Battle of Biberach, 2 October 1796


The battle of Biberach (2 October 1796) was a French victory that resulted from a daring decision by General Moreau to launch a counterattack against an Austrian army that was following him on his retreat from Bavaria in the autumn of 1796. In the summer of 1796 the French had launched a two-pronged invasion of Germany, with General Jourdan and the Army of the Meuse-and-Sambre attacking on the Main and General Moreau with the Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle attacking in the south. The campaign began with a short-lived attack by Jourdan which gave Moreau the chance to cross the Rhine at Strasbourg. Moreau then advanced around the northern end of the Black Forest and east towards the Danube, while Jourdan began a second campaign over the Rhine.

War of the First Coalition - Rhine Front 1796
War of the First Coalition
Rhine Front 1796

On 24 August both French armies fought battles. While Moreau defeated General Latour at Friedberg, Jourdan was defeated by the Archduke Charles at Amberg and was forced to begin a retreat. On 3 September he was defeated again at Würzburg, and was forced to retreat back towards the Rhine. This left Moreau dangerously isolated on the River Iser north of Munich, and after a short-lived and ill-judged attempt to send help to Jourdan he began to retreat back towards France. Moreau decided to retreat along the south bank of the Danube. His army crossed the Lahn without any interference from the Austrians, then in late September crossed the Riss, a tributary of the Danube that reached the river just under ten miles to the west of Ulm.

Once he was across the Riss Moreau paused in a position centred on the Feder See, a lake surrounded by moorland and marshland. His left, under General Desaix, ran from the lake up to the Danube. His centre, under Saint-Cyr, was based around Schussenreid and Steinhausen, four miles to the south of the lake. His right, under General Ferino, stretched out between Baindt and Ravensburg, twenty miles to the south of the Feder See.

The Austrians followed the French across the Riss on 29 September. On the following day the Austrian advance guard attacked part of the French line, but was repulsed (Combat of Schussenreid, 30 September 1796). Moreau then decided to launch a counterattack.

The Austrian Position

Latour was not expecting to be attacked, and so his army was stretched out along a very wide front. His right (6,000 men under General Kospoth) was posted at Stafflangen, half way between Biberach and the Feder See, with outposts at Seekirch to the north of the lake and Oggelshausen to the south.

His centre (5,000 men under General Baillet) was posted at Steinhausen, four miles to the south of Stafflangen.

The Austrian left was strongest, with 10,000 men under General Mercantin and the Prince of Condé. They were posted around Olzreute, just over one miles south of Steinhausen.

Latour himself was posted with 2,500 reserves at Grodt, just under two miles to the north east of Steinhausen, on the road that ran back through Reute to Biberach. The biggest weakness in his position was that his right and centre only had one way back across the Riss, across the single bridge at Biberach.

The French Plan

Marshal Gouvion-Saint-Cyr
Marshal Gouvion-Saint-Cyr

Moreau realised that he had a chance to destroy a large part of Latour's army. He had more men available than Latour to start with, and his army was much better concentrated. He also had a chance to outflank the left of the main Austrian position.

Moreau decided to make a three-pronged attack on the Austrians. On the right General Ferino was ordered to advance north from Waldsee, through Oberessendorf and Unteressendorf and on to Ummendorf, just to the south of Biberach, and on the east bank of the Riss.

On the left General Desaix was to advance along the Riedlingen-Biberach road, which passed to the north of the Austrian right at Seekirch.

In the centre General Saint-Cyr was to attack along the Reichenbach-Biberach road, which runs east to Steinhausen and then on through Grodt and Reute to Biberach.

The Battle

Ferino's attack on the right never really developed, possibly because the officer carrying his orders got lost. This reduced the chance that Moreau could destroy the entire Austrian army, but the victory that followed was still fairly crushing.

On the left Desaix forced Kospoth to retreat east to Galgenberg, a hill on the outskirts of Biberach (from the context of the fighting to follow probably west or slightly north-west of the town). Desaix decided to attack around both flanks of this new position. One column moved east to Bickenhard, north of Biberach, and then turned south and entered the town. Desaix led the right hand column, which captured Mittelbiberach, on the western side of the hills. Kospoth attempted to retreat between the two French columns, but only his leading troops escaped. Five battalions were captured almost intact.

In the centre Moreau made two attacks. Just to the south of the Federsee General Gerard attacked through Oggelshausen towards Biberach. A little further south General Duhesme used Laboissière's brigade to watch the Austrian left at Schussenried, while the rest of his column attacked towards Steinhausen. Fighting on this front began at about eight in the morning, before the 100th and 106th demi-brigades forced the Austrians to retreat. A cavalry counterattack was repulsed by the 9th Hussars and the grenadiers from the 106th demi-brigade, and Baillet was forced to pull back to Grodt to join the reserves. Baillet's retreat forced Mercantin and Condé to pull back from Olzreute to Winterstetten, and they would later be ordered further east, escaping without ever being heavily involved in the fighting.

Saint-Cyr's advance was then held up by a combination of Austrian artillery and a false report that a new Austrian column was about to attack from the south, giving Latour the time to evacuate most of his artillery.

In the late afternoon Moreau ordered a fresh attack. Saint-Cyr made a frontal assault on the Austrian position at Crodt, while General Gerard advanced towards Reute, on Latour's line of retreat. When he realised how much danger he was in Latour abandoned the road and retreated around Gerard's position thorough the woods at Rindemoos (east of Reute).

Latour attempted to form a new front at Geradsweiler, between Reute and Biberach, only to discover that the French were already in the town. Abandoning Geradsweiler, he attempted to fight his way to safety. About half of his column managed to reach safety across the river, but the rest was captured. Once he was across the Riss Latour pulled back to Ringschnait, three miles to the east of the river

The battle of Biberach cost Moreau just under 1,000 casualties. The Austrians lost a similar number of killed and wounded, but the French also took 4,000 prisoners. Latour had lost 5,000 of the 11,000 Austrian troops that had been involved in the fighting.

Moreau was not allowed to enjoy his victory for long. Having completed his victory over Jourdan the Archduke Charles turned south in an attempt to catch Moreau. The Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle reached the western side of the Black Forest in one piece, but then suffered defeats at Emmendlingen (19 October 1796) and Schliengen (23 October 1796) and was forced to retreat west across the Rhine.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 February 2009), Battle of Biberach, 2 October 1796 ,

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