Battle of Gospic 1809

So far the campaign of 1809 has proven popular with the napoleonic rabbit. With notable exception to the larger battles fought during the main Daube theater of operations… Archduke Charles (Karl) vs. the main French army under Emperor Napoleon, WR has created smaller historical battle scenarios for invasion of Duchy of Warsaw (Poland), the plains of Hungary, rivers and towns in Kingdom of Italy or Inner Austria, and the latest scenario project, the southern Dalmatia campaign. Battles like Sacile, Raab, Klagenfurt, Raszyn, are now joined with the May 21st – 22nd Battle of Gospic (or Bilaj).

When the campaign started April 1809, the main forces outside the Danube river basin were the Franco-Italian army under Eugène de Beauharnais and the Austrian army under General der Kavallerie Archduke Johann of Austria, facing off for control of northern Italy. Southeast of these two combative armies, General of Division Marmont commanded a French corps in Dalmatia ever since the signing of the Treaty of Pressburg, which awarded the former Austrian provinces of Istria and Dalmatia to the French Kingdom of Italy. Marmont had administered the region for the benefit of France and the Kingdom of Italy. Since Marmont’s soldiers have been under arms since the days of the Camp de Boulogne (the old II Corps), had missed the major battles of the War of the Fourth Coalition, the Emperor Napoleon considered the corps largely experienced / veteran and fully capable in their duties controlling Dalmatia and influencing events throughout the region.

Marmont’s Army of Dalmatia, consisted of two active infantry divisions under command of GD Montrichard and GD Clauzel. Montrichand’s 1st Division consisted of GB Soye’s brigade (18th Legere and 5th Line) and GB De Launay’s brigade (79th and 81st Line). GD Clausel’s 2nd Division comprised the brigades of GB Delzons (8th Legere and 23rd Line) and GB Bachelu (11th Line). The 11th Line had three battalions, while the all other regiments only had two battalions each.The divisional artillery included the 3rd and 9th companies of the 8th Foot Artillery Regiment, with six cannon each. The complete French April 1809 order of battle (per Gill’s Thunder on the Danube Vol III p366):

1st Division (GD Montrichard):

Brigade GB Soyes with 5th Ligne (2 btn., 1622 men), 18th Legere (2, 1417)

Brigade GB De Launay with 79th Ligne (2, 1575), 81st Ligne (2, 1366)

2nd division (GD Clauzel):

Brigade GB Delzons with 8th Legere (2 btn., 1495), 23rd Ligne (2, 1424)

Brigade GB Deviau) with 11th Ligne (3, 2094)

Cavalry detachment of 3rd Chasseurs and 24th Chasseurs (292 men)

Artillery of 12 cannon, reported in some notes as 6 pdrs. But for YR1809 would 6 pdrs have made it to distant Dalmatia or the common 8 pdrs still be in use? WR is unsure and if 6 pdr., would they be former Austrian cannon? WR also noted that Marmont’s corps had many other artillery batteries according to the OOB’s found but no mention of them noted at any of the battles or skirmishes (above the two known batteries above). Gil’s book makes no mention of these batteries. Maybe they became fortress crews and the cannon placed into garrison pending future need…. or left in Northern Italy since they couldn’t be shipped over to Dalmatia due to the RN activities offshore.

Corps Artillery Reserve: General of Brigade Louis Tirlet (56 guns).

  • 10th company of the 7th Foot Artillery Regiment (six 12-pound cannons)
  • 2nd company of the 2nd Foot Artillery Regiment (six 12-pound cannons and two 5½-inch howitzers)
  • 7th, 8th, 9th, 14th, and 15th companies of the 1st Italian Artillery Regiment (six 6-pound cannons each)
  • 14th and 15th companies of the 2nd Foot Artillery Regiment (six 6-pound cannons each)

Additional garrison forces in Dalmatia in Zara, Cattaro, and Ragusa: 60th Ligne (2, 1700), 4th btn./Dalmatian regiment (330), 1st btn./3rd Italian Legere (512), four battalions of National guards (4, 2000) and two battalions of Dalmatian Pandours (2, 1000).

To oppose Marmont and French military activities and occupation in Dalmatia, Archduke John detached the General-Major Stoichevich’s brigade from its original place in FML Ignaz Gyulai‘s IX Armeekorps. On 15 May, GM Stoichevich commanded about 8,100 troops, including roughly 7,740 infantry, 120 cavalry, and 240 artillerists. With the few exceptions, the Austrian enlarged brigade consisted of most newly raised, lacking in training and equipment, and officered with second-rate officers. Many of the grenzer soldiers under Stoichevich’s command came from the active region of Dalmatian military operations. GM Stoichevich himself commanded grenzer for most of his military life. Their homesteads and families were never far from their collective minds during military operations and accounts for the wide-spread desertion late in the short campaign. Again the Austrian order of battle per Gils excellent Thunder on the Danube book Vol III p365):

Regulars: Licca Grenz Infantry #1 (2 btn.,2550 men), Hohenzollern Chevaulegers #2 (110). Also somewhat under command was the 4th Garrison battalion (480) at times.

