Online Encyclopedia

MARENGO AND

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V11, Page 203 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
MARENGO AND HOHENLINDEN The disasters of 1799 sealed the fate of the Directory, and placed Bonaparte, who returned from Egypt with the prestige of a recent victory, in his natural place as civil and military head of France. In the course of the campaign the field strength of the French had been gradually augmented, and in spite of losses now numbered 227,000 at the front. These were divided into the Army of Batavia, Brune (25,000), the Army of the Rhine, Moreau (146,000), the Army of Italy, Massena (56,000), and, in addition, there were some 1oo,000 in garrisons and depots in France. Most of these field armies were in a miserable condition owing to the losses and fatigues of the last campaign. The treasury, was empty and credit exhausted, and worse still—for spirit and enthusiasm, as in 1794, would have remedied material deficiencies—the conscripts obtained under Jourdan's law of 1798 (see CONSCRIPTION) came to their regiments most unwillingly. Most of them, indeed, deserted on the way to join the colours. A large draft sent to the Army of Italy arrived with 310 men instead of 10,250, and after a few such experiences, the First Consul decided that the untrained men were to be assembled in the fortresses of the interior and afterwards sent to the active battalions in numerous small drafts, which they could more easily assimilate. Besides accomplishing the immense task of reorganizing existing forces, he created new ones, including the Consular Guard, and carried out at this moment of crisis two such far-reaching reforms as the replacement of the civilian drivers of the artillery by soldiers, and of the hired teams by horses belonging to the state, and the permanent grouping of divisions in army corps. As early as the 25th of January 'Soo the First Consul provided for the assembly of all available forces in the interior in an " Army of Reserve." He reserved to himself the The Army of Reserve. command of this army,' which gradually came into being as the pacification of Vendee and the return of some of Brune's troops from Holland set free the necessary nucleus troops. The conscription law was stringently re-en forced, and impassioned calls were made for volunteers (the latter, be it said, did not produce five hundred useful men). The district of Dijon, partly as being central with respect to the Rhine and Italian Armies, partly as being convenient for supply purposes, was selected as the zone of assembly. Chabran's division was formed from some depleted corps of the Army of Italy and from the depots of those in Egypt. Chambarlhac's, chiefly of young soldiers, lost 5% of its numbers on the way to Dijon from desertion—a loss which appeared slight and even satisfactory after the wholesale debandade of the winter months. Lechi's Italian legion was newly formed from Italian refugees. Boudet's division was originally assembled from some of the southern garrison towns, but the units composing it were frequently changed up to the beginning of May. The cavalry was deficient in saddles, and many of its units were new formations. The Consular Guard of course was a corps d'i lite, and this and two and a half infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade coming from the veteran " Army of the West " formed the real back-bone of the army. Most of the newer units were not even armed till they had left Dijon for the front. Such was the first constitution of the Army of Reserve. We can scarcely imagine one which required more accurate and detailed staff work to assemble it—correspondence with the district commanders, with the adjutant-generals of the various armies, and orders to the civil authorities on the lines of march, to the troops themselves and to the arsenals and magazines. No one but Napoleon, even aided by a Berthier, could have achieved so great a task in six weeks, and the great captain, himself doing the work that nowadays is apportioned amongst a crowd of administrative staff officers, still found time to administer France's affairs at' home and abroad, and to think out a general plan of campaign that embraced Moreau's,Massena's and his own armies. The Army of the Rhine, by far the strongest and best equipped, lay on the upper Rhine. The small and worn-out Army of Italy was watching the Alps and the Apennines from Mont Blanc to ' He afterwards appointed Berthier to command the Army of Reserve, but himself accompanied it and directed it, using Berthier as chief of staff. Genoa. Between them Switzerland, secured by the victory of Zurich, offered a starting-point for a turning movement on either side—this year the advantage of the flank position was recognized and acted upon. The Army of Reserve was assembling around Dijon, within 200 M. of either theatre of war. The general plan was that the Army of Reserve should march through Switzerland to close on the right wing of the Army of the Rhine. Thus supported to whatever degree might prove to be necessary, Moreau was to force the passage of the Rhine about Schaffhausen, to push back the Austrians