Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

The Memorie Zucchi: an Extrapolation of the 1809 Italian Campaign – Part III

Vicenza 1809 – Logistic functions and war functionalities: Colonel Zucchi’s daring and the causative synergies at the Franco-Italian General-Staff

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy


History and Strategic Applications: Studies for the Bicentenary, 1809-2009

From the selected reading passages of Zucchi’s Memoir emerges neither concurrent and principal information nor sufficient corollary elements of analysis that verify, with credible documentary support, the movements and the march routes of the Primo Reggimento di fanteria di linea (a distinguished military unit serving with the army of the Italian Kingdom) in the western Venetiae.

Military observations and withdrawals from the Piave River’s natural line, reaching as far as the neighbourhood of Vicenza, are missing in the specified writings.

Or, perhaps the missing elements were intentionally left out, forgetting a time of austerity that was not required to be remembered in reported details.

Was that really because essential details were not to be mentioned?

However the actual circumstances were staggered, the causes and explanations for this literary obmutescence are “indicative” of the contextual gravity of the cadre of strategic applications.

In the detail, April 16, 1809 (defeat at Sacile-Fontanafredda), new light has been shed on the whereabouts of Zucchi’s troop only on the date of April 21 – and, more importantly, by a distinguished lady of the Vicentian nobility, a contemporary eyewitness.[i]

Documentary piece

Il tempo s’era fatto piovoso stemperatamente; i soldati accampati in terreno fangoso e bagnato si trovavano per di più sprovvisti di viveri.

A me grandemente interessando che il mio reggimento al possibile non avesse a mancare di nulla, e vedendo che il nemico non dava alcun segno di prossimo attacco, mi portai a Vicenza onde personalmente vegliare alle provvisioni.

Stavo parlando con qualcheduno nella piazza di questa città quando vidi il principe Eugenio improvvisamente sboccare da una vicina strada con tutto il suo Stato maggiore[ii]

Trnsl.: “The weather had become moderately rainy; the soldiers camped on muddy and wet ground were mostly lacking in food.

To me it was greatly interesting that my regiment was possibly missing nothing, and seeing that the enemy did not give any sign of potential attack, I went to Vicenza where I personally watched over the provisions.

I was speaking with someone in the square of this town when I saw Prince Eugene suddenly coming out from a near street with all his General-Staff”.

Comment: Retreat to Vicenza; sentences: one, two, three.

The composite syntactic structure presents a count of (23; 37; 26) eighty-six terms.

Pictorial of Porta Castello. Formally imposing and majestic in its sober lines and architectural shape, the Torrione, the mightily-built fortification was strategically constructed in the western part of what was centuries ago the fortified walled perimeter of the old medieval town. Some historical sources properly stated that located in this area was one tower (XIth Century) belonging to the aristocratic family branch of the counts Maltraversi. It is similarly known that the warlike feudal lord and tyrant Eccelinus III, dominus de Romano (Romano d’Ezzelino, April 25, 1194-Soncino, September 27, 1259), erected the domus meriata defended by the strong tower. Under the Roman rule the town was given the name of Vicentia, and the inhabited borough was comprised amid the intersections of the Bacchiglione River with the Retrone River (the ancient Edronis).

After a first cursory reading, this fluent narrative passage can seem negligible in its reported contents, or pointedly insignificant; nevertheless it expounds on important details of interest and distinctive documentary clarity.

In focusing on the topic of the historic research -- the Italian campaign of 1809 --,  the strategic withdrawal of the Primo Reggimento di fanteria di linea (i.e. First Italian regiment of the Line) continued in the territories of the once mighty political dominion of the Repubblica Marciana (the Serenissima, id est the Most Serene Republic of Saint Mark).

After the serious military reversal suffered at the vehemently disputed clash of Sacile-Fontanafredda,[iii] the Franco-Italian army divisions were ordered to move back, behind the natural protection of the Piave River, of the Brenta River, and then retreated further to the town of the Retrone River, Vicenza. The seemingly extemporary detail-specification that was written about the climatic situation, is instead descriptive in its significance: attesting how, in the passage of the Spring season, rainy perturbations added that changeability to weather and a climatic unpredictability to the days.

An in-depth study of the memorial narration and scrittura di genere (gender writing) indicates that a major
impediment to the regiment’s withdrawal was the weather’s instability, which hampered their movement toward their destination. 

Consequentially, this impasse properly led to a point of incidence: the conditioning of the regiment’s tactical proficiency.

Zucchi’s memorial writing stated the obvious: that the soldiers were not allowed advantageous marching conditions.

Quite the contrary, the infantry companies could not easily press ahead under bad weather conditions, and, to confront the sudden temporal change, the units soon had to search for immediate shelter.

From impressions gained by reading this account, it transpired that the springtime precipitation and the terrain’s natural features were soon transformed into a quagmire of sludge and mud.[iv]

The scarcity of products of comfort, of provisions[v] to sustain the feeding of the regimental troop, was markedly evident in the extreme – the confirmed and recognized shortage of victuals was by then a seriously posed problem.

By itself, this date and piece of information notably reveals the fact that the servizi di sussistenza (subsistence services) in the army were not performing adequately[vi] (and with cohesive functions) in any rendered support to the line corps; second, that the troops had not been conveniently provisioned with food supplies.

The war administration was sadly deficient in these grave cases; its functionaries failed to mitigate the physical exhaustions of the troops.

Providing nourishment to the battalions proved to be a difficult task and the organization was undeniably severely tested.

Lack of skill, or, more directly, the inexperience and insufficiency of the logistical services became apparent. Further extensive study indicates for certain that in the major towns[vii] of the Venetiae there were magazzini di sussistenza (subsistence magazines, of food supplies and services).

The responsibility of the regiment commanding officer (Colonel Zucchi) was emphatically relevant, and well evidenced by the personal and executive decisions he had to perform to fulfil the urgencies of service.[viii]

In this case, Zucchi, not alone but accompanied by an untold number of staff-personnel had resolved to go to Vicenza to treat with the local military administration to request the ready consignment of victuals for the whole regimental force.

The predicaments of his mission were significantly calibrated by strict administrative dispositions and by the obstructions made by the local authorities.

It demanded the personal presence of the commander to resolve technical quibbles, supplementary to the responsibility to obtain the signatures of the capitolati di spesa e rendiconto assegnazioni (expense registers) for the cedole di consegna (coupons) of received-consignment.

On the left side is the view of the Palazzo della Ragione, or Basilica. This splendid XVIth Century construction (1549) is considered the masterpiece of Palladio (pseudonym of Andrea di Pietro, Padova, November 30, 1508-Maser, August 19, 1580); the talented and skilful architect made Vicenza one of the most perfect Italian towns of the Renaissance. The contiguous building, the elongated configuration of the Torre di Piazza, called dei Bissari (originally erected in the 1174 A.D.), reaches a height of eighty-two metres. The pinnacle is dated from the year 1444. On the right side of the piazza are aligned the Loggia del Capitanio (a building whose works lasted from the 1571 to the 1572), always built by Palladio, and the picturesque Palazzo del Monte di Pietà (XVth Century), a monumental complex which includes in its façade the baroque loggia of the Chiesa di San Vincenzo. The artistic fascination of this superb square is completed by two elegant columns: the first, with the statue of Christ, the Redeemer; the second, with the lion of Saint Mark.

It was an operation of laborious economics and of hindering bureaucratic entanglements which was soon solved by the unstoppable determination and formal authority of a high-ranking military officer.

In other words, Zucchi not only was in town with a “chosen selection” of collaborators, but he was taking care by himself of the whole operation of re-provisioning his battalions with thoughtful expediency.

With his legal intervention and cunning resolve, he pushed for the best of service – and to “gently” remove from his way the inconveniences of bureaucracy and any sort of unpredictable obstacle.

Zucchi had to hurry, and had to accomplish his mission in a short time-frame before any field-forces of the Österreichische Armee (Imperial army) could be reported on the advance, thus imperilling the strategic situation in the surroundings of Vicenza.

It was in this frame of compelling economical talks that the seasoned Italian officer treated personally and with the authority of his rank.

A further detail: the fact that he was in the Piazza or the main square[ix] to confer with the military authorities (Comando di Piazza; i.e., Square headquarters) and with the civilians responsible, gives rise to his steadily-rendered determination.

He exhibited a spirit of initiative and rapid execution with which the enterprise had to be conducted to attain a successful outcome; and without counting on the fact that the supplies would have to be transported to the regiment camp by horse-trained carriages – a condition that additionally implicated the inescapable organization of a flexible military transport.

