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The 1799 Campaign in Italy

The 1799 Campaign in Italy:

By Enrico Acerbi

Armée d’Italie Situation on March 19th 1799 (Jomini) and deployment of March 24th L’armée d’Italie, dite de bataille, etait ainsi formée, d’aprés un état envoyé au Directoire,
par Schérer


French Army HQ in Mantua and later at Castelnuovo

Commander in Chief: Général Barthélemy Louis Joseph Schérer[1] Schérer was promoted to the rank of general of division in 1794 ( 28/01/94). On August 31, 1795, he was again sent to Italy to replace Kellermann as commander-in-chief of the Army of Italy. His most brilliant action was conducted (November 24, 1795) at Loano, in Liguria, achieving a great victory against Austro-Sardinians troops, but he was not able to pursue the enemy to total defeat. Schérer was relieved of the command of his army on February 23, 1796, and replaced by Napoléon Bonaparte. Schérer then served as French Minister of War from July 22, 1797, to February 21, 1799. In this post, Schérer was responsible for approving, in 1797, David’s drawings upon which were based the current national flag made up of three vertical bands: blue next to the staff, white in the center, and a floating red. Schérer, as Minister of War, also implemented the conscription act made law on 19 Fructidor, Year VI as part of legislation relating to the Army’s formation. Schérer was subsequently again given command of the Army of Italy, but unable to stop the Russo-Austrian advance, he was defeated by Kray at Pastrengo (March 26),

Verona (March 30), and Magnano (April 5), and forced to retire behind the river Mincio, where he surrendered command to French General Moreau.

Chief of Staff:

GdB[2] Louis François Félix Musnier de la Conserverie[3]
Adjutants-Généraux attachés:

CdB Coulange, Baron Louis-Joseph Lahure (with Schérer for few days. Returned to his 15e Demi-Brigade Légère),
Berthier (brother), Claude-Joseph Buget.[4]

Adjoints aux adjudants- généraux;


Infantry Inspector: GdD[5] Jean Victor Marie Moreau (see below)
Commissaire ordonnateur en chef Aubernon.

Artillery Commander: General of Division Baron Cesar-Alexandre Debelle de Gachetiére[6]

Artillerie à pied and 6e Régiment d’Artillerie-à-Cheval sappers (1500) and gunners (1700)

In 1799 artillery regiments had 20 companies (dismounted),   while horse artillery had 6 companies for each regiment. Every   company was equipment of 6 pieces (usually 4 8-pdr guns and   2 6-inch howitzers; some heavy batteries had 12-pdr guns).   An artillery company had approximately 93 men, while that of   horse artillery had 8. Every gun needed 8 men for handling   (horse pieces had 2 additional men assisting with aiming and   fire-control). Schérer had on campaign approximately 92 field pieces (excluding those in fortresses). In addition to these must be counted the light battalion 4-pdrs that,  following the requirements of the 18 Floreal, Year III Law (1794), were to be attached to every infantry battalion. This new norm, was not, in practice, applied and it was instead preferred to group these pieces into larger Reserve batteries, ready for employment at the opportune moment. With the Army Reform Law (1798), the light infantry artillery was disbanded between 1798 and 1799. Artillery adapted badly to the Verona battlefield.[7]

On the right bank of the Adige River the plain declined gently from the morainic hills around Lake Garda to a slightly irregular land covered with small woods, orchards and vineyards. Fields were generally delimited by small stone walls that marked the borders of cultivaed lands. It was actually a real maze, particularly in close proximity to villages. South of Magnano, the land was lower and flat, where a remarkable cluster of springs rose to form rushing streams, pits, and channels that met in larger swampy creeks like Tartaro and Menago. Here the plain was literally overrun by ditches and irrigation waterways with elevated banks on which ran rough trails called chaussées.

