I find this battle fascinating for so many reasons but given it’s timing, location and the fact that we here in England were worrying about our own domestic problems at the time it is not as well known as say Marston Moor or Naseby.
This battle had everything though, two outstanding commanders of very different schools, huge numbers of combatants, ebb and flow, a controversial and undecided outcome and the death of two of the protagonists. What more could one wish for?!
The Thirty Years War had been raging across what is now Germany, The Czech Republic and much of Europe for nearly 15 years. The complexities of the causes of the conflict are mind boggling and I do not pretend to understand them all. It is seen as a religious war between Catholics and Protestants but this simple sectarian justification masks the fact that in the end, as always it came down to dynastic rivalries, imperial expansionism and greed in the guise of religious zeal.
To keep the context of the battle simple I will refer to the two forces as Catholics and Protestants but let me be clear that this in no way to suggest that the armies were all either Papists or Puritans. Soldiers across Europe at this stage were whatever religion got them pay and food, and it was common for individuals to desert one camp for another and then back again depending on the conditions and prospect of loot. Even the armies commanders were prepared to consider a change of allegiance depending on which way the political winds, or gold was flowing.
Albrecht von Wallenstein
Supreme Commander of the Forces of the ( most Catholic) Habsburg Monarchy.
He was essentially a soldier of fortune who had played the system of raising regiments and obtaining contracts from the government so well that he had become one of the richest and most powerful men in the area. The ruler of a the Duchy of Friedland. His wealth and ambition caused concern for the Emperor; Ferdinand II and he was released from service in 1630. However after a series of defeats by the Protestant forces of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden he was recalled.
A very capable commander his gifts were in the organisation and logistics of an army. Not lacking in tactical prowess he was getting a bit long in the tooth by 1632 to lead from the front.
King Gustavus Adolphus II of Sweden.
Probably the most famous commander to come out of this period, his tactical doctrine and fantastic leadership qualities have some list him as one of the great military commanders. A number of Protestant Scottish soliders served under his command and what they learnt from the charismatic King would be applied a decade later in the English Civil War.
Gottried Zu Pappenheim
A born again, devout Catholic and outstanding Cavalry commander he raised a regiment of Cuirassiers (heavy cavalry) and conducted an outstanding campaign behind Adolphus’ lines of communication which slowed the Swedish King’s ability to re-enforce his army quickly.
He was killed during this battle while leading his Cavalry straight in to the action.
Winter had come early to this part of what is now in central Germany. Wallenstein was convinced that given the conditions the fighting for 1632 was over and that both sides would now look to consolidate what they had and billet their armies in winter quarters. He sent Pappenheim with his Corps ahead and then marched his main headquarters towards Leipzig.
Adolphus on the other hand, not to be put off with heavy fog, sub zero temperatures and dreadful marching conditions decided that he wasn’t yet done for the year. He got intelligence of the fact that Wallenstein has split his force and resolved to attack!
Adolphus knew (roughly) where Wallenstein was and so on the morning of the 15th November 1632 he marched his army towards Lutzen hoping to intercept Wallenstein as he marched up the road that passed through this small town to Leipzig.
On approach he reached a large stream called the Rippach and on the other side of this was a regiment of Croat cavalry. Unfortunately for the Protestant King these outstanding light horseman put up a hell of a fight and seriously delayed his advance.
The result: Wallenstein was warned of Adolphus’ approach and sent word to Pappenheim to get his Bohemian backside back to Lutzen and to not spare the horses! (or words to that effect).
With the delay, Adolphus could not attack on the 15th as it was already late afternoon. As such he camped in battle array with a view to launching his attack first thing on the 16th November.
The following morning Adolphus set off towards his target. It was bitterly cold and a thick fog sulked across the area. This caused further delay for the Protestants who took a long time to get in to position for the advance.
Wallenstein had problems. He was out numbered in cavalry and though he had time to throw up defensive works along the length of the Lutzen to Leipzig Road, without Pappenheim, his left open to being outflanked by the protestant cavalry. To try and deter an attack on the left he moved his baggage and camp followers up to occupy the area where Pappenheim should have been. (He even got them to make fake flags out of bed sheets to make them look more like soldiers).
This didn’t fool Adolphus who after finally getting his army in position at 11am ordered an all out Cavarly attack on the Catholic left flank while his infantry pinned the enemies right and centre.
