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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
TOTAL: 99 000 men; 84 000 infantry, 14 250 cavalry, 288 guns
TOTAL (on 22 May): 77 000 men; 67 000 infantry, 10 000 cavalry, 152 guns
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
Events from the year 1809 in France.Antoine Charles Louis de Lasalle
Antoine-Charles-Louis, Comte de Lasalle (10 May 1775, Metz – 6 July 1809, Wagram) was a French cavalry general during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, often called "The Hussar General". He first gained fame for his role in the Capitulation of Stettin. Over the course of his short career, he became known as a daring adventurer and was credited with many exploits. Eventually, he fought on every front and was killed at the Battle of Wagram.Aspern
Aspern is part of Donaustadt, the 22nd district of Vienna.Battle of Wagram
The Battle of Wagram ([ˈvaɡram]; 5–6 July 1809) was a military engagement of the Napoleonic Wars that ended in a costly but decisive victory for Emperor Napoleon I's French and allied army against the Austrian army under the command of Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen. The battle led to the breakup of the Fifth Coalition, the Austrian and British-led alliance against France.
In 1809, the French military presence in Germany was diminished as Napoleon transferred a number of soldiers to fight in the Peninsular War. As a result, the Austrian Empire saw its chance to recover some of its former sphere of influence and invaded the Kingdom of Bavaria, a French ally. Recovering from his initial surprise, Napoleon beat the Austrian forces and occupied Vienna at the beginning of May 1809. Despite the string of sharp defeats and the loss of the empire's capital, Archduke Charles salvaged an army, with which he retreated north of the Danube. This allowed the Austrians to continue the war. Towards the end of May, Napoleon resumed the offensive, suffering a surprise defeat at the Battle of Aspern-Essling.
It took Napoleon six weeks to prepare his next offensive, for which he amassed a 165,000-man French, German and Italian army in the vicinity of Vienna. The Battle of Wagram began after Napoleon crossed the Danube with the bulk of these forces during the night of 4 July and attacked the 145,000-man strong Austrian army. Having successfully crossed the river, Napoleon attempted an early breakthrough and launched a series of evening attacks against the Austrian army. The Austrians were thinly spread in a wide semicircle, but held a naturally strong position. After the attackers enjoyed some initial success, the defenders regained the upper hand and the attacks failed. Bolstered by his success, the next day at dawn Archduke Charles launched a series of attacks along the entire battle line, seeking to take the opposing army in a double envelopment. The offensive failed against the French right but nearly broke Napoleon's left. However, the Emperor countered by launching a cavalry charge, which temporarily halted the Austrian advance. He then redeployed IV Corps to stabilise his left, while setting up a grand battery, which pounded the Austrian right and centre. The tide of battle turned and the Emperor launched an offensive along the entire line, while Maréchal Louis-Nicolas Davout drove an offensive, which turned the Austrian left, and rendered Charles's position untenable. Towards mid-afternoon on 6 July, Charles admitted defeat and led a retreat, frustrating enemy attempts to pursue. After the battle, Charles remained in command of a cohesive force and decided to retreat to Bohemia. However, the Grande Armée eventually caught up with him and scored a victory at the Battle of Znaim. With the battle still raging, Charles decided to ask for an armistice, effectively ending the war.
With 80,000 casualties, the two-day battle of Wagram was particularly bloody, mainly due to the use of 1,000 artillery pieces and the expenditure of over 180,000 rounds of artillery ammunition on a flat battlefield packed with some 300,000 men. Although Napoleon was the uncontested winner, he failed to secure an overwhelming victory and the Austrian casualties were only slightly greater than those of the French and allies. Nonetheless, the defeat was serious enough to shatter the morale of the Austrians, who could no longer find the will to continue the struggle. The resulting Treaty of Schönbrunn meant the loss of one sixth of the Austrian Empire's subjects, along with some territories, rendering it landlocked until the German Campaign of 1813.Christoph Feldegg
Baron Christoph Freiherr Fellner von Feldegg (13 October 1779 – 10 May 1845, Leipzig) was an Austrian army officer and naturalist.
