Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns


 

French Order-of-Battle at Leipzig: 16-18 October 1813

By Stephen Millar

While the Emperor and the divisions from Leipzig were halted at Markranstadt came the disastrous news of the destruction of the Lindenau bridge. The army had lost by this nearly all its artillery; half the troops were left as prisoners, and thousands of our wounded comrades handed over to the outrage of the hostile soldiery, hounded on by its infamous officers to the slaughter…Hardly had we traversed half the distance when we heard frequent shots, and as we drew near the suburb we could distinguish the despairing cries of the unhappy French, who, unable to retreat, and without cartridges, were being hunted from street to street, and butchered in a cowardly manner by Prussians, Badeners, and Saxons.

The fury of my two regiments was indescribable. Every man breathed vengeance, and regretted that vengeance was almost impossible, since the Elster, with its broken bridge, lay between us and the assassins. Our rage increased when we met about 2,000 French, mostly without clothing, and nearly all wounded, who had only escaped death by leaping into the river and swimming across under the fire from the other bank.

 – The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot, Vol II: 40

The Allied victory at the Battle of Leipzig (also called “the Battle of the Nations”) saw the end of French influence in the German States. The battle, fought on 16-19 October 1813, was the largest battle of the Napoleonic Wars and also marked the beginning of the end of Napoleon I’s First Empire (excluding the short-lived Hundred Days in 1815). Leipzig – along with the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815) – ranks as one of the most controversial battles of the entire Napoleonic Wars.

Sources disagree over the organization and strength of Napoleon’s Grande Armee at Leipzig [see Table A]. The Grande Armee was a large, allied army; fighting alongside French troops were regiments from Saxony, Poland, Berg, Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Westphalia, Naples, Wurttemburg and the Kingdom of Italy. Chandler gives Napoleon 170,000 men on 16 October, rising to 195,000 on 18 October.

Another area of disagreement is the extent to which Napoleon used “provisional” line regiments (single battalions from different regiments temporarily grouped together). Several French infantry divisions at Leipzig were composed of these ad hoc regiments, but order-of-battle sources vary greatly on their organization. Several recent print sources may be useful for answers about provisional (and marine) regimental commanders and deployment.

As with other French Napoleonic orders-of-battle, the order-of-battle at Leipzig can be very confusing when it comes to French surnames; it is sometimes necessary to check service histories to determine the correct commanding officer. For example, the “Watier/Walther/Walthier/Wathiez” problem is not uncommon: is the correct officer GdD [cavalry] Pierre Watier, Comte de Saint-Alphonse – often mis-spelled as “Walthier de Saint-Alphonse” – or GdD [cavalry] Frederic-Henri, Comte Walther or GdB [infantry] Francois-Isidore, Baron Wathiez?

The Battle of Leipzig is also famous for two incidents; the defection of Napoleon’s Saxon ally in the afternoon of 18 October and the disastrous episode the next day at Lindenau  – where the only bridge across the Elster River available to Napoleon’s retreating troops was prematurely destroyed (believed to be the result of a hasty decision of an engineer corporal coming under enemy fire, this demolition subsequently drowned hundreds of French troops – including the recently-promoted MdE Josef-Antoni, Prince Poniatowski – and trapped thousands more on the Allied side of the Elster).

The Battle of Leipzig is often subdivided into subordinate battles: the preliminary, but inconclusive, Battle of Leibertwolkwitz (a cavalry action on 14 October), the Battle of Mockern (16 October), the Battle of Lindenau (16 October) and the main battle and subsequent French retreat (16-19 October). Strictly speaking, the entire battle was fought 14-19 October. Esposito and Elting list Napoleon’s losses as 38,000 killed and wounded, with 15,000 taken prisoner.

Grande Armée

Emperor Napoleon I

1. Northern Front: 113 battalions, 44 squadrons and 27 batteries

2. Southern Front: 154 ½ battalions, 167 squadrons and 62 batteries

3. South-Eastern Front: 45 battalions, 58 squadrons and 14 batteries

4. Lindenau-Leipzig: 8 battalions, 14 squadrons and 2 batteries

Total on 16 October: 320 ½ battalions, 283 squadrons and 105 batteries

5. Reinforcements (16-18 October): 35 battalions, 47 squadrons and 8 batteries

Total on 18 October: 355 ½ battalions, 330 squadrons and 113 batteries

Chief-of-Staff: Berthier, MdE Louis-Alexandre, Prince de Neufchatel et de Wagram

Artillery: Sorbier, GdD Jean-Barthelemot, Comte

Artillery Park: Neigre, GdB Gabriel, Baron

Engineers: Rogniat, GdD Joseph, Baron

 

 

 

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2004

 

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