OCW052: Napoleon’s Defeat

The Holy Alliance

The Holy Alliance was a coalition created in 1815 by the monarchist great powers of Russia, Austria, and Prussia to prevent revolutionary influences in Europe and serve as a bastion against democracy, revolution, and secularism.

Learning Objectives

Identify the members and explain the function of the Holy Alliance

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Holy Alliance was a coalition created by the monarchist great powers of Russia, Austria, and Prussia. It was established after the ultimate defeat of Napoleon at the behest of Tsar Alexander I of Russia and signed in Paris in 1815. Ostensibly, the alliance was formed to instill the divine right of kings and Christian values in European political life.
  • In practice, the Austrian state chancellor Prince Klemens von Metternich made the Alliance a bastion against democracy, revolution, and secularism. The monarchs of the three countries involved used it to band together to prevent revolutionary influence (especially from the French Revolution) from entering these nations.
  • The Alliance is usually associated with the later Quadruple and Quintuple Alliances, which included the United Kingdom and (from 1818) France with the aim of upholding the European peace settlement and balance of power in the Concert of Europe concluded at the Congress of Vienna.
  • The meetings of the Alliances were irregular and focused on reactionary initiatives that aimed to preserve the old royal order in Europe. The last meetings revealed the rising antagonism between Britain and France, especially on Italian unification, the right to self-determination, and the Eastern Question.
  • The Holy Alliance, the brainchild of Tsar Alexander I, gained a lot of support because most European monarchs did not wish to offend the Tsar by refusing to sign it. As it bound monarchs personally rather than their governments, it was easy to ignore once signed. The Quadruple Alliance, by contrast, was a standard treaty, and the four Great Powers did not invite any of their allies to sign it although the wording of the treaty left its provisions vague.
  • The intention of the Holy Alliance was to restrain republicanism and secularism in Europe in the wake of the devastating French Revolutionary Wars and the alliance nominally succeeded in this until Crimean War (1853–1856). By extension, the Alliance can be considered as the most potent prevention against any other general wars of Europe between 1815 and 1914.

Key Terms

  • Quintuple Alliance: An alliance that came into being at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, when France joined the earlier alliance created by Russia, Austria, Prussia and the United Kingdom.
  • Quadruple Alliance: A treaty signed in Paris in 1815 by the great powers of United Kingdom, Austria, Prussia, and Russia. It renewed the use of the Congress System which advanced European international relations. The alliance was originally formed to counter France and the powers promised aid to each other. It functioned until 1818.
  • Concert of Europe: A system, also known as the Congress System or the Vienna System after the Congress of Vienna, adopted by the major conservative powers of Europe to maintain their power, oppose revolutionary movements, weaken the forces of nationalism, and uphold the balance of power. It operated in Europe from the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) to the early 1820s.
  • The Holy Alliance: A coalition created by the monarchist great powers of Russia, Austria and Prussia. It was established after the ultimate defeat of Napoleon at the behest of Tsar Alexander I of Russia and signed in Paris in 1815. Ostensibly, the alliance was formed to instill the divine right of kings and Christian values in European political life.

The Holy Alliance was a coalition created by the monarchist great powers of Russia, Austria and Prussia, established after the ultimate defeat of Napoleon at the behest of Tsar Alexander I of Russia and signed in Paris in 1815. Ostensibly, the alliance was formed to instill the divine right of kings and Christian values in European political life. About three months after the Final Act of the Vienna Congress, the monarchs of Orthodox (Russia), Catholic (Austria), and Protestant (Prussia) confession promised to act on the basis of “justice, love and peace,” both in internal and foreign affairs, for “consolidating human institutions and remedying their imperfections.” Despite this noble wording, the Alliance was rejected as ineffective by the United Kingdom, the Papal States, and the Islamic Ottoman Empire.

In practice, the Austrian state chancellor Prince Klemens von Metternich made the Alliance a bastion against democracy, revolution, and secularism. The monarchs of the three countries involved used it to band together to prevent revolutionary influence (especially from the French Revolution) from entering these nations.

