Battle of Bautzen, 20-21 May 1813

Lützen to Bautzen
Build-up to Battle
19 May
The Battlefield
The Armies
Day One - 20 May
Day Two - 21 May

The battle of Bautzen (20-21 May 1813) was the second major battle of the Spring Campaign of 1813, and saw Napoleon come close to winning the decisive victory he needed to knock at least one of his opponents out of the war (War of Liberation).

In the aftermath of the Russian campaign of 1812 the Russians slowly advanced into Poland and Germany. Prussia abandoned its enforced alliance with Napoleon and declared war on France, and by April a combined Prussian and Russian army had reached Leipzig, in western Saxony. By this point Napoleon had raised a new army, and on 2 May 1813 the Allied were defeated at Lützen, south of Leipzig.

Lützen to Bautzen

Although the battle of Lützen ended as a French victory, it had been a costly one, with the French losing more men than the Allies, and no significant pursuit at the end of the day. When Tsar Alexander and King Frederick William III of Prussia left the battlefield they had no intention of retreating, but news then arrived that Leipzig was in French hands. This meant that their route east back towards Dresden was in danger, and forced them to order a retreat back to the east bank of the Elbe. 

The Allies retreated in three columns. The Russians headed for Dresden, going via Frohburg and Rochlitz. The Prussians and Wintzingerode's cavalry headed for Meissen (north-west of Dresden) via Borna and Colditz. Milorodovich and Prince Eugène of Wurtemberg were to cover the retreat. Kleist made up the third column, heading for a bridge of boats at Mühlberg, further to the north west of Meissen. Milorodovich proved to be a very adept rearguard commander, repeated forming his troops up to offer battle, waiting until the French had done the same, and then continuing his retreat.  

Portrait of Marshal Michel Ney (1769-1815)
Portrait of
Marshal Michel Ney

Napoleon issued the first orders for the pursuit at 3am on 3 May. Ney's corps was given a rest, but the rest of the army was ordered to push east across the Elster. 3 May saw the exhausted French make very little progress. By the end of the day the Allies were at Borna and Frohburg, 10-12 miles south/ south-east of Leipzig, with the leading French units up to five miles to their west.

On 4 May Napoleon split his army in two. He kept the larger part, 120,000 strong at this point, which he ordered to pursue the Allies east towards Dresden and the Elbe crossings. Ney was given a secondary force, made up of the survivors from his III Corps, VII Corps (Durutte's division and hopefully the Saxons once they had been forced back onto the French side), Victor's Provisional II Corps and Sebastiani's provisional corps (2nd Cavalry Corps and Puthod's Division). This would give him 64,000 men, but only once the Saxons had joined. His first task was to head north-east towards the Elbe, where he would lift the Allied siege of Wittenberg and take possession of the fortified river crossing at Torgau (then held by a neutral Saxon garrison that was refusing to let either side in). If the Allies defended the line of the Elbe at Dresden, Ney would be able to threaten their right flank and force them to retreat. If not, he could threaten Berlin, as his position would be about equally distant from the two cities.

By the end of the day the French had reached Frohburg, Lausick and Stockheim, placing then roughly fifteen miles south-east of Leipzig. The column at Stockheim (Lauriston) had been ordered to move north towards Wurzen after Kleist's column was spotted, heading for the same place and its strength overestimated. His task was to help Ney if this column was also heading for Torgau.

War of Liberation 1813 - Spring Campaign
War of Liberation 1813 -
Spring Campaign

The first significant rearguard action of the pursuit took place on 5 May, when Prince Eugène found Steinmetz's brigade preparing to defend the passage of the Mulde at Colditz, six miles to the east of Lausick. Eugène attacked, and Steinmetz was forced to retreat. Milorodovich, who was crossing the Mulde further south, rushed reinforcements to him, and they were able to make a stand at Hartha, just to the west of the Zschopau River. When Eugène caught up, the Allies were able to deploy and delay him, before retreating across the river. Eugène ended the day at Hartha. He reported having sighted a strong Prussian force on his left, sometimes said to have been Kleist heading east from Wurzen towards the Elbe, although this force will have been some way to Eugène's north, and on the opposite side of the Mulde. Napoleon was not impressed with Eugène's performance at Colditz, and suggested that he should have been able to take several thousand prisoners. However this rearguard action and other reports did confirm that both the Prussians and Russians were heading for Dresden, so Lauriston was ordered to abandon his march towards Wurzen and instead head directly for Dresden.