The executive incidence of Zucchi, second-hand supported by his accompanying entourage, surely had to be very prudent, and with military style action – efficiency, quickness, execution.

This occurred in the open main square at Vicenza.

It is obvious that because of the continued movement, “the transaction” could not go unnoticed by the inhabitants.

Suddenly, Prince Eugène Rose de Beauharnais appeared[x] with his Staff and the bustle and the uniforms moving here left no doubts of the sort of organized movement which was in progress.

What was really happening?

The continual coming and going of the soldiers, added to the civilian personnel, must had made a vivid impression upon the General-Staff; therefore, information with regards to the situation were precisely asked to clear that point of contention. 

Mi aveva già scorto; conveniva pertanto star fermo.

Allorché egli mi fu vicino, mi fece cenno di accostarmi a lui.

Io aspettava un rimprovero per essermi allontanato dal mio reggimento; invece mi disse: che m’ aspettava seco a pranzo.

Non restava tempo da perdere per godere di questo favore.

Sollecitai quindi la partenza delle provvisioni; corsi al campo per raccomandare di nuovo di essere prevenuto al minimo indizio di qualche movimento dell’ inimico, e alla corsa fui di ritorno in Vicenza”.[xi]

Trnsl.: “He had already caught sight of me; therefore, it was convenient to stay immobile.

When he was near me, he indicated me to approach him.

I waited for a reproach for having moved away from my regiment; instead he told me: that he waited me to have lunch with him.

There was no more time to lose to enjoy this favour.

I therefore urged the departure of the provisions; again, I ran to the camp to recommend to be forewarned at any sign of enemy movement, and in a hurry I returned to Vicenza”.

Comment: Paradigms of a veteran; sentences: four, five, six, seven.

In syntactic, are presented (8, 12, 19, 10, 32) eighty-one terms.

A prospective view: the Retrone River; uphill, is the famous Marian sanctuary once called Madonna del Monte. The documentary proofs attest the causal reason of the erection of the sacred temple. Early in the XVth Century a stubborn plague heavily reaped havoc and death in the territories of Vicenza. At the mid of March 1426, one woman named Vicenza Pasini reported to the Bishop of the town one fact that had recently occurred. On March 7, while she had gone to meet her husband in his little vineyard at Monte Berico, one woman of shining, amazing beauty had appeared to her. The Lady asked that a church be built consecrated to her name in that same place. This promptly-given invitation to the strength of the faith was passed to the populus, urging them if they wanted to soon be free from the unstoppable scourge of the plague. On August 25, 1428 (after even more victims and a second apparition dated August 1), the local authorities and the Magistrates adhered to the holy proposition of the Mother of the Redeemer. The sanctuary was later referred to as Madonna di Monte Berico.

Someone had rightly and properly informed the Viceroy about the pressing occurrences which had taken place in the main square, in the very centre of town,[xii] and reported what all that excited movement of soldiers and busy turmoil was about.

The logistics coordinator of this vigorous and enterprising action was an Italian officer of rank.

Viewing this scene, the Prince tried to hastily identify the officer (this detail is corroborated upon the factual evidence of the numerous uniforms which were then present in the square); and, as an additional remark, this element is a further proof, a confirmation.

It attested the reason why Zucchi did not immediately – and deferentially – present himself to the Franco-Italian army commander, but, instead, stayed motionless, with cunning resolve, at a reasonable distance.

This was questionable conduct, if compared to his exemplary respectability of sagacious and qualified officer, a regimental commander who had earned a reputation as a stern disciplinarian.

In spite of the circumstances, it was easy enough to establish who that indomitable, energetic officer was, the one primarily responsible for all that confusion of civilian and military.

In the magnificence of the event -- quite a choreographic setting -- was the Prince de Beauharnais who went to search (and willingly met, in person) this resourceful officer in his uniform.

There was spectacular silence in a highly emotional disciplinary context.

The frame of intelligibility was defined: it was incontrovertible that when all of the Franco-Italian army was ordered to retreat[xiii] and to assume different positions on a newly established strategic frontline, Colonel Zucchi had entered Vicenza, and had “occupied” the town (the main square) through his adamant supply (aka logistical) action – with a strong number of “active” forces.

Acting under a similarly legal methodology, however, the unconstrained Italian officer had begun the organization of men, services, and carriages devised according to his own swift plan.

And he knew how to accomplish his task with proficiency as well as how “certe ostruzioni imponderabili” (certain imponderable impediments) had to be handled.

Vicenza was a “hard-labouring” town, and all the figures (military, and citizens) adhered to the line of their roles and responsibilities with zealous commitment.

The surprise was great.

One important additional observation to note: it must not be omitted in the critical historical reconstruction and well-argued analysis of the facts, that Zucchi thoroughly supervised, up to the very end, the wholesome stage of completion, the operation in detail, and the organizational phases of the convoy of carriages.

Entrato nel gabinetto del Principe vi trovai il generale Macdonald,[xiv] il generale Charpentier[xv] e un altro generale francese, di cui ora non mi sovviene il nome.

Il Viceré entrò in molti elogi sul contegno del mio reggimento e fu accondiscendevole a tutte le mie proposte di ricompense, di promozioni e di soccorsi alle vedove e ai figli degli uffiziali morti sul campo di battaglia”.[xvi]

Trnsl.: “Entered into the consulting-room of the Prince I found there General Macdonald, General Charpentier and another French General, of which now I do not remember the name.

The Viceroy entered into many praises on the conduct of my regiment and was accondiscending to all my proposals of rewards and of aids to the widows and to the sons of the officers who died on the field of battle”.

Comment: In the Prince’s war cabinet; sentences: eight, nine.

The specific survey counts (26, 38) sixty-four terms.

It can but be recognized that the summoning of Colonel Zucchi had occurred at the provisional headquarters of the Franco-Italian General-Staff, temporarily installed at Vicenza.

This military rendez-vous (scheduled meeting) was urgently ordered and it had to be read and interpreted “well beyond” the extended official formulation of the invitation to lunch.

It was a generous gesture and one of esteem to host the commanding officer of the Primo Reggimento di fanteria di Linea – that, together with his exhausted soldiers and comrades-in-arms, did not dabble in the superfluous and in the culinary abundance.

Pondering the narrative literary scheme, we can easily discern through a couple of inter-connected time periods, two distinguished phases of military works.

First: the strictly military summons, relying on an imparted order.

It was marked, in effect, on the analysis of the circumstances of the act, on the fresh description of the operative front,[xvii] conjoined to the convergences of strategic order; the effective strength of the regiment, and, last but not least, on the losses which were incurred by the corps (battalion-units as a whole).

This in-depth circumstantial examination would have established the real count number for the losses, both in men and material, clearly defining the substantial capabilities of the Franco-Italian army.

These proceedings, disappointingly, were not a perfunctory measure to compile the service rolls of the regiments, or to determine the actual strength of the operative divisions.

The methodological application -- attribution of rewards -- focused instead on the profitable and systematic value of reorganizing the roles of command of the Primo Reggimento di fanteria and of its Line infantry battalions.

The officers, who had prematurely perished on the field of battle, unfortunately soon had to be replaced.

And, to this task, new stepped promotions to the ranks -- determined by prior conditions of active service -- were formally required.

These substitutions were added to the promotions in the scale of the regimental hierarchy.

The assigned rewards (an original concept, both intended as medals, and career advancements), acted as a powerful stimulus to bravery, thus motivating the boldness and the honour of the whole corps.

The primary aim of these expediencies was to significantly infuse confidence, regenerate hope and refresh courage to the hardily-tested rank and file.

In addition was the concern for providing effectual bilateral intermediary (army, versus Kingdom of Italy, versus families; families, versus Kingdom of Italy, versus army) and prompt assistance to the women left as widows as well as to the sons of the fallen soldiers.

This theme of recourse was weighed at the legal level of procedures on the pensions of old-age service under the arms, and to adequate the subsidize daily-life costs.

This straightforwardly meant that Zucchi respectfully appealed to the intercession of Sua Grazia (His Grace) Prince Eugène de Beauharnais to “facilitate” the matter.

Noblesse oblige[xviii] postulated a sorrowful memento (token) for the fallen comrades.

Also, there was unequivocally an arrangement to care for the preadolescents (sons and daughters), who, due to economic restrictions and being of different gender, would have been severely hindered by the precocious death of their blood paternal caregivers.

This grand complimentary indulgence similarly could be accomplished by the donations of conspicuous sums of cash money, to avoid quibbling or disharmony.

