1809 Walk – City of Vienna

Shortly before Christmas, I went on another 1809 themed walk, this time through Vienna. I followed the route of the French troops arriving at Vienna on 10 May 1809 and then looked at some of the residences occupied by French dignitaries during the occupation of the town.

My tour started at the Europaplatz, where today trains arrive at the busy Westbahnhof. 

Looking in direction of the Mariahilferstrasse. The Linienwall was right in front.

In 1809, this was the site of the so-called Mariahilferlinie, a part of the Linienwall, the outer ring of Viennese fortifications. This huge rampart was built at the beginning of the 18th century but was already in a rather desolate state by 1809. There was no longer a gate, but there would have been a small toll office. Today, only a very small part of the Linienwall is preserved.

Part of the Linienwall in a late-19th century depiction. Image from MeinBezirk.at
Saint-Mars

Because of its length (13km), it would have been difficult to defend anyway. Nevertheless, the French cavalry vedettes which arrived first were shot at by outposts. However, when General Oudinot arrived with the brigade Conroux around 9am, they found that the Austrians had left the wall. Marshal Lannes thought that this meant that the city would capitulate and decided to send his ADC Joseph Michault de Saint-Mars together with former secretary to the French ambassador in Vienna, August Lagrange, and an escort of six riders and a trumpeter into the city to negotiate the surrender.

The sources do not say which route they took, but it is probable that they rode down the Mariahilferstrasse, which was the main road leading from the Mariahilferlinie to the inner wall in this sector.

Probable route of the French party.

I decided to follow this route, which leads through the former suburb of Mariahilf. Now one of the busiest shopping streets of Vienna, it would already have had quite an urban look around 1800.

Trotting down the Mariahilfer Strasse, the small French party would have passed the Mariahilfer Kirche on their right side. The church was built in the late 17th century. The building that can be seen to its left is from the late 18th century. 

The Mariahilfer Kirche in 1783. Image from Austrian National Library.

Further on, there is another building that was already present in 1809, namely the birthplace of actor and author Ferdinand Raimund. It was built in the 18th century, but the third storey was added in the middle of the 19th. The facade was also modified then, but the portal leading into the courtyard stems from the time of creation.

Continuing the walk, I finally reached the former Hofstallungen (court stables), which now house museums and galleries. The vast complex was built in the 18th century and marked the end of the suburbs and the beginning of the glacis.

The Hofstallungen are on the left side.

Standing here, I tried to imagine the space without the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) on the left and the building block on the right. All of this, up to the part of the Hofburg you can see in the distance, would have been made up by the glacis, the moat, and the inner rampart.

Image from wikipedia.

As the French approached the Burgtor to the left, they were informed by Austrian General Joseph Armand von Nordmann that Vienna would not capitulate.

Looking towards the site of the Burgtor.

The party didn’t immediately turn back, but rode to the South in direction of the Kärntnertor, probably to investigate the defences. I followed in their track on what is now the so-called Ring, a busy road leading around the inner city.

Walking along the ring.

Passing the state opera (built in 1869), I arrived at the site where the Kärntnertor was located (there were actually two gates, an old and a new one).

Looking towards the site of the Kärtnertor.
Kärntnertor in the middle of the 19th century. Image from Belvedere.
Kärntnertor and moat in 1858.

Today, the only reminder of this important gateway to the city of Vienna proper is a small statue on one of the houses. 

The so-called “Fenstergucker” is the portrait of the architect of the gate, Bonifaz Wolmuet, and was created in the 16th century. It used to adorn the Kärtnertor. (The version that can be seen here is a copy, the original is in the Wien Museum).

The area around the Kärntnertor, from a late 18th century map. Image from Albertina.

When Saint-Mars and his party arrived here, they became entangled in a small skirmish between French cavalry, which had worked their way through the suburbs independently, and the Austrian Liechtenstein-Hussars under Generalmajor Josef Mesko von Felsö-Kubiny, which made a sudden sortie, perhaps to cover the retreat of some ammunition wagons. The French party was captured, with Saint-Mars gravely wounded. It seems that during the fight, four French Chasseurs à Cheval rode into the city, where they were killed by enraged inhabitants.

