Karl Philipp Furst zu Schwarzenberg, 1771-1820

Karl Philipp Furst zu Schwarzenberg (1771-1820) was an Austrian general and diplomat most famous for service as Allied supreme commander during the autumn campaign of 1813 and the invasion of France of 1814.

Schwarzenberg was born into a powerful Austrian noble family. He entered the army in 1787 when he bought the post of Unterleutnant in Infantry Regiment 10. He fought in the Austro-Turkish War of 1788-89, but after performing well in 1788 and earning promotion to Hautpmann he fell ill early in 1789 and had to leave his post at Field Marshal Freiherr von Loudon's headquarters.

In 1790 he was promoted to major and given light duties with the Netherlands Arcieren Ceremonial Guard. He then returned to Vienna to continue his education, before in 1791 he was posted to the Latour Dragoons. He wasn't welcomed in his new regiment, as it was clear that he had gained his position because of his background.

In 1791 he was moved to the Uhlan Freikorps, with the rank of Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel), a rather meteoric rise.

He led his new regiment in combat during the War of the First Coalition. It formed part of the advance guard of Field Marshal Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld's army, and performed well at Neerwinden (March 1793).

In 1794 he commanded the Zeschwitz Kurassier at Le Cateau-Cambresis.  During the battle he led his own regiment and twelve British cavalry squadrons in an attack that smashed a French corps and captured 32 guns.

Schwarzenberg served under the Archduke Charles in 1796 in Germany. He was promoted to major general, and commanded light infantry and cavalry raiding forces and fought at Amberg and Wurzburg.

During the War of the Second Coalition he served under the Archduke Charles once again, commanding the advanced guard of the centre at the Austrian victories at the battles of Ostrach (21 March 1799) and Stockach (25 March 1799), and then performing well at the siege of Mannheim. Illness then forced another break.

He returned to the army late in 1800 with the rank of Feldmarschalleutnant, a rapid promotion for someone still under thirty! He commanded a division on the right during the Austrian defeat at Hohenlinden (3 December 1800), and managed to lead his division to safety at the end of the battle. Soon after the battle Archduke Charles took command, and appointed Schwarzenberg as the commander of the rear guard. He performed well in this role, even managing to rescue the artillery park. As a reward he was appointed as honorary colonel of the 2nd Uhlan Regiment.

After the end of the War of the Second Coalition, Schwarzenberg began a diplomatic career. In 1801 he was sent to Russia as the ambassador to the new Tsar Alexander I. In March 1805 he was briefly vice president of the Hofkriegsrat (the military administration), but he was then given command of corps in the Austrian army at the start of the War of the Third Coalition.

This army was officially commanded by Archduke Ferdinand d'Este, but the effective commander was the 'unfortunate' Field Marshal Karl Mack Freiherr von Leiberich. Schwarzenberg performed well during the Austrian advance, fighting at Gunzburg and Haslach (11 October 1805), helping to win that battle by leading a charge of two regiments of cuirassiers. However the Austrians were advancing into a trap. When it became clear that the army was about to be encircled at Ulm, d'Este decided to flee with the cavalry. Schwarzenberg was given command of twelve cavalry squadrons which formed the rearguard of the fleeing cavalry. This was just about the only large part of Mack's army to escape from the capitulation of Ulm.

Although Schwarzenberg was ill once again, he was summoned to Vienna, and then accompanied the Emperor Francis II to Moravia. He advised against risking another battle against Napoleon, but the Allied high command was convinced that he was dangerously trapped north of Vienna. As a result the Russians and remaining Austrians walked into Napoleon's trap, and suffered a crushing defeat at Austerlitz.

Ill health kept Schwarzenberg away from active service until 1808. Late in the year he was sent back to Russia as Ambassador, with the task of either convincing the Russians to join any fresh war against Napoleon or to at least stay neutral. In the event he failed in both missions, although the Russians proved to be very lacklustre allies for Napoleon during the Franco-Austrian War of 1809.

