The 1799 Campaign in Italy: The Armies
Austria, Russia, Sardinia - Piedmont, and the Polish Legion
In 1798 the Archduke Charles and the Hofkriegsrat at
General conscription had been introduced in Austria in 1771, but exemptions were granted to several towns and provinces. The areas under conscription were divided into regimental districts (for ‘German’ infantry regiments). Hungary , the Netherlands and northern Italy , as well nobles and officials, were all excluded from compulsory military service. Some of the areas (Tyrol, northern Italy , and the Netherlands ) relied on free recruiting while in others relied on quotas, such as Hungary , where local officials filled the ranks according to quotas imposed by the Hungarian Diet, and still others relied simply on volunteers.
In 1798 the old regimental numbering system was abandoned. In that year the Grenzer regiments were separately numbered (1 through 17), and their withdrawal from the infantry sequence vacated the numbers beginning with 60. The term ‘line infantry’ was officially introduced in 1798 (e.g., changing Infanterie-Regiment, or ‘IR’, to Linie-Infanterie-Regiment, or ‘LIR’). Further, all units, except the Grenzer (on the Borders of the Empire or the Frontier), received the prefix ‘K.k.’ for Kaiserliche (Imperial) und königliche (royal).
The Coalition Wars brought many changes. Regiments were disbanded or established according to the current situation. The infantry’s regimental numerical sequence had already been interrupted in 1795 when Infantry Regiment Nr. 48 was disbanded due to heavy losses and overall unreliability (the regiment was recruited in the Northern Italian provinces). In 1798 the 3rd Garrison Regiment was disbanded (without a number), and its rank-and-file transferred to the 2nd Garrison Regiment (Nr. 6). In the same year, four new Hungarian regiments were established. One of them was given the vacant number 48, and the others numbered 60 to 62. The number 63 was given to the Walloon regiment established in 1799.
As a counterpart to the numbering of the infantry regiments, the combined grenadier battalions had existed since 1769 and were never numbered. Officially they were identified by their commander’s name (an analogy to the identification of regiments by their proprietors’ names). In the literature, however, it is possible to encounter these grenadier battalions under an alternative identification, that created by the use of the official numbers of the two or three regiments which had provided their grenadier divisions (division = two companies in the Austrian military terminology) to create the combined battalion. Since 1790 there existed 20 grenadier battalions, of which three were each composed of two grenadier divisions, the other 17 of three divisions. In 1797 the composite battalions were disbanded and the grenadiers returned to their parent regiments. Twenty grenadier battalions were re-established in 1799, only to be again disbanded in 1801.
Other infantry units were also numbered, though on a different basis. First, the light infantry battalions, which were established in 1798 by transformation of different volunteer corps. The battalions were identified in a manner similar to that used for the grenadier battalions, using the commander’s name (there were no proprietors of light infantry battalions) and numbered in sequence from 1 to 15 – number 8 was left vacant because its rank-and-file personnel were in Wurmser’s Corps until the end of the War of the Second Coalition. In 1799–1800, two more battalions were formed (Italian and Dalmatian), sometimes identified with the numbers 16 and 17. The light infantry was disbanded in 1801 and its rank-and-file transferred to the line infantry regiments.
In 1797 a commission was established to modernize the army's equipment, not without resistance from traditionalists. Some proposals were rejected, among them a scheme for numbering the buttons, and introducing black belts.
Most dramatic of the changes introduced by the 1798 regulations, which probably came into force in the following year, was a new coat and, instead of the kasquet, a large leather, crested helmet. Theoretically styled upon classical designs, this headdress consisted of a black leather skullcap 16.5cm high, topped with a raised comb running from front to back, upon which was fixed a crest of black over yellow wool 5cm high. Reinforcing bands ran up the sides of the helmet, usually of black leather, or blackened or shiny brass; the front of the helmet bore a large brass plate upon which the Emperor's cipher was embossed. The new jacket was white cloth with ten yellow or white buttons on the breast; the collar (now upright), cuffs and turnbacks (the latter now smaller and the skirts less voluminous) were all in the facing color. Shoulder straps were now present on both sides, either in white with piping of the facing color, or vice-versa. From 1798 the white breeches of German infantry extended to below the knee, with half-stockings below, the latter covered by shorter black gaiters. Hungarians retained their light blue pantaloons with black and yellow braid, and their lace-up shoes with a seam at the rear and raised ankles. White or off-white overall trousers probably continued in use on campaign.
