Monday, 15 June 2009

Campaign Diary 1 to 16 May 1813

16 May 1813 - End of Campaign

16 May 1813 - End of Campaign

Prussians complete their withdrawal to the west bank of the river Elbe.

They continue to hold bridgebeads at Magdeburg, Parey and Dessau.

This was a limited victory for the Prussians.

French advance to east bank and halt.

They have clearly failed to achieve their objectives of holding the line of the river Elbe.However they have contained the Prussians at the river line.

It was a defeat, but not a disaster.

15 May

The French rested after their day of victory.

Blucher ordered one corps to hold Magdeburg, and the other three to withdraw over the river Elbe. Only one corps could cross at Magdeburg, the others two withdrew to Colbitz and Calbe.

14 May 1813 - Battle of Magdeburg

14 May - Battle of Magdeburg - see battle report

This was the largest, and most decisive, battle of the campaign. All four corps of both armies took part, and it was very much "A Near Run Thing".

Blucher has two corps available at the start of the battle, with the remaining two corps due to arrive by mid morning. He took up a defensive postion at Magdeburg and waited for the French attack.

Davout planned to hold with his left and centre, whilst attacking with his right. He created a cavalry division by taking two brigades from his holding corps to support his attack. It started well, but was held by an aggressive Prussian counter attack.

The Prussians were slow to take advantage of this, and Davout quickly switched his attack to his left flank, holding with his centre and right. He used two corps for this attack, leaving the remaining two corps to hold the centre and right. This time he was successful drove the Prussian left back over the river Elbe. However he was unable to take Magdeburg.

Both sides suffered heavy casualties, and the Prussians withdrew over the river, but kept a strong bridgehead in Magdeburg. The French withdrew to Brunswick to regroup and reform.

13 May

Bluchers joy at taking Magdeburg was short lived. News soon arrived of a French advance in the north towards Halbeck, and of the retreat of his 4th corps to Colbitz. He still had possession of all the west bank, and Magdeburg. But what were the French up to? By now they should be in headlong retreat towards Hannover. He ordered his four corps to hold their present positions, and send cavalry forward to determine what the French were up to.

Davout had a busy day. His four corps marched at their best speed and all were in position at Seehausen by nightfall. His cavalry were busy throughout the day keeping the enemy cavalry at bay and preventing them from discovering the exact location of each corps. All was now ready for the critical battle of the campaign – the battle of Magdeburg.

12 May

Blucher ordered 1st and 3rd corps to attack Magdeburg and moved south with 3rd corps to supervise the action. When he arrived he found the city deserted, the French had abandoned the city without a fight. Blucher had achieved all of his campaign objectives.

Davout had not been idle. 13th corps were ordered to abandon the city and fall back to Seehausen. 4th and 6th corps were ordered to attack the isolated 4th Prussian corps at Halbeck. He led 6th corps north, but the Prussians withdrew to Colbitz at his arrival. At midnight Davout issued orders for a concentration of all his corps at Seehausen in preparation for an attack on Magdeburg.

11 May

Blucher must now make a decision about how best to exploit his third victory over the French. He could exploit his victory at Halbeck, and push on towards Hannover. However this would split his army and leave him open to a counter attack further west. Or he could move south to take Magdeburg and complete his stated mission. He decided on the latter course.

Confident that there was nothing more to fear from the French, he ordered 4th corps to hold Halbeck and 3rd corps to retreat to Colbitz. Once rested he would move on Magdeburg.

Davout was aware that he must abandon Magdeburg or risk the loss of 13th corps. He was also aware that if he allowed Blucher to consolidate his position west of the river, he would have to retreat to Hannover. He was determined to make one final effort to destroy the Prussians before they could consolidate.

He ordered 4th corps to retire to Wolfsburg and rest. 6th corps would move south to Seehausen to cover 13th corps withdrawal from Magdeburg. 5th corps would hold Groningen until this redeployment was complete, and would then move north to Seehausen

10 May 1813 - Battle of Halbeck

10 May – Battle of Halbeck – see battle report

Blucher led the attack on Halbeck. For the battle he created a cavalry reserve by taking the cavalry brigade from each corps. He approached the town with one corps on either side of the Colbitz-Halbeck road, and the cavalry off to the left. He was aware that there was only one French corps holding the town, and his cavalry were pushed forward to delay the approaching reinforcement.

Despite Davout’s best efforts, 6th corps was still in reserve when the battle started. 4th corps was in a good defensive position and at daybreak 6th corps moved forward to support them. He ordered them to deploy to the south of the town, but as they approached the Prussian cavalry advanced. 4th corps cavalry were outnumbered and routed. 6th corps cavalry went forward to cover their retreat, but were also pushed back. Meanwhile 4th corps was outnumbered two to one and forced to abandon Halbeck.

A third defeat for the French, but at least 6th corps were able to cover the retreat and the damage to 4th corps was not too serious.

9 May

Blucher was slow to build up his position at Colbitz. He spent the day redeploying 3rd and 4th corps around the town, and allowed the French to regroup to the west at Halbeck.

Davout did not waste any time at Halbeck. By mid morning 4th corps were in a strong defensive position around the town, and he was busy preparing 6th corps to become operational again. He was determined to be ready for the expected Prussian advance on Halbeck

8 May

Blucher was overjoyed at another victory, and this time in the vital north. 3rd corps was allowed to rest in Colbitz, and 4th corps to cross the river to support them. Further south he would hold his position in front of Magdeburg and at Calbe.