rapidly beyond the Lech, and then, if they took the offensive in turn, to hold them in check for ten or twelve days. During this period of guaranteed freedom the decisive movement was to be made. The Army of Reserve, augmented by one large corps of the Army of the Rhine, was to descend by the Spliigen (alternatively by the St Gothard and even by Tirol) into the plains of Lombardy. Magazines were to be established at Zurich and Lucerne (not at Chur, lest the plan should become obvious from the beginning), and all likely routes reconnoitred in advance. The Army of Italy was at first to maintain a strict defensive, then to occupy the Austrians until the entry of the Reserve Army into Italy was assured, and finally to manoeuvre to join it. Moreau, however, owing to want of horses for his pontoon train and also because of the character of the Rhine above Basel, preferred to cross below that place, especially as in Alsace there were considerably greater supply facilities than in a country which had already been fought over and stripped bare. With the greatest reluctance Bonaparte let him have his way, and giving up the idea of using the Splugen and the St Gothard, began to turn his attention to the more westerly passes, the St Bernard and the Simplon. It was not merely Moreau's scruples that led to this essential modification in the scheme. At the beginning of April the enemy took the offensive against Massena. On the 8th Melas's right wing dislodged the French from the Mont Cenis, and most of the troops that had then reached Dijon were shifted southward to be ready for emergencies. By the 25th Berthier reported that Massena was seriously attacked and that he might have to be supported by the shortest route. Bonaparte's resolution was already taken. He waited no longer for Moreau (who indeed so far from volunteering assistance, actually demanded it for himself). Convinced from thepaucityofnewsthatMassena's army was closely pressed and probably severed from France, and feeling also that the Austrians were deeply committed to their struggle with the Army of Italy, he told Berthier to march with 40,000 men at once by way of the St Bernard unless otherwise advised. Berthier protested that he had only 25,000 effectives, and the equipment and armament was still far from complete—as indeed it remained to the end—but the troops marched, though their very means of existence were precarious from the time of leaving Geneva to the time of reaching Milan, for nothing could extort supplies and money from the sullen Swiss. At the beginning of May the First Consul learned of the serious plight of the Army of Italy. Massena with his right wing was shut up,in_Genoa, Suchet with the left wing Napoleon's driven back to the Var. Meanwhile Moreau had won camp an. a preliminary victory at Stokach, and the Army of Reserve had begun its movement to Geneva. With these data the plan of campaign took a clear shape at last—Massena to resist as long as possible; Suchet to resume the offensive, if he could do so, towards Turin; the Army of Reserve to pass the Alps and to debouch into Piedmont by Aosta; the Army of the. Rhine to send a strong force into Italy by the St Gothard. The First Consul left Paris on the 6th of May. Berthier went forward to Geneva, and still farther on the route magazines were established at Villeneuve and St-Pierre. Gradually, and with immense efforts, the leading troops of the long columns were passed over the St Bernard, drawing their artillery on sledges, on the 15th and succeeding days. Driving away small posts of the Austrian army, the advance guard entered Aosta on the 16th and Chatillon on the 18th and the alarm was given. Melas, committed as he was to his Riviera campaign, began to look to his right rear, but he was far from suspecting the seriousness of his opponent's purpose. Infinitely more dangerous for the French than the small detachment that Melas opposed to them, or even the actual Bard crossing of the pass, was the unexpected stopping power of the little fort of Bard. The advanced guard of the French appeared before it on the rgth, and after three wasted days the infantry managed to find a difficult mountain by-way and to pass round the obstacle. Ivrea was occupied on the 23rd, and Napoleon hoped to assemble the whole army there by the 27th. But except for a few guns that with infinite precautions were smuggled one by one through the streets of Bard, the whole of the artillery, as well as a detachment (under Chabran) to besiege the fort, had to be left behind. Bard surrendered on the 2nd of June, having delayed the infantry of the French army for four days and the artillery for a fortnight. The military situation in the last week of May, as it presented itself to the First Consul at Ivrea, was this. The Army of Italy under Massena was closely besieged in Genoa, where provisions were running short, and the population so hostile that the French general placed his field artillery to sweep the streets. But Massena was no ordinary general, and the First Consul knew that while Massena lived the garrison would resist to the last extremity. Suchet was defending Nice and the Var by vigorous minor operations. The