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Battle of Craonne

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Battle of Craonne
Part of the War of the Sixth Coalition
Date7 March 1814
Result French victory
First French Empire French Empire Kingdom of Prussia Kingdom of Prussia
Russian Empire Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders
First French Empire Napoleon
First French Empire Michel Ney
First French Empire Étienne de Nansouty
Kingdom of Prussia Gebhard Blücher
Russian Empire Mikhail Vorontsov
Overall: 48,000
Craonne: 30,000, 102 guns[1]
Overall: 110,000
Craonne: 22,300, 96 guns[1]
Casualties and losses
8,000[1] 5,000[1]

The Battle of Craonne (7 March 1814) was a battle between an Imperial French army under Emperor Napoleon I opposing a combined army of Imperial Russians and Prussians led by Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. The War of the Sixth Coalition engagement began when the bulk of Napoleon's army tried to drive Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov's 22,000 Russians off the Chemin des Dames plateau to the west of Craonne. After a bitter struggle, Napoleon's attacks compelled Vorontsov's force to withdraw, but French casualties exceeded Russian losses. While the battle raged, Blücher's attempt to turn Napoleon's east flank ended in failure due to poor planning.

In late February 1814, Blücher's army separated from the main Allied army of Austrian Field Marshal Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg, moving northwest and making a dash at Paris. Napoleon left Marshal Jacques MacDonald with one army to observe Schwarzenberg and started after Blücher with another army. Blücher evaded Napoleon's attempt to trap him and retreated north toward Laon, picking up reinforcements as he went. Russian forces under Ferdinand von Wintzingerode and a Prussian corps led by Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow would soon give Blücher a huge numerical advantage over the French. Napoleon came into contact with Vorontsov's corps on the evening of 6 March, believing that he had Blücher on the run. The next contest would be the Battle of Laon on 9–10 March.

Craonne is located 25 kilometres (16 mi) southeast of Laon and about 90 kilometres (56 mi) northeast of Paris.[2]

