The 1799 Campaign in Italy: Summer Moves – Austria’s Planned Riviera Offensive and Joubert Takes Command
Suvorov had now concentrated the Coalition Army at the Orba Camp with all the Russians at his immediate disposal. He now wished to maintain the pace of offensive operations even by driving over the Ligurian Apennines, possibly not towards Genoa, the last French bridgehead in Italy, but with a direct attack against Briga and Tenda and, then, to Nice, cutting off the whole Army of Italy. He was debating that: “We must get Genoa by a direct attack from the Gavi road or by taking a large tour from Acqui till Ceva and then Savona. In every case the French could have some ways of retreat to their Homeland. However the better way to cut off the whole French forces in Liguria, it could be a drive towards Briga and Tenda passes, with a successive advance to Nice. This could put Moreau in extreme difficulties”.
The document in which Suvorov described his plan was also hand-undersigned by General Mélas himself, who seemed often more cautious and more interested in the orders that came from Vienna (Emperor Franz and Minister Thugut). Melas completely agreed with the Suvorov’s plan, deciding that a large Corps, under Fieldmarshal Kray, had to march towards Coni in order to became the new Right Wing of the Coalition Army, that directly involved in an eventual attack towards Col di Tenda. In a different way from Vienna, Suvorov was not interested in all what could slow the military advances, such as sieges. He did not care for Mantua, Tortona and an eventual long siege of Genoa, preferring the battlefields. At Vienna, however, the resolution of the long sieges was also a prestige matter, also if this could have slowed the operations causing the lose of good opportunities. Marquis de Chasteler had the same opinion as Suvorov about the campaign and was upset by the continual orders from Vienna to secure the control of Italy with the capture of Mantua and the citadel of Alessandria.
This infinite on-off switch would be ended when Alexandria and Mantua capitulated at the end of July. By July 11, Chasteler had already studied the plan of operations, based on the capture of the road-fortresses: Tortona citadel, Serravalle and Gavi. This would have opened the roads to Genoa, which would be attacked by 20,000 men, while a further armeegruppe of 20,000 regulars would attacked from Coni (Cuneo) across Col di Tenda to the sea till Nice, while the Piedmontese militia, newly organized, had to control the inner order and the supplies. This plan was called the “Riviera Offensive Plan” and begun to be arranged after the fall of Mantua, by the first days of August, while a badly timed French move forced the opposite armies to battle at the “key of the main Genoa’s gate”: Novi Ligure.
The definitive plan, called third hypothesis “Trit’je Predpolozhenje“, was licensed on July 30, (being undersigned by Melas) and reassumed Suvorov’s ideas upon the offensive, being comprehensive of recalling the Klenau Gruppe (which, for a period, had been serving in Tuscany to support the insurgency) in order to make pressure against the coastal sector, eastwards of Genoa. This plan was effective by August 4, ten days before the Novi battle, and had the name of “dispozichija k' obwiemu nastuplenju v' Rivieru” (Deployment for the general offensive in Riviera) (see Novi battle for details).
The Coalition army, during that summer, was deployed:
Coalition Army Headquarters at Bosco (Alessandria) – joint Staff
Russian Rozenberg Corps (14,712 men, 24 battalions, 4 Cossacks pulki)
Russian Vanguard Division - Generalmajor Pjotr Ivanovich Prince Bagration
Russian Division - Lieutenant General Jacob Ivanovich Povalo-Shvejkovsky 1st
Russian Division - Lieutenant General Ivan Ivanovich Förster
Austrian Division - Generalmajor Freiherr Michael von Fröhlich
Feldbrigade General-Major Freiherr Anton von Mittrowsky
Feldbrigade Generalmajor Franz Joseph Marquis de Lusignan
Cavalry Brigade Generalmajor Fürst Johann von Liechtenstein
(Heertheil) Division FML Heinrich Joseph Johannes Graf von Bellegarde (11000 men)
Alessandria Belagerung Korps
Feldbrigade FML Johann Ludwig Alexander Alformerius Frh. von Loudon
Feldbrigade Generalmajor Friedrich Bellegarde
Tortona Belagerung Korps - Generalmajor Johann Graf Alcaini (3000 men)
(Heertheil) Piémont Sicherung Korps - FML Conrad Valentin Kaim (14000 men – 21 Battalions, 4 squadrons, 2 Cossack pulki)
Coni Belagerung Korps
Turin Besetzung Korps
Valenza and Casale
Feldbrigade Generalmajor Graf Johann Nobili
Feldbrigade Generalmajor Graf Joseph Johann Saint Julien-Wallsee
Westliche Grenze Sicherung Korps
Feldbrigade Generalmajor Oberst Ludwig Wolff de la Marseille
Südliche Grenze Sicherung Korps
Austrian Avantgarde Brigade Generalmajor Freiherr Josef Philipp von Vukassovich
Nordliche Grenze Sicherung Korps (Aosta valley at St. Gotthard)
Feldbrigade Oberst Prinz Carl von Rohan
(Heertheil) Schweitzerische Grenze Sicherung Korps -
Generalmajor Karl Joseph Graf Hadik von Futak
Oberwallis Sicherung Korps – 8 Battalions – 1 squadron
Feldbrigade Oberst Gottfried Freiherr von Strauch
Aosta Sicherung Korps (Aosta valley) – 8 Battalions – 3
squadrons and ½ - 14 guns
Simplon Pass Sicherung Korps – 2 battalions – ½ squadron.