Schwarzenberg returned from Russia just in time to take command of a reserve corps cavalry division at the battle of Wagram (5-6 July 1809), and to command part of the rearguard during the retreat to Znaim. He was rewarded with promotion to General de Kavallerie on 22 September 1809¸ despite the Austrian defeat in the war.

After this military setback, Schwarzenberg was appointed as the Austrian ambassador to Paris. He helped Metternich arrange the marriage between Napoleon and Francis's eldest daughter Maria, although a ball he held to celebrate the marriage ended tragically when his sister-in-law was killed in a fire.

Part of his new role in Paris saw him negotiate the terms of the Austrian assistance for Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia. He was then given command of this force of 30,000 men (after Archduke Charles refused the post), and commanded his force as it covered the southern flank of the invasion. Napoleon was so impressed with him that he recommended his promotion to Feldmarschall. Schwarzenberg thus became the only Austrian general to use a French style marshal's baton.

Schwarzenberg's force played an active part in the war. He was given command of VII (Saxon) Corps, and his army defeated the Russians under General Tormasov at Podubnic/ Gorodechnya during the retreat from Russia. However the move south-west to help Reynier's Saxons had opened a gap that allowed Admiral Chichagov to capture Minsk and threaten to cut off Napoleon at the Berezina. Schwarzenberg successfully led his force back across the Pripet Marshes, and was even able to counterattack successfully and spent the winter at Pultusk, helping to temporarily secure French control of Warsaw. In February 1813 he pulled back to Krakow, and then left the army to return to his post in Paris. His old army then retreated into Bohemia, and Austrian became neutral.


At the start of 1813 Schwarzenberg attempted to convince Napoleon to end the war, but without success. He then returned to Vienna to take part in negotiations with the Russians and Prussians, and on 13 May he was appointed commander of the Army of Bohemia, the largest of the Allied armies during the autumn campaign of 1813. Radetzky served as his chief of staff and Langenua as head of the Operations Directorate.

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

In August Austria decided to enter the war against Napoleon. Schwarzenberg was appointed commander-in-chief of the Allied armies, although his authority was rather restricted by the presence of all three Allied monarchs with the army - Francis II, Tsar Alexander and King Frederick William III of Prussia. He also had to cope with very different Allied war aims, with most wanting the French to be destroyed, but the Austrians officially wanting Napoleon to be defeated but not destroyed, as they feared that would only make Russian or Prussia more powerful. Schwarzenberg's authority over Blucher and Bernadotte was also rather limited. He had more power over his own 250,000 strong Army of Bohemia, but could be overruled by the three monarchs.

The Allies officially adopted the Trachenberg Plan, in which each of the Allied armies would carefully advance towards the French camp, but avoiding any battles with Napoleon in person. Instead they would focus on his subordinates, and if they faced Napoleon retreat. Only once the entire Allied army had come together, and Napoleon had been worn down, would battle be risked.

The campaign began badly. Napoleon didn't go onto the offensive as expected, leaving the Allies to decide what to do next. This gave the Allied council of war the time to decide to advance against Dresden, against Schwarzenberg's wishes. Napoleon then moved east to face Blucher, briefly leaving Dresden exposed to attack. However he was able to rush back in time to defeat the Austrians and Russians at Dresden (26-27 August 1813), the nearest Napoleon came to a decisive victory in the campaign. The Allies had missed a chance to attack Dresden on 25 August, before Napoleon arrived, although Schwarzenberg had supported the idea. Even after this defeat the Allied plan paid off - Vandamme's corps was defeated and captured at Kulm (29-30 August) while pursuing the Allies and Macdonald's defeat at the Katzbach (26 August 1813) meant that Napoleon's eastern flank would be vulnerable for the rest of the campaign.

At the start of September Napoleon decided to attack Berlin, but his plans were disrupted by the poor state of Macdonald's army. He had to move east to try and deal with this, but Schwarzenberg then began a fresh advance down the Elbe towards Dresden. This gave Napoleon a chance to catch Barclay de Tolly alone, but Schwarzenberg retreated in time. This led to a brief campaign just inside Bohemia, before Napoleon decided he couldn't risk a full scale invasion and returned east.

