The Battle of Wagram

Author(s) : CASTLE Ian
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Return to the Marchfeld

To ensure there would be no repeat of the disastrous river crossing in May, Napoleon’s bridging of the Danube this time was meticulously planned and executed. The first stretch of river to Schneidergrund was spanned by two well-constructed bridges, these also crossing the second stretch to Lobgrund with additional smaller bridge for infantry only. To prevent any Austrian attempts at disrupting the traffic, a line of poles was driven into the river bed to shield the new constructions and twenty boats were assigned to patrolling the river.

Napoleon hoped to convince the Austrians that he intended crossing in the same area as before. To this end he erected a pontoon bridge and sent Legrand’s division over to construct some earthworks on the Mühlau, while he completed arrangements for a crossing from the eastern side of Lobau. Charles reacted to this deception by advancing across the ripening cornfields of the Marchfeld on 1 July and forming his army behind the advance troops and redoubts, closer to the Mühlau. With his line now coming under heavy artillery fire from Lobau, Charles realised the danger in fighting too close to the river; unsure of Napoleon’s intentions, he ordered the withdrawal of the army back to their positions beyond the Russbach and below the Bisamberg on 2 July, leaving Hiller’s VI Korps and Klenau’s Advance Guard alone and isolated again on the Danube. Hiller, who had often quarrelled with Charles, was extremely unhappy about the situation. He had complained on a number of occasions about his lack of strength with which to oppose a major French move, and the weakness of his position; finally on 4 July he informed Charles that he could no longer command VI Korps due to ill health. Hiller was replaced on the eve of the battle by FML Klenau of the Advance Guard, Klenau’s own position being taken by Nordmann, who had led Hiller’s own advance guard at Aspern, now promoted to FML.

The position occupied by the Habsburg army was a reasonable strong one. The Marchfeld was a vast flat plain, its occasional areas of higher ground, rising only a meter or two, being hardly detectable from a distance. At the northern extreme of the plain ran the narrow Russbach stream, its steep, tree-lined banks presenting an obstacle to both cavalry and artillery. Beyond the stream an area of boggy ground, about 100 meters wide, led to the major feature of the Marchfeld, an escarpment varying between 10 and 20 meters in height, known as the Wagram, which lay between the villages of Deutsch-Wagram and Markgrafneusiedl. To the west of the village of Wagram the ground began to rise gently behind Gerasdorf and Stammersdorf to the heights of the Bisamberg, which overlooked the Danube.
Charles, having dropped the Column designations and returned to corps titles, had deployed I, II and IV Korps on the escarpment behind the Russbach. From Wagram there was an open space of about five kilometres before the Grenadier Reserve position in front of Seyring. III Korps were at Hagenbrunn, while V Korps occupied the Bisamberg, Schwarzen Lackenau and the banks of the Danube towards Krems. About eight kilometres ahead of these positions stood VI Korps and the Advance Guard, supported by the Reserve Cavalry. These two advances corps were ordered to oppose any French movement on the Marchfeld with the utmost vigour, delaying them as much as possible before falling back, VI Korps on the Bisamberg and the Advance Guard on Markgrafneusiedl.

At 7.00 p.m. on 4 July, aware that the French had weakened their position at Pressburg, Charles sent a message to Archduke John ordering him to leave enough troops to defend the river and move with all speed, initially to Marchegg on the March river. ‘The battle here on the Marchfeld will determine the fate of our Dynasty … I request you march here at once, leaving behind all baggage and impedimenta, and join my left wing.’ The onset of heavy thunderstorms delayed delivery of the message until 6.00 a.m. the following morning. At 9.00 p.m., under cover of freezing rain, the French began to cross, slowly at first as small boats ferried men to the far bank, but soon great bridges appeared across the Stadtler Arm. While a thunderstorm raged overhead and the cannon on Lobau echoed its anger, Oudinot, Massena and Davout led their corps through the dripping trees that lined the river on to the Marchfeld, the dark night lit only by the glow of the burning village of Gross-Enzersdorf, set alight by French shells. The Battle of Wagram had begun.

