Battle of Leipzig

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Battle of Leipzig
Part of the War of the Sixth Coalition
Battle of Leipzig 11.jpg
Russian, Austrian, and Prussian troops in Leipzig.
Painting by Alexander Sauerweid
Date16–19 October 1813
51°18′44″N12°24′47″E / 51.31222°N 12.41306°E / 51.31222; 12.41306 Coordinates: 51°18′44″N12°24′47″E / 51.31222°N 12.41306°E / 51.31222; 12.41306
Result Decisive Coalition victory
The Confederation of the Rhine is dissolved; Napoleon loses control of the territories east of the Rhine.

Sixth Coalition

Flag of France (1794-1815).svg  France

Commanders and leaders
Flag of The Russian Empire 1883.svg Alexander I
Flag of the Habsburg Monarchy.svg Prince of Schwarzenberg
Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Gebhard von Blücher
Sweden-Flag-1562.svg Crown Prince Charles John
Flag of The Russian Empire 1883.svg Count von Bennigsen
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Napoleon
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Louis-Alexandre Berthier
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Michel Ney
Flag of the Kingdom of Naples (1811).svg Joachim Murat
Flag of Poland.svg Józef Poniatowski  
Flagge Konigreich Sachsen (1815-1918).svg Frederick Augustus I of Saxony   (POW)
Units involved
Coalition Armies:
Flag of the Habsburg Monarchy.svg Flag of The Russian Empire 1883.svg Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Army of Bohemia
Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Flag of The Russian Empire 1883.svg Sweden-Flag-1562.svg Flagge Grossherzogtumer Mecklenburg.svg Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Army of the North
Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Flag of The Russian Empire 1883.svg Army of Silesia
Flag of The Russian Empire 1883.svg Army of Poland
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Grande Armée

October 16–17: 257,000 men [2]
1,400 guns [2]
October 18–19: 365,000 men [2]


  • Flag of The Russian Empire 1883.svg 145,000
  • Flag of the Habsburg Monarchy.svg 115,000
  • Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg 90,000
  • Sweden-Flag-1562.svg 25,000
  • Flagge Grossherzogtumer Mecklenburg.svg 6,000 [3]
1,500 guns [2]

October 16–17: 177,000 men [2]
700 guns [4]
October 18–19: 195,000 men [2]

  • Flag of France (1794-1815).svg 160,000 [4]
  • Flag of Poland (1807-1815).svg 15,000
  • Flag of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy.svg Flag of the Kingdom of Naples (1811).svg 10,000
  • Flagge Konigreich Sachsen (1815-1918).svg Flagge Konigreich Wurttemberg.svg 40,000
700 guns [2]
Casualties and losses
54,000 killed and wounded: [2]
34,000 (Army of Bohemia)
12,000 (Army of Silesia)
4,000 (Army of the North)
4,000 (Army of Poland)

73,000 [5]

38,000 killed and wounded
30,000 captured
5,000 defected
325 guns
Richard Caton Woodville - Charge of Polish chevau-legers at Leipzig (1813) Woodville Richard Caton - Poniatowski's Last Charge at Leipzig 1912.jpg
Richard Caton Woodville – Charge of Polish chevau-legers at Leipzig (1813)

The Battle of Leipzig or Battle of the Nations (Russian : Битва народов, Bitva narodov; German : Völkerschlacht bei Leipzig; French : Bataille des Nations, Swedish : Slaget vid Leipzig) 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.

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Decisively defeated for the first time in battle, Napoleon was compelled to return to France while the Coalition kept up their momentum, dissolving the Confederation of the Rhine and invading France early the next year. Napoleon was forced to abdicate and was exiled to Elba in May 1814.

Elba Mediterranean island near Italy

Elba is a Mediterranean island in Tuscany, Italy, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the coastal town of Piombino, and the largest island of the Tuscan Archipelago. It is also part of the Arcipelago Toscano National Park, and the third largest island in Italy, after Sicily and Sardinia. It is located in the Tyrrhenian Sea about 50 kilometres (30 mi) east of the French island of Corsica.


The French Emperor Napoleon I attempted to militarily coerce Tsar Alexander I of Russia into rejoining his unpopular Continental System by invading Russia with about 650,000 troops, collectively known as the Grande Armée , and eventually occupied Moscow in late 1812, after the bloody yet indecisive Battle of Borodino. However, the Russian Tsar refused to surrender even as the French occupied the city, which was burnt by the time of its occupation. [6] The campaign ended in complete disaster as Napoleon and his remaining forces retreated during the bitterly cold Russian winter, with sickness, starvation, and the constant harrying of Russian Cossack marauders and partisan forces leaving the Grande Armée virtually destroyed by the time it exited Russian territory. Making matters even worse for Napoleon, in June 1813 the combined armies of Great Britain, Portugal, and Spain, under the command of Britain's Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington, had decisively routed French forces at the Battle of Vitoria in the Peninsular War, and were now advancing towards the Pyrenees and the Franco-Spanish border. With this string of defeats, the armies of France were in retreat on all fronts across Europe. [7]

Emperor of the French title used by the House of Bonaparte

Emperor of the French was the monarch of the First French Empire and the Second French Empire.

Alexander I of Russia Emperor of Russia

Alexander I was the Emperor of Russia (Tsar) between 1801 and 1825. He was the eldest son of Paul I and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg. Alexander was the first king of Congress Poland, reigning from 1815 to 1825, as well as the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland, reigning from 1809 to 1825.

