War of the Second Coalition
3 December 1800
French Army of the Rhine under Jean Victor Moreau, 58,210 men with 99 guns
Austro-Bavarians under Erzherzog Johann, 68,629 men with 236 guns
Location: Hohenlinden, Germany, 48° 9' 21" N, 12° 0' 0" E
Weather: Cold. Sleet and snow. Roads boot-sucking muddy. Visibility at times down to 10 meters, until late in the morning when the snow stopped and the sun came out for a time, only to resume snowing heavily again around noon.
From NOAA's calculator
Hohenlinden is the other bookend battle of this fateful year which saw the accession to power of Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul and his close-call victory at Marengo in Italy, six months before. In a number of ways, it mirrors the events of that first, more famous battle. For instance, it was also fought against the odds. The French were vulnerably spread out when the Austrians launched their attack across a river. It featured an aggressive foe who assumed they had already won. And it was also decided by the last minute arrival of a surprise blow on the Austrian flank and rear. One senses a theme.
So, by that criterion. Hohenlinden is obscure. Unless, of course, you're a Napoleonic nerd. And then I give up on any rationalization of the increasingly misnamed title of this blog series.
Marengo didn't win the war.Though Bonaparte's victory over the main Austrian army in Northern Italy at Marengo on June 14,1800 was supposed to be the decisive event that would compel the Habsburgs to sue for peace and end eight years of war with France...well-l-l-l-l-l-l...not exactly.Even though Bonaparte's subsequent propaganda made it appear that way...how can I put this diplomatically? He lied.
|Jean Victor Moreau|
When General Jean Moreau launched his own offensive in Germany at the same time as Marengo, throwing back Marshal Kray's central army eastward into Bavaria and then started a relentless drive toward Vienna, Bonaparte pressed the peace negotiations further. But the Austrians only agreed to extend the armistice to all theaters (Germany included) at the end of September, mostly to stop the momentum of Moreau, who had surrounded Kray at Ulm. It was like half-time of a football game, not a general peace.
Let's see what happens...
See! And you didn't think this was obscure.
|18 year-old Erzherzog Johann|
Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Army
That's right. Why? Does he look
Two decades later, when Napoleon was writing his memoirs in his exile on St. Helena, he criticized Moreau for having let his guard down, spreading his army out too far, and allowing himself to be surprised by the Austrians. Which was precisely what had happened to him at Marengo. But the Emperor was never famous for self-awareness, only having 20/20 hindsight for the faults of others.
Johann and his generals couldn't believe their luck. Such was the ferocity and skill of the troops they faced, they believed they had fought and defeated the entire French army at Ampfing (they had only engaged two divisions, Ney's and Hardy's, 17,629 men) and that Moreau's whole force was in rout back to Munich. Johann wrote giddily to his brother, the Kaiser, that ultimate victory was at hand. Ignoring the fact that the Austrians had suffered almost twice the casualties in this engagement, Johann and his seasoned staff felt it was only for them to chase these fleeing sans-culottes to destruction, liberate the Bavarian capital, and march on to a defenseless Paris. Weyrother, who had fought in Italy and was very aware of the sucker-punch the Austrians had fallen for at Marengo. should have been personally wary of this trap. But he joined in the cheer-leading of Young Master Johann. Only ancient Lauer, who had been personally tasked by the Emperor with supervising Johann, voiced caution. But he was a Debby-Downer to the celebrating officers.
Moreau's Lemonade Stand
|Moreau at Hohenlinden, with captured Austrian flags and prisoners|
(Oops. Another spoiler.)
Henri Frederic Schopin, 1836
So as not to clog up this main road, Johann's staff had split up the army into four wings, with each to take a different route to rendezvous at Hohenlinden on the 3rd. (See map above) The central wing, almost 24,000 with 64 guns under Johann Kollowrat, was assigned the main Haag-Hohenlinden highway; this was the corps that Johann accompanied. The other three wings under Kienmayer (23,000 with 78 guns), Baillet de Latour (10,000 and 44 guns), and Reisch (12,000 and 48 guns) had to stumble their way along, looking for freshly concealed tracks through the dark, spruce forests, and up and down steep hills. All without adequate maps. I assumed that they would have snatched up some local farmers to show them the way, but how much they trusted them is up to debate. Austrian nobility did not tend to trust the word of peasants, and peasants didn't trust nobility, particular foreigners.This pride and prejudice on the part of the Austrian aristocratic leadership would hurt them later, as well, at the battle of Wertingen in 1805.
I can imagine thousands of conversations in the ranks, repeating the phrase, "Whose idea was this?" But Johann and his staff were jubilant. Getting up early on a snowy morning was like Christmas three weeks early: They were going to mop up the fleeing French today! Paris by Christmas!
The day before, after the retreat from Ampfing, Moreau was rallying his army on the open plain around Hohenlinden. They certainly weren't in flight as Johann's staff had assumed, and were not nearly as disorganized either. Moreau was a little put off by the nasty surprise of the Austrian offensive on the 1st. But being resilient by nature, he was one of those commanders who make lemonade out of lemons. And his lemonade stand was setting an ambush for Johann. Being knocked on his butt, he probably thought, "Perfect! I've got them just where I want them!"
