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The Leipzig Campaign: 1813—Napoleon and the “Battle of the Nations”

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The Leipzig Campaign: 1813—Napoleon and the “Battle of the Nations”
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Author(s): F. N. Maude
Date Published: 07/2007
Page Count: 240
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-250-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-249-8

A classic account of a momentous battle

Colonel Maude’s analysis of Napoleon’s campaign of 1813 around Leipzig, is yet another example of this author’s careful and thorough examination of the respective armies of the protagonists and the thoughts, motivations and actions of the principal participants. Each decision is deliberated upon and explained, giving valuable insights into the strategies of the French and Coalition generals—as well as those of the Emperor himself—which led to one of the most decisive defeats suffered by an army under Napoleon’s command during the Napoleonic Wars. Fought on German soil, with Germans on both sides, Leipzig is considered to be the largest battle ever fought in Europe prior to the First World War, and Maude’s classic examination is accepted as a primary document for its study.

Blücher’s own position was almost impossible; he hated retiring even more than did his subordinates, with whom and with the men he thoroughly sympathized. But he was compelled to submit, by the terms of his appointment, to the dictation of Gneisenau. For a moment, it is said that he contemplated the extreme step of displacing Gneisenau and appointing von Kaetzler in his place, but learning that Napoleon was no longer in personal control of the French pursuit, on the night of the 24th he decided to turn upon his enemy. Accordingly he issued orders for an advance towards the Katzbach, which resulted on the 26th in the general action which has since borne that name.1
Now it was that good luck favoured him in a most unusual degree. The Katzbach springing from high ground in the mountains to the southward, rose during the battle in a sudden flood. Carrying away many of the bridges, and destroying all the fords, it cut the French Army in half as it was moving to the attack of the Prussian position. At the critical moment Blücher ordered an advance of his right wing, and the muskets being too wet for effective use, the battle was practically decided by cold steel, the French, overwhelmed by the fanatical impetuosity of the Prussian assault, being driven into the river, where many hundreds were carried away and drowned. This brilliant victory was the making of Blücher and the Prussian Army. Indeed it was the salvation of the whole Allied cause, for news of it was brought to the Royal Headquarters at a moment when the general situation seemed hopeless, and more than a possibility existed that Austria might enter into a separate treaty with Napoleon and abandon the coalition altogether.


However, the first rush of the Allies was easily repulsed; but, quite at variance with their usual custom, the repulsed troops refused to run away, and holding on to such cover as the ground afforded, they formed rallying points on which their reinforcements actually hastening to the roar of the guns formed in succession as they arrived. The accounts of this read exactly like those of the early battles of 1870; each detachment independently forcing its way to the front, with the superior Commanders in rear exerting no further influence on the troops engaged, except through such fresh troops as they could find to throw into the combat.
At length, about 11 a.m., Macdonald’s Corps (XI) reached its preliminary position, initiated its turning movement, and about 2p.m., its attack having sufficiently developed, the Emperor ordered the whole line of Corps to advance; and Drouot with 84 guns galloped out to clear the way for Mortier and the Guards with case shot. But at this moment the unforeseen arrived. General Bordesoulle, with his Division of about 2,000 Cuirassiers in 18 Squadrons, suddenly decided to launch his whole force against a great Russian battery from whose fire the leading columns of the French Infantry were suffering severely. The attack was most gallantly ridden, and 26 guns had been put out of action, when from all sides the Cavalry of the Allies, by Brigades, Regiments, or even Squadrons, just as they came to hand, bore down upon the blown and disordered Squadrons of Bordesoulle’s command. Then in turn, to rescue their comrades, all the remaining available Squadrons on the French side rode down into the mêlée which speedily formed.
The confusion which ensued has baffled all attempts at analysis; but, briefly, for about an hour and a half wild hordes of horsemen were hurled at one another, rallying and charging again and again and completely masking the fire of the guns on either side, and thus preventing their further advance. But when at last the turmoil ceased, the French opportunity was lost, the Russian and Prussian Guards had arrived on the scene, had occupied villages, woods and coppices, and against these fresh troops under cover, the French case fire could achieve nothing. Step by step the French fell back, and as darkness put an end to the fighting, they had been driven back to the limits of the position they had held in the morning.
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