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The 1799 Campaign in Italy

The 1799 Campaign in Italy: The Last Battles & the End of the Directory’s Wars August-December 1799

By Enrico Acerbi

Bonaparte’s Return and the End of the French Revolution

General Bonaparte, after his oriental campaign (Egypt), avoiding all British frigates and cruisers in the Mediterranean Sea, disembarked at Saint-Raphaël de Frejus (October 14, 1799). His entrance in Paris was a triumph, followed by the boasting compliments of the Directoire. The news revived the troops at the fronts. The Antibes Administration, for example, so wrote to the Grasse District:

Nous avons eu connaissance du debarquement de Bonaparte. Nous en avons publié la nouvelle à la suite des avantages remportés par Masséna, en Helvétie. Une illumination géneral a eu lieu parmi les cris de joie de toute la population. Ce matin, nous avons mis en place le convoi de Génes charge des pieces d’artillerie de l’armée d’Italie, qui a passé malgré la surveillance des croisieres anglaises.”

Considering Antibes as part of the lines of communications of the Italy’s army, a town directly involved in that critical time, this example, as many others, can be a witness of the social impact of the general’s return in France. Enthusiasm spread throughout France as soon as word came that Napoleon was back. In Nevers, conscripts who had refused to join their regiments changed their minds. Not only the soldiers, but also the common people rejoiced at the return of the great general. This raised the national morale, revived the hopes and otherwise … forced some generals, like Championnet, to show the best of themselves on the battlefield.

In October 1799, France was inexorably sliding towards disorder. The situation was evocative of 13 Vendémiaire (October 5, 1795), the first time Bonaparte rescued the republic and civil peace. The political regime had to change as soon as possible to prevent an explosion that would have made the nation weak with the enemies and that would have seen a larger growth of the Vendée, a fire extinguished at the time. Sustained by popular support, Bonaparte did his utmost to defend republican legality. Napoleon had three alternatives. He promptly discarded the idea of allying with the corrupt band led by the old politician Barras, deciding instead to counteract his management. The second option would have concerned joining forces with the Jacobins, among whom Generals Jourdan and Augereau had a certain influence. He met with them. Aware that the power balance was actually against the Jacobin Party, they agreed to let Bonaparte play the lead part, at least for the earlier times. But Napoleon refused their offers.

But a political change in the top ranks had to be carried out democratically and at the Directory’s own initiative. That is the option Napoleon took, because it combined a formal respect for the Constitution and of the people’s will. The fact went roughly as the will of Bonaparte but it was necessary to disband the Council of 500s in order to obtain the power from the other Chamber (Elders). All happened on November 9 but the name of the “golpe” was the 18 Brumaire, in the Republican Calendar, and the two days after Bonaparte was Consul of France, with Ducos and Sieyes, having in mind to become the first of the Consuls, the most powerful of the three, having the Army. Bernadotte, Moreau and Macdonald did not agree with this political and military operation. Nobody cared of them, they were the losers of the 1799 campaigns!

This, as all said save Napoleon, officially ended the French Revolution, opening a new period, for someone more brilliant for France, for others a tyranny.

St. Cyr’s Advance – Battle at Bosco (or 3rd Novi clash) – October 24, 1799

We left the commander of the Novi Abtheilung (Abteilung), General Karacsaj de Vale Sakam, in a reconnaissance mission over the Monferrato heights, driving his vanguards toward Cairo. The French, immediately, resolved to take advantage by this situation.

On October 5 the Austrian Karacsaj outposts in the gorge between Capriata d’Orba and the Novi plateau left their positions under a French advance, which reached the castle of Tassarolo. Another French column drove toward Pasturana and Basaluzzo, defended by 400 Warasdiners (Croatians) forced to retreat into Novi. General Karacsaj was so forced to invert his march and, with around 4000 men to reach Asti (October 6). The Austrian general continued the reconnaissance toward Cortemilia and Nizza (della Paglia) uncertain if would have better to protect the Appennins passes or if it would be necessary to support the weak Novi garrison. The doubts were cleared by the French advance against Novi (October 7). Karacsaj sent ahead his cavalry, which reached Bosco on October 8, and followed with the infantry, the day after, finding the French deployed between Pozzolo and Novi. Karacsaj camped between Basaluzzo and Fresonara, having the enemy front eastwards. Prudently the French withdrew to more defendable positions, also covering the Bracco pass attack on their left side.