Reservist* and landwehr battalions: Licca Reserve Grenz (1270), Ottocac Reserve Grenz (1290), Ogulin Reserve Grenz (1295), Szulin Reserve Grenz (1375), Banal Reserve Grenz arrived May 9th (2, 2500), Composite Land Grenz (landwehr) btns. (3, 3000), Dalmatian Freikorps (?) plus a detachment of mounted Serezaner (200). These “reserve” grenz battalions are the third battalion for the organized grenz regiments. The composite Land grenz battalions are converged company sized “landwehr” detachments from several grenzer border districts, typically the landwehr is the fourth battalion of the grenz regiments.

Artillery: 6 pdr. positional battery (6 cannon) and Grenz 3lb brigade battery (8).

The campaign opened with unconventional assistance for the French. The French consul in Bosnia instigated raids from Ottoman territory to distract and cause alarm in the grenzer ranks. As mentioned the bulk of the Austrian grenzer battalions under GM Stoichevich were raised in the neighboring grenz districts to Bosnia. So having Ottoman bandits raid over the Bosnia border, pillaging and burning with abandon, caused alarm in the Austrian leadership and the common ranks. In peace times, the armed grenzer would have been on hand to prevent these raids, so starting early on in this campaign, GM Stoichevich had to detach several companies to reinforce the border defenses while sapping at the collective morale of the common ranks.

Topography of the region, along with climate, set the pace and direction of military operations. Mountainous land, with valleys, forests, limited river crossings, all constrained the armies and their movement. Other locations had bleak stunned bush rock or craggy outcrops to contend with while marching the stony ground or driving laden wagons. Looking at any map, the terrain dictated where the fighting would occur. The Licca valley where GM Stoichevich concentrated his command at Gracac was separated from French held Dalmatia by the Velebit mountain range. Although there were several passes across this steep rocky range, they were hardly suitable for military marches by large forces. The principal access for either side therefore became the rugged but passable gap formed by the Zrmanja River defile northwest of Krin. With both armies staging their major supply magazines… the French at Krin and Zara, the Austrians their forward magazines at Gospic and Gracac, the curtain rises for the southern 1809 campaign.

Maps are hard to find and come by for this region but are needed to follow the military movements. One of the best located while searching the internet is this Wikipedia 1810 map for the Illyrian Provinces formed after the 1809 campaign. The Illyrian Provinces included the former Austrian coastal territories and the region of Dalmatia. Illyrian Provinces map 1810

Enlarged portion and area of campaign for 1809 from the Illyrian Provinces 1810 map file. Town spelling is different but understandable.

GM Stoichevich was given free rein how to run the Austrian Dalmatia campaign since Archduke Johann would be busy engaging Viceroy Eugene in Northern Italy and the communication distances and difficulties involved. Even with this freedom, GM Stoichevich was late in starting his operations. More than two weeks after the Army of Inner Austria had entered Italy, Stoichevich was at his forward base of Gracac, his advance delayed by foul weather, requests for supplies, and possible arrival of reinforcements (Banal Grenz and Composite Land battalions). Late in April, information about an early attack by GD Marmont led GM Stoichevich to forestall the French aggression and occupy better forward defensive position along the Zrmanja River. Ordering two battalions to march over the Velebit range to seize the principal bridges over the Zrmanja River at Obrovac, Zegar, and Ervenik, while a third column or raiding detachment was sent towards Zara (unsettle the French at Zara). The bridges at Zegar and Ervenik fell quickly to the Ottocac Reserve grenz battalion, but the bridge at Obrovac was held by the French for the moment against the best efforts of the Ogulim Reserve grenz. Meanwhile, the bulk of the Austrian brigade marched through the Zrmanja defile to seize a bridge over the river at Kravibrod and link with the outpost at Ervenik. First move for Austria on the chess board since GD Marmont counterattack efforts failed to regain the Zrmanja bridges. Covered by a storm of snow and rain, Marmont left a garrison at Krin fortress and retired towards Zara (Benkovac) to recover and plan his offensive.

Obrovac castle ruins overlooks the town of Obrovac, the modern bridge, and the wide Zrmanja river. Photo by J. Madaras

Town of Knin with its old fortress above the town. The French garrisoned the fortress before retiring across the Zrmanja river (off photo at left). Photo by N Derezic.

Knin fortress has seen better days. Phot by N Derezic.

From Knin fortress atop the hill, the modern bridge below crosses the Zrmanja where the older stone bridge was located (destroyed in WWII),  Road to town is around the hill at left. (N Derezic)

For two weeks the front line stabilized and was generally inactive, with the Austrians unable to capture Knin fortress. Up north, Bosnian and Ottoman Turk irregulars began attacking the Austrian board settlements from Bosnia. Hearing of the defeat of Archduke Johann at the Battle of Piave River on 8 May and the French eastward advance toward Laibach, GM Stoichevich prepared to withdraw his brigade. Mid May, Hauptmann Hrabovszky led 150 men from the Szluiner Grenz Infantry Regiment Nr. 4 and the Dalmatian Freikorps in a highly successful night raid against Delzons’ somewhat exposed brigade near Raducic (west of Knin). For negligible losses, the Austrians claimed to have killed 100 Frenchmen. In addition, they captured 200 enemy soldiers, but more importantly, food supplies of 700 sheep and 34 oxen. Becoming worried with reports of French growing nearby strength, GM Stoichevich turned his sodden battalions around and returned to his starting positions, somewhat strung out defenses around Kravibrod and Knin, The French reply or Marmont’s counterstroke was soon in coming.

