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13 min
War of the First Coalition: Napoleon's First Italian campaign
1796 - 1797

War of the First Coalition: Napoleon's First Italian campaign

Words: nono umasy


The French prepared a great advance on three fronts, with Jourdan and Jean Victor Marie Moreau on the Rhine and the newly promoted Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy. The three armies were to link up in Tyrol and march on Vienna. However Jourdan was defeated by Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen and both armies were forced to retreat back across the Rhine. Napoleon, on the other hand, was successful in a daring invasion of Italy. In the Montenotte Campaign, he separated the armies of Sardinia and Austria, defeating each one in turn, and then forced a peace on Sardinia. Following this, his army captured Milan and Mantua forcing the Austrian suing for peace in April 1797



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1796 Apr 10

Battle of Voltri

Genoa, Italy


Battle of Voltri
Battle of Voltri | ©Keith Rocco
Battle of VoltriBattle of Voltri


The battle saw two Habsburg Austrian columns under the overall direction of Johann Peter Beaulieu attack a reinforced French brigade under Jean-Baptiste Cervoni. After a skirmish lasting several hours, the Austrians forced Cervoni to withdraw west along the coast to Savona. In the spring of 1796, Beaulieu was installed as the new commander of the combined armies of Austria and the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont in northwest Italy. His opposite number was also new to the job of army commander. Napoleon Bonaparte arrived from Paris to direct the French Army of Italy. Bonaparte immediately began planning an offensive, but Beaulieu struck first by launching an attack against Cervoni's somewhat overextended force.


1796 Apr 11

Battle of Montenotte

Cairo Montenotte, Italy


Battle of Montenotte
Rampon at Monte Negino
Battle of Montenotte


The French won the battle, which was fought near the village of Cairo Montenotte in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. On 11 April, Argenteau led 3,700 men in several assaults against a French mountaintop redoubt but failed to take it. By the morning of the 12th, Bonaparte concentrated large forces against Argenteau's now-outnumbered troops. The strongest French push came from the direction of the mountaintop redoubt, but a second force fell on the weak Austrian right flank and overwhelmed it. In its hasty retreat from the field, Argenteau's force lost heavily and was badly disorganized. This attack against the boundary between the Austrian and Sardinian armies threatened to sever the link between the two allies.


1796 Apr 13

Battle of Millesimo

Millesimo, Italy


Battle of Millesimo
Attaque du château de Cossaria, 13 avril 1796. Campagne d'Italie (1796-1797)


The French lost 700 men in their fruitless attacks on 13 April. Provera's 988 men suffered only 96 killed and wounded, but the remainder became prisoners of war. The surrender of the castle allowed the French offensive to continue.

1796 Apr 14

Second Battle of Dego

Dego, Italy


Second Battle of Dego
The second battle of Dego
Second Battle of Dego


After successfully defeating the Austrian right wing at the Battle of Montenotte, Napoleon Bonaparte continued with his plan to separate the Austrian army of General Johann Beaulieu from the army of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia led by General Michelangelo Colli. By taking the defences at Dego, the French would control the only road by which the two armies could link with each other. The town's defences comprised both a castle on a bluff and earthworks on rising ground, and were held by a small mixed force, consisting of units of both the Austrian and Piedmont-Sardinian armies. The Second Battle of Dego was fought on 14 and 15 April 1796 during the French Revolutionary Wars between French forces and Austro-Sardinian forces. The French victory resulted in driving the Austrians northeast, away from their Piedmontese allies. Soon after, Bonaparte launched his army in a relentless westward drive against Colli's Austro-Sardinian forces.