A new musket was introduced in 1798, similar to earlier patterns, but of improved construction: with brass fittings, of 17.6mm caliber, measuring 150cm in length, and weighing 4.8kg. The lock-protector was withdrawn.
The distinctive fur cap of grenadiers was retained, with its high front and low rear, which gave rise to its French nickname fauteuil, or 'armchair'. At some time (probably between 1798 and 1805) a black leather front peak was added. The light infantry had the same equipment as the regular line, but wore the 1798 helmet with a brass F.II. cipher instead of a plate, and pike grey coats; the coat, breeches and gaiters of the five Italian regiments were of German style, the remainder wearing Hungarian pantaloons.
Light infantry tactics remained largely the same as those of the Freikorps and Grenzers, and in some cases were essentially discouraged in the regular army. Despite the later claim that by 1798 the Austrian army was able to fight in open order (as actually attempted at 2nd Novi or the Bosco in November 1799, resulting in defeat), in April 1800, Melas's chief of staff, Baron Zach, expressed the general reliance on old-fashioned, close and linear formations, an advance ‘courageously in closed formation, with bands playing, and keeping their formation’ as being, in his opinion, a guarantee of success. ‘Unnecessary skirmishing can only be detrimental … a determined charge delivered in close order … will certainly result in victory with very few casualties.'
In 1798, the Cavalry changed considerably. The Karabiniers were changed into Kürassiere, the Chevauxlegers into Light Dragoons, so it happened that, at end of the 18th century, the German cavalry (the Hussars were considered to be Hungarian) had only two branches of service: Kürassiere and Dragoner. At the same time, from the 5th divisions (i.e., the 9th and 10th squadrons) of the other Hussaren-Regiments, were formed two new units, the 5th and 7th Hussars Regiments; the Galician horse-volunteers became the 2nd Uhlanen-Regiment; and finally, from parts of other cavalry units, were organized one new Kürassier-Regiment and 2 new Dragoner-Regimenter. From the former Freikorps of Bussy, Rohan, Carneville, and Bourbon, was formed a chasseurs regiment, the Jäger-zu-Pferd Regiment Bussy of 8 squadrons with 1300 men.
To the hussars was added the newly constituted Kroatisch-Slavonische-Hussaren-Regiment, born in Slavonia in 1793 and formed from the Wurmserischen Freikorps. With the final reform act, the establishment of every hussars regiment became 8 squadrons (in 4 divisions).
Tactically there was lack of precise instructions for multi-regiment formations and large-scale exercises. The consequences of this practice of scattering imperial cavalry in small bodies were very serious. It greatly reduced their combat effectiveness —single regiments and brigades were often defeated by French brigades and divisions. One reason for such careful use of cavalry was their relative low numbers. Austria was a mountainous country and had low ratio of cavalry to infantry.
In 1798 the Austrian cavalry improved their firepower by changing its firearms:
- Carbine for hussars, the M 1798: 84.5cm long, weighing 2.45kg.
- Carbine for dragoons, M 1798: 123.5cm long, weighing 3.25kg.
- Rifle for cavalry, M 1798: 71cm long, weighing 2.65kg.
The Hussar cap was a felt cylinder bearing a black and yellow cloth rosette with a braid loop on the front, and a black over yellow plume above a yellow pompon with black centre. Cords in the mixed black and yellow national colors fastened around the upper edge of the cap, falling as 'raquettes' on the right side. In 1798, this cap was replaced by a true shako, an 8-inch-high cylinder of rigid felt, with a black leather peak and chinstrap, but with rosette, pompon and cap lines as before. The 14-inch feather plume (upon a wire or whalebone foundation) could be enclosed in a black waterproof cover. The 1798 regulation allowed the hussars to wear grey overalls with buttons for use on campaign. They were reinforced with leather on the side on which the saber was worn. The standard long boots were cut in the national style with strong, durable decoration on top. The jacket of the uhlans was green with red lapels for all regiments. The pennons on lances were black over yellow. All wore green trousers. The cuirassiers wore white coats and breeches. During campaign they wore grey overalls over, or instead of, their tight elegant breeches. The boots rose to below the knee. Until 1792, the dragoon regiments had 2 squadrons of chevauxlegers and 6 squadrons of dragoons each. In 1799-1801 there were no longer dragoons and chevauxlegers but all were light dragoons. They wore the Dragoner helm, dark green jackets and white pants.
