The fact was, the Emperor's diplomacy had far outstripped the general's strategy. It was blazoned abroad that on September twenty-seventh a hundred and sixty thousand new conscripts from the class of , with a hundred and twenty thousand from the arrears of the seven previous classes, would be assembled at the military depots in France. With this preliminary blare of trumpets, a letter for the Emperor Francis was sent to General Bubna.
The bearer was instructed to say that Napoleon would make great sacrifices both for Austria and Prussia if only he could get a hearing. It was too late: already, on September ninth, the three powers had concluded an offensive and defensive alliance for the purpose of liberating the Rhenish princes, of making sovereign and independent the states of southern and western Germany, p.
This was the treaty which beguiled Bavaria from the French alliance, and made the German contingents in the French armies, the Saxons among the rest, wild for emancipation from a hated service. It explained the notification previously received from the King of Bavaria, who, in return for the recognition of his complete autonomy, formally joined the coalition on October eighth, with an army of thirty-six thousand men. How much of all this the French spies and emissaries made known to Napoleon does not appear.
One thing only is certain, that Napoleon's flag of truce was sent back with his message undelivered. This ominous fact had to be considered in connection with the movements of the enemy. They had learned one of Napoleon's own secrets. In a bulletin of are the words: "It rains hard, but that does not stop the march of the grand army. The enemy would clearly concentrate at Leipsic and cut off Napoleon's base unless he retreated.
Napoleonic bibliography | Sandra Gulland
But it was October fifth before the bitter resolution to do so was taken, and then the movement began under compulsion. But how should the retreat be conducted? But in winter the frozen Elbe with its flat shores would be no rampart. Both plans were abandoned, and on the seventh orders were issued for a retreat behind the Saale, the precipitous banks of which were a natural fortification.
Behind this line of defense he could rest in safety during the winter, with his right at Erfurt and his left at Magdeburg. Dresden must, he concluded, be evacuated. This would deprive p. To avoid this he must take one of three courses: either halt behind the Mulde for one blow at the armies of the North and of Silesia, or join Murat for a decisive battle with the Austrian general, or else concentrate at Leipsic, and meet the onset of the united allies, now much stronger than he was.
The night of the seventh was spent in indecision as to any one or all of these ideas, but in active preparation for the actual movements of the retreat, however it should be conducted; any contingency might be met or a resolve taken when the necessity arose. During that night the Emperor took two warm baths. The habit of drinking strong coffee to prevent drowsiness had induced attacks of nervousness, and these were not diminished by his load of care.
To allay these and other ailments, he had had recourse for some time to frequent tepid baths. Much has been written about a mysterious malady which had been steadily increasing, but the burden of testimony from the Emperor's closest associates at this time indicates that in the main he had enjoyed excellent health throughout the second Saxon campaign.
Les enjeux des relations franco-américaines entre 1794 et 1802
He was, on the whole, calm and self-reliant, exhibiting signs of profound emotion only in connection with important decisions. He was certainly capable of clear insight and of severe application in a crisis; he could still endure exhausting physical exertion, and rode without discomfort, sitting his horse in the same stiff, awkward manner as of old. There were certainly intervals of self-indulgence and of lassitude, of excessive emotion and depressing self-examination, which seemed to require the offset of a physical stimulus; but on the whole there do not appear to have been such sharp attacks of illness, p.
For instance, considerations of personal friendship having in earlier days often led him to unwise decisions, a like cause may be said to have brought on his coming disaster. It was the affection of the Saxon king for his beautiful capital which at the very last instant, on October eighth, induced Napoleon to cast all his well-weighed scheme to the winds, and—fatal decision!
A decisive battle was imminent; the commander was untrue to his maxim that every division should be under the colors. But with or without his full force, the master-strategist was outwitted: the expected meeting did not take place as he finally reckoned. Both these generals had been disconcerted by the unexpected swiftness of the French movements; the former actually contemplated recrossing the river to avoid a pitched battle with those whom he hoped before long to secure as his subjects.
But the enthusiastic old Prussian shamed his ally into action, persuading him at least to march south from Acken, effect a junction with the army of Silesia, and cross the Saale to threaten Napoleon from the rear. This was a brilliant and daring plan, for if successful both armies might possibly unite with Schwarzenberg's; but even if unsuccessful in that, they would at least reproduce the situation in Silesia, and reduce the French to the "hither-and-thither" system, which, rendering a decisive battle impossible, had thwarted the Napoleonic strategy.
It was said at the time, and has since been repeated, that throughout this portion of the campaign Napoleon was not recognizable as himself: that he ruminated long when he should have been active; that he consulted when he should have given orders; that he was no longer ubiquitous as of old, but sluggish, and rooted to one spot. But it is hard to see what he left undone, his judgment being mistaken as it was.
Critics have suggested that again delay had been his ruin; but this is not true. No stricture is just but one: that Napoleon, knowing how impossible it was to obtain such exact information as he seemed determined to have, should have divined the enemy's plan, and acted sooner. The accurate information necessary for such foresight was not obtainable; in fact, it seldom is, and some allowance may be made if the general lingered before rushing into the "tube of a funnel," as Marmont expressed it. On the morning of the thirteenth, while the final arrangements for marching to Leipsic were making, came the news of Bavaria's defection.
It spread throughout the army like wildfire, but its effect was less than might be imagined, and it served for the priming of a bulletin, issued on the fifteenth, announcing the approaching battle. On the fifteenth, Murat, who had been steadily withdrawing before the allied army of the South, was overtaken p. He fought all day with magnificent courage, and successfully, hurling the hostile cavalry skirmishers back on the main column. Within sound of his guns, Napoleon was reconnoitering his chosen battle-field in and about Leipsic; and when, after nightfall, the brothers-in-law met, the necessary arrangements were virtually complete.
