The combat of Pfaffenhoffen (19 April 1809) was a minor clash between the left wing of the Austrian army invading Bavaria at the start of the Franco-Austrian War of 1809 and elements of Marshal Oudinet's corps, advancing east on the right wing of the French army.
By the end of 18 April the Austrian VI Corps (Hiller) was based around Moosburg, while a small detachment of its advance guard, under Major Karl von Scheibler, had reached Pfaffenhoffen, twenty miles further west on the west bank of the Ilm River. Scheibler had about 1,300 infantry and 300 cavalry under his command. On the night of 18-19 April Scheibler split his small force into two, with two infantry companies to the west of the river and the rest of the first on the heights to the east.
Scheibler's detachment was directly in the path of Marshal Oudinet's 2nd Corps. At about 4am on 19 April the leading elements of this force appeared on the road that ran west from Pfaffenhoffen towards Schrobenhausen. Scheibler took a squadron of cavalry west to investigate the new arrivals. It soon became obvious that the Austrians were very badly outnumbered - Oudinet had around 4,000 infantry and 750 cavalry in his leading units. Scheibler decided to retreat, and ordered Major Heinrich von Jamez, the commander of his sole infantry battalion, to send a company of infantry to the western edge of the town to cover this retreat, but instead Jamez moved his entire battalion (III/ Klebek), down the hills to the eastern bank of the Ilm, opposite Pfaffenhoffen.
This meant that a fight was now inevitable. Oudinet used Louis Jacques Coëhorn's 1st Brigade, supported by the 7th Chasseurs, to make the initial attack. The French also had three guns on the west bank of the river, while the Austrians had none. Oudinet's superior numbers also allowed him to send troops right, to cross the Ilm at Sägmühle (then outside the town, but now part of Pfaffenhoffen. Under heavy pressure Scheibler continued his retreat, managing to hold off a series of attacks by the Chasseurs. The French pursued no further than Eberstetten and Kuglhof, less than a mile from PFaffenhoffen, before Oudinet called a halt.
This left the Austrians to retire to Hirnkirchen six miles to the east, and from there to Au and Mainburg. Both sides suffered similar losses in the fighting, with the Austrians reporting 187 casualties and the French around 170. Oudinet greatly exaggerated the size of the forces he faced, claiming to have defeated around 4,000 men. This over-reporting had no impact on Napoleon's plans for the following day, which saw the French and their allies split the Austrian army in half (battle of Abensberg).
|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]|
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