Continental System Embargo of Napoleonic Europe against Britain

The Continental System or Continental Blockade was the foreign policy of Napoleon I of France against the United Kingdom during the Napoleonic Wars. As a response to the naval blockade of the French coasts enacted by the British government on 16 May 1806, Napoleon issued the Berlin Decree on 21 November 1806, which brought into effect a large-scale embargo against British trade. The embargo was applied intermittently, ending on 11 April 1814 after Napoleon's first abdication. The blockade caused little economic damage to the UK, although British exports to the continent dropped from 55% to 25% between 1802 and 1806. As Napoleon realized that extensive trade was going through Spain and Russia, he invaded those two countries. His forces were tied down in Spain—in which the Spanish War of Independence was occurring simultaneously—and suffered severely in, and ultimately retreated from, Russia in 1812.

Anti-French forces joined Russia as its troops pursued the remnants of the virtually destroyed Grande Armée across central Europe. The allies regrouped as the Sixth Coalition, comprising Russia, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, and certain smaller German states whose citizens and leaders were no longer loyal to the French emperor. [8] Napoleon hurried back to France and managed to mobilize an army about the size of the one he had lost in Russia, but severe economic hardship and news of battlefield reverses had led to war-weariness and growing unrest among France's citizenry. [9]

Russian Empire former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire was an empire that extended across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.

Austrian Empire monarchy in Central Europe between 1804 and 1867

The Austrian Empire was a Central European multinational great power from 1804 to 1867, created by proclamation out of the realms of the Habsburgs. During its existence, it was the third most populous empire after the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom in Europe. Along with Prussia, it was one of the two major powers of the German Confederation. Geographically, it was the third largest empire in Europe after the Russian Empire and the First French Empire. Proclaimed in response to the First French Empire, it partially overlapped with the Holy Roman Empire until the latter's dissolution in 1806.

Kingdom of Prussia Former German state (1701–1918)

The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1918. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871 and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.

Despite opposition at home, Napoleon rebuilt his army, with the intention of either inducing a temporary alliance or at least cessation of hostilities, or knocking at least one of the Great Powers of the Coalition out of the war. He sought to regain the offensive by re-establishing his hold in Germany, winning two hard-fought tactical victories, at Lützen on 2 May and Bautzen on 20–21 May, over Russo-Prussian forces. The victories led to a brief armistice. He then won a major victory at the Battle of Dresden on 27 August. Following this, the Coalition forces, under individual command of Gebhard von Blücher, Crown Prince Charles John of Sweden, Karl von Schwarzenberg, and Count Benningsen of Russia, followed the strategy outlined in the Trachenberg Plan: they would avoid clashes with Napoleon, but seek confrontations with his marshals. This policy led to victories at Großbeeren, Kulm, Katzbach, and Dennewitz. After these defeats, the French emperor could not easily follow up on his victory at Dresden. Thinly-stretched supply lines spanning now somewhat hostile Rhineland German lands, coupled with Bavaria's switching of sides to the Coalition just eight days prior to the battle, made it almost impossible to replace his army's losses of 150,000 men, 300 guns and 50,000 sick. [10]

German Campaign of 1813 Conflict between France and an alliance

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 and his Marshals, which liberated the other German states from the domination of the First French Empire.

Battle of Lützen (1813) battle during the War of the Sixth Coalition, 1813

In the Battle of Lützen, Napoleon I of France halted the advances of the Sixth Coalition after the French invasion of Russia and the massive French losses in the campaign. The Russian commander, Prince Peter Wittgenstein, attempting to forestall Napoleon's capture of Leipzig, attacked the isolated French right wing near Lützen, Germany. After a day of heavy fighting, the combined Prussian and Russian force retreated; due to French losses and a shortage of French cavalry, Napoleon was unable to conduct a pursuit.

Battle of Bautzen battle

In the Battle of Bautzen a combined Russian–Prussian army, that was massively outnumbered, was pushed back by Napoleon I of France but escaped destruction, some sources claiming that Michel Ney failed to block their retreat. The Prussians under Count Gebhard von Blücher and Russians under Prince Peter Wittgenstein, retreating after their defeat at Lützen were attacked by French forces under Napoleon.


With the intention of knocking Prussia out of the war as soon as possible, Napoleon sent Marshal Nicolas Oudinot to take the Prussian capital of Berlin with an army of 60,000. Oudinot was defeated at the Battle of Großbeeren, just south of the city. With the intact Prussian force threatening from the north, Napoleon was compelled to withdraw westward. He crossed the Elbe with much of his army between late September and early October, and organized his forces around Leipzig, to protect his crucial supply lines and oppose the converging Coalition armies arrayed against him. He deployed his army around the city, but concentrated his force from Taucha through Stötteritz, where he placed his command. The Prussians advanced from Wartenburg, the Austrians and Russians from Dresden (which they had recently retaken, after the Battle of Kulm), and the Swedish force from the north. [11]

Nicolas Oudinot Marshal of France

Nicolas Charles Oudinot, 1st Comte Oudinot, 1st Duc de Reggio, was a Marshal of France. He is known to have been wounded 34 times in battle. Oudinot is one of the Names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, Eastern pillar Columns 13, 14.

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with Potsdam, Brandenburg's capital. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.

Battle of Großbeeren battle

In the Battles of Großbeeren and neighboring Blankenfelde and Sputendorf an allied Prussian-Swedish army under Crown Prince Charles John – formerly Marshal of France Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte – defeated the French under Marshal Oudinot. 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 the Marshal's ill health all contributed to the French defeat.

