Although still officially in a period of armistice, Napoleon wrote Davout on 5th August outlining his plan for a new campaign. The initial objective was Berlin. Davout’s role was to strike east with his field army in support of Marshal Nicolas-Charles Oudinot, who would be attacking north towards Berlin with four corps totaling 60,000 men. The purpose would be to protect the left flank of Oudinot’s army and to crush Bernadotte’s Swedish corps between them. At this time, Davout’s forces were opposed only by a relatively small Allied force (25,000) of mixed nationalities under General Ludwig Wallmoden.
The 13th Corps, advanced as far as Schwerin by the 23rd August. Davout established his headquarters in Schwerin, and there the 13th Corps remained, conducting reconnaissance patrols, but not moving forward.
On 2 September, Davout received word that Oudinot had been defeated 20 miles outside Berlin on August 23rd at Gross Beern and was retreating. Davout immediately fell back to a line along the Stecknitz Canal between Lauenburg and Ratzeburg to cover Hamburg.
Davout XIII Corps held the Lauenburg - Ratzeburg – Lübeck line along the Stecknitz Canal from 4th September until 13th November. The newly-arrived and newly-promoted Général de division Marc Pecheux took over the 50th Division, and Vichery was shifted over to the 40th Division.
Skirmishing with elements of Wallmoden’s corps continued through September all along the front, while elements of the Allied corps crossed to the left bank of the Elbe and began to attack the outposts that guarded Davout’s line of communications between Hamburg and Magdeburg. In an attempt to protect this line, Davout decided to send a detachment under General Pecheux across the Elbe with orders to clear the area to Magdeburg.
By an intercepted letter found on the person of a French artillery officer, who was taken prisoner near Mölln on the 12th, Wallmoden learnt of Davout plan. No time was, therefore, to be lost, and Wallmoden made the whole of the troops under his orders break up from Hagenow and Wittenburg the same night, and march for Dömitz on the Elbe, 30km east of Gohrde, where a pontoon bridge was already prepared.
The reference in the intercepted letter was confirmed by a notification which, it was ascertained, had been received by the authorities on the left bank of the river, directing preparations to be made for the reception of a corps of ten thousand men, and it further appeared that the object of this movement was to clear the neighbourhood of Magdeburg of the allied troops. A tempting opportunity was thus offered to Wallmoden to strike a blow; but it was not unattended with considerable risk; for the greater part of his troops would be thus removed from their line of defence, brought across a great river, and placed several marches from the point of passing, as well as from the rest of the corps, which meantime, would have to observe an enemy far superior in force. These were serious considerations, and such as, under other circumstances would, perhaps, have been sufficient to deter the general from risking the expedition; but encouraged by the timid and irresolute conduct of his opponent during the preceding operations, he felt that he was justified in making the attempt.
Leaving, therefore, the Swedish division, and about six thousand of the new levies, with a regiment of Cossacks and two guns to observe the enemy’s line on the Stecknitz, he assembled at Dömitz a force of some 15,000 men:
With this force Wallmoden passed the Elbe by the pontoon bridge at Dömitz on the night of the 14th and encamped the following day near Dannenberg. The advanced-guard under Tettenborn was pushed on to the Göhrde forest, beyond which, at Dahlenburg half way between Gohrde and Lunenburg, one hundred Cossacks were posted.
Pecheux with 3,500 men, one squadron of Chasseurs and eight guns, had crossed the Elbe at Zollenspieker on the day previous, and advancing through Luneburg to Dahlenburg they drove in the Cossacks, and occupied the Göhrde with their advance guard. The main body encamped behind the forest and near the village of Oldendorf, where a piece of table land, separated from the forest by deep ravines and similarly secured on the flanks, offered an excellent position.
Calculating that the enemy would continue in march on the 16th, Wallmoden closed up the main body of his corps to the vanguard at about five miles from the Göhrde and so placed it that, covered by the inequalities of the ground, he could attack the enemy in march before they were aware of his presence. The advance guard of Cossacks remained in front to mask this manoeuvre; and to cover the retreat two battalions and three squadrons were left in Dannenberg.
|Two Alternative Maps of the battle|
Battle of the Göhrde
The Cossacks were driven into Metzingen, half-way towards the position of Wallmoden's main body, on the morning of the 16th, but noon had arrived without any further movement on the part of the enemy. This led Wallmoden to fear that the French General was either about to retreat, or contemplated involving the allied troops in protracted manoeuvres on the left bank of the Elbe; he, therefore, took the opinion of his general officers upon the most advisable course to pursue, and, it being decided that the allies should fall upon the enemy without delay, chose a plan for a simultaneous assault upon the enemy’s flanks, rear and centre in three columns.