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Before the long winter of 1916/1917, the Italian army had launched nine Battles of the Isonzo River, hoping to breakthrough the Austro-Hungarian defenses. And now winter is over, and that means it’s time for the 10th Battle of the Isonzo River. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week the Allied five-nation army attacked and lost all along the line in Macedonia. The French took Craonne in the west, and the British took heavy casualties at Bullecourt, prompting Winston Churchill to ask Parliament why the British weren’t waiting for American help to arrive before attacking. But if there was any uncertainty in the British government, it was nothing compared to that in Russia. On the 12th, General Lavr Kornilov, Commandant of Petrograd, and Alexander Guchkov, Minister of Marine and War, resigned. The 16th saw a new coalition cabinet, with Alexander Kerensky the new Minister of War. Now, the day before that, the Petrograd Soviet, one of two factions vying for control in Russia, issued a manifesto demanding a platform of peace without annexations or indemnities. The Provisional Government, the other faction, rejected calls for peace, and Kerensky even wanted to renew offensive operations. As if that wasn’t confusing enough, Leon Trotsky arrived in Petrograd this week. Also, the Provisional Government admitted six moderate members of the Petrograd Soviet into its ranks this week. They were Mensheviks, a socialist faction in Russia, whom Trotsky had once led, and whom the Bolsheviks under Lenin vehemently opposed. Trotsky now agreed with much of the Bolshevik positions, but did not join them at this point. Also in Russia, in Kronstadt Naval Base in the Gulf of Finland, the Kronstadt Soviet - led by 3,000 Bolshevik sailors - declared independence from the Provisional Government. This infuriated Lenin because he didn’t think the Bolsheviks were ready to make their move and he didn’t want anyone jumping the gun. He ordered them to call off their actions, which they soon did. But whether or not there would be more Russian attacks in future, there were British ones this week. But the Battle of Arras did finally come to an end on the 17th, the day the British army took the village of Bullecourt after over a month of trying. The British had taken 159,000 casualties in 39 days (Cheerful Sacrifice), which works out to 4,000 per day. That’s over 1,000 more per day than they took at the Somme last year, and is actually the highest daily average casualty total the British army would take in any of its major offensive battles of the whole war. Jonathan Nicholls in “Cheerful Sacrifice” estimates the German losses at around 120,000. However, in spite of the tremendous casualties, the British had managed to push the Germans back between 3 and 9 km on a front of over 30km. British Commander in Chief Sir Douglas Haig’s men had made advances greater than at any time since the beginning of trench warfare in 1914, had taken over 20,000 prisoners and 254 big guns, and the tank was now a part of an infantry advance. Speaking of tanks, a side note here - this week on the 14th at Mainz, the first German tank trial was held. But the British Offensive wasn’t the only one coming to an end. As I mentioned last week, the spring actions in Macedonia were now winding down, the Allies unable to advance. After unsuccessful attacks this week, they withdrew beyond the Struma River and made a series of easily reinforced bridgeheads should the Bulgarians attack. The Bulgarians welcomed the rest, though, and put out placards that read, “we know you’re going back to the hills, so are we” (Gilbert). One thing of note that happened there this week, though, was the Battle of Raviné Hill. This was the first engagement of the Greek army under the Salonika government, so not the Greek Royal government. After a French artillery barrage, three Greek companies attacked Bulgarian positions on May 14th and captured the hill. The counter bombardment was fierce, the Greeks taking 75% casualties and being forced to abandon the hill, but French and Greek forces did retake it that night. This helped the Greek reputation in Entente countries, who often viewed Greece as an enemy after armed Royalist confrontations with allied troops last December. There was even action this week elsewhere in the region. The Serbian rebels had been defeated in the Toplica Rebellion a few weeks ago, but those remaining had resorted to guerilla warfare. On the 15th, rebels under Kosta Pechanac set fire to several Bulgarian border villages and the Serbian town of Bosilegrad, which was predominantly inhabited by Bulgarians. They could move pretty freely because some of them were dressed in captured Bulgarian uniforms and if they were questioned they said they were escorting captured Serbian bandits. Their number is unclear, with reports ranging from a few dozen up to around 200. We do have a better report of the death toll - 33 civilians - who were killed before the houses were set on fire. 317 houses in Bosilegrad were burned. But if things were winding down in the Balkans, they were heating up on the Italian front. The 10th Battle of the Isonzo River began this week, and this time the Italians were also using British artillery. At dawn on May 12th, over 3,000 big guns began to pound the Austro-Hungarian positions. They fired all that day and the next, and till noon on the 14th. This was a bigger barrage than anything they’d tried before and it destroyed fortified positions all over, killing thousands of the enemy. When it stopped, three divisions of the Plava Corps charged the slopes of Hill 383 and attacked its Hungarian defenders. Hill 383 was known as Bloody 383 and was true to its reputation, machine guns, mortars, and artillery tore apart the massed Italian infantry. The defenders also took huge losses, though, and they were unable to bring up any more ammunition or reserves, so eventually, determined and repeated Italian attacks took the hill. It had taken two years for them to do so. Downriver, Zagorra fell after a brave defense by Serbs and Croats, but it wasn’t the worst loss that day for the Imperial Austrian army. A few more kilometers down the Isonzo River, a barrage of high explosive shells rained down on the Hungarians holding Mount Santo and a surprise attack put it in Italian hands. The news of these victories spread through the army and Parliament, and were in fact victories to rival those at the beginning of the 6th battle last August. And much like that battle, Italian celebrations now were premature. See, Mount Santo was kind of a pivot for the whole front, so Austrian Major General Guido Novak von Arienti assembled all the mountain troops he could get his hands on and launched a surprise attack at midnight, taking back the summit. Over the next few days the Italians would repeatedly try and retake it, but it remained in Austrian hands. For the rest of the week, Luigi Capello’s Army of Gorizia attacked on the central front again and again. On the 18th, the “Iron General” Maurizio Gonzaga did manage to capture Mount Vodice, but otherwise the enemy lines held firm and most of the Bainsizza Plateau remained Austrian territory. This was not the Italian plan for phase one of the battle, as a breakthrough would ideally cause the Austrians to move troops northward, so in phase two the Italians could breakthrough further south on the Carso Plateau. Here’s an Italian soldiers’ jingle from the battle I found in Martin Gilbert’s “The First World War”. General Cadorna wrote to the queen, “If you want to see Trieste, buy a postcard”. And the week comes to an end, with more confusion in Russia, the Allies ending offensives in the west and in the Balkans, and the Italians beginning a huge new one. I’ve mentioned the British and Russian leadership today, so I’ll end with that of the Germans. The German General staff had such huge war aims that they could only be realized with a German military victory. Hopes for that were running very high at this point. The Western Front was holding, Russia was in disarray, and sinkings at sea were growing and growing. Admiral Eduard von Capelle told the Reichstag, “I am fully and firmly convinced that the war will end by October.” Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg wrote that Germany had become so strong that the Western Front could stand up to any attack. And all this month German intelligence reported increasing concern in Allied Capitals. Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff said that he had info that “England could, under no conditions, prosecute the war for more than three months longer, and this, on account of the shortage of foodstuffs.” At a champagne dinner this week, the Kaiser himself toasted the Allied defeats in Arras, on the Aisne, and in Champagne, saying, “We have gained a famous victory!” Even Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, often the voice of pessimism or reality, told the Reichstag this month that Germany’s military situation had never been more favorable. Well... maybe. I mean, the country had serious food and supply issues by now. We’ve talked before about the Turnip winter and civilian starvation, and the Hindenburg Programme was not working out as expected by this time. It was supposed to ease the burden on the troops by substituting machines, but Germany could not keep up with British and French combined production, and the men, horses, and everything else taken from agricultural production for the army and munitions caused food shortages and inflation. The workers were in the streets. And Germany’s allies? Except Bulgaria, who wasn’t interested in fighting anywhere except the Balkans, they were in worrisome condition. But hey, as Bethmann-Hollweg said, “Germany’s MILITARY situation had never been more favorable”. Well, then it must be time to celebrate! If you want to learn more about Paul von Hindenburg and why he was so confident check out our biography episode right here. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Jakub Weberschinke. Help us out on Patreon if you want more maps, more animations and more glorious content. Don’t forget to subscribe, see you next time.




