The 1799 Campaign in Italy: The Siege of Mantua April to August - Austrian Siege Force
The Malaria (Literally Bad Air)
The situation, at the beginning of the siege, quickly became severe. The French, during the 1796 siege, thought Vinegar could be of some help to keep fit their troops! "Les maladies commencement " wrote adjudant général Franceschi to Berthier " il faudrait faire commencer les distributions de vinaigre aux troupes. Dans un pays malsain cela est indispensable. "
After the first days, the number of those with fever went rapidly up: on July 29 (11 thermidor) the French divisions had 200 men sick; six weeks after the hospitals were full.
General Sahuguet, commander of the eastern sector of Mantua, took care to camp his troops on a plateau, five to six “toises” [i] away from the lake, concluding, with optimism, they was there at the best quarters for their health. Joubert reported, instead, had fixed thirty - forty “toises” the minimum distance useful to avoid the “bad air” (malaria). There wasn’t any conformity, but this is suitable to indicate the efforts made by the French commanders to protect the health of their men. During the vendémiaire month of 1796, the diseases increased. " Soyez persuadé, général " wrote Cisalpine brigade general Lahoz to Bonaparte, " que si vous passiez la revue d'une demi-brigade, vous n'y trouveriez au plus que la moitié du monde porté sur les états de votre Etat Major ... "
First Period – The quiet siege
While the besieging army corps pushed its works ahead with a remarkable vitality, the French commander organized the defences “à la républicaine” periodically gathering a democratic War Council, every ten days, in which every sector commander could report the progress of the defensive tasks. The first, official, War Council was summoned on 6 Floreal (April 25). The Council, led by the general- himself, consisted of ten members: [iv]
General Foissac-Latour, the president
Different works of the besiegers had been begun to come closer to the fortified place, so, the general-in -chief, with a surprising order on 15 Floreal (May 4), announced a general sortie from all the gates of the city. By a general agreement, it was decided this sortie had to consist of four main columns, the first going out from the Cérèse gate, the second from Saint George, a third from the citadel, and finally the fourth from Pradella.
The day of 19 Floreal (May 8) was decided for this operation; the Polish legion, which, on this occasion, covered itself with glory, had the honour of forming the first main column, advancing out from Cérèse Gate, and led by the Colonel (szef-brigady) Louis Dembowski. The action, which followed this general sortie, was protracted and powerful; it was fought with determination by both sides. The Polish Legion had six men killed, between non-commissioned officers and soldiers; ten officers and fifty nine NCOs and soldiers wounded; nineteen NCOs and soldiers made prisoner. General Wielhorski, in his report of 19 floreal, praised the valor of the troops under his orders, as well as the detachment of the French 31st Demi-Brigade.
Chef-de-brigade Dembowski, the first in front of the column got out the Cérèse Gate, taken by his personal bravery, found himself in the middle of the struggle and hit some soldiers under his orders with the sabre. This circumstance made the delivery of a censure, which was commenced against him. The legion officers sent this subject of their remonstrance to General Foissac-Latour; but this last one, in order to immediately suppress this germ of insubordination, which could have been devastating for the troops’ morale, simply recommended that they forget the whole matter. The final result of this conciliation was not so rewarding at first, but, at least, peace was recovered. [v]
Among the various rewards which were awarded to the bravest, the “Ordre du jour” of 23 floreal (May 12, 1799) mentioned the citizen Iakubowski, commanding of the fortress artillery, who deserved great praise for the way by which had served with his guns, and who obtained, in the name of the French nation, a hundred-franc bonus. As for the second column of Cérèse, led by general Wielhorski, where the 31st line detachment had acquired a striking name, the general-in chief awarded to this column a general bonus of twelve hundred “livres”.
Austrian Troops: Summer Escalation
The garrison originally consisted of nearly eleven thousand men; but this force, barely adequate at first to man its extensive ramparts, was now considerably weakened by diseases. The peculiar situation of this celebrated fortress rendered it indispensable that, at all hazards, the exterior works must be maintained. This was no easy matter with an insufficient body of troops. The soldiers were provisioned for a year; but the inhabitants, impoverished by enormous contributions, were in the most miserable condition. They would be menaced by a famine, combined with the natural unhealthiness of the place during the autumnal months, soon produced disease, which seriously weakened the strength of the garrison. Before the final clash between the Coalition Army and Macdonald at the Trebbia River, the Austrian siege Corps was reinforced by 10,000 men.
Austrian Siege (Belagerung) Korps Mantua June 4, 1799
Avantgarde Brigade Generalmajor Johann Graf von Klenau und Freiherr von Janowitz
Brigade Generalmajor Anton Freiherr von Elsnitz
Brigade Generalmajor Graf Johann Franz Seraphin von Saint Julien-Walsee
Brigade Generalmajor Nikolaus Joseph Pálffy von Erdöd [vii]
Brigade Generalmajor Friedrich Xavier Prince Hohenzollern-Hechingen
Cavalry Brigade Oberst Emmanuel Freiherr von Schustekh
Austrian Siege (Belagerung) Korps Mantua
July 5th – August 2nd
Brigade Generalmajor Graf Ferdinand Johann Morzin
Detached as Garrisons and on the River Po (Casalmaggiore Bridgehead)
The besieging army, which, in the meantime had grown, continued to fortify itself with the highest energy possible, considering the spreading of fevers and malaria. Kray, taking advantage of all the means at his disposal, had ordered his flotilla to descend by Peschiera and Goito from the Lake Garda, and brought up many gunboats by the interior part of the Mincio onto the lower lake. By means of these vessels, which were armed with guns of the heaviest calibre, he kept up an incessant fire on the dikes, and at the same time established batteries against the curtain between the citadel and Fort St George. These were intended merely as feints, to divert the attention of the besiegers from the real point of attack, which was the front of Fort Pradella; the front chosen for the operation was Pradella, seeming the less defensible.