Six battalions and one regiment of cavalry of the Russian German Legion, together with captain Kuhlmann’s battery of horse artillery of the King’s German Legion were to march under General von Arentschildt through the left side of the forest, taking the roads by Rieberau and Röthen, and moving upon the enemy’s left flank and rear.
Consisting of Tettenborn’s Cossacks, the main part of the artillery, the Jagers and Lutzow Freikorps, the Hanoverian infantry under General Lyon, advancing by the high Lüneburg road, were to fall upon his front.
The remainder of the cavalry under General Dörnberg, with captain Sympher’s battery of artillery and the English rockets, were to flank the attack on the right.
The troops under Arentschildt having to make a great detour before they could arrive at the point of attack, were put in march at twelve o’clock, and one hour afterwards, the columns of Dörnberg and Lyon began to advance on the right and centre.
Just at the moment when the advance-guard of the centre column had commenced skirmishing with the Pecheux’s light troops in the forest, the sound of cannon fire was heard to come from the other side of the Elbe, in the neighbourhood of Boitzenburg, plainly denoting an attack of the French in that quarter. Wallmoden, however, did not allow himself to be embarrassed by the difficulties to which this movement might naturally have been expected to give rise, but directed the light troops of Lützow and Reiche to press forward into the forest, while Tettenborn’s Cossacks advanced on their flank. The French retired, skirmishing, and covered by repeated charges of their chasseuers, upon the main body, at the Steinke Hill the strong position of which only now became fully apparent to the allied commander.
In front was a deep marsh, which stretching towards the Elbe and Bleckede, was lost in a hollow intersected with clefts and trees. The village of Lüben was before their left, and that of Oldendorf in front of their right wing; the troops were drawn out in line upon the table land behind these villages, having their artillery in front, and no sooner did the advance of the allies appear than a heavy fire was opened upon them.
Tettenborn replied from four guns, with which Captain Wiering’s battery, sent forward by General Lyon, soon united its fire, though at this point it was still largely ineffective. However the attack by the Freikorps infantry and cavalry on the French main position was repulsed with terrible losses, Major von Lutzow himself was wounded seriously.
About half an hour later Arentschildt, leading his columns from the forest, brought his artillery also into action, finally around 4 o'clock Arentschildt arrived in front of Oldendorf, though it was to be another hour before Wallmoden ordered a coordinated attack by all his troops, as all the artillery was brought up.
The French surprised at seeing a large body of infantry where they only expected light troops, began to make immediate dispositions for retreat; the absence of their General, however, who was in front with his advanced posts, delayed these movements, and he had scarce arrived, when the allies commenced the attack. He however remained remarkably cool and calmly issued his orders. So far he was doing well, his artillery was effective in supporting his defensive position and the Chasseurs-a-Cheval although small in number were very active repeatedly charging from behind the Steinke Hill, particularly towards Luben and Dornberg's cavalry, his losses were small, only a single gun had been lost to the Freikorps. Even when a charge by the 3rd Hanoverian Hussars finally managed to break into his main position the overall situation was still little changed.
Around 5:30pm Arentschildt’s infantry charging with the bayonet on the left, gained possession of the village of Oldendorf and then took Eichdorf at 6:00pm with a single battalion though quickly supported by horse artillery, while the cavalry of Dörnberg on the right assailed the opposite flank. Arentschildt’s battalions met with a fierce resistance, and nearly one hundred of his brave followers were killed and wounded; but the French column had been shaken by the charge, and bringing up his regiment of hussars, they, in a most gallant assault, completed the defeat of the opposing mass.
Dreading now the onset of Dörnberg’s cavalry on the left, the French formed their columns into squares, and commenced a well ordered retreat, pouring a murderous fire from each square, as it successively fell back. General Pécheux accepting now that he would not be able to hold his position had decided to retreat to the north over Eichdorf and Breese the only route left open to him.
The fire of the horse artillery and rockets was brought to bear upon the French, but it had produced little effect, when the 3rd Hussars of the King’s German Legion were ordered to charge. Led on by Major Küper, the hussars rode boldly forward against the square which was in advance; but a hollow way not visible at a distance, appeared, on a nearer approach, to run in front of the square, and the squadrons, being unable to pass it, failed in the intended attack, while Captain von Beila and several men and horses were wounded by the enemy’s fire.
