Battle of Lützen (1813)
|Battle of Lützen|
|Part of the War of the Sixth Coalition|
Lutzen, Battle of (1813). Napoleon with his troops. Fleischmann, Andrea Johann
| French Empire
Duchy of Warsaw
|Commanders and leaders|
|Napoleon I 1|| Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (commander-in-chief)1
Alexander I (present)1
Frederick William III (present)1
(56,000 Russians and 37,000 Prussians)1
|Casualties and losses|
|about 15,000 killed and wounded2|
In the Battle of Lützen (German: Schlacht von Großgörschen, May 2, 1813), Napoleon I of France halted the advances of the Sixth Coalition after his devastating losses in Russia. The Russian commander, Prince Peter Wittgenstein, attempting to preempt Napoleon's capture of Leipzig, attacked Napoleon's isolated right wing near Lützen, Germany. After a day of heavy fighting, the combined Prussian and Russian force retreated, but without cavalry the French were unable to follow their defeated enemy.
Following the disaster of Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812, a new Coalition formed against him. In response to this, Napoleon hastily assembled an army of just over 200,000 consisting largely of inexperienced, barely trained recruits and severely short of horses (a consequence of the Russian invasion, where most of his veteran troops and horses had perished). He crossed the Rhine into Germany to link up with remnants of his old Grande Armée, and to quickly defeat this new alliance before it became too strong. On April 30 Napoleon crossed the river Saale, advancing on Leipzig in three columns led by an advanced guard. His intention was to work his way into the Coalition's interior lines, dividing their forces and defeating them in detail before they could combine. But due to inexperienced cavalrymen and faulty reconnaissance, he was unaware of 73,000 allied troops under Wittgenstein and Graf (Count) von Blücher concentrating on his right flank to the south. Marshal Ney's corps was surprised and attacked on the road from Lützen to Leipzig. On the eve of the battle, one of Napoleon's marshals, Jean-Baptiste Bessières, was killed by a stray cannonball while reconnoitering near Rippach.
Napoleon was visiting the 1632 battlefield, playing tour guide with his staff by pointing to the sites and describing the events of 1632, in detail from memory, when he heard the sound of cannons. He immediately cut the tour short and rode off towards the direction of the artillery fire. Arriving on the scene, he quickly sized up the situation and decided to set a trap using Ney's corps as bait. He ordered the Marshal to make a fighting withdrawal towards Lützen. Meanwhile he sent Ney reinforcements which would take up strong, defensive positions in and around two villages south of the city. Once these divisions were ready, the rest of the corps would withdraw towards them, luring the allies to attack, while Napoleon, leading the main 110,000 strong French force, would come around the allied flank and counterattack.
Wittgenstein and Blücher took the bait, continuing to press Ney until they ran into the "hook" Napoleon had prepared. Once their advance had halted, with the perfect timing of old, he struck. While he had been reinforcing Ney, he had also concentrated a great mass of artillery (Grande Batterie) that unleashed a devastating barrage towards Wittgenstein's center. Then Napoleon himself, along with his Imperial Guard, led the massive counter assault into the allied flank. Wittgenstein and Blücher were in danger of suffering another defeat on the scale of Austerlitz, but the green and exhausted French troops, who had been marching and fighting all day long, could not follow through. In addition, darkness was closing in. This allowed the allied force to retreat in good order. The lack of French cavalry meant there would be no pursuit. Napoleon lost 19,655 men killed and wounded, while the Prussians lost 8,500 and the Russians 3,500 killed, wounded and missing.3 But casualties aside, by nightfall Wittgenstein and Blücher were in retreat while Napoleon controlled Lützen and the field.
The Coalition had been very fortunate. Had the battle started earlier that day when Napoleon had fresher troops and more time, Lützen could well have become a second Austerlitz. But what was almost a decisive, strategic defeat turned into only a marginal, tactical one. Wittgenstein and Blücher withdrew towards Dresden. Lützen and the succeeding Battle of Bautzen had shown the allies that Napoleon was still very dangerous. They decided on a new strategy (the Trachenberg Plan) of avoiding direct battle with him while seeking out and attacking his subordinates instead, thus weakening his army. Meantime they would assemble an overwhelming force against him that the Emperor, for all his abilities, could not withstand.
During the battle of Lützen, Gerhard von Scharnhorst, one of the brightest and most able Prussian generals, serving as Wittgenstein's Chief of Staff, was wounded. Although the wound was minor, owing to the hasty retreat it could not be tended to soon enough. Infection set in and he died as a result.4
- Pigeard, Dictionnaire des batailles de Napoléon, p. 499-500.
- Pigeard, Dictionnaire des batailles de Napoléon, p. 503.
- Digby Smith, Napoleonic Wars Data Book
- The Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 B.C. to the Present. (2nd Revised Edition, 1986), R. Ernest Dupuy, and Trevor N. Dupuy. pg 760.
2. Russian Wikipedia
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