Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

The 1799 Campaign in Italy: Novi -- the Defeat of the French

By Enrico Acerbi

Kray’s Second Attack

The tired soldiers of General Kray had orders to attack Lemoine again. The new first line of the Ott’s Division was formed by the Terzy Regiment  (2 battalions as the right wing) and by the 40th  Mittrowsky Regiment  as the left wing (3 battalions). The difficult assault was repeated by twice and in both cases the Austrians knocked against a wall of bullets and artillery balls, sent from the strong Lemoine positions. A third attempt by the Deutschmeister and the Vukassovich Regiments, while the soldiers from the Ogulin border fought together with the Terzy infantry. This second Kray’s attack began at 8:00 a.m. while the Russians attacked Novi. It was a dirty clash of dust and blood, under a deadly sun, where many Austrian units continued to fight under the command of the NCOs, having lost almost all their officers. The Hungarian column at the extreme right advanced and cut off the Francavilla road, blocking the withdrawal  from Pasturana. Pèrignon, knowing that danger, ordered a cavalry charge along that road (Richepance?), while 200 men of Clauzel cleared the woods pushing back the Hungarians (maybe Croatians of Ogulin ?). The French line continued to advance reaching Basaluzzo and collecting 7 Austrian abandoned guns with several caissons, but the defense of the village was not needed with the Austrians rejected into the plain and one of their battalions lost in a pocket. [i]

At the moment the Russian stopped their attack against Novi, Ott’s flank remained uncovered. Suddenly Moreau launched against it the fresh Partounneaux Brigade, which caught the Mittrowski Regiment on its flank and forced it to return back from the plateau; their resistance was, however, strong and, with many losses, they could reach the plain in relative order and with all the regimental artillery. Partonneaux tried to pursuit downhill but, when he reached the lower fields, he was heavily bombarded by the Austrian reserve batteries, deployed amid the cornfields. The stunned French were charged by the Dobay’s cavalry detachment (3 squadrons of Archduke Joseph Hussars and 3 squadrons of Archduke Johann Dragoons). Most of the French soldiers regained the hills, flying away and hiding in ground holes and ditches. The unlucky Partonneaux (together with two chefs-de-brigade, 40 officers and 900 men) was taken prisoner by the Austrian cavalry. [ii]

This second Kray assault (it was really the seventh attempt) ended, at 2:00 p.m., with the organization of the eighth advance onto the enemy. Four Austrian columns (reinforced by one Sztaray Battalion under Captain Pakonyi) attacked, with the regimental bands at their head, against the advanced French line. Bellegarde and Ott deployed again their “martyrized soldiers” (Kray himself called them this), in double rank, and ordered to march uphill. In effect their advance was a new martyrdom, under an heavy rain of canisters and bullets. Despite these difficulties the Bellegarde Regiment’s advanced, repulsing the French counterattacks, till the third crest of hills; General  Gottesheim, at the extreme right, was on the point to fall on the Pasturana rear. General Kray ordered Major Kees to lead a column (one Sztaray Battalion and 4 squadrons  of Kaiser Dragoons) deep into the French lines, reaching the Riasco Creek and the Braghena Gorge, from where they would been able to encirle the French. Ott’s Division was able to reach the hills too, but not so deeply as Bellegarde. At its extreme left was the Vukassovich Regiment, which covered the flank of the division led by the commander, ObLt. Franz De Baut. The regiment  soon became almost isolated, because the Russians had not yet begun their attack against the Belvedere. The regiment, with great endeavours, had carried its guns uphill; with these, it organized a little redoubt from which they repulsed all the French counterattacks with muskets and guns. During the combat their losses were heavy and De Baut was wounded in the leg. Under an heavy bombardment of the Austrian reserve batteries, with a temperature of 45° C and a burning sun, the methodical Austrian advance pushed back the French line on its old positions, touched Pasturana and seized again the Novi road.

This was an hard blow to the French morale. There Moreau probably realized he could never be able to reach the plain and to win the final battle. A strange silence came from the battlefield, broken by the grumbles of the wounded and by the noise of the marching horses. It was an hot, too hot afternoon beginning … and now it was time for the third Coalition army to appear: General  Mélas Corps.

The Advance of Mélas Corps

Many sources wrote about a presumed act of disobedience by General  Michael Mélas at Novi. Many also concorded that his initiative was very important for the final victory. Mélas’s manoeuver was generally said to be brilliant,  breaking the stalemate from midday on the battlefield. The Austrian Fieldmarshal, commanding the Reserve at Rivalta, was ordered by Suvorov, to advance and to gain control over the French right wing, attacking Novi from the east. Otherwise, Mélas, was of the opinion that a better attack could have be launched against the Monte Rotondo slopes, where the French artillery was less effective, because of the nature of terrain. He divided his Corps into three columns: the first had to march against Serravalle, to repulse Dąbrowski uphill and to secure the left flank; the second had probably the most important task, having to gain the monte Rotondo crest and to encircle Novi from east; the third, divided in two parts, had to support the right flank of the second column, with the 1st part and to drive toward Novi with the second part. This last sub-column was made only to make Suvorov sure the Austrians were there in order to obey his orders, but the reality was rather different. [iii]