Fellner was born in a noble family in Krumau, Bohemia, where his father was a princely forester in Schwarzenberg. Fellner went to a military academy in Vienna and in 1808, became a sub-lieutenant in an army battalion and fought in the Battle of Aspern-Essling under Archduke Karl. He also served in the Regiment de Vaux in 1813 where he distinguished himself. In 1815 he was knighted in the Military Order of Maria Theresa. Feldegg fought in the Napoleonic wars and in recognition of his many gallant deeds was created a Baron in 1817. He served in Dalmatia, eventually becoming Colonel and Commanding Officer of the 6th Battalion of Chaseurs.Feldegg took a special interest in the birds of Dalmatia and accumulated a large collection of natural history specimens. He was a correspondent of C. L. Brehm, John Gould and Hermann Schlegel, and served for a time with the ornithologist Dr Karl Michahelles. His collection was donated to the Natural History Museum in Prague.Feldegg had a number of birds named after him, including a subspecies of the Lanner falcon Falco biarmicus feldeggi and the black-headed wagtail, Motacilla flava feldegg, the Balkan and Black Sea sub-species of the yellow wagtail.Claude Carra Saint-Cyr
For the French milliner, see Claude Saint-Cyr
Claude Carra Saint-Cyr (born 28 July 1760 in Lyon, died 5 January 1834 in Vailly-sur-Aisne) was a French general and diplomat, noted for his participation to the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.Carra Saint-Cyr entered active service in 1774, with the Bourdonnais regiment, and was a part of the French expeditionary corps during the American War of Independence. He was a captain and held a position in the military commissariat. With the outbreak of the Wars of the Revolution, Carra Saint-Cyr resumed active duty, serving in the army of the West as aide-de-camp to general Jean-Baptiste Annibal Aubert du Bayet, subsequently accompanying Aubert du Bayet to Constantinople, where the latter was appointed ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Carra Saint-Cyr then served as consul in Wallachia, before returning to France, in 1798. He was at Marengo in 1800 and became a general of division in 1803. Named governor of Magdeburg in 1806, he was created baron of the Empire two years later and in 1809 he held the command of an infantry division during the War of the Fifth Coalition, playing an important role at the battle of Aspern-Essling. He was named governor of Dresden and in 1813 governor of Hamburg and in this capacity evacuated the city with his troops and was defeated on the Elbe. For this, he was disgraced, but general Dominique Vandamme still gave him the command of a division, with the mission of defending the Ems river. With the Bourbon Restoration of 1814, Carra Saint-Cyr was created count and named governor of the French Guiana, a position that he would hold from 1814 to 1819. His name appears on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.Essling
Essling is part of Donaustadt, the 22nd district of Vienna.Jean-Paul, comte de Schramm
Jean Paul Adam, comte de Schramm (1 December 1789 in Arras – 25 February 1884) was a French Minister of War.Jean Lannes
Jean Lannes, 1st Duc de Montebello, Prince de Siewierz (10 April 1769 – 31 May 1809), was a Marshal of the Empire. He was one of Napoleon's most daring and talented generals. Napoleon once commented on Lannes: "I found him a pygmy and left him a giant". A personal friend of the emperor, he was allowed to address him with the familiar "tu", as opposed to the formal "vous".Johann von Hiller
Johann Baron von Hiller (13 October 1754 – 5 June 1819) 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.Joseph Jean-Baptiste Albert
Joseph Jean-Baptiste Albert (1771 – 1822) was a French general de division (major general). He fought at the Battle of Eylau, the Battle of Aspern-Essling and the Battle of Wagram. He was made a brigadier general in 1807. He was involved in the French invasion of Russia in 1812. He was made a baron of the First French Empire by Napoleon Bonaparte. He was a grand officer of the Legion of Honour and a knight of the Order of Saint Louis.Lobau
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 Donauinsel (Vienna Danube Island) borders the Lobau.Louis-Vincent-Joseph Le Blond de Saint-Hilaire
Louis-Vincent-Joseph Le Blond, comte de Saint-Hilaire (4 September 1766 – 5 June 1809) was a French general during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.Ludwig von Welden
Franz Ludwig Baron von Welden (16 June 1780, Laupheim – 7 August 1853, Graz) was an Austrian army officer whose career culminated in becoming the commander-in-chief of the Austrian artillery.
