Karl Philipp Freiherr von Wrede, 1767-1838

Karl Philipp Freiherr von Wrede (1767-1838) was a Bavarian general who fought both for and against Napoleon, fighting at Wagram in 1809 and taking part in both Napoleon's campaign in Russia in 1812 and the Allied invasion of France in 1813-14.

Wrede commanded the Bavarian 2nd Brigade at the battle of Hohenlinden (3 December 1800), helping to protect the Austrian army during its retreat after the battle. His brigade suffered 624 casualties out of a total of 1,698 inflicted on the Bavarians during that campaign.

After the peace of Lunéville of 1801 Bavaria changed sides, becoming French allies. Wrede commanded part of the Bavarian contribution to the French army that forced General Mack to surrender at Ulm in 1805. At Austerlitz Wrede commanded the Bavarians in Bernadotte's corps, and helped to protect the left flank of the French army. Wrede did suffer a minor defeat in the aftermath of the battle, at Strecken on 5 December where he was beaten by Archduke Ferdinand d'Este.

In the War of the Fourth Coalition he commanded the 2nd Bavarian Army Division, leading it during a number of sieges of Prussian strongholds.

In 1809 he once again commanded the 2nd Division, this time as part of Marshal Lefebvre's Bavarian Corps. His division took part in the French victory at Abensberg (20 April 1809), helping to break the Austrian lines, and capturing a bridge over the Laaber at Pfeffenhausen in a night attack.

His division was the target of an Austrian counterattack at Neumarkt (24 April 1809), during the pursuit of Hiller's isolated left wing, and was forced to retreat by overwhelming numbers.

Wrede was then detached from the main Allied army and sent south, capturing Salzburg on 29 April. At the start of May he was protecting the right flank of the army as at advanced into Austria, before on 8 May he was ordered to support Marshal Lefebrve's upcoming campaign in the Tyrol. On 12 May Wrede's division fought its way through the Strub Pass, then contributed to a significant Bavarian victory at Wörgl on 13 May. This was followed by another victory at Schwaz on 15 May and the occupation of Innsbruck on 19 May. Lefebrve and Wrede left Innsbruck for Salzburg on 23 May, leaving a single Bavarian division behind to suffer defeat at the hands of the local insurgents.

After Napoleon's defeat at Aspern-Essling he decided to concentrate every possible soldier before making a second attempt to cross the Danube. This concentration had to be carried out as late as possible to avoid leaving Napoleon's army isolated for any longer than necessary. As a result Wrede's division had to make a forced march of 170 miles in four days to reach Vienna from Linz. His troops arrived on the Lobau, the island being used as a base by Napoleon, at around 10am on 6 July, although Wrede himself presented himself to Napoleon late on 5 July.

Wrede's men formed part of the reserve for most of the second day of the battle of Wagram, but their moment came in mid-afternoon. Napoleon had attempted to break the Austrian line by sending Marshal MacDonald forward with his men arrayed in a huge hollow square. This attack had failed, and MacDonald had suffered very heavy losses. Napoleon sent Wrede into the fray after issuing his orders in person - 'Now I unleash you; you see MacDonald's awkward position. March! Relieve his corps, attack the enemy, in short act as you think best'. Wrede's cavalry were almost immediately engaged, soon followed by the infantry, but it was his artillery that had the biggest impact. Combined with MacDonald's remaining men the Bavarians were able to finally push the Austrians out of the village of Süssenbrunn. This helped convince the Archduke Charles that it was time to retreat from Wagram, and thus gave the victory to Napoleon. Despite playing such an important part in the battle Wrede's men suffered very few casualties, although Wrede was one of them, suffering a wound that forced him off the battlefield.

Wrede soon recovered from his wounds, and was sent to help put down the revolt in the Tyrol. He was created a Count of the Empire as a reward for his achievements at Wagram.

Wrede's Bavarians were part of St. Cyr's VI Corps of the Grande Armée during the 1812 invasion of Russia. VI Corps was posted to the north of the main French army, protecting its left wing.

Wrede's troops took part in the first battle of Polotsk (17-17 August 1812) and the second battle of Polotsk (18-20 October 1812). After the second battle they were forced to join the general French retreat, with Wrede in command of the entire corps for some of this period after St. Cyr was wounded. As with each part of the Grand Armée the Bavarians suffered very heavy losses, and only 68 men were still with the colours when the remnants of the corps crossed the Niemen on 13 December 1812.

When the fighting resumed in Germany in the autumn of 1813 Bavaria was still officially a French ally, and Wrede commanded the 30,000 strong Army of the River Inn, facing a similar number of Austrian troops. This would soon change. As Napoleon became increasingly beleaguered in Germany the King of Bavaria decided to change sides, in return for the recognition of his new title, originally awarded to him by Napoleon. On 8 October Wrede formally made peace with the Allies, and the Bavarian army joined the Allies after their decisive victory at Leipzig (16-19 October 1813).

War of Liberation 1813 - Autumn Campaign
War of Liberation 1813 - Autumn Campaign

Wrede was given command of a combined Bavarian and Austrian force of around 43,000 men, and advanced north from the Danube into Franconia in an attempt to hinder Napoleon's retreat from Germany back into France. Wrede's march eventually placed him directly in the path of Napoleon's main column, and he suffered a costly defeat at Hanau (30 October 1813), losing around 9,000 men.

After Napoleon crossed the Rhine there was a brief lull in the fighting, before the Allies launched their winter campaign. Wrede marked the start of this new campaign by crossing the Rhine and laying siege of Hunigen (22 December).

Battles of the French Campaign of 1814
Battles of the
French Campaign
of 1814

Wrede's corps, now consisting of Russian and Bavarian troops, played a part in the Allied victory at La Rothière (1 February 1814), arriving after the start of the battle and attacking the French left wing. Although the French managed to resist this attack, by the end of the day Napoleon was in danger of being overwhelmed, and was forced to retreat.

Wrede's corps formed part of the Allied army that defeated Marshal Oudinot at Bar-sur-Aube (27 February 1814), one of a series of defeats suffered by Napoleon's subordinates in 1813 and 1814 that undermined his entire plan of campaign.

Wrede's command played a major part in the battle of Arcis-sur-Aube (20-21 March 1814), Napoleon's last major battle before his first abdication. Napoleon had advanced towards Arcis in the belief that it was only defended by Wrede's force, but in fact a large part of the Allied army was present. The resulting battle was something of a draw. Napoleon was able to withdraw with his small army largely intact, despite being badly outnumbered, but in the aftermath of the battle the Austrians and Prussians decided to ignore Napoleon and advanced directly on Paris, which quickly surrendered.

Wrede represented Bavaria at the Congress of Vienna. The Bavarian army was mobilized during Napoleon's Hundred Days in 1815, but Wrede didn't see any action during this campaign. He continued to serve in the Bavarian army after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, eventually reaching the rank of Field Marshal.

1809 Thunder on the Danube: Napoleon's Defeat of the Habsburgs, Volume III: Wagram and Znaim, John H. Gill. The third part of a very impressive narrative history of the War of the Fifth Coalition, looking at the final battles at Wagram and Znaim and the subsidiary campaigns in Poland, Hungary, Dalmatia, Styria and the Tyrol. Manages to be both very detailed and readable and coherent, a very impressive achievement. [read full review]
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (9 November 2010), Karl Philipp Freiherr von Wrede, 1767-1838 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_wrede_karl.html

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