|Country||First French Empire|
The VI Corps of the Grande Armée was the name of a French military unit that existed during the Napoleonic Wars. It was formed at the Camp de Boulogne and assigned to Marshal Michel Ney. From 1805 through 1811, the army corps fought under Ney's command in the War of the Third Coalition, the War of the Fourth Coalition, and the Peninsular War. Jean Gabriel Marchand was in charge of the corps for a period when Ney went on leave. In early 1811, Ney was dismissed by Marshal André Masséna for disobedience and the corps was briefly led by Louis Henri Loison until the corps was dissolved in May 1811. The VI Corps was revived in 1812 for the French invasion of Russia and placed under Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr. It entirely consisted of Bavarian soldiers at that time. After the disastrous winter retreat the corps was virtually destroyed. In 1813 during the War of the Sixth Coalition it was recreated with reorganized French troops. Marshal Auguste Marmont took command of the corps and managed it until Emperor Napoleon's abdication in 1814. It took part in many battles including Dresden and Leipzig in 1813. During the Hundred Days, Georges Mouton, Count de Lobau commanded the VI Corps at the Battle of Waterloo.
Under the command of Marshal Michel Ney, the VI Corps crossed the Rhine River near Karlsruhe on the evening of 24-25 September, 1805 at the start of the War of the Third Coalition. On 2 October, Napoleon's advancing Grande Armée began to wheel to the right, aiming for the Danube River, with Ney's corps on the right as the pivot. The army reached the Danube near Donauwörth and the troops began to cross to the south bank on 7 October. However, the VI Corps remained on the north bank. On 9 October, Ney's 3rd Division under Jean-Pierre Firmin Malher defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Günzburg. Two days later, Pierre Dupont de l'Etang's 1st Division found itself facing 25,000 Austrians in the Battle of Haslach-Jungingen. Surprisingly, the badly outnumbered French fended off their enemies all day. Finally, the discouraged Austrians retreated. On 14 October Ney fought Johann Sigismund Riesch's small corps at the Battle of Elchingen. Using Louis Henri Loison's 2nd Division, supported by Malher, Ney crushed Riesch's command with heavy losses.
Thereafter, Dupont's division and Jacques Louis François Delaistre de Tilly's VI Corps cavalry assisted Marshal Joachim Murat in the destruction of Franz von Werneck's Austrian corps. Later, Dupont's division was detached from the corps and fought at the Battle of Dürrenstein on 11 November. With the other two divisions, Ney marched into the Tyrol where one column was repulsed at Scharnitz but a second column captured 900 Austrians at Leutasch. Both actions occurred on 4 November 1805.
The VI Corps fought at the Battle of Jena on 14 October 1806 in the War of the Fourth Coalition. Ney's troops were engaged in the Siege of Magdeburg beginning on 22 October. Franz Kasimir von Kleist surrendered on 11 November with 22,000 Prussian soldiers, 800 officers, 20 generals, and 700 artillery pieces. On 25 December, Marchand with 6,000 men and 12 guns defeated 3,000 Prussians and eight guns at Soldau. The corps arrived at 7:15 PM on 8 February 1807 at the Battle of Eylau. Ney's 17,000 men held off 63,000 Russians in a brilliant rear guard action in the Battle of Guttstadt-Deppen on 5 and 6 June. The corps led the successful counterattack at the Battle of Friedland on 14 June 1807.
The VI Corps marched to Spain where it fought in the Peninsular War from 1808 to 1811. In 1808, the corps numbered about 20,000 men, organized into a cavalry brigade under Auguste François-Marie de Colbert-Chabanais, the 1st Division under Marchand and the 2nd Division under Joseph Lagrange. Later, Maurice Mathieu took over from Lagrange. Ney attempted to occupy Galicia in the northwest, but in June 1809 he evacuated the province. Next, the corps participated in a futile attempt to cut off the British army after the Battle of Talavera. While returning to the north, Ney's troops brushed aside Robert Thomas Wilson's Portuguese-Spanish column at the Battle of Puerto de Baños on 12 August.
In the autumn of 1809, Marchand led the corps when Ney went on leave. Under Marchand's leadership, the VI Corps suffered a defeat at the Battle of Tamames on 18 October. In the Battle of Alba de Tormes under the command of François Étienne de Kellermann, the VI Corps gained revenge against the Spanish victors of Tamames on 28 November. Jean-Baptiste Lorcet's cavalry and Kellermann's dragoon division did most of the fighting, while Marchand's infantry arrived only in time to mop up.
