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Archduke Charles

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Archduke Charles

Erzherzog Karl von Österreich (en: Archduke Charles of Austria) (September 5,1771 - April 30, 1847) was the younger brother of Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. Despite being epileptic, Charles achieved respect both as a commander and as a reformer of Austria's army.

Contents

Youth and early career

His youth was spent in Tuscany, at Vienna and in the Austrian Netherlands, where he began his career of military service in the war of the French Revolution. He commanded a brigade at the Battle of Jemappes, and in the campaign of 1793 distinguished himself at the Action of Aldenhoven and the Battle of Neerwinden. In this year he became Statthalter in Belgium and received the army rank of lieutenant field marshal, which promotion was soon followed by that to Feldzeugmeister. In the remainder of the war in the Low Countries he held high commands, and he was present at Battle of Fleurus.

In 1795 he served on the Rhine, and in the following year was entrusted with the chief control of all the Austrian forces on that river. His conduct of the operations against Jourdan and Moreau in 1796 marked him out at once as one of the greatest generals in Europe. At first falling back carefully and avoiding a decision, he finally marched away, leaving a mere screen in front of Moreau. Falling upon Jourdan he beat him in the battles of Amberg and Würzburg, and drove him over the Rhine with great loss. He then turned upon Moreau's army, which he defeated and forced out of Germany.

Napoleonic Wars

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Victorious Archduke Charles of Austria during the Battle of Aspern-Essling (May 21-22, 1809)

In 1797 he was sent to arrest the victorious march of General Bonaparte in Italy, and he conducted the retreat of the over-matched Austrians with the highest skill. In the campaign of 1799 he was once more opposed to Jourdan, whom he defeated in the battles of Osterach and Stokasch, following up his success by invading Switzerland and defeating Masséna in the First Battle of Zürich, after which he re-entered Germany and drove the French once more over the Rhine.

Serving with distinction against Napoleon Bonaparte in 1796, Charles then beat lesser opponents such as General Jourdan and General Massena at the First Battle of Zurich June 1799.

Ill-health, however, forced him to retire to Bohemia, whence he was soon recalled to undertake the task of checking Moreau's advance on Vienna. The result of the Battle of Hohenlinden had, however, foredoomed the attempt, and the archduke had to make the armistice of Steyr. His popularity was now such that the diet of Regensburg, which met in 1802, resolved to erect a statue in his honour and to give him the title of saviour of his country, but Charles refused both distinctions.

In the short and disastrous war of 1805 Archduke Charles commanded what was intended to be the main army in Italy, but events made Germany the decisive theatre of operations, and the defeats sustained on the Danube neutralized the success obtained by the archduke over Massena in the desperately fought Battle of Caldiero. With the conclusion of peace began his active work of army reorganization, which was first tested on the field in 1809. As generalissimo of the army he had been made field marshal some years before.

In 1806 Francis II (now Francis I of Austria) named the Archduke Charles Commander in Chief of the Austrian army as well as Head of the Council of War. Supported by the prestige of being the only general who had proved capable of defeating the French, he promptly initiated a far-reaching scheme of reform, which replaced the obsolete methods of the 18th century, the chief characteristics of the new order being the adoption of the nation in arms principle and of the French war organization and tactics. The new army was surprised in the process of transition by the war of 1809, in which Charles acted as commander in chief, yet even so it proved a far more formidable opponent than the old, and, against the now heterogeneous army of which Napoleon disposed it succumbed only after a desperate struggle.

Its initial successes were neutralized by the reverses of Abensberg, Landshut and Eckmuhl but, after the evacuation of Vienna, the archduke won the great Battle of Aspern-Essling and soon afterwards fought the still more desperate Battle of Wagram, at the close of which the Austrians were defeated but not routed. They had inflicted upon Napoleon a loss of over 50,000 men in the two battles. At the end of the campaign the archduke gave up all his military offices.

Later life

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Archduke Charles with family.

Charles spent the rest of his life in retirement, except for a short time in 1815 when he was governor of Mainz. In 1822 he succeeded to the duchy of Saxe-Teschen. Archduke Charles married, in 1815, Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg (17971829). He had four sons, the eldest of whom, the Archduke Albert became one of the most celebrated generals in Europe, and two daughters, the elder Maria Theresa (18161867) became Queen of Naples. He died at Vienna on the 30th of April 1847. An equestrian statue was erected to his memory in Vienna, 1860.

