Six Days' Campaign

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Six Days Campaign
Part of the 1814 campaign in north-east France
Battle of Napoleon 6-day-war 1814.jpg
Lithographie of the Battle of Montmirail—one of the battles in the campaign.
Date10–15 February 1814
Location
Northeastern France
Result Tactical French victory; Strategically indecisive
Belligerents
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg  France Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg  Prussia
Flag of The Russian Empire 1883.svg  Russia
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Napoleon I Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Gebhard von Blücher
Strength
30,000 men [1] 50,000–56,000 men [2] [1] [3]
Casualties and losses
3,400 men [4] 17,750 men [4]
36 guns [5]

The Six Days Campaign (10–15 February 1814) was a final series of victories by the forces of Napoleon I of France as the Sixth Coalition closed in on Paris.

War of the Sixth Coalition Part of the Napoleonic Wars

In the War of the Sixth Coalition, sometimes known in Germany as the War of Liberation, a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and a number of German States defeated France and drove Napoleon into exile on Elba. After the disastrous French invasion of Russia of 1812, the continental powers joined Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal and the rebels in Spain who were already at war with France.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.

Contents

The Six Days Campaign was fought from 10 February to 15 February during which time 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 managed to inflict 17,750 casualties [4] on Blücher's force of 50,000–56,000 [2] [1] [3] with his 30,000-man [1] army.

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 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.

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 still intact and was soon replenished by the arrival of reinforcements. [5] Five days after the defeat at Vauchamps, the Army of Silesia was back on the offensive. [1]

Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg Czech nobleman

Karl Philipp, Fürst zu Schwarzenberg was an Austrian field marshal.

Strategic situation

By the start of 1814 the Sixth Coalition had defeated the French both in Germany (see German Campaign of 1813 ) and in Spain (see Peninsular War § End of the war in Spain), and were poised to invade France from the north-east and south-west.

German Campaign of 1813 conflict

The German Campaign was fought in 1813. Members of the Sixth Coalition fought a series of battles in Germany against the French Emperor Napoleon and his Marshals, which liberated the German states from the domination of the First French Empire.

On the north-eastern front three Coalition armies were preparing to invade France, however by the time that Six Days' Campaign ended only two armies had crossed the frontier into France:

At the same time Wellington invaded France over the Pyrenees. Leaving Marshals Soult and Suchet to defend south-west France, Napoleon commanded the French resistance in north-east France.

Campaign in south-west France (1814)

The campaign in south-west France in late 1813 and early 1814 was the final campaign of the Peninsular War. An allied army of British, Portuguese and Spanish soldiers under the command of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington fought a string of battles against French forces under the command of Marshal Jean de Dieu Soult, from the Iberian Peninsula across the Pyrenees and into south-west France ending with the capture of Toulouse and the besieging of Bayonne.

Napoleon had about 200,000 men in all, of whom upwards of 100,000 were held by the Duke of Wellington on the Spanish frontier (see Invasion of south-west France), and 20,000 more were required to watch the debouches from the Alps. Hence less than 80,000 remained available for the east and north-eastern frontier. If, however, he was weak in numbers, he was now operating in a friendly country, able to find food almost everywhere and had easy lines of communication. [2]

Prelude

The fighting in north-east France was indecisive during January and the first week of February. During the Battle of Brienne (29 January 1814) Napoleon surprised Blücher at his headquarters and nearly captured him. Having learnt that Napoleon was at hand Blücher fell back a few miles to the east the next morning to a strong position covering the exits from the Bar-sur-Aube defile. There he was joined by the Austrian advance guard and together they decided to accept battle—indeed they had no alternative, as the roads in rear were so choked with traffic that retreat was out of the question. At about noon on 2 February Napoleon attacked them opening the Battle of La Rothière. The weather was terrible, and the ground so heavy that the French guns, the mainstay of Napoleon's whole system of warfare, was useless and in the drifts of snow which at intervals swept across the field, the columns lost their direction and many were severely handled by the Cossacks. Although the French inflicted more damage than they received, Napoleon retired to Lesmont, and from there to Troyes, Marshal Marmont being left to observe the enemy. [2]

Owing to the state of the roads, or perhaps to the extraordinary lethargy which always characterized Schwarzenberg's headquarters, no pursuit was attempted. But on 4 February Blücher, chafing at this inaction, obtained the permission of his own sovereign, King Frederick III Prussia, to transfer his line of operations to the valley of the Marne; Pahlen's corps of Cossacks were assigned to him to cover his left and maintain communication with the Austrians. [2]