Ney also began to move on 5 May, sending two divisions from III Corps to lift the siege of Wittenberg, and taking the rest of his army towards Torgau.

Although Napoleon now knew the immediate destination of the allies, on 6 May he still believed it was possible that they would split up after crossing the Elbe, with the Russians retreating east and the Prussians moving north to protect Berlin. If this happened he planned to leave a small force to watch the Russians and lead the bulk of his army north to join Ney and defeat the Prussians. 

The Allies crossed the Elbe as planned on 7 May, with Kleist in the north at Mühlberg, the Prussians in the centre at Meissen and the Russians in the south at Dresden. On the same day Ney's leading division reached Torgau, but it was refused entry to the fortified city by the Saxon commander Thielmann, who was following the King of Saxony's orders to stay neutral.

Portrait of Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout, 1770-1823
Portrait of
Marshal Louis-Nicolas
Davout, 1770-1823

On 8 May Milorodovich also crossed the Elbe at Dresden. The main stone bridge at Dresden had been blown by Davout on 20 March, repaired by the Russians, and was now blown again, although the French were soon able to repair it. The Russian pontoon bridges at Dresden were set on fire, but weren't thoroughly destroyed, and the French were able to make use of many of the pontoon bridges.

On the same day the French reached Dresden. Napoleon, XI Corps and VI Corps were in or close to the western half of the city. Lauriston was at Meissen, facing the Prussians.  Napoleon learnt of the stalemate at Torgau, and issued an ultimatum to the King of Saxony - if he didn't return to the French alliance, order Thielmann to hand over Torgau and order his troops to join Ney, then he would be considered deposed. The King gave in to this pressure, and returned to Dresden, arriving on 12 May. Thielmann was ordered to obey Napoleon's demands, and did indeed hand over Torgau and his troops, but then defected to the Allies. 

In the meantime Ney was ordered to construct a bridge over the Elbe at Belgern, six miles south-east of Torgau, and cross the Elbe there. Lauriston was in a position to help Ney if required.

The Russians still held the New Town of Dresden, on the east bank of the Elbe. Napoleon decided to cross the river at Briesnitz, just to the west of Dresden, where the river curved around three sides of a peninsula on the opposite bank. The French were thus able to place guns around all three sides of the peninsula and used them to cover bridging work, which began early on 9 May. At the same time heavy French artillery fire forced the Russians away from the shore in the New Town, allowing the French to get a foothold across the river there. As a result the French were able to repair the stone bridge, and work on their new bridge

General Henri Gratian, Count Bertrand, 1773-1844
General Henri Gratian,
Count Bertrand,

On 11 May Ney was able to cross the Elbe at Torgau, taking around 45,000 men across the river on the first day. By the end of the same day Napoleon had 70,000 men across the Elbe at Dresden. There were rearguard actions at Weissig, three miles east of Dresden (Macdonald vs Milorodovich) and Königsbrück, sixteen miles east of Meissen (Bertrand vs Kleist).

On 12 May the Allies decided to make a stand at Bautzen, on the east bank of the Spree, and engineers were sent to fortify their new position. Once again Milorodovich carried out a skilful rearguard action, fighting at Schmiedefeld, about half way between Dresden and Bautzen, although he was pushed back beyond Bischofswerda. By the end of 15 May the Allies completed their crossing of the Spree and moved into their new defensive position. Soon afterwards they were joined by Barclay de Tolly, with 13,500 reinforcements, freed up by the fall of Thorn.