5 July 1809: The First Day

Oudinot, now in command of II Corps again following the death of Lannes, led his men forward, encountering elements of the 1stes Jäger and pushing these outnumbered light troops back until they reached Sachsengang Castle where, with 7tes Jäger, they barricaded themselves in and held out until their ammunition was exhausted. FML Nordmann, alerted by the French bombardment, formed the Advance Guard to obstruct the French movement. Three battalions occupied Gross-Enzersdorf and the adjacent earthworks, while the brigades of Riese and Mayer formed up behind the village. To ease the congestion as the French began to form their attack lines it became necessary for them to capture this village, providing as it did the pivot on which Napoleon would swing his great army on to the central Marchfeld. In accordance with this, Massena pushed his men forward against the burning buildings. Nordmann opposed this move with IR58 (Beaulieu), who after making some headway were forced back to the village at about 5.00 a.m. An attack spearheaded by 46eme de Ligne ultimately met with success after fierce hand-to-hand fighting among the ruins and earthworks. With the village firmly in French hands, Nordmann fell back to Essling.

Charles at Wagram, receiving news of the French movement at 5.00 a.m., ordered defences to be dug along the Russbach line at Markgrafneusiedl and Baumersdorf (Parbasdorf). At 5.30 a.m. he wrote to John again instructing him to march to Markgrafneusiedl, after three hours’ rest at Marchegg. Unfortunately John had still not received Charles first dispatch – it finally arrived at 6.00 a.m. And even though Charles had urged John to make haste it took a further nineteen hours for him to collect together his dispersed command and prepare to march to the battle. Klenau and Nordmann now waited for Napoleon’s next move, while Liechtenstein’s Reserve
Cavalry occupied the space between them and the main army. The cavalry divisions of Schwarzenberg and Nostitz were at Pysdorf, GM Roussel’s cuirassier brigade was at Neues Wirtshaus, while Lederer and Krioyher’s cuirassier brigades were in reserve at Raasdorf. Unsure as to whether he just faced a rearguard protecting a move north by Charles with the main army, Napoleon probed forward with three light cavalry brigades just after midday. The cavalry first moved towards Rutzendorf, which some of Davout’s men then occupied, before swinging towards Pysdorf, where they encountered the Austrian cavalry, through neither side appears to have sought confrontation.

Advance Across the Marchfeld

Napoleon was now ready to launch his army forward, on the left the light cavalry of Lasalle and Marulaz, to their right IV Corps (Massena), II Corps (Oudinot) and finally III Corps (Davout), with the far right protected by the dragoon divisions of Grouchy and Pully. By 2.00 p.m. the hot sun had long since burnt off the early morning mist, leaving nothing to mask Klenau and Nordmann’s dramatic view of this great army as it began to move through the gently waving fields of corn. Concerned by the presence of French cavalry to his left rear, Nordmann started a stubborn withdrawal towards Markgrafneusiedl, protected by Liechtenstein’s cavalry. As IV Corps’ initial move was a great wheel to the left, pivoting on Boudet’s division, Klenau was able to hold his position for some time before conducting a spirited and orderly witddrawal to Stammersdorf. With this Manoeuvre complete, Massena pushed forward with his corps to a position north-west of Aspern at Breitenlee with detachments further ahead at Kagran, Leopoldau and Süssenbrunn. Oudinot was to march to a position on the Russbach opposite Baumersdorf, and Davout was to move towards Markgrafneusiedl via Glinzendorf. As the three French corps fanned out across the Marchfeld, a large gap opened between Massena and Oudinot into which Eugene with the Army of Italy and Bernadotte with the Saxons of IX Corps wre pushed. A forward element of IX Corps GD Dupas’ mixed French and Saxon division, clashed with Riese’s brigade of Nordmann’s Advance Guard and the Wallachisch-Illyrisches Grenzer about 3.30 p.m. at Raasdorf, easily ejecting the Austrian defenders.

