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The Soldiers of Hesse and Nassau Chapter IV: Campaign of 1809 against Austria (Part 1)

The Soldiers of Hesse and Nassau Chapter IV: Campaign of 1809 against Austria (Part 1)

The Soldiers of Hesse and Nassau

Translated by Greg Gorsuch


1. The 1st Infantry Regiment from Nassau with the Rouyer Division.

Resolved to measure itself once again against France, Austria found only England as an ally; the Emperor of Russia was at this time Napoleon’s best friend, and the King of Prussia, still wounded by the terrible blows received in 1806, could not think of going down into the arena:  his moral support was the only one guaranteed to Austria, whose first successes he would await before openly embracing the participation.

The Vienna cabinet also expected the support of the troops of the princes of the Confederation of the Rhine: a rapid invasion of their territories should, it believed, persuade the Confederation sovereigns either voluntarily or by force to join their soldiers with those of Archduke Charles: promises, even threats, had been addressed to the allies of France.

And when the aggression was well prepared, our enemies took advantage of the remoteness of Napoleon, whom they knew remained in the depths of Spain, to send their armies to the borders, very certain that they would surprise us dispersed, without plans and without a leader. But, from 15 January 1809, the Emperor, warned of the inexplicable armaments of the Austrians, sent from Valladolid to the princes of the Confederation the requisition of their contingents: he himself returned to Paris on 23 January, after having defeated the English in La Coruña, and he took without delay all the military measures dictated by the Austrian attitude.

Our allies of the small German states, Baden, Hesse, duchies and principalities, were originally to form a special army corps with three divisions: but the war in Spain, which began in 1808 had already led to the dispatch to the Peninsula of numerous German troops:  in the army of the Center were the Baden 4th Infantry Regiment, the 2nd Regiment of Nassau, the Hessian regiment ‘Crown Prince’, 1 battalion of ‘Prince-Primate’, 1 battery of Baden, 1 half-battery and 1 squadron of mounted jäger from Nassau; — in the army of Catalonia, at the beginning of 1809, we find 2 regiments of Berg (infantry), 1 regiment of Würzburg and the battalion of Princes (Schwarzburg, Lippe, Waldeck and Reuss); these troops were soon reinforced by the arrival of an entire Westphalian division. The Confederation Army Corps therefore was not formed, but the regiments still available which were to complete it were distributed, according to the needs, in different French corps.

The Chief of Staff, Marshal Berthier, wrote on 5 March to the ministers of France with the Confederation princes to advise them of what they must provide in troops; Hesse-Darmstadt would give a brigade of 4,000 men and 8 pieces of artillery, which would be united in Mergentheim, on 20 March, to the Carra-Saint-Cyr Division of the 4th Corps (Masséna); as for the houses of Nassau, Hohenzollern, Salm, Isembourg, Arenberg, Lichtenstein and Leyen, they would provide together 1 regiment of 2 battalions of 6 companies of 149 men, as well as an artillery company and one of sappers:  this contingent would enter Boudet’s division, from Marshal Masséna’s corps, and must also be returned on 20 March to Würzburg.[1]

Masséna was informed the same day by Berthier of the composition adopted for his army corps:

Monsieur Duke, — I have the honor to inform you of the formation decided by the Emperor for your army corps, under the name, for the moment, of “Observation Corps of the Army of the Rhine’:

1st division : LEGRAND { 1 French brigade.
1 Baden      —
2nd division : CARRA-SAINT-CYR { 2 French      —
1 Hessian      —
3rd division : MOLITOR { 2 French      —
4th Regt of the Confederation of the Rhine.
4th division : BOUDET { 2 French brigades.
2nd regiment of the Confederation of the Rhine (Houses of Nassau,

Hohenzollern, Salm, Isenberg, Arenberg, Lichtenstein).

5th regiment of the Confederation of the Rhine (Anhalt, Lippe).[2]

This division was attached to the 3rd Corps under the orders of Davout.