Maybe Mélas arranged to intervene rapidly in the fight, or maybe he rather observed the arrangements of the previous evening, thinking the moment had come to pursue the enemy, which he effectively did later.  So appointed the generals by himself, gave the necessary instructions and divided the troops in the three aforesaid columns

Austrian Left Wing – 2nd Rank – camp Rivalta Scrivia

FML Michael Friedrich Benedikt Mélas - Generalmajor Freiherr Michael von Fröhlich
Staff – Oberst Marchetti, major Bicking, Obersten Hirsch, Erden, Odelke, major Volkmann, Captains Foyt, Mumb,
Pioneers Corps Commander: Oberstleutnant Joseph Graf Radetzky de Radetz

FML Mélas Right Wing

Battalions

Companies

Squadrons

Total

Heavy Guns

 

Austrians

13

-

18

8806

20

 

1st Columnn – Left Wing

 

Feldbrigade Generalmajor Graf Johann Nobili

   
 

Wucherer

Miliutin

K.K.  18th  Line Infantry Regiment   Graf Patrick Stuart - I and IV Battalions. – 14 companies III Battalion At Serravalle

2423

1516

K.K. 10th Light Dragoons Regiment  GdC Joseph Fürst Lobkowitz - 2 Squadrons.

254

200

The Nobili column passed the Scrivia at Molino Emanuele and then drove toward Serravalle

 

2nd Columnn – Center

 

Feldbrigade General-Major Freiherr Anton von Mittrowsky

   
 

Wucherer

Miliutin

K.K.  36th  Line Infantry Regiment   Fürst Carl Fürstenberg  I - II Battalions  14 Companies

1656

1587

K.K. 14th Light Dragoons Regiment  Franz Freiherr von Levenehr 1 Sqn.

130

111

Followed the left bank of the river Scrivia

 

3rd Columnn – Right Wing

 

Feldbrigade FML Johann Ludwig Alexander Alformerius Frh. von Loudon

   
 

Wucherer

Miliutin

K.K. 14th Light Dragoons Regiment  Franz Freiherr von Levenehr 2 squadrons.

259

222

K.K. Grenadier Battalion Graf Nikolaus Weissenwolf

729

673

K.K. Grenadier Battalion Freiherr Carl von Görschen

724

627

K.K. Grenadier Battalion Oblt Franz Xavier Weber von Treuenfeld

591

275

K.K. Grenadier Battalion Graf Otto von Hohenfeld

428

221

 

Feldbrigade Generalmajor Franz Joseph Marquis de Lusignan

   
 

Wucherer

Miliutin

K.K. Hungarian Grenadier Battalion OberstLeutnant Johann Pértussy

528

399

K.K. Grenadier Battalion Major Johann Graf Morzin <[iv]

556

393

K.K. Grenadier Battalion Graf Carl Paar

487

324

K.k Grenadier Battalion Graf Anton Schiaffinati

661

508

K.K.  36  Line Infantry Regiment   Fürst Carl Fürstenberg  III Battalion 4 Companies

528

494

 

Cavalry Brigade Generalmajor Fürst Johann von Liechtenstein

1542

1265

 

Wucherer

Miliutin

K.K. 10th Light Dragoons Regiment  GdC Joseph Fürst Lobkowitz - 2 Squadrons.

254

199

K.K. 14th Light Dragoons Regiment  Franz Freiherr von Levenehr - 2 squadrons.

260

222

Reserve and Garrisons

   
 

Wucherer

Miliutin

K.K. Grenadier Battalion major Franz Wouwermanns

463

268*

K.K. Grenadier Battalion Oberleutnant Carl Soudain

320

286*

K.k Grenadier Battalion Oberleutnant Ferdinand Pers

453

341*

K.k Grenadier Battalion Oberleutnant Franz von Neny

500

250 ??*

* not listed by Miliutin in the OoB [v]

K.K.  44th  Line Infantry Regiment  (former Belgiojoso) Volunteers Detachment Commander: Oberst Freiherr Philipp von Brentano-Cimarolli Arrived too late to take part at the battle. They remained at Tortona as garrison with their Grenadiers (Neny). They will fight the 2nd Novi battle in autumn

150

Not

listed

Not listed

K.K. 5th  Hussar Regiment  6 Squadrons.

Not listed

524

General Melas was reached, while being in march order, by Suvorov’s order around midday. In that dispatch the commander-in-chief told the Austrians to drive to Serravalle and to surround the French Right Wing. This was exactly what Mélas had intention to do and, to avoid confusion in the march order, he kept the Mittrowsky Brigade at the head of his third column, reducing the columns from three to two. With another Austrain Corps approaching, General  Suvorov had nothing other to do than to wait his new left wing entering the battle and then attack. However, inexplicably and strangely, he ordered a second Russian attack (and the third one to the poor tired Kray). Generals Kray and Derfelden, who, because of the absolute lack of water have had no rest or refreshments for the soldiers, remained completely stunned with those orders. Moreover the pause of the battle had allowed the French to deploy the artillery by the best way and to reinforce the skirmishers’ screen too. Nevertheless, punctually, Kray and Derfelden launched their attacks at the same time, together, at 3:00 p.m..

