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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Narrowly escaped capture Schwarzenberg


The

month of September opened with another Prussian victory. On the 6th, Buelow defeated Ney at Dennewitz, taking 15,000 prisoners and 80 cannon. This change of fortune seems to have bewildered Napoleon: instead of his former promptness and rapidity, he spent a month in Dresden, alternately trying to entice Bluecher or Schwarzenberg to give battle. The latter two, meanwhile, were gradually drawing nearer to each other and to Bernadotte, and their final junction was effected without any serious movement to prevent it on Napoleon's part. Bluecher's passage of the Elbe on the 3d of October compelled him to leave Dresden with his army and take up a new position in Leipzig, where he arrived on the 13th. The Allies instantly closed in upon him: there was a fierce but indecisive cavalry fight on the 14th, the 15th was spent in preparations on both sides, and on the 16th the great battle began.

Napoleon had about 190,000 men, the Allies 300,000: both were posted along lines many miles in extent, stretching over the open plain, from the north and east around to the south of Leipzig. The first day's fight really comprised three distinct battles, two of which were won by the French and one by Bluecher. During the afternoon a terrific charge of cavalry under Murat broke the centre of the Allies, and Frederick William and Alexander I. narrowly escaped capture: Schwarzenberg, at the head of a body of Cossacks and Austrian hussars, repulsed the charge, and night

came without any positive result. Napoleon sent offers of peace, but they were not answered, and the Allies thereby gained a day for reinforcements. On the morning of the 18th the battle was resumed: all day long the earth trembled under the discharge of more than a thousand cannon, the flames of nine or ten burning villages heated the air, and from dawn until sunset the immense hosts carried on a number of separate and desperate battles at different points along the line. Napoleon had his station on a mound near a windmill: his centre held its position, in spite of terrible losses, but both his wings were driven back. Bernadotte did not appear on the field until four in the afternoon, but about 4,000 Saxons and other Germans went over from the French to the Allies during the day, and the demoralizing effect of this desertion probably influenced Napoleon quite as much as his material losses. He gave orders for an instant retreat, which was commenced on the night of the 18th. His army was reduced to 100,000 men: the Allies had lost, in killed and wounded, about 50,000.

[Sidenote: 1813. THE BATTLE OF LEIPZIG.]

All Germany was electrified by this victory; from the Baltic to the Alps, the land rang with rejoicings. The people considered, and justly so, that they had won this great battle: the reigning princes, as later events proved, held a different opinion. But, from that day to this, it is called in Germany "the Battle of the Peoples": it was as crushing a blow for France as Jena had been to Prussia or Austerlitz to Austria. On the morning of the 19th of October the Allies began a storm upon Leipzig, which was still held by Marshal Macdonald and Prince Poniatowsky to cover Napoleon's retreat. By noon the city was entered at several gates; the French, in their haste, blew up the bridge over the Elster river before a great part of their own troops had crossed, and Poniatowsky, with hundreds of others, was drowned in attempting to escape. Among the prisoners was the king of Saxony, who had stood by Napoleon until the last moment. In the afternoon Alexander I. and Frederick William entered Leipzig, and were received as deliverers by the people.

The two monarchs, nevertheless, owed their success entirely to the devotion of the German people, and not at all to their own energy and military talent. In spite of the great forces still at their disposal, they interfered with the plans of Bluecher and other generals who insisted on a rapid and vigorous pursuit, and were at any time ready to accept peace on terms which would have ruined Germany, if Napoleon had not been insane enough to reject them. The latter continued his march towards France, by way of Naumburg, Erfurt and Fulda, losing thousands by desertion and disease, but without any serious interference until he reached Hanau, near Frankfort. At almost the last moment (October 14), Maximilian I. of Bavaria had deserted France and joined the Allies: one of his generals, Wrede, with about 55,000 Bavarians and Austrians, marched northward, and at Hanau intercepted the French. Napoleon, not caring to engage in a battle, contented himself with cutting his way through Wrede's army, on the 25th of October. He crossed the Rhine and reached France with less than 70,000 men, without encountering further resistance.


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