The Battle of Dürnstein – My ancestors in the Napoleonic War

On 11. November, a big battle of the Napoleonic Wars took place in Dürnstein and Loiben in the Wachau in Lower Austria. My Great-Great-Great-Great Grandaunt Barbara Artner was living in Dürnstein (then called “Thirrnstein”) at that time. Reason enough to look closer at this chapter of history and the horrific war experience of the inhabitants of Loiben and Dürnstein.

Napoleon’s rise

Napoleon, born on 15.August 1769 on this Island of Corsica,  made a steep career in the course of the French Revolution due to his military talent. After a coup, he became First Consul of the French Republic, until he declared himself Emperor of the French in 1804.

In April 1805, Great Britain, Sweden and Russia formed a Coalition against France. In August 1805, Austria joined this so-called “Third Coalition”. After Emperor Francis I. of Austria (formerly last Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation as Francis II. and founder of the Hereditary Empire of Austria) sent his troops to  Bavaria (an ally of France) on 8. September 1805, Napoleon declared war on Austria.  The Austrian Army lost several combats around Ulm in Germany, after which the French marched towards Vienna. That was when they arrived in Loiben and Dürnstein three weeks later, where an Austrian-Russian Army had retreated before already.


The Battle of Dürnstein and Loiben

On 10. November 1805 the French advance party reached Dürnstein and after skirmishes with some smaller Russian units, won the plain between Dürnstein and Rothenhof. The Russians and Austrians had made the close town of Krems their headquarter.


In the battle of 11.November, about 10.000 French under the command of Marshall Moitier and and Austrian-Russion Army of 24.000 men (under the command of Johann Heinrich von Schmitt and General Kutusow) were involved. The battle started with the French moving forward, as they thought, the Russians had retreated.

A column led by Schmitt and a men called Andreas Bayer who knew the surroundings well launched a flanking assault on the French which caused great confusion among the enemy. Finally, the allied troops won Dürnstein and the French retreated to Weißenkirchen.

In the course of the battle, each side lost about 4.000 men (although reported figures vary significantly), among them Johann Heinrich von Schmitt, the Austrian Chief of Staff.

Chronicles of the Town of Krems in Lower Austria (cited in the book “Niederösterreich Geschichte und Kultur in Bildern und Dokumenten”, Publisher Otto Müller Verlag, 1982) gives the following account:

“In the Village of Oberligen, 60 dead bodies were found, in Unterloiben 500 dead bodies. Several Thousand were washed away in the Danube River, which seemed to be coloured blue for hours due to the uniforms of the dead French soldiers.”

The allied troops won the battle, but the Russian Army nevertheless retreated towards Moravia. On 14.November 1805, the Napoleonic troops marched into Vienna.

Ober- and Unterloiben as well as big parts of Dürnstein were destroyed, the vineyards were burned.

The inhabitants, among them the family Artner

The experience of these days in November must have been horrible for the inhabitants of Dürnstein and Loiben. At first, they were plundered by the French, then by the Russians.  People were killed, Houses were destroyed, Vineyards were burned, supplies were stolen and churches were desecrated.

As the Chronicles of Krems (in “Niederösterreich Geschichte und Kultur in Bildern und Dokumenten”, publisher: Otto Müller Verlag, 1982) mentions on the  11.November in Loiben schildert:

“The inhabitants had to suffer appalling things on the day of the battle, many hid in a cellar of the vicarage in huge fear. Friends and enemies both raged in the same manner, actually the allied Russians were worse than the French. They intoxicated themselves with the wine, destroyed the wine barrels and spilled all the wine.”

Barbara Grünseis, my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandaunt had married Leopold Artner, a bailiff from Dürnstein, on 9.February 1802 im the Village St. Peter in der Au in Lower Austria. After the wedding, the couple lived in Dürnstein and had four children (one of whom died in young years unfortunately).

At the time of the battle, there was therefore the son Karl already born and zwo and a half years old and daughter Theresia was one and a half years. They were living in Dürnstein 43. How did they cope during the Battle of Dürnstein? I can say for sure that there were no deaths in the family in the course of the battle.

(Unfortunately, Leopold Artner died at the age of only 45 due to tuberculosis. His wife seems to have left Dürnstein after his death. So far, I could not establish, where the family went.)

Other inhabitants were not spared by the atrocities of the armies, as one can see in the death records of Loiben and Rothenhof:

On 12.November died Elisabeth Karl, widow of Christoph Karl, winemaker, domiciled in Unterloiben no.16 at the age of 64 years. As cause of death, the following is written: “Shot by plundering Russians”. There is also the note: “Was buried at the Cemetery of Loiben by those burying the bodies of the soldiers who died in the battle”.

In the Village of Rothenhof, Paul Mayr died on 16.December 1805, a “widow, winemaker and juryman“, at the age of 87. According to the death register, he died of “old age and shock of war, as he was plundered lying in bed with illness“.

There are several similar entries in the register of Unterloiben and Rothenhof. Particularly elderly people suffered a great shock from the battle.

Today, commemorative plaques and the “French Monument”, the “Franzosendenkmal” (which was build according to the design of Friedrich Schachner) close to Loiben, remind of the days of the Battle of Dürnstein.



Michael Stangerer, “Ship rider”

Today, I would like to introduce you to my 6times Great-Grandfather, Michael Stangerer. He lived in the 18th century and his profession was “Ship rider”. Until I wrote this post, I had no idea what a ship rider was doing. Now I know that he led an exhausting life.

Michael Stangerer was born on the 7th of May 1712 under the baptismal name Johann as son of Georg and Eva (maiden name unknown) Stangerer. They were living in Perg, Upper Austria, at the address “In den Judenleüthen”.