In late September Napoleon decide that he wasn't achieving anything east of the Elbe and decided to pull back to the west bank, and try and catch one of the Allied armies in isolation. On the Allied side Blucher decided to move north-west to join up with Bernadotte, and then combine to move south, in an attempt to cut Napoleon off from France. This gave Napoleon one last chance to catch Blucher alone, but it didn't quite work out. At the same time Schwarzenberg was advancing towards Leipzig from the south, and in mid October all of the armies finally clashed at the battle of Leipzig. On the first day of the battle (16 October) Schwarzenberg faced the brunt of Napoleon's attack south of Leipzig, which Blucher attacked to the north. The French missed a chance to defeat the Austrians and Russians, and by the time the battle resumed on 18 October the Allies had been joined by Bernadotte and by Russian reinforcements. The fighting on 18 October forced Napoleon to retreat west on the following day. The battle of Leipzig ended any hope that the French had of holding on to part of Germany, and the seat of the war finally returned to France.


After Leipzig Schwarzenberg argued in favour of a vigorous pursuit, to prevent Napoleon from recovering once again. He was frustrated by Metternich, who still wanted a diplomatic solution. These efforts failed, and the Allies invaded France over the winter of 1813-14. Schwarzenberg retained the overall command, but the army was split into two main forces, with Schwarzenberg's Austrians and Russians on the left and Blucher's army on the right. Schwarzenberg begin in Switzerland. He was then to advance from Basel to Colmar, cross the upper Rhine and advance to the Langres Plateau. His army would then split, with the main column heading for Paris, and other elements joining up with troops coming from Italy or Wellington coming from the south-west. The 1814 campaign in France is widely regarded as one of Napoleon's best, but Schwarzenberg largely kept his nerve, and in the end the Allies were able to out manoeuvre Napoleon and capture Paris.

Battles of the French Campaign of 1814
Battles of the
French Campaign
of 1814

Schwarzenberg began to move on 1 January, heading towards Colmar. The French border defences failed completely, allowing the Allies to move dangerously close to Paris right at the start of the campaign. Schwarzenberg was on the Langres Plateau, the source of the Seine and the Marne by 17 January, where he paused until 23 January. He then began to move north-west down the river valleys, getting closer to Blucher.

The first significant fighting of the campaign came on 24 January (engagement of Bar-sur-Aube), when Gyulai's and Wurttemberg's corps from Schwarzenberg's army forced Mortier to retreat after a day long battle. On the following day Napoleon left Paris for the front.

Napoleon's plan was to attack Blucher at St. Dizier, but by the time the move began Blucher had already passed St. Dizier and was on the road to Brienne. Although the initial plan had failed, Napoleon continued to press Blucher and came close to capturing him at Brienne (1 February 1814), notable otherwise only as Napoleon's first victory of the campaign. However in the aftermath of the battle Blucher with part of his army joined up with Schwarzenberg, a potentially very dangerous situation. Schwarzenberg gave Blucher two corps, and Napoleon came close to defeat at La Rothiere (30 January 1814) and was forced to retreat to Troyes. At this point the Allies were in a very strong position, but they decided to split up. Blucher was to move north to come closer to the rest of his army then advance down the Marne. Schwarzenberg would move down the Seine.

This gave Napoleon the chance he wanted to defeat Blucher while he was isolated. The resulting 'Six Day's Campaign' saw Napoleon win a series of victories over Blucher and force him to retreat east towards reinforcements. Napoleon was helped by Schwarzenberg, who began a two day long retreat towards Bar-sur-Aube on 6 February, after Mortier appeared to threaten his flanks. By 9 February Schwarzenberg had advanced back to Troyes, and was expecting to fight a major battle at Nogent. Blucher agreed to send some of his troops south to help, but this only exposed him to Napoleon, who was already advancing north. Elements of Blucher's army were defeated at Champaubert (10 February), Montmirail (11 February), Chateau-Thierry (12 February) and Vauchamps (14 February). The only problem for Napoleon was that Schwarzenberg was still moving west towards Paris, forcing Napoleon to abandon the campaign against Blucher before he had been totally defeated.

