N & E
Napoleon & Empire

Battle of Elchingen

Date and place

  • October 14th, 1805 at Elchingen, Bavaria.

Involved forces

  • French army (17,000 men), under Marshal Michel Ney. 
  • Austrian army (16,000 men), under Feldmarschall-Leutnant Johann von Riesch. 

Casualties and losses

  • French army: less than 1,000 men (killed or wounded). 
  • Austrian army: 2,000 men (killed or wounded), 4,500 prisoners. 

The general situation

In October 1805, the start of the Campaign in Germany saw Napoleon, in a broad turning movement, outflank the Austrian army and put himself in a position to invest the town of Ulm Ulm Ulmer Münster, where General Karl Mack von Leiberich Karl Mack von Leiberich was holding the bulk of his troops.

Convinced that the enemy would try to escape to the south, the Emperor sent the Grande Armée to the right bank of the Danube [Donau], i.e. to the south.

The Danube, upstream of the Elchingen bridge
The Danube, upstream of the Elchingen bridge. Photo by Michèle Grau-Ghelardi

Mack, on the other hand, tried his luck on the north bank.

Fortunately for the French, General Pierre Dupont de l'Etang Pierre Dupont de l'Etang, isolated on the left bank of the river at the head of a single division of Marshal Michel Ney's VI Corps (6,000 men), succeeded in cutting him off at the battle of Haslach Oberhaslach, and, by persuading the Austrian commander that he was still dealing with the mere vanguard of a much more powerful force, led him to lock himself in Ulm with his 20,000 soldiers.

Napoleon then ordered Ney and Joachim Murat to reconquer the north bank of the Danube and support Dupont. This involved taking the Elchingen bridge The bridge over the Danube in Elchingen. The VI Corps was to provide the bulk of the effort.

The armies

French army

Marshal Ney was to attack at the head of what remained of his corps on the south bank: General Louis Henri Loison Louis Henri Loison's 2nd Infantry Division and General Jean-Pierre Firmin Malher Jean-Pierre Firmin Malher's 3rd Division, which had set off early in the morning from its position at Oberfalheim The presbytery of Oberfahlheim, behind the Roth river The river Roth.

They numbered 7,200 and 6,300 men respectively, each with half a dozen cannons.

Austrian army

The Austrian army consisted of the two divisions of Johann Ludwig Alexius von Loudon (or Laudon) Johann Ludwig Alexius von Loudon and Friedrich von Hessen-Homburg Friedrich VI von Hessen-Homburg, each with 7,000 men and six cannons. General Johann Sigismund von Riesch was commander-in-chief.

This represented a force of fourteen infantry battalions and eleven cavalry squadrons, massed on the hills overlooking the north bank of the Danube, around Unter-Elchingen, Ober-Elchingen and its convent:

The Abbey of Elchingen, which dominates the battlefield
The Abbey of Elchingen, which dominates the battlefield

Two battalions and two artillery pieces controlled the bridge [48.43794, 10.09376] itself.

The battlefield

The village of Elchingen rises in an amphitheater on a small hill at some distance of the Danube; it is surrounded by gardens enclosed with walls which successively command each other; a vast convent The Abbey of Elchingen crowns the summit. It is one of the most formidable posts that can be imagined. (Antoine de Jomini, Political and Military Life of Napoleon).

The battle

On the morning of the battle, the weather, which had been miserable for several days, cleared up somewhat. At 8 a.m., Marshal Ney sent Eugène-Casimir Villatte Eugène-Casimir Villatte's brigade to take the bridge held by an Austrian guard of 300 men and two cannons.

But the bridge was partly burnt, and had been stripped of its crossbeams, which the Austrians had thrown into the river, so it had to be repaired before it could be crossed.

The work was carried out at full speed, under the direction of the Marshal in full regalia, and despite the heavy fire of enemy skirmishers standing at the mouth of the bridge. The French artillery fired back at them, but they soon had to take cover and slow their rate of fire. This made the task of the VI Corps soldiers much easier.

It was not without heavy loss of life, however, that they were finally able to build a new bridge deck using planks brought in by the Villatte brigade and crossbeams salvaged from piles or the banks of the Danube.

The outlet of the current Danube bridge in Elchingen
The outlet of the current Danube bridge in Elchingen

Immediately, without waiting for the work to be completed, an elite of voltigeurs, carabiniers and grenadiers crossed the bridge's last beams and scattered its defenders.