The 1798 light dragoon uniform was identical in cut and equipment to that of the Cuirassiers, the coloring and lack of a cuirass being the most obvious differences. The helmet was identical, but the coat was made of dark green cloth, with a 2-inch standing collar, which like the cuffs and piping of the turnbacks, was in the facing-color. The waistcoat, forage cap, and gloves were also dark green; the cartridge box belt was 23 inches wide, and al1 men were armed with carbines having brass fittings.
The organization of the artillery was centered around the tactical role it was assigned. There were initially three field artillery regiments, a Bombardier Corps of men with additional training, and an Artillery Fusilier Battalion which provided the unskilled labor. A fourth field regiment was created in February 1802, partly from the now-disbanded Artillery Fusiliers, and the number of companies per regiment increased during the period.
In wartime, the artillery regiments were split into small detachments to serve the 'battalion guns' (Liniengeschutz) that were attached to each regiment, with infantrymen providing the untrained artillery laborers; the gun were usually 3-pdrs. Light pieces which capable of being transported on horse- or mule-back were called Gebirgsgeschütze, or mountain-guns.
The artillery reserve was crewed by the Bombardier Corps and personnel from the garrison or fortress artillery; reserve batteries usually comprised four guns and two howitzers or two guns and one howitzer as a brigade (Kolonne) asset. There were, in addition, 'cavalry batteries' of light 6-pdrs whose officers and NCOs were mounted but whose gunners sat astride a caisson or 'Wurst-wagen', and were thus much less mobile than proper horse artillery.
The artillery uniform was styled on that of the infantry, including the use of the combed or crested helmet of 1798 – 1803 (with a red crest for the rank-and-file), the jackets brown with red facings (light blue facings for the Handlanger Corps). Prior to 1798 a low round hat was worn, after which a bicorne was adopted.
The relationship between the French and Austrian artillery is quite fascinating. The Austrian artillery had powder and ammunition of higher quality than that of the French. But in general the French tactics and usage were more striking and original, and France ’s guns had longer ranges and larger caliber-equivalents than Austria ’s. For example, in 1798 the captured 6-pdr Austrian guns were equivalent to French 5pdrs (the Austrian pound was smaller than the French).
In combat, the artillery was an independent, maneuverable weapon. It began combat at long ranges (at which fire usually remained rather ineffective). The battle-lines advanced and the cannons followed. Sometimes it marched "masked" by the advancing infantry or Kavallerie and, after the opposing infantry had advanced and Austrian troops evaded sideways unmasking the artillery, it began to fire against the opponent by concentrated Kartätschenfeuer at short range.
Tactically, Austrian gunners differentiated between two kinds of fire: ‘battalion fire’, which was performed in a regular order (successively, first the odd pieces, such as howitzers, then the guns), and ‘single fire’, where each cannon was managed by its Vormeister. The officers worried little about ranges and firing corrections, this was left to the skill of their Kanoniere, whose skills were attained by exercise and many years of experience. The Russian marshal Suvorov, who commanded the Imperial army at Novi, in his order of the day, wrote: ‘... the artillery is free, their officers can shoot where they want...’, which probably testifies to his great confidence in the K. k. artillery.
Russia – РОССИЯ
‘Reconnaissances! I do not want reconnaissances!
They are utilized by bashful people
and put the enemy on warning of our arrival.
I’ll find the enemy whenever I want!
Columns, bayonets, l’arme blanche, attack,
Reinforce the attack! These are my reconnaissances!’
~ Aleksandr Suvorov
Under Emperor Paul I (reigned 1796-1801), the Russian Army was closely modeled on that of Prussia . Paul's putative son Alexander (who consented to, if he did not connive in, Paul's rather messy murder) began its reorganization during 1805-1807; from then until 1815 it was continually strengthened and developed. Russian armies were based on a thoroughly Russian type of conscription which fell almost entirely on the serfs, each land owner being periodically ordered to supply a certain number. Enlistment was for 25 years, though actually for life. Discipline was rigid, often brutal; training and service life harsh. Supply services always collapsed during any Russian offensive; forcing the troops to live off the country, regardless of whether it was hostile or allied territory. When thoroughly trained and disciplined, Russians were tough, stubborn opponents, inured to hardship and short rations. Led by inspiring, competent commanders like Generalissimus Marshal Alexander Suvorov, the Russian soldier was capable of great deeds.
