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Coordinates: 47°22′0″N 8°33′0″E / 47.366667°N 8.55°E / 47.366667; 8.55

First Battle of Zurich
Part of the War of the Second Coalition
Grossmünster church Zurich
Grossmünster church, Zurich. River Limmat, Zurich
Date4 – 7 June 1799
LocationZurich, Switzerland
Result Austrian victory
France France Holy Roman Empire Austria
Commanders and leaders
André Masséna Archduke Charles of Austria
Friedrich Freiherr von Hotze
30,000 40,000
Casualties and losses
1,700 3,500

The Helvetic Republic in 1798 became a battlefield of the French Revolutionary Wars. In the First Battle of Zurich on 4 – 7 June 1799, French general André Masséna was forced to yield the city to the Austrians under Archduke Charles and retreat beyond the Limmat, where he managed to fortify his positions, resulting in a stalemate.

During the summer, Russian troops under general Korsakov replaced the Austrian troops, and in the Second Battle of Zurich, the French regained control of the city, along with the rest of Switzerland.

Map of Zurich, 1800


After pushing the Army of the Danube out of the northern portion of the Swiss plateau—the territory north of the Rhine and south of the Danube—following the battles at Ostrach and Stockach, Archduke Charles' sizable force—about 110,000 strong—crossed the Danube west of Schaffhausen, and prepared to join with the Voralberg Corps of Friedrich, Baron von Hotze before Zürich. During the month of May Andre Masséna, now commander of both the French Army of Switzerland and the Army of the Danube began pulling back his forces to concentrate towards Zurich. Charles crossed the Rhine at Stein with an advanced corps of 21 battalions and 13 squadrons under Nauendorf on 20 May, while two days later in the East Hotze crossed at Meiningen and Balzers with 18 battalions and 13 squadrons. On the 23rd the Archduke led 15 more battalions and 10 squadrons over the Rhine at Büsingen.[1][2]

Learning of the double-pronged advance, Masséna seized the opportunity to drive a wedge between the two Austrian commands and on 25 May launched attacks against Hotze's Corps to the East and Nauendorf's to the north. Hotze's advance troops under Petrasch were driven from Frauenfeld by Soult, while against the Archduke Michel Ney erupted from Winterthur, seized Andelfingen and threw back Nauendorf from Pfyn. Although the French were forced to withdraw on the appearance of Austrian reserves, nevertheless for a loss of 771 men they'd inflicted some 2,000 casualties and 3,000 prisoners on the Austrians.[3][4]

On the 27th Ney was wounded and his men driven from Winterthur, Masséna thereafter concentrated his forces at Zurich, closely pressed by the Archduke Charles and Hotze. By the end of the month the French lay as follows: Soult's Division was on the Zurichberg overlooking the open country to the north from an entrenched camp constructed by Andréossi. To his left Oudinot's Division lay in support, with Gazan's brigade in the town of Zurich itself. Tharreau's Division continued the line across the Aare, with troops under Lorge guarding the left of the Rhine to Basel. To Soult's right Chabran guarded the south of Lake Zurich, with outposts stretched to link with the troops of Lecourbe at Lucerne and the Andermatt valley. In all some 52,000 French and Swiss troops. The entrenchments on the Zurichberg were in a 5 mile long semi-circle from Riesbach to Hongg, but were incomplete.[5] Charles decided to launch his main attack by the surest (though difficult) route, directly against the Zurichberg with his left and centre, holding his right wing back to protect his line of retreat.

Advance of Jelačić against Wytikon

On 2 June The Archduke Charles became aware that Hotze's advance guard under Jelačić was advancing up against the main French positions near Wytikon, and sent a message ordering him not to attack until all his other troops were ready, however from 3.00am on the 3rd Jelačić was already engaged against Humbert's brigade by the time these instructions arrived and the action soon grew into a desperate fight. After 4 hours Soult's men were driven from Wytikon and the fighting continued all through the day. As things began to look serious for Soult, Masséna, musket in hand, led a counter-attack at the head of his reserve grenadiers. The combined effort eventually pushed back the Austrians and secured the camp after a bloody fight, the French losing 500 killed and wounded, including Masséna's Chief of Staff Chérin mortally wounded.[6]

