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The 1799 Campaign in Italy

The 1799 Campaign in Italy: the Combats of Trezzo and Vaprio (April 26)

By Enrico Acerbi

The Adda River is only a small mountain creek when it leaves the small lakes of Alpisella, just over Livigno, at 2235 metres above sea level, andpass through Valtelline, from Bormio to Colico. After having crossed  Lake Como for 42 kilometres, it takes the form of a large river in Lecco, south of which it forms two small lakes; Garlate and then Olginate. The Adda River slopes steeply a.m.  ong the rocks below Brivio. After  Paderno, the river enters a sort of  a “canyon” washed between banks of stone and then enters the Lombardy plains.  

The Adda River has a gentle bend in Trezzo, an S shaped outline which limits the promontory of the old Visconti castle (at the time fortified by the French). After the town, on the right bank, the river turns into the Matesana Channel an ancient artificial canal which takes the river  waters merging them with the internal Milan Channels. It then becomes the major left tributary of the River Po in  Lombardy.  The flow of the  Adda River becomes more regular after Cassano, with some irregularities extending in wide areas and that were large swa.m.  py areas as far as the confluence in the river Po, in Castelnuovo Bocca d’Adda, near Cremona.   >for the bridges

The first Adda bridges’ battle was fought around the 268 B.C., a clash between the Roman factions of Mark Acilio Aureolo and of Galliano. Close to the bridge that connected Vaprio with Canonica on the other side,  the rebel army fought the regular army. Aureolo was then killed in Milan by his own soldiers and buried near that bridge which beca.m.  e the Bridge (Pons) of Aureolus, which evolved into Pontirolo. The “Pax Romana” was short and the invasions from the north followed.  In 1158 Brescia and Bergamo claimed the Emperor’s Frederick the Barbarossa’s help against Milan. The Holy Roman Empire Chief used the pretest in order to send his forces into Italy.  The Milanese used this occasion to fortify the banks of the Adda River, reinforcing them between Trezzo and Cassano, which protected commercial traffic towards Bergamo, Brescia, and Venice. The bridge was defended by a castle since the 9th Century.  Barbarossa first captured Cassano, as part of his strategy to control all ways that could have guaranteed his return to Germany , and then destroyed the castle.

The “Condottiere” Ezzelino 3 of Romano, who cultivated the drea.m.   to constitute a large Lordship over northern Italy , found  on the river an invaluable stop. After having crossed the Adda on the Canonica bridge, he occupied Vaprio, then headed directly to Milan. At that city he was repulsed and forced to withdraw towards Trezzo which was burned. The final battle occurred on the bridge of Cassano in order to decide if he had to withdraw or not. It was a bloody battle. Ezzelino was wounded and taken prisoner by the Milanese.

During the War of Spanish Succession   there was the first battle of Cassano between Spain and Austria , in 1705. That Italian ca.m.  paign concluded with the Peace of Utrecht which assigned the Milan Duchy to Austria . From then begun a long period of Austrian dominion that lasted until the arrival of Bonaparte in 1796, whe the French pushed the Austrians towards Milan and defeated them at the bridge of Lodi. The ca.m.  paign was very difficult due to the natural obstacles of the land. Napoleon himself stated that the Adda was the most defensible river in Italy .

 Division  General de Division Paul Grenier * (numbers estimated)
ADC- Adjudant-généraux : Adj-Gen Leonard-Nicholas Becker comte de Mons (uncertain his presence)


Light foot artillery (2 Companies )



Horse artillery

2 Batteries


Heavy foot artillery

4 Batteries



1 ½ platoonS



At Trezzo: 2 Battalion 33rd Line Demi-Brigade



Trezzo. The town of Trezzo (on the Adda) is firmly linked with Leonardo da Vinci, who lived in there. The Master designed the projects of the Adda’s locks and calculated the flow of the Martesana channel to allow the boats from Lecco to reach Milan . The Visconti’s Castle is the symbol of the town, a village of ancient origins situated northeast of Milan. It was constructed in 1300, by count Bernabò Visconti, near the mansion which the tradition assigns to Longobard Queen Teodolinda. This fortification has  witnesses numerous fights and siegesover the centuries. Today, a.m.  ong the impressive castle ruins, remains the square tower, 42 meters high, and  basements. There is also the remnants of a  bridge over the Adda, destroyed in 1416 by Carmagnola — its shoulder still visible. In 1799 no bridge was there.

