The Russian bravery was outstanding and St. Cyr noted “L’ennemi
s’avança dans un ordre parfait et avec une audace remarquable”.
Despite the heavy losses, Bagration reached the walls of Novi, now
harassed also by the musketry of Gardanne’s Brigade, from the
city. The Prince thought it was better to seize the town by surrounding
it from his left, on the slopes of Monte Rotondo. He was rallying
his units eastwards from the town and was ordering the first
four battalions to march ahead when he saw enemy troops advancing
by his left. Bagration was totally unaware of the Watrin’s
redeployment and was surprised by the French advance. Watrin, seeing
some Austrian units gathering in front of him and getting ready for
an attack, believed that it was necessary to wait no more, but to
march suddenly against them, to attack while they were rallying,
and to better secure the wing by dispersing them. However,
not wanting to step on the prerogatives of his leader, he went personally
to General St Cyr. He spoke about his project and asked him for the
orders, receiving a strange answer: “Do as you will!” Never
a man could have been so impassive as the General St Cyr, laconic
and cold, and especially in those moments when a leader has to make
everything to incite the heat of his subordinates. That words meant
and would not mean “Yes”. All but an approval.
Préval, who was present, and who for half an hour watched,
with St Cyr, the huge masses of cavalry which the enemy was gathering
in front of his position, was not able to retain this exclamation: " But,
my general, he goes to be crushed!” “Yes” answered
St Cyr, with an impudence the memory of which could upset, “But
nothing is better than to give some lessons to these generals of the
Army of Naples!”
And with these arguments Watrin ordered the attack.
The first French unit which reached the plain was the Petitot’s
Brigade, followed by the vanguard of Calvin and, later, also by Darnaud.
A breach was opened by the line infantry of the 62nd and 12th Regiments.
The French entered the gap capturing one gun and routing two Cossacks
squadrons. Watrin’s advance was very fast, around 3 km in 20
minutes, but it was stopped near Pozzolo by the enemy cavalry (Watrin
had only 200 Chasseurs, too few to manoeuver).
Watrin’s attack overran the Russians first ranks and was barely
stopped by Russian grenadiers. The stunned Suvorov immediately realized
the danger of that flank attack and personally launched Miloradovich’s
troops, under the command of General Förster. Soon the left
Russian Wing was in a terrific battle. Around11:30-12:00 a.m., Derfelden’s
Corps of 10 fresh nattalions, entered the match. Five battalions were
directed against Watrin and the other five against Novi and the Belvedere
Plateau, where Bagration was again attacking. Watrin, who initially
had repulsed the Russians and then had withdrawn on the plateau was
ordered to enter again the plains in order to help the French left
wing being attacked by Kray. In the meanwhile, at noon, Miloradovich
reorganized his battalions into two columns: the first marched from
Pozzolo directly against Novi, the second marched on the right of the
first, in order to support the attack. Watrin was engaged at Bettole
and among the
“cascine” nearby. Novi had a thin screen on its northern
side, formed by the 18th Light and 21st Line Demi-Brigades (Gardanne).
They saw the Russian vanguard (1st Miloradovich column) emerging from
the corn fields with 6 guns in the frontline. With the first canister
shot Gardanne’s brigade was shocked and retreated into the town
walls. The gates were blocked, some carriages were put across the roads
to raise barricades and musketry began from the top of the walls. Miloradovich
had driven his 2nd column toward the western side of Novi, directed
against the Belvedere house, as a visual target for the leading guides.
The Russians repulsed Colli’s outposts and began to move
uphill, on a little round height, where the French artillery made a
true massacre. From the eastern slope of the height (Collinetta?) came
a violent musketry (14th, 17th, 24th, 63rd, and 68th Demi-Brigades
plus 400 Poles) and the Russian battered in their front and on the
flank, fell down on the ground, pinned and unable to move. At this
point, Laboissière, attacked with six companies the other Russian
flank with a bayonet charge. The Russian were forced to fight, and
melted away in a fast rout, abandoning the plateau. Watrin was always
at Bettole and, for a short moment, he hoped he could have advanced
against the routing Russians till Pozzolo. One of Dąbrowski’s
aide-de-camp, however, informed him of the high dust cloud seen along
the Scrivia (this was Mélas’
column advancing) and Watrin was forced to withdraw to cover the French
The Russians, were exhausted and thirsty, many lying on the ground
wounded or in shock, among lots of dead. Do, Suvorov, stopped that
unlucky general attack at 1.00 p.m., under an intolerable sun.
[i] Suvorov said he
had moved at 6:00 a.m., what is totally unbelievable. Jomini said the
Russians began their attack at 8:00 a.m. while other Austrian sources
spoke about the 9:00 a.m. The apparent difference could be explained
as the French stated the Russian movement beginning, while the Austrians
the effective initial attack (the first shot of artillery i.e.).
[ii] At 9:00 a.m. the
temperature (in the shade) was greater than 40° C (104° F)
and many soldiers were so thirsty that continually looked for green
berries or leaves to suck. The only “water” the French
had were two bottles of eau-de-vie (the first at 10:00 p.m. on August
14, the second at 3:00 a.m. on August 15), the second with a “viande” ration
together with ½ bread portion. The War Commissary Arnoult preferred
to recover at Genoa and then at Savona, during the battle days. A French
report also stated that the ambulances did not work at all.
numbers not listed. Add the regimental artillery as appropriate.
[iv] Including the Austrian cavalry (Miliutin).
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2009
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