On 22 February 1814, Schwarzenberg with nearly 150,000 Allied troops faced Napoleon with half that number at Troyes. Because bad news arrived from the south and the Allied army was poorly supplied, but mainly because he believed that he was outnumbered, Schwarzenberg ordered a retreat that evening. Disappointed that no battle was going to be fought, Blücher proposed that his army separate from the main army and operate to the north. To this Schwarzenberg agreed and Blücher's 53,000 soldiers began moving northwest.[3] When he realized that the Prussian field marshal's army was headed for Paris, Napoleon left 42,000 troops under Marshal Jacques MacDonald to contain Schwarzenberg and marched after Blücher with 35,000 men. An additional 10,000 soldiers under Marshals Auguste de Marmont and Édouard Mortier stood between the Prussian field marshal and Paris.[4]

Marmont and Mortier blocked Blücher's advance on 28 February when they defeated Friedrich von Kleist's corps[5] in the Battle of Gué-à-Tresmes.[6] The following day, Blücher again failed to push the reinforced French out of his path, but time had run out. On 2 March the Prussian field marshal realized that Napoleon was following him and decided to retreat to the north bank of the Ourcq River. He knew that Wintzingerode's Russians and Bülow's Prussians were nearby and hoped to join them soon.[7] The premature surrender of Soissons allowed Blücher to more easily cross to the north bank of the Aisne River on 3–4 March.[8] By this time Napoleon knew that Wintzingerode had joined Blücher, giving him at least 70,000 men to oppose 48,000 French troops. However, the French emperor believed that Bülow was still well to the north near Avesnes-sur-Helpe.[9]

Pre-battle maneuvers

In fact, Blücher may have had as many as 110,000 troops by this time. They were distributed as follows – Russians: Wintzingerode (30,000), Louis Alexandre Andrault de Langeron (26,000), Fabian Gottlieb von Osten-Sacken (13,700); Prussians: Bülow (16,900), Kleist (10,600), Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg (13,500). For his part, Napoleon had 34,233 troops on 2 March while Marmont and Mortier had been reinforced to 17,000 men but lost possibly 3,000 casualties in the week before Craonne. Yet, Napoleon hoped to get to Laon before Blücher's army arrived there.[10] On 5 March, Napoleon was at Fismes from where he hoped to move straight north to Laon. Since he lacked a pontoon bridge to cross the Aisne, the French emperor directed his forces to move northeast to Berry-au-Bac where there was a stone bridge. Berry-au-Bac was on the direct road from Reims to Laon.[11] On this day, Napoleon ordered Jan Willem Janssens at Mézières to gather up the Ardennes garrisons and operate in Blücher's rear areas.[12] Janssens promptly obeyed and the movements of his troops threw a scare into the Allies.[13]

