The Battle of Hanau, 30–31 October 1813

Marstall stables at the Schloß in Hanau

The city of Hanau is situated on the confluence of Krebsbach creek, Kinzig and Main Rivers, on the strategically important military road between Fulda and Frankfurt. On 30 October 1813 Battle was joined here between the French Grande Armée, retreating toward Mainz (Mayence), and an Austro-Bavarian army commanded by General der Cavallerie Graf von Wrede, who maneuvered his troops into the retreat route of a numerically superior enemy force.

Opposing Forces

  • Grande Armée – Emperor Napoleon I
  • Austro-Bavarian Army – General der Cavallerie Graf von Wrede
  • Cossack Flying Columns – General Czernichev

After the Battle at Leipzig, Napoleon withdrew the Grande Armée in the direction of Mayence (Mainz) on the Rhine, the site of his German residence since 1804 and an important Rhinecrossing. The army retreated along military roads through Erfurt, Eisenach, Fulda, Schlüchtern, Gelnhausen, Hanau, Frankfurt, Kastel and Mainz. The road from Schlüchtern to Gelnhausen took the French through the beautiful Kinzig Valley. Cossack flying columns practically formed the advance guard of the withdrawing Grande Armée, and they brought with them many French prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, the Austro-Bavarian army under Bavarian General Wrede advanced from Würzburg to Hanau, in an attempt to cut off elements of the retreating French army. Wrede's advance guard reached the Kinzig at the town of Salmünster, southwest of Schlüchtern, the morning of 28 October. A barricade was built to slow the French advance from Schlüchtern, and the Bavarian 1. Chevaulegersregiment was ordered to occupy Hanau, while Cossacks advanced to Frankfurt and tore up the Mainbridge at Sachsenhausen. The French garrison had evacuated Hanau only minutes before, and a protracted skirmish developed between the Chevaulegers and detachments of French troops withdrawing along the road north of the Kinzigbridge. The action of the Bavarian 1. Chevaulegers attracted French cavalry in such numbers that the unit was compelled to evacuate Hanau in the afternoon. In the course of this action, remnants of the Hesse-Darmstadt Guard Chevaulegers apparently found shelter in Hanau, and defected to the Allies the following morning.

General Wrede then ordered the 1. leichte Kavalleriebrigade, consisting of 1., 2. and 7. Chevaulegers, to drive the French out of Hanau, and advance against the main body of the Grande Armée along the road to Gelnhausen. By eight o'clock that evening, French pressure against the 1st light Cavalry Brigade was such that Hanau had to be given up again. Shortly afterwards four light infantry companies of the Bavarian infantry advance guard arrived, and by ten o'clock the 3rd Infantry Division (de la Motte) had secured the town of Hanau once again. The 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division was sent across the Kinzig to clear the outskirts of Hanau, and deploy on the road to Gelnhausen. This was done successfully, and the remainder of the night of the 28th was quiet.

At eight o'clock the next morning, French infantry and cavalry deployed for action against the 2nd Brigade, but were driven back with the loss of two guns. An Austrian flank attack against Gelnhausen was repulsed by superior French forces. French prisoners taken on the 29th amounted to 100 officers and 4,000 to 5,000 men. During the night of 29-30 October it became clear that French troops were concentrating at Gelnhausen, and that Hanau would be attacked in strength.

The battle commenced the morning of the 30th around eight o'clock. Approximately 2,000 French cavalry with 2 attached artillery pieces attacked the Allied forward positions held by the light company of the 3. Infanterieregiment (Prinz Karl), one troop of Austrian Szekler Hussars, and a squadron of the 2. Chevaulegersregiment. The attack was repulsed by 10 o'clock, probably with the help of the 8. Infanterieregiment which was sent forward as reinforcements. Meanwhile, another 4,000 French cavalry, 6,000 infantry and six guns deployed for action, and they drove the Bavarian advance guard back on the main line by noon. By three o'clock in the afternoon, the entire French army of 60,000 infantry, 12,000 cavalry and 140 guns had arrived, including Napoleon and the Imperial Guard. French reports claim that of this number only 5,000 infantry, four battalions of the Guard, 80 squadrons of cavalry and 120 guns were actually engaged at Hanau.

