Leipzig, Germany (1813 AD)
The Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of the Nations, was the largest single military engagement ever to be fought in Continental Europe prior to the 20th century. It was also one fought by one of the greatest military coalitions that had yet been seen in Europe: an army composed of forces from Russia, Austria, Prussia and Sweden defeated Napolean’s last serious effort at holding his empire in Germany together. This defeat forced the French to withdraw west of the Rhine River, and left France open to foreign invasion for the first time since Napolean’s ascendency.
The Battle of Leipzig represented was the last great battle of Napolean Bonaparte’s ten-year reign. For nearly a decade, the French Emperor had reigned supreme as Europe’s undisputed greatest military commander. His armies had won a nearly continuous string of victories throughout that period, conquering and re-conquering everyone in his path. However, by 1812, disastrous campaigns in Spain and Russia had sapped the French armies of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and Napolean’s enemies began to close in for the kill.
In 1812 the United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Prussia, Austria and Russia formed the Sixth Coalition, wuth the intention of defeating Napolean and the French for good. After falling back from their failed campaign in Russia, the French regrouped in Prussia. Somehow he managed to raise and supply fresh armies by the summer of 1813, and with victories at Lutzen, Bautzen and Dresden it appeared as though the French might regain the initiative.
But these triumphs were only temporary. Throughout Europe, enormous armies were being marshaled by the coalition and converging on Germany. In order to prevent any more defeats, the allies avoided any further direct confrontations with Napolean, instead picking off smaller armies led by other French marshalls. By mid-October, most of the French forces had withdrawn to Leipzig and were under the direct leadership of Napolean.
By this point, the coalition had Napolean signicantly outnumbered and surrounded. The battle began on October 16. The French were attacked simultaneously from all sides. For two days the allies beat back the French but could not penetrate their defenses. However, all efforts of the French to break out of the encirclement failed. Losses on both sides were huge, but the coalition was continually reinforced. By the 19th, the nearly continuous fighting proved too much for the French, and became evident to Napolean that defeat was inevitable. Evacuating what forces he could, he abandoned the field and fled back to Paris. His empire collapsed shortly thereafter.
The Battle of Leipzig was fought all around the city, with the largest engagements taking place at the outlying villages of Liebertwolkwitz and Mockern. Fifty engraved markers called the Apel Stones (named for the man who ordered and paid for them) are scattered throughout Leipzig. The main destination, from a visiting standpoint, is the massive Monument to the Battle of the Nations, supposedly built on the site where Napolean ordered the French retreat from the city.
The Leipzig battleground is scattered throughout the city of Leipzig, approximately 120 miles southwest of Berlin. All of the places related to the battle are open sites. Web: www.leipzig.de (official tourism website of Leipzig).