The hot battle of La Rotière

The hot battle of La Rotière
The Crown Prince's Württemberg Dragoon Regiment attacks the French squares at the Battle of La Rotière on February 1, 1814. Richard Knöthel


In December 1813 - early January 1814, three allied armies (Schwarzenberg's Main Army, Blücher's Silesian Army and Bernadotte's Army of the North) crossed the Rhine and launched an offensive in France. The French campaign beganHow the Russian army ended up in France).

But the Northern Army under the command of the Swedish prince Bernadotte was fragmented: the prince himself with his Swedes went to Denmark, other corps went to clear Holland of French garrisons. At the same time, Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese-Spanish army invaded Southern France.

France was not ready to repel such a large-scale invasion (about 460–500 thousand soldiers in the first line alone). Napoleon did not have a strong army, high-quality cavalry and artillery (lost in previous campaigns). Most of the troops consisted of new recruits. Significant forces stood as garrisons in fortresses or as barriers in the Spanish, Swiss, Italian and northern (Holland) directions.

However, Napoleon still had the iron spirit and genius of a great commander, and he decided to attack in order to defeat the enemy armies piece by piece and create conditions for peace negotiations. The Allies were at odds over what to do with Napoleon's empire.

The Russian Emperor Alexander Pavlovich and most of the Prussians, led by Blucher, were determined to go to the end. Finish off the “Corsican monster”. Vienna doubted, fearing the strengthening of Russia and Prussia. Therefore, Commander-in-Chief Schwarzenberg, following the instructions of the Vienna Court, acted as carefully as possible, holding back the general offensive.

As a result, the main battles of the 1814 campaign took place between the Russian-Prussian corps of Blücher and Napoleon, while Schwarzenberg, with the most powerful Main Army, was limited to a supporting role.

The first major clash occurred on January 17 (29) near Brienne (“Vivat, Emperor!” French victory at Brienne), where the French emperor managed to oust the Russian regiments of the Silesian army. The opponents lost 3 thousand people each. Blücher in order withdrew his troops several kilometers to a more advantageous position on the heights of Trann, where he linked up with Schwarzenberg’s corps.

Road to Cézanne, French Guards artillery, 1814. Kate Rocco.

Strengths and positions of the parties

3 days later, on January 20 (February 1), 1814, Napoleon’s troops were defeated at La Rotière (175 km east of Paris). The Silesian army of the Prussian Field Marshal, after retreating from Brienne, was located in a position in the Transn region. Units of the Main Army were also sent here from the city of Bar-sur-Aube. By the beginning of the battle, the allies managed to concentrate about 90 thousand soldiers, reinforcements were approaching them, and the total number of allied troops (including reserves and barriers) reached approximately 110 thousand people with 338 guns.

Tsar Alexander I and the Prussian king Frederick William III, who were with the troops, entrusted command of the entire allied army to Blucher. At the military council, it was decided to attack the French, who occupied a position on the line Dienville, La Rotière, La Gibri, with a joint force. The choice of the main direction of attack caused controversy. Blücher positioned his main forces in the center for an attack on La Rotière. Alexander Pavlovich proposed attacking to the right - on La Zhibri.

The French troops numbered about 40 - 45 thousand people with 132 guns. The small corps of Gerard, Victor, Marmont, Ney's guard and Nansouty's cavalry barely covered the 10-kilometer front line.

The Allies attacked in four directions: on the left flank, the 3rd Austrian Gyulai Corps (14 thousand soldiers) was attacking the villages of Dienville and Unienville, located on both banks of the Au River opposite each other. In the center, from the south, columns of the general from Osten-Sacken and the corps of Lieutenant General Shcherbatov and Lieutenant General Olsufiev were advancing towards the village of La Rotière along the Ob River. East of La Rotière, a column of the Prince of Württemberg (12 thousand) was advancing on the village of La Gibri.

On the right flank, from the east along the highway from Sulen, Wrede's Austro-Bavarian Corps (26 thousand soldiers) was advancing on the village of Morwillers. Blucher's reserve, commanded by Infantry General Barclay de Tolly, was located on the heights of Trann and consisted of the Russian 3rd Infantry, 5th Guards and Cavalry Corps of Generals Raevsky, Ermolov, Vasilchikov and Golitsyn.