While the powerful Victor Column and Lemoine had driven the central army against the opponent, linking it with part of the left wing (Grenier), St. Cyr had orders to attack from Novi (there for the third time), with a force of only 4000 infantrymen, no cavalry (only some Poles), and no guns. In front of them was the weak Karacsaj Brigade, left by Melas to watch Novi and Tortona. On October 23, the three French divisions of Watrin, Dąbrowsky and Laboissière marched forward, contacted the enemy and pushed back onto the Pasturana hills. When the Poles reached Novi, General Karacsaj was forced to return to his entrenched positions. The 1st Battalion of the 3rd Demi-Brigade, the Polish grenadiers and chasseurs with a squadron of uhlans, under the command of the 3rd Chef Mouton, crossed Novi and entrenched in the gardens of the northern suburbs, toward Pozzolo Formigaro. The 3rd Polish Legion Battalion remained in the town. At this moment, St.Cyr left Laboissière as the reserve, and pushed ahead Watrin on the right wing with orders to move against Pozzolo, and try to encircle the Austrians.

During the morning, General Dąbrowsky was ordered to deploy in the plain and to make a general attack, moving toward Pozzolo. Laboissière began a new attack and Watrin did the same. The head of Watrin’s column (12th and 62nd Line Demi-Brigades – Darnaud) attacked “à pas de charge” supported by the Poles, with the French of the 3rd and 106th Line Demi-Brigades, broke the Austrian cavalry ranks and took some guns (of the 8 Austrian pieces). The enemy retreated slowly, defending every ditch in the ground, till they reached Bosco, where they were concealed in the trenches. At this point Dąbrowsky received an howitzer to support the advance. At Bosco, the Poles formed a column in the left wing with 1st Legion Battalion at the head. The chasseurs were sent at the column left, while the grenadiers marched on the right. Behind the attack column was the 3rd Line Demi-Brigade, also in column. The right wing was formed with one Battalion of the 106th Line, while its 2nd Battalion was in reserve. The howitzer was deployed in the center, between the two French Demi-Brigades. There was no cavalry. At Bosco the Austrian had 12 artillery pieces (4 batteries) a strong infantry line and many cavalrymen. In front of them, facing the Poles, was a plain and immediately behind was the village of Bosco. The divisions of Laboissiére and Watrin cleared the battlefield from Novi to Bosco and deployed, the first along the Orba creek and  the second with the right wing deployed up to some swamps and with the left linked with the Poles; in this way, Bosco, was rather surrounded and the road to Alessandria was completely under control.

General Karacsaj, commander of the Austrian troops, charged the division Laboissiére in such a strong manner the French began to retreat. In the same moment, Saint-Cyr ordered Watrin and Dąbrowsky to begin the attack, as the Austrians just begun to fire their artillery and, observing the French without cavalry, having advanced the guns on the frontline. To those powerful weapons the French answered with an howitzer, alone. Watrin had stood firmly in his position, strongly defending his right, leaning on a light wood and ditches, also if the nearby Laboissiére was at bay. Dąbrowsky so prepared the assault:

– the 2nd Legion Battalion remained in its position

– the 1st Legion Battalion shifted to the right in order to cover the gap between the Poles and the 3rd Line;

– the grenadiers went back a little to align with the chasseurs and the 2nd Battalion.

– the whole division formed 4 columns, two Poles (the left under Wladislas Iablonowski and the right under Chef Stralzkowski) flanked by grenadiers and chasseurs and two French of the 3rd Line (being the 106th Line in reserve as Sty.Cyr had ordered).