Quadruple and Quintuple Alliances

The Alliance is usually associated with the later Quadruple and Quintuple Alliances, which included the United Kingdom and (from 1818) France. It aimed to uphold the European peace settlement and balance of power in the Concert of Europe concluded at the Congress of Vienna. In 1818, the Tsar, Emperor Francis I of Austria, and King Frederick William III of Prussia met with the Duke of Wellington, Viscount Castlereagh, and the Duc de Richelieu at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle to demand stern measures against university demagogues. The gesture resulted in tangible action when the Carlsbad Decrees were issued the following year.

The Carlsbad Decrees were a set of reactionary restrictions introduced in the states of the German Confederation that banned nationalist fraternities (“Burschenschaften”), removed liberal university professors, and expanded the censorship of the press. They aimed to quell a growing sentiment for German unification.

At the 1820 Congress of Troppau and the succeeding Congress of Laibach, Metternich tried to align his allies in the suppression of the Carbonari revolt against King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies. The Quintuple Alliance met for the last time at the 1822 Congress of Verona to discuss the Italian question (in light of the efforts leading to Italian unification), the Greek question (in light of the Greek Revolution striving for Greek independence), and the Spanish question (in light of a potential French invasion of Spain to help the Spanish Royalists restore King Ferdinand VII of Spain to the absolute power). The last meetings revealed the rising antagonism between Britain and France, especially on Italian unification, the right to self-determination, and the Eastern Question (the strategic competition and political considerations of the European Great Powers in light of the political and economic instability in the Ottoman Empire from the late 18th to early 20th centuries).

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Contemporary caricature of the 1822 Congress of Verona, the last meeting of the Quintuple Alliance.

While Britain stood largely aloof from the Alliance’s illiberal actions, the four Continental monarchies were successful in authorizing Austrian military action in Italy in 1821 and French intervention in Spain in 1823. The Quintuple Alliance is considered defunct along with the Holy Alliance of the three original Continental members with the death of Tsar Alexander I of Russia in 1825.

The Alliance is considered defunct with Alexander’s death in 1825. France ultimately went separate ways in 1830, leaving the core of Russia, Austria, and Prussia as the Central-Eastern European block which again congregated to suppress the Revolutions of 1848. The Austro-Russian alliance finally broke up in the Crimean War. Although Russia helped crush the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, Austria took no action to support its ally, declared itself neutral, and even occupied the Wallachian and Moldavian lands on the Danube upon the Russian retreat in 1854. Thereafter, Austria remained isolated, which added to the loss of her leading role in the German lands, culminating in the defeat of the Austro-Prussian War in 1866.

Assessment

The Holy Alliance, the brainchild of Tsar Alexander I, gained support because most European monarchs did not wish to offend the Tsar by refusing to sign it. As it bound monarchs personally rather than their governments, it was easy to ignore once signed. Only three notable princes did not sign: Pope Pius VII (it was not Catholic enough), Sultan Mahmud II of Ottoman Empire, and the British Prince Regent (because his government did not wish to pledge itself to the policing of continental Europe). Although it did not fit comfortably within the complex, sophisticated, and cynical web of power politics that epitomized diplomacy of the post Napoleonic era, its influence was more lasting than its contemporary critics expected and was revived in the 1820s as a tool of repression when the terms of the Quintuple Alliance did not fit the purposes of some of the Great Powers of Europe.

The Quadruple Alliance, by contrast, was a standard treaty and the four Great Powers did not invite any of their allies to sign it. It included a provision for the High Contracting Parties to “renew their meeting at fixed periods…for the purpose of consulting on their common interests” which were the “prosperity of the Nations, and the maintenance of peace in Europe.” The wording of Article VI of the treaty did not specify what these “fixed periods” should be, and there were no provisions in the treaty for a permanent commission to arrange and organize the conferences. This meant that the first conference in 1818 dealt with remaining issues of the French wars, but after that meetings were held ad hoc to address specific threats, such as those posed by revolutions, for which the treaty was not drafted.

