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The 1799 Campaign in Italy

The 1799 Campaign in Italy: Macdonald’s Wars in Central Italy and What He Left Behind April-June 1799

By Enrico Acerbi

L’Armée de Naples And Its Long Voyage

 Il ne m’aime pas, mais c’est un homme d’honneur qui a des sentiments élevés et sur le quel je peux, je crois, compter

Bonaparte (about Macdonald)

The Other Garrisons: Naples 

The French controlled the Kingdom of Naples and, after the inquiry by some high officers, among whose was the army commander Championnet, the new Chief became the General Etienne-Jacques-Joseph-Alexandre Macdonald. Macdonald realized all the disadvantages of remaining in a country threatened by insurrections, and where he could not hope to receive aid. Subordinated to General Scherer, the Naples general received orders to evacuate the kingdom of Naples, and to go to Lombardy as quickly as possible. Macdonald had, thus, initially transmitted to General Olivier the order to give up the province of Pouille (Puglia), because that general, being too far from Naples, had to move quickly to join together with the main army, already gathered under the walls of the capital.

General Sarrazin, successor of Broussier in the command of the Division Olivier (former Duhesme, who was being court-martialed with Championnet), consequently evacuated the town of Brindisi near Otranto, where he had just gone, to remove an insurgent party, which unceasingly harassed the French troops. The remainder of the division, under the direction of General Olivier, followed this movement, the next day. On April 17, the avant-garde occupied Nola and Polignano. The Division was, on 20 April, in Cerignola and Foggia, where it remained,  It was from here Olivier sent to General Coutard the order to evacuate the Abruzzi and to withdraw, with its troops, straight to Florence to await there the other brigades. Lastly, on April 24, Genéral Olivier took camp in Avellino and there awaited the later Macdonald orders.

As the time came to abandon Naples, the general-in-chief had already taken  measures to ensure the peace in the capital. The day before of his departure, he summoned a great assembly of citizens  to warn them they had to act as Neapolitans. Several taxes, which weighed on lower classes of people, were removed, a new constitution was published; finally, in his last proclamation addressed to the Neapolitan people, Macdonald suggested they  maintain the peace in Naples.

At the same time of the Pouille and other provincial evacuations, the insurrection had burst with violent movements around Avellino, so that General Olivier was force to take countermeasures. A column, made up of two battalions of  the 7th Light, one of the 76th, three chasseurs squadrons and a light artillery company, was sent to Nola, for the purpose of dispersing the insurgents gathering there. This column was insufficient, so Olivier supported it with the 64th Line and by a battalion of the 8th Light. These troops joined together, attacked and were able to disperse the insurgents after a rather vigorous resistance. During the night from 27 to 28 April, General Sarrazin advanced on Naples with an infantry and cavalry column; Macdonald returned from Caserta to Naples, and, at the tower of Annonciade, ordered all the provisions necessary to push back the enemy disembarked at Castellamare (some Sicilian troops with a British detachment) . In the meaning, Sarrazin had arrived on the edges of Sarno creek, and advanced to attack the Insurgents. Those troops of Sicily, brought by the English, had blocked the road with artillery; but the French, passing by the gardens, turned the batteries, attacked their flank, and, after having collapsed the insurrectionists, managed to return to the fort. While this occurred, another French column, under the orders of General Watrin, had moved on Cava, Vietri and Salerno to dispersed another gathering which was formed on this point. A recently disembarked British detachment formed the core of it (to extend the fire of the insurrection the British  recruited in the name of the king of Two-Sicilies, organizing regiments, distributing weapons and ammunition. Watrin beat them and all the artillery, the weapons and the ammunitions, disembarked by the British, fell into the hands of the French troops. After these two clashes, the Generals Watrin and Sarrazin came to join the headquarters at Caserta, where they arrived at the head of the Olivier Division. However precious time was lost.

