Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The Campaign of 1814: Chapter One - the General Situation

By: Maurice Weil

Translated by: Greg Gorsuch


(after the Imperial and Royal War Archives at Vienna)




The general situation in November and December 1813.

Divergence of opinion of the Allied generals.  --The victory of Hanau had reopened with the glorious defeat of the victors of  Leipzig the road to France that the Austro-Bavarians of  Wrede had vainly tried to block to them.  The Emperor, momentarily reassured about the fate of the debris of his army so that he would undertake to hold the left bank of the Rhine, leaving Mainz 2 November and returning to Paris to organize new forces. During this time the Allied rulers hesitated, astonished beyond magnitude by the results obtained, and, not knowing what course to pursue, lost in impotent discussions, in negotiations by their very nature doomed to remain fruitless, and losing the opportunity to exploit their advantages and put an end in a few weeks to the war that ravaged Europe.

Though it has been argued since then to try to justify the inaction of the Allies, whatever may have been the true value of military considerations or political reasons cited for the sake of the argument, Blücher was obviously right when wrote, 3 November 1813, through Müffling, the following letter addressed to General Knesebeck: "We can now understand the position of Napoleon.  If we quickly move on Holland and if we cross the Rhine, the conquest of Holland will be over in two months and we will sign a lasting peace.  If we stay instead on the right bank,  if we allow ourselves to be stopped by negotiations, we will undergo a rough and bloody campaign in 1814.  Napoleon now finds himself in the most difficult and most critical situation that he has ever been if it doesn't get worse.  I'm curious to see how his genius will allow him to get away."

But since neither Müffling or Gneisenau or Pozzo di Borgo, nor Blücher had come out to make themselves heard at this moment at least, it seems necessary to preface our work with a summary of the relative positions of the two parties in mid-November 1813, seeking to discover the diplomatic or other reasons that the Allies had decided to violate the principle so justly posed by Clausewitz: "The winner must always strive to expedite the solution, the loser to retard it."[1]

The Allies decide to suspend operations. --It should be recognized that the Allies were in a special position. Favorable as a whole, especially in military terms, it showed, at the same time the conditions and tendencies of the Coalition, its origin and its aspirations, with its innumerable difficulties.  And it is these very difficulties that, while manifesting with an increase in intensity, had been greatly helping to bring the exaggerated ideas of caution, inopportune timing, and to nullify the efforts made by the advocates of a rational attack as slightly dangerous.

It is this fact that Marshal Ney[2] noted some three months later, when asked after the signing of the peace which had been the direct result of a continuation of the operation: "The gentlemen of the Allies could count their days to the steps to Paris." But this time the natural influence exerted by the essentially different interests of each of the Allied powers had gained the upper hand: the underlying diplomatic considerations outweighed the military and the voice of Metternich and Knesebeck silenced the prayers and complaints of Blücher and Gneisenau.

It could not, indeed, have been otherwise at a time when the party for a war to the death had few military officials, serious and convincing like the Commander and Chief of General Staff of the Army Silesia.  The Emperor Alexander himself, while the soul of the Coalition, although not abandoning the idea of an instant response to the occupation of Moscow by a triumphal entry into Paris[3], had yielded temporarily to the general pressure.  He had, moreover, remarked many times in the year, since the passage of the Niemen and the Vistula, and their entry in Prussia, that his generals would find the honor of Russia sufficiently avenged by the destruction of the Grand Army and the deliverance of the motherland.  The King of Prussia, influenced by the peaceful advice of Knesebeck had not ceased and would never cease to be a docile instrument in the hands of Alexander.  England, weary of the war it supported for so long, exhausted by the large subsidies it was obligated to provide the Coalition would have more readily agreed to peace if it had largely achieved its goal and achieved its program. The Austrians, some of whom could now see its former German provinces and its Italian possessions returned to them as soon as hostilities ceased, did not care to continue a war which she knew could not make any profit beyond this.  Finally, Bernadotte, pursuing the realization of his ambitious dreams, flattered by the vain hope of replacing Napoleon on the throne of France, declared himself strongly against the plan proposed by Blücher who wished, after crossing the Rhine at Mülheim, November 15, while the Army of the North crossed into Holland, moving with his army to Brussels and then continue his march on Paris. The Army of Bohemia would naturally, take this project, hurrying its movement forward and crossing also, on the left bank of the Rhine.  It was quite certain that the remains of the French army in echelon from Huningue up to the North Sea, could not seriously stop the Allies; the Emperor himself admitted this, because he wrote on November 19 to Marmont: "We are in this moment capable of nothing."