At 5:00 am on 5 March, Guard cavalry divisions under Pierre David de Colbert-Chabanais and Louis Marie Levesque de Laferrière surprised and captured Reims and its Allied garrison.[14] Napoleon ordered Étienne Marie Antoine Champion de Nansouty to seize Berry-au-Bac with a cavalry force consisting of Rémi Joseph Isidore Exelmans' division and Louis Michel Pac's brigade. Nansouty's troopers overran some Russian cavalry and captured 200 men and two guns, but the main prize was their seizure of the bridge. Louis Friant's 1st Old Guard Division and Claude Marie Meunier's 1st Young Guard Division crossed and occupied positions as far north as Corbeny.[13] From 3:00–6:00 pm on 5 March, Marmont and Mortier tried to capture Soissons from its Russian garrison, but were repulsed. The Russians sustained 1,056 casualties,[14] while the French lost 800–900 men.[13] Another source calculated French losses as 1,500 men.[11]

Blücher realized that Napoleon was trying to reach Laon by the Reims road. He sent Bülow and his wagon trains back to Laon. The Prussian commander began to shift his other forces to the northeast. By 6 March Napoleon had 30,500 men near Berry-au-Bac. He planned to send an advanced guard north toward Festieux, but needed to make sure of Blücher's intentions.[15] During the day of 6 March, Meunier's division encountered Russian forces near Vauclair Abbey (Vauclerc) while two battalions of the Old Guard were needed to flush out Craonne's Russian defenders.[16] At first Blücher directed his army to concentrate near Craonne, but he decided that position was too cramped for his 90,000 men. He also heard that French cavalry were advancing north on the Reims road. Changing plans, Blücher planned to assemble 10,000 cavalry and 60 horse artillery guns under Wintzingerode and send it toward Festieux.[17] Wintzingerode's force consisted of 5,500 of his own horsemen plus all of the reserve cavalry belonging to Langeron and Yorck. Blücher ordered Wintzingerode's infantry, commanded by Vorontsov, to remain behind and directly oppose Napoleon's army.[18]

Allied corps commanders

French corps commanders


6 March

By 5:00 pm on 6 March, Meunier captured Vauclair Abbey from the Russians. Meunier and the Old Guard battalions captured Heurtebise Farm several times, but its Russian defenders threw them out each time and remained in possession of the place.[19] The Russian forces involved were the 13th and 14th Jäger Regiments.[17] That evening, Meunier withdrew a little to the north while the Old Guards occupied part of the Chemin des Dames ridge that they seized. Pierre François Xavier Boyer's division was at Bouconville in support of Meunier, one Old Guard brigade was at Craonne and the other was at Corbeny, Exelmans' horsemen were at Craonnelle and Joseph Boyer de Rébeval's division was at La Ville-aux-Bois-lès-Pontavert. The divisions of Colbert, Laferrière, Philibert Jean-Baptiste Curial, Henri François Marie Charpentier and Nicolas-François Roussel d'Hurbal were at Berry-au-Bac. Still south of the Aisne were Mortier at Cormicy, Jean-Toussaint Arrighi de Casanova at Roucy and Marmont more distant at Braine.[19] With him, Mortier had the infantry divisions of Charles-Joseph Christiani and Paul-Jean-Baptiste Poret de Morvan and the cavalry division of Jean-Marie Defrance.[13]

Blücher planned to have Vorontsov defend against a French attack on the Chemin des Dames ridge, while Sacken remained in support farther west at Braye-en-Laonnois.[17] While Napoleon was facing Vorontsov, Wintzingerode's cavalry, followed by Kleist, York and Langeron, would move east on the north side of the Ailette River, then strike Napoleon's right flank and rear. Wintzingerode's cavalry was supposed to gather at Filain before setting out on its march and was expected to arrive at Festieux at dawn. One difficulty was that Wintzingerode's horsemen would first have to move west along the Chemin des Dames ridge to reach Filain.[18] When Wintzingerode arrived at Filain during the night, he found that the cavalrymen of Yorck and Langeron were already in camp with their horses unsaddled. In the circumstances, Wintzingerode decided to wait until daybreak to start on his march, but he neglected to order a reconnaissance of the roads.[20]

7 March: Plans

Colored print shows a map of the Battle of Craone on 7 March 1814.
Battle of Craonne