Macdonald  realized he had not longer to delay his withdrawal and, on May 7, left Caserta, leaving garrisons in the forts of Naples,  Capua, Gaeta and Pescara. The army moved in  two columns: the first, the two divisions Olivier and Lemoine, took the right road through San Germano and Isola; the second, the Head-Quarters, the large artillery park, the reserve and the cavalry division, followed the left road, known as the “Marina” road, because it came away from the sea shore. The Olivier Division, at the head of the right column, bivouacked, on May 10, in a village on a hill. The following day, the avantgarde of this division, while emerging in the plain in front of San Germano, was engaged with a very strong artillery fire, coming from this small village, occupied by the insurrectionists. Olivier, Watrin and the adjudant general Thiébault went ahead with a chasseur squadron and some light artillery, to reconoiter the enemy positions. A howitzer, which fired upon the town, put some houses on fire and, frightening  the insurgents, who rashly gave up the town. The two divisions, Olivier and Lemoine, bivouacked, the 11, in Arce, and went the following day on Isola (Liri) in the Latium (Lazio region). This town, a strong position how its name indicates (Isola=Island), was on the right bank of Garigliano River. The local insurgents had their HQs there. The French seized the town with great difficulty; it was impossible to ford the Garigliano and it was the only point by where artillery, the ambulances and the baggage of two divisions could carry out their passage.

The Republican Forces Left Behind:  Naples

Naples French garrison


27th Light Demi-Brigade: I – III Battalions; Chef-de-brigade Louis-Joseph Méjan (or Méjean)


( ?? Louis-Joseph 9.11.1763- CdB in 1796) commander of the place and Fort Sant’Elmo at Naples

Platoon Chasseurs 5th Light Demi-Brigade 


Polish Platoon (rallied stragglers)


On January 23, 1799 the Parthenopaean Republic or Repubblica Napoletana was proclaimed. The name Parthenope referred to the name of the ancient Greek colony. The Republic had a weak constituency in the Naples district, and existed mainly due to the support of the French Army. The Republic’s leaders were primarily men of culture and they cared very little about the lower classes. The new government was able only to publish an official act about the abolition of the primogeniture right and, in April, a law about the abolition of the feudalism. A project of a new Constitution Act remained unpublished for the brutal course of the past events. The major failure was the vain attempts to “democratise” the far provinces, while they had some success in the organization of their republican army: the Guardia Nazionale Napolitana. Its major opponent was Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo [1] (and the British “money”), a wealthy and influential prelate, who was sent to Calabria to organize a counter-revolution. He raised a new peasant army boasting a name such as “Christian army of the Holy Faith” (Esercito Cristiano della Santa Fede), from where the name of Sanfedisti, given to its “soldiers”. With the French withdrawal the Sanfedisti (also called Lazzaroni “very poor people”) seized the countryside,   plundering, burning and massacring.

As said, some British units disembarked near Naples, leading the rebellion. An English squadron approached Naples and occupied the island of Procida, but after a few engagements with the Republican fleet commanded by Admiral Francesco Caracciolo, a former officer in the Bourbon navy, it was recalled to Palermo in Sicily, leaving open the door to a brutal repression. Ruffo, supported by Russian and Turkish ships under command of Admiral Ushakov, marched on the capital, where the French, except for a small force under Méjean, had withdrew. The scattered Republican detachments were defeated, one after the other. Naples republicans resisted until June 1799, then the worst brutality took the scene over.

The Law  of 7 February 1799 stated the organization of the National Neapolitan Guard. It had a Residential branch, in which all male citizens were virtually enrolled, and which comprised the siege artillery. It had the Active branch, the soldiers of which enrolled as volunteers (almost all of those citizens were massacred by the repression of the Holy Catholic Army!).  As for the Truth, the Cardinal disagreed with the violence, which was all under the responsibility of the King. In a letter to Admiral Nelson, dated April 30, 1799, Cardinal Ruffo wrote: “If we show that we want only to put on trial and to punish … we close the path to conciliation… Is clemency perhaps a fault? No, some will say—but it is dangerous. I don’t believe that, and with some caution I believe it preferable to punishment.” [2]

