War of the Sixth Coalition

War of the Sixth Coalition

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=War of the Sixth Coalition
partof=Napoleonic Wars

caption=Battle of Leipzig
date=1812 - 1814
result=Coalition victory; Peace of Fontainebleau; Bourbon Restoration; Napoleon's exile to Elba
combatant1=Original Coalition
flag|Russian Empire|name=Russia
flagicon|Prussia|1803 Prussia
flag|Austrian Empire|name=Austria
flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom
flagicon|Spain|1785 Spain
flagicon|Portugal|1707 Portugal
flagicon|Two Sicilies Sicily
flagicon|Sardinia|kingdom Sardinia
After Battle of Leipzig
*flagicon image|State flag of Saxony before 1815.svg Saxony
*flagicon|Bavaria|striped Bavaria
*flagicon|Württemberg Württemberg
combatant2=flagicon|France France
flagicon|Napoleonic Italy Italy
flagicon|Poland|state Duchy of Warsaw
flagicon|Two Sicilies|1811 Naples
(Until January 1814)
flagicon|Switzerland Swiss Confederation
Confederation of the Rhine
(Many member states defected after Battle of Leipzig)
commander1=flagicon|Russian Empire Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly
flagicon|Russian Empire Mikhail Kutuzov
flagicon|Russian Empire Prince Wittgenstein
flagicon|Prussia|1803 Gebhard von Blücher
flagicon|Austrian Empire Karl Schwarzenberg
flagicon|Sweden Prince Charles John
commander2=flagicon|France Napoleon I
flagicon|France Nicolas Oudinot
flagicon|France Louis Nicolas Davout
flagicon|Napoleonic Italy Eugène de Beauharnais
flagicon|Poland|state Józef Poniatowski
flagicon|Two Sicilies|1811 Joachim Murat

In the War of the Sixth Coalition (1812–1814), a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and a number of German States finally defeated France and drove Napoleon Bonaparte into exile on Elba. After Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia, the continental powers joined Russia, Britain, and the rebels in Spain and Portugal. With their armies reorganized along more Napoleonic lines, they drove Napoleon out of Germany in 1813 and invaded France in 1814, forcing Napoleon to abdicate and restoring the Bourbons.

Two-and-a-half million troops fought in the conflict and the total dead amounted to as many as two million. (Some estimates suggest that over a million died in Russia alone.) The War of the Sixth Coalition included the battles of Smolensk, Borodino, Lützen, Bautzen, Dresden and the epic Battle of Leipzig (also known as the Battle of Nations), which was the largest battle of the Napoleonic wars, and, indeed, the largest in Western history prior to the First World War.

The final stage of the war, the defence of France, saw the French Emperor temporarily regain his former mastery; he repulsed vastly superior armies in the Six Days Campaign, which many believe to be the most brilliant feat of generalship of his illustrious career. Ultimately, Napoleon's earlier setbacks in Russia and Germany proved to be the seeds of his undoing, and the Allies occupied Paris, forcing his abdication.

Invasion of Russia

In 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia to compel Emperor Alexander I to remain in the Continental System. The "Grande Armée", consisting of 650,000 men (270,000 Frenchmen and many soldiers of allies or subject areas), crossed the Neman River on 23 June 1812. Russia proclaimed a Patriotic War, while Napoleon proclaimed a Second Polish war. But against the expectations of the Poles, who supplied almost 100,000 troops for the invasion force, and having in mind further negotiations with Russia, he avoided any concessions toward Poland. Russia was repeatedly forced to retreat until giving battle at Borodino (7 September) when the Russians stood, fought and indecisively defeated, thus opening the road to Moscow. By 14 September, Moscow was captured although, by this point, it had been largely abandoned by the Russians and the governor, Prince Rastopchin, ordered the city burnt to the ground) . Alexander I(despite having almost lost the war by the standards of the time) refused to capitulate and, with no sign of clear victory in sight, Napoleon was forced to withdraw from Moscow. So began the disastrous Great Retreat under continual attack by the Russian army. Total losses of the Grand Army were 370,000 casualties as a result of fighting, starvation and the freezing weather conditions, and 200,000 captured. By November, only 27,000 fit soldiers were among those who crossed the Berezina River. Napoleon now left his army to return to Paris and prepare a defence of Poland against the advancing Russians. The situation was not as dire as it might at first have seemed; the Russians had also lost around 400,000 men and their army was similarly depleted. However, they had the advantage of shorter supply lines and were able to replenish their armies with greater speed than the French, especially because Napoleon's losses of cavalry and wagons were irreplaceable.

War in Germany

Seeing an opportunity in Napoleon's historic defeat, Prussia re-entered the war. Napoleon vowed that he would create a new army as large as that he had sent into Russia, and quickly built up his forces in the east from 30,000 to 130,000 and eventually to 400,000. Napoleon inflicted 40,000 casualties on the Allies at Lützen (2 May) and Bautzen (20-21 May 1813). Both battles involved total forces of over 250,000 — making them some of the largest conflicts of the wars so far.

The belligerents declared an armistice from 4 June 1813 and lasting until 13 August, during which time both sides attempted to recover from approximately quarter of a million losses since April. During this time Allied negotiations finally brought Austria out in open opposition to France. Two principal Austrian armies were deployed, adding an additional 300,000 troops to the Allied armies in Germany. In total the Allies now had around 800,000 frontline troops in the German theatre with a strategic reserve of 350,000.