I also decided to head into the city to examine some of the residences taken up by French dignitaries during their occupation of the city. 

First, I passed the former palace of Archduke Albrecht von Sachsen-Teschingen, which now houses the Albertina art museum and the Film Museum.

Marshal Lannes took up his residence there. After his death following the battle of Aspern, it was taken over by Vice-Roy Eugène de Beauharnais. The wounded Saint-Mars was brought there after the Austrian troops had left the city.

Within a stone’s throw stands the former palace of Franz Joseph Maximilian von Lobkowitz, now the Theatre Museum. In 1809, it first served as the quarters for the Viennese Bürgerregiment (militia), and then as the residence of Marshal Masséna.

Crossing the Josephsplatz commissioned by Emperor Joseph II, I passed the Spanish Riding School, a 17th century building which had already been converted into a hospital by the Austrians when the war started and was also used in this function by the French.

I then took a quick detour through the Michaelertor to the Heldenplatz to have a look at the so-called Leopoldinischer Trakt of the Hofburg. We know that General Antoine-François Andréossy, in his role of military governor of Vienna, took up his residence in the Hofburg and it is probable that he used this most representative part of the building. In front of it stands the statue of Archduke Carl erected in 1859. It is based on the apocryphal story of the archduke rallying Infanterie-Regiment 15 (Zach) by personally picking up its flag.

Heading back through the Michaelertor, I strolled to the final stop of this walk: The former palace of the Czernin von und zu Chudenitz family.

Count Eugen Czernin von und zu Chudenitz, who was 13 years old at the time, writes in his memoirs that originally it was planned to quarter Marshal Masséna in their palace. However, Eugen’s father intervened because of Masséna’s “bad reputation” and managed to have General Savary, an ADC of Napoléon, reside with them. I don’t know if this story is true – it seems unlikely that Masséna would prefer the rather unassuming Czernin palace to the grander Lobkowitz palace. Eugen didn’t like the French and was shocked that Savary brought the famous spy Charles Schulmeister with him, who took up office just across the rooms of his mother.

With this anecdote, my walk came to an end. Living in Vienna, I had passed all those places thousands of times without giving them further thought, so it was fascinating to look at them under the perspective of the 1809 campaign.

If you want to follow my walk, here is the route on google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/mZeUDQjpRgxrYUGn6


Sources

Czernin und Chudenic, Eugen: “Erlebnisse eines österreichischen Edelsmannes aus dem Kriegsjahr 1809,” in Feldzugserinnerungen aus dem Kriegsjahre 1809, ed. Friedrich M. Kircheisen. Hamburg: Gutenberg 1909, pp. 19-87.

Geusau, Anton von: Historisches Tagebuch aller merkwürdigen Begebenheiten, welche sich vor, während und nach der französischen Invasion der k. k. Haupt- und Residenzstadt Wien in dem Jahr 1809 zugetragen haben. Wien 1810.

Hoen, Maximilian von et.al.: Krieg 1809. III. Band. Neumarkt-Ebelsberg-Wien. Wien: Seidel & Sohn 1909.

Hummelberger, Walter and Peball, Kurt: Die Befestigungen Wiens. Wien, Hamburg: Zsolnay 1974.

Battlefield Walk – The Viennese Prater

As this year’s autumn turns out to be very nice around here, we are highly motivated to go out for walks. Last weekend, we visited something that is not normally associated with a battlefield, namely the Viennese Prater. However, it was the site of skirmishing in May 1809. We decided to follow the story of those fights.