At Vapriorigade Général de brigade George Kister

3rd Battalion 33rd Demi Brigade


63rd Demi Brigade (3 Battalions): Chef Antoine-Francois Brenier de Montmorand (wounded on April 27) 


The 2 Battalion lost its flag at Vaprio

24th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment


Vaprio. The Lombardy country land, where Vaprio is touched by the Adda River, was known, in the past centuries, as “the most beautiful garden in Italy “. From the 1400s on, there were many luxury estates (Villas) such as Villa Melzi, a  splendid exa.m.  ple of a  rustic country estate. Vaprio was crossed by the Martesana Channel,  like other ha.m.  lets of that land. Milanese gentlemen, attracted by the land and the surrounding forests, were often seen there moving along the water-channels by boats. Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, in 1763, declared the beautiful environs of Vaprio as her personal  hunting place, above all because the Duke of Modena, an Austrian Lombardy administrator, had set Vaprio village as his own holiday place. Near the ruins of an old Roman stone bridge (they say erected by the Emperor Claudius) Vaprio had a wooden bridge to cross the Adda River, at that time da.m.  aged by the French. The Martesana Channel ran approximately forty meters south of the village and had high banks to protect houses from floods.


Brigade François-Jean-Baptiste baron de Quesnel du Torpt  

17th Demi Brigade Légère  Chef de brigade Henry-François Fornésy  (3 Battalions)


24th Demi Brigade Général de brigade George Kister – 1st and 2nd Battalions (the 3rd was in Piedmont)


13th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment: Chef Bouquet (?)


Reserve : Adjudant-général Leonard-Nicholas Becker comte de Mons [1] ( ??)  

1st Battalion  33rd Demi Brigade  – Chef Roguet 


106th Demi Brigade at Cassano Redoubt – Chef Jean Claude Roussel


24th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment (3 Squadrons)


Brigade General Gaspard-Amédée Gardanne  

3rd Demi Brigade de Ligne [2] (one battalion) Chef Pierre Martilliere


3rd Régiment Chasseurs à Cheval  Chef François-Alexandre Grosjean


A New Bridge

After a reconnoissance with the jäger Colonel D’Aspre, Chasteler, who was with Suvorov in the second Austrian Avantgarde, decided to build a pontoon in front of San Gervasio (north of Trezzo). Here, between San Gervasio and Trezzo, the river squeezed resulting in a 50 meter large flood plain (but only 6 feet deep) which presented a double curved course (like an “S” letter). On a promontory, emerging out of Trezzo, was the renowned Visconti castle.   Twenty German Jägers crossed the river on boats deploying on the opposite bank to secure the works. The pontoon convoy arrived late, at 11 p.m., from San Pietro.  It was stopped far from the river and the transports were carried on by Banater’s Croats and D’Aspre jägers. Chasteler ordered the bridge secured with strong ropes fixed in the rocky bank, because the river was too deep for the anchors to  touch the bottom. Before it was finished, 4 boats crossed the waters carrying 200 Croats and 2 of the Nadasdy Regiment’s companies, who advanced cautiously until they came on the first houses of Trezzo (where the French slept). April 26  was a horrible night. Strong winds continually made obstacles to works, gusts of heavy rain beating the tired sappers. At dawn, (4 a.m.), the bridge was not ready, and was only beginning to be passable at 5.00, when rain ceased and Adda flood became  lower. The first to pass was Colonel Constantin d’Aspre with his 6 jäger  companies, which took position in front of a French outpost and cleared it with fire. Then followed 1 batallion of the Nadasdy Regiment under Major Pretzer, 600 Cossacks and 1 squadron of the 7th Hussars. They were followed by the main troops of General Ott, along  with Suvorov.

Avantguard Division Generalmajor Carl Peter Ott de Batorkéz 


At San Gervasio

6 Battalions

8 squadrons

5000 ?


Avantguard Kolonne Oberst Bidegkuty

3 Battalion. K.K. IR 39 Rifle Line Hungarian Inf. Regiment. Graf Támas Nádasdy – Major Pretzer


On May 27 the 3rd Battalion. was in front of Trezzo. Second Lieutenant Ritzko with 50 volunteers and 80 jägers fortified the hamlet of Posto (Pozzo?). After the boat-bridge was completed the Austrian attacked the French outposts at Trezzo and captured the old Castle advancing against Vaprio to engage Grenier’s division. The 3rd  Battalion. took the village with a fast assault with the help of Zoph’s troops. The battalion took 200 French prisoners and had a captain and 50 men killed while other 141 were wounded.