Nevertheless, through the ability of Metternich, who had managed to establish negotiations with Saint-Aignan, the fraudulent innuendo and interest of Bernadotte, which had in no small part contributed to the acceptance of these delays by the Czar by inspiring the idea of trying to separate the cause of Napoleon from that of France, had countered the insatiable hatred of Blücher, the logic and arguments of Gneisenau.  The Marshal VORWÆRTS, expecting marching orders he felt certain of receiving, came down the Lahn, 7 November, with the corps of Yorck and of Sacken, to then push on Limburg, on the main road from Frankfurt to Cologne.  He directed Langeron by Siegen and wanted Saint-Priest to rally to go from Cassel; but during that time, the council of war held in Frankfurt on November 7th, argued against the immediate continuation of operations and, based on the precarious state of found throughout the Army of Silesia, prescribed to Blücher to retrace his footsteps and undertake the siege of Mainz.

France was temporarily saved; the Emperor would have time to break ground for new formations, to create new resources.  Also Napoleon did not hesitate to accept the offers made to him, and he appointed Mannheim to a gathering of the plenipotentiaries.

But if the peace party suddenly had the upper hand, the efforts of Stein and the hatred of Pozzo di Borgo soon was not long in bringing an almost complete turnaround.  It had fallen first at, the general headquarters of the Allies, before an offensive that could have ended the campaign within days;  however, as there would be no peace that could be sustained, and as it was decided to resume operations as soon as the troops would be rebuilt, as soon as the reinforcements would arrive, as soon as the ammunition columns have joined, they agreed, contrary to the Emperor to make a winter campaign .

Proclamation of 1 December.  --Secondly, to deprive Napoleon of part of his resources, while they continued to negotiate, the Allied sovereigns, agreeing with the suggestion made by Bernadotte, tried to separate the cause of the Emperor with that of France, by issuing the proclamation of December 1.  They stated clearly that:  "The Allied Powers did not make war on France, but this preponderance loudly proclaimed, that this preponderance, to the misfortune of Europe and of France, Napoleon had for too long exercised beyond the limits of his Empire."

It does not belong to us to delve into the nature, the extent of powers given to both sides of the plenipotentiaries, to try to disentangle what really were more or less sincere intentions of the rulers and their ministers.  We believe, however, that Napoleon (and the instructions to Caulaincourt are far from undermining our way of thinking) would at that time accepted an honorable peace if it had been seriously offered.  From December 10, however, there could be no doubt, and the response by Metternich to Caulaincourt is there to prove that already at this time, the Coalition had decided to take by force the solution she was looking.  For his part, Napoleon had not lost time since his return to Paris; thanks to senatus-consultes of October 9 and 15 November, he hoped to raise in the country 545,000 conscripts.  With these resources he had to face the invasion and support the three corps of Victor, Marmont and Macdonald, whose 45,000 men spread from Switzerland to Holland, and would have to bear with the few troops stationed in Belgium, the first attacks of the Allied armies.

The more one examines the moral and material situation of the belligerents in mid-November 1813, the less one can fathom the reasons the Allies have decided: first, to forego the benefits that they owed to the victory of Leipzig, and to deprive, as the last part of the 1815 campaign was not slow to show, some of the profits that would have provided by an immediate and vigorous attack, then, to cover their left wing by violating the neutrality of Switzerland; and finally , to choose a plan of operations that was eccentric at best, with an apparent excuse, of reducing the length of the line operations of the Austrian army.