The Chemin des Dames (Ladies' Road) starts on the Soissons-Laon road and runs east along a continuous ridge to Craonne and then loses elevation before rising again a little at Corbeny. The ridge has an average height of 400 feet (122 m) above the Aisne valley on the south. North of the Ailette there is more ground of a similar elevation. The slope was wooded and steeper on the north side where the marshy Ailette ran west before joining the Oise River. The ridge varies from 200 yards (180 m) to 2 miles (3.2 km) in width. It is narrow in the places where ravines encroach from north and south.[21] The Russian position was naturally strong because the ridge in front was narrow and easily targeted with artillery fire. North of the narrows were the Marion Woods while the Quatre Heures Woods were to the south.[22] The ridge was steep on the right flank but even more so on the left. The disadvantage on the left flank was that the slope was so steep that it provided the French with "dead ground" or places where they could approach without coming under cannon fire.[23]

At 8:00 am on 7 March, Vorontsov deployed his corps facing east in three lines, spaced 400 to 500 yards (366 to 457 m) apart. The first Russian line was 1.5 miles (2 km) long and a distance of 1,100 yards (1 km) west of Heurtebise Farm. The first line consisted of 14 battalions of Nikolay Vasilyevich Vuich's 24th Division, Mikhail Ponset's brigade of the 14th Division and the 13th Jägers. On the right of the first line were the Pavlograd Hussars and four Cossack regiments under Alexander Christoforovich Benkendorf. The 14th Jägers held the Heurtebise Farm and drew up in skirmish formation in front of the first line. The advance force was led by Afanasy Ivanovich Krasovsky and included two squadrons of the Pavlograd Hussars on the jägers' right. The village of Ailles on the left flank was held by skirmishers.[24]

The Russian second line was made up of the seven battalions of Vasily Laptiev's 21st Division. The third line under Pavel Aleksandrovich Stroganov comprised nine battalions in Nikolay Nikolaevich Hovansky's 12th Division and Sergey Fyodorovich Zheltukhin's brigade of 13th Division. Nikolay Diomidovich Myakinin commanded the corps artillery which deployed 12 heavy and 24 light guns in the center under Colonel Vinspar. The 12 guns of Horse Artillery Battery Nr. 11 were on the right flank and the 12 guns of Horse Battery Nr. 9 were on the left. Six guns of Heavy Foot Battery Nr. 28 were of the left of the second line dominating the slope on the left. There were 24 light and six heavy guns held in reserve.[24] During the battle 18 guns from the reserve were brought forward as replacements while 12 guns were used during the retreat.[25] Since 1811 Russian artillery batteries each numbered 12 field pieces.[26]

According to one authority, Vorontsov commanded roughly 16,300 infantry, 1,000 regular cavalry, 1,000 Cossacks and 96 artillery pieces. Farther east at Cerny-en-Laonnois were 4,000 regular cavalry led by Ilarion Vasilievich Vasilshikov and 1,500 Cossacks under Akim Akimovich Karpov.[27] This cavalry force was part of Sacken's command. Sacken's infantry was posted too far east to help Vorontsov.[18] A second source credited Vorontsov with 16,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry and 96 guns, plus Vasilshikov's 4,000 horsemen.[28]

Napoleon had 23,573 infantry and 6,350 cavalry available,[29] plus 102 guns. However, the 8,000 men from the Guard divisions of Christiani and Poret de Morvan were not destined to be used.[30] One historian credited Napoleon with 30,000 troops and the Allies with 50,000.[31] Napoleon planned to launch a frontal assault on Vorontsov's Russians, using Marshal Claude Perrin Victor's corps and Curial's division. These formations were to be assisted by Friant's division and the reserve artillery. On the French right flank Marshal Michel Ney would lead the divisions of Meunier and Pierre Boyer to attack. On the left, Nansouty was instructed to lead Exelmans and Pac to turn the Russian flank. By 8:00 am, Napoleon was aware that his enemies intended to fight.[22]

Russian generals

French generals

7 March: Fighting

Photograph shows Route D18 CD on the Chemin des Dames with Heurtebise Farm at left.
The view is east along the Chemin des Dames with Heurtebise Farm at left. The French advance came toward the viewer.