Passing Raasdorf, the main body of the corps pushed on towards Aderklaa until at about 5.00 p.m. their left was threatened by Roussel’s cuirassier brigade. The two regiments, about 1,000 strong, deployed in two lines, the Herzog Albert on the left and Erzherzog Franz on the right. To counter this danger the Saxon cavalry began to form for a charge but, perhaps seeking personal glory, four squadrons of the Prinz Clemens Chevaux legers, about 400 men, rushed forward alone. Contrary to the practice of the day, the Austrian cavalry stood to receive the charge and repulsing the Saxons. The main force of Saxon cavalry now came forward en echelon with the right leading. The Austrians, although now outnumbered, chose to receive the charge with firepower again. This time they failed, and the ordered ranks of horsemen dissolved into a great melee of individual combats. Amogst the Saxon cavalry was a single squadron of Herzog Albrecht (Albert) Chevaux legers, which shared the same Inhaber of Regimental Proprietor as the Austrian Herzog Albert Ciurassier; both were now immersed in the struggle. After a few minutes the Austrian cavalry broke from the melee, retreating beyond Aderklaa, their ride to safety secured by the intervention of Lederer’s cuirassier brigade. On the far right, Davout had occupied the village of Glinzendorf, south of Markgrafneusiedl, while Grouchy and Pully’s dragoons tentatively probed to the east for sign of Archduke John’s approach from Pressburg.

The French Assault on the Wagram

The first stage of Napoleon’s plan was now complete. The French army was arrayed in a great sweep from the Danube and Aspern on the left, through Breitenlee, Süssenbrunn and Aderklaa, before swinging to the right along Russbach stream towards Markgrafneusiedl. Behind the line stood the Imperial Guard in reserve. Opposite them, with the disadvantage of holding the outside line, the Austrian position stretched for nearly 20 kilometres. The largest battle the world had yet seen was about to begin in earnest. As it was now about 6.00 p.m., Charles and his staff assumed that the battle would begin at first light the next day. But Napoleon was already issuing orders for an immediate attack. With the majority of the Austrian forces north of the Russbach out of sight, drawn back beyond the lip of the escarpment, Napoleon still did not know what strength opposed him or whether the Austrians would stand or retire. In an effort to drive a wedge into the Austrian line, he ordered Bernadotte, Eugene, Oudinot and Davout to attack between the villages of Deutsch-Wagram and Markgrafneusiedl that evening. The peace of the warm summer’s evening was shattered at 7.00 p.m. when the French batteries sent out a thunderous barrage of iron towards the Austrian positions, the village of Baumersdorf in the centre of the Russbach line suffering much from this onslaught. Although all around them the buildings erupted into flames, the defenders, 8tes Jäger and a battalion of Volunteers of the Erzherzog Karl Legion, held firm under GM Hardegg and defended themselves vigorously. Oudinot, who was attacking the village, was unable to force his way in with Frere’s (formally Claparede’s) division, so he launched a flanking attack to the right of the village at about 8.00 p.m. with 1oeme Legere and 57eme de Ligne. The 57eme smashed their way into the houses on the eastern side of the village but were unable to make any further progress against the defenders, who stubbornly held on behind every wall and building. Passing the village, the 10eme Legere crossed the stream and boggy area below the escarpment, and struggled up the steep incline. On reaching the top they found themselves confronted by Buresch’s brigade of II Korps. Disordered by their advance, the French infantry were now exposed to heavy musketry followed by a charge of the Vincent’s Chevaux legers led by Hohenzollern in person. Alone and unsupported, the 10eme Legere fled back down the escarpment and past Baumersdorf, taking the 57eme with them, and eventually re-forming towards Raasdorf. A gentle breeze blowing from the east provided excellent cover for the attack of the Army of Italy to the left of Baumersdorf, as the smoke from the burning village drifted across their line of march.

