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1813-1814 - The War of Liberation

The Czar advanced into eastern Prussia, where he installed as Governor the ex-Minister Stein, who placed himself at the head of a great Prussian patriotic rising against Napoleon. Driven by this outburst of national spirit, Frederick William III signed an alliance with the Czar at Kalisz (Feb. 27, 1813). Austria, under Metternich, hesitated between Napoleon and Alexander and offered to mediate. Napoleon sent into Germany a new army made up of conscripts and of troops withdrawn from Spain, and on April 29, at Weimar, assumed the direction of the campaign of 1813, which he had decided to fight on the line of the Elbe, where Eugene de Beauharnais and Davout were struggling to check the Russians and repress the Prussians. Successes at Liitzen and GrossGorschen (May 2) on the great plain around Leipzig enabled Napoleon to occupy Dresden as his base of operations and to advance to Bautzen, where he defeated the allies on May 20-21.

Napoleon should have followed up this movement with vigor, but he hesitated because of the untrained condition of his army and of the attitude of Austria. Bernadotte, after the Treaty of Stockholm with England (March 3), had landed at Stralsund, prepared to take an active part in the overthrow of Napoleon, whom he had learned to hate bitterly. Moreau, the only surviving French rival of Napoleon, was summoned from America to act as chief adviser of the allies.

England signed new treaties with Prussia and Russia (June 14-15), and the Czar and Metternich signed at Reichenbach (June 27) a secret treaty, by which Austria bound herself to join the allies if Napoleon did not accept her proposals before the expiration of the truce on August 10. This was equivalent to a treaty of alliance, for it was certain that the Congress of Prague would accomplish nothing.

On August 10 the Austrian army under Schwarzenberg began operations in Bohemia in concert with the allied army under Blucher in Silesia. The victory of Wellington at Vittoria (June 21, 1813) encouraged the allies and made a great victory an absolute necessity to Napoleon, who promptly took the offensive and attempted to force a battle with Bliicher near Gorlitz and crush him and then turn against Schwarzenberg. Bliicher evaded battle, and Schwarzenberg advanced to attack Dresden. Napoleon reached Dresden just in time and on August 26-27 won his last great victory. For the moment Dresden was saved, but the success was more than offset by the defeats inflicted upon his subordinates, Oudinot at Grossbeeren (August 23), Macdonald on the Katzbach (August 26), Vandamme at Kulm (August 29-30), and Ney at Dennewitz (September 6).

The losses of Napoleon during the 10 days' campaign were almost overwhelming and irretrievable, while reinforcements speedily made good the losses of the allies. Napoleon failed to appreciate that the line of the Elbe had become untenable from the moment that Austria joined the allies, and instead of falling back of the Rhine and offering to negotiate, he continued to struggle to hold Dresden. Constant rains and bad roads had been an important factor in the August campaigns and prevented Napoleon, in spite of his boundless energy and activity, from accomplishing anything in September. This failure was fatal, for in October the allies, who had defined their relations in the Treaty of Toplitz (September 19), took the offensive and developed their campaign with such skill that Napoleon was completely deceived until they had nearly completed their dispositions.

Blucher, unperceived, crept around Napoleon's left, got in touch with Bernadotte, and advanced towards Leipzig from the north, while Schwarzenberg was advancing from the south towards the same place. Napoleon left Gouvion Saint-Cyr to hold Dresden and hurriedly concentrated all available forces to protect Leipzig and hold his lines of communication. For three days (October 16, 18, and 19) "the Battle of the Nations" raged around Leipzig, and on the last day the French were driven out of Leipzig in a disastrous rout.

Napoleon retreated hastily behind the Rhine, stopping only to destroy, at Hanau (October 30), the army of Bavaria, which had recently joined the allies. Napoleon made a serious mistake in leaving able lieutenants with large garrisons to hold the great German fortresses, thus depriving himself of the assistance of Rapp, who held Danzig with 8000 men, Davout, who was shut up in Hamburg with 12,000 men, and many others. These places were besieged and captured by the allies during the ensuing months, but the bulk of the allied army pressed on towards Paris. Blucher with the Prussians and part of the Russians crossed the Rhine at Caub (December 31) and began the invasion of France. Schwarzenberg, with the Austrians and the rest of the Russians, entered France by the way of Basel.

To meet this double invasion, Napoleon could only muster a small army. This he interposed between Blucher and Schwarzenberg, whom he defeated in turn. Blucher's army was dispersed in the battles of Brienne, Champaubert, Montmirail, and Vauchamps, between Jan. 29 and Feb. 14, 1814, while divisions of Schwarzenbcrg's army were severely worsted at Nangis (February 17) and Montereau (February 18).

This first defensive campaign of 1814 is one of the most brilliant defensive fights in military history. The military genius of Napoleon never shone more brightly, though the dulling of his political sense made his failure inevitable. With a little army of worn-out and defeated men, re-enforced by a few hastily collected and untrained conscripts, he thrust himself between two vastly superior forces against which he hurled himself alternately with such swiftness, skill, and violence as to shatter the hostile armies and frustrate the plans of the opposing generals. Finally, worn out, he had to succumb to the overwhelming numbers of the foe and to the insuperable obstacles of time and space.

Napoleon, who had refused to accept the proposals of Frankfort submitted by the allies on Nov. 9, 1813, now sent Caulaincourt to meet their representatives in the Congress of Chatillon (Feb. 3-March 19, 1814), but with instructions to "sign nothing." The allies once more defined their relations to one another in the Treaty of Chaumont (March 1), brought up new troops, and prepared to crush Napoleon.

Napoleon's second defensive campaign of 1814 was a brilliant failure a stubborn struggle against the inevitable. The first blows were struck at Blucher on March 7 and 9 at Craonne and Laon, but failed to interrupt Blucher's campaign seriously. An attack upon a part of Schwarzenberg's army at Arcis-sur-Aube met with no better success, and so Napoleon turned to the eastward to threaten Schwarzenberg's line of communication. But the great disparity of forces enabled the allies to neglect this movement and to concentrate on Paris. Schwarzenberg and Blucher arrived before Paris on March 30, and after hard fighting with Marmont, Mortier, and Moncey, occupied the French capital.

The Emperor arrived just a few hours too late to strike a blow in defense of his capital, and could only make an obstinate attempt to renew the struggle south of Paris, but Ney and the other marshals finally forced him to listen to reason (April 4) and to bring the campaign to a close. In the southwest Soult had been driven from position to position and was about to lose his last battle at Toulouse. Suchet had withdrawn from Spain too late to help Soult; Augereau at Lyons had failed to disturb Schwarzenberg's left flank. In Italy Murat had deserted to the enemy, negotiated with Austria, and turned the Neapolitan army against Eugene Beauharnais, the Viceroy of Italy, who faithfully and ably faced the triple danger of Murat's treachery, the invasion of the Austrians, and the occupation of Genoa by an English force under Lord William Bentinck. On April 11 Napoleon, the Emperor of the French, formally abdicated at Fontainebleau in favor of his infant son, the King of Rome.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2012 19:13:17 ZULU