Army of Reserve, the centre of which had reached at Ivrea the edge of the Italian plains, consisted of four weak army corps under Victor, Duhesme, Lannes and Murat. There were still to be added to this small army of 34,000 effectives, Turreau's division, which had passed over the Mont Cenis and was now in the valley of the Dora Itiparia, Moncey's corps of the Army of the Rhine, which had at last been extorted from Moreau and was due to pass the St Gothard before the end of May, Chabran's division left to.besiege Bard, and a small force under Bethencourt, which was to cross the Simplon and to descend by Arona (this place proved in the event a second Bard and immobilized Bethencourt until after the decisive battle). Thus it was only the simplest part of Napoleon's task to concentrate half of his army at Ivrea, and he had yet to bring 1 Only one division of the main body used the Little St Bernard.in the rest. The problem was to reconcile the necessity for time, which he wanted to ensure the maximum force being brought over the Alps, with the necessity for haste, in view of the impending fall of Genoa and the probability that once this conquest was achieved, Melas would bring back his 100,000 men into the Milanese to deal with the Army of Reserve. As early as the 14th of May he had informed Moncey that from Ivrea the Army of Reserve would move on Milan. On the 25th of May, in response to Berthier's request for guidance, the First Consul ordered Lannes (advanced guard) to push out on the Turin road, " in order to deceive the enemy and to obtain news of Turreau," and Duhesme's and Murat's corps to proceed along the Milan road. On the 27th, after Lannes had on the 26th defeated an Austrian column near Chivasso, the main body was already advancing on Vercelli. . Very few of Napoleon's acts of generalship have been more criticized than this resolution to march on Milan, which abandoned Genoa to its. fate and gave Melas a week's leisure to The march assemble his scattered forces. The account of his motives The 'hatch he dictated at St Helena (Nap. Correspondence, v. 30, pp. 375-377), in itself an unconvincing appeal to the rules of strategy as laid down by the theorists—which rules his own practice through-out transcended—gives, when closely examined, some at least of the necessary clues. He says in effect that by advancing directly on Turin he would have " risked a battle against equal forces without an assured line of retreat, Bard being still uncaptured." It is indeed strange to find Napoleon shrinking before equal forces of the enemy, even if we admit without comment that it was more difficult to pass Bard the second time than the first. The only incentive to go towards Turin was the chance of partial victories over the disconnected Austrian corps that would be met in that direction, and this he deliberately set aside. Having done so, for reasons that will appear in the sequel, he could only defend it by saying in effect that he might have been defeated—which was true, but not the Napoleonic principle of war. Of the alternatives, one was to hasten to Genoa; this in Napoleon's eyes would have been playing the enemy's game, for they would have concentrated at Alessandria, facing west " in their natural position." It is equally obvious that thus the enemy would have played his game, supposing that this was to relieve Genoa, and the implication is that it was not. The third course, which Napoleon took, and in this memorandum defended, gave his army the enemy's depots at Milan, of which it unquestionably stood in sore need, and the reinforcement of Moncey's 15,o00 men from the Rhine, while at the same time Moncey's route offered an " assured line of retreat " by the Simplon2 and the St Gothard. He would in fact make for himself there a " natural position " without forfeiting the advantage of being in Melas's rear. Once possessed of Milan, Napoleon says, he could have engaged Melas with a light heart and with confidence in the greatest possible results of a victory, whether the Austrians sought to force their way back to the east by the right or the left bank of the Po, and he adds that if the French passed on and concentrated south of the Po there would be no danger to the Milan-St Gothard line of retreat, as this was secured by the rivers Ticino and Sesia. In this last, as we shall see, he is shielding an undeniable mistake, but considering for the moment only the movement to Milan, we are justified in assuming that his object was not the relief of Genoa, but the most thorough defeat of Melas's field army, to which end,, putting all sentiment aside, he treated the hard-pressed Massena as a " containing force " to keep Melas occupied during the strategical deployment of the Army of Reserve. In the beginning he had told Massena that he would " disengage " him, even if he had to go as far east as Trent to find a way into Italy. From the first, then, no direct relief was intended, and when, on hearing bad news from the Riviera, he altered his route to the more westerly passes, it was probably because he felt that Massena's containing power was almost exhausted, and that the passage and reassembly of the Reserve