Napoleons retreat from Moscow | ©Adolph Northen


1812 Jun 1
, Russia

In June 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 armies fought a devastating battle. Despite the fact that France won a tactical victory, the battle was inconclusive. Following the battle the Russians withdrew, thus opening the road to Moscow. By 14 September, the French had occupied Moscow but found the city practically empty. Alexander I (despite having almost lost the war by Western European standards) refused to capitulate, leaving the French in the abandoned city of Moscow with little food or 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 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 re-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.

Frederick William III of Prussia | ©Franz Krüger

Declarations of War

1813 Mar 1
, Sweden

On 3 March 1813, after lengthy negotiations, the United Kingdom agreed to Swedish claims to Norway, Sweden entered a military alliance with the United Kingdom and declared war against France, liberating Swedish Pomerania shortly thereafter. On 17 March, King Frederick William III of Prussia published a call to arms to his subjects, An Mein Volk. Prussia had declared war on France on 13 March, which was received by the French on 16 March. The first armed conflict occurred on 5 April in the Battle of Möckern, where combined Prusso-Russian forces defeated French troops.

General Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher and Cossacks in Bautzen, 1813

Spring campaign

1813 Apr 1 - 1814
, Germany

The German campaign was fought in 1813. Members of the Sixth Coalition, including the German states of Austria and Prussia, plus Russia and Sweden, fought a series of battles in Germany against the French Emperor Napoleon, his marshals, and the armies of the Confederation of the Rhine - an alliance of most of the other German states - which ended the domination of the First French Empire.

The spring campaign between France and the Sixth Coalition ended inconclusively with a summer truce (Truce of Pläswitz). Via the Trachenberg Plan, developed during a period of ceasefire in the summer of 1813, the ministers of Prussia, Russia, and Sweden agreed to pursue a single allied strategy against Napoleon. Following the end of the ceasefire, Austria eventually sided with the coalition, thwarting Napoleon's hopes of reaching separate agreements with Austria and Russia. The coalition now had a clear numerical superiority, which they eventually brought to bear on Napoleon's main forces, despite earlier setbacks such as the Battle of Dresden. The high point of allied strategy was the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, which ended in a decisive defeat for Napoleon. The Confederation of the Rhine was dissolved following the battle with many of its former member states joining the coalition, breaking Napoleon's hold over Germany.

Former Marshal of the Empire Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, later Crown Prince Charles John of Sweden, co-author of the Trachenberg Plan

Trachenberg Plan

1813 Apr 2
, Żmigród

The Trachenberg Plan was a campaign strategy created by the Allies in the 1813 German Campaign during the War of the Sixth Coalition, and named for the conference held at the palace of Trachenberg. The plan advocated avoiding direct engagement with French emperor, Napoleon I, which had resulted from fear of the emperor's now legendary prowess in battle. Consequently, the Allies planned to engage and defeat Napoleon's marshals and generals separately, and thus weaken his army while they built up an overwhelming force even he could not defeat. It was decided upon after a series of defeats and near disasters at the hands of Napoleon at Lützen, Bautzen and Dresden. The plan was successful, and at the Battle of Leipzig, where the Allies had a considerable numerical advantage, Napoleon was soundly defeated and driven out of Germany, back to the Rhine.

Battle of Möckern | ©Richard Knötel

Opening Savlo

1813 Apr 5
, Möckern

The Battle of Möckern was a series of heavy clashes between allied Prusso-Russian troops and Napoleonic French forces south of Möckern. It occurred on 5 April 1813. It ended in a French defeat and formed the successful prelude to the "Liberation War" against Napoleon.

In view of these unexpected defeats, the French viceroy concluded on the night of 5 April to withdraw once more to Magdeburg. On its withdrawal the French forces destroyed all the bridges of the Klusdammes, denying the most important access routes to Magdeburg to the Allies. Although the French forces in Germany were not finally defeated by this action, for the Prussians and Russians the clash was nevertheless a first important success on the way to the final victory over Napoleon.

