Combat of Canstadt, 21 July 1796

The combat of Canstadt (21 July 1796) was a minor French victory that forced the Archduke Charles to abandon his position on the Necker and continue his retreat towards the Danube. In late June a French army under General Moreau had crossed the Rhine at Strasbourg, and had won a series of victories over the Austrian army of the Upper Rhine, first under General Latour, and then at Ettlingen (9 July 1796) under the Archduke Charles.

In the aftermath of the defeat at Ettlinghen the Archduke Charles decided to conduct a fighting retreat back towards the Danube, where he would join up with Wartensleben's army retreated from the north, and then turn on whichever of the two French armies was most vulnerable.

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

On 18 July the Archduke reached the Neckar at Ludwigsburg (Louisbourg in French sources), eight miles north of Stuttgart. He then crossed the river and took up a strong defensive position on the east bank. The Austrian line was centred on Canstadt, two miles to the north east of Stuttgart. The right was on the heights of Rems (probably at Remseck am Neckar) while the left stretched along the river to Esslingen. The Austrian advance guard was posted on the west bank of the river.

Moreau decided to attack the Austrian position on the Necker, but he realised that a frontal assault would be too costly, and so he decided to attempt to outflank the Austrian left. General St-Cyr was ordered to attack the Austrian line from Canstadt down to Esslingen.

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

St-Cyr sent General Laroche to attack Esslingen and General Taponier to attack Canstadt. Laroche reached Ruit, but his attack on Esslingen was beaten off by an Austrian force under General Hotz. Taponier was more successful. He captured a suburb of Canstadt on the west bank of the Neckar so quickly that the retreating Austrians were unable to destroy their bridge over the river. Unfortunately for the French St-Cyr's reserves were too far from Canstadt to all Taponier to attempt to attack across the river.

At the end of the day the Austrians still held the line of the Neckar, but Charles was determined to continue his retreat towards the Danube, and the French were able to cross the Neckar unopposed.

Political interference now doomed the French campaign. Moreau's best course of action would have been to head north up the Neckar to Heilbronn, to join up with General Jourdan, who had crossed the Rhine further north and was also heading east into Germany. Unfortunately Carnot, who was controlling the campaign from Paris, ordered Moreau to cross the Neckar at Esslingen and advance to the Danube. This meant that the two French armies were unable to support each other, while the Archduke Charles was able to unite with Wartensleben to defeat Jourdan at Amberg (24 August 1796).

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 February 2009), Combat of Canstadt, 21 July 1796 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_canstadt.html

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