It cannot be denied, then, of the possible construction of memorials for the deceased, who had sacrificed their lives to the country in distant theatres of war.

This was the reason why the fallen combatants remained without any ceremonial or celebration and properly rendered funeral-services.

Long was the way of honour, and Monsieur le Prince knew well the fundamentals of military dignity.

Durante il pranzo, naturalmente il discorso s’ aggirò su quanto era recentemente accaduto.

Il Principe fra le altre cose disse: “In verità per la prima volta che tengo il supremo comando ho incominciato assai sventuratamente”.

Il maresciallo Macdonald con squisita gentilezza si fece ad osservare che ciò era avvenuto eziando a molti illustri condottieri di esercito.

Il Vicerè soggiunse: “belle e vere sono queste vostre parole, ma non per ciò io lascio di portare sulle mie spalle il peso di questo sciagurato affare”.

L’ esercito, continuando il suo movimento retroguardo, all’ indomani abbandonò Vicenza”.[xix]

Trnsl.: “During the lunch naturally the talk was about on all that had recently happened.

The Prince among the others things said: “In truth for the first time that I hold the supreme command I have began very wretchedly”.

Marshall Macdonald with exquisite kindness made it to observe that this had happenned as well to many distinguished army commanders.

The Viceroy added: “beautiful and true are these your words, but not for that I leave to bear on my shoulders the weight of this wicked matter”.

The army, continuing her backward movement, the following day left Vicenza”.

Comment: Mécontentement (discontent) of the Commandant-en-chef (Commander-in-chief); sentences: ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen.

A ninety-four words count (respectively: 13, 22, 21, 27, 11).

To the credit of the literary comprehension of the afore-cited narrative passage, it is clearly outlined that the formal talks and seduta consultiva (working session) at the Franco-Italian General-Staff necessitated prudential valuations, and “forcibly” demanded a renewed operative planning.

Weighted by the transient difficulties in tactics and logistics, and the operative conditions of the entire army forces (infantry, cavalry, artillery), new march commands had to be issued and frontline strategic re-deployment for the divisions.

Ascertained at the best of the criteria the informative details on the division muster-roles, and their actual ranks strength, it was patent that the same Colonel Zucchi was entertained for a long time “in discussion” on the new strategic cadre – well considered that this talented Italian officer had one major visual angle about the events in act, and, on all what he had seen in prima persona (first person) in the rush hours up to this time.

He was a trustworthy eyewitness, an extremely reliable source.

Discussions and valuations were therefore pressed on.

Pausing for lunch, seemed convenient time much needed to restore the physical strength, and equally to reinvigorate the commander of the Primo Reggimento – whose active talk recognized support by the General-Staff headquarters had been of vital importance, to tremendously aid in stabilizing military equilibrium as well.

The time lapse of this break for a meal has not been specified in the memorial writing, but the arguments which were broached had a selected theme and talking point: these matters were dialectical and échanges réciproqués d’idées (reciprocated exchanges of ideas), having a military substratum as it was convenient amid professionals who wore the uniform.

If nothing else mattered, this was a consequence for extolling the professionalism that the Staff-officers were intensely executing.

The conversational dialogue was in full line with the military analysis and the strategic frame about which they had previously discussed and heatedly debated.

The critical admonishments pronounced by the Viceroy, inserted themselves on his taking responsibility for the military operations then being conducted against the Imperial army.

The terms of reference were not pointed to any specified armed collision, but the Prince’s unrestrained expression of opinion was tied to the inauspicious and non-victorious outcome of the clash at Sacile-Fontanafredda – and to the incalculable repercussions that this grave reversal in arms and the effect it had created at the time on the principled morale (and invulnerability) of the Franco-Italian army.

A very interesting reflection to note, is how the Prince had been caught in the “too hastily” carried out field-manoeuvres which had begun in the course of the hostilities and was the key to understanding the failure that was reported in the Friuli territories.

Too hurriedly, together with the lack of cohesion amid the divisional corps, are assumed as motivational causes for the dysfunctional collapse (aka military failure) – both in tactics and strategic coordinates.

Further, the sadly neglected defence works and missed fortified consolidation on the river lines in the Venetiae – notably: the Livenza, the Piave, the Brenta, however not mentioned, was a validating causal factor to the present military impasse.

The undiminished valour of the soldiers and that of the army divisions were therefore not stigmatized, but taking responsibility – by the prince – with a loud voice in front of the high ranking-officers of the General-Staff was.

One objectively expressed personal consideration, which had to be “interpreted” as a declaratory mea culpa, or formalized excuse (an acknowledgement for Monsieur personal erratum in strategy), for the losses incurred by the Primo Reggimento – was not limited to that singled out regimental unit.

Beyond the Prince’s humble attitude, one had to properly understand that the Commandant-en-chef (army commander) ineluctably accepted his grievous faults – and that his consumed bitterness axiomatically and erratically implied the misconduct and miscalculations which had ensued at General-Staff, implying officers, intelligence information, and ultimate decisions.

In this open context, we can understand that the Prince would have in no way omitted to assist the widows and the sons of the fallen combatants.  They could not but belong to his grieving burden; and he could not but to participate in the sorrows of his “military family”.

The consternation of the Prince had significant depth.

It testified beyond the mere reading.

However veiled of supportive gentlemanliness and refined grace, the preferred reply by Macdonald -- a well-disposed sense of courtesy -- was indicative of a form of encouragement, not to diminish the valour or the Prince’s responsibilities in front of the army General-officers who were present.

In this text exposition one can reasonably understand that Macdonald had spoken as primus inter pares (the first among equals) amid the veteran General-officers.

His temperate words were intended to soothe the climax which had occurred at the General-Staff, rationalizing the psychological outburst of the Prince.

That was not effective and cut short the terse comradeship in arms Macdonald had tried to moderate, from his position of seniority.

True to his honneur (honour), he had tried to mitigate the already tense environment of opinions, redressing the balance for a renewed issue of strategic proficiency.

The concluding phrase pronounced by the Viceroy as viewed in military thinking, the ultimate weight of the defeat incurred on April 16, 1809, ai Camolli (aka Sacile-Fontanafredda).

One man, one battle, one major responsibility.

Author’s clarification: in this latest passage Zucchi wrote that Macdonald was a French Marshal.

This is a confirmed lapsus calami; in fact, Macdonald became maréchal d’Empire only from the date of July 12, 1809.

In the previous passage Zucchi had correctly written that the aforementioned officer was a General.

Pure Critical Reason 

Two viewpoint options are open when having a primary source and a still unknown account dealing with the military campaigning in the Napoleonic wars: the first convenience at hand is the most simple, immediate, and straightforward supportive of the intention: to believe everything of the contents, slavishly reading the integral texts and documentary references.

The other accessible option, but not the last in this instance of literary proceedings and critical examination, is paradoxically to doubt of everything.

Both of these seem to be equally and independently esteemed solutions; both of them have a common base, and one common denominator, and the causal reason why is explained in the short words: “because the one or the other dispense us from the reflection, and, above all, from direct obliging research”.

In thoroughly evaluating the engagingly written narrative passages selected from the Memorie Zucchi, however compelling and consistent with abundance of details, the textual transcriptions present a number of pernicious impressions in the order of the documentary research and of the exposed facts.

First: one pertinent observation concerns the responsibilities that the commanding-officer, Colonel Zucchi, had to assume in a war zone.

In truth, these obligations were extremely delicate.

One capable military history analyst is not enough to simply wonder and be amazed at the audacious resolve he displayed under adversarial circumstances and dire difficulties (the penury of food stuffs to supply his regimental force, and the immediate necessities to grant nourishment to the soldiers).

Zucchi had effectively calculated upon the foremost grievances; thus, before leaving his regiment-staff to reach the nearby town of Vicenza he had imparted the strictest dispositions to his subordinate commanders.

One of them, had been to pass the consignments of command to the senior superior officer – which had to substitute for him possibly for a “shortly determined period of time”.

The practical convenience of the choice was amply manifest.

These measured security dispositions equally attested on a further couple of additional important observations: the infantry battalions of the Primo Reggimento di fanteria di linea were required to be in adequate standing order, and military proficiency, with ammunitions at hand.

In addition, their combat manpower still had to be a major commanding factor towards every unexpected combat action against the Austrian.

The formidable resilience of these infantry units during the latter stages of the withdrawal was very much appreciated.

Second: we have confirmation that the regiment had arrived within eye-view of the town, therefore just in proximity of the walled perimeter and urban aggregation on the Retrone River.