Dupas’ mixed division, now temporarily attached ti the Army of Italy, led the advance up the escarpment before moving to their left toward Wagram. Macdonald followed with Lamarque’s division supported by the divisions of Serras and Dururre as well as Sahuc’ cavalry, which found a way across the stream. The sudden appearance of the French cresting the escarpment caused the Austrian artillery to panic and abandon their guns, fleeing back on the infantry of Bellegarde’s I Korps. Lamarque’s division pressed on, attacking IR47 (Vogelsang), which broke, taking a battalion of IR11 (Erzherzog Rainer) with them, continuing into a battalion of IR35 (Argenteau) in the second line. Meanwhile some of Dupas’ men were attacking the easternmost buildings of Wagram. The position on the escarpment was looking dangerous for I Korps, but Bellegarde now displayed good leadership and rallied his broken first-line troops and re-formed them against the flank of the French, who provided an excellent target, silhouetted against the setting sun. Lamarque’s men fell back but were reinforced by Valentin’s brigade and Sahuc’s cavalry. The cavalry hit the Austrian infantry, but, just as it was about to give way, Charles rode up, inspired the men amid the confusion and led a counter-attack by IR42 (Erbach) against the French infantry. Hohenzollern, having secured his own position, came over to I Korps with the Vincent Chevaux legers and Hessen-Homburg Hussars and fought off Sahuc’s men. With this rapid change of circumstances, the Frenchmen broke, and in the gathering gloom they mistook Dupas’ two white-coated Saxon battalions on their left for Austrians and opened fire. The units, Schützen Battalion (von Radeloff), disintegrated, some seeking shelter in the buildings on the edge of Wagram, others fleeing to the rear in disorder. The casualty rate was high. The counter-attack was a complete success, although Charles received a slight wound in the shoulder during the fighting. The reduced quality of the French infantry was noticeable as the retreat became a rout, the fleeing men only halting at Raasdorf when confronted by the Imperial Guard.

The Attack on Deutsch-Wagram

Bernadotte delayed the attack of IX Corps, awaiting the arrival of GL Zezschwitz’s division. At about 9.00 p.m. Lecoq’s brigade advanced against the village of Wagram, the three Saxon battalions being greeted by heavy musketry from two battalions of IR17 (Reuss-Plauen) and 2tes Jäger, as they emerged from the gloom of the Marchfeld into the light from the burning buildings. Forcing their way in, the Sxons were halted by a third battalion of IR17 in front of the church, whose close-range volleys forced them to seek shelter in the adjoining buildings. As the attack broke down, Zeschau’s brigade with Prinz Maximilia’s regiment attached were pushed into the confusion to tip the balance; but, disordered in crossing the Russbach and losing any remaining cohesion on entering the smoke-filled, casualty-strewn streets, they too became absorbed by the chaos that reigned in Wagram. The situation in the village was desperate. With the darkness and smoke limiting visibility, with all combatants except the Jäger wearing white uniforms and with almost everybody shouting and calling in German, there were numerous instances of Saxons being fired on by their own countrymen. At about 10.30 p.m. GM Hatitzsch arrived with the last of the Saxon infantry, whereupon he was ordered to advance with the Leib Grenadier Garde battalion, Grenadier Bataillon (von Bose) and Schützen Bataillon (von Egidy) and take Wagram. Unfortunately he was not informed that Saxon troops were already fighting in the village, and as Hartitzsch advanced, numbers of white-coated soldiers emerged from Wagram. Presuming them to be Austrians, his men opened fire, cutting down many of the figures, and it was some minutes before the mistake was realized. For the hard-pressed Saxons in the village this was the last straw. Believing themselves attacked in the rear as well as by fresh Austrian troops in front, they fled from the nightmare village and in disorder fell back on Aderklaa about 11.00 p.m. with only heavy casualties to show for their fruitless endeavours.

On the right, Davout had also attacked late, ordering Morand’s and Friant’s divisions to cross the Russbach and attack Markgrafneusiedl from the east while Gudin’s and Puhod’s divisions were to attack the village through Grosshofen. A cavalry probe to the right was thwarted by Nostitz’ cavalry division, and the infantry attack soon petered out, leaving the artillery alone to continue with its exchange of fire.

The night of 5/6 July

All along the line the soldiers of both sides made their fires and settled down for the night to grasp what rest they could, while Napoleon contemplated the failure of his attempt at a quick breakthrough. Reinforcements now became available with the arrival of Marmont’s XI Corps and Wrede’s Bacarian division, which would enable Napoleon to deploy 140,500 infantry, 28,000 cavalry, 13,500 artillery, engineers, etc and 488 guns on the Marchfeld, with another 8,500 men and 129 guns in reserve on Lobau. Charles could muster 113,500 infantry, 14,600 cavalry, 9,600 artillery, engineers, etc. and 141 guns. Now knowing the strength of the Austrian position and their resolve to fight, Napoleon felt confident that he could gain a victory. To strengthen his attack even further he ordered Massena to bring the majority of IV Corps north towards Aderklaa at 2.00 a.m. on 6 July, leaving only Boudet’s division to cover the approach to his rear. The main thrust of his attack was to be carried out by Davout on the right, turning the flank at Markgrafneusiedl and rolling up the Austrian line while his other corps held them in place.

