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1809 - (Fifth) War with Austria

In Austria, Francis I called to office as his chief minister Count Philip Stadion, who, with the aid of Archduke Charles, devoted himself to the task of preparing Austria for another struggle with Napoleon. The misfortunes of Napoleon in Spain and the urgency of England, which offered liberal subsidies and active cooperation, determined the Austrians to try their fortunes once more in the spring of 1809. In April 1809 Archduke Charles opened the war by invading Bavaria, while another force under Archduke John invaded Italy.

Napoleon reached the scene promptly and in the five days' fighting (April 19-23) around Ratisbon completely defeated the Austrian plan of campaign and forced Archduke Charles to retreat towards Vienna, which the victorious Emperor entered on May 13. He then crossed the Danube and attacked the Archduke, who had taken up strong positions in the villages of Aspern and Essling. Two days of hard fighting (May 21-22) failed to give Napoleon any decided advantage, and he found himself and his army practically prisoners on the island of Lobau in the Danube. With his accustomed vigor he ordered up reinforcements and reorganized the troops under him. On July 5 Napoleon left the island of Lobau and on the 6th defeated the Archduke Charles in a great battle at Wagram.

In the battle of the 6th, called after the village of Wagram, no less than 300,000 men were engaged, and an unexampled quantity of artillery, some of the heaviest calibre, was employed; it cannot therefore be thought incredible that between 20,000 and 24,000 men were killed, especially when it is borne in mind that the firing was incessant for the whole day, from 800 pieces of heavy artillery. In the battle of Wagram the defeat of the left wing of the French under Massena, and especially of the divisions under St. Cyr, Legrand, and Boudet, of which the last lost the whole of its artillery, was very nearly deciding the victory against the French, had not Napoleon by a masterly movement regained the fortune of the day.

As the result showed that the Austrians were dispirited after the battle, while the French became more courageous, and reaped all the advantages of a victory, it was at first of no use whatever, that the issue of the battle of Wagram, as well as that of Aspern, exhibited the Austrians in a very different light from that in which they had appeared in the result of all the battles since Marengo; from that time forward, however, the courage of the people increased, for they saw that it was possible, by perseverance in the struggle, to set bounds to the dominion of the West-Roman emperor, his pretorians, legates, and prefects. The Archduke Charles retired from the field of battle in good order, so that nothing could be said of a defeat properly so called; he was, however, warmly attacked by the court, and particularly by the ladies of the Imperial family, and became dispirited. Napoleon on his part allowed his wounded to remain lying for two days in a dreadfully hot season on the battle field, in order quickly to follow the Austrians.

The archduke retreated through Znaym, and the French in many places got before him, so that everything which was desired was as usual obtained from the anxious prudence of the Austrians. An armistice concluded at Znaym left Austria and Moravia in the hands of the enemy, who were therefore in a condition to prescribe the terms of a peace. The Archduke Charles was in favour of peace, whilst Stadion, Metternich, the English who were associated with them, and the ladies of the Imperial house, urged the continuance of the war. Fortune was now again favourable to Napoleon. A peace was at that time more necessary to him than ever; for a storm was gathering against him on all sides, to which, however, he always presented a bold front.

In 1809 the public voice was against Lord Castlereagh. He was accused not only of committing the grossest mistakes in Spanish aflairs, of employing worthless and unsuitable persons from oligarchical or selfish reasons, but was publicly accused in parliament of things respecting which his own colleague Canning admitted, that they were neither unimportant nor ungrounded. The expedition to Walcheren, which in 1809 was pretended to be a diversion in favour of Austria, constitutes one of the heaviest of Lord Castlereagh's sins against the people; for this expedition was dearly paid for with the blood, health, and life of thousands of the obeying and working classes.

The English had promised to appear with a military force in Belgium, Holland, and Lower Germany; this was the cause of the colossal preparations of the year 1809, which, in the end, was only of advantage to some of the rich merchants, who availed themselves of the opportunity to convey immense quantities of goods to the continent. A very brief notice of the advantages which the English derived from the misfortunes of the continental powers will show how much more the whole family of man had to fear from the cold calculations of the rich merchants, and their close allies the heads of the noble families in England, than from the colossal ideas of Napoleon respecting universal dominion and the rapacity of hi3 generals. Every trace of Bonaparte's empire has disappeared, England still holds every sea, coast, and island, with millions of Indian subjects, in military chains.

The English delayed the expedition to Belgium, which ought to have been undertaken in May or June in favour of the Austrians, till, according to their mercantile calculations, they hoped to find their own advantage in its results; when the war at first appeared to take a turn unfavourable to the Austrians, Canning had even the boldness to deny all connexion between England and the court of Vienna.

The English expedition to Belgium was agreed upon with the Austrians, and Canning promised that an English army should appear in connexion with the discontented Dutch and Belgians on the Lower Rhine; for this reason the Archduke Charles should have opened the campaign, not in Bavaria, but in Franconia and on the Lower Rhine, in order to form a junction with the English, and to call the inhabitants of Lower Germany to arms. This plan, however, was given up. The English ministry could not afterwards be prevailed upon to send off their expedition, which had been long before prepared, at the proper and decisive moment, although Von Staremberg, the Austrian ambassador in London, repeatedly and urgently pressed the subject upon their attention. Three months were still consumed in preparations, in order to send out one of the greatest expeditions which had ever sailed from England, at a moment when neither of the two objects which it was intended to effect could be accomplished. One of these objects was to draw away the French from Austria to the coast; that was now useless, as the negotiations for peace were already begun. The second was completely English, and that was to destroy the port and docks of Antwerp, as had been already done with Copenhagen, and earlier with the Dutch fleet; this might have been effected, had not the chief command been bestowed upon a member of an oligarchical and Tory family, and everything been disturbed by unpardonable delays.

On the 15th of August Flushing capitulated; and it was said that the English had bought the place, because General Monnet, who commanded the Dutch, had, in a very suspicious manner, surrendered the fortress and 5000 troops to the enemy. At the moment in which the English took Flushing, the issue of the negotiations respecting a peace, which had commenced immediately after the conclusion of the armistice, was still very uncertain; when at the end of September the greater part of the British fleet and army returned to England, its speedy conclusion was easy to be foreseen.

The negotiations were at first undoubtedly delayed by the English expedition, because the English, as well as the continental powers, knew well, that in spite of the glory which surrounded the Emperor and his projects, the internal condition of France made a very long absence from France a matter of no inconsiderable danger to him. Bernadotte, and the seven generals who were his clients, had been obliged to be removed from Paris, and yet the Emperor did not order any investigation to be made openly concerning their correspondence, nor any measures to be taken against Fouche\ who held all the threads in his hand, till he himself should be in Paris.

Napoleon intimated as a threat the partition of the Austrian monarchy, or the possibility in this way of setting the younger members of the imperial family against the elder. Napoleon complained of the hollowness and inconstancy of the Emperor Francis; he threatened to separate the three crowns of the house of Hapsburg, and acted as if he would call upon the Emperor Francis to renounce the government; on this occasion he declared, with true Italian cunning, that if Francis resigned the crown to the Grand Duke of Wiirzburg, Austria would not be called upon to make any sacrifices in territory, and much to the same effect.* As Bubna and Lichtenstein were favourites of the Emperor, who was residing in Totis, Napoleon's manner and the vehemence of his expressions, which neither were nor could be serious, were admirably calculated to remove all impediments by fear. On October 14 was signed the Treaty of Schonbrunn, by which Austria was forced to make large cessions of territory to the overbearing conqueror.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2012 19:13:17 ZULU