First Day of the battle of Leipzig, 16 October 1813

The first day of the battle of Leipzig (16 October 1813) was Napoleon's last chance to win a significant victory during the War of Liberation, but he was unable to take his chance, and the day ended as a hard fought draw.

The Leipzig campaign began in late September when Napoleon decided to withdraw west of the Elbe at the same time as Blücher, with the Army of Silesia, moved north-west to join Bernadotte and the Army of the North. At the same time Schwarzenberg's Army of Bohemia began a slow move towards Leipzig. Over the next three weeks Napoleon attempted and failed to catch Blücher and Bernadotte, before finally realising that he needed to concentrate his forces at Leipzig, now the target of all of the Allied armies.

While Napoleon had been operating to the north of Leipzig, Murat had been conducting a skilful fighting retreat in the south, and managed to hold onto a good defensive position to the south.

Napoleon was now faced with his worst nightmare – the prospect of a battle against all three of the main Allied armies. By the end of 14 October the French had 177,000 troops in and around Leipzig, but the Allies had 203,000 men approaching from the south (Schwarzenberg), 54,000 coming from the north (Blücher) and another 85,000 a couple of days behind (Bernadotte).

The Battlefield on 16 October

On the first day of the battle the fighting took place at a distance from the city itself. Leipzig sits on the east bank of the River Pleisse, which runs from south to north past the city. A short distance to the west is the River Elster, running almost parallel to the Pleisse. Just to the north of the city the two rivers turn sharply to the left, and the Pleisse then flows into the Elster, which continues on to join the Saale near Halle. The area between the two rivers was rather wet and marshy, and the road between the Rannstadt gate of Leipzig and Lindenau west of the Elster ran across a series of stone and wooden bridges and a causeway. The French had fortified their bridgehead at Lindenau, and this approach to Leipzig was thus very difficult to attack.

War of Liberation 1813 - Autumn Campaign
War of Liberation 1813 - Autumn Campaign

To the north of the city was the River Parthe, which flows froms from east to west and joins the Pleisse to the north-west of the city. The countryside here was generally fairly level. The Parthe itself wasn't a terribly large river, but it had a mix of marshy and steep banks, so it had some defensive value.

To the south of the city there are a series of low ridges, some of which played a major part in the battle. The highest ground was the Galgenberg, between the villages of Wachau and Liebertwolkwitz. Also important was the Kolmberg, to the east of Leibertwolkwitz.   

Because Napoleon believed that Bernadotte and Blücher had moved past him to the west, and were now to his south-west, his line of retreat (if needed) would be to the north towards Torgau, Wittenberg and Magdeburg as his main route – the main parks and engineering trains were posted at Eilenburg, to the north-east of Leipzig. The route west, across the Pleisse and the Elster, would take him too close to the Allied left flank, but the rivers could serve as a convenient guard for his right flank. In order to strength that flank Napoleon ordered most of the bridges across the two rivers to be destroyed, only leaving those that served the causeway running west.

Leipzig itself was surrounded by a badly repaired old wall around the old town, although the main gates were in good condition. The outlying suburbs had been fortified, but these wouldn't be fought over until 18 October.

The Allied Plan

Schwarzenberg's first plan for 16 October would have played right into Napoleon's hands.

Blücher's Army of Silesia was to cross to the left bank of the Elster, then advance up the road from Merseberg to Leipsig (via Günthersdorf). The Army of Bohemia was to be split in three. Gyulai (with Moritz, Lichtenstein and Thielmann) was to move to Markranstädt and operate on Blücher's right flank (and under his command). Both of these columns (a total of 72,000 men) would end up attacking towards Lindenau at the western end of the causeway from Leipzig.

Meerveldt's corps, the Austrian reserve and the Russian Guard (52,000 men) were to start from Kwenkau and advance north in the difficult ground between the Elster and the Pleisse, heading for the French right-rear around Connewitz.