The intention of the Holy Alliance was to restrain republicanism and secularism in Europe in the wake of the devastating French Revolutionary Wars, and the alliance nominally succeeded in this until the Crimean War (1853–1856). Otto von Bismarck managed to reunite the Holy Alliance after the unification of Germany, but the alliance again faltered by the 1880s over Austrian and Russian conflicts of interest with regard to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. By extension, the Alliance can be considered the most potent prevention against other general wars of Europe between 1815 and 1914.

Invasion of Russia

Although during the 1812 Invasion of Russia Napoleon achieved tactical victories and entered Moscow, the campaign exhausted the French forces, demonstrating the weaknesses of the French strategy, shaking Napoleon’s reputation, and dramatically weakening French hegemony in Europe.

Learning Objectives

Critique Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Treaty of Schönbrunn, which ended the 1809 war between Austria and France, had a clause removing Western Galicia from Austria and annexing it to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Russia, seeing the territory as a potential launching-point for others to invade, in response developed a plan of war in 1811. Russia’s withdrawal from the Continental System was a further incentive for Napoleon to start a campaign against it.
  • Napoleon ignored repeated advice against an invasion of the Russian heartland and prepared for an offensive campaign. The invasion commenced in June 1812. To gain increased support from Polish nationalists and patriots, Napoleon termed this war the Second Polish War. Liberating Poland from the Russian threat became one of the stated reasons behind the invasion.
  • The invasion of Russia demonstrates the importance of logistics in military planning. Napoleon and the Grande Armée developed a proclivity for living off the land that had served them well in densely populated and agriculturally rich central Europe with its network of roads. In Russia, many of the Grande Armée’s methods of operation did not work and they were additionally handicapped by the lack of supplies and harsh winter, although the last factor was not as decisive as the popular narrative of the campaign suggested.
  • The Grande Armée was a very large force, numbering 680,000 soldiers. Through a series of long marches, Napoleon pushed the army rapidly through Western Russia in an attempt to bring the Russian army to battle, winning a number of minor engagements and a major battle at Smolensk in August 1812. As the Russian army fell back, Cossacks were given the task of burning villages, towns, and crops to deny the invaders the option of living off the land. These scorched-earth tactics surprised and disturbed the French as the strategy also destroyed the Russian territory.
  • Napoleon then achieved a tactical victory at Borodino, entered Moscow, and forced the Russian army to retreat at Maloyaroslavets. However, in the weeks that followed, lack of food and fodder for the horses, hypothermia from the bitter cold, and persistent attacks upon isolated troops from Russian peasants and Cossacks led to great loss of men and a general lack of discipline and cohesion in the army. After crossing the Berezina River, Napoleon returned to Paris.
  • The campaign effectively ended in December 1812, with the last French troops leaving Russian soil. The campaign was a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars. The reputation of Napoleon was severely shaken and French hegemony in Europe was dramatically weakened. These events triggered a major shift in European politics.

Key Terms

  • The French Invasion of Russia: A military campaign, known in Russia as the Patriotic War of 1812 and in France as the Russian Campaign, that began in June 1812 when Napoleon’s Grande Armée crossed the Niemen River to engage and defeat the Russian army. Napoleon hoped to compel Tsar Alexander I of Russia to cease trading with British merchants through proxies in an effort to pressure the United Kingdom to sue for peace. The official political aim of the campaign was to liberate Poland from the threat of Russia.
  • Peninsular War: An 1807–1814 military conflict between Napoleon’s empire and the allied powers of Spain, Britain, and Portugal for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war started when French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807 and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, previously its ally. The war lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814 and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.
  • Continental System: The foreign policy of Napoleon I of France in his struggle against Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars that used the economic warfare as a strategy. As a response to the naval blockade of the French coasts enacted by the British government in 1806, Napoleon issued the Berlin Decree, which brought into effect a large-scale embargo against British trade that banned trade between Britain and states occupied by or allied with France.

Causes of Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia

Although most of Western and Central European states were under Napoleon’s control—either directly or indirectly through various protectorates, alliances, or under treaties favorable for France—Napoleon had embroiled his armies in the costly Peninsular War (1807/8-1814) in Spain and Portugal. France’s economy, army morale, and political support at home noticeably declined. Most importantly, Napoleon himself was not in the same physical and mental state. He was overweight and increasingly prone to various maladies.

