20-21 May 1813

The Napoleonic Guide's Suggested Tours

Continuing their retreat from the mauling at Lutzen, the Prusso-Russian army of generals Wittgenstein and Blucher was finally ordered to halt at Bautzen by Tsar Alexander and King William Frederick III.

The Allied army was almost 100,000 men strong but was being followed by 115,000 under Napoleon Bonaparte, who had 85,000 more men under Marshal Ney within marching distance.

Wittgenstein drew his men up in two strong defensive lines along a 10-kilometre front, with strongpoints in villages and along ridges.

By the 19th, Bonaparte had set up his plan to pin the enemy to their lines and then bottle them up with Ney's men but, concerned that the Prusso-Russians had more men on the field than they actually had, the emperor would not spring his trap until they had been softened up.

The next day the attack began around midday. Hours of heavy fighting saw the French overpowering the first defensive lines and seizing the town of Bautzen itself.

By nightfall, the French were ready to cut the defenders off from their line of retreat but Ney became confused and his faulty positioning left the door open for the Allies to escape.

Fighting on the 21st was hard and after several hours the initial success of the renewed French attacks began to lose impetus.

Again Ney became distracted by tactical matters - the seizing of the village of Preititz - and lost sight of the strategic importance of his sealing the Allies in.

By 4pm, however, the Prusso-Russians were being pushed back and when the Imperial Guard was sent in they began an all-out retreat.

While Bautzen was a success for Bonaparte it was not a decisive result. Both armies lost some 20,000 men but Ney's failure to cut the line of retreat robbed the French of complete victory.


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