Wittgenstein, Kleist and Klenau (72,000 men) were to attack east of the Pleisse, where they would hit Napoleon's main positions south of Leipzig. Barclay de Tolly was to command this attack

If this plan had been implemented then Blücher and Gyulai would have wasted the day attacking the strong French position at Lindenau, while Meerveldt's column would have been separated from the main battle by the Pleisse. This would have left Napoleon free to concentrate most of his troops against the 72,000 men east of the Pleisse.

Unsurprisingly this plan caused howls of protest amongst the Allied commanders. Toll and Jomini objected to the Tsar, who eventually forced Schwarzenberg to change his plans by refusing to allow any Russian troops to operate west of the Pleisse. 

The second Allied plan differed from the first in two main ways. First, Blücher remained on the right bank of the Elster and was to attack the northern approaches to Leipzig, a route that was much more promising than the western route. Second, 24,000 Russians were moved from Meerveldt's column, back to the right bank of the Pleisse, where they formed a reserve. Gyulai was still to attack Lindenau and Meerveldt to advance between the Elster and the Pleisse, but these would now be much weaker attacks.

The French Plan

Napoleon's aim was to pin the Allies in place south of Leipzig, and then use his reserves to attack around the Allied right (eastern) flank. His hope was to inflict a defeat on Schwarzenberg, although as he believed that Blücher and Bernadotte had already linked up with Schwarzenberg's left he can't have been hoping to defeat the Army of Bohemia in isolation.

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

VIII, II and V Corps and a force of cavalry (around 37,000 men) were to pin down Schwarzenberg with a frontal assault. XI Corps and Sebastiani's cavalry were to attack the Allied right. At the right moment the Guard, Augereau's IX Corps and two cavalry formations (62,000 men) and either Bertrand's or Marmont's corps from the north would make the main attack.

III, IV, VI and VII Corps, under Marshal Ney, were to hold the line in the north, where Napoleon didn't expect to face attack. The 7,000 strong garrison of Leipzig, mainly new conscripts, were to defend Lindenau.

The French had around 178,000 men around Leipzig, of which 120,000 were to be used in the southern attack.

The biggest flaw Napoleon's plan is that he misjudged Blücher's position. He believed that he had passed Leipzig to the west, and joined with Schwarzenberg. He even went as far as ordering Marmont to leave his strong position at Lindethal, north-west of Leipzig, and move to a position between Leipzig and Liebertwolkwitz, to the south-east, ready to take a part in the main attack. Marmont could actually see Blücher's camp fires on his front, but still obeyed his orders.  A second problem was that Napoleon assumed he would be able to attack first in the south, but the Allies were in place before he was, and so the battle began with an Allied attack and Napoleon on the defensive.

In the north (Battle of Mockern)

The French were outnumbered on the northern front. Blücher had around 54,500 men. In total his opponents had 49,500, although this included 4,800 men under Delmas, then on their way from Düben.

At the start of the day the French had Marmont's corps at Lindenthal  and Breitenfeld, about five miles north/ north-west of Leipzig. Brayer's and Ricard's divisions from Souham's III Corps were moving towards Mockau, to the north/ north-east of the city and Delmas's division of III Corps was escorting a supply train from Düben. Dombrowski's division was at Plaussig, east of Mockau. Marmont was aware that there were strong enemy forces on his front, and expected Blücher to attack from Halle. Late on 15 October Napoleon had agreed that Marmont, Bertrand and Souham would oppose any attack on this front. 

Marshal Blücher von Wahlstatt
Marshal Blücher
von Wahlstatt

At 7am on 16 October Marmont received a new order from Napoleon, who was now convinced that Blücher (and possibly Bernadotte) had moved south past Leipzig, and there were thus no major enemy forces on Marmont's front. Marmont's corps was to move to the south of Leipzig to take part in the attack there. Bertrand's corps would replace Marmont north of Leipzig.

Marmont began to move just as Blücher's attack developed. Blucher had spent the night at Schkeuditz, five miles to the west of Marmont's position and on the same side of the Elster. His original orders for the 16th had been to cross to the far bank and join the futile assault on Lindenau, but he managed to get these changed, and was now free to attack on the right bank of the river.