Moreau's orignal plan was to fix the Austrians at Hohenlinden, just outside the exit from the defile, holding them back as long as possible while Richepanse's single division worked around their southern flank and hit them in the rear. When Decaen showed up for dinner, Moreau told him he wanted him to move his division to Hohenlinden to support Grouchy. But Decaen demurred and said that his men had marched all day to reach Ebersberg and that the forest trails from there to Hohenlinden would mean they wouldn't get there until late the next day, probably too late. He proposed an alternative; that he follow Richepanse through St. Cristophe and join him in his enveloping attack. Moreau saw the wisdom of this and agreed, "I was going to turn the enemy with 10,000 men. We'll do it with 20,000..."he leaned over the map, "Here!" mashing his finger down decisively on the name on the map [camera cuts in tight] "Maitenbeth".
Wait! Weren't they supposed to be retreating?
Löpper couldn't do much with his handful of jagers and random companies of militia. And his hussars weren't much use in the woods. He sent back urgently for reinforcements. Next in the column was Kolowrat-Leibsteinsky's division of eight battalions of grenadiers and two regiments of Hungarian infantry, the #31 Benjowsky and the #60 Gyulai. The Benjowskys hustled up the road and deployed in the woods to the right and left, seeing the 108th's fire and raising them with more more muskets (2,600 to 2,300). In the snow and woods, soon shrouded in smoke, visibility was almost nil. So both sides just banged away in the vague direction of muzzle flashes, with no idea of how effective their fire was.
Commander of the main
column of the Austrian army.
Kollowrat, hearing the cacaphony ahead, sent a staff officer forward to find out what-the-what. Löpper, meanwhile, took command of the infantry coming up behind him (which would have been the Austrian grenadier battalions under GM Spannocchi), and fed them into his line. And he sent his hussars (Ferdinand #3) around to the left to try to find out how far the French line extended and, if possible, flank them.
When Kollowrat was told what was happening, he himself sent orders for two of the grenadier battalions and a supporting squadron of the Ferdinand Hussars take another side trail south to link up with Riesch's column, which he believed should have been at St. Cristoph by now (it wasn't even close). In truth, Kollowrat wasn't sure what he was
facing. But the volume of fire seemed more like determined resistance
from a sizable force, not a rear guard action. And he hadn't heard yet from any of the other three columns.
The Benjowskys and grenadiers were soon joined by the Gyulai regiment (#60) with another 2,400 muskets. Even though both sides were firing into the blind, the 108th started to feel the overwhelming pressure and slowly inched back toward the edge of the woods. But they held.
It must be mentioned that at this point, and owing to the miserable weather and boot-sucking roads, the Austrian artillery, including the battalion support guns, did not keep up with the infantry. All of this heavy metal was still slowly coming up behind the rest of the army, most of it back by Maitenbeth at the entrance to the defile. The French guns, though, had no such impediment since they were already close at hand and giving close support to the infantry.
Nor could the Austrians yet make use of their superior cavalry. Except for the Ferdinand Hussars, most of their horse were also stacked up like rush hour behind the infantry columns. Moreau had picked his position beautifully, almost like Leonidas at Thermopylae.
Löpper, Kollowrat's on-scene commander at the front, had taken charge and was dealing out forces as they came up. With direct eyes on the situation, he soon realized he was facing just one demibrigade, even though the fire seemed intense. He commandeered two more of Spannocchi's Grenadier battalions (Sebettendorf and Tegettof) and sent them north to take another forest trail and hit the 108th from the flank. This they were able to do, surprising the lone 108th with a sudden bayonet charge out of the woods on its exposed flank about 09:00. The French fell back in a fighting withdrawal, covered by the 4th Hussars and the three eight-pounders who retreated à bricole with them. It wasn't a rout, but it did open up the exit from the defile wide enough for the Austrians, now reinforced by Deroy's Bavarians and (finally) some of their battalion guns, to deploy into line on open ground and start up a severe musket and canister fire on the French.
This was a moment of crisis for Grouchy. The Austrians now had more than 12,000 infantry confronting his 8,500. Guns and cavalry gradually started arriving, adding to the pressure. The 108th was out of it for now, regrouping in the rear. Grouchy ordered the 46th Demibrigade, which had been supporting the 108th, to counter-attack. Furious at the canister being fired at them from the trees, the 46th charged at an all-out run, growling, bayonets lowered. Though outnumbered, they overran the Austrian guns and forced the Austrian and Bavarian infantry to flee back into the woods. The 46th continued to chase them. Hundreds of grenadiers dropped their muskets and surrendered, including Gen. Spannocchi. Five guns were taken. The French, moving from tree to tree to shoot, reload, and run forward, liked this kind of combat. They preferred to be on the attack and fighting on broken ground. They were in their element.
Meanwhile, farther back up the road, the Bavarian commander, Zweibrücken, on his own initiative, peeled off two more battalions of his own infantry from the main column and sent them down the side trail toward St. Cristoph to link up with Riesch. He had been unaware that Kollowrat had already sent two grenadier battalions down there, but his experience of fighting in the American Revolution as a "Hessian" mercenary had made him wary of exposed flanks in the woods. The French were fighting unfair, like the Americans and Indians. So this detachment further drained the available strength in the center. Zweibrucken himself should not have been faulted for taking this initiative (which was probably prudent), but the lack of communication within the Allied leadership made it more serious. The generals just weren't talking to each other.
It was now about 09:00. Kollowrat and Johann, from their headquarters position back on top of the Schimmelberg ridge close to Maitenbeth, were still confused about what was going on up at the front. They had not heard any word from the other three columns, so didn't know where they were. Nor had they apparently seen fit to gallop forward to the action at the front to see the situation for themselves at the Hohenlinden plain. No. They relied on breathless reports from couriers and rumors, often acting on erroneous or expired information. Troops at the front were thus both getting orders from Löpper and then contradicting orders from HQ in the rear. And the other wing commanders had no idea where Kollowrat or Johann were themselves to make contact.
