War of the First Coalition: Rhine campaign of 1796
In the Rhine campaign of 1796 (June 1796 to February 1797), two First Coalition armies under the overall command of Archduke Charles outmaneuvered and defeated two French Republican armies. This was the last campaign of the War of the First Coalition, part of the French Revolutionary Wars.
Table of Contents / Timeline
The French military strategy against Austria called for a three-pronged invasion to surround Vienna, ideally capturing the city and forcing the Holy Roman Emperor to surrender and accept French Revolutionary territorial integrity.
- The French assembled the Army of Sambre and Meuse commanded by Jean-Baptiste Jourdan against the Austrian Army of the Lower Rhine in the north.
- The Army of the Rhine and Moselle, led by Jean Victor Marie Moreau, opposed the Austrian Army of the Upper Rhine in the south.
- A third army, the Army of Italy, commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte, approached Vienna through northern Italy.
Battle of AltenkirchenAltenkirchen, Germany
According to plan, Kléber made the first move, advancing south from Düsseldorf against Württemberg's wing of the Army of the Lower Rhine. On 1 June 1796, a division of Kléber's troops led by François Joseph Lefebvre seized a bridge over the Sieg from Michael von Kienmayer's Austrians at Siegburg. Meanwhile, a second French division under Claude-Sylvestre Colaud menaced the Austrian left flank. Württemberg retreated south to Uckerath but then fell further back to a well-fortified position at Altenkirchen. On 4 June, Kléber defeated Württemberg in the Battle of Altenkirchen, capturing 1,500 Austrian soldiers, 12 artillery pieces and four colors. Charles withdrew the Austrian forces from the Rhine's west bank and gave the Army of the Upper Rhine the principal responsibility to defend Mainz. Three future Marshals of France played significant roles in the engagement: François Joseph Lefebvre as a division commander, Jean-de-Dieu Soult as a brigadier and Michel Ney as leader of a flanking column.
Blockades at EhrenbreitsteinEhrenbreitstein, Germany
On 9 June 1796, 36000 French troops blockaded the fortresses at Mainz and Ehrenbreitstein, challenging important strongholds at the confluence of the Main and Rhine rivers, and the Rhine and Moselle rivers, The blockades at Ehrenbreitstein started on 9 June, and at Mainz on 14 June.
Battle of MaudachMaudach, Germany
While Charles was inflicting damage at Wetzlar and Uckerath, on 15 June, Desaix's 30,000-man command mauled Franz Petrasch's 11,000 Austrians at Maudach. The French lost 600 casualties while the Austrians suffered three times as many. After feinting at the Austrian positions near Mannheim, Moreau sent his army south from Speyer on a forced march to Strasburg; Desaix, leading the advanced guard, crossed the Rhine at Kehl near Strasburg on the night of 23/24 June.
Battle of WetzlarWetzlar, Germany
Leaving 12,000 troops to guard Mannheim, Charles repositioned his troops among his two armies and swiftly moved north against Jourdan. At Wetzlar (15 June 1796), 11,000 French troops engaged part of the Habsburg Austrian army in its defenses on the Lahn river. The action ended in a Coalition victory when most of the French army began retreating to the west bank of the Rhine. Not all the Coalition force was engaged, but it was sufficiently strong to repel the French, who withdrew and split their force, Jourdan moving westward to secure the bridgehead at Neuwied, which he held unchallenged until the fall, and Kleber retreating northward toward Düsseldorf. Four days later, on the 19th, in a second engagement at Uckerath, the Coalition troops attacked Kleber's the French left wing in its retreat the French suffered more casualties than the Coalition force, and lost one of their colors. After his success, Charles left 35,000 men with Wartensleben, 30,000 more in Mainz and the other fortresses and moved south with 20,000 troops to help Latour. Kléber withdrew into the Düsseldorf defenses.
First Battle of KehlKehl, Germany
A French force of 20,000 overwhelmed a Coalition force of 6,000. Moreau' troops clashed with elements of a Habsburg Austrian army under Maximilian Anton Karl, Count Baillet de Latour which were defending the line of the Murg River. Leading the left (north) wing of Moreau's army, Louis Desaix attacked the Austrians and drove them back to the Alb River.
