|Battle of Vauchamps|
Grouchy's Curassiers at Etoges
|Date||14 February 1814|
|War||War of the Sixth Coalition; 1814 Campaign in France|
| Napoleon I|
The Battle of Vauchamps was fought on the 14th of February 1814, when Marshal Blucher following the inferior forces of Marshal Marmont, unexpectedly ran into strong French forces headed by the Emperor Napoleon himself near Vauchamps. Realising he must be destroyed if he lingered, Blucher gave the orders to retire eastwards. The subsequent withdrawal led to the destruction and rout of a large portion of the Prussian forces and Blucher was lucky to escape at all. The conclusion of the battle brought to a close, Napoleon's amazing "Six Days Campaign."
Sacken and Yorck may well have been completely destroyed after the Battle of Montmirail . Napoleon himself had high hopes of doing so as he launched every available unit after them, but Marshal Macdonald hamstrung his plans by failing to sever the Allied line of retreat over the Marne. Indeed, Macdonald had scarcely moved at all...Dawn on the 12th saw Napoleon's forces excepting Marmont racing northwards in pursuit of Sacken and Yorck, catching the Prussian rearguard at Chateau Thierry. As the French cavalry stormed across the field, the Prussians formed up into squares to recieve them, but they could not resist the vigorous charges of the French horsemen. The Prussian's rearguard was smashed. Knocked down and scattered like ninepins, the survivors fled in great disorder across the Marne, blowing the bridge behind them as they went, but leaving behind 3,000 prisoners, 20 guns, as well as a large number of wagons."It was one of the handsomest feats I ever saw performed by cavalry" wrote General Grios of the Battle of Chateau Thierry.
Napoleon still hoped to give chase; frantically straining at the leash as his engineers strove to repair the blown bridge. But before this was even done, the enemy had retreated over the River Ourcq too, blowing the bridges as they went, and Napoleon was reluctantly forced to accept that the enemy had escaped his wrath. On the 13th, Napoleon learnt that Schwarzenberg had driven Marshal Victor across the Seine and he was incensed that the marshal had failed to hold the vital bridge over the Seine, which handed Schwarzenberg the initiative to move agianst the capital. Accordingly, Napoleon at once abandoned his plans for Sacken and Yorck and prepared to march south to strike at Schwarzenberg on the threatened sector. Blucher too had received news of Schwarzenberg's success and it emboldened him to strike out westward again to make up lost ground, and hoping to place himself across Napoleon's rear. On the 13th he struck Marmont at Etoges and the outnumbered Marmont was forced to yield ground under this sudden onslaught, skillfully drawing his troops back towards Champaubert which gave Napoleon time to react. Napoleon ordered Grouchy's cavalry as well as his Guard to make a overnight march upon Vauchamps to meet the enemy thrust head on.
Marmont, with the inside knowledge that the Emperor in person was marching to his aid with the Guard from Chateau Thierry, lured Blucher onwards towards Vauchamps on the morning of the 14th. Blucher, presented with this seemingly weak front obliged the French and Marmont duly offered battle to the west of Vauchamps. Almost at once, a large body of French cavalry appeared threateningly on the right flank of the Prussian forces and charged. Zietien's division was severely mauled and all but destroyed. Blucher himself received word from a French prisoner that he was in the presence of the French Emperor and at once realised the peril his army was now in. If he attempted to hold his ground, he would be destroyed.It was as simple as that.
In the distance, Blucher could see the tall bearskin caps of the Old Guard coming into view. Managing to extricate his forces before the French infantry came up, Blucher placed Kapzevich on on the right of the road and kleist on the left while his artillery moved along the road itself, pausing every once in a while to fire a shot as the beleaguered columns under attack from French cavalry charges moved ponderously eastwards beneath a bleak, cold sky.
With the scent of blood in their nostrils and with their war cries of "Vive l' Empereur!" the French cavalry thundered down upon the retreating columns, trying to prevent their escape., but for the fortunate Prussian's the thick glutinous mud hindered the French cavalry attacks,. Nonetheless, a large number of squares were broken by the horsemen and annihilated. For the Prussians it was a desperate time, for they had no cavalry of their own to fend off the attacks and could only hope to keep up their forward momentum long enough to reach safety.As the long afternoon dragged out; the light fading from the heavy skies, it seemed as if Blucher's hard pressed forces might well disengage from their pursuers and get away, but the wily Grouchy had found a road running parallel to that of the Prussians columns, and he swung his cavalry hard across the Prussian advance guard at Etoges. Many under Blucher's banners feared the worse; that they were hopelessly trapped. The muddy ground either side of the road probably saved them from complete destruction however, for the French were unable to bring up their horse artillery in time. Desperate and ferocious fighting ensued through the narrow streets of Etoges which further decimated the Prussian columns, but Blucher was able to fight his way out of the trap and get away with his ravaged columns, leaving a division at Etoges to cover his retreat.
Halting both the Guard and Grouchy, Napoleon gave Marmont the task of completing the pursuit which he perormed with admirable success. Blucher's impetuosity had cost him some 7,000 casualties and 16 guns as well as many transport wagons. Napoleon had every reason to be jubilant with his success, for his total losses were barely 600 men.
So ended the "Six days campaign of 1814" In five days, Napoleon's forces had inflicted 20,000 casualties upon the Army of Silesia; a force superior to his own and which had numbered in excess of 50,000 men. The French victories at Champaubert, Montmirail, Chateau Thierry and Vauchamps had shown Napoleon at his best and demonstrated to any who might have thought otherwise, that his genius for war had not deserted him as he performed with all his old skill as a field commander. Indeed, some commentators have indicated that his performance was reminiscent of his First Italian Campaign, for all its tactical brilliance, and Napoleon was aided in this by the fact that for the first time in many years he was able to take command of small forces and retain a high level of control, something that had proved impossible as his armies had become larger from 1807 onwards.
Blucher might well have been utterly destroyed after the disaster at Vauchamps, but he was given a lifeline to regroup and recoup his losses to fight again another day. Napoleon was unable to exploit his successes fully in the northern theatre, for taking advantage of his absence further south, Schwarzenberg, commanding the Army of Bohemia had now advanced dangerously near Paris, and Napoleon was obliged to move swiftly to meet this threat.