Status of the French army.  --Informed of as they were by their own officials and supporters of the Bourbons, the Allies were aware that the Emperor would find it difficult to oppose with the Guard and the small corps of Belgium, of 60,000 to 70,000 men the 150,000 men that it would have been so easy to move immediately to Paris.  As Clausewitz stated, "the Allies were numerically strong enough not to take any risk by resolving to use the power that had just given them victory, to enter France and to continue their forward movement up to the fall of Paris..."  It is clear that the French army, had it been pursued, would have withdrawn to Paris. There was nowhere to gather sufficient forces and the Allies knew this very well.  Rather than remake and reinforce this army, it would be weakened by detaching the garrisons that it was obliged to throw into the fortresses, and it cannot be accused of exaggeration if we say that arriving in Paris, it would not have numbered more than 30, 000.

Clausewitz's opinion on the plan of the Allies.  --As Clausewitz also points out a few pages later in his Critique of the Strategic Campaign of France in 1814, the strategic objective of the Allies was first the destruction of the forces with which the Emperor would restored France with a new army, and then the capture of Paris.

The result was therefore an obligation for the Allies to stand with their united forces against the French army, to deliver a decisive battle, and after beating her, to march on Paris, if not with all, more or less with the bulk of their troops.  It was, in a word, to bring about the same pair of consequences of the Battle of Leipzig[4].

The objective was more clearly defined than it had ever been at the beginning of a campaign.  The Allies would try to seek as soon as possible an inevitable great battle, it was natural and logical to move forward by the great direct route from Frankfurt to Paris, by Mainz and Metz, consequently limiting the number the routes taken by different corps to what was strictly necessary to feed and march an army of nearly 200,000 men.

However, what Clausewitz said, was because, while approaching the enemy, reducing the front of the march so as to enable and facilitate the concentration of troops to take part in the fight, it was important to choose a meeting point for the armies of the advance.  As it was impossible to admit that French forces from reaching strength other than on the Upper Meuse or the Marne, that point should have been Verdun or Châlons cities precisely located on the shortest main road.  In cases where the Emperor would have chosen another center of resistance and  one would have had the opportunity to have Nancy as a general point of assembly instead of Verdun and Châlons.

In a word, the Allies could only and had to march, from the beginning, in three large columns up to Luxembourg, Metz, and Nancy.  In bringing the war immediately and directly together towards the heart of France, they even facilitated the conquest of the Netherlands and Belgium by making it impossible to send reinforcements for the small corps entrusted with the guard of these regions.

Plan of Operations of Prince Schwarzenberg.  --Since one knew that the French army could not concentrate in any case before the left bank of the Meuse; since one wanted to restore the lines of communications in the Upper Rhine to the troops from Austria and the States of Southern Germany; as soon as one had decided, on the other hand, does crossing the Upper Rhine in the last days of December and the middle Rhine in January, marching by the Breisgau and Switzerland lead to a waste of time and therefore harmful?  Finally, since it was posited that one operated in a manner to accept battle whenever the enemy had divided his forces and that superiority would definitely be on our side (the side of the Allies, this is again Clausewitz speaking) to avoid it, on the contrary, when all the forces of the enemy find themselves united and led to the point to threaten our armies,[5] --was to commit a big mistake to separate in the principle to operate following a junction that would be made even more uncertain if it would likely take place in the presence of an enemy as Napoleon.

First movements of the Army of Bohemia.  --Anyway, Alexander, after hesitating for a few days, had finally approved the plan that the Austrian commander had submitted in the last days of November.  The great army of Bohemia left, about 10 December, the cantonments it had occupied from November 18, from Lahr to the Mein and climbed gradually over the Rhine, while Schwarzenberg deciding to violate the neutrality of Switzerland, left Frankfurt on December 9 to closer monitor these movements.  Passing through Heidelberg and Karlsruhe, the Generalissimo set up his headquarters on the 11th,  in Freiburg-on-Brisgau.

Composition of this army.  --The great Bohemian Army consisting of: 1st Austrian Light Division (Field Marshal-Lieutenant Count Bubna): 2nd Light Division (Austrian Field Marshal-Lieutenant Prince Maurice Liechtenstein); Ist Corps of the Austrian Army (Feldzeugmeister Count Colloredo); IInd Corps of the Austrian Army (Field Marshal-Lieutenant Prince Alois Liechtenstein); IIIrd Corps of the Austrian Army (Feldzeugmeister Count Gyulay); IVth Corps or the Württemberg Army (Crown Prince of Württemberg); Vth Corps of the Austro-Bavarian Army (General of Cavalry Count Wrède); VIth Corps of the Russian Army (General of Cavalry Wittgenstein); Austrian Reserves (General of Cavalry the Crown Prince of Hesse-Homburg); Guard and reserves of the Russians and Prussians (General of Infantry Count Barclay de Tolly), making up 235 battalions , 302 squadrons with 682 guns and a total of nearly 200,000 men1[6].   It began to move to Switzerland on December 10.  His column head, the division of Bubna, had arrived from December 9 at Lorrach where Schwarzenberg moved his headquarters on the 20th.