The Treaty of Schönbrunn, which ended the 1809 war between Austria and France, had a clause removing Western Galicia from Austria and annexing it to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Russia saw the territory as a potential launching-point for another country to invade and thus developed a plan of offensive war in 1811, assuming a Russian assault on Warsaw and Danzig. Furthermore, Tsar Alexander found Russia in an economic bind as his country had little in the way of manufacturing yet was rich in raw materials, depending heavily on Napoleon’s Continental System for both money and manufactured goods. Russia’s withdrawal from the system was a further incentive for Napoleon to start the campaign.

Napoleon ignored repeated advice against an invasion of the Russian heartland and prepared for an offensive campaign. The invasion commenced in June 1812. In an attempt to gain increased support from Polish nationalists and patriots, Napoleon termed this war the Second Polish War (Napoleon’s “First Polish War” was in fact the War of the Fourth Coalition, 1806-08, one of declared goals of which was the resurrection of the Polish state on territories of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). Polish patriots wanted the Russian part of Poland to be joined with the Duchy of Warsaw and independent Poland reestablished. These demands were rejected by Napoleon, who stated he promised Austria, one of powers that had partitioned Poland at the end of the 18th century, that this would not happen.

Logistical Challenges

The invasion of Russia demonstrates the importance of logistics in military planning. Napoleon and the Grande Armée developed a proclivity for living off the land that served them well in the densely populated and agriculturally rich central Europe with its network of roads. Rapid forced marches dazed and confused old order Austrian and Prussian armies and made foraging difficult. In Russia, many of the Grande Armée’s methods of operation did not work and they were handicapped by the lack of winter horse shoes, which made it impossible for the horses to obtain traction on snow and ice. Forced marches often left troops without supplies as the wagons struggled to keep up. Lack of food and water in thinly populated, agriculturally sparse regions led to the death of troops by exposing them to waterborne diseases through drinking from mud puddles and eating rotten food and forage. The front of the army received whatever could be provided while the formations behind starved. In fact, starvation, desertion, typhus, and suicide would cost the French Army more men than all the battles of the Russian invasion combined. Following the campaign, a saying arose that the Generals Janvier and Février (January and February) defeated Napoleon, alluding to the Russian Winter. While the harsh weather was an important factor in the final defeat of the French Army, historians point out that most French losses took place before the winter and the common narrative that identified the extremely cold weather as the main reason behind the French loss is a myth (perpetuated also by Napoleon’s advisers).

The French Invasion of Russia

Through a series of long marches, Napoleon pushed the army rapidly through Western Russia in an attempt to bring the Russian army to battle, winning a number of minor engagements and a major battle at Smolensk in August 1812. As the Russian army fell back, Cossacks were given the task of burning villages, towns, and crops. This was intended to deny the invaders the option of living off the land. These scorched-earth tactics surprised and disturbed the French as the strategy also destroyed Russian territory.

The Russian army retreated into Russia for almost three months. The continual retreat and loss of lands to the French upset the Russian nobility. They pressured Alexander I to relieve the commander of the Russian army, Field Marshal Barclay. Alexander I complied, appointing an old veteran, Prince Mikhail Kutuzov, to take over command.

In September, the French caught up with the Russian army, which had dug itself in on hillsides before a small town called Borodino 70 miles west of Moscow. The battle that followed was the largest and bloodiest single-day action of the Napoleonic Wars, involving more than 250,000 soldiers and resulting in 70,000 casualties. The French gained a tactical victory, but at the cost of 49 general officers and thousands of men. Napoleon entered Moscow a week later. In another turn of events the French found puzzling, there was no delegation to meet the Emperor. The Russians evacuated the city and the city’s governor, Count Fyodor Rostopchin, ordered several strategic points in Moscow set ablaze. The loss of Moscow did not compel Alexander I to sue for peace and both sides were aware that Napoleon’s position weakened with each passing day. After staying a month in Moscow, Napoleon moved his army out southwest toward Kaluga, where Kutuzov was encamped with the Russian army.

