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The 1799 Campaign in Italy

The 1799 Campaign in Italy: Klenau and Ott Vanguards and the Coalition’s Left Wing
April – June 1799

By Enrico Acerbi

The Siege of Ferrara

The Cispadane Front Line on the Eve of the Trebbia Battle (June 1799)

Lord of the Wing – the River Po Guerrillas

Few weeks after the April Austrian offensive on the Adige, the war empowered in the Cispadane Departments, [i] defended by the French General Joseph Elie Perruquet de Montrichard (1760-1828), commander of the Right Wing of the Armee d’ Italie. In addition to a nominal contingent of 12,000 Cispadane national guards, Montrichard had 5165 French (4337 infantry, 703 cavalry, 79 artillery men and 46 sappers) with 608 Cisalpine cavalrymen (508 hussars and 100 dragoons), all but dispersed in small detachments.

Without weakening his Lombardy Front, Suvorov detached about 4500 men to pin Montrichard on the Right Po bank, isolating the Cispadane fortresses with the help of a general uprising in the countryside. The leader of the guerrillas was General Johann Klenau, the Baron of Janowitz, who had the following units:

Detachment Major General Johann Graf von Klenau und Freiherr von Janowitz


8th Hussar Régiment (later Nauendorff)


(the former Regiment  Wurmser) (6 squadrons of 1350 men) Commander: Oberst  Emanuel Freiherr von Schustekh (in 1800 promoted to Generalmajor)  2nd Colonel: Thimoteusz Kerekes; Oberst Leutenant: Freiherr Anton Graffen; Majorb: Count Emanuel Benjowsky (died from a wound suffered at Mantua, on May 8, 1799); Franz von Borocziczky; Johann von Klebelsberg.

II Battalion: Banal Grenzregiment or I Battalion: 10th Banal Regiment of Glina 


Commander: Oberst Daniel (Danilo) von Oreskovic

II Battalion: 10th Infantry Regiment Vakat (former Kheul)


Commander: Oberst Freiherr Ferdinand Beulwitz

II Battalion:  18th  Infantry Regiment   Graf Patrick Stuart


Along the Po River

K.K. 3rd Light Infantry Battalion: Am-Ende  Commander: Oblt (Lieut. Col.) Carl Freiherr von Am Ende


K.K. 4th Light Infantry Battalion:  Commander: Major Johann Nepomuk Freiherr von Bach


I Battalion: of 4th Grenzregiment Carlstädt-Szluiner (Croat)


8th Hussar Régiment (later Nauendorff) 2 Squadrons


Dalmatian flotilla Commander: British Major Potts


The Lord of the Wing: Johann Count von Klenau and Baron von Janowitz was born in 1757 at Prague. With the outbreak of hostilities against France in spring 1799, Major General Klenau served in the K.K. Italienisches army. He led there a so called “little war” obtaining good results at that time. First he fought against parts of the French Naples’ army commanded by General Macdonald, later Major General Klenau was engaged at the siege of Genoa   against Masséna. In the spring of 1800 he was transferred to the K.K. main army in Germany and Swabia, fighting under his new commander in chief, Feldzeugmeister Baron von Kray in the battles of Engen (3 May 1800) and Messkirch (5 May 1800) against the French Army of the Rhine under Moreau. For his meritorious service during this campaign, Klenau was promoted (on 28 October 1800) to Second Class Field Marshal Lieutenant,  one of the youngest in Austria with his 42 years!

The first insurgent territory was Polesine (the land near the Po around Rovigo) where the upraising broke out in Vaccaro, Fiesso, and other villages (March 25). The French Navy commander, Sybille, who led the flotillas from the Garda, through the Rivers Mincio and Po, sunk the 7 gunboats, which were still in the Po navy yards of Pontelagoscuro.  On March 31st, a Croat detachment occupied Mesola, while 24 seamen of the Dalmatian flotilla, together with the Argenta town insurgents, assaulted Ariano capturing one French gunboat, 20 artillery pieces and 54 prisoners (leaving 5 dead and 3 wounded on the battleground). After that raid, the K.K. Seeflotille organized a new gunboat squadron which was stationed at Migliavacca and Primaro. The day after Magnano the Austrians passed over the Po by a ford between Crespino and Cologna (25 Km northeast of Ferrara).  On April 8, the “wounded” General Anton Liptay crossed the river at Polesella, entrenching his detachment at La Zocca.