At 9:00 am, the French Imperial Guard artillery unlimbered on the east end of the Chemin des Dames ridge and opened fire. The Russian artillery replied, but the range was 1,500 metres (1,640 yd), too long to inflict much damage on either side.[32] Blucher was with Vorontsov until 10:00 am when he rode off to learn the whereabouts of Wintzingerode's column.[20] Ney had been told to wait for the order to attack, but the bombardment caused him to send his troops forward. He ordered Pierre Boyer to attack Ailles with Meunier advancing on his left.[28] One account stated that Curial's division operated with Meunier's troops from the beginning.[33] Napoleon was partly responsible for Ney's blunder because he did not explain his battle plan to the marshal. Sending his men into the attack without artillery support was Ney's fault alone. The soldiers of both Meunier and Pierre Boyer were stopped in their tracks by the Russian cannons.[34] Boyer de Rébeval's division arrived on the field at 11:00 am, but Charpentier's division was slowed by sleet-covered roads.[32]

At about 11:00 am Heurtebise Farm burst into flame and was abandoned.[34] Vorontsov ordered Krasovsky's advanced troops to pull back to the main line. The 2nd Jäger Regiment from the second line moved forward and occupied Ailles.[32] Because of Ney's premature attack, Boyer de Rébeval's division had to be diverted from the main attack to support the right flank.[28] At 11:30 am, Ney's artillery began pounding the Russian left flank and Ney personally led Meunier's men forward to the top of the slope. Nansouty advanced up the Paissy spur and pushed back the cavalry on the Russian right flank[34] despite being charged by three Cossack regiments and four squadrons of hussars led by Benkendorf.[35] At noon, Boyer de Rébeval attacked and seized the Marion Woods.[34] Early in the action, a bullet hit Victor in the thigh, putting him out of action.[35] On the Russian side, Krasovsky was also quickly wounded and compelled to leave the field. Boyer de Rébeval's advance was carried out by Auguste Julien Bigarré's brigade with Jacques Lecapitaine's brigade in reserve. They were supported by six batteries of Guard artillery plus 12 their own guns. Since Boyer de Rébeval's men were raw conscripts with only 20 days of service their musketry and cannon fire was not very effective.[33]

By 1:00 pm, the Russians threatened to drive the troops of Meunier and Boyer de Rébeval off the ridge.[34] Boyer de Rébeval brought up Lecapitaine's brigade on Bigarré's left. Vorontsov committed Andrey Savvich Glebov's brigade from the third line into the fight. The 19th Jäger and Shirvan Infantry Regiments pressed forward but Antoine Drouot moved up two Guard artillery batteries and their fire halted the Russian attack. At 1:30 pm Napoleon ordered Emmanuel de Grouchy to commit his cavalry in an effort to get the attack moving. Grouchy sent Louis Ernest Joseph Sparre's dragoon brigade forward. Sparre's troopers drove off the Pavlograd Hussars[35] and then swept into Parkinson's Horse Artillery Battery Nr. 9, cutting down the gunners. Both Grouchy and Sparre were wounded and the dragoons were forced to retreat. Boyer de Rébeval's division fell back into the Marion Woods where it rallied.[36]

The battle of Craonne, by Theodore Jung.
The battle of Craonne, by Theodore Jung.

At 1:45 pm, Laferrière's 3rd Guard Cavalry Division charged the large Russian battery in the center. The elite horsemen got among the cannons but were unable to break the Russian foot soldiers behind the guns, who were formed in squares. Laferrière was badly wounded[36] and his horsemen were met by intense fire. However, by the time the Russians forced the Guard cavalry to retire, Charpentier's division reached the field and easily captured the Quatre Heures Woods. They were soon followed by Curial's division. By 2:30 pm, Charpentier's troops linked up with Nansouty's horsemen on the French left and together they began to force back the Russian right flank. Nansouty reached the end of the Paissy valley before being turned back by cannon fire. By this time Ney had brought Meunier's division onto the ridge and the Guard artillery moved forward. Pierre Boyer reported seeing an Allied force to the north; this was Kleist's corps moving east.[37]

That morning, having failed to reconnoiter the roads, Winzingerode selected a bad route. Meanwhile, Kleist selected a more direct route and the two columns crossed at Chevregny at 11:00 am, causing a traffic jam.[20] Kleist finally arrived at Festieux at 4:00 pm. Blücher caught up with Winzingerode at 2:00 pm at Bruyères-et-Montbérault and realized there was no chance to carry out the intended attack on Napoleon's east flank.[30] Anxious that Sacken and Vorontsov were in danger, Blücher ordered those generals to retreat.[36] Sacken received his orders at 3:00 pm. He instructed his cavalry to assist Vorontsov and sent his infantry north toward Laon. Vorontsov withdrew 22 dismounted guns and his wounded. He formed his infantry into a checkerboard of mutually-supporting squares and began to retreat to the west on the Chemin des Dames plateau.[38]

