Battle of La Rothière.
February 1814
Napoleon's First Defeat on French Soil.

1. Introduction.
- - Campaign of France >
- - Allies in France >
2. Armies at La Rothiere.
- - Napoleon's army >
- - Blucher's army >
3. Map.
4. The Battle.
- -The gunsmoke mixed up with snowflakes >
- - Cavalry charges >
- - Street fighting: French vs Russians >
- - The Passive Austrians >
- - Blücher created confusion >
- - Bavarians attacked Napoleon's flank >
- - Young Guard in burning La Rothiere >
- - Russians charged into the village >
- - Napoleon's army began withdrawal >
- - Aftermath >
5. Sources and Links.

Napoleon in 1814 by Meissonier
Picture: Napoleon in 1814.

"The French (column) advancing up a narrow street ... found themselves
at the entrance to the village square besides the church.
Across the 30 yards of open space was a column, or more accurately,
a mass of Russian infantry pouring out onto the cobbles. The Russians,
seeing the enemy appear, directed a badly aimed volley and
refused to advance further. The two bodies of men now faced each other,
hurling musket balls and insults at each other, but neither showed
the slightest enthusiasm to charge home, despite the best efforts
of their officers." - P. Heath

"The Emperor's greatest antagonists are forced to admit
that he excelled himself in the winter campaign
which he conducted in the first three months of 1814."
- Marbot

Allies continued their offensive against Napoleon
by crossing the Rhine River into France.

Events of 1814: de Posadas became Supreme Director of Argentina, occupation of Monaco changed from French to Austrian hands, and the american troops defeated the British at Chippewa. In 1814 the British occupied Washington and set numerous buildings on fire. American naval squadron under MacDonough defeated British squadron and forced the invading army to retreat back into Canada. The American defense of the Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to compose the poem later set to music as The Star Spangled Banner. (
The war in 1814 between Norway and Sweden resulted in Norway entering into union with Sweden, but with its own parliament. It was the last war to be fought by Sweden. 1814 was a pivotal year in Norwegian history. It started with Norway as a part of the Danish kingdom subject to a naval blockade, saw a constitutional convention in May that was frustrated only months later, and ended up with Norway as part of a personal union with Sweden.

Allies pursuit after 
the battle of Leipzig.
The Department of 
History at the US 
Military Academy In the end of 1813 the Russians, Austrians and Prussians, continued their offensive against Napoleon by crossing the Rhine River into France. The Russian armies marched through the Marne Valley while the Austrians advanced from the south.
In the very beginning of 1814 the so-called Campaign of France began. David Chandler writes: "The Campaign of France lasted from January to April 1814. Faced by overwhelming numbers of Allied troops, and able to call upon the services of only scratch forces of conscripts and boy-soldiers, Napoleon performed wonders of defensive fighting, winning a series of minor battles on one sector after another.. But the Allies were now aware of Napoleon's methods, and little by little they advanced on Paris." (Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars" p 305)

"On January 25 1814, Napoleon climbed into his carriage at 3 AM in the courtyard of the Tuileries, to travel to the front in Lorraine. Over most of France snow was falling. In their cottages, the peasants huddled over the fire. Looks were gloomy and words few and bitter. Virtually everywhere there were supporters of peace at any price." ( Georges Blond - "La Grande Armee" p 416)

Campaign of France
"Faced by overwhelming numbers of Allied troops,
... Napoleon performed wonders of defensive fighting,
winning a series of minor battles on one sector after another.
But the Allies were now aware of Napoleon's methods,
and little by little they advanced on Paris."
- David Chandler

Arresting those who attempted
to avoid conscription.
Picture by T. de Thulstrup. In 1814 Napoleon's situation was very difficult. "To replenish the treasury, to create an army, to awe the turbulent, and then stand up single-handed against Europe in arms--these were the tasks before him. He set the first example of self-sacrifice, by giving into the public treasury 6,000,000 dollars taken from his private vaults in the Tuileries...
A decree ordering a levy of 300,000 soldiers was made, and another augmenting the Guard to 112,500 men... The levy, however, was not successful. France was exhausted not only of her men, but even of her youth, and boys were now in his greatest need to form his battalions.
To add to his trouble, as fortune always seems to delight in pushing down a falling favorite, the Typhus fever broke out among his troops along the Rhine." (Headley - "The Imperial Guard of Napoleon")

Napoleon's campaign in 1814 proved how much could be achieved in circumstances so desperate that no other general of the time would have even attempted to make head against them. It has been seen by some as the greatest effort of this military genius, and undoubtedly illustrated his formidable ability to inspire armies and avoid crushing defeats at the hands of opponents who far outnumbered him.

