War of the First Coalition: Rhine and German Fronts

1792
1793
1794
1795
1796
Jourdan's First Offensive
Jourdan's Second Offensive
The Archduke Charles Moves North
Moreau's Offensive
1797

The Rhine and German fronts saw as much fighting as any other during the War of the First Coalition, but they get far less attention than the fighting in the Austrian Netherlands or in Italy. In 1796 the French even made their main effort across the Rhine, but their campaigns in Germany ended in failure and they have always been overshadowed by Napoleon's famous campaign in Italy, which effectively ended the war.

1792

At the start of the War of the First Coalition the French border on the Rhine was limited to a short stretch on the eastern border of Alsace. The area was defended by an army of 45,000 men under General Biron. Two thirds of that force was posted in the centre and south of Alsace, while General Custine, with 15,000 men, was posted at Landau, then at the northern end of French Alsace (now just inside Germany).

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

War of the First Coalition - Rhine Front 1792
War of the First Coalition
Rhine Front 1792

The next French army was posted at Metz (Lorraine), eighty miles to the west. Originally this army had been commanded by General Luckner, but by the time the serious fighting began he had been 'promoted' to command the reserve army and replaced by the elder Kellermann.

Next in line was Lafayette's force at Sedan, a similar distance to the north west of Metz. This army also saw an early change of command. Early military failures and the increasingly radical nature of the government in Paris convinced Lafayette that his only chance of surviving was to go into exile. He was replaced by General Dumouriez.

The fighting on the Rhine front began with the first Allied invasion of France. A large Prussian, Austrian and Allied army under the command of the Duke of Brunswick formed at Coblenz. In mid August the Allies moved west, into the gap between Kellermann's army around Metz and Dumouriez at Sedan. The Allies advanced west towards Rheims, capturing the border fortresses of Longwy (23 August) and Verdun (2 September), causing a panic in Paris.

War of the First Coalition - Main Battles of the Rhine Front
War of the First Coalition -
Main Battles of the
Rhine Front

Dumouriez reacted by moving to support Kellermann. The combined armies attempted to stop the Allies passing through the Argonne, but without success. Dumouriez then took up a reasonably strong defensive position at Valmy. On 20 September the Allies made a half-hearted attack on the French lines and were repulsed. For the next the two armies faced each other around Valmy, before disease and a shortage of supplies forced Brunswick to retreat.

The Allies had been confident that they would win a quick victory, and so a number of Rhineland cities had been left weakly defended. Custine decided to take advantage of this and advanced north from Landau. On 30 September he captured Speyer, and on 5 October Worms. He then discovered that Mainz was equally poorly defended. On 19 October Custine arrived outside the city, and on 21 October Mainz surrendered to the French.

Custine has often been criticised for his next move. If he had moved north-west from Mainz towards Coblenz, then there was a very good chance that the Allies army retreating from Valmy could have been cut off and forced to surrender, but the coordination between the various French armies was poor. Custine didn’t want to come under the command of Kellermann or Dumouriez, and so instead of moving north-west he decided to move east, and on 27 October he captured Frankfurt on Maine, then a free city within the Holy Roman Empire and an important commercial centre.

This move left Custine dangerous isolated. Mainz itself was at the northern end of a narrow spit of French occupied territory, cut off to the west by Luxembourg and Trier. The Allied army was demoralised after the retreat from Valmy, but it still massively outnumbered Custine's small force at Frankfurt. Politically the capture of Frankfurt made Custine incredibly popular in France, but its early fall was the first of a series of disappointments that led Custine to the guillotine.

Custine knew that he needed help if he was to have any chance of retaining Frankfurt. He hoped that Dumouriez would move against Coblenz, but Dumouriez was more interested in lifting the siege of Lille and the capture of Brussels. The only move to help Custine was an unsuccessful attack on Trier in November. 

By the end of November the Duke of Brunswick was moving against Custine. Prussian forces advanced east from Coblenz up the Lahn and then south towards Bingen on the Rhine, and at the start of December Custine was forced to abandon Frankfurt and pull back to Mainz.

Back to Top

1793

At the start of 1793 the French saw the German front as something of a backwater. Dumouriez had conquered a large part of the Austrian Netherlands, and was preparing for an invasion of the Netherlands, while a second French army campaigned in eastern Belgium.

War of the First Coalition - Rhine Front 1793
War of the First Coalition
Rhine Front 1793

The same was not the case for the Allies. Although their main effort did come in the north, where Saxe-Coburg won a series of victories that forced the French out of the Austrian Netherlands (culminating at Neerwinden on 18 March), large Allied armies were also present on the German front, where the Duke of Brunswick retained his command.

On 14 April the duke of Brunswick began the second siege of Mainz (with the King of Prussia accompanying the army). His western flanks were protected by 30,000 Austrians under the Prince of Hohenlohe posted between Namur and Luxembourg. The Prussians then took over and held the line from Luxembourg to Mainz. Hohenlohe was opposed by the Army of the Moselle, under General Ligneville, while at the start of the siege Custine still held Mainz. When the Prussians crossed the Rhine around Mainz in March Custine was in the south, at Worms. He made an ineffective attempt to reach Mainz, but after his advance guard suffered a minor setback pulled back to Landau, then to Wissenburg (just inside modern Alsace). 

The French government responded to the crisis by giving Custine command of the Army of the Moselle as well as his own Army of the Rhine. In theory he now had enough men to make a serious attempt to raise the siege, but his only attempt, in mid-May, came to nothing. Soon after this Custine was moved to the Army of the North, which was in chaos after the death of Dampierre, but his time there would be short. Even before Mainz fell the radicals were moving against Custine, and after the fall of the city he was accused of treason and executed.

His successor, General Alexander Beauharnais, didn't perform any better. Although he had inherited a large combined army he made no concentrated effort to relief the siege. Although he survived the immediate fall of the city, as a nobleman he was removed from the army later in the year, and was executed in 1794 after being falsely accused of encouraging the city to surrender.

Mainz finally fell on 23 July. The members of the garrison were given permission to depart as long as they didn't take up arms against the Coalition (many of them were moved to the Vendee, where they helped suppress a long running revolt).

In the aftermath of the fall of Mainz the French took up a strong defensive position close to the current Franco-German border on the west bank of the Rhine. The French right was held by the Army of the Rhine, which was defending the Lines of Wissembourg (or Weissenburg), which ran for twelve miles from Lauterburg on the Rhine to Wissembourg. The centre of the French line ran through the Palatinate Forest (normally described as being the northern end of the Vosges Mountains) and was held by the Corps of the Vosge. The French left was at Saarbrucken and was held by the Army of the Moselle. 