1796 Apr 20

Battle of Mondovì

Mondovi, Italy


Battle of Mondovì
Première vue de la bataille de Mondovi et de la position de Brichetto - le 21 avril 1796. Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon.
Battle of Mondovì


The French victory at the Battle of Mondovì meant that they had put the Ligurian Alps behind them, while the plains of Piedmont lay before them. A week later, King Victor Amadeus III sued for peace, taking his kingdom out of the First Coalition. The defeat of their Sardinian ally wrecked the Austrian Habsburg strategy and led to the loss of northwest Italy to the First French Republic. According to historian Gunther E. Rothenberg, Bonaparte's forces lost 600 killed and wounded out of 17,500. The Piedmontese lost 8 cannons and 1,600 men killed, wounded, and captured out of 13,000.


1796 May 7

Battle of Fombio

Fombio, Italy


Battle of Fombio
Giuseppe Pietro Bagetti's Battaglia di Fombio (Fombio's Battle, 8 May 1796)


After a short pause, Bonaparte carried out a brilliant flanking manoeuvre, and crossed the Po at Piacenza, nearly cutting the Austrian line of retreat. This threat forced the Austrian army to withdraw to the east.

1796 May 10

Battle of Lodi

Lodi, Italy


Battle of Lodi
The French passing the bridge
Battle of Lodi


The Battle of Lodi was not a decisive engagement since the Austrian army had successfully escaped. But it became a central element in the Napoleonic legend and, according to Napoleon himself, contributed to convincing him that he was superior to other generals and that his destiny would lead him to achieve great things. The French took Milan afterwards.


1796 May 30

Battle of Borghetto

Valeggio sul Mincio, Italy


Battle of Borghetto
Battle of Borghetto


In early May, Bonaparte's French army won the battles of Fombio and Lodi and overran the Austrian province of Lombardy. Beaulieu evacuated Milan except for a 2,000-man garrison that he left in the citadel. In mid-May, the French occupied Milan and Brescia. At this time, the army had to pause to put down a revolt in Pavia. At the village of Binasco, the French atrociously massacred the adult male population. Beaulieu pulled his army back behind the Mincio, with strong patrols west of the river. He urgently tried to put the fortress of Mantua into a state where it could sustain a siege. This action compelled the Austrian army to retreat north up the Adige valley to Trento, leaving the fortress of Mantua to be besieged by the French.


1796 Jul 4

Siege of Mantua

Mantua, Italy


Siege of Mantua
Lecomte - Reddition de Mantoue, le 2 février 1797, le général Wurmser se rend au général Sérurier


Mantua was the strongest Austrian base in Italy. Meanwhile, the Austrians retreated north into the foothills of the Tyrol. During the siege of Mantua, which lasted from 4 July 1796 to 2 February 1797 with a short break, French forces under the overall command of Napoleon Bonaparte besieged and blockaded a large Austrian garrison at Mantua for many months until it surrendered. This eventual surrender, together with the heavy losses incurred during four unsuccessful relief attempts, led indirectly to the Austrians suing for peace in 1797.

1796 Aug 3

Battle of Lonato

Lonato del Garda, Italy


Battle of Lonato
General Bonaparte at the battle of Lonato


During July and August, Austria sent a fresh army into Italy under Dagobert Wurmser. Wurmser attacked toward Mantua along the east side of Lake Garda, sending Peter Quasdanovich down the west side in an effort to envelop Bonaparte. Bonaparte exploited the Austrian mistake of dividing their forces to defeat them in detail, but in so doing, he abandoned the siege of Mantua, which held out for another six months. A week of hard-fought actions that began on 29 July and ended on 4 August resulted in the retreat of Quasdanovich's badly mauled force.