From 1796, all hussar regiments were named after their chefs.
The regular cavalry consisted of 16 cuirassier, 16 dragoon, and
8 hussar regiments, with an additional 2 squadrons of hussars with
the Moscow Police. Each cuirassier and dragoon regiment consisted
of five squadrons, while Hussar regiments contained ten. On
Anecdotes circulate that ‘[t]here were cases in Italy and Germany when townspeople came out to greet them [Cossacks] as liberators, only to be quickly despoiled of clothes, watches and money.’ But it appears to be a false picture. In Italy , while the Cossacks were received with some curiosity owing to their uniform, they served as supervised, regular troops, acting in very strict adherence to tactical orders just as would regular cavalry units. According to Austrian officer A. Prokesch: ‘A characteristic which makes the Cossacks especially useful for the “light war” is their total indifference to a thousand things, which are called ‘obstacles’ in the military sense ....’ They were the best ‘sweeping up’ cavalry of that period, contributing to the capture of masses of routing troops. Almost all Cossacks carried an 8-foot long lance with a steel spearhead surmounting a steel ball, to ensure easy withdrawal of the point. Cossacks were also armed with an assorted arsenal of weapons: curved sabers (carried by all officers) and 1-8 pistols (!); some carried carbines or muskets or other firearms. Their regiments had up to 5 squadrons (sotnia) often led by first lieutenants (sotniki), boasting a variable strength; the sotnia could also be commanded by a captain (esaul). The regimental staff was formed by: the colonel (polkovnik) commander, 1 lieutenant-colonel (podpolkovnik), 1 major (voiskovoi starshina), 1 captain (esaul), 1 ensign (horonzhyi), 1 quartermaster and 1 judge.
Each battalion consisted of five companies, a company having the following ordnance: in a field company, four 12-pdr unicorns [yedinorogi] and four 12-pdr cannons [pushki]; in a Horse company, six 12-pdr unicorns and six 6-pdr cannons. There was no regulation concerning the siege artillery. Battalions were also named after their chefs.
With regard to regimental artillery, on
Sardinia - Piedmont
‘It is much better to have well known enemies
than to have friends hidden in the shadows.’
By a regulation promulgated by Gen. Suchet on February 4, the
Piedmontese infantry was reorganized in four demi-brigades (three
line and 1 light, each with 3 battalions of 10 companies, two of
which were elite grenadiers or chasseurs and eight of which
were fusiliers, each 80 men strong). The Piedmontese infantry totaled
400 officers and 9,200 men. The 1st Demi-Brigade of the Line was
The 2nd Demi-Brigade of the Line was formed from the Monferrato,
Saluzzo, and Alessandria Regiments and assigned to Chef-de-brigade Carlo
Trombetta. The 3rd Demi-Brigade of the Line, comprising the Piemonte,
the Queen of
French distrust, however, was not targeted against the light demi-brigade
but toward the 3rd Line Demi-Brigade and, particularly, toward
the soldiers from Oneglia (Oneille) Regiment. These Ligurians,
subjugated by the
Piedmontese cavalry was early on divided into six regiments and later reduced to four. It was really the best performing branch of service during the campaign. The former regiments had to change their names, which were too monarchical for Republican service, assuming a numerical order. Three were dragoon regiments and the other three were former chevauxlegers:
However, cavalry, the arm of the aristocracy, had several desertions after that reorganization, many of their soldiers having fought against the French for the last six years. As the result of heavy desertion, the 5th and 6th Cavalry Regiments were disbanded in February 1799. Therefore, from February 1799, the Piedmontese cavalry consisted of just 4 new regiments, all labeled dragoons.
