Battle of Lützen (1632)

Battle of Lützen (1632)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Lützen
partof=the Thirty Years' War

caption=The " Battle of Lützen " by Carl Wahlbom shows the death of King Gustavus Adolphus on November 16, 1632.
date=November 6 (O.S.) or November 16 (N.S.), 1632
place=Near Lützen, southwest of Leipzig, present-day Germany
result=Pyrrhic Swedish victory
Protestant German states
combatant2=flag|Holy Roman Empire
Catholic League
commander1=Gustavus Adolphus †,
Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar,
Dodo Knyphausen
commander2=Albrecht von Wallenstein,
Gottfried zu Pappenheim †,
Heinrich Holck
strength1=12,800 infantry
6,200 cavalry
60 guns
strength2=10,000 infantry
7,000 cavalry, plus 3,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry on arrival
24 guns
casualties1=3,400 dead
1,600 wounded or missing
casualties2=Probably exceeding the Swedish casualties []

The Battle of Lützen was one of the most decisive battles of the Thirty Years' War.

Prelude to the battle

Two days before the battle, on November 14th (in the Gregorian calendar, 4th in the Julian calendar) the Roman Catholic general Wallenstein decided to split his forces and retreat his main headquarters back towards Leipzig. He expected no further move that year from the Protestant army, led by the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, since unseasonably wintry weather was making it difficult to camp in the open countryside. Gustavus Adolphus, however, planned otherwise. On the early morning of November 15, his army marched out of camp towards Wallenstein's last-known position and attempted to catch him by surprise. But his trap was sprung prematurely on the afternoon of November 15, by a small force left by Wallenstein at the Rippach stream, about 5-6 kilometres south of Lützen town. A skirmish delayed the Swedish advance by two or three hours, so that when night fell the two armies were still separated by about 2-3 kilometres (1-2 miles).

Wallenstein had learned of the Swedish approach on the afternoon of November 15. Seeing the danger, he dispatched a note to General Pappenheim ordering him to return as quickly as possible with his army corps. Pappenheim received the note after midnight, and immediately set off to rejoin Wallenstein with most of his troops. During the night, Wallenstein deployed his army in a defensive position along the main Lützen-Leipzig road, which he reinforced with trenches. He anchored his right flank on a low hill, on which he placed his main artillery battery.

The day of battle

Morning mist delayed the Swedish army's advance, but by 9 AM the rival armies were in sight of each other. Because of the complex network of waterways and a great deal of misty weather, it took until 11 AM before the Protestant force was deployed and ready to launch its attack. Initially, the battle went well for the Protestants, who managed to outflank Wallenstein's weak left wing. The much feared and respected Finnish Hakkapeliitta cavalry, under their colonel Torsten Stålhandske played a key role in this action, spreading terror into the Imperial rear and panicking Wallenstein's baggage train. Just as disaster seemed imminent, Pappenheim arrived with 2,000-3,000 cavalry and halted the Swedish assault. This made Wallenstein exclaim, "Thus I know my Pappenheim!". However, during the charge, Pappenheim was fatally wounded by a small-calibre Swedish cannonball. At the same time, Pappenheim's counterattack collapsed, his troops mortified to see their beloved commander fatally wounded before their eyes. He died later in the day while being evacuated from the field in a coach.

The cavalry action on the open Imperial left wing continued, with both sides deploying reserves in an attempt to gain the upper hand. Soon afterwards, towards 1 PM, Gustavus Adolphus was himself killed leading a cavalry charge on this wing. However, in the thick mix of gunsmoke and fog covering the field, his fate remained unknown for some time. However, when the fog and smoke from the gunnery ceased, his horse was seen between the two lines, Gustavus himself not on it and nowhere to be seen. His disappearance paralysed the initiative on the hitherto victorious Swedish right wing, while a search was conducted. His partly stripped body was found an hour or two later, and was secretly evacuated from the field in a Swedish artillery wagon.

