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The battle of Höchst (11 October 1795) was a manoeuvre battle that forced General Jourdan to abandon his invasion of Germany and retreat back across the Rhine. The French attack across the Rhine had involved the General Jourdan's Army of the Sambre and Meuse and General Pichegru's Army of the Moselle and Rhine. While Jourdan was to cross the Rhine in the north, around Dusseldorf, Pichegru was meant to cross around Strasbourg. The Government in Paris retained overall command of the invasion, leaving Jourdan and Pichegru equal in rank. The French were faced by two Austrian armies. General Clerfayt had command of the army already in place along the Rhine, while General Würmser had command of a new army that had just been formed in the Black Forest.
Jourdan moved first. On 8 September his first troops crossed the Rhine north of Dusseldorf. General Championnet then forced the surrender of Dusseldorf, and the main force crossed between the two bridgeheads. Jourdan then turned south and advanced towards Mainz. On 20 September he was on the River Lahn, twenty five miles to the north of Mainz. This movement alarmed Clerfayt, who moved north to block the French advance. Würmser was also ordered to move north. The Austrian movement gave Pichegru his chance to cross the Rhine. On 20 September Mannheim surrendered to a single French division. Pichegru now had a chance to inflict a serious defeat on the Austrians. He was only twelve miles west of Heidelberg, Clerfayt's main supply depot. The occupation of Heidelberg would also have allowed the French to block Würmser, who was moving north along a road that ran through the city. Pichegru missed this chance – a small force was sent east towards Heidelberg but was turned back on 25 September. Pichegru and Jourdan then met to decide what to do next. Jourdan wanted to concentrate the two French armies between the Main and Mannheim and defeat each Austrian army in turn, but Pichegru refused to support the plan. While messengers were sent to Paris to ask for orders the two French armies remained almost inactive on the Rhine.
Jourdan advanced from the Lahn to the Main. His right wing was on the Rhine opposite Mainz, which was briefly besieged from both sides of the river. The French front line then ran east along the Main to Höchst, just to the west of Frankfurt (not Höchst im Odenwald, a name sometimes given to the battle – that town is twenty five miles to the south east of the Main). Jourdan was now in a vulnerable position. His supply lines ran north-west to a bridge over the Rhine at Neuwied, forty miles to his rear. His left flank was in theory protected by the neutral territory of Frankfurt, but earlier in the campaign the French had themselves passed through neutral territory when crossing the Rhine. Pichegru was no longer in a position to help, for on 10 October Würmser arrived outside Mannheim, began a siege of the city and thus blocked Pichegru's route onto the east bank of the Rhine.
The fall of Mannheim had forced Clerfayt to rush south in an attempt to save Heidelberg. When the French failed to take that city he was free to turn north. He advanced north east from Heppenheim to Aschaffenburg. On 10 October he reached Offenbach, on the Main east of Frankfurt, crossed the river and advanced up to the east back of the River Nidda, which runs north-east from Frankfurt.
Jourdan had two choices – he could abandon the siege of Mainz, concentrate his entire army on the Main, and risk a battle or he could retreat back across the Rhine. Jourdan decided to call a council of war, and as so often happened the council decided to retreat.
The retreat didn't begin until 16 October. In the intervening five days Clerfayt remained behind the Nidda and didn't risk an attack. The French were then allowed to escape in three columns – the left wing went back to Dusseldorf, the centre to Bonn and the right wing to Neuwied. If Clerfayt had followed in force he might have been able to destroy the French right, for on 19 October the bridge there had been destroyed by fire, but Clerfayt had other plans. Leaving Jourdan to escape to the north he moved a large part of his army across the Rhine into Mainz, and on 29 October attacked the French siege lines from the city. The siege was broken, and Clerfayt was in a very strong position between the two widely separated French armies.
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