Born in Laupheim, Ludwig von Welden joined the army of the Duchy of Württemberg in 1798, taking part in the war against revolutionary France 1799–1800. In 1802, he took service with Austria and became a French prisoner of war in 1809. Following a prisoner exchange, he then took part in the Battle of Aspern-Essling as a major in the Austrian army.
In 1812, he became part of the general staff at the headquarters of Prince Schwarzenberg. Having been promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, Ludwig von Welden served with distinction as a staff officer in Italy in 1814, and, after the capture of Mantua, was given the task to repatriate the French army, which had capitulated there, to southern France. In 1815, Ludwig von Welden was an officer in the general staff in the army raised to confront Joachim Murat, the dethroned king of Naples. During this campaign, he was promoted to the rank of colonel and, in 1816, to that of brigadier of the Austrian engineer corps.
Following this, Ludwig von Welden became head of the army topographical office, and served during the campaign in Piedmont in 1821 as head of the general staff. He also supervised the topographical survey of the region. In 1824, he published a monography about the Monte Rosa.
From 1832 until 1838, he was a delegate at the central military commission of the German Confederation in Frankfurt. Having been promoted to the rank of lieutenant field marshal, he took command of a division in Graz in 1838, and, in 1843, assumed the general command of Tyrol. During the uprising of Lombardy in 1848, he managed to secure General Radetzky's lines of communication to Austria and was then put in charge of the confinement of Venice.
In September 1848, Ludwig van Welden was appointed governor of Dalmatia, having military as well civil powers. He also served in the same capacity in Vienna after it was reconquered by imperial troops during the course of the revolution of 1848.
After the Prince of Windischgrätz's failure to suppress the revolutionary movements in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, Ludwig van Welden was given the supreme command of the Austrian army in Hungary in April 1849. However, after the Hungarian conquest of Ofen in May, he was replaced by Julius Jacob von Haynau and returned to Vienna to resume his post as governor, having also been promoted to the second highest rank in the Austrian army, Feldzeugmeister.
Due to his failing health, Ludwig von Welden retired from active military service in 1851, and died in Graz in 1853.Nicolas-François Roussel d'Hurbal
Viscount Nicolas-François Roussel d'Hurbal (1763–1849), was a French soldier during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars.
He spent the better part of his military career in the service of the Habsburg Monarchy (1782–1811), fighting as a junior cavalry officer in the French Revolutionary Wars. In 1804, before the outbreak of the War of the Third Coalition, he saw promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel and in 1807 he was promoted to Colonel and given the command of a Cuirassier regiment. He led his regiment with distinction at the Battle of Aspern-Essling and won promotion to General-Major after the battle. Weeks later, he led a Cuirassier brigade at the Battle of Wagram. Retired in the Austrian army, he joined Napoleon in 1811, with the rank of Brigadier General. He took part to the French Invasion of Russia, serving in the I Cavalry Corps of the Grande Armée. By the end of 1812, he had gained promotion to General of Division. Later, he took part to the campaigns of the War of the Sixth Coalition and swore allegiance to Louis XVIII, after the Bourbon Restoration in 1814. After Napoleon's escape from exile and resurgence to power in France, Roussel d'Hurbal joined him again and was in command of a heavy cavalry division at the Battle of Waterloo. He was then retired from active service and given a position as inspector general for cavalry.
Roussel d'Hurbal was a recipient of the Legion of Honour, a Baron of the Empire (from 1813) and a Viscount from 1822.Pierre Charles Pouzet
Pierre Charles Pouzet, baron de Saint-Charles (b. 11 July 1766 – d. 22 May 1809) was a French general who was killed at the battle of Aspern-Essling.