The offensive began late at about 1 o'clock in the afternoon (they expected Wrede's strong corps to reach the right flank) and developed slowly. The Austrians Gyulay, who attacked the French troops of General Gerard on both banks of the river. Both captured Dienville and captured the bridge across the river here only at midnight, when the general retreat of the French army was already underway.

The most fierce battle took place in the center, for the key point - the village of La Rotière. Victor’s corps defended here. The attack of Vasilchikov's cavalry floundered due to the impossibility of movement through the muddy, swampy terrain. General Alexei Nikitin withdrew half of the artillery (the other half got stuck in the mud) and, without waiting for the infantry to arrive, opened fire on enemy positions. Noticing the weakness of the Russian defense, Nansouty's units attacked twice, but were repulsed.

Then the columns of Osten-Sacken entered the battle. Blizzards began periodically. Therefore, the soldiers went into battle with drumming and singing, with bayonets at the ready, without being able to conduct aimed rifle fire. The wind and snow blinded the French's eyes. The battle went on with varying degrees of success; attacks from some were followed by counterattacks from others. Finally, Russian soldiers captured the center of the village, but the French remained in the north. By 4 o'clock Vasilchikov's cavalrymen were able to capture the enemy's 24-gun battery.

Attack of the Russian infantry in the battle of La Rotière on February 1, 1814 Richard Knöthel

But further Russian advance was stopped by French reinforcements. Napoleon sent the Young Guard under the command of Ney into battle for La Rotière. The battle was brutal, La Rotière changed hands several times. Blucher brought into the battle for La Rotière the 2nd Grenadier Division of Lieutenant General Paskevich and the Austrian Grimmer brigade, which was in reserve. By 8 pm, the Russians and Austrians had driven the French guards out of the village. Having lost hope of holding La Rotière, the French emperor ordered the settlement to be set on fire with artillery fire to cover the army's retreat.

On the right flank, the corps of the Prince of Württemberg, moving with difficulty in the swampy terrain, breaking the stubborn resistance of the enemy, captured La Gibri and Petit Mesnil. Then the French counterattacked and began to push back the Russians. The prince requested help from Blücher, but he sent reserves to Osten-Sacken. Wrede's corps helped.

Wrede's Prussians drove back Marshal Marmont's troops, took Chaumesnil by storm and forced Marmont's weak corps to retreat. Napoleon personally arrived on the left flank. With the help of cavalry and horse artillery, the emperor tried to rectify the situation and, in the moonlight, launched an attack on La Gibri, but his forces were not enough. Driven from their positions, surrounded from the left flank by superior enemy forces, with the threat of reaching the rear, the French troops began a general retreat at 10 pm. The French retreated along the entire front to Brienne, across the river. Seine. Darkness and a snowstorm stopped the battle.

It is worth noting that the weather in early February in northeastern France was bad. It was raining, then sleet, a strong north wind was blowing, bringing snowstorms. Fogs reduced visibility. And so the swampy area became soggy, convoys and artillery got stuck on the country roads, and the troops advanced very slowly.

Also, due to poor visibility, Allied soldiers, especially various Germans from the states of the Rhineland (who had recently fought for Napoleon), opened “friendly fire” on their own. Therefore, Tsar Alexander I ordered that Russian soldiers tie white scarves to the left sleeve of their overcoat. Some other allied formations followed the Russian example.

The losses of both sides turned out to be equal, approximately 6 thousand people each. During the retreat, the French had to abandon almost half of their artillery; in total, the Allies captured from 60 to 70 French guns. The French army also suffered from the desertion of thousands of young recruits. Most of the Allied losses fell on Osten-Sacken's corps; the Russians lost from 3 to 4 thousand people in the battle.

Emperor Alexander I placed his own insignia of the Order of St. Andrew the First-Called on Osten-Sacken. The Austrian Emperor sent Osten-Sacken the Commander's Cross of the Order of Maria Theresa.

The Battle of La Rotière was the first major military engagement between the Allies and Napoleon's army on French soil in the 1814 campaign, in which the French were defeated. This strengthened Allied morale. However, the battle revealed such shortcomings of the allied army as the lack of a solid unified command, indecision, and the desire to leave large forces in reserve (about 70 thousand soldiers of the allied army took part in the battle itself).