1796 Aug 5

Battle of Castiglione

Castiglione delle Stiviere, It


Battle of Castiglione
Victor Adam - Battle of Castiglione - 1836
Battle of CastiglioneBattle of CastiglioneBattle of Castiglione


Castiglione was the first attempt by the Austrian army to break the French Siege of Mantua, which was the primary Austrian fortress in northern Italy. To achieve this goal, Wurmser planned to lead four converging columns against the French. It succeeded insofar as Bonaparte lifted the siege in order to have the manpower sufficient to meet the threat. But his skill and the speed of his troops' march allowed the French army commander to keep the Austrian columns separated and defeat each in detail over a period of about one week. Although the final flank attack was prematurely delivered, it nevertheless resulted in a victory. The outnumbered Austrians were defeated and driven back along a line of hills to the river crossing at Borghetto, where they retired beyond the Mincio River. This battle was one of four famous victories won by Bonaparte during the War of the First Coalition, part of the Wars of the French Revolution. The others were Bassano, Arcole, and Rivoli.


1796 Sep 4

Battle of Rovereto

Rovereto, Italy


Battle of Rovereto
Bataille de Rovereto livrée le 4 septembre 1796 entre les armées française et autrichienne. Gravure de l'époque.
Battle of Rovereto


In September, Bonaparte marched north against Trento in Tyrol, but Wurmser had already marched toward Mantua by the Brenta River valley, leaving Paul Davidovich's force to hold off the French. The action was fought during the second relief of the siege of Mantua. The Austrians left Davidovich's corps in the upper Adige valley while transferring two divisions to Bassano del Grappa by marching east, then south down the Brenta River valley. The Austrian army commander Dagobert von Würmser planned to march south-west from Bassano to Mantua, completing the clockwise manoeuvre. Meanwhile, Davidovich would threaten a descent from the north to distract the French. Bonaparte's next move did not conform to the Austrians' expectations. The French commander advanced north with three divisions, a force that greatly outnumbered Davidovich. The French steadily pressed back the Austrian defenders all day and routed them in the afternoon. Davidovich retreated well to the north. This success allowed Bonaparte to follow Würmser down the Brenta valley to Bassano and, ultimately, trap him inside the walls of Mantua.


1796 Sep 8

Battle of Bassano

Bassano, Italy


Battle of Bassano
General Bonaparte at the battle of Bassano (1796)
Battle of Bassano


The first relief of Mantua failed at the battles of Lonato and Castiglione in early August. The defeat caused Wurmser to retreat north up the Adige River valley. Meanwhile, the French reinvested the Austrian garrison of Mantua. Ordered by Emperor Francis II to relieve Mantua at once, Feldmarschall Wurmser and his new chief-of-staff Feldmarschall Franz von Lauer drew up a strategy. Leaving Paul Davidovich and 13,700 soldiers to defend Trento and the approaches to the County of Tyrol, Wurmser directed two divisions east then south down the Brenta valley. When he joined the large division of Johann Mészáros at Bassano, he would have 20,000 men. From Bassano, Wurmser would move on Mantua, while Davidovich probed the enemy defenses from the north, looking for a favorable opportunity to support his superior. Napoleon followed Wurmser down the Brenta valley. The engagement occurred during the second Austrian attempt to raise the siege of Mantua. It was a French victory. The Austrians abandoned their artillery and baggage, losing supplies, cannons, and battle standards to the French. Wurmser elected to march for Mantua with a large portion of his surviving troops. The Austrians evaded Bonaparte's attempts to intercept them but were driven into the city after a pitched battle on 15 September. This left nearly 30,000 Austrians trapped in the fortress. This number rapidly diminished due to disease, combat losses, and hunger.


1796 Nov 2

Battle of Cembra

Cembra, Italy


Battle of Cembra
Battle of Cembra 1796 | ©Keith Rocco


Bonaparte badly underestimated Davidovich's strength. To oppose the northern thrust, he deployed a division of 10,500 soldiers under General of Division Vaubois. The start of Davidovich's offensive led to a series of clashes beginning on 27 October. On 2 November the French attacked the Austrians at Cembra. Although Vaubois inflicted 1,100 casualties on his enemies at the cost of only 650 Frenchmen, he decided to pull back to Calliano when Davidovich resumed his forward movement the next day. The clashes ended with the defeat of the French, who were forced to a temporary retreat, and were one of the few successes obtained by the imperial troops against the Napoleonic ones.


