The 1799 Campaign in Italy: The Siege of Mantua April to August - the Assault and Surrender
General Kray’s “Digging” attack
On July 10, General Kray attacked the fortress from its southern flank, and General Saint-Julien was able to seize the entrenchments of Cérèse, as well as the bridgehead, which covered the lock of the dam. The assault began at 3:00 a.m. with two Austrian battalions in column (one Lattermann’s and one Gyulai). The Torrazzo Tower (Cerese) was taken and the French withdrew, leaving behind one gun, one howitzer and 12 wall guns (Doppelhaken). The Austrians lost 3 dead and 14 wounded.
During the night of 13/14, the Austrians opened the first parallel approach trench, in front of the Te Bastions. About 1200 soldiers and 2000 peasants were transferred from Pietole to Angioli to reinforce the left wing. General Foissac-Latour strongly replied to the attack, but the enemy did never stop bombarding the entrenchments on Te Island and Migliaretto. During the same night the Austrians opened a new parallel trench, about 570 meter[i] from the bastions of Pradella. At 5:00 a.m., the fort, opened up with violent artillery and musket fire, which lasted all that day and the next. The bombardment was accompanied with great shouts of “Vive la République” coming from the walls. In the first and second parallel trenches, in front of Pradella, near their batteries, the Austrians had massed about 3300 workers (mostly peasants) in order to hasten the digging. During the night of July 16 the parallel trenches were widened to 5.6 meters, while the communication ditches reached the width of 4.70 meters (15 Schuhen). On messidor 29 (July 17), the activity of the Austrians began surprised the defenders. It was because of these events that, someone sent an anonymous letter to General Foissac-Latour, containing some critical observations about the matters detailed in his orders. Instead of being disturbed or disheartened by the fact, the commander-in-chief praised the zeal of the author of the letter in question, and wished to be able to know the unknown person.
On July 18, the French artillery in the Te entrenched camp and of the Alexis Bastion (Pradella) continually harassed the workers on duty (in this day the Austrian lost 5 dead and 19 wounded, while other 4 soldiers died on the following day. By July 19 the work strength in the trenches had reached 4,000 men, while. On July 20, 3750 soldiers and 900 peasants dug the second parallel trench, on the right wing, in front of the western side of Te Palace. The Austrian “moles” did not show any sign of fatigue during their duties.
From 3 to 6 thermidor (July 21-24), the besiegers’ systematic attack became more lethal. General Wielhorski was sick in his bed for due to an attack of gout and was replaced by General Fontanier. Brigadier Meyer, commander of the defense of Migliaretto and partially of Te, replaced him. General Wielhorski, on the other hand, continually praised and supported the activity of the commander of the artillery Iakubowski, who was in Saint George's Fort, which became necessary to evacuate, because of the impossibilty to resist any longer. The losses of its garrison were considerable.
Actually, St. George was not more defensible, because having been broken by the dam, which linked together the bastions San Nicola to the n. 2 of Migliaretto, the waters passed through with an impressive speed. On the night of the 24th, all the batteries of the besiegers being fully armed, opened their fire, from above two hundred pieces, with such tremendous effect, that the defense s of the fortress speedily gave way before it. In less than two hours the outworks of Fort Pradella were destroyed; while the batteries intended to create a diversion against the citadel, soon produced a serious impression.
On July 25, however, the two parallel trenches, on the right and on the left of the Pradella road, were unexpectedly dismantled by heavy artillery fire. The Austrians now changed the terrain in order to bring pressure against the fortress and close the road of Cerese, with its left and right banks. An Austrian attack was led by Oberst Ried with the Gyulai Battalion and advanced till the Te Bastions, all the while under heavy fire from the guns on the walls. The cost was very high, 22 dead and around 60 wounded. These casualties forced the Austrian to the withdrawal. By the night of July 26, the Austrian sappers were able to “touch” the outer bastion of Pradella, causing the French to abandon St. George. The Austrians seized the fort with one infantry battalion (Oberst Pálffy) and 5 Reserve guns, directed against the eastern part of Mantua. On July 27, the Austrians opened a third parallel approaching-trench, close to the Alexis and Luterana Bastions at Pradella, and began to operate for the definitive breach in the walls. At 10 o’clock of that day, General Kray de Krajova sent the engineer Oberstlieutenant Orlandini into the fortress, to negotiate a surrender.
