THE CAMPAIGN OF MARENGO

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He felt how painful his position was, and the error of giving up Marengo; but, considering any plan of retreat henceforth too late, and the French army too much near to allow him to escape by the Po or by Genoa, he takes the noble resolution to open a passage through our army, and, in this plan, his first effort had to be to retake Marengo.

Indeed, the Austrian army proceeds at six o'clock in the morning over its bridges of Bormida, and it moves the main part of its cavalry, under the orders of General Elsnitz, to their left: their infantry consisted of two lines under the orders of the generals Haddick and Kaim, and of a body of grenadiers cornmanded by General Ott.

The backdrop of the battle

The French army was in echelons by division, the left forward; the division Gardanne formed the left echelon in the cassine Pedrabona, the division Chambarlhac the second echelon at Marengo, and the division of General Lannes formed the third, holding the right of the line and at the back of the right of the division Chambarlhac; the divisions Carra-Saint-Cyr and Desaix in reserve, the last one on the march coming from Rivalta from which it had as been ordered soon as the plans of the enemy had been known.

Lieutenant-General Murat, commanding the cavalry, had placed the Kellermann brigade on the left, that of Champeaux on the right, and the twenty-first regiment of Chasseurs, as well as 12th hussars, under the orders of the brigadier Rivaud, to watch the movement of the enemy on the right flank, and become if needed the pivot of the line. The village of Marengo became the center of the attack. The great superiority of the Austrians allowed them to attack the village with considerable force, and at the same time, as the right of General Haddick extended beyond the left of the French, and at the same time as the division of General Kaim tried to deploy to the left of Marengo, to extend beyond our right.

At this moment the body of General O'Reilly, the division Haddick, approaches the division Chambarlhac; the twenty-fourth light demi-brigade and both battalions of the ninety-sixth of line receive the shock. The second and twentieth regiments of cavalry and the sixth regiment of dragons advance and charge successfully the first enemy line; but the second reinforces it; then Marengo is attacked with a new fury, and defended with the same fearlessness; only the left of General Chambarlhac, against which is thrown the main part of the body of O'Reilly, is shaken.

General Lannes had arrived on the line together with the first echelons, and formed the right with the Watrin division and the Mainony brigade; he attacks a force from the division Kaim which is in front of him, and which was on the march to Castel-Ceriolo; but was soon flanked by this completely deployed division, it is forced to support the most lively attacks of infantry as well as cavalry; he repels them vigorously at the head of the sixth light demi-brigade and the twenty-second, twenty - eighth and fortieth of line. The brigade of cavalry commanded by General Champeaux, and intended, to flank the body of General Lannes, receives order to charge to support the right; it executes this charge with the first and the eighth regiment of dragons, and General Champeaux receives a mortal wound.

This village - so hotly contested - was still in our power. Several times the Austrians enter it with fury, but cannot become established there: our troops, by consecutive miracles, keep this important support of the center of the line. However General Elsnitz, commanding the enemy cavalry, follows the Bormida, flanks Castel-Ceriolo, extends beyond our right and deploys by squadron between Buzana and our first line. His operation tended obviously to force the first line back, in what could be decisive in favour of the Austrian army. But BONAPARTE had already provided in his plan the means to thwart this dangerous operation, and, from ten o'clock in the morning, the movement of all this day was decided in his thought.

He had ordered the second line or the reserve to move by echelons, the right forward; General Carra-Saint-Cyr, who commanded the right echelon, was not still as advanced as the first line: BONAPARTE places at once the grenadiers of his guard with their artillery there, to stop, the movement of General Elsnitz. Isolated at more than six hundred yards from the right of our line, they appear as a block of granite in the middle of an immense plain.

The enemy cavalry surrounds them: we live then all that can the infantry of elite. The second echelon of the reserve, commanded by General Desaix, was on the march to take place at the left-rear of the first one, and a great distance away, as far as San-Giuliano. The left echelon of the line executes this movement quickly, whereas the echelons of the center move slowly, and only after the first echelon those of left reach their position.

