Battle of Eckmühl

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Battle of Eckmühl
Part of the War of the Fifth Coalition
Echmuhl.jpg
Date2122 April 1809
Location
Result French victory
Belligerents
Flag of the Habsburg Monarchy.svg  Austria Flag of France.svg France
Flag of Bavaria (striped).svg  Bavaria
Flagge Konigreich Wurttemberg.svg Württemberg
Commanders and leaders
Archduke Charles Napoleon I
Marshal Davout
Marshal Lefebvre
Strength
35,000 30,000 60,000
Casualties and losses
12,000 killed, wounded or captured [1] 6,000 killed or wounded [1]

The Battle of Eckmühl (also known as "Eggmühl") fought on 21 April 22 April 1809, was the turning point of the 1809 Campaign, also known as the War of the Fifth Coalition. Napoleon I had been unprepared for the start of hostilities on 10 April 1809, by the Austrians under the Archduke Charles of Austria and for the first time since assuming the French Imperial Crown had been forced to cede the strategic initiative to an opponent. Thanks to the dogged defense waged by the III Corps, commanded by Marshal Davout, and the Bavarian VII Corps, commanded by Marshal Lefebvre, Napoleon was able to defeat the principal Austrian army and wrest the strategic initiative for the remainder of the war.

War of the Fifth Coalition 1809 conflict during the Napoleonic Wars

The War of the Fifth Coalition was fought in 1809 by a coalition of the Austrian Empire and the United Kingdom against Napoleon's French Empire and Bavaria. Major engagements between France and Austria, the main participants, unfolded over much of Central Europe from April to July, with very high casualty rates for both sides. Britain, already involved on the European continent in the ongoing Peninsular War, took advantage of the Austrian intervention to launch the Walcheren Campaign, although this effort had little impact on the outcome of the conflict.

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.

Crown of Napoleon

The Crown of Napoleon was a coronation crown manufactured for Napoleon and used in his coronation as Emperor of the French on December 2, 1804. Napoleon called this crown the "Crown of Charlemagne", which was the name of the ancient royal coronation crown of France that had been destroyed during the French Revolution. This name allowed Napoleon to compare himself to the famed mediaeval monarch Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor.

Contents

Strategic situation

Operating over a fifty-mile front, from Regensburg (Ratisbon to the French) to Pfaffenhofen (district), marked by stretches of rugged, wooded terrain, neither the French nor the Austrians had developed adequate intelligence about their opponent's strength, dispositions or intentions. Assuming that the bulk of the Austrian army was deployed so as to cover their bridgehead at Landshut and the main highway to Vienna, on 20 April 1809, Napoleon launched most of his army in an attack to the Southwest. The resulting Battle of Abensberg was a clear, French victory, following which Napoleon ordered all but Davout's III Corps and Lefebvre's (Bavarian) VII Corps to pursue and destroy what he thought was the remains of the Austrian Army.

Regensburg Place in Bavaria, Germany

Regensburg is a city in south-east Germany, at the confluence of the Danube, Naab and Regen rivers. With more than 150,000 inhabitants, Regensburg is the fourth-largest city in the State of Bavaria after Munich, Nuremberg and Augsburg. The city is the political, economic and cultural centre and capital of the Upper Palatinate.

Pfaffenhofen (district) District in Bavaria, Germany

Pfaffenhofen  is a Landkreis (district) in Bavaria, Germany. It is bounded by the districts of Eichstätt, Kelheim, Freising, Dachau and Neuburg-Schrobenhausen, and the city of Ingolstadt.

Landshut Place in Bavaria, Germany

Landshut is a town in Bavaria in the south-east of Germany. Situated on the banks of the River Isar, Landshut is the capital of Lower Bavaria, one of the seven administrative regions of the Free State of Bavaria. It is also the seat of the surrounding district, and has a population of more than 70,000. Landshut is the largest city in Lower Bavaria, followed by Passau and Straubing, and Eastern Bavaria's second biggest city.

The French attack, however, had only split the Austrian Army, separating its Left Wing, composed of the V Armee Korps, VI A.K. and II Reserve A.K., from the balance of the army. Two corps, III A.K. and IV A.K., were withdrawn by Archduke Charles to the North, forming a nine-mile line from Abbach on the Danube to Eckmühl on the Grosse Laber. More importantly, unbeknownst to Napoleon, the Austrians gained a victory of their own on 20 April 1809, by surrounding and capturing the French garrison at Regensburg and its strategic bridge over the Danube. The capture of the bridge at Regensburg allowed Charles to re-establish contact with his Right Wing, General der Kavallerie Bellegarde's I A.K. and FZM Kollowrat's II A.K., hitherto separated from the rest of the Austrian Army by the Danube.

Danube River in Central Europe

The Danube is Europe's second longest river, after the Volga. It is located in Central and Eastern Europe.

Johann Kollowrat Austrian soldier

Feldmarschall Johann Karl, Graf von Kolowrat-Krakowsky joined the Austrian army, fought against the Kingdom of Prussia and Ottoman Turkey before being promoted to general officer rank. During combat against the French in the French Revolutionary Wars, he first became known as an artillery specialist. In the Napoleonic Wars, he commanded corps in the 1805 and 1809 campaigns. He became the Proprietor (Inhaber) of an Austrian infantry regiment in 1801 and held that position until his death.

