Battle of Hohenlinden
Arc de Triomphe: HOHENLINDEN
December 3, 1800
Confident after their victory over the surprised French at Ampfing, the Austrians continued on the offensive, only to find the town of Haag abandoned by the French. Now convinced the French would continue to fall back to the west, Archduke John decided to aggressively continue the pursuit. To speed up his forces' movement, he split his army into four columns that would take four routes to arrive at the crossroads town of Hohenlinden and continue the pursuit from there. Two columns would march west along separate roads, while a column under General Kienmayer would take a northerly route and a column under General Riesch would take a southerly route. All four columns were ordered to aggressively attack any French resistance they encountered as it was believed to be only a rear guard.
Little did Archduke John know that French General Moreau had decided to make his stand at Hohenlinden. While Moreau had initially planned an offensive, the surprise of the Austrian offensive caused him to reconsider his plans. Having detected the Austrians at Haag and the other column to the north, he decided to form a defensive line around Hohenlinden and hold the center and left, while attacking on the right. General Richepanse was given command of the attack on the right flank, and when General Decaen told Moreau that his men could not march to Hohenlinden in time to support the center, the plan was changed so Decaen's division would follow Richepanse's in the attack on the right.
The Austrians began their march on the morning of December 3rd, and the battle began around seven in the morning when the advance guard of Austrian General Kollowrat's column encountered the lead defensive positions of General Grouchy's forces. Believing only a rearguard faced them, the Austrians immediately launched into an attack, only to be repulsed. As more troops came up behind them, they again launched into attacks, which were all ultimately unsuccessful as Grouchy reinforced his men and ordered counterattacks. Frustrated, Kollowrat decided to hold his ground and wait for the rest of the army to arrive, and sent two battalions south to establish contact with Riesch's column on the southern route.
Meanwhile, the other central column under General Baillet had fallen behind due to the poor condition of the roads. Along the march, he heard firing from both the north and south, and in response sent one battalion north to link up with Kienmayer's column and another south to link up with Kollowrat's column. As Baillet's column reached Mittbach, they heard excessive firing to the south where Kollowrat was, and he chose to send another two battalions south. When informed of the scale of the fighting to the south, he then sent another battalion south, and then two forward to the west to secure ground for Kienmayer's deployment. Altogether he had separated almost his entire command and never engaged the French.
To the north, the column under Kienmayer had pushed through what little resistance the French offered at Isen and Buch, not knowing that Moreau intended to surrender the towns easily to draw the Austrians to his prepared positions. Kienmayer's troops split in two different directions under Archduke Ferdinand and General Schwarzenberg. Ferdinand's troops headed west to seize Harthofen but ran into Legrand's division, and neither side gained the upper hand throughout the day. Schwarzenberg's troops advanced southwest and encountered the main French defensive line near Forstern and Kronacker and immediately attacked, soon gaining control of both towns. Alarmed by this development, Moreau ordered his reserve of d'Hautpoul's cavalry to assist in the counterattacks. Assisted by d'Hautpoul, Bastoul and Ney launched counterattacks and retook both towns, but another counterattack from Schwarzenberg returned possession of Kronacker to the Austrians.
Back to the south, the southern Austrian column under General Riesch arrived at Albaching and then gathered intelligence, learning that scouts had reported two French divisions, Richepanse's and Decaen's, six miles to the west. Worried by this numerically superior force, Riesch waited for his entire column to catch up at Albaching before marching further, and then split his forces into six groups to march on St. Christoph.
Richepanse's division had already advanced through St. Christoph, though a snow storm had enveloped them and reduced their visibility and pace. As they approached the village of Schutzen, they detected an enemy presence on their left, the two battalions Kollowrat had sent south to link up with Riesch. The Austrian battalions launched an attack into the flank of Richepanse's column, essentially severing the division in two. Since Richepanse was with the leading elements of his division, he could either turn the front half of his division around to rescue the back half, or continue his own attack and trust that General Drouet could hold off the threat until General Decaen's division arrived. Richepanse chose to continue his attack with only half his division, which would turn out to be the most important decision of the battle.
After Richepanse's lead half of his division took the undefended Marsmaier, he rode to the top of a nearby hill and was able to see much of the highway that Kollowrat's column was using. He immediately ordered an attack to conceal how small his force was, and then after some back and forth fighting, turned his force to march down the highway and take Kollowrat's rear.
As Richepanse's forces were moving on Kollowrat's rear, General Moreau sensed that the Austrians were growing ever more hesitant in their attacks. Correctly surmising that Richepanse's attack was succeeding and causing the Austrians confusion, he ordered his forces to attack. Since the Austrian column under Baillet had barely moved, Ney was able to bring his forces in alongside Grouchy and their two divisions launched an attack on Kollowrat's front while simultaneously Richepanse attacked Kollowrat's rear.
Meanwhile Decaen's division had come upon General Drouet with the second half of Richepanse's division and assisted them in fighting off the Austrian battalions, allowing Drouet to follow Richepanse's march with the rest of the division towards the Austrian rear. Next Decaen's men marched east and came upon the scattered formations of Riesch's column and pushed them all back.
The combination of Grouchy, Ney, and Richepanse's attacks on Kollowrat's column caused it to collapse as the Austrians fled in disorder. Archduke John was with Kollowrat's column and barely managed to evade capture as his forces disintegrated around him. Once the other Austrian units learned of the complete collapse of Kollowrat's forces, they all fell back. The French had won a great victory, suffering only 3,000 killed, wounded, or captured in comparison to the Austrians' 14,000. After the victory, talks for peace resumed between the two nations, and thanks to French advances in Germany and Italy, the Peace of Luneville was signed in early February, bringing peace and an end to the Second Coalition.
Recommended Reading: Marengo and Hohenlinden: Napoleon's Rise to Power by James R. Arnold.
- Chandler, David G. Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1979.
- Arnold, James R. Marengo and Hohenlinden: Napoleon's Rise to Power. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military, 1999.
Updated June 2018
© Nathan D. Jensen