THE GUARD DURING THE AUSTRIAN CAMPAIGN, IN 1809.
We said previously that Napoleon had returned in all haste from Spain to Paris in order to be ready for any event. Indeed, Austria, as of the beginning of 1809, had never ceased secretly brooding over the old resentments, which arose from the Treaty of Presburg and seeing the bad turn of events that took place in our Spanish affairs, had believed the it was a favorable moment to tear up this treaty.
April 12, Napoleon learned at Saint-Cloud of the invasion of Bavaria, which had taken place on the 10th by Austrian troops. He left this residence the 12th of the same month, arrived the 16th at Louisburg, where he had an interview with the King of Wurtemburg, and the very same day traveled on his road while moving onto Dilligen where the King of Bavaria awaited him. The following day the Emperor joined his headquarters at Donawerth: the Imperial Guard having been ordered to go there by forced march.
The French Army with the Bavarian and Wurtemburg contingents brought together only eighty thousand combatants. Still too weak (on the side of numbers) to resist the enemy who had an offensive mass of one hundred fifty thousand soldiers, they had successively brought down towards the heart of Bavaria. Napoleon, as of his arrival appeared anxious of the future campaign, addressed his Guard as the other troops with one of those proclamations that were always infallible oracles.
“Soldiers!” He said to them, “the territory of the Confederation of the Rhine was violated. The Austrian general wants us to flee from his show of arms and we give up our allies to him. I came with the speed of a flash. Soldiers! I was surrounded by you when the Emperor of Austria came to my bivouac in Moravia; you have heard he intended to beseech my leniency and to swear me an eternal friendship. Winners in three wars with Austria, this power only existed by our generosity: three times it perjured themselves. Our last successes are sure guarantees of the victory that awaits us. Thus let us go, and with our show let the enemy recognize his conqueror.”
The arrival of Napoleon and the Imperial Guard was soon revealed to the enemy whose progressive marches were suddenly stopped. Our marshals had received their instructions; the soldiers did not need to know them. Wasn't Napoleon with them? Could they fear anything? Weren't they sure to overcome? The combat and successes started.
April 19, while General Oudinot left Augsburg, reached and crushed the enemy at Pfaffenhoffen, Marshal Davoust left Ratisbon to approach Ingolstadt where the headquarters of the Emperor, always accompanied by his guard, had been transferred, the goal of Napoleon being to maneuver on the enemy which had emerged at Landshut and to attack it at the moment even when, believing it had taken the initiative, it advanced on Ratisbon that Davoust had just left.
This marshal marched in two columns. Divisions Gudin and Morand formed his right side, those of Friant and Saint-Hilaire, his left. Arriving at Pessing Height, General Saint-Hilaire was attacked by the enemy, extremely more in numbers, but quite less in bravery, and there opened the campaign by a glorious combat for our arms.
With the gain of this first advantage, the corps of Davoust executed its junction with the Bavarian troops: Napoleon resolved to benefit from this increase in forces to attack and destroy the left of the Austrian army. Consequently, he gave orders to Davoust to hold in check the enemy line, and went, the 20th, with part of his guard onto Abensberg, where the corps of the Archduke was. The two divisions Morand and Gudin, the Bavarians and Wurtemburgers were to attack the front of the Austrian army that Masséna, crossing at Feying, was to take in the back.
The divisions Morand and Gudin were placed under the command of Marshal Lannes and formed the left of the French Army. The Emperor had decided to fight at the head of Bavarian and Wurtemburgers; but before engaging in action, he brought together the officers of these two nations in a circle and spoke to them a long time. The royal prince of Bavaria translated into German what Napoleon said in French. Then he gave the signal for combat.
The General von Wrede, a Bavarian officer of a great merit attacked the front Austrian divisions, which were opposite him. Vandamme with Wurtemburgers overwhelmed the line of the enemy. Marshal Lefebvre, with the division of royal prince of Bavaria and that of General Deroy, maneuvered to cut the main road of Abensberg at Landshuts. Marshal Lannes, with his two divisions, forced the extreme left; these attacks on all the points obtained an equal success. The enemy, disconcerted, resisted only one hour before being forced to retire. Eight flags, twelve pieces of cannon, eighteen thousand prisoners, were the result of this battle, which cost the French Army almost nothing.
