The 1799 Campaign in Italy: Battle of Magnano
Armée d’Italie Situation 5 April 1799
“Malheur a l’homme en place, qui dans sa carrière politique
et militaire n’a pas toujours des chance heureuses, s’il a surtout
des ennemis tout prêts a saisir l’instant de le calomnier !”
French Army HQ at Isola della Scala
Moreau HQ at Settimo (Moreau – April 4) then at Magnano village
Commander in Chief: Général Barthélemy Louis Joseph Schérer
Schérer gathered his adjutants in the morning of April the 4th at Settimo di Buttapietra, the Moreau’s HQ. The plan was again changed because the proposed passage of the Adige at Albaredo was impossible. The river had flown out over its banks in many points. Now they talked about a new direct attack to Verona breaking the defences at Porta Nuova. The French army was scattered along the swampy banks of the Tartaro creek. The right wing that time was formed with Victor and Grenier, the left wing was still assigned to the battered Sérurier, the centre (Hatry and Montrichard) would deploy in front of the village of Buttapietra (then named Buttapiedra or Butapedra) under Moreau’s command while Delmas, camped at Sanguinetto will have to march North. Before the incoming night Schérer gave his orders to his generals: Victor and Grenier together will march at dawn (April 5th) towards San Giacomo where they had to stop all Austrian units exiting Verona. Delmas, once arrived to Buttapietra, will continue the advance to Dossobuono supporting the previous two formations or Moreau, whenever needed. Moreau, “au pas de charge” will attack Sommacampagna and Sérurier, alone, will occupy Villafranca.
Chief-of-Staff: Général de Brigade Louis François Félix Musnier de la Conserverie
Adjutants-Généraux: CdB Coulange, Berthier (brother), Claude-Joseph Buget.
Artillery Commander: General Baron Cesar-Alexandre Debelle de Gachetiére
Engineer Commander: Chef-de-bataillon Maubert
Pontonniers – 2 Companies
Sappers – 1 Company
Miners – 1 Company
Tactically, the French demonstrated greater ability to get ready in the short period, but also a greater indiscipline: that’s true considering that the soldiers of two divisions, Hatry and Victor, were substantially disordered after the first successes, compromising the results achieved until that point and not being able to stop the Austrian offensive return. Schérer’s conduct appeared mostly insufficient: he never was master of the battle, he did not succeed to coordinate movements of his divisions neither communicated with his adjutants preferring to remain in the middle of the combats, more like a medieval warlord than a chief; so, instead, in a circumstance where it was necessary to have a general that observd the battle, far away from the first line, so he could have had a global vision of the events.
The Left Wing
Division du Tyrol General Jean-Mathieu-Philibert Sérurier
Serurier received the order to advance only at 9:30 a.m. on April 5. The order stated that his division had to occupy Villafranca. At 10.00 a.m. Sérurier moved forward the Piedmontese infantry with 2 guns. At 10.30 a.m. he was attacked on his right flank by General Döller’s troops but the Austrian attack was repulsed. Leaving Povegliano Sérurier formed two columns which advanced through Isola Alta and Alpo stopping in front of Dossobuono in order to cover the Piedmontese, engaged on the left flank. Behind the Tartaro Dam two Gyulai battalions and one 6 pounder gun made a heavy fire barrage, blocking the French. Successively charged by a Karacsaj squadron, the French withdrew until Isola Alta, entrenching among some house-farms. Isolated and without orders, Sérurier, attacked again at 3.00 p.m. re-capturing Isola Alta and taking prisoner a Croat unit, which was trying to encircle them by the Vigasio road. During this attack he took again the control of the Tartaro bridge. The Karacsaj counter-charges blocked all movement. In the evening Sérurier was able to occupy Villafranca, which was suddenly abandoned by Gottesheim troops.