The Afternoon Attacks and Mélas's Initiative

At 3:00 p.m., together with the described last attack, the Russians attacked, Derfelden against the Belvedere position and Bagration against the eastern sike dof the town of Novi. There were three attempts to seize the French positions, but all the attacks were repulsed. At least, the intervention of the French cavalry bBrigade Calvin forced the Russians to regain the Pozzolo lines. In the meanwhile the bulk of Mélas Corps had reached the village of Bettole and was preparing its attack. The Mélas attack was arranged to start by 16:00 p.m.  with the task to attack Novi directly from the east side. The great losses of the Austrian right wing and those of Russians, however, did raise a lot of doubts in the Austrian Fieldmarshal’s mind. He summoned a war council and, mainly, agreed with one of the most reliable among his subordinates, the Chief of Pioneers, Graf Joseph Radetzky (the future marshal, nightmare of  Lombardy). Leaving apart Nobili, of which there were no news upon his march to Serravalle, [vi] they decided to employ Mittrowsky and Loudon to attack the French right and to send Lusignan with the Prince Liechtenstein Cavalry to follow what Suvorov had ordered them to do. 

Having noted some movements at the edge of the plateau, east of Novi, General  Lusignan formed a line with the grenadier Battalions Pértussy and Schiaffinati at the right, and a Fürstenberg Battalion at the left. Then ordered a bayonet charge against the French line marching (running)  at the head of the Schiaffinati grenadiers. This battalion was the first to reach the plateau (also known as the Castel Dragone position) and first to engage the French; it was repulsed and made a second charge in direction of the post of Cavana. After it followed the Battalion Pertussy, which assaulted the hill instead of driving toward Novi and so did also the fusiliers of the 36th Regiment. There was a hard fight in the middle of the vineyards and between the little wooden farms (cascine), which were burning. The Cisalpine infantry [vii] seemed not able to resist to the violent clash and began to retreat, forcing Watrin to close the gap with other troops. The Calvin brigade retreated in disorder with many soldiers taking the road toward Gavi and forcing St. Cyr to risk his life in an useless attempt to stop the fugitives. General Watrin, after having observed the gathering of Mittrowsky and Loudon (behind Cavana), had previously decided to regroup his troops behind a small mound, just seized by the 106th Demi-Brigade with 4 pieces of artillery. It was this last French unit which absorbed all the grenadiers charges and, while the 106th resisted, the shocked Watrin’s troops withdrew to Fornova (Fornace Nuova?), on the road to Gavi. And this was the first time the French definitively lost one of the initial positions.

Mélas’s Decisive Maneuver

During the Grenadiers attacks, Mittrowsky and Loudon advanced toward the Val Alfiera and went uphill on the monte Rotondo slope, immediately crossing the Braghena valley with the two Fürstenberg Battalions, leaving back four of their companies under the Regiment’s commander Graf von Auersperg, with a Flügel (squadron) of Levenehr Dragoons, free to advance on the Gavi road against the French rear. Loudon advanced in a wide formation on the right bank of the Braghena Creek (having the grenadiers Weissenwolf on the right, then the grenadiers Görschen and those of Hohenfeld as the left wing. A second rank was formed with the Weber grenadiers and some guns, those they succeeded in pushing uphill).

General St.Cyr realized immediately the extreme danger of that movement and sent against them all detachments he could gather among the shocked Watrin troops, while Laboissière had orders to change facing eastward against Lusignan, repositioning also the artillery (4 guns shot directly against the new Lusignan attack).

In fact, on that moment (between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m.) Major General  Fröhlich launched part of the Lusignan second line uphill (Morzin grenadiers). It followed an chaotic melée with the French attacked from many sides, forming squares and trying to resist to the charges. General Lusignan, at the head of the column, fell on the ground wounded and was taken prisoner. The moment was very important. General Fröhlich ordered the Weber grenadiers to attack in the area between Lusignan and Loudon, while Mélas himself threw into the struggle the reserve Battalion: Paar grenadiers. They assaulted Novi by the southern heights and approached its gates. The path of the Paar grenadiers was followed also by the Liechtenstein cavalry, which erupted in  Novi’s rear. All the hills curtain edge was taken and the encirclement left St. Cyr with no hopes. Many of his unit were actually routing or withdrawing in great disorder.

With these occurrences, St. Cyr decided it was the moment to withdraw in order to not fall into Austrian hands as prisoners. [viii] He tried to gather the 3rd Line infantry to cover the retreat, but the Demi-Brigade was already been employed by Moreau on the left. So he ordered to the 19th Dragoons to form a screen and to secure the flank of the retreating column and began to dismantle the artillery positions on the Belvedere, moving the column of carriages toward the Braghena bridge. Otherwise he was totally unaware the Austrains now controlled the Gavi road.