At Charles headquarters in Wagram there was also much activity. Although exhausted and weakened by his wound, Charles had been delighted by the performance of his army, and yet a large part had still to be committed. Aware of Napoleon’s superiority in numbers, he felt unable to withstand another major attack. But he also knew of the weakness of Napoleon’s left. He was later to write: “I had decided to seize the only means which could give any prospect of success against the superior enemy, namely to fall on them by surprise on all sides as day broke.” At midnight the orders were issued for a general attack to commence at 4.00 a.m. on 6 July. On the right, VI Korps were to advance on Aspern; to their left, III Korps were instructed to march through Leopoldau towards Breitenlee, keeping in line with the Grenadier Reserve that was to march through Süssenbrunn. The Reserve Cavalry were to move between Süssenbrunn and Aderklaa with I Korps on their left, wheeling out of Wagram and advancing along the Russbach. On the heights, II Korps were to hold their position until I Korps had passed, when they would follow on. On the left, IV Korps, now including the Advance Guard, were to move against Davout and be supported by the arrival of Archduke John with 13,000 men. Watching the Danube and protecting the roads to Bohemia and Moravia, should retreat be necessary, was V Korps.

For the plan to work, coordination of the corps movements was a critical importance, something that the command and control system of the Habsburg army had often struggled to achieve. The two corps farthest from headquarters, VI and III Korps, were also farthest from the French. To be in position for the attack by 4.00 a.m. they needed to commence their march at 1.00 a.m., but they were not to receive their orders until 3.00 a.m. Meanwhile, Charles expected news of the arrival of Archduke John at any moment – in fact, his brother was still in Pressburg and did not commence his 40 kilometre march until 1.00 a.m.

6 July 1809: The Second Day

At 4.00 a.m., in accordance with his orders, Rosenberg on the Austrian left formed his men into three great columns and sent them against Davout. The brigade of Hessen-Homburg advanced with six battalions and four of Landwehr, from Swinburn’s and Weiss’ brigades moved on Glinzendorf, both columns preceded by an advances guard of ten battalions commanded by FML Radetzky and supported by the Stipsicz Hussars. To the left of the infantry, a cavalry column of 30 squadrons commanded by FML Nostitz, drawn from the Advance Guard and Wartensleben’s brigade, aimed to outflank the French, while the Erzherzog Ferdinand Hussars rode to Ober Siebenbrunn to protect their flank.

Taking them by surprise, as planned, Radetzky drove back Davout’s outposts. From Grosshofen, Puthod’s division opened fire on the slowly approaching Austrians, as did Friant’s and Gudin’s divisions from Glinzendorf, while Grouchy’s dragoons rode to oppose the cavalry column. Montbrun sent part of his light cavalry towards Ober Siebenbrunn to outflank the Austrians move in that direction. At french headquarters in Raasdorf the sound of firing convinced Napoleon that Archduke John had appeared with a force he believed to number 30,000 men∞ to protect his threatened right he ordered Nansouty and Arrighi’s cuirassier divisions to support Davout and started out himself with his reserve infantry, the Imperial Guard and Marmont’s XI Corps.

Charles now became concerned. Although IV Korps had started their advance on time, there was no sign of III or VI Korps far away on the right. Unwilling to expose Rosenberg’s men to the full might of the French army unsupported, he issued orders for IV Korps to extricate itself from its now isolated position and return to its starting line.

The French Attack on Aderklaa

Back at headquarters, Napoleon was immediately faced with a new threat. In the early hours of the morning, without orders, Bernadotte had withdrawn his shaken IX Corps from their exposed position at Aderklaa to a safer one south-east of the village. Just after 3.00 a.m. Bellegarde had tentatively advanced towards Aderklaa with I Korps, expecting to encounter strong resistance. Instead his advance guard repoprted the village undefended. Bellegarde immediately occupied Aderklaa, and the space between it and Wagram, with the brigades of Henneberg, Clary, Motzen and Stutterheim, deployed in two lines. An exchange of artillery fire opened up with the Saxons, which, when joined by the artillery of II Korps on the Wagram, caused many casualties on both sides. Massena, who had been ordered towards Aderklaa with IV Corps during the night, now arrived and was immediately detailed to recapture the village by Napoleon, who was furious with Bernadotte for abandoning it.

