N & E
Napoleon & Empire

Battle of Brienne

Date and place

  • January 29th, 1814 at Brienne-le-Château, in Champagne, France (now in the Aube department, part of the Grand-Est region).

Involved forces

  • French army (30,000 men) under Emperor Napoleon the First. 
  • Prussian and Russian army (25,000 men) under Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. 

Casualties and losses

  • French Army: 3 to 4,000 men killed, injured or lost. 
  • Allied Army: 4,000 men killed, missing or wounded. 

Aerial panorama of Brienne battlefield

Panoramic views from the castle gate, the back of the park and the place where Napoleon was almost killed.

At the end of January 1814, after joining forces with Generalissimo Karl Philipp Fürst zu Schwarzenberg in the Seine and Aube The river Aube valleys, Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, spurred on by his usual ardor, immediately began his march towards Paris Paris.

From Brienne Brienne-le-Château, he launched the head of his column across the Aube The river Aube in Lesmont via the bridge The bridge over the Aube in Lesmont of Lesmont Lesmont [48.42801, 4.41168] towards Arcis-sur-Aube Arcis-sur-Aube in the northwest, and prepared to follow it, without fearing the risk of being separated from the Austrian forces once again.

Napoleon decided to take advantage of it. He rushed towards Brienne. Attacked at the head by Marshal Adolphe Edouard Mortier's troops waiting for him at Troyes Troyes, at the tail by the Emperor himself, cut off from the rest of the Allies, Blücher was supposed to be lost.

But fate intervened. A French orderly officer was caught with dispatches that revealed to Blücher the danger he was in. Without missing a beat, he recalled his column head and concentrated around Brienne.

The French corps, hampered by the nature of the terrain, failed to enter the battlefield simultaneously. Their successive, poorly-coordinated efforts succeeded in pushing the enemy back into Brienne, but by nightfall the town was still held by the Allies, while the French seemed to be at a standstill on the plain The battlefield near Brienne) The battlefield around Brienne.

The castle of Brienne
The castle of Brienne

In the castle [48.391527, 4.52062] overlooking the town, Blücher and his staff were already drinking in the success of their resistance when Napoleon ordered a renewed attack. The old Prussian marshal almost got caught but escaped with the help of a German established in Brienne, named Joseph Dietschin, and returned with reinforcements.

A night battle At night near the castle of Brienne ensued. The town was taken and retaken several times, while the château, occupied by a French battalion, victoriously resisted repeated assaults. According to witnesses, the battle was one of the most furious of the campaign.

Several generals were killed or seriously wounded. Marshal Alexandre Berthier was hit in the head by a spear. Napoleon himself was exposed:

Place where Napoleon was almost killed
Commemorative stele at the place where Napoleon was almost killed by a Cossack

Towards the end of the fight, northeast of Brienne on the road to Juzanvigny [48.40478, 4.54811], Gaspard Gourgaud, Napoleon's aide-de-camp, saved his life by pistol-whipping a Cossack who is about to spear the Emperor (Gourgaud had already rendered this invaluable service to Napoleon in Moscow in 1812).

When the fighting finally ceased, everyone remained at the ready until the early hours of the morning. Only then did the French realize that the enemy had retreated.

Their success, however, fell far short of expectations. The Prussian corps was neither destroyed nor cut off from the rest of the Allied army. On the contrary, pushed back southeast to the Bar-sur-Aube road, it marched towards it.

Bar-sur-Aube: the banks of the river
Bar-sur-Aube: the banks of the river

What's more, with both armies suffering similar losses, the French numerical inferiority remained as crushing as ever.

Map of the battle of Brienne

Napoleonic Battles - Map of the battle of Brienne

Picture - "Battle of Brienne, January 29th, 1814". Painted by Theodore Yung.

Napoleonic Battles - Picture of the battle of Brienne -

Map of the Campaign in northeast France in 1814  Display the map of the Campaign in northeast France in 1814

Photos Credits

 Photo of Lionel A. Bouchon Photos by Lionel A. Bouchon.
 Photo of Marie-Albe Grau Photos by Marie-Albe Grau.
 Photo of Floriane Grau Photos by Floriane Grau.
 Photo of Michèle Grau-Ghelardi Photos by Michèle Grau-Ghelardi.
 Photo of Didier Grau Photos by Didier Grau.
 Photo of various authors Photos made by people outside the Napoleon & Empire association.

Video credits

The shots are by Didier Grau, the editing by Lionel A. Bouchon