At Landshut, Napoleon and the Guard reconsidered their options. The Archduke Charles had joined together four of his the principal army corps that already had been beaten of Thann, Rosenberg, Kollowrat and Lichtenstein in Eggmühl. Napoleon, as we said, and the Imperial Guard arrived in front of Eggmühl at two o’clock in the afternoon, and engaged in combat at once. Electrified by three days of victories, our soldiers ran to the enemy with that confidence which the certainty of success gave. The Duke of Montebello (Lannes), at the head of Gudin division, promptly overwhelmed the left of the Austrian army, while other divisions attacked it front. Davoust and Lefebvre emerged in their turn; the 10th Light Infantry Regiment, Saint-Hilaire division, sprang in front of the Austrians, and, for half an hour, alone supported all the effort of their right wing, while General Montbrun, with his cavalry, obstinately attacked them on the flank and front. One then saw one of the most beautiful spectacles that war can offer, an army of one hundred ten thousand men, attacked by less than seventy thousand, turned by its left, successively driven out of all its positions, and, finally, obliged to flee in the greatest disorder.
Two Hungarian grenadier squares still held in the plain: it was the reserve commanded by the Archduke Charles in person. Nansouty pounced on one, broke it, and captured it in its entirety. Saint-Sulpice fell on the other, broke into it, and put the remainder in a flight to escape. The Archduke Charles, who was in this square, found safety only from the speed of his sound horse. As of this moment, the Austrian army ceased resisting, and carried out its retirement; most of its artillery, fifteen flags and sixteen thousand men, remained in our hands.
The enemy army, concentrated around Ratisbon, was still more than eighty thousand combatants strong; Napoleon did not have nearly as many: however Prince Charles did not dare risk a new battle. Having the Danube at his back, he decided to re-cross the river and to returns to Bohemia, undoubtedly hoping, by a forced march on left bank, to return to place himself on right bank in enough time and in a favorable enough position to cover the capital of the Austrian Empire, on which he well envisaged that the French Army was going to move.
The crossing of the Danube by the Austrian Army was carried out under the fire of our batteries, while the Marshal Lannes seized Ratisbon with a sharp force and chased the Austrian rear guard.
At the attack of this city, the Emperor received a light wound of the heel, which made him pause on the battlefield, surrounded by the chasseurs of his Guard; but this wound did not prevent him from getting up immediately onto his horse to direct the movement of the troops.
These five days of combat had been marked by brilliant successes. The combat of Thann delivered the center of the army of the Archduke, the Battle of Abensberg isolated his left, the business at Landshut which completed putting it out of action, the Battle of Eggmühl again directed against the center of this army, finally the combat of Ratisbon which broke it, form a series of glorious events which history does not provide an equal. It was mainly in the beginning of the campaign of 1809 that the influence of the Emperor over this century was mainly demonstrated.
“During the course of his prosperity,” said the General Pelet*, “the magic force of the presence of Napoleon perhaps never appeared so highly as in the events of this campaign. The Austrian Army, full of confidence, advanced in mass with offensive projects long planned for; part of Germany was ready to be rise; Europe watched for the favorable moment to fall on France. Our army, scattered on the Danube, remained exposed in the greatest danger. The Emperor appears; the moral situation of the two armies, the spirit of the people, the course and the face of Europe, in a moment, suddenly changed.”
* Today Director of the War Depot and Peer of France, in his remarkable work on the campaign of 1809.
However, without letting himself be dazzled by success, Napoleon, faithful to this maxim “As long as there remains something to do, there is nothing done,” gave his instructions so that the army was started immediately on Vienna. But before leaving Ratisbon, he believed it his duty to address the Guard and his troops with this remarkable proclamation.
“Soldiers! He said, you justified my waiting: you compensated for the numbers by your bravery; you gloriously marked the difference, which exists between the soldiers of Caesar and the mobs armed by Xerxes.
In a few days, we triumphed in three battles and six combat. A hundred pieces of cannon, forty flags, fifty thousand prisoners, all baggage wagons and all caissons of the Austrian regiments, here is the result of the speed of your march and your courage.
The enemy, emboldened by a perjured cabinet, seem not to preserve any memory of you; his wake up call was prompt: you appeared more terrible to him than ever; now it lies in disorder; already my advance-guard has crossed the Inn; in less than a month we will be in Vienna.”
Indeed, this march was fast, and our troops, as Napoleon had promised them, arrived under the walls of Vienna.