Opposing forces

The French had around 160,000 soldiers along with 700 guns [4] plus 15,000 Poles, 10,000 Italians, and 40,000 Germans belonging to the Confederation of the Rhine, totaling to 225,000 troops on the Napoleonic side. [2] The coalition had some 380,000 troops [2] along with 1,500 guns, [4] consisting of 145,000 Russians, 115,000 Austrians, 90,000 Prussians, and 30,000 Swedes. This made Leipzig the largest battle of the Napoleonic wars, surpassing Borodino, Wagram, Jena and Auerstadt, Ulm, and Dresden. [12]

The French Grande Armée , under the supreme command of Emperor Napoleon, was in a weakened state; the majority of his troops now consisted of teenagers and inexperienced men conscripted shortly after the near destruction of the Grande Armée in Russia. Napoleon conscripted these men to be readied for an even larger campaign against the newly formed Sixth Coalition and its forces stationed in Germany. While he won several preliminary battles, his army was being steadily depleted as Coalition commanders, closely following the Trachenberg Plan, systematically defeated his marshals. The French Imperial cavalry was similarly insufficient, making it difficult for Napoleon to keep his eyes on his lines of communications or even scout enemy positions, a fact which influenced the outcome of the Battle of Großbeeren and others during the German campaign. [13]

The Coalition army was organized into four army-level commands: the Austrian Army of Bohemia under Karl von Schwarzenberg, the Prussian Army of Silesia under Gebhard von Blücher, the Russian Army of Poland under Levin August, Count von Bennigsen and the combined Swedish, Russian, and Prussian Army of the North under Swedish Crown Prince Charles John Bernadotte. The Swedes also had under their command a company of the British Rocket Brigade armed with Congreve rockets, under the command of Captain Richard Bogue. [14]


Napoleon's plans

Napoleon and Poniatowski at Leipzig, painted by January Suchodolski Napoleon i Poniatowski Lipsk.jpg
Napoleon and Poniatowski at Leipzig, painted by January Suchodolski

Despite being outnumbered, Napoleon planned to take the offensive between the Pleisse and the Parthe rivers. The position at Leipzig held several advantages for his army and his battle strategy. The rivers that converged there split the surrounding terrain into four separate sectors. [15] Holding Leipzig and its bridges, Napoleon could shift troops from one sector to another far more rapidly than could the Allies, who had difficulty moving such large numbers of troops into a single sector. [15] [16]

The northern front was defended by Marshals Michel Ney and Auguste de Marmont, and the eastern front by Marshal Jacques MacDonald. The artillery reserve and parks, ambulances, and baggage stood near Leipzig, which Napoleon made his supply base for the battle. The bridges on the Pleisse and White Elster rivers were defended by infantry and a few guns. The main battery stood in reserve, and during battle was to be deployed on the Gallows Height. This battery was to be commanded by the artillery expert Antoine Drouot. The western flank of the French positions at Wachau and Liebertwolkwitz was defended by Prince Joseph Poniatowski and Marshal Pierre Augereau and his young French conscripts. [17]

Coalition's plans

Alexander I of Russia by G.Dawe (1826, Peterhof).jpg
Karel Filip Schwarzenberg.jpg

Alexander I, the Emperor of Russia and the supreme commander of Coalition forces, (left); and Schwarzenberg of Austria, the field commander of Coalition forces, (right)

Three monarchs of the continental Coalition powers were present in the field, with Tsar Alexander I of Russia at the head of the three along with King Frederick William III of Prussia and Emperor Francis I of Austria, and a substantial staff supported the Coalition commanders. Tsar Alexander I was also the supreme commander of all Coalition forces in the eastern front of the war, while Prince Schwarzenberg of Austria was the commander-in-chief of all Coalition forces in the German theatre. [18] For the Tsar, this was the second time that he had filled in as a battlefield commander since Austerlitz almost a decade earlier during the War of the Third Coalition. Initially, the command was plagued with incompetence and petty rivalries, and its operations were prone to the vanities of the monarchs, especially from the Russian emperor, but these largely evaporated as the battle raged on, with the command largely centering on the two main commanders during the battle. [15]

There was a drafting of the battle plan, with marshals Prince Volkonsky of Russia, Johan Christopher Toll of Sweden, Karl Friedrich von dem Knesebeck and Gerhard von Scharnhorst of Prussia taking part in the planning. After the first plan was drafted, Schwarzenberg submitted it to the monarchs. However, Alexander, the Russian emperor, complained about his incompetence in terms of battle planning upon seeing the plan for himself. Upon learning of Schwarzenberg's main plan — to call for a secondary attack on the bridge between Leipzig and Lindenau to be led by Blücher and Gyulay, and a main attack astride the Pleiße river to be led by Merveldt, Hessen-Homburg and the Prussian Guard, he insisted that this was a disastrous tactic as it would not permit the Coalition army to fully encircle and outflank that of Napoleon or at least decisively defeat and destroy his army. Alexander thought the plan would potentially allow Napoleon to break the Coalition battle line at one point and then concentrate forces in the gap thus created and the weakened sectors; this would possibly give Napoleon a chance to regain the strategic initiative in Germany. The Prussian King attempted to opine to the Tsar but could do nothing so he treated the discussion as if it was none of his concern. Later events in the battle proved the Tsar's judgments correct. The action he had ordered Blücher to take met with great success north of Leipzig and the actions of the Russian Guard was decisive in halting the French all-out attack on Gulden Gossa in the south. On the other hand, the actions of the Austrians along Pleisse River, part of Schwarzenberg's initial plan, ended in failure. [19]