The Allies took nearly two months to advance south to the lines, and even then the Prussians and the Austrians failed to cooperate. While the Austrians under General Würmser besieged Landau and made a series of attacks on the French right, the Prussians concentrated at Kaiserlautern, some way to the north, with a second more advanced camp at Pirmasens. Eventually the Prussian right (western) flank was pushed down to Blieskastel, on the western slope of the Vosge, where the Duke of Brunswick in command.

The first major offensive movement came from the French, who on 14 September attempted to force the Prussians out of Pirmasens. This attack failed (battle of Pirmasens, 14 September 1793), and may have played a part in encouraging the Allies to make a coordinated attack on the lines of Wissembourg. On 12-13 October the Prussians marched around the left flank of the lines, and on 13 October General Würmser's men launched a frontal assault. The French held on for some time, but had already been forced to retreat from Wissembourg to Geisberg when news arrived of the Prussian advance. The French were forced to pull back to Haguenau, and for a short time it looked as if the Allies would soon be in Strasbourg.

The French government realised the seriousness of the situation and reacted quickly. General Lazare Hoche was appointed to command the Army of the Moselle, and General Pichegru the Army of the Rhine. Reinforcements were rushed to the front and St. Just and Le Bas were appointed as the representatives of the Committee of Public Safety. By mid November Hoche was ready to go onto the offensive.

The Prussians were Hoche's first target. In mid November the main Prussian force was at Blieskastel on the Blies River, a tributary of the Saar. The Austrians were on the other side of the Vosges, and communication between the Allies was via the pass at Pirmasens. The Duke of Brunswick, who was now in real command after the departure of Frederick William II, King of Prussia, decided to capture the fortress at Bitche, fourteen miles to the south east, hoping to catch the garrison by surprise.
 
The attack on Bitche failed. Brunswick was already pulling back to Blieskastel when on 17 November Hoche crossed the Saar and advanced east in an attempt to trap the Prussians in the Blies valley (older French sources indicate that the fighting took place at a place called Bisingen, but no modern community in the area has that name). Although this attack failed, Brunswick pulled back north east to Kaiserslautern. His left wing stretched out south east across the Vosges to Annweiler.

This retreat was enough to expose Würmser's right flank, for the Austrians were still close to Strasbourg, but Hoche decided to continue to press the Prussians. This time he hoped to trap Brunswick between three columns at Kaiserslautern, but the resulting battle (28-30 November) was something of a disaster. Hoche was only able to get his entire army into the battle on the third day, and lost around 3,000 men without inflicting any damage on the Prussians.  

After this failure Hoche turned south east to attack Würmser. Part of the Army of the Moselle crossed the Vosges and on 18-22 December the Austrians were forced back to the Lines of Wissembourg (Battle of Froeschwiller). The French then attacked the Lines, and on 26 December forced the Austrians to retreat (battle of Wissembourg or The Geisberg). Four days later the Austrians crossed the Rhine to Philippsburg and the Prussians retreated north to Mainz.

Back to Top

1794

At the start of 1794 neither side intended to conduct large scale operations on the Rhine, with both the French and the Allies seeing the Austrian Netherlands as the decisive front. Even so sizable forces were available along the Rhine. The French had 45,000 men in the Army of the Rhine and 60,000 in the Army of the Moselle, with another 45,000 men in garrisons. To their east were 50,000 Austrians on the Rhine between Basle and Mannheim, 65,000 Prussians under Hohenlohe at Mainz and 18,000-25,000 Austrians to their north west in Luxembourg.

War of the First Coalition - Rhine Front 1794
War of the First Coalition
Rhine Front 1794

At the start of the year the front line in the Austrian Netherlands ran roughly along the current Franco-Belgian border, with both sides having some footholds across the frontier – the Allies in particular had control of a number of key French border fortresses. The front line then ran south of Luxembourg, south east to Saarbrücken, then east to Kaiserlautern and across to the Rhine. By the end of the year the situation had completely changed. A series of French victories in the west of Belgium began to reduce Austrian enthusiasm for the war, and by the end of the year the French had pushed the Allies out of the Austrian Netherlands.

On the Sambre the French had repeatedly been forced back, until in May General Jourdan and the Army of the Moselle were moved west. Jourdan successfully captured Charleroi, and then on 26 June defeated an Allied relief attempt at Fleurus. After that the Allies were steadily forced back, first to Brussels, and then north towards the Netherlands and east towards the Rhine. The Austrians attempted to hold a series of river lines west of the Rhine, but were defeated at the Ourthe (18 Sept 1794) and the Roer (2 October 1794). By 6 October the Austrian front line ran along the lower Rhine.

These events rather overshadowed the relatively small scale fighting that took place along the Rhine itself. Both French armies started the year with a change of commander. General Pichegru was moved from the Army of the Moselle to the Army of the North, and replaced by Jourdan. General Hoche argued with St. Just, the most powerful representative of the Committee of Public Safety on the Rhine front. In February he was replaced by General Michaud, and on 18 March was arrested. Only the fall of the Robespierre saved him from execution.

The only event of any significance in the first half of the year came on 23 May when the Prussians advanced south west from their base around Mainz and captured Kaiserslautern. They then built fortified camps in the northern Vosges (now the Palatinate Forest) and halted their operations.

Michaud was supported by two able subordinates – Saint-Cyr, who had command of his left and Desaix on the right. In June they convinced Michaud to go onto the offensive. On 2 July the French attacked along both the western and eastern slopes of the Vosges and were repulsed. Eleven days later they tried again, this time attacking up the line of the mountains, and forced the Prussians to retreat from Kaiserslautern (Combats of Platzberg and Trippstadt, 13-14 July 1794)

In the aftermath of this success Michaud was ordered to turn west to attack Trier, which fell in August. This allowed the Prussians to recapture Kaiserslautern in mid-September, but this success was short lived and the city was back in French hands by the end of the month.

All of this activity was soon overshadowed by French successes further north. On 2 October the Austrians were forced off the Roer and retreated to the Rhine. The Prussians were forced to abandon all of their positions west of the Rhine and retreated back to Mainz. Within a few weeks the only Allied strongholds on the western bank of the Rhine were Luxembourg, which was besieged on 21 November 1794, and Mainz, which was blockaded from 14 December. At the end of October the left wing of the Army of the Rhine and Moselle made contact with the right wing of the Army of the Sambre and Meuse, and the new French front line ran along the Rhine from Dusseldorf to the Swiss border.

Back to Top

1795

1795 was a quiet year on most fronts, and the Rhine was no exception. The First Coalition was beginning to fall apart, and on 5 April the Prussians made peace with the French (Peace of Basle). The French siege of Mainz, which began on 14 December 1794, continued on into 1795 but with little chance of success, for supplies could freely enter the city from the east, and the French lacked the heavy guns to attempt a true bombardment.