1796 Nov 6

Battle of Calliano

Calliano, Italy


Battle of Calliano
Battle of Calliano 1796 | ©Keith Rocco
Battle of Calliano


The Battle of Calliano on 6 and 7 November 1796 saw an Austrian corps commanded by Paul Davidovich rout a French division directed by Claude Belgrand de Vaubois. The engagement was part of the third Austrian attempt to relieve the French siege of Mantua.


1796 Nov 6

Second Battle of Bassano

Bassano del Grappa, Italy


Second Battle of Bassano
Second Battle of Bassano 1796 | ©Keith Rocco


The Austrians sent yet another army under József Alvinczi against Bonaparte in November. Again the Austrians divided their effort, sending Davidovich's corps from the north while Alvinczi's main body attacked from the east. The Austrians repulsed persistent French attacks in a struggle in which both sides suffered heavy losses. The engagement, which happened two months after the more famous Battle of Bassano, marked the first tactical defeat of Bonaparte's career.


1796 Nov 12

Battle of Caldiero

Caldiero, Italy


Battle of Caldiero
| ©Alfred Bligny
Battle of Caldiero


In the Battle of Caldiero on 12 November 1796, the Habsburg army led by József Alvinczi fought a First French Republic army commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte. The French assaulted the Austrian positions, which were initially held by the army advance guard under Prince Friedrich Franz Xaver of Hohenzollern-Hechingen. The defenders held firm until reinforcements arrived in the afternoon to push back the French. This marked a rare tactical setback for Bonaparte, whose forces withdrew into Verona that evening after having suffered greater losses than their adversaries.


1796 Nov 15

Battle of Arcole

Arcole, Italy


Battle of Arcole
La Bataille du Pont d'Arcole
Battle of ArcoleBattle of Arcole


The battle saw a bold maneuver by Napoleon Bonaparte's French Army of Italy to outflank the Austrian army led by József Alvinczi and cut off its line of retreat. The French victory proved to be a highly significant event during the third Austrian attempt to lift the siege of Mantua. Alvinczi planned to execute a two-pronged offensive against Bonaparte's army. The Austrian commander ordered Paul Davidovich to advance south along the Adige River valley with one corps while Alvinczi led the main army in an advance from the east. The Austrians hoped to raise the siege of Mantua where Dagobert Sigmund von Wurmser was trapped with a large garrison. If the two Austrian columns linked up and if Wurmser's troops were released, French prospects were grim. Davidovich scored a victory against Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois at Calliano and threatened Verona from the north. Meanwhile, Alvinczi repulsed one attack by Bonaparte at Bassano and advanced almost to the gates of Verona where he defeated a second French attack at Caldiero. Leaving Vaubois' battered division to contain Davidovich, Bonaparte massed every available man and tried to turn Alvinczi's left flank by crossing the Adige. For two days the French assaulted the stoutly defended Austrian position at Arcole without success. Their persistent attacks finally forced Alvinczi to withdraw on the third day. That day Davidovich routed Vaubois, but it was too late. Bonaparte's victory at Arcole permitted him to concentrate against Davidovich and chase him up the Adige valley. Left alone, Alvinczi threatened Verona again. But without his colleague's support, the Austrian commander was too weak to continue the campaign and he withdrew again. Wurmser attempted a breakout, but his effort came too late in the campaign and had no effect on the result. The third relief attempt failed by the narrowest of margins.


1797 Jan 14

Battle of Rivoli

Rivoli Veronese, Italy


Battle of Rivoli
Napoleon at the Battle of Rivoli
Battle of RivoliBattle of RivoliBattle of Rivoli


The Battle of Rivoli was a key victory in the French campaign in Italy against Austria. Napoleon Bonaparte's 23,000 Frenchmen defeated an attack of 28,000 Austrians under General of the Artillery Jozsef Alvinczi, ending Austria's fourth and final attempt to relieve the siege of Mantua. Rivoli further demonstrated Napoleon's brilliance as a military commander and led to the French consolidation of northern Italy.