Moreau’s Complete Defeat [ix]

St. Cyr’s situation had become desperate. Serravalle taken by the Nobili Brigade was in Austrian hands. Gavi was under direct hazard as the Poles had been repulsed toward La Bocchetta pass. The French right wing was almost isolated from the main army. But the wing’s defeat was soon to became a general rout. Joubert’s corpse had left palazzo Doria at Novi onto a carriage, sent by Suchet to Genoa before the Austrian irruption.

When the Paar grenadiers reached the southern gate of Novi, the Russians moved forward. General Shvejkowsky from east and Derfelden from north attacked the walls. The French defenders (Gardanne brigade), after a 10 hours resistance, at 4:00 p.m., left the town through the only gate passable in the west side, harassed by two Russian Battalions and patrols of the Karacsaj Dragoons (2½ squadrons.). This mixed vanguard, which had moved at 5:00 p.m., reinforced by 3 squadrons of the 5th Hussars, cleared the heights in front of Novi taking the direction of Pasturana. The Derfelden advance finished also to rescue the isolated Vukassovich infantry of the Ott’s left wing. Laboissière also ordered the retreat by the fields, prolonging his right wing till Castelletto. Of his division, was left behind only a Battalion of the 68th Demi-Brigade, directly led by General  Colli, who under attack was forced to drive left in order to try to link with Lemoine. This determined the successive described events.

On the Austrian right wing, General  Kray, observing the chaotic movements of the French rear areas, ordered a general  attack at 5:00 p.m. . Lemoine was pushed back till Pasturana, Grouchy, threatened by a potentially surrounding column (Gottesheim) and directly attacked through his front, broke the lines and ordered a retreat, which was rather a run, on and down the valleys. During these dramatic moments, the three generals of Pasturana were taken prisoners of war; but the way they were caught was referred as very bizarre and originated a gossip: the Tale of the three “smart” generals.


Let see what Thiebault said in his memoirs:

“… from the moment the left wing was in full rout, the Generals Pérignon, Grouchy, and Colli (Piedmontese) had realized the whole army was lost. Pérignon had commanded the left in a very feeble way, and Grouchy had supported him still more weakly, and these three generals, thought it was always preferable, for not being badly dealt, to become the first, who had less chances to be caught prisoners into a village, than in the open ground, or in daylight instead of night, three at the time instead of being alone, during the battle instead of the last moments of the struggle; these three Generals, so, obeying this ill-fated inspiration, which was harmful for themselves, agreed together to remain at Pasturana, that important strongpoint, which the French were ready to abandon, after having entrenched it, and let their troops to withdraw while they recovered into a corner formed by two parts of an inn. They would await there for surrender to the first enemy general  or Austrian officer, who would have come there<. In the meantime, a voltigeur officer, having perceived them there, when their withdrawal was still possible and believing that he had to devote himself to facilitate it, blocked the main street of the village with his company. 

This heroic resistance did not go into the plans of the three generals, who ordered the captain to put away his) sword. Useless shame; at this same moment a large patrol of Austrian hussars, arose, exterminated the company and arrested the officer; then these same hussars, pursuing their way, the first of them arriving at the corner of the inn perceived suddenly the generals, together with one or two officers, and gave them the honour to be takes as in an ambush.    

They handled them with sabre shots; General  Pérignon had the head opened, General  Grouchy also had it, and furthermore was slashed (this mark today is even the most beautiful ornament of his marshal's staff). He wrote upon Novi to his sister " I have, three dangerous wounds but nobody will spike me. Pérignon will be preserved. "

And so continued the violent polemic:

“During that struggle, all would have remained unknown, because nobody in the group would have been a traitor; however, a captain, returned in France after his prisoner’s exchange, told the story and a lieutenant of the 26th Demi-Brigade, called Deney, become the secretary of General  Delmas, having been witness of the event, very upset reported all to General  Moreau, who recommended him a complete silence…”

Delmas at least told the complete version and was invited to bring other witnesses. Thiebault said also that no more witnesses were needed for a self confirmed cat, as:

these three generals were taken together; so no one of them was in his position, which nobody can leave during a battle. They were caught far from their troops, so having abandoned them. At least they were taken prisoners in a strange way, without a circumstance which could as a minimum be comprehensible rather than justifiable…. Without remembering the comedy of sabre shots, which if better inflicted, maybe would have avoided greater calamities to France..”

This was, instead, the official account of the retreat. At 6:00 p.m.  Watrin had definitely ordered the retreat while Suvorov, Kray and Mélas were making their final efforts. The retreat orders by St. Cyr to Watrin were to raise the Monte Cucco slope to cover the flank of Laboissière, who had to reach Tassarolo and San Cristoforo, in the valley. Otherwise the unending attacks of the Austrian grenadiers and the raids of Liechtenstein’s cavalry created a sort of panic; soon the troops of Watrin and Laboissière began to run away in a complete rout. Guerin and Colli tried to rescue the guns left in the Belvedere and Collinetta positions, but their actions were useless. With the withdrawal of the Laboissière units, only the center continued the fight (Gardanne and Lemoine).

