The last campaign of an outstanding Russian Field-Marshal
In the final year of the 18th century the aspirations and fortunes of revolutionary France were in the ascendant. The brilliance of Napoleon Bonaparte as a military commander was making an enduring impression on European battlefields and influencing the manner in which warfare would be waged. Meanwhile, in Russia, the 69 year old Field-Marshal Suwarow was banished from court, living in quiet retirement, little suspecting that an urgent command from his nation's government was about to take him back to the forefront of the armies of Russia for one final campaign. It may have been imagined that Suwarow would fare little better than the commanders of other armies who stood in opposition to the armies of revolutionary France. However, that proved not to be the case. Suwarow presided over a brilliant campaign which, perhaps because of its singularity amid a tidal wave of French successes, has often been overlooked by students of the age. In addition to the description of that campaign, this Leonaur edition includes a biographical sketch of Suwarow and several images which were not in the original edition of the text.
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For two hours the Russians continued to reiterate their attacks on Novi and the central heights, from which incessant showers of grape and musquetry plunged into their columns. Those attacking to the French right of Novi, were assailed by a sally from the town on their right flank, as well as by sustained attacks upon their left from Watrin’s division, as its brigades successively took part in the battle, on their arrival from Betoli; and, after a strenuous resistance, they were eventually forced to give way. Their comrades on the other side of Novi, under Suwarow’s more immediate observation, stood, or moved onward, in abortive attacks below the Collinetta, where Moreau and his strongest batteries were posted; suffering dreadfully under the concentric fire which poured from the natural rampart before them, and from the walls of Novi on their flank.
Whole regiments fell without a thought of flight; if others gave way, it was but to re-form to advance again: but all was unavailing. The carnage was dreadful; Suwarow frantically crying out, “Am I to be beaten at the end of my career?” tried to force his way to the head of the grenadiers, but his aides-de-camp seized his bridle (the staff having positive orders he should not unnecessarily expose himself), and the Allies fell back. The ardour of the French engaged them in a pursuit, which their generals vainly endeavoured to restrain, till the Russians turned fiercely upon them; when, apprehension for Moreau, whose horse was shot, induced them to halt and resume their ground upon the heights.
There was a lull along the line; the gathering of another storm. Orders were sent from the farm of San Marciano, where Suwarow had posted himself, to Melas, to take ground to his right, and attack Novi in front, while the Russians and Kray should again attempt the plateau; but Melas having already detached a column against Dombrowsky, and a brigade to turn the heights near Sarravalle, had but two brigades upon the field. With these he marched to the right rear of Novi. Watrin’s troops, already wearied by their march and fighting, were recalled in haste from the plain to counteract this movement; and passing hurriedly over the difficult and broken ground that intervened, they arrived breathless and dispirited, to see Melas’s columns at once advancing on their flank and rear.
They offered but a faint and most inadequate resistance to the Austrian brigades, which had gained the plateau with little loss; Calvin’s Cisalpine troops, who occupied its slope, having, both officers and men, behaved disgracefully. St. Cyr finding it impossible to check the flight of Calvin’s and Watrin’s people, rode back to La Boissière’s division behind Novi, and speaking a few words to the 106th demi-brigade, led them headlong against the Austrian troops, now masters of the receding isthmus of table ground and the road to Gavi; and nobly did these gallant men fulfil the task before them, dashing like heroes through the superior Austrian force, and capturing General Lusignan and the two guns which were already sweeping the plateau.
This brilliant effort saved the French right wing from total destruction. Its fugitives escaped along the Gavi road—followed shortly by the troops from behind Novi; and before the astonished Austrians had recovered their self-possession, the glorious 106th, with their trophies—aided by the cavalry, where the ground admitted of its action—were seen slowly retiring and covering the rescued right wing, till it halted beyond the Riaffo and Tassarolo, scarce a league from the field of battle. Not so, however, with the left. While Melas was engaged as stated, the Russians were pressing hard on Novi, and Kray, in his tenth attack, was battling up the slope; the French, on the plateau, having to show front to north, east, and west, to cover their only line of retreat by Pasturana. Suwarow sent repeated orders to all the generals, and the purport of all and each was “forward, forward.”
Melas and Bagration entered Novi on opposite sides nearly at the moment Kray’s corps formed across the plateau. Shout after shout rose from the troops, as gradually the enemy was borne back on every side, stimulating higher and higher, at each succeeding burst, their furious zeal, and the rivalry of their comrades, till the fire of the allied musquetry had almost ceased, and the roar of cannon only broke above the loud hurrahs that marked their onward course. The French fought desperately to cover the passage of their guns through Pasturana, till an intelligent officer led some Hungarian light troops round to the rear of the village, and firing on the leading horses of the train, in a moment blocked up the road, when the confusion and slaughter became frightful.