This timeline forms part of our close-up on: the Battle of Wagram, the third in our series of in-depth dossiers on the Austrian Campaign of 1809, which also includes the Battle of Aspern-Essling and Andreas Hofer and the Insurrection in the Tyrol.
8-14 May: French troops laid siege to Vienna
French chasseurs arrived at Schönbrunn on 8 May, engaging in small skirmishes with Hungarian hussars stationed in defence. By the evening of 10 May, the French occupied the Viennese outskirts. By 11 May, the city was completely surrounded and artillery shelling began, which lasted until the early hours of 12 May. As troops under Masséna moved up through the Prater park area, Archduke Maximilian, in charge of the city’s defence, withdrew his troops. It was left to Marshal Andreas O’Reilly to negotiate the surrender of the city. The surrender was eventually signed on 13 May. On 14 May, Archduke Charles arrived in Stockerau, just north of Vienna, only to learn of the city’s capitulation.
17 May, 1809: the Battle of Linz
As Napoleon’s troops poured east in direction of Vienna, Davout and Vandamme were charged with securing and watching over the army’s northern flank along the Danube. Particularly important in this strategy was the control of the Linz-Urfahr bridgehead. Archduke Charles, still retreating towards Vienna, began to suspect (albeit incorrectly) that Napoleon would move north, turning away briefly from Vienna, and strike across the Danube at the heart of the Austrian army, effectively bringing the campaign to an end. On 7 May, Charles issued Lieutenant-General Kolowrat with orders to cross the Danube and attack the French flank in a bid to slow the advance on Vienna and take the French troops by surprise.
Yet by 16 May, Kolowrat was still about 40 km from Linz (at a town called Freistadt), by which time Vienna had already fallen. Worse still, the French had learnt of his position. On 16 May, his right wing had crossed paths with a Württemberg outpost at Leonfelden, north of Linz, resulting in a brief skirmish. Moreover, Maréchal Bernadotte and his Saxon troops had also advanced on Linz to reinforce Vandamme
Despite this added French presence, Kolowrat attacked in the afternoon of 17 May and initially made progress, driving back the Württemberg skirmishers and cavalry posted in advance of the Urfahr bridgehead. Vandamme and Bernadotte were however able to repel the attack and eventually succeeded in pushing the main Austrian attack back east of Linz. At the same time, Vandamme sent a detachment of Württembergers north which, through a mixture of surprise and aggression, succeeded in dislodging the Austrians from their defensible position whilst taking nearly 400 prisoners. Kolowrat and the remaining Austrian troops retreated to Freistadt with the intent of launching a counter attack, but Aspern-Essling would however intervene in these plans.
19-20 May: Napoleon had captured Vienna, but the bridges crossing the Danube had been destroyed and the Austrian troops were stationed at the Bisamberg on the bank opposite the French. On the night of 19 May, French troops stationed at Vienna bridged the Danube, crossing onto the Lobau, an island in the middle of the Danube. By daybreak on 21 May, troops under Masséna had bridged across from the Lobau onto the left-bank. The Austrian troops, intending to attack once the French troops were split crossing the Danube, hoped to catch them before further support could be mustered.
21-22 May: the Battle of Aspern-Essling
Click here for our article on the events of the battle.
Following the twin battles of Aspern-Essling, Napoleon busied himself overseeing the replenishment of his forces. Faced with a lack of food and provisions for his army, the cellars and bread supplies in Vienna were stripped as he sought to bring his army back up to strength. A general reorganisation of his various generals’ campaign positions saw Junot recalled from Spain to command the observation corps on the Elbe, Lefebvre, at the time occupied in the Tyrol (see our special close-up on: the insurrection and Andreas Hofer), was ordered to Linz and Bernadotte was moved up to Sankt Pölten, about 70km from Vienna. With Vandamme holding the Austrian capital, Napoleon made preparations to seize control of the Danube, multiplying the bridgeheads and crossing points that he could use in the upcoming battle. Pontoons were constructed and readied, and a number of French gunboats patrolled the river. Despite the ‘defeat’ at Aspern-Essling, French moral was recovering. On the opposite side, Charles oversaw his own troops’ reorganisation and recovery following their ‘victory’ but failed to take advantage of the weakened state of the French army.
14 June, 1809: the Battle of Raab
At the Battle of Raab, 14 June, 1809, Franco-Italian troops under Eugène defeated the Austrians, posted just outside the city (now Győr, 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, Archduke Johann ordered the retreat.
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.