In case of strategic emergency, these were important elements “to handle in favour” and for any applications to be used in the course of conflict.

All these advantageous factors spoke “favourably” to any decision taken by Zucchi.

On the other hand, there were risks as well: but they all seem to have been “methodologically” calculated – and in pondering the improvised Imperial threats and armed requirements, proper solutions for the course of action and direct orders had been imparted before Zucchi left.

Another matter to be considered was that the Primo Reggimento di fanteria linea had been assigned to absorb a significant role: covering the rearguard of the army (this was a function which developed through Severoli’s division battle units).

                                                   *            *            *            *            *

Through the eyes of a woman: the interactive eyewitness of countess Ottavia Negri Velo

With the primary scheme settled to evaluate the Memorie of Colonel Zucchi with the best of the offered possibilities (of culture, of the historic investigation, and of the testimonial veracity of the reported facts), we have tried to expand the literary documentation on contemporary sources of the same historical period – and strictly onto a local eyewitness who resided in town.

The documentary effort required the direct demonstration of what has been related by the commanding officer of the Primo Reggimento di fanteria di linea, not for the marginal fact – and limited unto itself – not only that it was merely needed to attest the truth in terms of narrated matter, but also to provide a “broad cadre” of great breadth during those eventful days of April 1809, and to really grasp the difficult predicaments met by the officer Zucchi in just one town “still” under the control of the Franco-Italian arms.

To this specific purpose, the intention was to develop support with documentary aims one independent source reasonably credited “upon every possible form of critic and doubts in the correct interpretations of the bygone temporal occurrences”.

The absorbing phases of the research therefore have been addressed to the Archives of the Civica Biblioteca Bertolian,[xx] in Vicenza.

In this prestigious cultural institution, among the copious harvested collections of the documentary texts and original writings, is carefully preserved a sweeping and delightful narrative compiled by Ottavia Negri conjugated in Velo.

Its formal traits draw upon a literary work entitled Cronaca Vicentina,[xxi] of which also exists a copy under the title-reference of Giornale.[xxii]

A native of an aristocratic family, Ottavia was a privileged observer, a discerning eye-witness and heard many voices and comments.

Her valuable and detailed insights into the behind-the-scenes activity provide a great source into the unusual situation experienced by the local citizens as well as for delving deeper into the factual realities of the long ago year of 1809. She resided in the centre of Vicenza (the Negri palace, is still well preserved in Piazzetta Santo Stefano).

Documentary source

The following translations are given verbatim, producing exactly word for word, and keeping unaltered the original meaning and the grammar pertinently used by the author.

The contents are reported in the syntactic form “a periodo spezzato” (in broken period), which does not include the main use of concluded sentences and with the final completed meaning, but rather functional parts containing news written in open sequence – and with shortened stylistic form – one after the other.

The logic of these annotations follows the scheme “del riporto” (of an immediate transcription), to signify that the new was promptly written in forma brevis (short form) – often enough leaving out the correct orthography (which, in this case, results without distinctive punctuation marks, more importantly commas, semicolons, and relative fullstops).

With these evident shortcomings, one would wonder: what was the hurry in grammar, was it almost a personal choice?

Why was the noble Donna Negri Velo not using greater care or formal refinements in her lexicological writings?

Although a proper reply is not asked for, it is fairly evident that the author’s observations attested to the continued apprehension for the events then happening, and analogously the gravity of the historical moment.

“19 [aprile 1809].

È partito il prefetto, il segretario dalla Vecchia, Fioccardo alla coscrizione, e il podestà Anguissola, segno evidente che i Tedeschi sono vicini.

Continua a ritirarsi i Francesi, i Veliti, quei dragoni della regina della scena dei 8 ottobre, e a pezzi la divisione Grenier.

Tutto placido.

I discorsi degli Uffiziali sono immensi, dicono del loro capo e ch’esso gridava miei soldati non vi conosco più, ch’erano uno contro cinque, che la cavalleria Tedesca è furibonda, che ci saranno sul campo da 5 mille morti, due mille feriti sono di qui passati, che l’armata è sfasciata, che i Tedeschi non vengono perché non vogliono, ch’essi certi non resistono all’Adige, e che vanno all’Adda.

Altri esclamano contro il loro comandante in capite, e dicono che i Francesi saranno prima a Vienna, che i Tedeschi a Verona.

Il tempo orribile le acque molte.

Sulla sera giunse Macdonald e si vide più pacatezza i soldati si fermarono placidamente.

Si sparse che i Tedeschi erano alla Piave che conveniva che il prefetto ritornasse, ch’era partito troppo sollecitamente infine con somma tranquillità si vide un qualche nuovo aspetto di cose.

Gente venuta da Verona disse che là vi era tutta la calma e che s’ignorava questo scacco.

Tutto dipende dal Tirolo, e dalla Baviera.

Gran disordine per la mancanza di soldo, e per le poche providenze, i poveri feriti abbandonati senza chirurghi, e senza assistenza, pare che non si sappia dove abbiano la testa tanto è tutto sconvolto e senza ordine, però la truppa è buona, e in mezzo allo sfasciamento a noi pare di aver la guarnigione del tempo di pace”.    

Trnsl.: “19 [April 1809].

The prefect has left, the secretary Dalla Vecchia, Fioccardo to the conscription, and the mayor Anguissola, the clear sign that the Germans are near.

The French continue to withdraw, the Veliti, those dragons of the queen of the scene of the October 8, and in parts the Grenier division.

All is serene.

The speeches of the officers are immense, they speak about their leader and that he shouted my soldiers I do not know you anymore, that they were one against five, that the German cavalry is    furious, that on the field there will be from 5 thousand deaths, two thousand wounded have passed through here, that the army has fallen apart, that the Germans do not come because they do not wish to, that they surely do not resist at the Adige, and that they go to the Adda.

Others exclaim against their commander-in-chief, and say that the French will be the first in Vienna, instead that the Germans in Verona.

The weather is horrible, many rains.

Macdonald arrived in the evening and there was seen more calm, the soldiers stood calmly placid.

A rumor spread that the Germans were at the Piave that it was convenient that the Prefetto returned, that he had left promptly at last with total peace one saw a somewhat different aspect of things.

People arrived from Verona said that there was all the calm and that this failure was unknown.

Everything depends on the Tyrol, and Bavaria.

Great disorder for the lack of money, and for the few providences, the poor wounded abandoned without surgeons, and without assistance, it seems one does not know where they have the head  because all is upset and without order, but the troop is good, and in the midst of ruin to us it seems to have the garrison we have during the peacetime”.

Comment: Eleven phrases; two hundred seventy-four terms (22, 22, 2, 72, 22, 6, 14,  31, 18,  7, 58).

The perfect nebula of the administrative disorder; total social confusion; fear and disquietude.

The transcription annotated for the month of April (date: 20) numbers a total of eighteen lines. Tense detail and specific information are provided.

“20 [aprile 1809].

Gran cambiamenti di discorso; il ritorno del prefetto del podestà, le voci che i Francesi vincevano in Tirolo e in Boemia, la ritirata dei Tedeschi al di là della Piave per prosseguire fece che la gente già si credeva di già ritornata allo stato di prima, e molti dicevano andiamo a pensare ai traslati, alle ipoteche, la cavalleria volava quà e là ma alle 2 pomeridiane fece partenza alla volta di Verona, si propallò poi che doveva venire il vice-re col Quartier generale, che a tal oggetto il commissario ordinatore Scopoli fece ritornar Magenta al suo posto, perché il vice re non vedesse tal mancanza, verso sera la truppa di fanteria della divisione Grenier si pose parte fuori della porta di Santa Lucia di Padova del castello, e tutto si ripose nella maggior tranquillità.

Ma le casse sono partite, non vi è viveri perché mai non si è pensato a nulla, non vi son bestie per i trasporti, e la situazione nostra è luttuosa di servir due armate in tal guisa, tutti i cavalli in requisizione, e si cerca di ripiegar alla meglio colla forza”.[xxiii]

Trnsl.: “20 [April 1809].

Great changes of talk; the return of the prefetto of the podestà, the voices that the French won in Tyrol and in Bohemia, the withdrawal of the German beyond the Piave to continue made it that the people already believed themselves returned to the ancient state, and many said let us go to think to the translates, to the mortgages, the cavalry flew here and there but at 2 p.m. it left in the direction of Verona, it was spread then that it had to come the viceroy with the General-Staff, that to this object the ordinator commissary Scopoli had Magenta to come back to his place, because the viceroy did not see this absence, towards evening the infantry troop of Grenier division placed herself outside of the gate of Santa Lucia of Padova of castello, and all remained in the major tranquillity.

