The 1799 Campaign in Italy: The Last Battles & the End of the Directory’s Wars August-December 1799
The Road to Genola – the Battles at Stura and Murazzo (27 - 31 October)
October 27. While the Austrian attacks were harassing the French center around Mondovì, the Imperials were strongly hit in their right wing. General Grenier moved forward from his Madonna dell’Olmo camp against the enemy outposts at Centallo and Busca, driving right toward Fossano. That determined mass of about 6000 men, split in columns. It had the light troops in vanguard, three Chasseurs regiments and the main body formed by the 10th, 40th and 47th Demi-Brigades. Soon Grenier’s division deployed in large lines, advanced, after noon and at the same time, toward Sant’Albano and Maddalene, near Centallo by the left Stura bank, while Championnet moved his HQs at Ronchi, reaching the village with the reserve brigade Calvin. General Bussy was swept out from Murazzo. At the same time, two Victor’s Demi-Brigades assaulted the Pianfei outposts till the St. Gotthard chapel. The French advanced through Pogliola and the Pesio valley till Santa maria di Rocca.
The Austrians, observing the movements of the French division, crossed the Stura at Castelletto, went up on the plain deploying first a relief column, under command of General Nobili, [i] then other three columns (with cavalry and artillery) which hurried their march driving against Chiusa, Beinette and San Carlo delle Gambe. The French vanguard (CdB Brun with the Carabiniers of the 8th Light infantry, some grenadiers companies and the 1st Cavalry regiment) blocked the Austrian vanguard capturing 80 soldiers and 2 howitzers with their caissons. The French thin line was soon reinforced with the 8th Light Chasseurs Battalion, under Captain Moitié, which made a breach into the enemy line and allowed the irruption of the French (heavy) cavalry in the gap. The charge of the 1st, 14th and 21st Cavalry Regiments was very sturdy and only the sacrifice of the Austrian Dragoons Lobkowitz avoided a complete Imperial rout. In this combat, also called the Stura battle by the Austrians, died Obertslieutenant prince Thurn-und-Taxis (of the Lobkowitzs).
28 October. – In the center of the large battlefield, General Victor moved away from his camp and repulsed (once more) the Austrians outposts at Beinette, forcing his enemies to retreat to Carrù. General Fressinet, of Lemoine division (one Battalion of the 34th Line and the chasseurs Battalion of the 18th Light), advanced along the Stura right bank and occupied Castelletto (Stura); he engaged the Brixen brigade troops, battered at Mondovì, and that new position was definitevely cleared by October 31. Grenier’s Division continued its slow advance toward Fossano and seized Murazzo.
October 29. South of Mondovì a large Lemoine column had driven toward Lesegno, with the task to cut the Auersperg Brigade in two parts, separating the head from the troops remained at Niella. Auersperg, at dawn of October 29, let the enemy column approach him, surprised the French capturing three guns, two flags, 453 men and 20 officers (among whom was General Grossart). Lemoine marched back to Monastero, left there some outposts and returned on the mountains.
Otherwise the recent French moves began to worry the Austrian HQ, then the drums beat the rhythm of recall and the Imperials became to organize themselves. They rallied a strong division on the left Stura bank (15 grenadiers battalions and 6 cavalry regiments of Ott’s and Elsnitz’s Divisions). During the night some bridges were placed over the Stura and on October 30, in the early morning, the two large Austrian columns began their advance: the first (Ott) toward Centallo, the second (Elsnitz) toward Murazzo and Ronchi. In addition, the Marquis of Sommariva, who had reinforced the Fossano garrison with some light battalions, acting as third column, was ordered to drive against Murazzo and engage there the French. The third Deutschmeister Battalion was again attached to the Regiment, having moved from Carrù. Championnet had personally led his troops ahead toward Murazzo and Centallo, gathering about 12000 men on the left Stura bank. These troops threatened the right wing of Mélas, so the General decided, at least, it was the moment to engage in a large battle. In the evening the Austrians built two bridges at Castelletto and Montanera, in front of the enemy.
October 30. General Duhesme, reinforced by 2000 men, advanced in the Susa valley on October 30 in three columns: the first came from Mont Cenis, the second from Ramat and the last from Exilles and Chaumont. The third column had also 3 guns and 100 cavalry and the whole attacking force had about 5000 men. Duhesme attacked with the column (the vanguard with Boyer’s and Kister’s Brigades in the first line) came from Montanis and Exilles, while the other, surrounding, column (aide Ordonneau) hit Susa in the backside. The fortress was again seized. The Austrian garrison withdrew to Bussoleno having 500 men out of combat and 500 prisoners (French numbers); they really lost 200 men during the Susa attack and retreated first to Bussoleno, the following day to Avigliana, while Duhesme strangely returned to Susa without pursuing. So the Austrian were able to organize the defence. They put the outposts at Giaveno and Sant’Antonio, the reserve detachments (Unterstützungstruppen) at Ambrogio and the main force at Avigliana.