Things went well when the Finnish Hakkapelitta Cavalry smashed in to the Catholics left and the fake troops from the baggage train remembered they had important engagements elsewhere and fled. The Catholic left was now open to turn and it was simply a case of rolling up Wallenstein’s battle line…Or was it? In true Cavalry style who should ride over the hill at this moment but Pappenheim ahead of about 2500 cavalry! He smashed in to the Protestant cavalry and saved Wallenstein’s left wing. During the charge, Pappenheim took a cannon ball to the chest, knocking him from his horse and leaving him mortally wounded. One of the most incredible items preserved from this period is the note found on Pappenheim’s body from Wallenstein pleading for him to return to Lutzen. The note which has survived to this day is stained with Pappenheim’s blood from the injury he sustained. It is a fantastic poignant piece of history which I feel really brings the battle to life.
At around the same time that Pappenhiem fell, Adolphus who had been charging around like a man possessed rallying and cajoling different elements of this army lost his way in the fog and smoke and got separated from his life guard. Unfortunately for him, he ran straight in to a troop of enemy cavalry who recognised him, shot him, stabbed him and then shot him again. So ended the life of one of the most influential generals of the period. In something akin to a scene from a Hollywood film, as the smoke and fog thinned, Gustav’s white charger cantered along the battle line, riderless. The story of the Kings death swept through the Protestant army.
The combination of Pappenheim’s arrival and Adolphus’ death marked a shift in the battle. The Protestent’s momentum stalled. The Protestant infantry that had been assaulting Wallenstien’s centre failed to the take the entrenchments and began streaming back to their start positions.
The loss of the Swedish King had left the Protestant army leaderless. In to this breach stepped Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. He had been commanding on the left but upon hearing of the Kings death took command of the whole army. Obviously there was some discussion as to if he had authority to do so which was briskly settled when he shot and killed a Colonel who questioned his orders.
There is some debate as to whether the death of the King galvanised the army or whether Bernhard actually kept the fact of his death a secret. There can be no doubt at the very least there were rumours flying up and down the line that he was dead.
Bernhard reorganised his army and his Swedish Infantry once again threw itself at Wallenstien’s centre. This was a key position. The Catholics had placed three large batteries of cannon amongst three windmills on a ridge line. The Cannon were supported by entrenched musketeers along the road below the ridgeline. The Protestants threw everything at this position and finally took it as evening approached but at great cost and only thanks to some pretty poor showing by the Catholic cavalry reserve.
Wallenstein’s recognised at this point that his position was untenable and began an orderly withdrawal. This was about 6pm and though Pappenhiem’s infantry turned up about 6pm and wanted to counter attack the Swedes, Wallenstien refused the request.
There is some dispute over the extent of the Swedish Victory, Protestant propaganda obviously claimed a crushing victory but in reality the bloody assault on the Windmill Battery had cost them 6000 dead and wounded. The Catholics suffered less casualties but left the field in the hands of the enemy.
Though a tactical and strategic victory for the Protestants the butchers bill would have an impact on their ability to prosecute the war. They had lost their charismatic leader and the cream of their infantry. They achieved their objectives of pushing the Catholics out of Saxony but over the next few years, without Adolphus the Swedish interest in the war began to lose momentum and the Protestant cause lost direction.
Wallenstien would become less aggressive over the next few years and sensing the changing winds made overtures about switching sides. He had a number of enemies in the Habsbourg court including the Emperor and eventually his lack of political skill caught up with him he was assassinated by a group of men led by an English captain Walter Devereux on the 25th February 1634.
The Thirty Years War would trundle along bringing misery to tens of thousands for the next 16 years until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
If you have found this interesting please check out my website which is http://keepyourpowderdry.webs.com
I have a copy of this article but also some orders of battle and maps of the battle. Also a scenario for Impetus Barouqe (wargames rules) for the storming the Windmill Battery. I would be happy to receive any comments your have.
Lutzen 1632 by Richard Brzezinski http://www.ospreypublishing.com/store/L%C3%BCtzen-1632_9781855325524/
Europes Tragedy a History of the Thirty Years War by Peter H Wilson http://www.amazon.co.uk/Europes-Tragedy-History-Thirty-Years/dp/0713995920
- ► 2011 (21)