Blücher decided to occupy Radefeld, to the north-west of Lindenthal, and then decided what to do next. Langeron was to lead the way on the Prussian left, followed by Sacken. They would attack Freiroda, and then move east to take Radefeld. Yorck, on the Prussian right, would follow the riverside road towards Leipzig until he reached Lützschena (west/ south-west of Lindenthal), then turn left to attack Lindenthal. St. Priest's Russians were a little further from the battlefield, and were to follow Langeron.

The first clash came at Radefeld, where Langeron's advance guard easily drove out the French rearguard. To the south Yorck drove the French out of Lindenthal, and sent his advance guard along the Leipzig road towards Möckern. At this point Blücher paused. He had assumed that the French would defend the Hohenössig-Podelwitz plateau, to the north-eaast of Lindenthal, and that French reinforcements might be coming from Duben (further to the northeast).

Instead Marmont had withdrawn towards Leipzig. His left was at Möckern, protected by the Elster. His right was on the Rietzschke brook. Dombrowski and Fournier were posted north of the brook, around Gross and Klein Wiederitzsch, acting as a flank guard. The main line ran north-east from Möckern, but Dombrowski was posted to the north-west. Marmont expected Blücher to attack Möckern and not risk an attack on the French right as that would expose them to attack by the flank guard.

By 2pm Blücher had realised his mistake, and prepared to attack Marmont's new position. By this point Yorck was quite stretched out on his right, with his leading troops on the road to Möckern and Horn's brigade at Lindenthal. Blücher's first priority was to take Wiederitzsch. Langeron was ordered to use part of his force for this, while the rest supported Sacken, who was guarding against any possible attack from the north. At the same time Yorck sent his right to attack Möckern.

Yorck launched two attacks on Möckern, but both were repulsed. Blücher had more success against Dombrowski's Poles. By 3pm the Poles had been forcd out of Wiederitzsch, and retreated south-east to Eutritzch. They were then reinforced by Fournier's cavalry and half of De France's cavalry division, and recaptured Wiederitzsch. Langeron's leading troops, under Kapzevitch, attacked again, and once again pushed the Poles back to Eutritzsch.

At this point Delmas's division appeared on the road from Eilenburg. Langeron and his commanders assumed that this was an entire French corps, just as they'd expected, abandoned the pursuit of the Poles and withdrew to a position to the north-east of Wiederitzsch. Delmas's column did appear to be sizable, but he actually only had 4,700 fighting men – the rest of the column was made up of the parks and baggage train, coming from Eilenburg to Leipzig. Delmas sent some of his men to attack the woods, but were then forced back. By this point Delmas's division was split in two, and he decided to retreat to the left bank of the Parthe. Most of the park and baggage wagons were lost at this stage. 

On the Prussian right Yorck decided to risk an attack on the French left and centre. This rather backfired. Mecklenburg attacked the French gun batteries at Möckern, but was repulsed with heavy losses. In the heavy fighting that followed Hunerbein's and Horn's brigades suffered heavy losses, leaving only Steinmetz's brigade for the next attack on Möckern.

Steinmetz's first line got to within 100 yards of the French, before it broke in the face of heavy fire. Marmont ordered General Normann's Württemberg cavalry to attack, but Normann refused to obey. The chance for a significant victory was lost, and Steinmetz's second line managed to hold on. Two days later Normann changed sides in the middle of the battle, and his action here suggests that he already had that in mind.

In an attempt to complete his victory over Steinmetz, Marmont led his infantry forward. Yorck responded by attacking with his entire cavalry force, the only reserves to hand. The result was a disaster for the French. Two infantry battalions were ridden down and Normann's and Lorge's cavalry were forced away. A vicious melee developed around the French guns, before the French were forced to retreat. The Allies captured 35 guns on this part of the field alone.

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

Marmont's right was now also under pressuve, Horn and Hunerbein having returned to the battle. The French right was forced to retreat, although in good order, and Marmont was able to take up a new position around Eutritzsch and Gohlis on the Rietzschke brook. The Prussians ended the day with the right near Möckern and their left facing the French at Eutritzsch.