Marmont’s attack plan was simple. Since fighting his way over the Austrian controlled Zrmanja river, at one of the defended river crossings, and then be faced with crossing the steep Velebit mountain range afterwards wasn’t to his liking, his only other option was simple. Countermarch the combined French army to the right flank towards Knin again, the two French divisions approached the Austrian positions May 14th. The 1st Division (Montrichard) at Kravibrod bridge, and the 2nd Division (Clauzel) at Knin staged the next French movements. After a day or two of skirmishing, Marmont launched his surprise attack on May 16th by swinging his flanking column farther east toward Knin then turn northwest. Crowned with total success, Montrichard covered the Austrian front (and attention) allowing the division of Clauzel, the 8th Legere and 23rd Ligne regiments leading, to evict the Austrians from “Mt. Kita” behind their position at Kravibrod.

Marmont’s flanking operation. French movement around the Austrian position near Kravibrod bridge, the French force the Austrian retreat. Google map of terrain and overlay.

Having only limited sources for the French maneuver, WR is forced to look at the maps. The towns of Knin, Golubic, Pribudic, plus the Kravibrod bridge, are mentioned in the sources. Gil’s “Thunder on the Danube” Vol III {p109-110) discusses the French plan and results. So WR developed the above map overlay to visually follow the action. The Austrian early May 9th raid is shown towards Raducic, the French May 16th marches to get around the Austrian position at Kravibrod bridge, the Austrian up hill counterattack with GM Stoichevich’s capture, its failure to dislodge the reinforcing French position, so the final act with the Austrian brigade ordered to retreat up the Zrmanja defile. Simple…. now some details.

Burial plots up near Pribudic. Cannot read the signs. The terrain is common for this area.. rugged hills and slopes.

Marmont’s orders had the 8th Legere and 23rd Ligne to lead the flanking column. Their march and surprise assault evicted the Austrian outpost defenders someplace on “Mt. Kita” (location unknown to WR), pursuing them towards the north and the Zrmanja defile. The defense of the Zrmanja river defile position fully at risk. GM Stoichevich led a “two company” counterattack up the steep slopes from the valley floor. Marmont, by now, had reinforced his upslope position with the 11th Ligne (3 btns.) and these Frenchmen fell upon the small grenzer column just arriving on the heights. The fight was short and to the bayonet point. The grenzers, gripped by fear and panic, broke to the rear, many being captured and taken prisoner. GM Stoichevich, an old man and dumfounded, taken among the prisoners. Down below on the valley floor, the man of the hour and for the rest of this Austrian campaign; Oberst Matthias Freiherr Rebrovic von Razboj, assumed full command (what an Austrian officer!). Immediately he order the Austrian forces to disengage and retreat up the Zrmanja defile, with the French hard on the retiring Austrian rear. Additional laggards surely taken prisoner, the French haul that afternoon and evening netted 1,000 plus Austrians hor de combat plus cut off several Austrian detachments further to the east under Hauptmann Hrabovsky. This fine officer, seeing the situation, collected his detachments and wits, then marched into and through Ottoman territory, later linking up with Oberst Rebrovic at Gospic weeks later, with his soldiers.

Marmont quicken his army to collect itself together and follow the retreating Austrian column up the Zrmanja defile then into the valley leading toward Gracac. Skirmishing conflict on May 17th  during the morning hours forced Oberst Rebrovic to form a strong rearguard position east of Gracac, to give his army a rest period, and to evacuate his forward magazine stores from Gracac to Gospic.

Google terrain map showing the likely raised rocky outcrop fought over besides the road to Gracac.

Battle of Gracac 1809. Map from the excellent John Gil book “Thunder on the Danube.” Spend your dollars for the three book series if interested in the 1809 campaign period.

At late afternoon (4pm), Marmont appeared leading his advance guard (3 btns… possibly the 11th Ligne) and pushed back the forward Banal Reserve grenzers. Further back, the Licca Grenz, a regular unit and proven in battle, came forward to support the Banal Reserve grenz, now positioned among the limestone rock outcrops and raised ground. The French advance grounded to a halt. Both sides added infantry to the front lines as the musketry battle continued unabated. Neither side gained advantage, local charges met with determined resistance. Late afternoon became evening hours, then nightfall as the flashes of night musketry marked the positions as unchanged. The Austrians hadn’t eaten for over a day, and discouraged from the previous day’s action. The French worn and stung out along mountainous trails, their food convey delayed in the rear. Both armies fought with “extreme ferocity… we killed, wounded, and captured one another in hand to hand combat until eleven o’clock at night” per Gill’s account of Oberst Rebrovic’s report. Worn out, both sides ended the action with mutual exhaustion. Open order combat didn’t result in a large blucher’s bill… 300 or so on each side in the seven hour engagement. Leadership on each side in the front lines, Marmont slightly wounded in his chest, Colonel Mimal of 23rd Ligne had seven bayonet wounds.

