The Battle of Leipzig

Historical Battle of Leipzig

Apr 7, 2020 at Superb Free History Essays Online

The Battle of Leipzig (the Battle of Nations) took place between the 16th and 18th of October, 1813 at Leipzig, Saxony. It culminated with the German “War of Liberation”. Among all the Napoleonic wars, it was the biggest battle in terms of the amount of artillery and the number of troops engaged. A coalition of Russian, Austrian, Prussian and Swedish troops fought against the French Army of Napoleon. Napoleon’s army also included Germans from the Confederation of Rhine, Italian and Polish troops. It was the largest battle in Europe before the First World War as it involved over 600,000 soldiers (Brett-James, 2001). Napoleon I, Frederick Augustus I, Joachim I, Prince Poniatowski, Duke of Taranto, Duke of Belluno, Duke of Ragusa and the Duke of Elchingen led the French troops and their allies. The coalition side commanders and leaders were Alexander I, Prince Barclay De Tolly, Grand Duke of Constantine, Count Platov, Prince of Schwarzenberg, Count Benningsen, Crown Prince Charles John, and Count von Blucher (Brett-James, 2001).

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The French and allied contingents side had a total of 225,000 soldiers. These were 160,000 from France, 15,000 from Poland, 10,000 from Italy, and 40,000 in Germany. The coalition armies had a total of 380,000 soldiers. They included 145,000 Russians, 115,000 Austrians, 90,000 Prussians and 25,000 Swedish soldiers. The Napoleon side had about 700 cannons to its disposal, while the allied contingents had about 1500 cannons. The allied side had 101,000 infantrymen and 26,000 cavalries, while the French had 151,300 infantrymen and 41,300 cavalries (Erckmann, 2005). There was the use of heavy cavalries armed with long and straight sabers or broadsword. The light cavalries had short and curved sabers. All cavalrymen used pistols, carbines, and rifles. Heavy cavalry composed of large and required big strong horses. As a result, there was a deficiency in speed and endurance. Body armor used included cuirass and helmet. The cuirass protected the soldiers against shots fired from muskets and pistols from long distances. The helmet protected the head from many blows and cuts. The Napoleonic battles’ basis was the infantry. Musket, bayonet and carried a knapsack, water bottle, ammunition pouch, and a blanket or a greatcoat included some of the weapons used by the infantrymen. They also wore helmets and cuirasses (Erckmann, 2005).


During the French Invasion of Russia in 1812, the French and allied forces reduced and severely weakened. This even went up to a point where Prussia and Austria broke their alliance with France and switched camps. Napoleon's army was no longer ‘invisible’ and ‘unbeatable’ (Hofschro`er, 1999). Therefore, France and the allies were already psychologically troubled having to face the army that had defeated them the previous year, and due to the camp shift by the Austrians and Prussians, the number of Frenchmen and their allies reduced (Hofschro`er, 1999). The Austrians and the Prussians knew the French tactics and would use them against the Napoleon Army. An outnumbered side of a battle had extremely slim chances of winning. On the other hand, the Russian, Austrian, Prussian, and Swedish army came to the war being psychologically powerful. The reason was that they had a greater number and had defeated the Napoleon army the previous year.

Scheme of Maneuver

Napoleon’s plan was to launch the attack between the rivers Pleisse and Parthe. The terrain in Leipzig had many separate sectors due to the rivers’ confluence. Napoleon would be able to relocate troops from one area to another faster than the opponents by taking control of Leipzig and its bridges. To the north, the defense was by Ney and Marmont, and MacDonald defended the Eastern front. The ambulances, artillery reserves and parks, and baggage had their storage place near Leipzig. Augereau and the “intrepid Poniatowski” defended the western flank (Leavelle, 2000). According to Tsar Alexander, the Russian troops of Grand Duke Constantine and Barclay de Tolly would go to the right of the Pleisse River. Karl Schwarzenberg had the overall command and directed that the Austrian force would fight along the Pleisse River.

October 16th, 1813 was the first day of the battle. The allies fired shots at around 8 am. Artillery on both sides opened fire. 68,000 men under Klenau and Wittgenstein attacked Liebertwolkwitz, Wachau, and Mark-Kleberg. The French battery defended well when a group of Austrian infantry regiments attacked along Pleisse River. Commander of the Austrian troops being nearsighted mistook some enemy troops for Prussians (Leavelle, 2000). It resulted in his capture. The troops found a copy of the coalition’s plan in his pocket and delivered it to Napoleon. Russian II Infantry Corps supported by the Prussians launched an attack on Wachau. However, the French recovered the village after a surprise attack on the Russians. At the northern front, the Russians took control of the area, although with many casualties (Leavelle, 2000).

