War of the Sixth Coalition

In the War of the Sixth Coalition (March 1813 – May 1814), sometimes known in Germany as the War of Liberation, a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and a number of German States defeated France and drove Napoleon into exile on Elba. After the disastrous French invasion of Russia of 1812, the continental powers joined Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal and the rebels in Spain who were already at war with France.

War of the Sixth Coalition
Part of the Napoleonic Wars and the Coalition Wars

The Battle of Leipzig
Date3 March 1813 – 30 May 1814

Coalition victory, Treaty of Fontainebleau, Treaty of Kiel, First Treaty of Paris

Original coalition

After Battle of Leipzig

After January 1814

 French Empire

Until January 1814

Commanders and leaders
1813: 1,070,000 1813: 850,000
Casualties and losses


  • 391,000 killed and wounded
  • 135,000 captured and missing


  • 103,300 killed
  • 320,600 wounded
  • 245,000 captured and missing

The War of the Sixth Coalition saw major battles at Lützen, Bautzen, and Dresden. The even larger Battle of Leipzig (also known as the Battle of Nations) was the largest battle in European history before World War I. Ultimately, Napoleon's earlier setbacks in Russia and Germany proved to be the seeds of his undoing. With their armies reorganized, the allies drove Napoleon out of Germany in 1813 and invaded France in 1814. The Allies defeated the remaining French armies, occupied Paris, and forced Napoleon to abdicate and go into exile. The French monarchy was revived by the allies, who handed rule to the heir of the House of Bourbon in the Bourbon Restoration.

This was not, however, the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon subsequently escaped from his captivity and returned to power in France, sparking the War of the Seventh Coalition in 1815 (also known as the "Hundred Days"), until he was defeated again for the final time.

Invasion of Russia

In June 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia to compel Emperor Alexander I to remain in the Continental System. The Grande Armée, consisting of as many as 650,000 men (roughly half of whom were French, with the remainder coming from 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. Russian forces fell back, destroying everything potentially of use to the invaders until giving battle at Borodino (7 September) where the two armies fought a devastating battle. Despite the fact that France won a tactical victory, the battle was inconclusive. Following the battle the Russians withdrew, thus opening the road to Moscow. By 14 September, the French had occupied Moscow but found the city practically empty. Alexander I (despite having almost lost the war by Western European standards) refused to capitulate, leaving the French in the abandoned city of Moscow with little food or shelter (large parts of Moscow had burned down) and winter approaching. In these circumstances, and with no clear path to victory, Napoleon was forced to withdraw from Moscow.

So began the disastrous Great Retreat, during which the retreating army came under increasing pressure due to lack of food, desertions, and increasingly harsh winter weather, all while under continual attack by the Russian army led by Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov, and other militias. Total losses of the Grand Army were at least 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 re-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.

Formation of the Sixth Coalition

Russia, Britain and Sweden attempt an alliance

On 9 January 1812, French troops occupied Swedish Pomerania to end the illegal trade with the United Kingdom from Sweden, which was in violation of the Continental System. Swedish estates were confiscated and Swedish officers and soldiers were taken as prisoners. In response, Sweden declared neutrality and signed the secret Treaty of Saint Petersburg with Russia against France and Denmark–Norway on 5 April. On 18 July, the Treaty of Örebro formally ended the wars between Britain and Sweden and Britain and Russia, forming an alliance between Russia, Britain, and Sweden. However, when Napoleon marched on Moscow in June–September 1812, neither Britain nor Sweden was able to give any military support to Russia, which was left on its own. While the British and Swedes were not forthcoming with troops, Britain helped subsidize the Russian war effort while Swedish Crown Prince Charles John, formerly French Marshal Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, had struck up a friendship with Alexander, and gave him moral support, strategic and tactical advice on how to defeat the French, as well as valuable insights on Napoleon himself (having had much contact with Napoleon as a member of the extended Imperial Family), Russia essentially bore the brunt of the French onslaught alone.[3]

After the French Grande Armée retreated from Moscow on 18/19 October 1812 and suffered heavy casualties due to extreme cold, food shortages and repeated Russian attacks, Napoleon did not seem to be as invincible as before. On 14 December, the last French troops had left Russian soil, and Paris' allies were seriously considering rebellion and joining the Tsar's side.

