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1809.1 THE AUSTRIANS DRIVE BACK THE ENEMY.
Napoleon was equally mindful of his right flank; for, although Marshal Lefebvre had been sent with 24,000 Bavarians to hold the Tyrol, yet there were apprehensions that the Archduke John would be called up from Italy to defend the existence of the Austrian monarchy. General Bruyère was sent with 3,000 troops to Baden, on the Styrian frontier, to speak words of peace to the German mountaineers, and 1,000 horsemen, under Lauriston, an aide-de-camp of the Emperor, were now sent to Marianzell, while Napoleon employed his numerous cavalry by sending Generals Montbrun, Colbert, and Marulaz, with all their forces, to Neustadt, Bruch, Presburg, and even to the lake of Neusiedel, in order to oblige the Archduke John, if he were coming up from that side, to take a circuitous march as far round as by Günz, Raab, and Komorn, in order to make the junction not only more difficult but impossible in the same space of time as the Viceroy could bring up, or send to the Emperor, the French troops out of Italy.
21. THE WAR IN ITALY, THE TYROL, AND POLAND. The army of Prince Eugène had taken up their quarters, after the battle of Sacile, at the famous position of Caldiero, upon the Adige, holding Verona by the left wing under Baraguay d'Hilliers. The Emperor had sent down General Macdonald to command, under the Viceroy, and he had his head-quarters at Vago. The Archduke John, following up the retreat of the French, had advanced the Austrian army under his command as far as Vicenza, but he had been foiled in an assault on the fort of Malgherra, near Venice. On the 28th of April, he received accounts of the disasters which had befallen his brother on the Danube, and he immediately began to call back his advance, and to commence a retrograde movement towards the hereditary States. On the 1st of May, the French lookout from Caldiero perceived by the dust on the horizon that a great number of wheels were moving towards the Friuli, but as yet the Viceroy had not been apprised of the Emperor's success at Ratisbon. As soon as this was reported to Macdonald, he seized the hand of the Prince, and exclaimed : “ Victoire en Allemagne, Prince, c'est le moment de marcher en avant.” Orders were accordingly issued forth with, and on the 7th they had advanced as far as the Piave, across which they found all the bridges destroyed. The Austrians, in fact, had called a halt behind this river to rest themselves, and were reposing in that security, when the dragoons of Grouchy forded the stream, surprised, and fell upon them. The Archduke resolved to defend himself, and as soon as he could rally his men he advanced, and drove back the enemy in disorder across the river. He then occupied the ground as if he intended to receive battle, resting his right on the bridge of Prinli (which he destroyed), and his left on the Rocca de Strada, where the two roads upite, which lead to Cornegliano. A considerable artillery garnished the range of hills on which his infantry stood, and his cavalry were massed on the level ground below them. Here they awaited the attack of the French. Eugène was glad to avail himself of the 220
THE FRENCH ARMY CROSS THE PIAVE.
opportunity, now apparently in his power, of wiping out his defeat at Sacile, and resolved to attempt the passage of the river by force. At 4 in the morning of the 8th, six divisions, led by General Dessaix, cast themselves into the Piave at the fords of Lovalina and San Michele, two miles above Prinli, and crossed the stream with the water up to their armpits. The Archduke allowed the passage of the river without opposition, thinking he should thus have the advantage over the French, who would then have a rapid river in their rear in advancing to the attack. At 7 in the morning the light horse of Grouchy and Pully were received with the fire of 24 guns, and at the same time charged by the Austrian cavalry, who drove them back in great disorder. The main body had not yet crossed, but Dessaix formed his infantry in two squares, placing his artillery between them, and in this way held his ground until the Viceroy came up, who launched forward the cavalry of Grenier and Sahuc, with the infantry divisions Broussier and Lamarque. The French cavalry immediately assumed the offensive, and charged the Austrian guns, which were defended by a ditch. Led on by General Pully, they succeeded in capturing 14, and in putting to rout the cavalry who defended them, of whom three generals, Wolfskehi, Rissner, and Hager were taken prisoners, and the colonel of Att's Hussars was left for dead on the field. By 3 o'clock the whole of the French army had crossed the Piave, and had become engaged on the left bank. The Archduke John, who had lost the favourable opportunity to fight while the French army was crossing, now advanced to the attack; but the Viceroy, who had assembled 38 battalions and 4,000 cavalry, and was quite ready for any contingency, anticipated him by a march to his right. The divisions Abbec, Grouchy, and Grenier, supported by Macdonald, attacked the villages of Cima d’Olma and Teze. The Austrians saw that they could not keep their ground, but sent forward a strong column of cavalry to charge the guns of the division Broussier, but they did not succeed in capturing them. The Archduke, nevertheless, still held the mill of La Capanna, the most important point of his position, and Eugène accordingly united the divisions Lamarque and Durutte to assail it with the bayonet, which terminated the day with a complete victory. The Austrians now began to fall back on every side, and in the course of the night retreated on Cornegliano and Sacile, leaving 2,500 killed and wounded. The French bivouacked on the field. By the 11th and 12th, the same days on which Napoleon reached Vienna, the army of the Archduke John reached Venzone, and entering the gorge of Chiusa Veneta, abandoned Italy.