The enemy general badly misunderstands this operation, and believes the army in full retreat, when really, it only changes its position. He looks with a new confidence to execute his plan to turn our left and to cut us the road of Tortona; it is in this intention that he forms this column of five thousand grenadiers which moves to the main road, to block and prevent the reunification of the corps of the French army which he supposes in disorder. However, during the four hours which our army is making this change of position, it offered the most majestic and the most terrible spectacle.

The Austrian army turned its main forces on our center and on our left; it followed the movement of retreat of the first line, leaving with its cavalry the job of extending beyond our right beyond Castel-Ceriolo. Our echelons made their retreat in formation by battalion in the deepest silence; we saw them under the fire of eighty pieces of cannon, maneuvering as in an exercise, stopping often, and presenting ranks always full, because the men closed up, when one of them was struck.

He distinguished in this change of position, which was a real retreat for the first line, the order and the composure of the division commanded by General Lannes there. However the left echelons of the first line arrive as far as San-Giuliano, where General Desaix was placed. They continue their retreat, and take place on the left behind, stop then and take a breath. All our cavalry and fifteen pieces of cannon were masked behind vineyards, and placed in the intervals of the regiments of General Desaix, of which the first third battalions were in column behind the wings of the second deployed in battle.

The fighting continued to be extremely lively between the armies. In the middle of these complicated maneuvers, and in the heat of a battle so obstinately fought, it became difficult to grasp the accounts of the rapidly changing dispositions; but confidence in the victory was always complete in the mind of the leader who directed them, although the Austrians thought themselves to have it. With certainty. Let us come back on the position of both armies from this movement. He was barricaded in the village, and held in respect the enemy cavalry which was also threatened on the road to Sale.

The grenadiers of the Guard were placed diagonally behind on the left of Castel-Ceriolo, the echelon of General Lannes diagonally behind on the left of grenadiers. General Desaix was posted in front of San-Giuliano, diagonally behind and on the left of General Lannes, with fifteen pieces of artillery.


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All our cavalry was placed in columns in the intervals to take advantage of the first favorable movement to act, the body of General Victor diagonally behind and on the left of General Desaix. The division Desaix, which had not fought yet, marches in the front to the enemy, with this noble assurance which inspires him the desire to give in his turn proofs of this brilliant valor which the other divisions had shown; it is proud to follow a general whose post was always that of the danger and the honor.

A low rise in the ground covered with vineyards revealed to this general a part of the enemy line; impatient, he dashes to discover it; the fearless ninth Light follows him in doubled step.

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The regrets of BONAPARTE were the first levies of honor paid to his memory; his division, under the orders of General Boudet, jealous to avenge its general, boldly charges the enemy, who, in spite of his deep determination to hold against our bayonets, overturns on the column of grenadiers which faced it, and which already had arrived at Cassina-Grossa, where it attacked our scouts. The surprised Austrians stop, shaken, it is then that showed themselves in all their day the depth and the skill of the capacities previously made.

The enemy, who had extended past our left the farm of Ventolina, and who imagined at the time that they were cutting off our retreat; are themselves attaacked on their left; the divisions which extend from Castel-Ceriolo to San-Giuliano, take their lines in flank; his battalions hear the shooting on every quarter - on the front, on the left flank and from behind. This brave move is executed in an instant, with as much resolution as skill.

General Kellermann goes to the gallop outside vineyards, deploys on the left flank of the enemy column, and by a quarter turn to the left, throws on it half of his brigade, whereas he leaves the other half behind to block the body of enemy cavalry opposite him and to mask the brave blow which he was going to make. At the same time grenadiers and chasseurs of the guard carried away on the right all which was in front of, them; General Watrin attacks with a new boldness; General Carra-Saint-Cyr sends, from Castel-Ceriolo, infantrymen along the brook and the swamps to with Marengo.

General of Cavalry Rivaud, making a decided movement, had his outposts already engaged with those of General Elsnitz on the road to Sale; and the main part of the Austrian cavalry was so engaged on the extreme right, that he left his line of infantry without support in the plain. The French army crosses in three quarters of an hour the great space which it had defended for four hours.