The attack was entrusted to St. Cyr’s division, led by 24eme Legere and 4eme de Ligne, supported by the Hessian brigade, with 46eme in reserve. On the right, the Saxons were to attack between Aderklaa and Wagram. Urged forward with impatience by Massena from a carriage (he had been injured a few days before), St. Cyr’s men swept forward into a hail of bullets, undaunted by the casualties that fell all around. The defenders streaming back but, inspired by Bellegarde, the second line held firm, and the fugitives re-formed. All along the line the attackers were hit hard. On the right, as the Saxons had begun to withdraw, they wre attacked by light cavalry, and the panic this induced sent a large percentage in flight towards Raasdorf.

At the same time, the first of the grenadier battalions of the reserve were coming into position to the right of I Korps. GM Stutterheim led the first three of these battalions, those of Scovaud, Jambline and Brzeczinski, plus two battalions of IR42 (Erbach) against the village, capturing it after a period of intense and bloody hand-to-hand combat. Massena organized an infantry attack, throwing Molitor’s division against the increasingly secure position. Five battalion’s of Leguay’s brigade and the 67eme de Ligne from Viviez’s stormed through the killing ground in front of Aderklaa.

At 9.00 a.m., Charles was in a strong position. I Korps had achieved its objective, forming between Wagram and Aderklaa, while the Grenadier Reserve was extending the line towards Süssenbrunn. Massena was busy reforming his men after two murderous assaults on Aderklaa. This would have been the ideal time for I Korps and the Grenadier Reserve, supported by the Reserve Cavalry, to have advanced against Napoleon’s weakened left. The great distance to be covered by III Korps meant they were only just coming into view, beginning to move up into line with their left on the Grenadier Reserve at Süssenbrunn and their right on the village of Breitenlee.

Napoleon’s Crisis

Klenau, who had held command of VI Korps for only two days, pushed on as quickly as he could down the Kagran-Aspern road, driving Boudet’s outposts and overpowering his outnumbered division. An attempt to defend the ruins of Aspern failed, and with his artillery captured by GM Wallmoden’s hussar brigade Boudet drew back into Mühlau. By 10.00 a.m. Klenau had his outposts in Essling, but finding himself ahead of the main infantry line he halted, in accordance with orders, redressed his lines towards Breitenlee and waited for the advance of III Korps. The critical moment of the battle has arrived.

From his central position at Raasdorf, Napoleon observed the attack on his left. Since he held the inner line of the curved battlefront, he could use his shorter lines of communication to great advance. He ordered Davout, who had been preparing for two hours, to launch the attack against Markgrafneusiedl on the right – this, he felt, was the key to victory. Oudinot was to continue to occupy the attention of the Austrian line to his front. Having issued these orders, Napoleon initiated the moves designed to secure his open left flank. Instead of committing his reserve infantry to meet the threat, he instructed Massena to march south with his regrouping IV Corps and block any further advance by Klenau’s VI Korps. To execute this order Massena would have to march across the face of the Grenadier Reserve and III Korps – an extremely dangerous manoeuvre. Bessieres was ordered to attack the weakest point in the Austrian line, the junction between the now-advancing III Korps and Grenadier Reserve, with his cavalry. The cavalry attack was not well handled. The Guard Cavalry appear not to have received the order. St. Germain’s division were held in reserve and not committed, leaving Nansouty’s division of cuirassiers and carabinier’s to face the brunt of the fighting. About 4,000 metal-clad horsemen advanced towards the Austrian line between Süssenbrunn and Aderklaa, drawing a devastating fire upon themselves; casualties mounted so quickly that only Defrance’s carabinier brigade reached the enemy, where, confronted by the infantry drawn up in masses and Hessen-Homburg’s cuirassier division, they could do nothing but turn and ride back, again running the gauntlet of Austrian fire. Bessieres was wounded in this attack. Chasseurs à cheval and Polish chevaux legers failed to achieve a breakthrough. While the cavalry attack was under way, Napoleon issued orders for the second part of his plan to protect Massena’s march. A great artillery battery was to be formed in an arc to cover the ground between Aderklaa and Breitenlee. Under General Lauriston of the Guard Artillery, 112 guns, drawn from the Guard, the Army of Italy and Wrede’s Bavarians, soon unleashed such a weight of iron against the Austrians that great holes were torn through their lines. Kolowrat, unable to advance into the barrage with III Korps, ordered his men to retire to the Breitenlee-Süssenbrunn road. By noon Massena had arrived close to Aspern and, supported by Lasalle’s light cavalry, St. Germain’s cuirassier brigade and the artillery based on Lobau, he beganto engage Klenau and VI Korps, who were still waiting to advance. Napoleon ordered Macdonald to deploy his two divisions of the Army of Italy behind the Guard Battery, with Serras’ division, to be ready to exploit any opportunities presented by the success of the artillery.

