Battle of Lützen (1813)

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Battle of Lützen
Part of the War of the Sixth Coalition
Battle of Lutzen 1813 by Fleischmann.jpg
Lutzen, Battle of (1813). Napoleon with his troops by Andreas Fleischmann.
Date2 May 1813
Location
Result Franco-Polish victory
Belligerents
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg  France
Grand Coat of Arms of Duchy of Warsaw.svg Duchy of Warsaw
Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg  Prussia
Flag of The Russian Empire 1883.svg  Russia
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Napoleon I [1]
Flag of France.svg Jean-Baptiste Bessières  
Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher
Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Gerhard von Scharnhorst   [1]
Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Frederick William III [1]
Flag of Russia.svg Peter Wittgenstein
Flag of Russia.svg Alexander I [1]
Flag of Russia.svg Alexander Tormasov
Strength
170,000 [1]
(78,000 engaged)
56,000 Russians
37,000 Prussians [1]
Total:
93,000
Casualties and losses
19,500-22,000 killed or wounded [2] 8,500 Prussians killed or wounded
3,000 Russians killed or wounded [2]
Total:
11,500 casualties

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 isolated French right wing near Lützen, 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.

War of the Sixth Coalition Part of the Napoleonic Wars

In the War of the Sixth Coalition, sometimes known in Germany as the War of Liberation, a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and a number of German States defeated France and drove Napoleon into exile on Elba. After the disastrous French invasion of Russia of 1812, the continental powers joined Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal and the rebels in Spain who were already at war with France.

French invasion of Russia Napoleon Bonapartes attempted conquest of the Russian Empire

The French invasion of Russia, known in Russia as the Patriotic War of 1812 and in France as the Russian Campaign, began on 24 June 1812 when Napoleon's Grande Armée crossed the Neman River in an attempt to engage and defeat the Russian army. Napoleon hoped to compel Emperor of All Russia Alexander I to cease trading with British merchants through proxies in an effort to pressure the United Kingdom to sue for peace. The official political aim of the campaign was to liberate Poland from the threat of Russia. Napoleon named the campaign the Second Polish War to gain favor with the Poles and provide a political pretext for his actions.

Russian Empire Former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire, also known as Imperial Russia or simply Russia, was an empire that existed across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.

Contents

Prelude

Following the disaster of French 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.

Rhine river in Western Europe

The Rhine is one of the major European rivers, which has its sources in Switzerland and flows in an mostly northerly direction through Germany and The Netherlands to the North Sea. The river begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, forms part of the Swiss-Liechtenstein, Swiss-Austrian, Swiss-German and then the Franco-German border, then flows through the German Rhineland and the Netherlands and eventually empties into the North Sea.

The Grande Armée was the army commanded by Napoleon I during the Napoleonic Wars. From 1805 to 1809, the Grande Armée scored a series of historic victories that gave the French Empire an unprecedented grip on power over the European continent. Widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest fighting forces ever assembled, it suffered terrible losses during the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and never recovered its tactical superiority after that campaign.

On the 30 April 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 caught by 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.

Saale river in Germany

The Saale, also known as the Saxon Saale and Thuringian Saale, is a river in Germany and a left-bank tributary of the Elbe. It is not to be confused with the smaller Franconian Saale, a right-bank tributary of the Main, or the Saale in Lower Saxony, a tributary of the Leine.

<i lang="de" title="German language text">Graf</i> historical title of the German nobility

Graf (male) or Gräfin (female) is a historical title of the German nobility, usually translated as "count". Considered to be intermediate among noble ranks, the title is often treated as equivalent to the British title of "earl".

Count (Male), or Countess (Female), is a historical title of nobility in certain European countries, varying in relative status, generally of middling rank in the hierarchy of nobility. The etymologically related English term, "county" denoted the land owned by a count. Equivalents of the rank of count exist or have existed in the nobility structures of some non-European countries, such as hakushaku during the Japanese Imperial era.

Battle

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, 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.

Battle of Lützen (1632) battle during the Thirty Years War, 1632

The Battle of Lützen was one of the most important battles of the Thirty Years' War.

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. A Prussian counterattack managed to halt the French offensive, and allow enough time for the main army to retreat. 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 men killed and wounded and the Russians lost 3,500 men killed, wounded and missing. [3] But casualties aside, by nightfall Wittgenstein and Blücher were in retreat while Napoleon controlled Lützen and the field.

Grand Battery was a French artillery tactic of the Napoleonic wars. It involved massing all available batteries into a single large, temporary one, and concentrating the firepower of their guns at a single point in the enemy's lines.

Imperial Guard (Napoleon I)

The Imperial Guard was originally a small group of elite soldiers of the French Army under the direct command of Napoleon I, but grew considerably over time. It acted as his bodyguard and tactical reserve, and he was careful of its use in battle. The Guard was divided into the staff, infantry, cavalry, and artillery regiments, as well as battalions of sappers and marines. The guard itself as a whole distinguished between the experienced veterans and less experienced members by being separated into three sections: the Old Guard, Middle Guard and Young Guard.

Aftermath

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. [4] 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. [4] 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. [5] Due to these developments, Napoleon later regarded his June 4 truce, bought at Lützen and Bautzen, as the undoing of his power in Germany. [4]

Battle of Bautzen battle

In the Battle of Bautzen a combined Russian–Prussian army, that was massively outnumbered, was pushed back by Napoleon I of France but escaped destruction, some sources claiming that Michel Ney failed to block their retreat. The Prussians under Count Gebhard von Blücher and Russians under Prince Peter Wittgenstein, retreating after their defeat at Lützen were attacked by French forces under Napoleon.

Austrian Empire monarchy in Central Europe between 1804 and 1867

The Austrian Empire was a Central European multinational great power from 1804 to 1867, created by proclamation out of the realms of the Habsburgs. During its existence, it was the third most populous empire after the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom in Europe. Along with Prussia, it was one of the two major powers of the German Confederation. Geographically, it was the third largest empire in Europe after the Russian Empire and the First French Empire. Proclaimed in response to the First French Empire, it partially overlapped with the Holy Roman Empire until the latter's dissolution in 1806.

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. [6]

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References

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pigeard, Dictionnaire des batailles de Napoléon, pp. 499–500.
  2. 1 2 Clark, Christopher. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, p. 365.
  3. Smith, Digby. Napoleonic Wars Data Book
  4. 1 2 3 Clark, 365
  5. Clark, 366
  6. Dupuy, R. Ernest; Dupuy, Trevor N. The Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 B.C. to the Present. (2nd Revised Edition, 1986) pg 760.

Bibliography

Coordinates: 51°13′00″N12°11′00″E / 51.2167°N 12.1833°E / 51.2167; 12.1833