French Guard Cavalry commanded by Nansouty moved out of the shelter of the woods on either side of the Hanau–Gelnhausen road, deployed just opposite the Bavarian grand battery on the extreme left flank of the Allied line, and moved forward against the Bavarian cavalry on the left flank. Before the opposing cavalry formations met, Nansouty's first line wheeled left to attack the infantry in the center, and the Bavarian cavalry wheeled to pursue them. Immediately behind the Guard Cavalry, Drouot deployed 50 guns of the Artillery of the Guard and opened a devastating fire against the Allied left flank, forcing it to withdraw into Hanau. The infantry in the Allied center was also driven back toward the Kinzig. The retreating units attempted to cross the Kinzig at the Lamboybridge, a narrow wooden bridge with a wooden railing which gave way when the mass of retreating troops rushed the bridge. Many soldiers were drowned. Meanwhile, General Czernichev's Cossacks attacked the French cavalry in flank, buying some time for the withdrawing infantry.

French reports claim that the battle was over by 6 o'clock in the evening, and that the enemy was thrown into confusion. Other observers claim that the battle ended by nightfall, when the Allies withdrew to the opposite side of the Kinzig. Hanau remained occupied by Austrian grenadiers. Between two or three o'clock in the morning, French howitzers began to bombard Hanau. Buildings were set on fire, and General Wrede decided to pull the Austrian grenadiers out to prevent the city's destruction. French infantry, cavalry, and many stragglers occupied Hanau once again. Other French troops attacked the new Allied position across the Lamboybridge, but did not succeed in pushing the enemy into the Main.

Meanwhile, the Grande Armée continued to withdraw along the Gelnhausen–Hanau–Frankfurt road. French light cavalry reached Sachsenhausen by 11 o'clock, and engaged Austro-Bavarian forces deployed there. By three o'clock in the afternoon of 31 October, the Allied army had regrouped, and General Wrede personally led the Austrian grenadiers in an assault against remnants of two Italian divisions still inside Hanau. Wrede was mortally wounded by musketfire, but the assault succeeded and Hanau was once again in Allied hands. Heavy fighting developed at the north end of the Kinzigbridge as troops of the French rear guard were drawn into the fight with the Austrian grenadiers. Austrian hussars charged across the bridge and drove the enemy infantry off, but the wooden part of the Kinzigbridge had been set on fire, preventing the infantry from crossing as well. French howitzers shells continued to fall into Hanau, and fires spread in the outskirts north of the Kinzig. Around eight o'clock in the evening of 31 October, the fighting finally ceased.

Hanau

Frankfurter Tor gatehouse in Hanau, and Marienkirche church nearby

Frankfurter Tor gatehouse in Hanau, and Marienkirche church nearby

Access to the city of Hanau through the Frankfurter Tor gatehouse behind Kinzigbridge

Access to the city of Hanau through the Frankfurter Tor gatehouse behind Kinzigbridge

The Château at Hanau

The Château at Hanau

Stables opposite the château

Stables opposite the château

Stables' gate

Stables' gate

Bridge across the Kinzig southeast of Hanau

Bridge across the Kinzig southeast of Hanau

Of the remaining 80,000 men, the Grande Armée reportedly lost 9,000 killed and wounded, and another 10,000 prisoners at Hanau. Allied losses amounted to approximately 9,000 killed, wounded and prisoners. The official French report admits to only 400-500 killed and wounded, claiming that the enemy lost approximately 4,000 killed and wounded, including six generals officers, and another 6,000 prisoners of war.

Bibliography

  • Nouvelles de l'armée Française au 31. Octobre 1813
    Gazette du Grand-Duché de Francfort du 1re Novembre 1813.
  • Amtlicher Bericht S. E. des Herrn Generals Grafen von Wrede
    Münchner politische Zeitung vom 7ten November 1813.
  • Amtlicher Bericht S. E. des Herrn Feldmarschall-Lieutenants, Grafen von Fresnel
    Österreichicher Beobachter vom 10. November 1813.
  • Die Schlacht bei Hanau am 30. Oktober 1813
    Karl Caesar von Leonhard, Hanau 1813
  • Hanau – Kriegsgeschichte
    Meyer's Konversationslexikon, Sechste Auflage, Leipzig und Wien 1905
  • Pivka, Otto von: Napoleon's German Allies (4) – Bavaria.
  • Neujahr 1813/1814: Mit Blücher bei Kaub über den Rhein
    Bruno Dreier, 3. Auflage, Kaub 1996

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Campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars, 1805–1815