This address is derived from the term „jugent“ which means “Young Forrest”. “Leithen” is a slope. The address therefore describes a slope with a forrest.

On 22nd of September, aged 27, he married Rosalia Rüttner, the 45-year-old widow of Simon Büttner, an inhabitant of St.Johann close to Grafenwörth at the river Danube in Lower Austria.

(Translation: “here, Michael, currently ship rider in Stockerau, legitimate son of Georg Stangerer, dead, in the Judenleuthen from the parish of Perg and Eva his wife, living, with Rosalia, widow of Simon Rüttner, inhabitant of St.Johann”
Transcription in German: „allhier, Michael derzeit zu Stockerau ein SchiffReuther deß Georg Stangerer, sel. in den Judenleüthen auß der Pfarre Perg, Eva dessen Ehewirthin noch im Leben beider ehelich erzeugt hinterlasster Sohn mit Rosalia deß Simon Rüttner gewester Nachbar zu St. Johanns hinterlasstene Wittib“)

This marriage entry gives important information on Michael Stangerer: At the time of the marriage, Georg Stangerer, father of the groom, had died already. The profession of the groom is given as “ship rider” in the town of Stockerau in Lower Austria. The profession of the best men is also interesting: Gabriel Hann and Hans Walleneder were both boatmen in Stockerau.

By the way, some church books in the parish of Grafenwörth have a very informative idea, including all information of the entry, which makes working with these books very easy:

Sipping on the Danube in the 18th Century

Before the course of the river Danube was regulated, St. Johann was situated at the bank of the river and was a trans-shipment center for all kinds of goods and a resting place for boatmen.

Shipping on the Danube was the most important way to supply the fast growing City of Vienna with wood from the forrest of Bavaria and Bohemia. Also salt was transported frequently on the river.

However, the Danube was never as important as other European rivers as Rhine or Rhone for transportation purposes, as the Danube’s waters flow in the “wrong” direction, away from the trading centers in the West and the North of Europe.

Ships going upstream were tied together and were pulled by horses (up to 60, depending on the size of the ships) which were going on the path beside the river, the “Treppelwege”. The whole process was called “Treideln”.

The chain of ships was built according to a certain scheme, the biggest ship being first in line. After that, smaller ships followed. The chain of ships was accompanied by smaller dinghies.

There were ropes with a length of about 80 meters tied to the mast of the ships. The steersmen had to try to keep the ships away from the banks of the river. In that manner, ships were moving slowly and could only make 4-6 hours per day.

So, what exactly does a ship rider do? The ship rider was the person riding on the horses which were pulling the ships, directing the horses on the path beside the river. Mostly, they were sitting sideways on wooden saddles, thus keeping an eye on the ship and the rope.

Bild: Alois Greil in Die österreichisch-ungarische Monarchie in Wort und Bild, Band Oberösterreich, Wien 1889

Picture: Alois Greil in Die österreichisch-ungarische Monarchie in Wort und Bild, Band Oberösterreich, published in Vienna in 1889

By the way, in 1812 the first steamboat started its operations in Vienna, through which the profession of ship rider lost importance.

Coming back to my ancestor: Through the mentioned marriage, Michael Stangerer no longer had to accompany the ships. His wife obviously has inherited a house in St.Johann from her late first husband. Thus, Michael Stangerer subsequently became an inhabitant of St.Johann and stayed there.


He married there four times and had seven children, two of whom died in infancy.

(Translation: Geburt=Birth, Heirat=Marriage, Tod=Death)

On 24th of October 1790, Michael Stangerer died from a lung disease at the age of 78 as widower at the address St.Johann No. 10.

Sources (in German):

History and Genealogy in Austria – Maria Theresia (1717-1780)

History and Genealogy in Austria – Maria Theresia (1717-1780)

History is an important part of genealogy, as the knowledge about history helps you understanding your family history.

300 years ago, on 13th of May 1717, Austrian Empress Maria Theresia was born in Vienna.


In 1736, she married Franz Stephan of Lorraine. She and her husband had 16 children, of which 10 survived infancy.

After the death of her father Karl VI in 1740, she assumed the reigns of government of Austria. (She was never officially Empress of Austria, although people did call her Empress.)

Her first years of regency were impacted by a European war, the „Österreichischen Erbfolgekrieg/The War of Austrian Succession“ (1740 to 1748).

Under her regency, many reforms were implemented. Some of those reforms had a clear impact on the daily lives of our ancestors:

  • The empress initiated a reform of state finances which also included the introduction of a uniform income tax for all inhabitants – thus ending the tax privileges of nobility and clergy. The following taxes had to be paid per year (1 Gulden = 60 Kreutzer):
    (Source: „Felix Austria” by Stephan Vajda, published 1980 Verlag Carl Überreuther)

    • Ordinary workmen/farmhands: 4 Kreutzer
    • Day labourers: 12 Kreutzer
    • Farmers: 48 Kreutzer
    • Craftsmen: 1-3 Gulden
    • Lords of the manor: 200-400 Gulden, depending on the size of the property
    • Bishops: 600 Gulden(To compared those amounts: a meal cost about 12 Kreutzer, as stated here.)
  • Maria Theresia also introduced the first paper money in Austria.
  • In 1770, the numbering of houses in Vienna was concluded and other Austrian cities followed.

Maria Theresia also ordered the first census in Austria-Hungary in 1754 which was then called „Seelenbeschreibung“. The Census covered 17,437,181 inhabitants of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. She implemented the first form of a land register (then a register of houses) in 1770.

Maria Theresia died on 29th of November 1780 in Vienna.

If you would like to find out more about Empress Maria Thresia, I recommend this link.