The Grande Armée is Rallied: French Defensive Operations in Poland and Prussia, Winter 1813

Mike DeFeudis, USA

 

During the interim period between Napoleon’s Russian and Saxon campaigns, Prince Eugene de Beauharnais was placed at the head of French forces and charged with the task of defending the French Emperor’s influence in central and eastern Europe. The devastated Grande Armee of 1812 was rallied and re-organized into a new fighting force with the objective of maintaining Napoleonic power until the emperor himself could return to renew the offensive. In the winter and spring of 1813 Eugene’s forces opposed a powerful and energized Russian army whose emperor was set on launching a war of liberation into the heart of Germany. Adverse conditions hampered the French Viceroy’s attempts to follow the directives of an unforgiving emperor hundreds of miles from the front. Lack of troops, guns, and horses, along with crippled morale, fading allies, and a large Russian army caused Eugene to slowly move westward toward the Elbe River and the massed conscripts of Napoleon’s rebuilding armies. Eugene’s tenor as commander of French forces saw dramatic changes in Europe’s political and military landscape. Russian armies poured into Prussia and Poland, Austria effectively abandoned their French alliance, Prussia joined with Russia, and Napoleon’s power was forever broken in eastern and central Europe. The French Emperor returned to face these challenges, which ultimately brought him to ruin. I contend that the difficulties of Prince Eugene’s operations worked with the failures of the Russian invasion to create this new landscape leading to the fall of Napoleon.

Michael R. DeFeudis is a graduate student at Florida State University under the direction of Dr. Rafe Blaufarb. He is a member of the Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution and of the International Napoleonic Society. Michael currently holds a Ben Weider Fellowship for the study of Napoleon I at Florida State, a special INS Presidential Scholarship to attend this Congress, and has also held a General Antoine-Henri Jomini Research Fellowship for study in France. His current research focuses on French defensive operations in the spring of 1813 under the command of the French Prince and Viceroy, Eugene de Beauharnais.