Battle of Amstetten, 5 November 1805

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The battle of Amstetten (5 November 1805) was one of a number of rearguard actions fought as General Kutuzov attempted to elude Napoleon in the aftermath of the Austrian surrender at Ulm.

At the start of the War of the Third Coalition Napoleon was faced with a large number of Austrian and Russian armies. His first aim was to destroy at least one of the Austrian armies before the Russians could arrive. His target was the army of General Mack, which had advanced west along the Danube into Bavaria, reaching the city of Ulm. Napoleon managed to march across Germany to the Danube east of Ulm without being discovered. Mack then missed a number of chances to escape, before eventually surrendering to Napoleon on 20 October.

One of the reasons for Mack's failure was that the Russians were further away than he had hoped, but by 20 October the first Russian army, 36,000 men under General Kutuzov, were getting close. On 23 October Kutuzov joined up with 22,000 Austrians at Braunau (half way between Ulm and Vienna), giving him 58,000 men. When he learnt about the disaster at Ulm Kutuzov decided to retreat east along the Danube to the bridges at Mautern and Krems, cross to the north bank and then move towards Olmutz, where he could join up with other Russian armies. Prince Peter Bagration was given command of the rear guard, which consisted of 6,000 infantry and 1,900 cavalry, with a mix of Austrian and Russian troops.

Napoleon sent Murat and Lannes to pursue the retreating Russians. They caught up with them around Enns, on the river of the same name. Bagration fought minor rearguard actions at Altenhofen (just east of Enns and ten miles to the west of Amstetten) and at Oed, two miles to the west of Amstetten, before making a more determined stand close to Amstetten, at a point where the main road ran through thick woods.

Bagration deployed his men in two lines, with the Austrian cavalry in the front line and the Russian troops in the second line. The infantry and cavalry were posted on hills on either side of the road, while the artillery was deployed on the road, where it would have the best line of fire.

Murat was leading the French pursuit. His immediate response was to order the best companies from the 9th and 10th Hussars to charge the Allied lines. This first attack was defeated, although the French artillery prevented the Austrians from a decisive success. Murat was then reinforced by Oudinot's grenadiers, and a second attack was launched. This time the Austrian cavalry was defeated and Bagration's send line was forced back into Amstetten. He asked for reinforcements and Kutuzov sent four infantry regiments, ten cavalry regiments and extra artillery (commanded by General Mikhail Miloradovich). This new force formed the front line, with Bagration's men in the second line. 

A fierce battle raged for the rest of the day, with the Russians holding their ground and the French unable to make any significant progress. At 9pm the Allies broke off the battle and under cover of darkness retreated along the same route as the main army. The French had been held up long enough to make sure that the Allies were able to get safely across the Danube (completing the move on 9 November).

Both commanders claimed to have been victorious at Amstetten, with the French believing that they had withstood a determined attack by a much larger force and the Russians believing they had forced a larger French force to retreat. In fact the Russians had the best of the day, and Bagration had successfully performed his rearguard duties.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 March 2012), Battle of Amstetten, 5 November 1805 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_amstetten.html

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