The battle of Möckern was a narrow Prussian victory. Marmont officially admitted to 6,000-7,000 casualties, but probably suffered more. On the Allied side Langeron lost 1,500 men, but Yorck suffered very heavily, losing 7,969 men, including 7,120 from the infantry. However he did take 2,000 prisoners, 40 guns, and captured one eagle.

The fighting at Möckern had an impact elsewhere on the battlefield. It denied Napoleon the use of Marmont's corps in the south. Ney also recalled two of Souham's divisions, which had been on their way south. He later changed his mind, and sent them back to the south, but they didn’t arrive in time to take much part in the battle. The fighting also distracted Napoleon, who heard the gunfire and left the main battle at around 2.30pm to investigate.

In the west (Battle of Lindenau)

On the western front Napoleon posted 3,200 men and 16 guns at Lindenau, commanded by General Arrighi, who had been serving as governor of Leipzig. The Allies committed 19,000 men to this attack, but the French had a very strong position, supported by three artillery redoubts

Although he outnumbered his opponents, Gyulai realised that he had very little chance of success, and so he decided to make a demonstration against the French defences in the hope that this would draw troops to his front and away from the key battles to the north and south.

Gyulai began the day at Markranstädt, to the west of the French position. At about 8am, after the fighting began to the south, he began his advance, reaching Lindenau by 10.30.

Arrighi was drawn up in a strong position just to the west of Lindenau and Plagwitz (south of Lindenau). His infantry was drawn up in two lines, and his cavalry was postd on his left. As well as the guns in the three redoubts, he was also supported by artillery on the far side of the Elster.

Gyulai's plan was to attack on both flanks, hitting Klein Zschocher (south of Plagwitz) and Leutzsch (north of Lindenau), and then pressing towards the French centre, while his artillery bombarded the French position. Both flank attacks succeeded, although at heavy cost. An attempt to capture Plagwitz failed, but part of the Hessen-Homburg division briefly managed to get into Lindenau, before being forced to retreat by heavy artillery fire.

The scale of the Austrian attack had worried Gyulai, and he sent a message to Ney asking for reinforcements. This arrived just as Bertrand's IV Corps was on its way from the northern front to the southern front, but when the message arrived either Bertrand or Ney decided to send the entire corps across the causeway. Bertrand's men were in place by the time a second attack on Lindenau had been repulsed.

At about 2pm Napoleon ordered the bells of Leipzig to ring to celebrate a victory. Bertrand reacted by ordering an attack south towards Klein Zschocher but despite support fire across the river he was unable to take it. The fighting then faded away on this front, and at the end of the day Gyulai withdrew most of his men back to Markranstädt.

Although Gyulai hadn't actually take Lindenau, he had successfully drawn an entire corps away from the crucial battles north and south of the city, and thus helped play a part in the Allied victory.

In south  (Battle of Wachau)

On the southern front Napoleon outnumbered the Allies. He had just under 140,000 men south of Leipzig. The Allies had just under 127,000, but of them 30,000 were posted west of the Pleisse, leaving 96,500 to face Napoleon's main attack.

At the start of the day Napoleon had three corps in the front line south of Leipzig. On his right, closest to the Pleisse, was Poniatowski's VIII Corps and Lefol's division. They were positioned on a line that ran from Connewitz in the north, through Lösnigh and Dölitz to Markkleeberg (in 1813 Markkleeberg was on the east bank of the Pleisse - since then the name has been given to a larger area, including a section on the west bank).

In the centre was Marshal Victor, around Wachau.

On the left was Lauriston, posted between Wachau and Leibertwolkwitz. The Young Guard and Curial's division of the Old Guard were behind Lauriston.

Further to the north, but also on the French left-rear was Augereau's IX Corps at Zuckelhausen, 1.5 miles to the north of Leibertwolkwitz.  

Macdonald's corps and the 2nd Cavalry Corps were heading for Holzhausen, to the east of Zuckelhausen.

Finally Friant's Old Guard divison, the 1st Cavlary Corps, 5th Cavalry Corps and Guard Cavalry were at Probstheida, to the west of Zuckelhausen, where they formed the reserve.

The Allies planned to attack in five columns - one west of the Pleisse and four to the east. On their left Meerveldt's role was to try and reach Dolitz and Connewitz, on Poniatowski's right-rear. This involved moving through the difficult area between the rivers and then attacking across the Pleisse.

