At Blucher’s headquarters in Walbeck all was quiet by midnight 23 July. He has joined general Tauentzien, commander of 4th corps, earlier in the day and they were together when the cuirassier brigadier reported his clash with the French cavalry and his subsequent retreat. Blucher was outraged that the cuirassiers had retreated without a fight and ordered the unhappy brigadier to immediately deploy his brigade to the west of Walbeck in preparation for an advance at daylight.
Blucher suspected that at least one enemy corps was approaching him on the Hanover road. He was unaware that one days march to the south Bulow’s 3rd corps has also made contact with the enemy.
The Prussian CinC did not hesitate, he ordered Tauntzien to advance on Helmstedt at first light and take the village. He then had his usual large gin and went to bed. Tauntzien was his poorest corps commander but he would accompany 4th corps at first light and take command during the battle if necessary.
Just 15 miles to the west Davout worked late into the night at his headquarters in Helmstedt. He reasoned that the Prussians would have made preparations to hold Magdeburg, and that a powerful attack would be his best chance of victory.
VI corps was with him at Helmstedt, and XIII just one day’s march to the south at Marienborn. V corps and the cavalry reserve were one days march behind him at Brunswick.
He would use 24 July to concentrate all three corps between Helmstedt and Marienborn. On 25 July he would advance to Madgeburg and drive all before him. By 26 July he would have destroyed Blucher’s army, taken Magdeburg and be in possession of the river Elbe bridges. The Second French army would be poised to advance on Berlin.
He sent urgent messages to XIII corps, V corps and the cavalry reserve. Due to the large numbers of men concentrating in such a small area VI corps would have to move south to leave Helmstedt free for V corps. By midday there would be a solid defence line between Helmstedt and Marienborn.
These are the actual locations of each corps at daybreak.
In the north V corps and the cavalry reserve are at Brunswick. They can only move to Helmstedt along the single road L9 and L10. V corps was already in Brunswick when the cavalry reserve arrived, they will therefore lead the advance. This large body of men moving on a single road would delay their arrival at Helmstedt. V corps would arrive at 1600, but the cavalry reserve would not arrive until 2000.
At daybreak VI corps moved south into M11, making for M12. Their cavalry brigade would cover this move. This movement would be under way before the Prussians made their move towards Helmstedt
In the south XIII corps had orders to move from Wolfenbuttel to Marienborn. 3rd Prussian corps also had orders to move to Marienborn. The French cavalry were unable to hold the town, and withdrew into O10 to await the arrival of the remainder of XIII corps.
Due to the large area involved, there would be two seperate battles, one at Helmstedt and the other at Marienborn. Blucher and Davout were only aware of the fighting at Helmstedt, and would not receive news of Marienborn until nightfall.
The battle of Helmstedt
This is the area of fighting around Helmstedt. VI corps would complete their first move south before the Prussian cavalry arrived on the Walbeck road. The remainder of 4th Prussian corps would not arrive until 1200The Battle of Marienborn
The battle at Marienborn is more straight forward. Both commanders were aware that the enemy wanted to take the town. Both were determined that they would take it first. The two cavalry brigades were in contact at first light, and both VI corps and 4th corps would enter the battle area at 0800.