- For the World War II battle, see Battle of Bautzen (1945)
Battle of Bautzen Part of the War of the Sixth Coalition
Battle of Bautzen
Date 20–21 May 1813 Location Bautzen, Saxony Result French tactical victory, strategically inconclusive Belligerents French Empire Kingdom of Prussia,
Commanders and leaders Napoleon I,
Gebhard von Blücher,
Strength 115,000 96,000 Casualties and losses 20,000 11,000-20,000
In the Battle of Bautzen (20–21 May 1813) a combined Russian/Prussian army was pushed back by Napoleon, but escaped destruction, some sources claim, because Michel Ney failed to block their retreat. The Prussians under Count Gebhard von Blücher and Russians under Prince Peter Wittgenstein, retreating after their defeat at Lützen were attacked by French forces under Napoleon I, Emperor of the French.
The Prusso-Russian army was in a full retreat following their defeat at the Battle of Lützen. Finally, generals Wittgenstein and Blücher were ordered to stop at Bautzen by Tsar Alexander I and König Frederick William III. The Prusso-Russian army was nearly 100,000 men strong, but Napoleon had 115,000 troops. Additionally, Marshal Ney had 85,000 more men within easy marching distance. Wittgenstein formed two defensive lines, with the first holding strongpoints in villages and along ridges and the second holding the bridges behind a river bend. Napoleon had planned to pin down his enemies to their lines and then trap them with Ney's troops. However, due to faulty reconnaissance, he became concerned that the Prusso-Russians had more soldiers and held stronger positions than they actually did. So Napoleon then decided he would not set up his trap until they had been softened up.
After an intense bombardment by the grande batterie of Napoleon's artillery and hours of heated fighting, the French overpowered the first defensive lines and seized the town of Bautzen. The Prusso-Russians appeared to be buckling. By nightfall, the French were ready to cut the allies off from their line of retreat. But Marshal Ney became confused and his faulty positioning left the door open for the Allies to escape.
Fighting on the following day, the 21st, was again hard and after several hours of setbacks, renewed French attacks began to gain momentum. But these assaults were only intended to fix the allies in place so they could be cut off and enveloped. Once again, Marshal Ney became distracted and decided to seize the village of Preititz, and thus lost sight of the strategic importance of cutting off the allies.
The Prusso-Russians were being pushed back across the river and, at 4 PM, when the Imperial Guard was sent in, began an all-out retreat. Without Ney's forces to seal them in, however, they again escaped the total defeat Napoleon had planned. Losses on both sides totaled around 20,000. But some other sources (e.g. Dr. Stubner) also say that the losses on French side were significantly higher because of their aggressive attack tactics which failed to cut off the allies from their lines and the allies only lost 11,000 - 14,000. The French victory at Bautzen is therefore often called a Pyrrhic victory.
Although a success for the French, Bautzen was not the decisive, strategic result Napoleon was looking for. Ney's failure to cut the line of retreat robbed the French of complete victory. Once more Napoleon had to settle for a narrow, tactical victory. To make matters worse, during the battle, Napoleon's close friend and Grand Marshal of the Palace, General Geraud Duroc, was mortally wounded by a cannonball and died hours after the battle. Following Bautzen, Napoleon agreed to a seven-week truce with the Coalition, requested by the Allies on 2 June 1813, the armistice (Armistice of Pleischwitz) was signed on 4 June, and lasted until 20 July, but later extended to 16 August. During this time he hoped to gather more troops, especially cavalry, and better train his new army. The allies, however, would not be idle, they too would mobilize and better prepare, and after hostilities were resumed, the Austrians joined the ranks of the allies. It is reported that Napoleon later (on Saint Helena) quoted, that his agreement to this truce was a bad mistake, because the break was of much more use to the allies than to him. The campaign would resume in August.
- Chandler, D., p.892.
- Chandler, D., p.897.
- Chandler, D. The Campaigns of Napoleon. Scribner, 1966.
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