The 1799 Campaign in Italy: Novi -- the Defeat of the French
Kray’s Second Attack
The tired soldiers of General Kray had orders to attack Lemoine again. The new first line of the Ott’s Division was formed by the Terzy Regiment (2 battalions as the right wing) and by the 40th Mittrowsky Regiment as the left wing (3 battalions). The difficult assault was repeated by twice and in both cases the Austrians knocked against a wall of bullets and artillery balls, sent from the strong Lemoine positions. A third attempt by the Deutschmeister and the Vukassovich Regiments, while the soldiers from the Ogulin border fought together with the Terzy infantry. This second Kray’s attack began at 8:00 a.m. while the Russians attacked Novi. It was a dirty clash of dust and blood, under a deadly sun, where many Austrian units continued to fight under the command of the NCOs, having lost almost all their officers. The Hungarian column at the extreme right advanced and cut off the Francavilla road, blocking the withdrawal from Pasturana. Pèrignon, knowing that danger, ordered a cavalry charge along that road (Richepance?), while 200 men of Clauzel cleared the woods pushing back the Hungarians (maybe Croatians of Ogulin ?). The French line continued to advance reaching Basaluzzo and collecting 7 Austrian abandoned guns with several caissons, but the defense of the village was not needed with the Austrians rejected into the plain and one of their battalions lost in a pocket. [i]
At the moment the Russian stopped their attack against Novi, Ott’s flank remained uncovered. Suddenly Moreau launched against it the fresh Partounneaux Brigade, which caught the Mittrowski Regiment on its flank and forced it to return back from the plateau; their resistance was, however, strong and, with many losses, they could reach the plain in relative order and with all the regimental artillery. Partonneaux tried to pursuit downhill but, when he reached the lower fields, he was heavily bombarded by the Austrian reserve batteries, deployed amid the cornfields. The stunned French were charged by the Dobay’s cavalry detachment (3 squadrons of Archduke Joseph Hussars and 3 squadrons of Archduke Johann Dragoons). Most of the French soldiers regained the hills, flying away and hiding in ground holes and ditches. The unlucky Partonneaux (together with two chefs-de-brigade, 40 officers and 900 men) was taken prisoner by the Austrian cavalry. [ii]
This second Kray assault (it was really the seventh attempt) ended, at 2:00 p.m., with the organization of the eighth advance onto the enemy. Four Austrian columns (reinforced by one Sztaray Battalion under Captain Pakonyi) attacked, with the regimental bands at their head, against the advanced French line. Bellegarde and Ott deployed again their “martyrized soldiers” (Kray himself called them this), in double rank, and ordered to march uphill. In effect their advance was a new martyrdom, under an heavy rain of canisters and bullets. Despite these difficulties the Bellegarde Regiment’s advanced, repulsing the French counterattacks, till the third crest of hills; General Gottesheim, at the extreme right, was on the point to fall on the Pasturana rear. General Kray ordered Major Kees to lead a column (one Sztaray Battalion and 4 squadrons of Kaiser Dragoons) deep into the French lines, reaching the Riasco Creek and the Braghena Gorge, from where they would been able to encirle the French. Ott’s Division was able to reach the hills too, but not so deeply as Bellegarde. At its extreme left was the Vukassovich Regiment, which covered the flank of the division led by the commander, ObLt. Franz De Baut. The regiment soon became almost isolated, because the Russians had not yet begun their attack against the Belvedere. The regiment, with great endeavours, had carried its guns uphill; with these, it organized a little redoubt from which they repulsed all the French counterattacks with muskets and guns. During the combat their losses were heavy and De Baut was wounded in the leg. Under an heavy bombardment of the Austrian reserve batteries, with a temperature of 45° C and a burning sun, the methodical Austrian advance pushed back the French line on its old positions, touched Pasturana and seized again the Novi road.
This was an hard blow to the French morale. There Moreau probably realized he could never be able to reach the plain and to win the final battle. A strange silence came from the battlefield, broken by the grumbles of the wounded and by the noise of the marching horses. It was an hot, too hot afternoon beginning … and now it was time for the third Coalition army to appear: General Mélas Corps.
The Advance of Mélas Corps
Many sources wrote about a presumed act of disobedience by General Michael Mélas at Novi. Many also concorded that his initiative was very important for the final victory. Mélas’s manoeuver was generally said to be brilliant, breaking the stalemate from midday on the battlefield. The Austrian Fieldmarshal, commanding the Reserve at Rivalta, was ordered by Suvorov, to advance and to gain control over the French right wing, attacking Novi from the east. Otherwise, Mélas, was of the opinion that a better attack could have be launched against the Monte Rotondo slopes, where the French artillery was less effective, because of the nature of terrain. He divided his Corps into three columns: the first had to march against Serravalle, to repulse Dąbrowski uphill and to secure the left flank; the second had probably the most important task, having to gain the monte Rotondo crest and to encircle Novi from east; the third, divided in two parts, had to support the right flank of the second column, with the 1st part and to drive toward Novi with the second part. This last sub-column was made only to make Suvorov sure the Austrians were there in order to obey his orders, but the reality was rather different. [iii]
Maybe Mélas arranged to intervene rapidly in the fight, or maybe he rather observed the arrangements of the previous evening, thinking the moment had come to pursue the enemy, which he effectively did later. So appointed the generals by himself, gave the necessary instructions and divided the troops in the three aforesaid columns
Austrian Left Wing – 2nd Rank – camp Rivalta Scrivia
FML Michael Friedrich Benedikt Mélas - Generalmajor Freiherr
Michael von Fröhlich