Ten days before Paris. Not yet Napoleon’s last chance

In just ten days, the masters of Paris will no longer be Napoleonic soldiers

Where are you, old hussar?

12 failures of Napoleon Bonaparte. On March 14, a message about the Laon victory arrived at the Allied Headquarters in Troyes, where the Russian Emperor Alexander and the Prussian King arrived from Chaumont. It was no longer possible to postpone the trip to Paris.

The departure of the Austrian monarch to Dijon, closer to the southern army, which was still threatened by Marshal Augereau, only contributed to the determination of his two august “cousins”. Schwarzenberg continued to insist on defense, circled his troops, diligently avoiding meeting with the sovereigns. However, he had to move the main forces of the army to the right to prevent Napoleon from attacking the flank.

Ten days before Paris.  Not yet Napoleon's last chance

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is by no means a battle artist, he was brighter than many who managed to reflect the spirit of the 1814 company

And although Napoleon, who did not win at Laon, managed to get rid of the annoying Blucher for a while, the allied Main Army was hardly worth fearing his blow. Nevertheless, Napoleon, with his unfired concripts, who had already learned the taste of victory, again attacked Schwarzenberg.

The Emperor believed, or at least constantly declared that he had enough infantry and cavalry. But he understood that now he had almost no artillery left at all, and besides, the old artilleryman Marmont, his old comrade, had so ineptly allowed the Russians and Prussians to repulse their guns at night near Laon.

The position at Arsi across the Aub river for the emperor was long ago picked up by his punctual Berthier, who compared it with last year’s positions at Dresden. Napoleon did not forget that there the French core had slain General Moreau, his old enemy. However, under Arcy, the French commander no longer had the opportunity to act so freely along the internal lines of operation, taking advantage of the passivity of the Allies.

The positions at Dresden and Arsi are similar to each other only on the map.

No, the Austrian field marshal Schwarzenberg, like a year ago, commanding, in addition to the Austrians, Bavarians, Prussians, and Russians, was not distinguished by zeal and desire to attack. He was quite satisfied that Napoleon now had to lead an exhausted army into the attack against three times the superior forces of the enemy. Even with an excellent artilleryman under his command, Drouot, who sorely lacked not only guns, but also experienced artillerymen.

The French were in a hurry, assuming that the Silesian army would certainly try to strike them in the rear. In this case, Napoleon left behind the rearguard from MacDonald’s corps, and this time without an artillery park, which tied him hand and foot. This marshal, to whom Blucher did not want to subordinate in the preparation of the Russian campaign, was a real master of maneuver, and could give Napoleon the most necessary – time to strike the main army.

In addition, Blucher, after the victorious Laon, suddenly disappeared somewhere. For several days, little was known about the movements of the Silesian army even in the Allied Headquarters – couriers with dispatches were very late due to the difficulties of moving around France with a hostile population.

Advance! To Paris!

But the old hussar has already, as they say, bit the bit. He was attracted only by the French capital, close to which Blucher had once approached. He understood that only from Paris can the terms of peace be dictated. And it is not necessary to dictate them to the Emperor Napoleon.

In Arsy-sur-Aube at this time, only the Bavarians of Wrede remained with the allies, who clearly did not want a repetition of the battle with Napoleon one-on-one, as at Hanau. The Russian corps of Virtemberg and Raevsky rushed to Provins to prevent MacDonald from playing the role of rearguard against Blucher. Tom practically untied his hands, as MacDonald went to Maison Rouge, which the Prussian soon took advantage of.

And Napoleon once again set his sights on the main army of Schwarzenberg, knowing that she again began to scatter its forces. After Laon he gave the army, which had retreated and stopped at Soissons, a day of rest. One of Blucher’s subordinates, the Russian general Saint-Prix, on his own initiative moved from Chalon to Reims, believing that the French had not yet come to their senses after the Laon fiasco.

Napoleon had to postpone the offensive against Schwarzenberg. For the protection of the city, in which all his predecessors on the French throne were crowned, the emperor brought down the might of his entire army on Saint-Prix. From Blucher’s army, Napoleon covered himself with the Mortier corps, and attacked the Russian corps based in Reims almost by surprise, since the soldiers had already been disbanded by his commander.

The Russians have not received such a cruel lesson for a long time. General Saint-Prix himself was mortally wounded, and his corps lost almost four thousand men and 10 guns. The Reims defeat pretty much embarrassed Schwarzenberg, who immediately recalled the corps of Raevsky and Virtemberg, and along with them the Hungarian corps of Giulai.