War of the First Coalition - Rhine Front 1795
War of the First Coalition
Rhine Front 1795

The only major activity occurred in the autumn, when the French attempted to attack across the Rhine. Two armies were involved – Jourdan's army of the Sambre and Meuse and Pichegru's army of the Rhine and Moselle. At the start of the campaign Jourdan was posted along the Rhine north of Mainz, while Pichegru held the Upper Rhine and had responsibility for the siege of Mainz. For most of the year they had been opposed by a single Austrian army under General Clerfayt, but by the autumn a second army under General Würmser was almost ready, and would play a part in the campaign.

The overall plan for the attack was decided by the Directory. Pichegru was to cross the Rhine somewhere to the south of Strasbourg while Jourdan crossed 200 miles to the north around Dusseldorf. This plan was soon altered. Würmser was now present in some strength, and so Pichegru's crossing was abandoned. On 8 September Jourdan's first troops crossed the Rhine downstream from Dusseldorf. General Championnet then forced the surrender of Dusseldorf, and the main force crossed between the two bridgeheads.

Once Jourdan's army was across the Rhine he turned south, and by 20 September he was on the River Lahn (twenty five miles north of Mainz), with his left at Wetzlar and his right at Nassau. Clerfayt was moving north to oppose him with Würmser following some way behind.

Würmser's movement left Pichegru free to cross the Rhine, but he still hadn’t decided where to cross. His first thought was to cross at Oppenheim, between Mainz and Mannheim, but the Directory then ordered him to move south and cross at Mannheim. On 20 September the city surrendered to a single French division. Pichegru had been handed a major success, and the chance to win a major victory. Clerfayt's main supply depot was at Heidelberg, twelve miles east of Mannheim on the Necker River. If Pichegru had advanced on Heidelberg with all or most of his army, Clerfeyt would have lost his supplies. Pichegru would also have blocked the best route back to the Danube and the route that Würmser was advancing along.

This opportunity was wasted. Pichegru sent two divisions towards Heidelberg, but they were repulsed by the small garrison under Quosdanovich (combat of Heidelberg, 25 September 1795). Even the threat to Heidelberg relieved the pressure on Jourdan. Clerfayt was forced to abandon his position on the Main, to the south-east of Jourdan's lines, and dash south towards Heppenheim in the hope that he could block Pichegru.

The French still had a chance to retrieve the situation, but their poor command structure now doomed their campaign to failure. Jourdan wanted to combine the two French armies between the Main and the Necker, advance between the two Austrian armies and defeat them in detail. Pichegru was more timid (he was already in contact with the émigré community and was about to defect to the Allies, so treason probably played a part in his conduct). All the two commanders could agree to do was ask Paris for instructions. While they waited Jourdan began a proper siege of Mainz, while Pichegru remained inactive around Mannheim. Jourdan was now stretched out along a line from Mainz to Frankfurt, although his line stopped at Höchst, just to the west of the neutral city.

On the night of 10-11 October Clerfayt took advantage of Jourdan's exposed position by marching through the neutral territory around Frankfurt. Realising that he was in real danger of being outflanked Jourdan called a council of war and then ordered a retreat back towards Dusseldorf and across the Rhine.

Instead of pursuing Jourdan Clerfayt decided to take advantage of the Austrian bridgehead over the Rhine at Mainz. While Würmser concentrated on recapturing Mannheim, Clerfayt fed his troops into Mainz, and on 29 October the Austrians crashed into the French siege lines. The French were forced to abandon all of their siege equipment and retreat. This placed Clerfayt in an ideal position between the two French armies. Pichegru was forced to pull back south from Mainz. Jourdan sent General Marceau south to restore the situation west of Mainz, and then began to move south in force. Marceau fought two combats on 10 November (Stromberg and Kreutznach) and was then forced back by superior numbers, but he had at least distracted the Austrians.

Clerfayt's next move was to turn south and push Pichegru south of Mannheim. After a series of minor clashes (Combat of the Pfrimm, Combat of Frankenthal) Pichegru was forced back to a line that ran from Pirmasens through Landau to the Rhine, close to the original French border. The Directory gave Jourdan permission to do whatever he though was necessary to save Mannheim and Pichegru, and he advanced south. By the end of November Jourdan had crossed the Hunsruck, and on 29 November reached the Nahe River, which runs into the Rhine at Bingen (the Rhine runs north to Mainz, then west to Bingen before turning north again). At the Nahe Jourdan discovered that Mannheim had surrendered (22 November). Würmser was free to cross the Rhine to face Pichegru, while Clerfayt concentrated against Jourdan. 

On 21 December Clerfayt sent an emissary to Jourdan asking for an armistice. Despite his victories, Clerfayt wanted to go into winter quarters. Jourdan agreed to the armistice. Pichegru followed on 1 January 1796 and the campaign for the year ended with the French in control of most of the west bank of the Rhine apart from an area that extended from the Mannheim-Mainz stretch of the river west to Kaiserslautern.

Back to Top

1796

In 1796 the main French offensive took place on the Rhine front, although it was soon overshadowed by Napoleon's remarkable campaign in Italy. The French strategy was developed by Carnot, and it had the same flaws as the Austrian plans in Italy. Two French armies were to operate across the Rhine, separated by large distances, and with no easy way to communicate or cooperate with each other. The only major river crossing in French hands was at Dusseldorf, at the northern end of the line, but the main French effort was to happen at the southern end of the Rhine. This gave the Archduke Charles a chance to defeat the two French armies in detail, repeatedly moving from north to south as each French offensive began.

The French offensive involved two armies – the Army of the Sambre-and-Meuse under General Jourdan was to carry out a diversionary attack in the north while the Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle under General Moreau was to carry out the main attack in the south, aiming for the Danube and the heart of the Habsburg lands.

Back to Top

Jourdan's First Offensive

At the start of the campaign Jourdan was facing the Austrian Army of the Lower Rhine under the command of the Archduke Charles, probably the best Austrian general of the period. The Archduke's main force was posted at the bend in the Rhine west of Mainz, in the Hünsruck. His right wing, under the Duke of Wurttemberg, was posted on the east bank of the Rhine between Ehrenbreitsteim (opposite Coblenz) and Altenkirchen. Wurttemberg's outposts were on the Sieg River, which flows into the Rhine opposite Bonn.

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

Jourdan's first offensive began on 30 May when General Kléber crossed the Rhine at Dusseldorf, turned south and advanced towards the Sieg. On 1 June he forced the Austrians to abandon that river (Combat of Siegburg). Three days later the Austrians attempted to make a stand at Altenkirchen (first battle of Altenkirchen, 4 June 1796) but once again Kléber forced them to retreat.