Map of the First Battle of Zurich, 4th June 1799

Attack on the Zurichberg

The next day on 4 June, Charles crossed the Glatt and launched a broad attack in five columns. On the Austrian left, the First column - Jelačić (five battalions and three squadrons) marched against Zurich along the high road and succeeded in breaking through the Rapperschwyl gate but was driven back by Gazan's brigade of Oudinot's Division, and despite repeated attacks made no further headway. To its right, the Second Column - Bey (four battalions and three squadrons) seized the village of Hirslanden and attempted to climb the slopes; however, the French under Brunet counterattacked and forced the Austrians back to join the First Column. The Third Column - Prince of Lorraine found its direct route of march impractical and was diverted via Fallanden and Pfaffhausen. However, the attack failed before a murderous fire from the entrenchments. The Fourth Column - Hotze (seven battalions and 12 squadrons) crossed the Glatt at Dubendorf behind the third column, and advancing through Stottbach, drove the French from Schwamendingen. The Fifth Column - The Prince of Reuss (10 battalions and 20 squadrons) carried Seebach and Oerlikon then detached part of its command under Rosenberg on its left at Orlikon to join in the assault on Zurich. Oudinot, though missing half of his force in Zurich, nevertheless threw himself on Rosenberg, attempting to drive in the Austrian flank. After a desperate fight, the French were driven back, Oudinot carried from the field wounded by a ball in the chest. Charles' right flank under Nauendorf (15 battalions and 9 squadrons) remained held back to guard Glattfelden.[7]

On the Zurichberg, Soult's Division was assailed by three columns and pinned down to their trenches. Repeated assaults were beaten off and the fighting bogged down into an intense firefight. At 2.00 pm, Charles assembled five battalions from his reserve including his own Guard of Honour and directed Graf Oliver Wallis to lead these storming up the hill. Leaving one battalion to watch the bridges, Wallis led the other four up a steep and narrow ravine against the French defences. The combat degenerated into close hand-to-hand fighting, with soldiers using the butts of their muskets against the French abatis. At last at 8.00 pm after a desperate fight the Austrians were able to break through and pour into the camp behind. Sword in hand, Soult and his staff placed themselves at the head of a few companies of troops, launched a counter-attack against the rear of the Austrian column and drove them back to the bottom of the hill. Masséna urged his artillery to redouble their efforts and brought up his reserve of grenadiers. The Austrian attack crumbled; those in the camp were scattered, those behind driven back.[8]

Over the course of the day, Charles lost 2,000 men, including three generals wounded, and 1,200 prisoners.[9] The French lost more than 1,200 killed and wounded.


After the bloody fighting on the 4th Charles fell back a short distance to recover and devise a second attack for the 6th. Masséna used the time on the 5th to regroup, and that night as the Austrians assembled for their attack he withdraw to a strong position in front of Zurich, abandoning 28 guns commandeered from Zurich. His forces were now more concentrated, while the lake would oblige his opponent to divided his forces.

At noon on the 6th following a parley the French were allowed to exit Zurich without interference, Masséna withdrew to the Uetliberg and along the banks of the Limmat. In Zurich Charles found 149 cannon of various calibres.

See also

  • French Revolutionary Wars: Campaigns of 1799


  1. Shadwell p.99
  2. Hotze's force included in the seven battalions and two companies of line infantry, a single battalion of light infantry, six squadrons of dragoons, a squadron of seasoned border infantry (Smith 1998, p. [page needed]).
  3. Shadwell p.103-105
  4. Phipps V p.97-98
  5. Phipps V p.101
  6. Phipps V p.101
  7. Shadwell p. 121–123
  8. Shadwell p. 124
  9. Generals Hotze, Wallis and Hiller. Phipps V p. 103


Further reading

  • Gardiner, T.; et al (1812). "The history of the campaigns in the years 1796, 1797, 1798 and 1799, in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, & c. Illustrated with sixteen maps and plans of the countries and fortresses". London. pp. 169–176. 

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