Military Wiki
The Second Coalition
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
Lejeune - Bataille de Marengo.jpg
Louis-François Lejeune: The Battle of Marengo
LocationEurope, Middle East, Mediterranean Sea, Caribbean Sea

French victory, Treaty of Lunéville, Treaty of Amiens

  • French Republic survival
  • Previous annexations by France confirmed
  • Hostilities resume in 1803 with the formation of a Third Coalition against France

Second Coalition:

 Habsburg Monarchy
 Holy Roman Empire[1]
 Kingdom of Great Britain (until 1801)
 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (from 1801)
 Russian Empire (until 1799)
Kingdom of France French Royalists
Portugal Portugal
 Kingdom of Naples
 Ottoman Empire

France French Republic
POL COA Ciołek.svg Polish Legions
Denmark Denmark–Norway[2]
French client republics:

Strategic overview of operations in Europe and the Mediterranean in 1798–1799

The War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802) was the second attempt by European monarchs, led by the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria and the Russian Empire, to contain or eliminate Revolutionary France. They formed a new alliance and attempted to roll back France's previous military conquests. Austria and Russia raised fresh armies for campaigns in Germany and Italy in 1799.

In the summer of 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte led an expedition to Egypt. Meanwhile, during his absence from Europe, the outbreak of violence in Switzerland drew French support against the old Swiss Confederation. When revolutionaries overthrew the cantonal government in Bern, the French Army of the Alps invaded, ostensibly to support the Swiss Republicans. In northern Italy, Russian general Aleksandr Suvorov won a string of victories, driving the French under Moreau out of the Po Valley, forcing them back on the French Alps and the coast around Genoa. However, the Russian armies in the Helvetic Republic (Switzerland) were defeated by French commander André Masséna, and Suvorov eventually withdrew. Ultimately the Russians left the Coalition when Great Britain insisted on the right to search all vessels it stopped at sea. In Germany, Archduke Charles of Austria drove the French under Jean-Baptiste Jourdan back across the Rhine and won several victories in Switzerland. Jourdan was replaced by Massena, who then combined the Armies of the Danube and Helvetia.


Initially, such rulers of Europe as Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, viewed the revolution in France as an event between the French king and his subjects, and not something in which they should interfere. As the rhetoric grew more strident, the monarchies started to view events with distrust. Leopold, who had succeeded Joseph as Emperor in 1790, saw the situation surrounding his sister, Marie Antoinette, and her children, with greater and greater alarm. As the revolution grew more and more radical, he still sought to avoid war, but in the late summer, he, in consultation with French émigré nobles and Frederick William II of Prussia, issued the Declaration of Pilnitz, in which they declared the interest of the monarchs of Europe as one with the interests of Louis and his family. They threatened vague, but serious, consequences if anything should happen to the royal family.[5]

By 1792, the French republican position had become increasingly difficult. Compounding internal economic and social problems, French émigrés agitated abroad for support of a counter-revolution in France that would restore an absolute monarchy. Chief among them were the Prince of Condé (cousin of Louis XVI), Condé's son, the Duke of Bourbon, and Condé's grandson, the Duke d'Enghien. From their base in Koblenz, immediately over the French border, they sought direct support for military intervention from the royal houses of Europe, and themselves raised a small army. The ascension of young and uncompromising Francis as Holy Roman Emperor-elect on the death of his father in July 1792 also contributed to their unease.[6]

War of the First Coalition

On 20 April 1792, the French National Convention declared war on Austria. In this War of the First Coalition (1792–98), France ranged itself against most of the European states sharing land or water borders with her, plus Portugal and the Ottoman Empire. Although the Coalition forces achieved several victories at the outset of the war, they were ultimately repulsed from French territory and then lost significant territories to the French, who began to set up client republics in their occupied territories. The efforts of Napoleon Bonaparte in northern Italy pushed Austrian forces back and resulted in the negotiation of the Peace of Leoben (17 April 1797) and the subsequent Treaty of Campo Formio (October 1797).[5]

Peace interrupted

From October 1797 until March 1799, the signatories of the Treaty of Campo Formio avoided armed conflict. Despite their agreement at Campo Formio, two primary combatants, France and Austria, remained suspicious of each other and several diplomatic incidents undermined the agreement. The French demanded additional territory not mentioned in the Treaty. The Habsburgs were reluctant to hand over designated territories, much less additional ones. The Congress at Rastatt proved inept at orchestrating the transfer of territories to compensate the German princes for their losses. Ferdinand of Naples refused to pay tribute to France, followed by the Neapolitan rebellion and the subsequent establishment of the Parthenopaean Republic. Republicans in the Swiss cantons, supported by the French army, overthrew the central government in Bern and established the Helvetic Republic.[7]

