The Brilliance Of Napoleon : “4 Days Campaign” : Part 6

The Brilliance Of Napoleon : “4 Days Campaign” : Part 6

This is Part 6 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.

23 April 1809 marks the Battle of Regensburg in the 6th Coalition War when Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s 50,000* French, 5,500 Bavarian in addition, 8,000 Württemberger infantry & 14,000 French, 750 Bavarian & 1,900 Württemberger cavalry defeated Field Marshal Archduke Karl von Österreich’s 45,000(?) infantry & 4,500-6,000 cavalry. In 4 great victories, Napoleon split Karl’s great army in 2 parts and inflicted heavy losses on both. Furthermore, Karl retreated north to Regensburg on the Danube.

Napoleon pursued him, hoping to completely destroy Karl’s remaining men.

*Note: Finding unit strengths for this battle proved impossible. All French, Bavarian, Württemberger & Habsburg strengths reflect the Teugen-Hausen, Abensberg, Landshut & Eckmühl orders of battle.

On the night of 22 April, Karl began moving his heavy equipment over the Regensburg bridge. His engineers erected a pontoon bridge 2 km downstream at Weichs. 4,500-6,000 cavalry guarded the Regensburg road. They included at least 24 cuirassier (No. 2-4 & 8 Kürassiere), 18 chevauleger (No. 4-5 Chevaulegers), 18 dragoon (No. 3-4 & 6 Dragoner) & 4 hussar (No. 4 Husaren) squadrons. It’s possible, but not certain, that 8 sqns of No. 1 & 6 Kürassiere were also present. 5 infantry battalions (No. 13, 15, 25, 28 & 54 Inf.) guarded south Regensburg.

Between 09-10:00, Division General Louis-Pierre Montbrun’s Light (5,500 horse: 1-2e, 11-12e & 16e Chasseurs à Cheval; 5e & 7-8e Hussards) & DG Étienne Nansouty’s 1e (5,337: 1-2e Carabiniers; 2-3e, 9e & 12e Cuirassiers) & DG Raymond St. Sulpice’s 2e (3,441: 1e, 5e & 10-11e Cuirassiers) Heavy Cavalry Divs. charged Karl’s cavalry in a pincer formation. Karl’s cavalry held for 3 hours before retreating. By 13:00, Napoleon’s main army reached the city. They discovered the pontoon bridge just as Karl’s engineers destroyed it.

image © De Agostini Picture Library/A. Dagli Orti | Licence: All Rights Reserved

Napoleon tasked Marshal Jean Lannes with the city’s capture. Lannes ordered a bombardment. DG Charles Gudin’s (11,440: 7e Légère; 12e, 21e, 25e & 85e Ligne) div. attacked the gate. 2 assaults failed with heavy losses. At 15:00, Head Engineer Gen. Henri Bertrand smashed a breach in the walls. Napoleon, drawing close to observe it, was struck on the foot by canister round. Its spent energy only bruised him. 3 attacks into the breach failed. Lannes’ men didn’t want to try again.

Lannes

An angered Lannes grabbed a ladder and shouted:

“I will let you see that I was a grenadier before I was a marshal and still am one.”

He was restrained, but his shamed men rushed forward, took the breach & opened the Straubing gate. They were helped by Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout, who knew the city well & pointed out a postern gate. Vicious street fighting took several hours. The gate to north Regensburg fell at 21:00. The No. 15 Inf. mounted a stubborn defense before retreating. 300 men surrendered. But their spirited defense let Karl extract his army.

Napoleon lost 1,500-2,000 dead/wounded. Karl lost 8,000 dead, wounded or captive. Operations leading up to and around Regensburg netted 5,800 additional captives. Moreover, this was the end of Napoleon’s famous “4 Days Campaign.” In 5 days, he suffered 10,600-11,100 dead/wounded, 1,400 captive. Karl’s losses were catastrophic. He lost perhaps 19,000 dead/wounded (including at least 3,000 dead), 19,000 captive, 5,600 missing, 98 guns, 23 flags, at least 600 caissons, at least 7,000 supply wagons, 2 pontoon bridges & innumerable small arms of all sorts.

On 23 April, Karl wrote to his brother, Kaiser Franz I, saying:

, Kaiser Franz I
“Half the army is in decomposition.”

He urged Franz to negotiate for peace. on 28 April, Karl wrote Napoleon a letter:

“Your Majesty announced his arrival with cannon fire without giving me time to congratulate you. I was not yet certain of your presence when the losses I suffered made me painfully realize it… I feel flattered, Sire, to have been able to cross swords with one of the greatest captains of our time.”

In conclusion, Napoleon considered the Bavarian Campaign to be the finest series of maneuvers he ever conducted. The road to Vienna was now open. The campaign was not quite over. On 24 April, General Baron Johann von Hiller’s half of the army defeated Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières at Neumarkt-Sankt Veit. Lastly, this ended Bessières’ pursuit & let Hiller escape south.

Written by Garrett Anderson

Written by Garrett Anderson

The Brilliance Of Napoleon : “4 Days Campaign” : Part 6

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