Lowering his telescope, Marshal Davout waves forward General Gérard, his
Chief of Staff: "Send orders to the Bavarian division that they should
barricade themselves in the village of Schierling, and hold the Austrians to
the southern side of the Gross Laber River for as long as possible. We need
possession of the high road if we are to hold the Corps intact until the
Emperor arrives." Gérard furrows his brow, and replies, "Maréchal, the Austrians seem intent on
holding their positions: They have deployed at least 50 guns along their
lines, and they seem to outnumber us greatly!" "You are right, Gérard, but
we have an opportunity to seriously damage the Austrian units holding that
village, as they are divided in two by the swampy terrain of the river. I
am sure we can out-march them to the crucial positions on this field, just
as we have since we left Rastibon."
"General Friant, you are to move your division through the ravines there and seize the heights to your front, and then change your facing to the south and deploy to the north of Unter Laichling. Montbrun and his chasseurs will support your left, and you, my cousin, will cover his right."
"Your mission is to seize the village itself," he says to his brother-in-law, General Morand. "Come, Gérard, now let us ride to General St. Hilaire's positions; he will have the hardest job this day, and I would like to give him his orders in person." Riding into the coolness of the Bavarian woods the Marshal thinks back over the last few hectic days, the mix-up in orders that started the campaign and the confusing marches and countermarches since then, evading greatly superior Austrian forces attempting to crush his lone corps before the French Emperor could arrive with reinforcements from the direction of Augsburg. Finally, his plan is complete in his mind, and he shares it with Gérard as they ride south.
Finally arriving at the headquarters of the 4th Division, he greets its commander and explains his plan as they review the regiments of this most capable commander. "You must apply the most pressure possible on the Austrians on the ridge to the east of the village, until Friant and Morand have maneuvered them away from the high road. You will be outnumbered 2 to 1, but with the Terrible 57th and its fine sister regiments I have faith that you can do it, as you did at Teugen. The Bavarian light horse will cover the river road but the rest of the terrain from the village south will be your responsibility." "Good Luck, General" he calls as he rides back to the north to oversee the main attack of the day.
After an hour, General St. Hilaire continues to move his division forward, though now forced to hide out in the ravines and shoot it out with a determined enemy that has deployed 4 batteries against him, which he can oppose only with a single battery of horse artillery. He deploys his division in one long line holding only his 3rd Brigade of 3 battalions as a reserve.
Meanwhile, to the north, General Friant continues his movement against the ridge east of Unter Laichling, though he is also forced to deploy his units in line to reduce artillery losses from the 6 batteries deployed there on the heights; and his movements have consequently been slowed considerably. General Montbrun and his cavalry are now available on his left after threading their way through the woods to arrive on the north flank of the village. He is hoping this will force the enemy to divide his artillery fire in multiple directions, reducing some of the pressure against Morand's infantry which has arrived opposite the town of Unter Laichling.
With the size of the Austrian units holding it, the attacks to seize the village will have to chosen carefully. At a quarter after the hour General Montbrun notices that the Austrian guns continue to pound Morand's forces, ignoring Gen. Friant and his own brigade of chasseurs. Seeing a fleeting chance to inflict serious damage on the Austrians and possibly break open the entire enemy line, he launches the chasseurs in a column of regiments. The first pushes back two battalions, but they retreat in reasonable order. Before he can halt them the second regiment charges, flowing through the gap created by the first regiment, and overruns two batteries before they are brought to a halt. Musket fire from a 1000 man Austrian unit wounds General Montbrun, and unhorses Gen. Jacquinot who is quickly captured.
Disorder rapidly spreads through the ranks and the charge is brought to a halt. The command devolves to the Colonel of the 2nd Chasseurs, but the brigade is now trapped behind enemy lines. Marshal Davout, observing the charge being brought to a halt, rides to the front and orders an immediate attack by all the infantry he can reach to attempt to free the cavalry. A vicious firefight now breaks out all around the village as the French units try to free their mounted comrades.
Unable to stand the fire from the Austrian batteries any longer, Gen. St. Hilaire launches his 1st and 2nd Brigades in a charge against the ridge. Riding to the front of the 72ème Ligne, he waves his sword toward the enemy and cries "A la baionette!" Forward the division goes, sweeping the opposition before them. The enemy is soon forced into a vicious crossfire; some light troops from Morand's division, seeing the eagles crossing the ridge, spontaneously launch their own attack and seize the village of Unter Laichling. Two Austrian battalions are trapped and forced to surrender, three or four more fall to pieces and rout to the rear.
The gap in the Austrian lines is rapidly filled. These fresh battalions from the Austrian second line launch a powerful counterattack, cutting off the 3/3 and 3/72 Ligne, forcing them to surrender, and killing General St. Hilaire.
To the south the Austrian light horse lurches forward and overruns a battery, routing a Bavarian battalion detailed with guarding them. General Destanbreath assumes command of the 4th Division, and sends for assistance from the rest of the Bavarian division in Scheirling. General Deroi force-marches his troops to support the now struggling 4th Division.
Marshal Davout, unaware of the happenings to the south is busy rallying troops from Friant's division, whom he leads forward to finally force the Austrians out of the woods east of Unter Laichling.
General Friant has managed to destroy two Austrian battalions and rout several more. Thinking himself in the clear on the heights south of Unter Laichling, he resumed his advance. To his front appeared another line of formed battalions: He was forced to start again. Marshal Davout orders all the Corps heavy guns toward the front, and sends some infantry through the woods to support the 1er Chasseurs, which have seized the crossroads leading to Eckmühl and the causeway across the swamp.
Deroi's Bavarian division has saved the day, as they have halted the enemy's attempt to outflank the 4th Division from the south. Through continuing attacks, they have finally forced the Austrians to pull their guns out, though it cost the 4th a high rate of casualties. The Austrian cavalry, which outnumbers the Bavarian horse greatly, is still the biggest problem as they are preventing any possibility of pursuing the retreating Austrian infantry.
Quartier-Général Armée d'Allemagne,
Maréchal Berthier , Prince de Neuchâtel etc.
Inform the Emperor that we now hold the high road and the high ground overlooking it in the area of Eckmühl. In a costly victory, Sir, we have again defeated the Austrian forces and hold the field. My losses are 8870 infantry and 1150 cavalry and 6 guns, and of course I must mention the tragic losses of General St. Hiliare of the 4th Division killed at the head of his troops, General Montbrun wounded and General Jacquinot captured charging with the Light Cavalry Division. The enemy losses are 3 FM's, 3 Generals, 4 Colonels and around 11,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry and 46 guns. My forces have achieved all their objectives and we have gained a sure major victory but exhaustion has brought any thoughts of further offensive moves to an end. Now we will try to form a continuous line, await events, and try to hold what we have until the arrival of His Majesty. The enemy is hurt badly, but not destroyed, so is still dangerous, with numerous artillery batteries in support and clear lines of fire. I will try to decide where I should form my defensive front. I will establish my headquarters in the castle of Eckmühl and can be reached by your couriers there. At your command,
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