All posts by Patrick Shrier

I own this site see my About me page
The Battlefield at Leipzig

The Battle of the Nations – 16-19 October, 1813

The October, 1813 Battle of the Nations in Leipzig was arguably as important as the 1814 Battle of Waterloo.  In English language historiography of the Napoleonic Wars it is often downplayed or only briefly mentioned however.  This is mainly because no English speaking armies fought in the battle.  The lions share of the fighting at Leipzig was done by Austrian and Russian armies and thus the English speaking world tries to ignore this decisive battle in which almost 50,000 men died.

The Battlefield at Leipzig
The Battlefield at Leipzig

After Napoleons’ defeat in the Russian Campaign of 1812 and the concurrent French defeat in the Peninsular Campaign the Allied nations of Europe joined together once again in the Sixth Coalition.
Napoleon was not quite defeated though. Between May and August he defeated coalition forces in three separate major battles at Lützen, Bautzen, and in front of Dresden.

Following their spring and summer defeats the Allies then held to their originally agreed upon strategy of avoiding battle with Napoleon himself but accepting battle with his marshals if the situation seemed favorable. The Allies inflicted defeats on the French at Großbeeren, Kulm, Katzbach, and Dennewitz. These defeats led Napoleon to consolidate his army in and around Leipzig in early October, 1813. The Allied armies followed him and converged there and forced a battle in mid-October.

As the allied armies grew closer to Leipzig Napoleon knew he was being encircled but planned to use his interior position to avert defeat and achieve local superiority. This plan eventually failed in the face of the massively superior numbers the Allies could bring to bear.
The allied armies approached from the north, west, and south with the only possible avenue of escape for Napoleon being to the east and away from France.

Army Positions on the first day
Army Positions on the first day

On the first day, 16 October, 1813, there were several areas of contact between the French and Allies .  Most notably in the areas of Mockern, Wiedentzsch, Lindenau, Connewitz, & Wachau.  The fighting was difficult but the French managed to essentially stay in position and the day ended in a bloody stalemate.

Day 2 saw only two minor actions. One between the Polish and Russians and between the Prussian and French Cavalry.  14,000 French troops arrived to bolster Napoleon.  However, two entire new armies, a Russian and the Swedes consisting of 145,000 troops arrived in the Allied Camp.

The third day of the battle
The third day of the battle

The third day was the culminating day of the battle as Napoleon was essentially encircled.  The fiercest fight of the entire battle was at Probstheida between the Russians and Prussians and French. The French successfully held off the attackers but at the cost of crippling casualties.  There was additional fighting at Paunsdorf and Schonefeld where the Swedes and Prussians attacked and defeated French forces defending these villages. The Saxons and Württembergers defected to the Allies during this action.  At the end of the day the French had held in the south but been pushed back in the north east.  Napoleon knew he was beaten.

During the night of 18-19 October Napoleon began withdrawing his army to the west across the Elster. The Allies were unaware until 0700 on the 19th and Marshal Oudinot put up a fierce rear-guard action in the streets of Leipzig.  The retreat went well until a corporal who inevitably did not get the word blew the only bridge over the Elster up while it was still crowded with French troops and the rear guard was still fighting in Leipzig itself. Blowing the bridge caused a panic a rout of the troops trapped east of the river.  Poniatowski, the only Foreign born Marshal drowned trying to cross the river.

The Battle of Leipizig was the bloodiest battle of the Napoleonic Wars both in terms of total losses and in losses as a percentage of troops engaged.

French Casualties
Not Counting the defection of the Saxon and Württemberg armies the French suffered roughly 80,000 casualties.  44,000 were killed and wounded and a further 36,000 were captured.  19.5% of Napoleons force was killed or wounded while total casualties approached 36% of the army he started the battle with.

Allied Casualties
Total Allied casualties were approximately 54,000 dead, wounded, or missing; 14% of their total force.

In the wake of his defeat Napoleon abandoned Germany altogether and retreated to France to prepare his defenses for the defense of la Patrie that he knew was coming in 1814.  The Allies did not pursue Napoleon after Leipzig as their armies were exhausted after 4 days of brutal fighting and the end of the campaign season was fast approaching.  After Leipzig the Confederation of the Rhine fell apart and French Armies would not occupy German soil again for any appreciable length of time until 1918 when occupation troops entered the Rhineland in the wake of World War I.