Adjudants-généraux: Pierre-Joseph Guillet and Leonard-Nicholas Becker comte de Mons
HQs at Vigasio
Light artillery –
6 pieces (4 X 4 pounders guns and 2 howitzers)
AvantGarde (Brigade) Chef-de-brigade Louis Garreau
1st Piedmontese Light Demi-Brigade: I & II Battalions
2nd Piedmontese Dragoon Regiment
Brigade Général Jean-Baptiste Meyer
2 Grenadiers Companies – Line Infantry
63e Demi-Brigade de Ligne: Chef Antoine-Francois Brenier de Montmorand
45e Demi-Brigade de Ligne : I & II – III Battalions
13e Regiment Chasseurs-à-Cheval: Chef Bouquet (?)
3rd Line Reserve Brigade
29e Demi-Brigade Légère: Chef Balleydier
30e Demi-Brigade Légère: Chef Vérideau ( ?)
18e Demi-Brigade L égère: Chef Soyez
9e Regiment Dragons: 3 squadrons 576
The French Central Position
The five other divisions arrived, in the meantime, in their new positions. The center was Isola della Scala, a division in reserve on its line; two divisions under Moreau on the left side, occupying the village of Buttapietra and the sources of Tartaro, blocking all that could leave Verona. Scherer had HQs at Isola della Scala. Thus, the French forces were concentrated between Adige, which ran frontally, and Tartaro on their back. This position covered Mantua, and gave Scherer the opportunity to attack the enemy when he would consider it suitable. The retreat of the French armée made the Austrians forced to an advance movement. After having passed the Adige, they occupied Castelnovo, and blocked the place of Peschiera. The principal mass of the Imperial Army stood in front of Verona, the right-wing anchored at Santa Lucia, and the left at Tomba. The intention of General Kray was to tighten the French left and to surround it. For this and to distract Scherer’s attention the Austrian general sent a cavalry detachment to the Po river with orders to reach Ostiglia.
Part of the battleground of that lands was almost surrounded by the Adige, like an island. On right bank of this river, was a plain which extended from the Montebaldo peak until Villa-Franca, Azzano, Magnano, San-Giacomo and Legnago. The nothern part of this plain was a slightly rough ground, with an incredible network of orchards and vineyards, of which the eye could not discover the end. The stony ground made it possible to limit all the properties with small dry stonewalls, that formed, around the villages, a maze easily adapted for defensive actions. South of Magnano, the lower ground, was crossed by an infinite pattern of small brooks which flooded into the Tartaro and Menago creeks. This plain was cut by a multitude of ditches and irrigation canals, whose edges were protected by sandy dams. The military deployments was very difficult there, maybe impossible; there the cavalry was more embarrassing that useful; artillery was hard to move.
Army Center – General de Division Jean Victor Marie Moreau
HQ Settimo (then Magnano)
Moreau advanced his two divisions from Buttapietra to Scudo d’Orlando, a small hamlet with a large walled-farm near Tomba, where 5 battalions were deployed with the heavy artillery. They began an useless bombardment (from a distance of 800 m). Quickly evaluating the situation Moreau decided to act without waiting Scherer’s orders. At 11.00 a.m. Montrichard took Scudo d’Orlando with a bayonet charge without totally clearing Austrian resistance. Into a small group of “cascine” (small country house that in Italy form a little hamlet called Contrada) remained the 1st Battalion Klebek besieged until 1.00 p.m. Behind that houses was Division Zoph. Seeing the problems from the Austrian right, General Prince Hohenzollern gathered a column of 1200 men scattered on a line 5 km long to defend the Dossobuono line. Around 4.00 or 5.00 p.m. the Republicans massed in front of San Massimo redoubt. Heavy rains threatened any moment. Alarmed by the French advance, Kray moved forward the Sommariva Reserve to support Zoph and Hohenzollern while General Zach left Verona at the head of a grenadier battalion to hit the French flank in front of San Zeno.
