Battle of Bar-sur-Aube, 27 February 1814

The battle of Bar-sur-Aube (27 February 1814) was one of a series of defeats suffered by Napoleon's subordinates during the campaign of 1814, and saw a combined Russian and Bavarian force defeat Marshal Oudinot after an attempt to convince the Allies that Napoleon was still present in that area failed.

Battles of the French Campaign of 1814
Battles of the
French Campaign
of 1814

Napoleon's aim in 1814 was to keep the two main Allied armies apart so that he could defeat each on in turn. At the start of the campaign Marshal Blucher's Army of Silesia advanced on the Allied right, with General Schwarzenberg's Army of Bohemia on the Allied left. Napoleon's big problem was that he could win victories when he was present in person, but his subordinates were unable to perform as well. While Napoleon was inflicting a series of defeats on Marshal Blucher during the Six Days Campaign, Victor was struggling to defend the line of the Seine. Napoleon thus had to turn south to deal with Schwarzenberg, forcing him into a retreat after winning a victory at Montereau (18 February 1814). In the aftermath of this setback Schwarzenberg retreated east along the south bank of the Seine, after destroying a series of bridges. Napoleon was unable to catch him, and so decided to turn north to try and stop Blucher advancing down the Marne towards Paris.

Marshal Oudinot was left to watch Schwarzenberg, and if possible convince him that Napoleon was still present with his forces. On 26 February a dispatch from Blucher reached Schwarzenberg's camp announcing that Napoleon was facing him on the Marne. This ended any chance of a successful bluff, and also convinced Schwarzenberg that it was time to resume his own offensive.

On 26 February the Allies had troops to the north-east and south of Bar-sur-Aube. Wrede's Bavarian Corps and Wittgenstein's Corps were at Arrentieres and Voigny, north-east and east of Bar. The Crown Prince of Wurttemberg and Count Giulay were to the south at Clairvaux.

Marshal Blücher von Wahlstatt
Marshal Blücher von Wahlstatt

The French were also spread out. Gerard's II Corps was on the right bank of the Aube, on either side of Bar. Leval's division from Oudinot's VII Corps was stretched out to the north of the Aube, with its left at Vernonfait, close to Wrede and Wittgenstein. The cavalry was split, with some on the right bank to the north-west of Bar and Kellermann's cavalry at Spoy, on the left bank. Their artillery was at Magny-Fouchard, on the left bank of the Aube, and several miles to the west of Bar.

Schwarzenberg decided to attack on 27 February. Wrede was ordered to attack Bar directly, while Wittgenstein was to take the Vernonfait heights. The Crown Prince of Wurttemberg was to advance on the Allied left, take La Ferte-sur-Aube and then head west along the road to Troyes.

The Allied advance began at about 7am on the morning of 27 February. After arriving on the scene Schwarzenberg decided to alter his plans. Wrede would pin down the French right, east of Bar, while Wittgenstein attacked towards Arsonval, downstream from Bar-sur-Aube. The French would be trapped against the river.

The French began the battle with more men than the Allies, but their forces were divided by the river and the French artillery was trapped on the wrong side of the river. As the Allies fed in more men, the French would end up outnumbered by almost three to one. The French found themselves being attacked from several directions at once. To the south-east Wrede advanced down the Aube, with his Bavarian troops on the left and his Austrian troops on the right. To the north-east Wittgenstein attacked in three columns. On his right Count Pahlen attacked towards Arsonval. In the centre Prince Eugune von Wurttemberg (a cousin of the Crown Prince) advanced with his right wing towards Vernonfait to support Pahlen. On the left General Gorchakov advaced towards Lignol.

It took some time for Oudinot to realise that the Allied attack was serious. He sent Leval's division to occupy the Vernonfait hill, while Duhesme defended Bar. General Rottembourg's 5th Young Guard Division was in reserve behind Leval. The nearest cavalry, under General Saint-Germain, was posted on the French left, near the Aube.

The battle started with a clash between the French and Gorchakov, soon supported by Eugune von Wurttemberg. The French were under heavy pressure at this stage of the battle, in particular because of their lack of artillery. Their position was restored after Kellermann forded the river and attacked the Allied right. Wittgenstein concenrated his artillery in the centre of his line and ordered Eugene von Wurttemberg and Gorchakov to withdraw back to the main position. The French cavalry carried out three attacks on this concentrated Allied artillery battery, but was repulsed on each occasion. Even so Schwarzenberg was alarmed by these attacks, and moved reinforcements from Wrede's corps to support Gorchakov.

The arrival of these reinforcements convinced Oudinot that he couldn't risk staying in place much longer. When it became clear that a major assault was being prepared, he decided to order a retreat back down the Aube. The Allies attacked as the French retreat began, but they were unable to prevent most of Oudinot's men from retreating along both banks of the Aube. The troops on the right bank then crossed the bridge at Dolencourt and the French were able to complete their escape.

The French lost 2,600 men at Bar-sur-Aube, the Allies 2,400, making it a very even fight. Amongst the Allied wounded were Wittgenstein and Schwarzenberg, who suffered a very minor wound. However the Allies were the clear winners. The French had to retreat for several days, allowing the Allies to return to Troyes, and then regain control of the Seine crossings.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 May 2016), Battle of Bar-sur-Aube, 27 February 1814 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_bar_sur_aube.html

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