Combat of Dolnitz, 17 September (Bohemia)

The combat of Dolnitz (17 September 1813) saw the French briefly descend onto the plains south of Bohemian mountains, but after some limited fighting Napoleon decided to withdraw to Saxony, rather than risk fighting with a mountain range separating his army.

War of Liberation 1813 - Autumn Campaign
War of Liberation 1813 -
Autumn Campaign

Early in September Schwarzenberg's Army of Bohemia advanced towards Dresden, along both sides of the Elbe. Napoleon returned to Dresden, and pushed the Allies back into Bohemia. By 10 September he was at the Geiersburg, overlooking the flatter ground to the south of the mountains dividing Bohemia and Saxony, but decided not to take a chance to attack the Prussian and Russian components of the Army of Bohemia.

Victor, St. Cyr and Lobau were left to watch Schwarzenberg as Napoleon returned to Dresden. Clearly aware that the Emperor had left, Schwarzenberg attacked Lobau's advance guard at Nollendorf (14 September 1813), and pushed Lobau north along the 'New Road' from Dresden to Bohemia. Napoleon returned to the front with the Imperial Guard, and on 15 September pushed the Allies out of the spa town of Berggiesshübel on the Saxon side of the border and then out of Peterswalde (16 September) on the Bohemian side of the border.

This time Napoleon had access to a much better road down off the mountains, and on 17 September he advanced south from the mountains onto the plains, and then turned south-west, heading for Kulm. His objectives aren't entirely clear, but this was probably meant as a reconnaissance in force rather than as a full scale invasion of Bohemia.

At about 2pm Mouton-Duvernet's division, which had been given the task of making the Allies reveal their position, captured the village of Arbesau, just to the east of Kulm. The Allies were then forced out of their defensive positions and back towards Kulm. The French took advantage of this success, and established themselves in front of the village of Dolnitz (as yet unlocated).

This time Napoleon had been able to get his artillery off the mountains, and a violent cannonade of the Allied position began. This was followed by a fierce attack on the Allied position.

By now General Ornano's cavalry division from the Imperial Guard had reached the plains. Two squadrons from General Colbert's 2nd regiment de chevau-légers lanciers de la Gard impériale (better known as the Red Lancers), led by Lt. Colonel Verdiere, charged a battery of 24 Austrian guns, and overran it. Before they could bring away the guns, a stronger force of Allied cavalry appeared, and Verdiere was only able to escape with two guns.

French divisions were now beginning to arrive at Dolnitz and plans were put in place for an attack. The Allies then intervened. One column hit the left flank of the French army (attacking from Kninitz to the south-east of Nollendorf), and a second threatened their line of retreat via Nollendorf. Napoleon recalled the troops engaged on the plains. Mouton-Duvernet withdrew to Dolnitz and ended the day on the road to Nollendorf.

Napoleon spent the night at Peterswalde. On the morning of 18 September he visited Nollendorf and Kninitz (Kninice). His party was almost attacked by Allied cavalry, and he could see large numbers of fresh allied troops approaching the area. This helped convince him that he was not strong enough to risk fighting in Bohemia, and he withdrew back into Saxony. A week later Napoleon decided to abandon the entire area east of the Elbe, marking the start of the Leipzig campaign.  

 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 July 2017), Combat of Dolnitz, 17 September (Bohemia) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_dolnitz.html

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