Just 34 at the time of the battle.
Nevertheless, things should have been going well for the Austrians at the exit to the defile. Grouchy was stressed almost to breaking. The 108th had fallen back and were rallying, the 46th was fighting in the woods to the front, and his last demibrigade, the 57th (later known as "le Terrible"), had not yet been committed. This latter he sent after and to the right of the 46th to drive back the left flank of the Austrian line. He supported them with the 11th Chasseurs-a-Cheval and put in the rest of his cannon. All of his reserves, but for the single regiment of cavalry (the three squadrons of the 6th Cavalry), had been committed. And it seemed like the Austrians were still coming on.
But in contrast with the lead-from-the-rear tradition of Austrian commanders, Grouchy was right up in front with the fighting. This was the French style. Republican generals led from the front. Grouchy could see at once what was happening and what was needed, not having to wait for dispatches to tell him.
By 10:00 the crisis had been contained for the time being, but Grouchy didn't know for how long he could hold the enemy back. He sent to Moreau's HQ at Hohenlinden for help.
Meanwhile, beyond the woods...
At 07:15, when the fighting in the defile southeast of Hohenlinden was starting up, Richepanse was leading his division through the snow through the little village of St. Christoph (see small scale map at 07:15 above). His intelligence has alerted him to the threat coming from Riesch's southern column, but so far, there was no sign of them. He had recruited a guide from St. Christoph who said he intimately knew the tracks through the woods toward Maitenbeth and the Austrian rear and his lead demibrigade (the 8th) was about to enter those woods there. The guide told Richepance that Maitenbeth was only 15 minutes away. To the left of the main column, the 5th Hussars, the 20th Chasseurs-a-Cheval, and a horse battery were covering their flanks in the direction of the firing heard from the north. Contemporary narratives describe the horses and men wading through the thickening snow on either side of the track, since this was less muddy. But the going was slow.
As the French 5th Hussar patrols moved through the hamlet of Schutzen northwest of Richepanse's main column and neared the woods, they were suddenly hit by a volley from the woods ahead. This would have come from the two grenadier battalions that Kollowrat had sent down earlier to link up with Riesch's column. The grenadiers must have hesitated, expecting the snow-shrouded horsemen to be Riesch's friendly cavalry. Eventually, at some range, even through the heavily falling snow, they must have recognized them as the enemy. Probably a call sign was not answered. Or answered in French. The grenadiers fired a volley. Two horses of the accompanying artillery dropped.
Then the 5th Hussars unhooked their carbines and let loose their own volleys. They deployed and the battalion of the 14th Légère fell out of column to engage the Austrian grenadiers, hidden back in the woods, north of Schutzen. Richepanse detached the three grenadier companies from the 48th to lend support. In the falling snow (Richepanse, in his report, says you couldn't see ten paces), no one was sure how large the enemy force opposing them was. In fact, it was just the two grenadier battalions, about 1,200 men. But it must have seemed larger.
|Gen. Antoine Richepanse|
Fearless, not just of battle, but of politics.
He was, apparently, beloved by his men,
as well as the yellow fever virus, which loved him
to death two years later.
More than once the column got lost. The guide, who was previously so confident, himself got lost as the narrow track was covered in snow. Leaving the first guide to apologize and scratch his head, Richepanse got another and they made a few more hundred yards of progress before that guide also got lost. But about 10:00 it suddenly stopped snowing, the sky cleared, and they could see blue sky through the trees ahead. They were near the far side of the forest. A few more minutes and they came out just south of Maitenbeth at a hamlet called Marsmaier, where the 1st Chasseurs surprised and captured a squad of Austrian cuirassiers, brewing coffee around a fire. Some of these got away to gallop north to warn their teammates.
Emerging into the open with suddenly clear air, Richepanse realized he was exactly where he wanted to be, in the very
rear of the Austrian army, and in a position to turn the tide of the
battle. He had not had any word from Moreau or Grouchy, but hearing the
booms and continuous crackling from the west he felt the urgency. He could not yet see beyond the hill to the north that the village of Maitenbeth occupied. He couldn't see the main road or any of Kollowrat's column. He had no idea what he was facing. But he ordered the 8th Demibrigade form columns of attack, interspersed with artillery, and started slowly moving up the hill. The 1st Chasseurs covered both their right flank and front, ready to warn of the first sight of the enemy. The 48th was still back in the forest and had not yet come up, but Richepanse realised he didn't have a moment to lose. He charged up the hill, through the village, with this fraction of his force. For all he knew, the entire Austrian army was on the other side of that hill.
The escaped Austrian cuirassiers from Marsmaier had meanwhile run into two regiments of cuirassiers (Albert & Lothringen) who were making their way from Haag and alerted them about the large body of French coming up toward them from Maitenbeth. FML Liechtenstein, Kollowrat's cavalry commander, ordered these cuirassiers to form two lines north of the road (Richepanse identifies these cuirassiers as the Nassau Regt, however, the Austrian OOB puts that regiment way up north with Latour's column, so who to believe? The official OOB or someone who was actually there?). Liechtenstein also commanded one of the artillery trains nearby to unlimber and get ready to sweep the hilltop to the south over which they expected the French to start swarming any minute.
