Military Subjects: Virtual Battlefields

 

The Campaign in Italy, 1796-97: Lonato 31 July and 3 August 1796

Virtual Battlefield Tour

By Bill Peterson

The small town of Lonato had the misfortune to be a key point in the amazingly small patch of territory southwest of Lake Garda that was held by Bonaparte's Armée d'Italie against Quosdanovich's column advancing from the north, and Würmser's Austrian main body approaching from the southeast. This caused the town to be fought over twice in four days, as well as being the site of a famous bluff by Napoleon and consequent Austrian surrender on 4 August, the so-called Third Lonato.

In the combat of First Lonato (31 July 1796), the brigade of GeneralMajor Ott (1st and 2nd battalions Infantry Regiment 10 Kheul, 1st battalion IR 53 Jellacic, 2 companies Grenzers, 2 squadrons Erdödy Hussars, 3 guns) attacking from the west drove the French 5e Ligne from Lonato. The 5e and 32e Ligne then counterattacked from east to west. Ott's brigade defended the castle and town, but the Austrians were forced out and retreated west to Ponte San Marco.

In the larger Battle of Second Lonato (3 August 1796), GeneralMajor Ocskay's Austrian brigade (elements of IR 34 Esterhazy, IR 53 Jellacic, Mahony Jägers, and Meszaros Uhlans, with 3 guns) moving southwest from Desenzano surprised Pigeon's brigade at Lonato in a dawn attack, taking prisoner the French commander and part of the 4e Légère and capturing three guns. Napoleon led the bulk of Masséna's division (32e and 18e Ligne, 4e Légère, 15e Dragons, 25e Chasseurs, one battalion of 11e Ligne, the mounted Guides, and 5 guns) in a blistering counterattack eastward against Ocskay's men lining the canal just to the west of Lonato. Heavily defeated, the Austrians abandoned the town and retreated northeastward to Desenzano. It was on this occasion that Napoleon remarked, "J'étais tranquille, la brave 32e était là" ("I was unworried, the brave 32nd was there"), giving rise to the proud regimental nickname, "La Brave." Second Lonato was also remarkable for being fought at the same time and back-to-back, a scant few kilometers from the Battle of First Castiglione, showing how close Quosdanovich and Würmser had come to making their juncture.

On 4 August, Oberst Knorr leading a force of three Austrian battalions from Quosdanovich's column moving eastward in an attempt to link up with Würmser, surprised Bonaparte's lightly-guarded headquarters at Lonato. Although heavily outnumbered, when called upon to surrender Bonaparte responded with a classic bluff:

"Malheureux, vous ne savez donc pas que vous êtes en presence du général en chef, et qu'il est ici avec toute son armée! Allez dire à ceux qui vous envoient que je leur donne cinq minutes pour se rendre ou que je les ferai passer au fil de l'épée pour punir l'outrage qu'ils osent me faire!"

("Poor fool, don't you know you are in the presence of the general-in-chief and that he is here with his entire army! Go tell those who sent you that I give them five minutes to surrender or I will have them put to the sword to avenge the outrageous insult they dare give me!")

Cowed, the Austrian commander capitulated without a shot fired, surrendering between two and four thousand men, three standards, and four guns.

 

  1. Lonato: Northwest town wall and campanile.
  2. Lonato: Looking east from western town wall to castle.
  3. Panorama looking east from Lonato castle. On 31 July 1796, Ott's Austrians defended the castle and town against d'Allemagne's and Rampon's brigades attacking from this direction.
  4. Looking west at Lonato castle from the Desenzano road, from the viewpoint of the French attackers on 31 July 1796.
  5. Looking west at Lonato castle and town from the foot of the hill, French attackers' viewpoint on 31 July 1796.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. North bastion, Lonato castle.
  2. East wall, Lonato castle.
  3. Southeast gate and drawbridge support, Lonato castle.
  4. West wall, Lonato castle.
  5. West (main) gate, Lonato castle.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

  1. Looking southwest from Lonato castle.
  2. Panorama looking west from Lonato castle. On 3 August 1796, Masséna's Division approached from this direction to re-take the town from Ocskay's Austrians.
  3. Looking east toward Lonato from the Brescia road, viewpoint of French attackers on 3 August 1796. Castle is on horizon at far right.
  4. Looking southeast along the Seriola di Lonato stream, north of the suburb of Molini. At this point the 32ème Demi-Brigade de Ligne forced the stream, attacking from right to left across the picture, forming the left prong of Masséna's attack on 3 August 1796.
  5. Looking northest across the Seriola di Lonato stream between Molini and Salera. At this point the 18ème Demi-Brigade de Ligne and the 15ème Dragons forced the stream, pushing back the Austrians deployed in the fields now occupied by the Acciaierie di Lonato, a factory producing Lancia automobiles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Topographic map of the Lonato area. From the Desenzano del Garda sheet (48 III N.O.) of the Carta d'Italia Alla Scala di 1:25000, Istituto Geografico Militare, 1969.

 


 

 

Bibliography

Smith, Digby. Napoleon's Regiments Greenhill Books, London, 2000. Smith, Digby.

Smith, Digby. The Napoleonic Wars Data Book Greenhill Books, London, 1998.

Tranié, Jean and J.C. Carmigniani. Napoléon Bonaparte: 1ère Campagne d'Italie Pygmalion, Paris, 1990.

Voykowitsch, Bernhard. Castiglione 1796 Helmet Military Publications, Maria Enzerdorf, Austria, 1998.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2001

 

 

 

Military Index | Virtual Battlefields Index ]



Search the Series

© Copyright 1995-2004, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.

Top | Home ]