Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns


 

South Tyrol 1809: When Faith Sustained Honour

By Roberto A. Scattolin

St. Leonhard in Passeier

On November 17, 1809, a composite force totalling some 1,200 French soldiers which had just come through a terrible battle at Bergisel (Vierte Bergiselschlacht, 1 November 1809), reached the location of St. Leonhard in Passeier[1] crossing the Jaufenpass (Giovo Pass). Alarmed at the sudden enemy threat, the inhabitants of the village promptly reacted with determination, providing a most strenuous defence – especially in the area around the parish church.  The villagers fought for five days, until to November 22, when Major Dorelli, the commanding officer, was forced to surrender due to a shortage of munitions, supplies and food. In the five days,  22 Passiresi were killed in action, but this was balanced by over two hundred French deaths.  Losses to the French were incredibly high and their numbers revealed the severity of the fight and the fierce display of valour by the Passiresi.  Two hundred-thirty corpses were counted on the ground, including thirty officers and two hundred soldiers. Because of this unexpected and extended combat (17-22 November 1809), French units

The Monument to the French at St. Leonhard
The Monument to the French at St. Leonhard

were further reduced in ranks and fire-power capabilities.[2]  Shortly afterwards,  out of 1200, 970 men[3] laid down their arms to the victorious mountaineers.

Christian Piety

To honour bravery in action, and many centuries of traditional Christian faith and devotional piety, the French were given a worthy burial near the village.[4]  A commemorative stele was erected near the very spot where the most savage fights raged. The inscription on the monument is:

ICI REPOSENT / 200 SOLDATS ET / 30 OFFICIERS / FRANÇAIS TOMBÉS / DANS LE COMBAT / PRÈS DU KOLBER / ET AU CIMETIÈRE / LOCAL ENTRE LE / 19 ET 22 NOVEMBRE MDCCCIX[5]

The silence in the French cemetery – Franzosenfriedhof – is interrupted by the prayer that good-hearted people present to the Regina Caeli:

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui Jesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae
.
Amen."

The time flows, memories remain.

Notes:

[1] A largely acclaimed place of natural beauty, St. Leonhard in Passiertal (693 m.) is a most wonderful location in Südtirol. The municipality of San Leonardo in Passiria lies in the Italian region of Trentino; this comune is located 35 km north of the town of Bolzano (Bozen).

[2] An estimated 19.166 % of the active military strength.

[3] This was 80.833% of the whole composite force.

[4] Exact location can be traced from the following specification: Die Franzosen wurden auf einem Grundstück am Westrand des Dorfes an der Passer begraben.

[5] Translation can be rendered as follows: “Here rest 200 soldiers and 30 French officers fallen in the combat near the Kolber and in the local cemetery between 19 and 22 November 1809.”

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2006

 

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