5 July 1809, near Vienna, the Battle of Wagram began, with 300,000 men involved one of the greatest battles of the age, ending in a costly, hard-won victory for Napoleon on the following day.
“Be fair, my friends! To be the empire of such an emperor, what a splendid destiny for a nation, when that nation is France, and when it adds its genius to the genius of such a man ! To appear and to reign, to march and to triumph, to have every capital for a staging area, to take his grenadiers and make kings of them, to decree the downfall of dynasties, to transfigure Europe at a double quickstep, so men feel, when you threaten, that you are laying your hand on the hilt of God’s sword, to follow in one man Hannibal , Caesar, and Charlemagne, to be the people of a man who mingles with your every dawn the glorious announcement of a battle won, to be wakened in the morning by the cannon of the Invalides, to hurl into the vault of day mighty words that blaze forever, Marengo, Arcola, Austerlitz, lena, Wagram ! To repeatedly call forth constellations of victories at the zenith of the centuries, to make the French Empire the successor of the Roman Empire, to be the grand nation and to bring forth the Grand Army, to send your legions flying across the whole earth as a mountain sends out its eagles, to vanquish, to rule, to strike thunder, to be for Europe a kind of golden people through glory, to sound through history a Titan’s fanfare, to conquer the world twice, by conquest and by resplendence, that is sublime. What could be greater?" (Victor Hugo, “Les Misérables”)
|Napoleon at Wagram by the leading French authority on “Blood and Thunder” sujets, Horace Vernet (1836)|
|Napoleon leading his troops during the crossing of the Danube before the Battle of Wagram, July 1809, by Frédéric Naulet|
|Albrecht Adam: Nach der Schlacht bei Wagram, 6. Juli 1809 (After the Battle of Wagram)|
Not that the French butcher’s bill looked much better than the Austrian’s. Despite Napoleon claims of having lost a few thousand men in battle, casualties numbered in fact up to 40,000 dead, wounded or missing while the Austrians had suffered about the same losses. After the defeat at Aspern and the loss of 20,000 more men, Wagram was the first of Napoleon’s battles he had won only with accepting and suffering a considerable amount of casualties. But Austria was, by and large, out of the War of the Fifth Coalition and forced to conclude another humiliating peace, this time at Schönbrunn, imposing a heavy political toll on House Habsburg, both in territorial losses and indemnities paid. However, Aspern-Essling and Wagram showed that it was indeed possible to defeat Napoleon in open battle and that sensible strategic and tactical insights and actions were no longer a French domain while even Napoleon found it difficult to cope with the losses of experienced officers and veteran troops who knew their trade. Along with the size the involved armies had grown to, made now often enough of green recruits who needed considerably more attention to perform the complex and often foolhardy manoeuvres expected of them, things became rather unwieldy. Napoleon faced the same challenges when he invaded Russia three years later and paid dearly for the consequences. In a way, his victory at Wagram was the beginning of the end.
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