At 2:30 pm Napoleon decided to launch the decisive blow. The reserve artillery was brought forward and placed in battery beside the guns belonging to Victor's divisions and the Guard. Under the orders of Drouot, 88 guns pummeled the Russian infantry with grapeshot. The divisions of Friant and Curial pressed forward, supported by cavalry.[39] By 3:00 pm, the 2nd and 6th Jäger Regiments abandoned Ailles to Pierre Boyer's division. Napoleon appointed Augustin Daniel Belliard to replace the wounded Grouchy and switched the cavalry divisions of Roussel d'Hurbal and Colbert to the French left flank.[40] Earlier, Napoleon asked Charpentier to take command of Victor's corps.[38] Four French cannons astride the main road were particularly effective in punishing the withdrawing Russian infantry.[41]

The Russians fell back in good order to a position 800 yards (732 m) southwest of Ailles. At 4:00 pm Vorontsov withdrew again to the hamlet of Troyan near Cerny.[39] Alexey Petrovich Nikitin prepared an ambush with 36 guns from Sacken's corps. When the 6th Jägers fell back through their position, Nikitin's guns opened a deadly fire on the pursuing French.[41] Vasilshikov's cavalry intervened just as Benkendorf's horsemen were on the verge of being overwhelmed by the cavalry of Exelmans, Pac and Laferrière. Seeing Colbert's horsemen swarming around several Russian infantry squares, Vasilshikov ordered Sergey Nicolaevich Lanskoy to lead the Mariopol and Alexandria Hussar Regiments to charge. This attack drove off Colbert's troopers but the Russian hussars were in turn driven back by Nansouty's cavalrymen. Vasilshiov sent forward three dragoon regiments and Nansouty's cavalrymen were stopped as Lanskoy's hussars rallied in the rear.[42]

The Russians retired to another position on the Chemin des Dames plateau before crossing the Ailette at Chevregny. The French artillery took the crossing under fire and caused some confusion and loss, but Vorontsov's corps got safely away to the north bank. Since other Allied forces were in the area, the French pursuit ended about 7:00–8:00 pm. The French army bivouacked along the Chemin des Dames ridge as follows: Charpentier's infantry and the Guard cavalry at Filain, Colbert at Aizy-Jouy, Belliard at Ostel, Ney to the north of Ostel, Napoleon, Mortier and the Guard infantry at Braye-en-Laonnois. Étienne Tardif de Pommeroux de Bordesoulle's cavalry camped at Heurtebise Farm to establish a link with Marmont's corps at Berry-au-Bac.[43]


One historian stated that the Russians lost 5,000 while the French counted 5,500 casualties.[44] A second authority placed French casualties between 5,400 and 8,000, while the Russians admitted losing 4,785 killed, wounded and missing.[45] A third source broke down the Russian casualties into 1,529 dead and 3,256 wounded, while giving French losses as 8,000. General-Major Lanskoy was mortally wounded; Generalmajor Sergey Nikolaevich Ushakov II of the Courland Dragoon Regiment and Colonel Parkinson of the artillery were killed. General-Leutnant Laptiev and Generalmajors Hovansky, Glebov, Feodor Vasilyevich Zvarykin and Andrey Timofeevich Maslov were wounded. The Pavlograd Hussars lost 22 officers killed or wounded, the 13th Jägers lost 16 officers and 400 men and the Shirvan Infantry Regiment lost half its numbers. On the French side, Marshal Victor and Generals of Division Grouchy, Laferrière and Boyer de Rébeval were wounded as were Generals of Brigade Bigarré and Lecapitaine. Boyer de Rébeval's division suffered losses of two out of three men. Neither side lost a cannon or a color.[46] The 14th Voltigeurs, which was made up of French soldiers from Joseph Bonaparte's disbanded Spanish Guard, lost 32 officers and was virtually annihilated.[47]