In the Mantuan territories were many insurgent bands, which fought hard against the Montrichard’s “mobile columns” and often defeating them (on April 9 at Finale against  Fratacchio; on April 16 at Nonantola against Liebault [ii] and Salimbeni). On April 17 the insurgents occupied Cento, which was regained by the Chef-de-brigade Trippault with 900 Cisalpine  National Guards.  Finale returned to French hands and there, the insurgent chief Costanzo Vandolini, was shot. Many other insurgents were operating in the Ferrara and Ravenna territories, along the Rivers Po and Reno and in many villages, supported by small detachments of the Klenau’s troops. But the most important city to capture, in order to gain the complete control of the territory, was Ferrara.

Ferrara Fortress –  Chef-de-brigade Lapointe (d’artillerie?)

French III Battalion: 5th Line Infantry Demi-brigade


Cisalpine Infantry


L Company Brescia Infantry Guides  Captain Carlo Gerardi                      


Legione Civica Cispadana (capolegione Carlo Bentivoglio) or National Cispadane Mobile Guard


Piedmontese artillery brigade “de bataille” – Detachment  




Canoniers de Marine 


1st Piedmontese Dragoons Regiment [iii] (4 Squadrons )      


3rd Piedmontese Dragoons Regiment [iv] (4 Squadrons )     


1st Cisalpine Hussars Regiment II Squadron           


The fortress was constructed by Pope Paul V on the site of the castle called “Castel Tedaldo”, at the south-west angle of the town.  In the Ferrarese territory the rebellion took, as a symbol, a tree-branch with leaves and an image of Holy Maria, Christ’s Mother, carried on the hat. In the town of Cento, near Ferrara, the pillage of the Jewish ghetto was avoided thanks to the participation of the parish priest, don Sante Bezzi.  Ferrara was then besieged by an Austrian column, part of the Left Wing of the Austrian Armée, consisting mostly of General Klenau’s Corps, plus   four thousand armed peasants. From April 19, Klenau patrolled the Po River, capturing Lagoscuro, Borgoforte and the small fortress of Mirandola (April 21) leaving a detachment to siege the Ferrara fortress. The besieged troops resisted until May 24, when they surrendered after being weakened by the disease.

By April 15,  Klenau  had ordered Ferrara to surrender, but the Fortress, defended by Cisalpine Commissioner Bertelli and the French Chef-de-brigade Lapointe with 700 regular, 1959 Civic Guards, and 10 hostages. On 19 April the city was blocked by Colonel Danilo Oreskovich and his 1300 Croatians of the 2nd Banal battalion (and of the Szluiner battalion) together with 4000 Ferrarese “auxiliary troops” under the Count Antonio Gardani) and the Sermide insurgents under Major Angelo Pietro Poli.  The frontal assaults against the fortress were  carried against Saint Paul’s Door, where already from April 21, the garrison had made a sortie, which cost them 42 prisoners. The rebels repelled sorties on April 27 and 30, and on  May 5, 14 and 19.

On April 25, Melas installed, in Pontelagoscuro, the temporary Imperial Royal Ferrarese Regency, whose only task was to assure the logistic supply for the Austrian armies. In the meanwhile the insurgents had created some bridgeheads over the Po pressing the Cisalpines towards Bologna and the Romagna. Another Republican attempt to rescue Ferrara occurred on April 24, when a Modenese column of 400 men carried out a third attack on Mirandola and Finale, without being able to close and destroy the Mantovane bands.

On April 29, Montrichard tried to re-supply Ferrara by forcing the Austrians to raise the blockade.  He movedg from Bologna with 4,000 men, 111 cattle and 29 flour wagons. But at Cento, despite being assisted by Republican sharpshooters (Franchi Tiratori), the column was stopped by 800 Croatians and rebels.  The French lost 58 dead and several prisoners. At last, threatened on the flank by bands coming from Modena, Montrichard withdrew to Bologna, cutting the bridges over the Reno. Only the column of the Adjudant-general Pierre Augustin Hulin,[v] forced the passing of the Gallo and, after conducting a reprisal at Santa Maria (near Battifreddo) where they killed three, they reached and resupplied Ferrara.  From there they formed a “mobile column” in order to resume the control of the lower Po.

War in Romagna – the Surrender of Ferrara

On May 1st, fearing a disembarkation of forces at Primaro, the Romagna garrison returned to Bologna, leaving small Piedmontese garrisons at Imola, Ferrara, Lugo, Faenza, Rimini, and Ravenna. After some days,  the  French left Modena in order to recover in Fort Urbano. On May 12, 40 Piedmontese of the II Demi-brigade,   took control of  Cesena from rebels with a clever stratagem.   On May 17, Lugo was occupied by Antonio Corelli, with his 150 rebels from Alfonsine. But the day after, the Jacobin chief Giuseppe Bertazzoli returned with 400 patriots and some regular soldiers. The insurgents evacuated the village, deploying themselves in the woods, and Hulin came to Lugo. The town was put in defensive mode, capturing again Massalombarda and Monselice and pushing horse patrols to control the Po crossing at Primaro, held by 400 insurgents of Argenta and 33 hussars of the Nauendorff Regiment.

