Sunday, January 11, 2015

Napoleon Advances to the Piedmont Capital

Featuring Sir Walter Scott

Previously on Napoleon’s First Campaign. And now Sir Walter Scott.

Time: 1796
Place: Northern Italy

Crossing the Bridge at Arcole.
In reality Napoleon was behind his lines.
Public domain image from Wikipedia.
Bonaparte in person came up; and seeing the necessity of dislodging the enemy from his strong post, ordered three successive attacks to be made on the castle. Joubert, at the head of one of the attacking columns, had actually, with six or seven others, made his way into the outworks, when he was struck down by a wound in the head. General Banal and Adjutant-General Quenin fell, each at the head of the column which he commanded; and Bonaparte was compelled to leave the obstinate Provera in possession of the castle for the night. The morning of the 14th brought a different scene. Contenting himself with blockading the castle of Cossaria, Bonaparte now gave battle to General Colli, who made every effort to relieve it. These attempts were all in vain. He was defeated and cut off from Beaulieu; he retired as well as he could upon Ceva, leaving to his fate the brave General Provera, who was compelled to surrender at discretion.

On the same day, Masséna, with the centre, attacked the heights of Biastro, being the point of communication betwixt Beaulieu and Colli, while La Harpe, having crossed the Bormida, where the stream came up to the soldiers' middle, attacked in front and in flank the village of Dego, where the Austrian Commander-in-Chief was stationed. The first attack was completely successful--the heights of Biastro were carried, and the Piedmontese routed. The assault of Dego was not less so, although after a harder struggle. Beaulieu was compelled to retreat, and was entirely separated from the Sardinians, who had hitherto acted in combination with him. The defenders of Italy now retreated in different directions, Colli moving westward toward Ceva, while Beaulieu, closely pursued through a difficult country, retired upon D'Aqui.

Even the morning after the victory, it was nearly wrested out of the hands of the conquerors. A fresh division of Austrians, who had evacuated Voltri later than the others, and were approaching to form a junction with their General, found the enemy in possession of Beaulieu's position. They arrived at Dego like men who had been led astray, and were no doubt surprised at finding it in the hands of the French. Yet they did not hesitate to assume the offensive, and by a brisk attack drove out the enemy, and replaced the Austrian eagles in the village. Great alarm was occasioned by this sudden apparition; for no one among the French could conceive the meaning of an alarm beginning on the opposite quarter to that on which the enemy had retreated, and without its being announced from the outposts toward D'Aqui.

Bonaparte hastily marched on the village. The Austrians repelled two attacks; at the third, General Lanusse, afterward killed in Egypt, put his hat upon the point of his sword, and advancing to the charge penetrated into the place. Lannes also, afterward Duke of Montebello, distinguished himself on the same occasion by courage and military skill, and was recommended by Bonaparte to the Directory for promotion. In this Battle of Dego, more commonly called of Millesimo, the Austro-Sardinian army lost five or six thousand men, thirty pieces of cannon, with a great quantity of baggage. Besides, the Austrians were divided from the Sardinians; and the two generals began to show not only that their forces were disunited, but that they themselves were acting upon separate motives; the Sardinians desiring to protect Turin, whereas the movements of Beaulieu seemed still directed to prevent the French from entering the Milanese territory.

Leaving a sufficient force on the Bormida to keep in check Beaulieu, Bonaparte now turned his strength against Colli, who, overpowered, and without hopes of succor, abandoned his line of defense near Ceva, and retreated to the line of the Tanaro.

Napoleon in the mean time fixed his head-quarters at Ceva, and enjoyed from the heights of Montezemoto the splendid view of the fertile fields of Piedmont, stretching in boundless perspective beneath his feet, watered by the Po, the Tanaro, and a thousand other streams which descended from the Alps. Before the eyes of the delighted army of victors lay this rich expanse like a promised land; behind them was the wilderness they had passed--not indeed a desert of barren sand, similar to that in which the Israelites wandered, but a huge tract of rocks and inaccessible mountains, crested with ice and snow, seeming by nature designed as the barrier and rampart of the blessed regions, which stretched eastward beneath them. We can sympathize with the self-congratulation of the General who had surmounted such tremendous obstacles in a way so unusual. He said to the officers around him, as they gazed upon this magnificent scene, "Hannibal took the Alps by storm. We have succeeded as well by turning their flank."

The dispirited army of Colli was attacked at Mondovi during his retreat by two corps of Bonaparte's army from two different points, commanded by Masséna and Serrurier. The last General the Sardinian repulsed with loss; but when he found Masséna, in the mean time, was turning the left of his line, and that he was thus pressed on both flanks, his situation became almost desperate. The cavalry of the Piedmontese made an effort to renew the combat. For a time they overpowered and drove back those of the French; and General Stengel, who commanded the latter, was slain in attempting to get them into order. But the desperate valor of Murat, unrivalled perhaps in the heady charge of cavalry combat, renewed the fortune of the field; and the horse, as well as the infantry of Colli's army, were compelled to a disastrous retreat. The defeat was decisive; and the Sardinians, after the loss of the best of their troops, their cannon, baggage, and appointments, and being now totally divided from their Austrian allies, and liable to be overpowered by the united forces of the French army, had no longer hopes of effectually covering Turin. Bonaparte, pursuing his victory, took possession of Cherasco, within ten leagues of the Piedmontese capital.

Continued on Monday, January 12th..

More information here.

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