October 31. Ott’s Division and that of General Elsnitz rallied together, at dawn of 31 October, near the new bridges and, after the Austrian artillery had overcome the French guns, crossed the river. They surprised the opponents. Quickly marching through the long and cumbersome causeway, and, although the terrain was very favourable for the French, who were pushed back by a lethal fire coming from the hills around and were thrown in the plains. While the first Austrian attack was repulsed on all of Grenier’s front, with a countercharge of Chef Mermet and his 10th Hussars as the main event, Grenier was unable to stop the Imperials. There the Austrian cavalry exploited the confusion, charging the Frenchmen and only a fast escape saved them from a complete rout. Elsnitz pursued the enemy until within the range of the guns of Cuneo; Ott pursued him up to Busca. Up to the evening the army remained on the Grana banks; four cannons and 800 prisoners fell in the hands of the winners. During this combat the French General Calvin was lightly wounded. The Alps Division was driven out of Murazzo (in the clash called the battle of Murazzo by the Austrians) and had to rally itself around Centallo, with the intention to remain there. When Ott’s Division had advanced, Compans, with his brigade, was outflanked by Elsnitz’s movement to Ronchi and Grenier was forced to withdraw beyond the Maira creek. The cost of this combat was about 1000 French dead or wounded, but Mèlas failed to gain a decisive victory, not thinking it wise to pursue Grenier. The Austrian retreated to their old positions, leaving only outposts along the Stura (Castelletto and Ronchi). During the night the army moved again on its right, because General Duhesme was approaching with important reinforcements. The Austrian lost 62 men dead, 428 wounded (among whom were 10 Officers) and 189 prisoners; 45 horse remained dead or wounded in the battlefield. Also if, finally, Mélas decided to withdraw onto the old camp at Magliano, the Austrians claimed the victory of the Stura-Murazzo battles, but really their opponents were all but beaten.
In facts, that same 31 October, General Duhesme had attacked the Pinerolo entrenchments with persistent assaults and recurring charges of all his units, led by Kister, Brigadier Paulet, the adjudant Plantat, who was wounded, the aides Ordonneau and Boyer and finally the Mermet’s Hussars, which had travelled north to reinforce the left wing. This was a dangerous event for the Austrians, deployed with the main army in a too southern positions, with the Turin gates next to Duhesme’s troops and poorly defended on the eve of a greater battle. So Mèlas decided to concentrate the army in a central position, waiting the best chance to counterattack the French advance.
General Lemoine had orders to advance toward Carrù with Clauzel’s and Gardanne’s Brigades, while Seras drove toward Mondovì, occupying Breolungi, near the Ellero creek, and from there attacked the town entrenchments with the 20th Light infantry. In effect the town was already evacuated by the Austrians, because of the new Mélas orders and there was only a weak rearguard. The French booty, after the Austrian retreat, was 9 guns (old Piedmontese weapons) and all their ammunitions, but, above all, Mondovì was now in French hands. Victor advanced on Lemoine’s left and crossed the Stura at Morozzo leaving behind 1500 men who merged with the Fressinet vanguard at Castelletto and Montenera, with the task to harass the enemy’s rear at Bene, Sant’Albano e La Trinità, waiting Lemoine’s Division advancing on the right. Victor’s vanguards cleared the Austrian outposts at La Margherita and Murazzo, opening the route to Fossano, while Grenier, after having unluckily fought at Centallo (October 31), continued his advance toward Savigliano and, slowly, on November 2, reached the village of Valdigi (today Levaldigi). The Austrian army remained in the Magliano camp from October 30 till November 3, in observation duty.
Österreichische Italienische-Armée October 14 - 30
(Beinette - Stura battles)
Center - Hauptarmée along the river Stura line
Turin and Aosta Valley – Winter Quarters
Bormida valley (from 26 October)
Eastern Riviera (Levante)
Central Italy garrisons
Fortress Ancona Siege
[i] Nobili tried the last defence of the Stura bank with only 5 cavalry squadrons and an half artillery battery, moved to support the outposts under attack. He remained isolated for some time, being able to cross back the Stura only on 29 October.
[ii]He was the former 36 (old Franz Ulrich Kinsky and at the time Fürst Carl Fürstenberg regiment) commander. The regiment was then under Oberst Conrad von Thelen.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2009
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