On the east bank of the Pleisse Kleist's column (8,400 men and 26 guns) was to attack Poniatowski at Markkleeberg, advancing from the south of Cröbern into the gap between Markkleeberg and Wachau.

Eugen of Wurtemberg (11,000 men and 31 guns) was to attack Victor at Wachau, starting at Guldengössa.

Gorchakov (9,000 men and 20 guns) was to attack Lauriston at Leibertwolkwitz from the south.

Finally Klenau and Ziethen (33,000 men and 80 guns) were to attack Leibertwolkwitz from Fuchshain in the east. This attack would be delayed, so at first only the central three Allied columns were involved in the battle.

Pahlen's 5,400 strong cavalry force was to advance between Gortchakov and Eugen of Wurtemberg.

The 24,000 men who were taken from Meerveldt's column at the Tsar's insistence were around Rötha, five miles to the south of the French front line. There was also a reserve formed from 10,500 Russian grenadiers and curirassiers, on the road south of Gruna (like several locations in this area, Gruna was destroyed by the coal industry after the Second World War. The area is now under the Störmthaler See, an artifical lake created by flooding part of the open cast mine works).  

The command structure on this front was especially complex. Schwarzenberg was officially commander-in-chief of the Army of Bohemia, and had some authority over the other armies as well. His authority was limited somewhat by the presence of the various monarchs, and in particular Tsar Alexander. Barclay de Tolly was given overall command of the attack on the south front, with Wittgenstein under him and in actual command. The plan for the attack in five columns was Wittgenstein's, and it came close to giving Napoleon the victory he needed. The five Allied columns were spread out over six miles, far too far apart to support each other, or even to coordinate their attacks. 

East of the Pleisse

Both Napoleon and the Tsar arrived on the southern front at about 9am, and both realised that their plans were already in trouble. Napoleon had hoped to attack first, but his troops weren't in place, and so all he could do was move reinforcements to the most vulnerable points on his line. Augereau was ordered to move from the French left-rear to support Poniatowski on the French right, as was Letort's division of Guard cavalry.

On the Allied side the Tsar quickly realised that Wittgenstein's plan was doomed to failure unless the isolated columns could be reinforced. At this point he made a vital contribution to the eventual Allied victory. The Russian grenadiers and cuirassiers were ordered to move up from Gruna to Auenhain (just to the north of the lake covering Gruna, and due south of Wachau). The Russian and Prussian Guards, were ordered to move to Cröbern (a lost village south of Markkleeberg) and Guldengössa (just to the east of Auenhain)). Finally he asked Schwarzenberg to send the Austrian reserves from the west to the east bank of the Pleisse.

The Allied Offensive

At about 9.30am Prince Eugen of Wurtemberg captured Wachau, in the French centre, but he was unable to advance any further because of heavy French artillery fire. When the village fell Napoleon moved Oudinot to a position just north of the village.

Soon after this Kleist captured Markkleeburg, on the Pleisse, but once again French artillery fire pinned him in place. He also suffered heavy losses in an attack to the west of Wachau, carried out to support Prince Eugen.

After about an hour and a half of fierce fighting the French recaptured Wachau at about 11am. Eugen retreated a short distance and made a stand in a slight dip in the ground. At this point Kleist was still hodling on in Markkleeberg.

The Allies made less progress on their right. Gortchakov attacked first, but was repulsed by French artillery and retreated from Liebertwolkwitz south-east towards the Nieder Holz. This created a gap between his left and Eugen's right, which Eugen had to fill with Pirch's brigade, further weakening his position in Wachau.

Gortchakov's big problem was that Klenau, who was meant to have been attacking Liebertwolkwitz from the east, didn't move until 10am. By the time he captured the Kolmberg without a fight, Gortchakov's attack had already failed. Klenau split his force, sending two infantry battalions onto the Kolmberg and five to attack Liebertwolkwitz. By 11am his troops were fighting in the ruins of that village, but he could also see strong French columns heading towards his position on the Kolmberg. He asked for reinforcements, and received 14 cavalry squadrons from Pahlen. On the French side four divisions of the Young Guard and Curial's Division from the Old Guard were moved up to Leibertwolkwitz when Klenau attacked.

