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The Campaign in Italy, 1796-97: Montenotte

Virtual Battlefield Tour

By Bill Peterson

In his first independent command, 26-year-old General Bonaparte used suprise, maneuver, hard marching, and the inspiration of his personal charisma (plus the lure of rich loot to be had in prosperous Lombardy) to lead the rag-tag Army of Italy to a series of astonishing vistories over the more numerous and better-equipped Austrian and Piedmontese armies.

On 11 April 1796, an Austrian column of 9,000 men under the command of d'Argenteau attempted to force its way south through these hills, the "Appenino Savonese," to the town of Savona on the Mediterranean in order to cut off the French right wing threatening Genoa. Colonel Rampon, with one battalion each from the 1st Légère and 21st Ligne (about 1,200 men) made an heroic stand on Monte Legino, blocking the road and bottling up d'Argenteau's column in the valley. Masséna, advancing from Altare in the Bormida valley, hit the right flank and rear of d'Argenteau's column at Montenotte Superiore on 12 April, inflicting 1,000 casualties and sending the survivors reeling over the hills in disorderly retreat. When asked in later years about his bloodline, Napoleon simply remarked, "My nobility dates from Montenotte."

Click on any thumbnail image for a larger view.


(Left to right)

  1. The defiles of Montenotte, seen from the east.
  2. Monte Legino (Monte Negino on modern maps) seen from the valley road looking south, from the Austrian viewpoint.
  3. Looking west at the "i Molini" road junction in Montenotte Superiore, where the road south to Savona via Monte Legino (left) is met by the road southwest to Carcare (right). Masséna's troops advancing up the Carcare road hit d'Argenteau's right rear here on 12 April, 1796.
  4. A romantic image of the battle.
  5. Topographic map showing the rugged hills between Montenotte Superiore (top) and Monte Negino (Legino) (south of the red compass rose). From Valli del Bormida/Appenino Savonese, in the series Carta dei Sentieri e Rifugi 1:25000, Istituto Geografico Militare, Firenze.



Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2001