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Battle of Champaubert

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Battle of Champaubert
Gardes d' Honneur salute Napoleon at Champaubert
The Gardes d'Honneur salute Napoleon at Champaubert
Information
Location Champaubert
Date 10 February 1814
War War of the Sixth Coalition; 1814 Campaign in France
Outcome French victory
Belligerents
France French Empire
Commanders
Napoleon I
Strength
About 30,000
About 5,000
Casualties
About 300
About 3,000


The Battle of Champaubert was fought on the 10th of February 1814, between Russian General Olsufiev's corps and French Emperor Napoleon's 30,000 men. The French victory in which the Russian corps was annihilated did much to restore battered French morale and marked the beginning of a series of stunning victories for Napoleon which would be dubbed "The Six Days' Campaign of 1814."

Prelude

Evening Battle of Champaubert
Napoleon before the Battle of Champaubert

The Allies, and Blucher especially so were exultant with their victory over Napoleon at the Battle of La-Rothière. With their wild upward swing of morale now in full flow, the Prussian's were convinced the end of the war was now in sight. Schwarzenberg on the other hand was not so sure and was far less exuberant. His master, the Emperor of Austria was not so keen to see the French Emperor's downfall for he desired to retain a strong son in law within France to counteract the territorial ambitions of both Prussia and Russia. As a consequence, Schwarzenberg in opposite contrast to Blucher, was prepared to march on Paris almost leisurely for political reasons, but also because he feared still Napoleon's military reputation. Blucher, straining at the leash was eager to set of for Paris at once, galvanised by his victory and his hatred of the French. Despite the differences between the two camps, the Allies were able to agree upon a plan to exploit their victory at La-Rothiere: Schwarzenberg would advance to Paris along the Seine by way of Troyes; Blucher would march via Chalons and Meaux along the Marne. Thus both allied armies would march separately to unite before Paris.

Napoleon had halted his footsore and weary troops at Troyes. With the winds of defeatism now blowing across France, the local inhabitants had bolted all their doors against his men. No one had welcomed him. With this cold reception, Napoleon was apalled. Did they think he had forgotten his trade? Did they believe he was finished then? he asked himself. Napoleon for one was determined to turn the campaign around, but first he must restore confidence to his battered troops and obtain reinforcements, ammunition and supplies of all kinds.

Schwarzenberg advancing with slow caution with his Army of Bohemia received a sharp slap from a strong reconnaisance drive from Mortier coming out from Troyes. Together with the news that Marshal Augereau was planning a blow against his communications, suggested to the Austrian commander in Chief that Napoleon was far from a spent force. Subsequently, he began to edge Wittgenstien's corps and Cossacks southwards to allay his own insecurities, for he was convinced Napoleon himself was due to attack in force. Blucher meanwhile, heedless of the widening gap between the two armies this caused, continued to race impetuously ahead, impatient to reach the French capital. Unwittingly, by separating, they were playing straight into Napoleon's hands.

Watching the developments with interest, Napoleon played a waiting game, but it was obvious to himself that Blucher's Army of Silesia would have to be dealt with first, for his rapid thrust was threatening the capital. Already reports were reaching him of the distressing state of affairs within the capital, with panic and hysteria at Bluchers approach . Worse news filtered through; The Allies had taken Brussels and Antwerp was isolated. Worse still, His Brother in Law, Marshal Murat had defected to the Allies. Murat, to whom he had given his sister and the throne of Naples. Feeling betrayed and hurt by Murat's treachery, Caulaincourt then informed him that the Allies were prepared only to offer France the frontiers of 1792 as any peace settlement. For twenty fours hours afterwards, Napoleon retired into a downcast state, but he returned full of fire and resolve to continue the struggle and to move against Blucher, who in his audacious haste to reach Paris had allowed his army to become dangerously strung out and isolated.

It was a golden opportunity which Napoleon knew full well how to exploit, for due to Blucher's overconfidence, General Olssufiev's Russian corps of 5,000 men at Champaubert was particulary very much on it's own and on the 10th of February, Napoleon fell upon him with the fury of his 30,000 men

Battle

General Olsufiev
General Olssufiev 1772-1835

From his reconnaisance patrols probing forward, Napoleon was able to identify General Ossufiev at Champaubert and General Sacken, who was ten miles farther east at Montmirail. With his target selected for destruction, Napoleon in an advisory role, designated Marshal Marmont as battlefield commander. Marmont led the way, and at 10:am on the 10th, cavalry elements of the French army were driving in Olsuffiev's outposts. General Olsuffiev had under his command 5,000 troops as well as 24 guns. Since the Battle of Brienne a week before, Olssufiev had been in disgrace over over his conduct at the battle, whereby unkind comments hinted that he had departed the battle rather abruptly. With this cutting wound upon his sense of honour, Olssufiev perhaps thought to redeem and clear his name, for he now made the rash decision to stand his ground and fight against the odds.

The resulting battle did not take long, for outnumbered 6 to 1 the outcome could never be in doubt. Marmont led his infantry forward under a overcast and wet sky to clash fiercely with Olsuffiev's troops. With the Russian troops pinned down, Napoleon then sent his cavalry forward to complete a double envelopment of the hapless Olsuffiev, by cutting the Montmirail road on both flanks. Now Olsuffiev was trapped, with no chance of escape. Olsuffiev's men fought with grim ferocity, giving a good acccount of themselves, but Marmont's corps, aided by Ney, proved more than a match for their surrounded opponents

By 3pm, Olsuffiev, considering a retreat to Etoges had left it far too late by hoping that Blucher marching from the east might come to his aid. In fact, Blucher heard the sound of the guns to the west, but made no attempt to march to help his subordinate, considering that if Olssufiev was in trouble, he and his men might take flight and seek shelter in the woods.

ChampaubertMap
Battle of Champaubert

By nightfall, the battle was over. Olsuffiev's corps had been annihilated and Olssuffev himself had suffered the humiliation of being made a prisoner as he was captured by a nineteen year old conscript with less than six months service as he attempted to hide in a wood. It was an overwhelming defeat for Olssufiev. He had suffered 3,000 casualties to only a couple of hundred on the French side.

Conclusion

Napoleon now occupied the perfect central position astride Blucher's widely separated corps. The initiative now lie with him and he was in a good position to defeat Blucher's isolated corps at his leisure. Now, even before the guns had fallen silent at Champaubert, he had planned his next moves: Marmont would mop up here and guard against any interference from an advance from Blucher, whilst he himself turned west to confront Sacken and Yorck.

That evening, upto 1,000 fugitives, the survivors of Olsuffiev's hapless corps staggered into La Fere-Champenoise with the tale of the disaster, bringing Blucher's overconfident and impetuous advance to halt.

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