Battle of Leipzig ('The Battle of Nations'), 16-18 October 1813

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The battle of Leipzig was the largest battle of the Napoleonic wars and the largest battle in Europe until the First World War easily ranking as one of the largest battles in History. Napoleon, on the defensive after the disastrous Russian campaign of 1812 was forced to fight the decisive battle of the Napoleonic Wars,a battle which involved five armies and nearly half a million men. In the aftermath of the 1812 campaign many of Napoleon's allies had deserted him, his cavalry had been decimated and he was forced to field an army mainly made up of raw but enthusiastic recruits to face a huge allied army of Austrians, Prussians, Russians and Swedes numbering around 300,000 including within the Swedish contingent a unit of British Congreve Rockets. The Swedish forces were commanded by one of Napoleons former Marshals, Jean Bernadotte who the French not surprisingly viewed as a traitor but who was to survive the Napoleonic Wars and found the Swedish Royal family.

The campaign of 1813 started with two battles at Lutzen and then Bautzen but despite French victories they were unable too make anything of their success because they were too weak, and as the Autumn of 1813 began the stage was set for the battle of Leipzig. Napoleon was on the defensive but needed to attack to regain the initiative but he needed to decide which of the three allied armies he should attack first. His plan although good had a fatal flaw, it would require skilled commanders who could act independently. Napoleons autocratic leadership style and massive ego would tolerate no competition and he had very few Marshals with the independent ability he needed for his plan to work. On the 23rd August Napoleon attacked the Prussians at the Battle of Grossbeeren planning to destroy the Prussian Army and take Berlin. Although not a large battle the French were defeated and news of this soon spread, Napoleons star was about to fall.

On the 26-27th August Napoleon was in action again at the Battle of Dresden in which he was to gain his last victory on German soil. Other battles followed as Napoleon's commanders engaged the enemy including Katzbach 26th August 1813, Kulm 29/30th August, Dennewitz 6th September, Wartenburg 3rd October 1813 and most famously Liebertwolkwitz 14th October 1813 which was the greatest cavalry battle in history. By the 18th October Napoleon had concentrated his shrinking army at Leipzig.His army had been driven back after 3 heavy days of fighting. The Allied assault on the Town began at 10.30 as the French tried desperately to retreat through the town. Every gate, every street, even every building was defended and it was not an easy task for the Allies as then, as today fighting in an urban area is a very costly business.The French were tired and running low on ammunition and a retreat was unavoidable despite many acts of bravery from the defenders. The major blow was the Bridge over the Elster being destroyed early adding to the confusion and trapping 20,000 French troops in the city including Prince Poniatowski. Napoleon marched the remains of his Army back to France and it would be another year before his regime would fall, but his image of an invincible General had gone forever. French losses were in the region of 70,000 including around 30,000 prisoners with the Allies loosing around 54,000 killed and wounded.

Napoleonic Home Page | Books on the Napoleonic Wars | Subject Index: Napoleonic Wars

Leipzig 1813: The Battle of the Nations, Peter Hofschroer, Osprey, 1993, 96 pages. A very well regarded entry in the Osprey catalogue, covering not just the battle of Leipzig but the entire German campaign of 1813 that led to the final collapse of Napoleon's empire. [see more] cover cover cover
How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, T. (23 March 2001), Battle of Leipzig ('The Battle of Nations'), 16-18 October 1813, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_leipzig.html

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