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Michail Illarionovich Kutuzov (1745 – 1813), commander-in-chief of the Russian army on the far left, with his generals at the talks deciding to surrender Moscow to Napoleon. The room is the home of peasant A.S. Frolov. Painting by Aleksey Danilovich Kivshenko.

Kutuzov’s military career was closely associated with the period of Russia’s growing power from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century. Kutuzov contributed much to the military history of Russia and is considered one of the best Russian generals. He took part in the suppression of the Bar Confederation’s uprising, in three of the Russo-Turkish Wars, and in the Napoleonic War, including two major battles at Austerlitz and the battle of Borodino.

Napoleon tried once more to engage the Russian army in a decisive action at the Battle of Maloyaroslavets. Despite holding a superior position, the Russians retreated with troops exhausted, few rations, no winter clothing, and the remaining horses in poor condition. Napoleon hoped to reach supplies at Smolensk and later at Vilnius. In the weeks that followed, lack of food and fodder for the horses, hypothermia from the bitter cold, and persistent attacks upon isolated troops from Russian peasants and Cossacks led to great loss of men and a general lack of discipline and cohesion in the army. After crossing the Berezina River, Napoleon left the army with urging from his advisers. He returned to Paris to protect his position as Emperor and raise more forces to resist the advancing Russians. The campaign effectively ended in December 1812, with the last French troops leaving Russian soil.

The painting shows Napoleon's army retreating in the snow.

Napoleon’s retreat by Vasily Vereshchagin.

The main body of Napoleon’s Grande Armée diminished by a third during the first eight weeks of his invasion before the major battle of the campaign. The central French force under Napoleon’s direct command crossed the Niemen River with 286,000 men, but by the time of the Battle of Borodino his force was reduced to 161,475. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia is among the most lethal military operations in world history.

Effects

The campaign was a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars. The reputation of Napoleon was severely shaken and French hegemony in Europe dramatically weakened. The Grande Armée, made up of French and allied invasion forces, was reduced to a fraction of its initial strength. These events triggered a major shift in European politics. France’s ally Prussia broke their imposed alliance with France and switched sides, soon followed by Austria. This triggered the War of the Sixth Coalition.

The Fall of Paris

Following Napoleon’s retreat from Russia and the subsequent defeat of his army by the Sixth Coalition at Leipzig (1813), the armies of the Sixth Coalition invaded France and advanced toward Paris, which capitulated on March 31, 1814.

Learning Objectives

Connect the invasion of Russia to the fall of Paris.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Following defeats in the Wars of the Fourth and Fifth Coalitions, Prussia and Austria were forcibly allied with France during the Russian Campaign. When this campaign resulted in the destruction of Napoleon’s Grande Armée, Prussia and Austria took advantage of the situation by forming a Sixth Coalition against France (1813-1814).
  • The retreat from Russia turned into a new war on German soil. The decisive battle of the war, the so-called Battle of Nations (October 16-19, 1813), took place in Leipzig where Napoleon was defeated. After the battle, the pro-French German Confederation of the Rhine collapsed and the supreme commander of the Coalition forces in the theater, the Russian Tsar Alexander I, ordered all Coalition forces in Germany to cross the Rhine and invade France.
  • After retreating from Germany, Napoleon fought a series of battles, including the Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube in France, but was steadily forced back against overwhelming odds. In early February 1814, Napoleon fought his Six Days’ Campaign in which he won multiple battles against numerically superior enemy forces marching on Paris. However, the Emperor’s victories were not significant enough to make any changes to the overall strategic picture.
  • Napoleon realized he could no longer continue with his current strategy of defeating the Coalition armies. He had two options: fall back on Paris and hope that the Coalition members would come to terms or copy the Russians and leave Paris to his enemies. He decided to move eastward to Saint-Dizier and raise the whole country against the invaders. He started on the execution of this plan when a letter to Empress Marie-Louise outlining his intention to move on the Coalition lines of communications was intercepted and his projects exposed to his enemies.
  • Tsar Alexander I of Russia and King Frederick of Prussia along with their advisers reconsidered; realizing the weakness of their opponent, they decided to march to Paris. The battle ended when the French commanders surrendered the city to Tsar Alexander on March 31.
  • On April 2, the Senate declared Napoleon deposed. He abdicated in favor of his son on April 4. The Allies forced Napoleon to abdicate unconditionally on April 6. The terms of his abdication, which included his exile to the Isle of Elba, were settled in the Treaty of Fontainebleau on April 11. A reluctant Napoleon ratified it two days later.