However, not willing to plan the battle by himself as he had done during his disastrous defeat at Austerlitz almost a decade earlier, Alexander had Schwarzenberg draft another battle plan based on his thoughts and views. Schwarzenberg then drafted another plan that was largely designed to let everyone do as they pleased. The plan was as follows: Blücher's axis of advance was to be shifted northward to the Halle road, the Russian and Prussian guards and the Russian heavy cavalry was to be amassed at Rotha in general reserve. [20] The Austrian grenadiers and cuirassiers would advance between the rivers. This strategy would ensure the encirclement of the French army in Leipzig and its vicinity, or at least inflict heavy losses upon them to assure the needed decisive results. Seemingly, though somewhat reluctantly, convinced, Alexander soon agreed to his plan, and he then ordered him to tell the other commanders to follow the plan. [18]


16 October

The allied offensives achieved little and were soon forced back, but Napoleon's outnumbered forces were unable to break the allied lines, resulting in a hard-fought stalemate. [21]

Action at Dölitz

The Battle of Leipzig Battle of Leipzig by Zauerweid.jpg
The Battle of Leipzig

The Austrian II Corps, commanded by General von Merveldt, advanced towards Connewitz via Gautzsch and attempted to attack the position. By the time Napoleon arrived on the battlefield along with the Young Guard and some Chasseurs, Merveldt found that the avenue of advance was well covered by the French battery and some skirmishers who had occupied the houses there and did not permit the Austrians to deploy their artillery in support of the attack. Merveldt himself in an unlucky turn was wounded and captured by the French after he went straight into the Saxon-Polish lines at the Pleiße river. Repulsed, the Austrians then moved to attack nearby Dölitz, down a road crossed by two bridges and leading to a manor house and a mill. Two companies of the 24th Regiment ousted the small Polish garrison and took the position. A prompt counterattack by the Saxons and Poles ejected the Austrian troops and the battle seesawed until the Austrians brought up a strong artillery battery and blew the Poles out of the position. The Poles suffered heavy casualties during their furious defense and set fire to both the manor and the mill during their retreat. [22]

Action at Markkleeberg

October 16 actions Leipzig Battle.svg
October 16 actions

General Kleist, moving along the Pleiße, attacked Marshals Poniatowski and Augereau in the village of Markkleeberg. The Austrians repaired a bridge and took a school building and manor. The French counterattacked, throwing the Austrians out of the school and back over the river. French attacks on the manor only resulted in mounting casualties for the French and Poles. The Russian 14th Division began a series of flanking attacks that forced the Poles out of Markkleeberg. Marshal Poniatowski stopped the retreat and the advancing Russians. Catching four battalions of the Prussian 12th Brigade in the open, Poniatowski directed attacks by artillery and cavalry until they were relieved by Russian hussars. Marshal Poniatowski retook Markkleeberg, but was thrown out by two Prussian battalions. Austrian grenadiers then formed in front of Markkleeberg and drove the Poles and French out of the area with a flank attack. [22]

Action at Wachau

The Russian II Infantry Corps attacked Wachau near Leipzig with support from the Prussian 9th Brigade. The Russians advanced, unaware that French forces were waiting. The French took them by surprise on the flank, mauling them. The Prussians entered Wachau, engaging in street-to-street fighting. French artillery blasted the Prussians out of Wachau and the French recovered the village. [23] [22] [24]

Action at Liebertwolkwitz

French soldiers spare the life of Russian soldier Leontiy Korennoy for his bravery. Leontiy korennoj.jpg
French soldiers spare the life of Russian soldier Leontiy Korennoy for his bravery.

Liebertwolkwitz was a large village in a commanding position, defended by Marshal MacDonald and General Lauriston with about 18,000 men. Johann von Klenau's Austrian IV Corps attacked with 24,500 men backed up by Pirth's 10th Brigade (4,550) and Ziethen's 11th Brigade (5,365). The Austrians attacked first, driving the French out of Liebertwolkwitz after hard fighting, only to be driven out in turn by a French counterattack. Russian General Württemberg was notable for his extreme bravery directing his troops under fire. At this point, Napoleon directed General Drouot to form a grand battery of 150 guns on Gallows hill. [25] This was done and the guns blasted the exposed Russian II corps, forcing the Prussian battalions supporting it to take cover. [26]

The hole had now been opened as Napoleon wished and at this point, Marshal Murat was unleashed with 10,000 French, Italian, and Saxon cavalry. [26] However, Murat's choice of massive columns for the attack formation was unfortunate for the French force, as smaller mobile formations of Russian, Prussian, and Austrian cavalry were able to successfully harass Murat's Division, driving them back to their own artillery, where they were saved by the French Guard Dragoons. The young Guard Division was sent in to drive out the allies and give Napoleon his breakthrough. They recaptured both Liebertwolkwitz and Wachau, but the Allies countered with Russian Guard and Austrian grenadiers backed by Russian cuirassiers. The units lived up to their elite reputation, forming squares that blasted French cavalrymen from their horses and overran the French artillery batteries. On the southern front, although Napoleon gained ground, he could not break the Allied lines. [22]

Northern attack

The northern front opened with the attack by General Langeron's Russian Corps on the villages of Groß-Wiederitzsch and Klein-Wiederitzsch in the centre of the French northern lines. [27] This position was defended by General Dabrowski's Polish division of four infantry battalions and two cavalry battalions. At first sign of the attack, the Polish division attacked. The battle wavered back and forth with attacks and counterattacks. [27] General Langeron rallied his forces and finally took both villages with heavy casualties. [27]

Action at Möckern

French infantry defending a barricade against a Prussian assault Boutigny-Battle of Leipzig.jpg
French infantry defending a barricade against a Prussian assault

