The Austrian Campaign under FM Schwarzenberg in 1812

In 1812 Austria found itself in an awkward position. A leader of conservative monarchy, Austria had most consistently opposed the French revolutionaries who murdered Marie Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria and Queen of France, and sought to overturn the established monarchies of Europe. Repeatedly defeated by France, most recently in 1809 when she fought the French alone, Austria was forced to seek an understanding with Napoleon. This resulted in 1810 with the Marriage of Napoleon to Marie Louise of Austria and the birth of the King of Rome -- heir to the French throne and an Austrian archduke. In 1812 when Napoleon invaded Russia, a traditional ally of Austria, the Austrians were forced to send a corps to the Grande Armée to support their son in law. Much thought had to be given to showing enough zeal to please Napoleon without angering Austria's past and future allies against him.

The Austrian Corps was in operation on the southern front of the Grande Armée in Poland and White Russia, protecting the western bases and lines of communication for the main army. This was most fortunate as it precluded the Austrian corps from making the disasterous march to Moscow. General Reynier and his Saxon Corps were attached, with FM Schwarzenberg in overall command. General Reynier filled the difficult double role of corps commander and ranking French "adviser" to keep an eye on the Austrians. Although they sometimes fought together, as at Gorodetschna, they more often worked as independent corps probing aginst the encircling Russians. This was largely a cavalry campaign of scout, probe and push. As a consequence there were numerous small actions which sometimes resulted in hundreds of casualties. The cavalry service page lists many of these small actions.

Battles were few, although there were many skirmishes with the Russian forces of the Southern Army that were observing and pressing the corps. Supposedly there was an understanding between Vienna and St. Petersberg that the Austrians would not seriously engage the Russians, nor would the Russians press the Austrian Corps more than appearances required. In the event, the Austrians fought very well indeed, and the Russian government felt impelled to lodge a strong protest at the Austrian court.

On the 27th of July Count Tormasov surprised an isolated corps of 2,000 Saxons at Kabrin and drove them off in retreat. This led to the most noteworthy battle was of the campaign, Gorodetchna (which the Austrians called "Podubnie"), where the Russians under Tormasov were defeated on 31 July and followed to the Styr River. In this battle Infantry Regiments l9 Alvinzy and 33 Colloredo-Mansfeld were noted for their severe struggle with the Russian infantry; and the O'Reilly and Hohenzollern Chevaulegers were instrumental in winning the battle with their turning of the Russian left flank. This activity of the Russians, and in particular a thrust by General Lambert, led to the formation of the Volhynie Provisional Division by the Grand Duchy of Warsaw that campaigned along the Volhynie.

Some four weeks later the Russians were reinforced by the Army of Moldavia under Admiral Tschitshagov, and Schwarzenberg fell back to the Bug river in central Poland. By this time the Austrian Army was starting to feel the effects of the breakdown of the Grande Armée's supply system. Discipline began to be a problem, and cases of looting were sternly suppressed. A typical action fought at this time is the Battle of Voskrinitza. With Tschitshagov covering the Austrian Corps Tormasov was able to move on Krasnoie (shown in the painting on the left) and block the route to Orscha without a reply from French forces. This determined the retreat from Moscow by the Grande Armée.

At the end of October the Austrians were ordered to Minsk to protect the retreat of the main army, which city was, in fact, their original objective. Another battle was fought with the Russians at Wolkowisk on 15-16 November, where Reynier and Schwarzenberg defeated Lt. Gen. Sacken and the left wing of Tschitschkov's corps. However, with Schwarzenberg diverted to aid Reynier at Wolkowisk, Tschitshagov was able to capture Minsk and its valuable depots on 16 November. At this time Count Lambert was detached to help oppose the French retreat from Moscow. He was wounded in the attack on Borisov which permitted the Russians to occupy the Berezina River crossing and limit the French retreat to only one route. The ability of Tormasov's Corps to detach itself and move against the French main army is a sign of the ultimate failure of Schwarzenberg's Corps to achieve its real goal -- protecting the Grande Armé from flank attack in the south.

In late November the Austrians and Saxons withdrew into winter quarters at Byalistok under a verbal agreement with the Russians. This marked the effective end of the service of the Austrian Corps in the 1812 campaign. Of some 30,000 Austrians in the corps, 7,000 were killed in battle and 4,000 died of disease and exposure. Although exact figures are not available the Saxons also suffered serious losses in men, including the death of Major General Christoph Freiherr von Gutschmid.

With the obvious defeat of the Grande Armée the Hofkriegsrat in Vienna ordered Schwarzenberg to extricate his corps from the eastern front. On 30 January, 1813 "considering the rigorous season and other circumstances equally pressing" Schwarzenberg signed a formal convention of neutrality with the Russians and withdrew his corps to Galicia in February. There he handed command over to General Frimont and returned to Vienna.

By Stephen Herold, M.A., Ph.C.

Return to Main Page
The Volhynie campaign