Battle of Laon
The Battle of Laon was the victory of Blücher
Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher
Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Fürst von Wahlstatt , Graf , later elevated to Fürst von Wahlstatt, was a Prussian Generalfeldmarschall who led his army against Napoleon I at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig in 1813 and at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 with the Duke of Wellington.He is...

's Prussian army over Napoleon
Napoleon I of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

's French army near Laon
Laon is the capital city of the Aisne department in Picardy in northern France.-History:The hilly district of Laon, which rises a hundred metres above the otherwise flat Picardy plain, has always held strategic importance...



An Allied coalition attempted to complete the destruction of Napoleon's French Empire
First French Empire
The First French Empire , also known as the Greater French Empire or Napoleonic Empire, was the empire of Napoleon I of France...

 in 1814. France had been defeated in Russia in 1812 and in Central Europe
War of the Sixth Coalition
In the War of the Sixth Coalition , a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and a number of German States finally defeated France and drove Napoleon Bonaparte into exile on Elba. After Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia, the continental powers...

 in 1813. Napoleon's French Empire was now fighting for its survival.

In the last week of February 1814, about a month after the start of the Allied invasion, Blucher seized the initiative and advanced on Paris with his forces. Napoleon's two marshals in the immediate vicinity, Édouard Mortier
Édouard Adolphe Casimir Joseph Mortier
Édouard Adolphe Casimir Joseph Mortier, 1st Duc de Trévise was a French general and Marshal of France under Napoleon I.-Biography:...

 and Auguste Marmont
Auguste Marmont
Auguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de Marmont, 1st Duke of Ragusa was a French General, nobleman and Marshal of France.-Biography:...

, were covering the city with two detached corps, but they only had 10,000 men and would be unable to hold out against Blücher's larger force. Napoleon hurried westwards to their rescue with around 30,000 troops, hoping to trap Blücher against the Marne river
Marne River
The Marne is a river in France, a right tributary of the Seine in the area east and southeast of Paris. It is long. The river gave its name to the départements of Haute-Marne, Marne, Seine-et-Marne, and Val-de-Marne....


Blücher unsuccessfully attacked Marmont and Mortier along the Ourcq river in late February and early March and ordered a retreat north to regroup when he heard of Napoleon's advance. Prussian troops crossed the swollen Aisne River
Aisne River
The Aisne is a river in northeastern France, left tributary of the river Oise. It gave its name to the French département Aisne. It was known in the Roman period as the Axona....

 and arrived at Soissons
Soissons is a commune in the Aisne department in Picardy in northern France, located on the Aisne River, about northeast of Paris. It is one of the most ancient towns of France, and is probably the ancient capital of the Suessiones...

 on 4 March. There they linked up with reinforcements that brought Blücher's total force to 100,000. On 7 March, a clash ensued at the Battle of Craonne
Battle of Craonne
The Battle of Craonne was fought on March 7, 1814, and resulted in a French victory under Napoleon I against Russians and Prussians under General Blücher.Craonne is a village on the Chemin des Dames, in the département of Aisne....

 as Napoleon attacked westwards along the Chemin des Dames. Blücher's outflanking maneuver did not materialize in time and the Prussians were forced to withdraw towards Laon.


Blucher chose to fight at Laon because it was an important road junction with a superb defensive position. Laon was located on a flat-topped hill with steep slopes that rose 330 feet above the surrounding area. The countryside to the north was flat and open, but the south contained rough and wooded terrain that made military maneuvers difficult. The villages of Ardon and Semilly at the foot of the hill served as good bastions for the Prussian and Russian forces.


Blucher now had about 90,000 troops and 176 guns. Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow
Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow
Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow, Graf von Dennewitz was a Prussian general of the Napoleonic Wars.-Early life:...

's Prussian corps was assigned the defense of Laon itself. Blücher's western wing was covered by a Russian corps under Ferdinand von Wintzingerode
Ferdinand von Wintzingerode
Ferdinand, Freiherr of Wintzingerode was a German nobleman and officer in several different armies of the Napoleonic Wars, finally ending up as a general in the Imperial Russian army and fighting in the War of the Sixth Coalition against the French invasion of Russia and the subsequent campaigns...

 while the eastern wing was defended by two Prussian corps under General Yorck and General Kleist
Friedrich Graf Kleist von Nollendorf
Friedrich Emil Ferdinand Heinrich Graf Kleist von Nollendorf , born and died in Berlin, was a Prussian field marshal and a member of the old junker family von Kleist....