The attack begun “à pas de charge” with bayonets and the 2nd Polish infantry hit the Austrian cavalry, disordering it, the grenadiers having followed the movement, assaulted an enemy battery, shooting canisters, and took the guns.

A rallied Austrian squadron, under ObstLeut. Freiherr Andreas Szörenyi, countercharged the infantry and grenadiers in a chaotic melée, not worried by the musketry coming from the Polish chasseurs. That infernal dance of sabres disordered the Poles first line, many fell prisoner, Prince Jablonowski too (which was after rescued at Bosco during the French advance). The 1st Polish Battalion, in the meanwhile, had repulsed the Austrian infantry facing it and forced the enemy guns to recover into Bosco. This was the most relevant moment of the battle. Dąbrowsky ordered the 1st Battalion to attack the rear of the cavalry, which had rather defeated the 2nd Legion Battalion, and ordered a Battalion of the 3rd Line to converge to their left, hitting the same target. 

Saint-Cyr arrived, at the head of his reserve, while the right wing of Watrin advanced and assaulted the enemy with bayonets, repulsing the Austrians towards Bosco. The Austrian cavalry, encircled, had the only option to give up and was made prisoner, while the whole Austrian right wing, which had begun to pursue the Laboissière troops, realizing Bosco was already occupied by the Poles, went back in disorder and began to flee away, along the Orba banks. The Poles quickly advanced to Frugarolo, the 3rd Line to Quattro-cascine and all the French forces moved forward.

The oncoming night saw the French camped at Bosco and Frugarolo (Laboissière), Quattro-cascine and Pozzolo (Polish Division) and Rivalta Scrivia (Watrin). The Austrians had retreated in disorder until Alessandria, rallying themselves on the opposite bank of the Bormida. The losses were heavy: 64 dead, 205 wounded, 564 prisoners, 99 horses lost, and 4 guns captured by the French. The Austrians inflicted 400 killed and wounded, and 800 captured on the French. [i]

Feldbrigade Generalmajor Andreas Freiherr Karacsaj de Vale-Sakam

About 4000

K.K.  28th Line Regiment. Freiherr Michael von Fröhlich I – II and ½ III Battalions.


The III Battalion. at Carrosio (vanguard) – some companies at Brà with Kray

K.K.  34th Hungarian   Line Infantry Regiment (the former Regiment Esterházy) – II Battalion. With Grenadiers


(no Inhaber. The future  Frh. Kraj de Kraiova) Commander: Oberst Johann Hillinger

VII Combined Battalion Grenzregiment Warasdiner of Varazdin


K.K. 5th  Hussar Regiment 8 Squadrons Commander: Oberst Anton Freiherr Revay (in 1800 promoted to Generalmajor) – ObstLeut Freiherr Andreas (András) Szörenyi – Majore: Ferdinand Steingruber and Wilhelm Fulda In Octobet the whole regiment was at Pozzolo Formigaro camp


Bussy Jäger zu Pferd – 4 squadrons –Commander: Johann Maria Philipp Frimont, Graf von Palota [ii]


French Right Wing General Laurent Gouvion de Saint-Cyr

About 5000

2nd Division Watrin
Général-de-Brigade Jacques Darnaud


12th Line Infantry Demi-Brigade – Chef-de-brigade François Vergez


62nd Line Infantry Demi-Brigade – Chef-de-Battalion Villeneuve provisional commander


7th Chasseurs Regiment Detachment –


3rd Division Dąbrowski


Vanguard brigade – Gen.Władysław Jabłonowski


106th Line Infantry Demi-Brigade – grenadiers


3rd Line Infantry Demi-Brigade –3 Battalions.


106th Line Infantry Demi-Brigade – I and II  Battalions.  Chef Jean-Baptiste Perrin


1st Polish Legion 


Polish Legion Uhlans 


4th Division – General Laboissiére


Général Jean-Baptiste du Torpt baron de Quesnel

14th Line Infantry Demi-Brigade – 2 Battalions. – Chef Moreau ??