Baron de Marbot writes: "The Emperor's greatest antagonists are forced to admit that he excelled himself in the winter campaign which he conducted in the first three months of 1814. No previous general had ever shown such talent, or achieved so much with such feeble resources. With a few thousand men, most of whom were inexperienced conscripts, one saw him face the armies of Europe, turning up everywhere with these troops, which he led from one point to another with marvellous rapidity.
Taking advantage of all the resources of the country in order to defend it, he hurried from the Austrians to the Russians, and from the Russians to the Prussians, going from Blücher to Schwarzenberg and from him to Sacken, sometimes beaten by them, but much more often the victor. He hoped, for a time, that he might drive the foreigners, disheartened by frequent defeats, from French soil and back across the Rhine. All that was required was a new effort by the nation; but there was general war-weariness..."

Allies in France.
Napoleon "... hurried from the Austrians to the Russians,
and from the Russians to the Prussians."

Russian and Austrian troops
enter France in 1814.  
Tsar Alexander in green uniform
and on white horse, followed by
Colonel of Lifeguard Cossacks
(monarch's escort) in red coat. The Russian, Prussian and Austrian armies entered France (see picture) in the beginning of 1814. These forces were led by Schwarzenberg, Barclay de Tolly, and Blucher. Mikhailovski-Danilevski writes: "On January 1st we crossed the Rhein River in Basel and loud "Hurah !" announced that we were finally in France, the goal of our march, where, in the heart of Napoleon’s power, we were going to give him coup de grace. ...
Our quarters in France were very dissatisfying; we found that the French are less educated than Germans, so our officers, taught by their tutors that France was El Dorado, were unpleasantly surprised to see poverty, untidiness, ignorance and low spirits in villages and towns. French, since Revolution, have experienced so many sufferings ... However skillful were maneuvers of the enemy, our numbers suppressed him ... " (Mikhailovski-Danilevski - "Memoires 1814-1815")

Prussian Army enters France 
on January 1st 1814.
Picture by Camphausen. The Prussians were commanded by General Blucher. His dislike of the French grew into an almost psychotic hatred and in 1814 he was the most eager to fight of all Allies' commanders.
The local traditions say that the Prussians committed more atrocities than the Cossacks and Cossacks more than Wirtembergians and Bavarians. The civilians used to say that war is an unpleasant thing, "especially when 50.000 Cossacks and Bashkirs take part in it."
The British in southern France, and the Austrians behaved better than the others. (In France were almost half million of Allies troops.)

On 29th January at Brienne, Napoleon defeated Blücher's army. Blücher fell back to the south, on Trannes and the heights nearby. Napoleon spent 2 days at Brienne and La Rothiere inactive while the Russians, Prussians, Austrians and Wirtembergians moved on him. Chandler writes: "Napoleon, with effectively only 40,000 men - many of them raw conscripts - planned to withdraw and avoid action, but the Prussian general forced battle." (Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic wars" pp 238-239)

The French soldiers noticed that the Russian and Prussian POWS were on bad terms with the Austrian POWs. The former said that their defeats were due to the slowness of the Austrians. The offended Austrians called the Russians and Prussians "Cossacks" and "Krauts". ( In some cases these quarrels turned into insults and blows. (In 1813 and 1814 the Austrian Emperor leaned toward coming to terms with Napoleon so as to restrain the ambitions of the Russian and Prussian monarchs.)


Inside a radius of few kilometers 100,000 soldiers
and approx. 500 guns were concentrated.

Armies at La Rothiere.
The were soldiers blue with cold,
with several days' growth of facial hair.
They were dressed in wet and cold uniforms.

While in field headquarters Napoleon was not neglecting the study of the enemy's plans and whereabouts. From the news brought in by his trusty scouts he came to the conclusion that a large force was preparing to set out for Brienne. On the flanks and in the rear Cossacks were seen. It was difficult to protect the communication lines, now that Chernishev, Karpov and the whole batch of devils were turned loose by the Russians.

French Guard artillery.
Picture by Keith Rocco. The roads around La Rotheiere were ordinary country roads, muddy and much cut up by the passage of artillery. The men were foot-sore and exhausted by the forced marches and continued action. The artillery horses were soon exhausted, having been on scanty rations for some time.

Troops at La Rothiere 1814:

45,000 men
132 guns

52,000 men
338 guns
30,000 infantry
13,500 cavalry
1,500 artillerymen
order of battle: >
36,000 infantry
12,000 cavalry
4,000 artillerymen
order of battle: >

Napoleon's army.
Ney led the Young Guard, Grouchy cavalry
and Victor and Gerard the infantry.