Army must be brought about in the minimum time and by the shortest way. But the object was still the defeat of Melas,'and for this, as the Austrians possessed an enormous numerical superiority, the assembly of all forces, including Moncey's, was indispensable. One essential condition of this was that the points of passage used should be out of reach of the enemy. The more westerly the passes chosen, the more dangerous was the whole operation—in fact the Mont Cenis column never reached him at all—and though his expressed objections to the St Bernard line seem, as we have said, to be written after the event, to disarm his critics, there is no doubt that at the time he disliked it. It was a is alter forced upon him by Moreau's delay and Massena's extremity, and from the moment at which he arrived at Milan he did, as a fact, abandon it altogether in favour of the St Gothard. Lastly, so strongly was he impressed with the necessity of completing the deployment of all his forces, that though he found the Austrians on the Turin side much scattered and could justifiably expect a series of rapid 2 When he made his decision he was unaware that Bethencourt had been held up at Arona. partial victories, Napoleon let them go, and devoted his whole energy to creating for himself a " natural " position about Milan. If he sinned, at any rate he sinned handsomely, and except that he went to Milan by Vercelli instead of by Lausanne and Domodossola' (on the safe side of the mountains), his march is logistically beyond cavil. Napoleon's immediate purpose, then, was to reassemble the Army of Reserve in a zone of manceuvre about Milan. This was carried out in the first days of June. Lannes at Chivasso stood ready to ward off a flank attack until the main army had filed past on the Vercelli road, then leaving a small force to combine with Turreau (whose column had nbt been able to advance into the plain) in demonstrations towards Turin, he moved off, still acting as right flank guard to the army, in the direction of Pavia. The main body meanwhile, headed by Murat, advanced on Milan by way of Vercelli and Magenta, forcing the passage of the Ticino on the 3Ist of May at Turbigo and Buffalora. On the same day the other divisions closed up to the Ticino,2 and faithful to his principles Napoleon had an examination made of the little fortress of Novara, intending to occupy it as a place du moment to help in securing his zone of manoeuvre. On the morning of the znd of June Murat occupied Milan, and in the evening of the same day the headquarters entered the great city, the Austrian detachment under Vukassovich (the flying right wing of Melas's general cordon system in Piedmont) retiring to the Adda. Duhesme's corps forced that river at Lodi, and pressed on with orders to organize Crema and if possible Orzinovi as temporary fortresses. Lechi's Italians were sent towards Bergamo and Brescia. Lannes meantime had passed Vercelli, and on the evening of the znd his cavalry reached Pavia, where, as at Milan, immense stores of food, equipment and warlike stores were seized. Napoleon was now safe in his " natural " position, and barred one of the two main lines of retreat open to the Austrians. But his ambitions went further, and he intended to cross the Po and to establish himself on the other likewise, thus establishing across the plain a complete barrage between Melas and Mantua. Here his end outranged his means, as we shall see. But he gave himself every chance that rapidity could afford him, and the moment that some sort of a " zone of manoeuvre " had been secured between the Ticino and the Oglio, he pushed on his main body—or rather what was left after the protective system had been provided for —to the Po. He would not wait even for his guns, which had at last emerged from the Bard defile and were ordered to come to Milan by a safe and circuitous route along the foot of the Alps. At this point the action of the enemy began to make itself felt. Melas had not gained the successes that he had expected in Piedmont and on the Riviera, thanks to Massena's obstinacy and to Suchet's brilliant defence of the Var. These operations had led him very far afield, and the protection of his over-long line of communications had caused him to weaken his large army by throwing off many detachments to watch the Alpine valleys on his right rear. One of these successfully opposed Turreau in the valley of the Dora Riparia, but another had been severely handled by Lannes at Chivasso, and a third (Vukassovich) found itself, as we know, directly in the path of the French as they moved from Ivrea to Milan, and was driven far to the eastward. He was further handicapped by the necessity of supporting Ott before Genoa and Elsnitz on the Var, and hearing of Lannes's bold advance on Chivasso and of the presence of a French column with artillery (Turreau) west of Turin, he assumed that the latter represented the main body of the Army of Reserve—in so far indeed as he believed in the existence of that army at all.3 Next, when ' This may be accounted for by the fact that Napoleon's mind was not yet definitively made up when his advanced guard had already begun to climb the St Bernard (12th). Napoleon's instructions for Moncey were written on the 14th. The magazines, too, had to be provided and placed before it was known whether Moreau's detachment would be forthcoming. 