The Six Days Campaign (10–14 February 1814) was a final series of victories by the forces of Napoleon I of France 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 15 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 historians and enthusiasts to claim that the Six Days was the Emperor's finest campaign.
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.
Battle of ChampaubertEdit
The Battle of Champaubert (now Giffaumont-Champaubert) was the opening engagement of the Six Days Campaign. It was fought on February 10, 1814 by a French force under Napoleon I against Russians and Prussians under General Olssufiev. The battle was a French victory. The battle of Champaubert was one of the few times during the War of the Sixth Coalition that France was able to take to the field with a considerable numerical advantage.
Napoleon Bonaparte moved against an over-extended Prussian army in the hope of whittling it down by a series of battles. On 10 February, he caught General Olssufiev's five thousand Russians just south of Champaubert, a town located in the valley of the Marne, east of Paris. French strength consisted of 30,000 hungry and tired men, including many raw conscripts, and 120 cannons. The French, nonetheless, enjoyed a six-to-one advantage. They were commanded in the field by the marshal, Auguste Marmont, under the direction of Napoleon himself.
Badly outnumbered, Olssufiev decided to fight rather than retreat. His decision was based on the mistaken hope that he would get reinforcements from Field Marshal Blücher in time to prevent a disaster. He was wrong, and Marmont crushed him. After five hours of fighting, the Russians were surrounded by French cavalry. They suffered three thousand killed, wounded, and captured. One of the prisoners was Olsufiev himself, who dined that very evening with Napoleon.
The French lost about three hundred men, among whom was General Joseph Lagrange, wounded. Historian Digby Smith wrote that the French lost 600 killed and wounded out of the 13,300 infantry and 1,700 cavalry that were engaged in the action. The Russians lost 2,400 men and nine guns out of the 3,700 soldiers and 24 guns that were present. Captured were General-Leutnant Olssufiev and General-major Poltaratzky, who led a brigade. The second brigade under General-major Kornieloff fought its way out.
Battle of MontmirailEdit
The Battle of Montmirail was a battle fought near Montmirail. It was fought on 11 February 1814 and resulted in the victory of the French under Emperor Napoleon I over the Russians under General Fabian Wilhelm von Osten-Sacken and the Prussians under General Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg. Osten-Sacken's and Yorck's corps each numbered about 18,000, while Napoleon’s had 10,500 (later brought up to 20,000 by arrival of reinforcements) and 36 cannons.
Striking rapidly from the south at Champaubert, Napoleon tore into the center of Blücher’s strung out column as it was pushing west to Paris in pursuit of French Marshal MacDonald. From the central position, the French then drove west with the only available troops, the Old Guard and a division of the "Marie Louise" (young conscripts from the classes of 1814 and 1815, called up in anticipation the previous year), in hopes of smashing Blucher’s leading elements (Sacken and Yorck) in isolation and with their backs to the French held bridges over the Marne. Sacken turned in response to the French maneuver, seeing so few French behind him, and sought to cut his way back to Blücher through Montmirail while Yorck advocated fleeing north through Chateau Thierry. Seeing that he could not dissuade the Russian from his aggression, Yorck marched to his aid. The Allies suffered 4,000 casualties, while the French suffered 2,000 casualties. Eduard Vogel von Falckenstein participated in the battle as a volunteer Jäger.
Battle of Château-ThierryEdit
The Battle of Château-Thierry occurred on 12 February 1814 between a Prussian army under Marshal von Blücher and the French under Emperor Napoleon I. After winning a series of impressive tactical victories, Napoleon sought to deal what he hoped would be a final blow to the Prussians and end their participation in the Sixth Coalition against him. He caught the Prussian rearguard under General Yorck on the Marne River near Château-Thierry. Sending Marshal Ney to lead the attack, the French broke into Blücher's ranks, inflicting heavy losses. Their attack was only stopped by some fortuitously placed Prussian batteries, allowing Yorck to withdraw in good order without suffering a rout. The Prussians had 1,250 casualties, the Russians 1,500, and the French 600. The French also captured nine cannons and much baggage and transport.
