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Alternate Bautzen


© Final Sword Productions LLC 2009



May 3,1813 – as Napoleon reflected on how yesterday’s battle at Lutzen had been an indecisive tactical victory when he needed another Austerlitz to end this war before Austria entered it, he kept coming back to Ney’s inept handling of his corps. He had allowed himself to be surprised by the allied attack. Ney had been one of the few heroes of the retreat from Moscow. Napoleon had given him a large corps to command as a reward. It now seemed clear that Ney was still too shattered from the previous winter’s fighting to be trusted with such a command. Ney was still popular with the army so he was bumped to command of a division de marche of Young Guards which while a nominal demotion would not have been seen as such by the army.

This is turn forced Napoleon to confront his complex feelings towards Nicholas Davout, probably his best marshal, but under a cloud since the later stages of the retreat from Moscow. Napoleon had dumped Davout on a secondary command at Hamburg. Now needs must and he summoned him back to the main army. Davout was at best a difficult personality but his actions at Austerlitz, Auerstadt and Wagram had repeatedly worked to Napoleon’s advantage.

His command change paid off at Bautzen on the 20th. Had Ney been in command of the flanking column he might well have been distracted by the initial clashes and lost focus on the main mission, which was to surround and capture the Allied army before it could retreat behind its superior cavalry. Instead Davout ruthlessly left a corps to mask and fight the Russo-Prussian flank guards while leading the rest of his force to victory. He punched clear around the Allied armies to complete the encirclement at Hochkirch . Meanwhile Ney’s climatic assault under cover of the Grand Battery shattered the Allied front. A substantial portion of the Allied cavalry got away. The two monarchs, their courts, the infantry, the artillery, the baggage train and all their supplies were captured.

This effectively ended this stage of the war. Alexander I ransomed himself at the cost of abandoning all the Russian territorial gains of 1812-13 including the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. He also returned his French and allied prisoners. His higher nobility showed their distaste for both Alexander’s crusade into Central Europe and its expensive failure by deposing and assassinating him during the Christmas festivities in St. Petersburg. His brother Nicholas assumed the throne and was quite content to remove Russia from European affairs as long as the French did not further trouble his realm.

The Prussian monarch died in captivity and his realm was split between the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and the Kingdom of Westphalia. The city of Berlin was made a principality with Ney as nominal monarch. A similar principality was created at Danzig for Davout.

Left with no continental allies the British chose to end an endless war. They used Wellington’s victory at Vittoria to end the war on a note of triumph before a massive new round of French reinforcements could turn the tide back. Napoleon was content to wash his hands of his Spanish ulcer. Spain was partitioned with the French keeping an expanded Catalonia and Aragon. Europe’s peace was frigid but it was peace.


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