Battle of Lützen

Battle of Lützen

1813 May 2
, Lützen

In the Battle of Lützen (German: Schlacht von Großgörschen, 2 May 1813), Napoleon I of France defeated an allied army of the Sixth Coalition. The Russian commander, Prince Peter Wittgenstein, attempting to forestall Napoleon's capture of Leipzig, attacked the French right wing near Lützen, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, surprising Napoleon. Quickly recovering, he ordered a double envelopment of the allies. After a day of heavy fighting, the imminent encirclement of his army prompted Wittgenstein to retreat. Due to a shortage of cavalry, the French did not pursue.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher in Bautzen, 1813

Battle of Bautzen

1813 May 20 - May 21
, Bautzen

In the Battle of Bautzen (20–21 May 1813), a combined Prusso–Russian army, that was massively outnumbered, was pushed back by Napoleon but escaped destruction, with some sources claiming that Marshal Michel Ney failed to block their retreat. The Prussians under General Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher and Russians under General Peter Wittgenstein, retreating after their defeat at Lützen were attacked by French forces under Napoleon.

Schloss Pläswitz Sammlung Duncker

Truce of Pläswitz

1813 Jun 4
, Letohrad

The Truce or Armistice of Pläswitz was a nine-week armistice during the Napoleonic Wars, agreed between Napoleon I of France and the Allies on 4 June 1813 (the same day as the Battle of Luckau was being fought elsewhere). It was proposed by Metternich during the retreat of the main Allied army into Silesia after Bautzen, seconded by Napoleon (keen as he was to buy time to strengthen his cavalry, rest his army, intimidate Austria by bringing the Army of Italy up to Laibach and negotiate a separate peace with Russia) and keenly accepted by the Allies (thus buying time to woo Austrian support, bring in further British funding and rest the exhausted Russian army). The Truce conceded all of Saxony to Napoleon, in return for territory along the Oder, and was initially scheduled to end on 10 July, but later extended to 10 August. In the time the Truce bought, the Landwehr was mobilised and Metternich finalised the Treaty of Reichenbach on 27 June, agreeing that Austria would join the Allies should Napoleon fail to meet certain conditions by a specific day. He failed to meet those conditions, the Truce was allowed to lapse without renewal, and Austria declared war on 12 August. Napoleon later described the armistice as the greatest mistake of his life.

Battle of Vitoria | ©Heath & Sutherland

Battle of Vitoria

1813 Jun 21
, Vitoria-Gasteiz

Napoleon recalled to France numerous soldiers to reconstruct his main army after his disastrous invasion of Russia. By 20 May 1813 Wellington marched 121,000 troops (53,749 British, 39,608 Spanish and 27,569 Portuguese) from northern Portugal across the mountains of northern Spain and the Esla River to outflank Marshal Jourdan's army of 68,000, strung out between the Douro and the Tagus. The French retreated to Burgos, with Wellington's forces marching hard to cut them off from the road to France. Wellington himself commanded the small central force in a strategic feint, while Sir Thomas Graham conducted the bulk of the army around the French right flank over landscape considered impassable.

Wellington launched his attack with 57,000 British, 16,000 Portuguese and 8,000 Spanish at Vitoria on 21 June, from four directions.

At the Battle of Vitoria (21 June 1813) a British, Portuguese and Spanish army under the Marquess of Wellington broke the French army under King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan near Vitoria in Spain, eventually leading to victory in the Peninsular War.

Wellington at Sorauren by Thomas Jones Barker

Battle of the Pyrenees

1813 Jul 25 - Aug 2
, Pyrenees

The Battle of the Pyrenees was a large-scale offensive (the author David Chandler recognises the 'battle' as an offensive) launched on 25 July 1813 by Marshal Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult from the Pyrénées region on Emperor Napoleon’s order, in the hope of relieving French garrisons under siege at Pamplona and San Sebastián. After initial success the offensive ground to a halt in the face of increased allied resistance under the command of Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington. Soult abandoned the offensive on 30 July and headed toward France, having failed to relieve either garrison.