Defection of Prussia

The Convention of Tauroggen was a truce signed 30 December 1812 at Tauroggen (now Tauragė, Lithuania), between Generalleutnant Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg on behalf of his Prussian troops (who had been compelled to augment the Grande Armée during the invasion of Russia), and by General Hans Karl von Diebitsch of the Russian Army. According to the Treaty of Tilsit (9 July 1807), Prussia had to support Napoleon's invasion of Russia. This resulted in some Prussians leaving their army to avoid serving the French, like Carl von Clausewitz, who joined Russian service. When Yorck's immediate French superior Marshal MacDonald, retreated before the corps of Diebitsch, Yorck found himself isolated. As a soldier his duty was to break through, but as a Prussian patriot his position was more difficult. He had to judge whether the moment was favorable for starting a war of liberation; and, whatever might be the enthusiasm of his junior staff-officers, Yorck had no illusions as to the safety of his own head, and negotiated with Clausewitz. The Convention of Tauroggen armistice, signed by Diebitsch and Yorck, "neutralized" the Prussian corps without consent of their king. The news was received with the wildest enthusiasm in Prussia, but the Prussian Court dared not yet throw off the mask, and an order was despatched suspending Yorck from his command pending a court-martial. Diebitsch refused to let the bearer pass through his lines, and the general was finally absolved when the Treaty of Kalisch (28 February 1813) definitely ranged Prussia on the side of the Allies.

Meanwhile, Austria's alliance with France ended in February 1813, and Austria then moved to a position of armed neutrality.[4] It would not declare war on France until half a year later, in August 1813.

Declarations of war

On 3 March 1813, after the United Kingdom agreed to Swedish claims to Norway, Sweden entered an alliance with the United Kingdom and declared war against France. On 17 March, King Frederick William III of Prussia published a call to arms to his subjects, An Mein Volk, and declared war on France as well. The first armed conflict occurred on 5 April in the Battle of Möckern, where combined Prusso-Russian forces defeated French troops.

Meanwhile, Napoleon withdrew some 20,000 troops from the ongoing Peninsular War to reinforce his position in Central Europe, which left his Iberian forces weakened and vulnerable to Anglo–Spanish–Portuguese attacks. On 17 March 1813, his brother King Joseph Bonaparte of Spain withdrew from Madrid, a clear sign of losing control. Wellington led a 123,000-strong army across northern Spain, taking Burgos in late May, and decisively defeating Jourdan at the Battle of Vitoria on 21 June. Marshal Soult failed to turn the tide in his large-scale Battle of the Pyrenees (25 July to 2 August).

In June, the United Kingdom formally entered the coalition.[5] Initially, Austria remained loyal to France, and foreign minister Metternich aimed to mediate a peace between France and its continental enemies, but it became apparent that the price was to be the dismantling of the Confederation of the Rhine and the return to France's pre-Revolutionary borders. Napoleon was not interested in any such compromise that would in effect end his empire, so Austria joined the allies and declared war on France in August 1813.

War in Germany

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 (near Leipzig, 2 May) and Bautzen (20–21 May 1813) but his army lost about the same number of men during those encounters. Both battles involved total forces of over 250,000 – making them among the largest battles of the Napoleonic Wars to that point in time.

The belligerents declared an armistice from 4 June 1813 which lasted 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 (like Prussia, Austria had moved from nominal ally of France in 1812 to armed neutral in 1813). Two principal Austrian armies deployed in Bohemia and Northern Italy, adding 300,000 troops to the Allied armies. 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).

During the armistice, three Allied sovereigns, Alexander of Russia, Frederick Wilhelm of Prussia, and Bernadotte of Sweden met at Trachenberg Castle in Silesia to coordinate the war effort. Allied staffs began creating a plan for the campaign wherein Bernadotte once again put to use his fifteen years of experience as a French general as well as his familiarity with Napoleon.[6] The result was the Trachenberg Plan, authored primarily by Bernadotte and the Austrian Chief of Staff, Field-Marshal Lieutenant Joseph Radetzky, that sought to wear down the French using a Fabian Strategy, avoiding direct combat with Napoleon, engaging and defeating his marshals whenever possible and slowly encircling the French with three independent armies until the French Emperor could be cornered and brought to battle against vastly superior numbers.[7][8] Following the conference, the Allies stood up their three armies: The Army of Silesia, with 95,000 Prussians and Russians, commanded by Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher, the Army of the North, 120,000 Swedes, Russians and Prussians under the independent command of Sweden's Crown Prince Bernadotte, and the primary Allied force in the field, with which the Allied sovereigns Alexander, Francis and Frederick William oversaw the Campaign, numbering 225,000 Austrians and Russians commanded by Prince Karl von Schwarzenberg.[9][10][11]