On May 19, while the Austrians disembarked crews and ammunitions at Comacchio, 2000 regular Austrians reached Pontelagoscuro (Italian light battalions Am Ende #3 and Bach #4 and a battalion of Banal Grenzers ) with 12 guns and 7 mortars. On May 21,  Klenau again asked Ferrara to surrender. On May 22, Chef Lapointe left the city, closing himself in the old Citadel. However the garrison capitulated on May 24, after three hours of bombardment which left 62 dead. The surrender condition were mutually exchanged and the treatise was conducted by Oberst Skal, of the Engineers, who had reached Ferrara as volunteer, after having left Legnago. Klenau took 2017 (or 1534) prisoners, 90 guns and rich warehouses); 150 Piedmontese and others, plus some Cisalpine troops, were made prisoner (80 at Ravenna) on 27 May. He organized, in Ferrara, another Imperial Royal Regency, but left the logistics to that one of Pontelagoscuro. The Jews of Ferrara were ordered to pay 30000 ducates, and this sum avoided the city’s pillage. The sum was utilized to pay the “auxiliaries” wages (a daily intake of 21 “Baiocchi” in cash and 4 in bread). Finally Bishop Mattei re-entered the city. The fall of the citadel was described in the Austrian reports:

“Vienna June 3

General Baron Kray has sent Lieutenant Disorisky, of the Regiment of Nauendorff, with the intelligence of the capture of the Citadel of Ferrara, on the 22nd of May. Major General Count Klenau states, in his report, that, not having succeded in his endeavours, when he took possession of the town, to make the enemy evacuate the citadel, a regular pentagon, in perfect repair, abudantly supplied with artillery, ammunitions and provisions, he was induced to direct Colonel Oreskovich to order Captain Victora of the artillery to erect two batteries: which work was carried on with so muche activity and spirit that they finished in the evening of the 22nd.

On the 23rd, at three o’clock in the morning, the enemy had already evacuated the town, which General Klenau garrisoned with the light battalion of Bach. At eight o’clock Count Klenau summoned the commandant of the fortress to surrender, but a negative answer was returned. The batteries being ready, and the artillery and ammunition having been conveyed into them at daybreak, General Klenau ordered shells to be thrown both from mortars and howitzers into the citadel. Two magazines in the fortress having caught fire, the commandant was summoned a second time, and after some delay, a flag of truce was sent about nine o’clock in the evening with proposal of capitulation, which were concluded at one o’clock in the morning. The enemy’s fire killed two privates of the artillery and wounded an artificier.

On the 24th, in the morning, the copies of capitulation were exchanged, hostages mutually delivered up, and the gate of Soccorso was occupied an hour after. Seventy-two new brass cannons, with thir ammunitions, and six months provisions, were found in the fortress. The hospital stores alone are estimated at one million five thousand French livres. “ [vi]

On May 27 Lieutenant Grill, who had embarked at Chioggia with part of the Bohemian Regiment Graf von Stuart (IR 18), disembarked at the Primaro, marching on Ravenna, while the Dalmatian sailors with a naval gun, forced the Alberoni town-gate. General Nagant escaped being captured; but so for the garrison (80 Piedmontese, 20 Gendarmes and 6 artillerymen). Lugo was abandoned, Hulin withdrew till Imola and the 80 Piedmontese, remained in the Lugo castle, surrendered, after short resistance, to 150 rebels and 60 hussars.

Another report of the capture of Ravenna, the main Romagna’s town:

“Whilst this operation was carried on against Ferrara citadel, Lieutenant Grill was ordered upon another expedition against Ravenna. According to his report of the 26th to General Kray, he embarked on the 24th, with 4 companies of the Stuart regiment, and entered Porto di Goro on the 25th.