General Moreau’s Corps formed into two parts: a left wing (General Hatry) and a right wing (General Montrichard). It had to move in a northwestern direction, the left towards Sommacampagna and then San Massimo, the right towards Verona. As told, Moreau decided to launch his right wing (Montrichard) towards San Massimo in the attempt to break the Austrian northern lines; however this manoeuver determined a large gap between the French center and the right wing (Victor). This had to be filled by Delmas, unluckily still lost in the swamps. During the eraly hours of the night Moreau was reached by Musnier who told about the “debacle” of the right wing and ordered the retreat onto Vigasio for all three division of the army Center.
Left Wing Division General Jacques-Maurice Hatry
Orders: advance to Sommacampagna and then right front against San Massimo
Chief of Staff: Chef-de-brigade Francois-Nicolas Fririon|
Adjudant généraux: Henri-François-Marie Charpentier & Jean-Baptiste Solignac
1 ½ platoon
Starting from Castel d’Azzano, Hatry made his advance, as ordered, but was delayed by intense skirmisher activity (Zoph Division) with the support of the St. Julien Austrian infantry.
Avantgarde Brigade Jean-Baptiste Solignac
3rd Piedmontese Line Demi-Brigade: Chef Jean-Baptiste Solignac
Brigade Henri-François-Marie Charpentier
21e Demi-Brigade de Ligne : one battalion
33e Demi-Brigade de Ligne
7e Régiment de Dragons : Chef Laverand
Right Wing Division General Joseph Elie Desiré Perruquet de Montrichard
Orders: advance north towards Sommacampagna (changed in advance towards Verona – at Scudo d’Orlando)
Brigade Generals: Partounneaux, Gardanne
Adjudants généraux: Pierre-Augustine Hulin, Jacques-Pierre-Marie-Joseph Vicomte de Puthod, Latache, Amilkar Kosinski (Polish Legion) and Claude Joseph Buget.
Light Foot Artillery
After the attack at Scudo d’Orlando also the right division was directed towards San Massimo like Hatry. The approaching march was very slow for the irregular terrain and above all for the Austrian resistance at Dossobuono. The village was taken in the late afternoon (after 5.00 p.m.) so leaving very few opportunities for a French attack against San Massimo, 3 km away. The Austrian counterattack cleared Dossobuono at dusk even as Partounneaux defended the village very strongly. The 9th Chasseurs deployed in line to contain the advance by the Austrians while near San Massimo the French could camp without no troubles other than a short, cold, heavy shower around 9.30 P.M.
Brigade Adj-Général comte Louis Partounneaux
3e Demi-Brigade de Ligne (one battalion) : Chef Martilliere
I Battalion 2nd Polish Legion (Dembovsky battalion)
Chef-de-bataillon Louis Dembowski was promoted to chef de la Légion, captain Krolikiewicz was promoted Chef-de-bataillon and Lieutenants Enenti Zefferyn, Reinhold and Modzelewski became Captains. After the battle, the 1st Battalion had orders to cover the division’s retreat.
9e Régiment Chasseurs-à-Cheval : Chef Gardane
Brigade General Gaspard-Amédée Gardanne
5e Demi-Brigade de Ligne: Chef Le Feron
14e Demi-Brigade de Ligne: Chef Jean-Claude Moreau
3e Régiment Chasseurs-à-Cheval: Chef Salomon de Moulineuf
11e Hussards Régiment: (4 Squadrons) Chef Ismert
Reserve Division General Antoine-Guillaume-Maurailhac Delmas
Marched from Sanguinetto to Buttapietra
Adjudant-généraux: Adj. Gen. Jean Baptiste Paul Gastine, Claude-Antoine chevalier de Préval
Généraux-de-brigade: Louis-Gabriel Monnet de Lorbeau, baron Charles-Louis-Dieu Donné Grandjean
Delmas entered the battlefield when Hatry had just begun the artillery fire. However not understanding the suggestions received by Italian countrymen he met along the way, he lost himself between swamps and fields, reaching the front too late around 12.00-1.00 p.m. After having reached Buttapietra, he was attacked by the Austrians avant-guards but, after a short skirmish combat Delmas continued the march towards Magnano. General Scherer now was with him. The battle against Kaim Kolonne was initially successful, but all changed around 5.30 p.m. Following the repulse of the French right wing, a strong Austrian column, led by Generals Kray and Chasteler, came from San Giovanni hitting Delmas on his right flank. The French were pushed back to Buttapietra and engaged until the evening.