Fought to a draw, Oberst Rebrovic and his grenzers could not stay at Gracac. His men hungry and exhausted, the reports of French flanking columns reached his ears. At 3am on May 18th, his brigade, once the moon was down, carefully and successfully disengaged from the French and withdrew towards Gospic. Marmont didn’t immediately give chase, needing time to unite his scattered corps at Gracac. The French rested for 48 hours while the Austrians marched and reached their positions before Gospic on May 19th. Stage is set for the final and cumulative battle for the Dalmatian campaign.

Old map of the fortress of Zara (Zadar) showing the fortress walls, harbour and town. Zara was captured by the Anglo-Austrian besiegers in December 1813.

Before discussing the Battle of Gospic (or Bilaj), a quick note about the activities of the Austrians with the Royal Navy is in order. While the Dalmatian campaign played out on land, the Adriatic seas saw the Royal Navy land and secure the islands offshore, often with Austrian soldiers acting as marines. During the lull early May, the Royal Navy sailors, marines, and Austrians (4th Garrison) landed on Veglia (Kirk), Cherso (Cres), and Lussin (Losinj) in the Quarnero Islands. Also occupied was Arbe (Rab) and Pago (Pug) without resistance by Austrian detachments. Even French controlled Zara, its harbor, town, and fortress were bombarded on May 8th. The seaborne operations conducted by the Royal Navy is a fascinating subject to read about, including the late war creation of the United States of the Ionian Islands, a state and protectorate of the United Kingdom between 1815 and 1864. More on the naval Adriatic campaign of 1807–14 can be read with these links:

Adriatic Campaign 1807-14, Battle of Lissa 1811, and Adriatic Campaign (Revolvy)

We had left the Austrians arriving at Gospic, and the French collecting themselves to recover at Gracac. The brief passive interlude ended and the campaign resumed with the two armies meeting on the battlefield south-east of Gospic, near the village of Bilaj on May 21st to 22nd. On the same two days, up near Vienna, the mighty clash at Aspern-Essling was being fought.

GD Marmont marched north from Gracac on May 20th, arriving near the battlefield later that day, while being harassed by local peasants whose numbers grew as the French advanced north. Pushing back the Austrian advance guard near Medak that evening, the French staff with Marmont planned their next move. Scouts reported in… the Austrians had a secure river defense across the Licca (Lika) river at the small village of Novoselo. The bridge over the Licca river was intact. Not liking to assault a defended river line, in fact several river lines to reach Gospic, GD Marmont looked around and planned a bypass maneuver to force the Austrians from their defensive terrain. Marmont planned for his leading division (2nd) under GD Clauzel to quick march on the hamlet of Barlete, cross the Jadova river at the Barlette bridge, then march towards Budak where the main road northward comes from Gospic. Basically do a end-around on the static Austrians. If they see the French marching, they are faced with countermarching north and abandon their river defense to meet the French. Either way… Marmont wins and with luck exposes the Austrians to battle and or secures the Austrian supply magazine at Gospic at the same time. Unfortunately, the French didn’t ask the villagers around Barlete and Hauptmann Hraovsky for their opinion.

Google satellite view of the battlefield today with WR’s markings.French in blue, Austrians in yellow.

Same ground area map of the battlefield today. The Google terrain view clearly shows the rocky outcrops near Bilaj village and the rough ground behind Barlete.

Austrians had time to plan their battle. Remember Hauptmann Hraovsky at Knin? This sterling officer, only a captain in rank, has successfully marched his isolate command of detachments, through Ottoman territory, collecting stragglers and local support, was now camping at Ploca (20km away). On the evening of May 20th, he had ridden ahead to met with Oberst Rebrovic so both could plan for the next day. Hraovsky to retrieve his detachments at Ploca and Rebrovic hoped to see the arrival of the 4th Garrison battalion from the north. But instead of the 4th Garrison, Rebrovic found the aide du camp from FML Ignaz Gyulai (his superior) arrive at HQ with orders to have the two Banal Reserve grenz battalions immediately march north and having already ordered the 4th Garrison btn. to turn about and march north, encountered while riding south. Oberst Rebrovic retained the Banal Reserve grenzers for the pending battle under the heavy protests of the ADC (locked him in closet maybe).

Holding ground behind the Licca river was their first choice of action, having damaged or destroyed the bridges at Barlete (over the Jadova) and upstream at Ribnik for the Licca river. Oberst Rebrovic deployed his entire force behind the Licca river at Novoselo and awaited the French reaction. Rebrovic placed most of his troops, eight infantry battalions and his artillery in the center on left bank of Licca river at Novoselo bridge.

The bridge over the Licca before him at Novoselo was left intact with the notion that he could use it to attack Marmont should an opportunity present itself, especially against the slow-moving French train columns. He viewed the Barlete sector as secured, having ordered the bridge destroyed and a small garrison of local troops (really peasants and hill bandits) to block French crossing at the ford. As for his right flank down at Ribnik, the destroyed bridge ended French opportunity as the Szulin Reserve grenz battalion, with some Composite Land companies, watched the riverbank. Should be noted that the Ploca and Ribnik detachments were never summoned to the battlefield on either day. Early morning on the 21st… Oberst Rebrovic discovered that his plan was largely unworkable. The French were marching!