Key Terms

  • German Campaign of 1813: A military campaign fought in 1813, in which members of the Sixth Coalition fought a series of battles in Germany against the French Emperor Napoleon and his Marshals. The campaign liberated the German states from the domination of the First French Empire.
  • Battle of Paris of 1814: A battle fought on March 30–31, 1814 between the Sixth Coalition—consisting of Russia, Austria, and Prussia—and the French Empire. After a day of fighting in the suburbs of Paris, the French surrendered on March 31, ending the War of the Sixth Coalition and forcing Emperor Napoleon to abdicate and go into exile.
  • Six Days’ Campaign: A final series of victories by the forces of Napoleon I of France as the Sixth Coalition closed in on Paris, February 10-15, 1814.
  • War of the Sixth Coalition: A war fought from March 1813 to May 1814 in which a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, and a number of German states finally defeated France and drove Napoleon into exile on Elba.
  • French Invasion of Russia: A military campaign, known in Russia as the Patriotic War of 1812 and in France as the Russian Campaign, that began in June 1812 when Napoleon’s Grande Armée crossed the Neman River to engage and defeat the Russian army. Napoleon hoped to compel Tsar Alexander I of Russia to cease trading with British merchants through proxies to pressure the United Kingdom to sue for peace. The official political aim of the campaign was to liberate Poland from the threat of Russia.

Background: German Campaign of 1813

Following defeats in the Wars of the Fourth and Fifth Coalitions, Prussia and Austria were forcibly allied with France during the Russian Campaign (the French Invasion of Russia). When this campaign resulted in the destruction of Napoleon’s Grande Armée, Prussia and Austria took advantage of the situation by forming a Sixth Coalition against France (1813-1814). The retreat from Russia turned into a new war on German soil. Napoleon vowed to create a new army as large as that he sent into Russia. Although he inflicted 40,000 casualties on the Allies at Lützen and Bautzen (1813), lost about the same number of men during those encounters. The belligerents declared an armistice, during which both sides attempted to recover from losses. During this time, Allied negotiations finally brought Austria out in open opposition to France.

Following the end of the armistice, Napoleon seemed to regain the initiative at Dresden, where he defeated a numerically superior allied army and inflicted enormous casualties while sustaining relatively few. However, at about the same time, the French sustained defeats in the north at Grossbeeren, Katzbach, and Dennewitz. Napoleon, lacking reliable cavalry, was unable to fully take advantage of his victory and could not avoid the destruction of a whole corps at the Battle of Kulm, further weakening his army. He withdrew to Leipzig in Saxony where he thought he could fight a defensive action against the converging Allied armies. There, at the so-called Battle of Nations (October 16-19, 1813) Napoleon was defeated. After the battle, the pro-French German Confederation of the Rhine collapsed, ending Napoleon’s hold on Germany east of the Rhine. The supreme commander of the Coalition forces in the theater and the paramount monarch among the three main Coalition monarchs, the Russian Tsar Alexander I, ordered all Coalition forces in Germany to cross the Rhine and invade France.

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Vladimir Ivanovich Moshkov (1792—1839), Battle of Leipzig.

The Battle of Leipzig or Battle of the Nations was fought on October 16-19, 1813, at Leipzig, Saxony. The coalition armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden, led by Tsar Alexander I of Russia and Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg, decisively defeated the French army of Napoleon I that also contained Polish, Italian, and German troops (from the Confederation of the Rhine). Being decisively defeated for the first time in battle, Napoleon was compelled to return to France while the Coalition hurried to keep their momentum, invading France early the next year.

