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Napoleon’s Campaigns in Italy 1796-1797 and 1800

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Napoleon’s Campaigns in Italy 1796-1797 and 1800
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Author(s): Reginald George Burton
Date Published: 2010/10
Page Count: 140
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-356-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-355-7

The Victories of the Armies of Revolutionary France in Italy

Less than three years after Major Bonaparte of the artillery of the army of the Republic had effected the fall of Toulon and, in so doing, made a name for himself among the most powerful men in France, he was in command of an army the purpose of which was to defeat the might of Imperial Austria. The campaigns in Northern Italy revealed in Bonaparte a master of strategy and tactics the like of which the field of conflict had thus far never seen. The ability to judge the enemy generals movements, to always be ready to deal with a threat yet to be revealed, to manage very large bodies of men and yet to put to the task in hand no more than was essentially required to achieve the objective—all these were characteristics of the method of waging war undertaken by Napoleon as his star rose ever higher in the firmament. The Austrians would be decisively out-generalled, out-fought and out-manoeuvred in this campaign which would reach its climax at one of the future emperor’s masterpieces of battle-craft—Marengo. R. G. Burton was a thorough historian who knew his subject intimately often travelling carefully over the ground of the campaigns he studied to ensure he grasped their detail. This is another interesting view of the early days of the Napoleonic epoch from Leonaur. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.

The French columns massed outside Lodi, where Liptay’s rear-guard, driven from Codogno, had already given the alarm, and Sebottendorf, who commanded the Austrian rear-guard of 8500 men, was on guard at the bridge with a detachment.<br>
The town of Lodi was built in the form of an amphitheatre with four bastions, surrounded by ditches, and reached down to the right bank of the Adda. The few Austrians in the town were driven out by the French skirmishers, and the place was soon in Napoleon’s hands. The Adda, about one hundred yards in width, was deep and swollen at this season of the year. Beyond the deep channel of the stream was a small islet, on the farther side of which the water was only some four feet in depth. At this point the bridge from Lodi crossed the river to Revellino on the left bank.<br>
His troops on the hither bank of the Adda having crossed, Sebottendorf caused two spans of the wooden bridge nearest the farther bank to be broken. It was Napoleon’s plan not only to enter Milan, the road to which was now open to him, but to occupy both banks of the Adda, and so be in a position to drive Beaulieu into the Tyrol or Carinthia. It was necessary to lose no time during which the Austrians could be reinforced on the Adda, and he therefore determined to drive them from the neighbourhood of Lodi and from Pizzighettone, farther down the river, and thus secure the approaches to the fortress of Mantua.<br>
Napoleon himself reconnoitred the bridge under fire, and had a battery brought up to force the retirement of the Austrian guns which covered the approaches. From the Madeleine clock tower he was able to survey the Austrian troops across the Adda. Beaumont, who had succeeded Stengel in command of the cavalry, was ordered to cross higher up, at the Mozanica ford, and fall on the enemy’s right flank, thus creating a diversion to assist in the passage of the river. In the meantime Massena’s guns, which had just arrived, engaged the Austrian batteries for some hours, while Napoleon awaited the effect of Beaumont’s action. At length, impatient of delay, he decided to force the passage.<br>
A forlorn hope of volunteers from different corps was to rush the bridge and establish a footing on the other side to cover the passage of the remainder of the army. Led by Massena, Berthier, Dallemagne and Cervoni, the grenadiers, 1000 strong, with fiery tread, fierce shouts and the roll of drums, bearing aloft two standards in their midst, issued from Lodi by the Brescia gate and rushed along the narrow way, six abreast, the brave Dupas in advance. A storm of bullets met the serried ranks; the very bridge shook with the weight of lead, and the groans and clamour of the wounded drowned the fierce cries of the survivors; they shrank appalled, wavered, broke, and gave back before the hell of projectiles.<br>
At the entrance to the bridge Massena and Berthier stemmed the waverers with drawn swords. With desperate courage and appeals to the love of glory of their soldiers they led a renewed assault; a party of sharpshooters, despatched in boats by Napoleon, landed on the islet below the bridge to support the attack, which now pressed forward; on the Lodi bank the bands played martial music, and the fire of the guns, directed by Napoleon, supported the attack. Nothing could arrest the impetuosity of the charge.<br>
Massena and Cervoni leading slid down the broken joists of the bridge that rested on the islet below; the soldiers followed them; they plunged into the stream and waded breast high to the farther bank, while the Austrians, appalled, shrank back before the torrent of fierce men who climbed the bank, rushed upon them with the bayonet and dispersed them in all directions, capturing their guns.<br>
It was now seven o’clock in the evening. Sebottendorf evacuated Revellino, the retreat of his infantry being covered by his cavalry, who attacked the French right and did much execution until they were driven back by Kilmaine’s squadrons. Beaumont did not arrive in time to take part in the battle, and the Austrians rallied at Fontana, having suffered a loss of 2000 men and 15 guns. From Fontana they made an orderly retreat to Cremona. The French lost about 1000 men.<br>
The road to Milan was now open, and Lombardy was at the mercy of the French. Beaulieu fell back behind the Mincio, while his detachment at Pizzighettone surrendered to the victors of Lodi.
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