Born in Poitiers, Pouzet entered the French army as a volunteer in 1782 and by 1791 had been promoted to sergeant-major. In 1793 he was promoted to lieutenant and to captain. As a lieutenant Pouzet served as drill instructor and mentor to the young Jean Lannes, with whom he forged a lifelong friendship. He served with the Army of the Eastern Pyrenees in the campaigns against Spain (1793-1794) and became a battalion commander by 1795. He then transferred to the Army of Italy, with which he fought in the Italian campaigns.
In September 1800 he was given command of a battalion of the Consular Guard. In 1803 he became colonel of the 10th Infantry regiment, which he led in the campaigns of 1805 and 1806-1807, fighting at Austerlitz, Jena and Eylau. In February 1807 Pouzet was promoted to general de brigade and in 1808 he led a brigade in the division of Sebastiani in Spain. He temporarily served as chief of staff to his old friend Marshal Lannes and fought at Tudela before returning to his brigade command. In October 1808 he was ennobled as a baron.
On the outbreak of the War of the Fifth Coalition, Pouzet commanded a brigade in the division of Saint-Hilaire, with which he served at Landshut, Eckmühl and Essling. On the second day of Essling, while conversing with his old friend Lannes, Pouzet was decapitated by a cannonball. Lannes was mortally wounded by a cannonball minutes later.Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg
Henrietta Alexandrine Friederike Wilhelmine of Nassau-Weilburg, then of Nassau (areas now part of Germany) (30 October 1797 Palace Ermitage, Bayreuth – 29 December 1829, Vienna) was the wife of Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen. Her husband was a notable general of the Napoleonic Wars and victor of the Battle of Aspern-Essling against Napoleon I of France.Samuel-François Lhéritier
Baron Samuel-François Lhéritier de Chézelles (French pronunciation: [samɥɛl fʁɑ̃swa leʁitje də ʃezɛl]; 6 August 1772 – 23 August 1829) was a French soldier who rose through the ranks during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars, eventually gaining promotion to the military rank of Général de Division.
While his initial career in the infantry branch and then General Staff during the French Revolutionary Wars was unremarkable, Lhéritier made a name for himself as a cavalry commander during the Napoleonic Wars. A gallant officer, he led from the front and, as a result, collected a number of serious battle wounds. He was created a Baron of the Empire and a Commander of the Legion of Honour and his name is inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Having begun his military career in 1792, he joined the cavalry branch on a permanent basis in 1803 and subsequently saw steady promotion and was given various commands of heavy cavalry units. A part of the Grande Armée in 1805, he took part to the War of the Third Coalition. In 1806, at the outbreak of the War of the Fourth Coalition, Lhéritier was promoted to Colonel and given the command of the 10th Cuirassiers. In this capacity, he was noted for his brave charge at the Battle of Eylau in 1807. Two years later, during the War of the Fifth Coalition, he made an impression on his superiors, especially during the Battle of Aspern-Essling and Battle of Znaim. As a result, he was promoted to Brigadier General and given the command of a cuirassier brigade, before taking part to the French invasion of Russia in 1812. The next year, he was promoted to General of Division and was given various commands during the War of the Sixth Coalition. During the 1815 War of the Seventh Coalition, Baron Lhéritier commanded a mixed dragoon and cuirassier division, at the head of which he charged during the Battle of Waterloo. Lhéritier's active service effectively ended soon after Napoleon I's second abdication, but he did hold two significant military functions during the Second Restoration.The Battle (Patrick Rimbaud novel)
The Battle (French: La Bataille) is a historical novel by the French author Patrick Rambaud that was first published in 1997. The English translation by Will Hobson appeared in 2000. The book describes the 1809 Battle of Aspern-Essling between the French Empire under Napoleon and the Austrian Empire. The action in the novel follows closely historical observations and descriptions as seen from the French perspective. La Bataille is the first book of a trilogy by Rambaud about the decline of Napoleon, describing his first personal defeat in a European battle; the other two books cover Napoleon’s defeat in Russia in The Retreat and his banishment at Elba in Napoleon’s Exile.