Engineers Commanders: GdB François Chasseloup de Laubat[8]

He was the Inspector of Fortifications. He followed the Army’s retreat from Peschiera to the Appennini Mountains, where he directed the labors needed to make facilitate the march of Macdonalds army. On campaign:

Chef-de-bataillon Maubert[9]
Pontonniers (2 Coys)
Sappers (1 Coy)
Miners (1 Coy)

Staff Cavalry

Cavalry Inspector: général Beaurevoir
Cavalry commanders (GdB): (see below)

GdB Marc-Antoine Beaumont comte de la Bonninière[10]
GdB Alphonse-Antoine Richepance. [11]

1st Squadron Piedmontese Carabiniers (on Staff Duty), Cdr. Chef de Escadron Armand Gros – French 160

The cavalry deployment of the Army of Italy remains a real puzzle for historians. Jomini presented a detailed order of battle, as did Gachot in his work. Here I have decided to follow Gachot’s order of battle (dated March 24), but the situation could have been very different.[12]


[1] Général de division Barthélémy Louis Joseph Schérer, born at Delle on December 18, 1747, and died in 1804, was a Revolutionary général. Son of a “Maitre”, he enrolled in the Austrian army in 1760 as a Cadet and Fähnrich; however, he abandoned the imperial service, passing into French army, in 1775. On April 5,1780, Schérer became a captain in an artillery regiment stationed in Strasbourg. He entered Dutch service February 20, 1785, as a major of the 1st Brigade in the légion de Maillebois. Made a lieutenant colonel in 1789, on March 1,1790, he was released from Dutch service.

He returned to France in 1791, and in 1792 he was made a captain in the 82nd Infantry Regiment. He fought as aide-de-camp to general Despretz–Crassier at Valmy. In 1793 he served as a senior aide-de-camp to General de Beauharnais on the Rhine, being Général de brigade from September 19, 1793. Schérer was promoted to the rank of general of division on January 28, 1794, and commanded a division in the Army of the Sambre and Meuse, serving with distinction at Aldenhoven. On May 3 the same year, he married Marie Françoise Henriette Caroline Müller in a civil ceremony in Delle. On November 3, 1794, he was made commander of the Army of Italy for the first time, until transferred to command of the Army of the Pyrénées orientales on March 3, 1795. On June 14, Schérer commanded 12,000 men in battle against a Spanish army of 28,000 men at Fluvia.

On August 31, 1795, he was again send to Italy to replace Kellermann as commander-in-chief of the Army of Italy. His most brilliant action was conducted (November 24, 1795) at Loano in Liguria, where he won a great victory against Austro-Sardinian troops, but he was not able to pursue the enemy. He was relieved of the command of his army on February 23, 1796, and replaced by Napoléon Bonaparte.

He was unemployed for a number of months until he was made inspector-general of cavalry of the Army of the Interior, and then of the Army of the Rhine and Moselle. He served as French Minister of War from July 22, 1797 to February 21, 1799. Schérer was later given command again of the Army of Italy, but was defeated by Kray and eventually compelled to surrender to Moreau. Because of his loss of Italy he was forced to appear before an inquiry committee, but was acquitted after the 8 Brumaire, Year VIII “golpe”. He then retired to private life on his estate at Chauny, and died at the age of 56, at Commenchon on August 19, 1804.

[2] GdB = short-hand for général de brigade, or general of brigade.

[3] Louis François Félix Musnier de la Conserverie, born on January 8, 1766, in Longueville, Pas-de-Calais, and died on November 15, 1837 in Paris. In 1780, he entered the Paris Military Academy at the age 14, as a junior gentleman. In 1782 he was second lieutenant in the Piedmont Regiment. By 1792, he was a captain in the same regiment and sent to the Rhine army, where he was aide-de-camp to general-in-chief Lamarlière (probably Jean Fabre of Martillière). Passed to the West coast army, Musnier received promotion to major. On September 5, 1795, he was chief of brigade of the 187th Demi-Brigade. On June 25, 1796, he was chief of brigade at the 60th Demi-Brigade of infantry and, on July 18, 1796, reached the Army of the North, in Holland, where was named adjudant-général and colonel chief of the general staff of the 187th Demi-Brigade. Until the end of 1798, he was employed with the Army of Italy, where he seized the Novara fortress in Piedmont by surprise, an action which earned him the promotion to brigadier general, to which rank he was named on December 17, 1798. In 1799, he had a brigade command in the Army of Reserve. On June 8, 1799, crossing the Po close to Piacenza, he entered that city. On June 14, 1800, he fought at Marengo, at the head of the 9th Light Infantry Regiment, Desaix’s advance guard. In 1803, Musnier was named provisional commander of the 15th Military Division in Rouen. In 1804, he received the award of the Legion d’honneur. On February 1, 1805, he was promoted major general. In 1808, he was transferred to army in Spain , and on June 23, 1810, at Margalef, in front of Lérida, he took 6,000 prisoners from O’Donnell’s corps, which had come to help defend Lérida, under siege by the French Army of Aragon. On August 28, 1810, Musnier was made Grand Officer de la Legion d’Honneur. On January 20, 1811, he was also made Baron of the Empire. At the end of 1813, he returned to France to become commander at Besançon. In 1814, he participated in the campaign taking part under Augereau in the defense of Lyon. With the First Restoration, he was made Knight of Saint-Louis and inspector general of infantry for Boulogne, Calais, Saint-Omer, and Dunkirk. On December 31, 1814, he was made Count. In June 1815, he was the inspector general of 10th and 11th Divisions. Musnier retired by royal decree on September 4, 1815.