These two defeats forced Charles to abandon his position west of the Rhine and turn north to face Jourdan on the Lahn. By 14 June Jourdan and the Archduke Charles were both in position on the Lahn, but the French had yet to occupy Wetzlar, at the left of their planned line. This gave Charles a chance to concentrate against the French left, and on 15 June the Austrians captured the bridges around Wetzlar and fought off a French attack. On the next morning Jourdan abandoned the Lahn and began a retreat back across the Rhine (battle of Wetzlar, 15-16 June 1796). The right and centre of the French line escaped without incident, but General Kléber, with the left wing, fought one more battle at Uckerath (19 June 1796), holding off a single Austrian division before retreating back to Dusseldorf. 

The Austrian move to the north gave General Moreau his chance to cross the Rhine, but the southern offensive didn't begin until the night of 23-24 June, after Jourdan had returned across the Rhine. Moreau would only have a short time to defeat the Austrian left wing before the Archduke Charles reached the area. 

Back to Top

Jourdan's Second Offensive

When Moreau crossed the Rhine on 23 June the Archduke Charles was forced to move south to deal with this new threat, leaving General Wartensleben in the north. This gave Jourdan a chance to cross the Rhine for a second time, and this time he would penetrate much further into Germany before being defeated. 

Jourdan decided to make his main crossing at Neuwied, just to the north of Coblenz, while Kléber made a diversionary crossing further north at Dusseldorf. Kléber crossed the Rhine on 27 June and advanced south towards the Sieg. As he passed Cologne he was joined by Grenier's division. The Austrians only had light cavalry forces on the Sieg, and on 30 June Kléber crossed the river unopposed. He took up a line that ran from the village of Plies, close to the junction of the Rhine and the Sieg, east into the mountains, where he paused until 2 July.

On the night of 2-3 July Moreau's first troops used boats to cross the Rhine at Neuwied. The grenadiers from Championnet's division, led by General Demas, took to their boats behind Weisenthurm Island, and captured Neuwied. Bernadotte's grenadiers crossed the river a little to the east, at Bendorf, and captured that village. The Austrians gathered two battalions and attempted to retake Bendorf, without success. The French then attempted to stop a second Austrian force, under the Prince of Darmstadt, from retreating across the hills above the village, and were themselves defeated. The village remained in French hands, and by ten in the morning of 3 July the French had completed a bridge of boats across the Rhine to Bendorf. Once the bridge was completed the light artillery and cavalry from Championnet's division crossed the river, advanced to Saynbach (just to the north of Bendorf) and forced the Austrians to retreat.

On 3-4 July the rest of the army crossed the river. Bernadotte's division was posted at Hillscheid, five miles to the east of Bendorf, with Championnet ten miles to the north at Dierdorf and Poncet at Saynbach. Kléber advanced with most his men to Ukerath, south of the Sieg, while Lefebvre was sent east to Siegen to turn the enemy line between the Sieg and the Lahn (winning a minor victory at Wilnsdorf, 4 July). On the same day the two wings of Moreau's army were reunited, but the French then paused for two days to allow supplies to cross the river.

On 7 July the French advanced to the Lahn, leaving a small force to guard Neuwied and blockade the fortress at Ehrenbreitstein. Lefebvre advanced to the east of the Dill, which runs into the Lahn close to Wetzlar, while Moreau's forces advanced past Limburg, capturing the bridge over the Lahn at Runckel. Bernadotte won a sharp fight with part of the Austrian reserves just to the north of Limburg (combat of Offheim, 7 July 1796) and captured the northern part of the town.

The loss of Runckel convinced Werneck that he was about to be outflanked at Limburg, and so he ordered a retreat towards Nauheim (just to the south of the Main, east of Mainz). The Austrian detachments at Giessen, Lein and Wetzlar were forced to follow suit, and joined General Kray at a village given as Pollgauz in early French sources (possibly Pohlheim, to the south of Giessen).

On 9 July Moreau crossed the Lahn. Marceau advanced along the west bank of the Rhine, Bernadotte, with the centre and right of the forces across the Rhine, advanced from Nassau and Limburg. Kléber crossed the Lahn in three columns - Bonnard at Leun, Collaud at Wetlzar and Lefebvre at Giessen. The only real fighting came at Esch (a village just to the east of the Limburg-Wiesbaden road), where Werneck's cavalry was defeated by Championnet's column and at Ober-Mörlen, where Collaud clashed with Kray. The Austrians retreated towards Frankfurt, stopping at Koenigstein in Taunus. Between the two main columns Grenier reached Grävenwiesbach.

The first major clash of the campaign came on the next day, at Friedberg (battle of Freidberg, 10 July 1796). General Wartensleben decided to hold a line running south west from the River Wetter, a tributary of the Nidda, while Kléber brought his three columns together to attack the Austrians. The battle was decided by General Lefebvre, who carried out an outflanking move along the east bank of the river, and forced Wartensleben to retreat.

On the following day Kléber rested to give his supplies time to catch up. Wartensleben retreated across the Nidda and the Main, and took up a new position at Offenheim, east of Frankfurt on the opposite side of the Main, leaving a garrison in Frankfurt.

Frankfurt fell after a short siege. Kléber arrived outside the city on 12 July. After a two day bombardment the governor surrendered and the French entered the city on 16 July.

The delay at Frankfurt allowed Wartensleben to gather his army together at Aschaffenburg, further up the Main. Jourdan was now faced with a number of possible options. The most effective would have been to advance south-east from Frankfurt, leaving the line of the Main to join up with Moreau, who by late July was north of Stuttgart, advancing east towards the Danube. The united French army would have been between the two main Austrian armies and would have been able to defeat each of them in turn.

Unfortunately for the French Jourdan was not a free agent. The strategy of the campaign in Germany was controlled by Carnot in Paris, and he wanted Jourdan to operate on the left bank of the Main, always remaining in touch with Wartensleben and the northern Austrian army. The two French armies would thus tend to get further apart as they marched deeper into Germany, and it was this separation that would allow the Archduke Charles to turn north to defeat Jourdan.

East of Frankfurt the Main runs through two large loops. The first takes it around three sides of the mountainous Spessart Forest, before returning north to Gemünden. The second flows south past Würzburg before turning north to reach Schweinfurt. The river then straightens out and flows east to Bamberg.

The surrender of Frankfurt was accompanied by a short armistice. This gave Wartensleben time to retreat back to Würzburg. He cut across the first loop in the Main, crossing the Spessart on 15-17 July. On 18 July he reached Würzburg from the west, spent 19 July camped outside the city, and then on 20 July crossed the Main over the bridge at Würzburg, and joined up with reinforcements from the Upper Rhine at Kürnach.

