Napoleon was military undefeated over a decade, when he was defeated at the battle of Aspern 21st/22nd May 1809. He tried to cross the Danube by pontoon bridges - the bridges were his weak spot - to strike at the Austrians, but was repelled by Archduke Charles. Of course both Big Boys didn’t it personally. 20.000 soldiers on both sides lost their lives - among them a lot of French commanding and high ranking officers. The success was followed several days later at the Battle of Wagram a bitter defeat.
The Grande Armée camped three months in 1809 nearby Vienna. Evidence of organization, infrastructure and buildings are still visible at the former military camp on Lobau island. The military strategy and achievements of Napoleon and his army are impressive and frightening until today.
The battle is described in lot of memoirs, letters and documents and lot of publications tracked down every aspect of this horrible days. When I worked as an archaeologist in Vienna, I had to collect remains of fallen French soldiers – their bones, buttons and other fragments were handed over to me in a trash bag nearby a new built swimming pool. I will always remember this sad moment. During digs colleagues found traces, skeletons of horses (died of cannonballs in their bowels) and mass graves of fallen soldiers. Every remaining pieces is evidence, interesting but shocking. The big stories of great wars are mostly written by nationalistic and fanatic men behind desks, which are intrigued by so called heroism and famous names. Archaeologists and anthropologists are more aware of the brutal reality of sick and infested, poor and malnourished, bad outfitted - especially the Austrians - soldiers, who had to put the names of rich, "noble" men on the map.
Some things will never change.
The fallen Austrian soldiers got a monument in Aspern in front of St. Martin's Church, when the monarchy needed their political support - again. The Löwe von Aspern (Lion of Aspern) is an impressive and a heartwarming sculpture, but not as well known as the memorial of Archduke Charles on Heldenplatz. The lion – a symbol for the dead Austrians - is made from sandstone. It was erected in 1858 and created by Anton Dominik Fernkorn, who also designed the monument of Archduke Charles.
I have to admit, the lion of Aspern is my favorite cat, actually the only cat I really like. It's sad to see a blade thrust through his chest and coming out of his left shoulder and all French army symbols are crushed by him.