Battle of VauchampsEdit
On 13 February, having fought three successful actions in three days against the Prussian and Russian army at Champaubert, Montmirail and Château-Thierry, Napoleon was pursuing the defeated enemy. After his consecutive defeats, Field-marshal Blücher decided to disengage from Napoleon and move a significant force against the isolated French Army Corps of Marshal Marmont, at Étoges. Blücher knew that Marmont's Corps was weak and his plan was to destroy it and thus fall upon the rear of Napoleon's main force.
Still in pursuit of the debris of the enemy force, late on 13 February, Napoleon received reports that Marmont's Corps had been attacked and pushed out of his position at Étoges. The Emperor deduced that the enemy force before him would have to be a much reduced one and promptly decided to go to Marmont's aid. The Emperor left Château-Thierry on 14 February, towards 3 o'clock in the morning, leaving a small portion of his forces with Marshal Mortier, with orders to continue the pursuit of the enemy. Taking with him the cavalry of the Guard and Grouchy's Cavalry Reserve, Napoleon headed for the village of Vauchamps.
Meanwhile, late on 13 Fabruary, having successfully regrouped what forces he could muster at Bergères-lès-Vertus, Blücher had launched an attack against Marmont's single division, pushing him out of Étoges and advancing as planned towards Champaubert and Fromentières, in the rear of Napoleon's force. However, having read Blücher's intentions, Napoleon had given orders for a concentration of French forces in that very sector.
Having begun to push back the feeble French forces from Marmont's VI's Corps the day before, Blücher occupied Champaubert early on 14 February, sending his vanguard forward, as far as the village of Fromentières and then Vauchamps. Marmont, commanding only the Lagrange division and 800 men from the Ricard division, had cautiously pulled his men back towards Montmirail, where he began to receive reinforcements. Towards 9 o'clock in the morning, Blücher set Zieten's brigade and some cavalry in motion from Vauchamps towards Montmirail. To their surprise, Marmont's men didn't give ground this time and vigorously counterattacked, pushing Zieten's advance guard back into the village of Vauchamps. The accompanying Prussian cavalry was dispersed by a violent French cannonade. With now both brigades of Ricard's division available, Marmont launched these men against the Prussian position at Vauchamps, with the 1st brigade on his right, advancing under the cover of the Beaumont forest, south of the Montmirail-Vauchamps road and the 2nd brigade on his left, north of the road, advancing frontally towards the position. Marmont also had with him his own escort cavalry squadron and four élite Imperial Guard duty squadrons from the Emperor's own escort, under general Lion. Marmont's leftmost brigade entered Vauchamps, but, with the village heavily invested with Zieten's Prussian defenders, the Frenchmen were soon repulsed, with the enemy in pursuit. Marshal Marmont then launched his five squadrons to the rescue and the cavalry promptly forced the Prussians back to the village, with one of their battalions taken prisoner, after taking refuge in an isolated farm.
Zieten then decided to pull back his forces towards the village of Fromentières. There, Zieten was joined by Generals Kleist and Kapsevitch, who, having heard the sound of the guns, had begun to move their respective Army Corps in that direction, coming from Champaubert. The French also moved forward, with Marmont's two divisions (Lagrange and Ricard) in pursuit of Zieten, along the road to Fromentières. Marmont was now supported on his left by General Grouchy, who had just arrived on the field of battle with the divisions of Saint-Germain and Doumerc, moving past the village of Janvilliers, in order to cut off Zieten's retreat. Further French reinforcements were now available, this time on Marmont's righ: the division of Leval, who had been steadily moving up the valley of the Petit Morin river, in a bid to outflank the Prussians. With the French Imperial Guard artillery now also deployed and firing at them, Zieten's Prussians drew back in good order, formed in squares to fend off Grouchy's cavalry. Towards 2 o'clock in the afternoon, after assessing the situation, Blücher realised that he was facing Napoleon himself and thus decided to immediately withdraw. He ordered all of his forces to retreat through Champaubert and directed a part of his artillery to safety, towards Étoges.
With the Coalition forces now in full retreat, Marmont received orders to aggressively pursue the enemy, knowing that he could count on his two infantry divisions, plus that of Leval, as well as on the support of General Drouot's Guard artillery, on Nansouty's Guard cavalry on his right and on Grouchy's two cavalry divisions on his left. Following Marmont at a short distance were further reinforcements, two Guard infantry divisions (Friant and Curial) under the command of Marshal Ney and with them was Napoleon himself. Napoleon was followed by an additional "Young Guard" division, under General Meunier, which the Emperor had taken with him when he left Château-Thierry early that morning.
