1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Breitenfeld

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BREITENFELD, a village of Germany in the kingdom of Saxony, 5½ m. N.N.W. of Leipzig, noted in military history. The first battle of Breitenfeld was fought on the 17th of September 1631, between the allied Swedish and Saxon armies under Gustavus Adolphus and the imperial forces under Count Tilly. The battlefield is a low ridge running east and west between the villages of Göbschelwitz and Breitenfeld, the position of the Imperialists lying along the crest from Göbschelwitz on the right to a point about 1 m. short of Breitenfeld on the left; opposite this position, and behind a group of villages on the Loberbach stream, lay the Swedish forces, flanked on their left by the Saxon contingent under the elector, who was assisted by Arnim. The villages formed the only obstacle on the gentle slope lying between the Loberbach and Tilly’s line; through these villages the Swedes defiled slowly, and formed up on the open ground beyond them. Tilly’s army was drawn up in a continuous line, the infantry ranged in heavy battalions in the centre, the cavalry on the wings, and the heavy artillery in a mass in front of the infantry. Gustavus arrayed the Swedes in two lines and a reserve, infantry in the centre, cavalry on the flanks, and the Saxons were drawn up in a similar formation on the left of the Swedish left-wing cavalry. So far as can be gauged the respective numbers were at least 32,000 Imperialists, 22,000 Swedes and 15,000 Saxons. The Swedish infantry was drawn up on an entirely novel system; each brigade of infantry, composed of several battalions, was formed in many small and handy corps of pikemen and musketeers, and parties of musketeers were also detached to support the cavalry. The guns were scattered along the front. The Saxons were ranged, like Tilly’s army, in heavy masses of foot and horse preceded by a great battery of guns. At 2 p.m. Pappenheim, commanding Tilly’s left wing, led forward the whole of his cavalry in a furious charge. Feeling the fire of the musketeers who were intercalated amongst the Swedish horse, Pappenheim swung round to his left and charged the Swedish right wing in flank. The Swedes of both lines promptly wheeled up, and after a prolonged conflict the Imperial horse were driven completely off the field. The attack of Tilly’s right wing under Fürstenberg directed against the Saxons was more successful. The Saxons were at once broken and routed, only a handful under Arnim maintaining the ground. Fürstenberg pursued the fugitives for many miles, and Tilly with the centre of infantry (which, considering the depth of its formations, must have possessed great manoeuvring power) rapidly followed him and formed up opposite the now exposed left of the Swedes. Thereupon the Swedes, in their light and handy formation, changed position rapidly and easily to meet him. Tilly’s attack was strenuously opposed, and at this moment the decisive stroke of the battle was delivered by the Swedish right wing, which, having disposed of Pappenheim, swung round and occupied the ground originally held by the Imperial infantry, seized Tilly’s guns, and with them enfiladed the enemy’s new line. This put an end to the attack of the Imperial foot, and before sunset Tilly was in full retreat, hotly pursued and losing heavily in prisoners. His losses on the field have been estimated at 7000 killed and wounded and almost as many prisoners, the Swedes lost about 2000 and the Saxons over 4000 men.

The village of Breitenfeld also gives its name to another great battle in the Thirty Years’ War (November 2, 1642), in which the Swedes under Torstensson defeated the Imperialists under the archduke Leopold and Prince Piccolomini, who were seeking to relieve Leipzig. The Swedish cavalry decided the day on this occasion also.