In 1809, the Prater was part of an island in the Danube to the north of Vienna. Originally hunting grounds for the nobility, it was opened to the public in 1766 by Joseph II. and quickly became a place of amusement for the Viennese. One of its landmarks was the so-called “Lusthaus” (pleasure house), built 1781-1783 at the Eastern end of the main alley, the “Praterhauptallee”. The small octagonal pavilion served as a coffee house. Along the Praterhauptallee, especially in the Western part of the Prater, numerous wooden huts were located, containing all kinds of restaurants and coffee houses as well as attractions such as a camera obscura or small stages.

Business card of café owner Jüngling, showing some of the huts along the Hauptallee. Image from Wien Museum.

When Napoleon arrived at Vienna on May 10, he immediately grasped the strategic importance of the Prater. The so-called Inner City of Vienna was enclosed by a wall, which the French surrounded. However, the city was able to communicate with the northern side of the Danube, where the Austrian Hauptarmee was approaching, via the Tabor Bridge, which ran through the Prater island just to the West of the Praterstern. Napoleon therefore decided to seize the island.

The Viennese commander, Archduke Maximilian, only had a small number of troops under his command, many of them Landwehr. However, he still hoped that Archduke Charles would arrive in time to relieve the city. Napoleon, on the other hand, wanted to press the issue, so he tasked Masséna with the occupation of the Prater. He personally supervised the operation, which began with an artillery battery taking position to provide support. At the same time, a couple of volunteers – some ADCs as well as soldiers – swam through the Wiener Wasser, the arm of the Danube separating the Prater from the mainland, to collect boats. At the Lusthaus, an Austrian post consisting of two companies from the Grenz-Infanterie Nr. 13 (Walachisch-Illyrische) offered some resistance but had to endure an artillery barrage. The French then sent over two companies of the 3eme Légère, which drove off the Austrians. The French occupied the woods around the Lusthaus and began to prepare for the construction of a bridge.

Archduke Maximilian believed the main French attack would come to the West, at the Brigittenau, and thought that the crossing at the Prater was only a diversion. Therefore he ordered only a reconnaissance mission, which was to be conducted by the 2nd and 4th battalions of Viennese Volunteers. Those troops had seen heavy fighting during the Austrian retreat from Bavaria, especially at Ebelsberg, and could almost be considered veterans. Their jump-off point was to be the Praterstern, where a hodgepodge of regulars, militia and civilians were building field fortifications to protect the Tabor bridge.

The Praterstern in 1781. Image from Wien Museum.

We started our tour at the Praterstern, which can easily be reached by public transport and today is a very busy – and not very attractive – traffic hub. Around 9pm in the evening on May 11, the Viennese Volunteers stepped off from there. It seems that their movements were not coordinated and the battalions started in the order they arrived. We followed their way and headed into the Prater proper, which still is a very popular place of amusement today and which houses, among other attractions, the famous Riesenrad (built in 1897).

Leaving this to our left, we walked along the Praterhauptallee in a south-easterly direction. This was the way Oberstleutenant Küffel took with his 4th Viennese Volunteers, while Oberstleutenant Steigentesch and his 2nd Volunteers seem to have headed in the direction of the Krieau. The sources are unclear about the exact route (I have been mostly using the Austrian general staff history published in 1909, which is based on the documents at the Kriegsarchiv, and some of the details of this action seem to be missing in the reports).

View along the Hauptallee.

The Prater still consists of woods interspersed with meadows, as it did in 1809.

The Prater around 1780. Image from Wien Museum.

After about 2 kilometres, we arrived at the so-called 1st Rondeau. In 1809, the Heustadlwasser, an arm of the Danube, separated the Prater from the Krieau and interrupted the Hauptallee at this point. Küffel and his men turned right to follow the banks of the Heustadlwasser. We followed in his tracks.

Part of the Heustadlwasser still exists, although it no longer interrupts the Hauptalle and is also no longer connected to the Danube.

Somewhere on this path, Küffel met a patrol of Austrian Hussars who reported that the French had already begun to build a bridge. Together with a Hussar NCO, Küffel rode forward to investigate. He could clearly hear hammering from the direction of the Lusthaus and was told that the French had only a small detachment guarding the building side. He therefore decided to attack.