On 15 May Macdonald moved east from Bischofswerda. There was another clash with Milorodovich at Gödau (modern Göda), four miles to the west of Bautzen. The Russian rearguard was forced to retreat across the Spree and Macdonald could now see that the Allies were clearly planning to make a stand in their new position. The French already had a significant part of their army close to the Spree - Macdonald's XI Corps was supported by VI Corps, while IV Corps was at Kloster-Marienstern, six miles to the west, with XII Corps close by.

Build-up to Battle

Once it was clear that the Allies intended to stand and fight at Bautzen, Napoleon put in place plans that he hoped would give him the decisive victory he needed. The battle would be fought ten miles to the north of the Austrian border, and Austria was still neutral. If the Allies could be forced to retreat south, they would be forced to choose between fighting again with no lines of retreat, surrender, or internment in Austria. Although Austria soon chose to join the Allies, at this stage they hadn't decided which side to join. The arrival of a victorious Napoleon and defeated Allied armies on their frontier would almost certainly have convinced them to at least stay neutral.

The overall plan was for Napoleon's army to pin the Allies in place at Bautzen, while Ney's northern army swept around their right flank and into their rear areas, cutting their escape route to the east. Ney had almost as many men as the Allies, so should have easily been able to carry out this role.

Napoleon ordered XI, VI and IV Corps to take up a position directly opposite the Allied line, with XI Corps on the right and IV Corps on the left. XII Corps was posted in the reserve, and also had the task of clearing out the area between the Dresden-Bautzen road and the nearby Austrian border. Mortier had the task of clearing the Allied cavalry out of the area to the left of the main army, to ensure communications with Ney remained open. Lauriston was ordered to move to Hoyerswerda, to the north of the main French line.

Ney received somewhat confused orders, although at this point his misunderstanding worked in the French favour. He was told of Lauriston's movement, and was ordered to move to Spremberg, to the north/ north-east of Hoyerswerda. The confusion at this stage arose over which forces he was to move - Napoleon wanted Ney to split his command, with II Corps, VII Corps and the 2nd Cavalry Corps moving on Berlin, while Ney's III Corps moved to Spremberg, but when the orders reached Ney at Luckau late on 16 May he interpreted them as meaning that he should bring his entire force. Later on 16 May Napoleon send new orders, that altered Ney's destination to Hoyerswerda, as he was now sure that the Allies intended to fight.

These fresh orders also made the attack on Berlin explicit, so on 17 May Ney ordered Victor, Reynier and Sebastiani (II, VII and 2nd Cavalry Corps) to stop at Luckau. During the morning of 17 May Napoleon changed his minds, and ordered Ney to bring his entire force with him. When this message reached Ney he ordered Victor and Reynier to begin a march towards Hoyerswerda on 19 May. The key result of all of this dithering was to deny Napoleon around 25,000 men during the battle. In the meantime Ney's III Corps began 18 May at Kahlau, and Lauriston's V Corps at Senftenberg, ten miles to the west of Hoyerswerda. By the end of the day Lauriston was at Hoyerswerda, Ney somewhat to the west. Early on 18 May Napoleon sent off another message, in which Ney was told of the Allied positions. Ney was ordered to reach Hoyerswerda on 19 May, close up with the main army on 20 May, and then head for 'Drehsa (or Dresa) near Gottamelde'.

This order has caused great confusion then and since, mainly because there isn't a Gottamelde in the area. However an order send on 20 May referred to Drehsa in the context of an advance on Weissenberg, a town east of Bautzen. There is indeed a Drehsa to the west of Weissenberg, due east of Bautzen, but it would appear that this wasn't what Napoleon had in mind. A letter from Lauriston to Ney describes Dresa as being between the two Sprees, and marked as Brösa on a map from the institute of Weimar (but as Drehsa on Petri's map of 1763, the map Napoleon is said to have used). This village lies just to the west of modern Guttau, which may have been known at the time as Gotta, and was behind the Allied right-rear. From there Ney would have been able to continue south-east towards Weissenberg. He would then have been able to reach Hochkirch, and cut the road east. However it is possible that Napoleon had the more southerly Drehsa in mind, and it was a combination of Berthier and Lauriston who misinterpreted his orders.