Moving, however, round the left flank of the enemy, three squadrons of the hussars formed in front of one of the rear squares, which they charged with distinguished gallantry and complete success, but experienced the loss of captain von Hugo, and cornet Bremer killed, and Captains von Both and Heise wounded, besides many men and horses. The remaining squadrons now broke a third square, and a bold soldier of the fifth squadron, named Heymann, seizing the enemy'’ General Milozinsky, dragged him, with the aid of sergeant Wedemeyer from the midst of the disordered troops. (Corporals Duntemann and Schaper, as well as hussars Stenzig and Schwan were also conspicuous for their gallantry in the attack on the enemy’s squares.)
Meantime the square against which the first attack of the hussars had failed, was charged by the infantry brigade of Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Halkett, consisting of the battalions of Lauenburg, Langrehr, and Bennigsen, which falling fiercely upon the enemy with the bayonet, forced them to give way, and the hussars pressed after the fugitives.
The French continued to form again in the rear, and they maintained an obstinate resistance in retreat, until the repeated charges of the allies, and the destructive fire of their artillery and rockets, spread such terror through the retiring ranks, that order could no longer be preserved, and breaking, they fled in all directions.
This general disorder soon communicated itself to the troops which had been placed to cover their retreat, and the pursuit having been pushed on to Nahrendorf, the enemy found themselves cut off from the road to Dahlenburg, and obliged to retire by Bleckede, their general, stripped of his horses and baggage, saving himself on foot. About half past seven in the evening, Wallmoden committed the pursuit to the Cossacks and drew back the remainder of the troops to the Göhrde castle, where they encamped.
The day after
The French crossed the Elbe again at Zollenspieker on the following morning, and Tettenborn advancing to Harrburg, cut off all their communications with the left bank of that river. The loss of the Elbe river line and the freedom of movement it gave Blucher was to have a major impact a few days later at Leipzig.
The loss of the French in this engagement amounted to somewhere between one to two thousand killed and taken prisoner, among the latter were General Milozinsky, Colonel Fitzjames aide-de-camp to General Pecheux; Colonel Bourdon, and several other officers. Eight pieces of cannon and twelve ammunition wagons were also captured by the allies. The Allies were to claim nearly two thousand men in killed and wounded, besides fifteen hundred prisoners.
The loss of the allied corps amounted to fifty officers, five hundred men, and two hundred horses; of the King’s German Legion, the third hussars were the principal sufferers; Captain von Hugo, Cornet Bremer, eleven rank and file, and forty-seven horses were killed, and Captains von Beila, von Both, Heise, Adjutant von Bruggemann, Lieutenant von Humboldt, Cornet Oelkers, sixty-four rank and file, and seventy-six horses were wounded.
From want of wagons, many of the wounded were obliged to be left on the field during the night, when the rain fell in torrents, and in the course of the following week, Captains Beila, von Both, and nine hussars of the third died of their wounds.
In 1985 a mass grave containing a thousand bodies from both sides of the conflict was discovered, the site is today marked with a plaque that bears the inscription: "In memory of the soldiers buried here: French, English, Russian and German from battle of 09/16/1813."
|An Interesting Map at the local site|
Order Of Battle:
Schlacht an der Göhrde
Battle of the Göhrde
Kings German Legion
History of the King’s German Legion Vol II, Ludlow Beamish, North
Gefallene und Verwundete der Göhrdeschlacht
Die Schlacht an der Göhrde 1813 - Bastet, Marc
Die Schlacht bei der Göhrde, 16. September 1813 - Benno Bode
Die Schlacht an der Göhrde. Lützows wilde verwegene Jagd - Ernst-August Nebig
Das Treffen an der Göhrde am 16. September 1813 - Bernhard Schwertfeger
Beiheft zum Militärwochenblatt - Schwertfeger
Geschichte Des Herbstfeldzuges Band 2 - Friederich
Geschichte der Nordarmee, Berlin 1894, 2 - Quistorp
Geschichte des Lützowschen Freicorps
Die Dömitzer Bilderhandschrift aus dem Jahr 1813: Thomas Hemmann
Hanoverian Light Battalions: 1813 - 1815
Hannoverian Freikorps and Landwehr of the Wars of Liberation: the Uniform Plates of Friedrich Neumann