Artillery Brigade: Chef-de-bataillon François Alexis Guyonnet-Pambour
Light foot artillery
(4 5 pounders gun)
Heavy foot artillery
(1 5 inch Howitzer – 2 8 pounderguns)
(1 12 pounder gun – 2 5 inch howitzers
(2 6 inch howitzers – 2 6 pounder guns – 2 8 pounder guns)
1 – ½ platoon
Avantgarde Brigade Général Louis-Gabriel Monnet de Lorbeau
Grenadiers battalion of 93e Chef-de-Bataillon Charles-Sebastien Marion
31e Demi-Brigade de LigneChef Monnet de Lorbeau
Polish Brigade Général Franciszek Ksawery Rymkiewicz
II Battalion 2nd Polish Legion (Wielhorsky battalion)
III Battalion 2nd Polish Legion (Zagorsky battalion)
At Magnano around 300 Polish “legionnaires” were killed. Lieutenants Zefferyn and Lysakowski, Cyprien Godebski, brother of those killed on March 26, were severely wounded. Generale Moreau personally witnessed the Polish valour and named Rymkiewicz general-de-brigade, on the battlefield, if his death did not permit it. General Rymkiewicz died some days after for the hard wounds suffered. Before the last breath he had time to say these words “Why Destiny did not allow me to die in my Fatherland?”
In the second battalion was killed Lieutenant Wiaskowski, while Captain Kirkor and Lieutenant Berensdorf were wounded. In the third battalion Captain Daszkiewicz and Lieutenant Paciorkowski died on battlefield. The whole Polish Legion lost about 1000 men (dead, wounded and prisoners). The Adjudant-général Kosinski withdrew with the remnants of the two battalions towards Nogara, where they arrived on April 6, guarding a large artillery train directed to Mantua. At Castellaro, Kosinski had orders from général Delmas to protect the Molinella bridge and to support the division retreat. On April 7, the 2nd battalion marched to Due-Castelli, while Kosinski with the 3rd to Roverbella. When the whole army took position behind Molinella Creek, Kosinski had orders to occupy, on April 8, with that battalion and a French detachment, Rotta-Vecchia, near Marengo and not far from the Mincio towards Castellaro. On 22 germinal (April 11), during the night, the whole army begun again to retreat, so the Polish Legion received the fatal order to reach Mantua to garrison the fortress under général Foissac-Latour.
1st Line Brigade Général Charles-Louis-Dieu Donné Grandjean
6e Demi-Brigade légère: one battalion
93e Demi-Brigade de Ligne: one battalion
2nd Line Brigade Adjudant-Général Claude-Antoinede Préval
6e Demi-Brigade légère: Chef-de-brigade Girardelet
93e Demi-Brigade de Ligne: Chef-de-brigade Varennes
1ére Régiment Hussards: two squadrons
6e Régiment Hussards: two squadrons
Cavalry Brigade Marc-Antoine Beaumont comte de la Bonninière
3e Régiment de Cavalerie: Chef Meunier
1ére Régiment Hussards: Chef Picard
6e Régiment Hussards: Chef de la Roche
The Right Wing Disaster
Division de gauche General Claude-Victor Perrin
Orders: move to San Giacomo, San Giovanni and Pozzo. Block southern Verona side.