The Archduke Maximilian, with a corps of sixteen thousand men, occupied this capital. His presence, and the thought that Archduke Charles advanced by a forced march to help the city, inspired the Viennese with the desire to be defended. The suburbs were occupied without difficulties by the French advance guard. But when our troops advanced on the esplanade, which separates the suburbs from the city, they were greeted with a salvo of grapeshot that left the ramparts; a French colonel, an envoy to speak on a treaty, was mistakenly killed. The Emperor, before resorting to rigorous measures, charged Major General Berthier with writing to Archduke Maximilian, and wanted that this letter to be carried to him by a delegation of the inhabitants of the suburbs.
The fire from the ramparts, which started again, was the only answer from the Archduke. Then Napoleon gave his orders; but it was only while groaning over the calamities, which were going to be dealt to a population in which he was interested. The city was invested on three sides; a battery of twenty howitzers rose on the very site where the Turks had entrenched at the time of the siege of 1783. At nine o'clock in the evening, the bombardment started. In little time eighteen hundred shells were launched on the city; several hotels and great establishments became the prey of the flames. The fire threw terror among the inhabitants, among which their resolution started to weaken. During the intervals, a Member of Parliament presented himself to announce to the Emperor that the Archduchess Marie-Louise, then sick, had remained in the imperial palace that had been exposed to the fire of French artillery. Napoleon, who was far from envisaging the bond which was, the following year, to link him with this princess, ordered, in regard of her, to change the direction of the batteries.
However the Archduke, had tried to exit; he had convinced himself that any direct communication with left bank of the Danube was going to be barred to him; he thus decided to evacuate the city at once, and profited from the night in carrying out his retirement. He left, and cut the bridge as soon as he crossed it. The general, whom he had left in Vienna with the sad mission of signing the capitulation, sent, at the break of day, a delegation to the Emperor, to announce that he was ready to give the city to him. The articles of this capitulation were signed on May 12, and General Oudinot occupied the capital of Austria as of the following day.
Napoleon, as in 1806, established his headquarters at Schoenbrunn, where part of the Guard was confined; and, at this castle, he addressed the following proclamation to the army:
“Soldiers! One month after the enemy crossed Inn, on the same day, the same hour, we entered Vienna. The landwehr, his levies en masse, the ramparts created by the impotent rage of the House of Lorraine, could not withstand your appearance. The princes of this family gave up their capital, not as soldiers of honor who yield to the circumstances and the reverses of the war, but due to the perjuries, which continue to their own remorse. While fleeing from Vienna, their good-byes to its inhabitants were murder and fire: like Medea, they have cut the throat of their children with their own hands.
Soldiers! The people of Vienna, forsaken, given up and unhappy, will be the object of your grace. I take his good inhabitants under my protection. As for the turbulent men, I will make a just example of them. Soldiers! Let us be good to the poor peasants, who have so many rights to our pity; let us not preserve any pride of our successes: we should see there only one bright proof of the divine justice, which always punishes the ungrateful and perjured.”
One of the army surgeons of the Guard had been placed in the suburbs of Vienna, with an old canoness, and close relation of Prince John von Lichstensteim, of whom she bore the name. The requirements of this medical officer were excessive and exceeded the requests for normal usage. In one moment when the wine of Hungary had undoubtedly disturbed his reason a little, he had the unhappy idea to write to Madam von Lichstensteim, his hostess, a letter designed to making such extravagant terms and at the same time so abusive that this lady felt obliged to resort to the protection of General Andréossy, whom Napoleon had named Governor of Vienna, in order to be removed from such an annoying host. To support her request, she sent the letter, which had been written to her by the medical officer of whom we do not want to point out the name. This letter started as follows:
“If the Marshal Duke of Danzig, of glorious memory, were placed on your premise, Madam, he would say to you: Princeling, etc, etc.”
The remainder of the epistle was worthy of the beginning. So that by insulting a respectable princess, he insulted at the same time Marshal Lefebvre, while using his name familiarly as an authority to multiply his insults.
General Andréossy forwarded this letter to the Prince de Neufchâtel with that which had been written to him by Madam von Lichstenstein. Both were put under the eyes of Napoleon, who gave the order to M *** (the army surgeon in question) to appear the next morning at parade.
This day the Emperor quickly descended the grand staircase from the castle, enflamed face, speaking to nobody and holding in his hand the letter of the medical officer.