Mantua Fortress Garrison (4 – 27 July 1799)
Every day, 4 or 6 soldiers felt ill to Malaria
The Citadel or Cittadella Fortress
Commander: Général-de-Brigade Louis Monnet de Lorbeau
Defensive Fortification Pradella (Western Fortress Gate)
Commander: Chef-de-Brigade Balleydier
Defensive Fortification Migliaretto and Island of Te
Jean Baptiste Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee|
San Giorgio Entrenched Camp
Artillery Commander: Major Stanisław Jakubowski
Foissac-Latour, wanting to have the most clear reports on the state of the defense, summoned on 9 thermidor (July 27), at 10:00 a.m., a General War Council of all superior officers and generals of the garrison, with an invitation, beforehand made by the chief-of-staff, to each chief, in order to obtain the maximum knowledge of the facts, making personal reconnaissance in the all fronts under attack, before coming to the General session.
The General-in-Chief was just set to go into the Council, when the silence of the enemy batteries and the officer of the place announced him the arrival of the Austrian messenger. This (Oblt. Orlandini. NoT) had come to Mantua by horse, raising the white flag and asking to be received on behalf of the besieger General Kray. He suggested also a ceasefire from the fortress, since the Austrian had stopped firing. General Foissac-Latour received this request, and an hour later, Lieutenant-Colonel Count Orlandini, Imperial Engineers, arrived. He was escorted by a hussar lieutenant and by an aide-de-camp of General Kray. Orlandini gaved then a letter from Kray, dated on July 26, 1799 (8 thermidor - year VII), in which was an ultimatum and with which Kray supplied the official evidence that the retreat) of both the French armies in Italy, beyond the Appennines, gave Mantua no more hope of help.
Having read the letter, the General-in-Chief responded to the messenger that he did not believe that there the circumstances for Mantua were not as extreme, as told by the Austrian General. He did promise to bring up the letter to the War Council and that he would inform him of the Council’s decision. Lieutenant-Colonel Orlandini observed that he was ordered to wait for an answer, and asked the General-in-Chief to allow him to stay until the end of the council. If his request was refused, he had orders to revive the bombardment.
Foissac-Latour agreed to this reason, since all his batteries were ruined. He thus asked the emmissaries to go to a separate room, where they could rest with officers of his staff, until an answer could have been sent. He then ordered his staff to profit from the ceasefire to move troops where it would be possible, to do the most urgent repairs, showing everywhere a lot of activity and resolution. The commander then summoned his war council, which consisted of 45 superior officers. They were:
Foissac-Latour asked them that given their forces actual strength, could they hope to defend themselves against the next Austrian assault.
The Council concluded that the infantry available to serve, not including the killed or wounded since the first blockade, the sick, the soldiers employed at the hospital as personnel, the sailors, the officers, the sappers, the musicians, the drums, the miners, the workers, the gunners, etc., was three thousand six hundred and sixty one men, so distributed:
This left no more than 261e soldiers carrying bayonets, to defend the Pradella breach.
Two members of council supported that the fortress could have been defended only for two or three days. The general, having put whether to continue to defend the city to a vote: six persons declared themselves for continuing the defense: Monnet, Borthon, Labadie, Soulier, Pagés, Chapuis. All the others, voted for capitulating. The second Voting for the second question, if they should continue the defense of the fortress for two or three days, only four members voted yes: Borthon, Labadie, Pagès, Chapuis. In the meaning, Orlandini, was eagerly waiting for an answer. The time became short and the answer, urgent; so Foissac-Latour, supported by the majority of the council members, proposed to General Kray, a base for an honourable surrender.
The chosen base was the Capitulation Act, General Bonaparte had granted, in 1797, to Marshal Wurmser, in a similar condition. He asked that the garrison be sent back by the shortest road and by marching towards the French army at Genoa. General Monnet the carrier of this proposal, came back from the Austrian headquarters at Castellucchio, with a negative answer. General Kray, less generous than Bonaparte, refused to agree to the French proposal. A new War Council was summoned in Mantua. All refused the Austrian proposals which required the whole garrison, to become prisoners-of-war, and to be conducted in the inner Austrian territory, where they would wait to be exchanged for Austrians in French hands. The French commander then proposed that only the officers would become prisoners leaving troopers free to reach their respective homelands. The Council adopted this proposition unanimously, protesting that, if it was refused, they would prefer to bury themselves under the walls of Mantua, in front of a shameful act of an enemy abusing the superiority of its weapons.