Other factors contributed to the rising tensions. On his way to Egypt, Napoleon had stopped at the heavily fortified port city of Valletta. The governor of Malta would only allow two ships at a time into the harbor, in accordance with the island's neutrality. Bonaparte immediately ordered the bombardment of Valletta and on 11 June, General Louis Baraguey d'Hilliers directed a landing of several thousand French troops at strategic locations around the island. The French Knights of the order deserted, and the remaining Knights failed to mount a successful resistance. Bonaparte forcibly removed the Hospitallers from their possessions, angering Paul, Tsar of Russia, who was the honorary head of the Order. The French Directory, furthermore, was convinced that the Austrians were conniving to start another war. Indeed, the weaker the French Republic seemed, the more seriously the Austrians, the Neapolitans, the Russians and the British actually discussed this possibility.[8]

Preliminaries to war against Austria

Military planners in Paris understood that the northern Rhine Valley, the south-western German territories, and Switzerland were strategically important for the defense of the Republic. The Swiss passes commanded access to northern Italy; consequently, the army that held those passes could move troops to and from northern and southern theaters quickly.[9]

Toward this end, in the early November 1798, Jourdan arrived in Hüningen to take command of the French forces there, the so-called Army of Observation because its function was to observe the security of the French border on the Rhine. Once there, he assessed the quality and disposition of the forces and identified needed supplies and manpower. He found the army woefully inadequate for its assignment. The Army of the Danube, and its two flanking armies, the Army of Helvetia and the Army of Mayence, or Mainz, were equally short of manpower, supplies, ammunition, and training; most resources were already directed to the Army in Northern Italy, and Army of Britain, and the Egyptian expedition. Jourdan documented assiduously these shortages, pointing out in lengthy correspondence to the Directory the consequences of an under-manned and under-supplied army; his petitions seemed to have little effect on the Directory, which sent neither significant additional manpower nor supplies.[10]

Jourdan's orders were to take the army into Germany and secure strategic positions, particularly on the south-west roads through Stockach and Schaffhausen, at the western-most border of Lake Constance. Similarly, as commander of the Army of Helvetia (Switzerland), Andre Massena would acquire strategic positions in Switzerland, in particular the St. Gotthard Pass, the passes above Feldkirch, particularly Maienfeld (St. Luciensteig), and hold the central plateau in and around Zürich and Winterthur. These positions would prevent the Allies of the Second Coalition from moving troops back and forth between the northern Italian and German theaters, but would allow French access to these strategic passes. Ultimately, this positioning would allow the French to control all western roads leading to and from Vienna. Finally, the army of Mayence would sweep through the north, blocking further access to and from Vienna from any of the northern Provinces, or from Britain.[11]

War between France and the Habsburgs

Austrian and French conflict in southwestern Germany

Austro-Russian alliance

Anglo-Russian Invasion of Holland

Disruption in France

By the end of 1799, Napoleon had returned from Egypt, leaving his army behind. He reorganized the French armies and command for the next year's campaign.

In 1800, Napoleon took personal command of the army in Italy, and eventually won a victory at the Battle of Marengo against the Austrian general Michael Melas, driving the Austrians back toward the Alps.

In Germany, General Moreau defeated Archduke Johann at the Battle of Hohenlinden, forcing him to sign an armistice.

In February 1801 the Austrians signed the Treaty of Lunéville, accepting French control up to the Rhine and the French client republics in Italy and the Netherlands.

On 2 April 1801, the British navy defeated the Danish fleet at the Battle of Copenhagen.

The Treaty of Amiens between France and Britain began the longest break in the war between the two during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods.

See also

French Revolutionary Wars:


Notes and citations

  1. Nominally the Holy Roman Empire, of which the Austrian Netherlands and the Duchy of Milan were under direct Austrian rule. Also encompassed many other Italian states, as well as other Habsburg states such as the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
  2. Officially neutral but Danish fleet was attacked by Britain at the Battle of Copenhagen.
  3. Abolished following the restoration of the neutral Papal States in 1799.
  4. Short lived state that replaced the Kingdom of Naples in 1799.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Timothy Blanning. The French Revolutionary Wars, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 41–59.
  6. Blanning, pp. 44–59.
  7. Blanning, pp. 230–232.
  8. John Gallagher. Napoleon's enfant terrible: General Dominique Vandamme, Tulsa: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8061-3875-6 p. 70.
  9. Gunther E. Rothenberg. Napoleon’s Great Adversary: Archduke Charles and the Austrian Army, 1792–1914, Stroud, (Gloucester): Spellmount, 2007, ISBN 978-1-86227-383-2 pp. 70–74.
  10. Jourdan, pp. 60–90.
  11. Jourdan, pp. 50–60; Rothenberg, pp. 70–74.


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