Battle of Aspern-Essling

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Battle of Aspern-Essling
Part of War of the Fifth Coalition
Fernand Cormon 005.jpg
The Battle of Aspern-Essling, May 1809
by Fernand Cormon
Date21–22 May 1809
Location
48°12′47″N16°30′09″E / 48.21306°N 16.50250°E / 48.21306; 16.50250 Coordinates: 48°12′47″N16°30′09″E / 48.21306°N 16.50250°E / 48.21306; 16.50250
Result Austrian tactical victory
Belligerents
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg French Empire Flag of the Habsburg Monarchy.svg Austrian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Napoleon I
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Jean Lannes  
Flag of the Habsburg Monarchy.svg Archduke Charles
Strength
27,000 (First day)
66,000 (Second day) [1]
95,800 (First day)
90,800 (Second day) [1]
Casualties and losses

23,000 total: [2]

7,000 killed
16,000 wounded

23,300 total: [2]

6,200 killed or missing
16,300 wounded
800 captured

In the Battle of Aspern-Essling (21–22 May 1809), Napoleon attempted a forced crossing of the Danube near Vienna, but the French and their allies were driven back by the Austrians under Archduke Charles. The battle was the first time Napoleon had been personally defeated in over a decade. However, Archduke Charles failed to secure a decisive victory as Napoleon was able to successfully withdraw most of his forces.

Danube river in Central Europe

The Danube, known by various names in other languages, is Europe's second longest river, after the Volga. It is located in Central and Eastern Europe.

Vienna Capital city and state in Austria

Vienna is the federal capital and largest city of Austria, and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primate city, with a population of about 1.9 million, and its cultural, economic, and political centre. It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants. Today, it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin. Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC. The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. These regions work together in a European Centrope border region. Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants. In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Austrian Empire monarchy in Central Europe between 1804 and 1867

The Austrian Empire was a Central European multinational great power from 1804 to 1867, created by proclamation out of the realms of the Habsburgs. During its existence, it was the third most populous empire after the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom in Europe. Along with Prussia, it was one of the two major powers of the German Confederation. Geographically, it was the third largest empire in Europe after the Russian Empire and the First French Empire. Proclaimed in response to the First French Empire, it partially overlapped with the Holy Roman Empire until the latter's dissolution in 1806.

Contents

Background

At the time of the battle Napoleon was in possession of Vienna, the bridges over the Danube had been broken, and the Archduke's army was near the Bisamberg, a hill near Korneuburg, on the left bank of the river. The French wanted to cross the Danube. A first crossing attempt on the Schwarze Lackenau on 13 May was repulsed with some 700 French losses. [3] Lobau, one of the numerous islands that divided the river into minor channels, was selected as the next point of crossing. Careful preparations were made, and on the night of 19–20 May the French bridged all the channels on the right bank to Lobau and occupied the island. By the evening of the 20th many men had been collected there and the last arm of the Danube, between Lobau and the left bank, bridged. Masséna's corps at once crossed to the left bank and dislodged the Austrian outposts. Undeterred by the news of heavy attacks on his rear from Tyrol and from Bohemia, Napoleon ferried all available troops to the bridges, and by daybreak on the 21st, 40,000 men were collected on the Marchfeld, the broad plain of the left bank, which was also to be the scene of the Battle of Wagram.

Bisamberg Place in Lower Austria, Austria

Bisamberg is a municipality in the district of Korneuburg in Austria.

Korneuburg Place in Lower Austria, Austria

Korneuburg is a town in Austria. It is located in the state Lower Austria and is the administrative center of the district of Korneuburg. Korneuburg is situated on the left bank of the Danube, opposite the city of Klosterneuburg, and is 12 km northwest of Vienna. It covers an area of 9.71 square km and as of 2001 there were 11,032 inhabitants.

Lobau protected area

The Lobau is a Vienna floodplain on the northern side of the Danube in Donaustadt and partly in Großenzersdorf, Lower Austria. It has been part of the Danube-Auen National Park since 1996 and has been a protected area since 1978. It is used as a recreational area and is known as a site of nudism. There is also an oil harbour, and the Austrian Army used the Lobau as a training ground. In addition to the water coming from the Alps through the Wiener Hochquellenwasserleitung, the Lobau is a source of groundwater for Vienna.

The Archduke did not resist the passage. It was his intention, as soon as a large enough force had crossed, to attack it before the rest of the French army could come to its assistance. Napoleon had accepted the risk of such an attack, but he sought at the same time to minimize it by summoning every available battalion to the scene. His forces on the Marchfeld were drawn up in front of the bridges facing north, with their left in the village of Aspern (Gross-Aspern) and their right in Essling. Both places lay close to the Danube and could not therefore be turned; Aspern, indeed, is actually on the bank of one of the river channels. The French had to fill the gap between the villages, and also move forward to give room for the supporting units to form up.

Aspern part of Donaustadt, the 22nd district of Vienna

Aspern is part of Donaustadt, the 22nd district of Vienna.

