N & E
Napoléon & Empire

Battle of Bautzen

Date and place

  • May 20th and 21st, 1813 on the banks of on the Spree river, around Bautzen (now in Saxony, Germany, near the Czech border).

Involved forces

  • French army, with additional troops from Württemberg, Baden, Hessen, Saxony and the Kingdom of Italy (150,000 men in all, of whom 80,000 will be engaged), under the command of Emperor Napoleon I.  
  • Russian-Prussian army (90 to 100,000 men), under Marshal Ludwig Adolf Peter zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Ludwigsburg.  

Casualties and losses

  • French army: 12 to 15,000 soldier out of combat, 800 prisoners.  
  • Russian-Prussian army: 18,000 killed, wounded or missing.  

Aerial panorama of the battlefield of Bautzen

Two views of the Bautzen battlefield, the first from Wurschen, the second from the Windmuehlenberg in Gleina.

The general situation

The campaign in Saxony got off to a favorable start for the French at the battle of Lützen (German: Schlacht von Großgörschen) on May 2, 1813. Unfortunately, the victory could not be properly exploited due to a lack of cavalry, but the coalition forces were forced to retreat to the Spree, and Napoleon entered Dresden The historical center of Dresden on May 8. His plan was still to drive the enemy back to the rover Oder and rush to Berlin The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. He therefore sent Marshal Michel Ney (newly created Prince of Moskowa) and 60,000 men towards the Prussian capital.

The allies, for their part, were determined to risk a general battle, despite their numerical inferiority and a position that was not the best. Their reasons were more psychological and political than military: a prolonged retreat would have disastrous effects on the morale of their troops, and would worry Austria, which they hoped to win over to their cause. The Russians and Prussians therefore regrouped their forces and set up camp at Bautzen, not far from Austria and in a good position to receive Russian reinforcements if necessary.

Realizing that his opponents were determined to fight where they were entrenched, Napoleon advanced on Bautzen with the corps he had not entrusted to Ney.

May 20, 1813: first day of the battle

Allied positions

The Allies have arranged themselves in two lines.

The first one held the heights on the right (east) bank of the Spree River The Spree River, from Doberschau [Doberschau-Gaußig] [51.15288, 14.39674] in the south to Klix [51.26487, 14.52488] and Leichnam [Spreewiese] [51.27807, 14.53520] in the north, leaning on Bautzen. This gave it a reach of around fifteen kilometers, which was quite a lot. Russian general Mikhail Andreyevich Miloradovich (Михаил Андреевич МилорадовичMikhail Andreyevich Miloradovich commanded it, with 25,000 men at his disposal, divided between the following generals:

  1. Guillaume Emmanuel Guignard de Saint-Priest Guillaume Emmanuel Guignard de Saint-Priest: from Preuschwitz [51.15623, 14.40677] to Bautzen
  2. Duke Eugen of Württemberg (Евгений ВюртембергскийEugen von Württemberg : from Bautzen to Ochna [Oehna] [51.19935, 14.44352]
  3. Friedrich Kleist von Nollendorf Friedrich Kleist von Nollendorf : at Burk [51.19997, 14.46116], holding the passages to Malschwitz [51.23763, 14.52088], Nimschütz and Nieder-Gurig
  4. Yefim Ignatyevich Chaplits (Ефим Игнатьевич ЧаплицYefim Ignatyevich Chaplits : at Klix and Salga
  5. Sergei Nicolayevich Landskoy (Сергей Николаевич ЛанскойSergei Nicolayevich Landskoy : near Leichnam.

The second line, also the main, was based on the plateaus to the east, from Gleina Aerial view of Gleina (northeast) to Kunitz [Grosskunitz] (southeast), and was reinforced by the presence of numerous redoubts and several villages transformed into entrenched camps:

  1. the extreme right was held by Prince Michael Barclay de Tolly (Михаи́л Богда́нович Баркла́й-де-То́лли) with 9,000 hommes
  2. the right by Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher
  3. the center by Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg with 28,000 men in all
  4. left wing under General Andrei Ivanovich Gorchakov (Андрей Иванович ГорчавовAndrei Ivanovich Gorchakov with 12,000 troops
  5. a reserve of 18,000 men, made up of the Russian Guard, held behind the village of Baschütz.

The King of Prussia's headquarters were in Kumschütz [51.18124, 14.53848], while that of Emperor Alexander I (Александр I Павлович Романов) was in Wurschen, at Wasserschloss castle:

The Wasserschloss castle in Wurschen, Emperor Alexander I's HQ
The Wasserschloss castle in Wurschen, Emperor Alexander I's headquarters

This position, although fortified along most of its length, was more fragile than it appeared. Indeed, while the left wing touched the first slopes of the Lusatian mountains [Lausitz], the right wing took shelter behind the Spree and its right-bank tributaries, which, being fordable and marshy, were not very troublesome obstacles for the opposing infantry.

What's more, by crossing the river, the enemy infantry would be protected from any defensive action by Allied cavalry by the very nature of the hilly, wooded terrain. The right flank was therefore relatively easy to overrun, despite the ponds that covered it.

Wittgenstein's plan

In Peter Wittgenstein's mind, the sole function of the first line was to force the French to reveal their attack positions. It was to withdraw as soon as this goal was achieved. Then, if the French attacked in the center, the two wings would fall back on their flanks; if, on the contrary, they attacked one of these wings, the other would also flank them.

The planned lines of retreat passed through Weissenberg for the right wing and Löbau for the left, with the army finally gathering at Reichenbach.

Picture - "The Battle of Bautzen in 1813 - Napoleon, surrounded by his officers, receives a messenger". After Hippolyte Bellangé.

Napoleonic Battles - Picture of the battle of Bautzen -

Photos Credits

 Photo of Lionel A. Bouchon Photos by Lionel A. Bouchon.
 Photo of Marie-Albe Grau Photos by Marie-Albe Grau.
 Photo of Floriane Grau Photos by Floriane Grau.
 Photo of Michèle Grau-Ghelardi Photos by Michèle Grau-Ghelardi.
 Photo of Didier Grau Photos by Didier Grau.
 Photo of various authors Photos made by people outside the Napoleon & Empire association.

Video credits

The shots are by Didier Grau, the editing by Lionel A. Bouchon.