—Has M *** appeared? He said raising his voice.
This one was presented:
—Sir, is it you who wrote and signed this infamous letter? He asked him by presenting the paper to him.
—Grace! Sire; I was for one moment intoxicated and I did not know what I did.
—Unhappy one! Insult one more of my brave lieutenants, and at the same time a canoness worthy of respect and to be pitied enough already for having to suffer part of the misfortunes of the war. I do not accept your excuse. I degrade your Legion of Honor; you are unworthy to carry the venerated badge. General Dorsenne! He added while addressing this head of the corps; carry out this order... Insulter of an old woman! Napoleon began still again: my! I respect an old woman as if it were my mother.
Such were the words of the Emperor that all those who were present could hear *.
* Mr. de Beausset, Prefect of the Palace, Mémoires, 1st Volume, Page 362.
This army surgeon was however a man gentle, honest and esteemed in the Guard as much for his talents as for his good conduct. These considerations probably influenced the forgiveness, which was later granted to him, as requested by all the generals of the Guard. The first moment spent, Napoleon easily reconsidered the account of the individuals who served him with zeal and fidelity, especially when those had only strayed.
The French Army was master of the right bank of the Danube and Vienna; but the large Austrian army, commanded by Prince Charles, was camped on the other side of the river, in the plain of Marchfeld. This position made it possible for the enemy to concentrate his forces and to restart fighting, which the insurrection in the Tyrol could have made fatal to our troops. Such were the reasons, which influenced Napoleon to continue his offensive operations and to cross the Danube to fight the Austrians in a decisive battle.
Two miles below Vienna, opposite Ebersdorff, two islands separate the water from the Danube into three branches. According to the order of Napoleon, this point was selected for the establishment of the bridges. As of May 18, the materials necessary having been brought together, the division of General Molitor crossed, with boats, to Lobau Island; the following day, two bridges on the first and the second arm were completed. The 20th, a third bridge joined Lobau Island to left bank, and the divisions of Molitor, the La Salle and Boudet profited during the night, to cross the river and to take positions in the villages of Essling and Gross-Aspern, which, built out of stones, offered advantages to protect the crossing of the remainder of the army.
The enemy, up to then, had neither worried our work, nor the crossing of the last arm of the river. Placed one mile above our bridges, it had not appeared yet. This inaction, recommended by Prince Charles, had been resolved in a council of war in which the elite of the Austrian generals had taken part. It had been decreed our divisions would be attacked only when the stronger part of the French Army was compromised on left bank, the Archduke having secretly prepared means to destroy the bridges which established communications between the two opposite banks.
Around four o’clock in the evening, the Austrian General, considering the moment favorable, gave his orders, and his columns were found moving.
Our advance-guard, the right side placed at the village of Essling and the left at that of Gross-Aspern, was attacked at once: ninety thousand Austrians and two hundred pieces of cannon hurtled at once against our whole line only thirty five thousand men strong. Fighting was fierce on both sides; the French cavalry made several beautiful charges and took fourteen pieces of cannon. In spite of their immense numerical superiority and the strength of their attacks, the Austrians could not gain ground. Marshal Masséna defended the village of Aspern, Marshal Lannes that of Essling; each one held onto their positions and held the battlefield intact. Darkness alone stopped the combat.
The two armies camped in each other’s presence. The French troops who were on Lobau Island continued to cross during the night and brought our joined forces to approximately fifty thousand men.
In May, the nights are short. Again the 22nd, as of three o’clock in the morning, new attacks were directed on Essling and Gross-Aspern, which were successively taken and retaken. At four o’clock, the whole Austrian army put into motion and attacked the French lines again, while seeking to make use of its numerical superiority to extend its wings in order to outflank them. Then Napoleon resolved to benefit from this movement of the enemy, because by weakening its center, it gave the possibility of the breaking through it. Marshal Lannes, at the head of the combined grenadiers, commanded by Oudinot, and of divisions Saint-Hilaire and Boudet, accepted the order to leave the defensive and to fall on the Austrians. Bessières, with all the cavalry of the Guard, was to support this attack; Davoust, to emerge by Essling on the left of the enemy, and Masséna, to attack the line by Aspern. This terrible shock stopped in one moment the enemy on its wings and they collapsed on its center. It lost ground and soon its falling back took the aspect of a retreat; moreover with an effort, this retreat could change into a complete rout, when, suddenly, a fatal event stopped our successes: the army has no cartridges and balls; the corps of Davoust could not cross the Danube; our bridges are broken, all communication with the Island of Lobau was cut off with our troops who were without food and ammunition.
