11 August Austria declared war on the French empire. The Russian-Prussian army under the command of Michael Barclay de Tolly was united with the Austrian army. This group was called the Bohemian army, it was the most powerful combination of the anti-Napoleonic coalition (more than 230 thousand people, 670 guns). True, her big problem was the lack of unity of command. The formal commander in chief was Austrian Field Marshal Carl Philipp zu Schwarzenberg. But the Russian-Prussian troops led Barclay de Tolly, intervened in military affairs and Emperor Alexander I. The Allied command lost several days, which could lead to a different outcome of the events at Dresden.
Napoleon, because of poor intelligence, believed that the most powerful Allied army was the Silesian under the command of Blucher. In addition, it was she who first opened the fighting. The French emperor moved to the army of Blucher with the main forces. In Dresden, not counting the garrison, there was only the body of Saint-Cyr. At about the same time, the Bohemian army, moving in four columns, launched an offensive from the south through the Ore Mountains to Leipzig. The Allied Command planned to go to the flank and rear of the French group, which was advancing on the Silesian Army, to cut its communications. During the movement it turned out that the main forces of Napoleon were not in Dresden. On the side of the Allies also went over two regiments of the Westphalian hussars, it became aware of the defense system of Dresden. Therefore, it was decided to change the main goal of the offensive and seize Dresden, which was a large city spread on both banks of the Elbe River. The city was the central supply hub of the French army in Central Europe. In it were collected significant reserves of supplies and ammunition. The fact that such an important center had a very weak defense was also taken into account. The city was defended by a dilapidated wall and several redoubts with artillery batteries mounted on them.
The French emperor, having learned about the dangerous movement of the enemy's troops, immediately moved back. Initially, he planned to go to the rear of the Allied Army, moving to Pirna. However, having received news of the possibility of the fall of Dresden, he moved the main forces to the city, only the 1 corps under the command of Vandam continued to move to the rear of the enemy. Against the Silesian Army, the emperor left MacDonald with three infantry and one cavalry corps.
If the corps of Vandam could have realized the plan conceived by Napoleon, then the Bohemian army would be threatened with complete encirclement and destruction (or surrender) and the 6 anti-French coalition could collapse. The Vandam hull exit to the Greenhouse blocked the Allies a narrow passage through the Ore Mountains, which threatened a military catastrophe. The presence in the Bohemian army of the Russian emperor and the king of Prussia, led to political defeat. In addition, the Austrians continued backroom negotiations, and with a crushing defeat, they could withdraw from the coalition by agreeing to a separate agreement with France.
Battle of Dresden. Color lithograph by A. Bern.
Correlation of forces
The number of Bohemian army is estimated at 170-230 thousand people. But the last figure is given on the basis of the regular number of corps and divisions, and it could be very different from the actual one. At that time, the troops often suffered heavy losses not from battles with enemies, but from marches along bad roads, lack of provisions, mass illnesses, desertion. At the same time, the Allied army exceeded Napoleon’s forces in the number of soldiers, had an advantage in artillery and cavalry. In addition, there were many experienced soldiers in its ranks. In the army of Napoleon dominated by recruits.
Dresden defended the garrison and the 14 Corps under the command of Marshal Guvion Saint-Cyr, only about 30 thousand people with 70 guns. Under the leadership of Napoleon, there were about 120 thousand people. But time marches corps ranked significantly. From this army, the corps of Vandam was separated - about 35 thousand soldiers.
13 (25) August 1813, the advanced forces of the allied army reached the city. On this day, the Russian and Prussian corps under the command of Peter Cavalry General Peter Wittgenstein and Lieutenant General Friedrich Kleist, as well as the Austrian Corps of General Colloredo-Mansfeld, came to Dresden. The Allied Command sent a detachment of General Gelfreich to the area in order to ensure rear from the side of Königstein. In addition, he was ready to reinforce the 2 Infantry Corps, commanded by the Prince of Württemberg.
French troops occupied the field fortifications in front of the city suburb. Saint-Cyr had three French divisions — the 43, the 44, and the 45 — I (42 — remained with Koenigstein), three Westphalian regiments, and several thousand allied forces (Dutch, Polish, Saxon, Baden). In addition, most of the body of Saint-Cyr consisted of recruits who had no combat experience. Klapareda’s 43 Division protected the territory from the left bank of the Elbe River to the Freiberg Outpost, occupying Gross Garten (Great Garden); Bertezen's 44 Division defended the Pirn Substandt; 45 Division Rasu - Friedrichstadt.