At first light Davout arrived in Halbeck to rally his shaken 6th corps. He brought 4th corps into the town and withdrew 6th corps to regroup west of Halbeck. He was aware that if the Prussians were allowed to take Halbeck he would be unable to hold.

7 May 1813 - Battle of Colbitz

7 May – Battle of Colbitz (see battle report)

Blucher was content to hold his two bridge heads north and south of Magdeburg, until he could reinforce the northern one and push forward towards Halbeck. He ordered 1st, 2nd and 3rd corps to hold and 4th corps to move north to Parey. Following their defeat at Calbe, he did not expect any offensive moves from the French.

Again Davout grasped the initiative. With the approach of 4th corps from the north, he wanted to retake Colbitz and secure his northern flank. He ordered 6th corps to retake the town, and 4th corps to move to Halbeck to support them.

The area between Halbeck and Colbitz is hilly and broken, and this aided the Prussian defence. The French advance was broken by the hills, and they delivered their attacks piecemeal down the valleys leading to Colbitz. The Prussians held their ground, and at nightfall the French fell back to Halbeck. It was another serious setback for the French.

6 May

Blucher’s plan of campaign called for an advance north of Magdeburg, to protect his communications with Berlin. Pleased with the victory to the south, he was still determined to stick to his original plan. He ordered 3rd corps, in the north, to cross the river and occupy Colbitz, 4th corps was ordered to move north to support them.

Davout was concerned at the loss of Calbe. The Prussians were now established on the west bank of the river. However he still held Magdeburg, 6th corps was immediately available and 4th corps approaching from the north. When he received reports of Prussian cavalry crossing the river to the north, at Colbitz, He ordered 6th corps to move north to Halbeck. 5th corps would regroup at Groningen and hold the southern flank.

5 May 1813 - Battle of Calbe

5 May – Battle of Calbe (see battle report)

Both sides consolidated their positions whilst waiting for the outcome of the battle. The Prussians attacked with great determination and drove the French out of Calbe. Under cover of darkness the French retreated towards Groningen. They would require at least two days to recover from their defeat.

4 May

Blucher’s main army arrived at the river Elbe. As night fell 1st corps arrived in sight of Magdeburg. 3rd corps, to the north, approached the river at Parey. 4th corps was held in reserve at Drewitz. But the most important news was from 2nd corps to the south. They had reached Dessau and fought a cavalry skirmish for possession of the town. The French were in position at Calbe. Blucher sent orders for 2nd corps to attack and seize Calbe.

For most of the day Davout had held Magdeburg with only the cavalry of 13th corps. Just as Prussian cavalry were approaching Mockern the remainder of 13th corps began to arrive. The city was secure.

Good news also from 6th corps, who had arrived at Seehausen just one days march to the east. Not so good from 4th corps, who were still 4 days march to the north. Most important of all, 5th corps had reached Calbe ahead of the Prussians. They reported a cavalry skirmish, and were taking defensive positions around the town.

3 May

The cavalry of 2nd Prussian corps reached the Elbe at Goswig, south of Magdeburg , and found the bridge intact and undefended. Blucher ordered them to cross and push on towards Dessau. His other three corps continued their race for the river.

Davout arrived in Magdeburg at midnight. Reports were coming in of large bodies of Prussians approaching from the east, and of a crossing far to the south at Goswig. 13th corps was approaching Magdeburg, but the other two corps were still 2 and 5 days march away. True to form he grasped the initiative and ordered 5th corps to march south to Calbe and 13th corps to replace them in Magdeburg. This would leave the city at risk for a few hours, but there were no reports of any Prussian troops within one days march of the city. He sent orders to 4th corps to abandon their careful march down the river and make straight for Magdeburg.

2 May

It was now a race to the Elbe, and the Prussians were winning. Blucher moved his headquarters to Potsdam, where he received reports from his cavalry that there was no sign of any French activity east of the river.

Leaving 6th corps to make its long journey to Magdeburg, Davout rode ahead to Brunswick and send orders to 5th corps to hold Magdeburg at all costs.

1 May 1813 - Start of Campaign

1 May – Start of Magdeburg Campaign

Prussia declares war on France and Prince Blucher is ordered to march on the river Elbe and capture Magdeburg. He immediately orders his four corps to march west, sending his cavalry ahead to recce crossing of the river north and south of Magdeburg.

180 miles to the west, at his headquarters in Hannover, Marshal Davout is well aware of the threat posed by the Prussian army. Only two of his four corps are immediately available for action, and are positioned on the river Elbe. The 4th corps is at Hamburg and the 5th corps at Magdeburg. Between them they had 80 miles of river to defend. The 13th corps was regrouping at Brunswick. They had suffered badly in Russia the previous year, but were not ready to take the field again. The newly formed 6th corps was under his personal command at Hannover, and was also ready to take the field.

As soon as he received notification of the Prussian declaration of war Davout ordered 6th and 13th corps to march to Magdeburg. 4th corps was ordered to move south along the west bank of the river Elbe, but to keep watch for any Prussian move on Hamburg.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I have asked to be notified before comments appear so that I will not miss them.