As the French crested the hill, Richepanse could now see the Austrian cuirassiers north of the road, still scrambling to deploy. He ordered the 1st Chasseurs to charge them before they could finish their evolution. As the chasseurs made their charge downhill toward the highway, they were suddenly hit in the flank by three hidden squadrons of Bavarian Chevaulegers, who had been following the cuirassiers down the road. The right squadron of the surprised 1st Chasseurs broke and fled past the flank of the 8th Demibrigade with the Bavarians in hot pursuit. But these latter were, in turn, stopped cold by controlled volleys from the unperturbed French infantry, and they fled themselves, having no desire to tackle with a steady phalanx of bayonets. The Austrian cuirassiers, were still in the tedious process of forming line on the north side of the road and weren't ready to help the Bavarian cavalry. But the eight Austrian 12-pdrs did start to fire on the massed French infantry and cavalry pouring over the hill. Fortunately for the latter, snow somewhat diminished the effect of roundshot and canister, especially when fired uphill, so they weren't harmed so much by this cannonade (see my observations on the effect of snow on 18th century combat in my article, Mollwitz 1741). They kept coming, chanting "Tue! Tue! Tue!" (Kill! Kill! Kill!)
Richepanse had the 8th charge right at the still-deploying Austrian horse, who attempted a series of disconnected charges, only to be cut down by musketry and counter-charged by the rallied chasseurs. After three or four of these aborted cavalry charges, the Austrian cuirassiers withdrew farther to the north and the 8th occupied the road, capturing much of Kollowrat's artillery train.
The 48th had now come up and assembled itself into attack columns. Richepanse turned these left at right angles and started each battalion down the road toward the rear of Kollowrat's column. These three columns quickly degenerated into an unruly mob from the road crowded with abandoned and overturned wagons, and dead bodies of men and horses. But this was of no consequence to the French infantry, who were used to fighting in this kind of chaotic terrain. Linear warfare was for wimps.
Zweibrüken, the Bavarian commander, was closest to this unexpected new threat and commanded the rearmost of his battalions, Stengel, Preysing, and Schlossberg, to reverse course and march back up the road to confront it. As the opposing infantry neared each other, Richepanse, who was leading from the front, as usual, turned to his men and pointed to the approaching Bavarians, "Grenadiers, que pensez vous de ces hommes-là?" ("What do you think of those men there?") One of the grenadiers snarled, "Général, ils sont fouté!" ("They're f***ed!") This was seconded by another growling chant of "Tue! Tue! Tue!" ("Kill! Kill! Kill!") from the whole regiment. They then launched one of those unrestrained, furia francese charges the French were famous for and crashed into the Bavarian battalions. The Preysing and Schossberg batallions fought heroically for a short time, reforming and counter-charging four or five times (according to Richepanse's report) but their heart soon failed and they either bolted through the woods to the north or surrendered. The Stengel battalion didn't wait around but immediately broke northward through the woods as soon as they heard the French screaming and coming for them. Artillerymen cut their horses loose from the limbers and also bolted north through the woods, leaving the guns and caissons.
Kollowrat and Johann, now hearing a brouhaha from their rear as well as their front, did not know what to think. Kollowrat sent orders for two more Bavarian battalions to reverse march to confront the crisis in the rear. These merely ran into the same buzz saw. And to the west, the French, who had been falling back, were now apparently counter-attacking en-mass. More and more exhausted Allied troops were filtering back through the mess on the road, or heading north toward Isen.
The Austrian General Staff was openly wondering, "Where were the other wings? Where were Kienmayer? Latour? Reisch?" They had heard nothing from them since before dawn.
Well. That's an interesting story...
Positions at 10:00 Note, as you peruse this map of
positions of the various units, when Richepanse launched
his rear attack, that it is verrrrrrrrrrrrrry speculative. None of the
narratives I used were precise about the exact positions of the various
forces (particularly the Allies), so I have taken some cartographer's
Where is everybody?
In this age before radio, GPS, and smartphones, conducting wide-flung, coordinated maneuvers meant to outflank was a foolhardy ambition. The weather that day certainly didn't help. Or the woody, hilly terrain. All four columns had lost touch with each other shortly after setting out in the predawn hours. One could argue that this indirect, Frederickan tactic was working fine for the French, as Richepanse managed to find his target under the same conditions. But he didn't have as far to go. And his maneuver wasn't as wide or complicated as the four Austrian columns.
Kienmayer's column of nearly 23,000 rose about 04:30 from its campfires around Dorfen (see first, large scale map above) and proceeded to feel its way in the dark up the Isen River toward Isen. Its objective was to come out on the north end of the Hohenlinden plain at the village of Buch and there somehow link up with the other three columns. It was led by three Grenzer battalions and six squadrons of the #6 Coburg Chevaulegers. These ran into some French infantry detachments around Isen around 07:00, who made a show of fleeing in mock terror through the woods to the west toward Legrand's position opposite Buch. This served its intended purposes of convincing the Austrians that the French were, indeed, on the run, and getting them to split their forces to run after them (again see the Zulu strategy at Isandlwana).
As the hours ticked on, though, and the climax of the battle in the center was unfolding, Kienmayer's two divisions under Schwartzenberg and Ferdinand made painfully slow progress on the snow-packed roads south and west of Isen. One or two isolated battalions made it as far as the villages of Fostern and Tadding, pushing back Bastoul's pickets, but these were soon driven back by coordinated French counter-attacks.
NB: The sources I used to research this article (see references below) are vague in the participation of the Austrian forces, naming only a battalion or two from all of the available order of battle of Kienmayer's column. Most of these troops seem to have been stuck far back on the roads north of Isen. Nevertheless, between 07:00 and 11:00, the fighting on the north side of the battlefield seems to have been seesaw, with the outnumbered French of Legrand's and Bastoul's divisions ultimately pushing the Austrians back into the woods. Fortunately for the French, because the Austrian forays were piecemeal, they could deal with them separately.
