Napoleon at Wagram

3. Battle of Wagram, July 1809, vs Archduke Charles (Austria)

 The Battle of Wagram, fought on the outskirts of Vienna, was one of Napoleon's most important victories, leading directly to the destruction of the Fifth Coallition. The Austrian Empire had taken advantage of Napoleon's commitment to the Peninsular War to invade the Kingdom of Bavaria, a German state allied to France. The French Emperor had responded with an invasion of his own, and after a swift and victorious campaign captured Vienna. However the Austrians were far from beaten. Archduke Charles had amassed a huge force of 145 thousand men and had retreated behind the Danube. Napoleon's first offensive against this force had ended with a costly tactical defeat at the Battle of Aspern-Essling, but a short 6 weeks later, on 4 July, he was ready to try again and commited his 165 thousand man Grande Armée to battle.

Crossing the Danube

Crossing the Danube in force in the night of 4/5 July and deploying on Marchfeld plain throughout the day, at 6 p.m Napoleon launched a series of attacks against the Austrian army. The Corps of Bernadotte, Eugène, Oudinot and Davout (a total of 100 thousand men) moved into action against a large section of the Austrian line. The attacks were hastily planned and the lack of synchronization resulted in an overall failure that cost the French 11 thousand men and which came to an end at 10 p.m.

 Witnessing the failure of the French attacks and recognising that an attack of his own was the only way he could hope to beat his superior foe, Archduke Charles planned a double envelopment for the early morning hours of 6 July. However many of the necessary elements of the Austrian far right flank (Klenau and Kollowrat) did not receive their orders on time, compromising some of the impact of the tactic. Rosenberg's IV Korps on the Austrian left attacked at 5 a.m. Facing IV Korps was Davout's III Corps, the finest and largest in the French Army; in one short hour the attack had been repulsed. However, on the Austrian right the attack of Bellegarde's I Korps at 3 a.m. was far more successful, capturing the crucial village of Aderklaa, which had been foolishly abandoned by Bernadotte battered IX Corps. Bernadotte's Corps and Masséna's IV Corps counter-attacked at 8 a.m. and managed to recapture the village but another attack launched personally by Archduke Charles drove the French back out. The French again recaptured the village at 10 a.m. but were again forced out after two hours of determined combat. Napoleon sacked Bernadotte for this latest failure and began issuing orders to save the terribly precarious situation of the Grande Armée's left flank.

Wagram map

At 8 a.m. Klenau's VI Korps and Kollowrat's III Korps also finally began their attacks, with the former pushing through Aspern and Essling towards the crucial Lobau Island and the latter moving forward in the general direction of Raasdorf, further threatening the French left. Napoleon countered this menace by ordering Masséna's IV Corps south to attack Klenau, employing heavy cavalry as a screen and an the fire of an 84 piece grand battery as a way to fill the gap this move would create in the French line. Meanwhile, at 10 a.m. Davout, on the French right, launched the decisive attack of the battle, flanking the Austrian left. By 1 p.m. Rosenberg was engaged in a fighting retreat towards Bockfliess. Napoleon then launched a general attack on the Austrian center. MacDonald's V Corps advanced on Aderklaa while Marmont's fresh IX Corps and Oudinot's II Corps attacked the Austrian front. Simultaneously, Davout's III Corps pressed forward on the Austrian left, forcing the retreat of Prince Hohenzollern's II Korps. In addition, Masséna had managed to throw Klenau out of Essling.

Cavalry at Wagram

By 4 p.m. Archduke Charles's army was in a full coherent retreat; Napoleon had won the hard fought Battle of Wagram, the largest (300 thousand soldiers) and bloodiest (72 thousand casualties) in European history at the time. The nearly 60 thousand French casualties during the campaign would prove hard to replace. Bernadotte's dismissal would also come back to haunt Napoleon in the future. The Emperor would promote MacDonald to Field Marshal on the field of battle. With the subsequent French mop-up victory at the Battle of Znaim, Archduke Charles asked for an armistice, ending the war.


Battle of Friedland

2. Battle of Friedland, June 1807, vs Count von Bennigsen (Russia)

The Battle of Friedland, fought far to the southeast of Konigsberg in East Prussia, saw Napoleon end the War of the Fourth Coallition in a very decisive engagement. Outnumbered by 30 percent, Napoleon, with the help of his extremely talented commander Marshal Lannes, managed to crush the Russian army against the Alle River. With the declaration of peace, an alliance with Russia, and the formation of the Kingdom of Westphalia (a French protectorate with Jerome Bonaparte as King), Napoleon's First French Empire reached it's apogee.

see part one:

After the French defeat at the Battle of Eylau on 7 February, Count von Benningsen's army retreated all the way to the town of Heilsberg, where it took up solid defensive positions. There Benningsen came under repeated attack on 10 June by the vanguard of the French army, commanded by Marshal Murat and Marshal Lannes. Though French casualties were huge (around 10 thousand casualties), the Russians were forced to withdraw to the nearby village of Friedland, which they began to occupy the night of 13 June. The majority of Napoleon's army was still dispersed on its march routes; Marshal Lannes knew that he had to fix Beningsen in place around Friedland until the rest of the French army could arrive.

Battle of Friedland mapCredit:

A few hours after midnight on 14 June the Battle of Friedland began with Lannes' expertly performed delaying action; the Marshal employing his 26 thousand men to keep the Russian army of 84 thousand engaged, thus preventing a retreat. The French vanguard engaged the Russians in Sortlack Wood and just to the east of the hamlet of Posthenen while the rest Napoleon's army marched through the night towards the field of battle. Grouchy's cavalry were the first French reinforcements to arrive and won the race to capture the village of Heinrichsdorf in the process. As the morning progressed, Lannes struggled to hold his position since by 6 a.m. Bennigsen's army west of the Alle had grown to 50 thousand strong. The valiant marshal was soon aided by the arrival of Marshal Mortier's VIII Corps in the  Heinrichsdorf area. By noon Napoleon had arrived and began deploying his troops into the late afternoon, effectively trapping Benningsen on the west bank of the Alle River. The Count's army was now completely unable to disengage so as to effectuate a retreat over the bridges around Friedland. The battle could now begin in earnest.

 Napoleon decided that the main French attack would be conducted against the Russian left, which occupied the most restricted area of land. By 5 p.m. the French army was fully deployed and this attack moved ahead. Marshal Ney's VI Corps (Bisson and Marchand's infantry divisions) pushed through Sortlack Wood towards the Alle, while Lautour-Maubourg's cavalry division threw back a Russian cavalry counter-attack. The Russians found themselves more and more compressed against the Alle at their backs. Though Ney's attack gradually ground to a halt and was then pushed back by the enemy's cavalry reserve, the Bennigsen's left now offered the perfect target for the French cannon. Dupont's division moved up, the French cavalry continued to press the Russian infanty, and finally General Senarmont advanced a mass of cannons to case-shot range of the enemy lines. The close range artillery quickly broke the Russian defense and Ney's infantry moved into Friedland. Many Russian soldiers drowned fleeing over the Alle River.

Ney at Friedland

Marshal Mortier and Marshal Lannes, who had been holding the Russian right wing in check, then began their own attack, forcing the mostly intact Russian right to withdraw northwards: the Battle of Friedland was over. While French casualties numbered about 8 thousand, Benningsen's army was obliterated, suffering 20 thousand dead and wounded as well as a further 15 thousand captured. With the Treaty of Tilsit five days later, Napoleon had won the War of the Fourth Coallition and his First French Empire now dominated the entirety of the European continent. 


for part 3, please see