The National Guard was composed by six legions (Each Legion had: 1 chief of Legion, 1 1st Class Flagbearer (alfiere maggiore), 16 musicians, 2 battalions), raised in the city quarters (actually Naples was a large city). Each legion had two battalions (Total  battalion: 1 chief of battalion, 6 companies), every battalion had six companies  (Each company had: 1 chieftain, 1 1st class sergeant, 1 1st Class adjudant trainer, 4 lieutenants, 4 sergeants, 16 corporals, 128 men), every company  had 4 platoons (Each platoon: 1 lieutenant, 1 sergeant, 4 corporals and 32 men) and each platoon had 4 sections (Totals section: 8 men and 1 corporal).  This organizations were only on paper due to the great lack of volunteers.

On 7 Ventose 1799 the Temporary Government named Agamennone Spanò first commander of the National Guard and Gennaro Serra second in command. The chefs-de-battaillon were: Francisco Davalos, Francisco Grimaldi, Giuseppe Schipani, Flaminio Scale, Giuseppe Sciudi, Antonio Pineda. They had to be twelve, one for each of the twelve quarters of Naples in order to recruit 72 companies. The uniform was completely blue (also the lining), buttons in golden metal with written “Neapolitan Republic”, the collars and cuffs yellow with red lapels, yellow shirt and blue pants (sometimes with buskins). Everyone had the Tricorne hat, with the blue, red and yellow national plume. This was the Neapolitan republican order of battle when Macdonald marched northwards.

General in Chief and War-Minister of the Republic Gabriele Manthonè[3]

National Neapolitan Guard Cmdr.: Generale Francesco Bassette

Neapolitan infantry

* Numbers were merely estimate for there was a great trend to desert the ranks

Divisione di Puglia  Cdr: General Pasquale Matera[4]


I Neapolitan Legion or Abruzzi Legion chief Ettore Carafa[5]                   

800 (140 at Pescara)

II Neapolitan Legion or  Sannitica Legion chief Antonio Belpulsi[6]   


Legione Salentina


Legione Lucana


Divisione di Calabria Cdr: General Agamennone Spanò[7]


Legione Campana Legion Chief Giuseppe Schipani [8]


Legione Calabra


Legione Volturna


Legione Bruzia




Neapolitan Cavalry  General baron Francesco Federici [9]


Had 3 regiments each with 12 companies  of 54 men and 3 officers

Adjudant: Ferdinando Pignatelli prince of Strangoli  born at Naples on 21 September 1769  Executed in Naples on 30  September 1799
Artillery Neapolitan Commander Castiglia 
Republican Navy Cdr.: Admiral Francesco Caracciolo[10]

Gaeta. Gaeta is located between Rome and Naples.  An ancient castle  reigns over the town. Mt. Orlando is the boundary of the ancient area.   The fortress – which has been besieged some 70 times since the Fall of Rome, was held by a garrison of  up to 6000 men. In 1799 most the troops were ill-armed and ill-trained, some of them were wounded soldiers who need some recover. Gaeta garrison  was part of the French Capua Division, with its HQs at Capua, as its name suggests. The Lazzaroni bands were the Lords of the Countryside. The famous brigands Michele Pezza called “Fra Diavolo” [11], Mammone and others harassed the territory and disturbed the French retreat.

Gaeta Garrison Chef-de-brigade Jean-Marie Berger 1500

7th Light Demi-brigade Chef-de-brigade Jean-Marie Berger

I Battalion

8th Light Demi-brigade

I Battalion

11th Regiment Chasseurs à cheval Detachment 30 2 artillery sections  

Capua. In 1799 it was the military capital of the Republic.

