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The Battle of the Nations: Overview

Five days after the Battle of Leipzig, Sir George Jackson, a British diplomat, rode past the German battlefield with Austrian Foreign Minister Klemens von Metternich. He described the scene in vivid detail:


Part of our way lay over the field of battle, and a more revolting and sickening spectacle I never beheld. Scarcely could we move forward a step without passing over the dead body of some poor fellow, gashed with wounds and clotted in the blood that had weltered from them; another, perhaps, without an arm or a leg; here and there a headless trunk…it made one’s blood run cold to glance only, as we passed along, upon the upturned faces of the dead…We got over this ‘field of glory’ as quickly as we could, and perhaps some of us affected to be less impressed by this terrible scene than we really were. But I know there was many an involuntary shudder, and that many of the glibbest tongues were for the first time quite silenced... 


Between the 16 and 19 October 1813, the combined armies of Russia, Austria, Sweden and Prussia attacked and defeated Napoleons forces around the largest town in Saxony, east Germany. Nearly 600,000 soldiers were eventually drawn into what has become known as the Battle of the Nations, and casualties were in excess of 100,000 men. It was the largest battle in Europe prior to the First World War. The French army hastily retreated westwards, and Napoleonic control of central and northern Europe almost entirely disappeared. The Emperor hastily returned to France, and told the senate "a year ago all of Europe marched with us; today all Europe marches against us."


This momentous clash was part of the War of the Sixth Coalition. In 1812, Napoleon embarked on a disastrous invasion of Russia which led to the destruction of his Grande Armée. Many of the states that had previously been conquered by France sensed weakness and an opportunity for revenge. After much negotiation, a coalition was formed between Russia, Prussia, Sweden and Britain with the intention of finally defeating the Emperor and ending French domination of Europe.


Napoleon soon rebuilt his army, and marched back into eastern Europe in 1813. He defeated a Russo-Prussian force at the battles of Lützen and Bautzen, however these victories were not decisive as he was unable to launch an effective pursuit of the allied army due to a lack of cavalry. After a brief armistice, it became clear to the allies that Napoleon would not accept a compromise peace, and he would have to be defeated on the battlefield. Consequently, Austria also joined the coalition and agreed to field thousands more troops against Napoleon.


After a series of further brutal engagements in eastern Germany, Napoleon was forced to take up a defensive position around the city of Leipzig in Saxony. It was his last chance to hold on to his European empire, but he was unable to withstand the huge coalition forces that descended upon his army. After a fierce and bloody struggle that lasted four days, Napoleon was finally decisively defeated. He managed to escape with the bulk of his army, but he would never recover from the Battle of Leipzig. The Sixth Coalition was determined to defeat the French Emperor, and they pursued his troops back into France.


This section has been split into a series of different pages that discuss the Battle of the Nations and the War of the Sixth Coalition in greater depth. Clink the links to find out more.


The Origins of the Battle of the Nations

The German Campaign 1813

The Battle of the Nations


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