Significant events unfolded, within the historical backdrop of Znojmo, enough to write a 100-chapter long chronicle. After all, Znojmo was granted the status of a royal city by Přemysl Otakar I as early as 1226. However, what many current residents may not know is that one of the pivotal battles in European history associated with Napoleon took place here!
11 and 12 July, 1809. Two summer days that brought the so-called Fifth Anti-French Coalition a definitive defeat in the Battle of Znaim (now Znojmo). (The war against Napoleonic France was sparked by the Austrian Empire's invasion of Bavaria in April.)
At the outset, the French were retreating because a significant portion of Napoleon's armies was heavily engaged in liberation battles in Spain. However, Napoleon, the strategist, didn't fail to react to the new threat in the east of his territories with clever moves akin to Kasparov on a chessboard. Between 19 and 22 April, he dealt a series of defeats to the Austrian forces. Under the leadership of Archduke Charles, the Austrians had to retreat, and on 13 May, the city of Vienna was surrendered to the French without resistance.
Enemy armies divided by the Danube pondered how to cross the river. Napoleon made an attempt on 20 May – and in the Battle of Aspern, he experienced his very first defeat. However, the second attempt two weeks later resulted in success. On 4 July, the Austrians suffered another defeat in the Battle of Wagram, and under the leadership of Archduke Charles, they retreated to Moravia. In just these two battles, the French lost 56,000 men, while the Austrians lost 46,000!
Archduke Charles of Austria attempted to buy time for the retreat of his forces near Znojmo. A reserve corps of elite grenadier battalions was deployed between Dobšice and Suchohrdly, blocking the bridge at Oblekovice. On 9 July, Archduke Charles dispatched Prince Liechtenstein to Napoleon with an offer of a ceasefire. However, Prince Liechtenstein didn't reach Napoleon until 11 July. It was too late; by then, the first clashes had already erupted near Znojmo.
The French units emerged to the east of Znojmo, including their Bavarian allies. Napoleon's general, Marmont, believed he had encountered only a weak Austrian rear guard and impulsively launched an attack. However,... the Austrians were prepared. Before the French could capture Dobšice, it changed hands five times.
Meanwhile, at Suchohrdly, a clash between heavy cavalry units occurred, and the French realized that they had encountered a strong formation of Austrian forces. They urgently called for reinforcements directly to the emperor. Despite his deep frustration, Napoleon provided assistance to his rushed commanders.
And so, on 12 July, Marshal Masséna's French reinforcements arrived at Znojmo, and the French, with overwhelming numbers, launched a massive assault. They advanced towards Znojmo through the Louka monastery, but their progress was halted by a summer storm (and the muddy terrain). What they also discovered in the monastery's wine cellars was an abundance of excellent Znojmo wine. In record time, they fell into a completely unoperational state. As if that weren't enough, Austrian grenadiers launched an attack on the Louka at that very moment. A moment before noon, the arrival of a cuirassier regiment saved the French from defeat, pushing the Austrians from Louka towards the walls of Znojmo.
In the afternoon, additional French forces arrived. And despite the arrival of the Imperial Guard to assist the Austrians, the French had a massive numerical advantage. 100,000 French and their allies against 40,000 Austrians. Nevertheless, Napoleon halted further advances and, according to legend, declared, "Enough blood has been shed!" Instead of more bloodshed, they agreed to a ceasefire.
To this day, historians debate the reasons behind Napoleon's unexpected decision. He noted the following: "A battle should be fought only when no favourable change can be expected, as the essence of a battle is always uncertain in its outcome."
Napoleon could afford this diplomatic approach as he was the clear victor, and in subsequent peace negotiations, the Austrian Empire lost territory along the Adriatic and effectively became a landlocked state. Napoleon compelled Austria to sign an alliance treaty and, as a symbolic seal, requested the hand of Maria Luisa, the daughter of Austrian Emperor Francis I, in marriage.
The Battle of Znaim (now Znojmo) confirmed, at least for a time, Napoleon's status as the ruler of Europe.
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