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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

220th anniversary of Wurzburg

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220th anniversary of Wurzburg

Postby DaveH » September 3rd, 2016, 10:59 am

A rather forgotten but key battle of the Revolutionary wars, which featured much of Austria's A-team: Charles, Schmitt, Mayer, Kray, Hadik, Liechtenstein crushing the French army under Jourdan. It marked the culmination of a campaign, which used the Manoeuvre of the Central Position (something Napoleon never achieved) :idea: and influenced Jomini in his writings rather more heavily than most writers give credit for.

Unfortunately, my article on the battle: 'Decided by Cavalry: Wurzburg 1796' (Age of Napoleon 22, Spring 1996) is not on the Net any more, but George Nafziger offers:

ARCHDUKE CHARLES' 1796 CAMPAIGN IN GERMANY, (Jomini's translation of Charles original work) G. F. Nafziger; Published by The Nafziger Collection, West Chester, 2004; ISBN 10: 1585451118 / ISBN 13: 9781585451111
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Archduke Charles
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Re: 220th anniversary of Wurzburg

Postby Senarmont198 » September 5th, 2016, 5:00 am

DaveH wrote:A rather forgotten but key battle of the Revolutionary wars, which featured much of Austria's A-team: Charles, Schmitt, Mayer, Kray, Hadik, Liechtenstein crushing the French army under Jourdan. It marked the culmination of a campaign, which used the Manoeuvre of the Central Position (something Napoleon never achieved)...


Napoleon successfully employed 'the maneuver of the central position' against the armies of Colli (Sardinian) and Beaulieu (Austrian) in his first campaign after assuming command of the Armee d'Italie on 27 March 1796. He separated the two enemy armies, defeated them both, and knocked Sardinia out of the war in April 1796. Then Napoleon continued his campaign, driving Beaulieu northward. The first phase of the Italian campaigns ended successfully.
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Re: 220th anniversary of Wurzburg

Postby Skarpskytten » September 5th, 2016, 7:31 am

DaveH wrote:Unfortunately, my article on the battle: 'Decided by Cavalry: Wurzburg 1796' (Age of Napoleon 22, Spring 1996) is not on the Net any more.


Can't you publish it on the Internet?
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Re: 220th anniversary of Wurzburg

Postby DaveH » September 5th, 2016, 9:20 pm

It is on an old wordprocessing system and I don't have the copyright on the map. With the easy access we have to regimental histories etc. these days, it probably would require a major rewrite anyway.

Dego-Montenotte is debatable - it is true that Napoleon pinned/defeated Argenteau and moved the bulk of his troops against the Piedmontese to gain local superiority, but he did not then swing back to catch the Austrians, who escaped and there was no major battle until Castiglione at the end of July. (Lodi was a rearguard action). Of course, he did try the same thing in 1815. However, Charles took the bulk of his troops to reinforce Wartensleben and crush Jourdan at Wurzburg, before turning south to cut Moreau's communications as Latour pushed him back, so that Charles could defeat him at Emmendingen to force him over the Rhine. however, Charles did view that last stage as an incomplete victory. Certainly,. Charles was directing many more troops over a much larger area (and as Napoleon did in 1805) using the main road network for speed.
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Re: 220th anniversary of Wurzburg

Postby Senarmont198 » September 5th, 2016, 11:54 pm

The object of using the central position is when you are faced with a numerical superior enemy and wish to separate them, and defeat them separately. That's what Napoleon did against Colli and Beaulieu. Both were defeated and Sardinia knocked out of the war.

In Belgium in 1815 Wellington and Blucher were separated with Nord getting between them. Blucher was badly defeated and Wellington fought to a draw at Quatre Bras and had to withdraw. That one almost worked. The one in northern Italy in 1796 did work successfully.

Stating that the central position was 'something Napoleon never achieved' is incorrect.
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Re: 220th anniversary of Wurzburg

Postby DaveH » September 8th, 2016, 10:29 am

But that is the whole point - Argenteau was only part of Beaulieu's force and Napoleon's focus on Colli enabled Beaulieu to withdraw with just a rearguard action at Lodi in May before another 8 months of fighting around Mantua. While Charles did not destroy Moreau at Emmendingen, he did tackle the main force and rendered it incapable of further action for the remainder of 1796. It was Napoleon's failure to crush Blucher, which led to his defeat the next time he tried the Manoeuvre.

As I noted above, Charles was also engaged over a much bigger area, which whatever your view on Dego-Montenotte, should tell us something about how Napoleon's war direction relied on local area operations.
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Re: 220th anniversary of Wurzburg

Postby Senarmont198 » September 8th, 2016, 7:07 pm

Be that as it may, the assessment that the use of the central position was 'something Napoleon never achieved' is still incorrect.