On 11 thermidor (July 29), a hour after the daybreak, Lieutenant-Colonel Orlandini arrived at Mantua with the signed capitulation act, and 12 thermidor (July 30), the garrison went out by the citadel with the honors of war and laid down arms on its glacis.
The Poles Dramatic End
An additional article on the Capitulation Act, wanted by Kray, stated that all Austrian deserters “will have their lives deserved and will be escorted to their respective regiments”. In effect the majority of the soldiers of the Polish Legion were born in Poland and, for the partition of Poland, in the period between 1772 and 1795, they were Austrian citizens. Thus they were also enrolled in the Austrian units, which recruited in Poland. When the garrison left the citadel, The Austrians ordered the 2nd Polish Legion, which was in the middle of the French troops to stop in the town. The Austrian soldiers entered the ranks grabbing the Poles with brutal manners, insulting the officers, and then escorted them into the houses nearby. The complaints of Wielhorski and his Staff were useless and Axamitowski, charged with escorting the Poles to France, had only 50 men, who could follow him to Lyon. All the Polish officers were led to Leoben in Styria, waiting for prison, while, Foissac-Latour, accused by the Poles to be a traitor, was emprisoned in a different location (Klagenfurt, Carinthia) in order to avoid him face-to-face encounters with the Polish officers.
Capitulation de Mantoue
Au quartier-général à Mantoue, ce 10 thermidor an VII (28 juillet 1799).
Foissac – Latour, général de division, commandant les place et citadelle de Mantoue, propose à M. le baron DE KRAY, général d'artillerie, commandant les troupes de S. M. l'Empereur sous Mantoue, de lui rendre cette place sous les conditions suivantes, délibérees par le conseil de guerre de défense :
ART. I. La garnison de Mantoue sortira de la place le 12 thermidor ( 30 juillet ) par la citadelle de Mantoue, à midi, avec tous les honneurs de la guerre, six pièces de campagne en tête. Elle se rendra prisonnière de guerre. Pour lui éviter la honte et les miséres de la détention, le général qui la commande, les autres généraux sous ses ordres, les officiers de l'état-major, et tous les autres de la garnison, consentent à se rendre prisonniers en Allemagne, dans les pays héréditaires les plus voisins, où ils resteront en otage. Pour les sous-officiers et soldats qui seront renvoyés en France par la route la plus courte et ne pourront reprendre les armes contre les troupes de l'empereur et de ses alliés qu'après avoir été échangés. En conséquence, la garnison mettra bas les armes sur le glacis de la forteresse. Les officiers conserveront leurs épées, leurs équipages, et le nombre de chevaux qu'ils ont droit d'avoir, selon leurs grades respectifs. Les employées de l'armée seront également renvoyés en France. Les généraux pourront garder leurs secrétaires, et tous les officiera leurs domestiques. On accordera un drapeau au général Foissac-Latour, en considération de la vigoureuse défense qu'il a faite.
RÉPONSE-. Accordé dans toute son étendue, en y ajoutant, en considération de la manière franche, brave et loyale avec laquelle la garnison de Mantoue s'est conduite, qu'il sera libre au commandant, à son état-major et aux officiers de la garnison, après avoir demeuré trois mois dans les états héréditaires, de retourner dans leurs pays respectifs, sur leur parole d'honneur de ne pas porter les armes contre sa majesté impériale et royale, jusqu'à ce qu'ils aient été échangés. Les trois mois se compteront du jour de la capitulation signée.
ART. II. Les troupes Cisalpine s, suisses, polonaises et piémontaises seront considérées et traitées, sous tous les rapports, comme les troupes de la république francaise.
ART. III. Il sera accordé au général commandant la place, trois fourgons couverts pour transporter ses équipages, papiers et autres objets à lui appartenant personnellement; ces fourgons ne seront pas visités, et il pourra en disposer à volonté.
ART. IV. Le Chef de l'état-major et les autres officiers supérieurs aurout la faculte d'emporter les papiers relatifs à leur administration, et pourront amener les fourgons destinés à cet usage et au transport de leurs effets particuliers. Les commissaires seront responsables de la remise des objets qui, par leur nature, appartiennent h la place.
