The Battle of Wagram began on the 5th July 1809 with Napoleon’s crossing of the Danube. The Austrian command had not realised that Napoleon had moved a large number of his army across the Danube. By midday, Napoleon had moved almost 140,000 men over the river.
The French advanced with Marshal Massena on the left, Marshal Oudinot in the centre and Marshal Davout on the right. Davout and Oudinot would head north whereas Massena moved to the west. The gap in the French line was filled by the Army of Italy led by Napoleon’s stepson Eugene and a Saxon Corps commanded by Marshal Bernadotte.
The French had been successful in crossing the river but Napoleon was not satisfied. They had not been met by much resistance from the Austrians which was troubling as Napoleon wanted to force a decisive battle.
Napoleon with his generals
That evening, the French forced an encounter. Four separate attacks on the Austrian position led by Bernadotte, Davout, Oudinot and Eugene were launched in the evening.
They were all repulsed but they gave Napoleon the knowledge that the Archduke Charles was present and willing to give battle. His aim of forcing a decisive battle was in reach. The Austrians also had positives to take away from the evening encounter.
Repelling a major French offensive was bound to increase Charles’ confidence in his men.
Napoleon-Empire.com map on Battle of Wagram
The second day of the fighting would be dictated by the composition of Napoleon’s army arrangement. He had underestimated the number of Austrians on his left and had thought that his right wing was in the most danger of attack.
During the early periods of the battle, the French left wing was in crisis. The Austrians had captured the town of Aderklaa on the French left. Reinforcements would reach both sides and bitter fighting commenced to control the town. This fighting left the French very weak. Napoleon had to commit more men than he had anticipated supporting his weak left.
However, this weakness also meant that the French right wing was very strong. Marshal Davout had 40,000 men to contest his Austrian opponent with almost 30,000 men. Napoleon’s superior cavalry was able to turn the tide of battle.
Napoleon at Wagram
Charles was unable to be reinforced by another Austrian army. This was it. The Austrians were losing the centre of the battlefield and were eventually forced into a retreat.
Napoleon could not pursue his victory. It had been a devastating battle for both sides. Austrians and Frenchmen combined for at least 70,000 casualties. The French were far too exhausted to pursue. Napoleon eventually caught Archduke Charles on the 10th July for another battle but Wagram had already meant that Austrian victory was almost impossible.
Their performance during the campaign deserves credit. The Austrians were able to stand up to Napoleon and the Grande Armee. In the meanwhile, Napoleon had not won a truly decisive battle as the Austrians had managed to escape. It heralded troublesome times for the emperor.
Up Next: The Consequences of Wagram
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