Saturday, 28 September 2013

1814 Campaign Overview

Napoleon’s position at the start of 1814 was precarious, he had in the previous two years lost two armies numbering  approximately half a million men each.  By January 1814 Naploeon was facing an invasion of France on multiple fronts.  In the south, Soult and Suchet faced the Anglo-Spanish armies crossing over the Pyrenees, In Italy Eugene was facing an Austrian army under Bellegarde and in the East a combined army of Austrians, Prussians, Russians, Wurtembergers and Bavarians was already across the Rhine.  In total the Allies had close to one million men in the field (750,000 in the first line and 250,000 in reserve). 

 (Map taken from )
To oppose these armies, Napoleon had less than 250,000 troops, over half of which were recently drafted conscripts.  Napoleon had tried, unsuccessfully, to raise additional soldiers:

"A decree ordering a levy of 300,000 soldiers was made, and another augmenting the Guard to 112,500 men... The levy, however, was not successful. France was exhausted not only of her men, but even of her youth, and boys were now in his greatest need to form his battalions.
To add to his trouble, as fortune always seems to delight in pushing down a falling favorite, the Typhus fever broke out among his troops along the Rhine." (Headley - "The Imperial Guard of Napoleon"

Most leaders facing these odds would have capitulated and sued for favourable terms of surrender.  However, Napoleon was not interested in surrender and was determined “never to make any preparation for abandoning Paris and to bury himself, if necessary, in its ruins.” (Petre – “Napoleon at Bay” quoting Corr. 21,089).  His main plan was to prevent the junction of Blucher and Schwarzenberg and to defeat them separately.      This is the campaign that showed how much Napoleon could achieve in circumstances that were terminal.  Many historians point to this campaign as the best examples of Napoleon’s genius as a general and his abilities to inspire armies in the face of overwhelming odds.

"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. 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. 

Taking advantage of all the resources of the country in order to defend it, he hurried from the Austrians to the Russians, and from the Russians to the Prussians, going from Blücher to Schwarzenberg and from him to Sacken, 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..."  (Baron de Marbot)

My focus, therefore, will be this campaign to the east of Paris between the forces under Napoleons command and those of Blucher and Schwarzenberg.  These battles typically involve 20,000 to 30,000 men per side although the larger battles (La Rothiere and Laon) involve Allied armies of between 80,000 and 100,000 men.   My plan, therefore, is to start with the medium sized battles (20,000 men per side) and build up to the largest (La Rothiere). 

The main battles of this campaign (excluding skirmishes and sieges) and the estimated numbers of troops involved are shown below (the victor is shown in parentheses):

Brienne 29 January  French 36,000 men  Allies 28,000 men (French)
La Rothiere 1 February  French 45,000 men Allies 80,000 men engaged (Allied)
La-Ferte-Sous-Jouarre 9th February  French 3,450 men  Allies 5,800 men  (Allied)
Champaubert 10th February French 15,000 men Allies 3,700 (French)
Momtmirail 11th February French 25,000 men Allies 32,000 (French)
Sens 11 February French 2,500 men Allies 4,000 men (Allied)
Chateau-Thierry 12 February  – French 20,000 men Allies 30,000 men (French)
Vauchamps 14 February – French 11,000 men Allies 21,000 men (French)
Soissons 14 February – French  4,000 men Allies 4,200 men (Allied)
Nangis 17th February – French 19,000 men Allies 4,500 men (French)
Montereau 18th February – French 30,000 men Allies 15,000 men (French)
Bar-Sur-Aube 26/27 February – French  30,000 men Allies 30,000 men (Allied)
La-Ferte-Sur-Aube 28 February – French 2,500 men Allies 23,000 men (Allied)
Gue-a-Tresmes 28 February – French 14,500 men Allies 12,000 men (French)
St Julien 1 March – French 11,000 men Allies 6,000 men (Allied)
Laubressel 3/4 March – French 20,000 men Allies 32,000 men (Allied)
Craonne 7  March – French 35,000 men Allies 23,000 men (Allied)
Laon 9/10 March – French 39,000 men Allies 100,000 men (Allied)
Macon  11 March – French 6,000 men Allies 8,000 men (Allied)
Limonest 16 – 20 March French 20,000 men Allies 30,000 men (Allied)
Arcis-Sur-Aube  20/21 March French 30,000 men Allies 43,000 men (Allied)
Fere-Champenoise 25 March French 21,000 men Allies 28,000 men (Allied)
Bannes 25 March French 3,800 men Allies 28,000 men (Allied)
Claye-Souilly 28 March French 6,650 men Allies 4,500 men (French – ambush)
Paris 30 March French 41,000 men Allies 58,000 men (Allied) last battle in Northern France

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