1809 Austrian campaign: Eugène de Beauharnais’ campaign in Italy and the Battle of Raab

Author(s) : DAVEY WRIGHT Hamish
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French retreat

Following the French failure at the Battle of Sacile on 16 April, Eugène de Beauharnais and his Franco-Italian troops retreated through Padua, eventually reassembling in Caldiero, just east of Verona. Meanwhile, Austrian troops under Archduke Johann, inconvenienced in their advance due to rain and fatigue, advanced slowly down to Vicenza. Intense fighting broke out on 27 April at San Bonifacio and Villanova, where important bridges over the Adige were controlled by French troops. By the end of 28 April, Johann's troops were in command of Soave and the two aforementioned brigeheads on the Adige. The next day, further fighting took place at Soave as Eugène launched a counter-offensive, and similar events took place on 30 April at Castelcerino. The two engagements cost the Austrians nearly 2,000 men, whilst the French probably lost more, with neither side with much to show for their efforts.

Events in Bavaria and Austrian retreat

However, as Johann advanced further towards the Adige, he became more and more detached from his own support and bases, and Napoleon's victories over his brother, Archduke Charles, in Bavaria, meant that his flank was now threatened and relatively unprotected. Withdrawal was the only real option left to him. The next week was spent retreating back via Cittadella, with the intent of crossing the Piave near Lovadina. On 8 May, Eugène and his troops defeated Johann again at the Battle of the Piave, avenging the failure at Sacile. Johann continued his retreat and regathered the bulk of what remained of his troops at San Daniele (20km northwest of Udine), where further engagements took place. Once again the Austrians fared the worst. By the end of May, Udine, Tarviso and Graz had all fallen to the advancing French forces under the Viceroy of Italy and Général de Division MacDonald. Napoleon instructed his step-son to advance into Hungary, noting in a letter dated 3 June, 1809, “I see no reason for you not to install your HQ at Oedenburg and continue your pursuit of Prince Johann to cut off his retreat. […] [I want you to] do him great damage. You will be able to if he retreats to Raab.” [Letter from Napoleon to Eugène, 3 June, 1809, n° 15293]

The Battle of Raab, 14 June, 1809

And so at the Battle of Raab, 14 June, 1809, Franco-Italian troops under Eugène defeated the Austrians, posted just outside the city (now Gyor, in Hungary). French infantry, under Général de Division Seras and supported by Montbrun's cavalry, attacked the main enemy positions stationed in Kismegyer, a village on the outskirts. The Austrian left-wing collapsed, but the centre held out until late in the afternoon, when, faced with the arrival of French reinforcements under MacDonald, Johann ordered the retreat. In his report to Napoleon, Eugène noted simply: “Sire, I hasten to inform Your Majesty that I gave battle today to the Prince Johann, and was blessed with a victory. It was the anniversary of too great a day [the Battle of Marengo was fought on 14 June, 1800] for any misfortune to happen to us.” [Eugéne to Napoleon, dated 14 June, 1809]

"A granddaughter of Marengo and Friedland"

Napoleon, in his congratulatory response, described the battle as “a granddaughter of Marengo and Friedland.” [Napoleon to Eugène, dated 16 June, 1809, n° 15358]
The defeat was important because it put an end to any hopes that Johann had of reaching his brother Charles and bringing his troops to the Battle of Wagram. Eugène, on the other hand, was free to join up with Napoleon for the battle on 5 and 6 July, which would effectively bring an end to the Fifth coalition. The actual city of Raab was to fall about two weeks later, on 24 June.

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