[4] Claude-Joseph Buget, born in Bourg, on September 10, 1770. Son of a chief surgeon of the Bourg Hospital, he would have normally have gone on to enter the Church, or pursue a clerical career; but the revolution prompted him to leave his Catholic school for the army. He was nominated as a second lieutenant on April 25, 1793, in a regiment of the Armée du Nord, and was assigned to the General Staff of Dugommier, charged with the siege Toulon. Buget distinguished himself during the siege, winning a promotion to adjudant-général, chef de bataillon. On November 20, 1798, Buget was sent as adjudant-général to the Armée d’Italie, transferred from the Armée de Mayence. On June 13, 1795, he became Adjudant General Chef de Brigade. He received his first wound on March 26 (6 Germinal) under the walls of Legnago, and on May 16 (27 Floréal) was wounded again at Marengo (San Giuliano). For the merits displayed at Pastrengo, he received the gift of the Sabre of Honor and a complimentary letter from the Directory, on 4 Floréal , Year VII. The First Consul wanted personally to award him with the rank of général de brigade ( July 10, 1799). Buget was elevated to Baron of the Empire on October 26, 1808. He died at Perpignan on October 2, 1839.

[5] GdD = short-hand for général de division, or general of division.

[6] Baron Cesar-Alexandre Debelle de Gachetiére, born in Voreppe (Isère) November 27, 1770. Entered the army as gunner in the 6e régiment artillerie à pied on July 1, 1787, passing, on October 1, 1789, to the 1e régiment de chasseurs à cheval, in which he was named brigadier on March 15 1791. Named second lieutenant in the 12th Dragoon Regiment ( September 15, 1791), lieutenant ( March 10, 1793), adjudant-général adjoint (18 nivôse, Year V), he obtained the rank of captain on 14 vendémiaire, Year V, and was promoted major the following 29 pluviôse in the same dragoon regiment. He rose to colonel of the 11th Dragoons on the 1st germinal of the same year. Member of the Legion-d’Honneur on 19 frimaire year XII, the Emperor made him officer of the Order and brigadier general the 12 pluviôse, Year XIII.

Debelle had made the 1792 campaigns to year XIII with the Armies of North, of the Rhine, of the Alps, of Sambre-and-Meuse, of England , of Hanover and of the Ocean Coasts. He had been distinguished in the engagements at Altenkirchen and Salzburg, and at the unhappy battle of Novi, lost by Moreau, where he had organized the defense of the plateaus which dominate this city. In year XIII, employed in the 7th and 28th Military Divisions, he joined the Army of Italy the 24 fructidor, and was then called to the Grande Armée, with which he made the 1806 and 1807campaigns. He was awarded the cross of commander of the Legion-d’Honneur on July 11 of this last year. The Emperor created him Baron of the Empire in 1808, and sent him to Spain ; however, he returned to France on August 2, 1809, but he was put into forced retirement on September 5th, without any indication of the true reason for this severe measure.

