Defense of Clichy during the battle of Paris
The artist depicts the defense of Paris on the 30th of march 1814. In the centre, marshal Moncey gives his orders to goldsmith Claude Odiot, colonel of the national guard, for whom the painting was made.
Napoleon attempted to transform Paris into a Neoclassical capital but also kept the city under close surveillance through his police and officials. Paris remained a volatile focal point for radical politics throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It surrendered to the Allies on 31 March 1814 following the action at Montmartre, and again after Waterloo, in June 1815.
Action at Montmartre, (30 March 1814)
The final engagement in the campaign of 1814, which led directly to Napoleon’s first abdication. The unsuccessful defense of Paris against the Allied armies caused the marshals to refuse to fight any longer.
During the campaign of 1814 in France, Napoleon regained his skill at outmaneuvering the Allied armies. Although heavily outnumbered, he was able to keep them at bay for some time. On 20 March he failed to turn back their march on Paris at the Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube. Recognizing that his forces were too weak to face the Allies directly, Napoleon planned to mass his available forces and attack the Allied supply lines. As long as Paris could hold out against the Allies, the strategy could force them to retreat. While he marched east, Napoleon sent marshals Auguste de Marmont and Adolphe Mortier with their weak corps to defend Paris.
Marmont and Mortier were defeated on 25 March by the Allies at La-Fere-Champenoise and retreated directly to Paris. The marshals collected the few men available, many of whom were veterans who were recovering from wounds. Another 6,000 were National Guardsmen who volunteered to join the regulars. Muskets were in short supply, and some Guardsmen were armed only with pikes. Some civilians also joined in, but the total numbered fewer than 25,000. Fewer than 100 guns were also available. Overall command rested upon Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. In contrast, the Russian, Austrian, and Prussian forces totaled around 110,000 men. Another 10,000 cavalry had been detached to harass and mislead Napoleon. The Allies made their way down the river Marne and approached Paris from the north.
The capital’s defenses had been allowed to crumble, with Joseph comprehensively failing to restore them to an adequate state. The most important defensive positions were natural formations, especially the knoll at Montmartre. Recognizing this point as the key to the city’s defense, Joseph set up his command post there on 30 March.
Fighting broke out along the entire northern side of Paris, but the heaviest fighting was at Montmartre. Defended by Mortier’s Young Guard, the knoll was the scene of bloody fighting. The French managed to hold their own, with spirited counterattacks launched to recapture lost positions, but Joseph could see that virtually the entire Allied army was present and outnumbered the French by five or six to one. He left around noon after giving Mortier and Marmont permission to surrender Paris if necessary.
Toward the end of the day, Marmont asked for an armistice to negotiate a capitulation. Russian representatives were conducted to Marmont’s house where details were hammered out, and at 2:00 A. M. a surrender agreement was signed. The French forces marched through Paris to Fontainebleau, while the Allies were allowed to enter. Losses for the French totaled 4,000 killed and wounded, with another 1,000 captured. Allied losses numbered 6,700 killed and wounded. Although the defense of Paris had been nearly hopeless, it had been conducted with spirit.
At 11:00 A. M. on 31 March the Allied sovereigns entered Paris, while much of the population celebrated. Prince Talleyrand, the foreign minister, had already contacted the Russian tsar, Alexander I, organized a provisional government, and declared Napoleon deposed as Emperor. Furious at news of the surrender of Paris, Napoleon attempted to rally another army to continue the war, but his marshals refused to renew the fight. Discouraged, Napoleon agreed to abdicate, for the first time, on 6 April.
References and further reading Delderfield, R. F. 2001. Imperial Sunset: The Fall of Napoleon, 1813-1814. Lanham, MD: Cooper Square. Hamilton-Williams, David. 1994. The Fall of Napoleon: The Final Betrayal. London: Brockhampton. Lawford, James. 1977. Napoleon: The Last Campaigns, 1813-15. New York: Crown. Norman, Barbara. 1976. Napoleon and Talleyrand: The Last Two Weeks. New York: Stein and Day. Petre, F. Loraine. 1994. Napoleon at Bay, 1814. London: Greenhill.