But the banks have left, there are not provisions because never it has been thought to nought, there are not beasts for the transports, and our situation is mournful to serve two armies in such a way, all the horses in requisition, and one tried to supply at the best by the force”.

Comment: Eleven lines; and two phrases.

One hundred eighty-four terms (133, 51).

At Vicenza, the troubled mood of popular apprehension and social confusion were patently obvious.  Too many divergent talks were contradictory in their own altered nature of opinions.

The matter of the military facts was largely unfounded by hypothetical and merely argued suppositions, while the perceptive reality of the war events remained largely ignored.

It seems, with evidence and depth of analysis, that one subtle “strategy of control” was enacted.

Who organized that cunning public artifice to aptly infuse a revived spirit of confidence?

To reassure and protect the local population as well shield economic relations was expedient.

The psychology of “urban warfare”, in which the individual conjectures and creative suppositions were needed to be substantiated by factual information that was not readily and effectively at hand, created an unstable environment.

Detrimentally, this incongruity quickly generated a wave of concern which in time caused the collapse of the regime’s administration.

These ambient incompatibilities make clear the institutional deficiency that neither the prefetto (prefect) nor the podestà (town-major) were kept informed by courier on any battle event – thus maximum control and restriction to access of information occurred.

This perspicacity of military order prevented a sudden outflow and general stampede of the civilian population from the towns of the erstwhile Stato Veneto.

The causal motivation is seemingly evident: this disadvantageous kind of impasse would have caused a blockage of the roads for the withdrawal of the Franco-Italian army forces.

Finally, Grenier’s divisional forces arrived around the town’s gates, pacifying the volatile moods of the people, and conferring a consequential touch of “profiled security” to the stability of the social order.

Peculiar details have been annotated by Countess Ottavia Negri Velo, and their importance is an acquired element in the relevant text: there were no provisions, which means that the shops had been closed – and contractors no longer acted in an open and legitimate way.

Did that incisive piece of information silently imply that economic speculation gave rise to “other expedients” to procure the necessary provisions for daily nourishment?

Or that the stores had been emptied by the townspeople to form at least some food reserve?

The lack of beasts for the transports unravels the meaning that heavy transport such as bovine animals, including oxen, had disappeared from sight.

Therefore it is apparent to understand the question: that all kinds of these animals had become butchered meat and bulk exchange stocks.

Horses had disappeared – through the procedura di requisizione militare (procedure of military requisition) – as well.

Harshly ordered measures of persuasion were excessively imposed upon the unarmed and wealthy civilians.

The unmitigated pressure of undue appropriations on civilians continued during a time of protracted afflictions and critical food deficiencies.

Another increasingly important matter were the rampant failures of the services, both in subsistence and logistics.

“21 [aprile 1809].

Alle 6 della mattina giunse il vice re col Quartier generale.

Gran confusione di gente alloggi sussistenze e trasporti.

Tutta la truppa fuori delle porte dau bivoiac.

Giunse la divisione Italiana Sevardi.

Il vice re girò a cavallo fuori delle porte mortificato ma gentile con tutti.

Volle veder Enrico, e Luigi Bissari ai quali disse: cosa dite venni per battere e ritorno battuto.

Cosa si dice qui dei Tedeschi?

Non sappiamo nulla vostra Altezza Imperiale lo saprà.

Io non so nulla.

Tutti i miei impiegati sono fuggiti dapertutto e anche il vostro prefetto e si riscaldò.

Si dice che aveva seco Macdonal.

Si credeva la partenza alla notte, e si vociferava 2 spari di cannoni per avvisar la truppa, cosa che scompose.

La tranquillità è somma non si suona più mezza notte.

Dai 16 non si vide ne si sentì Tedeschi da alcuno.

Dal movimento dell’armata francese si comprenderà l’esito degli affari del Tirolo e della Baviera.

Si dice i Tedeschi a Treviso ma senza fondamento.

Bassano evacuato dai Francesi.

È desiderabile un qualche sviluppo perché non si sa più come alimentarli e servirli”.[xxiv]

Trnsl.: “21 [April 1809].

At 6 in the morning arrived the viceroy with the General-Staff.

Great confusion of people lodgings subsistences and transports.

All the troop outside of the gates dau bivoic -- authour: au bivouac --.

The Italian division Sevardi -- author: Severoli -- arrived.

The viceroy went round on horseback outside the gates mortified but kind with everybody.

He wanted to see Enrico, and Luigi Bissari to whom he told: what do you say I came to overwhelm and I returned defeated.

What is said here of the German?

We do not know nothing your Highness will know it.

I do not know nothing.

All my employees have escaped elsewhere as well as your prefect and he became angry.

It was said that he had Macdonald with him.

It was believed the departure at night, and it was spoken of two gun shots to advise the troop, something that gave rise to apprehension.

It is supremely quiet and it is not struck anymore the midnight.

From the 16 it was neither seen nor heard the German by anyone.

From the movement of the French army it will be understood the result of the matters of the Tyrol and of the Baviera.

It is said  that the Germans are at Treviso but that is without foundation.

Bassano has been evacuated by the French.

It is desirable a development because it is no longer known how to feed and serve them”.

Comment: Twelve lines; and eighteen phrases.

One hundred eighty-six terms (11, 8, 8, 5, 14, 17, 6, 8, 4, 15, 6, 20, 10, 11, 16, 9, 4, 14).

The ever-growing apprehension in town had reached its climax.

To this unstoppable social upheaval was added the almost unexpected arrival of monsieur le Prince Eugène Rose de Beauharnais, accompanied by a number of his General-Staff entourage on horseback -- the Franco-Italian army.

Everywhere the climatic environment was rather explosive and chaotic tension continued.

In fact, dignified lodgings had to be quickly found in which to house the Prince, the General-officers, and the high-ranking military.

The army suppliers were trying to perform their assignments under a gravely embarrassing scarcity of everything (the character of these services is not specified; none-the-less, it is easy to understand these parties were military missions ordered in town).

Transports: a vital point; irrefutably evident is that they had been ordered to come into town to provide for the troops whose shortages were acutely felt.

If the day before nothing was signalled by countess Ottavia Negri Velo about all this sort of persistent decline, it ensued these concomitant factors of deep social trepidations were caused by some military convoys which had lately arrived (well including the Staff materials): the Grand Quartier of the army.

Under the circumstances, the troops encamped outside the town’s gates because the urban aggregation was not so great for such a huge number of combatants.

Basically, a suitably different cause is recognized: the soldiers soon had to be formed in the ranks in case of immediate orders – the units should not be unnecessarily scattered.

The most relevant element confirmed in the narrative is the arrival of the Italian troops – notably Severoli’s infantry division.

For the first time in this study we are “indirectly” given information that the Primo Reggimento di fanteria di linea (which served in Severoli’s corps) was near the location (within the town’s surroundings).

The colloquial tones the emotionally torn viceroy exchanged with the Bissari (Enrico Luigi Vincenzo, 1760-1826; Luigi, 1770-1839) beyond the recent conflict, were to definitely gain accurate, precise information about the actual situation at Vicenza (in politics, and in the neighborhood).

What actually transpired was quite different.

This intense dialogue proved to confirm the failure of the political regime, the disbandment of the disorientated and frighten employees, and an example about the precipitous departure (was that an intentional flight, thus abandoning the officially covered position?) of the prefetto (prefect).

The impromptu collapse of the local civic administration, although pernicious, was unequivocally a confirmed and resounding disgrace.

The disorder was almost complete – even the Franco-Italian withdrawal of army forces that had not seen the enemy troops from the fateful date of April 16, 1809, therefore from the severe military clash (an appalling defeat), was incurred against the Imperial Armee (army) in the Friuli territories.

A major offensive push had turned completely into an unsuccessful enterprise, that led to the eventual withdrawal of the unfortunate troops. 

This was a time of adverse conditions and the Franco-Italian army could no longer dictate the strategic tempo or the operational level of the war.

“22 [aprile 1809].

La mattina si trovò che il vice-re neppur pensava di partire.

Vi è Macdonald quel della Trebbia che doveva venire per le operazioni militari, ma il vice re diede sollecitamente la battaglia dei 16.

È partita la divisione Grenier, ma resta la divisione Italiana Fenaroli che protegge la ritirata.

Sono venute le guardie reali, e la guardia d’onore, s’attende pure da Padova la divisione Serraj.

Da Lisiera vengono soldati il vice re fece preparar per tagliare quel ponte, e posevi 2 cannoni, e andò colà magnificamente a cavallo.