Following the end of the armistice, Napoleon seemed to have regained the initiative at Dresden (26–27 August 1813), 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 several defeats, first at the hands of Bernadotte's Army of the North, with Oudinot's thrust towards Berlin beaten back by the Prussians, at Großbeeren, followed by the Katzbach won by Blücher, and once again at the hands of Bernadotte's Prussians, aided by the Swedes, at Dennewitz.[12][13] Napoleon himself, lacking reliable and numerous cavalry, was unable to fully take advantage of his victory, and could not avoid the destruction of a whole army corps at the Battle of Kulm (29–30 August 1813), further weakening his army. He withdrew with around 175,000 troops to Leipzig in Saxony where he thought he could fight a defensive action against the Allied armies converging on him. There, at the so-called Battle of Nations (16–19 October 1813) a French army, ultimately reinforced to 191,000, found itself faced by three Allied armies converging on it, ultimately totalling more than 430,000 troops. Over the following days the battle resulted in a defeat for Napoleon, who however was still able to manage a relatively orderly retreat westwards. However, as the French forces were pulling across the White Elster, the bridge was prematurely blown and 30,000 troops were stranded to be taken prisoner by the Allied forces.

Napoleon defeated an army of his former ally Bavaria at the Battle of Hanau (30–31 October 1813) before pulling what was left of his forces back into France. Meanwhile, Davout's corps continued to hold out in its siege of Hamburg, where it became the last Imperial force east of the Rhine.

The Allies offered peace terms in the Frankfurt proposals in November 1813. Napoleon would remain as Emperor of France, but it would be reduced to its "natural frontiers". That meant that France could retain control of Belgium, Savoy and the Rhineland (the west bank of the Rhine River), while giving up control of all the rest, including all of Poland, Spain and the Netherlands, and most of Italy and Germany. Metternich told Napoleon these were the best terms the Allies were likely to offer; after further victories, the terms would be harsher and harsher. Metternich aimed to maintain France as a balance against Russian threats, while ending the highly destabilizing series of wars.[14]

Napoleon, expecting to win the war, delayed too long and lost this opportunity; by December the Allies had withdrawn the offer. When his back was to the wall in 1814 he tried to reopen peace negotiations on the basis of accepting the Frankfurt proposals. The Allies now had new, harsher terms that included the retreat of France to its 1791 boundaries, which meant the loss of Belgium and the Rhineland (in Germany). Napoleon adamantly refused.[15]

War in Denmark and Norway

Following the Battle of Leipzig, Bernadotte and his Army of the North parted ways with the rest of the Coalition armies, determined to see the guarantees over the Danish cession of Norway to Sweden enforced. In December 1813, Bernadotte's Army, now some 65,000, composed only of Swedish and Russian troops following the secondment of the Prussian troops to Blücher's army, attacked the Danish Army in Holstein.[16] In a lightning campaign of only two weeks the Swedes subdued the Danes. General Anders Skjöldebrand defeated the Danes at Bornhöved on 7 December 1813. Three days later, the Danish Auxiliary Corps scored a minor victory at Sehested.

