Monday, July 11, 2011

The monument to the destroyed bridge in Leipzig

Dear readers,
Now I am in Leipzig and decided to show you one interesting monument connected closely with the the Battle of Leipzig or Battle of the Nations, that has taken place on 16–19 October 1813, and was fought by the coalition armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden against the French army of Napoleon. This battle involved over 600,000 soldiers, making it the largest battle in Europe prior to World War I.
On 18 October, the Allies launched a huge assault from all sides. In over nine hours of fighting, in which both sides suffered heavy casualties, the French troops prevented a breakthrough but were slowly forced back towards Leipzig. The Sixth Coalition had Field Marshal Blücher (Prussian) and Prince Charles John of Sweden to the north, the Generals Barclay De Tolly, Bennigsen (both Russian) and Prince von Hessen-Homburg (Austrian) to the south, and Ignaz Gyulai (Austrian) to the west.

The Prussian 9th brigade occupied the abandoned village of Wachau while the Austrians, with General Bianchi's Hungarians, threw the French out of Lößnig. The Austrians proceeded to give a demonstration of combined arms cooperation as Austrian cavalry attacked French infantry to give Austrian infantry time to arrive and deploy in the attack on Dölitz. The Young Guard Division threw them out. At this point, three Austrian grenadier battalions began to contest for the village with artillery support. In the meantime, at the behest of his Swedish officers, who felt embarrassed that they had not participated in the battle, the Prince gave the order for his light infantry to participate in the final assault on Leipzig itself. The Swedish jägers performed very well, only losing about 121 men in the attack
During the fighting, 5,400 Saxons of Jean Reynier's VII Corps defected to the Allies. Napoleon saw that the battle was a lost cause and on the night of 18–19 October, he began to withdraw the majority of his army across the river Elster. The allies did not learn of the evacuation until 7 a.m, and were then held up by Oudinot's ferocious street-to-street rearguard action in Leipzig. The retreat went smoothly until early afternoon when the general tasked with destroying the only bridge over the Elster delegated the task to a Colonel Montfort. The colonel in turn passed this responsibility on to a corporal, who, unaware of the carefully planned time schedule, ignited the fuses at 1 p.m, when the bridge was still crowded with French troops, and Oudinot's rearguard was still in Leipzig. The explosion and subsequent panic and rout resulted in the deaths of thousands of French troops, and the capture of many thousands more. During that unfortunate event, Poniatowski, the Polish leader, drowned while crossing the river.
On the picture you can see me standing near the monument dedicated to this event. Unfortunately the river Elster is in concrete pipe now, so it is a bit funny to see the monument to the bridge without seeing the river. Nevertheless the city council has already started to reconstruct a former river in its original view. Another attached picture depicts old painting of retreat of Napoleon on 19 October 1813, showing the explosion of the bridge.