The enemy cavalry, pressed by General Rivaud, shot by the obstacle of Castel-Ceriolo, hurries to run up to aid of his infantry; the enemy joins, and arrived at Marengo, with the aim to keep this village. The forces of General Victor, which returned to places where it had so well defended, supports it.

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The enemy, who sees victory slipping away, wants to prove that he merited it, and shows, in this last fight, all the energy which the honor can give; but the victory goes to the French ranks; the tired and weakened Austrians have to give up, and our troop, go with them into Marengo which they evacuate to concern to their bridges of the Bormida. North of Marengo, General Lannes attacked a body of reserves; he met less resistance and had not less success; he seized some pieces of cannon. A body of the reserve of the enemy cavalry prepared to charge the right of the division Boudet; but General Bessires commanding the grenadiers and chasseurs cheval of the guard, seizes this occasion of glory; and jealous for the troop of elites that he commands; he takes the honor of the last charge, it preempts the enemy, rushes, bends back this body and throws him into disorder in the brook; he discovers there the flanks of the infantry and causes a general retreat, by carrying confusion and the dismay in the enemy ranks.

The young Beauharnais is brilliant at the head of chasseurs the boldness of his youth combined with the experience of a consummate warrior, showed from his acts that he deserved the fate which waited for him. Night already covered the plain, the remnants of the Austrian army take advantage of it to recross the bridges; and the French soldiers, in the middle of their bloody trophies, bivouac in the positions which they occupied before the battle.

The Austrians had in this day, four thousand, five hundred dead, eight thousand wounded and seven thousand prisoners; they lost twelve flags and thirty pieces of cannon. The French had eleven hundred killed, three thousand six hundred wounded and nine hundred prisoners. At daybreak the next day; our grenadiers attack the outposts which the enemy had left at the bridge over the Bormida. An Austrian army was beaten at Montebello by General Jean Lannes , but the situation almost worked in Melas' favour as an overconfident Bonaparte stretched his forces too far and walked into the Austrian commander's full force at Marengo.

It was almost a battle of two halves as first the Austrians had the decisive edge, then the arrival of General Louis Desaix and reinforcements swung it entirely in France's favour. The ensuing rout destroyed Austria's army in Italy and any hopes for the Second Coalition. The last major battle of the Second Coalition was at Hohenlinden where the Austrians again were decisively beaten. With French forces advancing on Vienna from several directions the Austrians sued for peace and signed the Treaty of Luneville.

Napoleon Bonaparte. Era of Napoleon. The surprise Bonaparte decided on was an early crossing of the Alps to take Mela's army in Italy in the rear and cut its supply lines. Bonaparte as Chandler alluded always had multiple plans ready for whatever his enemy did and to allow for the unexpected. He planned carefully but he was pragmatic about plans not working out.

Just the same he had a favorite plan in mind. While Massena held Mela's attention on the Riveria incidently denying him supply from the ports there he would appear suddenly in the rear of the Austrians marching over the marginal but direct Great St. Bernard pass from the area of Lake Geneva. He would threaten to attack the Austrians in the rear by appearing about to march through or past Turin, but he in fact would march laterally screened by the Po to take Milan a city both politically and logistically important.

Small brigade to division sized forces would attack via the Mount Cenis, Little St. Bernard, and St. Gotthard passes both to ease the problems of sending his entire force via the Great St.

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Image from page 251 of 'The Campaign of Marengo. With comments'

Bernard and to confuse the enemy as to where his actual attack was occuring. A major attack by General Lecourbe's veteran corps, 25, men strong, detached from Moreau's Army of Germany would be made south through the Spulgen pass securing a good supply line from Germany to Milan. Lecourbe's force would join Bonaparte's Army of the reserve in the vicinity of Milan. Minus screening forces west along the northern bank of the Po and east towards Verona and Mantua the combined army would attack south and cross to the south side of the Po at or near Piacenza.

