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Wars of the French Revolution: Battle of Marengo

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Wars of the French Revolution: Battle of Marengo

Battle of Marengo by Louis-François Lejeune

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Conflict:

The Battle of Marengo was fought during the War of the Second Coalition which was part of the Wars of the French Revolution.

Date:

Napoleon defeated the Austrians on June 14, 1800.

Armies & Commanders:

French

  • Napoleon Bonaparte
  • 28,000 men
  • 24 guns

Austrians

  • Michael von Melas
  • 31,000 men
  • 100 guns

Battle of Marengo Summary:

In the spring of 1800, First Consul of France Napoleon Bonaparte led his Reserve Army across the Alps with the goal of relieving the Austrian siege of Genoa. Though he was unable to reach the city before its fall, Napoleon was able to place his army across the Austrian lines of communications. Anticipating an attack from the Austrian commander, General Michael von Melas, Napoleon prepared to fight a defensive battle. When the anticipated assault did not come, Napoleon became convinced that von Melas was planning to retreat.

To prevent the Austrians from escaping, Napoleon dispersed his army to block von Melas' likely escape routes. Unknown to the French commander, the Austrians were preparing to strike near the village of Marengo. Moving east from Alessandria, von Melas' troops crossed the Bormida River early on June 14. Their advance was slowed as there were only two bridges over the river. Pressing forward, the advance guard under Major General Andreas O'Reilly opened the action when it engaged the division of General Gaspard Gardanne.

As the bulk of the Austrian army arrived on the field, O'Reilly's force became the right wing, with von Melas overseeing the center and General Peter Ott commanding the left. Fighting in front of the Fontenone stream, Gardenne's men battled valiantly and delayed the Austrian's deployment. Battered, Gardenne's corps commander, General Claude Victor, pulled his men back and formed a new line behind the Fontenone and in front of Marengo. In the process he committed General Jacques Chambarlhac's division to the fray.

As von Melas began a series of assaults on Victor's position, Ott moved off to the north towards the village of Castel Ceriolo under the belief that it was French occupied. After repulsing two division-size attacks, Victor was finally reinforced as Napoleon came to realize the battle was not a diversion to cover to von Melas' withdrawal. As the corps of General Jean Lannes arrived on the field it was placed on the right where it could prevent a possible envelopment by Ott's forces in Castel Ceriolo. The French left was reinforced by Brigadier General François Étienne de Kellermann's heavy cavalry brigade.

Kellermann's horsemen quickly defeated an attempt by the Austrian cavalry to envelop Victor's left flank. At 11:00 AM, Napoleon finally arrived on the field. Taking charge, he issued recall orders to his scattered forces and deployed General Jean-Charles Monnier's division and the Consular Guard on the right. Around 2:00 PM, French forces attacked Castel Ceriolo with little success. As the attack was failing, von Melas finally broke through Victor's exhausted men. With the fall of Marengo, Napoleon ordered a general retreat two miles back to the village of San Giuliano.

With the French retreating, von Melas, who had been slightly wounded in the fighting, turned command over to his chief of staff, General Anton Zach with orders to pursue the fleeing enemy. Zach slowly formed the Austrian center into a pursuit column and moved towards San Giuliano. This column was largely unsupported as O'Reilly had moved southeast in pursuit of a small body of French troops and Ott paused due to French nearby French cavalry. At San Giuliano, Napoleon organized a new line which was reinforced by the arrival of General Louis Charles Antoine Desaix's men.

As Zach's column approached, the French massed their remaining artillery and opened fire. Napoleon promptly ordered Desaix's men forward and they charged into the Austrian column destroying the lead brigade. Zach countered by advancing a brigade of grenadiers under General Franz Lattermann. Ordering Desaix forward again, Napoleon supported the attack by having Kellermann's cavalry assault Lattermann's left flank. As the Austrian formation began to disintegrate, an ammunition limber exploded adding to the confusion. With the Austrians beginning to flee the field, the French cavalry under Kellermann and General Joachim Murat routed their Austrian counterparts.

Aftermath

The victory at Marengo cost Napoleon 1,100 killed, 3,600 wounded, and 900 missing/captured. For the Austrians casualties numbered 963 killed, 5,518 wounded, and 2,921 captured. Among those taken prisoner was Zach, while the French were forced to endure the death of Desaix who was killed in the final charge. Less than a day after the French victory, von Melas entered into negotiations which resulted in the Convention of Alexandria and the Austrian withdrawal from northern Italy. Coupled with General Jean Moreau's triumph at Hohenlinden in December, the Battle of Marengo effectively ended the War of the Second Coalition.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Conflicts & Battles
  5. Battles & Wars: 1800s
  6. Napoleonic Wars
  7. French Revolutionary Wars - Battles
  8. Battle of Marengo - War of the Second Coalition Battle of Marengo Napoleon Bonaparte

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