Essling quarter of Vienna

Essling is part of Donaustadt, the 22nd district of Vienna.

The corps led by Johann von Hiller (VI), Heinrich Graf von Bellegarde (I) and Prince Friedrich of Hohenzollern-Hechingen (II) were to converge upon Aspern, while Prince Franz Seraph of Rosenberg-Orsini (IV) was to attack Essling. Prince Johann of Liechtenstein's Austrian reserve cavalry was in the center, ready to move out against any French cavalry attacking the heads of the columns. During the 21st the bridges became more and more unsafe, owing to the violence of the current, but the French crossed without intermission all day and during the night. [4]

Johann von Hiller Austrian general

Johann Baron von Hiller was an Austrian general during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He held an important command during the 1809 campaign against France, playing a prominent role at the Battle of Aspern-Essling.

Johann I Joseph, Prince of Liechtenstein Austrian marshal

Johann I Joseph was Prince of Liechtenstein between 1805 and 1806 and again from 1814 until 1836. He was the last Liechtenstein prince to rule under the Holy Roman Empire between 1805 and 1806 and as regent of Liechtenstein from 1806 until 1814. He was the fourth son of Franz Joseph I, Prince of Liechtenstein.

Order of battle

Painting by Johann Peter Krafft. Aspern-essling-kraft.jpg
Painting by Johann Peter Krafft.

Kaiserlich-Königliche Hauptarmee, under the command of Charles of Austria: [5]

Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen Archduke of Austria

Archduke Charles Louis John Joseph Laurentius of Austria, Duke of Teschen was an Austrian field-marshal, the third son of Emperor Leopold II and his wife, Maria Luisa of Spain. He was also the younger brother of Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor. Despite being epileptic, Charles achieved respect both as a commander and as a reformer of the Austrian army. He was considered one of Napoleon's more formidable opponents.

Karl Freiherr von Vincent, born 11 August 1757 – died 7 October 1834, fought in the army of Habsburg Austria during the French Revolutionary Wars. He first served as a staff officer then later as a combat commander. During the Napoleonic Wars, he was given important commands in two campaigns. He was Proprietor (Inhaber) of a famous light cavalry regiment from 1806 until his death.

Heinrich von Bellegarde Austrian marshal

Count Heinrich von Bellegarde, Viceroy of Lombardy-Venetia, of a noble Savoyard family, was born in Saxony, joined the Saxon army and later entered Habsburg military service, where he became a general officer during in the Habsburg border wars, the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He became a Generalfeldmarschall and statesman.

Prince Friedrich Franz Xaver of Hohenzollern-Hechingen Austrian general

Friedrich Franz Xaver Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen was an Austrian general. He joined the Austrian military and fought against the Kingdom of Prussia, Ottoman Turkey, and the First French Republic. He was promoted to the rank of general officer during the French Revolutionary Wars. During the Napoleonic Wars, he led a division in 1805 and an army corps in 1809. He was Proprietor (Inhaber) of an Austrian cavalry regiment from 1802 to 1844.

TOTAL: 99 000 men; 84 000 infantry, 14 250 cavalry, 288 guns

Grande Armée d'Allemagne, under the command of Napoleon I: [6]

TOTAL (on 22 May): 77 000 men; 67 000 infantry, 10 000 cavalry, 152 guns

Battle

First day

French (white) and Austrians (black) positions, 21 May 1809 Lageplan Aspern.jpg
French (white) and Austrians (black) positions, 21 May 1809
Fighting in the streets of Essling. Beleaguered French infantry exchanges fire with Austrian troops in the distance. Myrbach-Aspern-Essling.jpg
Fighting in the streets of Essling. Beleaguered French infantry exchanges fire with Austrian troops in the distance.

The battle began at Aspern; Hiller carried the village at the first rush, but Masséna recaptured it, and held his ground with remarkable tenacity. The French infantry fought with the old stubborn bravery which it had failed to show in the earlier battles of the year. However, the Austrians also fought with fierceness and tenacity that surprised the French, including Napoleon himself. [4]

The three Austrian columns were unable to capture more than half the village. The rest was still held by Masséna when night fell. Meanwhile, nearly all the French infantry between the two villages and in front of the bridges had been drawn into the fight on the flank. Napoleon therefore, to create a diversion, sent forward his center, now consisting only of cavalry, to charge the enemy's artillery, which was deployed in a long line and firing on Aspern. The first charge of the French was repulsed, but second attempt was made by heavy masses of cuirassiers. The French horsemen drove off guns, rode round Hohenzollern's infantry squares, and resisted the cavalry of Lichtenstein, but they were unable to do more, and in the end they retired to their old position. [4]

In the meanwhile Essling had been the scene of fighting almost as desperate as that of Aspern. The French cuirassiers made heavy charges on the flank of Rosenberg's force, and delayed an assault. In the villages, Lannes with a single division resisted until night ended the battle. The two armies bivouacked, and in Aspern the French and Austrians lay within pistol shot of each other. The emperor was not discouraged, and renewed efforts to bring up every available man. All through the night more and more French troops came across. [4]

Second day

The actions on the second day of the battle Battle of Aspern-Essling map.jpg
The actions on the second day of the battle
In ferocious fighting, Austrian grenadiers attempt to storm the fortified granary in the village of Essling. Myrbach-Austrian grenadiers at Essling.jpg
In ferocious fighting, Austrian grenadiers attempt to storm the fortified granary in the village of Essling.