Moreau had left Calvin and Colli between Lemoine and Grouchy and had ordered to the last named general  to cover   Grouchy’s withdrawal. Lemoine, pushed back by the Ott’s troops suddenly lost his battle order and was forced to abandon the cover task, because his troops began to disband and fled away. General Karacsaj, having taken the command of his squadrons, stroke Colli in a flank and forced the Piedmontese to recover into Pasturana with the 1st Battalion of the 68th Line infantry.

Before being captured, Grouchy, at 6:00 p.m. , had also ordered a retreat, “par echelons”, covered by the brigade Colli and with Pasturana finally defended by the Battalion of the 68th Demi-Brigade.[x]

All the left wing artillery, which served till the last minute as support, abandoned its positions along the Basaluzzo road, directed to the gather point fixede by General  Debelle. The head of the column went up again the slope of Pasturana, it bordered the swamp and it crossed the road of Francavilla, going southward and crossing a road curve around the “cascina Decchi”. Here the road became steep, descending toward Tassarolo, and here the first battery jammed across the way, blocking the movements. The right French wing artillery, galloping down from the Belvedere, hit the flank of the Perignon park column near a church. A complete chaos occurred with the shout of the Russians and the Austrians advancing, delayed by Colli at the cemetery of Pasturana. The crew abandoned the pieces, cut the ropes freeing the train horses in order to mount them for a faster escape. At this moment,  Kray’s troops (one Sztaray Battalion), pursuing Pèrignon, intercepted the large artillery park of the French left wing, cut the road and took all the retreating column prisoners\. Some killed horses and some carriages, crushed, blocked the passage in a sunken causeway. As a consequence, the French column was pinned and forced to stop in front of this obstacle.

Before the Austrian infantry could line and attack the village, the squadrons of the 5th Hussars (Révay) and the Dragoons Karacsay under Nimptsch erupted among the houses. On Pasturana converged also the archduke Joseph Hussars, coming from the wes tside, under the command of Rittmeister Rakowsky. Pasturana was totally surrounded. As for the aforementioned Pèrignon and Grouchy, the first had seven sabre wounds, the second six (officially while trying to rescue the guns in Pasturana). Colli, also wounded, was taken prisoner with the 68th Demi-Brigade Battalion. [xi]

At least only the Grandjean brigade was able to do a good order retreat. Suvorov said that only dusk saved the French army from the total annihilation. So ended a ruthless battle which had lasted for 16 hours and which was remembered for this record. The Coalition pursuit was not so effective because all soldiers were deadly tired “bis zur Kraftlosigkeit erschöpft” as the Austrians said.

Around the 11:00 p.m.  the last French units, escaped through the Austro-Russian pinchers, rallied at Gavi. Suvorov rode slowly across the battlefield and, seeing the heaps of corpses, stacked waiting for the evacuation, said the renowned phrase: “God gave me a great amount of benefits, but punished me when I had to come to Italy.”

Death’s Stench

Only the uncoming night was able to put an end to the hideous butcher in the Pasturana ravine. Irritated by the heavy losses, they had undergone in the battle, the Russians granted quarter only to superior officers and generals. The Austro-Russian medical corps, received appropriate orders, from the Commaner-in-Chief so they soon installed the necessary field hospitals, and it was in that evening sad occasion that the whole place of the former abbey Santa Maria (del Fossato), with the church and the near buildings, was converted in so many ranks of straw beds, above which the wounded poor men were laid down. While sanitary units did that compassionate job, the zealous priest Don Pacchiarotti and some of the clergymen of Basaluzzo went there, where the spiritual needs asked for them, comforting and acquitting the dying poor soldiers. Later, growing the number of the wounded, other hospitals were established at Novi, in the church of S. Nicolò, in Fresonara, Bosco and Frugarolo.

This was in effect a very bloody battle. In some moderate reports (as in Jomini) the French suffered 1500 dead, 5000 wounded, 3000 prisoners – three generals and the Adjudant Partounneaux. They lost 4 flags, 37 guns, and 28 caissons, while the counterpart had 1800 dead, 5200 wounded, 1200 men and 3 caissons prisoners. Gachot told the French lost: 4500 dead, wounded, missing and prisoners in the left wing (Grouchy’s Chief-of-Staff Daoust’s report), the 106th Line lost one chef-de-Battalion, 24 officers and 328 men; the 34th Line lost 16 officers and 460 men; Watrin’s division lost (Watrin’s report) 1000 men and the same number was lost by Laboissière; the artillery lost 63 men, the cavalry 100; were lost also 4 flags, 18 guns and 21 caissons.

Suvorov, in his report from Asti on August 25, maybe exaggerated, spoke about 12268 prisoners or wounded and 6000 French dead (plus the three generals prisoners, with Partonneaux, 84 staff and superior Officers). The Coalition troops took also 39 guns, 54 caissons, 4 flags. Mélas, also probably overestimating the numbers, told about 3000 French dead, 4000 wounded, 4000 prisoners.