Modern bridge over the Jadova river at Barlete. No wooden planking on this bridge. Photo by D Radakovich

Jadova river near Barlete. Photo by D Radakovich

Arriving from Medak early on the 21st of May, Marmont sent the 8th Legere voltiguer companies, with some sappers, ahead to secure the damaged Jadova bridge crossing or ford the river using the shallow ford. He then ordered both divisions (Montrichard and Clauzel) to follow the route to Barlete while detaching his chasseurs a’ cheval and two other voltiguer companies (5th Ligne) to seize the three rocky outcrops overlooking the Novoselo bridge crossing and serve as a flank defense. The men of the 8th Legere quickly found the bridge damaged but repairable and the shallow ford. They crossed the Jadova and engaged the local militia… landwehr… hill bandits with skirmishing musketry. These locals had to be made of stern stuff… as they willingly engaged the French voltiguer in deadly sniping fire. Meanwhile, the sappers pulled doors, planks, beams together to repair the damaged bridge for transit by the arriving French infantry columns and later the train wagons.

Watching the French dust and march across their front, Oberst Rebrovic and Hauptmann Hraovsky came to quick decisions. Hauptmann Hraovsky was sent with the Banal Reserve grenz battalions (2) and the Hollenzollern Chevaulegers to reinforce the Barlete front. At the same time Oberst Rebrovic, following his option to cross the Licca river, ordered his nearby units to march, cross the bridge, and seize the three rocky outcrops near Bilaj. The Battle of Gospic has started.

Again the quick thinking Hauptmann Hraovsky saved the day. Seeing that the Banal Reserve grenz had to use the Budak bridge, with the delay in march time several hours to reach Barlete, he looked for and found a deep ford where the Hollenzollern Chevaulegers could cross the Jadova river, thus shorting by hours the time to arrive at Barlete before the marching French divisions. Just as the leading French voltiguer detachment arrived at Barlete, the chevaulegers arrived to back support the local villagers-bandits. Pushed slowly by the 8th Legere’s voltiguers back into the nearby stony hills, the local bandit villagers saw the hard marching Banal Reserve grenzers arrive and rush into battle. Soon the entire 8th Legere regiment joined the skirmishing battle above Barlete, later joined by the 11th Ligne with two battalions. The battle above Barlete raged for hours into the night. Like the action at Gracac on that rocky outcrop, neither side backed down… skirmishing due to the rocky ground and stony outcrops forced a form of personal warfare. Hauptmann Hraovsky held the French all day and into the evening.

The Novoselo Licca (Lika) modern-day bridge. Photo by DB Radakovich.

The view from the Bilaj rocky hillock from which Oberst Rebrovic saw the French army change direction, face the Austrians, then charge forward. Photo by Mile S.

Back at the Licca river bridge near Novoselo, the Austrian battalions filed across the Licca river, forming three different columns, one for each stony hillock rise ahead of them. Oberst Rebrovic climbed the Bilaj stony hillock and saw the French army performing a left face before his very eyes. Quickly he ordered the log jam back at the bridge to march forward. The battle he knew was coming his way while hearing the sharp action behind Barlete.

Seeing the Austrians crossing the river, with messages from his voltiguer and chasseurs a’ cheval describing the growing Austrian masses, GD Marmont had to change his battle plan on the spot. He stopped the forward advance of both infantry divisions, then riding up to GD Montrichard, who was trailing the 2nd Division, ordered his 1st Division to attack at once. GD Montrichard stalled, unsure of course of action, some reports say “without lacking personal bravery lost all of his intelligence in situations of danger.” Marmont was beyond words. He took direct command. Leading the 18th Legere towards the central stony hillock, the French bayonets tore into the Austrian central column, capturing the center hillock and several Austrian 3 pdr. cannon beyond. The 5th Ligne on the left, and the 79th Ligne on the right, enjoyed similar success against their respective Austrian columns. More Austrian battalions entered the fighting, back and forth the battle raged with musketry and Austrian canister. The Austrian 6 pdr positional battle remained on the Licca west bank but shelled exposed French battalions with deadly effect. More French battalions from 2nd Division (Clauzel) arrived, the two divisional organizations becoming mixed. Slowly, with confusion, the Austrians retired back across the Licca river at the bridge as the 2nd Division arrival completed the French battlefield victory. But quickly GD Marmont realized he hadn’t won his victory. The Austrians had suffered loss in their attempted holding the three stony hillocks, but so had the French veterans taking them back against the reservist Austrians.

Bilaj rocky hillock or rise from the west near the modern RR tracks. You can just see the central hillock rise at right of skyline. Phot by DB Radakovich.

The Croatian cross atop the Bilaj hillock rise. Photo by Mile S.

Bilaj hillock rise from the east… the direction which the French attacked from. Roadway from Bilaj to Barlete. Flag of Croatia atop the hillock. Photo by Mo Klo.

