1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wagram

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WAGRAM (Deutsch-Wagram), a village of Austria situated in the plain of the Marchfeld, 11½ m. N.E. of Vienna. It gives its name to the battle of the 5th and 6th of July 1809, in which the French army under Napoleon defeated the Austrians commanded by the archduke Charles. On the failure of his previous attempt to pass his whole army across the Danube at Aspern (see Napoleonic Campaigns and Aspern), Napoleon set himself to accumulate, around Vienna and the island of Lobau, not only his own field forces, but also every man, horse and gun available from Italy and South Germany for a final effort. Every detachment was drawn in within forty-eight hours' call, his rearward communications being practically denuded of their covering troops. The island of Lobau itself was converted practically into a fortress, and 150 heavy guns were mounted on its banks to command the Austrian side of the stream. Giving up, in face of this artillery, the direct defence of the river-side, the Austrians drew up in a great arc of about 6 m. radius extending from the Bisamberg, overlooking the Danube, in the west, to Markgrafneusiedl on the east. From this point to the Danube below Lobau a gap was left for the deployment of the archduke Johann's army from Pressburg. This army, however, arrived too late. Their total front, therefore, was about 12 m. for 120,000 men, which by a forward march of a couple of hours could be reduced to about 6 m.—giving a density of occupation of about 20,000 men to the mile.

Meanwhile Napoleon reconstructed the bridge over the main stream (see Aspern) more solidly, protecting it by palisades of piles and floating booms, and organized an armed flotilla to command the waterway. On the island itself preparations were made to throw three bridges across the Lobau arm of the stream opposite Aspern and Essling, and seven more on the right, facing east between Gross Enzersdorf and the main river.

For several days previous to the great battle the French had sent across small detachments, and hence when, on the afternoon of the 4th of July, an advanced guard was put over near Gross Enzersdorf, the attention of the Austrians was not particularly attracted and they did not interfere. The emperor, however, had now men available for the battle, and under cover of this detachment his pontoniers made the seven bridges. Long before daylight on the 6th the troops began to stream across, and about 9 A.M. the three corps destined for the first line (Davout, Oudinot and Masséna) had completed their deployment on a front of some 6000 yds. and were moving forward to make way for the second line (Eugene and Bernadotte) and the third line (Bessières and the guard). About noon the general advance began, the French opening outwards like a fan to obtain space for manœuvre, Davout direct on Markgrafneusiedl and the Austrian left, Masséna (slightly refused to cover the French left) by Breitenlee on Süssenbrunn.

The Austrians held a strong position along the line of the Russbach from Deutsch-Wagram to Markgrafneusiedl with their left, whilst their right was held ready for a counter-attack intended to roll up the French attack from left to right when the proper moment should come. The movements of the great French masses in the confined space were slow, and the attack on the line of the Russbach did not declare itself till 8 P.M.; the corps did not attack simultaneously, and failed altogether to make any serious impression on the Austrian position. Masséna on the left was scarcely engaged.

But, hearing of the success of his left wing on the Russbach, the archduke determined to anticipate the French next morning on that side, and four corps were directed upon Massena, who had bivouacked his troops overnight on the line Leopoldsau-Süssenbrunn-Aderklaa, the latter, a strongly built village, forming, as it were, a bridge-head to the passages of the Russbach at Deutsch-Wagram. Another corps with a strong cavalry force was also directed to pivot round Markgrafneusiedl and to attack Davout on his right; on this flank also the arrival of the archduke Johann was expected later in the day.

The Austrian movements were somewhat ill-connected; nevertheless, by 11 A.M. Masséna's left had been driven back almost to Aspern, and his right, though aided by Bernadotte, had failed to recapture Aderklaa, from which the Austrians had driven his advanced posts early in the morning. The situation for the French looked very serious, for their troops were not fighting with the dash and spirit of former years. But Napoleon was a master in the psychology of the battlefield, and knew that on the other side things were much the same. He therefore sent orders along the whole line for a gigantic counter-stroke. Davout on the right was to attack Markgrafneusiedl again. Masséna was to move against the troops immediately to his front; Bernadotte and Marmont to advance respectively against Breitenlee and Aderklaa, whilst in the gap which would thus open between them marched the 5th corps (Macdonald) on Süssenbrunn, covered by a battery of 104 guns and followed by the guard and reserve cavalry.

Macdonald formed his 30,000 men in a gigantic hollow square—on a front of one battalion, fourteen battalions deployed at six paces distance leading, whilst the remainder of the infantry marched in column of sections on either flank, and cavalry closed the rear. The idea was to compel even the weakest to go on, on pain of being trampled to death under the feet of the following men and horses, but the terror caused by the Austrian round-shot tearing huge gaps through the mass proved enough to counteract even this danger, and the men in the advance threw themselves down wholesale. It is admitted by French authors (Ardant du Picq) that of the 30,000 only 3000 actually delivered the attack, about 3000 were killed or wounded, but 24,000 evaded their duty somehow, and the trail of the column appeared one mass of dead and dying, creating a terrible impression on all who saw it. Nevertheless, Macdonald reached his destination, for the guns had literally torn a gap in the opposing line, and the guards and cavalry then followed intact. At the same time Davout also had made progress, and, learning that the archduke Johann could not be counted on for that day, the archduke Charles issued orders for a retreat. The whole Austrian army was gradually withdrawn, unbeaten and still available for a renewed offensive if necessary the following day.

The French, however, were in no condition to follow up their advantage. They had seen more of the slaughter than their adversaries, and except the emperor and Davout all seem to have been completely shaken. Even in Davout's command, always the steadiest in danger, the limit of endurance had been passed, for when about 5 P.M. the advanced patrols of the archduke Johann's force appeared on their flank, panic on a scale hitherto unknown in the Grande Armée seized the whole right wing, and Napoleon had to confess that no further advance was possible with these men for several days.

Berndt (Zahl im Kriege) gives the following figures. French, 181,700 (including 29,000 cavalry) and 430 guns engaged, of whom 23,000 men were killed and wounded, 7000 missing (16%); 11 guns and 12 eagles and colours were lost. Austrians, 128,600 (including 14,600 cavalry) men and 410 guns engaged; losses, 19,110 killed and wounded, and 6740 missing (20%); 9 guns and one colour were lost. The casualties in general officers were unusually severe, 21 French and 15 Austrians being killed and wounded.