N & E
Napoleon & 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.

French positions

The French, for their part, occupied the following positions, from right to left (south to north):

  1. Nicolas Oudinot and the XII Corps were on the Techritz heights;
  2. Étienne Macdonald and the XI Corps were near Breska [Birkau or Brěza], behind the Windmuhlenberg;
  3. Auguste Viesse de Marmont and the VI Corps were ahead of Salz Forstgen [Salzenforst] ;
  4. Henri-Gatien Bertrand Henri-Gatien Bertrand and the IV Corps support Marmont's left at Welka [Kleinwelka] and on the road to Hoyerswerda;
  5. The guard and cavalry were on the Dresden road, behind Goedau [Göda] ;
  6. Headquarters were at Salzenforst. On the eve of the battle, Napoleon went to the Salzenforster Chorberg [51.19324, 14.37649, altitude 266 m] to draw up his battle plan.
  7. The left wing, for its part, had not yet reached the battle site: the V Corps (Jacques Alexandre Law de Lauriston) remained at Weissig [Eichberg], the III (Ney) at Maukendorf, the VII (Jean-Louis-Ebénézer Reynier Jean-Louis-Ebénézer Reynier) in front of Hoyerswerda, and the II (Victor), which had advanced from Wittenberg towards Dahme and Golßen, was there in contact with the Prussians and Russians.

Theoretically, this represented 150,000 men facing 100,000 coalition troops. The Emperor's plan was to turn the Allies on their right, cutting off their line of retreat and forcing them to take refuge in the mountains to the south.

The fighting

On May 20, Napoleon gave the signal for the attack. The marshals began the planned maneuver. Oudinot was ordered to cross the river Spree from the right (south) at Singwitz, and Macdonald from the center at Bautzen, in order to divert the enemy's attention to his left wing. Marmont was to cross half a league downstream of the town, and Bertrand at Nimschütz and Nieder-Gurig.

The VI Corps was tasked with plugging the gap left by the IV Corps by supporting Ney on the left (north). Ney's mission was to attack Klix with the III, V and VII Corps, to bypass the enemy's right wing and to head for Wurschen. The Guard and reserves were posted behind Macdonald's XI Corps.

Macdonald seized the stone bridge The stone bridge in Bautzen [Heilige-Geist-Brücke] [51.17662, 14.41935] on the road from Dresden to Bautzen, which had not been destroyed; Oudinot built another one near Grabschütz [Grubschütz]; Marmont did the same downstream of Seydau [Seidau]. Bertrand and the IV Corps were unable to advance until Bautzen had been taken and Ney's corps engaged in battle.

After five hours of stubborn fighting, the VI Corps occupied Seydau, the XI Corps had taken the heights of Priswitz [Preuschwitz], and the XII Corps those of Ebendorf [Ebendörfel] and Postewitz [Grosspostwitz].

Marmont then had Jean Dominique Compans Jean Dominique Compans' division attack Bautzen, scaling the walls and ramparts to overwhelm the Russian defenders and capture the village, forcing Kleist and Miloradowich to pull their troops back behind the Nieder-Kayna stream and onto the heights of Jenkowitz and Weissig.

Meanwhile, the XII Corps advanced to the Kunitz heights, supported by the XI Corps on the Klein Jenkowitz heights. When Kleist and Miloradowich reached their entrenchments, Marmont took up position opposite them and on the undulating ground above, having captured the village of Nieder-Kayna, thus clearing the way for Bertrand.

The latter's IV Corps then crossed the Spree and came up against Hans Ernst Karl von Ziethen Hans Ernst Karl von Zieten's division, sent by Blücher to cover Pliskowitz [Pliesskowitz] and Doberschütz, while Ney's III and V Corps were only arriving in front of Klix, the VII having not yet presented itself.

Provisional balance

At seven o'clock in the evening, the first day of the battle was over. At eight o'clock, Napoleon entered Bautzen. He had achieved only part of his objectives: several of his corps had crossed the river Spree, but his line of battle was still cut by those of Blücher, who still occupied Krekwitz [Kreckwitz] Kreckwitz, and Barclay de Tolly, who held the villages of Klix and Gleina:

Aerial view of Gleina
Aerial view of Gleina

Moreover, although Ney has joined, he has not been able to bring all his forces with him and has not yet crossed the river, so the overflow of the coalition forces has not yet begun. Finally, the Allies were entrenched in a position they considered impregnable and which could still bring them victory. For them, this first day was merely a prelude to the general battle of the following day.