Jourdan sent Bernadotte to follow the Austrians across the Spessart, while he led his centre to Gemünder and his left to Schwienfurt. If he was hoping to trap the Austrians at Würzburg he was disappointed, for on 24 July Wartensleben left Kürnach, crossed the Main somewhere downstream from Schweinfurt, and cut across country to Zeil, twenty miles to the east and half way between Schwienfurt and Bamberg.

Portrait of Marshal Michel Ney (1769-1815)
Portrait of
Marshal Michel Ney
(1769-1815)

Jourdan sent a detachment under Generals Klein and Ney to demand the surrender of Würzburg, and the city surrendered at the first summons. After the capture of Würzburg Jourdan crossed onto the left (south) bank of the Main, taking up a position that ran from Schweinfurt in the north, sixteen miles south to Dettelbach. He paused in this position for four days, partly because he wasn't entirely sure where the Austrians had gone and partly because he wanted to make sure that Moreau was still advancing safely to his south.

In late July Jourdan fell ill, and was temporarily replaced by Kléber. He continued to follow the Directory's instructions to operate on the Main, missing the last chance to join up with Moreau and save the French campaign. Instead he advanced east on a wide front towards Bamberg, with his left north of the Main and his right at Oberschwarzach, ten miles to the south. Ney, at the head of 400 cavalry, advanced along the river, capturing Zeil and Ebelsbach.

On 4 August Kléber advanced towards Bamberg, bringing his right to Burgebrach (eight miles to the south-west) and his left to Koenigsberg (nearly twenty miles to the north-west), but on the night of 3-4 August Wartensleben retreated south from Bamberg along the Regnitz river towards Nuremberg, leaving a strong rearguard at Bamberg. On 4 August the French advance guard reached Bamberg, and was badly mauled by this rearguard before the main French force arrived (combat of Bamberg). The Austrian rearguard then retreated down the Regnitz to rejoin the main army.

By this point the Archduke Charles had reached Nordlingen, sixty miles to the south-west of Wartensleben's new position. Wartensleben attempted to hold a position centred on Forchheim, but Kléber outflanked this position, and he was forced to retreat to Nuremburg.
 
After the combat of Forchheim (7 August 1796) Jourdan recovered from his illness and took command. On 9 August the French resumed their advance. Bernadotte was sent along the west bank of the Regnitz towards Herzogenaurach and Nuremburg, while the rest of the army moved south-east towards Bettensiedel, to the north-east of Nuremburg.

Wartensleben continued to retreat, this time east from Nuremburg up the River Pegnitz, first to Lauf and then to Sulzbach, thirty miles to the east of Nuremburg. Jourdan advanced to Lauf, while Bernadotte was sent to Schonberg, two miles to the south-east. On 11-12 August the French paused, before resuming the pursuit of Wartensleben.

The two armies clashed again on 17 August, at Neukirchen and Augsberg, at the western edge of the Naab valley. On 18 August Wartensleben retreated from Amberg to the Naab, leaving Kray to hold Amberg. When the French approached in force he retreated again, to Wolfring, half way between Amberg and the Nab. On 20 August the French attacked this position, and although Kray held his ground the French reached the Naab to his north and south, and he was forced to pull back to join Wartensleben.

The two armies now faced each other across the Naab. Most of Moreau's army lined the western bank of the Naab (although the French rearguard, under Bernadotte, was at Neumarkt, in the Upper Palatinate, twenty miles to the south west of Amberg). Wartensleben's entire army lined the east bank of the Naab.

This was the furthest east Jourdan would reach. On 16 August the Archduke Charles marched north from Neuburg on the Danube, and by 20 August he was rapidly approaching the vulnerable right flank of the French army. Jourdan was threatened by defeat and a long retreat back to France

Back to Top

The Archduke Charles Moves North

After forcing Jourdan back across the Rhine for the first time the Archduke moved south to face Moreau's invasion from Strasburg. He was less successful in the south, losing the battle of Ettlingen (9 July 1796), and with it any chance of defeating Moreau close to the Rhine. The Archduke decided to conduct a fighting retreat on both fronts, with the aim of combining his armies on or close to the Danube and then turning on whichever of the two French armies was most vulnerable.

As the Archduke and Moreau moved closer to the Danube, the French became somewhat careless and spread out over rather too wide a front, confident that they would not be attacked. The Archduke saw a chance to defeat Moreau without any reinforcements, but his attack ended in failure (battle of Neresheim, 11 August 1796). At the end of this battle both commanders believed themselves to be in a vulnerable position, but while Moreau prepared to fight his way to safety the Archduke decided to return to his original plan, and on 12 August the Austrians continued their retreat east. This failure also convinced the Archduke that his best chance of success was to combine with General Wartensleben to defeat Jourdan and to then bring that combined army back south to defeat Moreau.

On 16 August the Archduke moved north from the Danube at Neuburg. At this point the Archduke and Wartensleben were separated by fifty miles. When the Archduke crossed the Danube Wartensleben was at Amberg, east of Nuremburg, but on the following day his advance guard was defeated at Neukirchen, and he was forced to retreat east to the line of the Naab. On 20 August Jourdan advanced to that river, and by the end of the day the French and Austrians were facing each other across the water.

The French advance to the Naab left the Archduke with a real problem. An area of hilly ground separates Nuremburg from Amberg and the Naab. The Archduke could either advance north-east around it to join Wartensleben, in which case the combined Austrian army would be strong enough to face Jourdan, or he could advance north, placing him to the west of the hills. Although he would then be across Jourdan's lines of retreat, he would also be nearly fifty miles to the west of Wartensleben. Jourdan would have been able to defeat each Austrian force in turn, doing to the Archduke what he had planned to do to the French.

The Archduke decided to split his army. His left wing, under General Nauendorf, moved against Bernadotte and the French rearguard, defeating them at Deining (22 August 1796) and Neumarkt (23 August 1796), while his right and centre moved north-east towards Amberg. On the evening of 23 August Jourdan began to retreat west, hoping to use the best road across the hills to reach Nuremburg. Wartensleben followed him from the Naab, and on 24 August caught up with him around Amberg. Most of the fighting on that day involved Wartensleben's men, but the Archduke's leading columns came up towards the end of the day, and although Jourdan held his ground to the west of Amberg, he was forced to retreat north-west to Sulzbach.

The direct route across the hills, to Nuremburg, was now blocked by the Austrians, but Jourdan was able to find an alternative route, across the Franconian Switzerland, an upland area bounded on its southern side by the River Pegnitz and the main road. The Archduke was no longer in a good position to block the French retreat, and by 27 August the French were across the hills and close to the Main.