Napoleon in 1814 by Meissonier The French soldiers in 1814 were poorly clothed and armed boys. Napoleon had mixed feelings about his troops in 1814. The Emperor wrote: "The Old Guard alone stood firm - the rest melted like snow." The Young Guard however fought well.
The lack of weapons and uniforms was one of the characteristics of the French troops during this war. Napoleon wrote that the peasants had picked up on the battlefields thousands of muskets abandoned by the enemy and that commissioners should be sent to collect them. In default of muskets there were 6.000 pikes manufactured.

General Grouchy. Drouot
Left: Chief-of-Cavalry GdD de Grouchy
Right: Chief-of-Artillery GdD Drouot

Army Corps - MdE Marmont
- - Infantry Division - GdD Lagrange
- - Cavalry Division - GdD Doumerc

Army Corps - MdE Victor
- - Infantry Division - GdD Duhesme
- - Infantry Division - GdD Forestier

Army Corps - GdD Gerard
- - Infantry Division - GdD Dufour
- - Infantry Division - GdD Ricard

V Cavalry Corps - GdD Milhaud
- - Cavalry Division - GdD L'Herithier
- - Cavalry Division - GdD Briche
- - Cavalry Division - GdD Pire>

Young Guard Infantry Corps - MdE Ney
- - 1st Voltigeur Division - GdD Meunier
- - 2nd Voltigeur Division - GdD Decouz
- - 2nd Tirailleur Division - GdD Rothembourg

Young Guard Cavalry Corps -
- - 1st Young Guard Cavalry Division - GdD Laferiere
- - 2nd Young Guard Cavalry Division - GdD Defrance

Old Guard Cavalry Corps - GdD Nansouty
- - 1st Old Guard Cavalry Division - GdD Colbert
- - 2nd Old Guard Cavalry Division - GdD Guyot



The French troops were deployed as follow. On the French right flank Gerard formed his corps in two lines, Dufour's division stood in the first line and Ricard's division deployed in the second. Dufour garrisoned Dienville by the river.
La Rothiere was situated in the very center of French positions. It was defended by one brigade of Duhesme's division. Marshal Victor with the rest of his corps stood behind La Rothiere. His artillery however was deployed up in front. Nansouty formed his Guard Cavalry in two lines to the right of La Rothiere.
The village of La Giberie and its surroundings were defended by 4 battalions deployed in skirmish lines.
Marshal Marmont deployed one infantry division near Morvilliers and in Bois de Ajou.
Marshal Ney commanded the Young Guard (three infantry and two cavalry division). These troops were kept in reserve, near Brienne-le-Ville.

Blucher's army.
Blücher's dislike of the French
grew into an almost psychotic hatred.

The Allies at La Rothiere were under the command of Prussian general, Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. He was one of the leaders of the war party in the Prussian court. After the defeat of Prussian army at Jena, Blücher was looked upon as the natural leader of the patriot party. Blücher's dislike of the French grew into an almost psychotic hatred and in 1814 he was the most eager to fight of all Allies' commanders.
Blücher's Chief-of-Staff was General August Neidhardt von Gneisenau. Gneissenau was known for cool head and sharp mind for strategic matters. "As a soldier, Gneisenau proved the greatest Prussian general since Frederick the Great. As a man, his noble character and virtuous life secured him the affection and reverence not only of his superiors and subordinates in the service, but of the whole Prussian nation." (-

Alexander I, Emperor of Russia. At noon Blücher was joined by two monarchs: Emperor Alexander of Russia, and King Frederick William of Prussia. Emperor Alexander I of Russia succeeded to the throne after his father was murdered. Young Alexander sympathised with French and Polish revolutionaries (Kosciuszko Uprising), however, his father seems to have taught him to combine a theoretical love of mankind with a practical contempt for men. These contradictory tendencies remained with him through life and are observed in his dualism in domestic and military and foreign policy. Napoleon thought him a "shifty Byzantine". Castlereagh gives him credit for "grand qualities", but adds that he is "suspicious and undecided". Alexander however was the most influential person in Allies headquarters in 1813-1814.

King Frederick William III of Prussia Frederick William III of Prussia succeeded the throne in 1796. He married Louise of Mecklenburg, a princess noted for her beauty. Napoleon dealt with Prussia very harshly, despite the pregnant Queen's personal interview with the French emperor. Prussia lost all its Polish territories, as well as all territory west of the Elbe River, and had to pay for French troops to occupy key strong points within the Kingdom. Too distrustful to delegate his responsibility to his ministers, Frederiick William was too infirm of will to strike out and follow a consistent course for himself. Although the ineffectual King himself seemed resigned to Prussia's fate, various reforming ministers, such as Stein, Prince von Hardenberg, Scharnhorst, and Gneiseanu, set about reforming Prussia's military.
Austrian Commander-in-Chief, General Schwarzenberg, joined the monarchs.