At the earliest dawn of the 22nd the battle was resumed. Masséna swiftly cleared Aspern of the enemy, but at the same time Rosenberg stormed Essling. Lannes, however, resisted desperately, and reinforced by St Hilaire's division, drove Rosenberg out. In Aspern, Masséna was driven out by a counter-attack of Hiller and Bellegarde. [4]

Meanwhile, Napoleon had launched a great attack on the Austrian center. The whole of the French center, with Lannes on the left and the cavalry in reserve, moved forward. The Austrian line was broken through, between Rosenberg's right and Hohenzollern's left, and the French squadrons poured into the gap. Victory was almost won when the Archduke brought up his last reserve, leading his soldiers with a colour in his hand. Lannes was checked, and with his repulse the impetus of the attack died out all along the line. Aspern had been lost, and graver news reached Napoleon at the critical moment. The Danube bridges, which had broken down once already, had been cut by heavy barges, which had been sent drifting down stream by the Austrians. [4]

Napoleon at once suspended the attack. Essling now fell to another assault of Rosenberg, and the French drove him out again. Rosenberg then directed his efforts on the flank of the French center, slowly retiring on the bridges. The retirement was terribly costly, but Lannes stopped the French from being driven into the Danube. Complete exhaustion of both sides ended the fighting. [4]

Aftermath

Marshal Lannes was mortally wounded at Essling. (Painting by Paul-Emile Boutigny, 1894.) Lannes mortally wounded at Essling (E. Boutigny).jpg
Marshal Lannes was mortally wounded at Essling. (Painting by Paul-Émile Boutigny, 1894.)

The French lost over 20,000 men including one of Napoleon's ablest field commanders and close friend, Marshal Jean Lannes, who died after being mortally wounded by an Austrian cannonball in an attack on Johann von Klenau's force at Aspern, which was backed up by 60 well-placed guns. French general Louis-Vincent-Joseph Le Blond de Saint-Hilaire also died as a result of injuries from the battle; his leg was torn off by a cannonball. The Austrians had also suffered similar casualties but had secured the first major victory against the French for over a decade. The victory demonstrated the progress the Austrian army had made since the string of catastrophic defeats in 1800 and 1805.

The French forces were withdrawn to the island. On the night of the 22nd the last bridge was repaired, and the army awaited the arrival of reinforcements in Lobau. [4] The Austrians, surprised by their victory, failed to capitalize on the situation, allowing the French to regroup. One month later, the French made a second attempt to cross the Danube where Napoleon gained a decisive victory over the Austrians at the Battle of Wagram.

The Löwe von Aspern (Lion of Aspern), a large stone sculpture in front of St. Martin's Church, is a monument commemorating the battle.

Accounts

Patrick Rambaud, a French author, wrote a fictionalized account of the conflict entitled "The Battle" using many first-hand sources. Just looking from the French perspective, the novel provides a rather realistic description of combat in the Napoleonic era, as well as detailed depictions of famous commanders such as Napoleon, Massena, and Lannes. The concept and notes for the book originally came from noted French author Honoré de Balzac. Jean Baptiste Antoine Marcellin de Marbot, one of Marshal Lannes aide-de-camps, wrote in his memoirs of the battle, in which he had to observe the last moments of his close friends, and describes the amount of bloodshed and sadness which came to the Grande Armée after the crossing of the Danube.

The army surgeon Dominique-Jean Larrey also described the battle in his memoirs and mentions how he fed the wounded at Lobau with a bouillon of horse meat seasoned with gunpowder. [7] [8]

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References

  1. 1 2 Chandler, D. Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars, MacMillan (1979)
  2. 1 2 Castle, I. Aspern/Wagram (1809), Osprey (1990)
  3. John H. Gill, 1809. Thunder on the Danube: Napoleon's Defeat of the Habsburgs. Volume II: The Fall of Vienna and the Battle of Aspern, Frontline Books, London, 2009, 129-133.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Aspern-Essling, Battle of"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 767–768.
  5. G.E. Rothenberg, 242-245.
  6. G.E. Rothenberg, 239-241.
  7. Parker, Harold T. (1983 reprint) Three Napoleonic Battles. (2nd Ed). Duke University Press. ISBN   0-8223-0547-X. Page 83 (in Google Books). Referencing Dominique-Jean Larrey, Mémoires de chirurgie militaire et campagnes, III 281, Paris, Smith.
  8. Larrey is quoted in French by Dr Béraud, Études Hygiéniques de la chair de cheval comme aliment , Musée des Familles (1841-42).