However, while the Danish victory managed to ensure the retreat of the main Danish army from immediate destruction, and brought about a three-week armistice, it could not change the course of war. Following a break-down of negotiations, the armistice concluded and on January 14, 1814 Bernadotte invaded Schleswig, swiftly invested and reduced its fortresses and occupied the entire province. The Danes, heavily outnumbered, could not prevent an Allied advance on Jutland or Copenhagen, and sued for peace. It would be the final chapter in the long and bloody history of conflicts between Sweden and Denmark with the former definitively victorious.[17]

On 14 January 1814, the Treaty of Kiel was concluded between Sweden and Denmark–Norway. By the terms of the treaty, Norway was to be ceded to the King of Sweden. However, the Norwegians rejected this, declaring independence and adopting their own constitution on 17 May. On 27 July, Bernadotte and his Swedish forces (the Russians parted ways after the Danish Campaign) invaded Norway with 70,000 well-trained, well-equipped men, many of whom were veterans of the Leipzig Campaign. Facing them were 30,000 Norwegian militia, who were short on equipment and training but full of patriotic ardor and acquitted themselves well in the face of overwhelming odds. [18] Following a short war, where the Norwegians fought well, winning battles at Lier and Matrand, but could not stop the Swedes from advancing, an armistice (the Convention of Moss) was concluded on 14 August. The terms of Union were generous to the Norwegians as Bernadotte and the Swedes had no wish to inaugurate the union of Sweden and Norway with further bloodshed.[19][20] Norway agreed to enter into a personal union with Sweden as a separate state with its own constitution and institutions, except for the common king and foreign service. The Union between Sweden and Norway was formally established on 4 November 1814, when the Parliament of Norway adopted the necessary constitutional amendments, and elected Charles XIII of Sweden as King of Norway.

With his primary goal of detaching Norway from Denmark and binding it with Sweden achieved, Bernadotte and his Army of the North played no further major role in the war against the French beyond occupying the Low Countries and masking the French forces still garrisoned in Fortresses throughout northern Germany.[21]

Peninsular War

While events unfolded in the East, the Peninsular War in Iberia continued to be Napoleon's "Spanish ulcer" tying down hundreds of thousands of French soldiers.[22] In 1813, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, finally broke the French power in Spain and forced the French to retreat. 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. Wellington 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. Marshal 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 put again onto the defensive by the British army and its Portuguese allies, lost momentum, and finally fled after the allied victory at the Battle of Sorauren (28 and 30 July).

In the Battle of the Pyrenees Wellington fought far from his supply line but won with a mixture of manoeuvre, shock and persistent hounding of the French forces.

On 7 October, after Wellington received news of the reopening of hostilities in Germany, the Coalition 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 VII as King of Spain in exchange for a complete cessation of hostilities. But the Spanish had no intention of trusting Napoleon, and the fighting continued on into France.

War in France

During the last months of 1813 and into 1814 Wellington led the Peninsular army into south-west France and fought a number of battles against Marshals Soult and Suchet. The Peninsular army gained victories at Vera pass, the Battle of Nivelle, the Battle of Nive near Bayonne (10–14 December 1813), the Battle of Orthez (27 February 1814) and the Battle of Toulouse (10 April).[23][note 2]

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 had issued a decree for 900,000 fresh conscripts, but only a fraction of these were ever raised. In early February Napoleon fought his Six Days' Campaign, in which he won multiple battles against numerically superior enemy forces marching on Paris.[25] However, he fielded less than 80,000 soldiers during this entire campaign against a Coalition force of between 370,000 and 405,000 engaged in the campaign.[25][note 3] 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 after a short battle.

Abdication and peace

Napoleon was determined to fight on, proposing 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 chiefs".

Napoleon abdicated on 11 April 1814 and the war officially ended soon after, although some fighting continued until May. The Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed on 11 April 1814 between the continental powers and Napoleon, followed by the Treaty of Paris on 30 May 1814 between France and the Great Powers including Britain. The victors exiled Napoleon to the island of Elba, and restored the Bourbon monarchy in the person of Louis XVIII. The Allied leaders attended Peace Celebrations in England in June, before progressing to the Congress of Vienna (between September 1814 and June 1815), which was held to redraw the map of Europe.