On January 21 (February 2), 1814, a military council was held, at which the allies, building on their initial success, decided to advance on Paris separately. The main army under the command of Schwarzenberg was to advance along the Seine valley, with Napoleon's main forces in front of it. Blucher's Silesian army moved north towards Paris through the Marne River valley, with the weak French corps of Marshals MacDonald and Marmont in front of it.

Battle of La Rotière. Napoleon, at the head of the Young Guard, tries to recapture the village of La Gibri. Illustration for the book by Adolphe Thiers "History Consulates and empires"

Châtillon Congress

During the work of the Chatillon Congress on January 24 (February 5) - March 7 (19), 1814, the allies attempted to end the war peacefully, subject to the return of France to the borders of 1792. Military operations continued. The sixth anti-French coalition at the congress was represented by: Count Razumovsky (Russia), Count Stadion (Austria), Baron Humboldt (Prussia), Lord Cathcart, Earl of Aberdeen and Baron Stewart (England). On behalf of France, negotiations were conducted by de Caulaincourt.

The Chatillon Congress lasted a total of more than a month, but it did not bring any results. Napoleon was offended and outraged by the main demand of the Allies for recognition of the borders of France in 1792: “I am so excited by the vile project that you sent me that I consider myself already dishonored by the fact that it is being offered to us...” (from a letter to Caulaincourt), - and angrily rejected the draft agreement. In turn, Caulaincourt tried in every possible way to delay the negotiations, hoping for Bonaparte’s success on the battlefield.

On March 19, the last meeting of the congress took place, at which the allied representatives announced the termination of negotiations. It is clear that each side blamed the enemy for the failure of the negotiations. Everything was decided by guns and bayonets on the battlefield.

Obelisk in memory of the Battle of La Rotière. France
Dear reader, to leave comments on the publication, you must sign in.
  1. +4
    26 February 2024 06: 44
    "France was not prepared to repel such a large-scale invasion (about 460–500 million soldiers in the first line alone)." Even Napoleon would not have taken this out.
  2. +6
    26 February 2024 08: 51
    France was not ready to repel such a large-scale invasion (about 460–500 million soldiers in the first line alone).
    Have the Chinese and Indians been drafted into the army?
    1. +2
      26 February 2024 09: 44
      (about 460–500 million soldiers in the first line alone).
      Apparently, this was the first use of clones in world military history.
  3. +2
    26 February 2024 11: 08
    Napoleon was offended and outraged by the main demand of the Allies for recognition of the borders of France in 1792: “I am so excited by the vile project that you sent me that I consider myself already dishonored by the fact that it is being offered to us...” ///

    Actually, Napoleon's strange behavior. Strategically, by that time he was in complete control. This can only be explained by the fact that he was already reliably aware of the coalition's plans for his own fate. Why such a fate for yesterday's ruler of Europe? So I decided to fight to the end in a hopeless situation.
    1. 0
      28 February 2024 00: 55
      Most likely the reason was his exceptional arrogance and blind faith in his star, remember what he later told his generals when they called him to surrender, we will defeat them all one by one, without regard to the resources and capabilities of France, and even his “100 days "the pinnacle of narrow-minded stubbornness and nothing more, no military genius could help him, even having won at Waterloo he was doomed to defeat, it is strange that with all his intelligence he could not understand this.
  4. BAI
    26 February 2024 18: 47
    about 460–500 million soldiers in the first line alone

    This has already been said.
    On the right flank, the corps of the Prince of Württemberg, moving with difficulty in the swampy terrain, breaking the stubborn resistance of the enemy, captured La Gibri and Petit Mesnil. Then the French counterattacked and began to push back the Russians. The prince asked Blucher for help,

    Is the prince Russian?
    1. 0
      26 February 2024 20: 34
      The Prince of Württemberg served Russia.
  5. 0
    27 February 2024 13: 27
    it's all because of serfdom in Russia, which was abolished only in 1861
    if only - yes if only
    ordinary forged cuirass 3 mm thick, weighing 12 kg - held 35 gram bullets
    and reduced losses during linear tactics by 40%
    By the way, a cuirass weighing 5-6 kg was already considered heavy
    now the armored vehicle weighs 18 kg - it’s normal, it’s not Voin-KM at 35 kg