Armistice of Pleischwitz, 2 June 1813

The Armistice of Pleischwitz (2 June 1813) was a truce between between Napoleon and his Russian and Prussian opponent that ended the Spring Campaign of 1813 (War of Liberation). By the time the fighting resumed in the autumn Napoleon was in a much weaker position than in the spring, and the armistice is generally felt to have been one of his worst mistakes.

Pleischwitz is also spelt Pleiswitz or Plaswitz.

War of Liberation 1813 - Spring Campaign
War of Liberation 1813 -
Spring Campaign

Negotiations began on the day after the battle of Bautzen. Napoleon gave his chief diplomat Caulaincourt a series of objectives - the armistice was to last the full length of any peace negotiations, or at least three months, with fifteen day's notice before it could be ended. Breslau was to be in the French zone after the armistice. Napoleon had two main aims - the first was to give him time to improve his cavalry, the weakest part of his army after the disaster in Russia. The second was to clear up the position of Austria, officially neutral, but likely to join the Allied camp.

The initial terms weren't as good as Napoleon wanted. He accepted an armisitice of just under seven weeks (to 20 July), with six days notice. Breslau was placed into the neutral zone between the two armies. The French remained in occupation of Saxony between the Oder and Wittenberg on the Elbe, and Germany to the west of the Eble, as well as the islands in the Elbe and any part of the 32nd Military Division (the part of northern Germany that had become officially part of France) that they held at midnight on 8 June (Davout had occupied the entire Division, including Hamburg and Lübeck, by this date) . The Allies agreed to provide supplies for the besieged garrisons of Danzig, Mödlin, Zamosc, Stettin and Küstrin every five days. The French agreed to do the same at Hamburg if it was still held by the Allies, but Davout had retaken it before the armistice.  

This armistice is generally considered to have been one of Napoleon's most serious mistakes. On 1 June he was positioned to the north and west of the Allies, and was about to cut their lines of retreat to the east. The Allies would either have had to risk a third battle, in a weaker position than before, or retreat further away from Prussia. It is possible that the Prussians and Russians would have split, with the Russians retreating towards Poland and the Prussians making a last stand in Silesia. In either case the Austrians weren't ready to intervene, so Napoleon probably missed the chance for a major victory.

By 4 June, when the original short truce was turned into the full armistice, the Allies had retreated further east, and were out of Napoleon's trap.

Napoleon did have serious problems at the end of May. His largely novice army was showing the strain. He had lost 50,000 men in the battles of Lutzen and Bautzen, but another 100,000 were either sick or had deserted. He lacked cavalry, and hoped to use the truce to improve this part of his army. The lack of cavalry also meant that Allied raiders were able to operate behind French lines. One group even briefly threatened to take Leipzig just after the armistice. However one has to assume that Napoleon wouldn't have agreed to the armistice if he had known how bad the Allied position actually was. Once again his lack of cavalry had cost him, denying him accurate information about the Allied position.

The initial 36 hour truce was agreed on 2 June. This was followed by a conference at Pleischwitz (also spelt Plaswitz), and on 4 June the original truce was extended until 20 July.

General Kleist signed the armistice on behalf of Prussia.

War of Liberation 1813 - Autumn Campaign
War of Liberation 1813 - Autumn Campaign

The armistice period was filled with diplomatic activity, most of which went against Napoleon. He returned to Dresden on 10 June, and remained there until 9 July. During this time he attempted to organise the reinforcements coming to join the army, and prepared for the next campaign. His plan was to use the Elbe as his base, as he held the river from the Bohemian mountains to the sea, and all of the bridges were in his hands. By operating in Saxony he would start the campaign between the main Allied armies, and at least have a chance to defeat them individually.  

On 15 June Britain agreed to provide £2 million to Russian and to Prussia, and offered Austria £500,000 if she agreed to enter the war.

On 26 June Napoleon met the Austrian diplomat Metternich at the Mercolini Palace in Dresden. Metternich had probably already decided to bring Austria into the war against Napoleon, despite the Emperor's successful marriage to Princess Marie Louise. The nine hour meeting didn’t go well. Metternich made unacceptable demands of the French – the return of all Austrian lands in Italy, the end of the Confederation of the Rhine, the restoration of Prussia, and Poland to be handed over to the Russians. On his part Napoleon acted with arrogance and hostility.

News of the meeting at Dresden was rushed to the Allied monarchs, who were then meeting at Reichenbach in Prussian Silesia (now Dzierzoniow in Poland). On the following day the Austrian Foreign Minister Stadion signed the Convention of Reichenbach (27 June 1813), in which Austria agreed to enter the war if Napoleon agreed to their terms.

On 7 July Sweden, then ruled by the former Marshal Bernadotte, now the Crown Prince, promised her full support for the Allies. Her official declaration of war came in mid-August, but Bernadotte's contribution to the Autumn Campaign was controversial and rather half-hearted.

Between 9 July and 15 August Napoleon was away from Dresden on 17 days. This included a week at Mainz visiting his wife, who he hoped would help convince her father, the Austrian Emperor Francis I to stay neutral, as well as visits to Wittenberg, Dessau, Magdeburg, Leipzig, Lübben, Würtzburg and Bamberg.

News then arrived of Wellington's victory at Vittoria (21 June 1813). This encouraged Napoleon to try again, and Caulaincourt was sent to Prague to resume negotiations (Congress of Prague, 15 July-10 August 1813). The Allies suggested extending the armistice for three weeks, officially to allow time for the new negotiations, but actually to allow the Austrians to mobilise. At times it looked as if Caulaincourt might have been able to get better terms – Metternich appeared willing to give up his claims in Italy, in return for the dissolution of the Confederacy of the Rhine (although not a return to the post-war situation in Germany – many of the component parts of the Confederation would have remained intact). Napoleon refused to agree to this idea, and the chance of peace faded.

On 10 August the Allies officially ended the armistice. Hostilities were not meant to start until 17 August, although Blücher began to move into the neutral zone on 15 August.

On 12 August 1813 Austria declared war on France, although she didn’t officially join the Sixth Coalition until the treaty of Teplitz (9 September 1813). This was the first time that Napoleon had faced a coalition of four major powers – Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria – in early conflicts at least one had been missing (Prussia didn’t join the Third Coalition, Austria wasn't in the Fourth Coalition, neither of them were part of the Fifth Coalition).

At the start of the Armstice Napoleon had outnumbered his Prussian and Russian opponents. By the end he was outnumbered. In total the figures don't look too bad – 680,000 French and allied troops faced 800,000 Allied troops, including 200,000 Russians, 120,000 Austrians, 40,000 Swedes and 160,000 Prussians, and the Allies began the campaign split into three separate armies (Bernadotte's Army of the North, Blücher's Army of Silesia and Schwarzenberg's Army of Bohemia). Napoleon was thus given a chance to defeat these armies individually, and did come close to breaking the Army of Bohemia at the battle of Dresden, but he was eventually forced to fight all three at the same time at Leipzig (16-19 October 1813), where he suffered a defeat that ended his power in Germany, and greatly weakened his ability to defend France. The Armistice of Pleischwitz had been a great mistake for Napoleon.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 April 2017), Armistice of Pleischwitz, 2 June 1813 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/armistice_pleischwitz.html

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