On 18 May Ney issued orders for the following day that would have seen his troops moving south, with V Corps on the right and III on the left, ending the day between Zerna and Neudorf, some way to the south of Hoyerswerda, where Napoleon expected them to be. Ney appears to have been under the impression that the Allies were west of the Spree, with Napoleon a little further to the west.

19 May

Portrait of Marshal Jacques Macdonald, Duke of Taranto, 1765-1840
Portrait of
Marshal Jacques Macdonald,
Duke of Taranto, 1765-1840

By 10am Napoleon was already close to Bautzen. He spent the day on reconnaissance, while his main army moved up. Bertrand was posted in the north. Marmont and Macdonald were in the centre facing Bautzen. Oudinot was moving up in the south, with orders to clear the woods south of the French line. The Imperial Guard was posted at Forstchen, west of Bautzen. The Allied line was about a mile longer than the French line. At this stage Napoleon believed that the Allies had 150,000 men, 54,000 men more than they really did.

Napoleon's orders of 18 May didn't reach Ney until 11am on 19 May, when he reached Hoyerswerda. He then ordered V Corps to head along the direct route to Brösa, roughly south-east via Oppitz, Lippitsch and Klix.  III Corps was sent to Niesendorf and Königswartha, placing them somewhat to the west of V Corps, and north of the main French line. He was now heading in the right direct, east around the northern end of the Allied line, although the various confused orders and the delay in getting messages between the two armies had caused some delay. More problems were caused by Ney's decision to sent Lauriston ahead, as he had to pass along some of the same roads as Ney's corps, which couldn't move until Lauriston was through.

The day did see some fighting, when Yorck and Barclay de Tolly sent force out to the north of the main French lines in an attempt to defeat Lauriston's corps, which they believed to be isolated, with Ney a day away. This triggered the battle of Königswartha, between French forces sent out from the main force to block the reconnaissance and the reconnaissance forces. These first French troops were defeated, but Ney's advance guard then intervened and the Allies were forced back behind the Spree. 

By the end of the day Ney's column was approaching the battlefield, but Napoleon didn't thing he was close enough to take part in the fighting on the next day. Lauriston was the furthest forward, at Weissig, almost due north of Bautzen. Ney was further back, at Maukendorf and Reynier was further to the rear.

Both sides began the battle with roughly the same plan - to force their opponents back against the Bohemian border, where they would be forced to fight with no line of retreat, surrender or move into neutral Austria. The Allied plan was to use their strong defensive position to wear down Napoleon, and then commit fresh troops in a counterattack. Napoleon intended to pin the allies in place with a frontal assault and then use Ney to get behind the Allied right flank and cut the roads east to Silesia. At this stage Austria was still neutral, and unsure of which side to join, so the appearance of the defeated army of either side on their border would probably have convinced them to support the other. The Austrian army hadn't yet been mobilised, so resistance wasn't really an option.  

The Battlefield

The Allies formed up on the east bank of the River Spree, at this point not an especially sizable river. Between Doberschau, two miles south of Bauzen, and Oehna, just to the north of the town, the river ran through a steep sided valley, generally about 150ft deep.

For two miles from Oehna to the Gottlobsberg the east bank was generally higher, and a series of heights lined the river, interrupted by the village of Burk, just north of Oehna. The heights to the north of Burk were known as the Kreckwitz heights, with Kreckwitz village to their south-east, on the Blösaer Wasser.

Further north the river ran through meadows, which in many places had been flooded to produce carp ponds. In these areas travel was largely limited to the embankments that ran between the ponds. To the east of the Spree a series of other streams run north, generally in parallel to the river. None are especially large, but their valleys tended to be swampy. Many that existed in 1813 are no longer there, or no longer follow their original course, having been modified to improve agricultural land. The Blösaer Wasser of 1813 is now known as the Albrechtsbach.