Prince Charles, on left bank, had prepared large boats charged with explosives and many fire-boats; in spite of the bringing these together in the villages, the barrier of the Danube had been enough so that these preparations had remained unknown in Napoleon. No pier having been placed to protect the approaches of the bridges, the shock of these enormous masses, that the Archduke had released to coincide with currents enlarged by rain, had broken the two bridges which joined Lobau Island to right bank. The situation of our army had become as of this moment most critical; but the calm attitude of its head gave confidence to our brave men. All the attacks of the Austrians broke against their heroic valor. Attacked several times, the villages of Essling and Gross-Aspern, encumbered with Austrian corpses, always remained in our possession; finally, at nine o’clock, the fire of the enemy ceased, ours had been extinguished for a long time: our soldiers could only fight with bayonet.
This battle had lasted for thirty consecutive hours; the suspension, which had taken place in the night of the 21st to the 22nd, can hardly be counted. On the two sides the loss was considerable. The Austrians had from eight to nine thousand men killed or wounded. They lost some pieces of cannon, four flags, a general officer and a thousand to eleven hundred men made captive. The French Army did not have a fewer number of killed and casualties. Several Generals remained on the battlefield; we regretted mainly the General d’Espagne, killed in a glorious charge, and General Saint-Hilaire, who died from the complications of his wound; but the most painful loss for Napoleon, was that of Marshal Lannes, who, the 22nd in the evening, had his two legs blown off by a ball. On learning this news, the Emperor exclaimed:
—It was necessary that my heart had been struck such a terrible blow on this day, so that I could devote myself entirely with the other cares of my army.
He acted, after this bloody battle (where however French honor had been saved), to draw the army away from the dangerous position it was in. A pontoon bridge was established to communicate with the Lobau Isle. It was agreed that the retirement would start in the night, and that the troops, returning to the island, would await there, without crossing the Danube again, that sufficient preparations would be made to resume the offensive and to again seize the victory which had only been denied them by an unforeseen accident.
This withdrawal of our soldiers was done with an admirable order and without the enemy daring to oppose it. When the artillery had re-crossed, the bridge was drawn up, and the army was as blockaded on Lobau Isle, the bridges that were to ensure its communications with Vienna having been carried away as those, which had been used to him to reach the enemy. The Emperor, on a frail skiff, had regained the right bank of the river, in order to be within range to give orders to all of his army corps which had not taken part in the battle, and also to accelerate the sending of ammunition of all types for the brave combatants of Essling whose need had been so great.
The solicitude of Napoleon was soon crowned with success, and abundance reigned among the troops to whose great efforts had created such need. Lobau Island soon became a true fortified town by the immense works, which were built there. This work lasted more than a month. During this time, the army of Italy, victorious over Archduke John, united with the Grand Armée, after winning the Battle of Raab. This army had been greeted, on its arrival in Austria, by the admirable proclamation of the Emperor, who started as follows:
“Soldiers of the Army of Italy! You glorious achieved the goal that I had set for you; welcome! I am satisfied with you, etc.”
Napoleon, who had continued to live in the Schoenbrunn Castle, even transported his headquarters to the Island of Lobau, at soon as it had been judged that the moment to act had come. His presence redoubled the confidence and the ardor of all; his first care was to visit the soldiers of the Guard in their bivouacs. He found them taking their meal:
—Eh well! My friends, he said to a group in front of whom he had stopped, how do you find the wine?
—It will not make us drunk, Sire, answered a grenadier while showing him the Danube, because there is our cellar.
The Emperor, who had ordered the distribution of a bottle of wine to each man, was surprised to see his intentions so badly carried out, and demanded of the Prince de Neufchâtel; to investigate, and discover, which of the provision handlers, in charge of this service, had sold, for their profit, the wine intended for the Imperial Guard. These poor wretches were stopped at once, handed over to a military commission, condemned to death and executed.