ART. V. On recommande à la loyauté et à la générosité du gouvernement autrichien la tranquillité des habitans qui ont été employés dans le gouvernement cisalpin, formellement reconnu par l'empereur dans le traité de Campo-Formio, ainsi que celle de tous ceux qui ont manifesté des opinions républicaines; les commissaires impériaux et les canonniers bourgeois ayant été traités de la même manière dans la capitulation conclue entre Bonaparte et le général Wurmser.
ART. VI. Il sera nommé des officiers commissaires du génie et de l'artillerie, auxquels seront remis tous les objets appartenant à cette arme.
ART. VII. Il sera nommé aussi des commissaires des guerres et des vivres pour remettre et recevoir les magasins qui se trouvent dans la place.
ART. VIII. Les malades et blessés qui ne peuvent pas etre transportés continueront à recevoir les soins nécessaires à leur guérison. A cette fin, les chirurgiens franqais qui les traitent actuellement resteront près d'eux. Le général commandant nommera un officier qui sera commis à leur garde, et a mesure qu'ils seront en état d'dtre transportés, il leur sera fourni tous les moyens nécessaires pour rejoindre l'armée s'ils ont été échangés, ou de se rendre en France ou en Allemagne, sous les condilions accordées aux autres, sous le grade respectif.
ART. IX. Il sera fourni par les Autrichiens une escorte convenable et suffisante pour garantir tous les individus compris dans la présente capitulation contre toute insulte et émeute populaire, et les commandans de l'escorte en seront personnellement responsables.
ART. X. Tout ce qui, dans la présente capitulation, pourrait être douteux et faire naître des difficultés sera interprété en faveur de la garnison et selon les lois de l'équité.
ART. XI. Aprés la signature de la capitulation, on se donnera réciproquement des otages qui seront, du cûté des Francais, un Chef-de-Brigade et un capitaine; du coté des Autrichiens, un colonel et un capitaine.
ART. XII. En attendant la signature de la capitulation et l'échange des otages, il y aura une suspension d'armes de part et d'autre. - Consenti.
ART. XIII. Migliaretto sera occupé par un bataillon autrichien, qui détachera cinquante hommes pour occuper la partie extérieure de la porte de Cérèse. Les deux corps d'armée n'auront aucune communication, à la réserve des chefs et de ceux qui auront la permission des généraux respectifs.
ART. XIV. Le commissaire du pouvoir exécutif et l'inspecteur-général de la police de la république Cisalpine à Mantoue auront la faculté de sortir de la place pour aller où ils voudront.
ART. XV. 11 sera accordé deux voitures pour les gens de la suite du général, et quelques autres qui auront reçu de lui l'ordre de suivre le sort de la garnison.
ART. XVI. On accordera également les voitures nécessaires pour le transport des effets des officiers et des chefs de l'armée française faisant partie de la garnison, et même de ceux qui n'y étant plus pourront en avoir laissé dans cette place.
ART. XVII. Les généraux et officiers qui voudraient envoyer en France une partie de leurs équipages, pourront leur faire suivre la marche des soldats, si toutefois le général Kray, qui se connaît en vraie gloire, ne pense pas que la sienne lui commande de faire suivre aux généraux et aux officiers eux-mêmes la destination de leur troupe, en les renvoyant en France sur parole d'honneur. - Réglé par l'article premier.
Les déserteurs autrichiens seront livrés à leurs régimens et bataillons respectifs.
Le commandant général de S. M. I. leur promet la vie sauve.
Au quartier général de Castellucchio, le 28 juillet 1799.
Le Baron DE KRAY, général d’artillerie
MAUBERT, Chef de br.de, commandant en Chef du Genie.
FOISSAC-LATOUR, général de division.
Le Chef-de-Brigade Borthon, commandant l'artillerie, n'a pan signé pour des motifs qui lui sont personnel.
Le général FOISSAC-LATOUR.
One could easily imagine how resounding was and what bad impression the fall of Mantua had on the French government and its citizens. The act of capitulation contained an article, which can be so resumed: "General Latour-Foissac and his staff shall be conducted as prisoners to Austria; the garrison shall be allowed to return to France." These were circumstances which were calculated to excite suspicions of Foissac Latour. The consequence was Bernadotte ordered the inquiry into the General's conduct by a court-martial. Foissac-Latour was also charged with having exchanged Mantua with some personal estates in Austria; but it was not true. The Directoire and the War Minister Bernadotte continued their disciplinary inquest upon the facts, as witnesses reached the army gathering points in France and in Liguria.
