Date: December 3, 1800
Location: Hohenlinden in Bavaria (southern Germany)
Opponents (* winner)
General Jean-Viktor Moreau—Archduke Johann (John)
Approx. # Troops
The brilliant French victory at the Battle of Hohenlinden, in Bavaria, ended the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1800) against France. England, which had remained at war with France since 1793, at the end of 1798 signed a treaty with Russia to initiate the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1800). The allies included Russia, Austria, the Ottoman Empire, and Naples. Their plan called for an Anglo-Russian force to expel the French from the Netherlands, while Austrian forces under Archduke Charles forced the French from Germany and Switzerland, and Russian-Austrian forces drove them from Italy.
At first events went according to allied plan. Austro-Russian forces defeated the French in Italy, and Anglo-Russian forces campaigned in the Netherlands. Reversals and rivalries among the coalition members soon brought its collapse, however. The Austrians abandoned Russian general Alexander Korsakov’s forces in Switzerland in September 1799 when Vienna ordered forces under Archduke Charles to the Rhineland instead. General de Division Victor-Andre Massena defeated Korsakov at Zurich, obliging Russian forces under Alexander Suvorov to retreat over the Alps. Suvorov’s army was decimated in the process. In October the British were obliged to evacuate Holland, and Russia withdrew from the war.
Napoleon Bonaparte now returned from Egypt to France. In a November 1799 coup d’etat, he became first consul, effectively assuming full power. Napoleon then took the field against Austria, crossing the Alps and campaigning in Italy. On June 14, 1800, at Marengo, Napoleon lost a battle to the Austrians, having detached a corps under General de Division Louis Desaix to find them. Fortunately, Desaix marched his men to the sound of the guns and, on his arrival, informed Napoleon that there was still time in the day to win another battle. Desaix attacked, and although he fell mortally wounded, he won the day for Napoleon. Peace negotiations dragged on, however, until General de Division Jean-Viktor Moreau’s victory over Austrian forces under Archduke Johann (John) at Hohenlinden in Bavaria on December 3, 1800.
At the beginning of December Moreau commanded some 50,000 men, while Archduke Charles commanded 64,000 men. Moreau’s forces, which were moving west, were dispersed over a 30-mile front. Moreau assumed that he held the initiative and was surprised when he came under Austrian attack. Johann’s chief of staff, Colonel Franz Weyrother, had convinced the archduke to go on the offensive. Overwhelming Austrian numbers forced French General de Division Michel Ney and his 10,000 men into a fighting withdrawal from Ampfling on December 1. The Battle of Ampfling, however, cost the Austrians 3,070 casualties (1,077 prisoners) to only 1,707 (697 taken prisoner) for the French.
These figures should have given Johann pause, but he believed that the French were in full retreat and ordered his forces, advancing west on parallel axes, to continue toward Munchen (Munich) and concentrate near Hohenlinden. Johann expected that if Moreau were to give battle, the decisive encounter would occur the next day near Haag, about eight miles east of Hohenlinden.
Austrian patrols discovered that the French had departed, however, as the archduke pushed his principal column of some 22,000 men under General Johann Kol-lowrat down the only hard-surface road, which ran through the Forest of Hohenlinden. Weyrother sent three other columns paralleling the main column: one just to the north under General Maximilien Baillet with 11,000 men; another farther north, just south of the Isen River, under General Michael Kienmayer with 16,000 men; and one to the south under General Johann Riesch with 13,300 men. Moreau had 32,000 men in his main body with two divisions to the south, one of 10,000 men under General de Division Antoine Decaen and another of 8,400 men under General de Division Charles Richepence.
The Battle of Hohenlinden opened at about 7:00 a.m. on December 3 when Kollowrat’s main body, with the archduke and his staff, came under fire from French troops concealed in the forest on either side. Moreau was able to concentrate the bulk of his forces against the main Austrian body, while Johann was unable to bring his together in timely fashion. The Austrians pushed forward, and Ney and General de Division Emmanuel de Grouchy to his right deserve much credit for the success of their two outnumbered divisions in repelling the main Austrian attack.
On the night of December 2 Moreau, aware of the broad outline of the Austrian plan, had ordered both Richepance and Decaen to flank the Austrian left. Their attack late on the morning of December 3 with 18,000 men caught the Austrians by surprise and caused the Austrian left to hesitate. Moreau, judging that the sudden collapse of Austrian momentum was the result of the flanking attack, ordered Grouchy and the rest of his forces to shift to the offensive. Under attack from the flank and the front, the more numerous Austrians withdrew in disorder. The limited road net and topography had both worked against an Austrian concentration of force.
The Austrians sustained some 13,500 casualties (1,750 taken prisoner) and lost 26 guns. The French probably lost 3,000 men and 1 gun. It was the greatest casualty ratio of any major battle of the Napoleonic Wars. Moreau’s victory made possible the conclusion of peace with the Austrians in the Treaty of Luneville, in effect ending the War of the Second Coalition. Under the peace terms France secured the Rhineland, this time including all Austrian territory there. All fortresses on the right bank of the Rhine were to be demolished, opening the way for the French there. France also won recognition of its puppet Swiss (Helvetic), Dutch (Batavian), and Italian (Ligurian and Italian) republics. Napoleon came to terms with Czar Paul of Russia. The British also concluded peace, recognizing the French gains on the continent and securing in return Ceylon and Trinidad. For the first time in 10 years, Europe was at peace. Unfortunately for France and Europe, Napoleon used peace as he did war to further his own interests, especially in Italy, leading to resumption of war with Britain in May 1803 and a new coalition, the Third Coalition, against him in 1805.
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