Battle of Lützen (1813)

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In the Battle of Lützen (May 2, 1813), Napoleon lured a combined Prussian and Russian force into a trap,[dubious ] halting the advances of the Sixth Coalition after his devastating losses in Russia. The Russian commander, Prince Peter Wittgenstein, attempting to undo Napoleon's capture of Leipzig, attacked Napoleon's advance column near Lützen, Germany. After a day of heavy fighting, the combined Prussian and Russian force retreated, but without cavalry the French were unable to follow their defeated enemy.



Following the disaster of Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812, a new Coalition formed against Napoleon I of France. In response to this, he hastily assembled an army of just over 200,000 consisting largely of inexperienced, barely trained recruits and severely short of horses (a consequence of the Russian invasion, where most of his veteran troops and horses had perished). He crossed the Rhine into Germany to link up with remnants of his old Grande Armée, and to quickly defeat this new alliance before it became too strong. On April 30 Napoleon crossed the river Saale, advancing on Leipzig in three columns led by an advanced guard. His intention was to work his way into the Coalition's interior lines, dividing their forces and defeating them in detail before they could combine. But due to inexperienced cavalrymen and faulty reconnaissance, he was unaware of 73,000 allied troops under Wittgenstein and Graf (Count) von Blücher concentrating on his right flank to the south. Marshal Ney's corps was surprised and attacked on the road from Lützen to Leipzig. On the eve of the battle, one of Napoleon's marshals, Jean-Baptiste Bessières, was killed by a stray cannonball while reconnoitering near Rippach.


Napoleon was visiting the 1632 battlefield, playing tour guide with his staff by pointing to the sites and describing the events of 1632, in detail from memory, when he heard the sound of cannons. He immediately cut the tour short and rode off toward the direction of the artillery fire. Arriving on the scene, he quickly sized up the situation and decided to set a trap using Ney's corps as bait. He ordered the Marshal to make a fighting withdrawal toward Lützen, meanwhile he would send Ney reinforcements which would take up strong, defensive positions in and around two villages south of the city. Once these divisions were ready, the rest of the corps would withdraw towards them, luring the allies to attack, while Napoleon, leading the main 110,000 strong French force, would come around the allied flank and counter attack.

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