The government of Nassau, following a special treaty with each of the Houses of Arenberg, Salm, Lichtenstein and Leyen, undertook to supply the federal contingents of these different principalities; the princes of Hohenzollern-Elchingen, Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and Isenberg united their contingents with the 1st Regiment of Nassau which was formed, on 15 March, with the 1st and the 4th battalions of Nassau infantry and placed under the command of Colonel von Pölnitz.[3] The sappers of the regiment, those of Würzburg and those of the Duchies of Saxony were united and assigned to the reserve of the park of engineers.[4]

During these preparations, the Emperor of Austria published a manifesto listing all his grievances against France (27 March); a few days later he declared war (9 April) and immediately invaded Bavaria.

Napoleon left Paris on 12 April and barely arrived in the army, on the 17th, from Donauwörth, launched his famous proclamation:

‘Soldiers! — The territory of the Confederation of the Rhine has been violated:  the Austrian general wants us to flee at the sight of his weapons and that we abandon our allies to him.  I arrive with lightning speed.  — Soldiers!  I was surrounded by you when the sovereign of Austria came to my bivouac in Moravia; you have heard him implore my clemency and swear eternal friendship to me.  Vanquishers in three wars, Austria owed everything to our generosity; three times she has been perjured!  Our past successes are a sure guarantee of the victory that awaits us.  So let us march, and that in our appearance the enemy recognizes his victor!’



While Vandamme’s troops (8th Corps) gained Augsburg, Rouyer ‘s division was moved to Donauwörth on the 17th with the mission of crossing the Danube again and burning the bridges if the enemy appeared. Then, it was the marvelous Campaign of the Five Days, from 19 to 23 April, marked out by the successes of Arnhofen, Abensberg, Landshut, Eckmühl, Regensburg: it left the Austrian army cut into two sections, Hiller continuing, the Archduke Charles in retreat, the road to Vienna opened and soon the enemy capital conquered.

The whole plan of this war, for Austria, was based on a first success and on the cooperation of the Confederates of the Rhine who declared themselves against it .[5]

What happened to our allies in the Rouyer Division? Brought back from Donauwörth to Regensburg (25 April), then to Passau (1 May), they had the mission, together with the Dupas Division to guard this post, important for the security of the line of communication of the army and its crossing point on the Danube; Rouyer was placed under the orders of Vandamme, commanding the 8th Corps made up of a Württemberg Division and the French division of Dupas.

The regiment of Nassau joined the army in Passau: it was momentarily enlisted with the French 19th Line, in the brigade Veaux of the Dupas Division; in this same division, General Gency commanded another brigade made up of the French 5th Light Infantry Regiment and the regiment of the Duchies of Saxony.  These troops were responsible for the construction and defense of the works which were to protect Passau on the side of the Bohemian Mountains.








  1. — GENERAL VANDAMME, Commander of the 8th Army Corps.



Leaving the remainder of the division in Passau, the Nassau regiment was called to Vienna on 14 June to hold garrison there: it arrived there on 22 June and stayed there until 21 October, the day after the signing of the peace ratifications;[6] it then returned to Passau. It was with this detachment in the capital of Austria that the regiment had to not participated with the Rouyer Division in the unsuccessful expedition led by Marshal Lefebvre against the insurgents of Tyrol, in which the mountaineers of André Hofer made undergo the Ober-Au disaster in the Regiment of the Duchies and forced the retreat of two Bavarian divisions.

With the exception of an additional detachment of the Hohenzollern contingent which had delivered a small action with the Austrians in the vicinity of Pfaffenhofen by joining the division, the Nassau regiment had not been engaged in the course of the campaign.

From Passau, where it was maintained until 22 December, the 1st Nassau Regiment then directed on Manheim crossed the Rhine and left for Spain:  assigned to the Army of Catalonia, it reached Barcelona on 10 March 1810, where we will find it again in another chapter of this study.

2. The Hessians in the 4th Corps.  Essling, Engerau, Raab and Wagram.

Emperor Napoleon wrote to the Grand Duke of Hesse at the beginning of 1809.