The day ended in stalemate. The French lost 134 dead, 600 wounded, and 270 captured out of the 10,000 men engaged in this tough fight per GD Marmont report. Both GB Soye and GB De Launay were wounded in the stony hillock fighting. The Austrians admitted losing 64 dead, 500 wounded, 200 captured, and two guns. Both sides were convinced that the battle be renewed in the morning light and both were in somewhat different but desperate straits. Oberst Rebovic under pressure to release the Banal Reserve grenz battalion to march north, sternly worded by the ADC from Ignaz Gyulai without any argument. Supplies running out even with the Gospic magazine nearby, the army slowly dissolving with the regional men seeking return to their homes, to protect family and lands. GD Marmont was in a “critical position” with his army running short on food and ammunition, encumbered with nearly 800 wounded, bulky trains stuck on narrow roads, and surrounded by an aggressively hostile armed population. Shades of Spain and Baylen 1808 maybe crossed the French minds. The Austrian obstinate defense offered made him think additional Austrian reinforcements were in the offering as news and intelligence was haphazard to him at best, thanks to the efforts of the Royal Navy offshore. The coming day for both sides soon had that “do or die” feeling. Win or be forced to retreat with the horrors of what that may entail.

The second day of battle was nearly a repeat of the battle up by Barlete. While the French watched the Austrians across the Licca river bridge, artillery bombarding the opposite side, the battle in the rocky ground above Barlete matched the previous day bloody conflict. Both sides had reinforced the flank. Oberst Rebrovic sent the Ottacac Reserve btn. a composite Land btn. and five cannon (3 pdr. artillery) to Hauptmann Hraovsky. Five French regiments were sent against the defense of Hauptmann Hraovsky during the daylight hours. Neither side made progress, the men falling crumpled into the blood stained stony ground for little gain. Tempted to cross again, Oberst Rebrovic was only faced by the 18th Legere and 79th Ligne regiments (four btns.) plus French foot artillery, but he held his ground on the western riverbank. Nightfall came, both exhausted sides separated…. and considering the impending loss of the two Banal Reserve grenz battalions, Oberst Rebrovic saw no choice by withdrawal. He pulled out during the early morning hours of May 22nd, the totally spent French happy to see them retire.

The Battle of Gospic was over. Both sides in total paid heavily for the combat. The Austrians had over 1,030 casualties, the French similar in number but poorly reported for both days. Tactically a draw… French proclaimed the victory by holding the battlefield. Marmont did what was expected. He held French controlled Dalmatia and found a way to bring his army north to join the Grand Armee. In later campaign days of May, the Austrians retreated ever northward, the local men deserting the grenzer ranks in greater numbers. Small engagements between the advance and rearguard units but little of note. Pursued to Ottacac, then Zutalovka, his army finally arrived at Verbovsko on May 30th. There, with little ceremony, his sad and reduced brigade command was placed under GM von Munkacsy and Oberst Rebrovic, for all that he did, was simply returned to his old regiment…. the Lucca Grenz, to rebuild the valiant regiment and think of the glory they had under his command.

For GD Marmont, his tale is different. Marching after the Austrians after occupying Gospic on May 23rd, his chase continued till Zutalovka. There he outflanked the Austrian column, caused harm to the downtrodden Austrians but Oberst Rebrovic again saved his small brigade from total surrender. GD Montrichard again dallied. Marmont basically cashiered him on the spot. Rebrovic had escaped so Marmont turned west, heading for Zengg at dawn on the May 26th. In rain and sheet, the French marched till entering Zengg dropping in the ranks. But Marmont wasn’t done… ordering another hard stormy march to Fiume on the 28th. There they rested for several days. A week later, with some easy marches, the Corps under Marmont’s command arrived at Laibach, and entered the later campaigns of Inner Austria to finish the 1809 campaign.

Napoleon made him a Marshal of France after Wagram, though he said, “Between ourselves, you have not done enough to justify entirely my choice.” Of the three marshals created after Wagram, the French soldiers said;

MacDonald is France’s choice
Oudinot is the army’s choice
Marmont is friendship’s choice

Despite his long friendship with Napoleon, by this time the verb “raguser”—derived from his title, the Duke of Ragusa—was a household word in France: it meant “to betray”. He died at Venice in March 1852, the last living Napoleonic Marshal.

Marshal Marmont.

Well that was a story different from the norm of napoleonic large battles and sieges. With some thought, WR came up with a scenario for the first day May 21st battle at Gospic. Players could easily take the scenario battle to the second day of fighting chipping off a few miniatures from the units involved on the 21st. Determining the battlefield unit strengths at Gospic is very subjective. No dated roster or OOB was found by WR, just unit names present on the battlefield. So, starting with the opening campaign known unit strength detailed above, WR made a spreadsheet for the several battles and skirmishers fought during late April and early May. Deducting those known losses, WR added in a percentage factor for the additional Austrian desertion during the retreat and French losses from campaign attrition.

For the scenario, my normal scenario notes file (.doc) largely taken and sourced from Gil’s excellent Thunder on the Danube vol III book and the internet Napoleon Series: Gospic 1809 Scenario Notes

For the rosters (.xls): Gospic 1809 French Roster,   Gospic 1809 Austrian Roster

Some scenario source material apart from the internet. Gil’s Thunder on the Danube vol III book is the lower right corner and excellent source for this campaign apart from the Napoleon series.