Book Review Featured Image

Book Review: House of War by James Carroll

House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power is one of those books that when you are done reading it you cannot quite decide if it was worth reading or not.

If you want to know what history looks like, particularly American history, from the perspective of someone who sees evil and nefarious dealings in just about every single action taken by the United States then this is the book for you. I never thought I would see the day when the Marshall Plan would be described as economic warfare but it is in this book and that is just one example. I found it difficult to suspend disbelief and finish this book but I managed to man up and do so. This is history of the Zinn School. That is, it is a history written by a person consumed with spite and self-loathing for the culture and nation that nurtured and created them.

There are several outrageous claims made throughout the book and they all essentially boil down to America was/is evil.  Here are some examples:

  1. The Point Blank campaign that destroyed communications infrastructure in occupied Europe prior to the Allied invasion on D-Day was purposely designed to kill as many civilians as possible and any industrial or strategic effects were secondary results at best.  Richard Overy does a very good job of destroying this particular fanstasy in his recently published book, The Bombers and the Bombed.
  2. The Marshall Plan was not designed to help rebuild Europe from the devastation of WWII, it was economic warfare against the Soviet Union and had nothing to do with helping anybody.
  3. The Soviet land blockade of Berlin that led to the Berlin Airlift was a response to economic attacks by the West.  Specifically, he claims it was a response to the West’s apparently malicious introduction of the Deutsche Mark into the Western occupied zones.
  4. The North Korean’s were probably goaded into attacking the the South in 1950 by a speech by Dean Acheson.  The subtext here is that the war would not have happened if it were not for the US.

He goes on and on ad nauseum about NSC-68 being evil and completely ignores the fact that the strategy of communist containment outlined in the document was ultimately the strategy that won the Cold War for the West.  Of course, he thinks the West should not have won.  If you take this book at face value you would come away believing that Communists the world over are/were a bunch of peaceful little boggles that were forced into being the brutish thugs who murdered their own people by the millions because of the evil machinations of the West.  In this long story of the perfidy of the West the brutal Soviet crackdowns on satellite states are ignored and Soviet intervention elsewhere are always presented as being reasonable responses to Western aggression.

I would call this book a waste of paper but that is not strong enough. It is worthwhile in one respect though. If you can see beyond the banality and fake moralism it gives a pretty clear picture of the intense dislike of the modern American left for the United States.  I found myself wondering, if the author finds America so evil why is he still here? The one thing that comes through clearly in the entire book is the author’s conviction that America and the wider West are the true Evil Empire and it is only if the West gives itself over to the modern left/progressive movement that we can hope to atone for the sin of our very existence.  That all this comes from a de-frocked Catholic Priest should be no surprise.

I cannot recommend this book except as an excellent example of what infinitely biased history and twisted facts look like.  Luckily I did not pay for it having borrowed it from my local library.

The Hattin Campaign and the Triumph of Saladin in 1187

Medieval politics make modern politics look like child’s play.  If any act from medieval times highlights this it is the Hattin Campaign of 1187 in which the entire military might of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem was destroyed because the Christians themselves collectively acted stupidly due to internal political factors in the face of an existential external threat.  The final campaign of the Kingdom of Jerusalem is best seen as an object lesson of what happens when you let internal politics direct external actions.

In 1186 Guy de Lusignan became king of Jerusalem through his wife Sibylla after the death of Baldwin V while in his minority.  The coronation was disputed at the time by Raymond III who had been regent under Baldwin V.  This dispute almost led to civil war and it did lead Raymond to leave the capital with his retinue and return to Tripoli.

In April, 1187 Raymond had negotiated a truce with Saladin to allow transit of Muslims below Galillee.  Balian if Ibelin violated the truce, attacked the Muslim force commanded by Al Afdal, and was defeated at the Battle fo Cresson on 1 May 1187.Hattin 1

The violation of the truce led Saladin to declare the Kingdom of Jerusalem essentially outlaw and mount an invasion.  Because the prospect of hanging concentrate a man greatly, the Christians of the kingdom put aside their differences and called out the host of the kingdom to try and defeat Saladin and save the kingdom.

