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.

Battlefield Walk – Wagram Day 1: Taking the Hanslgrund

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.

Map detail from Sittig: Geschichte des k.u.k. Feldjäger-Bataillons Nr. 1

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.

Area around Schanze 16

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.

Approaching Mühlleiten from the South

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.

Detail from the Franziszeischer Kataster.

We now walked back towards the Lobau, going in the opposite direction of the attacking French.

Looking from Mühlleiten to the west (the dam is new and was not there at the time).

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.

Looking towards Mühlleiten from the west.

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. 

The Steigbügel Arm was located to the left.

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.

Detail from the Franziszeischer Kataster.

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.

Schloss Sachsengang

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.


Sources:

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.

Treuenfest, Gustav Amon von: Geschichte des kaierl. und königl. Husaren-Regimentes Nr. 10 Friedrich Wilhelm III., König von Preussen. Wien: Verlag des Regiments 1892.