. Two Russian corps under generals Langeron
Louis Alexandre Andrault de Langeron
Count Louis Alexandre Andrault de Langéron , born in Paris, was a French general in the service of the Imperial Russian Army during the Napoleonic Wars.-Early life:...

 and Osten-Sacken
Fabian Wilhelm von Osten-Sacken
Prince Fabian Gottlieb von der Osten-Sacken was a Baltic-German Field Marshal who led the Russian army against the Duchy of Warsaw and later governed Paris during the city's brief occupation by the anti-French coalition.-Early career:Osten-Sacken was born in Reval, in present day Estonia, into...

 stood in reserve. After Craonne, Napoleon had taken the bulk of his forces northeastwards towards Laon while detaching about 10,000 troops under Marmont to advance on Laon via the Berry-au-Bac road.


Preliminary fighting on the evening of 8 March saw the French vanguard chase off a small Russian detachment from the village of Urcel on the Soissons road. In the early hours of 9 March, the French renewed their push along the road. At 5:30 a.m., French dragoons arrived in front of Laon, but had lost the element of surprise and withdrew under heavy fire. From 7:00 a.m. onwards, the French repeatedly attacked the Allied positions at Ardon and Semilly. Some troops from the Young Guard
Imperial Guard
The Imperial Guard was originally a small group of elite soldiers of the French Army under the direct command of Napoleon I, but grew considerably over time. It acted as his bodyguard and tactical reserve, and he was careful of its use in battle...

 even reached the top of the hill before being driven back.

Blücher was suffering from a fever and could not direct affairs as closely as he was accustomed to doing in previous engagements. By 11:00 a.m., however, the fog had lifted and the Allied command staff had a clear view of the battlefield below. Blücher was operating under the impression that the French had 90,000 troops because of poor sources and was generally reluctant to have his troops launch any attacks. The Allies might have scored a very decisive victory had they launched a full attack against Napoleon's 30,000 men, but the uncertainty about the situation led Blücher to commit only Winzingerode's corps against Napoleon's left flank. Winzigerode's attacks were feeble and easily repulsed by the French.

Blücher now decided to isolate Napoleon's western forces from Marmont's column to the east. A convincing Allied attack captured the village of Ardon, but the victorious Prussian infantry brigade was ordered to halt because Blücher feared that French forces to the east would outflank them. Renewed French assaults late in the evening of the 9th led to the capture of Clacy, a village in Blücher's western flank. By the end of the first day of fighting, however, Laon still remained in Allied hands.

Meanwhile, at around 5:00 p.m. on 9 March, Marmont's troops had attacked the village of Athies and driven off the Prussian advanced posts. Marmont then sent 1,000 men under Colonel Fabvier westerwards to establish contact with Napoleon's main army. Blucher and Gneisenau
August von Gneisenau
August Wilhelm Antonius Graf Neidhardt von Gneisenau was a Prussian field marshal. He was a prominent figure in the reform of the Prussian military and the War of Liberation.-Early life:...

 heard the fighting to the east and ordered a powerful counter-attack with two corps. The Allies slammed into Marmont's troops and drove them back. Marmont was saved by Colonel Charles Nicolas Fabvier
Charles Nicolas Fabvier
Charles Nicolas Fabvier was an ambassador, general and French member of parliament who played a distinguished role in the Greek War of Independence.- Career under Napoleon :...

, who returned on his own initiative with 1,000 troops to clear the road, and by 125 veterans of the Old Guard, who repelled the Allied cavalry trying to block the French from escaping. Marmont had taken a bad beating, losing 3,500 men and 45 guns.

At midnight on the 10th, Blücher decided on a bold outflanking maneuver intended to crush the French. He was even more ill on the 10th and (Gneisenau was effectively in command) the army defended Laon. A few more French attacks throughout the day produced no results, and Napoleon retired his forces late at night.


This setback did not by itself spell the end for Napoleon. Just a few days later the French crushed an isolated enemy corps at Rheims
Battle of Reims (1814)
The Battle of Reims was fought at Reims on 13 March 1814 between the French Empire and a Russian-Prussian force. The French, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, were victorious.- Background :...

. Blücher's Army of Silesia remained inactive for a week after the victory. Nevertheless, the Allied stand had prevented Napoleon from driving them further north. The Allies were still in a position to advance on Paris, which they did at the end of March.
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