The Christian army massed near the springs of Saffuriya. Meanwhile on July 2nd Saladin initiated of siege of Raymond’s castle (near modern Kinneret) at Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee).  The castle garrison surrendered the same day after an offer to pay tribute was rejected.  Raymond’s wife remained holed up in the castle citadel.Hattin 2

When news arrived of the fall of the castle but that the citadel was still holding out a war council was held.  After much arguing it was agreed that the Christian army would move to lift the siege.

They approached Tiberias on July 3rd.  When they spotted Saladin’s army they moved to defensive positions on the Horns of Hattin, a two summited hill without a spring or water source about 4 kilometers from the castle.

Saladin seized the Springs of Tur’an, the only convenient water source for the Christians.  The single biggest mistake the fractious Christians made was to retreat there in the first place.  Saladin used his army, and especially hi horse archers, to pick off individual Christian soldiers who cam off the hill to find water.  Saladin aggravated the lack of water by setting grass fires that choked the Christian army with smoke and eventually the Christian army moved off of the hill and attempted to break Saladin’s line to get to the lake and water.

After the Christians came off the hill Saladin split his cavalry in two to flank the Christian army.  Saladin now had the Christians surrounded.  His archers continually harassed the Christians and they faded away when the knights charged only to start firing again when the knights returned to the Christian lines.  After the second charge Raymond of Tripoli was cut off from the main body and he retreated from the battlefield.  Eventually the remnants of the Christian army was trapped on the Horns where they surrendered to Saladin.  The captured included the Grand Masters of the knights Templar and Hospitaler as well King Guy and many of the Christian nobility.

After the Battle of Hattin the Christian nobility of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was decimated. The Kingdom would never recover although it would be another 100 years before the last vestiges of the Christian Kingdom were ejected from the Holy Land.

Casualties

Hattin 3

 

After the disaster at the Horns of Hattin Saladin marched on Jerusalem and laid siege to it.

The city surrendered on October 2nd and unlike the orgy of rape and pillage when the First Crusade had taken the city in 1099 Saladin allowed the residents of the city to ransom themselves.  The Patriarch of Jerusalem took up a collection which paid the ransom for about 18,000 residents.  Those who could not pay and the soldiers who defended the city were sold into slavery.

The crusader kingdom of Jerusalem was rescued by the Third Crusade, which captured Acre on the coast.  This rump state of coastal cities survived for another hundred years until the final Fall of Acre in 1291 to the Mamluk Baibars.

Book Review Featured Image

Book Review: BOLO! by David Weber

Bolo! by David Weber is kind of an anthology and kind of a series of related novels, I cannot decide which.  Regardless, it is a solid offering from Weber, of Honorverse fame.  The book is 388 pages and consists of 4 chronologically arranged BOLO stories with an annex on the technical characteristics of the evolution of the BOLO.

If you are not familiar with the super tanks known as BOLOs from the books of Keith Laumer this is a good introductory book that will make you want to go read more from Laumer, the guy that invented the concept.  Weber does a solid job of telling these stories as he does a solid job of telling any stories he puts his fingers to keyboard for.  I just think Laumer does a better job of telling BOLO stories.

This is not a bad book, but it is not a great one.  Weber excels when he is in the Honorverse but his stories outside that comfort zone seem to lack a little something.  The best books by Weber that do not include Honor Harrington are the Starfire books he wrote with Steve White.

This is a good book that is sure to entertain but it leaves this fan of David Weber wanting something undefinable that is just not there.  Perhaps it the nature of the anthology and the shorter stories that don’t have as much space for character development.  This is still worth reading though.

In Flanders Fields

Given that 100 years ago men were fighting and dying in the opening months of what they would come to call the Great War and we call WWI, I decided to post one of the most famous and memorable poems to come out of that war.  This poem is one of the reasons that the VFW sells Poppies today in their fundraisers.  It really is true that the fields of Flanders are covered with Poppies in spring and summer.  Every time I visit Flanders the poppies serve as a reminder of the slaughter that took place there.

In Flanders Fields
By John McRae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Some backstory on the Poem and Remembrance Poppies can be found on the In Flanders Fields page of GreatWar.co.uk