May 21, 1813: second day of the battle

New dispositions

On the 21st, the Allies made a few changes to their dispositions:

  1. Miloradowich took command of the left wing, reinforced by the troops of the Prince of Württemberg, and positioned himself on the heights overlooking the left of the entrenchments.
  2. These were occupied by Prince Gortchakov, between Baschütz and Hochkirch Hochkirch
  3. On his right were Kleist and Yorck, both under the command of Bluecher, who commanded the center around Litten and Krekwitz
  4. The right, under Barclay de Tolly, still controlled Gleina, Klix and Malschwitz Malschwitz
  5. Headquarters were moved to Klein Purschwitz, with reserves between Purschwitz and Kumschütz.

The fighting

The Allied command, which assumed that Napoleon would try to turn him to the south, was reinforced in this idea by the first French movements of the day.

The Emperor, who had taken up position on the heights of Nieder-Kayna, from where he could see most of the battlefield The battlefield seen from the Napoleonsberg at Niederkaina, view 1 The battlefield seen from the Napoleonsberg at Niederkaina, view 2 The battlefield seen from the Napoleonsberg at Niederkaina, view 3 with the exception of the northern part, first ordered Oudinot to give way.

Oudinot advanced towards Weissig and Rachlau, but met stiff resistance. Miloradowich, who believed that the French army's main effort would be against him, even took the offensive.

Oudinot then withdrew to his starting point, where he received the support of the XI Corps and supported the battle, with enough determination to convince the enemy that this was the focal point of the battle.

While the enemy's attention was thus drawn to the other end of the front, Ney, with the III and V Corps, took Klix, crossed the Spree and attacked Barclay, whose center was pushed in.

The Russian general retreated and reformed between Gleina and the Malschwitz pond A pond between Malschwitz / Pliesskowitz, where the fighting stabilized for a while.

Around 10 a.m., Barclay had to withdraw again, towards Baruth The manor of Baruth and Rackel The battlefield near Rackel.

Ney's two Corps pursued him and soon captured the village of Preititz The manor of Preititz Information panel at the manor of Preititz, exposing Blücher's right flank. But Ney's troops were in fact only arriving in a very staggered manner, so that the Prince of Moskowa was reluctant to advance fully before two o'clock.

Around one o'clock in the afternoon, Blücher sent Kleist to recapture Preititz, whose final loss would force him to abandon his position. The Prussians recaptured the village, but were unable to make any further progress. Ney took advantage of the situation to install his artillery on the Malschwitz heights and bombard the Krekwitz A farm in Kreckwitz entrenchments.

A view of the battlefield between Kreckwitz and Pliesskowitz
The battlefield between Kreckwitz and Pliesskowitz

Meanwhile, Napoleon launched the VI Corps against the enemy entrenchments along the road to Görlitz and Baschütz, in order to prevent the Allied left wing from coming to the rescue of the struggling right wing.

A little later, he instructed the IV Corps, under the command of Marshal Jean-de-Dieu Soult, to attack Blücher head-on. The French knocked out the Ziethen division at Pliskowitz and Doberschütz, then set up their artillery and began shelling the enemy's in front of Krekwitz.

Once the Allied guns had been silenced, the infantry, formed in column and supported by Württemberger cavalry, attacked the village, which was captured despite the reinforcements recalled from Preititz by Blücher.

Blücher retreated to Purschwitz, followed by the French IV Corps, and called in Yorck, who broke through Litten and recaptured Krekwitz.

But in so doing, the Allies had thrown their last troops into the battle. Napoleon immediately called in his reserves. The Guard and Victor de Faÿ de Latour-Maubourg Victor de Faÿ de La Tour-Maubourg's cavalry division came to the rescue of the IV Corps, flanking Yorck, then, as the latter began to withdraw, the Guard artillery disrupted his retreat with cannon fire. At the same time, the artillery of the IV Corps was also making its presence felt, stopping Blücher's attempts to return to the offensive.

