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The combat of Limburg (16 September 1796) was an indecisive clash between the Archduke Charles of Austrian and the French right wing on the Lahn under General Marceau. Although Marceau prevented the Archduke from crossing the Lahn, on the night after the battle General Castelvert, on his right, abandoned his position and Marceau was forced to retreat.
After his defeat at Würzburg (3 September) General Jourdan had retreated north-west across the foothills of the Vogelsberg, reaching the River Lahn on 9 September. There Jourdan was joined by 16,000 fresh troops under General Marceau, who had been forced to abandon his blockade of Mainz. Jourdan decided to defend the line of the Lahn in the hope that this would prevent the Archduke from turning south to defeat General Moreau's army in southern Germany.
In that respect at least Jourdan was successful. After stopping at Würzburg for long enough to capture the citadel, the Archduke followed him north to the Lahn, reaching that river on 11 September. The Archduke decided to make his main attack against the French centre-right at Limburg, but to attempt to convince Jourdan that he was actually going to attack the French left, at Giessen and Wetzlar.
Over the next few days the Austrians thoroughly convinced Jourdan of this, and by the end of 15 September the French were concentrated on their left. Marceau was posted between the Rhine and Limburg, with his advance guard at Mensfelden, 3-4 miles south-east of the town. Bernadotte was five miles to the east, at Runkel, Championnet was six miles further to the north-east, at Weilburg, Lefebvre was at Wetzlar and Grenier was at Giessen.
In contrast the main Austrian forces, under the Archduke Charles, were posted at Niederbrechen, five miles east of Limburg. Neu's division was at Kirchberg and Hotze was at Weilmünster (ten miles to the east of the Archduke). Kray and Sztaray had been left opposite Giessen and Wetzlar, with orders to make a noisy demonstration that would convince the French that they were the main force.
On the morning of 16 September the Archduke drove Marceau's outposts out of Mensfelden (south-east of Limburg, west of Niederbrechen), and captured Diez and Limburg, but for the moment Marceau retained control of Limburg's suburb on the north bank of the Lahn. The Archduke brought up his artillery, and under the cover of his guns captured Limburg Bridge and the suburb, but Marceau was able to prevent him from advancing any further. The French then counterattacked, and drove the Austrians back across the Lahn. The suburb changed hands twice more during the day, and when nightfall ended the fighting was still in French hands.
During the night of 16-17 September the Archduke prepared for a renewed attack across the Lahn, to be carried out by four columns, and in much greater numbers than on the 16th. Marceau prepared to resist this fresh attack, but to his right General Castelvert, who commanded the French troops between Diez and the Rhine, decided to retreat north to Montabauer. With his right now exposed to an Austrian attack, Marceau was also forced to retreat, pulling back north-west to Molsberg. Marceau's retreat exposed the French centre, which was also forced to retreat, and finally, at the end of 17 September, Jourdan and the left wing also began to retreat.
The French retreat turned into a three day long running battle, generally known as the second battle of Altenkirchen (19 September 1796), although all of the fighting happened to the south of that town. Marceau's troops ended up acting as the rearguard, holding off the main Austrian forces long enough for the French left and centre to reach Altenkirchen in good order, but Marceau himself was killed towards the end of the retreat.
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