According to two historians, Craonne was a Pyrrhic victory because the French held the battlefield at the day's end, but their other objectives were not attained.[46][30] Napoleon hoped to march rapidly to Laon and get there ahead of Blücher. In the event, the effort involved to drive off Vorontsov caused the French army to be spread out toward Soissons, rather than toward Laon. Napoleon had hoped to easily dispose of Vorontsov's corps, but found that he had to fight a major battle. Instead of cutting off Blücher from Laon, Napoleon had to pursue the Allied army directly.[30] If Blücher had added Sacken's infantry to Vorontsov's corps, Napoleon might well have been beaten.[48] Napoleon believed that the Allied army was fleeing from him in confusion, but this was not the case.[49] Napoleon's army would sustain a defeat in the Battle of Laon on 9–10 March and be lucky not to suffer even worse damage.[50]

Russian and French general officer casualties


French order of battle

Russian order of battle


  1. ^ a b c d Pigeard 2002, pp. 648–9.
  2. ^ Smith 1998, p. 507.
  3. ^ Petre 1994, pp. 86–91.
  4. ^ Petre 1994, p. 101.
  5. ^ Petre 1994, p. 105.
  6. ^ Smith 1998, p. 505.
  7. ^ Petre 1994, pp. 106–109.
  8. ^ Petre 1994, pp. 111–113.
  9. ^ Petre 1994, p. 115.
  10. ^ Petre 1994, pp. 115–116.
  11. ^ a b Petre 1994, p. 117.
  12. ^ Petre 1994, p. 119.
  13. ^ a b c d Nafziger 2015, p. 236.
  14. ^ a b Nafziger 2015, p. 235.
  15. ^ Petre 1994, pp. 118–119.
  16. ^ Petre 1994, p. 121.
  17. ^ a b c Nafziger 2015, p. 237.
  18. ^ a b c Petre 1994, p. 123.
  19. ^ a b Petre 1994, p. 122.
  20. ^ a b c Petre 1994, p. 130.
  21. ^ Petre 1994, p. 120.
  22. ^ a b Petre 1994, p. 124.
  23. ^ Petre 1994, p. 132.
  24. ^ a b c Nafziger 2015, p. 238.
  25. ^ Nafziger 2015, p. 239.
  26. ^ Rothenberg 1980, p. 202.
  27. ^ Nafziger 2015, p. 2015.
  28. ^ a b c Petre 1994, p. 125.
  29. ^ a b Nafziger 2015, p. 240.
  30. ^ a b c d Petre 1994, p. 131.
  31. ^ Houssaye Henry, Napoleon and the campaign of 1814. p. 157
  32. ^ a b c Nafziger 2015, p. 241.
  33. ^ a b c d Nafziger 2015, p. 242.
  34. ^ a b c d e Petre 1994, p. 126.
  35. ^ a b c Nafziger 2015, p. 243.
  36. ^ a b c Nafziger 2015, p. 244.
  37. ^ Petre 1994, p. 127.
  38. ^ a b Nafziger 2015, p. 245.
  39. ^ a b Petre 1994, p. 128.
  40. ^ Nafziger 2015, p. 246.
  41. ^ a b Nafziger 2015, p. 247.
  42. ^ Nafziger 2015, p. 248.
  43. ^ Petre 1994, p. 129.
  44. ^ Chandler 1966, p. 988.
  45. ^ Smith 1998, p. 508.
  46. ^ a b Nafziger 2015, p. 249.
  47. ^ Oman 1997, p. 253.
  48. ^ Petre 1994, p. 133.
  49. ^ Petre 1994, p. 134.
  50. ^ Chandler 1966, pp. 989–991.
  51. ^ Nafziger 2015, pp. 658–660.
  52. ^ a b Petre 1994, p. 131n: This source stated that Christiani and Poret de Morvan were not engaged.
  53. ^ Nafziger 2015, p. 734.
  54. ^ Nafziger 2015, pp. 661–662.


  • Chandler, David G. (1966). The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York, N.Y.: Macmillan.
  • Nafziger, George (2015). The End of Empire: Napoleon's 1814 Campaign. Solihull, UK: Helion & Company. ISBN 978-1-909982-96-3.
  • Oman, Charles (1997) [1930]. A History of the Peninsular War Volume VII. 7. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole. ISBN 1-85367-227-0.
  • Petre, F. Loraine (1994) [1914]. Napoleon at Bay: 1814. London: Lionel Leventhal Ltd. ISBN 1-85367-163-0.
  • Pigeard, Alain (2002). Dictionnaire de la Grande Armée. Paris: Tallandier.
  • Rothenberg, Gunther (1980). The Art of War in the Age of Napoleon. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-31076-8.
  • Smith, Digby (1998). The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill. ISBN 1-85367-276-9.

See also

External links

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