Battle of Ettlingen, 9 July 1796

The battle of Ettlingen (9 July 1796) was an early French victory during General Moreau's campaign in southern Germany that convinced the Archduke Charles to make a fighting retreat towards the Danube.

At the start of June 1796 General Jourdan had crossed the Rhine at Dusseldorf. The Archduke Charles, who by then was the overall Austrian commander on the Rhine, moved north and soon forced Jourdan to re-cross the Rhine, but this movement gave General Moreau his chance to cross the Rhine. On 23-24 June Moreau's Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle crossed the Rhine opposite Strasbourg, and established itself between the Black Forest and the Rhine. Moreau won two victories over General Latour's Army of the Upper Rhine (Renchen, 26 June 1796 and Rastatt, 5 July 1796), but his slow and careful progress had given the Archduke time to move south with most of his army.

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

The new Austrian line ran across the northern end of the Black Forest. The Austrian right ran from Malsch west to the Rhine. The centre crossed the mountains, reaching a strong position on the plateau of Rotensol, to the east of the valley of the Alb.

The Archduke decided to attack on 10 July, but Moreau pre-empted him, attacking on 9 July. Moreau planned to make his main effort on the right. General St-Cyr, in the valley of the Murg (which flows north-west across the Black Forest) was to cross the mountains and attack the Austrian position at Rotensol. To his right General Taponier, with six battalions of infantry and 150 hussars was sent across the mountains to Wildbad, in the Enz valley, from where he could outflank the Austrian left. To St-Cyr's right General Houel was to capture Herrenalb and Frauenalb in the Alb valley, a move that would threaten the right of the Austrian position at Rotensol.

On the French left General Desaix was to attack Malsch, at the foot of the mountains, to prevent the Austrians from moving troops to the threatened areas. This attack developed into a fierce battle that lasted until ten in the evening. Malsch was taken several times by the French, but on each occasion the Austrians pushed them back. The Austrians attempted to use their cavalry to attack between Malsch and the Rhine, but the French reserve blocked this move. At the end of the day the neither side had made any progress around Malsch, but by then the battle had been won in the mountains.

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

Rotensol was defended by six battalions of infantry, four squadrons of cavalry and a strong force of artillery, all under the command of General Keim. Another three battalions were posted at Frauenalb, while the advance guard was further to the south-west, at Loffenau.

St-Cyr realised that a frontal attack would be very costly and so he decided to try and pull the Austrians out of their lines. Part of the 106th and 84th demi-brigades made four simulated attacks on the Austrian positions, each time withdrawing without pressing their attack. When the 106th demi-brigade made a fifth feint, the Austrians finally reacted. Thinking that they had a chance to capture the apparently isolated demi-brigade they charged down the hill into valley. St-Cyr then triggered his trap, attacking the newly exposed Austrian right with troops he had hidden in Herrenalb. The Austrians attempted to escape back to their original positions, but were prevented from doing this. Keim was forced to retreat east across the hills to Neuenbürg, to the north of Wildbad in the Enz valley. A Saxon division under General Lindt, which had been advancing towards Wildbad, joined the retreat, pulling back all the way to Pforzheim, further north down the Enz.

When the Archduke learnt of the defeat of his left, he decided to pull back from Malsch, and on the morning of 10 July the Austrians retreated by a forced march from Carlsruhe east to Durlach and then on to Pforzheim. On the same day the French occupied Neuenbürg and Ettlingen and prepared to advance east to the Neckar.

After the defeat at Ettlingen the Archduke Charles learnt that Jourdan had crossed the Rhine for a second time. He decided to retreat back to the Danube, where he would join up with General Wartensleben, who was retreating in front of Jourdan. The combined Austrian army would then turn on whichever French force was most vulnerable.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 February 2009), Battle of Ettlingen, 9 July 1796 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_ettlingen.html

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