Capua Division Général-de-brigade Antoine-Alexandre Girardon [12]
Brigadiers: at Naples – Chef-de-brigade Louis-Joseph Méjan, capo Legione Belpulsi, Chef-de-brigade Quarante (artillery)

Capua Garrison 2200

64th Line Demi-brigade – Chef-de-brigade Hugues Charlot [13] I-II-III Battalions


2nd Cisalpine infantry demi-brigade (part of) the 7e Legion and the II btn David


11th Regiment Chasseurs à cheval Detachment


5e Compagnie des Mineurs Capitaine Pietri


Sappers Company


North African Workers (Turkish prisoners)


Artillery Company 


Soldiers and NCOs ill or wounded  (300 of which recovered and were fit to fight)









[1] Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo (1744—1827) figures prominently in the history surrounding the short-lived Neapolitan (or Parthenopean) Republic of 1799; he was the one who formed and led the loyalist Army of the Holy Faith in its campaign to retake the kingdom of Naples from the forces of the Revolution. He was born at San Lucido in Calabria in 1744, son of Litterio Ruffo, duke of Baranello. He was educated by his uncle, the cardinal Thomas Ruffo, as a result of which he gained the favor of Giovanni Angelo Braschi di Cesera, who in 1775 became Pope Pius VI. Ruffo became a member of the papal civil and financial service and was created a cardinal in 1791, though he had never been a priest.  He then went to Naples where he was named administrator of the royal domain of Caserta. When  the French troops advanced on Naples in in December 1798, Ruffo fled to Palermo with the royal family.   He was chosen to head a royalist movement in Calabria with the goal of advancing north on Naples and overthrowing the revolutionary government. He landed at La Cortona on February 8, 1799 and began to raise the “Army of the Holy Faith,” organizing for his cause the aid of well-known Calabrian bandits such as Fra Diavolo and Nicola Gualtieri, known as “Panedigrano”. It is impossible to find an impartial statement about the conduct of Ruffo’s army as it marched north. On the one hand, he is described as somewhat of a Robin Hood, out to free his kingdom from the French. On the other hand, he is said to have done very little to prevent his bandit army from killing and pillaging as they went. Supporters point to Republican atrocities, as well.  Perhaps all that can be said is that neither side was particularly interested in taking prisoners. Whatever the case, by June, Ruffo’s army had advanced to the city of Naples. When the French army occupying the city in support of the Republic withdrew to the north, the revolution was doomed.

Ruffo helped the surrender of the city to his forces, guaranteeing safe passage to those members of the Republican government who wanted to sail for France . Clemency was not to be, and Ruffo was then genuinely outraged when his guarantee was violated by the King of Naples, Ferdinand (certainly at the behest of Queen Caroline), who had the refugees removed from ships in the harbor, returned to prison, and put on trial. Ruffo, himself, was part of the tribunal that was now to sit in judgment on the revolutionaries. He was so inclined to be forgiving and lenient that the King removed him from the tribunal. The French, under Napoleon, retook the Kingdom of Naples in 1806 and stayed until Napoleon’s ultimate defeat almost 10 years later. Interestingly, Ruffo stayed in Naples during the French decade. He apparently lived calmly and undisturbed by the French, who might have had reason to act otherwise toward their former enemy. When the Bourbons were again restored to the throne of Naples, Ruffo  took a ministerial post in the government and again became a confidante of the same King, Ferdinand IV (now known as Ferdinand I)  whom he had aided so many years earlier. Ruffo died in 1827 in Naples. Source:

[2] Quoted in Il Risorgimento Napoletano (1799-1860) Pironti, Lucio. Collana Ricciardiana II. Libreria Lucio Pironto. Naples. 1993.

[3] Gabriele Manthoné, general and Neapolitan patriot. (Pescara 1764 – Napoli 1799). He was of noble origins, from Savoy. After having completed his studies in Naples Royal Military Academy he acted, from 1789 to 1798, as superintendent of the National Weapons Factory at Torre Annunziata. He embraced the revolutionary ideology, in 1799 he was one of the 25 Members of the First Provisional Government of the newborn republic. Then he was named War Minister of the Parthaenopean Republic, Navy Minister and, finally, Commander in Chief of the republican army. He defended the Republic from the attacks of Cardinal Ruffo’s bands till the last moments. After the capitulation he was arrested, condemned to death and hanged (September 24, 1799).

