War of the Sixth Coalition: Wikis

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War of the Sixth Coalition
Part of Napoleonic Wars
MoshkovVI SrazhLeypcigomGRM.jpg
Battle of Leipzig
Date 1812–1814
Location Europe
Result Coalition victory; Peace of Fontainebleau; Bourbon Restoration; Napoleon's exile to Elba
Belligerents
Original Coalition
 Russia
 Prussia
 Austria
 Sweden
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Spain Spain
Portugal Portugal
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Sicily
Sardinia Sardinia

After Battle of Leipzig

France France

Until January 1814

(Many member states defected after Battle of Leipzig)

Commanders
Russian Empire Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly
Russian Empire Mikhail Kutuzov
Russian Empire Prince Wittgenstein
Kingdom of Prussia Gebhard von Blücher
Austrian Empire Karl Schwarzenberg
Sweden Prince Charles John
Kingdom of Bavaria Karl Philipp von Wrede[a]
France Napoleon I
France Nicolas Oudinot
France Louis Nicolas Davout
Kingdom of Italy (Napoleonic) Eugène de Beauharnais
Poland Józef Poniatowski 
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Joachim Murat
  1. Commanded Bavarian forces nominally allied to the French Empire until Bavaria defected to Allied cause on 8 October, 1813

In the War of the Sixth Coalition (1812–1814), a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and a number of German States finally defeated France and drove Napoleon Bonaparte into exile on Elba. After Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia, the continental powers joined Russia, Britain, and the rebels in Spain and Portugal. With their armies reorganized along more Napoleonic lines, they drove Napoleon out of Germany in 1813 and invaded France in 1814, forcing Napoleon to abdicate and restoring the Bourbons.

Two-and-a-half million troops fought in the conflict and the total dead amounted to as many as two million. (Some estimates suggest that over a million died in Russia alone.) The War of the Sixth Coalition included the battles of Smolensk, Borodino, Lützen, Bautzen, Dresden and the epic Battle of Leipzig (also known as the Battle of Nations), which was the largest battle of the Napoleonic wars, and, indeed, the largest in Western history before the First World War.

The final stage of the war, the defence of France, saw the French Emperor temporarily regain his former mastery; he repulsed vastly superior armies in the Six Days Campaign, which many believe to be the most brilliant feat of generalship of his career. Ultimately, Napoleon's earlier setbacks in Russia and Germany proved to be the seeds of his undoing, and the Allies occupied Paris, forcing his abdication.

Contents

Invasion of Russia

In 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia to compel Emperor Alexander I to remain in the Continental System. The Grande Armée, consisting of as many as 650,000 men (Roughly half of whom were French, with the remainder coming from allies or subject areas), crossed the Neman River on 23 June 1812. Russia proclaimed a Patriotic War, while Napoleon proclaimed a Second Polish war. But against the expectations of the Poles, who supplied almost 100,000 troops for the invasion force, and having in mind further negotiations with Russia, he avoided any concessions toward Poland. Russian forces fell back, destroying everything potentially of use to the invaders until giving battle at Borodino (7 September) where the two great armies fought a devastating but inconclusive battle. Following the battle the Russians withdrew, thus opening the road to Moscow. By 14 September the French had occupied Moscow but found the city empty. Alexander I (despite having almost lost the war by the standards of the time) refused to capitulate, leaving the French to wallow in the abandoned city of Moscow with little food, shelter (large parts of Moscow had burned down) and winter approaching. In these circumstances, and with no clear path to victory, Napoleon was forced to withdraw from Moscow. So began the disastrous Great Retreat, during which time the retreating army came under increasing pressure due to lack of food, desertions, and increasingly harsh winter weather, all while under continual attack by the Russian army led by Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov and other militias. Total losses of the Grand Army were at least 370,000 casualties as a result of fighting, starvation and the freezing weather conditions, and 200,000 captured. By November, only 27,000 fit soldiers were among those who crossed the Berezina River. Napoleon now left his army to return to Paris and prepare a defence of Poland against the advancing Russians. The situation was not as dire as it might at first have seemed; the Russians had also lost around 400,000 men and their army was similarly depleted. However, they had the advantage of shorter supply lines and were able to replenish their armies with greater speed than the French, especially because Napoleon's losses of cavalry and wagons were irreplaceable.