At this moment the army of General Marmont, comprising 10,000 or 11,000 men, marching up from Dalmatia, came out of Croatia, and proceeded by Carniola and Styria to unite with the grand army. The General was, however, in complete ignorance both of the events which had occurred in his neighbourhood and of the forces of the enemy which he might meet on his march. He moved with a long train of pack horses, carrying his supplies and sick, as he had no magazines to depend upon, and had already reached
PONIATOWSKI OCCUPIES CRACOW.
Villach on the 20th, when he received orders from the Commanderin-Chief to join him by Lintz, and forthwith directed his march across Carinthia. At this time, without knowing it, he was not far distant from the Archduke John, whom the Viceroy was following with 30,000 men, by way of Villach and Tarvis. On the 18th Eugène stormed and carried the fort of Madborghetto, and proceeded the same day to carry Prasel, while General Macdonald took the road by Laybach, with 26,000 or 27,000 men, with which he proposed to unite himself with Marmont. On the 22nd Macdonald came unexpectedly on the Austrian General Meerveldt, forming Archduke John's rearguard, who at once capitulated with 4,000 men in an entrenched camp in the mountains, which contained considerable magazines, and was defended by 63 pieces of artillery. The Austrian corps under Chastelan had reached Innspruck, and had pushed forward its patroles as far as Lofer and Reichenthal, on the road to Salzburg. This corps and that of General Jellalich, who was opposed to the Bavarian General Wrede in the passes of the Tyrol, together formed 16,000 or 17,000 men ; but they were commanded to act separately in the difficult passes of the Alps, of which they had both great experience and perfect local knowledge. Lefebvre, however, had, as above stated, been sent by Napoleon to look after these divisions of the enemy, and on the 13th of May came up with General Chastelan at Worzel, whom he attacked and routed ; and, advancing on Innspruck, that town surrendered to his summons. The patriots under Hofer and Teimar still held the inaccessible Alps which divide the German and French Italian ; but the regulars, abandoning the ground altogether, now marched under Chastelan on Vienna, cutting transversely the road by which the Viceroy was coming up out of Italy.
The Prince Joseph Poniatowski was opposed to the Archduke Ferdinand in Poland, and had relinquished to him the city of Warsaw, with the whole of the left bank of the Vistula ; but while the Archduke descended to seize upon Thorn, Poniatowski ascended the right bank to possess himself of Cracow, and Ferdinand was very nearly cut off from Galicia.
22. NAPOLEON CROSSES THE DANUBE. As Napoleon looked from the windows of Schönbrunn upon the splendid scene where the Danube throws its thousand channels to light up the landscape, rich in woods and verdure, he pondered over the means at his disposal to pass to the other side of the river, where the Austrian host, in their white habiliments, peopled the valley and held their own with a vast power. How was he to pass the mighty river? Both as it approaches to and as it quits the neighbourhood of Vienna, it is a strong deep current restrained within a precipitous gorge, but where it revels in the plain the stream is comparatively gentle and not, in general, deep. To attempt to cross such a river, in the face of so large a force, was a strategical as well as a natural difficulty, but not to Napoleon's genius an impossibility. He seems to have resolved that, at all events, he must not quit 222
NAPOLEON PREPARES TO CROSS THE DANUBE.