On 1 July, 1809, Napoleon established his headquarters on the island of Lobau, now called “Napoleon island” and which had been occupied by French troops for several weeks. The setback at Aspern/Essling (21-22 May, 1809) (see our “close-up on: the Battle of Aspern-Essling”) was to be avenged when Napoleon once again sent his armies onto the north bank of the Danube, around the village of Deutsch-Wagram…
4-6 July, 1809: the Battle of Wagram
Having seized the newly baptised “Napoleon Island”, Napoleon had fortified the area with huge cannons taken from the arsenal at Vienna. His headquarters were established on 1 July and bridgeheads were secured between the south bank and the island. French troops prepared to affront the north bank, where Archduke Charles’ troops lay in wait. Convinced that Napoleon would mount an attack along the same lines as the battles at Aspern-Essling and attempt a crossing at the very same bridge, Charles occupied and fortified the aforementioned villages as well as Enzersdorf. These occupied villages were linked by a great series of entrenchments and redoubts. The archduke’s initial suspicions were confirmed following the three-day excursion (between 30 June and 2 July) carried out by French troops under Legrand, who crossed onto the Mühlau (a smaller island between the Lobau and Essling) and began earthwork constructions. This was to prove merely a diversion. With his entire army massed on the Marchfeld plain, Charles realised by 3 July that a French attack would not be forthcoming and withdrew the bulk of his troops back to the heights near the Russbach.
On the night of 4 July there was a violent storm which, alongside French artillery fire, provided cover for Napoleon and his troops advancing across the Danube. Crossing from the empty south-east corner of the Lobau, troops under Oudinot, Davout and Masséna braved the torrential rain and by the morning of 5 July, more than 30,000 of them were massed on the north bank. By 9am, the important bridges at Enzersdorf, Wittau and Mühllein were under French control. However, Napoleon had anticipated heavy enemy presence along the Aspern-Essling-Enzersdorf line and, realising that this was not to be the case, was forced to adapt his battle plans. Charles had adopted a reasonably secure defensive position across the elevated axis of Gerasdorf-Wagram-Baumersdorf-Markgrafneusiedl, but, in need of support, had sent dispatches to Archduke Johann, entreating him to make haste along the river to join up with his left-wing. Oudinot, alongside Lasalle and Marulaz, advanced on and occupied Rutzendorf, to the north-east of Wittau. Late on 5 July, Napoleon ordered a hasty frontal attack, which saw Wagram briefly penetrated first by Dupas, and then by Bernadotte, before French troops were forced back by an Austrian rally.
The next morning, with Boudet alone protecting the French left flank, Masséna advanced on Aderklaa. Following Napoleon’s failure to seize Wagram the night before, Charles ordered Klenau to march on Aspern and Kolowrat to leave Leopoldau and head for the plain around Breitenlee. Rosenberg, on the Austrian left flank, was to attack whatever lay in front of him to divert French troops away from the Klenau-Kolowrat advance. This plan, although well-conceived, was hampered by the Austrian subordinates’ slow reaction to the orders and Archduke Jean’s failure to arrive in time to offer support. At 4am, as per Charles’ orders, intense fighting broke out between Rosenberg’s troops and the French right wing, under Davout. Napoleon ordered Nansouty into the breach in an attack on Rosenberg’s own right wing. Due to the non-appearance of Kolowrat and Klenau on the French left-wing which left Rosenberg isolated, he and his troops retreated back across the Russbach river. At a similar time, Aderklaa changed hands between the French and Austrian troops as Masséna and St.-Cyr clashed with Bellegarde. In order to provide a focal point for the French left-wing, Masséna was to move south from Aderklaa back towards Aspern to block Klenau’s advance, a movement that would leave him dangerously vulnerable to heavy fire from Liechtenstein’s grenadiers and Kolowrat’s advancing troops. Under intense French artillery covering fire which punctured huge holes in Kolowrat’s forces between Sussenbrünn and Breitenlee, Masséna arrived near Aspern and, with support from Lasalle, St.-Germain and Napoleon’s artillery still stationed on the Lobau, engaged Klenau. Boudet, who had been left to defend the French left-wing, had lost his artillery and been pushed back onto the original Aspern bridgehead near Aspern House. The Austrian advance was however stymied thanks to Reynier’s artillery stationed on the Lobau.
Whilst Oudinot continued his frontal attack of the night before, without much success, Davout, on the French right-flank, pushed through Rosenberg’s artillery and seized Markgrafneusiedl. Eugène de Beauharnais’ troops pushed west into the hole left by Masséna’s move south. Reserves under Macdonald crashed into Liechtenstein‘s front line whilst Oudinot finally broke through Hohenzollern’s line at Baumersdorf, allowing him to join up with Davout. Eugène attacked Bellegarde’s troops and Masséna, having shored up the French left-wing and rescued Boudet, advanced aggressively on Aspern. The battle was won, although not without loss. Lasalle fell leading his light cavalry against Klenau’s troops, and French total losses numbered about 37,000. Charles had seen 43,000 of his men killed, wounded or missing due to the two-day fighting. More than 300,000 men took part in the battle.
At about 5pm on 6 July, Archduke Johann finally appeared on the battlefield. Although a cause for concern for the exhausted French rear on the right wing, he beat a hasty retreat upon hearing news that the battle was already lost. Charles’ retreat was orderly and the French did not immediately give chase. The remnants of the Austrian army would however be defeated by Marmont and Masséna at the Battle of Znaim (now Znojmo, in the Czech Republic), on 10 and 11 July, 1809.
Ian Castle, “The Battle of Wagram” in Zusammenfassung der Beiträge zum Napoleon Symposium “Feldzug 1809″ im Heeresgeschichtlichen Museum”, 2009, pp. 191-199.