On March 17, Napoleon was already advancing against the Main Army of the Allies, choosing its right flank as an object for attack, with a threat to communications. The emperor knew perfectly well how anxiously the Austrian field marshal took care of them. He planned to cross the River O just at Arsi.

A day later, Schwarzenberg received a message about Napoleon’s movement and that his vanguard, passing Fer-Champenoise, was heading for Herbiss. It is only 7 kilometers from Arsi, where the headquarters of the Austrian field marshal was at that time. The headquarters with the sovereigns had prudently moved to Troyes the day before.

It was also planned to assemble the scattered corps of the Main Army to Troyes, but Napoleon delayed, not reaching Herbiss in order to attach the MacDonald corps. The emperor decided to either attack the right flank of the Allies, or cut off the corps that could advance to the banks of Oba in support of the Bavarians of Wrede.

The far-reaching goal of Napoleon was, having thrown back the army of Schwarzenberg, to annex 30 thousand from the garrisons of the fortresses already in the east of France. Another 20 thousand conscripts had to be brought from near Paris by Marshal Marmont, and then Napoleon could practically equalize forces with the Main Army of the Allies.

However, such ambitious but controversial plans were a salvation for Schwarzenberg. During March 18 and 19, he was able to concentrate significant forces – almost 80 thousand, and not at Troyes, but in front – between Arsy and Plancy, in order to attack the French while crossing the Ob. But in the meantime, the Napoleonic vanguards had already crossed the river at Plancy. Wrede, who withdrew with the Bavarians in the direction of Brienne, feeling the support of other corps, headed back to the ferries at Arsi.

There, beyond the river, in the shade of the trees

The French managed to advance to the bridges on the Ob even faster, and on the night of March 20, almost 20 thousand people with several batteries managed to force the river. On three roads they advanced to the villages of Torsi and Vilet, and immediately began to strengthen them. At about one in the afternoon, the Bavarian infantry attacked both villages, starting the battle at Arsy-sur-Aube.

Schwarzenberg, not without reason, feared for crossings elsewhere, at Plancy, from where he was threatened with a blow to the flank. Three allied corps remained there at once. Therefore, against the French, of whom after the arrival of Napoleon there were already 26 thousand, Schwarzenberg was able to put up only 40 thousand people. However, he had a very significant superiority in artillery – more than 300 cannons and howitzers against 180 for the French.

The entire first day of the battle at Arsi Napoleon literally climbed into the thick of it. Many contemporaries believed that he was openly seeking death. Worthy of death.

“1814th. Emperor”. Batalist J.-L. E. Meyssonnier in all the paintings tried to compliment the emperor, it did not always work

Napoleon was soon to be approached by four and a half thousand of MacDonald’s experienced fighters and guns, no less than fifty. General Lefebvre-Denouette’s 7,000th division was already lining up behind Ob. But the reinforcements to the Allies, who almost continuously attacked the French positions, were pulled up much faster.

Napoleon could count on no more than 32 thousand of his soldiers. At the same time, by the evening of March 20, Schwarzenberg had at least 90 thousand people at hand, who covered the French positions in a semicircle. Their depth was much shallower than near Dresden; individual cannonballs, fired by Russian gunners, reached cities and even as far as the river crossings.

The allies were already lining up in front of the French in the dark, but their enormous superiority in forces was still noticeable. French historian, future Prime Minister and President of the Third Republic A. Thiers found somewhere a recording of the conversation between the emperor and General Sebastiani:

– Well, General, what do you say about what is happening?
“I will say that your Majesty undoubtedly possesses new resources that we do not know.
– Only those that you see, and no other.
– But then why does your Majesty not think about how to raise the nation?
– Chimeras! Chimeras from the memories of the revolution and Spain. A nation was raised in a country where the revolution destroyed the nobles and the clergy, and where I myself destroyed the revolution!

With the loss of four thousand men, no more and no less than that of the allies, Napoleon did not dare to continue the battle the next day. The Russians and the Prussians managed to take the city of Arsi only after the French blew up the bridge and established themselves on the right bank.

The Bavarians crossed the Ob near the town of Lemon and cautiously followed the retreating French. Napoleon will once again try to outwit the allies with the help of a false flanking maneuver, but he will not be able to catch Blucher. There were only ten days left before the fall of Paris and the abdication.

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