Battle of Schliengen, 24 October 1796

The battle of Schliengen (24 October 1796) was a generally successful French rearguard action that allowed General Moreau to retreat safely across the Rhine at Huningue. In the early autumn of 1796 Moreau successfully retreated from Bavaria, and in mid-October he crossed the Black Forest, emerging in the Rhine valley at Freiburg in Breisgau. Even after his long retreat, Moreau was still not ready to abandon the east bank of the Rhine, and on 19 October he attempted to fight his way north from Freiburg to the camp at Kehl, opposite Strasbourg. This attack was preempted by the Archduke Charles, who had now arrived from the north after pushing General Jourdan back across the Rhine. Moreau was defeated at Emmendingen and was forced to retreat south along the Rhine.

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

On 22 October Moreau reached Schliengen, where a chain of hills connects the Black Forest to the Rhine, and decided to make a stand. One part of his army – the left wing under General Desaix – had already been sent back across the Rhine – leaving Moreau with his centre (Saint-Cyr) and right (Ferino). The French defensive line ran south-east from Steinenstadt, where the Schliengen brook reaches the Rhine, to Schliengen, and then continues on south-east into the mountains, passing through Liel and ending at Kandern. Generals Nansouty and Ambert were posted at Steinenstadt and Schliengen. General Duhesme was in the centre and General Ferino was on the right.

The Archduke Charles reached Neuenburg and Mulheim on 22 October. He remained there on 23 October while he examined the ground, and then on 24 October launched an attack on the entire French line. This was probably a mistake. Although the French position was strong, it did have one major flaw – because it ran south-east from the Rhine, if the Austrians managed to break through on the French right then they could advance west to the river and trap Moreau against the river. The strongest Austrian attacks should thus have been made against Ferino at Kandern.

Marshal Gouvion-Saint-Cyr
Marshal Gouvion-Saint-Cyr

The Austrian attacks on the French left and centre (led by Condé, the Prince of Furstemberg and General Latour) all ended in failure. Nauendorf, on the Austrian left, was delayed in the mountains, and his first attacks were repulsed. Ferino was even able to advance north and capture Sitzenkirch. Nauendorf was only able to attack in strength late in the day. When he did Ferino was forced out of Sitzenkirch and Kandern, but the Austrians were unable to push the French off the heights overlooking the village. The battle had been fought in dreadful weather, and it ended when a thick fog settled over the battlefield.

On the night of 24-25 October the Archduke's army slept under arms, ready to renew the battle in the morning, but Moreau took advantage of the night to retreat south to Haltingen, opposite Huningue, and on the following day the French crossed the bridge at Huningue onto the French side of the Rhine, ending Moreau's five month long campaign.

In the aftermath of this battle Moreau was commissioned to propose an armistice on the Rhine front. The French Directory wanted to send troops from the Rhine to reinforce Napoleon in Italy. The Archduke Charles supported the idea of an Armistice for the same reason, hoping to send troops to the Adige to help lift the siege of Mantua, but the Aulic Council in Vienna refused to agree. Winter soon brought an effective end to active campaigning on the Rhine, but the Austrians did conduct two long but successful sieges, capturing the camp at Kehl on 10 January and Huningue on 19 February.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 February 2009), Battle of Schliengen, 24 October 1796 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_schliengen.html

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