The northern front was dominated by the battle of Möckern. This was a four phase battle and saw hard fighting from both sides. A manor, palace, walled gardens, and low walls dominated the village. Each position was turned into a fortress with the walls being loopholed for covered fire by the French. The ground to the west of the position was too wooded and swampy for emplacement of artillery. A dike ran east along the river Elster being four metres high. Marshal Auguste Marmont brought up infantry columns behind the positions in reserve and for quick counter-attack against any fallen position. Blücher commanded Langeron's (Russian) and Yorck's (Prussian) corps against Marmont's VI Corps. When the battle hung in the balance, Marmont ordered a cavalry charge, but his commander refused to attack. Later, an attack by Prussian hussars caused serious loss to the French defenders. The battle lasted well into the night. Artillery caused the majority of the 9,000 Allied and 7,000 French casualties, and the French lost another 2,000 prisoners. [22]

Action at Lindenau

In the western front, the Austrian III Corps under general Giulay attacked the suburb of Lindenau and had success at first, forcing Marshal Michel Ney to divert Bertrand's IV Corps to hold the position. [28] But soon the French held, the fighting later ground down into a stalemate, and the Austrians were driven back not far from the village. [25] However, for the French, there was also a negative strategic consequence for this minor success; this French corps was needed by Napoleon for his attacks on the main Austro-Russian armies positioned at the south, and since they did not take part in the attack as they were that time engaging the Austrians in Lindenau, his attack failed. [29]

17 October

There were only two actions on 17 October, one an attack by the Russian General Sacken on General Dabrowski's Polish Division at the village of Gohlis. In the end, the numbers and determination of the Russians prevailed and the Poles retired to Pfaffendorf. Blücher, who was made a field marshal the day before, ordered General Lanskoi's Russian 2nd Hussar Division to attack General Arrighi's III Cavalry corps. As they had the day before the Sixth Coalition's cavalry proved to be superior, driving the French away with great losses. [30]

Troop arrivals

The French received only 14,000 troops as reinforcements. On the other hand, the coalition was strengthened by the arrival of 145,000 troops divided into two armies, one commanded by Russian General von Bennigsen from the Army of Bohemia's first line and the other, the Army of the North which consisted mainly of Swedish troops, commanded by Prince Charles John of Sweden. [30]

18 October

Napoleon's attempt to sue for armistice

It was evident that the Allies would encircle Napoleon and his army, and he knew that not retreating from the battle would mean capitulation for his entire army, which by this time were starting to run out of supplies and ammunition. [30] So Napoleon began to examine whether the roads and bridges of Lindenau could be used to withdraw his troops, or at the very least to secure a bridgehead crossing on the Pleisse river. [30] However, he was not yet in the mood for withdrawing as he thought to achieve one more great victory for France. [31] He also thought that a strong, formidable rear guard in Leipzig itself could repulse any Allied assault, which could buy him and his forces more time to withdraw from the battle. [30]

During this time Napoleon sent General von Merveldt, who had been captured two days earlier, back to the Allies on parole. Merveldt was given a letter to Tsar Alexander I, Prussian King Frederick William III, and Austrian Emperor Francis I in which Napoleon offered to surrender to the Coalition the fortresses he held along the Oder and Vistula, on the condition that the allies allow him to withdraw to a position behind the Saale. He added that, if approved, they should sign an armistice and undertake peace negotiations. However, all the monarchs declined the offer. [32]

Coalition armies encircle Napoleon

Battle of Leipzig, 18 October actions Leipzig Battle 2.svg
Battle of Leipzig, 18 October actions

The Coalition launched a huge assault from all sides, this time completely encircling Napoleon's army. In over nine hours of fighting, in which both sides suffered heavy casualties, only the resilience and bravery of the French troops prevented a breakthrough,[ citation needed ] but they were slowly forced back towards Leipzig. The Sixth Coalition had Field Marshal Blücher (Prussian) and Crown Prince Charles John of Sweden to the north, the Generals Barclay De Tolly, von Bennigsen (both Russian), and Prince von Hesse-Homburg (Austrian) to the south, and Giulay (Austrian) to the west. [30]

Actions at Wachau, Lössnig (Lößnig) and Dölitz

The Prussian 9th brigade occupied the abandoned village of Wachau while the Austrians, with General Bianchi's Hungarians, threw the French out of Lößnig. The Austrians proceeded to give a demonstration of combined arms cooperation as Austrian cavalry attacked French infantry to give Austrian infantry time to arrive and deploy in the attack on Dölitz. The Young Guard Division threw them out. At this point, three Austrian grenadier battalions began to contest for the village with artillery support. [22]

Action at Probstheida

The fight of the 19th Hungarian regiment of Austrian army against the French infantry A 19. magyar gyalogezred rohama a lipcsei csataban (1813).JPG
The fight of the 19th Hungarian regiment of Austrian army against the French infantry

The bloodiest fighting of the battle occurred in Probstheida, a village just southeast of Leipzig. Here, about 60,000 soldiers under Barclay de Tolly were marching and advancing towards the village in two columns, one Prussian under von Kleist advancing through Wachau, and one Russian under Wittgenstein advancing through Liebertwolkwitz. Barclay was pressured by the monarchs, especially the Russian tsar, to take the village since it was the key to the positions of Napoleon's troops, and although von Kleist opposed this, the monarchs' orders were paramount, so Barclay had to follow their orders anyway. [30]

The French dispositions at the village, however, were heavily fortified, thanks to the high and thick garden walls that gave excellent protection for the French infantry. The defense was also strengthened with artillery and strong infantry reserves behind the village. A day earlier the Russians had taken most of the losses incurred during the battle, so it was the Prussians who took the initiative. [30]