Battle Plans

Location of forces as of Midnight, 21-22 April 1809 Eckmuhl April 21.jpg
Location of forces as of Midnight, 21–22 April 1809

With the seizure of the bridge at Regensburg, Archduke Charles no longer needed to defend the Landshut bridgehead and instead moved to concentrate his remaining forces so as to envelop and destroy Davout's corps. FML Prince Friedrich of Hohenzollern-Hechingen's III A.K. (15,700 men) and FML Prince Franz Seraph of Rosenberg-Orsini's IV A.K. (21,460 men), were ordered to hold the Austrian left, pinning in place Davout's corps, while FZM Johann Kollowrat's fresh II A.K. (28,168 men) and the elite grenadiers and cuirassiers of G.d.K. Prince Johann of Liechtenstein's I Reserve A.K. advanced south from Regensburg and deployed against Davout's exposed left flank. Inexplicably, no orders were issued to G.d.K. Count Heinrich von Bellegarde, so his powerful I A.K. (27,653 men) remained on the north bank of the Danube and played no role in the subsequent fighting. [2]

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.

For his part, Napoleon was intent on enveloping and destroying the Austrian forces retiring Southwest to Landshut and its bridge across the Isar. The II and IV Corps (App. 57,000 men under the overall command of Marshal Masséna) were directed to cross the Isar upstream from Landshut and block the Austrians from crossing to the South Bank. Meanwhile, under the overall command of Marshal Lannes, Lannes' Provisional Corps, the VII (Württemberg) Corps, a division from VII Corps and two cuirassier divisions (App. 51,000 men) were to closely pursue and destroy the defeated Austrians. The mop-up of what Napoleon thought was a "curtain of three regiments" was left to Davout, even though more than half of the III Corps' original units had been detached to create Lannes' task force. [3] Despite Davout's reports to the contrary, Napoleon ordered him to attack the Austrians on his front in the morning, with the proviso that Lefebvre's equally depleted corps would support him if he needed help (A total of approximately 36,000 men for both corps). [3]

Isar river in Tyrol, Austria and Bavaria, Germany

The Isar is a river in Tyrol, Austria and Bavaria, Germany. Its source is in the Karwendel range of the Alps in Tyrol; it enters Germany near Mittenwald, and flows through Bad Tölz, Munich, and Landshut before reaching the Danube near Deggendorf. At 295 km (183 mi) in length, it is the fourth largest river in Bavaria, after the Danube, Inn, and Main. It is Germany's second most important tributary of the Danube after the Inn.

22 April

The leading elements of the Austrian attack ran into Montbrun's determined cavalry, who managed to reduce the impetus of the charge thanks to hilly and wooded terrain. Rosenberg displayed serious concern when he realized that Davout's troops were not moving to account for the ongoing battle, and rightly assumed that more French troops were on the way. These troops had, in fact, arrived and brushed aside Rosenberg's flank guard. Napoleon had set the French army into motion around 2 a.m. on the 22nd and had his men march 18 miles north in just a few short hours, meaning reinforcements for Davout would be arriving faster than promised.

Franz Seraph of Orsini-Rosenberg Austrian general

Prince Franz Seraph of Orsini-Rosenberg was born a member of Orsini-Rosenberg family, son of Prince Vinzenz Fererius von Orsini-Rosenberg and Maria Juliana, Countess von Stubenberg.

The vanguard of the assault were the German troops under General Vandamme; these soldiers stormed the bridge at Eckmühl and even captured the town's chateau after ferocious Austrian resistance. At this point, Davout launched his men against the Austrian center at the village of Unterlaichling and the woods to the north. The famous 10th Legere Regiment became involved in vicious fighting around the woods, but eventually was strengthened by Bavarians under Deroy and managed to capture the positions. North of Unterlaichling, Davout's troops under Louis Friant and St. Hilaire steadily pushed back the defenders of Oberlaichling and the surrounding woods, overran a redoubt held by Hungarian grenadiers, and prompted Charles to order a general retreat.

The struggle now devolved into a series of major cavalry clashes as the Austrians attempted to extricate their army without losing too many prisoners. Perhaps the best cavalry in the Habsburg army, the Vincent Chevau-légers and the Stipsic Hussars, occupied the Bettelberg ridgeline between Eckmühl and the woods above Unterlaiching. These elite units demolished some German light cavalry before being stopped by Bavarian infantry. Napoleon was insistent on the immediate capture of this position and ordered forward two heavy cavalry divisions under St. Sulpice and Nansouty. These horsemen were pummeled by Austrian artillery but came on nonetheless and managed to saber the gunners after having seen off the enemy cavalry.

The first phase of the retreat ended, but it was not over yet. The Austrians had found a chokepoint in the road and were instructed to stem the French tide. Three French cuirassier divisions supported by additional German light cavalry attacked and a swirling melee developed. The Austrians fought heroically but were heavily outnumbered and had to retreat. During this part of the conflict, more French cavalry struck in their flank and the remaining Austrian horse fled north to Ratisbon with great celerity.

Aftermath

The French had won the battle, but it was not a decisive engagement. Napoleon had hoped that he would be able to catch the Austrian army between Davout and the Danube, but he didn't know that Ratisbon had fallen and thus gave the Austrians a means of escape over the river.

Nevertheless, the French inflicted 12,000 casualties at the cost of just 6,000, and Napoleon's speedy arrival witnessed an entire axial realignment of his army (from a north-south axis to an east-west one) that permitted the defeat of the Austrians. Subsequent campaigning led to the French recapture of Ratisbon, Austrian eviction from Southern Germany, and the fall of Vienna.

Napoleon is alleged to have remarked of the series of manoeuvers that culminated at Eckmühl, it was "the finest" that he ever conducted.

See also

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Jean-Pierre Doumerc French general

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References

  1. 1 2 Chandler, D. Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars, MacMillan (1979)
  2. Rothenberg, Gunther E. (1982). Napoleon's Great Adversary. Sarpedon. p. 173.
  3. 1 2 Gallaher, John G.:"The Iron Marshal.", p. 185. Greenhill Books, 2000

Sources