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Leipzig:

The Aftermath

The Sixth Coalition paid a heavy price for their victory, but casualties on both sides were appalling. Around 52,000 men of the coalition armies are determined to have been killed, wounded or gone missing. The French suffered around 38,000 casualties but over 30,000 were captured. The allies also gained possession of 325 cannon and most of the French supply train, which included 900 ammunition wagons. Napoleon retreated into France with perhaps only 70,000 effective troops, and 30,000 stragglers.

Leipzig became the bloodiest battle of the Napoleonic Wars, and it was documented that civilians were still trying to bury corpses over a year later. Over 500,000 men participated in the engagement, making it the largest battle that had ever been seen in Europe. Leipzig would still dwarf the largest battles of the American Civil War some fifty years later. Plundering was forbidden by the Tsar, and the allied armies generally retained their discipline meaning that the city itself was left relatively intact. However, the same could not be said for the villages that surrounded Leipzig which were utterly devastated in the fighting. It took years for these dwellings to be rebuilt, and inevitably the local population suffered terribly. Starvation and exhaustion caused epidemics of dysentery and typhus to break out in the region, and months later 700-800 civilians a week were still falling ill.

For Napoleon, this defeat was devastating. It was the Emperor’s last chance to hold Germany, but he was overwhelmed by superior numbers. He lost control of Germany east of the Rhine, and the German states that had previously served him so loyally joined the coalition. Napoleon led his troops bravely back towards France, but, like in 1812, his army was harassed by Cossacks, and he lost another 15,000 men before he could reach the safety of his home country. Public opinion was beginning to turn against the once seemingly invincible Emperor. The French public would not continue to tolerate these enourmous losses, and they were showing signs of war-weariness after nearly twenty years of incessant fighting.

The balance of power in Europe had been restored, but Alexander, the Russian Tsar, was determined to push on and invade France itself. Consequently, three weeks after Leipzig Napoleon began to organise the defence of France. The coalition was buoyed by its success, and was further encouraged by positive news from the Iberian Peninsula. Wellington had forced the French from most of Spain and Portugal, and on the 7 October he defeated Marshal Soult’s army at Bidassoa. On the 31 October, the northern Spanish city of Pamplona was captured, and the path to France was opened. Having been informed of the allied victory at Leipzig, the British government urged Wellington to also embark on an invasion of France over the Pyrenees mountain range.

The dramatic and bloody campaigns of 1813 had ended, and the continental land war was all but over. The invasion of France would begin a new chapter in the history of the Napoleonic Wars, but the real turning point of the conflict was at Leipzig. All of Europe was now marching against the French Emperor, and he would never recover from such a comprehensive defeat.

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