The Battle of the Pyrenees involved several distinct actions. On 25 July, Soult and two French corps fought the reinforced British 4th Division and a Spanish division at the Battle of Roncesvalles. The Allied force successfully held off all attacks during the day, but retreated from the Roncesvalles Pass that night in the face of overwhelming French numerical superiority. Also on the 25th, a third French corps severely tried the British 2nd Division at the Battle of Maya. The British withdrew from the Maya Pass that evening. Wellington rallied his troops a short distance north of Pamplona and repelled the attacks of Soult's two corps at the Battle of Sorauren on 28 July.

Instead of falling back to the northeast toward Roncesvalles Pass, Soult made contact with his third corps on 29 July and began to move north. On 30 July, Wellington attacked Soult's rearguards at Sourauren, driving some French troops to the northeast, while most continued to the north. Rather than use the Maya Pass, Soult elected to head north up the Bidassoa River valley. He managed to evade Allied attempts to surround his troops at Yanci on 1 August and escaped across a nearby pass after a final rearguard action at Etxalar on 2 August. The French suffered nearly twice as many casualties as the Allied army.

Rain having rendered small arms fire impossible, Saxon infantry (left) use musket butts and bayonets to defend a churchyard against a Prussian onslaught

Battle of Großbeeren

1813 Aug 23
, Grossbeeren

However at about the same time as the Battle of Dresden, the French sustained several serious defeats, first at the hands of Bernadotte's Army of the North on 23 August, with Oudinot's thrust towards Berlin beaten back by the Prussians, at Großbeeren.

The Battle of Großbeeren occurred on 23 August 1813 in neighboring Blankenfelde and Sputendorf between the Prussian III Corps under Friedrich von Bülow and the French-Saxon VII Corps under Jean Reynier. Napoleon had hoped to drive the Prussians out of the Sixth Coalition by capturing their capital, but the swamps south of Berlin combined with rain and marshal Nicolas Oudinot's ill health all contributed to the French defeat.

Battle of the Katzbach | ©Eduard Kaempffer

Battle of the Katzbach

1813 Aug 26
, Liegnitzer Straße

At the Katzbach the Prussians, commanded by Blücher, took advantage of Napoleon's march toward Dresden to attack Marshal MacDonald's Army of the Bober. During a torrential rainstorm on 26 August, and due to conflicting orders and a breakdown of communications, MacDonald's several corps found themselves isolated from one another with many bridges over the Katzback and Neisse rivers destroyed by surging waters. 200,000 Prussians and French collided in a confused battle that degenerated into hand-to-hand combat. However, Blucher and the Prussians rallied their scattered units and attacked an isolated French corps and pinned it against the Katzbach, annihilating it; forcing the French into the raging waters where many drowned. The French suffered 13,000 killed and wounded and 20,000 captured. The Prussians lost but 4,000 men.

Taking place the same day as the Battle of Dresden, it resulted in a Coalition victory, with the French retreating to Saxony.

Battle of Dresden

War resumes: Battle of Dresden

1813 Aug 26 - Aug 24
, Dresden

Following the end of the armistice, Napoleon seemed to have regained the initiative at Dresden (26–27 August 1813), where he inflicted one of the most lop-sided losses of the era on the Prussian-Russian-Austrian forces. On 26 August, the Allies under Prince von Schwarzenberg attacked the French garrison in Dresden. Napoleon arrived on the battlefield in the early hours of 27 August with the Guard and other reinforcements and despite being severely outnumbered having only 135,000 men to the Coalition's 215,000, Napoleon chose to attack the Allies. Napoleon turned the Allied Left Flank, and in skillful use of terrain, pinned it against the flooded Weißeritz River and isolated it from the rest of the Coalition Army. He then gave his famed cavalry commander, and King of Naples, Joachim Murat leave to destroy the surrounded Austrians. The day's torrential rain had dampened gunpowder, rendering the Austrians' muskets and cannon useless against the sabers and lances of Murat's Cuirassiers and Lancers who tore the Austrians to shreds, capturing 15 standards and forcing the balance of three divisions, 13,000 men, to surrender.