2 Six guns had by now passed Fort Bard and four of these were with Murat and Duhesme, two with Lannes. 2 It is supposed that the foreign spies at Dijon sent word to their various employers that the Army was a bogy. In fact a great part of it never entered Dijon at all, and the troops reviewed there by Lannes moved away towards Pavia, Melas thought for a moment that fate had delivered his enemy into his hands, and began to collect such troops as were at hand at Turin with a view to cutting off the retreat of the French on Ivrea while Vukassovich held them in front. It was only when news came of Moncey's arrival in Italy and of Vukassovich's fighting retreat on Brescia that the magnitude and purpose of the French column that had penetrated by Ivrea became evident. Melas promptly decided to give up his western enterprises, and to concentrate at Alessandria, preparatory to breaking his way through the network of small columns—as the disseminated Army of Reserve still appeared to be—which threatened to bar his retreat. But orders circulated so slowly that he had to wait in Turin till the 8th of June for Elsnitz, whose retreat was, moreover, sharply followed up and made exceedingly costly by the enterprising Suchet. Ott, too, in spite of orders to give up the siege of Genoa at once and to march with all speed to hold the Alessandria-Piacenza road, waited two days to secure the prize, and agreed (June 4) to allow Massena's army to go free and to join Suchet. And lastly, the cavalry of O'Reilly, sent on ahead from Alessandria to the Stradella defile, reached that point only to encounter the French. The barrage was complete, and it remained for Melas to break it with the mass that he was assembling, with all these misfortunes and delays, about Alessandria. His chances of doing so were anything but desperate. On the 5th of June Murat, with his own corps and part of Duhesme's, had moved on Piacenza, and stormed the bridge-head there. Duhesme with one of his divisions pushed out on Crema and Orzinovi and also towards Pizzighetone. Moncey's leading regiments approached Milan, and Berthier thereupon sent on Victor's corps to support Murat and Lannes. Meantime the half abandoned line of operations, Ivrea-Vercelli, was briskly attacked by the Austrians, who had still detachments on the side of Turin, waiting for Elsnitz to rejoin, and the French artillery train was once more checked. On the 6th Lannes from Pavia, crossing the Po at San Cipriano, encountered and defeated a large force, (O'Reilly's column), and barred the Alessandria-Parma main road. Opposite Piacenza Murat had to spend the day in gathering material for his passage, as the pontoon bridge had been cut by the retreating garrison of the bridge-head. On the eastern border of the " zone of manceuvre " Duhesme's various columns moved out towards Brescia and Cremona, pushing back Vukassovich. Meantime the last divisions of the Army of Reserve (two of Moncey's excepted) were hurried towards Lannes's point of passage, as Murat had not yet secured Piacenza. On the 7th, while Duhesme continued to push back Vukassovich and seized Cremona, Murat at last captured Piacenza, finding there immense magazines. Meantime the army, division by division, passed over, slowly owing to a sudden flood, near Belgiojoso, and Lannes's advanced guard was ordered to open communication with Murat along the main road Stradella-Piacenza. " Moments are precious " said the First Consul. He was aware that Elsnitz was retreating before Suchet, that Melas had left Turin for Alessandria, and that heavy forces of the enemy were at or east of Tortona. He knew, too, that Murat had been engaged with certain regiments recently before Genoa and (wrongly) assumed O'Reilly's column, beaten by Lannes at San Cipriano, to have come from the same quarter. Whether this meant the deliverance or the surrender of Genoa he did not yet know, but it was certain that Massena's holding action was over, and that Melas was gathering up his forces to recover his communications. Hence Napoleon's great object was concentration. " Twenty thousand men at Stradella," in his own words, was the goal of his efforts, and with the accomplishment of this purpose the campaign enters on a new phase. On the 8th of June, Lannes's corps was across, Victor following as quickly as the flood would allow. Murat was at Piacenza, but the road between Lannes and Murat was not known to be clear, and the First Consul made the establishment of the Bonaparte were only conscripts and details. By the time that the veteran divisions from the west and Paris arrived, either the spies had been ejected or their news was sent off too late to be of use. Melas's movements. connexion, and the construction of a third point of passage mid-way between the other two, the principal objects of the day's work. The army now being disseminated between the Napoleon's Alps, the Apennines, the Ticino and the Chiese, it eons st was of vital importance to connect up the