On 31 August Jourdan reached Schweinfurt, and it looked as if the Archduke had missed his chance to win a decisive victory over Jourdan. West of Schweinfurt the Main runs through two massive loops, each one twenty miles long from north to south. The Archduke was approaching the southern end of the first of those loops, around Würzburg. A good route led west from Schweinfurt across the open northern ends of the two loops, passing through Gemünder am Main on its way to Hanau, just to the east of Frankfort. If Jourdan had followed that route then the Archduke would have been unable to prevent him from joining up with the French forces besieging Mainz, and potentially retrieving the entire French campaign in Germany. 

Jourdan's biggest problem during the entire campaign was that he wasn't a free agent. The Directory, in Paris, and particularly Carnot, directed the course of the campaign. It was Carnot who had insisted that the two French armies operate on different lines of advance, giving the Archduke his chance at Amberg. It would be the Directory that now played a part in giving Charles a second chance for a major victory. As Jourdan retreated west he received orders from the Directory to stay on the Rednitz (the river that flows north from Nuremburg to the Main). Although it was too late for him to obey those orders, it was clear that he was not to retreat any further west. Jourdan also received a message from Moreau in which he promised to mount a diversionary campaign in Bavaria, in the hope that this would force Charles to send reinforcements south.

Jourdan decided to move two thirds of his army south to Würzburg, where he believed there was an isolated Austrian division. Instead, on 3 September, he ran into the Archduke's entire army. At first the French held their own, but as the Austrians fed more and more men into the battle the French left became increasingly stretched, and eventually an Austrian cavalry charge broke the French lines, and Jourdan was forced to order a retreat. This battle cost the French around 6,000 men, and also allowed the Archduke to block their best line of retreat to the lower Main.

Jourdan was forced to retreat north, first to Arnstein, then to Hamelbourg on the Fränkische Saale, twenty miles to the north of Würzburg, where he was joined with Lefebrve from Schweinfurt. The French then moved further north, to Bad Brückenau on the River Sinn. Only then were they able to turn west, reaching Schluchtern on the River Kintz on 5 September.

Jourdan still hoped to be able to maintain a position around Frankfurt on the lower Main, but over the next few days ever more Austrian troops began to press the French, and Jourdan was forced to move onto the Lahn instead. On 9 September the French crossed the Lahn at Wetzlar. On the following day they were joined by 16,000 men under General Marceau, who had been forced to abandon yet another siege of Mainz, and Jourdan decided to attempt to hold the line of the Lahn.

The Austrians reached the Lahn on 11 September. After some initial skirmishing around Giessen, the Archduke decided to cross the river further west, at Limburg, while attempting to convince Jourdan that his main effort was to come at Wetzlar and Giessen. Jourdan fell for the Austrian ploy and concentrated his strongest forces on his left. On 16 September the Austrians attacked at Giessen and in more strength at Limburg. The attack at Giessen was repulsed. At Limburg the Archduke cleared the French from the south bank of the river, and twice gained a foothold to the north, but on each occasion was repulsed by Marceau. Overnight, while the Archduke prepared to make a much more powerful attack, General Castelvert, at the western end of the French line, decided to pull back to Montabauer. Marceau was forced to follow to avoid being outflanked to the right, and the entire French line on the Lahn unravelled.

By the end of 17 September the entire French army was making for Altenkirchen, to the north-west of their positions on the Lahn. Marceau was forced to fight a three-day-long rearguard action to prevent the Archduke from reaching Altenkirchen before the French left. On the final day of this retreat Marceau was shot and fatally wounded (second battle of Altenkirchen, 19 September 1796), but his rearguard action had been a success, and Jourdan was been able to concentrate his army around Altenkirchen.

This effectively ended the fighting on the northern front. While the French pulled back to the Sieg, the Archduke turned south to deal with Moreau. Marceau was buried at Coblenz to the accompaniment of artillery salutes from both armies. Jourdan resigned and was replaced by Beurnonville, who soon proved to be unsuited to high command, and was in turn replaced by Hoche.

Back to Top

Moreau's Offensive

In May Moreau faced an Austrian army of over 100,000 men under the command of General Würmser. The right wing of this army was on the west bank of the Rhine, at Otterberg and Kaiserlautern, where it was in touch with the Archduke Charles west of Mainz. The centre (General Sztaray) was split into two corps. One was based at Rheingönheim and Mannheim, the other was described as being on the Rebach and in a fortified camp at Mosbasch, neither of which location can be traced (both were probably close to Mannheim). The left wing (General Latour, with Froelich, Stein and the Prince of Condé under his command) was spread out along the Rhine from Philippsburg to the Swiss border at Basle. By the time Moreau's campaign began Würmser had been ordered away to Italy, and command of the left wing was given to Latour, while the Archduke Charles was given overall command along the entire Rhine front. The Austrians still outnumbered Moreau, but not by as much.

While Jourdan operated east of the Rhine, Moreau attempted to convince Latour that he planned to cross the Rhine around Mannheim. He moved his headquarters north to Landau and mounted an attack on the Austrian camps west of the city. Latour was convinced, and concentrated most of his troops around Mannheim.

Moreau had actually decided to cross the Rhine at Strasbourg. On 23 June he marched south to Strasbourg, and on the night of 23-24 June General Desaix with the advance guard crossed the river, captured Kehl on the opposite bank and fought off an Austrian counterattack. On the night of 24-25 June a bridge of boats was built across the river and the main French force began to cross. On 26 June the French advanced east to Willstätt, cutting Latour's army in half. One part retreated south past the Kinzig River, while the rest moved to the Rench River, with their centre at Renchen, north east of Willstätt. In this early stage of the campaign the fighting took in the narrow plain between the Rhine and the mountains of the Black Forest.

Moreau turned north, defeating Latour at Renchen (26 June 1696) and at Rastatt (5 July 1796). On the next day the Archduke Charles joined Latour, but he was unable to prevent Moreau from winning a third victory, at Ettlingen (9 July 1796). The Austrians were forced to retreat back to Pforzheim, to the north-east of the Black Forest.

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.

While Moreau advanced to the north, General Ferino with the French left wing was sent south to push the Austrians out of their last footholds in the southern Black Forest. He achieved this on 14 July (combat of Haslach, 14 July 1796), and then advanced east, across the southern end of the mountains. Ferino continued east past the Alb mountains, advancing close to the Swiss border.  Ferino fought one more significant independent action, at Mindelheim (13 August 1796), fighting off an attack by French émigrés in Austrian service, before rejoining the main French army.

The Archduke conducted a fighting retreat to the Danube, making a short stand on the Neckar (combat of Canstadt, 21 July 1796). In early August he reached the Danube just to the east of Ulm. Moreau was advancing towards him on a very wide front, and Charles decided to attempt to take advantage of this to attack the French. The resulting battle of Neresheim (11 August 1796) was a partial success, but on the day after the battle the Archduke continued his retreat. 

