Siege of Kehl (1796)

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Siege of Kehl
Part of the French Revolutionary War
Festung Kehl 1788.jpg
Date October 1796-January 1797
Location Kehl, present day Germany
Result Austrian victory
France Republican France Habsburg Monarchy Habsburg Austria
Commanders and leaders
France Louis Desaix Habsburg Monarchy Prince Fürstenberg

The 1796-1797 Siege of Kehl lasted from October 1796 to 9 January 1797, during the War of the First Coalition (part of the French Revolutionary Wars). Forces numbering 40,000 of the Holy Roman Empire under the command of Karl Aloys zu Fürstenberg besieged and captured the French-controlled fortress of Kehl, across the Rhine River from Strasbourg.

The French defense under Louis Desaix and Jean Victor Marie Moreau almost upset the siege when they executed a sortie that nearly succeeded in capturing the Austrian artillery park. After the defenses were thoroughly riddled by heavy bombardment from the besiegers, the French defenders capitulated and withdrew in 9 January 1797.


Initially, the rulers of Europe viewed the revolution in France as an event between the French king and his subjects, and not something in which they should interfere. In 1790, Leopold succeeded his brother Joseph as emperor and by 1791, the situation surrounding his sister, Marie Antoinette, and her children, alarmed him. In August 1791, in consultation with French émigré nobles and Frederick William II of Prussia, he 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 ambiguous, but quite serious, consequences if anything should happen to the royal family. The French émigrés continued to agitate for support of a counter-revolution abroad. On 20 April 1792, the French National Convention declared war on Austria. In this War of the First Coalition (1792–1798), France ranged itself against most of the European states sharing land or water borders with her, plus Portugal and the Ottoman Empire.[1]

The war went well, initially, for the Coalition allies. In 1792, a mostly Prussian allied army under Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick assembled at Koblenz on the Rhine. In July, Brunswick's army easily took the fortresses of Longwy and Verdun. Brunswick then issued a proclamation, written by the émigré Prince de Condé, declaring their intent to restore the King to his full powers and to treat any person or town who opposed them as rebels to be condemned to death by martial-law. This had the effect of motivating the revolutionary army and government to oppose them by any means necessary, and led almost immediately to the overthrow of the King by a crowd which stormed the Tuileries Palace.

As the war continued, in the north, the Allies succeeded in pushing the French Republican forces out of the Lowlands, at Valmy on 20 September, they came to a stalemate against Dumouriez and Kellermann in which the highly professional French artillery distinguished itself. Although the battle was a tactical draw, it gave a great boost to French morale. Further, the Prussians, finding that the campaign had been longer and more costly than predicted, decided that the cost and risk of continued fighting was too great, and they decided to retreat from France to preserve their army.

Although the campaigns in the north went, overall, in favor of the Allies, the French had been successful on several other fronts, occupying Savoy and Nice in Italy, while General Custine invaded Germany, several German towns along the southern Rhine, and reaching as far as Frankfurt. Dumouriez went on the offensive in Belgium once again, winning a great victory over the Austrians at Jemappes on 6 November, and occupying the entire country by the beginning of winter.

A key to the French success was the army's ability to cross the Rhine at will. The crossings at Hüningen, near the Swiss city of Basle, and the crossing at Kehl, near the Alsatian city of Strasbourg, gave them ready-access to most of southwestern Germany; from there, French armies could sweep north, south, or march east, depending on their military goal. The imperial army had laid siege to Kehl, but the garrison there had successfully defended themselves.

Sieges at Hüningen and Kehl[edit]

In 1796, Jean Baptiste Jourdan initiated a plan against the Archduke Charles main imperial army, near Kehl. Jourdan's idea was to crush Charles north of Kehl; if he could not do that, he would at least push Charles back into Bavaria, and from there to Austria, forcing a culminating battle somewhere along the Danube between Passau and Vienna. In this way, he could pressure the House of Habsburg into submission.

After Jean Victor Moreau led his army across the Rhine at Hüningen to support Jourdan's plan. After crossing, he swung north, and proceeded down the Rhine, on the east side, toward Kehl. When Baillet de Latour engaged the main Austrian force northeast Kehl, Archduke Charles entrusted to Lieutenant Field Marshal Fürstenberg the command of the siege force at Hüningen, which included two divisions with 20 battalions of infantry and 40 squadrons of cavalry. It speaks highly of Charles' confidence in the Prince that the Archduke would charge him with the taking of the Hüningen bridgehead. His confidence was well-placed; on 27 October 1796, Fürstenberg initiated the siege works before Hüningen. His chief engineer opened the fortifications and drained the water-filled moat. Fürstenberg offered the commander of the bridgehead, the French general of brigade Jean Charles Abbatucci, the opportunity to surrender, which was declined. In the night of 30 November – 1 December, Fürstenberg's troops stormed the bridgehead twice, but were twice repulsed. In one of these attacks, the French general was mortally wounded and died on 3 December.[2]

Conduct of the siege at Kehl[edit]

The French had made several night sorties on the works of the besiegers. In these forays, they would chase the diggers out of the lines, but the Austrian reserves always recovered the works before the French could capture any cannons or destroy the construction. Every day, the Austrians were expanding their works and erecting new batteries. On the 8th they had built some new trenches on the left of the Schutter, by the entrance to the old village of Kehl. By 16 Frumaire, these were connected in a grand parallel, a series of batteries in a semicircle around the new village. On the morning of 16 Frimaire, the Austrians opened fire simultaneously with their batteries, and kept up a salvo the entire day. At four in the afternoon, they attacked a French position, which was defended by 300 men. They succeeded in taking it, but the French counter-attacked, and recovered it, taking also some prisoners. At the same time, they attacked the other works, called the Bonnet de Pretre, where only 20 men were posted, and succeeded in taking it, and afterward connected it to their other battle works.[3]