The conduct of Austria gives rise to fear that this power is leading to follies which would lead to its ruin…  It is necessary that Your Highness’s troops be ready and that your contingent be complete.  Considering, of course, what He has in the Army of Spain, I will see with pleasure that Your Highness will let me know how many days it takes for him to assemble his troops, and on how many men I can count on…[7]

This military requisition was softened in its form by compliments to the troops of Darmstadt ‘who had won so much praise in the Polish companion in 1807’; the Emperor even added, to prevent any bad humor from his German ally: ‘the Hessian is brave and a good soldier!

But Louis I did not think of measuring or restricting his effort: he already had 1,600 men in Spain (the Crown Prince Regiment and 1 half-battery) and would have been able to provide only 2,400 men to reach the full complement of his federal contingent; however, he offered Napoleon 4,500 soldiers for the war against Austria and mobilized without delay:

Men. Horses. Vehicles.
The Regt of the Guard……………………………….. 2,141 40 7
The   — of the Corps……………………………….. 2,095 35 7
The   — of Light Horse…………………………….. 340 348 3
A combined artillery battery…………………………… 248 175 35 (including 6 cannons).

Colonel von Lehrbach commanded the Guard Regiment whose 2 battalions of musketeers were under the orders of the majors von Follenius and Koehler; the Corps Regiment was led by Lieutenant-Colonel Beck and majors Lembke and Scharnhorst; each of the 2 infantry regiments was accompanied by its battalion of fusiliers; the companies numbered 165 men and 4 officers; the soldiers had 50 cartridges on them and 50 others in the battalion caisson.

The Light Horse formed 2 squadrons of 100 horses, under Colonel Chamot and the captains von Dalwigk, Amerungen and Münchingen; the artillery battery (5 guns of 6 and 1 howitzer of 7), with Captain Khulmann, includes 140 gunners and 108 soldiers of the train.

The entire Hessian contingent was placed under the orders of Major-General von Nagel.

As we can see, Louis Ist had deliberately exceeded by more than 2,500 soldiers the strength that the Act of Confederation required him to provide to the Imperial army. Marshal Masséna, informed by the Major General of the good intentions of the Grand Duke, was responsible for overseeing their execution:

‘The Emperor’s intention, M. Marshal, is that you ask H. R. H. the Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt that his contingent be 4,736 men and 564 horses, as he proposed, instead of 2,400 men who had been originally requested. His Majesty thinks that the 6 pieces of cannon proposed by this Prince will be sufficient, but care must be taken that there is a provision and a half, and that there is a supply, of infantry at the rate of 100 rounds per man.   I made the same observation to the Minister of the Emperor to the Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt ….[8]

The Hessian battery carried 107 shells and 16 boxes of 7, 825 bullets and 300 rounds of 6, 383,820 infantry cartridges, 9,680 pistol cartridges, 4,840 carbine cartridges and 44,000 fusil flints.

The contingent left Darmstadt on 20 March and was directed to Mergentheim to enter the composition of the Carra-Saint-Cyr Division, in the 4th Army Corps commanded by Masséna. The latter was invited to leave the Hessians at Mergentheim for a few days ‘to give them time to train before joining their division’; if it became necessary to put people on the side of Donauwörth, without however occupying this town, the Carra-Saint-Cyr division would be in charge of this care;[9] Masséna would have the review of the Hessians passed by General Schiner in charge of commanding them with the French title, General von Nagel exercising only the internal command of the Hessian contingent.[10]

At the end of March, the military situation became clearer: the Major General sent Marshal Masséna the order to rally the Baden and Hessian brigades to their respective divisions, without wasting time, and recommended that he ensure ‘that these corps of troops leave quite whole, very complete, leaving nothing behind ‘; the generals who command them will have to maneuver them every day.[11] For his part, the Emperor gave General Berthier instructions for the formation of the 4th Corps.