The French Offensive

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

By 11am the Allied attack in the south had failed, and Napoleon was preparing to go onto the offensive. His plans were based on the assumption that there wouldn't be a battle to the north of the city, freeing up Marmont to move south of Leipzig to support either Napoleon's counterattack or help Bertrand if the Allies attacked from the west. Souham's III Corps and Macdonald's Corps were also expected to take part in the attack. Macdonald was in place on time, but Marmont spent the day fighting against Blücher and only part of Souham's corps would arrive late in the day.

Napoleon planned a three phase attack. In the first Macdonald would capture the Kolmberg, and then advance towards Seifertshain (east of Leibertwolkwitz). This would threaten the Allied right. At the same time the rest of his troops would push the Allies back from their most advanced positions, to give the French a better starting point for their attack.

The second phase would be a general attack. Drouot was to create a battery of 150 guns between Victor and Mortier's position, which would be used to break a hole in the Allied line. Lauriston would attack south/ south-west towards Guldengössa. On his right Mortier with the Young Guard would attack the Neider Holz (an area of woodland). To his right Victor and Oudinot were to attack towards Auenhain from Wachau. Augereau and Poniatowski were to gold the French right. This attack would break into the Allied line.

The third phase of the attack would see the French turn left and right, forcing the Allied left against the Pleisse and the Allied right east away from their lines of communication. At least one of Souham and Marmont would be required for this part of the plan to really work.

Macdonald's attack began well. He accompanied Charpentier's division, which captured the Kolmberg in a rush at about noon. Gérard's division advanced on Klein Pösna (north-east of Leiptwolkwitz) and Ledru's division attacked Seifertshain. Klenau was nearly captured in the attack on the Kolmberg, and his reserve brigade broke and fled without making much of a stand. Sebastiani's cavalry performed less well, and were stopped by Pahlen's cavalry near Klein Possna.

The French had some success along most of the line. Lauriston forced the Allies out of Leibertwolkwitz, and they retreated towards Gross Pösna. Gortchakov was forced to pull back to a line that ran roughly west from University Wood (south-west of Gross Pösna) to Guldengössa. Eugen of Wurtemberg held his ground just south of Wachau, although at heavy cost. Finally Kleist had been forced to retreat, although a small force held out at Markkleeberg. Kleist attempted to advance into the gap between Wachau and Markkleeberg, but was forced back by Poniatowski and Augereau.

At about 2pm Napoleon decided to launch his main attack, despite Macdonald's advance on the flank having not made as much progress as expected. The French were still fighting on both flanks – on their left Poniatowski and Augereau had pushed Kleist back towards Cröbern. The French Guard Cavalry then attacked, but was held up by Nostitz's cavalry, the first of the Austrian troops to arrive from the other side of the Pleisse. Eventually the Austrian cavalry was forced back to Cröbern. On the French right Macdonald was still attacking towards Seiferthain.

The main attack was launched in the centre. From west to east Victor and Oudinot attacked towards Auenhain, Lauriston attacked Guldengössa and Mortier the University Wood.

One of the key moments of the battle came just after 2.30pm. Napoleon left his position on the Galgenberg after hearing heavy gunfire coming from the north. He was thus absent when General Doumerc, commander of the 1st Cavalry Corps after Latour-Maubourg lost a leg, ordered General Bordesoulle's cuirassier division (18 squadrons, about 2,500 men) to attack into the gap created by Drouot's artillery battery. This attack hit Eugen of Wurtemberg's battered men south of Wauchau, and two infantry battalions were shattered. The French captured twenty-six guns, but more importantly they got dangerously close to Tsar Alexander and King Frederick William III of Prussia, who were on the Wachtberg. Unfortunately for the French Dourmerc failed to support this attack, and it was repulsed by the Tsar's Cossack escorts and thirteen squadrons of Russian cuirassiers. The French were forced to retreat back towards Drouot's guns. The Russian cavalry withdrew and this dramatic cavalry clash was over by 3.30pm. 

