1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lützen

LÜTZEN, a town in Prussian Saxony, in the circle of Merseburg (pop. in 1905, 3981), chiefly famous as the scene of a great battle fought on the 6/16th of November 1632 between the Swedes, under King Gustavus Adolphus, and the Imperialists, under Wallenstein. On the 5/15th November, Gustavus, with some 20,000 men, advanced from Naumburg on the Saale to meet a contingent of his German allies at Grimma, S.E. of Leipzig, but becoming aware of the presence of Wallenstein’s army near Lützen, and that it had been weakened by a large detachment sent away under Pappenheim towards Halle, he turned towards Lützen. Wallenstein’s posts at Weissenfels and Rippach prevented him from fighting his main battle the same evening, and the Swedes went into camp near Rippach, a little more than an hour’s march from Lützen.

Wallenstein made ready to give battle on the following day and recalled Pappenheim. The latter had taken a small castle, the reduction of which was one of the objects of his expedition, but his men had dispersed to plunder and could not be rallied before the following morning. Gustavus had now to choose between proceeding to Grimma and fighting Wallenstein on the chance that Pappenheim had not rejoined. He chose the latter. In the mist of the early morning Wallenstein’s army was formed in line of battle along the Leipzig road with its right on Lützen. Its left was not carried out as far as the Flossgraben in order to leave room on that flank for Pappenheim. His infantry was arranged in five huge oblongs, four of which (in lozenge formation) formed the centre and one the right wing at Lützen. These “battalias” had their angles strengthened in the old-fashioned way that had prevailed since Marignan, with small outstanding bodies of musketeers, so that they resembled rectangular forts with bastions. On either side of this centre was the cavalry in two long lines, while in front of the centre and close to the right at Lützen were the two batteries of heavy artillery. Lützen was set on fire as a precaution. Skirmishers lined the bank and the ditch of the Leipzig road. The total strength of the Imperial army was about 12,000 foot and 8000 horse.

Britannica 1911 Lützen 1632 Battle Map.png

Gustavus’s hopes of an early decision were frustrated by the fog, which delayed the approach and deployment of the Swedes. It was 8 a.m. before all was ready. The royal army was in two lines. The infantry in the centre was arrayed in the small and handy battalions then peculiar to Gustavus’s army, the horse on either wing extended from opposite Lützen to some distance beyond Wallenstein’s left, which Pappenheim was to extend on his arrival. By the accident of the terrain, or perhaps, following the experience of Breitenfeld (q.v.), by design, the right of the Swedes was somewhat nearer to the enemy than the left. In front, near the centre, were the heavy guns and each infantry battalion had its own light artillery. The force of infantry and cavalry on either side was about equal, the Swedes had perhaps rather less cavalry and rather more infantry, but their artillery was superior to Wallenstein’s. Not until 11 was it possible to open fire, for want of a visible target, but about noon, after a preliminary cannonade, Gustavus gave the word to advance.

The king himself commanded the right wing, which had to wait until small bodies of infantry detached for the purpose had driven in the Imperialist skirmish line, and had then to cross a ditch leading the horses. They were not charged by the Imperialists at this moment, for Pappenheim had not yet arrived, and the usual cavalry tactics of the day were founded on the pistol and not on the sword and the charging horse. Gaining at last room to form, the Swedes charged and routed the first line of the Imperial cavalry but were stopped by the heavy squadrons of cuirassiers in second line, and at that moment Gustavus galloped away to the centre where events had taken a serious turn. The Swedish centre (infantry) had forced their way across the Leipzig road and engaged Wallenstein’s living forts at close quarters. The “Blue” brigade—Gustavus’s infantry wore distinctive colours—overran the battery of heavy guns, and the “Swedish”[1] and “Yellow” brigades engaged the left face of the Imperialist lozenge with success. But a gap opened between the right of the infantry and the left of the cavalry and Wallenstein’s second line squadrons pressed into it. It was this which brought Gustavus from the extreme right, and he was killed here in leading a counter charge.

On the extreme left, meanwhile, the “Green” brigade had come to close quarters with Wallenstein’s infantry and guns about Lützen, and the heavy artillery had gone forward to close range between the “Green” and the “Yellow” infantry. But the news of Gustavus’s death spread and the fire of the assault died out. Wallenstein advanced in his turn, recaptured his guns and drove the Swedes over the road.

But the fiery Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar took up the command and ordered a fresh advance. He was too good a soldier to waste his reserves and only brought up a few units of the second line to help the disordered brigades of the first. Again the Imperialists were driven in and their guns recaptured, this time all along the line. About three in the afternoon the Swedes were slowly bearing back Wallenstein’s stubborn infantry when Pappenheim appeared. The famous cavalry leader had brought on his mounted men ahead of the infantry and asking, “Where is the king of Sweden?” charged at once in the direction of the enemy’s right. Wallenstein thus gained time to re-establish his order, and once more the now exhausted brigades of the Swedish first line were driven over the road. But Pappenheim fell in the moment of victory and his death disheartened the Imperialists almost as much as the fall of Gustavus had disheartened the Swedes. For the last time Bernhard, wounded as he was, forced the Swedish army to the attack. The three infantry brigades of his second line had not been engaged,[2] and as usual the last closed reserve, resolutely handled, carried the day. Wallenstein’s army gave way at all points and the Swedes slept on the battlefield. The infantry of Pappenheim’s corps did not appear on the field until the battle was over. Of the losses on either side no accurate statement can be given, but the Swedish “Green” and “Yellow” brigades are said to have lost five-sixths of their numbers. Near the spot where Gustavus fell a granite boulder was placed in position on the day after the battle. A canopy of cast-iron was erected over this “Schwedenstein” in 1832, and close by, a chapel, built by Oskar Ekman, a citizen of Gothenburg (d. 1907), was dedicated on the 6th of November 1907.

Lützen is famous also as the scene of a victory of Napoleon over the Russians and Prussians on the 2nd of May 1813 (see Napoleonic Campaigns). This battle is often called Gross Görschen.

Bibliography.—The foregoing account of Gustavus’s last victory is founded chiefly upon Lieut.-Colonel Hon. E. Noel’s Gustaf Adolf (London, 1904) and a paper by the same officer in the Journal of the United States Institution of India (Oct. 1908), which should be consulted for further details.

  1. So called as being the only brigade containing no foreign elements in the army.
  2. They had, however, found detachments to reinforce the first line.