Meanwhile, the second column under Baillet-Latour, though it had also risen early, was making almost no progress from its bivouacs around Haag. By 07:00 it had waded a little over three miles in two hours and was hung up in the woods almost six miles from its objective at Hohenlinden, which at this rate, it wouldn't reach until noon, five hours behind schedule--and even then if it ran into no opposition. Latour had lost complete touch with both Kienmayer and Kollowrat.
At around 10:00 his column finally reached the village of Schnaupping (see map--okay, I'm not going to keep telling you to do that). But he stopped there. He had heard rumbles of battle from the north, the south, and the west and didn't know where he should turn. He started to fritter away his command by dispatching two squadrons of the Nassau Cuirassiers and a battalion of the Lacy IR#22 northwest to try to link up with Kienmayer, then four of the remaining squadrons of the Nassauers and another battalion of the Lacy, with some of his artillery south to try and establish contact with Kollowrat. Moving cautiously toward Mittbach, he now heard the battle to his south getting really serious and sent two more battalions and some more artillery in that direction to help. He was left with less than half of his original column. Unknown to him, the reinforcements he had sent to Kollowrat had been a day late and a dollar short; that battle was already lost when they started running into fleeing comrades running north.
As Latour inched his way cautiously through the last set of woods east of Hohenlinden, he at last came in site of the plain and witnessed, to his horror, that Grouchy and Ney were in the midst of a counterattack on Kollowrat's forces and were driving them back into the defile. He belatedly sent yet another single battalion after the other two to help Kollowrat, who was beyond help by this time.
With just 6,500 of his original force left, he had two more battalions attack the village of Kronacker (NE of Hohenlinden) as a diversion to help Kienmayer get his force onto the plain to the north. Now he had less than half his original force left at Mittbach (and safely out of harms way), and spent the rest of the morning dithering about what to do with them.
Riesch is also no help at all.
Finally, to the south, Riesch's fourth column was having just as much trouble plowing through the snow as Kienmayer and Latour. By 10:00, five-and-a-half hours after starting out, his lead battalions had only reached Albaching, not quite five miles (7.5 km). At this rate, he wouldn't reach Hohenlinden, the agreed rendezvous point, until after nightfall, even without opposition. Like the other columns, he had no contact with anybody else and only heard the rolling thunder of gunfire to the north and west. His intelligence had informed him that both Richepanse's and Decaen's divisions were still six miles to the west, at Ebersberg. But this information was hours old; Richepanse was already commencing his charge down the Haag-Hohenlinden highway from Maintenbeth toward the rear of Kollowrat's column and Decaen was bearing down on Riesch himself from St. Christoph. Riesch decided to hold where he was to await the rest of his column and news from Kollowrat. He did order a battalion of infantry to head toward St. Christoph to capture that place, and then ordered another one to follow it a little later. He sent another battalion and a squadron of cavalry north toward Maitenbeth to try and establish contact with Kollowrat, who, by this time, and unknown to Riesch, was busy fleeing for his life. Both of these tiny forces were processed in the French Cuisinart.
On the French side, Decaen, who had reached St.Cristoph by 10:00 found Richepanse's rear brigades under Drouet and Sahuc engaged in a firefight with the two Austrian grenadier battalions guarding the trail up to the main highway. Decaen took over this fight for Drouet, who was able to disengage and follow Richepanse up to Maitenbeth. Decaen, with a fresh battalion of the 14th Légère, the three battalions of the Polish Legion, and a squadron of Polish Uhlans, finally drove back the Austrian grenadiers (who must have been running out of ammunition by this time and were hearing rumors of chaos to their rear). The Poles followed the fleeing grenadiers north until they came out on the highway. There they discovered the entire Austrian artillery train, and also linked up with Grouchy's and Ney's counter-attack from the west. What was left of the Kollowrat's center column, beset on three sides (west, south, east), broke and bolted through the woods to the north; Johann, Kollowrat, and the whole army staff with them.
In parting to rejoin Richepanse, Drouet told Decaen that he was afraid they were being flanked from the southeast by the enemy. Whereupon, Decaen said, "Well, we're just going to have to outflank them, then." (In anticipation of Chesty Puller's famous response to the news that his 1st Marines were being surrounded by the Communist Chinese at the Chosin Reservoir in 1952, "Poor sons-of-bitches. Now we can attack on all fronts at once.")
So Decaen sent the rest of his division east to meet Riesch, who, like Latour, had fragmented his force and was eaten up one bite at a time.
Though Riesch finally received an order from Johann toward the end of the day to try and continue his offensive on St. Christoph to support the center (though it is unclear when that order was originally sent since by that time Johann and his whole staff were themselves fleeing north through the woods and well on their way back to Haag), he sent back that he was heroically trying to do just that. But he wasn't at all. Since 10:00 that morning, all he had done was send one small detachment after another west or north, only to be met and gobbled up by Decaen's or Drouet's forces. By sundown, he judged he had done enough and started moving what was left of his command back up to Haag. He did manage to have captured 500 Frenchmen, though.
Trying to sum up.
By midday this battle, having been fought mostly in woody, hilly terrain, and in a blinding snowstorm, was pretty much done. The entire Allied plan, brilliant in ambition, but FUBAR* in execution, had completely fallen apart.
*FUBAR: "F**ed Up Beyond All Recognition" for those of you not familiar with WWII acronyms.