Link to details on the Napoleon Series web site: Battle of Bilaj / Gospic 1809.

Should be noted there was a different Battle of Gospic during 1991 during the Croatian War of Independence.

Scenario map without the command counters placed at scenario start map squares.

Scenario start locations for French and Austrian commands. See scenario notes file (.doc) for details. Counters off map are French reinforcement commands and possible Austrian arrivals.

Soon to post right after this Battle of Gospic 1809 (Bilaj) historical background report, WR will post his After Action Report (AAR) for his Gospic 25/28mm napoleonic scenario played out on the tabletop. Update 06/16/17: Battle of Gospic 1809 AAR

French arrive on the field leading with GD Chauzel’s division and the two voltiguer detachments (A and B). Barlete village straight ahead and the Austrians crossing the Licca at left, off photo.

Scenario start with Oberst Rebrovic’s command crossing the Licca river toward Bilaj and the three rocky outcrops. French are off photo at right with 2nd Division under GD Clauzel.

At Barlete village, local militia backed by recently arrived Hohenzollern Chevauleger detachment under Hauptmann Hraovsky covers the Barlete bridge crossing and ford. Note: Bridge is damaged.

Cheers from the warren.



18 thoughts on “Battle of Gospic 1809

    • Peter,
      I fully agree on Gil and his series for 1809. Still haven’t found “Mt. Kita”… must be a “local name” as maps don’t seem to reference it. So my thoughts on Marmont’s flanking attack are still only the “lay of the land” review… sort of that’s the way I would have gone being a lowly French infantryman. Gil is the only author with any form of map for the Gracac and Gospic battles and movements, but adding in Google terrain the battlefield matches the written material to the finer points.
      Looks like Saalfeld 1806 scenario is next… another WR losing cause (uneven contestants) battle. The Gospic AAR even followed history to a point… but I as a Austrian Oberst need to bush up on my tabletop tactics. Daniel won the scenario hands down. Still, playing with local militia aka bandits does add a miniature choice “twist” to the table.

  1. The Dalmatian Freikorps were formally raised on 8th April under Major Ugarkovic. Their uniforms (see MAA299 and 431) were just local clothing, probably a mix of the blue and white Wurmser FK style and local brown Gunjacs with blue trousers and either small caps or simple Klobuks as headgear. Vanicek says 120 Seressaner on foot plus a composite mounted Seressaner squadron, so there may be some confusion here.

    There is a question on TMP about the composite Land(wehr) battalions – each Regiment had a couple of such companies for local defence. Vanicek’s Specialgeschichte Vol4 p.123 says: “consisted partly of under age youths and partly of old men, of whom two-thirds had unservicable weapons and who carried their cartridges in linen bags, so that by the slightest rain, they would become unusable. Most came without uniforms, without cloaks, some not fully clothed and bare-footed.”

    I doubt they had more than a 3pdr battery – the artillery allocations from Krieg 1809 come from a planning OB of 1st March and were somewhat ambitious. The batteries were manned by regular artillerymen as the 1808 regulation limited the Regiments to 50 artillerymen each, who were to remain in the border forts in wartime.

    I think the village of Kita is now part of Gospic, so it would be one of the hills around Gospic or Bilaj.

    • David,

      Thank you for your additional information on this campaign and units involved. Much appreciated. I agree the composite Grenz companies / battalions were a sorry lot, was a hard subject to find any information on from my small world library. Still, they put up a good showing when pressed by the French, more than the many Landwehr battalion during the Central Danube campaign battles, with noted exceptions of course. I rostered only one 3pdr battery… just like you mentioned.

      As for Mt. Kita…. that is still a mystery to me. It is mention (Gil’s book) back on May 16th outflanking battle, when Marmont was starting his counter offensive. Naming one of the three rocky hills Mt. Kita doesn’t seem correct to me, I am still of option it is a “mountain” further south just not marked on the Google map system.


      • Incidentally, well done on an illuminating piece of work. Mt. Kita is apparently just north-east of Kravibrod, which is a crossing over the Zrmanja River on the eastern end of the border between Military Croatia and Dalmatia (Brod means ford or crossing). If you look up Zrmanja (a hamlet) on, Mt Kita is just to the east.

  2. Thanks very much for this information David. It seems I am on the right track but perhaps overestimated them despite my best efforts to maintain low horizons 🙂

    I have found online a copy of William Alexander’s “Picturesque Representations of the Dress and Manners of the Austrians” which includes a lot of useful information on civilian dress of the border area. Maybe a mix of figures looking like the appropriate examples there plus a few Seressaner types as the better equipped would be about right!

    And thank you very much Michael for your fascinating site, which I’ve visited a number of times since recommitting myself to Napoleonics.


    • You will perhaps recognise the Hungarian peasant and the woman’s attire in the recruitment scene in Warrior 24!

    • I forgot to say that the clothing worn by the Seressaner and the Wurmser Freikorps was roughly the same as they came from the same Christian populations, which fled Bosnia. The only difference is that the Seressaner had a regulation saying they should carry two pistols and a long Turkish knife. It is why there has been a lot of confusion about where the Seressaner actually fought – references to Rotmantler in Germany are to the Freikorps.