Composition of the Army of Silesia.  --The Army of Silesia, under the command of Blücher, was composed of the Prussian Ist Corps (General of Infantry von Yorck), the Prussian IInd Corps (Lieutenant-General von Kleist), the Russian corps of General of Infantry Count Langeron, the Russian corps of General of Infantry Baron Sacken, the flying corps of Prince Biron of Courland, with a strength of 146 ½-battalions, 152 Squadron, 17 regiments of Cossacks,  448 guns with an effective force of 95,440 men, and when it has been joined by the IVth and Vth Federation Corps (Elector of Hesse and reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg), presented a total of 191 ½-battalions, 155 squadrons, 500 guns and 136,670 men.  This army, as of December 20, occupied the tight cantonments on the right bank of the Rhine, from Mannheim to Koblenz, presented, when it began its march at the crossing of the Rhine (1 January 1814), an effective force of 50,000 men.  Kleist's corps was then still in Erfurt; as Langeron stood in front of Mainz; and IVth and Vth Federation Corps, in the process of forming, did not join until much later.

Composition of the Army of the North.  --As for the Army of the North under the command of the Crown Prince of Sweden, which accounted for the different corps and a total force of nearly 170,000 men, it consisted of the Prussian IIIrd Army Corps (Lieutenant-General von Bülow, 30,000 men and 96 guns); the Russian corps of General of Cavalry Baron Winzingerode (30,000 men and 132 guns)[7]; the IIIrd Federation Corps (General of Cavalry Duke of Saxe-Weimar, 23,000 men and 56 guns ); the corps of Lieutenant General Count Wallmoden-Gimborn (15,000 men and 32 guns); 10,000 Dutch troops, militia under the command of the Prince of Orange; 9,000 English[8] of General Graham; finally, Swedish Corps under Field Earl Marshal Stedingk (23,000 men and 62 guns); and the IInd Federation Corps under the command of the Duke of Brunswick, with a strength of 32,900 men and 64 guns.[9]

Effectives of the French Army on 1 January 1814.  --Against these considerable forces of 200,000 men, the Allies were going to throw against him in the first days of January 1814,  Napoleon could not oppose from Huningue to beyond Nijmegen, except with Victor, who watched the course of the Rhine from Huningue to Landau with the 2nd corps (8,615 men and 14 guns) and the 5th Cavalry Corps (4,265 men and 6 guns); Marmont, covering the line of Landau to the Moselle with the 6th Corps consisted of a little over, 10,000 men and about 23 guns and 3,000 horsemen.  The 4th Corps (Morand, 14,181 men) occupied Mainz.  The rest of the Rhine from Koblenz to Nijmegen was guarded by troops under the Duke of Tarentum.  The 5th Corps (Sebastiani) reduced to one division of 3,000 men strong and about 12 guns, supported by 1,533 horse of the 3rd Cavalry Corps, was in echelon from the confluence of the Moselle to that of the Lippe.  The 11th Corps with 25 battalions and the cavalry division of Exelmans (11,550 men and 18 guns) monitored the Rhine, from Crefeldt and Wesel up to Nijmegen and Fort Saint-André.

At the extreme left of the French army, Maison, who the Emperor had entrusted December 21, to defend Belgium, had at his disposal at the time some from the depots of the 17th and 24th military divisions, a few cadres of the Young Guard and the cavalry under General Castex.

At the extreme right, Lyons was also almost entirely denuded of troops.  As a reserve in the center of this long line there were only a small division of the Old Guard of General Michel and the two divisions of the Young Guard in formation at Metz.  These troops were a little later for some small time only to be under the command of Ney, where the assembly was decorated with the pompous title of Army of the Vosges; it was posted in part to support the few battalions under the command of Mortier, who were momentarily (January 15) to form on the paper the Army of Morvan.