On messidor 18 (July 6), the Austro-Russians enginers began to build two redoubts in front of the Pajolo Channel, between Cérèse and Pradella. The commander of the Polish artillery, Axamitowski, set up a hard resistance, as a result of the orders he received from the artillery commander, Borthon. In the meanwhile the Austrians had concentrated many artillery batteries at “la Mortuana (Montata?)”, near the citadel and at “la Moretta (Mottella?)” in front of St.George. They began to harass the defenders with strong artillery fire, from the new positions. It was the time, for the Austrians, to try an attack against the fortress.
The western Austrian entrenchments were finished and occupied during the night of July 6. It led from Simeone through Casa Rossa, Chiesa nuova, Dosso del Corso, Palazzina till Angioli (Borgo Angeli?) on the upper lake. Two new batteries were placed at Simeone and Casino Sparavieri in order to support the right flank of an attack and to counter the French fire coming from behind the Pajolo Dam. The Austrian camp was set between Capilupia and Certosa, while the buildings at Chiesa nuova, Dosso del Corso, Palazzina and Angioli were prepared to be camp hospitals. The artillery workshop was organized at Madonna delle Grazie, a Catholic sanctuary near Curtatone.
On messidor 20 (July 8), the bombardment of the French pieces, mainly those of the Poles against Casa Rossa, forced their enemies to abandon their works. They were obliged to begin newly the job shifting on the left. So, at the right of Cerese (Austrian right), the Austrians deployed another four batteries, in order to bombard the flank of the French positions of the Torrazzo tower, at Cerese. During the night of July 9-10 the Austrians trenches (Schanzen) were ready and the Austrians batteries began an intense fire against the Torrazzo. That messidor 22 (July 10), there was also a continuous bombardment made by the Polish artillery, even during the night, which caused a serious slowing to the Austrian works, which could not make anymore progress.
[i] One lieue (league) de Paris was 2000 toises = 3,898 km, so one toise was about 2 m (1,949 m).
[ii] Counting Artillery, engineers and workers.
[iii] General Major Johann Franz Seraph III Graf von Saint Julien. Born on Decembre the 2nd 1756, dead on January 16th 1836. Suffered three important wounds in campaigns. The first at Belgrade (July, 12 1788), the second at first Caldiero as Colonel (November, 12 1796) and the last in 1809 as Feldmarshall. He was a k.k. Kämmerer, Oberst Erbland – Falkenmeister and Owner of k.k. IR 61 regiment. On January 16th, 1797 married Grafin Lodovica Leopoldine Chorinsky but he had also a second wife in 1800. To be differentiated from the other Generalmajor St. Julien, Joseph, who remained early in Tirol, then following Bellegarde Group.
[iv] Foissac-Latour gave these details in his book, written after the return from the prisony, and entitled : " Précis ou Journal historique et raisonné des opérations militaires et administratives qui ont eu lieu dans la place de Mantoue, depuis le 9 germinal jusqu'au 10 thermidor de l’an VII de la République française, sous le commandement de F. P. Foissac-Latour, général de division; écrit par lui méme. " Paris, chez Magimel, libraire, quai des Augustins, n. 73, an IX (1800), vol. in 4°, 32 introductory pages, 103 pages as 1st part and 500 as the 2nd.
[v] Colonel Dembowski, was actually (and practically) suspended from his command and apparently promoted (read attached to the General Staff of the fortress). This determined a more reliable satisfaction amidst the Polish officers. By May 17, the command of the 2nd Polish legion was taken by Amilkar Kosinsky, directly promoted by Foissac-Latour himself, having he firstly refused that charge.
[vi] FML Pál Kray de Krajowa et Topolya: Paul Kray was born on 5th February, 1735 at Käsmark - Hungary (today: Kezmark/Slovakia). Kray studied in Vienna and when 18-year-old enrolled as cadet in the Imperial-Austrian infantry regiment No. 31 „ Samuel Freiherr Haller of Hallerstein “ in 1754 taking part in the Seven Years War (in 1756-1763). From the rank of grenadier's captain Kray climbed up in 1778 to major in the infantry regiment No. 39 "Preysach" and in 1783 to lieutenant-colonel in the 2nd Székler border infantry regiment. In 1784 Kray stood in Transylvania controlling there the significant agrarian uprising in Walachia. In the Turkish wars he took an active part at Porczeny and the Vulcan Pass. Made major-general in 1790, three years later, he commanded the advance guard of the Allies operating in France. In the celebrated campaign of 1796, on the Rhine and Danube, he did conspicuous service as a corps commander. At Wetalar, he defeated Kléber, and, at Amberg and Würzburg, he was largely responsible for the victory of the Archduke Charles of Austria. In the following year, he was less successful, being twice defeated on the Lahn and the Mainz.
[vii] Generalmajor Nikolaus Joseph Pálffy von Erdöd. Born 3 december 1765, son of prince Karl Hyeronimus and Maria Theresia princess Liechtenstein. General in Italy, died on May 26th, 1800 during an assault in the Aosta valley at Romano.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2008
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