Feldbrigade Oberst Prinz Victor von Rohan
(Heertheil) FML Paul Kray de Krajowa et Topolya (15,000 men)
Mantua Belagerung Korps
Division (Kolonne) Generalmajor Carl Peter Ott de Batorkéz (5900 men – 5 Battalions., 16 squadrons)
Mantua – Parma - Piacenza
Avantgarde (Kolonne) Generalmajor Johann Graf von Klenau und Freiherr von Janowitz
Bologna then Tuscany
Reinforcing the Austrian Army
The Austrians had no reinforcements available, but they could count on the Mantua Belagerung Korps, in the event the city capitulated. Mantua received 6 reinforcement battalions come from the inner garrisons:
The Nadasdy and Mittrowsky regiments were also transferred to the Mantua siege group, from Ott’s division.
Reinforcing the Russian Army
The Russian army received its reinforcements in July. It was General Rehbinder’s Corps sent by the Czar in order to reinforce the siege of Mantua. The corps reached Ferrara on June 30 and was met by Prince Gorchakhov with the new orders of Suvorov, who wanted it in Piedmont.
Division General Maksim Vladimirovich Rehbinder
General-of-division (general-poruchik) Maksim Vladimirovich Rehbinder (1730-1804) – From Colonel was promoted general-poruchik on July 18, 1797 while commanding the Schlisselburg Musketeers regiment; was promoted, on October 3, 1799, to general-lieutenant, chief of the Imperial Russian Musketeers regiment of Azov from July 18, 1797 till October 3, 1799. Arrived in Italy in June 1799 and joined Suvorov by July 30.
The Corps marched through Rovigo, Governolo towards Mantua, where it left the Pioneers and great part of its artillery, then continued the march through Guastalla, Parma, Piacenza and Tortona. The 10,000 Russians (8500 the soldiers) were incorporated in the Rozenberg Corps and became the Rehbinder Division.
“Je vous invite, citoyen général …”. The Arrival of the Hero of Rivoli.
On July 11 (22 messidor) the French Directory urged his new “star” to leave France and to reach Italy in order to take command of the Moreau’s army. The letter, in the French War Archives, told:
“Je vous invite, citoyen général, à ne pas différer votre départ ; c’est le vœu du Directoire qui compte, avec tous les amis de la République, sur vos succés, dignes de votre réputation militaire. La gloire de mon ministere sera de seconder la votre et de favoriser vos operations pour anéantir les peuples et barbares ennemis de notre patrie.”
This letter moved a young, brilliant general, from Paris putting him in front of his destiny. And on July 15, General Barthélemy Catherine Joubert, left Paris for the south. About Joubert it was said he was a great “puller”, a brave commander of small units but a mediocre commander of army. He perhaps lacked the ability to appraise the situation in its evolution, not always knowing how the correct moment to attack. He was always in a hurry; this was appropriate for attacking redoubts, but it could be ruinous when a whole division had to be moved. He often said the bravery was better than numbers and manoeuvers:
“Les manœuvres d'ensemble d'une armée, » disait-il, « deviennent impossibles en pays de montagnes ; alors la vivacité et l'intelligence des Français ont toute leur supériorité. Sans affaire générale, trop chanceuse contre des forces si supérieures, et en manœuvrant, on pourrait peut-être arriver au but à l'aide d'une série de combats heureux , ainsi que l'avait si habilement fait Bonaparte, en 1796, presque sur le meme terrain. En mettant les choses au pis, quant aux résultats, on aurait livré, par cette manière d'opérer, beaucoup moins à la fortune.”