And it should be noted that in the Italian campaigns in 1796-1797 Napoleon defeated the armies of Colli, Beaulieu, Wurmser, Alvintzy, and the Archduke Charles, as well as besieging and capturing the fortress city of Mantua with Wurmser inside, and with the campaigns ending 150 miles from Vienna, forcing the Austrians to sue for peace.

What were the long-term gains from the Archduke Charles' 1796 campaign? The main theater was in Germany until Napoleon turned northern Italy into the main theater, forcing the Austrians to reinforce northern Italy from the armies in Germany and finally sending the Archduke Charles to command there after Rivoli.

So it would seem that Napoleon's strategy and repeated victories over the Austrians and Sardinians brought the war to a successful conclusion.
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Re: 220th anniversary of Wurzburg

Postby Josh&Historyland » September 8th, 2016, 9:37 pm

Interesting debate. Especially given the strategy of the Central position is a great part of the Napoleonic legacy. Nevertheless I must admit to being unaware of whether indeed Napoleon ever did achieve it in a pure form. Discussing 1815 is really only useful for seeing how the SCP can go terribly wrong.

I'm not sure if it is not a question of someone's own viewpoint. Sen points out that Napoleon's gains from his victories over the Austrians payed bigger dividends, despite the Austrian success which appears to be a more classical use of the SCP than those so far sited than Napoleon's. Yet must the strategy work dramatically for it to be successful? If Napoleon merely batted one army aside temporarily rather than destroying it or putting it out of action for a longer term, does not thst achive exactly the same object? Breathing space to attack with overwhelming force and initiating a defeat in detail?

To look at 1815, true Napoleon failed to properly pursue Blücher but had he moved quicker against Wellington, or rather, if Ney had engaged Wellington at dawn on the 17th, the majority of Napoleon's army would surely have fallen on the Anglo-Allied left flank and most likely overwhelmed Wellington or forced him to withdraw west. Blücher, having been battered into a defeat that Gneisenau calculated would take at least 24 hours to recover from, and one in which the confusion thereafter was likened by staff officers to that after Jena, could not have helped until the 18th, which of course because Wellington was allowed to retreat virtually unmolested did actually happen.

I must say in 1797 it looks very much like a successful use of a central position.

"In a fortnight he [Bonaparte] was ready for the field and made his first move. Five days later he had already four times defeated the Austrians. Then he turned upon the Sardinians, who in another 5 days were in helpless retreat on Turin."
- Wilkinson, Spenser - "The French army before Napoleon;
lectures delivered before the University of Oxford ..." pp 9-10 (Source Napolun)

Then if we take a look at the Ulm campaign superficially at least, does it not look as if Napoleon was able to interpose himself between the Austrians and the Russians, force the Austrians to capitulate, forcing the advancing Russians to retreat? Similar to be said of Jena, where the Prusian defeat before they could unite with the Russians forced the latter to retreat? Or must the central position be started by driving physically in between two forces before fighting one?

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Re: 220th anniversary of Wurzburg

Postby Senarmont198 » September 8th, 2016, 10:11 pm

Using the central position has the advantage of having interior lines, which makes movement much shorter for the side using the central position.

From Definitions and Doctrine of the Military Art from the West Point Military History Series, edited by Thomas Griess, 21:

'Interior lines is a concept that was prevalent in the military theory and doctrine oft he nineteenth century. It describes the condition of a force that can reinforce or concentrate its separated units faster than the opposing force can reinforce or concentrate. A force has interior lines when it is in a central position relative to the enemy-unless the enemy can move laterally so much faster than the force with a central position that it can concentrate or reinforce faster. In the latter case, the force without a central position is said to have interior lines as a result of superior lateral communications. For example, because of his central position during the Seven Years' War, Frederick the Great was able to concentrate against one of the allied armies opposing him while using economy of force measures to prevent attacks on his rear by other allied armies. In more modern times, railroads have often provided one side with the advantage of interior lines due to superior lateral communications. Although the concept of interior lines is generally applied at the campaign or theater level, it can have meaning on the battlefield. When terrain, training, skill of the commander, communications, or mobility enable one force to reinforce along the lines of engagement faster than its enemy, the force is said to have tactical interior lines. A force that does not have interior lines is said to operate on exterior lines.'

That being the case, Napoleon definitely operated on interior lines against Colli and Beaulieu and could mass his forces against one or the other which he successfully did.

Ulm on the other hand, just like the Marengo campaign, was a strategic envelopment where the French maneuvered against the Austrians to get into their rear areas, outflanking them strategically.
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Re: 220th anniversary of Wurzburg

Postby Josh&Historyland » September 9th, 2016, 11:55 am

Yes, quite so but I was talking not so much about how the tactics with which the French defeated the Austrians but rather the grand strategy, how they first beat the Austrians and forced the Russians to retreat. But I take the point.
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