"All resources will be used to make the army ready for war." - Napoleon, 1813

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Battle of Dresden (26-27 August 1813)

From Wikipedia

The Battle of Dresden, fought on 26–27 August 1813, resulted in a French victory under Napoleon against forces of the Sixth Coalition of Austrians, Russians and Prussians under Field Marshal Schwartzenberg.

Prelude: On 16 August, Napoleon had sent Marshal Saint-Cyr's corps to fortify and hold Dresden in order to hinder allied movements and to serve as a possible base for his own manoeuvres.  He planned to strike against the interior lines of his enemies and defeat them in detail, before they could combine their full strength.  He had some 300,000 men 800 cannons against allied forces totaling over 450,000 and 1200 cannons.  But the Coalition avoided battle with Napoleon himself, choosing to attack his subordinate commanders instead according to the Trachenberg Plan.  On 23 August, at the Battle of Grossbeeren, south of Berlin, Crown Prince Charles of Sweden (formerly French Marshal Bernadotte, Napoleon's own Marshal) defeated his old comrade Marshal Oudinot.  Also on 26 August, Prussian Marshal Blücher defeated Marshal MacDonald at the Battle of Katzbach.

 French Emperor Napoleon and Austrian Field Marshal Schwartzenberg

From Historyofwar.org

The Battle of Bresden was the only French victory of the Leipzig campaign and Napoleon's last on German soil.  Marching against Napoleon the Allies had massed 80,000 men at the gates of Dresden by 25th 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 three 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.  The Allied commander Marshal Prince Karl Von Schwarzenberg would often have his hands tied during the campaign.

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 Napoleon attacked the now demoralized 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.


Further Reading and Resources:

The Battles of Dresden and Kulm 26-30 August 1813 by Martin Gibson

Napoleon, His Army, and Enemies - Battle of Dresden

Orders of Battle:  French OOB, Allied OOB
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3 comments:

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  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    ReplyDelete
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