Siamo tutti colla testa in un sacco rapporto ai Tedeschi e alle operazioni del Tirolo e Baviera.

I Francesi ne dicono di tutti i colori chi si lagna del general in capite chi lo dice sfortunato, che in 15 giorni ritornano.

Che la battaglia fu data troppo sollecitamente, ma che le rissorse, e i ripieghi di Napoleone sono immensi.

Ma noi siamo in mezzo a 2 armate, senza sussistenze, pieni di timori di dani di angustie, e possiamo essere o dell’uno o dell’altro e in una contradanza perpetua.

Dio ci provedi colla sua immensa misericordia.

I vecchi uffiziali dicono che la condotta dei Tedeschi è prudente, e che fan bene a sacrificar qualche cosa per combinarsi coll’armata di Baviera e del Tirolo.

I giovani dicono siamo obbligati ai Tedeschi di vita di robba e di tutto, essi potevano farci prigionieri tutti, ma essi in mezzo a un insolito valore non possono scordarsi le antiche consuetudini.

Si parla d’una colonna Tedesca penetrata in Valsabbia allora l’Adda non basterebbe per ritirata.

I picchetti francesi son dapertutto le divisioni di Padova che dovevano andar per Legnago ci piombano in grazia delle acque, pare un’immensa confusione, e che i Francesi manchino di notizie vere dei Tedeschi, la pacatezza però della loro ritirata e fermata dimostrano altrimenti.

Iddio solo sa l’imbroglio”.[xxv]

Trnsl.: “22 [April 1809].

In the morning it was said that the viceroy thought not even to leave.

There is Macdonald, that of the Trebbia that should have come for the military operations, but the viceroy promptly fought the battle of the 16.

Grenier’s division has left, but remains the Italian division Fenaroli (author: Severoli) that protects the retreat.

Have come the royal guards, and the honour guard, Serra’s division is expected from Padua.

From Lisiera come soldiers the viceroy gave orders to cut that bridge, and placed 2 cannons, and went there magnificently on horseback.

We are all with the head in the dark about the Germans and the operations of the Tyrol and Baviera.

The French say things of all colours, who laments for the commander-in-chief who says he was unfortunate, that in 15 days they are back.

That the battle was given too quickly, but that the resources and the ways out of Napoleon are immense.

But we are in the middle of 2 armies, without subsistences, full of fears of damages of anxieties, and we can be of the one or of the other and in one perpetual counter-dance.

May God provide us with His immense Mercy.

The old officers say that the conduct of the Germans is prudent, and that they are right to sacrifice something to combine with the army of Baviera and of the Tyrol.

The young people say we are obliged to the Germans of the life of the properties and of all, they could have taken us all prisoners, but they in the midst of an unusual valour can not forget the ancient customs.

It is said one German column penetrated through the Valsabbia so that the Adda would no more be sufficient for the retreat.

The French pickets are everywhere the divisions of Padua which had to go to Legnago arrived there in grace of the waters, it seems an immense confusion, and that the French lack true informations about the Germans, however the calmness of their withdrawal and stop demonstrate otherwise.

Only God knows about the matter”.

Comment: Nineteen are the original lines; and fifteen sentences.

A complex of three hundred twelve terms (11, 23, 15, 18, 23, 17, 24, 18, 31, 7, 28, 33, 16, 44, 5).

The presence of General Jacques-Étienne-Joseph-Alexandre Macdonald (born at Sedan, on November 16, 1766) was another important factor, which gave rise to emulation and additionally stimulated the spirit of the shaken Franco-Italian arms.

His simple energetic presence had been noted, and this high-ranking officer had certainly acted as an element of “propaganda” in exhorting the troops.

However, at the tactical level, the corps and field-army formations remained highly flexible and effective.

The continual coming and going of the army corps was confirmed evidence, especially the departure of Grenier’s divisional forces, and indicative of the precise superior dispositions (which had been imparted after a Staff meeting).

This circumstance remarkably attested to the weary state of exhaustion and the sinking morale of General Grenier’s troops.

However, Severoli’s Italian division was still stationed in the immediate site of Vicenza.

Major combat-ready manpower in full ranks and prompt organizational effectiveness, was to significantly act “in the role” of rearguard to the army corps and to provide adequate defensive cover for the provisional strategic sector – which included, essentially, the ancient town and its surroundings.

The withdrawal of many divisional corps was, time-wise, a seriously protracted task.

Particular attention must be given to the fact that the viceroy himself had reached the village of Lisiera (just a few kilometres within the town’s reach; nowadays, it is a fraction of the commune of Bolzano Vicentino) to supervise the possible defensive options to be performed in that particularly vulnerable sector.

The most appropriate choice emerged: to cut the wooden bridge across the local river (Tesina), and to activate a long range artillery cover – by a barrage of a couple of artillery pieces.

One military analyst would infer that the location had strong potentialities for compatible defence and that the Franco-Italian command had decided for an action of containment, which was to be performed on the site.

By aptly manning these fortified positions, the General-Staff surely thought to gain time and to delay the adversary units and offensive push.


Zucchi behaved as a serious-minded and talented military professional, proficient in the actual logic of the war.

His personal actions, even the smallest ones, left nothing to chance; he neither left to the peril nor to the human carelessness the formal competencies he covered in his military rank and key position as regiment commander.

The Memorie are a gritty, action-oriented account of the life of a stern military professional, whose determination in battle spearheaded the bravery and continued sacrifices of the Italian troops, who proved to be stalwart in their loyalty and courageous in crucial circumstances, for they were involved in almost continuous marches and striking engagements throughout the whole of the 1809 campaign.

The Memorie, particularly of the little-covered and even less known events in the Italian theatre of operations, truly illustrates in words how terrible conflict emergency was and how those Italian soldiers rose to the occasion again and again to fight and defend their homeland.

Special thanks

The author would like to express his vivid appreciation and distinguished thanks for the kindly-rendered cultural collaboration to:

Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana, Vicenza; Servizio Manoscritti e Archivi (Dr. Sergio Merlo).

Selected Bibliography and Further Reading

Primary sources

1. French works:

Beauharnais, Eugène, (de). Mémoires et Correspondance Politique et Militaire du Prince Eugène. Publiés, annotés, et mise en ordre par A. Du Casse, auteur des Mémoires du Roi Joseph. Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, Libraires-Éditeurs, 2 bis, rue Vivienne. 1859.

Guillon, Aimé. Histoire de la campagne de Son Altesse Impériale Eugène Napoléon de France, prince de Venise, archichancelier de l’Empire français, général en chef de l'armée d’Italie, contre l’armée autrichienne en 1809. Milan, 1809.

Lafolie, Charles Jean. Mémoires sur la cour du Prince Eugène, et sur le royaume d’Italie pendant la domination de Napoléon Bonaparte. Par un Français attaché a la Cour du Vice-Roi d’Italie. Paris, Audin, 1824.

Macdonald, Jacques Etienne Joseph Alexandre (Maréchal). Souvenirs du Maréchal Macdonald, duc de Tarente. Avec une introduction par M. Camille Rousset. E. Plon, Nourrit et, Paris, 1892.

Marbot, Jean Baptiste Antoine Marcellin (Général, Baron de). Mémoires du général baron Marbot.  Paris, Plon, Nourrit et, Paris, 1891.

Noël (Colonel). Souvenirs militaires d’un officier du premier empire (1795-1832). Berger-Levrault, Paris, 1895.

Pelet, (Général). Mémoires sur la guerre de 1809, en Allemagne, avec les opérations particulières des corps d’Italie, de Pologne, de Saxe, de Naples et de Walcheren. Tome Troisième. Paris, Roret, Libraire, Rue Hautefeuille, au coin de celle du Battoir. 1825.

Vaudoncourt, Frédéric François Guillaume (Baron de). Histoire politique et militaire du Prince Eugène Napoléon, vice-roi d’Italie. Paris: Libraire Universelle de P. Mongie, Boulevart des Italiens, N° 10. 1828.

Vignolle, Martin (de, Général). Essai historique sur la campagne de l’armée d’Italie en 1809. Revue militaire, vol. 16, July 1900.

2. Italian works:

Lombroso, Giacomo. Vite dei primarj generali ed ufficiali italiani che si distinsero nelle guerre napoleoniche dal 1796 al 1815. Opera strettamente connessa coll’antecedente, che trattava dei marescialli, generali ed ammiragli che ebbero parte nelle succitate guerre / di Giacomo Lombroso. Coi tipi Borroni e Scotti successori a V. Ferrario, Milano, 1843.

