The Brilliance Of Napoleon : “4 Days Campaign” : Part 5 : Day 2 of the Battle of Eckmühl
This is Part 5 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.
22 April 1809 marks Day 2 of the Battle of Eckmühl in the 5th Coalition War when Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s 50,000* French, 4,500 Bavarian in addition, 8,000 Württemberger infantry and 14,000 French, 750 Bavarian plus 1,900 Württemberger cavalry defeated Field Marshal Archduke Karl von Österreich S 66,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalries of the Imperial Habsburg Army. On 21 April, Karl planned an offensive against Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout’s isolated III Corps. Davout attacked, preventing Karl from concentrating his forces. His report to Napoleon explained his situation: he had a strong enemy force on his flank furthermore, was short of ammunition. He needed reinforcements.
*Note: Finding unit strengths for this battle proved impossible. All French, Bavarian, Württemberger & Habsburg strengths reflect the Teugn-Hausen, Abensberg & Landshut orders of battle, adjusting for estimated casualties. Unit strengths reflect the dawn of 21 April & do not account for casualties on that day.
At 02:30, 22 April, Napoleon received the message. He recalled most of his men from their pursuit of General Baron Johann von Hiller’s defeated army. Marshal Jean Lannes’ Reserve Corps (23,500 foot, 5,300 horse), Marshal André Masséna’s IV Corps (36,000 foot, 5,000 horse) and Division Gen. Dominique Vandamme’s Württemberger Corps (8,000 foot, 1,900 horse) & marched north to Eckmühl. Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières continued to pursue Hiller with 20,000 men.
At 04:00, Napoleon sent new orders.
Davout would attack, pinning Karl’s army in its present positions. Napoleon would force his troops to march 30 km to the battlefield. Vandamme would attack Karl’s left. Karl’s forward line comprised FML Prince Franz von Rosenberg’s IV Korps (21,460). Lannes’ would move north against Field Marshal Prince Friedrich Hohenzollern’s III Korps (15,700 men). Hohenzollern guarded Karl’s rear & headquarters at Eckmühl. If Lannes seized Eckmühl, he would be behind Karl’s center & right. Karl would be surrounded, cut off & destroyed. Cavalry General Prince Johann von Liechtenstein’s I Reserve (18,063) & Field Marshal Johann Kollowrat’s II Korps (28,168) were north of Davout’s position & had contributed to Karl’s defense. They were not within the zone of entrapment.
At present, Davout led Division Général Louis Friant (11,000 feet: 10e Légère; 33e, 48e, 108e & 111e Ligne), DG Louis St.-Hilaire’s (9,000: 10e Légère; 3e, 57e, 72e & 105e Ligne), DG Jean Boudet’s (5,600 foot: 3e Légère; 56e & 93e Ligne) & Gen. Louis-Pierre Montbrun (5,500 horse: 1-2e, 11-12e et 16e Chasseurs à Cheval; 5e & 7-8e Hussards) divisions. Boudet & Montbrun guarded Davout northern left flank. Friant stood opposite Rosenberg’s center at Ober Laiching. St. Hilaire was stationed opposite Unter Laiching in Rosenberg’s left. Lt. General Bernhard von Deroy’s Bavarian Div. (9 ans: No. 5 & 7 Lichte; No. 5, 9, 10 & 14 Inf.; 8 sqns: No. 2 Dragoner; No. 4 Chevaulegers). lay opposite Rosenberg’s far left at Schierling, under Bavarian VI Corps Commander Marshal François Lefebvre.
Napoleon wrote to Davout:
“I am resolved to get on the move, & I will be near Eckmühl by midday & in a position to attack the enemy vigorously by 3 o’clock. I shall have 40,000 men with me. Send me aides-de-camp with Bavarian escorts to let me know what you have done during the morning… Before midday I shall be in person at Ergoldsbach. If I hear a cannonade, I shall know that I must attack. If I do not hear one, & you are in an attacking position, have a salvo of 10 guns fired once at midday, the same at 1 o’clock, & again at 2. My aide-de-camp, Lebrun, will be on his way to you by a quarter past 4; I have decided to exterminate Prince Charles’ army today, or tomorrow at the very latest.”