various parts into a well-balanced system. But the Napoleon of 1800 solved the problem that lay at the root of his strategy, " concentrate, but be vulnerable nowhere," in a way that compares unfavourably indeed with the methods of the Napoleon of 18o6. Duhesme was still absent at Cremona. Lechi was far away in the Brescia country, Bethencourt detained at Arona. Moncey with about 15,000 men had to cover an area of 40 M. square around Milan, which constituted the original zone of manceuvre, and if Melas chose to break through the flimsy cordon of outposts on this side (the risk of which was the motive for detaching Moncey at all) instead of at the Stradella, it would take Moncey two days to concentrate his force on any battlefield within the area named, and even then he would be outnumbered by two to one. As for the main body at the Stradella, its position was wisely chosen, for the ground was too cramped for the deployment of the superior force that Melas might bring up, but the strategy that set before itself as an object 20,000 men at the decisive point out of 50,000 available, is, to say the least, imperfect. The most serious feature in all this was the injudicious order to Lannes to send forward his advanced guard, and to attack whatever enemy he met with on the road to Voghera. The First Consul, in fact, calculated that Melas could not assemble 20,000 men at Alessandria before the 12th of June, and he told Lannes that if he met the Austrians towards Voghera, they could not be more than io,000 strong. A later order betrays some anxiety as to the exactitude of these assumptions, warns Lannes not to let himself be surprised, indicates his line of retreat, and, instead of ordering him to advanceonVoghera, authorizes him to attack any corps that presented itself at Stradella. But all this came too late. Acting on the earlier order Lannes fought the battle of Montebello on the 9th. This was a very severe running fight, beginning east of Casteggio and ending at Montebello, in which the French drove the Austrians from several successive positions, and which culminated in a savage fight at close quarters about Montebello itself. The singular feature of the battle is the disproportion between the losses on either side —French, Soo out of 12,000 engaged; Austrians, 2100 killed and wounded and 2100 prisoners out of 14,000. These figures are most conclusive evidence of the intensity of the French military spirit in those days. One of the two divisions (Watrin's) was indeed a veteran organization, but the other, Chambarlhac's, was formed of young troops and was the same that, in the march to Dijon, had congratulated itself that only 5% of its men had deserted. On the other side the soldiers fought for " the honour of their arms "—not even with the courage of despair, for they were ignorant of the " strategic barrage " set in front of them by Napoleon, and the loss of their communications had not as yet lessened their daily rations by an ounce. Meanwhile, Napoleon had issued orders for the main body to stand fast, and for the detachments to take up their definitive covering positions. Duhesme's corps was directed, from its eastern foray, to Piacenza, to join the main body. Moncey was to provide for the defence of the Ticino line, Lechi to form a " flying camp " in the region of Orzinovi-Brescia and Cremona, and another mixed brigade was to control the Austrians in Pizzighetone and in the citadel of Piacenza. On the other side of the Po, between Piacenza and Montebello, was the main body (Lannes, Murat and part of Victor's and Duhesme's corps), and a flank guard was stationed near Pavia, with orders to keep on the right of the army as it advanced (this is the first and only hint of any intention to go westward) and to fall back fighting should Melas come on by the left bank. One division was to be always a day's march behind the army on the right bank, and a flotilla was to ascend the Po, to facilitate the speedy reinforcement of the flank guard. Farther to the north was a small column on the road Milan-Vercelli. All the protective troops,except the division of the main body detailed as an eventual support for the flank guard, was to be found by Moncey's corps (which had besides to watch the Austrians in the citadel of Milan) and Chabran's and Lechi's weak commands. On this same day Bonaparte tells the Minister of War, Carnot, that Moncey has only brought half the expected reinforcements and that half of these are unreliable. As to the result of the impending contest Napoleon counts greatly upon the union of 18,000 men under Massena and Suchet to crush Melas against the " strategic barrage " of the Army of Reserve, by one or other bank of the Po, and he seems equally confident of the result in either case. If Genoa had held out three days more, he says, it would have been easy to count the number of Melas's men who escaped. The exact significance of this last notion is difficult to establish, and all that could be written about it would be merely conjectural. But it is interesting to note that, without admitting it, Napoleon felt that his " barrage " might not stand before the flood. The details of the orders of the 9th