Battle of RastattRastatt, Germany
The Battle of Rastatt (5 July 1796) saw part of a Republican French army under Jean Victor Marie Moreau clash with elements of the Habsburg army under Maximilian Anton Karl, Count Baillet de Latour which were defending the line of the Murg River. Leading a wing of Moreau's army, Louis Desaix attacked the Austrians and drove them back to the Alb River in the War of the First Coalition action. The Habsburg and Imperial armies did not have enough troops to hold off the Army of the Rhine and Moselle and would need reinforcements from Charles, who was occupied in the north keeping Jourdan pinned down on the west bank of the Rhine.
Battle of EttlingenEttlingen, Germany
Recognizing the need for reinforcements, and fearing his army would be flanked by Moreau's surprise crossings at Kehl and Hüningen, Charles arrived near Rastatt with more troops and prepared to advance against Moreau on 10 July. The Austrians under Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen tried to halt the northward advance of Jean Victor Marie Moreau's French Army of Rhin-et-Moselle along the east bank of the Rhine River. The French surprised him by attacking first, on 9 July. Despite the surprise, in the Battle of Ettlingen, Charles repulsed Desaix's attacks on his right flank, but Saint-Cyr and Taponier gained ground in the hills to the east of the town, and threatened his flank. After a tough fight, the Austrian commander found that his left flank was turned. He conceded victory to the French and retreated east toward Stuttgart. Moreau lost 2,400 out of 36,000 men while Charles had 2,600 hors de combat out of 32,000 troops. Anxious about the security of his supply lines, though, Charles began a measured and careful retreat to the east.
On 10 July, after hearing about Moreau's successful assault on Keh and subsequent crossing of the Rhine, Jourdan took the 30,000 men of the Army of the Sambre-et-Meuse back across the Rhine and attacked the 6,000 men of Wartensleben's force.
Jourdan captured Frankfurt am MainFrankfurt, Germany
Leaving behind François Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers with 28,000 troops to blockade Mainz and Ehrenbreitstein, Jourdan pressed up the river Main. Following Carnot's strategy, the French commander continually operated against Wartensleben's north flank, causing the Austrian general to fall back. Jourdan's army numbered 46,197 men while Wartensleben counted 36,284 troops; Wartensleben felt no security in attacking the larger French force, and continued to withdraw to the northeast, further away from Charles' flank. Buoyed up by their forward movement and by the capture of Austrian supplies, the French captured Würzburg on 4 August. Three days later, the Army of Sambre and Meuse, under the temporary direction of Kléber, won another clash with Wartensleben at Forchheim on 7 August.
Battle of NeresheimNeresheim, Germany
The Battle of Neresheim saw a victory of Republican French army under Jean Victor Marie Moreau over the army of the Habsburg Monarchy of Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen. Pursued by Moreau's Army of Rhin-et-Moselle, Charles launched an attack against the French. While the Austrian left wing saw some success, the battle degenerated into a stalemate and the archduke withdrew further into the Electorate of Bavaria.
Battle of TheiningenDeining, Germany
The Battle of Theiningen was a battle in Germany fought during the War of the First Coalition in which a French division, led by Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, repulsed an attempted encirclement and fought a successful rearguard action, despite being outnumbered three-to-one, against an Austrian army led by Archduke Charles of Austria, allowing the French Army of Sambre and Meuse to retreat toward the Rhine.
Battle of FriedbergFriedberg, Germany
The Battle of Friedberg was fought on 24 August 1796 between a First French Republic army led by Jean Victor Marie Moreau and a Habsburg Austrian army led by Maximilian Anton Karl, Count Baillet de Latour. The French army, which was advancing eastward on the south side of the Danube, managed to catch an isolated Austrian infantry regiment. In the ensuing combat, the Austrians were cut to pieces.
Battle of AmbergAmberg, Germany
The Battle of Amberg, fought on 24 August 1796, resulted in an Habsburg victory by Archduke Charles over a French army led by Jean-Baptiste Jourdan. This French Revolutionary Wars engagement marked a turning point in the campaign, which had previously seen French successes.
Battle of WürzburgWurzburg, Germany
The Battle of Würzburg was fought on 3 September 1796 between an army of the Habsburg Monarchy led by Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen and an army of the First French Republic led by Jean-Baptiste Jourdan. The French attacked the archduke's forces, but they were resisted until the arrival of reinforcements decided the engagement in favor of the Austrians. The French retreated west toward the Rhine River. The action occurred during the War of the First Coalition, part of the French Revolutionary Wars. Würzburg is 95 kilometres (59 mi) southeast of Frankfurt.