Those who were present at the council thought the Emperor inexplicably calm and composed—they said indifferent or stolid. But he had reasons to be confident rather than desperate, for by a touch of his old energy he had concentrated more swiftly than his foe, having a hundred and seventy thousand men in array. Reynier, with fourteen thousand more, was near; if Saint-Cyr and Lobau, with their thirty thousand, had been present instead of sitting idly in Dresden, the French would actually have outnumbered any army the coalition could have assembled for battle.
In spite of his vacillation and final failure to evacuate Dresden, Napoleon had an excellent fighting chance. The city of Leipsic, engirdled by numerous villages, lies in a low plain watered by the Parthe, Pleisse, and Elster, the last of which to the westward has several arms, with swampy banks. Across these runs the highway to Frankfort, elevated on a dike, and spanning the deep, central stream of the Elster by a single bridge. Eastward by Connewitz the land is higher, there being considerable swells, and even hills, to the south and southeast.
On the evening of the fifteenth, his dispositions being complete, Napoleon made the tour of all his posts. At dusk three white rockets were seen to rise in the southern sky; they were promptly answered by four red ones in the north.
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Napoleon's watch-fire was kindled behind the old guard, between Reudnitz and Crottendorf. The battle began early next morning.
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Napoleon waited until nine, and then advanced at the head of his guards to Liebertwolkwitz, near Wachau, on the right bank of the Pleisse, where the decisive struggle was sure to occur, since the mass of the enemy, under Barclay, with Wittgenstein as second in command, had attacked in four columns at that point. Between the Pleisse and the Elster, near Connewitz, stood Poniatowski, opposed to Schwarzenberg and Meerveldt; westward of the Elster, near Lindenau, stood Bertrand, covering the single line of retreat, the Frankfort highway, and his antagonist was Gyulay.
Thus there were four divisions in the mighty conflict, which began by an onset of the allies along the entire front.
Frédéric Masson (1847-1923)
The main engagement was stubborn and bloody, the allies attacking with little skill, but great bravery. Until near midday Napoleon more than held his own. Victor at Wachau, and Lauriston at Liebertwolkwitz, had each successfully resisted six desperate assaults; between them were massed the artillery, a hundred and fifty guns, under Drouot, and behind, all the cavalry except that of Sebastiani.
The great artillery captain was about to give the last splendid exhibition of what his arm can do under favorable circumstances—that is, when strongly posted in the right position and powerfully supported by cavalry. So great was his genius for combinations that while the allies were that moment using three hundred and twenty-five thousand effective men all told to his two hundred and fourteen thousand, yet in the decisive spot he had actually concentrated a hundred and fifteen thousand to their hundred and fourteen thousand.
This was because Schwarzenberg, having attempted to outflank the French, was floundering to no avail in the swampy meadows between the Pleisse and the Elster, and was no longer a factor in the contest. When, at midday, all was in readiness and the order was given, the artillery fire was so rapid that the successive shots were heard, not separately, but in a long, sullen note. At three the cavalry, under Murat, Latour-Maubourg, and Kellermann, were sped direct upon it. With awful effort they broke through, and the bells of Leipsic began to ring in triumph—prematurely.
The Czar had peremptorily summoned from Schwarzenberg's command the Austro-Russian reserve, and at four these, with the Cossack guard, charged the French cavalry, hurling them back to Markkleeberg.
Memoires De Napoleon, First Edition
Nightfall found Victor again at Wachau, and Macdonald holding Liebertwolkwitz. While he still held Gohlis and Eutritzsch, the mass of his army had been thrown back into Leipsic. Throughout the day Bertrand made a gallant and successful resistance to superior numbers, and drove that p. At nightfall three blank shots announced the cessation of hostilities all around. Yet Napoleon knew that he was lost unless he could retreat. Clearly he had expected a triumph, for in the city nothing was ready, and over the Elster was but one crossing, the solitary bridge on the Frankfort road.
The seventeenth was the first day of the week; both sides were exhausted, and the Emperor of the French seems to have felt that at all hazards he must gain time.
During the previous night long consultations had been held, and the French divisions to the south had been slightly compacted. In the morning Meerveldt, the captured Austrian general, the same man who after Austerlitz had solicited and obtained on the part of Francis an interview from Napoleon, was paroled, and sent into his own lines to ask an armistice, together with the intervention of Francis on the terms of Prague: renunciation of Poland and Illyria by Napoleon, the absolute independence of Holland, of the Hanse towns, of Spain, and of a united Italy.
When we remember that England was paymaster to the coalition, and was fighting for her influence in Holland, and that Austria's ambition was for predominance in a disunited Italy, we feel that apparently Napoleon wanted time rather than hoped for a successful plea to his father-in-law.
The day passed without incident except a momentary attack on Marmont, and the arrival of Bernadotte, who had been spurred to movement by a hint from Gneisenau concerning the terms on which Great Britain was to pay her subsidies. It was asserted at the time that Napoleon gave orders early in the morning for building numerous bridges over the western streams.
If so, they were not executed, only a single flimsy structure being built, and that on the road leading from the town, not on the lines westward from his positions in the suburbs. His subordinates should have acted in so serious a matter even without orders; but, like the drivers of trains which run at lightning speed, they had, after years of high-pressure service, lost their nerve.