The Russian Fieldmarshal wrote to the Kaiser Franz the Russian losses were 1584 men (dead: 1 Staff officer, 10 superior officers, 337 men; 2 generals, 5 colonels, 3 Staff officers, 47 superior officers and 1179 men wounded); the number of missing and prisoners was not given. So did Miliutin, without giving the missing and prisoners numbers, who counted 348 Russians dead and 1538 wounded (a total of 1886 men). Mélas said the Russian lost 2700 men (included 198 officers).

The Austrian list had higher numbers. Kray lost 5173 men (on a base of 15000), Mélas lost 736 men (on a base of 8000 men), the Staff and the Reserve artillery lost 32 men. The total number of Austrian losses was 5951 men (6050 for Mélas and 6002 for a  viennese magazine) . 

The burning sun accelerated the putrefaction of the dead bodies, and the burials were made difficult by the hardened ground, meanwhile the air was becoming infected more and more, and the horrible stench lasted for quite a lot time. Three large common graves were dug (in front of Pasturana, left of Bettole and the last south of Novi) but they were not enough to bury all the dead. Then it was decided to cremate the corpses. On the hill and on the lowland, on the height Sant’Antonino of Basaluzzo and on the plain of Pasturana were prepared piles of firewood and, after having gathered the dead bodies, high fires enlighted the nights. The stench of the death lasted till August 18, causing an heavy, hot and pestilential air.

Along for the putrid stenchse, marker of the horrific and bloody battle, or for the great famine which followed, in Basaluzzo developed a fatal pestilence, that, in the few following months, that is from August 1799 to January 1800, made over 110 victims. Similar memory also happened in that time to Fresonara, as it could be seen in the parish records of both villages.

A great number of French wounded soldier were transferred to Novi and the lack of carriages forced Mélas to commit the citizens for their transport. 

Austrian losses at Novi – report of August 19

Regiments and Gren. Battalions.

Dead

Wounded

Missing

Totals

Horses (or)

Name

strength

Officers

Men

Off

Men

Off

Men

Off

Men

Per Cent

Right Wing – FZM Kray

K.K.  39 Nádasdy

1559

1

45

11

183

-

209

12

468

30.8 %

K.K.  40 Mittrowsky

1758

1

32

8

239

1

76

10

347

20.3 %

K.K.  33 Sztaray

2623

-

59

15

443

2

103

17

605

23.7 %

K.K.  16 Terzy

1256

3

70

7

176

9

111

19

347

29.1 %

K.K. 4 Deutschmeister [xii]

2325

2

171

18

616

3

21

23

808

35.7 %

K.K.  8 Huff

1665

2

39

16

328

1

133

19

500

31.1 %

K.K.  15 Oranien

1761

-

1

-

4

-

1

-

6

0.3 %

K.K.  48 Vukassovich

1733

3

54

11

118

2

102

16

271

16.5 %

K.K.  10 Kheul

1669

1

32

12

215

-

74

13

321

20 %

K.K.  45 Lattermann

1148

2

91

6

192

2

174

10

157

14.5 %

K.K.  32 Gyulai

1361

-

36

14

240

-

69

14

345

26.4 %

Grenz Regiment Carlstädt Szluiner

614

1

19

3

97

-

23

4

139

23.3 %

Only one Battalion

GrenzRegiment  Carlstädt Oguliner

1330

-

58

12

231

2

66

14

355

27.7 %

Kaiser Dragoons

995

-

1

-

15

-

-

-

16

47

Arch. Johann Dragoons

983

-

1

2

20

-

1

2

22

31

Arch. Joseph Hussars

1169

-

5

3

15

-

5

3

25

68

Right wing totals

 

16

694

138

3132

22

1169

176

1995

116

Left Wing Gen. d.Kav. Mélas

Name

strength

Officers

Men

Off

Men

Off

Men

Off

Men

Horses

Grenadier Pértussy

528

-

5

-

22

-

15

-

45

8.5 %

Grenadier Görschen

724

-

18

1

49

1

10

2

77

10.9 %

Grenadier Weissenwolf

729

1

15

5

53

0

21

6

89

13 %

Grenadier Morzin

556

-

7

2

57

-

22

2

86

15.8 %

Grenadier Schiaffinati

661

1

4

4

62

-

27

5

93

14.8 %

Grenadier Paar

487

-

4

1

26

-

-

1

30

6.4 %

Grenadier Weber

591

-

2

-

15

-

3

-

20

3.4 %

Grenadier Hohenfeld

428

-

1

-

-

-

-

-

1

NN

K.K.  36 Fürstenberg

2184

-

9

3

69

-

30

3

108

5.1 %

K.K.  18 Stuart

2441

-

7

2

46

-

12

2

65

2.7 %

Dragoons Lobkowitz

763

-

1

1

15

-

2

1

18

27

Dragoons Levenehr

779

-

4

1

14

-

5

1

23

58

Dragoons  Karacsaj

882

-

4

-

30

-

2

-

36

69

K.K. 5th  Hussar

800 ??