to the main body (written before the news of Montebello arrived at headquarters) tend to the closest possible concentration of the main body towards Casteggio, in view of a decisive battle on the 12th or 13th. But another idea had begun to form itself in his mind. Still believing that Melas would attack him on the Stradella side, and hastening his preparations to meet this, he began to allow for the contingency of Melas giving up or failing in his attempt to re-establish his communication with the advance. Mantovese, and retiring on Genoa, which was now in his hands and could be provisioned and reinforced by sea. On the loth Napoleon ordered reserve ammunition to be sent from Pavia, giving Serravalle, which is south of Novi, as its probable destination. But this was surmise, and of the facts he knew nothing. Would the enemy move east on the Stradella, north-east on the Ticino or south on Genoa? Such reports as were available indicated no important movements whatever, which happened to be true, but could hardly appear so to the French headquarters. On the 11th, though he thereby forfeited the reinforcements coming up from Duhesme's corps at Cremona, Napoleon ordered the main body to advance to the Scrivia. Lapoype's division (the right flank guard), which was observing the Austrian posts towards Casale, was called to the south bank of the Po, the zone around Milan was stripped so bare of troops that there was no escort for the prisoners taken at Montebello, while information sent by Chabran (now moving up from Ivrea) as to the construction of bridges at Casale (this was a feint made by Melas on the loth) passed unheeded. The crisis was at hand, and, clutching at the reports collected by Lapoype as to the quietude of the Austrians toward Valenza and Casale, Bonaparte and Berthier strained every nerve to bring up more men to the Montebello. Voghera side in the hope of preventing the prey from slipping away to Genoa. On the 12th, consequently, the army (the ordre de bataille of which had been considerably modified on the 11th) moved to the Scrivia, Lannes halting at Castelnuovo, Desaix (who had just joined the army from Egypt) at Pontecurone, Victor at Tortona with Murat's cavalry in front towards Alessandria. Lapoype's division, from the left bank of the Po, was marching in all haste to join Desaix. Moncey, Duhesme, Lechi and Chabran were absent. The latter represented almost exactly half of Berthier's command (30,000 out of 58,000), and even the concentration of 28,000 men on the Scrivia had only been obtained by practically giving up the " barrage " on the left bank of the Po. Even now the enemy showed nothing but a rearguard, and the old questions reappeared in a new and acute form. Was Melas still in Alessandria ? Was he -marching on Valenza and Casale to cross the Po ? or to Acqui against Suchet, or to Genoa to base himself on the British fleet? As to the first, why had he given up his chances of fighting on one of the few cavalry battlegrounds in north Italy—the plain of Marengo—since he could not stay in Alessandria for any indefinite time? The second question had been answered in the negative by Lapoype, but his latest information was thirty-six hours old. As for the other questions, no answer whatever was forthcoming, and the only course open was to postpone decisive measures and to send forward the cavalry, supported by infantry, to gain information. On the 13th, therefore, Murat, Lannes and Victor advanced into the plain of Marengo, traversed it without difficulty and Marengo. carrying the villages held by the Austrian rearguard, established themselves for the night within a mile of the fortress. But meanwhile Napoleon, informed we may suppose of their progress, had taken a step that was fraught with the gravest consequences. He had, as we know, no intention of forcing on a decision until his reconnaissance produced the information on which to base it, and he had therefore kept back three divisions under Desaix at Pontecurone. But as the day wore on without incident, he began to fear that the reconnaissance would be profitless, and unwilling to give Melas any further start, he sent out these divisions right and left to find and to hold the enemy, whichever way the latter had gone. At noon Desaix with one division was despatched southward to Rivalta to head off Melas from Genoa and at 9 A.M. on the 14th,' Lapoype was sent back over the Po to hold the Austrians should they be advancing from Valenza towards the Ticino. Thus there remained in hand only 21,000 men when at last, in the forenoon of the 14th the whole of Melas's army, more than 40,000 strong, moved out of Alessandria, not southward nor northward, but due west into the plain of Marengo (q.v.). The extraordinary battle that followed is described elsewhere. The outline of it is simple enough. The Austrians advanced slowly and in the face of the most resolute opposition, until their attack had gathered weight, and at last they were carrying all before them, when Desaix returned from beyond Rivalta and initiated a series of counterstrokes. These were brilliantly successful, and gave the French not only local victory but the supreme self-confidence