The advanced allied forces numbered 70-80 thousand people and continued to increase with the arrival of new units. The allied forces were approximately twice as large as the Dresden garrison. General Heinrich Jomini suggested immediately launching an assault on the city. He was one of the talented commanders of Napoleon, offended by the fact that he was not sent to the divisional generals after the victory at Bautzen, where he distinguished himself. As a result, Jomini moved to the side of the allied army, became an adviser to Emperor Alexander. Moreau was against it, considering that the assault would lead to great losses and would be reflected. Russian emperor doubted. The Austrians suggested not to hurry, wait for the approach of all forces, completely surround the city and only then go on the attack. Schwarzenberg believed that the available forces are not enough for a successful assault on Dresden. This mistake prevented the Bohemian army from breaking the Saint-Cyr corps separately from Napoleon’s army. The Allied Commander-in-Chief lacked the decisiveness inherent in Suvorov or Napoleon, who did not consider the number of enemies, but themselves forged success.
On the same day, Napoleon's troops reached the fork in the road leading to the city and the bridge on the left bank of the Elbe near Königstein. Königstein was in 27 km southeast of Dresden. The emperor sent his adjutant, General Gaspar Gurgot to Dresden, to clarify the situation. Napoleon's adjutant returned to the 11 hours of the evening with a report that in the event of a general assault by the Bohemian army, Dresden would not last more than a day. And at the crossing in Königstein, marching behind enemy lines, it took at least 2-3 days. Napoleon led the main forces to Dresden, bypassing sent only 1-th corps.
The course of the battle 14 (26) August. The Bohemian army attacked the city with 5 columns, but they attacked at different times, uncoordinated. The 1 column was composed of Wittgenstein's troops, they were advancing on an auxiliary line and, with good luck, were to break into the city. The Prussian troops formed the 2 column, and it also played a supporting role. The Prussians were to capture Gross Garten and advance further. The rest of the columns were Austrian troops - 1-I light division, 3-I reserve division, Bianchi division, Schneller division. In the Austrian reserve were the grenadier division of Shatler, the division of Nostitz and Lederer.
According to the plan drawn up at night, all the corps were supposed to strike at 16.00, but not all of the units were given a disposition. As a result, part of the army went on the offensive in the early morning - Austrian and Prussian troops, and the other part in 16.00 - Russian forces. The Austrian army was advancing on the left flank, the Prussian troops were in the center, and the Russians on the right flank. The plan of attack was left so bad that they did not even determine the place of the main attack. The troops did not even set themselves the task of taking the city, all orders were limited to demonstration and the seizure of suburbs, which, apparently, should have forced the enemy to capitulate.
The first attacked the Austrians, but their offensive developed unsuccessfully. The storming troops were poorly prepared, they did not have fascines and assault ladders, which hampered their advance. By 17 hours of the evening, the Austrian troops were able to capture only two redoubts and several enemy cannons, coming out to the city wall. Prussian troops acted more successfully, they drove the French out of the Big Garden and approached the fortifications in the center. Russian troops launched an offensive only in 16 hours. Moreover, Alexander and Schwarzenberg, having learned about the arrival of Napoleon, gave the order to cancel the assault, but he did not reach the troops. Russian troops, advancing along the left bank of the river Elbe, were caught in the crossfire of redoubt batteries and French batteries from the right bank of the river. In general, although the troops of Saint-Cyr and kept the first onslaught of the enemy troops, they were doomed to defeat, because of the complete superiority of the enemy's troops and the need to protect a large area.
The appearance of Napoleon immediately changed the course of the battle. The French troops immediately launched a counter-offensive and launched a series of counterattacks, forced the Bohemian army to go on the defensive. Prussians pushed aside to Strehlen. The young guard and Murat's cavalry pushed the Austrian troops back from the city. The offensive of the Russian troops stopped the counterattack of the French cavalry. In addition, the command order soon arrived to stop the assault. At the end of the day, the main forces of Napoleon’s army arrived in Dresden, and French troops, leaving the city limits, attacked the Allied forces. Bohemian army rolled back across the front to the heights surrounding Dresden. By 21, the battle was over.
The course of the battle 15 (27) August. At night, the French 2 Corps under the command of Marshal Victor and the 6 Corps of Marshal Marmont entered Dresden. Napoleon, having thousands of soldiers before 120, decided, relying on the fortifications of Dresden, to go on the offensive and defeat the enemy's army. The Bohemian army did not retreat, taking a defensive position with a half-ring in Dresden. Her strongest part of the defense was the center, located on high ground. Napoleon decided to deliver the main blows on the flank. The strike on the left flank was facilitated by the fact that part of the Austrian troops — the corps of Ignaz Gyulai — and part of the corps of Johann von Clenau — were separated from the main forces by the river Weiseritz. Napoleon also wanted to cut off the Bohemian army from the best ways of retreat - they were located on the flanks. On the right flank (Russian) the road led along the Elbe to Pirna, on the left (Austrian) - to Freiberg. The paths that passed through the center of the Bohemian army were secondary.
