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‘Unimaginable Horror and Misery’: The Battle of Leipzig in October 1813 in Civilian Experience and Perception

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Soldiers, Citizens and Civilians

Part of the book series: War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850 ((WCS))


The battle of Trafalgar decided mastery at sea, that of Leipzig the defeat of Napoleon and with it the dawn of the most recent era, which is no longer determined by the will of the princely ruler, but by economic and national questions. The mighty mass struggle thus proved a milestone in the history of Europe.1

With these words, the Berlin historian Julius von Pflugk-Harttung began his voluminous documentation of the ‘Battle of the Nations’ at Leipzig. Between 16 and 19 October 1813 a total of more than 171,000 men under Napoleons supreme command, including many soldiers of his remaining German allies Baden, Saxony and W¨¹rttemberg, faced 301,500 Coalition forces in Leipzig under the command of the Austrian field marshal Prince Schwarzenberg, among them 103,000 Russian, 78,000 Austrian, 70,000 Prussian, 33,000 Polish and 18,000 Swedish troops .2 A substantial number of the forces on the European continent — more than 470,000 soldiers of the most diverse nationalities — German, English, French, Dutch, Italian, Croatian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Austrian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Spanish, Hungarian etc. — had massed in Saxony.3 This made Leipzig — the ¡®Battle of the Nations¡¯, as it was already known to contemporaries — the largest battle in history before the First World War.

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  1. Julius v. Pflugk-Harttung, Leipzig 1813: Aus den Akten des Kriegsarchiv, des Geheimen Staatsarchivs Berlin, Staatsarchivs in Breslau und des Ministeriums des Ministeriums der auswärtigen Angelegenheiten in London (Gotha: Perthes, 1913), p. iii.

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  2. Robert Naumann, Die Völkerschlacht bei Leipzig. Nebst Nachrichten von Zeitgenossen und Augenzeugen über dieselbe ( Leipzig: Weigel, 1863 ), pp. 5–7.

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  3. Herman Müller-Bohn, Die deutschen Befreiungskriege. Deutschlands Geschichte von 1806–1815, 2 vols. (Berlin: Kittel, 1901), vol. 2, p. 741.

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  4. Karl Hoffmann (ed.), Des Teutschen Volkes feuriger Dank- und Ehrentempelchrw(133) ( Offenbach: Brede, 1815 ).

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  5. David Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It ( Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007 ).

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  6. Dr J. C. Groß, Die Franzosenzeit in Leipzig. Persönliche Erinnerungen an 1813 ( Leipzig: Xenien Verlag, 1913 ), p. 5.

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  7. Gerhard Graf, Die Völkerschlacht bei Leipzig in zeitgenössischen Berichten ( Berlin: Köhler & Amelang, 1988 ), p. 265.

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  8. Friedrich Schulze (ed.), Die Franzosenzeit in deutschen Landen, 1806–1815 ( Leipzig: Voigtländer Verlag, 1906 ), p. 191.

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© 2009 Karen Hagemann

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Hagemann, K. (2009). ‘Unimaginable Horror and Misery’: The Battle of Leipzig in October 1813 in Civilian Experience and Perception. In: Forrest, A., Hagemann, K., Rendall, J. (eds) Soldiers, Citizens and Civilians. War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-36086-4

  • Online ISBN: 978-0-230-58329-0

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