26-27 August, 1813

The Napoleonic Guide's Suggested Tours

Following the battles of Lutzen and Bautzen, Napoleon Bonaparte - needing to reorganise and resupply his armies - accepted a 10-week truce from the Allies.

The decision was a poor one as the Allied powers - Austria, Russia and Prussia - had more available manpower and finished the truce period far stronger than they had been.

The French now found themselves facing an enemy of well over 400,000 men.

In the north, former marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte had 100,000 troops, Field Marshal Gebhard Blucher commanded a similar size army in the south-east and General Schwarzenberg had 240,000 men approaching from the south.

One of the key cities for the campaign was Dresden - the capital of Saxony - and now the opposing forces moved to occupy it first. As it happened, Marshal Gouvion St Cyr and a corps of 20,000 got there before the other forces.

The marshal found the city was poorly fortified and the French worked feverishly to improve the position. Within a day, however, the defences were to be tested by some 160,000 enemy troops.

At dawn on 26 August, Schwarzenberg sent his army against St Cyr's men but, fortunately for the French, the attacks were poorly coordinated and were not pressed home to take advantage of the seven-to-one odds.

The French fought hard and gave ground reluctantly. With casualties mounting quickly, the Allies hesitated and during the lull in fighting Bonaparte arrived at the head of more than 50,000 men.

Confusion now swept the Allied high command and while it decided to withdraw - the policy being not to take on the French emperor himself - the field commanders sent in another series of attacks against Dresden.

After a solid day's fighting, St Cyr's exhausted men found the renewed Allies push too much to withstand and they fell back from key positions. However, Bonaparte was on hand and sent his fresh Imperial Guard on to the attack. Within five hours, they had retaken all the positions lost during the day of fighting.

With reinforcements arriving throughout the stormy night, dawn saw Bonaparte with up to some 150,000 to send against the Allies.

Pinning them in the centre, the French emperor then threw considerable forces, some 35,000 men, against each Allied wing.

On the Allied right, Marshal Mortier smashed through and turned the flank, while at the other end of the enemy line Marshal Murat was even more damaging - killing, capturing or routing 24,000 enemy troops.

Nightfall saw the Allies decide to withdraw, leaving behind some 40,000 casualties - including General Jean Moreau who was killed by a cannonball. The French suffered some 10,000 dead and injured.


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