Vienna to seek a passage at a distance from the city, in the expectation of any advantage that would correspond with the risk of losing the capital. At Krems, for example, he could cross with ease, but he knew that as soon as he had quitted for that object the Archduke would be invited, nay, constrained, to repossess himself of Vienna. To descend for the purpose of crossing lower down would be to aggravate the chances ; for, in addition to losing the city, he might also lose possession of his present base of operations. He therefore anxiously reconnoitred, with the most able men under his command, the right banks of the Danube, both up and down the stream. The river, in the immediate neighbourhood of the city, divides and subdivides into many channels, and the many streams intersecting cut up the country. About half a league higher up, at Nussdorf, the principal branch is 180 toises across, in a deep and impetuous channel, with only one island, separated from the left bank by a branch 50 toises broad; but the Bisamberg at that spot completely commands both streams and the island between them. At Kaiser Ebersdorff there is the large island of Lob-Awe, separated from the right bank by a current of 170 toises broad. It was determined, after much discussion, to make an attempt at both these points before the Archduke could come up with the bulk of his army. Lannes, who was encamped up stream, was accordingly directed to take steps to place a bridge at Nussdorf, and Massena to do the same below, opposite the island called Lob-Awe; and the former was to seek by a demonstration to distract the attention of the enemy. St. Hilaire detached two battalions, on the 13th of May, to cross by boats to the island at Nussdorf, called the Schvertze Lacken; but no sooner had they set foot on it than General Nordeman, despatched by Hiller, ad vanced into the island, crossed over a dykehead which had been overlooked, and both battalions were made prisoners. The attempt at this point had, of course, diverted the attention of the Austrians towards it, but, though the passage was now abandoned, it was made useful by distracting observation from the island of Lobo Awe (or Lobau, as the French call it), where every endeavour was to be directed to establishing a bridge across the three streams with which the Danube is here divided-one about 500 yards wide, one about 300, and one of 150 ; and the great island being partly covered with fine trees and shrubs would conceal, in a great measure, the operation from the enemy. Massena was directed to take possession of Lob- Awe, and on the 17th sent General Molitor from Ebersdorf, who, with little difficulty, cleared the island of the few troops who occupied it. The great arsenal of Vienna, which had so fortunately for Napoleon come into his possession, offered abundance of material for constructions of every kind; but the Austrians had removed or burned all the boats on the river, and there was a deficiency of cordage and an absolute want of anchors. The wonderful forethought of the Emperor, who before quitting Paris had written to the Minister of Marine, Admiral Decrès, to send to the army 1,200 sailors, was now fully appreciated, when it had be. come necessary to find substitutes for these deficiencies ; but the
rapidity of march had outstripped their arrival, and the work had to be done by the French corps of engineers, a very able body of men, who had made many campaigns under Napoleon, and were up to many of those expedients which the mother of invention teaches. About 90 boats, which had been sunk in the river, were discovered and floated; cordage, though of no great power, was also sought out and obtained from holes and corners; and the idea was started of forging anchors from the iron nails and hinges that could be got out of the stores ; but, as time was of the utmost value, this idea was abandoned, and great rocks were brought down stream to which to moor the boats, and some large gups, and immense boxes, filled with shot, were used for the same purpose. It was foreseen, however, that, in addition to the difficulty of getting past a vigilant enemy, the freshets which suddenly came down the stream from the melting of the snow in the mountains at this season, would probably overwhelm all such expedients. All these appliances were, nevertheless, collected in the little village of Ebersdorf, to which village the Emperor had moved his head-quarters, and here he was indefatigable day and night in personally overlooking the preparations and superintending the minutest details. The construction of the bridge was intrusted to General Bertrand, with the General of Artillery, Pernetti, under him. On the 19th all the troops, which had been brought up from every side, were passed across into Lob-Awe. The island was a league and a half in length by a league in breadth, and the centre of it was perfectly out of the range of the enemy's shot, so that a large force once in it, could not readily be driven out again. The division Molitor crossed in boats, followed by the division Boudet, both belonging to the corps of Massena. The only Austrians who were met with in the island were a strong guard of cavalry, but these retired before the French, and at once abandoned it to them.
At the moment of Davoust's obeying the Emperor's summons, the Austrians were reported to have shown in force at Lintz, and he was directed with the three divisions of Friant, Gudin, and Morent, to watch Kollowrath vigilantly, and Lannes, Massena, and Bessières, with the Guard and the whole of the cavalry, including 14 regiments of cuirassiers, were forthwith crossed into the island with 80,000 men. Molitor reported a very convenient locality, which the French call un rentrant de la rivière, where the bridge to the mainland, near Essling, could be placed under the protection of works and floating batteries on either hand ; and the Emperor having approved of it, the pontoons which had been taken at Landshut were brought to the front, and the work was begun and finished on the 20th. While the Emperor continued to hasten operations by his presence, news was brought him that the Austrians had effected a landing on the right bank at Nussdorf. Satisfied that the troops there, under Davoust, would deal satisfactorily with this diversion, he nevertheless sent a brigade of cuirassiers, under Savary, to watch and bring him word of the enemy's proceedings.