He did not take any part in the events of 1814, but he observed them with interest and decided to take a part against Bonaparte in 1815. When he became aware of Napoleon’s debarkation, March 7, he hurried to Grenoble to offer his services to General Marchand, who refused them on account of Debelle’s not being on active duty. Louis XVIII commuted his pain to a ten-year period of detention, and Debelle left for the Besancon citadel. The Duke of Angouleme, having spent few months in this city and knowing the starving state of the general, gave him a sum of 800 francs. During the 100 Days he actively helped the Duke of Angouleme, rejoining the Imperial Eagles of Bonaparte. With the second restoration of the king, Debelle was taken prisoner in Grenoble. Brought in Paris, he was sentenced by the second permanent council of war, and condemned to death (March 24, 1816). He escaped the execution and  died on July 19, 1826.

[7]La partie de cette place renfermée dans la presque île de l’Adige est environnée, sur la rive droite de ce fleuve, d’une plaine qui s’étend de– le pic du Montebaldo jusqu’à Villa-Franca, Azzano , Magnano, San-Giacomo et au-dela. La partie supérieure de cette plaine se compose d’un terrain légèrement ondulé, planté de bouquets d’arbres fruitiers et de vignes, et dont l’oeil peut découvrir tous les plis. Le sol pierreux a permis de clore toutes les propriétés de murs en pierres sèches; ce qui forme autour des villages, d’ailleurs très rapprochés, de véritables labyrinthes propres aux chicanes défensives. Au sud de Magnano, le terrain, plus bas, donne naissance à une infinité de petits ruisseaux qui vont se jeter dans  le Tartaro et le Menago. De ce coté, la plaine est coupée d’une multitude de fossés et de canaux d’irrigation, dont les bords sont maintenus par des digues. Les déploiements y sont difficiles, pour ne pas dire impossibles; la cavalerie y est plus embarrassante qu’utile; et pour la première fois pendant cette guerre, les Français en avaient plus que leurs ennemis. .”  Source:  AA.VV.   FRANCE MILITAIRE – Histoire des Armées Françaises de Terre et de Mer, Volume 3, Paris: Delloye Editeur, 1838.

[8] François, marquis de Chasseloup-Laubat, born August 18, 1754 and died October 3, 1833. French general and military engineer, he was born at St Semi ( Lower Charente) of a noble family, and entered the French engineers in 1774. He was still a subaltern at the outbreak of the Revolution, becoming captain in 1791. His ability as a military engineer was recognized in the campaigns of 1792 and 1793. In the following year he won distinction in various actions and was promoted successively chef de bataillon and colonel. He was chief of engineers at the siege of Mainz in 1796, after which he was sent to Italy . There he commanded the positions and lines of advance of Bonaparte’s army. He was promoted general of brigade before the close of the campaign, and was subsequently employed in fortifying the new Rhine frontier of France . His work as chief of engineers in the army of Italy (1799) was conspicuously successful, and after the battle of Novi he was made general of division. When Napoleon took the field in 1800 to retrieve the disasters of 1799, he again selected Chasseloup as his engineer general. During the peace of 1801-1805 he was chiefly employed in reconstructing the defences of northern Italy , and in particular the later famous Quadrilateral. His chef-d’œuvre was the great fortress of Alessandria on the Tanaro. In 1805 he remained in Italy with André Masséna, but at the end of 1806, Napoleon, then engaged in the Polish campaign, called him to the Grande Armée, with which he served in the campaign of 1806-07, directing the sieges of Colberg, Danzig and Stralsund. During the Napoleonic domination in Germany , Chasseloup reconstructed many fortresses, in particular Magdeburg. In the campaign of 1809 he again served in Italy . In 1810 Napoleon made him a councillor of state. His last campaign was that of 1812, in Russia . He retired from active service soon afterwards, though in 1814 he was occasionally engaged in the inspection and construction of fortifications. Louis XVIII made him a Peer of France and a Knight of St Louis. He ref used to join Napoleon during the Hundred Days, but after the second Restoration he voted in the Chamber of Peers against the condemnation of Marshal Ney. In politics he belonged to the Constitutional Party. The king created him a marquis. Chasseloup’s later years were employed chiefly in putting in order his manuscripts, a task which he had to abandon owing to the failure of his sight. His only published work was Correspondance d’un général français, etc. sur divers sujets (Paris, 1801, republished Milan, 1805 and 1811, under the title Correspondance de deux générals, etc., essais sur quelques parties d’artillerie et de fortification). The most important of his papers are in manuscript in the Depot of Fortifications, Paris.