‘…War is undoubtedly imminent…  Everything indicates that around 15 April the Austrians will be ready for the campaign: it is fitting that we are also ready at that time… The Hesse-Darmstadt contingent is still assembled in Mergentheim, but the Duke of Rivoli is authorized to bring it to Ulm as soon as he believes hostilities are imminent….He would then move his headquarters to Augsburg…The Hessian Light Horse Regiment would enter into the composition of the cavalry division attached to the 4th Corps, with 2 brigades of French mounted chasseurs and the regiment of dragoons from Baden….’[12]










  1. — MARSHAL MASSÉNA, Commander of the 4th Army Corps.


This last division was to be entrusted to the brave General Marulaz.

Masséna placed on 1 April his 4 divisions in Ulm, Günzburg, Gundelfingen and Memmingen; Carra-Saint-Cyr, accompanied by General Schiner, reviewed the Hessians on 6 April at Dillingen and claimed for them 1 camp-kettle, 3 pairs of shoes and 3 shirts per man: General von Nagel had to urgently transmit these requests to the Grand Duke.

The division included:

1st Brigade : 3rd battalion of the 24th Light.
2nd Brigade


{ Guard Regiment, 2 battalions.
Guard fusilier battalion.
Corps Regiment, 2 battalions.
1st battalion Corps fusiliers.
3rd Brigade : 4th and 46th French Regiments, with 3 battalions each.
Artillery : 20 pieces of cannon, including 6 from Hesse.

When the Austrians declared war and invaded Bavaria, Masséna quickly gathered his army corps around Augsburg, where he left the Baden 3rd Infantry Regiment and the Hessian Corps Regiment as a provisional garrison.

Napoleon, arrived at the army, repaired the faults of Berthier who compromised the operations by an unjustifiable dispersion of the troops; he sees the maneuver he is going to make and he indicates it to Masséna:

‘…The operations are taking shape…I refuse my left, wanting to advance my right that you form…I will direct you to Landshut…and then Prince Charles will find himself having lost his line of operation and will be attacked by his left…Place your corps around Pfaffenhofen…’[13]

While we beat the Austrians at Abensberg and Landshut, the Hessians were in Freising (21 April) and arrived the next day at Eckmühl at nine o’clock in the evening, after the victory. They were directed on Straubing (23 April) where they guarded the pontoon bridge and watched the two banks of the Danube. Masséna, who crossed the Isar at Plattling the day before, crossed the Vils on 25 April 25 and arrived at Passau on the 26th. From there, he continued his march on Vienna, driving the rearguards of the retreating Austrians in front of him, and having the isolated or cut off enemy corps watched which were still wandering on the flanks of the line of march of the victorious French army.

The Duke of Rivoli was at Schärding on 27 April; on 1 May he received the order to move to Linz, a movement which he carried out after having detached 4 Hessian battalions in support of two Württemberg and Baden cavalry regiments sent to Wels: these battalions soon joined the division. In the march of 2 May, the Carra-Saint-Cyr Division, in the vanguard, gave a small fight at Eferding with the Austrian rearguard of Hiller: the Hessian battery took up position, but did not have the time to engage, because of the rapid retreat of the enemy from whom the fusiliers of the Hessian Guard captured Annaberg:

‘…On 2 May, the Saint-Cyr Division which held the head of the column met the enemy behind Eferding, 16,000 men in number who did not wait for it; we pursued them and took 300 prisoners…’[14]

The next day, 3 May, Masséna and Oudinot engaged in a bloody battle in Ebersberg where they suffered heavy losses but forced the Austrians to abandon their positions; the Carra-Saint-Cyr Division arrived only in the evening on the battlefield and crossed the small town in flames to get to Enns. The Emperor passed 5 May, through this last city, the inspection of the divisions of Masséna and granted rewards; General von Nagel, called to maneuver the Hessian brigade during this review, received congratulations from the Emperor, who decorated Lieutenant Lincker and the Tirailleur Seipel of the Guard Regiment ‘for their good conduct in front of Graudenz in 1807’.

