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Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V08, Page 577 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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BATTLE OF DRESDEN. The battle of Dresden, the last of the great victories of Napoleon, was fought on the 26th and 27th of August 1813. The intervention of Austria in the War of Liberation, and the consequent advance of the Allies under the Austrian field-marshal Prince Schwarzenberg from Prague upon Dresden, recalled Napoleon from Silesia, where he was engaged against the Prussians and Russians under Blucher. Only by a narrow margin of time, indeed, was he able to bring back sufficient troops for the first day's battle. He detached a column under Vandamme to the mountains to interpose between Schwarzenberg and Prague (see NAPOLEONIC CAMPAIGNS); the rest of the army pressed on by forced marches for Dresden, around which a position for the whole army had been chosen and fortified, though at the moment this was held by less than 20,000 men under Gouvion St Cyr, who retired thither from the mountains, leaving a garrison in Konigstein, and had repeatedly sent reports to the emperor as to the allied masses gathering to the south-ward. The battle of the first day began late in the afternoon, for Schwarzenberg waited as long as possible for the cops of Klenau, which formed his extreme left wing on the Freiberg road. At last, about 6 P.M. he decided to wait no longer, and six heavy columns of attack advanced against the suburbs defended by St Cyr and now also by the leading troops of the main army. Three hundred guns covered the assault, and Dresden was set on fire in places by the cannonade, while the French columns marched unceasingly over the bridges and through the Alt stadt. On the right the Russians under Wittgenstein advanced from Striesen, the Prussians under Kleist through the Grosser Garten, whilst Prussians under Prince Augustus and Austrians under Colloredo moved upon the Moczinski redoubt, which was the scene of the most desperate fighting, and was repeatedly taken and retaken. The attack to the westward was carried out by the other Austrian corps; Klenau, however, was still far distant. In the end, the French defences remained unshaken. Ney led a counter-attack against the Allies' left, the Moczinski redoubt was definitely recaptured from Colloredo, and the Prussians were driven out of the Grosser Garten. The coup of the Allies had failed, for every hour saw the arrival of fresh forces on the side of Napoleon, and at length the Austrian leader drew off his men to the heights again. He was prepared to fight another battle on the morrow—indeed he could scarcely have avoided it had he wished to do so, for behind him lay the mountain defiles, towards which Vandamme was marching with all speed. Napoleon's plan for the 27th was, as usual, simple in its outline. As at Friedland, a ravine separated a part of the hostile line of battle from the rest. The villages west of the Plauen ravine and even Lobda were occupied in the early morning by General Metzko with the leading division of Klenau's corps from Freiberg, and upon Metzko Napoleon intended first to throw the weight of his attack, giving to Victor's infantry and the cavalry of Murat, king of Naples, the task of overwhelming the isolated Austrians. The centre, aided by the defences of the Dresden suburbs, could hold its own, as the evens of the 26th had shown, the left, now under Ney, with whom served Kellermann's cavalry and the Young Guard, was to attack Wittgenstein's Russians on the Pirna road. Thus, for once, Napoleon decided to attack both flanks of the enemy. His motives in so doing have been much discussed by the critics; Vandamme's movements, it may be suggested, contributed to the French emperor's plan, which if carried out would open the Pirna road. Still, the left attack may have had a purely tactical object, for in that quarter was the main body of the Prussians and Russians, and Napoleon's method was always to concentrate the fury of the attack on the heaviest masses of the enemy, i.e. the best target for his own artillery. A very heavy rainstorm during the night seriously affected the movements of troops on the following day, but all to Napoleon's advantage, for his more mobile artillery, reinforced by every horse available in and about Dresden, was still able to move where the Allied guns sank in mud. Further, if the cavalry had to walk, or at most trot, through the fields the opposing infantry was almost always unable to fire their muskets. " You cannot fire; surrender," said Murat to an Austrian battalion in the battle. " Never," they replied; " you cannot charge us." On the appearance of Murat's horse artillery, however, they had to surrender at once. Under such conditions, Metzko, unsupported either by Klenau or the main army beyond the ravine, was an easy victim. Victor from Lobda drove in the advanced posts and assaulted the line of villages Wolfnitz-Toltschen; Metzko had to retire to the higher ground S.W. of the first line, and Murat, with an overwhelming cavalry force from Cotta and Burgstadl, outflanked his left, broke up Meanwhile Ney on the other flank, with his left on the Pillnitz road and his right on the Grosser Garten, had opened his attack. The Russians offered a strenuous resistance, defending Seidnitz, Gross Dobritz and Reick with their usual steadiness, and Ney was so far advanced that several generals at the Allied headquarters suggested a counter-attack of the centre by way of Strehlen, so as to cut off the French left from Dresden. This plan was adopted, but, owing to various misunderstandings, failed of execution. Thus the Allied centre remained inactive all day, cannonaded by the Dresden redoubts. One incident only, but that of great importance, took place here. The tsar, the king of Prussia, Schwarzenberg and a very large headquarter staff watched the fighting from a hill near Racknitz and offered an easy mark to the French guns. In default of formed bodies to fire at, the latter had for a moment ceased fire; Napoleon, riding by, half carelessly told them to reopen, and one of their first shots, directed at 2000 yards range against the mass of officers on the sky-line, mortally wounded General Moreau, who was standing by the emperor Alexander. A council of war followed. The Allied sovereigns were for continuing the fight; Schwarzenberg, however, knowing the exhaustion of his troops decided to retreat. As at Bautzen, the French cavalry was unable to make any effective pursuit. The forces engaged were 96,000 French, Saxons, &c., and 200,000 Austrians, Russians and Prussians. The French losses were about ro,000, or a little over ro%, those of the Allies 38,000 killed, wounded and prisoners (the latter 23,000) or 19%. They lost also 15 colours and 26 guns.

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