[9] He was promoted Chef-de-brigade by Schérer, a nomination confirmed by Directory on 15 germinal, Year VII. He was the author of a famous memoir: Relation du blocus et du siége de Mantoue, et exposé des causes qui ont contribué a sa reddition

[10] Marc-Antoine Beaumont comte de la Bonninière, born in Beaumont (Indre-et-Loire), September 23, 1763, of an ancient family of Touraine. After December 31, 1777, he was Court Page of King Louis XVI. He was First Court Page when, on June 2, 1784, was named captain in the 9e régiment de dragons. He had the command of a company in March 1788, received the patent of lieutenant colonel in July 7, 1792, and was made colonel on August 22 of the same year. He was within Lyon, with his regiment, at the time of the severe repressions of the Terror against city’s residents, and, having said some inopportune words, fell under suspicion, was arrested and condemned to death. While on the cart, being carried to the guillotine, his dragoons deployed in squads declaring that they would charge the authorities to avenge his death. The Representatives of the people surrendered and Beaumont moved to Italy where he served under Massena, Schérer, and Bonaparte. He was général de brigade on 5 germinal, Year III, and he fought, in 1796, at Lodi, Cremona, at the onslaught of Medolano redoubt, and over the long pursuit of Wurmser across the Mincio. In the month of germinal, Year VII (1799), he took part in the battle at Magnano, near Verona, and was hit by a bullet that crossed through his right shoulder. A year later he distinguished himself at Marengo and in the combat at Valeggio, where he had his horse killed beneath him. In 1803 he was promoted général de division and the next year was named member of the Légion d’Honneur, on the 19 frimaire by the First Consul, and the following 26 prairial named Commander of the Order. He was in the Grande Armée, in the campaigns of 1805, 1806 and 1807, leading a dragoons division, distinguishing himself at the passage of the Rhine close to Kehl, at the clashes of Wertingen, Ulm, Ried, Lambach, at the capture of Steger, at the battles of Austerlitz, Iéna, Eylau, Zehdenich, Prentzlow, on the Bjura and at Cznarnowo. The Emperor named him Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur on February 10, 1806, First Chairman by “Madame-Mère”, Senator on August 14, 1807, and Count of the Empire in March 1808. At Wagram, 1809, he commanded a cavalry division. General Beaumont often gave proof of wisdom and intelligence, and was also a moderate politician. He died on February 4, 1830.

[11] The presence of general Richepance is witnessed by Promotions in the Armée d’Italie. Summary of the archival folder (AF III 597, plaquettes 4117, pièces 7, 16-17 et 20-21, et 4118, pièces 22-40) for after March 26, 1799: “Employment of adjudant general Solignac in this Army. Decision to write a congratulations letter to generals Dalesme, Gardanne and Richepance ***, with the gift of an Armour, to brigade general Pijon, to the adjudants generaux Argod, Blondeau and Buget, to Duplouy, Chef of the 92e demi-brigade, to the chef-de-bataillon Marion, to Demanets, light artillery captain, and to Valabrègue, captain and aide-de-camp to general Debelle, with the gift of a Sabre, and to the commander of the 18e demi-brigade légère leggera and to the swiss, piedmontese and polish troops which had fought in this day of battles”.