The 4th Corps was at Amstetten on 6 May, at Melk on 7 May: from this point, a first detachment of 2 companies of the Corps Regiment with a piece of cannon was sent for observation at Ips, and another, similarly composed , to Waldsée. Masséna arrived on the 8th at Sankt-Pölten, on the 10th at Schönbrunn: during this last stage, a Hessian artillery caisson exploded as a result of the bad arrangement of the munitions that it contained: 2 gunners were wounded and 2 horses killed.

The French army reached Vienna on May 10: Masséna would occupy the next day Burkersdorf, Legrand and Saint-Cyr are in Leopoldstadt: on the 13th, Vienne surrendered, was occupied, and the 4th corps moved into the city and to Simmering; the Hessians cantonment was in Leopoldstadt.


While the 2 battalions of Hessian fusiliers were detached towards Pressburg, the Grand Army crossed the Danube and imposed on Archduke Charles a great battle so the war could end…










(According to Military France.)



The 4th Corps, led by Masséna, crossed the river during the night of 20 to 21 May, on barely firmed bridges; the Carra-Saint-Cyr Division, with the 3 battalions from Darmstadt, did not join its army corps until the evening of the 21st; as for the Hessian Light Horses, they had been on the left bank since morning with all the Marulaz Division.

The late arrival on the battlefield of the Carra-Saint-Cyr division did not allow it to be engaged on 21 May: it was bivouacked behind the other divisions of the 4th Corps, near the Danube, in instructing it to ensure for the night the communications of the army corps with the bridges and the island of Lobau.

The day had been hard for the troops of Masséna: the Molitor Division placed first behind Aspern, that of Legrand, to the left of the previous one, and that of Boudet, towards Essling fought the whole day and took considerable losses; the village of Aspern taken by us and recaptured by the Austrians was again attacked and captured by the Duke of Rivoli before nightfall, but Molitor had lost in these bitter struggles nearly half of his strength.

During the night of 21 to 22, 3 Hessian pieces joined the regiments of Darmstadt; these first provided, on the early morning of the 22nd, escorts to take the Austrian prisoners captured the day before, and replacement gunners for the artillery; then, towards six o’clock, Masséna placed on the right of Aspern 1 battalion of the Hessian Regiment of the Guard, with the artillery of the same nation; the 3 other battalions, established in the rear, successively engaged in the village which the enemy attacked fiercely, where it penetrated, but from which it ended up being driven out thanks to the efforts of the 24th Light, the 4th Line and the Hessians: for a while the enemy occupied the parish and the village church, but a Hessian company dislodged them by taking 80 prisoners: the bugler Wals, of the Corps Regiment, distinguished himself and won in this circumstance the star of the Legion of Honor. Finally driven back outside Aspern, the Austrians left in our hands 800 prisoners and 6 pieces of cannon.

At ten o’clock the artillery of Darmstadt had fired almost all its ammunition; it would establish itself in the rear, sheltered from the enemy cannon: carried forward again in the evening, it would not have to resume its fire.

Napoleon was going to make Marshal Lannes emerge to pierce the center of Archduke Charles, when he was told of the breaking of the Danube bridges: the indispensable ammunition could no longer arrive, the fight was made impossible… He immediately ordered retreat. The Austrians then suspended their retrograde movement which had already started: they rushed to Aspern, which they threatened with setback. The Emperor counting on the 4th Corps to contain the enemy during the retreat of the army, said to Masséna:

‘…You will finish what you have so gloriously started! Only you can impose on the Archduke to keep him motionless in front of us. I have just traveled the island of Lobau: the terrain will be favorable to you…’

The Duke of Rivoli therefore maintained his position in Essling and Aspern; these villages were the scene of fierce fighting, but they remained in our possession.

‘We see Massena, sometimes on horseback, sometimes on foot, sword in hand, fire in his eyes, leading the attack and the defense. His aides-de-camp are all hit around him, but the bullets seem to recognize and respect “the darling child of victory”…At the head of the formidable 26th and 18th Regiments (Legrand Division) and of the beautiful Hessian and Baden regiments which he towered above all by his tall stature, we saw him for a long time at the entrance of the village, half of his hat carried off by a shell, his aide-de-camp lying dead at his feet, standing up to the Austrian platoons who had surrounded him…The French surpass themselves; foreigners try to match them…’[15]

The Duke of Rivoli, who had withdrawn the Hessians from Aspern at four in the evening, recalled 3 companies each from the Guard and Corps regiments: these companies remained in the village until it was evacuated.

