An expert evaluation of the first battles of the Napoleonic epoch
Sargent was a superb military historian and students will discover his analysis of the campaign of Marengo—published by Leonaur—is an insightful perspective of the military genius who would one day crown himself emperor of the French. In this companion piece Sargent once again turns his attention to the early phases of Napoleon's career, at the time when he was General Bonaparte, commanding his revolutionary forces in Italy at the close of the eighteenth century. As usual Sargent's text is concisely delivered providing students with an excellent insight into the essentials of the campaign and the great man's strategic genius. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket.
At Verona, after the Battle of Caldiero, Bonaparte might have taken any one of four courses.<br>
First: He could have remained at Verona.<br>
Had he shut himself up in the fortified town of Verona, he could in all probability have held out as long as his provisions lasted. In this case Alvinzi, who was already at the gates of Verona, would undoubtedly have laid siege to the place. By taking such a course Bonaparte could have prolonged the conflict; but it would have been only a question of time when he would be compelled to surrender. He refused to shut himself up in Verona; and in this connection it is worthy of notice that during all of his military operations he never allowed himself to be besieged in any place.<br>
When the commander of an army is hard pressed, and there is near at hand a strongly fortified place with outlying works of great strength, and provisions and water within, the temptation is great to seek security there. Second rate generals accept such opportunities, but in doing so they make fatal mistakes. The great masters of the art of war manoeuvre for position, and become themselves the besiegers; or decide upon the open battlefield the fate of their fortresses and their armies.<br>
Second: He could have united with Vaubois to attack Davidovich.
Had he united his forces with those of Vaubois, he could easily have defeated Davidovich; but meantime Alvinzi could have crossed the Adige and relieved Mantua, or could have fallen on the French communications with Milan. In either case the difficulties surrounding Bonaparte would have been greatly increased.<br>
Third: He could have retreated with all his forces.<br>
To follow this course would have been to yield up Mantua, to give up the greater part of Italy, and to acknowledge himself beaten.<br>
Fourth: The course he chose, namely, to attack Alvinzi in flank, was the only course left in which there was any hope of success. When he threw his army upon Alvinzi’s flank and rear, he hoped to gain possession of the defile of Villa Nova before Alvinzi should withdraw his army through it towards Bassano. Had Bonaparte succeeded in doing this, he would have been directly on Alvinzi’s communications, and would have held the only outlet for his army.<br>
Once in possession of this outlet, he expected to annihilate or capture Alvinzi’s army. But, in order to gain such complete success as here set forth, three conditions must be fulfilled.<br>
First, that during the flank movement Kilmaine should hold Verona. Otherwise, Alvinzi could unite with Davidovich, which was the very thing that Bonaparte was fighting to prevent.<br>
Second, that, until Bonaparte had destroyed Alvinzi, Vaubois should hold Davidovich in check. Bonaparte’s anxiety on this point led him, after each day’s unsuccessful attack at Arcole, to cross the Adige to the right bank. He wished to be where he could, if necessary, march to Vaubois’s assistance; and he was unwilling to be enclosed in the marshes about Arcole, which might happen if Vaubois should be driven back and Davidovich should gain possession of the crossing at Ronco.<br>
Third, that Bonaparte should reach Villa Nova in time to cut off Alvinzi’s retreat.<br>
The conditions were not all fulfilled. The three days’ fighting at Arcole allowed Alvinzi to withdraw his army through Villa Nova. In this way he preserved his communications, and saved his army from capture or annihilation; but he could not save it from defeat; nor could he stay the progress of that genius who, though having inferior numbers, brought to his aid the mountains and the marshes, the defiles and the causeways, and with these as re-enforcements marched on to victory.