The Allies were forced to retreat in some disorder having lost nearly 40,000 men to only 10,000 French. However, Napoleon's forces were also hampered by the weather and unable to close the encirclement the Emperor had planned before the Allies narrowly slipped the noose. So while Napoleon had struck a heavy blow against the Allies, several tactical errors had allowed the Allies to withdraw, thus ruining Napoleon's best chance at ending the war in a single battle. Nonetheless, Napoleon had once again inflicted a heavy loss on the primary Allied Army despite being outnumbered and for some weeks after Dresden Schwarzenberg declined to take offensive action.

Battle of Kulm | ©Alexander von Kotzebue

Battle of Kulm

1813 Aug 29
, Chlumec

Napoleon himself, lacking reliable and numerous cavalry, was unable to prevent the destruction of a whole army corps, which had isolated itself pursuing the enemy following the Battle of Dresden without support, at the Battle of Kulm (29–30 August 1813), losing 13,000 men further weakening his army. Realizing that the Allies would continue to defeat his subordinates, Napoleon began to consolidate his troops to force a decisive battle.

While Marshal MacDonald's defeat at Katzbach coincided with Napoleon's victory at Dresden, the Coalition success at Kulm eventually negated his triumph, given that his troops never completely crushed the enemy. Thus, by winning this battle, Ostermann-Tolstoy and his troops succeeded in buying much needed time for the Coalition armies to regroup after the Battle of Dresden for the Battle of Wartenburg and subsequently for the Battle of Leipzig.

The Battle of Dennewitz | ©Alexander Wetterling

Battle of Dennewitz

1813 Sep 6
, Berlin

The French then suffered another grievous loss at the hands of Bernadotte's army on 6 September at Dennewitz where Ney was now in command, with Oudinot now as his deputy. The French were once again attempting to capture Berlin, the loss of which Napoleon believed would knock Prussia out of the War. However, Ney blundered into a trap set by Bernadotte and was stopped cold by the Prussians, and then routed when the Crown Prince arrived with his Swedes and a Russian corps on their open flank. This second defeat at the hands of Napoleon's ex-Marshal was catastrophic for the French, with them losing 50 cannon, four Eagles and 10,000 men on the field. Further losses occurred during the pursuit that evening, and into the following day, as the Swedish and Prussian cavalry took a further 13,000–14,000 French prisoners. Ney retreated to Wittenberg with the remains of his command and made no further attempt at capturing Berlin. Napoleon's bid to knock Prussia out of the War had failed; as had his operational plan to fight the battle of the central position. Having lost the initiative, he was now forced to concentrate his army and seek a decisive battle at Leipzig.

Compounding the heavy military losses suffered at Dennewitz, the French were now losing the support of their German vassal states as well. News of Bernadotte's victory at Dennewitz sent shock waves across Germany, where French rule had become unpopular, inducing Tyrol to rise in rebellion and was the signal for the King of Bavaria to proclaim neutrality and begin negotiations with the Austrians (on the basis of territorial guarantees and Maximillian's retention of his crown) in preparation of joining the Allied cause. A body of Saxon troops had defected to Bernadotte's Army during the battle and Westphalian troops were now deserting King Jerome's army in large numbers. Following a proclamation by the Swedish Crown Prince urging the Saxon Army (Bernadotte had commanded the Saxon Army at the Battle of Wagram and was well liked by them) to come over to the Allied cause, Saxon generals could no longer answer for the fidelity of their troops and the French now considered their remaining German allies unreliable. Later, on 8 October 1813, Bavaria officially ranged itself against Napoleon as a member of the Coalition.

Yorck in Wartenburg

Battle of Wartenburg

1813 Oct 3
, Kemberg

The Battle of Wartenburg took place on 3 October 1813 between the French IV Corps commanded by General Henri Gatien Bertrand and the Allied Army of Silesia, principally the I Corps of General Ludwig von Yorck. The battle allowed the Army of Silesia to cross the Elbe, ultimately leading to the Battle of Leipzig.