The town of Bautzen, on the east bank of the river, was towards the left wing of their line. Their right flank was protected by a number of lakes. The line ran past a series of villages, including (from south to north) Burk, Doberschutz and Pleisskowitz. The original Allied line ran along a series of hills to the east of the river, and field fortifications had been built to strengthen their position.

The Armies

By the time of the battle Napoleon had over 200,000 men available to him east of the Elbe.

Ney had 84,300 men, split into III Corps (Ney), V Corps (Lauriston), VII Corps (Reynier), II Corps (Victor), Chatel's light cavalry division and the 2nd Cavalry Corps. However Reynier, Victor and the 2nd Cavalry Corps were delayed by Napoleon's confused orders in the days before the battle, so he was only able to commit Lauriston's V Corps and his own III Corps.

Napoleon had 119,000 men, split into IV Corps (Bertrand), VI Corps (Marmont), XI Corps (Macdonald), XII Corps (Oudinot), Latour-Maubourg's 1st Cavalry Corps, one division of the Old Guard and two of the Young Guard. Prince Eugène's Army of the Elbe was officially disbanded, and the Prince was sent to Italy to organise a new army. This served two purposes - Napoleon wasn't satisfied with Eugène's performance, so this removed him from the scene without discrediting a member of the Imperial family, and he also hoped that this new army would help keep Austria neutral, or force them to split their forces if they did join the war. Napoleon's new base in Germany was to be Dresden.

Marshal Blücher von Wahlstatt
Marshal Blücher
von Wahlstatt

The Allies had four Russian corps (Miloradovich, Gorchakov, Barclay de Tolly and Grand Duke Constantine and three Prussia corps (Kleist, Yorck and Blücher). General Bennigsen was also present on the Russian side. 

The Allies decided to place a screening force on the Spree, but concentrate on defending the valley of the Blösaer Wasser.

Their initial deployment was as follows:

On the left Miloradovich was to defend the line of the Spree from Dobershau, south of Bautzen to Burk, north of Bautzen. The main Russian line (Gorchakov) was about two miles to the east of Bautzen, running (from south to north) from Rieschen to Jenkwitz to Baschütz. The Russian reserve infantry was a couple of miles further to the east, around Canitz-Christina.

Blücher was posted to the north of Bautzen, with one brigade on the Kreckwit heights close to the Spree and the rest of his corps just to the east.

On the Allied right Barclay de Tolly was at Klix and Brösa, with Yorck's mixed Russian and Prussian corps to his rear.

The Allied position was supported by a large number of gun emplacements and other field fortifications, including eleven major batteries spread out between Mehlteuer on the left and Litten on the right.

The Allies expected any attack to come from the west, and had plans for every variant of a frontal assault, but none for if they were outflanked to the north.

Day One - 20 May

On the first day of the battle Napoleon had a slight numerical advantage, with 115,000 men against 96,000 Allied troops, but the Allies had the advantage of strong defensive positions. Napoleon's plan for the day was to carry out a series of frontal assaults on the Allied position, to pin them in place. On the following day Ney would attack the Allied right-rear, forcing Wittgenstein to form an extended right flank. This would use up his reserves, and probably weaken the centre-right of his original line. Bertrand would then attack this weak spot.

The Allies expected Napoleon to make his main attack against their left, to force them away from Bohemia. They thus strengthened their left wing, while the right was somewhat weaker..

The initial Allied setup was modified by a series of orders and counterorders. Blücher was ordered to move to the right, with his left at Kreckwitz and his right at Brösa, with the Russian cuirassiers and Prussian reserve cavalry to form a link with Barclay de Tolly. Gorchakov was ordered to occupy Blücher's previous positions around Kreckwitz. The cavalry move was then cancelled, leaving the link rather weak. Yorck was then moved to Litten, north-east of Bautzen, on Blücher's left, leaving Barclay de Tolly feeling rather exposed. He concentrated between Malschwitz and Gleina, some way to the south of his original position. Blücher remained around Kreckwitz. Kleist was between Blücher and Gorchakov, with his front at Burk and troops at Neider Kaina and Basankwitz, south of the Kreckwitz Heights.

