One of the great things about researching local stuff is that visiting the sites doesn’t take a lot of effort. I have already been to Aspern and Essling as well as to the Lobau. Apart from the church and the granary, there is not much to see at the first two locations (the museums were closed due to the pandemic). The Southern part of the Marchfeld is heavily developed and especially around Aspern and Essling, a heavily trafficked road, urban sprawl and industry make walking around rather unpleasant. The Lobau is a great place and well worth visiting – I might write a short piece about it at some other time.
However, there are places where less changes have taken place and some interesting insights can be gained by walking. One of those is the so-called Hanslgrund, which served as a staging area for Oudinot’s Corps on the first day of the Battle of Wagram.
We started our tour at the Uferhaus Staudigl, a small restaurant with a parking lot that serves as a gateway to the Lobau for many walkers. In 1809, there was a house at or near this location, called the “maison blanche” by the French and the “Uferhaus” on Austrian maps. This house was used as an Austrian observation post, but because the banks of the Lobau were heavily wooded, not much of what was going on could be seen.
By the beginning of July 1809, Lobau island was heavily fortified and served as the staging area for Napoleon’s planned crossing into the Marchfeld. For a while, the Austrians assumed that Napoleon would cross over between Aspern and Essling, as he had done before. However, his intention was to move his troops over the Stadler Arm to the East, take Groß-Enzersdorf and use it as a pivot to wheel his army around it so its front was facing to the North and he was in a position to outflank the Austrians. During the night of 4th to 5th July, this extremely well prepared and planned crossing took place.
Oudinot’s 2nd Corps had the task to secure the French right flank by occupying the Hanslgrund, an island to the East of the Lobau which was separated from the Marchfeld by a creek called the “Steigbügel Arm”.
Our tour explored the way of the 2nd Corps and the retreat of the Austrian troops during the night and the morning of July 4th and 5th.
Starting at the Uferhaus, we first walked to the South along the Stadler Arm. In July 1809, this area was occupied by elements from GM von Frelich’s Brigade, namely outposts of the 1st Jäger Battalion and the Stipsicz-Hussars. The Austrians had also built a redoubt (redoubt nr. XVI) on the southernmost edge of the Hanslgrund, which held a small battery of 3-pdr guns.
I don’t think there is any trace left of this redoubt, although perhaps an archaeologist might discern the layout from the composition of the ground or the vegetation. In any case, we halted where we thought it might approximately have been and reflected on what happened there in the evening of July 4th, 1809.
In the afternoon of July 4th, a heavy thunderstorm had begun which provided cover for the French crossing but also made the nightly operations even more difficult. Around 21.00, 1500 troops of Conroux’ brigade landed near redoubt nr. XVI under the cover of a heavy bombardment from the Lobau batteries as well as a flotilla of gunboats. Wearing white armbands to recognize each other in the stormy night, they drove away the one-and-a-half companies of the 1st Jäger posted there, capturing three 3-pdrs in the process. The short and chaotic fight, which also seems to have involved attacks by the Hussars, ended with the Jäger retreating towards a bridge over the Steigbügel Arm and the French following. The Jäger managed to destroy the bridges over the Arm and Conroux’s men halted, as the darkness and the weather made orientation on the heavily wooded Hanslgrund very difficult.
During the night, French engineers built a bridge over the Stadler Arm and Oudinot brought over his Corps, which formed in the Hanslgrund and prepared for an early morning attack.
We continued our walk through the Hanslgrund to the village of Mühlleiten.
During the night, the Jäger rallied there. GM von Frelich ordered to village to be held (against the advice of at least one of his officers, Unterleutenant Wilhelm Reiche), so the Jäger barricaded the access roads, and a squadron of Stipsicz-Hussars was posted on the right flank.
At the time, the village was a very open Angerdorf and therefore difficult to defend. The Anger can still be seen, as can the small chapel, which was built in 1710.
We now walked back towards the Lobau, going in the opposite direction of the attacking French.
The next image shows the view towards Mühlleiten from the direction of the approaching French. Again Conroux’ men led the attack in the early morning of 5th July.
After a short fight, the Austrians were dislodged, with the Jäger retreating towards Hausen and Schloss Sachsengang, the headquarters of GM von Frelich. During their retreat, they were harassed by French cavalry.
As it was getting dark, we decided to head back to the Uferhaus and take the car to Schloss Sachsengang. Our walk back led us to the place where a bridge over the Steigbügel Arm was located.
When the French attacked the Hanslgrund, the retreating Jäger rallied there and destroyed the bridge, which the French then rebuilt during the night.
The Steigbügel Arm no longer carries water and it is not delineated in modern maps. However, looking at Google Maps, the contours can still be seen, so I was curious if we would find any traces.
And indeed, we did!
Seeing the remains of the creek’s bed, it became clear how much of an obstacle it was, why it was so important for the Jäger to destroy the bridges and why the French did not pursue the Jäger over the Arm at night.
When we finally arrived at the car, it was getting late and the sun was setting, but I still wanted to see Schloss Sachsengang. This small castle, which was built during the Middle Ages, was at the time the Headquarters of GM von Frelich and the rallying point for the 1st Jäger. It was already occupied by elements of the 7th Jäger Batallion when the retreating troops arrived from Mühlleiten. Again, Wilhelm Reiche advised against making a stand there, as he feared becoming cut off from the army, but the orders were to the contrary and the Jäger posted two 3pdrs and sharp shooters at the castle’s towers. The Austrians also posted Jäger at the villages of Hausen and cavalry from the Stipsicz and Primatial Hussars on the flanks.
The castle itself is not open to the public, but we could access the forecourt. It gave us a good impression of the strength of the position. But it also became quite clear that it was a veritable trap against a large number of enemy troops, as its small size made it easy to surround and contain the garrison inside.
And this was exactly what happened: After a failed attempt to storm the castle, the French positioned howitzers and tried to incinerate the roofs. This also failed at first and a lively skirmish developed, with French soldiers trying to set the outbuildings aflame and Austrian sharp shooters trying to prevent them. Sources disagree when the Austrian garrison finally capitulated, but it was irrelevant anyway, as at that time, Oudinot had already moved his Corps to the North and brought it into line with the Army preparing itself to march across the Marchfeld. The Schloss Sachsengang garrison posed no threat, as it was contained by a batallion of Grenadiers.
After their capitulation, the Jäger defending the Schloss became Prisoners of War and did not participate in any further actions of the 1809 campaign.
This was a very interesting and enlightening tour. It was also very enjoyable, as the wetlands along the Danube are a nice place for walking. I was especially happy to see the remnants of the Steigbügel Arm – such discoveries can only be made by walking the ground.
If you want to take the tour yourself, here is the route on Google Maps. It is possible to walk to Schloss Sachsengang, and we would probably have done it if it hadn’t been already that late in the day.
Gill, John H.: 1809. Thunder on the Danube. Napoleon’s Defeat of the Habsburgs. Volume III: Wagram and Znaim. London: Frontline Books 2014.
Hellwald, Friedrich Anton Heller von: Der Feldzug des Jahres 1809 in Süddeutschland. 2: Von der Schlacht bei Aspern bis zum Schlusse des Feldzuges. Wien: Gerold 1864.
Pelet, Jacques Germain: Mémoires sur la guerre de 1809, en Allemagne. Tome quatrième. Paris: Roret 1826.
Pils, François: Journal de Marche du Grenadier Pils. Paris: Ollendorff 1895.
Sittig, Heinrich: Geschichte des k.u.k. Feldjäger-Bataillons Nr. 1. Reichenberg: Selbstverlag 1908.
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