Joubert had often many new ideas, always vigorous and energetic, he liked to perform reconnoisance personally. Joubert, probably, as many men of rapid assessments, needed above all persistence and forethought. He was able to convince a demoralized Moreau to fight side by side with him, before reaching the Rhine, to take on his new command. The young commander in chief reached Cornigliano on August 6 and soon protested about the poor status of the army. He also asked the Directory to cancel Macdonald’s battlefield “promotions” (Joubert often did not use very polite expressions, when talking about Macdonald) saying that they were too many and this confused the army; many officers immediately became to grumble, and some had a sudden feeling of hatred against the commander, and this personal attack against the Chief of the Army of Naples was not a good starting move for that rather unlucky commander of 1799!
Joubert stayed some days at his birthplace, Pont-de-Vaux in Ain, where he married a local girl, then reached Lyon and Marseille. Before reaching Genoa he stopped at Nice, where, meeting Championnet, he explained the mission to force the Alps passage; essentially Mont Cenis. Joubert was at his HQ, at Cornigliano, on August 6. There he dismissed Dessolle and named Suchet as new Chief of Staff. The same night (at 3 a.m.!) Suchet and Joubert left the HQ to make a reconnaissance from the Fort Gavi to la Bocchetta. The French garrisons were resisting at Tortona and at Fort Serravalle (160 infantrymen under Captain Ghenisier), but when Alexandria and, above all, Mantua capitulated, the new Chief was entirely persuaded it was necessary to anticipate an attack of the Coalition, which, at the time, could now count on the troops freed from Mantua.
On August 12, with the Lemoine reinforcements, the Armée d’Italie had a strength of about 48,000 men. Joubert ordered his army to battle, with the exception of 8500 men to whom he submitted the task to watch the Ligurian territory.
Initially the army was deployed in two wings: the right with the divisions of Watrin, Dąbrowski and Laboissière, under St. Cyr, and the left with the divisions of Lemoine and Grouchy under Perignon. The French then began to march towards Alexandria.
 Marquis Chasteler was, in effect, more optimistic. See what Christopher Duffy tells in his excellent study:
“Chasteler noted in his journal that 'the united Imperial army... was assembled at Pozzolo Formigaro as early as 26 June, and it could have reached the crest of the Apennines in four or at the most five days, and dislodged the corps of Moreau—which numbered less than 12,000 troops—and either thrown it into Genoa or driven it back to Savona/ Chasteler calculated that Macdonald's troops could reach Moreau in Genoa by 5 or 6 July at the earliest. In fact Macdonald's forces arrived on the Genoese Riviera in dribs and drabs only between 8 July and the end of the month, and even then the combined forces amounted to scarcely 24-25,000 troops.”
 General Barthélemy Catherine Joubert (Pont-de-Vaux April 14, 1769- Novi, August 15, 1799), the son of a lawyer, was born at Pont-de-Vaux (Ain) on the 14th of April 1769. In 1784 he ran away from school to enlist in the artillery, but was brought back and sent to study law at Lyons and Dijon. In 1791 he joined the volunteers of the Ain, and was elected by his comrades successively corporal and sergeant. In January 1792 he became sub-lieutenant, and in November lieutenant, having in the meantime made his first campaign with the army of Italy. In 1793 he distinguished himself by the brilliant defence of a redoubt at the Col di Tenda, with only thirty men against a battalion of the enemy. Wounded and made prisoner in. this affair, Joubert was released on parole by the Austrian commander-in-chief, Devins, soon afterwards. In 1794 he was again actively engaged, and in 1795 he rendered such conspicuous service as to be made general of brigade. In the campaign of 1796 the young general commanded a brigade under Augereau, and soon attracted the special attention of Bonaparte, who caused him to be made a general of division in December, and repeatedly selected him for the command of important detachments. Thus he was in charge of the retaining force at the battle of Rivoli, and in the campaign of 1797 (invasion of Austria) he commanded the detached left wing of Bonaparte army in Tirol. In 1798 he had the command of the armée d’Italie, but suddenly he decided to remain apart. In summer 1799, Joubert was with the Jacobins, who took the control of French Government (30 prairial golpe) and was selected by the new War minister Bernadotte, for the command of the Italy’s army, replacing Moreau. As soon he reached Genoa’s HQ, he decide immediately to go in battle against the Austro-Russians, at Novi ligure. The battle of Novi was disastrous to the French arms, not merely because it was a defeat, but above all because Joubert himself was amongst the first to fall (Aug. 15, 1799). Joubert died before it could be shown whether his genius was of the first rank, but he was at any rate marked out as a future great captain by the greatest captain of all ages, and his countrymen intuitively associated him with Hoche and Marceau as a great leader whose early death disappointed their highest hopes. After the battle his remains were brought to Toulon and buried in Fort La Malgue.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2008
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