Battle of Laon

Last updated

Battle of Laon
Part of the War of the Sixth Coalition
Meissonier - 1814, Campagne de France.jpg
Napoleon and his staff are returning from Soissons after the battle of Laon.
Date910 March 1814
Location Laon, France
Result Coalition victory
Belligerents
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Kingdom of Prussia,
Flag of Russia.svg Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Napoleon I Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Gebhard von Blücher
Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg August von Gneisenau
Flag of Russia.svg Von Wintzingerode
Strength
37,000 [1] 90,000 [2]
Casualties and losses
6,500 [3] 4,000 [4]

The Battle of Laon (910 March 1814) was the victory of Blücher's Prussian army over Napoleon's French army near Laon.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher Prussian field marshal

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Fürst von Wahlstatt, Graf (count), later elevated to Fürst von Wahlstatt, was a Prussian Generalfeldmarschall. He earned his greatest recognition after leading his army against Napoleon I at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig in 1813 and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Prussia state in Central Europe between 1525–1947

Prussia was a historically prominent German state that originated in 1525 with a duchy centred on the region of Prussia on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. It was de facto dissolved by an emergency decree transferring powers of the Prussian government to German Chancellor Franz von Papen in 1932 and de jure by an Allied decree in 1947. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organised and effective army. Prussia, with its capital in Königsberg and from 1701 in Berlin, decisively shaped the history of Germany.

Laon Prefecture and commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Laon is the capital city of the Aisne department in Hauts-de-France, northern France. As of 2012 its population is 25,317.

Contents

Prelude

An Allied coalition attempted to complete the destruction of Napoleon's French Empire in 1814. France had been defeated in Russia in 1812 and in Central Europe in 1813. Napoleon's French Empire was now fighting for its survival.

First French Empire Empire of Napoleon I of France between 1804–1815

The First French Empire, officially the French Empire, was the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte of France and the dominant power in much of continental Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. Although France had already established an overseas colonial empire beginning in the 17th century, the French state had remained a kingdom under the Bourbons and a republic after the Revolution. Historians refer to Napoleon's regime as the First Empire to distinguish it from the restorationist Second Empire (1852–1870) ruled by his nephew as Napoleon III.

Battle of Leipzig 1813 Napoleonic battle

The Battle of Leipzig or Battle of the Nations was fought from 16 to 19 October 1813, at Leipzig, Saxony. The coalition armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden, led by Tsar Alexander I of Russia and Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg, decisively defeated the French army of Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. Napoleon's army also contained Polish and Italian troops, as well as Germans from the Confederation of the Rhine. The battle was the culmination of the German campaign of 1813 and involved 600,000 soldiers, 2,200 artillery pieces, the expenditure of 200,000 rounds of artillery ammunition and 127,000 casualties, making it the largest battle in Europe prior to World War I.

In the last week of February 1814, about a month after the start of the Allied invasion, Blücher seized the initiative and advanced on Paris with his forces. Napoleon's two marshals in the immediate vicinity, Édouard Mortier and Auguste Marmont, were covering the city with two detached corps, but they only had 10,000 men and would be unable to hold out against Blücher's larger force. [5] Napoleon hurried westwards to their rescue with around 30,000 troops, hoping to trap Blücher against the Marne river. [5]

Blücher unsuccessfully attacked Marmont and Mortier along the Ourcq river in late February and early March and ordered a retreat north to regroup when he heard of Napoleon's advance. Prussian troops crossed the swollen Aisne river and arrived at Soissons on 4 March. There they linked up with reinforcements that brought Blücher's total force to 100,000. [6] On 7 March, a clash ensued at the Battle of Craonne as Napoleon attacked westwards along the Chemin des Dames (literally, the "ladies' path"). Blücher's outflanking maneuver did not materialize in time and the Prussians were forced to withdraw towards Laon.

Ourcq river in France

The Ourcq is an 87-kilometre-long (54 mi) river in France, a tributary of the Marne. Its source is near the village Ronchères, and its course crosses the departments of Aisne, Oise, and Seine-et-Marne. It flows southwest through the towns of Fère-en-Tardenois, La Ferté-Milon, Mareuil-sur-Ourcq, and Crouy-sur-Ourcq, finally flowing into the Marne near Lizy-sur-Ourcq. Napoleon I made use of the river as a water source, and it supplied the city of Paris until Baron Haussmann's rebuilding of Paris.