Meanwhile, the veteran infantry of the Swedish centre had continued to follow orders and attempted to assault the strongly entrenched Imperial centre and right wing. Their attack was a catastrophic failure - they were first decimated by Imperial artillery and infantry fire and then ridden over by Imperial cavalry charging from behind the cover of their own infantry. Two of the oldest and most experienced infantry units of the Swedish army, the 'Old Blue' Regiment and the Yellow or 'Court' Regiment were effectively wiped out in these assaults; remnants from them streamed to the rear. Panic spread among the Protestant ranks, made worse by rumours of the king's death. Soon most of the Swedish front line was in chaotic retreat. The royal preacher, Jakob Fabricius, rallied a few Swedish officers around him and started to sing a psalm. This cool act calmed the minds of many of the shaken soldiers, who halted in hundreds. The calm thinking of Swedish third-in-command 'Generalmajor' Dodo Knyphausen also helped staunch the rout: he had kept the Swedish second or reserve line well out of range of Imperial gunfire, and this allowed the broken Swedish front line to rally.

By about 3 PM, the Protestant second-in-command Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, having learned of the king's death, returned from the left wing and now assumed command over the entire army. It seems that, contrary to the popular legend, he kept the secret of the king's death from the army as a whole, but vowed to personally avenge the king by winning the battle or to die trying. However, his efforts went in vain. A soldier soon discovered the death of Gustavus Adolphus.

The effect it had upon the Swedish soldiers was not what Saxe-Weimar thought. The effect it had on the soldiers was similar to the effect Theodoric's death had upon the Visigoths during the Battle of Chalons. A general cry soon rose up from Gustavus' army. "They have killed the King! Avenge the King!," shouted soldiers from Gustavus' army. His soldiers charged Wallenstein's men.

It was a grim fight, with terrible casualties on both sides. Finally, with dusk falling, the Swedes captured the linchpin of Wallenstein's position, the main Imperial artillery battery. The Imperial forces retired back out of its range, leaving the field to the Swedes. At about 6PM, Pappenheim's infantry, about 3,000-4,000 strong, after marching all day towards the gunfire, arrived on the battlefield. Although night had fallen, they wished to carry out a counter-attack on the Swedes. Wallenstein, however, believed the situation hopeless and instead ordered his army to withdraw to Leipzig under cover of the fresh infantry.

Strategically and tactically speaking, the battle of Lützen was a Protestant victory. Wallenstein was forced out of Saxony where he had hoped to winter his troops at Saxon expense, and retreated to Bohemia. Having been forced to assault an entrenched position, Sweden lost about 6,000 men including badly wounded and deserters. The Imperial army probably lost a little more then 6,000 men.


The Protestant army achieved its main goal of the campaign - to rescue Saxony from the Imperial onslaught. A more long-lasting consequence of the battle was the death of the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, leader of the Protestant forces. Without him to unify the German Protestants, their war effort lost direction. The Catholic Habsburgs had time to recoup their losses and regain their balance, and the war continued until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.


At this time, the Catholic Holy Roman Empire used the Gregorian calendar, but Protestant Sweden still used the Julian calendar. Hence the Battle of Lützen occurred on November 16 for the Catholics but on November 6 for the Swedes. In Sweden, the death of Gustavus Adolphus has a long tradition of being commemorated on November 6, despite the country's adoption of the Gregorian calendar in the 18th century.


* cite book
first = Richard | last = Brzezinski
title = Lützen 1632
location = London
publisher = Osprey Publishing
year = 2001
id = ISBN 1-85532-552-7

*cite book |author=Weir, William |title=50 Battles That Changed the World: The Conflicts That Most Influenced the Course of History |publisher=Barnes and Noble Books |location=Savage, Md |year= |pages= |isbn=0-7607-6609-6 |oclc= |doi=

See also

* [ "The Great and Famous Battel of Lutzen...", transcription]
* Battle of Lützen (1813)
* Lützen

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