As shown, the 10,000 men of Victor, staggered on the Huningue up to the downstream at Strasbourg, seemed to bear alone the first shock of the 200,000 men of Schwarzenberg.

Breaching the neutrality of Switzerland, 20-21 December 1813.  --Meanwhile, the Austrian commander had reached its goal: it had decided or rather forced the Czar to consent to the violation of the neutrality of Switzerland[10], and the night of December 20 to 21, after the retirement of Swiss troops, all the Austrian forces crossed the Rhine at Basel, Laufenberg and Schaffhausen.  The Austro-Bavarians of Wrède followed them on the 22nd.

By including with them the VIth Corps (Wittgenstein) and the Guard and reserves under Barclay de Tolly, the great army, now divided into 9 main columns was by extending its left to Geneva seeking to enter France by the gap between the Jura and Vosges, to gain at the plateau of Langres the road of Basel at Vesoul.  It was, according to the plan of Schwarzenberg to be at Langres January 15th, even as the Army of Silesia marching through the Saar and Moselle would arrive around Metz.

The movement of the Army of Bohemia to the crossing of the Rhine had naturally been made without any difficulty. Schwarzenberg had only attempted to be resisted at Neuf-Brisach, on the night of December 19 to 20; a feeble coup de main performed by 2,000 men of the 3rd Army Corps (Gyulay), failed completely.

To get to get a fairly accurate account of the various corps movements of the Allied armies made in so many divergent directions from December 21, it seemed essential to divide our work into periods and follow during each of these periods, the movements of each different Allied corps.  Therefore, in the chapter on the early operations of the Army of Bohemia, one includes the movements performed to take Geneva by the column of Bubna, responsible for ensuring a solid foothold for the far-left of the Allies. It then quickly traced the first operations of the Army of Silesia, and the study was completed for this first period of the campaign, taking us to the eve of the Battle of Brienne and the Battle of Rothière, up to the first junction of the armies of Bohemia and Silesia, with a summary of events that occurred in January 1814, both on the extreme right in Belgium and extreme left near Lyon.

Key to Map

Army of Bohemia -HQ (Schwarzenberg) at Lörrach

A-1st Column consisting of the 1st Light Division (Bubna)and IInd Corps (A. Liechtenstein) at Grenzach-Wyhlen and Basil

 -2nd Column consisting of the 1st Division (Crenneville-IIIrd Corps)and Grenadier Division (Bianchi-Austrian Reserve) at Basil

 -6th Column consisting of the Austro-Bavarian Corps (Wrede) at Basil

 -7th Column consisting of the IVth Corps (Crown Prince of Württemberg) at Lörrach

 -9th Column consisting of the Guards and Reserves (Barclay de Tolly) at Lörrach

B-3rd Column consisting of the 2nd Light Division (M. Liechtenstein) and Ist Corps (Colleredo) at Laufenburg

 -4th Column consisting of the 2nd & 3rd Division (Mariasy & Hohenlohe-Bartenstein IIIrd Corps) at Laufenburg

C-5th Column consisting of the Austrian Reserves (Crown Prince Hesse-Hombourg) at Schaffhausen

D-8th Column consisting of the VIth Corps (Wittgenstein) blockading Kehl and observing the Rhine from Fort Vauban to Mannheim.

Army of Silesia-HQ (Blücher) at Höchst (Frankfurt am Main)

A-Ist Prussian Corps (v. Yorck) in Nassau along Rhine

B-IInd Prussian Corps (v. Kleist) around Erfort

C-Sacken's Corps around Darmstadt

D-Langeron's Corps in a second line around Frankfurt am Rhine/Main

Army of the North

A-Russian Corps (Winzingerode)

B-Bülow's Corps

C-Graham's Corps

French Forces

A-Army of Moselle (Ney-Reserve) consisting of the Old Guard Division (Michel) and 2 Divisions of Young Guard at Metz

B-2nd Corps and 5th Cavalry Corps (Victor) covering Rhine from Huningue to Landau

C-6th Corps and 3k cavalry (Marmont) covering Rhine from Landau to course of the Moselle

D-4th Corps (Morand) occupying Mainz

E-MacDonald covering Rhine from Koblenz to Nijmegen

F-5th Corps (Sebastiani-single division) in echelon from confluence of Moselle to that of Lippe

G-11th Corps and Exelman's Cavalry Division covering Rhine from Crefedlt and Wesel up Nijmegen and Fort Saint-André

H-17th and 24th Divisions, Young Guard Division & Castex's Cavalry Division (Maison) defending Belgium


[1] CLAUSEWITZ, Strategic Critique of the Campaign of France in 1814.

