The Brilliance of Napoleon : “4 Days Campaign” : Part 3

The Brilliance of Napoleon : “4 Days Campaign” : Part 3

This is Part 3 of a 6-part series covering Napoleon’s brilliant “4 Days Campaign” in Bavaria in the 5th Coalition War, in which almost 40,000 men of the Imperial Habsburg Army were killed, wounded or captured.

21 April 1809 marks the Battle of Landshut in the 5th Coalition War when Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s 23,500* French, 8,000 Württemberger & 4,500(?) Bavarian infantry & 5,300 French, 1900 Württemberger & 1,500 Bavarian cavalry defeated General Baron Johann von Hiller’s 36,000 infantry & 3,000 cavalry of the Imperial Habsburg Army.

The Battle of Abensberg on 20 April split Field Marshal Archduke Karl von Österreich’s massive army in half. Hiller’s half retreated southeast. Napoleon thought this was Karl’s main army. He ordered Marshal Jean Lannes to pursue him.

*Note: Unit strengths for Landshut don’t exist. All listed strengths are rough estimates based on strengths & casualties from Abensberg.

Hiller reached Landshut on the Isar River at 05:00, 21 April.

Landshut’s bridge ran north to south. An island in the river’s center separated the north & south halves. Lannes soon caught up. Hiller deployed a rearguard (under General Major Count Josef Radecký) north of Landshut to give his baggage train time to escape. At 07:00, he learned that Marshal André Masséna’s IV Corps (36,000 foot, 5,000 horse) had crossed the Isar upstream at Moosburg. He would soon be trapped. He decided to abandon Landshut & retreat to the southern hills.

Lannes attacked. Radecký’s men (2 battalions: No. 8 Inf.; 12 squadrons: No. 3 Uhlans & No. 8 Husaren) fought bravely. Lannes’ cavalry overcame them. He overran north Landshut. He captured Hiller’s engineers, still demolishing the north bridge. Hiller’s rearguard retreated over the south bridge. They tried to burn it. Recent heavy rain soaked the wood, preventing this. They withdrew into south Landshut, closing the bridge gate behind them. Masséna hadn’t yet reached Landshut. Napoleon arrived. He ordered an immediate attack.

His artillery bombarded the gate & the barricades behind it.

At 12:30, Gen. Georges Mouton led the 17e Ligne grenadier company. As he neared the south bridge, he came under heavy fire from the houses & a church on the riverbank. Returning fire was useless. He roared, “No firing! March!” He led a bayonet charge over the smoldering bridge. He broke down the south gates & overran the barricades. The 13e Légère, 3 Bavarian bns & 2 squadrons & 2 Württemberger infantry companies reinforced him. Fierce street fighting occurred.

Hiller’s rearguard, under his personal leadership, delayed Napoleon until most of his men escaped. With Masséna closing in, Hiller abandoned his supply train. His army dissolved into a rabble. The roads were clogged. Many men moved through the fields & woods. Napoleon lost 1,500 dead/wounded. Hiller lost 765 dead, 1,276 wounded, 6,227 captive, 2,653 missing, 52 guns, 600 caissons, a pontoon bridge train & 7,000 supply wagons. He reached Neumarkt after midnight. On 22 April, Napoleon defeated Karl at Eckmühl.

Written by Garrett Anderson

The Brilliance of Napoleon : “4 Days Campaign” : Part 3