At 7 in the morning, the French troops went on the attack. The left flank attacked the infantry of Victor and Murat's cavalry. The corps of Ney, Saint-Cyr and Young Guard struck the right flank - the Russian-Prussian troops. Center covered the body of Marmona. In reserve was the Old Guard. The course of the battle was influenced by heavy rain, which began in the morning. The soldiers could not conduct heavy rifle fire, and the main role was played by artillery and cavalry attacks.
While the main forces of the Austrian corps were connected by a battle at the front, the French cavalry broke through the positions of the left flank of the Austrian army. The Liechtenstein Division, desperately fighting off and suffering heavy losses, was able to cross the Weiseritz. Mechko's division and the Moomba brigade were in a more difficult situation. The Austrians lined up in a square and under the blows of enemy cavalry and artillery bombardment of horse batteries, began to retreat. They were pressed to the river and blocked. The infantry under the rain could not shoot a gun and under the threat of being shot from the guns, was forced to lay down weapon. As a result, the left flank of the Austrians was completely crushed. The Austrian army lost up to 15 thousand people, including 10 thousand prisoners.
On the right flank, Russian troops retreated from the Elbe, but entrenched in the heights, repelled enemy attacks. The Bohemian army still had enough strength to fight. So, on the right flank, the Russian emperor and the Prussian king wanted to inflict a flank counter-strike along the French corps, which was distanced from the line of their troops, by the forces of the Prussian corps Kleist and the Russian Guard (it was in reserve). Barclay was to attack the French from the front of the cavalry reserve. True, Barclay was against this idea, believing that the attack of the cavalry against the closed columns of the French infantry was meaningless.
The defeat of the left flank of the Austrian army made an impression on the Austrian commanders. Schwarzenberg and his headquarters began to insist on an immediate retreat to Bohemia. The Russian emperor Alexander and the Prussian king were against withdrawal. The Prussian king offered to continue the battle the next day, since most of the troops had not yet participated in the battle. Zhomini advised to change the position and continue the battle. Russian-Prussian troops remained operational. Schwarzenberg continued to insist on retreat, talking about the depletion of ammunition, supply problems. So there is evidence that the Austrian soldiers were starving, a third went barefoot.
At 17 hours, Allied forces began to withdraw. The retreat covered the Russian rearguard. Napoleon did not immediately realize that the enemy was retreating. He had the impression that the battle the next day would continue. When it became clear that the enemy was retreating, the ensuing darkness and general fatigue of the troops did not allow to immediately organize the pursuit. Besides, Napoleon lacked cavalry. Therefore, the Bohemian army successfully retreated, entrenched in the Ore Mountains, and in early September 1813 of the year switched to a new offensive.
French cavalry attack in the battle of Dresden. Engraving.
Due to the lack of unity of command in the Bohemian army, disagreements between the top commanders, and indecision, the allies did not use a good chance to defeat the Dresden garrison separately from Napoleon’s army, improving their ability to fight the French emperor. The whole day - August 25 was lost, and 26 August allied forces acted inconsistently. Napoleon intercepted a strategic initiative from the enemy and defeated the more numerous Russian-Austro-Prussian army, which had an advantage in cavalry and artillery. At the same time, Napoleon did not achieve decisive success, the Bohemian army was not defeated and retained its combat capability, and almost all the artillery.
The allied army lost 20 — 28 thousand people in the Dresden battle (half prisoners), 22 guns. Almost all prisoners were Austrians. The Russian army lost 1300 people, including two brave major generals - the commander of the Sevsky infantry regiment Fyodor Alekseevich Lukov and the commander of the cavalry brigade Alexei Petrovich Melissino (Russian of Greek origin). Melissino with the Lubensky hussars was one of the first to get into the square of the Young Guard and fell, being hit by three bullets at once. In the same battle, the French emperor's adviser, French General Jean Victor Moreau, received a mortal wound. Apparently, “Comrade Destiny” did not forgive him for the betrayal of France. Moreau and Alexander I on horseback were standing on one of the heights, and came under artillery shelling. The general was torn off his right leg, and his left knee was crushed. After amputation, he was seriously ill and September 2 passed away. The French army lost 9 - 12 thousand people.