-

6

1

12

1

2

2

20

28

GHQ Staff

 

-

-

3

-

-

-

3

-

 

Reserve artillery

-

-

8

-

31

-

-

-

39

29

Left wing totals

 

18

889

162

3636

24

1320

204

5745

211

The heaviest losses were those of the Deutschmeister, which was at the first battle after its reorganization. Some other units finished the battle so battered, that they were retired from the army. The Oguliner i.e. were escorted to Bologna for a lomg period of rest and reorganization.

Comments about the Battle

Jomini was often very generous with Suvorov, otherwise …:

Encore que l’avantage de cette journée, dit-il, soit resté aux Austro-Russes, la gloire en est incontestablement partagée par les Français, qui combattirent pendant huit heures, à chances égales, avec 36 000 hommes contre 45 000 ( car, dans l’armée Austro-Russe, il ne faut comprendre le corps de Rosemberg, qui n’arrivât de Tortone à Pozzolo-Formigaro que dans la nuit et ne prit par conséquent aucune part à l’affaire). Cette journée prouvât, au reste, que la bonté des troupes et une volonté bien déterminé de leur général, peuvent, quelquefois, suppléer à une vice de combinaison. Il n’y pas eut, à Novi, du côté des Austro-Russes, de véritables manoeuvres que celle opérée vers la fin du jour par la réserve de Mêlas. Le reste de leurs attaques ne fut qu’une série de chocs meurtriers, exécutés sans simultanéité.”

Only a succession of frontal, deadly and unuseful attacks was the Suvorov’s glory, with the outnumbered French well defending the heights. Jomini criticized the delayed employment of the Mélas left wing and a bad use of reserves.

“On ne saurait compter, cette victoire, au nombre des plus beaux fait d’armes de Souvorov. Sa droite, engagée trois heures avant son centre et huit heures avant sa gauche, aurait eu tout le temps d’être écrasée; et il faut dire que si elle ne le fut pas, la mort de Joubert en fut la cause. Les gens de l’art s’étonnèrent avec raison qu’un général aussi expérimenté que Souvorov eut laissé, dans une circonstance semblable, 6000 hommes inactif à Spinetta [xiii] et 10 000 devant Tortone, cela afin de contenir une garnison de 1200 Français.”

And these last words of Jomini were the same comments of Clausewitz.

In his report to the War Minister, Moreau, so justified the defeat. First: the outnumbering enemy:

“Beaucoup de motifs ont déterminé la perte de cette bataille ; d'abord la disproportion des forces ennemies, qui excédaient les nôtres d'un tiers en infanterie et de trois quarts en cavalerie.”

Second: the bad Joubert deployment:

“Nous occupions un champ de bataille d'où nous devions marcher à l'ennemi, et où nous ne devions pas recevoir le combat. Son immense étendue, qui cependant ne nous donnait que deux défilés pour nous retirer, et son appui de droite, qui était le fort de Serravalle, occupé par l'ennemi; le général en chef avait parfaitement senti tous ces inconvéniens, et je ne doute pas qu'il n'eut fait reprendre dés le soir même les anciennes positions, si l'ennemi lui en avait donné le temps.”

Third: the impossibility to make use of the French defensive successes.

“Nous avions encore un désavantage sensible en combattant, c'était de ne pas pouvoir profiter de nos succés. L'ennemi repoussé ne pouvait ètre rompu; il courait se reformer dans la plaine, où nous ne pouvions le poursuivre à l'abri de sa cavalerie, et recommençait ses attaques dès qu’il était reformé.”

And, least: the “comprehensible” fatigue of the own troops, which caused also the use of Austrian prisoners to carry the wounded to Genoa:

“Il a fallu de la part de nos troupes un courage plus qu’humain pour soutenir dans cette position plus de douze heures de combat, sans avoir eu le temps de manger. Je suis persuadé que si la fatigue ne les avait pas empechés de se porter derrière notre droite avec la rapidité que la marche de l'ennemi exigeait, on aurait pu arrêter ses progres; mais les soldats et officiers tombaient de lassitude. Nous avons remporté tous nos blessés à Gênes, quoique sans moyens de transports. Les prisonniers nous ont été pour cela d'une grande utilité.”

Notes:

[i] Gachot, at this point, criticized Grouchy for not having had the courage to advance with his artillery, destroying the enemy blocked battalions and, then, attacking the Suvorov’s right flank, then when Watrin was assaulting the Russian left side. Gachot said this could have granted a complete French victory, with the Russian closed in a pincher manoeuver. Maybe he forgot the 2nd Kray line was deployed with the Reserve batteries, between Grouchy and Suvorov.

[ii] What happened to Partounneaux was exactly what Suvorov had in mind. Probably the Russain Chief delayed the Russian Central attack, hoping the pushes of GGeneral Kray could force the French to descend into the plains and fight under the crossed fire of the Austro-Russian batteries and under the Coalition cavalry attacks.