On the morning of 22 April, thick fog covered the land. As time passed, Davout’s inaction spooked Rosenberg. He sent Lt. Field Marshal Gen. Josip Vukasović’s Light Div. (4 battalions: Erzerhog Karl Legion; No. 9 Inf.; 16 squadrons: No. 3 & 4 Husaren) to occupy Schierling. At 13:00, he reported his concerns to Karl. Karl realized what was happening. He had no time to redeploy. He ordered Rosenberg to contain the imminent offensive. His remaining forces would stop whatever they were doing & retreat north to Regensburg immediately.
Sure enough, Vandamme arrived & attacked at 14:00. He seized Schierling. Vukasović withdrew north to Eckmühl. Napoleon ordered Lannes to lead DG Charles Morand’s (11,065 foot: 13e Légère; 17e, 30e, 61e & 65e Ligne) & DG Charles Gudin’s (11,440: 7e Légère; 12e, 21e, 25e & 85e Ligne) divisions over the Große Laaber stream. Lannes would march north, past Eckmühl, & fall on Karl’s rear. Vandamme would attack Eckmühl itself. The remaining men would help Davout.
Davout heard the guns & attacked. The 10e Légère seized Unter & continued north. They met stiff resistance from the No.3 & 6 Chevaulegers & No. 7 Husaren (8 sqns each). They formed squares & repelled repeated charges. Bavarian reinforcements drove the enemy away. The 108e & 111e pushed north & seized Ober. The 48e then moved further north to Obersanding on Rosenberg’s right. The No. 20 & 38 Inf. (3 bns each) stopped them. Eventually, Gudin found a ford north of their position & crossed. The enemy were flanked out of position. With his men pushed back on all fronts, Rosenberg ordered a general retreat to Regensburg.
At 15:00, Vandamme attacked Eckmühl.
The No. 9 Inf. (2 bns) repelled 2 attacks. The 12e Ligne joined the 3rd attack. They seized Eckmühl, taking 300 prisoners. DG Étienne Nansouty’s 1e (5,337 horse: 1-2e Carabiniers; 2-3e, 9e & 12e Cuirassiers) & Raymond St. Sulpice’s 2e (3,441: 1e, 5e & 10-11e Cuirassiers) Heavy Cavalry Divs. moved north of Eckmühl. They joined with the Bavarian & Württemberger (1,900: Duc Henry, Duc Louis & König Chevaulegers; König Jägers zu Pderde) cavalry.
Between 17-18:00, Napoleon reached Algolsheim. Lannes and Masséna joined him. He initially wanted to pursue Karl with every available man. He was told that his infantry was exhausted after several days of forced marches. They were in no condition to make a night pursuit. Napoleon ordered his cavalry to continue the pursuit. At 19:00, 66 squadrons set off. Karl detached 32 sqns, perhaps 6,200 cavalrymen, to guard his rear. This included the No. 1 and 6 Kürassiere. A running fight developed. Karl’s cavalry was outnumbered, moreover lacked horse battery support. His cuirassiers had an additional disadvantage:
“The cuirassiers advanced rapidly upon each other & became one immense melee. Courage, tenacity & strength were well matched, but the defensive arms were unequal, for the Austrian cuirasses only covered them in front, & gave no protection to the back in a crowd. In this way, the French troopers who, having double cuirasses & no fear of being wounded from behind had only to think of thrusting, were able to give point to the enemy’s backs, & slew a great many of them with small loss to themselves. [When the Austrians wheeled about to withdraw] the fight became a butchery, as our cuirassiers pursued the enemy. This fight settled a question which had long been debated, as to the necessity of double cuirasses, for the proportion of Austrians wounded & killed amounted respectively to 8 and 13 for 1 Frenchman.”
Napoleon’s cavalry took many captives. At last, they tired & halted their pursuit. Karl escaped over the Danube. Over 2 days, Napoleon lost 3,500 dead/wounded. Karl lost 997 dead, 1,084 wounded, 1,193 captive, 2,692 missing, 33 guns, 15 flags & enormous amounts of supplies, munitions & baggage. Despite the victory, Napoleon was disappointed. He had failed to destroy more than a fraction of Karl’s force. He continued his pursuit. Lastly, on 23 April, his victory at Regensburg ended the 4 Days Campaign.