68th Line Infantry Demi-Brigade – rests of the I Battalion. – Chef-de-Battalion Castel (?)  (the III Battalion was prisoner at Niort with the Chef Boutroue taken prisoner at Novi together with almost the whole II Battalion.)


Cavalry Force Marc-Antoine Beaumont comte de la Bonninière


6th Hussars Regiment – Chef-de-brigade Pierre-Claude Pajol


16th Dragoons regiment – Chef de Brigade François-Marie Clement de la Ronciere [iii] in place of the dead Leblanc


19th Dragoons regiment – Chef-de-Brigade Pierre Geraud


7th Chasseurs regiment – Chef-de-brigade Marie-Benoit-Antoine-Joseph Bussiere De Lamure


25th Chasseurs regiment – Chef-d’Escadron Brassines ( ?)


General St. Cyr was not able to pursue the enemy and to obey to Championnet order to Lake Acqui. Lacking pontoons, in fact, he could not cross the Orba and the Bormida rivers, enlarged by the heavy rains. He deployed his troops between San Giuliano and Tortona, blocking Serravalle. This combat was called: the Bosco battle, from Bosco di Marengo, the old Suvorov’s headquarters. General Mèlas, worried for that dangerous defeat, sent immediate orders to reinforce his left wing. Kray took personally the command in the place of Karacsaj, judged as inadequate. Since the snow was already sufficient to block the higher alpine passes, General Hadik was recalled to the plains, in order to reinforce the threatened Alessandria. He marched through Vercelli, Casale and reached Alessandria where, on October 30, arrived also FML Kray in order to take the command of the new left wing entering Alessandria. Here was Hadik with his force of 5 Battalions and two Hussars squadrons.

Austrian Reinforcements

Gruppe Generalmajor Karl Joseph Graf Hadik von Futak  [iv]

K.K.  23rd Line Regiment. Grossherzog Ferdinand von Toscana – I, II and III  Battalions

K.K.  37th Line Regiment. (former De Vins) I- III Battalions.

K.K.  14th   Line Infantry Regiment Frh. Von Klebek – two Battalions from Mantua

K.K. 13th Hungarian Light Infantry Major Jozséf de Munkátsy – 1 Battalion.

K.K. 7th (9th??)  Hussar Regiment 2 Squadrons

The day after the Bosco battle, October 25, probably in order to avoid hard pressure against Alexandria, General Klenau began new operations along the Levante coast. He was reinforced by some units of the Hohenzollern Tuscany Division reaching a total of 7000 combatants. Moreover, on that day, a Russian naval task force disembarked about 700 sailors at Rapallo, linking with the Austrians of General D’Aspre’s column. It was a major threat against Genoa but Miollis and some Watrin’s units [v] blocked the opponents attack along the coast. Earlier, the Coalition forces easily repulsed the little coastal garrisons, under General Lapoype, in disgrace after the Bobbio-Trebbia affair, but on October 27 the French counterattacked pushing back the enemies at their original positions. The losses of that engagement are not known but it was a serious affair (the Russian sailors, under major Hamen, engaged the French in 200 and lost 38 men (dead), 18 wounded and 19 prisoners).

Russian Navy Squadron at Rapallo – Rear (Vice) Admiral Pavel Pustoshkin                                                                   

Ship-of-the-Line Svyatoj Mihail

74 guns

750 sailors

Commander: Captain 2nd Class Ivan Osipovich Saltanov

Ship-of-the-Line Simeon i Anna

74 guns

700 sailors

Commander: Captain 2nd Class Konstantin Leontovich Stepanovich

Armed boat Konstantin


[i] During that combat, Dąbrowsky escaped from a serious wound by a curious event. He was hitting with his sabre an Austrian gunner, when this enemy shot his piece and a ball hit the Polish general. That mortal ball, like in a comics magazine history, hit a book he had always in his pocket (not the classical Bible booklet … but “The History of the 30 years war” by Schiller) and lost its strength not wounding the general.