Siege and Capitulation at Hüningen[edit]

After the capitulation of the French at Kehl on 10 January 1797, Fürstenberg finally received the additional forces with which he could end the siege at Hüningen. He ordered the reinforcement of the ring of soldiers surrounding Hüningen and, on 2 February 1797, the Austrians prepared to storm the bridgehead when General of Division Georges Joseph Dufour, the new French commander, pre-empted what would have been a costly attack, offering to surrender the bridge. On 5 February, Fürstenberg finally took possession of the bridgehead. Francis II, the Holy Roman Emperor, appointed him as Colonel and Proprietor of the Infantry Regiment Nr. 36, which bore his name until his death in battle in 1799.[4]

French Order of Battle[edit]

Commanding: General Louis Desaix, relieved by Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr

  • General of Division Jean Baptiste Eblé
    • Chef de Brigade Lobréau, Commander of Artillery
    • General of Brigade Jacques François Barbuat de Boisgérard, Commander of Engineers
    • Chef de Bataillon Dédon, Bridges.
  • 1st Division: General of Division Jean-Jacques Ambert
  • 2nd Division: General of Division Guillaume Philibert Duhesme
    • Brigade: General of Brigade Jean Marie Rodolph Eickemayer, 68th, 76th Demi Brigade of the Line, three battalions each
    • Brigade: General of Brigade Claude Lecourbe, 84th Demi Brigade of the Ligne, three battalions, 93rd Demi Brigade of the Line, one battalion
  • 3rd Division: General of Division Gilles Joseph Martin Bruneteau called Saint-Suzanne

Total: 40 Battalions.
Source: Philippart, John (1814). "Memoires etc. of General Moreau". London: A. J. Valpy. p. 279. 

Moreau noted that out of 40 total battalions, 15 battalions were in daily service on the right bank, as follows. Six battalions defended the fortification of Kehl itself, three held the entrenchments, three occupied the Ehrlenrhin islands and three held the island of Kintzig. A reserve of six battalions encamped on the left bank of the Rhine.[5]

Austrian Order of Battle[edit]

  • General Latour, General of Artillery, commander of the Siege
  • Lieutenant Field Marshal Kollowrath, commander of Artillery
  • Colonel Szeredai, Director of Engineers


  • Grün-Laudon Freicorps, 2 battalions
  • Szeckler, 1 battalion
  • Bannat, 1 battalion
  • Esclavons, 2 battalions
  • Starray, 3 battalions
  • Benjowsky, 2 battalions
  • Nadasty, 1 battalion

1. Column[edit]

  • Commanders: Burger and Tercy, Major Generals
  • Archduke Anton 1 battalion
  • Olivier Wallis, 2 battalions
  • Kaunitz, 2 battalions
  • Alton, 3 battalions
  • Joseph Colloredo, 1 battalion
  • Gemmingen, 1 battalion
  • Kaiser, 1 battalion
  • Grenadiers de Retz, Reisinger, Dietrich and Pitsch, 4 battalions (1 each)

2. Column[edit]

  • Corps of Gyulay 2 battalions
  • Archduke Charles, 3 battalions
  • Franz Kinsky, 2 battalions
  • Karl Schroeder, 2 battalions
  • Grand Duke of Tuscany, 2 battalions
  • Michael Wallis, 1 battalion
  • Wenceslas Colloredo, 1 battalion
  • De Ligne, 1 battalion

3. Column[edit]

Lieutenant General Reise
Major Generals Baillet Latour, Sebottendorf, Hegel
  • Corps of French Emigres (Corps Conde), 2 battalions
  • Wartenslaben, 3 battlalions
  • Esclavons, 1 battalion
  • Hohenlohe, 2 battalions
  • Wenckheim, 1 battalion
  • Gemmingen, 1 battalion
  • Grenadiers de Candiani, Szenassi, Albsaltern, and Buedeskuty, 4 battalions
  • Total: 55 Foot and Grenadier Battalions


Lieutenant Generals Mels-Colloredo and Kospoth
Major General Meerveldt, O'Reilly, Nauendorf
  • Hussars frontier, 10 squadrons
  • Levenher, chevauxlegers 6 squadrons
  • Karacay chevauxlegers, 6 squadrons
  • Prince of Lorraine, cuirassiers, 6 squadrons
  • Kaiser chevauxlegers 6 squadrons
  • Kaiser, carbiniers, 2 squadrons
  • Archduke John Dragoons, 4 squadrons
  • Hohenzollern cuirassiers, 6 squadrons
  • Total Cavalry: 46 Squadrons

An emigre named Klinglen, from Strasbourg, was a major general in the service of the Emperor, and he gave useful information to the enemy of the locality. Several engineers. The Imperial troops employed to guard the Rhine are not included.[6]


  1. ^ Timothy Blanning. The French Revolutionary Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-340-56911-5, pp. 41–59.
  2. ^ (German) Ebert, "Fürstenberg."
  3. ^ Philippart, pp. 116-117.
  4. ^ (German) Ebert, "Fürstenberg."
  5. ^ Philippart, John (1814). "Memoires etc. of General Moreau". London: A. J. Valpy. p. 279. 
  6. ^ Philippart, p. 283.