Poniatowski's Last Charge at Leipzig, by Richard Caton Woodville

Battle of Leipzig

1813 Oct 16 - Oct 12
, Leipzig

Napoleon 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 (16–19 October 1813) a French army, ultimately reinforced to 191,000, found itself faced by three Allied armies converging on it, ultimately totalling more than 430,000 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 White Elster, the bridge was prematurely blown and 30,000 troops were stranded to be taken prisoner by the Allied forces.

The Coalition armies of Austria, Prussia, Sweden, and Russia, led by Tsar Alexander I and Karl von Schwarzenberg, decisively defeated the Grande Armée of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon's army also contained Polish and Italian troops, as well as Germans from the Confederation of the Rhine (mainly Saxony and Württemberg). The battle was the culmination of the German Campaign of 1813 and involved 560,000 soldiers, 2,200 artillery pieces, the expenditure of 400,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, and 133,000 casualties, making it the largest battle in Europe prior to World War I.

Decisively defeated again, Napoleon was compelled to return to France while the Sixth Coalition kept up its momentum, dissolving the Confederation of the Rhine and invading France early the next year.

The Red Lancers after the cavalry charge.

Battle of Hanau

1813 Oct 30 - Oct 31
, Hanau

Following Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Leipzig earlier in October, Napoleon began to retreat from Germany into France and relative safety. Wrede attempted to block Napoleon’s line of retreat at Hanau on 30 October. Napoleon arrived at Hanau with reinforcements and defeated Wrede’s forces. On 31 October Hanau was in French control, opening Napoleon’s line of retreat. The Battle of Hanau was a minor battle, but an important tactical victory allowing Napoleon’s army to retreat onto French soil to recover and face the invasion of France. Meanwhile, Davout's corps continued to hold out in its siege of Hamburg, where it became the last Imperial force east of the Rhine.

Gravure of the battle

Battle of Nivelle

1813 Nov 10
, Nivelle

The Battle of Nivelle (10 November 1813) took place in front of the river Nivelle near the end of the Peninsular War

(1808–1814). After the Allied siege of San Sebastian, Wellington's 80,000 British, Portuguese and Spanish troops (20,000 of the Spaniards were untried in battle) were in hot pursuit of Marshal Soult who had 60,000 men to place in a 20-mile perimeter. After the Light Division, the main British army was ordered to attack and the 3rd Division split Soult's army in two. By two o'clock, Soult was in retreat and the British in a strong offensive position. Soult had lost another battle on French soil and had lost 4,500 men to Wellington's 5,500.

Württemberg dragoons charging French infantry

Battle of La Rothière

1814 Jan 1
, La Rothière

The Battle of La Rothière was fought on the 1st of February 1814 between the French Empire and allied army of Austria, Prussia, Russia, and German States previously allied with France. The French were led by Emperor Napoleon and the coalition army was under the command of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. The battle took place in severe weather conditions (wet snowstorm). The French were defeated but managed to hold until they could retreat under cover of darkness.

Cossack attacking Napoleon

Endgame: Battle of Brienne

1814 Jan 29
, Brienne-le-Château

The Battle of Brienne (29 January 1814) saw an Imperial French army led by Emperor Napoleon attack Prussian and Russian forces commanded by Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. After heavy fighting that went on into the night, the French seized the château, nearly capturing Blücher. However, the French were unable to dislodge the Russians from the town of Brienne-le-Château. Napoleon himself, making his first appearance on a battlefield in 1814, was also nearly captured. Very early the next morning, Blücher's troops quietly abandoned the town and retreated to the south, conceding the field to the French. In late December 1813, two Allied armies initially numbering 300,000 men smashed through France's weak defenses and moved west. By late January, Napoleon personally took the field to lead his armies. The French emperor hoped to cripple Blücher's army before it could combine with the main Allied army under Austrian Field Marshal Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg. Napoleon's gamble failed and Blücher escaped to join Schwarzenberg. Three days later, the two Allied armies combined their 120,000 men and attacked Napoleon in the Battle of La Rothière.

Napoleon, shown with his marshals and staff, leads his army over roads made muddy by days of rain. Though his empire was crumbling, Napoleon proved to be a dangerous opponent in the Six Days Campaign.