[2] BERNHARDI, Vol. IV, pg 46.

[3]Caulaincourt would write to Napoleon, January 30, at Châtillon: "The Czar wants to see his Guards in Paris to avenge Moscow."

[4]CLAUSEWITZ, Strategic Critique of the Campaign of France in 1814.--Clausewitz adds: "To use the favorite terms of military writers, it was the situation to rise above the devoted rules, to replace methodical war with extreme audacity."

[5]Proposals on a general plan of operations against France presented at Frankfurt-on-the-Mein by Field Marshal Prince Schwarzenberg to His Majesty the Emperor of Russia (Archive of the General Staff of Saint-Petersburg). A summary of proposed measures at this time by Schwarzenberg:

1o  All the Cossacks and all the partisans available in the various armies will be thrown immediately on the left bank of the Rhine.  Or give them instructions to form flying columns, crossing France in all directions to prevent conscripts come together and assembling with their depots or their corps, and finally to disturb and interrupt as much as possible the communications of the enemy (a).

2o The great army of Bohemia marches by the left; it will cross the Rhine and endeavor to penetrate into the interior of France to reach out to the army of Lord Wellington and that of Italy.

3o The army of Marshal Blücher will also cross the Rhine in order to contain the French army, occupy, operate against it until the Bohemian army reaches the enemy's lines of communications.  Marshal Blücher will be supported by a corps that the great army will detach to observe Kehl and Brisach and to be under him when the great army moves deeper into the interior of France.

4o At the same time the army of H. A. R. Crown Prince of Sweden will cross the Rhine in the vicinity of Dusseldorf and Cologne directed on Holland, so as to do what H. A. proposed to the Count of Löwenhielm.  As the main forces of the enemy will be contained by the other allied armies, it is likely that the fortresses of Holland are provisioned and provided with sufficient garrisons, so it is desirable that the Crown Prince of Sweden accelerate this process as much as possible before the enemy can bring resources to oppose him.

By strengthening the corps of General Wallmoden-Gimborn with part of the Swedish army large enough to hold Marshal Davout, H. A. R. will hold it with the corps of Winzingerode, that of Bülow, the Saxons and a Swedish corps with which he would undertake the expedition to Holland.

By a quick march from Cologne to Antwerp it is possible to cut off the Holland from France, to prevent the Emperor Napoleon to build up garrisons in the fortresses, and finally take back this country, thereby facilitating the insurrection of the people and give them a means of support through England.

(a) None of this took place fact, as we shall show later.

[6] Based on Bogdanovich: 255 battalions, 304 squadrons, 26 regiments of Cossacks, 690 guns and a total of 198,300 men; based on Plotho: 239 battalions, 293 squadrons, 684 cannons and 228,650 men; based on Damitz: 263 battalions, 295 squadrons, 581 guns and 200,687 men.

[7] The corps of an Bülow arrived 24 February at Laon; but these two corps did not rejoin the Army of Blücher until March.  The IIIrd Prussian Corps no longer accounted for more than 16,000 men.

[8] These troops did not operate except in the Netherlands and Belgium.

[9] These two latter corps did not take part in the campaign in France, but instead the armies were strengthened during the course of operations by the VIth and VIIIth Federation Corps and by contingents from Hesse, Wurzburg, Baden, etc.

[10] A Proclamation of 21 December 1813 addressed the Swiss by Schwarzenberg.  It is to be noted that neither the Russian troops, or troops of the IVth and Vth Corps penetrated inside Switzerland. The Guard and reserves of Barclay and the Austro-Bavarians of Wrède confined themselves to use the Basel bridge while the Austrians stretched to Geneva.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2011


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