Combat of Konigswartha, 19 May 1813

The combat of Konigswartha (19 May 1813) took place on the day before the battle of Bautzen (20-21 May 1813) and saw the French defeat an Allied force that had been sent out to attack Lauriston's corps (War of Liberation).

After defeat at Lützen the Prussians and Russians retreated across the Elbe, and decided to make a stand on the east bank of the Spree, near Bautzen. Napoleon realised that this gave him a chance to win a significant victory, as their right flank was exposed to attack. While his main army moved directly towards the Allied lines, Ney (who had been given command over several corps operating to the north of the main army) was ordered to outflank them to the north. After some confusion he ended up moving his entire force towards Bautzen, although only Lauriston's and Ney's corps actually arrived in time to fight.

On 18 May the Allies captured a dispatch which placed Lauriston at Senftenberg on 17 May, heading for Hoyerswerda on 18 May. This convinced them that Lauriston was heading south to join the main French force west of Bautzen. The allies also believed that Ney was one day behind, so Lauriston appeared to be dangerously isolated. On 18 May Wittgenstein decided to send a force to attack Lauriston, and prevent him from joining the main army. Barclay de Tolly was to conduct the attack, and once he was engaged the Allies would attack the French left at Bautzen to stop them moving to help Lauriston. Barclay was given his own corps, 13,000 Russian reinforcements who had joined the army at Bautzen, and Yorck's Prussian corps, a total of 24,000 men (Langeron, Ilovaysky XII and Rayevsky all took part in this battle on the Allied side). Lauriston had 19,000 men, and Napoleon was close by with his entire army, so the attack seems a rather unnecessary risk.

The Allies crossed the Spree early on 19 May. General Tschaplitz, with the advance guard, moved first, crossing the river at Nieder Gurig (four miles north of Bautzen), and then advanced north-west towards Johnsdorf, a small village about two miles east of Königswartha. The main Russian force, under Langeron and Rajewski, crossed at Klix (four miles to the north of Nieder Gurig) and advanced towards Johnsdorf along a road that ran west via Milkel and Oppitz. Yorck started at Guttau and Brösa (a short distance east of Klix), and moved north to Lomischau and Lieske, before turning west to head for Hermsdorf, another village east of Königswartha. This placed him to the north of Langeron and Rajewski.

On the French side Bertrand was posted on the French left, and he had placed Peyri's Italian Division at Königswartha, to open communications with Lauriston. Peyri was in place by about noon. Bertrand had outposts at Lubachau, north-west of Bautzen and west of Nieder Gurig. The Russian advance guard came within a mile and a quarter of this position, and were sighted by the French, but Bertrand clearly thought that Peyri would be able to cope with this force.

Tschaplitz found the Italians at Königswartha, but believed them to be Lauriston's advance guard. At about 1pm Barclay joined him, and the Russians attacked. The Italians were entirely unprepared for battle, and suffered a heavy defeat, losing 2,860 casualties, including 750 prisoners. The Russians then pursued them north towards Wartha. The pursuit ended at about 5pm, when the advancing Russians ran into Kellermann, leading Ney's advance guard as it advanced down the road from Hoyerswerda to Königswartha.

On the allied right Yorck ran into Lauriston's left flank at Hermsdorf at about 3pm. Lauriston had been ordered to head for Brösa, and was following route that took him roughly south-east via Oppitz, Lippitsch and Klix, crossing the same countryside as the advancing Allies. The Allies now suffered from the slow speed of messages. Earlier Barclay had sent a message to Yorck, ordering him to move south-west to Johnsdorf to form a reserve. This message arrived after Yorck had become engaged with Lauriston, but Yorck attempted to obey his orders and withdrew from the fighting. By now Barclay had discovered that Peyri's forces were part of the main French army, and not Lauriston's advance guard, and he then sent another message, ordering Yorck to occupy Weissig, west of Hermsdorf, and on the right flank of the pursuit of Peyri. Yorck managed to hold his position for much of the afternoon, but was unable to make and progress. That night he retreated back to Klix, leaving his campfires burning to mislead the French.

This battle cost Yorck 1,100 men and Barclay 900 men (presumably mainly in the fight against Kellermann and while supporting Yorck). The Allies were lucky to have escaped so lightly. If Bertrand had sent some of his men north then Barclay and Yorck might have been entirely cut off, while Napoleon was unusually passive, despite hearing the south of gunfire.

This fighting did have an impact on the wider battle. By the end of the day Ney was convinced that the Allies were moving towards Hoyerswerda in some strength. He ended the day at Maukendorf, not far to the south of Hoyerswerda, and prepared for a battle two miles further south at Buchwalde.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 March 2017), Combat of Konigswartha, 19 May 1813 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_konigswartha.html

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