Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube
|Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube|
|Part of War of the Sixth Coalition|
Map of the battle
Kingdom of Bavaria
|Commanders and leaders|
Karl von Wrede
|20,000 rising to 28,000||43,000 rising to 80,000|
|Casualties and losses|
|3,000 dead or wounded||4,000 dead or wounded|
The Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube (20–21 March 1814) was Napoleon’s penultimate battle before his abdication and exile to Elba (the last was the Battle of Saint-Dizier). Encountering Field Marshal Schwarzenberg's larger Austrian force, Napoleon Bonaparte withdrew his French army after confused fighting.
Early on 20 March Napoleon set out for Arcis-sur-Aube (believed to be weakly held by the Austrians) in order to break out towards the Marne. By 11:00 a.m. on 20 March, Marshal Ney and General Sébastiani with 20,000 troops had forced Field Marshal Wrede’s 43,000 troops out of the Town of Arcis in bitter fighting. By 1:00 p.m. Napoleon arrived along the northern bank of the Aube River and crossed the bridge. A bitter cavalry action developed in the late afternoon and into the night. On one occasion the Emperor, protected only by a single company of the Polish 1st Light Cavalry Regiment of the Imperial Guard barely avoided being taken prisoner. During the night Schwarzenberg brought up and deployed 80,000 troops to face the French. Napoleon received reinforcements during the night, including units of the Imperial Guard, two cavalry formations, and one division from VIIth Corps commanded by Marshal Oudinot, giving 28,000 total troops. Schwarzenberg, suspecting a trap and yet unaware of his numerical advantage, did not attack until 3:00 p.m. on 21 March, by which time Napoleon had realized he was not facing a small Allied force. He broke contact with the enemy and ordered most French troops to recross the Aube River. A French rear guard commanded by Marshal Oudinot bitterly held off the Austrians until 6:00 p.m., before falling back in good order and blowing the bridge over the Aube River up behind them. The Austrians made no effort to pursue the retreating French, and overnight the French were able to link up near Ormes with other French forces.
The battle cost the French 3,000 casualties and the Austrians 4,000 casualties. On 25 March the Allies defeated Marshal Marmont and Marshal Mortier at the Battle of Fère-Champenoise, and three days later linked up with Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at Meaux. The Allies ignored Napoleon’s attempts to attack their lines of communications, and marched on Paris, which the Allies occupied on 31 March.
- Chandler, David (1999). Dictionary of the Napoleonic wars. Wordsworth editions.
- Chandler, David G (1966). The Campaigns of Napoleon. Scribner.
- Taylor, Brian (2006). The Empire of the French. Spellmount.