Assessment of his achievements

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Statue of Archduke Charles on the Heldenplatz in Vienna

The caution which the archduke preached so earnestly in his strategical works, he displayed in practice only when the situation seemed to demand it, though his education certainly prejudiced him in favour of the defensive at all costs. He was at the same time capable of forming and executing the most daring offensive strategy, and his tactical skill in the handling of troops, whether in wide turning movements, as at Würzburg and Zürich, or in masses, as at Aspern and Wagram, was certainly equal to that of any leader of his time, with only a few exceptions.

His campaign of 1796 is considered almost faultless. That he sustained defeat in 1809 was due in part to the great numerical superiority of the French and their allies, and in part to the condition of his newly reorganized troops. His six weeks' inaction after the victory of Aspern is, however, open to unfavourable criticism. As a military writer, his position in the evolution of the art of war is very important, and his doctrines had naturally the greatest weight. Nevertheless they cannot but be considered as antiquated even in 1806. Caution and the importance of strategic points are the chief features of his system. The rigidity of his geographical strategy may be gathered from the prescription that this principle is never to be departed from.

Again and again he repeats the advice that nothing should be hazarded unless one's army is completely secure, a rule which he himself neglected with such brilliant results in 1796. Strategic points, he says (not the defeat of the enemy's army), decide the fate of one's own country, and must constantly remain the general's main solicitude, a maxim which was never more remarkably disproved than in the war of 1809. The editor of the archduke's work is able to make but a feeble defence against Clausewitz's reproach that Charles attached more value to ground than to the annihilation of the foe. In his tactical writings the same spirit is conspicuous. His reserve in battle is designed to cover a retreat. The baneful influence of these antiquated principles was clearly shown in the maintenance of Königgratz-Josefstadt in 1866 as a strategic point, which was preferred to the defeat of the separated Prussian armies. In the strange plans produced in Vienna for the campaign of 1859, and in the almost unintelligible Battle of Montebello in the same year. The theory and the practice of Archduke Charles form one of the most curious contrasts in military history. In the one he is unreal, in the other he displayed, along with the greatest skill, a vivid activity which made him for long the most formidable opponent of Napoleon.

On the battlefield, it is probably fair to say, Charles was comparable in skill and style to Sir Arthur Wellesley - quite conservative and yet exceedingly competent. That Wellesley emerged with a superior reputation is probably due to the fact that he only once faced Napoleon and even then was only co-commander of an Allied force. By contrast Charles was confronted by Napoleon in battle more times than any other commander. On these occasions the reliable and yet unimaginative tactics Charles was fond of were not sufficient (except on one occasion at Aspern-Essling) to defeat the unpredictable Corsican. Nonetheless Charles is a member of a pantheon of famous Napoleonic figures that includes the Emperor himself, Louis Nicolas Davout, Karl von Schwarzenberg, Alexander Suvorov, Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher and the aforementioned Sir Arthur Wellesley.

Writings and References

His writings were edited by Archduke Albert and his brother Archduke William in the Ausgewählte Schriften weiland Sr. K. Hoheit Erzh. Carl v. Osterreich (1862; reprinted 1893, Vienna and Leipzig), which includes the Grundsätze der Kriegskunst für die Generale (1806), Grundsätze der Strategie erläutert durch die Darstellung des Feldzugs 1796 (1814), Geschichte des Feldzugs von 299 (1819)--the two latter invaluable contributions to the history of the war, and papers on the higher art of war, on practical training in the field, etc.

See, besides the histories of the period,

  • Carl Freiherr Binder von Krieglstein: Geist und Stoff im Kriege. Vienna, 1896
  • Rudolf von Caemmerer, The development of strategical science during the 19th century. London, 1905 (ch. iv)
  • Eduard Duller: Erzherzog Karl. Vienna, 1847
  • F.J.A. Schneidawind: Carl, Erzherzog von Osterreich und die oesterreichische Armee. Vienna, 1840
  • F.J.A. Schneidawind:Das Buch vom Erzherzog Carl. Leipzig, 1847
  • Maximilian Friedrich von Thielen: Erzherzog Karl von Osterreich. 1858
  • H. von Zeissberg: Erzherzog Karl von Osterreich. Vienna, 1895
  • Moriz Edler von Angeli: Erzherzog Carl von Österreich als Feldherr und Heeresorganisator. Leipzig, 1896
  • Owen Connelly: Blundering to glory: Napoleon's military campaigns. Rev. ed. Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 1999 ISBN 0-842027-79-3de:Erzherzog Karl
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