Richepanse (or Richepance) Antoine-Adolphe Born in Metz, March 25, 1770, and died in Basse Terre ( Guadeloupe), September 3, 1802. Son of a pennant bearer of the Régiment des dragons de Boufflers, and so son of the regiment, he officially joined the Régiment de Conti-Cavalerie, August 22, 1774. He then joined the Chasseurs d’Alsace (later the 1er chasseurs à cheval), October 20, 1785. Made maréchal des logis on October 22, 1785 ; maréchal des logis chef, May 1, 1788; sous-lieutenant, September 15, 1791; lieutenant, September 1, 1792 ; capitaine, July 11, 1793 ; chef d’escadron in the 1er chasseurs à cheval, July 8, 1794. He transferred to the Armée de Sambre-et-Meuse, June 28, 1795 ; was promoted to chef de brigade, June 1, 1796 ; received a saber wound at Altenkirchen and provisionally promoted by Kléber on the battlefield to général de brigade, 4 June, 1796 (confirmed by the Directory, 13 June); fought a protective rearguard after the Combat de Wetzlar, June 15; served at Uckerath, June 19; joined the Division Lefebvre in July 1796; served at Friedberg, July 10, 1796; received a saber wound in a cavalry skirmish at Strullendorf, August 6, 1796; made commandant des chasseurs à cheval in the Armée de Sambre-et-Meuse under Lefebvre, April 1797 ; served at the crossing of the Rhine at Neuweid, April 18, 1797; in 1797, commanded a brigade at Neuwied and Frankfurt composed of the 9e Rgt Chasseurs, 13e Rgt Chasseurs; entered Frankfurt on April 22, 1797.

Richepanse joined the Division Lemoine under Kléber, January 12, 1798; joined the Armée d’Italie, August 16, 1798, leading a brigade formed of two chasseurs a cheval regiments. He joined the Armée des Grandes Alpes, July 19, 1799; was made commandant of the Réserve de Cavalerie in the Armée d’Italie, August 29, 1799; provisionally appointed général de division by Championnet on the battlefield at Fossano, November 4, 1799 (confirmed by the First Consul, March 5, 1800, and seconded to the Armée du Rhin). Commandant of the 3rd Division of the Corps under Moreau, April 1, 1800; served at Engen (May 3), Mösskirch (May 5), and Biberach (May 9); made commandant of the Corps de gauche in place of Sainte-Suzanne, June 1 to November, 1800; victor at Güttenzell (5 June), and took Ulm. Commandant of the 2nd Division of the Corps du centre under Moreau, November 1800. His bravery was the deciding factor in Battle of Hohenlinden, December 3, 1800. Victor at Herdorf (December 15), Strasswabchen (December 16), Frankenmarkt (December 17), Schwannstadt (December 18), and Lambach (December 19); lost his post on the suppression of the Armée du Rhin, March 28, 1802; appointed Inspecteur général of the cavalry of the 24e and 25e Division militaries and in Batavia, July 24, 1801. Général en chef of the Armée expéditionnaire de la Guadeloupe and Capitaine général, March 4, 1802, he set sail from Brest, April 1, 1802.

A solid cavalryman who brilliantly distinguished himself at Hohenlinden, driving the Austrian troops into the forest and sowing panic in the ranks. Like Lannes, Richepance was exiled by promotion, presumably for his close acquaintance with Moreau (in this case, the exile resulted in death).

[12]In effect, by reading some memoirs and other official acts, the situation could have been like the following:

HQ Cavalry Commanders 

GdB Marc-Antoine Beaumont comte de la Bonninière
GdB Antoine Richepance (the general Richepance was awarded for his service at Pastrengo)

Cavalry (under direct Schérer command) deployed behind Delmas division

Cavalry brigade (heavy?) GdB Marc-Antoine Beaumont comte de la Bonninière (supporting the left wing)

1° Squadrone Carabinieri Piemontesi (Staff cavalry) Chef de Escadron Armand Gros
9e Régiment Dragons  Chef-de-Brigade Provisoire Sebastiani de la Porta
2° Reggimento Dragoni piemontesi  (2 squadrons of the former Piedmontese Savoia cavalry)
3e Régiment de Cavalerie Chef de Brigade Jean-Baptiste Meunier

Cavalry brigade (light?) GdB Antoine Richepance

9e Rgt Chasseurs Chef-de-Brigade Claude-Matthieu Gardane 
13e Rgt Chasseurs Chef-de-Brigade Bouquet (?)
15e Rgt Chasseurs Chef-de-Brigade Louis Lepic

Cavalry Reserve

24e Rgt Chasseurs Chef-de-Brigade ( ??)
1er Régiment Hussards Chef de Brigade Joseph-Denis Picard  
6e Régiment Hussards Chef de Brigade Jean-Baptiste-Gregoire Roche dit De la Roche