Battle of Liebertwolkwitz, 14th October 1813
This cavalry battle opened the Battle of Leipzig and was the largest cavalry battle in European history. It took place South of Leipzig between the French forces of Marshal Murat which included the Corps of Prince Poniatowski, Victor, Lauriston and Kellerman and Pajol's cavalry and the Army of Bohemia under the Russian General Wittgenstein. Heavy rain had main the gentle slopes around the French position soft and muddy with very wet hollows not ideal terrain for cavalry, the highest point on the battlefield was the Galgenberg or Gallows hill which the French made good use of as an artillery position, this meant that the Allies would have to attack up hill against artillery. Napoleon needed time to concentrate his troops for the main battle so he ordered Murat to slow the enemy but not to get engaged in heavy fighting. Wittgenstien mistook Murats forces for a French rearguard covering a retreat and thus entered what is known as an encounter battle where a battle results from a chance encounter of opposing forces not an planned attack. As Murat deployed artillery on Gallows hill hiding cavalry behind it Russian Cossacks scouted the French positions. The battle became a typical cavalry battle of the period with the advantage swinging from one side to other and back again in waves as cavalry attacked were repulsed with a counter charge and then rallied as reserves forced the enemy pursuers to break off.. Murat was nearly captured twice but twice evaded the enemy with his usual skill and daring. The Allies were able to hold their own against the larger French forces because the French attacked in column while the Allies engaged the front then attacked the French flanks. About midday the Allies attacked and took Liebertwolkwitz after two hours of tough fighting which was the key to the battlefield forcing the French to withdraw their artillery from Gallows hill. The French attacked and retook the town at 4pm trapping some Austrian troops in the church and wiping them out but the battle had been a draw. Murats performance had not been ideal and when he should have conducted a fighting withdraw he stayed and became engaged committing more and more troops to the battle only a lack of determination by the Allies saved Murat from a defeat, he was a good cavalry commander but lacked the tactical flexibility which the Allies had learnt from years of fighting the French.
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How to cite this article:
Dugdale-Pointon, Tristan (1 April 2001), Liebertwolkwitz, battle of, 14th October 1813, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_liebertwolkwitz.html