On 26 September the Allies began to close for the kill. The French were clearly ripe for the decisive battle that would drive them out of Germany. Even so, the Allies nearly made mistake that could have had a fatal consequence. As they closed from the north and south, timing was vital or their armies could be attacked and defeated separately. Napoleon in fact nearly succeeded in doing so, Blücher, pressing on with his usual immense drive, frustrated him—as he was to do again two years later at Waterloo.
The Allies intended to concentrate behind the river Saale so that by interposing between Napoleon and France they would compel the Emperor to fight. Indifferently served by his cavalry, Napoleon was uncertain of the Allies’ movements. By 3 October Blücher had reached the confluence of the Elbe and the Black Elster with 65,000 men. Opposed by Bertrand (IV Corps), Yorck’s Prussians forced a passage, though not without loss. Bertrand fell back on Düben and Bitterfeld, 30 miles to the south, joining hands with Reynier (VII Corps). The latter had not been able to prevent Bertrand from crossing at Rosslau. The Armies of the North and of Silesia, having gained the west bank of the Elbe, pushed forward and linked up between the Mulde and the Saale in order to menace Leipzig from the north. Meanwhile Schwarzenberg, who had begun his advance on 26 September, was approaching from the south.
Napoleon remained at Dresden. Every day from 25 September to 1 October he went out to review the troops concentrated in the area. Then at 6 A.M. on the 7th he quit Dresden for the last time. Unwilling to evacuate his base entirely, he left Gouvion-Saint-Cyr (XIV Corps) and General Mouton with the remnants of I Corps to hang on to the city. Now the Emperor made another attempt to drive back Blücher and Bernadotte. He began by attacking Tauentzien, but the steady advance of Schwarzenberg against the 40,000 men left under Murat to cover Leipzig compelled Napoleon to give orders (on 12 October) for his main body to return there. He arrived himself on 14 October. By this time Schwarzenberg had driven Murat right into the outskirts of the city. There was fighting around Wachau and Liebertwolkwitz to the south, and though the Allies were repulsed the French counter-attack came to nothing. By the 15th Napoleon’s concentration was still incomplete. He had something like 175,000 men in and around Leipzig, but one of Ney’s divisions had not yet come in, nor had Reynier.
Schwarzenberg outnumbered the French, but there was still a chance for Napoleon to snatch victory before Blücher and Bernadotte threw their forces in to the balance. On the Evening of the 15th Blücher was near Goss Kügel, 12 miles away. Bernadotte was 20 miles further north. The Emperor, who did not believe that they could intervene the next day, spent the evening preparing to deal with Schwarzenberg on the 16th. He concentrated every available man south of the city. But he had bargained without the tireless energy of Blücher.
THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE®
SOURCE: NAPOLEON: The Last Campaigns 1813-15; BY James Lawford
CONTRIBUTOR: Martin F. Elkins