The Prussian jägers attempted to enter the village by storm but were quickly driven back. Then the artillery of both sides opened fire upon the village; despite the enormous amount of artillery that the Coalition had brought with them, the more powerful French Imperial Guard Artillery gradually gained the upper hand. The Prussians conducted a series of attacks against the French positions at the village, but because the French artillery repulsed each attack, their efforts were in vain. The French cuirassiers, under Murat, charged upon the weakened Prussian lines and drove them back. Counter-charges by the numerous Russian cavalry saved the infantry by repeatedly driving back the French cavalry, albeit with heavy losses. The Prussians again conducted a charge upon French lines, but this charge was less successful than the first one. [33] The third assault was now conducted, this time, by the Russians, commanded by Raevsky, the hero of Borodino who had arrived a few days earlier from his homeland after a delay due to sickness. The assault on the village was somewhat more successful than the first two, taking the gardens and destroying several French infantry units, but it was eventually driven back by the French Imperial Guard, who had just arrived at the scene. Despite von Schwarzenberg's request that the Russian Tsar send the Russian Guard, the tsar ordered that more assaults were to be undertaken against the village. However, despite their successful, stubborn defense, the French were now in dire straits as they were dangerously short of manpower, and thus the fighting became only a hollow tactical victory for them. [34]

Actions at Paunsdorf and Schönefeld

During that morning, Sweden's Bernadotte and Prussia's Blücher held a conference in Breitenfeld. It was agreed that Bernadotte's Army of the North would pass the Parthe river at Taucha with a reinforcement of 30,000 men drawn from Blücher's Army of Silesia. Blücher agreed to dispatch Langeron's army corps, and to renounce his rank and his rights as army commander, putting himself at the head of his Prussians. [35] The advance of the Army of the North towards Leipzig had been slow, purportedly because Bernadotte had received word that Napoleon planned a renewed attack towards Berlin after his marshals' failure to take the city in the battles of Grossbeeren and Dennewitz. [36]

French soldiers in skirmish with Bashkirs and Cossacks Baschkiren gegen Franzosen.jpg
French soldiers in skirmish with Bashkirs and Cossacks

Platov's Russian heavy artillery began to fire on the Saxons around Paunsdorf. Langeron placed pontoon bridges over the Parthe river and a flying bridge via Mockau; large masses of troops had now moved to the east bank of the river. Meanwhile, Russian and Austrian forces began attacking French and Saxon positions in Paunsdorf, but after counterattacks by French infantry and deadly canister shots from Franco-Saxon batteries, were driven back. After being driven back, the Coalition troops were pursued by French infantry before being counterattacked by Austrian hussar and Grenzer cavalries, in turn driving the French back. The town itself was still held by five Franco-Saxon battalions. Richard Bogue, captain of the British Rocket Brigade, advanced with his unit and began firing Congreve rockets into the town, causing the defenders to fall back in disorder. Bogue, seizing the moment, charged at the head of his escort squadron of cavalry; this small force was in turn being driven out of the village when a barrage of rockets fired in close support [37] again caused the French troops to break ranks. [38] The French fell back to Sellerhausen pursued by two Prussian battalions, while the Rocket Brigade formed on the left of a Russian battery and began firing on the retiring columns, causing near-panic. At this time, Captain Bogue was shot in the head by a skirmisher. [37] Shortly after, the reserve French Young and Old Guard drove the allies out of Paunsdorf again, but eventually Ney judged the position untenable and ordered a withdrawal. [34] [39]

More heavy fighting occurred in Schönefeld. Coalition troops repeatedly assaulted French positions there, but were forced back. French infantry attacks on Coalition positions produced similar results. Repeated assaults by Russian musketeers and grenadiers under General Langeron finally drove the French out of Schönefeld. The heavy fighting in Paunsdorf and Schönefeld set both villages on fire. [34]

Swedes fully participate

In the meantime, at the behest of his Swedish officers, who felt embarrassed that they had not participated in the battle, the Crown Prince Charles John gave the order for his light infantry to participate in the final assault on Leipzig itself. The Swedish jägers performed very well, losing only about 121 men in the attack. [34]

Action at Lindenau

On the western front, the French IV Corps under Bertrand finally drove the Austrian III Corps under Gyulay away from Lindenau. [34] This broke the encirclement which the Coalition forces earlier had made against the Grande Armee, clearing the way for its retreat which would take place later the next day. [34]

Pro-Napoleonic Germans defect to the Coalition

During the fighting, 5,400 Saxons of Jean Reynier's VII Corps defected to the Coalition, specifically Bernadotte's Army of the North due to the esteem the Saxons had for the former French marshal. Four years prior, Bernadotte, while still a French Marshal, had commanded the wholly Saxon IX Corps during the Battle of Wagram where his mild and courteous behavior toward them in the weeks prior, along with a controversial Order of the Day praising their courage after the battle, greatly endeared Bernadotte to them. [40] . [34] At first French officers saw the Saxons' rushing towards the advancing Prussians as a charge, but treachery became evident as they saw the Saxons asking the Prussians to join with them for the impending assault. Reynier himself witnessed this, and he rallied the remaining Saxons at his disposal, but to no avail, because Württemberg's cavalry also deserted from the French; this forced the French line in Paunsdorf to fall back. [41]

Grande Armée starts to retreat

The battle during the day of 18 October was one of attrition. French troops held on to their respective positions, but were steadily being worn out and depleted by fierce and intensifying Coalition attacks throughout the day. The French artillery had only 20,000 rounds left. [5] Later that night, Napoleon was treating the battle as a lost cause. [42] At this time, he promoted Poniatowski to the rank of Maréchal d'Empire or Imperial Marshal, the only foreigner of all his marshals who was given this title, and the latter swore that he would fight to the last stand, which he did. [43] After this, the Emperor began to stage the retreat for the Grande Armée westward across the Elster River. [42]