Freiwillige Jäger Korps Freiherr Constantin d’Aspre (6 Companies )


6th Don Cossacks Regiment. Pasdejev


K.K. 7th Hussar Régiment (2 Squadrons) 2 Division (Obstlt.) Major Franz Szabo


Main Kolonne

K.K. 15th Light Infantry Battalion. (Croatian-Slavonian) Oberst Bonaventura Mihanovic


VI Battalion. of Banater Grenzregiment 


K.K. Grenadier battalion Freiherr Georg von Stentsch Graf Anton Schiaffinati


Count Freiherr Georg von Stentsch was wounded during the combat at Pastrengo-Verona. He died later, in April, from his wounds. The command was taken over by Count Anton Schiaffinati.

K.K. Grenadier battalion FML Karl Graf von Mercandin Graf Carl Paar


K.K. IR 34 Hungarian  Line Inf. Regiment (the former Regiment Esterházy)


(no Inhaber. The future IR Frh. Kraj de Kraiova) (had the I and 2 Battalion). Commander: Oberst Johann Hillinger

K.K. 7th Hussar regiment (no Inhaber) Commander: Oberst Carl Freiherr von Schauroth. With 4 Squadrons.


General Moreau, on April 27 at 9.00 a.m.,  immediately  gathered his three divisions north of Cassano. The alarm had been given by the 2nd Battalion  33rd Demi-Brigade, the first to be repulsed by Austrians. The battalion retreated on the road to Vaprio, while mantaining  contact with the river bank. In  the 70 houses of Vaprio, were  the 63rd Demi-Brigade, the first squadron of 24th Chasseurs and 2 guns. Hearing the first gunshots, Moreau jumped on his horse leaving Inzago, who during his ride was attacked by a Cossack  squadron.  He was able to escape by fleeing and reached Grenier.

At 10.00 a.m. Zoph’s Division passed over the bridge of boats at Trezzo and the Austrian reformed their long Columns for the Advance with 25 guns for support.

1st Division FML Johann Zoph


1st Division Zopf

at Canonica

6 Battalions

8 squadrons


K.K. IR 39 Rifle Line Hungarian Inf. Regiment. Graf Thomas (Támas) Nádasdy


(I and 2 Battalions.) – Commander: Freiherr Johann Nepomuk Abfaltern

The two battalions were committed to attack the French bridgehead of Cassano. After the success they chased the enemies until  night, reaching Gorgonzola town.  Oberst Abfaltern and the Oberstlieutenant Pértussy distinguished themselves, the latter commanding the former Korherr Grenadier battalion.

K.K. Hungarian Grenadier Battalion Oberleutnant Ferdinand Pers


K.K. Hungarian Grenadier battalion Major Joseph Korherr 


(Major Joseph Korherr died at Magnano. The battalion was led by Nadasdy’s OberstLeutnant Johann Pértussy)


K.K. IR 40 Hungarian Line Infantry Regiment.  FZM Graf Joseph Mittrowsky


I and 2 Battalions. Commander: Oberst Franz Kreyssern.

K.K. 2nd Hussar regiment Erzherzog Joseph Anton – 8 Squadrons


The “Light Blue Hussars” had 8 Squadrons and four divisins. Commander: Oberst Vincenz Freiherr Knesevich 2nd Division: ObstLt. Gabriel von Hertellendy – 3rd Division: 1st Major Emmerich Dobay  — 4th Division 2nd Major  Ignaz baron Splenyi

About the 2nd Hussars: Major Dobay with his division was against the left French wing near Vaprio. Oberstltn. Von Hertellendy was with his division was against the right French wing. The latter made three consecutive attacks together with other two divisions of the regiment. The joint attack of the six squadrons pierced the French line (200 French out of combat and 300 prisoners). They advanced until Inzago capturing Moreau HQs clearing Vaprio and Pozzo. The final booty was great: one flag, 12 guns, 1 howitzer, 6  munition wagons and about 2800 prisoners.  Oberstltn. Von Hertellendy was awarded with the Maria-Theresia Cross and the commander baron von Knezevich received the same award. The regiment’s losses were high: 153 hussars and 171 horses dead, many the wounded.

After the Austrian reorganization on the battlefield the little French contingent had no hope to resist. Moreau ordered the retreat towards the Milan  road. Kister and Becker directed towards Gorgonzola, while Quesnel withdrew to Inzago, having the road to Milan  cut off by Austrian cavalry. During that retreat coming to help was the first of General Victor’s units: Argod Brigade.

After a short combat, in which General Argod was killed, the French army continued the retreat. Grenier camped at Lambrate, near Milan,  where he found the 106th  Demi-Brigade with another 500 men of all the branches of Service (mainly sappers).

