Battle of Aspern-Essling

Also known as: Essling
Arc de Triomphe: ESLING

May 21, 1809 - May 22, 1809

Napoleon had successfully taken Vienna, but the Austrian government had fled and their army was still in the field on the opposite side of the Danube. They had also destroyed the bridges across the Danube as part of their escape. Hoping to decisively defeat the Austrian army to force their leaders back to the bargaining table, Napoleon planned a crossing of the Danube near the villages of Aspern and Essling.

Not realizing that Archduke Charles' army was so close, the French built new temporary bridges and began to cross. Marshal Masséna's IV Corps crossed and took up a position in Aspern while Marshal Lannes' II Corps crossed and took up a position in Essling. As the French came under attack, Napoleon decided to launch an attack and ordered Marshal Lannes and the II Corps forward. The French pressed forward and made good progress until debris that the Austrians had sent down the river destroyed the bridge. Marshal Davout's III Corps was now unable to cross and reinforce the attack, and Napoleon ordered Lannes to halt the attack and fall back to a defensive position until the bridge could be repaired. Meanwhile the Austrians sensed the shift in momentum and began a fierce attack, forcing the French to struggle to hold on. Not confident in his hopes of getting the entire army across before another disaster, Napoleon decided to extricate his men and ordered a retreat back across the bridges.

The Austrians had for the first time put a stop to Napoleon's strategic plans, but it was not to last. In little over a month later, the French crossed the river again and decisively won the Battle of Wagram , forcing the Austrians to sue for peace.


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Updated May 2019

© Nathan D. Jensen