At end of the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo from 26 April to 9 July 1810, the VI Corps seized the fortress. French casualties were about 1,180 men, while the Spanish lost 461 killed, 994 wounded, and 4,000 captured. In the Battle of the Coa on 24 July, Louis Henri Loison's division forced the Anglo-Portuguese Light Division behind the Coa River, nearly trapping the unit. When Ney unwisely ordered his men to rush the bridge, serious casualties resulted. Allied losses totaled 36 killed, 189 wounded, and 83 missing. French casualties numbered 117 killed and 414 wounded. The corps began the Siege of Almeida the day after the battle. On 26 August a lucky hit blew up the main Portuguese magazine, killing 600 men and leveling parts of the town and defenses. The garrison capitulated the following day.
The corps was heavily engaged at the Battle of Bussaco on 27 September 1810. Loison's division suffered 1,252 casualties, including brigade commander Édouard François Simon captured. Marchand's division lost an additional 1,173, while Julien Augustin Joseph Mermet only reported 24 casualties. During the retreat from Portugal, Ney directed several rear guard actions at Pombal, Redinha, Casal Novo, and Foz do Arouce between 11 and 15 March 1811. A week later, Ney flatly refused to obey a direct order and Marshal André Masséna dismissed him. Loison led the corps at the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro and Claude François Ferey took command of Loison's division. In the fighting on 3 May, Ferey's and Marchand's divisions suffered 652 casualties, including 76 killed, 409 wounded, and 167 missing. On 5 May, all three divisions lost 107 killed, 804 wounded, and 33 missing. Soon after the battle, the new army commander Marshal Auguste Marmont dissolved the corps organizations, including the VI Corps. Among others, Marchand and Mermet were sent home.
While Ney's corps was fighting in Spain, a second VI Corps was formed in Italy during the War of the Fifth Coalition. At the end of April 1809, Napoleon authorized Eugène de Beauharnais to form the Army of Italy into the V Corps, VI Corps, and XII Corps. Eugène assigned Paul Grenier to lead a VI Corps that consisted of the 8th Hussar Regiment and two infantry divisions under Pierre François Joseph Durutte and Michel Marie Pacthod. As Pacthod had not yet arrived, brigadier Louis Jean Nicolas Abbé became acting commander during the Battle of Caldiero on 29 and 30 April and the Battle of Piave River on 8 May. Pacthod assumed leadership of his division in time to take part with Durutte in the Battle of Tarvis between 15 and 17 May 1809. On 25 May, Grenier led Durutte and the attached division of Jean Mathieu Seras to victory in the Battle of Sankt Michael. At the Battle of Raab, Grenier directed the divisions of Durutte and Seras in the first line, while Pacthod's soldiers were placed in reserve. After the Austrians repulsed the opening attack, Pacthod's division was committed to the combat. Both Pacthod and Durutte fought at the Battle of Wagram. Durutte's division participated in the unsuccessful attack on the evening of 5 May. Both divisions were engaged on 6 May, with Pacthod's troops storming Deutsch-Wagram as Durutte's division moved up the Russbach plateau on their right.
Napoleon reconstituted the VI Corps for the invasion of Russia and placed it under the command of Laurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr. The corps was formed entirely of Bavarian soldiers. At the First Battle of Polotsk on 16 to 18 August 1812, the Bavarians and the French II Corps together suffered 6,000 casualties, including Bavarian Generals Bernhard Erasmus von Deroy and Siebein killed, and Vincenti and Raglowitsch wounded. Gouvion Saint-Cyr won his marshal's baton for this costly victory. The corps fought in the Second Battle of Polotsk on 18 to 20 October. This time, the combined Bavarian and French forces sustained 8,000 to 9,000 casualties before withdrawing to the southwest. A body of 2,100 surviving Bavarians was captured at Toru? (Thorn) on 16 April 1813 after a two-month siege.
The VI Corps was rebuilt as a French formation in the spring of 1813. Under Marshal Marmont, the corps fought at the Battle of Lützen on 2 May. The 20th Division under Jean Dominique Compans and the 21st Division under Jean Pierre François Bonet participated in the engagement. On 20 and 21 May, Marmont led the corps at the Battle of Bautzen. On this occasion, Jean Parfait Friedrichs' 22nd Division joined the other two divisions in the fighting. After the summer armistice expired, the corps fought at the Battle of Dresden on 26 and 27 August. Lagrange replaced Bonet as commander of the 21st Division. During the Battle of Leipzig, Marmont defended the northern sector against Gebhard von Blücher's forces. After bitter fighting on 16 October, the VI Corps was defeated when the Prussians launched a massed cavalry charge. Two days later, the Württemberg cavalry belonging to the corps defected to the Allies. The formation fought against the Bavarians at the Battle of Hanau on 30 and 31 October.
