Thirty Years' War: Battle of Lutzen

Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden
Gustavus Adolphus. Public Domain

Battle of Lutzen - Conflict:

The Battle of Lutzen was fought during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648).

Armies & Commanders:


  • Gustavus Adolphus
  • Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar
  • Dodo Knyphausen
  • 12,800 infantry, 6,200 cavalry, 60 guns


Battle of Lutzen - Date:

The armies clashed at Lutzen on November 16, 1632.

Battle of Lutzen - Background:

With the early onset of winter weather in November 1632, Catholic commander Albrecht von Wallenstein elected to move towards Leipzeig believing that the campaign season had concluded and that further operations would not be possible. Splitting his army, he sent the corps of General Gottfried zu Pappenheim on ahead while he marched with the main army. Not to be discouraged by the weather, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden decided to strike a decisive blow with his Protestant army near a stream known as the Rippach where he believed von Wallenstein's force was encamped.

Battle of Lutzen - Moving to Battle:

Departing camp early on the morning of November 15, Gustavus Adolphus' army approached the Rippach and encountered a small force left behind by von Wallenstein. Though this detachment was easily overpowered, it delayed the Protestant army by a few hours. Alerted to the enemy's approach, von Wallenstein issued recall orders to Pappenheim and assumed a defensive position along the Lutzen-Leipzig road. Anchoring his right flank on a hill with the bulk of his artillery, his men quickly entrenched. Due to the delay, Gustavus Adolphus' army was behind schedule and encamped a few miles away.

Battle of Lutzen - Fighting Begins:

On the morning of November 16, the Protestant troops advanced to a position east of Lutzen and formed for battle. Due to heavy morning fog, their deployment was not completed until around 11:00 AM. Assessing the Catholic position, Gustavus Adolphus ordered his cavalry to assault von Wallenstein's open left flank, while the Swedish infantry attacked the enemy's center and right. Surging forward, the Protestant cavalry quickly gained the upper hand, with Colonel Torsten Stalhandske's Finnish Hakkapeliitta cavalry playing a decisive role.

Battle of Lutzen - A Costly Victory:

As the Protestant cavalry was about to turn the Catholic flank, Pappenheim arrived on the field and charged into the fight with 2,000-3,000 horsemen ending the imminent threat. Riding forward, Pappenheim was struck by a small cannonball and mortally wounded. Fighting continued in this area as both commanders fed reserves into the fight. Around 1:00 PM, Gustavus Adolphus led a charge into the fray. Becoming separated in the smoke of battle, he was struck down and killed. His fate remained unknown until his rider-less horse was seen running between the lines.

This sight halted the Swedish advance and led to a rapid search of the field which located the king's body. Placed in an artillery cart, it was secretly taken from the field lest the army become disheartened by their leader's death. In the center, the Swedish infantry assaulted von Wallenstein's entrenched position with disastrous results. Repulsed on all fronts, their broken formations began streaming back with the situation made worse by rumors of the king's death.

Reaching their original position, they were calmed by the actions of the royal preacher, Jakob Fabricius, and the presence of Generalmajor Dodo Knyphausen's reserves. As the men rallied, Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, Gustavus Adolphus' second-in-command, took over leadership of the army. Though Bernhard initially wished to keep the king's death a secret, news of his fate quickly spread through the ranks. Rather than causing to the army to collapse as Bernhard feared, the king's death galvanized the men and yells of "They have killed the King! Avenge the King!" swept through the ranks.

With their lines re-formed, the Swedish infantry swept forward and again assaulted von Wallenstein's trenches. In a bitter fight, they succeeded in capturing the hill and the Catholic artillery. With his situation rapidly deteriorating, von Wallenstein began retreating. Around 6:00 PM, Pappenheim's infantry (3,000-4,000 men) arrived on the field. Ignoring their requests to attack, von Wallenstein used this force to screen his retreat towards Leipzig.

Battle of Lutzen - Aftermath:

The fighting at Lutzen cost the Protestants around 5,000 killed and wounded, while Catholic losses were approximately 6,000. While the battle was a victory for the Protestants and ended the Catholic threat to Saxony, it cost them their most able and unifying commander in Gustavus Adolphus. With the king's death, the Protestant war effort in Germany began to lose focus and the fighting continued another sixteen years until the Peace of Westphalia.

Selected Sources

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Thirty Years' War: Battle of Lutzen." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). Thirty Years' War: Battle of Lutzen. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Thirty Years' War: Battle of Lutzen." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).