Memorie del Generale Carlo Zucchi. Pubblicate per cura di Nicomede Bianchi. Casa Editrice Italiana di M. Guigoni, Milano, Torino, 1861.

Zanoli, A.. Sulla milizia cisalpino-italiana. Cenni storico statistici dal 1796 al 1814. Per Borroni e Scotti successori a V. Ferrario, Tipografi-Librai e fonditori di caratteri, Milano, 1845.

Negri Velo, contessa Ottavia. Sollevazione del territorio vicentino nell’anno 1809. Pubbl. da Bart. Scala. Tip. San Giuseppe di G. Rumor, Vicenza, 1896.

Special manuscripts:

Negri Velo (Ottavia). Cronaca Vicentina, BBV autografa ms. 1544 (già G.6.6.7 e Gonz. 23.10.12) .

–––––––. Giornale, BBV mss. 1786-1787 (già Gonz. 23.10.13-14), by unknown hand.

–––––––. Epistolario, BBV E -80. Autograph.

Secondary sources

1. English works:

Arnold, James R.. Napoleon Conquers Austria . The 1809 Campaign for Vienna. Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT, 1995.

Epstein, Robert M.. Prince Eugene at war: 1809. Empire Games Press, Arlington, TX, 1984. 

Heath, Peter P. H.. Sacile: 15th-16th April 1809. 1985.

Montagu, Violette M.. Eugène de Beauharnais: the adopted son of Napoleon. 1913

Petre, Loraine F.. Napoleon and the Archduke Charles. A history of the Franco-Austrian campaign in the Valley of the Danube 1809. Greenhill Books, London, 1991. Originally published London: John Lane, 1909.

Rothenberg, Gunther E.. The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1978.

––––––– Napoleon’s Great Adversaries: The Archduke Charles and the Austrian Army 1792-1814. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN, 1982.

2. French works:

Martinien, A.. Tableaux par corps et par batailles des officiers tués et blessés pendant les guerres de l’Empire (1805-1815), Éditions militaires européennes, 50 Rue Richer, Paris, s.d..

3. Italian works:

Barbieri, Giuseppe. L’immagine di Vicenza. La città e il territorio in piante, mappe  e vedute dal XV al XX secolo. Canova, 2003.

Beauharnais, Eugène, de. Il principe Eugenio: memorie del regno d’Italia. Corona e Caimi, Milano, 1870.

Brentari, Ottone. Storia di Bassano e del suo territorio. Stabilimento Tipografico Sante Pozzato, Bassano, 1884.

Cabianca, Jacopo, Lampertico, Fedele. Vicenza e il suo territorio. Rist. anast. Milano, 1861. Atesa, 1991.

Chemello, Adriana, Fontana, Giovanni Luigi, Zironda, Renato (a cura di). L’aristocrazia vicentina di fronte al cambiamento (1797-1814). Accademia Olimpica, Vicenza, 1999.

Franzina, Emilio. Vicenza: storia di una città (1404-1866). Neri Pozza, 1980.

Lemmi, Francesco. Le origini del Risorgimento italiano (1789-1815). U. Hoepli, Milano, 1906.

Morsolin, Bernardo. Le fonti della storia di Vicenza. Discorso letto nel teatro olimpico il 23 ottobre 1881 nella solenne adunanza della R. deputazione di storia patria per le provincie venete. Tip. del commercio di M. Vicentini, Venezia, 1881.

Schio, Giovanni (da). Un pensiero sulla storia di Vicenza. Stab. Zanetti, Vicenza, 1886.

Semenzi, Giovanni Battista Alvise. Treviso e la sua provincia. G. Longo, Treviso, 1864.

Storia di Vicenza. L’Età della Repubblica veneta (1404-1797). Neri Pozza, 1990.


[i] Her name: Ottavia Negri. Born on February 24, 1764; her father: the Count Marco Egidio Negri, the mother: Countess Laura Montanari. She married Count Gerolamo Giuseppe Velo. Died on March 8, 1814. Otttavia wrote the Cronaca Vicentina, a kind of annoted giornale (journal) mostly relating the time period from 1796 (beginning of the writing is 25 April 1797) to 1814.

[ii] Memorie del Generale Carlo Zucchi. Pubblicate per cura di Nicomede Bianchi. Casa Editrice Italiana di M. Guigoni, Milano, Torino, 1861, p. 23, l. 17-26

[iii] The tremendous military attrition and combat actions against the Imperial-led army forces of the Erzherzog Johann von Österreich (Archduke John of Austria ) were fought on April 16, 1809, in the district of Pordenone, Northern Italy. The strategic involvement on the field of battle and the conflict emergency were striking failures to the arms of the Empire. When the withdrawal was ordered, the divisions employed on the right wing of the army (Serras, Severoli, Barbou) soon moved southwest, towards Brugnera. Once they reached that location, they would have crossed the river. The divisions on the left wing (Broussier, Grenier, Sahuc) were instead to return along the main road, and would cross the Livenza River at Sacile.

[iv] An indirectly “affirmed” documentary reality that the historical researcher grasps after properly reading this specific detail is that the camp area of the Primo Reggimento di fanteria di linea – rightly intended and defined in military terms as an attendamento provvisorio di truppa (provisional troop encampment) – had been placed on open ground. According to this interpretative line of research, one reads one additional piece of information: the camp had been organized at the time before heavy rains fell.

[v] Objectively, the reported shortage of victuals and the nutritional deficiencies and exhaustion of the hungry troops were acutely lamented; and, not in the least, the pressing necessity to provide quickly for emergency rations, and anything else deemed important to soothe a state of austerities (one example: the grains and the fodder for the horses were another impediment to be dealt with).

[vi] The primary causes of these emergencies were connected to the virtually unexpected withdrawal movement of the Franco-Italian army forces. However, a circumstance had to be taken into strict account: the fact that the deputies of the local civil administrations (either intended as the prefetti and the podestà) had not evaded their duties – consequentially, the administrative offices had been abandoned and had “wisely” collapsed when faced with the threat of the advancing Imperial troops.

[vii] Just to mention, among the main urban centers, were the towns of Udine, Pordenone, Treviso, Venezia, Padova, Vicenza, Verona.

[viii] Colonel Zucchi knew very well the difficulties and the strategic cadre which composed the real military situation, the phases of the retreat, and the enemy pressure. Undeniably, he had to act with full resolve under the most adverse circumstances.

[ix] We can reasonably ascertain that the piazza principale (main square) could only be the Piazza dei Signori.

[x] A clearly stated fact. The Prince was carrying out his extraordinarily grave military duties, and inspecting the divisions encamped at the main gates of the town. Once he entered the town, he had galloped through the actual Corso Palladio (it was the decumanus of the ancient Roman town), soon to reach the Piazza dei Signori.

[xi] Memorie del Generale Carlo Zucchi. Pubblicate per cura di Nicomede Bianchi. Casa Editrice Italiana di M. Guigoni, Milano, Torino, 1861, p. 23, l. 26-34.

[xii] Located exactly in the central part of the town was included the Piazza dei Signori – but not limited to that urban sector and place of operative intervention. 

[xiii] Also worth mentioning is that on April 20, 1809, the infantry battalions of Grenier’s division had encamped just outside the urban limits of the town of Vicenza – more exactly, at the porte (gates) of Santa Lucia, Padua, and Castello.

[xiv] Jacques-Etienne-Joseph Macdonald was the son of a Scottish Jocobite.

