Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The 1799 Campaign in Italy: August 15, The Russian attack

By Enrico Acerbi

 

While part of the Seckendorff brigade was fighting very far from the battlefield, at Ovada, putting  Bellegarde right in some troubles, that Austrian wing had somehow resisted to the powerful counterattack of Pèrignon (and the Clauzel brigade). Moreau himself did deploy, on the extreme his left, two Battalions of Colli to face the 2nd Austrian column’s attacks.

The Austrian 1st Column was stopped at the “maison blanche” with the crossed musketry of the 106th Line and the 26th Light.

The intervention of the reserves (Lacroix, Partonneaux, and Richepance) cleared the plateaus between Novi and Pasturana, leaving the Austrians blocked in the outmost right positions. Some French sources spoke also about an Austrian general rout, but, actually, only some companies did so.

From 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. [i], Suvorov took to his horse and moved against Novi, ordering  Bagration and Miloradovich to the attack the town. In the same time the Fieldmarshal ordered Kray to repeat the attack on the right. Bagration moved ahead his eight battalions. When the Prince approached the city, slowed by channels, ditches and fences, he was “welcome” by an intense musketry. From the Collinetta and the Belvedere batteries, the Russian ranks were target of the canister salvoes by the French guns on the plateau.

Without any cover to hide from that friendly fire, after a few minutes, the ground was full of Russian bodies. At 8:30 a.m.  Suvorov sent orders to Derfelden Reserve Corps, commanding him to approach the battlefield, but being Derfelden at Rivalta Scrivia, 9 kilometers away from Pozzolo, it would have been difficult to have the reinforcements before 11.30 a.m. or noon. The frontal attack was then a very hard affair to manage, above all because of the weather. Because of the suffocating heat all the streams were dry (including the ditch of the Novi walls) and the soldiers were forced to try everything to have water, but uselessly. [ii]

Coalition Army (Austro-Russian)

Coalition Commander - FML Aleksandr Vasilievich Suvorov graf Rymnikski

Austrian Commander – FML Michael Friedrich Benedikt Mélas

Chief of Staff OberstAnton Freiherr von Zach (from Kray Mantua Korps)

General Derfelden Reserve

Battalions

Companies

Squadrons

Cossacks

Total

Heavy Guns

Russians

35

-

6

22084

23 [iii]

Austrians

63

-

50

-

45987

30

Coalized army total

98

50

6

68071

53

As for Wucherer

93

52

6

66840

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chief of Staff-Quartiermeister Generalmajor Johann Gabriel Chasteler Marquis de Courcelles

Reserve Russian force – HQ at Rivalta Scrivia

Cavalry General Otto Wilhelm Hristoforovich Derfelden

Staff – Major MacDermott, Captains Meziers, Quosdanovich, Reinich, Neuschann, Colonels Bittner, Zorich and Haterburg

reserve

Battalions

Companies

Squadrons

Cossacks

Total

Heavy Guns

Russians

10

-

   

6127

10


Avantgarde Reserve Brigade general-major Nikolaj Andrejevich Chubarov

1132

Imperial Russian Grenadier Regiment GdI Rozenberg or Moskowsky (Moskow) – 2 Battalions

1132

   

Reserve Division - Lt. General Jacob Ivanovich Povalo-Shvejkovsky 1st

4995

Imperial Russian Musketeers Regiment Lieut. General  Förster (Ferster) or Tambowski ( Tambov)

1229

Imperial Russian Musketeers Regiment GM Tuyrtov or Tug’lsky ( Tula) – 2 Battalion s

1152


Russian vanguard Division: Generalmajor Pjotr Ivanovich Prince Bagration – HQ at Pozzolo Formigaro

 

5705 [iv]

Bagration

 

Battalions

Companies

Squadrons

Cossacks

Total

Heavy Guns

Russians

 

8

-

6

4

4865

?

Imp.Rus. 8th Jäger  Regiment GM Ivan Ivanovich Miller (former Chubarov) - I and II  Battalion

618

Imperial Russian Grenadier Battalion (GB) Sanajev

430

Imperial Russian Grenadier Battalion (GB) Dendrjugyn

405

Imperial Russian Grenadier Battalion (GB) Lomonosov

409

Imperial Russian Grenadier Battalion (GB) Kalemin

484

8th Don Cossacks Regiment Grekov

476

5th Don Cossacks Regiment Denissov

476

2nd Don Cossacks Regiment Sujchev

495

Don Cossacks Regiment Semernikov (Semjornikov)

501

 

Wucherer

Miliutin

K.K. 4th Light Drag. Regiment GM Andreas Frh. von Karacsaj de Vale-Sakam – 6 squadrons

882

840


Russian Center Brigade Generalmajor Mihail Andrejevich Miloradovich

3720

Miloradovich

Battalions

Companies

Squadrons

Cossacks

Total

Heavy Guns

Russians

6

-

-

-

3720

?