We walked on to the 2nd Rondeau, where the Hauptallee continued, leading straight to the Lusthaus.

When Küffel’s men arrived at this place, they met Steigentesch and his 2nd Viennese Volunteers, who had also heard about the French bridge building. Steigentesch took over command when Major General Josef von Mesko appeared and formed the men for the attack, with Steigentesch’s men leading the way.

The men, who had been advised to charge with the bayonet and refrain from firing their muskets, advanced in the darkness along the Hauptallee.

From the 2nd Rondeau, it is only about 700 meters to the Lusthaus. Again, we followed the Viennese Volunteers’ way.

During the advance, one of the soldiers’ muskets suddenly went off. Thereupon, the others started to fire too. The French immediately returned fire and a chaotic skirmish broke out.

After a short time, the leading Austrians started to fall back, which led the rest of the column to panic. A general rout followed. The men could only be rallied at the 1st Rondeau, where they camped for the night.

The Austrians had taken heavy casualties for such a small action, namely 44 men. The staff history speculates that, for the most part, they were caused by friendly fire, but also states that they were entered as “missing” in the muster rolls, so at least a proportion of the casualties seem to have been men running off into the night in panic and not having returned by the next day.

With that, our tour ended at the Lusthaus, where the French continued to build their bridge.

The Lusthaus

Two of the buildings that flanked the Lusthaus at the time can still be seen.

Image from the Franziszeischer Kataster.

The Lusthaus itself has changed little, but the surroundings are different – there is no longer an arm of the Danube directly behind it, as it was in 1809.

Image from Europeana.

In the early hours of 12 May, the Austrians followed with another attack on the Lusthaus position, this time led by Grenadiers. But this was also repulsed, mainly because the French had brought over artillery. Archduke Maximilian had meanwhile decided to give up the city and evacuated the Vienne garrison over the Tabor bridge. The French did not follow, and the Austrians could destroy the bridge thoroughly (thereby avoiding a repetition of the embarrassing 1805 incident when the bridge fell into French hands intact).

French soldiers did, however, have their fun at the Prater. Musician Philippe-René Girault writes that his comrades plundered the huts and establishments along the Hauptallee and staged a huge flea market, where all kinds of costumes and musical instruments could be bought. Girault seems to have had an eye on the instruments, but in the end refrained from buying one, stating that he didn’t want to carry it around and that he also didn’t want to participate in the pillage. This, however, did not keep him from buying a spyglass with which he observed the Austrians on the left bank of the Danube.

It was interesting to trace the story of this obscure 1809 skirmish through such a well-known place as the Prater, in the middle of Vienna. It also inspired me to write a scenario to refight it with Sharp Practice.

If you want to take the tour yourself, here is a route map on Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/bb6bqxevynCzByBT7

There is a bus station at the Lusthaus, or you could just walk to the nearest underground station, which would add another 30 minutes.


Sources

Geusau, Anton von: Historisches Tagebuch aller merkwürdigen Begebenheiten, welche sich vor, während und nach der französischen Invasion der k. k. Haupt- und Residenzstadt Wien in dem Jahr 1809 zugetragen haben. Wien 1810.

Gill, John H.: 1809. Thunder on the Danube. Napoleon’s Defeat of the Habsburgs. Volume II: The Fall of Vienna and the Battle of Aspern. London: Frontline Books 2014.

Girault, Philippe-Réne: Mes campagnes sour la République et l’Empire 1791-1810. La Rochelle: Siret 1884.

Hoen, Maximilian von et.al.: Krieg 1809. III. Band. Neumarkt – Ebelsberg – Wien. Wien: Seidel & Sohn 1909.

Zehetbauer, Ernst: Landwehr gegen Napoleon. Österreichs erste Miliz und der Nationalkrieg von 1809. Wien: öbv & hpt 1999.