Soissons Subprefecture and commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Soissons is a commune in the northern French department of Aisne, in the region of Hauts-de-France. Located on the Aisne River, about 100 kilometres (62 mi) northeast of Paris, it is one of the most ancient towns of France, and is probably the ancient capital of the Suessiones. Soissons is also the see of an ancient Roman Catholic diocese, whose establishment dates from about 300, and it was the location of a number of church synods called "Council of Soissons".

Battle of Craonne 1814 battle between French forces and Russian and Prussian forces

The Battle of Craonne was a battle between an Imperial French army under Emperor Napoleon I opposing a combined army of Imperial Russians and Prussians led by Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. The War of the Sixth Coalition engagement began when the bulk of Napoleon's army tried to drive Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov's 22,000 Russians off the Chemin des Dames plateau to the west of Craonne. After a bitter struggle, Napoleon's attacks compelled Vorontsov's force to withdraw, but French casualties exceeded Russian losses. While the battle raged, Blücher's attempt to turn Napoleon's east flank ended in failure due to poor planning.

Battlefield

Blücher chose to fight at Laon because it was an important road junction with a superb defensive position. Laon was located on a flat-topped hill with steep slopes that rose 330 feet above the surrounding area. The countryside to the north was flat and open, but the south contained rough and wooded terrain that made military maneuvers difficult. The villages of Ardon and Semilly at the foot of the hill served as good bastions for the Prussian and Russian forces. [2]

Preparations

Blücher now had about 90,000 troops and 176 guns. [2] Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow's Prussian corps was assigned the defense of Laon itself. Blücher's western wing was covered by a Russian corps under Ferdinand von Wintzingerode while the eastern wing was defended by two Prussian corps under Generals Yorck and Kleist. Two Russian corps under Generals Langeron and Osten-Sacken stood in reserve. After Craonne, Napoleon had taken the bulk of his forces northeastwards towards Laon while detaching about 10,000 troops under Marmont to advance on Laon via the Berry-au-Bac road.

Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow Prussian general of the Napoleonic Wars

Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow, Graf von Dennewitz was a Prussian general of the Napoleonic Wars.

Ferdinand von Wintzingerode German soldier

Ferdinand Karl Friedrich Freiherr von Wintzingerode was a German nobleman and officer in several different armies of the Napoleonic Wars, finally ending up as a general in the Imperial Russian army and fighting in the War of the Sixth Coalition against the French invasion of Russia and the subsequent campaigns in Germany and France. He appears in Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg Prussian Field Marshal

Johann David Ludwig Graf Yorck von Wartenburg was a Prussian Generalfeldmarschall instrumental in the switching of the Kingdom of Prussia from a French alliance to a Russian alliance during the War of the Sixth Coalition. Ludwig van Beethoven's "Yorckscher Marsch" is named in his honor.

Battle

Map of the battle Battles of Laon and Craonne map.jpg
Map of the battle

Preliminary fighting on the evening of 8 March saw the French vanguard chase off a small Russian detachment from the village of Urcel on the Soissons road. In the early hours of 9 March, the French renewed their push along the road. At 5:30 a.m., French dragoons arrived in front of Laon, but had lost the element of surprise and withdrew under heavy fire. From 7:00 a.m. onwards, the French repeatedly attacked the Allied positions at Ardon and Semilly. Some troops from the Young Guard even reached the top of the hill before being driven back.

Blücher was suffering from a fever and could not direct affairs as closely as he was accustomed during previous engagements. By 11:00 a.m., however, the fog had lifted and the Allied command staff had a clear view of the battlefield below. Blücher, because of poor intelligence sources, was operating under the impression that the French had 90,000 troops and was generally reluctant to have his troops launch any attacks. [2] The Allies might have scored a decisive victory had they launched a full attack against Napoleon's 30,000 men, but the uncertainty about the situation led Blücher to commit only Winzingerode's corps against Napoleon's left flank. Winzingerode's attacks were feeble and easily repulsed by the French.

Blücher now decided to isolate Napoleon's western forces from Marmont's column to the east. A convincing Allied attack captured the village of Ardon, but the victorious Prussian infantry brigade was ordered to halt because Blücher feared that French forces to the east would outflank them. Renewed French assaults late in the evening of the 9th led to the capture of Clacy, a village on Blücher's western flank. By the end of the first day of fighting, however, Laon still remained in Allied hands.

