16-19 October 1813

The Napoleonic Guide's Suggested Tours

One of the most crucial battles of the Napoleonic Wars was the massive clash that took place at Leipzig, which became known as the Battle of Nations because of its size and the sheer numbers of troops that took part.

The army of France was set to take on those of Sweden, Russia, Austria and Prussia - in all some 200,000 Frenchmen and allies, against almost 400,000 enemy troops.

The number of cannons involved was also astounding with Napoleon Bonaparte having 700 at his disposal and the Allies up to 1500.

Aside from the numbers against him, Bonaparte was also faced with the fact that the enemy armies were approaching from different directions, forcing him to spread his forces.

The first attack occurred on the 16th when Austria's General Schwarzenberg launched a badly thought out move against the French to the south of Leipzig.

Good defence stopped it and a swift counterattack pushed the Austrians back to their starting positions.

To the north, Prussia's Marshal Blucher also moved against the city but with little progress against stout defending from Marshal Marmont's troops.

Both sides spent the next day recovering from their exertions, but the delay helped the Allied cause because it allowed Sweden's Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte and the Russians under General Bennigsen to move in from the north-east and north.

On the 18th, the Allied commanders managed to coordinate their attacks and more than 350,000 men simultaneously moved against the French.

Considering the odds facing them, the French performed wonders and held the attackers at bay for more than nine hours.

However, in the end the sheer weight of guns and bayonets against them took their toll and Bonaparte began an orderly withdrawal through the city and across a single escape bridge.

Had it not been for the premature blowing of the span the retreat may have been of a textbook nature but, following the blast, 20,000 men were trapped.

Many chose to try to swim to avoid capture, but this resulted in many deaths, including that of the wounded Marshal Poniatowski.

Bonaparte was now on the ropes and his enemies finally knew it.



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