Believing himself secure behind this screen, Blücher advanced from Vitry along the roads leading down the valley of the Marne, with his columns widely separated for convenience of subsistence and shelter the latter being almost essential in the terrible weather prevailing. Blücher himself on the night of 7/8 February was at Sézanne, on the exposed flank so as to be nearer to his sources of intelligence, and the rest of his army were distributed in four small corps at or near Épernay, Montmirail and Étoges; reinforcements also were on their way to join him and were then about Vitry. [2]

In the night Blücher's headquarters were again surprised, and Blücher learnt that Napoleon himself with his main body was in full march to fall on his scattered detachments. At the same time he heard that Pahlen's Cossacks had been withdrawn forty-eight hours previously, thus completely exposing his flank. He himself retreated towards Étoges endeavouring to rally his scattered detachments. [2]

Campaign

Napoleon was too quick for Blücher: he decimated Lieutenant General Olssufiev's Russian IX Corps at the Battle of Champaubert (10 February). [7] There were 4,000 Russian casualties and Russian General Zakhar Dmitrievich Olsufiev taken prisoner, to approximately 200 French casualties. [4]

This placed the French army between Blücher's vanguard and his main body. [8] Napoleon turned his attention to the vanguard and defeated Osten-Sacken and Yorck at Montmirail on 11 February; [8] There were 4,000 Coalition casualties, to 2,000 French casualties. [4] Napoleon attacked and defeated them again the next day at the Battle of Château-Thierry. [9] There were 1,250 Prussian, 1,500 Russian casualties and nine cannons lost, to approximately 600 French casualties. [4]

Napoleon then turned on the main body of the Army of Silesia and on 14 February defeated Blücher in Battle of Vauchamps near Étoges, pursuing the latter towards Vertus. [2] There were 7,000 Prussian casualties and 16 cannons lost, to approximately 600 French casualties. [4] [10]

These disasters compelled the retreat of the whole Silesian army, and Napoleon, leaving detachments with marshals Mortier and Marmont to deal with them, hurried back to Troyes. [2]

Analysis

David Zabecki wrote in Germany at War (2014):

Later commentators noted that in this campaign Napoleon achieved unexpected and extraordinary results, including the elimination of approximately 20,000 enemy troops, which nearly halved the forces he then faced. Napoleon's troops had been greatly outnumbered, and he therefore fought by means of careful tactical manoeuvring, rather than using the sort of brute force characteristic of earlier French victories.

But the campaign rallied the Allies and helped end their internal bickering. [11]

Michael Leggiere in Blücher: Scourge of Napoleon (2014) quotes Johann von Nostitz that the campaign displayed Napoleon's "talents as a field commander to the highest degree in defeating five enemy corps in sequence", but in failing to totally destroy Blücher's army and driving the remnants back into Germany, Napoleon missed his only opportunity of forcing the Coalition Powers to agree to anything other than peace on their terms. [12]

Aftermath

Napoleon inflicted further defeats on both Schwarzenberg's and Blücher's armies. 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 Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube on 20 March, where the Austrians outnumbered his dwindling army 80,000 to 28,000, 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 and attack their lines of communications. [13] [14]

A letter containing an outline of his plan of action was captured by 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, decided to march to Paris (then an open city), and let Napoleon do his worst to their lines of communications. [13] [15]

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. [13]

Napoleon was forced to announce his unconditional abdication and sign the Treaty of Fontainebleau. [16] [17] Napoleon was sent into exile on the island of Elba [17] and Louis XVIII became king. [18] The Treaty of Paris, signed by representatives of the French monarchy and the Coalition powers, formally ended the War of the Sixth Coalition on 30 May 1814. [18]

Notes

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Chandler 1966, p. 976.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Maude 1911, p. 232.
  3. 1 2 3 Petre 1994, pp. 70–71.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Chandler 1999 , pp. 87, 90, 286–87, 459.
  5. 1 2 Chandler 1966, pp. 974–976.
  6. 1 2 3 Hodgson 1841, p. 504.
  7. Pawly 2012, pp. 21–22.
  8. 1 2 Pawly 2012, p. 22.
  9. Pawly 2012, p. 23.
  10. Chandler 1966, p. 975.
  11. Zabecki 2014, p. 1206.
  12. Leggiere 2014, p. 439.
  13. 1 2 3 Maude 1911, pp. 232–233.
  14. Lieven 2009, pp. 262–263.
  15. Lieven 2009, p. 263–265.
  16. Alison 1860, p. 205.
  17. 1 2 Lamartine 1854, pp. 202–207.
  18. 1 2 Turk 1999, p. 68.

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References

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