Battle of Montmirail

1814 Feb 9
, Montmirail

The Battle of Montmirail (11 February 1814) was fought between a French force led by Emperor Napoleon and two Allied corps commanded by Fabian Wilhelm von Osten-Sacken and Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg. In hard fighting that lasted until evening, French troops including the Imperial Guard defeated Sacken's Russian soldiers and compelled them to retreat to the north. Part of Yorck's Prussian I Corps tried to intervene in the struggle but it was also driven off. The battle occurred near Montmirail, France, during the Six Days Campaign of the Napoleonic Wars. Montmirail is located 51 kilometres (32 mi) east of Meaux.

After Napoleon crushed Zakhar Dmitrievich Olsufiev's small isolated corps in the Battle of Champaubert on 10 February, he found himself in the midst of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher's widely-spread Army of Silesia. Leaving a small force in the east to watch Blücher, Napoleon turned the bulk of his army to the west in an attempt to destroy Sacken. Unaware of the size of Napoleon's army, Sacken tried to smash his way east to join Blücher. The Russians managed to hold their ground for several hours, but were forced back as more and more French soldiers appeared on the battlefield. Yorck's troops belatedly arrived only to be repulsed, but the Prussians distracted the French long enough to allow Sacken's Russians to join them in a withdrawal to the north. The following day would see the Battle of Château-Thierry as Napoleon launched an all-out pursuit.

Lithograph of the Battle of Montmirail

Six Days' Campaign

1814 Feb 10 - Feb 15
, Champaubert

In early February Napoleon fought his Six Days' Campaign, in which he won multiple battles against numerically superior enemy forces marching on Paris. However, he fielded less than 80,000 soldiers during this entire campaign against a Coalition force of between 370,000 and 405,000 engaged in the campaign.

The Six Days Campaign was a final series of victories by the forces of Napoleon I of France as the Sixth Coalition closed in on Paris. Napoleon inflicted four defeats on Blücher's Army of Silesia in the Battle of Champaubert, the Battle of Montmirail, the Battle of Château-Thierry, and the Battle of Vauchamps. Napoleon's 30,000-man army managed to inflict 17,750 casualties on Blücher's force of 50,000–56,000.The advance of the Army of Bohemia under Prince Schwarzenberg toward Paris compelled Napoleon to abandon his pursuit of Blücher's army, which, though badly beaten, was soon replenished by the arrival of reinforcements. Five days after the defeat at Vauchamps, the Army of Silesia was back on the offensive.

Édouard Mortier

Battle of Château-Thierry

1814 Feb 12
, Château-Thierry

The Battle of Château-Thierry (12 February 1814) saw the Imperial French army commanded by Emperor Napoleon attempt to destroy a Prussian corps led by Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg and an Imperial Russian corps under Fabian Wilhelm von Osten-Sacken. The two Allied corps managed to escape across the Marne River, but suffered considerably heavier losses than the pursuing French. This action occurred during the Six Days' Campaign, a series of victories that Napoleon won over Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher's Army of Silesia. Château-Thierry lies about 75 kilometres (47 mi) northeast of Paris.

After defeating Napoleon in the Battle of La Rothière, Blücher's army separated from the main Allied army of Austrian Field Marshal Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg. Blücher's troops marched northwest and followed the Marne valley in a thrust toward Paris while Schwarzenberg's army moved west through Troyes. Leaving part of his badly outnumbered army to watch Schwarzenberg's slow advance, Napoleon moved north against Blücher. Catching the Silesian Army badly strung out, Napoleon demolished Zakhar Dmitrievich Olsufiev's Russian corps in the Battle of Champaubert on 10 February. Turning west, the French emperor defeated Sacken and Yorck in the hard-fought Battle of Montmirail on the following day. As the Allies scrambled north toward Château-Thierry's bridge across the Marne, Napoleon launched his army in hot pursuit but failed to annihilate Yorck and Sacken. Napoleon soon found that Blücher was advancing to attack him with two more corps and the Battle of Vauchamps was fought on 14 February.

French cuirassiers (troopers of the 3rd regiment) during a charge. General of Division Marquis de Grouchy led his heavy cavalry brilliantly at Vauchamps, breaking and routing a number of enemy infantry squares.