Meanwhile, at around 5:00 p.m. on 9 March, Marmont's troops had attacked the village of Athies and driven off the Prussian advanced units. Marmont then sent 1,000 men under Colonel Fabvier westerwards to establish contact with Napoleon's main army. [7] Blücher and Gneisenau (Blücher's chief-of-staff) heard the fighting to the east and ordered a powerful counter-attack with two corps. The Allies slammed into Marmont's troops and drove them back. Marmont was saved by Colonel Charles Nicolas Fabvier, who returned on his own initiative with 1,000 troops to clear the road, and by 125 veterans of the Old Guard, who repelled the Allied cavalry trying to block the French from escaping. Marmont had taken a bad beating, losing 3,500 men and 45 guns. [8]

At midnight on the 10th, Blücher decided on a bold outflanking maneuver intended to crush the French. He was even more ill on the 10th (Gneisenau was effectively in command), but the army still defended Laon. A few more French attacks throughout the day produced no results, and Napoleon retired his forces late at night.

Aftermath

This setback did not by itself spell the end for Napoleon. Just a few days later the French crushed an isolated enemy corps at Rheims. Blücher's Army of Silesia remained inactive for a week after the victory. Nevertheless, the Allied stand had prevented Napoleon from driving them further north. The Allies were still in a position to advance on Paris, which they did at the end of March.

Notes

  1. Uffindell 2003, p. 203.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Uffindell 2003, p. 201.
  3. Uffindell 2003, p. 207.
  4. Chandler 1995, p. 991.
  5. 1 2 Uffindell 2003, p. 198.
  6. Uffindell 2003, p. 200.
  7. Uffindell 2003, p. 205.
  8. Uffindell 2003, p. 206.

Related Research Articles

Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube battle

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 the long odds against him and hurriedly ordered a retreat. The French were able to disengage and withdraw to the north because of the hesitations of the Austrian Field Marshal Schwarzenberg. This was Napoleon's penultimate battle before his abdication and exile to Elba, the last being the Battle of Saint-Dizier.

Battle of Brienne 1814 battle between Napoleon and Prussian and Russian forces

The Battle of Brienne 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.

Battle of Champaubert battle

The Battle of Champaubert was the opening engagement of the Six Days' Campaign. It was fought between a French army led by Napoleon and a small Russian corps commanded by Lieutenant General Count Zakhar Dmitrievich Olsufiev. After putting up a good fight, the Russian formation was effectively destroyed; the survivors escaped into the woods while Olsufiev became a French prisoner. Champaubert is located in France, 46 kilometres (29 mi) west of Châlons-en-Champagne and 69 kilometres (43 mi) east of Meaux.

Battle of Montmirail battle

The Battle of Montmirail 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.

Battle of Vauchamps battle

The Battle of Vauchamps 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.

Hundred Days period from Napoleons escape from Elba to the second restoration of King Louis XVIII

The Hundred Days marked the period between Napoleon's return from exile on the island of Elba to Paris on 20 March 1815 and the second restoration of King Louis XVIII on 8 July 1815. This period saw the War of the Seventh Coalition, and includes the Waterloo Campaign, the Neapolitan War as well as several other minor campaigns. The phrase les Cent Jours was first used by the prefect of Paris, Gaspard, comte de Chabrol, in his speech welcoming the king back to Paris on 8 July.

Waterloo Campaign

The Waterloo Campaign was fought between the French Army of the North and two Seventh Coalition armies, an Anglo-allied army and a Prussian army. Initially the French army was commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte, but he left for Paris after the French defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. Command then rested on Marshals Soult and Grouchy, who were in turn replaced by Marshal Davout, who took command at the request of the French Provisional Government. The Anglo-allied army was commanded by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army by Prince Blücher.

Battle of the Katzbach battle

The Battle of the Katzbach on 26 August 1813, was a major battle of the Napoleonic Wars between the forces of the First French Empire under Marshal MacDonald and a Russo-Prussian army of the Sixth Coalition under Prussian Marshal Graf (Count) von Blücher. It occurred during a heavy thunderstorm at the Katzbach river between Wahlstatt and Liegnitz in the Prussian province of Silesia. With the involvement of more than 200,000 troops, it was one of the largest battles of the Napoleonic Wars. Taking place the same day as the Battle of Dresden, it resulted in a Coalition victory.

Battle of Château-Thierry (1814) 1814 Napoleonic battle

The Battle of Château-Thierry 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.

