The Battles of Michael Hansen, Sr.

In the Peace of Luneville of February 9, 1801, "Austria recognized as French territory Belgium, Luxembourg, and the terrain along the left bank of the Rhine from the North Sea to Basel" (Durant, The Age of Napoleon). Thus, at the age of 16, Michael Hansen, Sr. became a French citizen. In 1804, when he was 19 or 20, he was drafted into the French Army.

From Sturdy Roots, by Bernadette Hansen Boue and Joyce Hansen has this to say about his military service:

Michael was drafted into the infantry, the 108th Regiment Deligne of the Army of the Rhine of Napoleon Bonaparte which saw action in the battles of Eylan (January 1807), Freidland (June 1807), and Wagram (July 1809). In the battle of Wagram 6000 French subjects were wounded. Michael served in Napoleon's army from 1804 to January 18, 1810 which is the date of his pension certificate for a wound received in his leg.

Although they don't give their sources, it is reasonable to suppose that the pension certificate has been preserved and is one source of information. I don't know the basis for their list of battles that Michael Hansen fought in, but the last one, Wagram, is very likely for a variety of reasons. His discharge for wounds was granted about six months after the battle and a French Order of Battle I've come across lists the 108th Regiment de Ligne (of the line) as having fought in that battle in the 2nd Division (General Friant) of the 3rd Corps (Marshal Davout).

Although it may never be possible to know precisely what Michael Hansen experienced in battle, an account of the battles themselves may provide an idea.

The Battle of Eylau

The Battle of Eylau, fought on February 8, 1807 between the French army under Napoleon and the allied Russian and Prussian armies under General Count Bennigsen, is almost certainly the battle refered to as "Eylan (January 1807)" in From Sturdy Roots. The site of the battle is in northeastern modern Poland. Napoleon was manuevering to take Konigsberg, modern Kaliningrad, when the Russians launched a counter-offensive and Napoleon moved to attack the Russian army. The battle opened with a heavy artillery duel, then a mass infantry attack against the Russian center during a blinding snow storm. Murat led a furious calvary charge that broke the Russian lines, but they reformed. Napoleon had started the battle with only part of his army, but threw troops into battle as they came up. The day ended with neither side victorious and the Russians withdrew after dark. The French sufferd about 20,000 casulties and also lost about 10,000 captured. The Russians suffered 25,000 casulties and lost about 3,000 captured. The result of the battle was that Napoleon was forced to go into winter quarters without taking Konigsberg. An on-line description of the Battle of Eylau can be found here.

The Battle of Friedland

February 8, 1807

June 14, 1807

The Battle of Friedland, fought on June 14, 1807 between the French under Napoleon and the Russians under General Count Bennigsen, was the decisive victory Napoleon had sought in the campaign leading to Eylau. The battle was fought in modern Russia (the tiny piece between Lithuania and Poland that was part of East Prussia before World War II). Napoleon sent Marshall Lannes ahead of his main army with about 26,000 men to hold Bennigsen in place at the crossing of the Alle River. Bennigsen attacked Lannes with about 46,000 men. Lannes held on from 7 AM to 5 PM when Napoleon attacked with 80,000 men. The Russians were pinned against the Alle River. The slaughter continued until 10 PM when the remainants of the shattered Russian army crossed the river in great disorder. The Russians lost 25,000 killed and wounded plus 10,000 prisoners and an unknown number drowned. The French lost slightly more than 10,000 casulties. As a result of this battle, Konigsberg was captured and Czar Alexander I negotiated a truce.

The Battle of Wagram

July 6, 1809

The Battle of Wagram, fought on July 6, 1809 between the French under Napoleon and the Austrians under ArchDuke Charles, was the final victory in Napoleon's last victorious campaign. The battle was fought in modern Austria across the Danube from Vienna. After Napoleon's first attempt at crossing the Danube was repulsed by the Austrians in the Battle of Aspern-Essling, May 21 and 22, 1809, he amassed reinforcements and, on the night of July 4/5, crossed again. The Austrians were driven back to the Wagram plateau. During the battle, the Austrians attempted to turn the French left flank and cut Napoleon off from his Danube bridgehead. Several frontal attacks and counter-attacks were made on the French left and center. At one point, Napoleon amassed 488 guns, a record, and used them to pound Austrian infantry. Meanwhile, the French right flank, under Davout, advanced steadily and by the evening of July 6, outflanked the Austrians and rendered their position untenable. The Austrians retreated and requested an armistice four days later. A description of the battle can be found on-line here.

Durant refers to the battle as "competitive homicide," and "one of the bloodiest battles in history." I don't know where the number of 6,000 wounded French soldiers came from that was used in From Sturdy Roots. The sources I consulted mentioned 30,000 to 40,000 French killed and wounded and up to 50,000 Austrians. As a comparison, the bloodiest day in American history is usually said to be September 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam, where there were approximately 25,000 casulties. But that counts both sides. At Wagram, each side lost more killed and wounded soldiers than both sides did at Antietam. In fact, all three of the battles discussed here saw at least one side suffer more casulties than both sides suffered at Antietam.

One of those casulties at Wagram was probably Michael Hansen, Sr. He was probably wounded fighting under Marshal Davout on the French right. He received his pension certificate approximately six months later, and began his walk back to Luxembourg with part of a leg missing. He was lucky to have survived.

Please e-mail me with any additions, corrections, and comments

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This page last modified on Tuesday, August 27, 2002

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