Imperial Russian Musketeers Regiment GM Mihail Andrejevich Miloradovich

1237

Imperial Russian Musketeers Regiment Young-Baden or molodo-Badensky – 2 Battalions

1217

Imperial Russian Musketeers Regiment GM Baron Ivan Ivanovich Dalheim

1266

Imperial Russian Musketeers Regiment GM Baranowsky II or Nizowski Musk. Regiment – 2 Battalions

1474

 

Imperial Russian Musketeers Regiment LG Povalo-Shveikovsky or Smolensky ( Smolensk) – 2 Battalions

1140

 

General DerfeldenCorps

Battalions

Companies

Squadrons

Cossacks

Total

Heavy Guns

Russians at Novi

24

-

6

4

15552

10

   

Imperial Austrian and Coalition artillery park a Pavia

active

Coalition artillery and logistic Depot Novi

closed

Coalition artillery and logistic Depot Acqui

closed

Coalition artillery and logistic Depot Savigliano

active

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Russian bravery was outstanding and St. Cyr noted “L’ennemi s’avança dans un ordre parfait et avec une audace remarquable”. Despite the heavy losses, Bagration reached the walls of Novi, now harassed also by the musketry of Gardanne’s Brigade, from the city. The Prince thought it was better to seize the town by surrounding it from his left, on the slopes of Monte Rotondo. He was rallying his units eastwards from the town and was ordering  the first four battalions to march ahead when he saw enemy troops advancing by his left. Bagration was totally unaware of the Watrin’s redeployment and was surprised by the French advance. Watrin, seeing some Austrian units gathering in front of him and getting ready for an attack, believed that it was necessary to wait no more, but to march suddenly against them, to attack while they were rallying, and to better secure the wing by dispersing them.  However, not wanting to step on the prerogatives of his leader, he went personally to General St Cyr. He spoke about his project and asked him for the orders, receiving a strange answer: “Do as you will!” Never a man could have been so impassive as the General St Cyr, laconic and cold, and especially in those moments when a leader has to make everything to incite the heat of his subordinates. That words meant and would not mean “Yes”. All but an approval.

Préval, who was present, and who for half an hour watched, with St Cyr, the huge masses of cavalry which the enemy was gathering in front of his position, was not able to retain this exclamation: " But, my general, he goes to be crushed!” “Yes” answered St Cyr, with an impudence the memory of which could upset, “But nothing is better than to give some lessons to these generals of the Army of Naples!”

And with these arguments Watrin ordered the attack. 

The first French unit which reached the plain was the Petitot’s Brigade, followed by the vanguard of Calvin and, later, also by Darnaud. A breach was opened by the line infantry of the 62nd and 12th Regiments. The French entered the gap capturing one gun and routing two Cossacks squadrons. Watrin’s advance was very fast, around 3 km in 20 minutes, but it was stopped near Pozzolo by the enemy cavalry (Watrin had only 200 Chasseurs, too few to manoeuver).

Watrin’s attack overran the Russians first ranks and was barely stopped by Russian grenadiers. The stunned Suvorov immediately realized the danger of that flank attack and personally launched Miloradovich’s troops, under the command of General Förster.  Soon the left Russian Wing was in a terrific battle. Around11:30-12:00 a.m.,  Derfelden’s Corps of 10 fresh nattalions, entered the match. Five battalions were directed against Watrin and the other five against Novi and the Belvedere Plateau, where Bagration was again attacking. Watrin, who initially had repulsed the Russians and then had withdrawn on the plateau was ordered to enter again the plains in order to help the French left wing being attacked by Kray. In the meanwhile, at noon, Miloradovich reorganized his battalions into two columns: the first marched from Pozzolo directly against Novi, the second marched on the right of the first, in order to support the attack. Watrin was engaged at Bettole and among the “cascine” nearby. Novi had a thin screen on its northern side, formed by the 18th Light and 21st Line Demi-Brigades (Gardanne). They saw the Russian vanguard (1st Miloradovich column) emerging from the corn fields with 6 guns in the frontline. With the first canister shot Gardanne’s brigade was shocked and retreated into the town walls. The gates were blocked, some carriages were put across the roads to raise barricades and musketry began from the top of the walls. Miloradovich had driven his 2nd column toward the western side of Novi, directed against the Belvedere house, as a visual target for the leading guides. The Russians repulsed  Colli’s outposts and began to move uphill, on a little round height, where the French artillery made a true massacre. From the eastern slope of the height (Collinetta?) came a violent musketry (14th, 17th, 24th, 63rd, and 68th Demi-Brigades plus 400 Poles) and the Russian battered in their front and on the flank, fell down on the ground, pinned and unable to move. At this point, Laboissière, attacked with six companies the other Russian flank with a bayonet charge. The Russian were forced to fight, and melted away in a fast rout, abandoning the plateau. Watrin was always at Bettole and, for a short moment, he hoped he could have advanced against the routing Russians till Pozzolo.  One of  Dąbrowski’s aide-de-camp, however, informed him of the high dust cloud seen along the Scrivia (this was Mélas’ column advancing) and Watrin was forced to withdraw to cover the French right. 

The Russians, were exhausted and thirsty, many lying on the ground wounded or in shock, among lots of dead. Do, Suvorov, stopped that unlucky general attack at 1.00 p.m., under an intolerable sun.

Notes:

[i] Suvorov said he had moved at 6:00 a.m., what is totally unbelievable. Jomini said the Russians began their attack at 8:00 a.m. while other Austrian sources spoke about the 9:00 a.m. The apparent difference could be explained as the French stated the Russian movement beginning, while the Austrians the effective initial attack (the first shot of artillery i.e.).

[ii] At 9:00 a.m. the temperature (in the shade) was greater than 40° C (104° F) and many soldiers were so thirsty that continually looked for green berries or leaves to suck. The only “water” the French had were two bottles of eau-de-vie (the first at 10:00 p.m. on August 14, the second at 3:00 a.m. on August 15), the second with a “viande” ration together with ½ bread portion. The War Commissary Arnoult preferred to recover at Genoa and then at Savona, during the battle days. A French report also stated that the ambulances did not work at all.

[iii]Regimental guns numbers not listed. Add the regimental artillery as appropriate.

[iv] Including the Austrian cavalry (Miliutin).

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2009

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