Prussian General 
Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher.
General Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher

Prussian General Gneisenau.
General August Neidhardt von Gneisenau

(Austrian) III Army Corps - Giulay
- - 2nd Infantry Division
- - 3rd Infantry Division

(Russian) VI Infantry Corps - GL Scherbatov
- - 7th Infantry Division
- - 18th Infantry Division
(Russian) IX Infantry Corps - GL Olsufiev
- - 9th Infantry Division
- - 15th Infantry Division
(Russian) Cavalry Corps - GL Wasilchikov
- - 3rd Dragoon Division
- - 2nd Hussar Division

(Russian) III 'Grenadiers' Corps - GL Raievski
- - 1st Grenadier Division
- - 2nd Grenadier Division
(Russian) V 'Foot Guards' Corps - GL Yermolov
- - 1st Guard Infantry Division
- - 2nd Guard Infantry Division
(Russian) 'Horse Guards' and 'Cuirassiers' Corps
- - 1st Guard Cuirassier Division
- - 2nd Cuirassier Division

(Wirtembergian) IV Corps - Crown Prince
- - Advance Guard - Stockmeyer
- - 1st Infantry Division - Koch
- - Cavalry Division - Adam

(Bavarian) Corps - Wrede
- - 1st Division - Rechberg

(Austrian) Corps - Frimont
- - 1st Light Division - Hardegg
- - 2nd Light Division - Splenyi







Blucher gave his left flank, by the river, to Giulay's Austrian corps of two divisions. While one division was to attack Gerard's corps frontally, the other division advanced against Dienville village and the bridge. Giulay's total strength was 14,200 men and 48 pieces of artillery.
In the center were placed Scherbatov's Russian corps of two divisions, and Olsufiev's Russian corps of two divisions. Scherbatov had 12,000 men and 36 guns, and Olsufiev had 6,000 men and 36 guns. This force was to attack the French center and La Rothiere itself. Direct command over this center force was given to Russian General Sacken.
On the right flank was deployed Vasilchikov's Russian cavalry corps of two divisions. Vasilchikov had 3,000 dragoons and hussars, and 12 horse guns.
Blucher's reserves consisted of elite Russian troops: Raievski's III 'Grenadier' Corps (6,000 men, 36 guns), Yermolov's V 'Foot Guards' Corps (12,000 men, 36 guns), and Prince Golitzin's 'Guard Cavalry & Cuirassiers' Corps (3,000 men, 24 guns).

Against Napoleon's rear Blucher directed Crown Prince Wurtembourg's IV Corps (12,000 Wirtembergians with 24 guns) and Wrede's Bavarians and Frimont's Austrians (26,500 Bavarians and Austrians, 82 guns).

Map: battle of La Rothiere, 1814.

Blücher was joined by the Tsar of Russia,
King of Prussia and Schwarzenberg.

The Battle.
Unwilling to risk battle in such disadvantage,
Napoleon intended to withdraw, however Blücher
forced him to deploy and fight.

French line voltigeur At 9 AM on 1 February Napoleon arrived at La Rothiere after a quiet night. Nothing was stirring in the camp. The snow had melted, transforming the manure covered streets into sewers. Then it began snow. The weather made the roads almost impassable and tree limbs sagged laden with the wet snow.

The streets and fields were carpeted with soldiers and horses. The previous day some fences had been torn down, doors and windows burned and some stables had already been conveyed to the bivouacs. Hygienic conditions must have been frightful.

General Emmanuel Grouchy.
At La Rothiere he commanded
Napoleon's cavalry. At noon a word came from Grouchy's cavalry that the Allies were marching in three large columns on La Rothiere from Eclance, Soulaines and Trannes. The villagers reported masses of enemy troops in the region. The French troops struggled to move into their assigned positions. Marshal Ney marched his Young Guard a mile southeast of Brienne, between La Rotheier and Petit-Mesnil. General Nansouty deplyed his Guard Cavalry on two lines.

Victor and Grouchy then informed Napoleon that large numbers of enemy troops had been seen to the south and east. Napoleon mounted his horse and rode out to see for himself. The visibility was poor due to falling snow. Napoleon faced growing in strength allied armies. Unwilling to risk battle in such disadvantage, he intended to withdraw, however Blücher forced him to deploy and fight.