War in Germany

Seeing an opportunity in Napoleon's historic defeat, Prussia re-entered the war. Napoleon vowed that he would create a new army as large as that he had sent into Russia, and quickly built up his forces in the east from 30,000 to 130,000 and eventually to 400,000. Napoleon inflicted 40,000 casualties on the Allies at Lützen (2 May) and Bautzen (20-21 May 1813). Both battles involved total forces of over 250,000 — making them some of the largest conflicts of the wars so far.

The belligerents declared an armistice from 4 June 1813 and lasting until 13 August, during which time both sides attempted to recover from approximately quarter of a million losses since April. During this time Allied negotiations finally brought Austria out in open opposition to France. Two principal Austrian armies were deployed, adding an additional 300,000 troops to the Allied armies in Germany. In total the Allies now had around 800,000 frontline troops in the German theatre with a strategic reserve of 350,000.

Napoleon succeeded in bringing the total imperial forces in the region up to around 650,000 (although only 250,000 were under his direct command, with another 120,000 under Nicolas Charles Oudinot and 30,000 under Davout). The Confederation of the Rhine furnished Napoleon with the bulk of the remainder of the forces with Saxony and Bavaria as principal contributors. In addition, to the south Murat's Kingdom of Naples and Eugène de Beauharnais's Kingdom of Italy had a combined total of 100,000 men under arms. In Spain an additional 150-200,000 French troops were being steadily beaten back by Spanish and British forces numbering around 150,000. Thus in total around 900,000 French troops were opposed in all theatres by somewhere around a million Allied troops (not including the strategic reserve being formed in Germany). The figures are however slightly misleading as most of the German troops fighting on the side of the French were unreliable at best and on the verge of defecting to the Allies.[citation needed] It is reasonable to say that Napoleon could count on no more than 450,000 troops in Germany. Thus he was effectively outnumbered by about two to one.

The Russian army enters Paris in 1814.

Following the end of the armistice Napoleon seemed to have regained the initiative at Dresden, where he defeated a numerically-superior allied army and inflicted enormous casualties, while sustaining relatively few. However at about the same time Oudinot's thrust towards Berlin was beaten back and Napoleon himself, lacking reliable and numerous cavalry, was unable to fully take advantage of his victory. He withdrew with around 175,000 troops to Leipzig in Saxony where he thought he could fight a defensive action against the Allied armies converging on him. There, at the so-called Battle of Nations (16 October–19 1813) a French army, ultimately reinforced to 191,000, found itself faced by three Allied armies converging on it, ultimately totalling more than 330,000 troops. Over the following days the battle resulted in a defeat for Napoleon, who however was still able to manage a relatively orderly retreat westwards. However as the French forces were pulling across the Elster the bridge was prematurely blown and 30,000 troops were stranded to be taken prisoner by the Allied forces.

Napoleon defeated a Bavarian army at the Battle of Hanau before pulling what was left of his forces back into France. Meanwhile Davout's corps continued in its siege of Hamburg, where it became the last Imperial force east of the Rhine.

Peninsular War

Meanwhile, Arthur Wellesley Duke of Wellington finally broke the French power in Spain and forced the French to retreat over the Pyrenees and into France itself. In a strategic move, Wellington planned to move his supply base from Lisbon to Santander. The Anglo-Portuguese forces swept northwards in late May and seized Burgos; they then outflanked the French army, forcing Joseph Bonaparte into the valley of the River Zadorra. At the Battle of Vitoria, 21 June, the 65,000 French under Joseph were routed by 53,000 British, 27,000 Portuguese and 19,000 Spaniards. Wellington pursued and dislodged the French from San Sebastián, which was sacked and burnt.