Davout Storms Markgrafneusiedl

While the fate of the battle had swung in the balance on the French left, on their right Davout’s careful preparations were about to bring reward. A destructive bombardment had been continuing against Markgrafneusiedl for some time. The effect of the bombardment had been terrible for the defenders: most of their artillery was out of action, and fires that had started in some of the buildings were quickly spreading. At 10 a.m. Davout launched his attack. To the east of Markgrafneusiedl the cavalry divisions of Montbrun, Grouchy and Pully drove off the hussars commanded by Fröhlich at Ober Siebenbrunn and continued their advance, threatening to turn the Austrian left flank. To oppose the move, Rosenberg ordered Mayer’s brigade to form a new flank on the escarpment where it turns to the north-east; Riese’s brigade, joined by IR58 (Beaulieu), drew up behind them. On the extreme left,

Rosenberg massed his cavalry, which included FML Nostitz’s division from the reserve, a total of 38,5 squadrons. Around the tower were the brigades of Weiss, Hessen-Homburg and Swinburn, with two additional battalions. As Davout’s infantry began to advance, many anxious Austrian eyes scanned the eastern horizon
searching for a sign of the approach of Archduke John – to no avail. The divisions of Gudin and Puthod stormed forward against the front of the village to be greeted by a withering fire from the defenders. To the east of the village, Morand’s and Friant’s divisions moved forward to receive a similar greeting. The situation in Markgrafneusiedl was itself becoming desperate, for the fire was quickly spreading through the village.

At this point a renewed assault by Gudin and Puthod reached the village, forcing Rohan’s men to give ground. Hessen-Homburg’s brigade pulled back a little and formed a new line to oppose the French foothold on the escarpment. The next assault by Morand, supported by Friant, was too much for Mayer’s brigade, who gave way and fell back on Riese’s men, where they reformed. Unable to retake the tower with Hessen-Homburg brigade, and having lost his grip on Markgrafneusiedl, where fighting had been as fierce as any yet encountered during the campaign, Rosenberg pulled back and formed a new line, which halted any further French advance. In an effort to dislodge this line, Davout ordered Arrighi to charge the position with his cuirassier division.

At about noon, with the Austrians now evicted from Markgrafneusiedl, Charles, who had observed the danger developing on his left, rode over from Wagram with Bursch’s brigade from II Korps and the Hohenzollern Cuirassiers from the Reserve. Forming up the newly arrived cavalry with that of Nostitz, Charles ordered to defeat the cavalry of Montbrun and Grouchy before attacking the exposed French infantry. The resulting cavalry clash occurred noth-east of Markgrafneusiedl. About 30 Austrian squadrons attacked about 9 of Montbrun’s. Heavily outnumbered, the French squadrons gave way. More French squadrons were fed in until the advance of Grouchy’s dragoon division tipped the balance. It was now 1.00 p.m. Both Charles and Napoleon recognized that the end of the battle was in sight.

The Destruction of Macdonald’s Square

In his central position, observing from afar the signs of Davout’s progress, Napoleon began issuing orders for a general assault all along the line. Massena was to attack Klenau vigorously around Aspern; Oudinot with II Corps was to storm the escarpment and dislodge Hohenzollern’s II Korps; while in the French centre Macdonald was to lead a massed attack against III Korps and the Grenadier Reserve. Although his force amounted to 30 battalions, these had been much weakened, and there were only about 8,000 men. The formation into which they wre organized was unusual – a great square, each side made up of battalions arranged in column of divisions, two companies across by three companies deep. The front of the square was made up of eight battalions, a regiment drawn from both Broussier’s and Lamarque’s division. The right of this great square was to be protected by the Guard Cavalry, while Nansouty’s division was to cover the left. and the Grand Battery was to advance to the right and open a heavy fire on the Austrian line.