On 15 February Napoleon turned south to deal with Schwarzenberg, who was now threatening Paris from the south-west. Schwarzenberg realised Napoleon was on his way, and halted his advance and gathered his troops closer together. This didn't save him from suffering three defeats in a short period - at Mormont and Valjouen on 17 February, and at Montereau on 18 February. However Schwarzenberg was able to retreat back to Troyes once again, while Napoleon was held up attempting to cross the Seine. Napoleon attempted to advance east to Troyes, and in response Schwarzenberg summoned Blucher south again. The leading elements of their armies met up at Mery-sur-Seine on 21 February, but at a council of war on the following day Schwarzenberg argued in favour of a retreat back to Bar-sur-Aube. Blucher was sent north, furious at the missed chance. In compensation he was given Winzingerode's and Bulow's corps from the Army of the North to make up for his losses.

This meant that Napoleon was denied the battle he wanted - as he approached Troyers, Schwarzenberg was heading east and Blucher north. The Allies held another council of war on 25 February. Schwarzenberg argued in favour of a retreat towards Langres, while Blucher was to operate independently. If Napoleon turned north to attack Blucher, Schwarzenberg agreed to resume his advance. This quickly came to pass, and on 25 February Tsar Alexander and Frederick William III of Prussia insisted that Schwarzenberg resume his advance towards Bar-sur-Aube.

Napoleon's second attempt to defeat Blucher didn't achieve the same success as his first. The battles of Craonne (7 March) and Laon (8-9 March) ended as a clear Allied victory. Napoleon was forced to turn back south. On his way he won his last victory of the campaign, recapturing Rheims (13 March). However after that things continued to go wrong. As Schwarzenberg moved east, Napoleon moved towards Arcis-sur-Aube. This triggered an accidental battle at Arcis-sur-Aube (20-21 March 1814), in which both commanders believed their opponent was elsewhere. On the first day the French managed to fight off a series of attacks on the bridge at Arcis, but on the second day Schwarzenberg failed to take advantage of his situation, and didn’t attack until late in the afternoon. Napoleon was able to get away with his army largely intact.

This was followed by the key moment of the campaign. Napoleon decided to move east to cut the Allied lines of communications, but this time Schwarzenberg didn’t fall for the trap. Instead he decided to join up with Blucher and advance on Paris. Schwarzenberg defeated Mortier and Marmont at La-Fere-Champenoise on 25 March, and then joined up with Blucher on 28 March. Paris then fell after a day of fighting (battle of Montmartre, 30 March 1813). Napoleon only just failed to arrive back in time to command the defence of the city, but the fall of Paris forced his first abdication on 6 April 1813.

In May Schwarzenberg was appointed commander of the Hofkriegsrat. In 1815 he commanded the Austrian Army of the Rhine during the Hundred Days, but this force didn't arrive to take part in the famous battles of that campaign.

Ill health plagued the rest of his life. His sister Caroline died soon after the Hundred Days, and in 1817 he was severely paralysed by a stroke. In 1820, during a visit to the Leipzig battlefield, he suffered a second stroke, and died on 15 October 1820.

In many ways Schwarzenberg can be compared to Eisenhower in a later war, in that he had to command a coalition army, with conflicted political aims, but his situation was made more difficult by the physical presence of the three Allied monarchs with his army. Despite all of these problems, he managed to lead his coalition army to two major victories over Napoleon, shattering the French position in Germany at Leipzig and then making sure that Napoleon was unable to take advantage of his successes during the 1814 campaign in France.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 June 2018), Karl Philipp Furst zu Schwarzenberg, 1771-1820 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_schwarzenberg.html

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