It is confusing to try and follow all the movements, particularly of the four Austrian columns. The narratives I consulted describe the various Habsburg commanders detaching unnamed battalions or squadrons, and those in isolated engagements. And I, alas, being an amateur historian, sequestered on the West Coast of the U.S. during the pandemic, have not been able to find detailed, primary sources (except for Richepanse's report). I almost gave up even posting this battle for all the gaping holes it had in the sources and narratives.
But, to sum up as best as I can: By about 11:00 Moreau, without having any direct communication from his two remote division commanders, Richepanse and Decaen, saw the the nervous shuffling in the Austrian and Bavarian ranks to Grouchy's immediate front. He reached out with his feelings and the Force told him (okay, I've been watching a Star Wars marathon) that Richepanse had successfully pounced on Kollorat's rear and was driving him down the Haag road from the east,. All of Moreau's forces on the Hohenlinden plain had been successfully holding back isolated and uncoordinated Austrian attacks from Kienmayer's and Latour's columns all morning. Now that the main Habsburg assault from the Haag highway seemed to be faltering, and was apparently distracted by something happening in their rear, Moreau judged the time was right to launch a counter-attack all up and down the line. He ordered Legrand, Bastoul, Ney, Hautpol, and Grouchy to unleash hell.
The offensive flipped. All of the French divisions pitched into the isolated Austrian battalions, from Buch in the north, to the Haag highway on the southside of the plain. Ney backed up what was left of Grouchy's division, who had been holding back the main Austrian thrust all morning and together they began to drive the enemy back down the road, right into the bayonets of Richepanse's now reunited brigades. From the south, Decaen's Polish brigade drove up the path into the flank of Kollowrat's column, taking hundreds of prisoners and dozens of limbered guns jammed on the road.
Opposite the center of the plain, both Schwarzenberg and Latour, feeling the sudden counter-attack from all up and down the French line, judged that it was the better part of valor to preserve their forces and begin a staged withdrawal back the way they had come. Two Austrian regiments (Murray and Ferdinand) had seized the village of Kronacker, just northeast of Hohenlinden, but Moreau quickly mustered the 108th, two battalions of the 57th, Ney's combined grenadiers, and a bunch of cavalry and had them counter-attack the Austrians, thowing them all the way back to Loiping.
On the far north of the plain at Buch, Ferdinand, sensing that his flanks were suddenly exposed due to the withdrawal of Schwartzenberg's and Latour's troops, fought a fighting retreat back through the narrow forest path he had so laboriously negotiated all morning, eventually reaching his starting point at Dorfen by sundown.
Taking thousands of prisoners and scores of guns and wagons, and with the remainder of Kollowrat's command fleeing north through the woods, Ney's and Richepanse's divisions (and the Polish Legion) met up in the center of the road below the Schimmelberg. Richepanse's 48th Demibrigade about-faced and marched back the way they had come with Ney's and together they drove back what few cavalry squadrons the Austrians had left around Maintenbeth. By 14:00 they had established a strong defensive position at that village.
The whole mood in the Austrian army had changed. The day had started with glorious dreams of sweeping up what was left of Moreau's Army of the Rhine, and ended in utter disaster. Those of us living through the past few years are familiar with that kind of reversal of fortune.
Consequences of Hohenlinden
While Hohenlinden was only a rout for the Allied center column under Kollowrat--the other three columns not seriously engaged-- Johann's army was by no means destroyed. To be sure, he lost about 13,500 men and 111 guns captured,but he still had something like 55,000 and 126 guns left. A still formidable force.
The trouble was the heart of the army was broken. In all practical terms Johann had no army left. His Bavarian allies had all called it a day. And army discipline was falling apart. This disintegration in the will of the Army was lethal and contagious. It spread, with Johann's report, to the Aulic Counsel and his own brother, the Kaiser.
Hohenlinden proved to be a much more strategic victory for France and Bonaparte than Marengo had six months before. While Bonaparte criticized Moreau for not capitalizing on the victory and racing at once to Vienna (like he himself would have), the Republican commander, still prudent, instead moved across the Inn River to seize Salzburg. He then conducted a devastating march toward the capital, capturing an addtional 20,000 men and still more artillery. By 15 December, Moreau had come to within 50 miles of Vienna.
Archduke Carl was finally (and belatedly) asked to relieve his brother Johann as Commander-in-Chief, but by that time, the entire Habsburg military structure was collapsing. Survivors of Hohenlinden were deserting and making no end of trouble in the countryside, replacements were refusing to march to their assigned regiments, Hungarian grenzers were even failing to show up to muster. Losing such a major battle this close to Vienna, especially after the misconception that they had had victory in their grasp on 1 December, the peace party at the Aulic Council prevailed and persuaded Francis to end the war, to save his empire and himself. Francis's government was broke and exhausted, even with British loans. And rather than risk losing the whole country to the French revolutionary fanatics, they prudently agreed to terms. And to fight another day.
Bonaparte, getting the news of Moreau's victory five days later in Paris, was said by his secretary Bourrienne, to have "literally danced for joy." As he heard of Moreau's aggressive moves closer and closer to Vienna, he pressed his advantage. And by 9 February 1801 had got the Austrians to sign a humiliating treaty of Lunèville. The Second Coalition was dissolved ( Britain, left by everyone but the Ottomans, was forced, the next year, to sign the Treaty of Amiens). And peace had come back to Europe for the first time in a decade.