Allies at La Rothiere Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher and his staff officers stood on the Heights of Trannes. Blucher's troops marched slowly to their assigned positions. The roads were waterlogged and then frozen and again waterlogged - it made a hell for the artillery. Many guns and wagons became immobilised. Russian General Nikitin ordered each gun to be served by two teams of horses. It moved half of his horse artillery forward but the other half was left behind and without horses.
Hilaire writes: "Around one o'clock in the afternoon, the enemy columns appeared before our posts, in the plain of La Rothière and the wood of Beaulieu. The action began at once with a strong cannonade. The Prince of Württemberg cut through a path crossing the forest of Éclance, and opened the battle by seizing the hamlet of Chauménil. At the same moment, the Bavarians, emerging by the forest of Soulaine, joined the Royal Prince of Württemberg, who had made his junction with the Count of Wrede."

The gun smoke mixed up with snowflakes.
Russian infantry moved toward La Rothiere.
They got under artillery and musket fire from the houses
and struggled to deploy.

About 1 PM the battle began around La Rothiere held by Duhesme's infantry. French General Duhesme Philippe-Guillaume Duhesme (1766-1815) was "an old Jacobin fire-eater who, like many others, had grown rich in nebulous ways, and he had been involved in so many shady affairs ... that in 1810 the Emperor had dismissed him from service and exiled him from Paris, having been restored to his rank, was an extraordinary battlefield commander..." (Barbero - "The Battle" p 244)
Duhesme was an expert of light infantry combat. In 1814 he wrote "Essai sur l’infanterie légère, ou Traité des petites operations de la guerre, à l’usage des jeunes officiers". ' Duhesme said that 'It is in this genre of combat that the French genius shines with the greatest brilliance,' He thought that in the 1791 Reglement were too many useless movements.

French artillery in winter.
Picture by Adrian George The artillery projectiles began flying like hail stones. The rough-hewn Russians, with their motley armament of Russian, British and captured French muskets, greeted Generals Sacken and Blucher with rousing cheer. Their fervor carried them through the first onslaughts that surged through the French advance posts.
La Rothiere was defended by Duhesme's 4 battalions (1 light and 3 line). On both sides of the village stood artillery, in front was chain of skirmishers. Duhesme, smoke-begrimed, rode from point to point, encouraging the men and keeping close watch on the movements of the enemy.

As far as one could judge through the blinding snow the Russian cannons seemed to be firing at a high elevation. Nikitin's gunners then deployed their pieces only a short distance away from the French advance posts and opened fire. The artillery continued to pound away at the French, while Russian infantry, strirred by the rhytmic beating of its drums, prepared to attack.

The first to be in action were 4 jäger battalions (11th and 36th Jäger Regiments) led by Diedrich. These units started forward, across a field and into a blizzard of musketry and artillery fire. On they pressed, driving the French skirmishers back.

Nansouty hoped to surprise the Russians (Nikitin's two batteries and Dietrich's jagers.) Nikitin noticed the French cavalry moving toward his batteries. The jägers formed squares behind Nikitin's artillery. When the advancing cavalry came within 500 paces the guns fired canister, and the gunners run to the safety of the squares. The Guard Cavalry circled around the squares but were unable to penetrate them. The squares fired one or two volleys and the French rode back to own lines.

A heavy snow began falling. When the snowfall lifted the French artillery positioned on both sides of La Rothiere opened fire on Sacken's infantry. Sacken's deployed more artillery and opened counter-battery fire. Meanwhile his infantry formed in columns moved toward La Rothiere. When the columns came closer they got under musket fire from buildings and gardens. The Russians struggled to deploy under such fire.

For 30 minutes the cannonade continued with one unceasing roar and the thick gun smoke mixed up with snowflakes. Generals Sacken, Olsufiev and Scherbatov struggled with keeping their infantry in order.

Cavalry charges.
Russian dragoons captured 24 guns
of the Old Guard Horse Artillery

General Nansouty Nansouty's first attack against the jagers failed. Now there were more Russians and they were advancing in heavy columns and struggled to deploy under heavy fire. The cautious Nansouty saw his chance. This time he took not one but three cavalry divisions (2 of Old Guard and 1 of Young Guard). In reserve he left only one cavalry division of Young Guard.

Seeing the mass of cavalry moving against him, Sacken called GL Vasilchikov for help. Vasilchikov dispatched Lanskoi's hussar division under Lanskoi. The hussars however were crushed and pursued by the French. Nansouty then attacked Sacken's infantry and artillery. The situation was very difficult for the Russians until Panchulitzev's dragoons arrived. The dragoons sprang forward with outstretched sabers, while the fleeing hussars halted and joined the fresh force. Together they attacked the Guard Cavalry from the front and flank. The Guard gave way and fled north of La Rothiere leaving behind 24 guns of Old Guard in Russian hands.