On the day after the battle the Prince retreated east to Donauwörth, where he crossed the Danube. Moreau followed as far as Wernitz, before he received orders from Paris to operate on the southern bank of the Danube. He moved back west, and crossed the Danube at Dillengen and Lauingen on 19 August, then advancing east towards Augsburg.

Soon after this the Archduke decided to join his northern army, leaving Latour to face Moreau on the Danube. Latour's task was to prevent Moreau from moving north to join Jourdan. He did not perform this task with any great skill, but Moreau's orders from Paris were for him to operate on the southern side of the Danube in the hope that this would help Napoleon in Italy. This prevented Moreau from moving north when it would have helped Jourdan.

Latour's first task was to protect the line of the River Lech. His best approach would have been to concentrate on the lower Lech, to prevent Moreau from moving north, but instead he spread his army out very thinly along the river. This allowed Moreau to defeat him at Friedberg (24 August 1796), just to the east of Augsburg, taking 4,000 prisoners in the battle.

On the same day the Archduke Charles defeated Jourdan at Amberg. Jourdan retreated west, suffering a second defeat at Würzburg (3 September 1796), after which he was forced to retreat back to the Rhine, suffering a serious of further defeats on the way.

Moreau first heard about the defeat at Amberg from German newspapers, but it took some time for the news to be confirmed. In the meantime he continued to advance east into Bavaria. By the end of August he was close to Munich, but he decided that he couldn't press any further east without eliminating the Austrian bridgehead across the Danube at Ingolstadt.

Latour was also ready to go onto the offensive. He too had heard the news from Amberg, and had received reinforcements. On 1 September he sent a strong cavalry force to attack the French left wing (combat of Langenbruck). The fighting ended with a French victory, but also marked the end of Moreau's advance.

As Moreau began to receive more detailed news from the north he realised that he would have to send help to Jourdan. He decided to pull back to Neuburg on the Danube, and on 10 September he sent Desaix, with his left wing, north towards Nuremberg, where he hoped to find Jourdan. By 10 September Jourdan had suffered a second defeat at Würzburg (3 September), sixty miles to the west of Nuremberg, and was approaching Frankfurt, so Desaix had no chance of success.

Moreau was lucky to escape from Neuburg. His army was spread out along far too wide a front, with Desaix marching north and his right wing at Friedberg, twenty miles to the south-west. If Latour had attacked any part of the French army in strength he might have won a major victory, but he missed a chance, sending a small force to attack Moreau at Neuburg. The resulting combat of Zell (14 September 1796) saw the French defeat this small attacking force.

By mid September Moreau realised that he was in real danger. Latour had sent General Nauendorf along the north bank of the Danube, where he threatened Moreau's left wing. On 15 September the Austrians attacked Moreau's camp at Kehl on the Rhine. The attack failed, but the message was clear – if Moreau waited too long on the Danube his line of retreat might be completely blocked.

By 24 September Moreau had reached the Iller, where he learnt of the attack on Kehl. The French continued to retreat west, crossing the Riss around Biberach (south of Ulm). Moreau then paused on a line that ran parallel to the Riss, centred on the Feder See, a moorland lake to the west of the town. On 30 September Latour attacked the centre of the French line and was easily repulsed (combat of Schussenreid, 30 September 1796).

Latour was now confident that Moreau would not attack him. The Austrian positions on the west bank of the Riss almost invited attack – the Austrian right and centre only had one way back across the river – a single bridge at Biberach – and their left was too far south to provide any support. Moreau still had the larger army, and so on 2 October he turned back and inflicted a heavy defeat on Latour (battle of Biberach, 2 October 1796). The Austrians lost at least 5,000 of the 11,000 troops that had actually been involved in the battle. Latour's army was not destroyed, but it was very badly damaged.

On the day after the victory at Biberach, Moreau was still in a potentially dangerous position. The Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle was eighty miles east of the relative safety of the Rhine valley, on the southern banks of the Danube. To reach the Rhine they would have to cross two mountain ranges – the Alb and the Black Forest. Latour's army had been beaten at Biberach, but not destroyed, and was still following their retreat. Generals Nauendorf and Petrasch had joined up at Hechingen, on the northern slopes of the Alb. The Austrians also had troops just to the north of Strasbourg, on the eastern banks of the Rhine, and the final clash with Jourdan's army at Altenkirchen (19 September) had freed the Archduke Charles to move south with reinforcements.

Moreau had been hoping to cross the Black Forest using the Kinzig valley, which would have brought him out onto the Rhine valley close to Strasbourg, but this route was now closed to him. Instead he decided to use the Höllental. This valley crosses one of the highest sections of the Black Forest, twenty miles north of the Swiss border, running from Hinterzarten in the east to Kirchzarten and Buchenbach and the middle of the mountains. A wider valley then runs west to Freiburg im Breisgau, at the edge of the Rhine plains.

This route soon left the army rather stretched out. While the bulk of the army moved to Riedlingen, ten miles to the west of Biberach on the Danube, the advance guard crossed the Alb and captured Villengen and Rothweit, towards the southern end of the gap between the Alb and the Black Forest. The left wing of the army followed them across, and took up a position at Rothweit, facing north to guard against any move by Nauendorf. The right wing of the army moved to Tuttlingen, at the southern end of the Alb, and turned east to face Latour.

The centre of the army, under Saint-Cyr, forced the passage of the Höllental. The two Austrian battalions guarding the pass, under the command of Colonel Aspres, were forced to retreat out of the valley and to Emmendingen, six miles to the north of Freiburg im Breisgau. Saint Cyr entered Freiburg on 12 October, and the rest of the army followed across the pass on the next few days. The heavier equipment took a more southerly route, and made for Huningue, almost on the Swiss border, protected by Tharreau's and Paillard's brigades, who fought a number of minor rearguard actions against General Froelich's light troops.

Moreau's next objective was to open communications with the fortified camp at Kehl, opposite Strasbourg, where he had first crossed the Rhine back in June. Rather than re-cross the Rhine and advance up the French held west bank to Strasbourg, he decided to fight his way up the east bank.

Moreau's chances of success in this venture got worse with every day that passed. On 15 October the Archduke Charles reached Offenburg, fifteen miles to the south east of Kehl, where he joined up with Petrasch and Nauenbourg's left wing. Latour emerged from the Kinzig valley on 17 October, and on 18 October reached the camp of Mahlberg, fifteen miles further south. Condé and Froelich were at Neustadt, at the east end of the Höllental, and General Wolf was a little further south, at Waldshut. The Archduke originally wanted to launch an attack on the French on 18 October, but Latour's men needed a day to recover from their march, and so the attack was postponed until the following day.