Hohenlinden, the last battle fought and won by a purely Republican army, ironically made Bonaparte the hero, and allowed him to consolidate his political power. He was made Consul for Life by a national plebiscite in 1802 (in which 99% voted for him, but the ballots were not secret and you would go to prison if you voted against him). Moreau, who was also a hero not just to the Army but to the French public, was accused by Bonaparte's secret police of plotting to stage a coup, and was tried for treason. But the Republican general's popularity, and the huge street protests demanding his release, forced the Consul to back down and order his kangaroo court to merely banish him to the United States. Ten years later Moreau came out of retirement from his farm in Pennsylvania, recrossed the Atlantic, offered his expertise to help the Allies overthrow Napoleon, and was killed by a French cannonball at Dresden. Which makes me sad.
The General's widow, left behind in
Pennsylvania. Poor thing. She looks so sad.
They were both young and in love.
Richepanse, the true hero of Hohenlinden, and probably one of the ablest generals in France, was sent overseas the following year to govern the French colony of Guadaloupe in the Caribbean, where he died ignominiously of yellow fever in months. Bonaparte undoubtedly welcomed that news; another possible trouble-making Republican conveniently dispatched.
It is also eyebrow-raising the lengths to which Bonaparte went to downplay the significance of Hohenlinden in ending the war. He didn't want Moreau to get any credit (or any political clout for it). Consequently, he ordered the burning of all (so he thought) the official reports and accounts of the battle. And, at the same time, he kept having the narrative, maps, and reports on Marengo redone to make it seem that all the mistakes and near-disasters of that battle had all been part of his brilliant trap set for the Austrians. He even went so far as to order the melting down of the engraving plates for the earlier, "official" reports and maps. This would explain why it has been so hard to piece together what really happened. Much as the Battle of the Granicus (fought two-thousand years earlier) is hard to piece together because of contemporary propaganda, so too are Hohenlinden and Marengo.
Arm-Chair General Time
One of the things that stuck me in researching this battle was how confusing it was. And not just because of Bonaparte's suppression of its documentation. It reminded me, in some ways, of Chickamauga 1863, which I wrote about last year. Though it wasn't contending with a snow storm, that Civil War battle was also fought largely in a forest, with severe communication problems between all the corps. Trying to make sense of who was where and when gave me a sense of empathy with the Austrian commanders. Of course the snow didn't help either.
The other thing that was inconceivable to me was the sheer optimism that the Austrian staff had in how fast people could move in the snow, much less pull guns through it. The French, of course, had to move through the same snow, but most of them were on the defensive. Richepanse and Decaen, of course, didn't have as far to move to execute their part of the coup de grace, but even they had their troubles. The Austrians, not just trudging through knee-deep snow, but doing it in dark woods, trying to follow buried paths, and not trusting their local peasant guides, were probably constantly asking themselves whose brilliant idea this was? Weyrother's.
|Franz von Weyrother|
The brilliant Austrian Chief of Staff who
designed the defeat at Hohenlinden and
My hunch is that the battle was lost as soon as Weyrother proposed his complicated plan to break up the army into four widely separated wings, miles apart, to converge on Hohenlinden. Ever since the Seven Years War, Austrian military intelligensia seemed to love these wide, sweeping maneuvers with many moving parts. But their communications, their staffs, and their privileged officer corps, just weren't up to executing them. Though he was wounded at Hohenlinden, Weyrother recovered and was, incredibly, assigned to be Chief of Staff to the Allied army five years later during the Third Coalition War. Learning absolutely nothing from his experience, he went on to commit the same fatal error at Austerlitz when he conceived breaking up the Austro-Russian army into five, widely separated columns to sweep down on Napoleon from the Pratzen heights. "Okay, bear with me now,..." I'm sure he said to the assembled generals as he unrolled his maps. His plan turned out to be so complicated and intricate that during his condescending presentation, Kutuzov actually dozed off. I would have loved to have seen his Powerpoint, if he'd had that.
Another feature of this battle was the difference in nature between the Austrian officer corps and the French. The Austrian leadership were a snobbish, reactionary lot, most of them receiving their commissions by purchase or inheritance and without any empathetic connection to their rank-and-file, who were despised as essentially slaves. By contrast, all of the French officers, from generals all the way down, got their commissions by merit. They rose from the ranks. They led from the front. They were encouraged to think for themselves, to take advantage of the situation at the moment. And they completely identified with the men they led, who, in turn, gave them enthusiastic loyalty. Consequently, even though they had suffered a setback on 1 December, the French morale was soaring compared to the Austrian soldiers, who didn't even know why they were here in the dead of winter.
I was trying to think, while I was struggling to make sense of this battle, how it might make an interesting wargame. Would it have made a difference, for instance, if it had not snowed (or rained) and the roads been more solid? If the visibility would have been clear? Or if Riesch had done his job and kept up to protect Kollowrat's flank? Or if Kienmayer and Latour had kept up themselves and successfully debouched onto the north end of the Hohenlinden plain on time?
But that cynicism aside, it might be interesting to alter the conditions. To see what if...
Relative Fighting Power
While I have a lot of contempt for the caliber of the Austrian leadership in this period, I do think, that in a wargame, the combat effectiveness of Austrian and Bavarian units themselves should not be discounted. When they did engage the French, they gave as good as they got. When their artillery finally managed to make it forward, they inflicted some pretty gruesome casualties on the French. So they were a professional army. Even the Bavarians, who were essentially paid mercenaries, were professionals and fought ferociously (except for the Stengel battalion...shame, shame). In rearguard actions, Austrian cavalry did their part tenaciously, helping their comrades retreat safely. So I'd rate the combat power of your Austrian units as high as your French.