Star of Bravery – A Sharp Practice Campaign

Some time ago, I came across the board game Legion of Honor. From the reviews I read, this seems to be basically a story-telling game that follows the career of French napoleonic officers. I never played the game (though I’d be interested in doing), but it gave me an idea for a Sharp Practice campaign game.

Star of Bravery (SoB) follows the path of two French officers, one of a regiment of the line and one of a light infantry regiment, through the 1809 campaign against Austria. Two players – Sigur and me – generate a character each. I’ve made a new officers background table for French officers, but the attributes and traits are the same as in the SP2 rule book. Each game turn consists of each player playing a scenario, with the other one as the opponent (or other people, if we find volunteers). After each scenario, a player draws an event card. I’ve devised a number of events, which allow different reactions to be taken. According to the player’s decision, a dice is rolled and the outcome is checked. Players can also duel against each other. After the event phase, a new scenario is played.

The aim of the players is to accumulate honour, which can be gained by heroic actions during a scenario or through events. Each player will play 5 individual scenarios. After those, the final scenario will put both players against a third person in a climactic battle. At the most, we will be playing 11 games, although characters may have to skip scenarios due to wounds, so it will probably be less.

Capt. Charles Benés

Sigur started by rolling up his character and then plunged headlong into the first scenario.

Capitaine Charles Benés is the son of a lawyer who became an officer during the revolution. In secret, he still leans towards republicanism and finds Napoleon’s imperial demeanour distasteful. However, he knows that the French army is the only bulwark against the tyranny of Europe’s many kings, so he will serve dutifully. He is honourable and although of average build, he is a good-looking and charming chap. At the moment, he is commanding a company in the 2e regiment d’infanterie de ligne.

The first scenario took place at the beginning of April, when the Austrian opened the attack and caught the French somewhat wrong-footed. As Capt. Benés’ objective was to stop the Austrian onslaught, we played the Defense in Depth scenario from the rule book.

Benés deployed both his skirmishers in the woods and took the Austrian advance guard, a group of Jäger, under fire, who could not stand the concentrated fire for long. The Austrian commander Oberst Jaromir von Eynhuf deployed his main force and withdrew the shaken Jäger behind the bulk of the regulars. He also sent his skirmishers forward on the far right flank, using the building as cover.

Meanwhile, Capt. Benés had deployed his line infantry in a huge and very impressive line. In true gallic spirit, instead of waiting for the Austrians to come, he steadily led his men forward.

Von Eynhuf was somewhat rattled by this. As he had to use the troops on his left flank to guard against the pesky French Voltigeurs, who ran circles around him, he faced the French line with only three groups. The fight started in earnest with a close-range volley from the French, which caused a shocking number of casualties in the Austrian line. However, the Austrian skirmishers meanwhile had slipped behind the house and fired at the Frenchmen’s back. Unfortunately, this did not impress them much.

The skirmishers suddenly realised that he did have an objective, namely the French main deployment point! The started running towards it and there was little the French could do… Or was there? With a shout of “Vivle la France!”, Capt. Benés charged ahead of his men into the Austrian line, intent on capturing the kaiserlick’s flag. While the melee was raging, von Eynhuf threw himself in front of the flag and drew his sword. “From ze dead kold handz!” he cried as the duel commenced. Unfortunately, the Austrian Oberst got the better of the dashing Frenchman and managed to take out Benés. Realising that his small group was the only Austrians left of his line, von Eynhuf post-haste joined his men in the general rout, clutching his precious flag. The charge had reduced the Austrian Force Morale to 0 just before the Austrian skirmishers could take the Deployment Point!

Capt. Benés had done many heroic deeds: He led his men into fisticuffs and won, he took a wound and he won the engagement! This brought him a lot of honour. Surprisingly, it also brought him membership in the Légion d’Honneur! Maybe he was better connected then he let on… However, when his grievous wounds were checked, it turned out they were not that grievous. In fact, it was merely a scratch. His comrades shook their heads at those theatrics, which cost him some honour.