The following spring, Marmont led the VI Corps during the Six Days' Campaign. At the Battle of Champaubert on 10 February 1814, they destroyed an understrength Russian corps and captured its commander. Marmont was left to observe part of Blücher's army while Napoleon fell upon the rest. While Marmont capably held off Blücher's advance, Napoleon concentrated his forces behind him. At the Battle of Vauchamps on 14 February, Napoleon attacked Blücher and drove him from the field. In these engagements, Lagrange led the 3rd Division while Étienne Pierre Sylvestre Ricard directed the 8th Division. Marmont led his men in a minor victory at Gué-à-Tresmes on 28 February. The corps fought again in the Battle of Craonne on 7 March.
At the Battle of Laon on 9 March, the 10,000 troops arrived in the early afternoon and captured some positions east of Laon. Satisfied, Marmont called off the attack and the troops went into bivouac. Without warning, Blücher launched an attack in the evening, routing the VI Corps. Two pieces of luck allowed Marmont and his men to escape. Charles Nicolas Fabvier, sent on a mission with 1,000 men, returned to keep the road open. Meanwhile, 125 soldiers of the Old Guard held off waves of Allied cavalry to hold the Festieux defile. At the Battle of Reims on 13 March, Marmont's corps helped recapture the city. At the Battle of Fère-Champenoise on 25 March, the VI Corps and other troops proved unable to stop the Allied army's advance. After the Battle of Paris, the French abandoned their capital to the Allied army. By this time the VI Corps was a mere shadow. It went into action with Lagrange's 1,395 troops, Ricard's 726 men, and Jean-Toussaint Arrighi de Casanova's 1,250 soldiers. As a result of the loss of Paris, Napoleon abdicated on 6 April 1814.
During the Hundred Days, Napoleon reconstituted the VI Corps and appointed Georges Mouton, Count of Lobau as its commander. The corps arrived in the evening after the Battle of Ligny on 16 June 1815 and camped close to the Prussian outposts. The next day, Napoleon ordered Lobau to march his corps west to a position where it could attack Wellington's British army and attached Jacques Gervais Subervie's light cavalry division. At the same time, François Antoine Teste's division was detached from the corps to operate with Marshal Emmanuel Grouchy's right wing.
On the morning of the 18th at the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon placed the VI Corps in the second line, with the divisions of François Martin Valentin Simmer and Jean Baptiste Jeanin one behind the other just to the west of the Charleroi to Brussels highway. When the approach of the Prussian army was detected, Lobau's two divisions were moved to the east flank, behind the division of Pierre François Joseph Durutte and facing east. At about 4:00 PM, Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow gave the order to attack and Lobau found himself outnumbered three-to-one by his Prussian opponents. He quickly shifted his position to occupy Plancenoit with his right flank brigade while the rest of his infantry and the light cavalry divisions of Subervie and Jean Simon Domon covered the left flank. This was the start of a brutal fight for the village. When the Prussians began to overrun the village, the 4,200-strong Young Guard arrived and drove them out. As the reinforced Prussians again began to press forward, 1,100 soldiers of the Old Guard attacked and recaptured Plancenoit. This triumph helped Lobau's troops hold the line north of the village. Eventually, the Prussians cleared the village in vicious no-quarter fighting that went on into the evening. Unaware that Napoleon's army was routed at Waterloo, Teste's detached division attacked and captured the hamlet of Bierges on the morning of the 19th during the Battle of Wavre. This local success forced the Prussian III Corps to retreat.
Marshal Michel Ney
Source: Smith (1998, pp. 203-204)
General of Division Jean Gabriel Marchand
General of Brigade Eugène-Casimir Villatte
|6th Light Infantry Regiment||1st and 2nd|
General of Brigade François Roguet
|39th Line Infantry Regiment||1st and 2nd|
|69th Line Infantry Regiment||1st and 2nd|
|76th Line Infantry Regiment||1st and 2nd|
General of Division Gaspard Amédée Gardanne
General of Brigade Pierre-Louis Binet de Marcognet
|25th Light Infantry Regiment||1st and 2nd|
General of Brigade Mathieu Delabassé
|27th Line Infantry Regiment||1st and 2nd|
|50th Line Infantry Regiment||1st and 2nd|
|59th Line Infantry Regiment||1st and 2nd|
General of Brigade Auguste François-Marie de Colbert-Chabanais
|10th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment||1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th|
|3rd Hussar Regiment||1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th|
1,323 gunners and train
4 12-pound cannons
12 8-pound cannons
4 4-pound cannons
4 6-inch howitzers
|1st Foot Artillery Regiment||9th, 10th, 11th, 12th|
|2nd Horse Artillery Regiment||1st and 5th|
Source: Chandler (2005, p. 36)
Marshal Michel Ney (16,176, 30 guns)
Source: Oman (1995, p. 626)
Marshal Michel Ney (23,448)
Source: Pelet (1973, p. 518-520)
General of Division Laurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr (23,228 infantry in 28 battalions)
Marshal Auguste Marmont
General of Division Georges Mouton, Count of Lobau
Source: Haythornthwaite (1974, p. 181-182)