The War of the Sixth Coalition culminated in the campaign of 1814 and the fall of Paris. With his back to the wall, Napoleon faced the combined might of Austria, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, England, Portugal, Spain and many of France’s former subject German States.
The main action involved the joint advance of Austrian, Russian and Prussian against Napoleon at the head of what was left of the Grande Armee, so devastated by the defeat at Leipzig. 70,000 French veterans and newly raised “Maria-Louise” conscripts faced over half a million coalition forces.
In what is regarded as one of Napoleon’s best exhibitions of military ability, the Emperor won battle after battle, yet lost in the end. Perhaps the best example of just why Napoleon is considered one of histories greatest generals is the Six Days’ Campaign. From February 10 – 15, 1814, Napoleon defeated combined Russian and Prussian forces in a series of four battles, pitting Napoleon’s 30,000 troops against Blucher’s 120,000. Napoleon inflicted some over 17,000 losses, suffering less than 3,500 in return.
The 1814 Campaign is covered well in Kevin Zucker’s Napoleon At Bay boardgame. The Six Days’ Campaign is likewise the focus of Zucker’s The 6 Days of Glory boardgame. Each make excellent frameworks for running miniatures campaigns.
The best concise website I have found for the four battles of the Six Days’ Campaign is 1814 autour de Montmirail by Louis Belanger. Summary, maps, Orders of Battle and battle narratives are provided from original source material. Of course Google Translate is necessary for those without a background in French.
Of the four battles, Montmirail provides the longest and most evenly match pitched battle.
With the battle of Champaubert, Napoleon interposed his force between Blucher and the main body of the Army of Silesia, and the corps of Osten-Sacken and Yorck, both operating well to the west. Now isolated, Sacken’s command, including the Russian VI and XI Infantry Corps and a cavalry corps, and Yorck’s Prussian 2nd Armee Korps, attempted to reunite with each other prior to rejoining Blucher. The clearest meeting point of Sacken and Yorck was the crossroads of Marchais, a short distance from Montmirail. This most likely course of action was evident to Napoleon, so leaving Marmont to watch Blucher, Napoleon rushed to gain Marchais position to prevent the merger of Sacken and Yorck.
The overall situation is well represented in this animated PowerPoint map of the situation.
Yorck decided the best course of action was to withdraw north to Chateur-Thierry, but Sacken was determined to drive through Montmirail to reach Blucher. Unable to persuade Sacken, Yorck reluctantly joined the attack.
‘s involvement was limited as he determined quickly that the rendezvous at Marchais was being contested by Napoleon. Still Sacken proceeded with the plan, and a battle lasting
The movement of troops, particularly the artillery, was hindered greatly by muddy conditions. The forces available to Napoleon were limited. Ricard’s 8th Division was composed of many “Marie-Louise” conscripts. This left only the Guard. As such Montmirail is one of the only battles of the Napoleonic period where the Guard was actually engaged as a major combatant in the front line. Both the Old Guard and “Middle” Guard divisions were present and heavily engaged, as was almost all of the Guard Cavalry.
A full description of the battle can be found elsewhere. The focus of this series of posts will focus on “why Montmirail” in terms of a miniatures project, and the steps in bringing the project to completion and the gaming table.