During the night the French army had been ordered to withdraw silently from Connewitz, Probstheida, Stotteritz, Volkmansdorf, and Reudnitz, all to cross the river via Leipzig and the single bridge in the river. Those in Lindenau were to move to Weissenfels. Weak rear guards occupied the villages in order to conceal the retreat, and support troops were placed in the outer suburbs by the wind mills and near the walls of the city. The garden and cemetery walls by the Grimma Gate were pierced with loopholes as well as the gates themselves. Skirmishers were posted in the farm houses, in the brush, in the parks, and everywhere possible. Leipzig was to be occupied by the Reynier's VII Corps, Poniatowski's VIII Corps and Macdonald's XI Corps. [42] They were ordered to hold it for a day or a bit longer, in order to allow the rest of the army, its artillery, and its equipment sufficient time to effect the evacuation. The Coalition cavalry advance posts were ordered to attack without relief the French advanced posts during the night to determine whether or not the French were attempting to withdraw. However, they failed to realize that the French were, in fact, pulling out from the battle area. Therefore, the evacuation continued throughout the night. [44]

19 October

Napoleon's retreat on 19 October 1813, showing the explosion of the bridge Napoleon.Leipzig.jpg
Napoleon's retreat on 19 October 1813, showing the explosion of the bridge

The Coalition only learned of the French evacuation at 7:00 on the morning of the 19 October. [42] Soon thereafter between 8:00–9:00 am they launched a full-scale assault from the north, south and east against the then-retreating French. But they were held up in Leipzig because of a ferocious street-to-street rearguard action fought by Oudinot's 30,000 troops. [42] As the Russians and Prussians entered the city through the Halle and Grimma gates they fell upon barricades and houses full of French soldiers. Civilians were forced into hiding as the bloody urban combat raged through the city. [45]

Napoleon's retreat continued smoothly until early afternoon when General Dulauloy, tasked with destroying the only bridge over the Elster, delegated the task to a Colonel Montfort. [42] The colonel then passed this responsibility to a corporal, who was unaware of the carefully planned time schedule. [42] The NCO ignited the fuses at 1:00 in the afternoon while the bridge was still crowded with retreating French troops and Oudinot's rearguard was still in Leipzig. [42] The explosion and subsequent panic caused a rout that resulted in the deaths of thousands of French troops and the capture of 30,000 others. [46] Oudinot managed to swim his way across but Marshal Poniatowski, hampered by his wounds, was one of the many who drowned while attempting to cross the river. [5]


Alexander I of Russia, Francis II of Austria and Frederick William III of Prussia meet after the battle 1839 Krafft Siegesmeldung nach der Schlacht bei Leipzig 1813 anagoria.JPG
Alexander I of Russia, Francis II of Austria and Frederick William III of Prussia meet after the battle

By the end of the battle at the afternoon of 19 October, the remnants of the French army had crossed the Elster River and begun a well-ordered retreat. The battle had ended conclusively and decisively with the nations of the Coalition as the victors, and the German Campaign was a complete failure for the French, although they achieved a minor victory when an army of the Kingdom of Bavaria attempted to block the retreat of the Grande Armée at Hanau. The heavy casualties the Coalition army had incurred and their exhaustion from the bloody 4-day battle they fought made it impossible for them to promptly pursue the retreating Grande Armée, the French were also already very exhausted after the battle, and were themselves retreating at a fast pace towards the Rhine River. [47]


The battle of Leipzig was the bloodiest in the history of the Napoleonic Wars. Over 200,000 rounds of artillery ammunition had been expended. [5] Casualties on both sides were astoundingly high, such that locals had a hard time disposing of the corpses, and corpses were still visible the next year. Estimates range from 80,000 to 110,000 total killed, wounded or missing. Napoleon lost about 38,000 killed and wounded. [5] The Allies captured 15,000 able-bodied Frenchmen, 21,000 wounded or sick, 325 cannon [5] and 28 eagles, standards or colours, most of the French supply trains and stores and had received the men of the deserting, formerly pro-French German divisions. Among the dead was Marshal Józef Antoni Poniatowski, a nephew to the last king of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski. The Pole, who had received his marshal's baton just the previous day, was commanding the rear guard during the French retreat and drowned as he attempted to cross the river. Corps commanders Lauriston and Reynier were captured. [5] Six French generals were killed, 12 wounded and 36 captured. [5]

Out of a total force of 430,000, the Allies suffered approximately 54,000 casualties. [5] Schwarzenberg's Bohemian Army lost 34,000, Blücher's Silesian Army lost 12,000, while Bernadotte's Army of the North and Bennigsen's Army of Poland lost about 4,000 each. [5]


A year ago all Europe marched with us; today all Europe marches against us.