Battle of Vauchamps

1814 Feb 14
, Vauchamps

The Battle of Vauchamps (14 February 1814) was the final major engagement of the Six Days Campaign of the War of the Sixth Coalition. It resulted in a part of the Grande Armée under Napoleon I defeating a superior Prussian and Russian force of the Army of Silesia under Field-marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher.

On the morning of 14 February, Blücher, commanding a Prussian Corps and elements of two Russian Corps, resumed his attack against Marmont. The latter continued to fall back until he was reinforced. Napoleon arrived on the battlefield with strong combined-arms forces, which allowed the French to launch a determined counterattack and drive back the leading elements of the Army of Silesia. Blücher realized that he was facing the Emperor in person and decided to pull back and avoid another battle against Napoleon. In practice, Blücher's attempt to disengage proved extremely difficult to execute, as the Coalition force was by now in an advanced position, had virtually no cavalry present to cover its retreat and was facing an enemy who was ready to commit its numerous cavalry.

While the actual pitched battle was short, the French infantry, under Marshal Marmont, and most of all the cavalry, under General Emmanuel de Grouchy, launched a relentless pursuit that rode down the enemy. Retreating in slow-moving square formations in broad daylight and along some excellent cavalry terrain, the Coalition forces suffered very heavy losses, with several squares broken by the French cavalry. At nightfall, combat ceased and Blücher opted for an exhausting night march in order to take his remaining forces to safety.

In 1814, a French army under Napoléon overran a strong Austro-German position at Montereau. General Pajol and his cavalry brilliantly stormed two brigdes over the Seine and Yonne rivers before they could be blown up, leading to the capture of nearly 4,000 men. | ©Jean-Charles Langlois

Battle of Montereau

1814 Feb 18
, Montereau-Fault-Yonne

The Battle of Montereau (18 February 1814) was fought during the War of the Sixth Coalition between an Imperial French army led by Emperor Napoleon and a corps of Austrians and Württembergers commanded by Crown Prince Frederick William of Württemberg. While Napoleon's army mauled an Allied army under Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, the main Allied army commanded by Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg, advanced to a position dangerously close to Paris. Gathering up his outnumbered forces, Napoleon rushed his soldiers south to deal with Schwarzenberg. Hearing of the approach of the French emperor, the Allied commander ordered a withdrawal, but 17 February saw his rear guards overrun or brushed aside. Ordered to hold Montereau until nightfall on the 18th, the Crown Prince of Württemberg posted a strong force on the north bank of the Seine River. All morning and past noon, the Allies stoutly held off a series of French attacks. However, under increasing French pressure, the Crown Prince's lines buckled in the afternoon and his troops ran for the single bridge to their rear. Brilliantly led by Pierre Claude Pajol, the French cavalry got among the fugitives, captured the spans over both the Seine and Yonne Rivers and seized Montereau. The Allied force suffered heavy losses and the defeat confirmed Schwarzenberg's decision to continue the retreat to Troyes.

Napoleon at the bridge of Arcis-sur-Aube | ©Jean-Adolphe Beaucé

Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube

1814 Mar 17
, Arcis-sur-Aube

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 the campaign he had issued a decree for 900,000 fresh conscripts, but only a fraction of these were ever raised. 

The Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube saw an Imperial French army under Napoleon face a much larger Allied army led by Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg during the War of the Sixth Coalition. On the second day of fighting, Emperor Napoleon suddenly realized he was massively outnumbered, and immediately ordered a masked retreat. By the time the Austrian Field Marshal Schwarzenberg realized Napoleon was retreating, most of the French had already disengaged and the Allied pursuit afterwards failed to prevent the remaining French army from safely withdrawing to the north. This was Napoleon's penultimate battle before his abdication and exile to Elba, the last being the Battle of Saint-Dizier.