Victor’s division, threatened on its left flank, was not able to prevent the Austrian from seizing the Cassano Bridge; so it followed Grenier on the Milan  road where it met Laboissiere, who, while having made a force march, was too late to participate in the battle. Some authors refer also to the participation of the cossacks belonging to  Bagration during the final phases of the Austrian Advance, in order to harass the left French flank and to clear the hamlet of Pozzo.

* Victor’s and Laboissiere’s units and numbers are estimated

Division du Centre General Claude-Victor Perrin
Chief of Staff : Gén. Jacques Blondeau
Foot artillery: 1 battery


Brigade Adjudant général François Argod (killed during the combats of April 27)  

14th Demi Brigade  1st and 2nd Battalions: Chef Jean-Claude Moreau


99th Demi Brigade de Ligne   (3 Battalions): Chef Georges Mouton  


Brigade Général Baron Jacques-Antoine Cha.m.  Barlhac de Laubespin  

92nd Demi Brigade  (3 Battalions) Chef Bruno-Albert-Joseph Duplouy


5th Line Demi-Brigade 1st Battalion. Chef Louis-Hyacinthe Le Feron  1st and 2nd Battalions.


15th Chasseurs à Cheval  Regiment (4 Squadrons) : Chef Louis Lepic


18th Regiment  de Cavalerie  (4 Squadrons) : Chef Denis Terreyre



Division de droit Pierre Garnier de Laboissière[3]


5th  Demi-Brigade légère 1st Battalion: Chef-de-Brigade Antoine Chatagnier      


45th Demi Brigade 1st and 2nd  Battalions: Chef Jean Baptist Philip


93rd Line Demi-Brigade 1st and 2nd Battalions:


9th Chasseurs à Cheval Régiment : Chef Claude Matthieu Gardane


3rd Régiment de Cavalerie – Chef de Brigade Jean-Baptiste Meunier



[1] The Count of Mons was taken prisoner by Austrians at Magnano. Other sources tell he was wounded; another that he led a brigade.

[2] Chef de Brigade Pierre Martilliere  – Wounded at Vaprio. Born: 23 March 1759. Chef de Brigade: 20 January 1796 (3e demi-brigade d’Infanterie), General de Brigade: 28 April 1799. Commander of the Legion d’Honneur: 14 June 1804. Died: 20 November 1807 (as a result of wounds suffered at Vaprio)

Chef de Brigade Georges Mouton  – Born: 21 February 1770 à Phalsbourg – Chef de Brigade: 26 May 1798 (99e demi-brigade d’Infanterie)- Chef de Brigade: 14 July 1799 (3e demi-brigade d’Infanterie) – Colonel: 24 September 1803 (3e Regiment d’Infanterie). General de Brigade: 1 February 1805. General de Division: 5 October 1807. Count of the Empire: 19 September 1810. Died: 27 November 1838 à Paris.

[3]Pierre Garnier de Laboissière (1755-1809) Grand Officier de la Legion d’Honneur – 14.06.1804. Reformed in 1776, he was recalled on duty, as second-Lieutenant, on June 15, 1777 ; on June 3, 1779 he was Captain, engaged for the replacements organization in the Montmorency-Dragons. When the regiment took the name of 2e régiment de chasseurs à cheval, on September 17, 1791, he followed the unit, as Captain, in the armée du Rhin. At the combat of Spire, September 30, 1792, with twelve chasseurs, he took 300 Austrian prisoners. On the following 1st of December, he was awarded for that action and named chef de brigade. He was a provisional général de brigade in the armée du Rhin, after May 8, 1793, when, after an unlucky charge, where he fell down with his horse killed, he was a prisoner of the Prussians. After the exchange, he was definitevely named général de brigade, then serving under the armies of Rhin-et-Moselle and Allemagne. In 1794 he commanded a Cavalry brigade under the 2nd division – Armée du Rhin. In 1796 he was in the armée d’Angleterre, and then at the Mayence army. On February 23, 1799 he was promoted General-de-division, serving in Italy and Switzerland (years VII, VIII and IX). In 1800 he obtained a command in the Reserve Army, which he mantained until 1801, in the Grisons. Reformed in 1802, he was named “inspecteur général d’infanterie” and entered the French Senate with the direct help of Bonaparte. In 1807 the Emperor gave him the command (March 20) of the 4e légion de réserve de l’intérieur (X Corps) sending him to the Charente. In 1808 he was named Count of the Empire and member of the Supreme Command at Strasbourg. However he did not reach that city because, on March 1809, he died at Paris. 


Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2007