On the 17th of October, 1813, the Russians attacked the village of Gohlis. The Frenchmen were losing, and they received a reinforcement of 14,000 troops. The coalition received a reinforced of 145,000 troops. On the 18th of October, 1813, Napoleon was planning to withdraw his troops. Napoleon gave a letter to be taken to the Austrian Emperor I and offered to surrender to the coalition the area he held along the Oder and Vistula, on condition that the coalition allowed him to withdraw to a position behind the Saale (Nafziger, 2002). The emperor declined the offer. From all directions, the coalition started assaulting the French troops. During the battle, 5,400 Saxons defected to the coalition which greatly hampered the Napoleon army. The Swedish troops participated only in the last attack on Leipzig. On the 19th of October, 1813, Napoleon began withdrawing his troops. As the French troops were crossing the bridge over Elster River, a French corporal blew it up. This marked a definite defeat for the Napoleon army (Nafziger, 2002).

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The battle of Leipzig resulted in the destruction of the French-controlled regions in Germany and Poland. An estimated 124,000 casualties resulted from the battle. Napoleon’s casualties included between 40,000 to 45,000 soldiers killed, wounded and left in hospitals. There were about 15,000 to 30,000 soldiers imprisoned, and he also lost 300 guns. Marshall Poniatowski got killed, and Marshalls Ney and Marmont got severe wounds. Those killed, wounded or captured amounted to a total of about 50,000 to 55,000 coalition troops. The defeat at Leipzig left Napoleon’s power weakened in Europe (Nafziger, 2002).

Contemporary Weapons

Two centuries have elapsed since the battle of Leipzig. This change in time has seen the combat field grow enormously. Technological development and inventions have resulted in the development of, particularly advanced weapons. The airplane is a famous invention that did not exist during the 19th century. Contemporary weapons cover many sectors that include nuclear weapons, bio-chemical weapons, submarines, fighter jets, tanks, drones, and a wide variety of guns. In the modern world, inventions and technology have created weapons that are able to assault from the air or even in the water. This has seen the development of air force and navy (Smith, 2001).

If the Napoleon army had access to these weapons, and they were to fight the coalition troops who were using the 19th-century weapons, they would have won without the need to have a large army. For instance, if they had tanks and fighter jets, the moment the coalition troops opened fire on the 16th of October, 1813, they would have used tanks to launch an extremely strong counter-attack on the ground. Owing to the fact that a tank causes havoc and breaks down enemy position, the coalition would surrender as the artillery cannot withstand a tank (Smith, 2001). The tank would have also enabled the Frenchmen to navigate well even where the terrain was rugged or there were obstacles. Assuming that the Napoleon army had access to fighter jets, for example, the Tigre used by the French air force, they would have had a vast aerial advantage. They would launch an airstrike. This would have resulted in about 99% of casualties on the enemy side. Modern technology also allows the use of computer-controlled missiles that if were available to the Napoleon army, would have used against their enemies from a distance and won the fight without casualties. The guns used in current warfare are very different from the guns in the 19th century. Nowadays they are automatic and are able to shoot many bullets in a short time. They also carry a higher capacity of bullets, and they reload automatically. If these guns were available to the Napoleon men, they would have exceedingly improved the assault ability of the troops resulting in a win. Had the Napoleon army had the modern weapons against the coalition’s ancient weapons, the battle would have lasted not more than an hour. It would have been a definite victory for the Napoleon troops (Smith, 2001).

Modern weapons have the ability to cause mass destruction. Russian weapons are highly effective. They range from handguns, shotguns, submachine guns, rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, explosives, fighter jets among many others. Similarly, France has great weapons. Both countries have well qualified and trained army personnel (Erckmann, 2005). If the Battle of Leipzig took place with both sides having modern weapons, it would have begun with the coalition, launching an airstrike on the Napoleon army. Using missile launchers, the Frenchmen and their allies would launch missiles towards the Russian fighter jets resulting in their blasting in the air. They would also launch missiles towards the coalition’s army camps targeting their arsenal and food storages. This would render the coalition army ineffective and they would have to engage in the war using guns. As they approach the Frenchmen’s areas, they would launch grenades towards them. Napoleon’s men would have to fight back using tanks, launching missiles and also setting up landmines on the periphery to protect their territory. The coalition army having little food would not have sufficient energy to fight. In addition, with most of their arsenal damaged, they could not launch an effective counter-attack (Erckmann, 2005). The result would be to retreat or surrender to the Napoleon army. This would be a win for the Frenchmen and their allies.


As a result of being outnumbered and the soldiers discouraged from the previous loss in Russia, Napoleon lost the battle of Leipzig. The coalition also had a grand attacking plan, and Napoleon opted to defend instead of attacking. He should have used more tactics other than defense only. The Napoleon troops and his allies had better internal communication (Leavelle, 2000). He should have used it to his advantage by communicating changes in the tactical plan. Napoleon started losing ground in the areas he controlled in Europe. Eventually, he went into after dethronement. If it were in modern times, the casualties would have been greater and more severe as weapons would have a mass destruction effect which is exemplified in such countries as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. The Hiroshima bombing is another example in the recent history of mass destruction (Leavelle, 2000).

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