The possession of Germany was to be decided on the plain of Morava (Marchfeld). The time employed with the preparations to ensure the new crossing of the Danube, gave Napoleon an opportunity to concentrate all the forces that he had available. His army increased to a hundred and fifty thousand men. The artillery material was increased to four hundred pieces of ordnance. All the preparations were made on Lobau Island, under cover of the woods and the channels, which formed secondary islands; Napoleon waited for nothing more but the arrival of the ammunition necessary to give the order to carry out the crossing. This passage began on June 30 at the point where the river had been crossed the first time on May 21. A pontoon bridge was thrown down in one and a half hours under the protection of artillery. A brigade crossed and crushed the Austrians; all prepared to throw a bridge of pilings to the shelter the means of the enemy’s destruction: the seamen of the Guard improvised this bridge, more quickly than those of boats they had used before.
July 4th in the evening, the troops having gathered on the eastern part of Lobau Island, some battalions crossed the river in boats. A third bridge was established in two hours, and Oudinot defiled swiftly. A hundred battery pieces on the front of Lobau Island, thundering all along the line, spread fear and facilitated the operation, by distracting the attention of the enemy, and by protecting the troops already crossed and the work which continued with a miraculous promptness. During this time, a terrible storm thundered in the sky: the lightning confused its flashes with the repercussions of the artillery, which it could not cover. The night was obscure; the rain, driven by a violent wind, fell in torrents, and the burning of Enzersdorf, ignited by our batteries, lit this terrible scene.
A splendid day followed this dreadful night, and revealed, to the astonished Austrians, the French Army spreading itself as if by enchantment on the plain and behind the lines, which they had raised to prevent the passage of the river, that the skilful maneuvers of Napoleon had now made useless.
The action, nevertheless, could not begin until the 5th, even with the swiftness that the French columns put in their march. However, a first attack of the plateau of Nieuzedel took place in the evening by the French Army; but without result.
The following day, the Archduke began the action with a movement intended to throwback the left of our army to the point of Lobau Island, while a sharp attack was to occupy the line. The Emperor, on these intermediate movements, gave the order to Masséna to attack Aderklaa, where the Austrians were in force, so that their line, coming down from Bisamberg, did not arrive on our left. Masséna had been wounded the day before by the fall of his horse, and, like Maurice with Fontenoy, he was forced to direct his troops from a barouche. He fell on the village following his columns, which he could not lead to himself, and Aderklaa was taken.
During this time, the line of the Austrians, fifty thousand men strong, continued to advance on Aspern. Masséna did not have a minute to lose to form in front of it, and bar him from access to Lobau Island: he flew on the way to Aspern with his three divisions which already had succeeded, and met the enemy close to Neu-wirthshaus. Boudet division, having arrived in the morning at Aspern, emerged at this point: it received the shock of the enemy.
This movement of the Austrians was bold, but imprudent; they were thus voluntarily placed between the Danube and a brave and warlike army. Also Napoleon commanded it with Prince Eugene, who advanced between Wagram and Baumersdorf, to take, by a change of direction on the left, the place where Masséna had fought, and to be followed there by Marmont and the Bavarians. In order to give time to make these dispositions, a charge of the Guard cavalry, carried out by Bessières, contained the enemy for a moment; but the attack of this column weakened when this marshal was wounded, and the Austrians continued to march on the point of our line unoccupied by the movement of Masséna.
During these operations, Davoust had received the order to outflank the left of the Austrians. A terrible combat ensued around Nieusedel; the strength of resistance equal to that of the attack; Davoust guided his battalions; the divisions Friant and Morand melted away in wonders of valor.
At the same moment, Oudinot who had received orders to restrict himself to containing the enemy divisions was compelled to fight by his ardor. Seeing himself surrounded by fires on all sides, shaking from his inaction and he decided to take the crossing of the Russbach and to climb the plateau. His first brigades are recalled; but he puts himself at the head his troops and pushes back everything in front of him. The movement prescribes by Napoleon on the right side of his army is accomplished. The left of the enemy is forced back and overcome: Nieusedel and the plateau is in our hands.
In the mean time, with the accomplishments of these attacks and devotion of our gunners, Eugene had carried out his movement. Napoleon forms at once a formidable mass at the head of which he places Macdonald with eight battalions of the Young Guard; twelve others are formed in columns tightened on their two wings, and behind them Wride and Serras in echelon; the light cavalry and Nansouty’s cuirassiers cover the sides. During this time, the Old Guard was placed behind these formidable masses, as the reserve. This skilful operation was to decide the victory. At once the order to go ahead is given. The purpose is to cut in two the Austrian army and to go right on Süssenbrünn, where Archduke Charles is. Foresight, instinct, bravery, activity, nothing will allow the Archduke to avoid the blow that menaces him; all his efforts will be useless.