      • You’ve been very helpful here David. I’ve now tracked down some figures that should form a suitable basis. I had picked up the idea that it was the cultural commonality determining the clothing. My plan is this:

        Regular battalions – use official Grenz figures, mostly in white but with some brown and other non-regulation items because the Grenz were notoriously poorly supported. Most leatherwork black, some white. Also, add some red cloaks to some of the figures. Seressaners for those regiments that had them (Regts 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 11) for use in Grenz territory and thereabouts (eg Battle of Gospic).

        The Grenz from the less reliable areas:
        More brown, less white. Leatherwork likely to be ‘natural’ brown. They would get their black ‘capuchin coats’ instead of red cloaks. I presume this would apply to all 4 regiments (14th -17th).

        Third battalions – a few Grenz figures, the rest these irregular types. This might just be one battalion, for colour, and because I’d like to do a refight of Gospic.

        I’m assuming the Grenz artillery will have a couple of crew in Artillery uniforms and a couple in Grenz uniforms as labour drawn from the battalions.

        That’s my current thinking but I’m still formulating my plans.

        I’m going to have to look at Warrior 24 now 🙂


  3. The battalions received new kit at the rate of two companies every two years, so they didn’t even look “uniform” until 1805, when adopting the Mack four-company battalion organisation. The non-regulated Siebenburgen battalions were probably even worse. From 1807, the guns and would be regular crews plus Handlanger, although it is more likely that for the Gospic-type actions, they would be Grenzers as you suggest – just Grenzer artilerymen for guns based in the forts and blockhouses. Although they were supposed to be in the same uniforms, the Siebenburgen battalions do seem to have worn a rather darker brown, almost black Hausmontur jacket and certainly the slightly lower Tschakohaube. The reserve units would have been in the Hausmontur, old line uniforms, civvy clothes etc., so the more jumbled the better, I think. I did write an Osprey on the Frontier Troops of the 18th century if you want any more ideas about the local clothing.

  4. So just one question; In Osprey 299 you note that the Siebenburgen Regiments (14-17) Hausmontur coat was the black home made capuchin coat. I initially took this as meaning a black coat instead of the red cloak, but now I’m thinking I misinterpreted your words. From your message above, it seems this is a replacement for the brown Hausmontur jacket, in which case black or very dark brown jackets and the possibility of red cloaks as well seems most likely. Am I right?


    • Not really clear on that am I, but info was hard to come by in 95! The red cloak was not traditional in the unregulated Frontier (14-17 which was not under direct rule from Vienna). The 1768 Siebenburgen Hausmontur includes a gunjac-style jacket worn done up, but in a rather dark brown. The authorities supplied the standard line greatcoat in the mid-brown with white flecks (the so-called salt and pepper colour), but many preferred the local Zeke black coat with its Capuchin style – ie: with a hood.

      • Thanks, but I when I reread it after seeing your comment above, I think the lack of clarity was mainly at my end. Given the obvious dearth of certain information, I think I might look for a figure with the Gunjac-style jacket, with some wearing the hooded coat. I found this 1790s image where a soldier in a gunjac style jacket (I think) has a coat (which could conceivably be hooded) rather than a cloak, slung over his shoulder. I’m thinking that might work for the coats of the Siebenburgen regiments. So some like him, but a few, especially officers, dressed closer to a proper Grenz uniform is starting to sound like a plan formulating.

        I feel as though I am edging towards getting something I feel will be accurate.

        Thanks again for all your assistance in this somewhat arcane but fascinating area.

        Kind Regards,

  5. That’s an interesting illustration from the V&A collection, which I had not seen before. These engravings aren’t always that accurate, but they are interesting and once again, it is a Wurmser Freikorps, albeit in a csackelhaube, where you often see they put their clay pipes. The Kobell pic of Wurmser Freikorps and Gyulai (Croat ) Freikorps shows that Croatian/West Balkan style with the gunman and the red cloak. The V&A pic looks like a standard issue greatcoat, which would be the alternative to a red cloak and was standard issue in Siebenburgen.

    The Zeke coat is actually modelled these days on as a straight-cut long and fairly voluminous coat, which is similar to the army issue greatcoat but without the turned-back cuffs and high collar. Just add a hood to the modern version, I think. Some of the folklore pages on the Net say the Zeke was brown, but I suppose it just depends on the colour of your sheep! The site shows various folk styles, including the Szeckler with the Zeke described as a brown homespun winter coat and the photos show the white wool trousers worn with the Opanken sandals or leather boots.

    The officers bought their own uniforms and many were from the German Saxon towns, so their uniforms would be regulation style.

    • My mistake – the V&A pic is of a Croat-Slavonian sharpshooter (not to be confused with the sharpshooter detachments with each Grenzer battalion) . My information was that this was a unit raised in the Turkish War and then retained in 1794, but as they were at Valenciennes in 1793, it would seem that they were somehow rearranged in 1794, rather than retailer.

      • Sorry, using an iPad, which has a mind of its own on spelling words! I thought the Sharpshooters were reraised in 1794, not retained or retailer. Arggggggh.

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