21-22 May 1809
The Napoleonic Guide's
Danube Campaign Battles Map
succeeded in capturing his Austrian enemy's capital of Vienna
on 13 May, Napoleon Bonaparte
needed to cross the Danube to seek out and destroy Archduke
Charles and his main army.
emperor's problem centred on the successful destruction
of bridges across the rain-swollen Danube by the retreating
Austrians and he finally found a potential crossing point
at Lobau Island, some four miles away. The island was occupied
and a bridge constructed by engineers.
20 May, Marshal Massena
led his IV Corps across to form a bridgehead and to check
for enemy troops. By the next morning, more than 24,000
men with 60 cannon were occupying the villages of Aspern
first thing the French command knew about the Austrian army
was when more than 95,000 troops, supported by 200 cannon,
moved against them.
to the bridgehead were limited by the regular loss of part
of the span due to debris and boats sent down the torrent
by the Austrians.
for the French, a low wall ran between the two village strongpoints
and this, together with desperate courage, allowed them
to hold large portions of
out on several occasions, the French soldiers always managed
to retake them at the point of a bayonet.
the 22 May, most of Bonaparte's forces were on the northern
bank but the destruction of the bridge delayed Marshal
Davout's III Corps and weakened a French counterattack
that pushed the Austrians to breaking point.
he did not have enough men to break the enemy, the French
emperor ordered a withdrawal to the Aspern-Essling line
where a renewed series of Austrian attacks forced him to
pull back on to Lobau Island.
repositioning took most of the night to achieve, but it
was done in good order and when the final troops made the
crossing the bridge was taken down.
While not a true defeat, Aspern -Essling marked the first
serious reverse suffered by Bonaparte at the hands of his
More than 21,000 French soldiers became casualties and the
army suffered the grievous loss of one of its finest commanders,
when Marshal Lannes died
after losing a leg to a cannonball wound.