Napoleonic Wargame Club (NWC)

Davout 1813-15, at the right or wrong spot?
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Author:  Christian Hecht [ Sat Mar 27, 2021 7:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Davout 1813-15, at the right or wrong spot?

the last part of Epic History TV Napoleon's Marshals series made an interesting statement in so far as it pointed out that it leaves many historians puzzled as to why Napoleon had chosen to not have his best Marshal fighting with him but instead placing far away from the important battles.
1813 Davout re-conquers Hamburg, where he is later besieged and only when he received confirmation of Napoleon abdication he surrenders his troops on 29th May 1814.
1815 has him even further away in Paris as Minster of War reorganizing & raising the French army for the current and coming campaigns.

Maybe the answer is that it's a matter of the perspective.
Looking only at the battlefield Davout would surely have made a difference in the campaigns of 1813, 1814 and 1815.
From a broader perspective one has to ask who else could have been send to Hamburg to re-conquer it and secure the Northern flank, and who else could have stayed in Paris to take care of the army?

What do the gentlemen think?

Author:  Victor Libet [ Mon Mar 29, 2021 10:59 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Davout 1813-15, at the right or wrong spot?

I would distinguish between 1813-1814 and 1815. In 1813-1814, there was a case for sending Davout to retake Hamburg. By then, he and Napoleon had fallen out, but Napoleon knew that Davout's loyalty was absolute. Napoleon needed a subordinate who could act as an independent commander and governor, and never surrender or switch sides under any circumstances. Which is what happened. Although Napoleon was maybe punishing Davout for his conduct in the Russian Campaign, blaming him for the loss of most of Ney's III Corps. See: ... avout.html

But 1815 was different, at least according to David Chandler. Chandler concludes that Napoleon left Davout in Paris for no good reason. Chandler, Campaigns of Napoleon (1966), p. 1022:

"Marshal Suchet would have made a far better chief of staff than Soult . . . by appointing possibly his ablest marshal [Davout] as minister of war and governor of the capital, Napoleon sacrificed the talents of an experienced and gifted soldier."

Perhaps Napoleon was again counting on Davout's loyalty and thinking in terms of what would happen if Paris was attacked (remembering Marmont's surrender at Paris in 1814). But surely Napoleon knew that a great victory in Belgium would be far more valuable in securing his rule than a loyal Paris governor. Perhaps Napoleon was jealous of Davout's military reputation and did not want to share the glory from smashing Bluecher and Wellington and reconquering the Low Countries.

Obviously, if Davout had been in command of Napoleon's left wing or right wing in 1815 (instead of Ney or Grouchy), the campaign would have gone differently. Assuming that Bluecher kept his army in being after Ligny, however, I suspect that Wellington would still have fought the French to a draw. Davout would have recommended a flanking maneuver through Braine l'Alleud to turn Wellington's right, but Napoleon would have rejected Davout's suggestion and insisted on a frontal attack, as happened historically. Wellington would likely have retreated in good order, Brussels would have been occupied, and the war would have been prolonged.

Author:  Christian Hecht [ Mon Mar 29, 2021 9:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Davout 1813-15, at the right or wrong spot?

1815, the choice between sending the best where one thinks they are needed most or keeping them close to maximize the own combat capabilities.
If Chandler is right about Suchet it may explain why he commanded the Armee des Alpes near Lyon, the only other bigger field army was Rapp near Strasbourg.
Davout & Suchet with Napoleon would surely made a difference at Waterloo, but continuing to maximize France war efforts and protecting the South-East of France seemed, at least from a strategic perspective, as important if not more important then a single battle.
Maybe Napoleon just thought that the lesser capable Marshals are better with him where he can prevent mistakes, what obviously didn't work, and place the more capable where he can't keep an eye on them.

Don't want to derail the thread but an orderly withdrawal of Wellington in good order seems unlikely, he had the Forest of Soignes in his back, I'm not sure he could have simply put up a rearguard and then march North as afaik there was just 1 major road leading to Brussel.

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