Battle of Reims (1814) battle

The Battle of Reims was fought at Reims, France between an Imperial French army commanded by Emperor Napoleon and a combined Russian-Prussian corps led by General Emmanuel de Saint-Priest. On the first day, Saint-Priest's Russians and General Friedrich Wilhelm von Jagow's Prussians easily captured Reims from its French National Guard garrison, capturing or killing more than half of its defenders. On the second day, an overconfident Saint-Priest carelessly deployed his forces west of the city, not grasping that Napoleon was approaching with 20,000 troops. Too late, Saint-Priest realized who he was fighting and tried to organize a retreat. In the battle that followed, the French army struck with crushing force and the Allies were routed with serious losses. During the fighting, Saint-Priest was struck by a howitzer shell and died two weeks later.

Battle of La Rothière battle

The Battle of La Rothière was fought on 1 February 1814 between the French Empire and allied army of Austria, Prussia, Russia, and German States previously allies 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. The French were defeated but managed to hold until they could retreat under cover of darkness.

Battle of Fère-Champenoise battle

The Battle of Fère-Champenoise was fought between two Imperial French corps led by Marshals Auguste de Marmont and Édouard Mortier, duc de Trévise and a larger Coalition force composed of cavalry from the Austrian Empire, Kingdom of Prussia, Kingdom of Württemberg, and Russian Empire. Caught by surprise by Field Marshal Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg's main Coalition army, the forces under Marmont and Mortier were steadily driven back and finally completely routed by aggressive Allied horsemen and gunners, suffering heavy casualties and the loss of most of their artillery. Two divisions of French National Guards under Michel-Marie Pacthod escorting a nearby convoy were also attacked and wiped out in the Battle of Bannes. The battleground was near the town Fère-Champenoise located 40 kilometres (25 mi) southwest of Châlons-en-Champagne.

Battle of Möckern battle

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.

Campaign in north-east France (1814)

The 1814 campaign in north-east France was Napoleon's final campaign of the War of the Sixth Coalition. Following their victory at Leipzig (1813), Russian, Austrian and other German armies of the Sixth Coalition invaded France. Despite the disproportionate forces in favour of the Coalition, Napoleon managed to inflict many defeats, especially during the Six Days Campaign. However, the Coalition kept advancing towards Paris, which capitulated in late March 1814. As a result, Napoleon was deposed and exiled to Elba and the victorious powers started to redraw the map of Europe during the First Treaty of Paris and during the early stages of the Congress of Vienna.

Étienne Pierre Sylvestre Ricard French politician and officer

Étienne Pierre Sylvestre Ricard was a prominent French division commander during the 1814 Campaign in Northeast France. In 1791 he joined an infantry regiment and spent several years in Corsica. Transferred to the Army of Italy in 1799, he became an aide-de-camp to Louis-Gabriel Suchet. He fought at Pozzolo in 1800. He became aide-de-camp to Marshal Nicolas Soult in 1805 and was at Austerlitz and Jena where his actions earned a promotion to general of brigade. From 1808 he functioned as Soult's chief of staff during the Peninsular War, serving at Corunna, Braga, First and Second Porto. During this time he sent a letter to Soult's generals asking them if the marshal should assume royal powers in Northern Portugal. When he found out, Napoleon was furious and he sidelined Ricard for two years.

Battle of Gué-à-Tresmes

The Battle of Gué-à-Tresmes was fought between 14,500 French troops led by Marshals Auguste de Marmont and Édouard Mortier and 12,000 Prussians commanded by Friedrich Graf Kleist von Nollendorf and Friedrich von Katzler. On 28 February the French attacked and drove the Prussians to the north along the west bank of the Ourcq River. That evening and the next day Kleist tried to push the French back while Russian units under Peter Mikhailovich Kaptzevich tried to cross from the east to the west bank of the Ourcq; the Allies were unsuccessful. Gué-à-Tresmes is located where Route D405 crosses the Thérouanne stream about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) northeast of Meaux.

Six Days Campaign order of battle

The Six Days' Campaign saw four victories by the Imperial French army led by Napoleon over the Army of Silesia commanded by Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. Between 10 and 15 February 1814, the French inflicted losses of at least 14,034 men and 52 guns on the Army of Silesia. A second estimate listed 16,000 casualties and 60 guns. A third estimate reached as high as 20,000 casualties, but a calculation by historian George Nafziger suggested that Blücher may have lost 28,500 soldiers.

References

Coordinates: 49°33′57″N3°37′14″E / 49.5658°N 3.6206°E / 49.5658; 3.6206