Chief of Staff: Gén. Jacques Blondeau Adjudants: Adjudant général François Argod
The approach march of the French Right Wing was very slow. Only at 10.00 a.m. the force was concentrated around Raldon. They advanced north in four columns engaging the Austrians at 11.00 a.m., south of Pozzo. The battle began against Austrian infantry from Regiments 28 and 24. Deployed with thick ranks, the Austrians, were an easy target for musket and gun fire. The IR 28 were soon disordered, retreating “over” the IR 24 and a cavalry duel between Austrians Light Dragoons and French-Piedmontese begun. Around 12.00 hours the whole ercandin column was defeated and retreating: the field marshal died on the battlefield. Victor advanced against San Giacomo and took the hamlet. Around 16.00 p.m. Kray counterattacked leaving the Lusignan Reserve to harass the left flank of Victor and leading a reinforcements group to the assault the central point of the French line, where the two divisions linked together. Victor Division was shocked and begun to withdraw towards Raldon. This left San Giovanni and Grenier’s right uncovered deciding the fate of the whole battle.
Piedmontese Light artillery brigade (2 Companies)
2 Batteries ?? left in Mantua
Foot artillery (heavy)
4 Batteries left in Mantua
1½ platoon left in Mantua
Avant-Garde Detachment François Argod
1st Swiss Legion (légion helvétique): chef Barthés
Brigade Général Maurizio Ignazio Frésia baron of Oglianico
2nd and 4th Piedmontese Dragoons Regiments: (8 Squadrons)
1st Squadron Piedmontese Carabiniers
Brigade Général Jean-Joseph-Magdelaine Pijon (alias Pigeon)
56e Demi-Brigade de Ligne: Chef Morel
18e Regimentde Cavalerie: (3 Squadrons) Chef Denis Terreyre
Brigade Général Jacques-Antoine Chambarlhac de Laubespin
92e Demi-Brigade de Ligne: Chef Bruno Albert Duplouy
99e Demi-Brigade de Ligne: Chef Georges Mouton
Death of General Pijon
The agony of the Republican right wing concluded shortly before evening with the yield of the entire 56e line demi-brigade, episode on which we have two opposite versions. According to Jomini, the brigade found Villafontana already occupied by enemy units that had come down from Vallese; its commander, General Pijon, one of the heroes of the first campaign of Italy , gave immediate orders to conquer the town with the bayonet. The action was however a failure and the soldiers, all totally demoralized, broke from their ranks and fled killing those officers who tried to rally units, and during these dramatic instants Pijon was mortally hit. It is not clear if from a friend or enemy bullet. According to Gachot the matter went in very different way: the brigade found Villafontana already occupied, but it put their weapons on the ground without shooting a single shot. At this point Pijon tried – after having collected a gun – to open a passage between the enemy rows. The general fell finally mortally hurt. The surrender of the 56e was the last event of the day; the incoming of the darkness allowed the French units, that was not able to rally in a minimum of order, to continue the withdrawal until Isola della Scala and therefore to camp beyond the Tartaro. The Austrians occupied Casalbergo and pushed some patrols until Isola della Scala.
Division de droit General Paul Grenier
Orders: move north towards Verona from Mazzagatta-Villafontana area
Adjudant-généraux: count baron de Quesnel du Torpt , Chef George Kister
General Grenier slowed march the right wing. In the early hours of April, 5 his division was still moving from the area Villafontana – Mezzagatta. At 10 a.m. he reached the Raldon area where he established contact with Victor. After the Pozzo battle Grenier drove his troops against San Giovanni and conquered the town. During the Austrian counterattack of the afternoon Grenier left San Giovanni retreating to Raldon. The division had to retreat towards Raldon, after having lost its avant-gard. It rallied behind the channel, a half-league from Raldon. There it started a sharp bombardment to give Victor the time to slip by on Mezzagatta.
Light foot artillery (2 Companies)
Heavy foot artillery
1 ½ platoon
Right Wing – Brigade Jean-Dominique Compans
2e légion helvétique: Chefs-de-bataillon Jayet and Jounquiere
24e Demi-Brigade de Ligne: Général de brigade George Kister
Left Wing – Brigade
François-Jean-Baptiste baron de Quesnel du Torpt
17e Demi-Brigade Légère: Chef Fornésy
106e Demi-Brigade de Ligne
24th Chasseurs-à-Cheval Regiment