Russian and French cavalry at La Rothiere, 
picture by Parhaiev, Russia. The 1,500 Russian dragoons must have impressed the French because they inflated their numbers to 6,000 men (for example in "Journal Historique de Cavalry Legere du Corps de Cavalerie pendant La Campagne de France en 1814".)
Further advance of the Russians was halted by Milhaud's dragoon division. The French advanced "in column of squadrons" and threw the Russians back. The situation in cavalry combat changed so quickly that when Vasilchikov informed Blucher about his success it was too late to take advantage of it.
The captured 24 guns of Old Guard stayed in Vasilchikov's hands as a trophy.
Portrait of General Lieutenant Illarion Vasilievich Vasilchikov > (

Street fighting: French vs Russians.
The Russian infantry was formed in two large columns
in such a way that they could repulse cavalry attack.
They entered La Rothiere, captured the church and
the center of La Rothiere. The French however held the
northern side of the village.

Russian infantry formed 
in heavy columns stormed La Rothiere.
Picture by Oleg Parkhaiev. Although the aggressive actions of Nansouty's Guard cavalry failed they made Sacken to slow down. He formed the infantry of VI and IX Corps in two large columns in such a way that they could repulse cavalry attack. Only then they advanced forward and readied their bayonets when noticed that snow wetted their powder and made many muskets useless. (In 1806-1807 in Eastern Prussia, Sacken commanded a division. Bennigsen unfairly accused Sacken of failings during the campaign. It resulted in military court and Sacken being out of army for several years.)

Duhesme's men still occupied La Rothiere and watched the Russians through the curtain of snow. The Russian infantry had begun the advance like a clenched fist. Suddenly, a brisk fusillade bursts. The crackling intensifies, then suddenly is replaced by an immense clamor which mixes with the sound of the drums beating the charge. The action takes shape; the night will not fall without the two parties coming to blows.

So far almost 250 Russians and Frenchmen were killed and wounded. Duhesme ordered his infantry to fix bayonets and charge. They trampled down all the unfortunate wretches on the way. The infantry clambered over the fallen and drove the enemy skirmishers from the village.

French light infantry, 
picture by Funcken Disregarding canister and musket fire the columns of Russian infantry have entered La Rothiere. The French greeted them with musket fire. Then soldiers on both sides used bayonets, fists and stones. The hardest battling is for the church and the main street. Killed and wounded are sprawling in the wet snow.
The Russians captured the church and took over the center of La Rothiere but the French held the northern side of the village. The French fired on the Russians as they took up positions behind buildings, trees, walls and in the gardens. During the hand-to-hand combat Sacken's infantry captured 8 guns.

The Passive Austrians.
Giulay's actions made very little
impression on the French.

Blucher called for 14,200 men of Giulay's (Austrian) III Corps to support Sacken's hard-fighting troops. Giulay took the village of Unienville and deployed part of his artillery. Napoleon directed two brigades to hold Dienville and bridge at all cost.
Giulay moved Chollich's Brigade toward Dienville. Pfluger's Brigade was near the river and Grimmer's Brigade was to link with Sacken's Russians. The Austrian infantry was supported by part of Archduke Ferdinand Hussar Regiment and 18 guns of reserve (6 heavy and 12 light).

Giulay's actions however made very little impression on the French. Napoleon's infantry pitched the bullets into the Austrians so rapidly they couldn't stand the racket and retired.

Blücher created confusion.
Blücher created confusion, and the Russian grenadiers
engulfed in voluminous greatcoats halted not knowing
what to do and which order to follow.

Stockmeyer commanded Advance Guard Brigade and his infantry pushed back the French advance posts. In the beginning the Germans enjoyed notable but short-lived success. Wirtembergian 4 squadrons of Herzhog Louis Chevaulegers were brought forward, the French cavalry however withdrew before attack. It left French 2 battalions without any support. When the Wirtembergians rushed against them, the infantry broke and fled. Approx. 130 were captured and taken into captivity.
Wirtembergian chevaulegers advanced toward La Giberie and the height nearby, and drove the French from there.

To the north of Stockmayer's Wirtembergians were deployed Wrede's Bavarians and Frimont's Austrians.
French infantry. 
Reenactment of napoleonic 
battle in 2005 Marshal Victor directed part of Forestier's Brigade (46th and 93rd Line) against Stockmayer. Forestier charged overthrowing everything on his way. At 4 pm the Wirtembergians were streaming back. The situation became difficult and Crown Prince - commander of the Wirtembergians - asked Blücher for immediate help.

