Aspern-Essling, Battle of

Aspern-Essling, Battle of
   The first defeat of a Napoleonic army, inflicted by the Austrian army under Archduke Charles near Vienna on May 21 and 22, 1809. Having defeated the Austrians in Bavaria, Napoleon marched down the Danube to capture Vienna on May 12. A failed attempt to seize the northern end of the destroyed Danube bridge at Schwarze Lackenau on the next day prompted Napoleon to order the construction of an improvised bridge into the Lobau, a large island downstream of Vienna, and then across a narrow river arm to the north riverbank, where French forces were steadily reinforced on May 20.
   The Austrians had marched through Bohemia to the Marchfeld plain on the north side of the river and prepared to advance that afternoon, thinking that the French would again try to reach the old bridgehead. Consequently, their attack was off-balance: three Korps marched from the west and just one Korps in two columns from the east, with cavalry screening the center. About 1 P.M. Napoleon began the battle with 24,000 men against 99,000 Austrians. The breaking of the fragile bridge by boats and trees thrown into the river by Austrian engineers upstream hampered French reinforcements from crossing throughout the battle. That afternoon saw a series of unsuccessful Austrian assaults on Aspern village, which was held by Marshal Masséna anchoring the French left flank; in the center, French cavalry made several attempts to split the Austrian army by charging the weak screen. It was 9 P.M . before the first Austrian assaults were made on Essling, defended by Marshal Lannes and anchoring the French right, but Feldmarschalleutnant Rosenberg’s IV Korps made little progress.
   During the night, French forces were increased to 71,000. In the early morning, Napoleon prepared to attempt to break the Austrian center, now reinforced by II Korps. Both Aspern and Essling were fiercely contested until the French secured both by 7 A.M . At that point Lannes’ 2 Corps began its advance against the Austrian center but was soon bogged down under intense Austrian artillery fire. Attempts by French cavalry to break through were beaten off by steady Austrian infantry masses (closed-up columns). French artillery briefly smashed a hole in the Austrian line, as Infantry Regiment 15’s masses broke up, but Archduke Charles rode forward to restore order, while the Reserve Grenadiers plugged the gap. After two hours, Lannes lost momentum, while another breach in the bridge prevented Marshal Davout’s 3 Corps from crossing. By noon, the French were back behind the Aspern- Essling Road.
   A series of Austrian assaults on Aspern set the whole village alight. Despite the intervention of French Guard infantry, the village was finally taken by 1 P.M . Archduke Charles then turned his attention to Essling and threw in four Grenadier battalions to help Rosenberg’s Korps. Two hours later, Essling, too, except for its stone granary, had been secured, while in the center, a massive Austrian artillery barrage with 200 guns blasted Napoleon’s army. Nevertheless, General Boudet led some Young Guard battalions into Essling to retake the village and thereby threaten the Austrian right wing. By 4 P.M ., both sides fell back some distance, having sustained heavy casualties, and the battle was reduced to artillery exchanges. The French retreated to their base in the Löbau. The Austrians had suffered about 20,000 casualties compared with 23,000 French. Napoleon would try again at the Battle of Wagram six weeks later.
   See also <>.
    Arnold, J. Napoleon Conquers Austria. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995;
    Castle, I. Aspern & Wagram 1809. Oxford: Osprey, 1996;
    Wöber, F. Schlacht bei Aspern 1809. Vienna: Wöber, 1992.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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