At midnight, the Guard, the cavalry, Oudinot, the 2nd and the 4th Corps return to the right bank of the Danube: the Tharreau and Legrand Divisions remain until daylight in Aspern and Essling.  Only the 4th Corps remained on Lobau Island; the Hessian artillery was placed there on the morning of the 23rd, opposite the bridges.

‘The unfortunate Darmstadt, who had to support the village of Aspern, lost immensely…’[16]

The Guard Regiment alone accounted for 13 killed, 120 wounded including 6 officers, and 4 prisoners; the du Corps Regiment numbered 5 officers and 317 hors-de-combat, out of a total of a thousand present; General Schiner, commanding the brigade, was himself among the wounded. The Emperor, satisfied with the conduct of his German allies, came to visit the Hessian contingent on the island of Lobau on 29 May and gave them 25 crosses.


On 16 May, the Gudin Division of the 3rd corps and the 2 battalions of Hessian fusiliers (battalion of fusiliers of the Garde and 1st battalion of fusiliers du Corps) with 2 cannons under the command of Major von Gall, were sent to Pressburg in support of General LaSalle’s cavalry division, with the mission of reconnoitering and driving back an Austrian corps that had passed on the right bank of the Danube and which had built a bridgehead near Engerau.

The detachment arrived on 1 June at Wolfstahl, and a reconnaissance on Engerau brought a first fight. On the 3rd, the 2 Hessian battalions and the French 12th Line attacked the village, stormed and managed to seize the fortified post established by the enemy on the banks of the Danube itself: but the Austrian artillery obliged the retirement of the assailants: the intrepid General Petit found, by bringing them back to Engerau, a glorious death worthy of his life; in this brilliantly conducted fight, the Hessian fusiliers killed 8 and wounded 117, including 6 officers; the 16th Bulletin of the Grande Armée registers for their account the following honorable quote:

Ebersdorf, 4 June 1809

‘The enemy had thrown on the right bank of the Danube, opposite Pressburg, a division of 9,000 men which had taken refuge in the village of Engerau. The Duke of Auerstaedt had it attacked yesterday by the tirailleurs from Hesse-Darmstadt supported by the 12th Line Regiment. The village was carried away with rapidity: 1 major, 8 officers of the regiment of Beaulieu among whom was the grandson of this marshal, and 400 men were taken. The rest of the regiment was killed or wounded or thrown into the water. What remained of the division found protection on an island to cross the river. The skirmishers of Hesse-Darmstadt fought very well…’


[1] Report of the Major General to the Emperor.  Paris, 5 March 1809.

[2] Chief of Staff to Marshal Masséna.  Paris, 5 March 1809.

[3] The Nassau regiment already in Spain bore no.2 and had been formed with the 2nd and 3rd battalions.

[4] Instruction for the Major General.  Paris, 30 March 1809.

[5] Letter from Archduke Charles to the Emperor of Austria, 23 April 1809.

[6] The Emperor to the Major General.  Schönbrunn, 14 October 1809.

[7] The Emperor to the Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt.  Valladolid, 15 January 1809.

[8] The Chief of Staff to Marshal Masséna.  Paris, 23 March 1809.

[9] Id.., Rambouillet, 11 March 1809

[10] Id., Paris, 16 March 1809.

[11] The Chief of Staff to Marshal Masséna.  Paris, 28 March 1809.

[12] Instructions of the Major General. Paris, 30 March 1809.

[13] The Emperor to Marshal Masséna.  Ingolstadt, 19 April 1809.

[14] Report of Masséna.

[15] Pelet, III, p. 307.

[16] Letter from Archduke Louis. Marchfeld, 27 May 1809.  Correspondent of 10 May 1909.