Napoleon. [48]
The Russian army entering Paris, 1814 Russparis.jpg
The Russian army entering Paris, 1814

The battle ended the French Empire's presence east of the Rhine and brought secondary German states ( e.g. Württemberg, Saxony, Baden) over to the Coalition with the largest German states of Austria and Prussia. It also dealt a harsh blow to Napoleon himself, who was decisively defeated in battle for the first time in the Napoleonic Wars (although he had suffered a lesser defeat in 1809 at the Battle of Aspern-Essling), severely damaging his reputation as a military genius. Alexander I now urged all of his subordinate commanders including those of Prussia, Austria and other nations to push the gigantic Coalition army on the offensive after the battle, and, having decisively won the battle, was more than ever determined to carry the war onto French soil. [49]

Three weeks after Leipzig, Napoleon arrived at Saint-Cloud to organize the defense of France. [50] The time he went back to Paris at the year's end, his first words on entering the Senate, after his return from the battle disaster, sad and low in mood, were, "A year ago all Europe marched with us; today all Europe marches against us." [48] Half a million troops had been lost in the German Campaign of 1813. [50]

: Monument to the Battle of the Nations, completed in 1913 Volkerschlachtdenkmal Leipzig beim Nacht.jpg
Völkerschlachtdenkmal: Monument to the Battle of the Nations, completed in 1913

With the German states of the Confederation of the Rhine defecting to the Coalition cause and Prussia once again becoming one of the continent's great powers after its severe setbacks of 1806, [16] the Coalition army pressed its advantage and invaded France in early 1814 as the Tsar commanded. Though Napoleon repeatedly engaged some of their units during his counter-offensive campaign, he was eventually forced from the throne of France after Paris fell to the Coalition and exiled to the island of Elba; the First French Empire capitulated for the first time. [51]


The 91-metre (299 ft) Monument to the Battle of the Nations (Völkerschlachtdenkmal) was completed in 1913 according to a design by Bruno Schmitz at a cost of six million German gold marks. The course of the battle in the city of Leipzig is marked by numerous monuments and the 50 Apel Stones that mark important lines of the French and Allied troops.

In 1829, it was reported in British newspapers that human bones from the battlefield were being collected and shipped to Scotland for use as fertilizer. [52]


  1. 1 2 3 4 Defected to the allies 18 October
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Chandler 1966, p. 1020
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Leipzig : Battle of Leipzig : Napoleonic Wars : Bonaparte : Bernadotte : Charles : Blucher". Archived from the original on 24 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-10-16.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Chandler 1966, p. 936.
  6. With Napoleon in Russia, The Memoirs of General Coulaincourt, Chapter VI 'The Fire' pp. 109–07 Pub. William Morrow and Co 1945
  7. Chandler 1966, p. 852.
  8. Philip Dwyer, Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power (2013), pp. 431–74
  9. Merriman, John (1996), "A History Of Modern Europe" W.W. Norton Company, p. 579.
  10. Chandler 1966, p. 873.
  11. Chandler 1966, pp. 917–925.
  12. Stone, David R. (2006) A Military History of Russia: From Ivan the Terrible to the War in Chechnya. Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 107. ISBN   0275985024
  13. Chandler 1966, p. 901.
  14. Bernadotte had asked for a British garrison for Straslund so as to liberate the more Swedish troops for service in Germany; he was sent six battalions under Major-General Gibbs, plus the Rocket Brigade. Only the 2/73rd took to the field under General Wallmoden and were present at the Battle of Gohrde
  15. 1 2 3 Chandler 1966, p. 924.
  16. 1 2 Digby Smith, "1813: Leipzig – Napoleon and the Battle of the Nations"
  17. Chandler 1966, pp. 923–925.
  18. 1 2 (Esposito & Elting, "Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic wars."
  19. Chandler 1966, pp. 924–926.
  20. Chandler 1966, p. 925.
  21. Chandler 1966, pp. 924–932.
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Battle of Leipzig 1813 : Battle of Nations : Napoleon : Schlacht : Bataille
  23. Chandler 1966, p. 927.
  24. William Cathcart (first edition 1850) Commentaries on the War in Russia and Germany in 1812 and 1813 , London: J. Murray. Reissue: Demi-Solde Press, ISBN   1-891717-14-6.
  25. 1 2 Chandler 1966, p. 928.
  26. 1 2 Chandler 1966, p. 929.
  27. 1 2 3 Chandler 1966, p. 931.
  28. Chandler 1966, pp. 926–928.
  29. Chandler 1966, p. 926.
  30. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Chandler 1966, p. 933.
  31. Chandler 1966, p. 932.
  32. Nafziger 1996, p. 191.
  33. Smith, Digby George. 1813: Leipzig : Napoleon and the Battle of the Nations.
  34. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Chandler 1966, p. 934.
  35. Nafziger 1996, p. 215.
  36. Nafziger 1996, p. 216.
  37. 1 2 Europe against Napoleon, The Leipzig Campaign 1813, p186/7, by Antony Brett-James, MacMillan 1970
  38. Van Riper, A. Bowdoin (2007). Rockets and Missiles: The Life Story of a Technology. JHU Press. p. 16. ISBN   0801887925.
  39. Fuller, John Frederick Charles (1955). The Decisive Battles of the Western World, and Their Influence Upon History: From the defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588, to the Battle of Waterloo, 1815. Eyre & Spottiswoode. p. 481.
  40. Barton, D. Plunket (1921) Pp. 223-229
  41. Howard Giles, unknown book and date of publishing
  42. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Chandler 1966, p. 935.
  43. Bowden – "Napoleon's Grande Armee of 1813" 1990, p. 191
  44. Nafziger 1996, pp. 233–234.
  45. Digby Smith – "1813: Leipzig – Napoleon and the Battle of the Nations", p. 256
  46. Chandler 1966, pp. 935–936.
  47. Chandler 1966, p. 937.
  48. 1 2 J.T. Headley, The Imperial Guard of Napoleon
  49. Chandler 1966, p. 947.
  50. 1 2 Chandler 1966, p. 945.
  51. Chandler 1966, p. 1002.
  52. "Traffic in Human Bones". The Spectator. Nov 7, 1829. Retrieved Nov 12, 2016.


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