See also


  1. Duchy of Warsaw as a state was in effect fully occupied by Russian and Prussian forces by May 1813, though most Poles remained loyal to Napoleon
  2. There was one last bloody engagement in south-west France, when. under the orders of Thouvenot, the French sortied from Toulouse and fought the Battle of Bayonne (14 April 1814).[24]
  3. Hodgson gives no size for the Army of the North but estimates the Austrian Grand Army have 10,000 and the Army of Silesia 25,000 more men than Maud.[26]



  1. Bodart 1916, p. 46.
  2. Bodart 1916, pp. 130–131.
  3. Barton, D. Plunkett (1925) Pp. 44-47.
  4. Palmer, Alan (1972). Metternich: Councillor of Europe (1997 reprint ed.), p. 86–92. London: Orion. ISBN 978-1-85799-868-9.
  5. Merriman 1996, p. 579.
  6. Barton, D. Plunket (1925). Page 74.
  7. Ibid, 74-77.
  8. Leggiere, Michael V (2015). Pp. 52-55.
  9. Barton D. Plunket (1925). Pp 76-77
  10. Chandler, David G. (1966). Pp. 900-901
  11. Leggiere, Michael V (2015). Pp. 52-53.
  12. Barton, D. Plunket (1925). Pp. 89-92
  13. Leggiere, Michael V (2015). Pp. 8-10
  14. Riley 2013, p. 206.
  15. Ross 1969, pp. 342–344.
  16. Barton, D. Plunket (1925). Pp.113-116
  17. Ibid, Pp. 114-117
  18. Scott, Franklin D (1988) Pp. 313-314.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Barton, D. Plunket (1925). Pp. 136-137
  21. Barton, D. Plunket (1925). Pp. 115-116.
  22. "Spanish Ulcer" Ellis 2014, p. 100 cites Owen Connelly (ed), "peninsular War", Historical Dictionary, p. 387.
  23. Robinson 1911, pp. 95–97.
  24. Robinson 1911, p. 97.
  25. Maude 1911, p. 232.
  26. Hodgson 1841, p. 504.


  • Barton, Sir D. Plunket (1925). Bernadotte: Prince and King 1810-1844. John Murray.
  • Bodart, G. (1916). Losses of Life in Modern Wars, Austria-Hungary; France. ISBN 978-1371465520.
  • Chandler, David G. (1966). The Campaigns of Napoleon Vol. II. Macmillan.
  • Ellis, Geoffrey (2014), Napoleon: Profiles In Power, Routledge, p. 100, ISBN 9781317874706
  • Hodgson, William (1841), The life of Napoleon Bonaparte, once Emperor of the French, who died in exile, at St. Helena, after a captivity of six years' duration, Orlando Hodgson
  • Leggiere, Michael V. (2015). Napoleon and the Struggle for Germany Vol. II. Cambridge. ISBN 9781107080546.
  • Merriman, John (1996), A History of Modern Europe, W.W. Norton Company, p. 579
  • Maude, Frederic Natusch (1911), "Napoleonic Campaigns" , in Chisholm, Hugh (ed.), Encyclopædia Britannica, 19 (11th ed.), Cambridge University Press, pp. 212–236
  • Riley, J. P. (2013), Napoleon and the World War of 1813: Lessons in Coalition Warfighting, Routledge, p. 206
  • Robinson, Charles Walker (1911), "Peninsular War" , in Chisholm, Hugh (ed.), Encyclopædia Britannica, 21 (11th ed.), Cambridge University Press, pp. 90–98
  • Ross, Stephen T. (1969), European Diplomatic History 1789–1815: France against Europe, pp. 342–344

Further reading

  • Cate, Curtis (1985), The War of the Two Emperors: The Duel Between Napoleon and Alexander: Russia, 1812, Random house
  • Delderfield, Ronald Frederick (1984), Imperial sunset: The fall of Napoleon, 1813–14, Stein and Day
  • Leggiere, Michael V. (2007), The Fall of Napoleon: Volume 1, The Allied Invasion of France, 1813–1814, 1, Cambridge University Press
  • Lüke, Martina (2009), "Anti-Napoleonic Wars of Liberation (1813–1815)", in Ness, Immanuel (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest: 1500–present, Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 188–190, ISBN 9781405184649
  • Muir, Rory (1996), Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon, 1807–1815, Yale University Press
  • Riehn, Richard K (1990), 1812: Napoleon's Russian campaign
  • Rothenberg, Gunther Erich (1999), The Napoleonic Wars, London: Cassell, ISBN 0304359831
  • Riley, Jonathon P. (2009), Napoleon and the world war of 1813: lessons in coalition warfighting, Psychology Press
  • Spring, Lawrence (2009), 1812: Russia's Patriotic War
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.