Battle of Dresden, 26-27 August 1813

The only French victory of the Leipzig campaign and Napoleon's last on German soil, the battle of Dresden was Napoleon at far from his best. Marching against Napoleon the Allies had massed 80,000 men at the gates of Dresden by 25th August and if they had moved quickly they could have re-taken the city from the French, instead as often throughout the Napoleonic wars politics hindered the Allies, slowing them. The Allies halted for a council of war, this was a multinational army with all 3 Allied Monarchs present (Emperor Francis of Austria, Tsar Alexander of Russia and King Frederick William III of Prussia) each with their own objectives in the campaign and the Allied commander Marshal Prince Karl Von Schwarzenberg would often have his hands tied during the campaign.

Marshal Gouvion-Saint-Cyr
Marshal Gouvion-Saint-Cyr

The Town of Dresden was fortified to some extent with outlying areas being prepared with loopholes and firing steps and barricades. That said the defensive line was 8 km long and the French commander St Cyr had too few men to defend it, fact he had only one man per ten paces in most areas. Had the Allies acted quickly they would have overwhelmed the French but they were slow to act and lacked any real leadership. The attack began at 5 am on 26 August as Prussian troops advanced through the Royal gardens despite tough French opposition. As the Allies attacked it became obvious from the shouts of Vive l'Empereur that the French garrison was being reinforced, Napoleon had arrived. His mere presence spooked the Allies who now called for a withdraw (except Frederick William of Prussia), their attacks continued throughout the day on the 26th August and just as the Allies were on the verge of entering the town Napoleon ordered his 70,000 troops to attack.

The fighting that followed was bloody and slowly the French drove the Allies back. That night the Allies could reflect on their failure to enter the town as without clear leadership coordinating their attacks on an 8 km front his proved impossible. The next day (27 August) Napoleon attacked the now demoralised Allied flanks with a 6 am attack lead by two divisions of his Young Guard. The Allies planned to counter attack but several of their commanders were either injured or hesitated and their chance was lost. By 3pm the Allied left flank was beaten and they struggled to disengage in the thick mud, by 4pm the Allies were retreating not only away from Dresden but back to the safety of Bohemia leaving behind 38,000 killed, captured or wounded. General Dominique Vandammme tried to pursue the fleeing Allies but Napoleon failed to support him and he was cut off at the battle of Kulm two days later.

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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]
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How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, TDP. (24 March 2001), Battle of Dresden, 26-27 August 1813,

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