Isolated Austrian Excellence in Leadership
There were a few Allied commanders who performed well. Schwarzenberg, Zweibrücken, Frenel, Löpper, Deroy, Wrede, all showed remarkably good judgment and quick-thinking. Schwarzenberg stands out; even though he also was forced to retreat, his command had the farthest to march. And when he saw the battle was lost, he managed to pull his command out with the fewest losses. This would endear him to the Hofkriegsrat years later when he rose to become the overall Allied Commander-in-Chief in 1813-14 (Arnold compares him to Eisenhower).
So you could, if your game system has rules for rating commanders, give these specific generals higher points.
Effect of Snow
Artillery Fire During this period, snow tended to greatly reduce the ricochet effect of round-shot and canister fire. (See my article on this effect at Mollwitz 1741), the snow absorbing a lot of the kinetic energy of the bouncing projectiles. I don't have any hard physics data on this amount of this energy dissipation, but, as with all wargames, I would halve the fire effect of artillery in snow
Movement It goes without saying that snow also slowed down movement. Richepanse reported that his cavalry moved more easily off the road, but had to move one step to the side for each one forward. Those of you who have grown up in snow, know what this is like. And also how exhausting it is.
Visibility Snow also affects visibility. Richepanse, in his salvaged report says you could not see ten paces it was snowing so hard. This may have been an exaggeration, and was probably intermittent. But I can see a rule in a wargame in which snow reduces visibility to a single hexside, or an inch, or whatever scale equivalent you're using. And you could account for unpredictability of snowfall by a die roll each turn.
Effect of Woods
Woods aren't all the same. The woods at Chickamauga were pretty open in the understory, so even artillery could be hauled through. This is characteristic of softwood forests, as the woods around Hohenlinden were also. So your wargame could allow for passage of all arms through woods, but at a reduced rate.
Visibility, though, would be reduced by woods. As anybody who has hiked through relatively open, softwood forests knows, seeing more than fifty yards or so is pretty impossible. And with a lot of smoke accumulating from fire, the trees would tend to trap this close to the ground, further reducing visibility. This would explain why the French were able to lie in ambush at the far end of the Haag-Hohenlinden road, and why it took some time for the Austrians to figure out the size of the force shooting at them. Schwarzenberg also complains that his men were amushed by French voltigeurs hiding in the trees. It reminded me of Japanese snipers in the trees in WWII.
Wargames that are designed to prevent either side from seeing the opponent's forces are fascinating to me (like Midway). One of the most salient features of Hohenlinden was that the attacker (the Austrian side) really wasn't sure A) where the French were, B) how many they were, C) or even where each other were. So they had to feel their way forward, each turn expecting to step on a rake.
One way to make a game of Hohenlinden thematic would be to make it a hide-and-seek. Game systems like those created by Columbia Games (the ones where, like Stratego, you keep your blocks facing you) would be excellent to create a Hohenlinden game. I know that Columbia does provide blank blocks and you could create your own board of Hohenlinden (even using one of my maps as a base). Or petition them to develop one themselves. Start crowd-source funding for them!
Reconnaissance could then be achieved by using lesser units (cavalry squadrons) to "bump" into hexes or units to see what's there.
A system my daughter and I devised was a variant of the old, paper Battleship, in which we write down the squares or hexes different units are on until the other side lands on them to see what's there. This can be a lot of bookeeping. But we like bookkeeping in our family.
It would also seem, that in this age of sequestration, a hide-and-seek Hohenlinden game would be ideal to play remotely. Then you wouldn't need to conceal blocks. But I'm sure many of you have already figured that out.
Orders of Battle
The following are the orders of battle for troops actually engaged at Hohenlinden, or were close enough to have been engaged (for wargamers who want to include them in their "what-if" scenarios). The sequences are listed, by corps, from north to south.
First Column Command is the name and number of the command or regiment, colored in the primary uniform coat color.
Second Column Facing is the command level and type, using standard military symbology. This column is also color-coded in the “facing” color of the regiment (collars, cuffs, turnbacks usually). For Austrian grenadier battalions, which were composed of detached companies from all regiments, this color I've left black--i.e. they all didn't have black facings.
Third Column Flag is a miniature of the regimental flags, if known. If unknown or the regiment did not carry its flag on campaign, this cell is left blank. For more detailed images of French demibrigade cavalry flags, see chart below these OOBs.
Fourth Column Strength is that reported from Carrion-Nisas, using official records he accessed in 1829 from the French War Archives. I have also filled in gaps in the Austrian OOB from Arnold's excellent book. Where neither Arnold nor Carrion-Nisas lists the the specific strength of a regiment, I have entered an approximate number (*) based on the average of the total strength reported for that category. One caveat is that, since these strengths come from returns dated 22 November, two weeks before Hohenlinden, they may have been slightly different by 3 December, which followed the combat at Ampfing. So while not necessarily valid for legitimate academic research, they are close enough for wargaming purposes.
Arnold, James R., Marengo & Hohenlinden: Napoleon's Rise to Power, Pen & Sword, 2005, ISBN 1 84415 279 0
Esposito, VIncent & Elting, John, A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars, 1964 & 1999, Greenhill Books, London, ISBN 1-85367-346-3
Furse, George Armand, 1800: Marengo and Hohenlinden, 1903, Naval & Military Press, ISBN, 1-845747-97-6
Letrun, Ludovic, French Infantry Flags: from 1786 to the End of the First Empire, 2009, Histoire & Collections, ISBN 978 2 35250 112 1
Richepanse, "La Bataille de Hohenlinden", Le Spectateur militaire XXII, " pp. 268-274, Rapport de la division Richepance sur la bataille du 12 Frimaire" 1836, Paris
Smith, Digby, Napoleonic Wars Data Book, 1998, Greenhill Books, ISBN 1 85367 276 9