By four o'clock in the afternoon, Ney had retaken the village of Preititz. But instead of marching immediately on Wurschen, as he had been instructed, he had seven of his divisions advance on the heights between Doberschütz and Klein-Bautzen.

The gathering of so many troops, mingling on their wings with other French corps, caused confusion that gave the allies time to withdraw in good order. It was not until five o'clock that Ney set off in the direction of Wurschen, with no chance of overrunning Barclay's and Kleist's corps on their right.

By seven o'clock, the III and V Corps were in Wurschen, while those of Bluecher, Yorck, Kleist and Barclay withdrew to Weissenberg.

On the French right (to the south), the VI Corps, which had penetrated the coalised entrenchments, pivoted to its right to take the enemy's left in reverse, while the XI Corps attacked the latter through Gross-Jenkowitz and the XII Corps resumed the offensive. Miloradowitch then had no option but to withdraw to Löbau.

Napoleon was still short of cavalry, and was unable to pursue the enemy with the necessary efficiency, leaving him to retreat in good order.

Assessment of the two days

On the evening of the battle, the French army stretched from Hochkirch to Wurschen, with French headquarters at the Klein Purschwitz [Neupurschwitz] inn Inn at Neupurschwitz Memorial stone next to the inn in Neupurschwitz [51.18891, 14.52069].

Allied losses were around 18,000 men, plus several thousand prisoners. French losses were between 12,000 and 15,000 men.

Although they themselves had chosen the terrain and provoked the confrontation where they had prepared everything to win, the Allies were once again defeated as a result of their inability to foresee and thwart Napoleon's strategic combinations.

Unfortunately for the French, Ney's poor choices sterilized a victory that could have turned into a triumph and seen the destruction of the allied army.

Aftermath of the battle

On the evening of May 21st, with little cavalry since the start of the Campaign in Germany (the losses of the previous year had not been compensated for), Napoleon was unable to chase the enemy with the necessary efficiency and had to let them retreat in good order.

It was not until the following day that the pursuit was organized. General Jean-Louis-Ébénézer Reynier's VIIth Corps, the Imperial Guard and Victor de Faÿ de La Tour-Maubourg's cavalry corps attacked Prince Eugen of Württemberg's corps at Reichenbach The Töpferberg near Reichenbach. The French won an inconsequential victory and continued their pursuit eastwards towards Görlitz.

Arriving at Markersdorf A field in Markersdorf The Markersdorf heights, during a halt near the Hanspach farm [51.14596, 14.88196], a Russian cannonball fired from the Hoterberg hill The Hoterberg hill at Holtendorf, view 1 The Hoterberg hill at Holtendorf, view 2 [51.15026, 14.91602], 2.4 kilometers away, killed General François-Joseph Kirgener de Planta François-Joseph Kirgener de Planta and mortally wounded Grand Marshal of the palace Géraud Michel Duroc, just a few meters from Marshal Edouard Mortier and Napoleon:

The Hanspach farm at Markersdorf
The Hanspach farm in Markersdorf, in front of which Grand Marshal of the palace Géraud Michel Duroc was mortally wounded

Transported to a room on the farm Hanspach farm in Markersdorf, Duroc died the next day, though not without a visit from the Emperor, who was deeply saddened by the loss of his friend. This loss was not unrelated to his decision to cease the pursuit.

General consequences

The battle of Bautzen and its aftermath had only weakened the belligerents, which was obviously more of a problem for Napoleon than for the Allies. Thus, on June 2nd, the Emperor was persuaded to conclude a seven-week armistice.

Meanwhile, on May 25, the Russian Marshal Peter Wittgenstein was relieved of his command in favor of Michael Barclay de Tolly.

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 -

The Battle of Bautzen is also known as the "Battle of Wurschen" and sometimes the "Battle of Hochkirch" (not to be confused with the Battle of Hochkirch between Austria and Prussia in 1758).

From April 21 to 26, 1945, a battle was fought on the same ground between the troops of the Red Army (reinforced by Polish divisions) and those of the Third Reich.

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.