[4] General Pasquale Matèra , italian Jacobin (Born at Sortino, Siracusa, 1768 – dead at Napoli 1799). He was sent, almost a boy, to Palermo to study Medicine and there he had some contacts with the Masonry. Then he was at Naples and, after a short time, in Rome where he became close to the diplomatic representatives of France and the democratic groups. For this friendships he was forced to leave the Papal States travelling to Marseille in France . In the period 1793-1796 he participated in the Maritimes Alpes campaign with the French, as field adjudant of general Laharpe. He was also in Tirol and, in January-February 1798 he took part in the campaign for Rome. There he became one of most important representatives of the Roman Republic. As personal friend of generals Berthier and Joubert, in 1799, he put his experience at the service of the Neapolitan Republic where he was named general of division, having the task to organize and modernize the new army. After the capitulation of Naples, he was arrested and condemned to death by the State Committee. The sentence was applied on October 10, 1799.

[5] Chef-de-Legion Ettore Carafa, count of Ruvo, born in Andria, near Bari, on August 10, and executed in Naples on September 4 1799.

[6] Chef-de-Legion Giovanni Antonio Belpulsi. Born at St. Martino, priest of Larino Cathedral, as well as Eloquence Lecturer in the diocesan Seminary, writer and poet, and also soldier of the Republic. In 1796 he participated at the first Italian campaign, very close to Bonaparte’s Staff, as young Officer and translator. Nobody knows why he was with Championnet in 1799, when he gave his dismissal from the French army to pass in the Neapolitan National Guard. The War Minister was very glad to have him at the own service and awarded Belpulsi with the rank of Colonel (Chef-de-Legion) giving him the command of the Legione Sannitica, ready to march towards the Molise region. The expeditionnary Corps, however, was organized too late to move and never left Naples. During the repression period he escaped to the executioner either by hiding himself in the middle of retreating French or (as for some sources like Colletta and Dumas) remaining into Sant’Elmo and being used as an hostage by the iniquitous Chef Mejean, in order to exchange prisoners. In every case he was able to evade and to leave Naples reaching Benevento. There, disguised as a coalman, he reached Isernia in Molise, living there for five monthe as a “clochard”. In 1800 he recovered himself in his birth-town San Martino, from where he travelled to France , entering again in the French army. In 1802 he was arrested in Paris and accused of a plot organized to disembark a “commando” at Termoli (Molise), from where he had to seize Foggia and Lucera raising a rebellion. The plot seemed having being payed from London, the “command” also being British, probably to try to retrieve the Two-Sicilies under a British Protectorate. The traitor spent his last days in a some French prison and the date of his

[7] General of Division Agamennone Spanò, Italian patriot, (born at Reggio di Calabria  around 1756 – dead in Napoli 1799). He served under the Borbonic army as Major of the “Real Napoli” regiment, took part at the 1798 campaign fighting against the French. After the proclamation of the Neapolitan Republic, he changed the side, swore for the Government and led the Legione Campana with bravery against the Cardinal Ruffo’s squads. He became general of division and first commander of the National Guard. Blocked in Naples by the Lazzaroni, he was arrested, condemned to death and hung.

[8] Chef-de- Legion Giuseppe Schipani Duke of Diano (Salerno), an experienced Colonel, led a Legion as general. He was taken in the Ischia island by insurgents and executed on July 19, 1799 at the age of 60 years.

[9] Baron Francesco Federici  Marquis de Pietrastornina, born in Naples in 1735,  Cavalry general. Executed at Naples on October 23, 1799.