Military synopsis: 1765, 17 November: born at Sedan (Ardennes); served in the légion irlandaise; 1785, 1 April: lieutenant, in the legion de Mallebois at the service of Holland; 1786, 12 July: entered as a volunteer in the régiment de Dillon; 1787, 12 June: sous-lieutenant de replacement in the afore cited regiment; 1 December: sous-lieutenant en pied; 1791, 10 October: lieutenant; 1792, 17 June: aide-de-camp of Beurnonville; 19 August: capitaine; 29 August: aide-de-camp of Dumouriez; 1792, 6 November: served at Jemappes; 12 November: lieutenant-colonel in the 94e d’infanterie; 1793, 8 March: chef de brigade of the 2e d’infanterie; 1793, 18 August: took Blaton; 26 August: général de brigade employed at the armée du Nord; 27 August: served at the combat of Tourcoing; 13 September: at the taking of Werwicq and Menin; 11 October: joined Souham’s division; 23 November: victor at Werwicq; 1794, 11 May: served at the combat of Courtrai; 18 May: at the battle of Tourcoing; 13 June: at Hooglède; 23 September to 9 October: covered the siege of Bois-le-Duc; 15 November: replaced Souham as commandant of the 1re division; 28 November: général de division in the armée du Nord; 1795, 11 January: took the fort of Knotzembourg; 21 May: replaced by Souham, and appointed commandant of the 2e division of the armée du Nord (at the place of Compère); 4 June: took his executive role; 22 August: appointed commandant in Zélande of the 3e division of the armée du Nord; 3 September: took his command; end October: took leave due to health reasons; 1796, 23 February: re-took the command of the 3e division en Zélande; 5 June: in command of the 1re division of the armée du Nord; 10 July: in charge of three divisions (Macdonald, Daendels and Dumonceau), he was ordered to cover the left wing of the arméé de Sambre-et-Meuse; 12 September: sent to aid the armée de Sambre-et-Meuse;  24 September: commandant of the left wing (divisions Lefevre, Macdonald, Castelvert and Grenier) of the armée de Sambre-et-Meuse; 1797, February: commandant of the 1re division of the armée du Nord; 1798, 3-12 April: provisional commandant en chef of the divisions stationed in the Batavian Republic; 24 April: employed at the armée d’Italie; 11 July: commandant of the French troops stationed in the Roman Republic (he had substituted Gouvion-Saint-Cyr); 19 November: commandant of the 1re division of the armée de Rome, and gouverneur of Rome; victor at Faventino; evacuated Rome; 5 December: fought at Civita Castellana; victor at Otricoli; served at the taking of Calvi; 1799, 3 January: attacked Capua without success; 11 January: resigned from his executive functions after disagreement with Championnet; 10 February: chosen for the armée de Mayence; 13 February; appointed commandant en chef of the armée de Naples; 27 February: took his command; 12 June: victor and wounded at Modena; June 17-19: beaten at the Trebbia River; 3 July: employed at the armée d’Italie; 3 August: left active service; 9 November: commandant at Versailles; 7 December: sent to the armée du Rhin, as lieutenant of the général en chef Moreau; up to April 1800: lieutenant of the général en chef of the armée de réserve; 24 August: commandant en chef of the 2e armée de réserve; 2 September: took his command; 5 October: commandant en chef of the armée des Grisons; 4 December: crossed the Splügen; 1801, 6 January: took Trento; 1 April: left the command of the armée des Grisons, to become ministre plénipotentiaire in Denmark; 1802, end of January: returned to France; 1804: disgraced, after having defended Moreau; 1807, 28 February: authorised to pass to the service of Naples; 1809, 28 March: employed at the Armée d’Italie; 20 April: serving under Prince Eugène Rose de Beauharnais; 28 April: commandant of the right wing of the armée d’Italie; 8 May: wounded at the battle of the Piave; 22 May: took Laibach; 30 May: took Graz; 31 May: blocked the castle of Graz; 6 July: broke the enemy centre at the battle of Wagram, thus deciding the victory; 12 July: maréchal d’Empire; 14 August: grand aigle of the Légion d’honneur.

[xv] Henry-François-Marie Charpentier was the son of Henry Charles Charpentier and Charlotte Cécile Chatelain.

Military synopsis: 1769, 23 June: born at Soissons; 1791, 26 August: engaged at the 1er bataillon of the volunteers of the Aisne, where he is elected capitaine; in the armée du Nord; 1793, 1 May: adjoint to the adjudants-généraux; at the combat of Mauberge; 1794, 2 February: appointed provisional adjudant-général chef de brigade in the armée de Sambre et Meuse; 19 April: passed to the état-major of Desjardin; 11 May: confirmed in his rank by the comité de Salut Public; 1794, 22 October-1795, 7 June: took part at the siege of Luxembourg; 1796, 2 September: employed in the 17ème division militaire; 1798, 12 January: in the armée d’Angleterre; up to 1799, March: he served in the armée de Hollande and in the armée d’Italie with the division Hatry; 5 April: appointed provisional général de Brigade, and commander in the division Victor; 18 June: wounded at the battle of the Trebbia; 30 July: confirmed in his rank of général de brigade; August: at the division Grouchy; served at the battle of Novi; 1800, 11 March: appointed provisional commander of the 15ème division militaire; 5 July: passed to the armée d’Italie; 1801, 1 July: chef d’état-major of Moncey; 1802: under the orders of Murat, and then of Jourdan; 1803, 20 April: married Marie Félix Constance Euphrosine Aubert-Dubayet, a native of Grenoble – the daughter of Jean Baptiste Annibal Aubert-Dubayet and Jeanne Armand Esprit Félix Pouchot de Jolière; 1804, 16 February: appointed général of division; 1806, 3 January: appointed chef d’état-major of Prince Eugène, who commanded the armée de Dalmatie placed under Massena; this army was composed by two little divisions under the orders of Generals Clauzel and Montrichard; it is known that Charpentier was accorded only a relative trustfulness by Massena, caused bu his lack of memory: “il réunissait toutes les qualités nécéssaires, mais il manquait de la principale ,la mémoire, sans laquelle les autres sont insuffisantes”; 1807, 1 June: he is charged by the war commissary of France at Ancona to provide clothes (uniforms?) for the troops of Dalmatia; the confidence accorded to him by Prince Eugène permitted him to serve at his orders during the 1809 campaigns in Italy and Austria; 1809, 5 June: at Adenbourg; 18 June: appointed inspecteur of the infantry troops; 6 July: fought at Wagram; 1810, 14 February: comte de l’Empire.

[xvi] Memorie del Generale Carlo Zucchi. Pubblicate per cura di Nicomede Bianchi. Casa Editrice Italiana di M. Guigoni, Milano, Torino, 1861, p. 23, l. 35-36, p. 24, l. 1-5.  

[xvii] This sensibly implied the direct transmission of the orders by the Viceroy himself, to organize new positions of arrest and to consolidate a newly established line of defence.

[xviii] It literally translates to “nobility obligates”. The figurative meaning is as following: “whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself conforming to the position and reputation that one has earned, by noble ancestry birth, and by social standing and prestige responsibilities”.

[xix] Memorie del Generale Carlo Zucchi. Pubblicate per cura di Nicomede Bianchi. Casa Editrice Italiana di M. Guigoni, Milano, Torino, 1861, p. 24, l. 5-16.  

[xx] More specifically, the Servizio Manoscritti e Archivi (Service Manuscripts and Archives).

[xxi] With reference to this literary work, we have to point out that an autographic manuscript is preserved at the Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana. It is actually one autographed copy: -- autografa ms. 1544 (già G.6.6.7 e Gonz. 23.10.12), di 248 cc..

[xxii] There exists, however, a further copy, a manuscript not autographed – of other unknown hand: mss. 1786-1787 (già Gonz. 23.10.13-14), 2 voll.. The first volume is not numbered.


Another passage thus follows:

È arrivato la guardia d’onore Soncini Stampa in sediolo e ci raccontò la battaglia di San Cassano il giorno 16.

Non vi è ne Austerlitz ne niente che la eguagli, un’ora sola ma un vero esterminio.

Fa pietà il modo, la condotta, e l’esito di questa battaglia.

Dalla ritirata e dai discorsi, e dalla vista si comprende che questa armata è totalmente rovinata, che non vi è ripiego per l’Adige, e il prosceguimento della ritirata fan conoscere che non vi è vittorie decise ne al Tirolo ne in Boemia, con tutto ciò i Francesi non videro più Tedeschi dal giorno 16 si vuole ciò attribuire all’effervescenza delle acque”.

Trnsl.: “The Guard of honour Soncini Stampa has arrived in sulky and told us the battle of San Cassiano – author: Sacile-Fontanafredda – the day 16.

There is neither Austerlitz nor else that equals to that, only one hour of fighting but a true massacre.

It makes a piety the way, the conduct, and the oucome of this battle.

From the withdrawal and from the talks, and from the sight one understands that this army is entirely ruined, that there is not retreat to the Adige, and the continuation of the withdrawal makes it to know that there are not decided victories neither in Tyrol nor in Bohemia, with all that the French did not see any more the Germans from the day 16 it is to attribute this to the raising of the waters”.

Literary quotation in: Negri Velo, Cronaca Vicentina. And, the text in the Giornale as well.

[xxiv] Selected narrative passage from the original work composed by countess Negri Velo, the Cronaca Vicentina; literary references for these specific days of April 1809 are credited to the cc. 151v-153r. A formal comparison can be extrapolated from the Giornale; literary references are credited, under the same dates of April 1809, to the cc. 114v-116r.

[xxv] Ibidem.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2010


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