After 4 pm Blücher sent Chief-of-staff Gneisenau to General Sacken. La Rothiere was considered as the most important point in Napoleon's line and Blücher in 'soldierly way' urged Sacken to capture it. Sacken was with his hard fighting men in the village and saw the situation himself. Sacken told Gneiseanu that Blucher's orders are impossible to execute and asked for support from the Reserves standing on the Trannes Heights.
The same urgent question asked Crown Prince, his troops also struggled against the French near La Giberie.

Blucher ordered the Reserves (Russian grenadiers, cuirassiers and Guard) under Barclay de Tolly to support the Wirtembergians. The Reserves began their march. Barclay de Tolly however wanted to keep at least the 2nd Grenadier Division and ordered it to go back to Trannes Heights. De Tolly tought they are more needed for Sacken than for the Wirtembergians. Commander of the division - Paskevich - protested as de Tolly's order was not signed by Blücher. The confused Russian grenadiers engulfed in voluminous greatcoats halted not knowing what to do and which order to follow.

Meanwhile Colbert's Guard Cavalry Division attacked Sacken's infantry. Olsufiev's IX Corps was hit hard and Sacken again sent a messenger to Blücher urgently asking for support. Now Blücher realized how difficult situation was not only with the Wirtembergians but also at La Rothiere. He ordered the Russian Reserves back.

The Bavarians attacked Napoleon's flank.
Poor visibility prevented the Germans from
greater success. Napoleon's army began withdrawal.

Karl Philipp von Wrede (1767–1838) was a Bavarian general (field-marshal). His corps attacked Napoleon's flank at La Rothiere. Marmont's weak corps attempted to cover the front between Chaumesnil and Morvilliers. With the passage of troops, the frozen ground turned to mud that clung to the wheels of the artillery and train. One of French horse batteries was caught in the flank and was overrun by 2 squadrons of Austrian Schwarzenberg Uhlan Regiment.

While Hardegg's infantry division deployed before Morvilliers and La Motte's Bavarians were on their flank, Rechburg carried Beauvoir Farm defended by Joubert's Brigade. Behind Hardegg's division marched Splenyi's division and these forces were too much for one French brigade. Marmont ordered Joubert to withdraw his infantry to Ajou Wood. The French were followed by Wrede's Austrians and Bavarians.

At 4 pm arrived Wirtembergian officer asking Wrede - in very strong words - for help. Wrede accordingly ordered to attack the village of Chaumesnil and the Austrian Grenzers spearheaded the attack. Although the village was defended by 2 battalions the French fell back without a fight. Wrede garrisoned the village with Frimont's infantry and deployed two batteries.

When Napoleon learned about the capture of Chaumesnil he ordered to retake the village. Guyot's 2nd Old Guard Cavalry Division, Meunier's 1st Voltigeur Division and additional 16 guns marched against the Bavarians.

At 7 pm near Chaumesnil Wrede's two Austrian batteries exchanged fire with 16 French guns. The French artillery pieces were protected by Doumerc's cavalry and Lagrange's infantry formed in squares.
Bavarian chevauxlegere,
picture by Anton Hoffmann Wrede ordered up two Bavarian and one Austrian regiment of light cavalry. They charged, captured the French guns and routed Doumerc's cavalry which attempted to intervene. The French cavalry fled but poor visibility prevented the Bavarian and Austrian cavalrymen further pursuit.

Napoleon was in deep trouble, the Russians stubbornly held the center, while Wrede's troops captured Chaumesnil and attacked his flank. (One year later, at Waterloo, Napoleon will face similar situation.)
Crown Prince was strengthened with Adam's cavalry division and his encouraged Wirtembergians launched attack on La Giberie and then on Petit Mesnil. The first village was taken without problem. The French put up a short fight in Petit Mesnil, but lost heavily and abandoned the village.

Bavarian cavalry charged the exposed flank of Marmont's infantry. The French fled in panick and Marmont's corps was finished. Napoleon ordered Grouchy's cavalry and Ney's Young Guard to delay the advance of Wirtembergians. Meanwhile the rest of Napoleon's army began withdrawal.

Young Guard in burning La Rothiere.
"The Russians ... directed a badly aimed volley and
refused to advance further. The two bodies of men
now faced each other, hurling musket balls and insults
at each other, but neither showed the slightest enthusiasm
to charge home, despite the best efforts of their officers."

Napoleon made a personal tour of the battle field and ordered Ney's Young Guard to recapture La Rothiere. Galloping on to the left, where the reserve troops were readying, Ney rode along the line of his troops, then swung his horse toward the enemy and shouted "I will lead you !" The Russians were stubborn, the Young Guard must use bayonets.