While Napoleon fought against Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher's Russo-Prussian army to the north, Schwarzenberg's army pushed Marshal Jacques MacDonald's army back toward Paris. After his victory at Reims, Napoleon moved south to threaten Schwarzenberg's supply line to Germany. In response, the Austrian field marshal pulled his army back to Troyes and Arcis-sur-Aube. When Napoleon occupied Arcis, the normally cautious Schwarzenberg determined to fight it out rather than retreat. The clashes on the first day were inconclusive and Napoleon mistakenly believed he was following up a retreating enemy. On the second day, the French advanced to high ground and were appalled to see between 74,000 and 100,000 enemies in battle array south of Arcis. After bitter fighting with Napoleon personally participating, the French troops fought their way out, but it was a French setback.

Battle of Paris 1814

Coalition armies march on Paris

1814 Mar 30 - Mar 28
, Paris

Thus after six weeks fighting the Coalition armies had hardly gained any ground. The Coalition generals still hoped to bring Napoleon to battle against their combined forces. However, after Arcis-sur-Aube, Napoleon realised that he could no longer continue with his current strategy of defeating the Coalition armies in detail and decided to change his tactics. He had two options: he could fall back on Paris and hope that the Coalition members would come to terms, as capturing Paris with a French army under his command would be difficult and time-consuming; or he could copy the Russians and leave Paris to his enemies (as they had left Moscow to him two years earlier). He decided to move eastward to Saint-Dizier, rally what garrisons he could find, and raise the whole country against the invaders. He had actually started on the execution of this plan when a letter to Empress Marie-Louise outlining his intention to move on the Coalition lines of communications was intercepted by Cossacks in Blücher's army on 22 March and hence his projects were exposed to his enemies.

The Coalition commanders held a council of war at Pougy on the 23 March and initially decided to follow Napoleon, but the next day Tsar Alexander I of Russia and King Frederick of Prussia along with their advisers reconsidered, and realising the weakness of their opponent (and perhaps actuated by the fear that Duke of Wellington from Toulouse might, after all, reach Paris first), decided to march to Paris (then an open city), and let Napoleon do his worst to their lines of communications.

The Coalition armies marched straight for the capital. Marmont and Mortier with what troops they could rally took up a position on Montmartre heights to oppose them. The Battle of Paris ended when the French commanders, seeing further resistance to be hopeless, surrendered the city on 31 March, just as Napoleon, with the wreck of the Guards and a mere handful of other detachments, was hurrying across the rear of the Austrians towards Fontainebleau to join them.

Panoramic view of the battle with allied troops in the foreground and a fortified Toulouse in the middle distance

Battle of Toulouse

1814 Apr 10
, Toulouse

The Battle of Toulouse (10 April 1814) was one of the final battles of the Napoleonic Wars, four days after Napoleon's surrender of the French Empire to the nations of the Sixth Coalition. Having pushed the demoralised and disintegrating French Imperial armies out of Spain in a difficult campaign the previous autumn, the Allied British-Portuguese and Spanish army under the Duke of Wellington pursued the war into southern France in the spring of 1814.

Toulouse, the regional capital, proved stoutly defended by Marshal Soult. One British and two Spanish divisions were badly mauled in bloody fighting on 10 April, with Allied losses exceeding French casualties by 1,400. Soult held the city for an additional day before orchestrating an escape from the town with his army, leaving behind some 1,600 of his wounded, including three generals.

Wellington's entry on the morning of 12 April was acclaimed by a great number of French Royalists, validating Soult's earlier fears of potential fifth column elements within the city. That afternoon, the official word of Napoleon's abdication and the end of the war reached Wellington. Soult agreed to an armistice on 17 April.

Napoleon's abdication

Napoleon abdicates

1814 Apr 11
, Fontainebleau

Napoleon abdicated on 11 April 1814 and the war officially ended soon after, although some fighting continued until May. The Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed on 11 April 1814 between the continental powers and Napoleon, followed by the Treaty of Paris on 30 May 1814 between France and the Great Powers including Britain. The victors exiled Napoleon to the island of Elba, and restored the Bourbon monarchy in the person of Louis XVIII. The Allied leaders attended Peace Celebrations in England in June, before progressing to the Congress of Vienna (between September 1814 and June 1815), which was held to redraw the map of Europe.


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