On 26, he landed his troops at Primaro with two 3 pdrs. Guns, having previously concerted upon the mode of attack with the Major Pooz, commander of the river flotilla, and with Jacobi, chief of the Comacchio insurgency. Major Pooz entered the canal of Ravenna with his flotilla, and landed his sailors. Lieutenant Grill marched to Ravenna through Pozzolo, with 3 companies and 3 pieces of artillery; 300 of the insurgents marched at the same time from Sant’Alberto. On his approach the enemy shoot his gates and defended themselves, but the gates were soon forced open, and, after a short resistance, they retreated by the way of Lugo. They lost, in their retreat, one piece of artillery, a lieutenant-Colonel, an officer, and about 100 prisoners. Major Pooz was very active in the landing and came to the assistance of Lieutenant Grill with 60 armed sailors.Lieutenants Stromada and Frankenbusch, of the Stuart regiment, distinguished themselves particularly. To support the expedition against Ravenna, General Kray also detached a squadron of hussars, two infantry companies, and a battalion of light infantry from Ferrara. The capture of this place secured the whole road along the coast, and the subsistence of the troops in the province of Ferrara.“

All the Romagna region became free from Republicans, the southern part and Rimini excluded. Rimini was taken with an audacious naval incursion of lieutenant Carl Martinitz, who entered in port with a single sloop and 24 Dalmatian sailors. Adjudant-général Fabert [vii] tried to block the landing, but he was attacked, from his rear, by the citizens, under chief Giuseppe Federici, and forced to withdraw. The day after, Martinitz,  the Fabert’s counterattack, brought by 200 Piedmontese and 2 guns. Then he surprised the republicans at Santa Giustina, with a “frank coy” of 60 riders, taking all guns and 50 prisoners; 20 dead and wounded were left on the battlefield. After having  cleared the Romagna, the Austrians gathered the republicans, deporting them in Hungary and to the Sibenik’s Castle (Sebenico in dalmatia). On 31 surrendered the 80 men of the Lugo garrison. At least many of the Klenau corps detachments re-united and marched forward to besiege Bologna.


[i] Cispadane (in opposite of Cisalpine) was the adjective regarding the territories lying south of the Po (Padus) river (cis = beyond; padane = the Po), actually the Emilia and the Romagna regions.

[ii] Montrichard’s Adjudant-général Charles Antoine Lièbault (1771-1811) was an Adjudant general in the armée de Naples and was promoted to the rank of Général-de-brigade on October 19, 1799. That promotion was very unlucky, being mortally wounded on November 6, 1799. Not to be confused with Chef François-Augustin Liebault, who was Chef-de-brigade, on September 1799, in the place of Mathieu Gardane at the 9e Chasseurs a cheval.

[iii] (Former Dragoni del Re and Dragoni della Regina merged together)

[iv] (Former Dragoni di Piemonte and Dragoni della Regina merged together)

[v] Pierre-Augustin Hulin (Count) was born in Paris on September 6, 1758. He entered the service in 1771, in the Infantry regiment of Champagne, passing, on 1772, to the régiment des Swiss Gardes, where it was named sergeant on August 7, 1780. Having taken service, in 1794, in the army of Italy, he accepted, from Bonaparte, the rank of adjudant-general. In year II, he was at Nice, Leghorn; in year III at Klagenfurt, in year IV in Milan, and in year V at Ferrara. In Genoa garrison he took a great part during the hard defense of this city. Sent on mission by the Consuls, he followed Bonaparte to the Reserve army and was named chief of staff of Wautrin division. After the battle the Marengo, he led again the place of Milan. He was also the chief of staff of division Richepanse in 1800, senior palatine officer in 1801, and chief of the staff of Rivaud division in Spain (1802).

Hulin was promoted in year 1804 with the commander rank of Legion-d’Honneur and was envoyed with the Grande Armée, becoming the responsible for the command of Vienna. He made, in 1806, the Prussian campaign accepting the command of Berlin. On his return in Paris, in 1807, Hulin was named general of division (August 9), with the command of the 1st military territorial division. Created count of the Empire in 1808, the general count Hulin ordered the Paris military place and the first division at the time of the Mallet conspiracy in 1812. In April 1814, after the abdication of Fontainebleau, he sent to the provisional government his adhesion with the recently adopted measures. The Restoration removed him the command of the lst division, which was returned to him during the Hundred Days. Banished by the ordinance of July 24, 1815, Hulin withdrew himself in Belgium and from there in Holland. When the ordinance of the 1st December 1819 reopened the doors of France he returned in his fatherland, lived few years in France, near Nevers, then at Tail-in-Brie (Seine-and-Oise), where he lived the retirement. The count Hulin, who had lost the sight in the last years, died in Paris, on January 9, 1841.

[vi] From “A Collection of State Papers Relative to the War against France” Vol. VIII, London, Debrett ed. 1800.

[vii] After the surprise of the Martinitz night-raid, between the fugitives, fleed also the Adjudant-général Fabert, who, disguised in a large mantle and guided by a Jacobin of Rimini, surnamed “Gironda”, was able to reach San Leo fortress in the Apennins. There he was captured, on July 12, when the fortress surrendered after 44 days of siege, by the insurgent bands of the Montefeltro.


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