After the engagement, Capt. Benés marched his men through Bavaria, as Napoléon was arriving and a counter-strike at the Austrians was planned by the higher echelons of command. On the way, he met a surgeon who was trying to organise transporation for some wounded. Honourable chap that he is, Benés offered some of his men to help. This will mean that one group will arrive late to the next engagement. However, Benés has now found a friend in Hypolite Pincecourt, a very competent physician.

Will Benés simulate even more wounds now he has the service of a physician? What will his old rival, Capt. Camille Cruchon of the 24e regiment d’infanterie légère, say to Benés’ getting into the Légion d’Honneur after just one fight? Stay tuned for another episode of Star of Bravery!

Encounter at Kummersdorf – A Sharp Practice AAR

K. and I had another game of Sharp Practice! This time, I wanted to try out an idea for a pre-deployment phase. Initially, it was intended to be used for a larger (4-player) game, but as it worked very well, we might keep using it for smaller games.

It worked like this: The table was larger than usual. Each player got two deployment points and had to secretly note beforehand which units would be deployed at which point. Then, he or she had to write orders for each DP, stating how they would move on the table. The DPs could enter the table at one of the roads and would move simultaneously. If they were within a certain distance, they would “lock in” (similar to the Patrol Markers in Chain of Command).

The set-up. The French enter from the North, the Austrians from the South.

Playing the Austrians, I decided to try to get local superiority by deploying all of my units except for the Jäger at my primary DP, which would move through the fields on my left flank, where there was space enough to deploy. My Jäger would try to establish a position at the orchard to the right and outflank and harass the French.

I quickly deployed my main force on the left flank, where it turned out that they faced a line of three French groups.

The French had deployed behind the crest of the hill but swiftly advanced and took my guys under fire. They took quite a punishing until they got their act together and started to return the favours while the skirmishers moved forward to outflank the French line.

Meanwhile, the Jäger had deployed on my right flank. A short exchange of fire with French skirmishers ensued. However, I realised that K. had all of her other units at the DP facing the Jäger, so I tried to withdraw them in direction of my main force.

K. meanwhile hurried her reinforcements over to her right flank, where my numbers slowly started to count – especially, after I got in a crashing volley! I knew that, if I could put up enough pressure before her reinforcements arrived, I had a real chance of overwhelming her in that section.

Unfortunately, my skirmishers had advanced too far – Austrian skirmishers can only be controlled by the main leader (or, of course, with command cards). K. ordered one group of her line to take the skirmishers under fire. As her reinforcements were approaching at the double, I decided to pull the skirmishers back.

Meanwhile, in the narrow back alleys of Kummersdorf, my Jäger managed to get themselves cornered by two groups of French skirmishers. They were charged in the back and had to surrender (we use a rule from the old Sharp Practice that a group surrenders if the attackers have four times as many dice in fisticuffs). The ignomy!

After another crashing volley, K.’s main line collapsed and fell back behind the ridge, with one group routing. Finally a breakthrough for the Austrians!

However, my main line was also quite battered, K.’s reinforcements had arrived and her skirmishers started to move towards my flank.

I knew I needed to force a decision. I rushed my small line forward to charge the remaining French line, but being good Austrians, they moved too slow and did not make contact. Then K.’s skirmishers arrived and shot into their flank.

And then the pas de charge was beat and her small line rushed forward, completely overwhelming my guys and reducing my Force Morale to 2!

A French victory! Vive l’Empereur!

I know that it sounds trite, but again I have to say: one of the best games I’ve played for quite some time. The pre-deployment phase worked great and made it exciting right from the beginning. It was hard-fought and at the start it looked like I could overwhelm the French on my left flank, but after my Jäger let themselves be captured, K. was free to harrass my flanks. Her counter-charge was a fitting and very cinematic climax to a great game!

I want to experiment some more with the pre-deployment phase, as it allows for some interesting tactical decisions and bluffs and also makes the game even more dynamic. I’ll keep you informed on how this turns out!