Battle of Neumarkt, 24 April 1809

The battle of Neumarkt (24 April 1809) was a rare French defeat during the Bavarian stage of the Franco-Austrian war of 1809 and saw the retreating Austrian left wing defeat Marshal Bessières' smaller pursuing column.

In the aftermath of the battle of Abensberg (20 April 1809) the Austrian left wing, under FML Johann Freiherr von Hiller, had been forced to retreat east towards Landshut. Napoleon believed that this was the main Austrian army, and concentrated the bulk of his own army against Hiller, defeating him against at Landshut (21 April 1809). In fact the larger part of the Austrian army, under the Archduke Charles, had been left behind around Eggmuhl. On 22 April Napoleon was forced to turn north to help Marshal Davout, who was badly outnumbered, winning another victory at Eggmuhl. A small force, under Marshal Bessières, was left to pursue Hiller out of Bavaria.

At first things appeared to go well. Hiller retreated back across the River Inn, returning to Austrian soil, although he left outposts on the northern bank of the river. Bessières occupied Neumarkt late on 22 May. On the following day Bessières remained largely inactive, sending his advance guard towards the Inn, but otherwise remaining around Neumarkt. The advance guard reported seeing much larger Austrian forces across the Inn, but Bessières assumed that they would soon continue to retreat.

Marshal Bessieres on Horseback
Marshal Bessieres
on Horseback

Bessières was badly outnumbered by the retreating Austrians. His force considered of Wrede's 2nd Bavarian Division and Molitor's 3rd Division of the 4th Corps, along with the Light Cavalry Division from the 4th Corps and a Light Cavalry Brigade - a total of around 13,700 infantry and 4,700 cavalry. Hiller had his own VI Corps, V Corps and a brigade from IV Corps - a total of 26,942 infantry and 4,858 cavalry. The French were also outnumbered in artillery, with 36 guns to face Hiller's 141. 

Hiller was aware of his numerical superiority, and was also encouraged by the French inactivity on 23 April. He had also received an out-of-date message from Kaiser Franz informing him of a planned Austrian counter-attack on 22 April - pre-empted by Napoleon's arrival at Eggmuhl. With this in mind Hiller decided to launch his own counter attack. Three separate advance guards were sent across the Inn late on 23 April, and won a series of engagements with the French outposts. This gave Hiller room to deploy the rest of this army, also in three columns, ready for the main attack on 24 April.

When Bessières was informed that the Austrians were moving to attack, he decided to make a stand on the hills south of Neumarkt. This gave him a decent defensive position, but meant that his men were fighting with the River Rott at their backs. Worse, at the start of the battle only the Bavarians were available, and Molitor's division didn't arrive until around 9am, so at the start of the fighting the Austrians had a big numerical advantage.

Fortunately for Bessières's Bavarians the Austrian performance at Neumarkt demonstrated both the strengths and weaknesses of the reformed army. Those Austrian troops that did get into battle performed well, advancing under heavy fire and showing a great deal of determination. On the downside their commanders were generally unimaginative, and were unwilling to deviate from their original written orders even when it would have made obvious sense to do so. Hiller was also largely inactive during the fighting, failing to make and changes to his original deployment.

As a result of this the left-hand Austrian column made no contribution to the victory, while the central column only played a limited role. The reason for this was that Hiller's original lines of advance didn't match the Bavarian deployment. Weissenwolff, in command of the advance guard of the Austrian centre, just skimmed the Bavarian right, but his orders were to continue on to the Rott, and so he only detached a small part of his force to join in the fighting, then continued on with the rest of his force.

Unfortunately for the Bavarians the Austrian right was still strong enough to eventually force them to retreat, although this took several hours. The first contacts came at around 8am, and with help from Molitor the Bavarians were able to hold on until around noon. At this point Wrede was finally forced to order the retreat. Despite some chaotic scenes in Neumarkt, most of the Bavarians were able to escape back across the Rott. Around 880 were taken prisoner and another 200-300 killed, wounded or missing. Combined with French losses this meant that the Allies had suffered around 1,400-1,600 casualties during the day.

The Austrians suffered a similar number of losses, around 1,400 in total. Hiller still outnumbered Bessières, but that night he received news of the defeats at Eggmuhl and Regensburg, and of Charles's retreat across the Danube into Bohemia. This left him with no choice but to return to his position behind the Inn. Even this would be a temporary refuge, for after his victories in Bohemia Napoleon decided to advance along the southern side of the Danube towards Vienna,

1809 Thunder on the Danube: Napoleon's Defeat of the Habsburgs, Volume I: Abensberg, John H. Gill. The first volume in a monumental account of the 1809 war between France and the Habsburg Empire, Napoleon's last victorious war, looking at the reasons behind the Austrian declaration of war and the early battles that ended the Austrian invasion of Bavaria and paved the war for Napoleon's campaign around Vienna. [read full review]
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 October 2010), Battle of Neumarkt, 24 April 1809 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_neumarkt.html

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