March on Paris

After retreating from Germany, Napoleon fought a series of battles including the Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube in France, but was steadily forced back against overwhelming odds. During the campaign, he issued a decree for 900,000 fresh conscripts, but only a fraction of these were ever raised. In early February 1814, Napoleon fought his Six Days’ Campaign in which he won multiple battles against numerically superior enemy forces marching on Paris. With an army of only 70,000, the Emperor was faced with at least half a million Allied troops advancing in several main armies. The Six Days’ Campaign was fought from February 10 to February 15, during which time Napoleon inflicted four defeats: in the Battle of Champaubert, the Battle of Montmirail, the Battle of Château-Thierry, and the Battle of Vauchamps. However, the Emperor’s victories were not significant enough to make any changes to the overall strategic picture.

However, after six weeks of fighting, the Coalition armies hardly gained any ground. The generals still hoped to bring Napoleon to battle against their combined forces. However, after Arcis-sur-Aube, Napoleon realized he could no longer continue with his current strategy of defeating the Coalition armies in detail and decided to change his tactics. He had two options: fall back on Paris and hope that the Coalition members would come to terms, as capturing Paris with a French army under his command would be difficult and time-consuming, or copy the Russians and leave Paris to his enemies as they had left Moscow to him two years earlier. He decided to move eastward to Saint-Dizier, rally what garrisons he could find, and raise the whole country against the invaders. He started on the execution of this plan when a letter to Empress Marie-Louise outlining his intention to move on the Coalition lines of communications was intercepted and his projects exposed to his enemies.

The Coalition commanders held a council of war at Pougy in March and initially decided to follow Napoleon, but the next day Tsar Alexander I of Russia and King Frederick of Prussia along with their advisers reconsidered and realizing the weakness of their opponent, decided to march to Paris and let Napoleon do his worst to their lines of communications. The Coalition armies marched straight for the capital.

The Battle of Paris of 1814

The Austrian, Prussian, and Russian armies were joined together and put under the command of Field Marshal Count Barclay de Tolly who would also be responsible for the taking of the city, but the driving force behind the army was the Tsar of Russia and the King of Prussia. Napoleon left his brother Joseph Bonaparte in defense of Paris with additional troops under Marshals Auguste Marmont, Bon Adrien Jeannot de Moncey, and Édouard Mortier.

The Coalition army arrived outside Paris in late March. Nearing the city, Russian troops broke rank and ran forward to get their first glimpse of the city. Camping outside the city on March 29, the Coalition forces were to assault the city from its northern and eastern sides the next morning. Marmont and Mortier rallied available troops at a position on Montmartre Heights to oppose them. The battle ended when the French commanders surrendered the city. Alexander sent an envoy to meet with the French and hasten the surrender. He offered generous terms to the French and although willing to avenge Moscow more than a year earlier, declared himself to be bringing peace to France rather than destruction. On March 31, Talleyrand gave the key of the city to the Tsar. Later that day, the Coalition armies triumphantly entered the city with the Tsar at the head of the army followed by the King of Prussia and Prince Schwarzenberg. On April 2, the Senate declared Napoleon deposed.

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Battle of Paris of 1814 by Bogdan Willewalde.

The Battle of Paris was fought on March 30–31, 1814 between the Sixth Coalition—consisting of Russia, Austria, and Prussia—and the French Empire. After a day of fighting in the suburbs of Paris, the French surrendered on March 31, ending the War of the Sixth Coalition and forcing Emperor Napoleon to abdicate and go into exile.

Napoleon had advanced as far as Fontainebleau when he heard that Paris had surrendered. Outraged, he wanted to march on the capital, but his marshals would not fight for him and repeatedly urged him to surrender. He abdicated in favor of his son on April 4. The Allies rejected this out of hand, forcing Napoleon to abdicate unconditionally on April 6. The terms of his abdication, which included his exile to the Isle of Elba, were settled in the Treaty of Fontainebleau on April 11. A reluctant Napoleon ratified it two days later. The War of the Sixth Coalition was over.


Source: World History