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The 1799 Campaign in Italy

The 1799 Campaign in Italy: the Battle of the Mondovì Hills: 6 November

By Enrico Acerbi

It was General  Gottesheim, on November 6, who informed, from the village of Bene, that Lemoine had withdrawn his men from the upper Tanaro. The French had about 9000 along the right bank of the Pesio creek, 3000 around Niella and 3000 at Mondovì with outpost at Villanuova and Rocca dei Baldi. They were the two divisions of Lemoine and Victor deployed in and around the town of Mondovì. Gottesheim was ordered to go to Carrù and clear the area of French outposts and then, Mélas, reinforced the area committing Mittrowsky through Castelletto, keeping the right Stura bank. Carrù was attacked and conquered by a group of 200 volunteers (Piedmontese) led by the rittmeister baron Peter Vecsey. Having managed the troubles around Borgo San Dalmazzo (Grenier) the Austrians sent Lattermann’s Grenadier Brigade (6 grenadier battalions and 4 squadrons) to reinforce the battered Kray at Bosco; they marched through Alba and Nizza and reached Alexandria.

The southern French line was behind Mondovì, on a chain of hills between Vasco and Monastero, with the main point at the San Lorenzo chapel, in the middle. Considering the Mondovì garrison as part of the defender’s line, another force of 3000 men stood on the Sant’Anna (Avagnina?) heights, on the right Ellero bank.

>For the attack toward Mondovì the Austrians committed the divisions of Liechtenstein and Mittrowsky. The first deployed in front of Beinette with the task to attack Monastero, the second put himself in battle order from Magliano di sopra till Carrù with the Monastero line as its target. Prince Liechtenstein divided his division in two main columns: the first under Gottesheim advanced through Villanuova against Vasco, the second, under General  Friedrich Bellegarde, went through Chiusa till Monastero. Both brigades arrived on their targets at the same time (November 13 early morning) along the Ellero and began to climb up to the hills, without shooting.

The San Lorenzo chapel was attacked by a Huff Infantry Battalion (1st?), which had marched in the valley where it tightened between Roapiana and Merlo. Prince Liechtenstein personally led the 2nd Huff Battalion to support the attack and after an intense fire the French began to retreat toward Vico (today Vicoforte). It was the decisive use of a single gun in the attack, a weapon carried upslope with great difficulties. Then Mittrowsky advanced against Mondovì, occupied the houses in front of the walls and ran, under the artillery fire, till the gate of the fortress. The French tried to repulse the attackers with grenades and bombs, forcing them to return at Breo, their starting point, but Mittrowsky resisted. Lemoine had opposed a good resistance to Mittrowsky assaults, rather repulsing the Austrians upon the other Ellero bank thanks to a bayonet charge of the 34th Line. Nevertheless Mondovì was not more defendable and Championnet ordered the retreat. The night ended the bombardment and the French, in order to abandon the citadel, did an explosion on the side walls opening a breach and left, at 8 p.m., abandoning 5 guns. Part of them went to Ceva, others to Garessio (where Bellegarde pursued them, after having first deployed his units at Bagnasco in the Tanaro valley, then marching and reaching Garessio and Ormea on November 17). During the night Lemoine moved away along the upper Tanaro valley until Calissano. Victor had just camped at Garessio and the army HQs were definitively transferred to Finale, by sea. The losses of the Austrians in that combat was 84 dead, 300 wounded, and 85 prisoners.

Mélas left the Lattermann Regiment in Mondovì and reached his main camp between Beinette and Chiusa di Pesio. South of Coni ( Cuneo) was the French rearguard in a village called Vernante, which controlled the causeway to the Col di Tenda pass. Before to take a chance to siege Cuneo, Mèlas ordered to eliminate that valley enemy force. Ott assigned 7 Battalions to General  Auersperg who, on November 15, overran the French. The opponents, however, gathered, more southwards at Limone, a force of 5000 men, beginning a return along the valley. The two Oranien infantry Battalions, sent by Gottesheim (who was at Chiusa supporting the Austrian advance) in the back of the French force, attacked the enemies at their flank, disbanded them forcing a fast retreat toward the Tenda Pass.

After Genola, Duhesme recovered in Briançon, where he put his headquarters. His troops, a few thousands men, advanced through Fenestrelle in little detachment, handy for the mountain operations: General Valette (Malet?) stopped at Exilles, Adjudant-général Plantat guarded the Mont Cenis, Georges Kister was in Lans-le-Bourg while Brenier de Montmorand was at Maironnes; finally, at Arche, was the detachment Flavigny. The total of Duhesme’s Division was about 7000 men, too few to beat the Austrians, but enough to try the Cuneo rescue. Informed of these movements, Mélas, immediately reinforced the Cuneo siege force, ordering to Lattermann to return back to Ceva, with his grenadiers, and to merge with Bellegarde, coming back from the upper Tanaro and just on the road to the Chiusa main camp.

For a French penetration, with approximately 6000 men (November 24), towards Cairo, Ponzone and Ovada, FML Kray was arranged to give 4 squadrons and 1500 infantry men to Asti and Alba and after to Cherasco, where he arrived on the 1st of December. All this tense French activity was a signal of a disbelieving Championnet, wishing to try the Cuneo rescue and almost uncertain on how to advance. There were news of a 10000 men strong column coming from Mont Cenis, Grenier and Victor had rallied their troops in Riviera and, above all, General  Masséna was now free to send three divisions in Italy , from the Switzerland . Mélas limited himself to organize the eastern defences of the Coni siege: General  Bellegarde took the position of the upper Tanaro (Le Torrette lines), Kray advanced till Magliano di Sopra sending Hadik at Chiusa and Villanuova. The snow, however, began its heavy fall and on the mountains all the lines of communication were interrupted. The “tormenta” (snowstorms) were so heavy that only some patrols could go out of the covers and could try some reconnaissance. The French were forced to abandon the strongpoints of Tenda and Briga passes, leaving back also 3 guns.