The French cavalry had been hindered in its movements by the broken terrain and thus far unable to really bother Zieten's infantry squares. Consequently, Blücher was able to lead an exemplary retreat up to Fromentières and Janvilliers. However, once past these villages, the terrain became flat and even, proper for cavalry action, and now, with the increasingly aggressive action of the enemy cavalry against his flank and rear, Zieten and his brigade became increasingly isolated. Grouchy, with the divisions of Doumerc and Saint-Germain was now boldly menacing Zieten's right, while on his left, the Prussian general saw Nansouty's Guard cavalry (Laferrière-Levesque's division, plus the four service squadrons, under Lefebvre-Desnouettes). Zieten's brigade was finally cut off from the rest of the army and charged violently by Grouchy's cuirassiers, who broke the infantry squares and took no less than 2,000 prisoners, with the rest of the brigade routed.
Abandoning his position at Fromentières, where Marmont's infantry had just begun to irrupt, Blücher ordered the continuation of the retreat towards Champaubert and Étoges, with Kleist's Corps on the left, south of the road and Kapsevitch's Corps on the right, north of the road. Again taking advantage from the flat terrain, Grouchy was able to advance rapidly and fall onto the rear of the Coalition infantry squares, which were now slowly withdrawing in echelon and efficiently using the terrain to take shelter from the artillery bombardment. With night approaching and their retreat towards Étoges now barred by enemy cavalry, the Prussian squares began to lose cohesion. Spotting this weakness, Grouchy, who had been reinforced by Bordesoulle's division, energetically launched his three divisions against the Coalition squares, dispersing a number of them, with these men disorderly fleeing to take refuge in the Étoges forest. The old Blücher, who had been bravely exposing himself to great danger, in order to boost the morale his men, was almost taken prisoner, together with his Chief of Staff, Gneisenau, Generals Kleist, Kapsevitch and Prince Augustus of Prussia.
Only just escaping capture, Blücher crossed the forest of Vertus and took up positions at Étoges with Prince Urusov's division, which had been left there in reserve. Russian General Udom, with 1,800 men and 15 cannon, was instructed to cover the position, by occupying the park at Étoges. Udom's men were exhausted after the long retreat and fighting and, seeing that night had fallen, thought themselves in safety. However, Doumerc's cuirassiers, formed unseen in the night, surprised these men and a single charge was enough to send the panicked men fleeing. Prince Urusov, 600 men and eight artillery pieces were captured during this action, with the French sailors' regiment from Lagrange's division subsequently entering the village of Étoges. Blücher abandoned this position too and made a hasty retreat towards Vertus and Bergères. He then opted for a speedy night march and the next day he managed to bring his remaining men to Châlons, where he was joined by the Corps of York and Sacken.
The battle was actually no more than a very long cavalry pursuit and was a very costly defeat for Blücher's "Army of Silesia", which lost as much as 10,000 men, during this day. French author Jean-Pierre Mir states that the Prussian Corps of Kleist had 3,500 men out of action (killed, wounded and missing), as well as 2,000 prisoners. According to this author, the Russian Corps had around 3,500 men, killed, wounded or missing and also lost 15 cannons and 10 flags. Historian Alain Pigeard places overall losses of the Army of Silesia throughout this day between 9,000 and 10,000 men but the detail of these losses seems to suggest lighter casualties. Pigeard speaks of only 1,250 men killed, wounded or missing and 2,000 prisoners for the Prussians, and of 2,000 men lost for the Russians. Since Pigeard asserts that these casualties occurred during the pursuit, it is possible that these figures do not take into account the casualties incurred during the initial actions of this battle (one battalion of Zieten's brigade captured, plus the 2,000 prisoners taken during Grouchy's and Nansouty's joint action against Zieten). According to Pigeard, the French registered very light casualties of around 600 men.
Military Historian Jacques Garnier, analysing the battle in Jean Tulard's Dictionnaire Napoléon, notes that only the muddy, sodden ground, hampering an efficient deployment of the French artillery and infantry, prevented a much more emphatic victory. He also notes that after Vauchamps, Napoleon was able to safely turn south and fall upon the "Army of Bohemia", commanded by Prince of Schwarzenberg.
Abdication and peaceEdit
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.