by the success of the Russian cavalry which Blucher used with great wisdom and just at the psychological moment." (Petre - "Napoleon at bay, 1814" p 24)

    Darkness fell and the fighting stopped. Blucher thinking the combat is over for the day, retired to the chateau near Brienne. He was almost caught by the French who entered the chateau by an unguarded road. Victor's infantry then stormed Brienne itself and drove the Russians almost completely from it.

    Blucher ordered Sacken to retake Brienne, while Olsufiev stormed the chateau. By midnight Sacken finally captured most of the town. Olsufiev however failed in taking the chateau. "The day had cost each side about 3000 men. On the French side Admiral Baste was killed, and Decouz mortally wounded. ... Blucher now ordered a silent retreat from Brienne on Bassancourt, covered by the cavalry. This was unmolested by the French who only reentered Brienne at 4 AM." (Petre - "Napoleon at bay, 1814" p 23)

    The Emperor was unfortunate in just missing the capture of Blucher and the chief-of-staff of the Prussian army, General Gneisenau. Petre writes, "It is almost impossible to estimate the influence on the whole campaign which would have been exercised by the capture of these two generals, representing as they did almost the whole of the energy and determination on the side of the Allies."

    Battle of Brienne, 1814


    Blucher's withdrawal.

    On the morning of the 30th Blucher fell back on La Rothiere, and then on Trannes Heights. He appeared to intend holding fast. His positions were unaltered on the next day. On the 31st the Allies decided to attack Napoleon and the command was delegated to Blucher, perhaps largely with the idea of placating him. The Old Forward was to be allowed to "try a battle."


    Sources and Links.
    Recommended Reading.

    Leggiere - "The Fall of Napoleon" (excellent book)
    Lefebvre - "Napoleon from Tilsit to Waterloo"
    Heath - "La Rothiere 1814"
    Petre - "Napoleon at Bay, 1814" publ. in 1977
    Houssaye - "1814"
    Maycock - "The invasion of France, 1814"
    Georges Blond - "La Grande Armee" publ. in 1995
    Houssaye - "Napoleon and the campaign of 1814" publ. 1914
    Mikhailovski-Danilevski - "History of the Campaign in France"
    The Department of History at the US Military Academy.
    Conlon - "The Historical Impact of Epidemic Thyphus"

    Battle of Paris. End of the war of 1814.

    Napoleon, His Army and Enemies