[iii] As Stutterheim told, Mélas moved away from his camp at 11:00 a.m. Without orders. It is a reliable hypothesis as, like said by Miliutin, Suvorov sent his orders around midday. In this case, having waited for Suvorov’s orders, Mélas could not have reached Novi between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m.. Russian sources claimed Mélas received the 12.00 noon. order of the Commander-in-Chief but the report of general Nobili said they moved away from Rivalta at 9:00 a.m. and General Lusignan said they reached the Novi battlefield at 2.00 p.m. So there is a complete confusion about what were the orders for Mélas and about when he received the march order from the Headquarters. It is sure only that the Austrian general began to move after having received an order to do so.

[iv] Wounded during the clash, Count Morzin was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Later he will die at Turin for the wounds suffered.

[v] Baron von Wrede listed only Grenadier Battalions Wouwermanns, Soudain and Neny as participating at a Novi battle (it was probably the 2nd Novi which occurred later). Many Austrian grenadiers battalions distinguished themselves in the August battle. Battalion Schiaffinati charged a slope uphill and seized the crest with the bayonets; Battalions Weber, Paar, and Pértussy attacked successfully the position of Castel Dragone in front of Novi.

[vi] Actually Nobili had repulsed the weak French outposts of Cassano Spinola and Stazzano, forcing Dąbrowsky to retreat toward Gavi. This event opened a large gap at the French right, where Mélas sent his grenadiers.

[vii] Some French sources (not Gachot)  said the 1st Cisalpine entered the battle with the Poles but in the afternoon was sent at front to fill the gap between Laboissière and Watrin, having the originally deployed French units marched westward to support the defense against Bagration. So “à Paris” the rout of the Cisalpines was the cause of the first breach (in the French right wing). Alessandro Zanoli (see bibliography), an actual witness, negates the direct intervention of the 1st Cisalpine in the battle, telling it was with Dąbrowsky at the Serravalle blockade (where they had some wounded men among whom was Captain Carlo Vandoni, shot in the mouth), and that it participated only at some small clash during the August retreat at Voltaggio, Rossiglione and Campofreddo. As for the Cisalpine historian Zanoli the single Cisalpine, who took part in the battle, was the adjudant-général Giuseppe Fantuzzi, attache to the Joubert’s Staff. Unfortunately the best italian reference book upon the Cisalpine troops (Ilari-Crociani-Paoletti), prudently, makes a brilliant jump over Novi and doesn’t speak at all about that bloody battle. Interesting puzzle.

[viii] In effect being made prisoners by the Austrians was the lesser evil. Many sources concorded the Russians did not take prisoners at all, like,  the Austrians correctly did.

[ix] Thiebault did not great criticism against Moreau, but was very harsh with Pèrignon and Grouchy. He said also: “La bataille de Novi était perdue. Je passe sur les fautes qui en déterminèrent l'issue et notamment sur cette incroyable impéritie d'un commandant de la gauche qui engouffra son artillerie (vingt pièces environ) dans un ravin, au lieu de lui faire suivre les hauteurs; de sorte qu'il suffit à un seul tirailleur autrichien de tuer les chevaux de la première de ces pièces pour qu'elles fussent toutes arrêtées, dans l'impossibilité de se sauver et fatalement prises”. Et voilà, 20 guns lost for a stupid march order … a Guinness record. But only if the Thiebault account could be considered totally reliable.

[x] The “tale” of the three “smart” generals is also denied from the acts of the 68th Line Demi-Brigade. An excerpt from the “Etat de Service” of chef Boutrouë told: “At the Novi battle, 28 thermidor an VII, le chef-de-brigade, chargé de soutenir la retraite avec son 1er bataillon, fut enveloppé de toutes partes et séparé du reste de l’armée. Il ne cessa de donner l’exemple de courage le plus intrépide, comme celui du dévouement le plus héroique”. In the letters of the chef-de-brigade it is said that Colli was taken prisoner with Boutrouë and that the French 68th fought at Pasturana till the 21 PM.(et s'y maintint jusqu'à neuf heures), when Bagration fell on their back and Colli was severely wounded.

[xi] As for Gachot, at Pasturana was also a Battalion of the 74th Demi-Brigade and some (40) artillerymen (artillerie à cheval). The two infantry Battalions, at 21 PM, remained with only 30 men (each Battalion) the others being dead, wounded or escaped. With general Colli, was taken prisoner also another Piedmontese republican officer, adjudant-chef-de-brigade Francesco Federico Campana.

[xii] The Regimental history of the Regiment of Vienna (IR 4th Line) gave these losses: dead 122 (among these were the Fähnrich Josef Andrée and Ferdinand von Führer); wounded 427 men, missing and prisoners 210 men. This meant a total of 579 men, a number higher than the official report. They gave also the losses of the grenadiers in the ranks of Hohenfeld Battalion, which had only a support task: 7 dead, 23 wounded. These heavy losses occurred mainly during the 9 AM attacks.

[xiii] Spinetto Scrivia (noA).

 

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2009

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