As these guns moved forward, the Austrian gunners opened a accurate and devastating fire that disabled fifteen of the French pieces before they had completed their move, and the Austrian line then drew back out of canister range again. At about 1.00 p.m. Macdonald’s lumbering juggernaut of a formation edged towards the waiting Austrians, who, presented with such a large, slow moving target, opened up with all they could bring to bear. The destruction within the square was horrible. The French cavalry launched repeated attacks against the flanks of III Korps and the Grenadier Reserve but had little success. Throughout this, the square continued to move forward against the space between the two corps, aiming for the church spire of Süssenbrunn. Whether due to pressure from the cavalry or from the square itself, the right of the Grenadiers and the left of III Korps pulled back a little. Unable to manoeuvre effectively, the square was drawn into this space so that it came under assault from three sides by close-range musketry. Within one hour of Macdonald’s 8,000 men commencing the advance, barely 1,500 remained on their feet. However, the developing situation on their left and right meant that the Austrians were unable to exploit the destruction of Macdonald’s formation. To relieve the pressure that was crushing Macdonald, Napoleon ordered Pacthod’s reserve division of the Army of Italy to launch an attack towards Wagram, while Marmont moved forward to fill the gap now created to the left of Oudinot, and Durutte’s division, the last of Eugene’s army, was to move to Macdonald’s left and storm Breitenlee.

The End in Sight

Charles, on the heights above the Russbach, with his army outnumbered, knew the battle had turned against him. His three corps (I, II and IV) that had started the battle on the Russbach line had now been in action for ten hours and were exhausted. Rosenberg’s IV Korps was being pushed back and in danger of being outflanked by Davout’s cavalry. This forward movement by Davout had finally forced the Austrian troops defending Baumersdorf, which they had held since the opening of the battle the previous day. Bellegarde’s I Korps, after a whole day in action, now faced Marmont’s fresh XI Corps, while on the right Klenau was falling back before Massena. At about 2.00 p.m. Charles received word that Archduke John would not reach the battlefield until 5.00 p.m. Charles issued orders for a phased withdrawal at about 2.30 p.m. Each corps was directed along its own line of retreat, and repeated French attacks attempting to disrupt this movement were beaten off as the Austrian army retaining its discipline, organized counter-attacks to relieve this pressure. In one of these rearguard actions the French light cavalry leader, Lasalle, was killed. By nightfall contact had been broken. The French camped, widely distributed across the battlefield, too exhausted to pusue any further.

Some time after 5.00 p.m., Archduke John’s cavalry approached Ober Siebenbrunn. Receiving information that the battle was over, but he caused a certain amount of panic among the French troops recovering at Glinzendorf.

Wagram had been the largest battle in history at that time. More than 300,000 men had fought for two days along a great front. For the Austrians, a figure of 23,750 killed and wounded, 7,500 prisoners and about 10,000 missing, many of whom returned to their regiments later. In addition, the Austrians lost ten standards and 20 guns. Estimates of French losses also vary, but 27,500 killed and wounded, with an additional 10,000 for prisoners and missing. It is interesting to note that the French lost slightly more trophies than the Austrians, twelve eagles or standards and 21 guns. After the battle, Napoleon was reported as saying that, ‘war was never like this, neither prisoners nor guns. This day will have no result.’

Ian Castle was born in London in 1957 and still lives in the city. He has been writing on military history for 20 years now. Through an early involvement in Napoleonic historical re-enactment, starting back in the 1970s, he recognised the limit of written material available in the English language on the Austrian Army of the period and, over the years, has tried to improve that situation. He has now written two books covering the 1809 campaign and also two on 1805. In addition he made contributions to the recently published Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars on both the 1809 and 1805 campaigns as well as writing articles on aspects of the 1809 campaign in various historical journals.


This article is reproduced in its entirety with the kind permission of the organisers of "The campaign of 1809" symposium, held in Vienna on 4 and 5 June, 2009.

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Zusammenfassung der Beiträge zum Napoleon Symposium "Feldzug 1809"
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