The Brilliance Of Napoleon

The Brilliance Of Napoleon : “4 Days Campaign” : Part 4 : Day 1 of the Battle of Eckmühl

This is Part 4 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 Day 1 of the Battle of Eckmühl in the 5th Coalition War when Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s 28,500 French & 4,500(?) Bavarian infantry & 5,500 French & 750 Bavarian cavalry defeated Field Marshal Archduke Karl von Österreich’s 50,000 infantry & 6,000 cavalry of the Imperial Habsburg Army. In 2 days of fighting, Napoleon scored 3 decisive victories. He split Karl’s massive army in half. He sent most of his men after the south half, believing it was Karl’s main force.

von Österreich
Note: Finding unit strengths for this battle proved impossible. All French & Bavarian strengths reflect the Teugen-Hausen, Abensberg & Landshut orders of battle, adjusting for estimated casualties.

In fact, Karl was retreating north. He led Field Marshal Prince Friedrich Hohenzollern’s III (15,700 men) & FML Prince Franz von Rosenberg’s IV Korps (21,460). The fall of Regensburg on 20 April let Cavalry General Count Heinrich von Bellegarde’s I (27,653), Cavalry General Prince Johann von Liechtenstein’s I Reserve (18,063) & Field Marshal Johann Kollowrat’s II Korps (28,168) cross the Danube & march south to join Karl. Napoleon ordered Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout’s III Corps to pursue Karl’s army, thinking it an isolated force.

Davout led Division General Louis Friant’s (11,000 foot: 10e Légère; 33e, 48e, 108e & 111e Ligne) & DG Louis St.-Hilaire’s (9,000: 10e Légère; 3e, 57e, 72e & 105e Ligne) divisions. General Louis-Pierre Montbrun’s Light Cavalry Div. (5,500 horse: 1-2e, 11-12e & 16e Chasseurs à Cheval; 5e & 7-8e Hussards) guarded Davout’s left flank. DG Jean Boudet’s div. (5,600 foot: 3e Légère; 56e & 93e Ligne) was detached from Marshal Andre Masséna’s IV Corps to help. Napoleon called the force a “curtain of 3 regiments.” He promised Marshal François Lefebvre’s VI Bavarian Corps would also help if needed.

For now, it was perhaps 30,000 French against up to 111,000 Habsburg soldiers. Karl decided to attack. On his left, III (on his south flank) & (on his north flank) Korps would pin Davout in place. On his right, I-Reserve & II Korps would move south & deploy on Davout’s exposed left. I Korps received no orders & took no role in the battle. Karl planned to spend 21 April consolidating his men & attack on 22 April. He would encircle & destroy Davout.

Davout moved first. On the morning of 21 April, he attacked. Karl was still organizing his men. He was caught off guard.
War of the Fifth Coalition, battle of Eckmühl in April 22, 1809.

Friant & St. Hilaire advanced north of the Große Laber River. They attacked IV Korps’ advance guard, under General Major Baron Karl Stutterheim (3 battalions: No. 8 Inf.; 4 squadrons: No. 10 Husaren). Rosenberg stabilized the line at Unter & Ober Laiching villages. Boudet arrived. At 11:00, Davout reported facing a large, aggressive army instead of a small, retreating one. He requested reinforcements.

Napoleon read the report. He ordered Lefebvre into action against III Korps.

Lefebvre led Lt. General Bernhard von Deroy’s Bavarian Div. (9 bns: No. 5 & 7 Lichte; No. 5, 9, 10 & 14 Inf.; 8 sqns: No. 2 Dragoner; No. 4 Chevaulegers). He also led DG Joseph Demont’s Reserve Div. (2,966 foot: 7e Légère; 12e, 17e, 21e, 30e, 33e, 61e, 65e, 85e & 111e Ligne). Hohenzollern was trying to join Rosenberg. Lefebvre drove him east towards Schierling.

Karl modified his plans. He ordered Hohenzollern to retreat north through Eckmühl & deploy behind Rosenberg. Liechtenstein would march south to Wolkering on Rosenberg’s right. Rosenberg was concerned about his left flank being exposed. He deployed in a semicircle based around Ober (in his center) & Unter (on his left) Laiching. Lefebvre advanced as Hohenzollern retreated. The Bavarians attacked Schierling twice, seizing it. Demont advanced on their right.

Davout needed to hold out until Napoleon’s reinforcements arrived. He decided to attack. This would let him retain the initiative against Karl’s superior numbers in addition, keep Karl from surrounding him. He deployed Friant at Ober & St. Hilaire at Unter. Montbrun & Boudet guarded his left against Karl’s forces further north. Lefebvre would hold his right at Schierling. He hoped his light infantry would have the advantage in open country. The wooded & hilled terrain might nullify Karl’s numbers. By 15:30, his men were in position.

Karl was now headquartered at Hohenberg.
Location of forces as of Midnight, 21–22 April 1809

He hadn’t expected the day to be so violent. His position was now dangerous. IV Korps’ position was almost compromised. He ordered I Korps forward. Furthermore, he urged Kollowrat to hurry and deploy south of the Danube. He also pulled men from III Corps. 2 brigades remained on the Große Laber’s south bank to cover Eckmühl. 1 brigade marched north to Neuglofsheim. BG Nikolaus Kayser’s brigade (6 bns: No. 7 & 56 Inf.) moved west to reinforce Unter & Ober.

St. Hilaire seized Unter. IHA reinforcements drove him out. A huge artillery barrage prevented a 2nd attack. The 3e Ligne attacked Ober. 4 IHA bns repelled them. Further north, the 15e Légère seized the woods. The enemy fell back to Obersanding. 2 bns reinforced them. They halted the 15e & counterattacked. Fighting in and around the 2 villages lasted all day. Confused & indecisive clashes alternated with heavy artillery duels. Action finally tapered off by 19:00.

Napoleon lost 1,500 French (2/3 from Friant’s div.) & 150 Bavarians dead/wounded. Karl lost 3,000 dead/wounded.

Davout also claimed to capture 1,500 men. He sent word to Napoleon at Landshut & asked for instruction. He expressed concern for his left flank & reported he would soon run out of ammunition. Of Karl’s great army, perhaps 18,000 became engaged – a possible sign of the extent Davout had disrupted Karl’s ability to concentrate his army. Undeterred, he prepared a new attack. Lastly, on 22 April, he would be decisively beaten.

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The Brilliance Of Napoleon : “4 Days Campaign” : Part 4

Written by Garrett Anderson

Written by Garrett Anderson

The Brilliance Of Napoleon : “4 Days Campaign” : Part 4 : Day 1 of the Battle of Eckmühl

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The Brilliance Of Napoleon : “4 Days Campaign” : Part 4 : Day 1 of the Battle of Eckmühl