that, next day, enabled them to extort from Melas an agreement to evacuate all Lombardy as far as the Mincio. And though in this way the chief prize, Melas's army, escaped after all, Marengo was the birthday of the First Empire. One more blow, however, was required before the Second Coalition collapsed, and it was delivered by Moreau. We have seen that he had crossed the upper Rhine and defeated Kray at Stokach. This was followed by other partial victories, and Kray then retired to Ulm, where he reassembled his forces, hitherto scattered in a long weak line from the Neckar to Schaffhausen. Moreau continued his advance, extending his forces up to and over the Danube below Ulm, and winning several combats, of which the most important was that of Hochstadt, ' On the strength of a report, false as it turned out, that the Austrian rearguard had broken the bridges of the Bormida.fought on the famous battlegrounds of 1703 and 1704, and memorable for the death of La Tour d'Auvergne, the " First Grenadier of France " (June 19). Finding himself in danger of envelopment, Kray now retired, swiftly and skilfully, across the front of the advancing French, and reached Ingolstadt in safety. Thence he retreated over the Inn, Moreau following him to the edge of that river, and an armistice put an end for the moment to further operations. This not resulting in a treaty of peace, the war was resumed both in Italy and in Germany. The Army of Reserve and the Army of Italy, after being fused into one, under Massena's command, were divided again into a fighting army under Brune, who opposed the Austrians (Bellegarde) on the Mincio, and a political army under Murat,which re-established French influence in the Peninsula. The former, extending on a wide front as usual, won a few strategical successes without tactical victory, the only incidents of which worth recording are the gallant fight of Dupont's division, which had become isolated during a manoeuvre, at Pozzolo on the Mincio (December 25) and the descent of a corps under Macdonald from the Grisons by way of the Splugen, an achievement far surpassing Napoleon's and even Suvarov's exploits, in that it was made after the winter snows had set in. In Germany the war for a moment reached the sublime. Kray had been displaced in command by the young archduke John, who ordered the denunciation of the armistice Rohe and a general advance. His plan, or that of his Bode: advisers, was to cross the lower Inn, out of reach of Moreau's principal mass, and then to swing round the French flank until a complete chain was drawn across their rear. But during the development of the manoeuvre, Moreau also moved, and by rapid marching made good the time he had lost in concentrating his over-dispersed forces. The weather was appalling, snow and rain succeeding one another until the roads were almost impassable. On the 2nd of December the Austrians were brought to a standstill, but the inherent mobility of the Revolutionary armies enabled them to surmount all difficulties, and thanks to the respite afforded him by the archduke's halt, Moreau was able to see clearly into the enemy's plans and dispositions. On the 3rd of December, while the Austrians in many disconnected columns were struggling through the dark and muddy forest paths about Hohenlinden, Moreau struck the decisive blow. While Ney and Grouchy held fast the head of the Austrian main column at Hohenlinden, Richepanse's corps was directed on its left flank. In the forest Richepanse unexpectedly met a subsidiary Austrian column which actually cut his column in two. But profiting by the momentary con-fusion he drew off that part of his forces which had passed beyond the point of contact and continued his march, striking the flank of the archduke's main column, most of which had not succeeded in deploying opposite Ney, at the village of Mattempost. First the baggage train and then the artillery park fell into his hands, and lastly he reached the rear of the troops engaged opposite Hohenlinden, whereupon the Austrian main body practically dissolved. The rear of Richepanse's corps, after disengaging itself from the Austrian column it had met in the earlier part of the day, arrived at Mattempost in time to head off thousands of fugitives who had escaped from the carnage at Hohenlinden. The other columns of the unfortunate army were first checked and then driven back by the French divisions they met, which, moving more swiftly and fighting better in the broken ground and the woods, were able to combine two brigades against one wherever a fight developed. On this disastrous day the Austrians lost 20,000 men, 12,000 of them being prisoners, and qo guns. Marengo and Hohenlinden decided the war of the Second Coalition as Rivoli had decided that of the First, and the Revolutionary Wars came to an end with the armistice of Steyer (December 25, 1800) and the treaty of Luneville (February 9, 18oI). But only the first act of the great drama was accomplished. After a short respite Europe entered upon the Napoleonic Wars.
End of Article: MARENGO AND
[back]
MARENGO
[next]
MAREOTIS (Arabic Mariut)

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.