Battle of LimburgLimburg an der Lahn, Germany
Sometimes called the Battle of Limburg or Second Battle of Altenkirchen or Battle of the Lahn (16–19 September 1796), this was actually a single-day battle followed by a lengthy rear-guard action. On 16 September, the Habsburg Austrian army commanded by Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen attacked a Republican French army led by Jean-Baptiste Jourdan in its positions behind the Lahn River. The unexpected collapse and withdrawal of their right flank on the evening of the 16th compelled the French to make a fighting withdrawal that began in the evening of the 16th and continued until late on 19 September.
Second Battle of KehlKehl, Germany
The Second Battle of Kehl occurred on 18 September 1796, when General Franz Petrasch's Austrian and Imperial troops stormed the French-held bridgehead over the Rhine river. The village of Kehl, which is now in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, was then part of Baden-Durlach. Across the river, Strasbourg, an Alsatian city, was a French Revolutionary stronghold.
Battle of BiberachBiberach an der Riss, Germany
Battle of EmmendingenEmmendingen, Germany
Moreau wanted to retreat through the Black Forest via the Kinzig river valley, but Nauendorf blocked that route. Instead, Saint-Cyr's column led the way over the Höllenthal, breaking through the Austrian net at Neustadt and reaching Freiburg im Breisgau on 12 October. Moreau's supply trains took a route down the river Wiese to Hüningen. The French general wanted to reach Kehl farther down the Rhine, but by this time Charles was barring the way with 35,000 soldiers. For his trains to get away, Moreau needed to hold his position for a few days. The Battle of Emmendingen was fought on 19 October, the 32,000 French losing 1,000 killed and wounded plus 1,800 men and two guns captured. The Austrians sustained 1,000 casualties out of 28,000 troops engaged. Beaupuy and Wartensleben were both killed. There was some fighting on the 20th, but when Charles advanced on 21 October the French were gone.
Battle of SchliengenSchliengen, Germany
Moreau sent Desaix's wing to the west bank of the Rhine at Breisach and, with the main part of his army, offered battle at Schliengen. Saint-Cyr held the low ground on the left near the Rhine while Ferino defended the hills on the right. Charles hoped to turn the French right and trap Moreau's army against the Rhine. In the Battle of Schliengen on 24 October, the French suffered 1,200 casualties out of 32,000 engaged. The Austrians counted 800 casualties out of 36,000 men. The French held off the Austrian attacks but retreated the next day and recrossed to the west bank of the Rhine on 26 October. In the south, the French held two east-bank bridgeheads. Moreau ordered Desaix to defend Kehl while Ferino and Abbatucci were to hold Hüningen.
Siege of KehlKehl, Germany
The siege of Kehl lasted from 26 October 1796 to 9 January 1797. Habsburg and Württemberg regulars numbering 40,000, under the command of Maximilian Anton Karl, Count Baillet de Latour, besieged and captured the French-controlled fortifications at the village of Kehl in the German state of Baden-Durlach. The fortifications at Kehl represented important bridgehead crossing the Rhine to Strasbourg, an Alsatian city, a French Revolutionary stronghold. This battle was part of the Rhine Campaign of 1796, in the French Revolutionary War of the First Coalition.
Siege of HüningenHuningue, France
In the Siege of Hüningen (27 November 1796 – 1 February 1797), the Austrians captured the city from the French. Hüningen is in the present-day Department of Haut-Rhin, France. Its fortress lay approximately 2.5 miles (4.0 km) north of the Swiss city of Basel and .5 miles (0.80 km) north of the spot where the present-day borders of Germany, France and Switzerland meet. During the time of this siege, the village was part of the Canton of Basel City and the fortress lay in area contested between the German states and the First French Republic.
Moreau offered Charles an armistice and the Archduke was eager to accept it so that he could send 10,000 reinforcements to Italy, but the Aulic Council directed him to refuse it and to reduce Kehl and Hüningen. While Charles was instructed to reduce the cities, in early January, the French began transferring two divisions to Bonaparte's army in Italy. Bernadotte's 12,000 from the Army of Sambre and Meuse and Delmas's 9,500 from the Army of Rhine and Moselle went south to support Bonaparte's approach to Vienna. Instead of sending a comparable number of men to Italy to defend against the reinforcements, Charles gave Latour 29,000 infantry and 5,900 cavalry and ordered him to capture Kehl.
Moreau's ability to transfer troops to Italy, and Charles' inability to do so, made a fundamental difference in the outcome of the Italian campaign of 1796.
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