1797 Feb 2

Mantua surrenders

Mantua, Italy


Mantua surrenders
La Favorita Palace was the scene of several actions


After the battle of Rivoli, Joubert and Ray began a successful pursuit of Alvinczi, all but destroying his columns, the remnants of which fled north up into the Adige Valley in confusion. The Battle of Rivoli was Bonaparte's greatest victory at the time. After that he turned his attention to Giovanni di Provera. On 13 January his corps (9,000 men) had crossed north of Legnano and driven straight for the relief of Mantua which was besieged by French forces under Jean Sérurier. At night on 15 January Provera sent a message to Dagobert Sigmund von Wurmser to break out in a concerted attack. On 16 January, when Wurmser attacked he was driven back into Mantua by Sérurier. The Austrians were attacked from the front by Masséna (who had force marched from Rivoli) and from the rear by the division of Pierre Augereau, and were thus forced to surrender the entire force. The Austrian army in North Italy had ceased to exist. On 2 February Mantua surrendered with its garrison of 16,000 men, all that remained of an army of 30,000. The troops marched out with the 'honours of war', and laid down their arms. Wurmser with his staff and an escort were allowed to go free. The remainder were sent to Austria after swearing an oath to not serve against the French for a Year, 1,500 guns were found in the fortress.

1797 Feb 10

Invasion of the Papal States

Rome, Italy


Invasion of the Papal States
Entry of French troops into Rome
Invasion of the Papal States


The French invaded the Papal States, motivated by the killing of French general Mathurin-Léonard Duphot in December 1797. After the successful invasion, the Papal States became a satellite state renamed the Roman Republic, under the leadership of Louis-Alexandre Berthier, one of Bonaparte's generals. It was placed under the government of France - the Directory - and comprised territory conquered from the Papal States. Pope Pius VI was taken prisoner, escorted out of Rome on 20 February 1798 and exiled to France, where he would later die.


1797 Mar 21

Battle of Tarvis

Tarvisio, Italy


Battle of Tarvis
Battle of Tarvis 1797 | ©Keith Rocco


In the battle, three divisions of a First French Republic army commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte attacked several columns of the retreating Habsburg Austrian army led by Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen. In three days of confused fighting, French divisions directed by André Masséna, Jean Joseph Guieu, and Jean-Mathieu-Philibert Sérurier succeeded in blocking the Tarvis Pass and capturing 3,500 Austrians led by Adam Bajalics von Bajahaza.


1797 Apr 18

Epilogue

Leoben, Austria


Epilogue
A sketch of the signing, for a painting drawn in 1806 by Guillaume Guillon-Lethière.


The Treaty of Leoben was a general armistice and preliminary peace agreement between the Holy Roman Empire and the First French Republic that ended the War of the First Coalition. It was signed at Eggenwaldsches Gartenhaus, near Leoben, on 18 April 1797 by General Maximilian von Merveldt and the Marquis of Gallo on behalf of the Emperor Francis II and by General Napoléon Bonaparte on behalf of the French Directory. Ratifications were exchanged in Montebello on 24 May, and the treaty came into effect immediately.


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Bonaparte's campaign was important in bringing an end to the War of the First Coalition.





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References



  • Boycott-Brown, Martin. The Road to Rivoli. London: Cassell & Co., 2001. ISBN 0-304-35305-1
  • Chandler, David. Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. New York: Macmillan, 1979. ISBN 0-02-523670-9
  • Fiebeger, G. J. (1911). The Campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte of 1796–1797. West Point, New York: US Military Academy Printing Office.
  • Rothenberg, Gunther E. (1980). The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-31076-8.
  • Smith, Digby. The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill, 1998. ISBN 1-85367-276-9


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