Battle of Friedberg, 24 August 1796

The battle of Friedberg (24 August 1796) was one of the last major successes during General Moreau's campaign in southern Germany in the summer of 1796, and forced the Austrians under General Latour to abandon the line of the River Lech. Moreau had crossed the Rhine in late June, and had fought a series of engagements that had forced the Austrians to abandon the area west of the Black Forest. The Archduke Charles, the overall Austrian commander on the Rhine, was also faced with a second invasion further north (Jourdan). Charles decided to pull both of his armies back towards the Danube, where he would combine and defeat the two French armies in turn.

War of the First Coalition - Main Battles of the Rhine Front
War of the First Coalition
Main Battles of the
Rhine Front

On 11 August, having reached the Danube, Charles though he saw a chance to defeat Moreau with the troops at his disposal, but his attack was repulsed (battle of Neresheim, 11 August 1796). In the aftermath of this defeat Charles decided to join his northern army and concentrate on the defeat of Jourdan. General Latour was left in command of a reduced Army of the Upper Rhine, with orders to prevent Moreau from moving north to join with Jourdan.

Moreau was well aware that the best chance of a French victory would be for him to do just that, but his orders were to operate on the southern bank of the Danube to prevent the Austrians from reinforcing the troops facing Napoleon in Italy. At a council of war held in the Archduke's former headquarters at Augsburg on 23 August Moreau and his three corps commanders (Desaix, Saint-Cyr and Ferino) decided to mount a diversionary raid into Bavaria, in the hope that this might help both Jourdan and Bonaparte. The first step in this campaign would be the crossing of the Lech, which flows just to the east of Augsburg. 

Latour spread his reduced army out over a very wide area. He took up a strong central position on the plateau at Friedberg, just to the east of Augsburg, with 6,000 men. The left wing, 12,000 men under General Froelich, was posted at Schongau, thirty miles to the south, and stretched out much further towards the mountains of Vorarlberg and the approaches to the Tyrol. The right wing, 7,500 men under General Mercantini, was spread out along the Lower Lech between Rain, close to the junction of the Lech and the Danube, and a place identified as Pesenbruck in early French sources (possibly Pessenburgheim, just to the south of Rain). There was also a detachment at Ingolstadt on the Danube

Moreau decided to cross the Lech in three places. Ferino was to cross at Hanstetten, two miles to the south of Augsburg, Saint-Cyr was to cross opposite the village of Lechnausen, on the east bank opposite Augsburg. Desaix, with part of the left wing, was to cross the ford at Langweid, seven miles to the north, and prevent Mercantini from interfering around Augsburg.

War of the First Coalition - Rhine Front 1796
War of the First Coalition
Rhine Front 1796

In mid August the Lech was swollen by melt waters coming down from the Tyrol. This meant that some of the fords were more dangerous that normal. After Desaix, his staff, and some cavalry had crossed the ford at Langweid he decided not to risk bringing the rest of his corps across. Ferino was more successful. The first French troops across the Lech were the 3rd demi-brigade, the 89th line, the 4th dragoons and part of the 8th Hussars, who crossed close to Hanstetten. This force then captured the village of Kissing (four miles to the south of Friedberg) and the heights of Moringen, and then advanced towards Ottmaring, two miles to the south-east of Friedberg. For the moment their advance was stopped by two Austrian infantry battalions and eight cavalry squadrons posted at Ottmaring. At the same time other French cavalry forces advanced north along the river towards Saint Afra and the bridge at Augsburg. In the centre the 21st demi-brigade forced its way across the fords in front of Lechhausen. Saint-Cyr then began to repair the bridges over the river, although adjutant general Houel drowned attempting to cross the river.

Some modern sources place the crossing the Lech on 22 August, two days before the battle of Friedberg, but that simply doesn't make sense. By the end of the river crossing the French were present at Lechhausen, two miles to the north west of Friedberg and were approaching Ottmaring, two miles to the south east. If these events took place on 22 August then Latour would have had a full day to strength his position or to retreat, and wouldn't have been caught out in the way that he was. Early French sources also place the crossing on 24 August.

After crossing the river Moreau decided to attack Latour's position at Friedberg. Ferino, with the French right close to Ottmaring already threatened to outflank the Austrian left. Desaix on the French left sent two brigades along the road north-east to Neuburg, partly to prevent Latour escaping in that direction and partly to prevent Mercantini from interfering. Finally Saint-Cyr was to attack the front of the Friedberg plateau.

The French attack worked as planned. Duhesme's division from Saint-Cyr's corps drove in the Austrian centre, while La Roche's division of Ferino's corps captured Ottmaring. Latour realised that he was close to being trapped and ordered a retreat. By now the road north-east to Ratisbon was threatened by Desaix, while Ferrino at Ottmaring blocked the route to Munich. The Austrians attempted to fight their way past La Roche's men, but failed, and Latour was forced to retreat across country between the two roads. The Austrians suffered 800 casualties during this fighting and the French took 1,200 prisoners.

Over the next few days Moreau continued to advance, but while he had been defeating Latour at Friedberg, the Archduke Charles was defeated Jourdan at Amberg. Jourdan was forced to begin a costly retreat back to the Rhine, and when Moreau learnt of this he too was forced to retrace his steps.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 February 2009), Battle of Friedberg, 24 August 1796 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_friedberg_1796.html

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