Battle for Znaim

10-11 July 1809

This battle, the last fought during the War of the Fifth Coalition, occurred as a result of the French pursuit of the defeated Austrians after the Battle of Wagram (5-6 July 1809). Marshal Auguste de Marmont began the action on the tenth and was soon in difficulty. Early on the eleventh, however, Napoleon and Marshal André Masséna arrived to shift the balance. The fighting was ended by the announcement of a cease-fire toward the end of the day.

The immediate cause of the two-day Battle of Znaim was the decision of the Austrian commander in chief, Archduke Charles, to stage a rearguard action near the town of Znaim (now Znojmo, in the Czech Republic), about 80 kilometers north of Vienna, in order to give his army time to withdraw its baggage train in safety toward Moravia. Marmont’s two combined French and Bavarian corps were the first of Napoleon’s troops to arrive on the field following the course of the river Thaya. Believing that he faced only a rear guard, Marmont ordered his Bavarian troops to take the village of Tesswitz south of Znaim, while the rest of his troops attacked the village of Zuckerhandel.

The Bavarians succeeded in storming Tesswitz but were then thrown out by Austrian reinforcements. Marmont renewed the Bavarian attack, and Tesswitz was retaken, only to be lost soon after. The village changed hands a number of times during the day, this contest constituting the heaviest fighting the Bavarians saw in the whole campaign. Marmont had hoped to swing his cavalry in behind the Austrian rear guard, but on reaching high ground above Tesswitz, they were faced with five enemy corps. The French cavalry was forced to withdraw in the face of a large body of Austrian cuirassiers.

Marmont was now engaged by 40,000 Austrian troops and was heavily outnumbered. His men nevertheless managed to hold onto both Tesswitz and Zuckerhandel overnight. Archduke Charles withdrew his forces into a strong defensive position situated so as to hold the north bank of the Thaya and Znaim. Napoleon arrived at Tesswitz at 10:00 A. M., and despite the fact that he had brought with him reinforcements of cavalry and artillery, he believed that his force was too weak to launch a full-scale attack. His plan therefore was to employ Masséna’s corps to pin the Austrians throughout the day and to await the corps of marshals Louis Davout and Nicolas Oudinot, which would be able to arrive early on the twelfth. Masséna launched his attack on the extreme right of the Austrian position during midmorning and quickly seized the main bridge across the Thaya south of Znaim. His troops took two small villages and then advanced directly on Znaim. Charles meanwhile reinforced the Austrian position with two grenadier brigades, which advanced during a thunderstorm and initially threw the French back.

The situation was stabilized by a body of French cavalry at approximately 7:00 P. M., when French and Austrian staff officers rode along the opposing lines announcing a cease-fire, which led to the signature of an armistice on the twelfth. Znaim was to prove the last action of the 1809 campaign. The two sides signed a treaty of peace at Pressburg on 26 December.

Bavarian Army

After patterning its army on the French model, Bavaria became an important French ally. Later, as the largest military contingent in the Confederation of the Rhine, the Bavarian Army participated in all of Napoleon’s major campaigns, contributing significantly to the victory at Wagram in 1809. Based on its new military power, Bavaria remained a kingdom after Napoleon’s abdication.

As part of the Holy Roman Empire, Bavaria fought as a member of the First Coalition. Four regiments of infantry and one of cavalry, serving with the Army of the Upper Rhine, laid siege to Mainz (1793) and shared in the victories at Friedelsheim, Battenberg, Herzheim, Monsheim, and Zell (1794). Later, they garrisoned Mainz until the Treaty of Campo Formio (1797). Maximilian Joseph I, Bavaria’s new elector (as Maximilian IV Joseph), reluctantly yielded to Austrian pressure to join the War of the Second Coalition. Bavaria’s two brigades, composed of thirteen infantry battalions and one cavalry regiment, suffered defeat with the Austrians at Hohenlinden (13 December 1800) and provided the rear guard that protected the Allied retreat. Maximilian signed a separate peace, allying Bavaria with France (24 August 1801), and began reforming his army along French lines.

Before the Second Coalition, Maximilian abolished the purchasing of commissions and adopted a new Bavarian blue uniform with the distinctive Raupenhelm helmet. From this time on, Napoleon’s Bavarian troops would be identified by the tall black leather helmet, named after its high peak crested with a black tuft of wool or bearskin resembling a caterpillar. After the war, the elector introduced general conscription, reduced the number of offenses subject to corporal punishment, and began promoting officers based on merit. General Bernhard Deroy redesigned the army to include smaller battalions and new skirmish units.

In 1805, 25,000 Bavarians, commanded by General Karl Philipp Freiherr von Wrede, served with the corps under Jean-Baptiste-Jules Bernadotte and protected the left flank of Napoleon’s army during the Battle of Austerlitz. Napoleon rewarded their efforts by making Bavaria a kingdom, but he also required Maximilian to provide 30,000 troops to the newly formed Confederation of the Rhine (12 July 1806). During the Prussian campaign (1806-1807), the Bavarians fielded three divisions under generals DeRoy, Wrede, and Ysenberg. Their siege operations captured the towns of Plassenburg, Grossglogau, Breslau, Brieg, Kosel, Glatz, and Neisse.

During the War of the Fifth Coalition against Austria (1809), the Bavarians formed VII Corps of the Grande Armée under Marshal Françoise Lefebvre. Their three divisions, with Napoleon commanding, defeated the Austrians at Abensberg (20 April), and Wrede’s division participated in the final attack, which broke the Austrian line and forced Archduke Charles’s retreat (6 July). During the campaign, several Bavarian units opposed the uprising of Andreas Hofer in the Tyrol.

For the Russian campaign, VI Corps, commanded by Marshal Laurent Gouvion St. Cyr, comprised two Bavarian divisions, totaling 30,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry. Guarding the northern flank of the army, they won a minor victory at Polotsk (18 August). General Maximilian von Preysing’s cavalry division served with the advance guard under Eugene de Beauharnais and suffered heavy losses at Borodino. Only 20 percent of the Bavarian troops returned from Russia.

A reconstituted Bavarian army fought with the French VI Corps during the Allied invasion of Saxony in 1813. Shortly before the Battle of Leipzig (16-19 October), however, Maximilian joined the Allies in exchange for recognition of his title. Two infantry divisions and three cavalry brigades suffered heavy losses attempting to block Napoleon’s retreat at Hanau (29-31 October). During the invasion of France in 1814, the Bavarians besieged several French cities and participated in the battles of Brienne, Bar-sur-Aube, and Arcis-sur-Aube.