The allies chased the retreating French, reaching the Pyrenees in early July. Soult was given command of the French forces and began a counter-offensive, dealing the allied generals two sharp defeats at the Battle of Maya and the Battle of Roncesvalles. Yet, he was severely repulsed by the Anglo-Portuguese, lost momentum, and finally fled after the allied victory at the Battle of Sorauren (28 July and 30 July).

All the participants of the War of the Sixth Coalition. Blue: The Coalition and their colonies and allies. Green: The First French Empire, its protectorates, colonies and allies.

This week of campaigning, called the Battle of the Pyrenees, is perhaps Wellington's finest.[citation needed] The adversaries' numbers were balanced, he was fighting very far from his supply line, and yet, he won by a mixture of manoeuvre, shock, and fire, seldom equalled in the war. It was mountain warfare and at this moment, Wellington described the Portuguese Army as "The fighting cocks of the (allied) Army".

On 7 October, after Wellington received news of the reopening of hostilities in Germany, the allies finally crossed into France, fording the Bidasoa river. On 11 December, a beleaguered and desperate Napoleon agreed to a separate peace with Spain under the Treaty of Valençay, under which he would release and recognize Ferdinand VII as King of Spain in exchange for a complete cessation of hostilities. But the Spanish had no intention of trusting Napoleon, and the fighting continued.

The Peninsular War went on through the allied victories of Vera pass, the Battle of Nivelle, the Battle of Nive near Bayonne (10 December–14 1813), the Battle of Orthez (27 February 1814) and the Battle of Toulouse (10 April). This last one was after Napoleon's abdication.

In Spain, the French forces were harassed, hounded and repulsed constantly by a ruthless and merciless Spanish population. This guerrilla war played a large part in the disastrous Spanish campaign. The French forces, having to deal with this enemy, in-fighting among its marshallate, resistance from Spanish and Portuguese forces and the Duke of Wellington based in the Peninsula, eventually had to retreat into France, culminating in the abdication of Napoleon and his banishment to the Isle of Elba.

Russian cossacks in Paris in 1814

Battles in France

After retreating from Germany, Napoleon fought a series of battles, including the Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube, in France, but was steadily forced back against overwhelming odds. During this time Napoleon fought his Six Days Campaign, in which he won multiple battles against the enemy forces advancing towards Paris. However he never managed to field more than 70,000 troops during this entire campaign against more than half a million Allied troops. At the Treaty of Chaumont (9 March) the Allies agreed to preserve the Coalition until Napoleon's total defeat. The Allies entered Paris on 30 March 1814. Napoleon was determined to fight on, even now, incapable of fathoming his massive fall from power. During the campaign he had issued a decree for 900,000 fresh conscripts, but only a fraction of these were ever raised and Napoleon's increasingly unrealistic schemes for victory eventually gave way to the reality of the hopeless situation.

Abdication

Napoleon's exile to Elba, from a British engraving, 1814.

Napoleon proposed to march on Paris. His soldiers and regimental officers were eager to fight on. But Napoleon's marshals and senior officers mutinied. On 4 April, Napoleon was confronted by his marshals and senior officers, led by Ney. They told the Emperor that they refused to march. Napoleon asserted that the army would follow him. Ney replied, 'The army will follow its generals.' Napoleon abdicated on 6 April 1814. However, occasional military actions continued in Italy, Spain and Holland throughout the spring of 1814. The victors exiled Napoleon to the island of Elba, and restored the Bourbon monarchy in the person of Louis XVIII. The Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed, the Allied leaders attended Peace Celebrations in England in June, before progressing to the Congress of Vienna, which was held to redraw the map of Europe.

References

  • Rothenberg, Gunther Erich. The Napoleonic Wars. London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-35983-1. 
  • Lüke, Martina (2009). Anti-Napoleonic Wars of Liberation (1813-1815). In: The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest: 1500-present. Edited by Immanuel Ness.. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 188-190. 

External links

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