From the vicinity of Piacenza the massed French would turn west and secure the Stradella defile between the Po river and the Appenine mountains. There are only 12 miles 20 km of flat land between the mountains and the river there and the plain was dominated by the stone buildings of the village of Stradella. Holding Genoa, the north bank of the Po, and the Stradella defile the French would have cut the Austrians off from their supply lines to Austria.

Bonaparte would have surprised Melas and trapped him in a pocket. In Bonaparte's ideal world the surprised and panicking Austrians would be retreating in disorder and would encounter the massed French army in the excellent Stradella defensive position and be defeated piecemeal. In detail as the technical jargon has it. The Austrians attacked first. Melas split Massena's Army of Italy in half. Massena was locked in Genoa while Suchet retreated with the rest of the army down the Riveria past Nice.

Bonaparte had to launch his campaign early. Moreover, though Massena managed to hold on long enough to keep Melas from blocking Bonaparte's exit from the Alpine passes he had to surrender Genoa in the end. The march over the Alps also had its problems. Fort Bard blocked the main road until June 2nd holding up most of the Reserve Army's artillery and complicating its supply.

Finally the full corps of 25, veterans Moreau was suppossed to send over the Splugen was replaced with 11, men commanded by Moncey.

Despite this Bonaparte's manouverings up to June 9th followed the basic schema he'd forseen. He crossed the Alps before the Austrians could react and then marched east on Milan screened by the Po to the south, from Milan he turned south, crossed the Po and marched to take the Stradella defile.

Because of Genoa having fallen. Bonaparte had to take the offensive at that point rather than standing on the defense. That almost didn't work out. Reports of the Austrian offensive led Bonaparte to decide on the Great St. Bernard route on April 27th. Orders went out. The Army of the Reserve of some 60, men started to move. On May 5th Bonaparte learned Massena was besieged in Genoa and only had provisions to last until May 20th. He sent orders to Berthier to "Force the March".

Bonaparte himself slipped out of Paris early on the 6th. By the 9th he was in Geneva and had taken de facto command of the Army of the Reserve. The crossing of the Great St. Bernard by the Army of the Reserve makes a fascinating story. The pass was not really suitable for traversal by a large army that early in the year. It took some careful planning and unconventional thinking to pull it off. It was a dramatic operation.

Image from page of 'The Campaign of Marengo. With comments' Stock Photo: - Alamy

For the purposes of the overall narrative only two points are really important though. One, the operation was effected quickly before the Austrians figured out was going on and with minimal loss. Two, Fort Bard turned out to block the main route preventing the easy passage of supply wagons or guns and it held out until June 2nd. The Army of the Reserve made into the plains of Northern Italy but minus most its guns and supply train. To some extent it made these lacks up via plunder and the capture of Austrian guns and supplies.

Still the French felt the lack of cannon, supply wagons, and ambulances as late as the Battle of Marengo on June 14th. That's getting ahead of our story. By May 24th the bulk of Army of the Reserve had essentially completed its crossing. The infantry, cavalry, and a few guns were across. Lannes and Duhesme's corps were in the lead around Ivrea where the plains began, Victor and Murat were in the valley behind them but over the pass. As was Bonaparte himself at Aosta.

Lannes faced an Austrian force under Haddick. Neither Bonaparte nor Melas had a clear picture of what was happening overall at this time. Melas knew French forces were pushing through the Alps by this point but he didn't know by which route the main French forces were coming and he significantly underestimated the size of the threat. Just the same he'd started moving reinforcements to deal with the threat. He was himself marching north with 9, men detached from the Army on the Riveria. He left Elsnitz with about 18, men to deal with Suchet near Nice and Ott with 21, to keep Massena confined to Genoa.

Turreau with a brigade was pushing over the Mount Cenis pass. Neither Army commander was clear about what was happening with him. As happened he was repulsed by the Austrians at Avigliano on the 24th of May.

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Still he'd succeeded in his main mission of confusing the Austrian command. Having crossed the Alps and having most of his Army concentrated around Ivrea it might have made sense for Bonaparte to attack south. He could expect to catch Melas main forces but piecemeal while still forming up and with the element of surprise.