This investigation was predestined to last for many years, since the main actors were prisoners in Austria. General Bonaparte, however, when he returned from Egypt, was furious for the fall of Mantua, essentially for two reasons: [ii]
1- what he had gained, in 1796, after 8 long months of siege, with great endeavours and some glory registered on the papers, disappeared suddenly in 1799, after a short period (around three months) of attrition without any large battle around Mantua. This could have demonstrated that Kray was a better commander than the future First Consul. Too much for Napoleon for to suffer!
2- the fortress had supplies and ammunitions which could have granted a one year period of utter defense, if the Kray’s attack would have been blocked at Pradella.He erased the investigations of the court-martial, and issued a violent decree against Foissac Latour even before his culpability had been proved. This occasioned much discussion, and was very dissatisfactory to many general officers, who, by this arbitrary decision, found themselves in danger of losing the privilege of being tried by their natural judges whenever they happened to displease the First Consul.
After the battle of Marengo (June 1800), Bonaparte wrote this letter to Carnot (July 24, 1800):
“Foissac-Latour trouvera dans le mépris public la plus grande punition que l’on puisse infliger a un Français … “ (or the public discredit as the worst punishment for a French man” [iii]
Foissac was expelled from the Army (directly by Bonaparte) and called “unworthy to wear the French uniform”. The final decret of expulsion was published on 24 August 1800. Napoleon himself decided to apply, for the first time, this Consular Act against him, expelling Foissac from the ranks of the officers and prohibiting him from wearing the French uniform. The future Emperor so commented on his decision: “It was an illegal Act, tyrannical without doubts, but it was a necessary awful thing to do. He was 100, 1000 times guilty, and we were forced to censure him. We shot him with the arms of dishonour but, I repeat, that tyrannical act was due, like all exceptional decisions that are to be taken in a great Nation and under special circumstances.”
Foissac-Latour was never rehabilitated. The disfavoured General had no sooner returned to France than he published a justificatory memorial, in which he showed the impossibility of his having made a longer defense when he was in want of many objects of the first necessity. Some words of Jomini can better explain the reason of the Mantua commander behaviour: “… c’est la pusillanimité du général accoutuméà n’obeir qu’aux règles apprises au corps des ingénieurs …” (we can imagine what Jomini wanted to say and we can agree with him, also if, these words, written in such way, seem an attempt to oversimplify the matter, talking about a supposed General cowardice of the engineers officers, which cannot be accepted.)
Austrian Siege (Belagerung) Korps at Mantua August 4, 1799 - after capitulation
Transferred to the Main Army in Piedmont
FML Paul Kray de Krajowa et Topolya
[i] The source says “300 Klaftern”, an ancient Tyrolian unit for measuring the ground, 1 Klafter being 1,896614 meters. The Klafter could be divided into 6 Feet (Fuß or Schuh-shoes, each being 0,316102 m). The Pradella approach was large 4 Schuhen (1,25 m) and deep 3 Schuhen (95 cm).
[ii] Memoirs of Bonaparte Napoleon, volume 4 by Louis Favelet de Bourrienne His private Secretary, Edited by R. W. Phipps, Colonel, Late Royal Artillery 1891.
[iii]Défense au général Foissac-Latourde porter l’uniforme français
Au citoyen Carnot, ministre de la Guerre - Paris, 5 thermidor an VIII (24 juillet 1800)
Les Consuls sont instruits, Citoyen Ministre, que le citoyen Foissac-Latour est de retour d’Autriche, et déshonore, en le portant, l’habit de soldat français. Faites-lui connaître qu’il a cessé d’être au service de la République le jour où il a lâchement rendu la place de Mantoue, et défendez-lui expressément de porter aucun habit uniforme. Sa conduite à Mantoue est plus encore du ressort de l’opinion que des tribunaux ; d’ailleurs, l’intention du Gouvernement est de ne plus entendre parler de ce siège honteux, qui sera longtemps une tache, pour nos armes.
Le citoyen Foissac-Latour trouvera dans le mépris public la plus grande punition que l’on puisse infliger à un Français.
Correspondance militaire de Napoléon Ier- Extraite de la correspondance générale et publiée par ordre du ministère de la guerre - Tome deuxième - Paris - 1876
Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2008
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