Napoleon called to each colonel of cavalry, who passed in front of him:
—Let us go! Vigorously, and when it is time, charge them down. Then he traverses at a gallop the line of battle and calls upon Drouot and the batteries of the Guard, because it is necessary, at all costs, to support the column of Macdonald and the Young Guard. Drouot arrives:
—Ten thousand cannon balls, he said to him, crush the Austrian masses, which are in front of you.
Then Napoleon runs to place himself in the midst of the danger.
In the mean time, Macdonald pushes back everything in front of him up to Süssenbrünn; but, stopped there at the head and on the side by Hungarian grenadiers and the corps of Kollowrat, his troops, reduced to two or three thousand men, is forced to make a halt. Napoleon, who follows this movement, orders the cavalry of Nansouty to charge to disengage Macdonald, and allow him to advance; on the right and on the left, Durutte and Pacthod divisions assist them. The Bavarians enter on line in their turn, and the Young Guard goes to replace them as a reserve. The fusiliers and the tirailleurs, full of intrepidness, go back to fighting. This vigorous effort decides all. Macdonald and the corps, which follow him, again are filled with the impulse of victory. Stubbornness and desperation cannot do anything against French impetuousness. The Austrian infantry and the cavalry are crushed and thrown beyond Gerasdorf.
On the left, Masséna, considering the moment favorable, again took his turn on the offensive: he vigorously attacks the line of Austrians and chases them up to Leopoldau; his cavalry, commanded by La Salle, follows it with vigor. The Austrians formed in square on the plain, facing about and wanting to hold again; La Salle fell on them, and is killed struck by a ball in the face; but the enemy is broken and pursued up to the foot of Bisamberg.
This great battle was carried out within sight of Vienna, all of whose high buildings were crowded by many spectators. The victory was so complete, that the remains of the Austrian army could not operate their retirement by the same road. The combats of Hollabrün and Schongraben, and the battle of Znaïm completed the campaign and obliged the Archduke to request an armistice that Napoleon had the generosity to grant.
“Our losses were considerable,” said the 25th Bulletin, dated from Wolkersdorff, July 8, 1809; “the Duke of Istrie (Bessières), at the time when he carried out the attack with the cavalry of the Guard, had his horse blown away by the blow of a cannon ball. The majors of the Guard, Daumesnil and Corbineau, were wounded dangerously.”
The 26th Bulletin said further: “the artillery of the Guard was covered with glory. Major d' Aboville who commanded was wounded” (the Emperor made him a brigadier general); “a head of an artillery squadron had his arm blown off. Our intrepid gunners showed all the power of this terrible weapon. “The horse chasseurs of the Guard charged, the day of the Battle of Wagram, three squares of infantry which they broke. They took four pieces of cannon. The Polish lancers charged a regiment of Austrian lancers and made captive Prince von Anesperg who commanded this regiment, from which they took two pieces of cannon, etc.”
The victory of Wagram, it should be said, had been acquired by enormous sacrifices; so Napoleon understood it was necessary to raise the morale of his Guard and the army by great rewards. He left it to himself to make them officials; and, next August 15th, the Day of Saint-Napoléon, his festival, he created three princes: Berthier initially, who was made Prince of Wagram; as for both others, they borrowed their titles from the same places that their bravery was displayed. In Essling, Masséna had been a hero, the true saver of the army: he accepted the title of Prince of Essling. Davoust had admirably behaved at Eggmühl, as did his brother in arms, Marshal Masséna, he added to his title of Duke of Auerstædt that of Prince of Eckmulh. Three new marshals were also created following these combat of giants: they were Macdonald, Oudinot and Marmont.
These high promotions took place on the same battlefield of Wagram, with all fanfare and military pomp. These splendid scenes gave new impulses of morale to soldiers who had devoted themselves so well for the glory of France and their Emperor.
A short while after, peace was signed in Vienna, a peace glorious for France, but fatal for Austria, and from which some of the conditions, allowing them to be susceptible to the cabinet of Saint-Petersburg, were to be used as pretext, three years later, with the war of Russia, yielding so much of glory for the Imperial Guard, but also too many reverses for its worthy heads!
Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2006
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