The French were quiet until about noon, when their artillery bombardment began. Oudinot began the infantry attack, hitting the Allied left. He crossed the Spree at Singwitz (south of Doberschau), and advanced east until his main force ran into Russian cavalry. On his right Lorencez's division advanced towards Pielitz and Mehlteuer at the far end of the Allied left. His attack forced the Allies to move their reserves to this point. The Tsar was convinced that this was the main focus of the French attack, and committed his reserves on this flank. Gorchakov attacked quite late in the day, and Oudinot was forced to retreat. Pacthod's division ended the day at Grubditz (south-east of Bautzen) and Lorencez at Denkwitz (south-west of Grubditz).

In the centre Macdonald crossed the Spree on a bridge south of Bautzen, but his advance was held up. Marmont set up a sixty strong gun battery on the hills opposite Oehna, and under cover of their fire sent Compans's division across a ford. By about 3pm Compans had got into the northern suburbs of Bautzen. The Russian defenders of Bautzen pulled out before they could be cut off, and Miloradovich ordered a more general retreat from the Spree. Marmont then sent his left to Nadelwitz, on the outskirts of Bautzen. Later he posted more troops on this flank, to support Bertrand's attack around Burk. Macdonald advanced to a position facing the heights of Rabitz, just to the south-east of Bautzen. Between them the Guard and two of Latour-Maubourg's cavalry divisions crossed the Spree and took up a position in the east of Bautzen. 

To the north Bertrand's corps and Latour-Maubourg's cavalry made slow progress against Yorck. The French attack was supported by their engineers, who built trestle bridges over the Spree under heavy fire.

At 3pm Soult ordered Franquemont and Morand to join the attack in the north. Their targets were Gottlobsberg, Nieder-Gurig and Briesing, on the Allied right (in the area held by Blücher and Barclay). By 6pm Nieder-Gurig had fallen to the French. The Allies then abandoned Briesing, allowing the French to move further east, to Plieskowitz.

By 6pm Prince Eugen of Württemberg had been forced to retreat to a ridge between Auritz and Jenkwitz, east of Bautzen.

By the end of the day Ney's advance guard had reached the area. They attacked General Tschaplitz's Russians at Klix, two miles to the north-east of Briesing, and forced him to retreat across the Spree. Ney's five divisions ended the day around Sdier, just over a mile to the west of Klix. Lauriston was at Särchen, about a mile north of Klix.

Although the Allies knew that Ney was approaching their right, Tsar Alexander still believed that the French were concentrating against their left. Lorencez's division from Oudinot's corps had made good progress, and late in the day Gorchakov was ordered to counterattack. Between 7pm and 8pm Lorencez was forced to retreat to Denkwitz, south of Bautzen, although he was still firmly established on the east bank of the Spree.

By the end the day the battle had gone entirely as Napoleon had hoped. His troops were across the Spree. Ney was close to the Allied left. The Allies had reinforced their left

Day Two - 21 May

On the second day Napoleon had a large numerical advantage over the Allies, as Ney's 84,000 men finally entered the fighting. In theory this gave the French almost 199,000 men, against under 96,000 Allied troops, but the French were split into two separate forces.

At 4pm on 20 May Napoleon drew up new orders for Ney, which reached him at 4am on 21 May. Ney was ordered to drive the enemy from Drehsa (although which one isn't clear), and then march on Weissenberg, to turn the enemy. Given Ney's starting point and destination it isn't actually that important which Drehsa was meant, although Ney's slow progress on the day might be partly explained if he believed his orders referred to the northern Drehsa. Ney would later get held up around Preititz, about half way between the two, and well on the way to Weissenberg.

Marshal Soult
Marshal Soult

Marmont, Macdonald and Oudinot were to renew their attacks on the Allied line, now posted a short distance to the east of Spree. Bertrand's IV Corps was kept for the final attack, which was to be supervised by Marshal Soult. Two divisions of the Young Guard, one division of the Old Guard, two divisions of cavalry under Latour-Maubourg and the Guard cavalry were to be kept in reserve.

