Battle of Möckern, 5 April 1813

The battle of Möckern (5 April 1813) was the last significant fighting during the Spring Campaign of 1813 before Napoleon arrived at the front to take over command in person.

At the start of 1813 Marshal Murat had abandoned his post as commander of the remains of the Grande Armée on its retreat from Moscow. That duty had fallen to Prince Eugène de Beauharnais, who had been forced to fall back from the Vistula, to the Oder, to the Elbe, where he set up a new base at Magdeburg.

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

The Allies advanced across Germany in three main columns. The most advanced were those in the north, led by Wittgenstein, and in the south, led by Blücher. Wittgenstein was advancing on Magdeburg, while Blücher took Dresden, and then advanced on Leipzig. The Allied high command decided to close the gap between these forces, and ordered Wittgenstein to move south to join Blücher on the road to Leipzig. Wittgenstein wasn't happy with these orders, which he believed would expose Berlin to attack, and decided to cross the Elbe at Rosslau (north of Leipzig and south-east of Magdeburg), on a line that kept him nearer to Prince Eugène.

By the end of March Wittgenstein's army was quite spread out. His most advanced troops were 3,800 regulars, 560 Cossacks and 12 guns that were at Nedlitz, four miles to the west of Möckern, on the road between Möckern and Magdeburg.

Next was General Yorck, with 9,000 men and 44 guns, at Belzig, 25 miles to the east of Mockern.

General Berg had 8,000 Russians, 250 Cossacks and 62 guns at Brück, seven miles to the east of Belzig.

General Kleist had 5,400 Prussian regulars, 400 Cossacks and 25 guns at Marzahna, 12 miles to the south-east of Belzig.

Finally General Bulow had 4,500 men and 24 guns at Potsdam, just to the west of Berlin. 

On 1 April Yorck was ordered to move south-west from Belzig towards Zerbst (ten miles south of Möckern) and Zahna (a little further to the south-east, on the opposite bank of the Elbe). Kleist had moved south from Marzahn to Wittenberg on the north bank of the Elbe, while Wittgenstein was further west, opposite Dessau, where he built a bridge across the Elbe. This meant that the Allied troops were spread out in a curved line, with Borstall at the right at Nedlitz, Yorck moving south-west to fill the gap between Borstall and Wittgenstein and Kleist on the left. 

On 2 April Prince Eugène moved three divisions from Lauriston's V Corps to Neustadt, the new town of Magdeburg (just to the north of the old town). He then advanced east towards Königsborn, with the 16th Division in the lead. During the morning the 16th Division pushed Borstall's outposts out of Königsborn, and back to Nedlitz.

On the same day Yorck began his movement south-west towards Zerbst.

On 3 April Eugène moved XI Corps and Latour-Maubourg's cavalry corps across the Elbe. They pushed Borstell back to Möckern. Wittgenstein was worried that Eugène might be planning to advance east towards Berlin, and also for the safety of Borstell's isolated forces. He responded by ordering Borstell and Bülow to retreat towards Görzke (15 miles east of Möckern) and Ziesar (seven miles to the north of Görzke) if they were threatened by Eugène's superior numbers, while he concentrated the troops on the Elbe at Senst and Belzig (to the south-east and east of Görzke).

On 4 April Eugène planned to attack Borstell's isolated troops, but the Allies withdrew before the attack began. By the end of the day Borstell was between Gloina and Grosslübars, a few miles to the east of Möckern. Bülow's advance guard was to the north at Ziesar. Berg was a few miles to the south of Borstell, at Lietzo. Yorck was a few miles further south, at Zerbst. Bülow was some way to the east, at Wittenberg. Wittgenstein joined Yorck at Zerbst late in the day.

On the French side Eugène ended 4 April at Möckern, Gommern (six miles to the south west) and Dannigkow (two miles to the east of Gommern).

The Battle

By the morning of 5 April the French had 40,000 men in the area, the Allies only 23,000 regulars and 500 Cossacks, but Wittgenstein decided to attack anyway. His plan was to use Bülow and Borstell to pin Eugène in place, while Berg and Yorck attacked the French right flank, nearest to the Elbe. If all had gone well, Eugène might have been cut off from Magdeburg.

At the start of the battle the French right (9,500 men from Lagrange's 18th Division) was at Wahlitz (just to the north-west of Gommern), with its advance guard at Gommern and Dannigkow. In the centre was XI Corps, under the temporary command of General Grenier. He had 24,000 men in three divisions, posted at Karith, Nedlitz and Büden (from south to north three villages in a line running north of Gommern). On the left were 5,000 men of Maison's 16th Division), based at Woltersdorf (west of Büden), with an advance guard moving from Körbelitz (north of Woltersdorf) east towards Burg. The 1st Light Cavalry Division was at Zeddenick (two miles east of Düben), and 11,000 men (19th Division and Roguet's division of the Guard) were in the reserve.

The resulting battle was a somewhat scattered affair. Fighting began in the south, where Yorck's vanguard attacked Lagrange's outposts at Dannigkow at about noon. The French were able to escape across boggy ground. Yorck's main forces were too far to the east to play an effective part in the battle. They only reached Leitzkau, five miles to the east of Gommern, at 4pm.

In the north Berg's advance guard attacked the French at Vehlitz (just to the east of XI Corp's main line) at about 4pm, but he was unable to make progress. Borstell reached the battlefield in time to take part in a more serious assault on Vehlitz at about 6pm, and this finally forced the French to retreat.

Bülow's advance guard also arrived at about 4pm, reaching Möckern. He then advanced west, and forced the French 1st Light Cavalry to retreat from Zeddenick. This forced the main French force around Nedlitz to retreat.

The battle was ended by nightfall. The Allies were able to claim a clear victory, having inflicted 2,200 casualties on the French at the cost of only 500 of their own. Eugène retreated back to Magdeburg, having received a false report that Wittgenstein had crossed the Elbe at Rosslau. Over the next few days Wittgenstein did indeed move south to join Blücher's army around Leipzig, crossing the Elbe on 10 April. At the start of the next month the two forces would take part in the battle of Lützen (2 May 1813), Napoleon's first victory of the 1813 campaign.  

This battle should not be confused with the battle of Möckern of 16 October 1813, the name sometimes given to the fighting to the north of Leipzig on the first day of the battle of Leipzig.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (24 February 2017), Battle of Möckern, 5 April 1813 ,

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