Another, longer, title for this page could have been: 'Coercing Tilly to Battle.' Pappenheim was impatient with his commander, Tilly. So impatient, he was insubordinate. It was Pappenheim who initiated the final assault on Magdeburg, not his commander, and it was Pappenheim who gave orders to set fire to some buildings after his men swept into the city, a fire that burst out of control to destroy most of Magdeburg, burning many people to death including some of Tilly's soldiers. Tilly had planned to use Magdeburg as a base after taking it. Instead, he got only ruins, plus a rallying cry for his enemies shocked at the depth of the destruction – including approximately 20,000 dead.
A few months following Magdeburg, the Imperial-Leaguist army had occupied Leipzig. Tilly knew his army moving into Saxony pushed the Saxon leader into an alliance with the Swedes, and that a battle with both was inevitable. Tilly, however, took the side of caution and wished not to rush to battle in order to build up numbers to be superior to his enemy, to have his army reinforced with 6,500 field troops approaching and even more troops brought in from garrisons.
Aware that the Swedish-Saxon alliance had emboldened the Swedish king and commander, Gustavus Adolphus, to move his force south out of their fortifications, Tilly called a council of senior officers. Of course his second in command, Pappenheim, attended. Pappenheim scorned Tilly and considered the 72-year-old man way past his prime. It comes as no surprise that in the meeting Pappenheim challenged Tilly’s stance of waiting to build up strength, arguing that delay would allow the Swedish king to realize that the Imperial-Leaguist army had become too big to engage and thereby the opportunity would be lost to smash these heretics from the north. Besides, those Saxons were inexperienced, many of them only recently recruited, making their numbers inconsequential. Pappenheim’s argument swayed many officers in the council, but not Tilly. Being the army commander, his word was final, and his word was no battle now.
From what we know of Pappenheim’s personality, he was frustrated and feeling thwarted, perhaps openly. To settle down his restive second in command, Tilly allowed Pappenheim to take 2,000 horse to scout the enemy.
Pappenheim also took this opportunity to seek a suitable battle site and to cook up a scheme to provoke his hesitant old commander into the field. Pappenheim found his site between a marshy stream, the Lober Bach, some woods referred to as Linken Wald, and a little round-top prominence in the landscape, named aptly Galgen Berg: Gallows Hill. The area was a brief ride outside a manor named Breitenfeld. Pappenheim learned from his men that the combined Swedish-Saxon force was not far away and moving south toward them. This place would be very favorable to Tilly’s army for a battle. Pappenheim created his message.
More than a fiction-filled message was behind the impending battle.