The command of the Piedmontese cavalry was taken by the former
commander of the Chablais Dragoons, Colonel Maurizio Ignazio Fresia,
assisted by Captain Alessandro Gifflenga. Both, after the surrender
of Sérurier’s Division at Verderio (
The Swiss Regiments
The December 4, 1798 Agreement between the Swiss Cantons and the
French Republic directed, in conformance to which the Sardinian
King authorized, the reorganization of the last 2,000 Swiss
soldiers remaining in the King’s service into a French army
auxiliary corps, with the exception of 400 Swiss-Grisons and as
many Swiss-Germans of the Alemanno Regiment, employed in internal
security tasks. On December 5, the King of Sardinia donated a munificent
money amount to each Swiss company (14,000 Piedmontese Lire) as
severance pay. The day after, the French Directory hired the 5
Swiss regiments (Belmont, Bachmann, d’Ernst, Zimmermann,
and Peyer Im-Hof) and put them under General Joubert, the current
commander in chief of the France
’s Armée d’Italie. They were later transferred
Piedmontese on Campaign
Although opinion was divided, with serious misgivings as to the reliability of the conquered Piedmontese cousins, the French commander of the Armée d’Italie, General Barthélémy Louis Joseph Schérer, decided to employ Piedmontese troops in the line of battle, but distributing them between the divisions of Sérurier (at Peschiera), Hatry (around Verona), Montrichard (at Legnago) and Gaultier (at Toscana). The Piedmontese army, disbanded with the Cherasco Armistice of 1796, had retained some units and cadres, a mass of 10 battalions, 4 dragoons regiments, 1 Carabinier squadron, and 3 artillery brigades ‘de Bataille’. They were:
Commander: Colonel Maurizio Fresia, Baron of Oglianico; Adjudant: Captain Alessandro Gifflenga.
Former Piedmontese Swiss troops
Near the Adige, the Swiss troops numbered 1,600; the Piedmontese were 3.700 men strong (5 infantry battalions, 2 dragoons regiments, and 1 brigade of 120 artillerymen).
The opening events of the 1799 Campaign progressed as follows:
March 26. Clash at S. Fermo and Incaffi. The 1,800 men of the Piedmontese 1st Light Demi-brigade, together with the French 18e Demi-Brigade Légère, drew back the Austrians until reaching Affi and Rivoli’s plateau. While advancing, the whole 3rd Bn, or Corpo Franco (formed of former deserters and insurgents), deserted again near Calmasino, reaching the Austrian lines.
March 30. Some 2,755 Piedmontese remained with the colors, representing 4.7% of the whole French-allied infantry, 11.7% of the whole cavalry, and the 20% of the artillery. In sum, the Piedmontese represented 5.9% of the whole French-allied army.
April 5. Schérer attacks at Magnano,
The two battalions of the 1st Line Demi-Brigade, temporarily isolated
The command of the deserters’ force was assumed by Major Balegno, an officer of the 1st Battalion, and the new ‘insurgent’ unit was named the Legione Balegno.
Major Balegno and his men apart, many Piedmontese soldiers decided to desert to the Coalition lines or simply to surrender during the battles. Others instead fought with gallantry along side the French and were noted in the official Acts of the Directory.
After the successful advance into Piedmontese territories, the Coalition army raised seven Piedmontese Jäger companies. The command and the recruitment of these companies were assigned to Oberst Freiherr Filippo Brentano-Cimarolli. The seven companies (with one Russian and six Austrians for commanding officers) were gathered, at the end of May, in the Feldjäger-Korps.
In 1797, a Polish Legion was formed in Italy , to fight for France
against Austria . The Polish Legion, under General Dabrowski, fought
with Bonaparte in his earliest Italian campaigns. These were the
beginnings of Polish forces of Napoleonic period, though these
legions were never used for purposes related to Polish independence.
In northern Italy , during 1797, the original corps underwent
administrative and name changes. The initial name was linked to
After autumn 1798, and after the Naples War, the Auxiliary Polish Legion, now called simply the Polish Corps or Polish Legion, was comprised of the following:
1st Polish Legion ( Southern Italy)
2nd Polish Legion ( Northern Italy)
The 1st Legion’s cavalry commander was (from
While the 2nd Legion was reduced by almost half after the battles
1st Polish Legion
The veteran elite companies were organized in a Grenadier and
a Chasseur Battalion (above), while all the Polish artillery was
Each artillery company had 1 sergeant-major, 5 sergeants, 1 corporal fourrier, 10 corporals, 2 directors, 30 1st class gunners, 47 2nd class gunners – a total of 101 men.
Polish officers and generals communicated in Polish and French. The troops were organized after the French model and used much of its terminology.
On May 19, 1797, Bonaparte gave his “placet” to the creation of the Cisalpine Republic with capital city in Milano. This definitively killed the other Italian Republican project, the Cispadana, as French diplomacy wanted to declare their renounce on Venetia, papal land and former Emilia duchies of northern Italy in order to close the peace conference with Austria. Cisalpine Republic born officially on June 29, 1797.
The Cisalpine Division - Eve of 1799 Campaign
In a letter to Carnot, on