Marshal Ney sent the two regiments of the Villatte brigade behind them on the north bank. The first one (the 39th Infantry) was to spread out on the right, in the meadow Meadow below Elchingen bordering the river The Danube, downstream of the Elchingen bridge, while the second one (the 6th Light Infantry), with Ney himself at its head, was to assault the convent and village, occupied by the bulk of the Austrian forces.

Oberelchingen, seen from the north bank of the Danube
Oberelchingen, seen from the north bank of the Danube

Slowed in its crossing of the bridge by the French cavalry, which was also rushing towards the left bank, the 39th was initially only able to push through its 1st battalion. The latter, having to withstand the counter-attack of Austrian cavalry and three infantry battalions, was brought back to the bridge outlet.

But when the second battalion of the 39th, then the entire brigade of Claude Pierre Rouget (known as Le Batave), crossed in turn, the enemy was repulsed. The meadow The meadow below Elchingen to the right of the bridge was in French hands, while the Austrians had to return to higher ground.

Meanwhile, the Villatte brigade stormed Ober-Elchingen, supported by the cavalry of colonel Auguste François-Marie de Colbert-Chabanais Auguste François-Marie de Colbert-Chabanais. The 6th Light, with Ney still in the front rank, seized the edge of the village, then climbed house by house up its winding lanes, under heavy enemy fire.

At around nine o'clock, Ney reached the convent crowning the Elchingen heights The battlefield of Elchingen, and established himself on the plateau.

The plateau of Oberelchingen
The plateau of Oberelchingen

But the Austrians were still holding the woods that extended to the edge of the village. From this position, they could attempt an offensive return and drive Ney back to the Danube.

To avoid this, the Marshal sent the 69th to seize this key sector. Once the French left was firmly fixed on this point, he set about turning his right around this axis and sweeping the plateau, which extended as far as Michaëlsberg The Michelsberg above Ulm [48.41168, 9.98326], which overlooked Ulm to the north-northwest.

The Austrians, who had meanwhile formed into several squares of 2,000 to 3,000 men, were charged by the dragoons of general Jean-Baptiste Antoine Laplanche, followed by infantry organized in column. The violence of the cavalry attacks was such that one of the squares laid down its arms. The others quickly withdrew, some towards Haslach then on the Michelsberg, others towards Albeck Albeck.

Villatte, François Roguet François Roguet and Colbert were sent towards Kesselbronn. The former crossed the ravine of the same name The ravine of Kesselbronn to take possession of the heights and woods of Unter-Haslach Unterhaslach; the latter seized the road linking Albeck to Ulm and the woods opposite Ober-Haslach Oberhaslach.

In the afternoon, Ney, to avoid any surprise and better protect the Elchingen bridge, returned to establish his right on the Albeck heights A field near Albeck, his left towards Göttingen Goettingen, while Murat pursued the remnants of Riesch's forces.

Aftermath of the battle

The Austrians lost almost 7,000 men, while the French lost less than 1,000. Above all, the noose tightened around the town of Ulm Ulm, general view, where Mack was now definitively locked in.

Indeed, to the north, the Dupont division had victoriously fought off a new attempt by General Franz von Werneck to find a retreat route on the left bank of the Danube, driving him back partly to Langenau Langenau and the road to Nerenstetten Nerenstetten, partly to Jungingen.

To the south, Marshal Jean Lannes had the Pfühl plateau occupied, with an advance guard at the village of Offenhausen Das Schlössle in Offenhausen.

Map of the battle of Elchingen

Napoleonic Battles - Map of the battle of Elchingen

Picture - Battle of Elchingen.

Napoleonic Battles - Picture of the battle of Elchingen -

Ney had quarreled with Prince Murat shortly before the battle, the Prince having probably sought to make the Marshal shoulder the blame for the strategic errors that made this battle necessary. The Ney's behavior during the battle, present in full regalia at the head of his column wherever the danger was greatest, was his response to the intrepid (but sometimes misguided) cavalier.

Napoleon rewarded the exploits of the 6th Corps with a place of honor at the official capture of Ulm, and remembered those of Marshal Ney on October 14, 1805, when, three years later, he conferred on him the title of Duke of Elchingen.

An episode from the battle of Elchingen appears on the Grande Armée column at Wimille (Pas-de-Calais, northern France).

Photos Credits

 Photo of Lionel A. Bouchon Photos by Lionel A. Bouchon.
 Photo of Marie-Albe Grau Photos by Marie-Albe Grau.
 Photo of Floriane Grau Photos by Floriane Grau.
 Photo of Michèle Grau-Ghelardi Photos by Michèle Grau-Ghelardi.
 Photo of Didier Grau Photos by Didier Grau.
 Photo of various authors Photos made by people outside the Napoleon & Empire association.