Defence of France & Six Days Campaign (1814)

In January 1814 the French army was again on home soil after the defeats of 1812 and 1813. 73,000 men were lost as a direct result of Leipzig and Napoleon was obliged to leave another 100,000 troops in garrisons in Germany. The classes of 1812 to 1815 were called up, theoretically producing 936,000 conscripts but evasions and lack of weapons meant only 310,000 raw untrained recruits joined the colours.

French conscript arrested

Prince Eugene was reluctant to release troops from Italy as many were Piedmontese who, it was feared, would desert if ordered north. 100,000 were facing Wellington in northern Spain and this line was under pressure also but despite this 25,000 men and 58 guns were sent to Paris on Napoleon’s demand.

In early January the French field armies mustered only 70,000 men. These faced 245,000 front line allied troops. In April this number was swelled (including depots, garrisons and line of communication troops) to 887,000.

Both side’s aim in 1814 was Paris, the one to defend it, the other to capture it. However the Allies disharmonious policies meant all was not well with their plan of campaign. Britain was fully committed to forcing the Pyrenees this year and could apply no pressure elsewhere. The Russian Czar had his eye on the fall of Paris in revenge for the loss of Moscow in 1812 although his subordinates informed him that Mother Russia was now safe from further direct attack and she had given more than her share of lives and resources. Any more waste would be purely for the benefit of Austria, Prussia and Britain.

The Austrian Emperor, advised by Metternich, was prepared to offer Napoleon terms. Most of Austria’s territory was recovered and she was wary of seeing any increase in power and influence of her old adversaries Prussia and Russia.

The Prussian King was under the thrall of the Czar and wanted to agree his plans, but, following 1806 (and for historical reasons) his people harboured a violent hatred of France and Napoleon in particular. His advisors emphasized that for the safety of his crown, the total destruction of Napoleon was essential.

While the talking continued, Napoleon worked like a demon to build up France’s defences.

The Six Days Campaign (10 February – 14 February 1814) was a final series of victories by the forces of Napoleon as the Sixth Coalition closed in 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 commanded by Field Marshal Prince von Blücher and Field Marshal Prince zu Schwarzenberg amongst others.

The Six Days Campaign was fought from 10 February to 14 February during which time he inflicted four major defeats on Blücher’s army in the Battle of Champaubert, the Battle of Montmirail, the Battle of Château-Thierry, and the Battle of Vauchamps. Napoleon managed to inflict 17,750 casualties on Blücher’s force of 120,000 with his 30,000-man army, leading later historians and enthusiasts to claim that the Six Days was the Emperor’s finest campaign.

  • Battle of Champaubert (10 February 1814) – 4,000 Russian casualties and Russian General Olsufiev taken prisoner, to approximately 200 French casualties
  • Battle of Montmirail (11 February 1814) – 4,000 Allied casualties, to 2,000 French casualties
  • Battle of Château-Thierry (12 February 1814) – 1,250 Prussian, 1,500 Russian casualties and nine cannons lost, to approximately 600 French casualties.
  • Battle of Vauchamps (14 February 1814) – 14,000Prussian casualties and 16 cannons lost, to approximately 600 French casualties.

However, the Emperor’s victories were not significant enough to make any changes to the overall strategic picture, and Schwarzenberg’s larger army still threatened Paris, which eventually fell in late March.

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