French infantry in winter 1814 The darkness was falling when three columns of 2nd Tirailleur Division fell upon Sacken's infantry. Majority of the Russians fled and only few fired their muskets. Sacken's reserve who stood behind the village counterattacked but the French brought 4 guns near the church and halted the Russians. P.P.H. Heath writes: "The French (column) advancing up a narrow street and as yet not knocked about by the ebb and flow of battle, found themselves at the entrance to the village square besides the church. Across the 30 yards of open space was a column, or more accurately, a mass of Russian infantry pouring out onto the cobbles. The Russians, seeing the enemy appear, directed a badly aimed volley and refused to advance further. The two bodies of men now faced each other, hurling musket balls and insults at each other, but neither showed the slightest enthusiasm to charge home, despite the best efforts of their officers."

The confusion was riotous and some buildings were burning. Meanwhile two other columns of Young Guard entered the village and it seemed that the Russians lost La Rothiere. There was even a group of French cavalry who swept through the streets. The horsemen almost captured General Sacken.

Russian grenadiers charged into La Rothiere.
Russian grenadiers charged into the village
and drove the Young Guard at bayonet point.

Blucher directed Russian 2nd Grenadier Division toward the burning village. Behind the grenadiers marched Austrian Grimmer's brigade. The Astrakhan Grenadier Regiment and Little Russia Grenadier Regiment charged into the village and drove the Young Guard at bayonet point. The Young Guard broke and fled and was only rallied in the northern part of the village "by officers beating men back into the ranks." They were able to hold on few buildings so the fight for the village was inconclusive.

Hilaire described the struggle for La Rotheiere: "The carnage became dreadful; General Decouz, an officer of known worth, commanding the 2nd Division of the Young Guard, was dangerously wounded. General Baste, who just recently commanded the seamen of the Guard, fell dead, after prodigious acts of valor.
The battle was prolonged into the night. Around ten o'clock in the evening, Berthier, crossing the French lines to visit the pickets, found the two armies so close to one another, that several times he took the sentinels of Allies for those of the French. Finally, after the most obstinate resistance by both sides, the village of La Rothière was yielded to the Russians."

Napoleon's army began withdrawal.
Drouot received order to burn the village
to the ground with his artillery.

Austrian brigade attacking Dienville made no progress. Gerard's troops repulsed the white-coats and inflicted heavy casualties. Giulay ordered to cannonade the village but it brought very little results. To justify his complete failure Giulay wrote report that he had to fight against Napoleon's Old Guard.

General Drouot About 8 pm the Young Guard abandoned La Rothiere and General Drouot of artillery received order to burn it to the ground.
Vasilchikov's hussars and dragoons had advanced north, from La Rothiere toward Brienne. At 9 pm the snow was again falling hard. Druout's batteries fired on them in the falling darkness but it made little impression on the Russians.

Meunier's 1st Voltigeur Division retired for the night on Brienne. Splenyi's Austrian division moved to the eastern edge of Ajou Wood and Marmont's infantry retired to the western edge of wood. It was dark and the Bavarian and Wirtembergian cavalry repeatedly charged each other by mistake.

La Rothiere showed that though the French lacked the numbers
to turn the tide, they still had the ability to make
the Allies pay in blood for every foot of ground they gained.

Napoleon spent the night in the chateau of Brienne. He was unable to sleep, and from his window he could see the campfires of the enemy. On the next day the awful sight of the battlefield shocked war-hardened generals and officers. So thickly pressed together were the fallen that the carefully stepping horses of Tzar of Russia's entourage could not avoid trampling them.

The Allies lost 4,500 - 6,400 killed and wounded (Sacken's hard fighting Russians alone lost 4,000 !)
Napoleon had 6,000 casualties but his loss in artillery was serious, 54-83 guns were left in enemy's hands.
According to British historian David Chandler: "Each side lost an estimated 6,000 men" (Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic wars" p 239)

The French troops were not destroyed but Blucher won the battle. The clash at La Rothiere showed that though the French lacked the numbers to turn the tide, the rugged infantrymen still had the ability to make the Allies pay in blood for every foot of ground they gained.

Sources and Links.

Heath - "La Rothiere 1814"
Petre - "Napoleon at Bay, 1814"
La Houssaye - "1814"
Georges Blond - "La Grande Armee" publ. in 1995
The Department of History at the US Military Academy.
Emmanuel, marquis de Grouchy.
Marshal Claude Victor-Perrin, duc de Belluno.
Marshal Auguste-Frédéric-Louis-Viesse de Marmont.
(Russian) General Barclay de Tolly
(Austrian) General Karl-Phillip, Furst zu Schwarzenberg
(Prussian) General Gebhard-Leberecht Blucher
Russians in France.
County of Brienne
La Rothiere
Travel to La Rothiere

Order of Battle of La Rothiere: French ~ Allies

Napoleon, His Army and Enemies