[10] Admiral Francesco Caracciolo, (Naples 1752-1799). He entered, very young, in the Neapolitan Navy. Served in a British vessel participating in the American War of Independence. Then he obtained the command of a  xebec and after a frigate, distinguishing himself fighting Pirates of Algiers and Tunis. In 1793 he led four Neapolitan vessels, under British Admiral Hood, fighting the French at Toulon and during the Corsican disembarkment. He was brave and experienced, a true “Sea Wolf”, and was early promoted Admiral, escorating the Neapolitan Royal Family to Sicily with a naval division. He was almost disturbed by the King’s choice to travel on Nelson’s ship. He was also very sorry for the Nelson’s order to activate the self distruction of the Neapolitan fleet and was also forced to disarm his own ship at Messina in Sicily. Then he asked the King in order to obtain a recovering period to attend his properties in Naples. He was in the city few weeks after the proclamation of the Republic (January 23, 1799). Welcome with a lot of enthusiasm and respect, he was asked to lead the Republican Navy and, after some doubts, he accepted the new task. His fleet, however, had only small ships but he fought with bravery against the superior vessels of the King and of Britain , having some part also against the Cardinal Ruffo bands. With the capitulation he was captured and condemned to death. He asked to die by shooting, but the King decided to hang him up on a tree of the sicilian frigate Minerva. Someone said Nelson had a direct responsibilty in that kind of execution. This made him a martyr and an hero of the revolution.       

[11] More renowned for the great 1933 Laurel and Hardy movie, The Devil’s Brother— or– Fra Diavolo, which had a different environment and story, the real Fra Diavolo (Brother Devil) was born Michele Pezza in the late 1770s in Itri, not far from Gaeta about 60 miles north of Naples. In 1797 he fled his town to avoid prosecution for having murdered his employer in a squabble. He took up the life of the bandit. He was, then, one of the first to answer King Ferdinand’s call for aid from such outlaws to help retake the kingdom of Naples from the revolutionary government of the Neapolitan Republic, which had successfully sent the Bourbon monarchy  packing to Sicily in 1799. He went to Sicily  where he was well received by the King and Queen. He was made a Captain in the Bourbon army and returned north where he landed his force of 400 men near Gaeta. He spent the next 6 months harassing the Republican forces and the French troops supporting them. He and his men conducted themselves with such savagery that Cardinal Ruffo, the leader of the royalist Army of the Holy Faith, forbade them from entering centers of large population for fear of the butchery that might ensue. Source:

[12] Général-de-brigade Antoine-Alexandre Girardon (Born on February 1, 1758 – died from a disease taken during the siege of Gaeta on December 5, 1806). Commander of the Legion d’Honneur- June 14, 1804. On July 22, 1794 he was promoted Chef-de-bataillon at the 17e demi-brigade “de bataille”. In March (11) 1796 he was transferred to the 12e demi-brigade “de bataille” and in December (14) of the same year he took the provisional command of the unit as Chef-de-brigade. The rank was suggested by general Bonaparte and was confirmed on March 4, 1797. Then he began his “adventure” in Italy as place-commander in Venice from September 24, 1797 to January 7, 1798. Successively he served in the Armée de Rome in 1798. In 1799 he was named Général-de-brigade (April 29) “à titre provisoire”. The nomination was suggested by Macdonald himself to make “sweeter the pill” he had to swallow when he got the order to remain, alone, at Capua. The rank was confirmed on October 19, 1799. He returned in France , weakened, and had a place command of the Departments Maine-et-Loire and, after, Mayenne (from March 29, 1801). Named general de division on February 1, 1805 he was employed as chief of the 2nd territorial division of 13th military District (from March 2, 1805). Completely recovered from the physical troubles he was recalled on active duty by September 19, 1805, as commander of the 3rd infantry division of the armée d’Italie and took his personal revenge besieging Gaeta, where, however, he fell again ill. He retired on October 10, 1805 and died during the next year.

[13] Chef-de-Brigade Hugues Charlot, Born: 10 June 1757. Chef-de-Brigade: 6 November 1796 (63e Demi-Brigade d’Infanterie). Chef-de-Brigade: 22 October 1797 (64e Demi-Brigade d’Infanterie). General-de-Brigade: 29 August 1803. Commander of the Legion d’Honneur: 14 June 1804. Baron of the Empire: 6 September 1811. Died: 18 December 1821.

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