Europe 1809: Battle of Aspern-Essling
The Austrian offensives of spring 1809 brought a swift response from Napoleon, who marched across Bavaria to occupy Vienna in mid-May. However, when the French emperor crossed the Danube to take on the Austrian army, he was beaten back at Aspern-Essling—the first time he had been personally defeated in a major battle.
2 May–18 Jul 1809 Polish invasion of Galicia▲
In early May 1809, while the main Austrian army invading the Duchy of Warsaw was advancing north on Toruń, Polish forces defeated weaker Austrian contingents in the east in skirmishes at Ostrówek and Kock. These victories allowed the Poles to break through into Austrian Galicia, where they captured the important cities of Lublin and Lviv later that month. Threatened by these advances—and the Polish capture of the strategic Vistula fortress of Sandomierz in mid-May—the Austrians abandoned their attempt on Toruń and withdrew to Warsaw.
6 May–12 Dec 1809 Third Siege of Girona▲
Beginning in May 1809, some 32,000 French and Westphalian troops besieged the Spanish town of Girona, which controlled the main eastern road between France and Spain in northern Catalonia. Although badly outnumbered, the town’s garrison of 9,000 Spanish troops and militia under General Mariano Álvarez de Castro managed to fight off the invaders for an entire campaigning season, holding out until December, when famine and disease finally forced their capitulation. Despite their ultimate defeat, the Spanish inflicted some 14,000 casualties on the French and news of their heroic defense would help rally national resistance in the war against the French occupation.
12 May 1809 Second Battle of Porto▲
In April 1809 General Arthur Wellesley assumed command of the British troops in Portugal and immediately marched north, making a surprise crossing of the Douro to attack Marshal Nicolas Soult’s French army at Porto. With 18,400 Anglo-Portuguese to Soult’s 11,200 troops, Wellesley quickly defeated his opponent, capturing 1,800 French and inflicting 600 casualties for just 125 British losses. Wellesley then raced north to take Braga, forcing Soult to retreat northeast back into Spain across the mountains—an ordeal which saw the French lose another 4,500 men and their remaining guns.
13 May 1809 Fall of Vienna▲
Outpacing the Austrian army of Archduke Charles, the French reached Vienna by 11 May 1809. Although the city was defended by Archduke Maximilain and 35,000 troops, he was shaken by the initial French bombardment and withdrew across the Danube with most of his forces on the 12th, burning all the bridges. The next day the remaining garrison surrendered the Austrian capital to the French.
17 May 1809 French annexation of Papal States▲
In May 1809 Napoleon annexed the Papal States to the French Empire, reorganizing them as the French departments of Tibre (later Rome) and Trasimène. In response, Pope Pius VII excommunicated the French emperor, who in turn had the Pope arrested and imprisoned in July. Pius would remain in exile until 1814, when he was restored by Napoleon just months before the latter’s abdication.
21–22 May 1809 Battle of Aspern-Essling▲
On 21 May 1809 Napoleon crossed the Danube at Lobau island, near Vienna, to confront the 98,000-strong Austrian army gathered on the other side under Archduke Charles. When the 80,000-strong French army was partially across and assembling on the Marchfeld between the villages of Aspern and Essling, the Austrians attacked, using their greater numbers of artillery to dominate the battlefield. Although casualties were heavy on both sides—some 23,000 Austrian losses for 20,000 French—the French were forced to withdraw after two days’ fighting, marking the first time Napoleon had been personally defeated in a major battle, as well as his first defeat in over a decade.