The resulting battle of Emmendingen (19 October 1796) saw both sides attack at about the same time. Saint-Cyr, on the French right, was badly defeated in the mountains, and after a hard day of fighting the Austrians forced their way across the River Elz. On the next day Moreau held his new position for long enough for his right wing (Ferino) to escape from a potential trap in the Black Forest. Desaix, with the left wing, was sent across the Rhine at Brisach, while Moreau, with the right and centre retreated south until they reached a strong defensive position at Schliengen.

Moreau decided to make a stand at Schliengen, where the Black Forest almost touches the Rhine. On 24 October the Austrians attacked along the entire French line (battle of Schliengen). The French held most of their line, but on the extreme right, in the mountains, they were forced to pull back. Overnight, while the Austrians prepared to renew their attack, Moreau retreated to Haltingen, close to the bridgehead at Huningue, and on 26 October the Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle retreated back across the Rhine.

This didn't quite end the fighting. Moreau was ordered to offer the Austrians an armistice on the Rhine front, so that reinforcements could be sent to Italy. The Archduke Charles supported the idea for the same reason, but the Aulic Council in Vienna didn't agree, and hostilities continued across the winter.

The only significant military actions were the sieges of the two remaining French bridgeheads on the east bank of the Rhine - the fortified camp at Kelh and the fortified bridgehead at Huningue. Both sieges lasted into 1797, and both were eventually ended by agreement. On 10 January the last French troops were withdrawn from the battered camp at Kehl, and on 1 February the defenders of Huningue agreed to withdraw from that bridgehead.

Back to Top

1797

War of the First Coalition - Rhine Front 1797
War of the First Coalition
Rhine Front 1797

At the start of 1797 the French held the line of the Rhine. Jourdan had been replaced by Beurnonville, who would soon be replaced by Hoche. The Army of the Sambre-and-Meuse held the line from Dusseldorf to Coblenz. In the south Moreau retained command of the Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle which occupied Alsace and the Palatinate.

The campaign on the Rhine in 1797 was to be a complete sideshow, although the men involved weren't to know that when their plans were put in place. The real events of 1796 took place in Italy, where on 2 February Mantua surrendered. The Austrians realised that this was the critical front and moved the Archduke Charles from the Rhine to command on the Austrian-Italian border. He reached the Piave on 11 February, but was unable to prevent Napoleon from crossing the Alps. By the end of March Napoleon was marching towards Vienna, on 13 April peace negotiations began, and on 18 April Napoleon and the Austrians signed the Preliminary Peace of Leoben. The campaign on the Rhine hadn't even started when negotiations began. Hoche won his victory at Neuwied on 18 April, while Moreau didn't cross the Rhine until 20 April, two days after the Preliminary Peace had been signed.

On the Austrian side the Archduke Charles was moved from the Rhine to the Italian Front, in an attempt to stop Napoleon. He was replaced by General Latour, who despite advice from the Archduke to concentrate his army on the Upper Rhine, was forced by orders from Vienna to spread his 100,000 men along the entire front from Basle to Dusseldorf. Latour took personal command in the south, with General Werneck acting in his stead on the Lower Rhine.

Back to Top

Hoche

Hoche's first move was to reorganise his new army. The cavalry, which had been distributed in small packages with each infantry division, was formed into three divisions. The army was split into three corps, each of which was given two infantry divisions and at least one cavalry division. Lefebvre was given command of the right wing, with the division of chasseurs. Grenier was given the centre, with the hussars and the cavalry reserve. Championnet was given the left, and the division of dragoons. Watrin's division became the reserve, while the eighth and final infantry division was allocated to the planned siege of Mainz.

Hoche had an easier task than Moreau, in that the French still retained two bridgeheads across the lower Rhine, at Dusseldorf and at Neuwied. He outnumbered the Austrian Army of the Lower Rhine by almost two-to-one, and Austrians were forced to spread themselves out from the Sieg to the Lahn. The Austrian's only advantage was that they had had time to build their own fortifications around the French bridgehead at Neuwied, where Hoch planned to cross the river.

On 15 April Hoche officially renounced the armistice that had been arranged six months earlier. On 17 April Championnet crossed the Rhine at Dusseldorf and advanced south to the Sieg. Werneck fell for the trap, and on 17 April moved towards the Sieg. He hoped to defeat Championnet before Hoche could cross the Rhine, then turn back to Neuwied with his entire army, but the French attack was too well coordinated for this to succeed.

On 18 April Hoche led his right and centre across the Rhine at Neuwied. The Austrians were caught out, with their right at Neukirch, their centre at Dierdorf, and Kray, with the left, marching from Neuwied to join Werneck. By eight in the morning Hoch was across the river, and Werneck knew he was in trouble. Kray was ordered to turn around and march back to his lines around Neuwied, but he was unable to prevent the French from breaking through those lines and advancing towards the Lahn (Battle of Neuwied, 18 April 1796).

Over the next few days Hoche attempted to trap Werneck, first to the north of the Lahn, and then when that failed, above the Main. After four days he was close to success, but his campaign ended on 22 April. Lefebvre, who was approaching Frankfurt, learnt about the signing of the Preliminary Peace of Leoben. He passed the news back to Hoche, who reluctantly agreed to an armistice with Wurneck. The Army of the Sambre-and-Meuse went into summer quarters along the Lahn, and awaited the result of the peace negotiations.

Back to Top

Moreau

Moreau was unable to cross the Rhine on the same day as Hoche. There were no longer as many boats available as when he had crossed in 1796, and by 19 April the French had only found 40 boats, enough to carry just under 3,000 men in a single trip. Low water levels in the River Ill meant that a planned crossing on the night of 19-20 April had to be postponed, and Moreau was forced to cross the Rhine in daylight. As in 1796 he managed to convince the Austrians that he was planning to cross further north, and during the crucial fighting on 20 April General Latour was around Manheim.

Even so General Sztaray came close to pushing the French back into the Rhine on 20 April, and on the morning of 21 April an Austrian attack caused a panic in part of the French line. Only the arrival of fresh troops under General Lacourbe over a bridge of boats saved the situation. Sztaray then decided to retreat back towards Latour just as Moreau launched his own attack and the Austrian retreat turned into a rout (battle of Diersheim, 20-21 April 1797).

Moreau captured Kehl on 21 April, and advanced to Renchen on 22 April. On the following day he advanced north, expecting to fight another battle against the combined forces of Latour and Sztaray, but instead he was met by a parlimentaire who gave him news of the signing of the Preliminary Peace of Leoben. The French withdrew to the positions they had occupied at the start of the day, and the fighting on the Rhine was over, at least until the start of the War of the Second Coalition.

Back to Top

Napoleonic Home Page | Books on the Napoleonic Wars | Subject Index: Napoleonic Wars

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 February 2009), War of the First Coalition: Rhine and German Fronts, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/campaign_first_coalition_rhine.html

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us -  Subscribe in a reader - Join our Google Group - Cookies