Elsewhere the French had made some progress during this period, but failed to make the breakthrough that Napoleon required. We will deal with each of these separate battles individually, from west to east across the battlefield.

On the French right Victor and Augereau had almost reached Cröbern, but Kleist was about to be reinforced by Bianchi's Austrians, coming across the Pleisse. At about 4pm Victor captured most of Auenhain, but was unable to force the Russians out of the manor house. Bianchi then attacked to the west of the village, forcing Augereau to retreat. This in turn forced Victor to abandon Cröbern. The Allies, now joined by Weissenwolf's brigade, pushed north, captured Markkleeberg and threatened Dölitz. The situation briefly looked dangerous for the French when Meerveldt finally got across the Pleisse and into Dölitz (at around 5.30pm), but Napoleon restored the situation by commiting Curial's division of the Old Guard and Ricard's division from Souham's corps. Meerveldt's poor day got worse when he was captured by a force of Saxons and Poles.  

Eugun of Wurtemberg had retreated to Auenhain and Guldengössa, where he was reinforced by the Prussian Guards. Maison's division, at the head of Lauriston's corps, attacked Guldengössa and broke into the village, but was then driven out by Allied reinforcements.

Charpentier and Mortier were able to capture the Neider Holz (the nearest part of the University Wood to Leibertwolkwitz). Charpentier then attacked Gross Pösna, but was repulsed by Ziethen. Mortier was unable to capture the Oder Holz part of the University Wood.  

Macdonald and Ledru made a series of attacks on Seifertshain, but although they were able to capture the village, they were unable to hold onto it. Towards evening they retreated back to the Kolmberg.

Gérard captured Klein Pösna, on the far left of the line, but also pulled back when darkness fell.

West of the Pleisse

Unsuprisingly Meerveldt's attack west of the Pleisse was a near total failure. Schwarzenberg had chosen to post himself on this flank, away from the main battle, so he was a witness to the failure. Meerveldt was faced with two problems – the ground between the rivers was so bad that he couldn't move his artillery, and the French had destroyed all but one bridge, which was strongly defended. He made a series of attacks, but by 11am his only success was the capture of the schloss of Dölitz (on the west bank of the Pleisse), and the French were now confident enough to launch a series of counterattacks.

At about 11am the Tsar's request for the Austrian Guard to cross to the east bank of the Pleisse caught up with Schwarzenberg at Gautzsch (about half way between the Pleisse and the Elster). Despite the clear failure of the attacks west of the Pleisse, Schwarzenberg refused to release the Guards until around noon. He then agreed to sent Bianchi's and Weissenwolf's brigades and Nostitz's cavalry to the east bank, going via Gaschwitz and Deuben (2.5 miles south of Markkleeberg).


The first day of the battle of Leipzig ended as a draw. In the south the French had advanced on their left, but been forced back on their right. Napoleon's attacks had failed – Macdonald hadn't been able to outflank the Allied right, and the attack in the centre had made some progress, but no breakthrough.

On the western front the French had easily repulsed Gyulai's attack, but Ney had diverted an unnecessarily large number of troops to that front, meaning that they were unavailable for the main battle in the south. 

In the north Blücher had pushed Marmont back towards Leipzig, but had failed to break through the French lines (at least in part because he failed to commit a large part of his army).

Casualty figures for the day are hard to disentangle from the overall losses in the battle. The French probably had the better of the day, losing 20,000-25,000 men, compared to Allied losses of 30,000 men, but the Allies were expected Bernadotte and Bennigsen with around 140,000 men between them, while Napoleon was only expecting Reynier with 14,000 men. As a result the French would be in a much weaker position when serious fighting resumed on 18 October.

On 17 October the Allies remained largely inactive, and Napoleon was given one last chance to escape without suffering heavier losses, but he couldn't bring himself to admit that he had failed. As a result the chance to escape was missed, the two sides spent 17 October fairly quietly, and when the battle resumed in full force on 18 October the French were badly numbered.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (30 August 2017), First Day of the battle of Leipzig, 16 October 1813 ,

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