The fighting began in the south. At dawn Oudinot attacked, with Pacthod taking Rieschen (heading for Daranitz) and Lorencez taking Pielitz and Döhlen (heading for Mehltheuer), to the south-east of Bautzen. The Allied left was forced back, and this helped convince the Tsar that the main French attack was coming from this direction. The Tsar ordered a counterattack against Oudinot, and committed his reserves to support Miloradovich. This gave the Allies 20,000 men against Oudinot's 15,000, and the French were forced back to the Drohmberg and the area east of Binnewitz. Oudinot sent at least two requests for help to Napoleon. Napoleon ignored the first, and after the second, sent at noon, told Oudinot to hold on as 'the battle will be won at 3pm'. By noon the pressure on Oudinot had begun to lift, as Macdonald's advance on his left forced the Russians to stop their attack.

Further north Macdonald was able to make some progress, and captured the heights of Rabitz, where he was able to position an artillery battery. Marmont deployed north and east of Bautzen, and threatened the main Allied artillery position, although didn't move too far. The Guard took up a position between Marmont and Macdonald.

The flank attack didn't go as Napoleon had hoped. Early in the day Ney heard the sound of gunfire, and sent messengers to Napoleon to ask for clearer orders. This delayed the start of his attack. Even so Maison's division from Lauriston's corps pushed across the Spree at Klix at 6am. Ney then got held up at Gleina, just behind the northern end of the Allied lines, which held out until 10am. Barclay de Tolly, who was defending the village, then pulled back to Preititz, where he left two battalions to defend the village. The rest of his troops moved east to Baruth, to cover the Allied line of retreat.

At this point (10am) Ney received a message from Napoleon, who expected him to have already taken Preititz, further to the south. However Napoleon's orders stated that he should be there by 11am, and Ney interpreted that as meaning no earlier than 11. At this point Ney had around 23,000 men, so Preititz would have fallen quite easily. 

Ney's troops reached the outskirts of Preititz by 11am. This put him in a position to threaten Blücher's rear, and if Ney had followed the suggestions of Jomini, his chief-of-staff, and plunged on to the south, only leaving a covering force at Preititz, then the Allies might have been in rear trouble. Instead he became somewhat obsessed with taking Preititz, as a prelude to an attack on Klein Bautzen, further to the south, which Jomini claims Ney had decided was key to the battle.

Souham's division made a costly and unsuccessful attack on Preititz soon after 11am. At first he was successful, driving Barclay's two battalions out of the village, but as the French moved south from Preititz they were attacked by three battalions sent by Blücher, and by 1pm Souham had been forced to retreat back towards Albert's and Ricard's divisions.

By mid-afternoon Ney had both his and Lauriston's corps attacking Preititz. Reynier was ordered to speed up his advance from the Spree, while Lauriston, who was advancing on Ney's left, was ordered to move in towards Preititz. By 2pm the village was held by Kleist. Ney attacked with three divisions (Delmas, Albert and Ricard), while Lauriston was now within sight. This tiem Delmas took the village, was driven out and finally took it for the last time. Kleist was forced to retreat to some heights south-west of Belgern. By 3pm Ney was in place to launch his attack towards Hochkirch, where he could have cut the Allied lines of retreat, but instead his attention was drawn west, to the Kreckwitz heights, parts of which were still held by Blücher.

On the main front Napoleon ordered Soult to begin the grand assault against Blücher once he was convinced that Ney's flank attack had begun. Soult had spent the previous day building an earthwork on the east bank of the Spree, to hide his engineers as they built more pontoon bridges. This allowed Soult to get 20,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry from IV corps into place, ready to attack the Kreckwitz-Pliesskowitz area, north-east of Bautzen, although progress was slower than Napoleon had hoped (and Soult had promised). The attack began at 2pm. Napoleon then moved sixty guns from the Guard Reserve into a position to the west of Basankwitz, just to the west of Kreckwitz, where they were protected by the Young Guard, posted in a valley that ran between the two places.