[ii] Johann Maria Philipp Frimont, Graf von Palota, prince of Antrodoco; (Born on February 3, 1759 at Finstingen, Lorraine; diedd on December 26, 1831 at Vienna). Austrian cavalry general. Frimont stepped, after having got his education at the College of Pont-à-Mousson, as a simple soldier in 1776 in the Austrian Hussar’s regiment count Wurmser. He was appointed officer (lieutenant) during the Bavarian war of succession and then participated in the war against the Turks. In 1789 he was promoted captain. From 1792 till 1800 he repeatedly distinguished himself in the First coalition wars, particularly near Mannheim, and the career brought him to the rank of Colonel in the new regiment of Bussy Jäger. In 1796 he had been also promoted to provisional commander of the new recruited light cavalry regiment, and, still as a captain, he had been awarded with the Theresienkreuz (Knight’s Cross of the Militär-Maria-Theresien-Ordens) for the clash at Frankenthal. In 1799 he was at the command of the Bussy Jäger in the battles of Modena, la Trebbia and then was sent in Central Italy. In Autumn he returned in Piedmont fighting at Serravalle, in the Bosco clash (2nd Novi). He divided the command with the Oberstlieutenant baron Felix Barco and often had vanguard tasks; then fought the third Novi battle (6 November), pursuing the French in december till Gavi. In the 1800 campaign he acted as a cavalry guide vanguard at Marengo (June 14th) and, by the next year, was promoted Major-General. In the war of 1805 he served again in Italy.

His individual bravery during the 1805 battle of Caldiero brought him an honour mention by the archduke Charles. Therefore, subsequently Frimont was awarded with the command of the 9th Hussar’s regiment and he advanced to the rank of Field Marshal Lieutenant. In 1809 he again participated in the Italy campaigns. For his circumspection and his courage at the Fontana Fredda battle (Sacile) he got the Commander’s cross of the Order of Maria Theresia.

In 1812 he led in Russia a cavalry division of the Schwarzenberg corps. In 1813 he became cavalry general and commander of the 5th army corps, formed together with the Bavarian corps Wrede, in the Grande Armée.With this corps he was protagonist in the victoires of Brienne/La Rothiere and Arcis sur Aube. After the first Paris peace he became the governor of Mainz and, on 1815, the commanders in chief of the Austrian armies in Italy with which he, first, bote Murat and then penetrated into France, beating also Suchet, seizing Grenoble, after which capitulated Lyon on July 11. Finally Frimont became the commander of the Austrian Observation army, left in France, with which he remained some years there. In 1819 he became the commander in chief of Veneto (Venetia) and in 1821 the commander in chief of the repression corps against the neapolitan Insurgency. On March 24, 1821 he entered triumphantly in Naples, and for that campaign, the Naples’ king Ferdinand, awarded him with the title of prince of Antrodoco, giving him also a fee of 220.000 ducats. In 1825 he became the commander of the combined Generalate of Lombardy and Venetia, suppressed a rebellion broken out at Modena in 1831 and became in the same year, president of the viennese Hofkriegsrat. Because of a bad health, undermined by his long period of campaigns, however, he suddenly died after his arrival in Vienna.

[iii]Chef-de-Brigade François-Marie Clement de la Ronciere, Born: 2 February 1773, Chef-de-Brigade: 10 July 1799, General-de-Brigade: 31 December 1806, Baron of the Empire: 17 March 1808, Died: 28 July 1854.

[iv] FML Hadik returned to his previous command in the Aosta valley as soon as the prince Hohenzollern got the command of Alessandria in november.

[v] Gachot told it was brigadier Darnaud to stop the Coalition’s advance, but he would have been at Bosco. ?? In effect he could have participated during the counterattack of October 27.