Battle of Lützen (1813)
In the Battle of Lützen (German: Schlacht von Großgörschen, 2 May 1813), Napoleon I of France halted the advances of the Sixth Coalition after the French invasion of Russia and the massive French losses in the campaign. The Russian commander, Prince Peter Wittgenstein, attempting to forestall Napoleon's capture of Leipzig, attacked the French right wing near Lützen, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. After a day of heavy fighting, the combined Prussian and Russian force retreated; due to French losses and a shortage of French cavalry, Napoleon was unable to conduct a pursuit.
|Battle of Lützen|
|Part of the War of the Sixth Coalition|
Kingdom of Italy (Napoleonic)
Grand Duchy of Hesse
|Commanders and leaders|
Auguste de Marmont
Henri Gatien Bertrand
Eugène de Beauharnais
Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher|
Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg
Gerhard von Scharnhorst (DOW)
Frederick William III
Ferdinand von Wintzingerode
|Casualties and losses|
|9,500-30,000 killed or wounded|
Following the disaster of French invasion of Russia in 1812, a new Coalition consisting of Britain, Sweden, Prussia and Russia formed against France. In response to this, Napoleon hastily assembled an army of just over 200,000 which included inexperienced recruits, troops from Spain and garrison battalions but was 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 under the command of Prince Eugène de Beauharnais, and to quickly defeat this new alliance before it became too strong.
On the 30 April Napoleon crossed the river Saale, advancing on Leipzig from the west and southwest in three columns led by the V Corps under General Jacques Lauriston. 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 the lack of cavalrymen and faulty reconnaissance, he was unaware of the Russo-Prussian army under Wittgenstein and Graf (Count) von Blücher concentrating on his right flank to the southeast. Prussian scouts reported that the French army was stretched between Naumberg and Leipzig. Wittgenstein's plan was to attack towards Lützen and split Napoleon's forces in two. He was hoping to inflict serious casualties on Napoleon and score a victory that could possibly be used to bring Austria into the Coalition. On the eve of the battle, one of Napoleon's marshals, Jean-Baptiste Bessières, was killed by a stray cannonball while reconnoitering near Rippach.
Marshal Ney's III Corps was to hold the right flank around Lützen in support of the forces marching towards Leipzig and was caught by surprise. The III Corps consisted of five infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade. Three of these divisions were situated around Lützen, one division in the four villages to the southeast (Kaja, Klein Gorschen, Gross Gorschen and Rahna) and one division a mile to the west of these in Starsiedel. The French VI Corps under Marshal Marmont was at Rippach to the west, Bertrand's IV Corps was south of Weissenfels (Weißenfels) which was where the Imperial Guard was located at. Macdonald's XI Corps and the I Cavalry Corps were situated to the north of Lützen.
The Prussian attack started off late with Blucher leading with his corps about 11:30am. As they approached Gross Gorschen, he was only expecting a couple thousand French instead of the full division that he found. Blücher paused the attack, called up his artillery and started an artillery bombardment at about noon. Marmont to the west heard the sound of the cannon and moved his corps towards Starsiedel. After a 40 minute bombardment, Blucher sent in one brigade that drove the French out of Gross Gorschen then followed up with another brigade and cavalry that captured Klein Gorschen and Rahna. Ney put himself at the head of one of his divisions moving south from Lützen and counterattacked, retaking Klein Gorschen and Rahna. Blucher committed his last brigade about 2:00pm that forced the French out of Klein Gorschen and advanced to Kaja. Blucher was wounded, leaving the Prussian forces to the command of General von Yorck.
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 cannon. He immediately cut the tour short and rode off towards the direction of the artillery fire. Arriving on the scene about 2:00pm, he quickly sized up the situation and quickly sent orders to concentrate his forces. He sent Ney a steady stream of reinforcements which would take up positions in and around the villages south of Lützen. Yorck committed the Prussian reserves about 4:00pm after the Russian reserves arrived and were in place. Wittgenstein and Yorck continued to press Ney in the center and control of the villages switched hands multiple times as troops were committed from both sides. The King of Prussia personally led a charge of the Prussian Guard that took the village of Rahna. By 5:30pm, the Coalition held all of the villages except for Kaja, which was being contested. Once Bertrand's IV Corps approached the battlefield from his right and Macdonald's XI Corps from his left, Napoleon no longer needed to worry about his flanks.
Once the Coalition's advance had halted, with the perfect timing of old, Napoleon struck. While he had been reinforcing Ney, he had also reinforced the guns of the III Corps and VI Corps located between Starsiedel and Rahna with the Guard's cannons. General Drouot concentrated these into a great mass of artillery of about 100 guns (Grande Batterie) that unleashed a devastating barrage towards Wittgenstein's center. Napoleon had collected his Imperial Guard behind these guns and sent them in a counter assault led by Marshal Mortier into the allied center at about 6:00pm which cleared the Coalition forces from the villages. A Prussian cavalry attack managed to slow the French offensive, and allow enough time for the main army to regroup south of the villages. 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 at least 8,500 men killed and wounded and the Russians lost 3,500 men killed, wounded and missing. although casualties may be much higher. But casualties aside, by nightfall the Tsar and Wittgenstein were hardly convinced that they had lost the battle but retreated after hearing that Leipzig had fallen, leaving Napoleon in control of Lützen and the field.
Napoleon demonstrated his usual prowess in driving back the Russo-Prussian force at Lützen, but the costliness of his victory had a major impact on the war. Lützen was followed by the Battle of Bautzen eighteen days later, where Napoleon was again victorious but with the loss of another 22,000 men, twice as many as the Russo-Prussian army. The ferocity of these two battles prompted Napoleon to accept a temporary armistice on the 4 June with Tsar Alexander and King Frederick William III. This agreement provided the allies the respite to organise and re-equip their armies and, perhaps more importantly, encouraged Britain to provide Russia and Prussia with war subsidies totalling seven million pounds. The financial security offered by this agreement was a major boon to the war effort against Napoleon. Another important result of the battle was that it encouraged Austria to join the allied coalition and, when it did so on upon the armistice's expiration, the balance of power had shifted dramatically in the coalition's favor. Due to these developments, Napoleon later regarded his June 4 truce, bought at Lützen and Bautzen, as the undoing of his power in Germany.
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.
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