By 3pm Blücher was in trouble. In the west Bertrand had forced him back to a line that ran from Doberschütz (in the north) to Kreckwitz village (in the south). The heights west of that line were in French hands. Delmas, Ricard and Albert from Ney's corps, and part of Lauriston's corps were attacking from the north-east - along the line of the Blössaer Water, which ran between Kreckwitz and Preititz. Finally Barrois was threatening to attack Kreckwitz from the south. Blücher called for reinforcements from Yorck, who was a little further south, around Litten. Yorck sent one brigade initially, and then all but two of his battalions after he was reinforced by the Russian Guard.

Soon after 3pm Blücher realised that he would have to retreat. His troops narrowly escaped from the French trap, and pulled back east to Purschwitz, east of Kreckwitz, and just to the south of Klein Bautzen. If Ney had moved south from Preitzwitz, instead of turning towards Kreckwitz, the Prussians would probably not have been able to escape.

By 4pm the Tsar realised that the battle was lost, and that the main threat had been to his right all along. He issued orders for a general retreat. On the Allied right Barclay was to hold on at Briesnitz and Rackel, to cover the retreat of the Allied centre. In the centre the Prussians and Ermolov were to retreat to Wurschen, on the main road to Weissenberg. On the left the main Russian force under Miloradovich was to retreat to Löbau, down the road through Hochkirch. If Ney's advance had gone as Napoleon had planned, neither of these roads would have been open.

During the retreat the Allies were said to have been able to save every moveable gun. The fighting was finally ended by a violent storm at 10pm. By then the Allies were around Weissenberg and Löbau, the French stretched out to their west.

Casualty figures for Bautzen are varied. French sources are given as between 20,000-25,000 men, Allied losses as between 11,000-20,000, with the lower figure more likely. If Ney had fully understood his orders (or Napoleon had made them clearer), the Allies might have been lucky to escape at all. If the French had more cavalry, then their retreat might have been more costly. As it was Napoleon had won a morale boosting victory, but he had failed to win the crushing victory that he needed to end the war.

One minor French loss was Jomini, who had been serving as Ney's chief of staff. He was recommended for promotion to General of Division after Bautzen, but the promotion was blocked by Berthier. In August Jomini switched sides, joining the Allies and denying Ney his skills and advice. General Kellermann was wounded twice and had five horses shot from under him, and missed Leipzig because of his wounds.

During the battle several hundred of the young French recruits suffered wounds to their fingers. Napoleon ordered an inquiry, in the belief that these wounds had been self inflicted. The medical side was conducted by the famous doctor Dominique Jean Larrey, who concluded that the wounds were caused by insufficient training and drill.

General Duroc as Commander of the Consular Guard
General Duroc as
Commander of the
Consular Guard

On the Russian side the wounded included General Alexander Ivanovich Osterman-Tolstoy, who had only recently returned to the army after recovering from illness.

In the aftermath of the battle the Allies continued to retreat east into Silesia. Wittgenstein was rather unfairly blamed for the defeat, and resigned. On 26 May Tsar Alexander appointed Barcley de Tolly as the new commander in chief of the Russian armies in Germany, completing his return to favour after his reputation had suffered early in the Russian campaign of 1812.

During the retreat Napoleon's closest friend, Grand Marshal Duroc, was killed during the rearguard action at Reichenbach (22 May 1813).

Over the next few days the Allies retreated into Silesia, and by the start of June they were in a difficult position, with Napoleon's men in a strong position to cut them off from Prussia, but Napoleon didn't realise how close he was to a major victory. He had also lost around 100,000 of his new recruits to sickness or desertion, and was worried about the number of Cossacks raiding his rear areas. On 2 June the two sides agreed to a short truce, which was extended into a formal armistice on 4 June (Armistice of Pleischwitz). By the time the fighting resumed in August the balance of power had turned against Napoleon. Prussia and Russia had more men in the field, and Austria had joined the Allies.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (22 March 2017), Battle of Bautzen, 20-21 May 1813 ,

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