Napoleon succeeded in bringing the total imperial forces in the region up to around 650,000 (although only 250,000 were under his direct command, with another 120,000 under Nicolas Charles Oudinot and 30,000 under Davout). The Confederation of the Rhine furnished Napoleon with the bulk of the remainder of the forces with Saxony and Bavaria as principal contributors. In addition, to the south Murat's Kingdom of Naples and Eugène de Beauharnais's Kingdom of Italy had a combined total of 100,000 men under arms. In Spain an additional 150-200,000 French troops were being steadily beaten back by Spanish and British forces numbering around 150,000. Thus in total around 900,000 French troops were opposed in all theatres by somewhere around a million Allied troops (not including the strategic reserve being formed in Germany). The figures are however slightly misleading as most of the German troops fighting on the side of the French were unreliable at best and on the verge of defecting to the Allies. It is reasonable to say that Napoleon could count on no more than 450,000 troops in Germany. Thus he was effectively outnumbered by about two to one.

Following the end of the armistice Napoleon seemed to have regained the initiative at Dresden, where he defeated a numerically-superior allied army and inflicted enormous casualties, while sustaining relatively few. However the failures of his marshals and a slow resumption of the offensive on his part cost him any advantage that this victory might have secured him. At the Battle of Leipzig in Saxony (16 October–19 1813), also called the "Battle of the Nations", 191,000 French fought more than 450,000 Allies, and the French were defeated and forced to retreat into France.

Peninsular War

Meanwhile, Arthur Wellesley finally broke the French power in Spain and forced the French to retreat over the Pyrenees and into France itself. In a strategic move, Wellington planned to move his supply base from Lisbon to Santander. The Anglo-Portuguese forces swept northwards in late May and seized Burgos; they then outflanked the French army, forcing Joseph Bonaparte into the valley of the River Zadorra. At the Battle of Vitoria, 21 June, the 65,000 French under Joseph were routed by 53,000 British, 27,000 Portuguese and 19,000 Spaniards. Wellesley pursued and dislodged the French from San Sebastián, which was sacked and burnt.

The allies chased the retreating French, reaching the Pyrenees in early July. Soult was given command of the French forces and began a counter-offensive, dealing the allied generals two sharp defeats at the Battle of Maya and the Battle of Roncesvalles. Yet, he was severely repulsed by the Anglo-Portuguese, lost momentum, and finally fled after the allied victory at the Battle of Sorauren (28 July and 30 July).

This week of campaigning, called the Battle of the Pyrenees, is perhaps Wellington's finest. The adversaries' numbers were balanced, he was fighting very far from his supply line, and yet, he won by a mixture of manoeuvre, shock, and fire, seldom equalled in the war. It was mountain warfare and at this moment, Wellington qualified the Portuguese Army as "The fighting cocks of the (allied) Army".

On 7 October, after Wellington received news of the reopening of hostilities in Germany, the allies finally crossed into France, fording the Bidasoa river. On 11 December, a beleaguered and desperate Napoleon agreed to a separate peace with Spain under the Treaty of Valençay, under which he would release and recognize Ferdinand in exchange for a complete cessation of hostilities. But the Spanish had no intention of trusting Napoleon, and the fighting continued.

The Peninsular War went on through the allied victories of Vera pass, Battle of Nivelle, and the Battle of Nive near Bayonne (10 December–14 1813), the Battle of Orthez (27 February 1814) and the Battle of Toulouse (10 April). This last one was after Napoleon's abdication.

Napoleon later acknowledged that the invasion of Spain and subsequent Peninsular War was a decisive factor in his eventual demise from power.In Spain the French forces were harassed, hounded and repulsed constantly by a ruthless and merciless Spanish population.This guerrilla war played a large part in the disastrous Spanish campaign.The French forces, having to deal with this enemy, in-fighting among its marshallate, resistance from Spanish and Portuguese forces and the Duke of Wellington based in the Peninsula eventually had to retreat into France, culminating in the abdication of Napoleon and his banishment to the Isle of Elba.

Battles in 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. During this time Napoleon fought his Six Days Campaign, in which he won multiple battles against the enemy forces advancing towards Paris. However he never managed to field more than 70,000 troops during this entire campaign against more than half a million Allied troops. At the Treaty of Chaumont (9 March) the Allies agreed to preserve the Coalition until Napoleon's total defeat. The Allies entered Paris on 30 March 1814. Napoleon was determined to fight on, even now, incapable of fathoming his massive fall from power. During the campaign he had issued a decree for 900,000 fresh conscripts, but only a fraction of these were ever raised and Napoleon's increasingly unrealistic schemes for victory eventually gave way to the reality of the hopeless situation.


Napoleon proposed to march on Paris. His soldiers and regimental officers were eager to fight on. But Napoleon's marshals and senior officers mutinied. On 4 April, Napoleon was confronted by his marshals and senior officers, led by Ney. They told the Emperor that they refused to march. Napoleon asserted that the army would follow him. Ney replied, 'The army will follow its generals.' Napoleon abdicated on 6 April 1814. However, occasional military actions continued in Italy, Spain and Holland throughout the spring of 1814. The victors exiled Napoleon to the island of Elba, and restored the Bourbon monarchy in the person of Louis XVIII. The Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed and the Congress of Vienna was held to redraw the map of Europe.



*cite book |author=Rothenberg, Gunther Erich |title=The Napoleonic Wars |publisher=Cassell |location=London |year= |pages= |isbn=0-304-35983-1 |oclc= |doi=

External links

* [http://web2.airmail.net/napoleon/index.html Napoleon, His Armies and Tactics]
* [http://www.lexikus.de/index.php?PHPSESSID=fdmldjf2hu80lbmk50u3cjcga4&page=thema&thema=11 Collection of historical eBooks about the War of the Sixth Coalition (German)]

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