riemann sur-face

Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube

The Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube (March 20-21, 1814) was Napoleon’s penultimate battle before his abdication and exile to Elba (the last was the Battle of Saint-Dizier). Encountering Field Marshal Schwarzenberg's larger Austrian force, Napoleon Bonaparte withdrew his French army after confused fighting.


Faced with converging Allied Armies, Napoleon decided to attack Field Marshal Schwarzenberg's Austrian troops before attacking General Blücher’s lines of communications on the upper Marne.


Early on March 20 Napoleon set out for Arcis-sur-Aube (believed to be weakly held by the Austrians) in order to break out towards the Marne. By 11:00 a.m. on March 20, Marshal Ney and General Sébastiani with 20,000 troops had forced Field Marshal Wrede’s 43,000 troops out of the Town of Arcis in bitter fighting. By 1:00 p.m. Napoleon arrived along the northern bank of the Aube River and crossed the bridge. A bitter cavalry action developed in the late afternoon and into the night. During the night Schwarzenberg brought up and deployed 80,000 troops to face the French. Napoleon received reinforcements during the night, including units of the Imperial Guard, two cavalry formations, and one division from VIIth Corps commanded by Marshal Oudinot, giving 28,000 total troops. Schwarzenberg, suspecting a trap and as of yet unaware of his numerical advantage, did not attack until 3:00 p.m. on March 21, by which time Napoleon realized he was not facing a small Allied force, broke contact with the enemy and ordered most French troops to re-cross the Aude River. A French rear guard commanded by Marshal Oudinot, bitterly held off the Austrians until 6:00 p.m., before falling back in good order and blowing the bridge over the Aude River behind them. The Austrians made no effort to pursue the retreating French, overnight the French were able to link up near Ormes with other French forces.


The battle cost the French 3,000 casualties and the Austrians 4,000 casualties. On the March 25 the Allies defeated Marshal Marmont and Marshal Mortier at La-Fere-Champenoise, and three days later linked up with Blücher at Meaux. The Allies ignored Napoleon’s attempts to attack their lines of communications, and marched on Paris, which the Allies occupied on March 31.



  • Chandler, David. Dictionary of the Napoleonic wars. Wordsworth editions, 1999.
  • Chandler, David G. The Campaigns of Napoleon. Scribner, 1966.
  • Taylor, Brian. The Empire of the French. Spellmount, 2006.

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