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ITALY 1793-97] 189
FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS
back to oppose the advanced guard, the Valenza divisions would take advantage of his absence to cross there. In either case, be it observed, the Austrians were to be evaded, not brought to action.
On the morning of the 7th, the swift advanced guard under General Dallemagne crossed at Piacenza, and, hearing of this, Bonaparte ordered every division except Sérurier’s thither with all possible speed. In the exultation of the moment he mocked at Beaulieu’s incapacity, but the old Austrian was already on the alert. This game of manœuvres he understood; already one of his divisions had arrived in close proximity to Dallemagne and the others were marching eastward by all available roads. It was not until the 8th that the French, after a series of partial encounters, were securely established on the left bank of the Po, and Beaulieu had given up the idea of forcing their most advanced troops to accept battle at a disadvantage. The success of the French was due less to their plan than to their mobility, which enabled them first to pass the river before the Austrians (who had actually started a day in advance of them) put in an appearance, and afterwards to be in superior numbers at each point of contact. But the episode was destined after all to culminate in a great event, which Napoleon himself indicated as the turning-point of his life. “Vendémiaire and even Montenotte did not make me think myself a superior being. It was after Lodi that the idea came to me.... That first kindled the spark of boundless ambition.”
The idea of a battle having been given up, Beaulieu retired to the Adda, and most of his troops were safely beyond it before the French arrived near Lodi, but he felt it necessary to leave a strong rearguard on the river opposite that place to cover the reassembly of his columns after their scattered march. On the afternoon of the 10th of May, Bonaparte, with Dallemagne, Masséna and Augereau, came up and seized the town. But 200 yds. of open ground had to be passed from the town gate to the bridge, and the bridge itself was another 250 in length. A few hundred yards beyond it stood the Austrians, 9000 strong with 14 guns. Napoleon brought up all his guns to prevent the enemy from destroying the bridge. Then sending all his cavalry to turn the enemy’s right by a ford above the town, he waited two hours, employing the time in cannonading the Austrian lines, resting his advanced infantry and closing up Masséna’s and Augereau’s divisions. Finally he gave the order to Dallemagne’s 4000 grenadiers, who were drawn up under cover of the town wall, to rush the bridge. As the column, not more than thirty men broad, made its appearance, it was met by the concentrated fire of the Austrian guns, and half way across the bridge it checked, but Bonaparte himself and Masséna rushed forward, the courage of the soldiers revived, and, while some jumped off the bridge and scrambled forward in the shallow water, the remainder stormed on, passed through the guns and drove back the infantry. This was, in bare outline, the astounding passage of the Bridge of Lodi. It was not till after the battle that Napoleon realized that only a rearguard was in front of him. When he launched his 4000 grenadiers he thought that on the other side there were four or five times that number of the enemy. No wonder, then, that after the event he recognized in himself the flash of genius, the courage to risk everything, and the “tact” which, independent of, and indeed contrary to all reasoned calculations, told him that the moment had come for “breaking the equilibrium.” Lodi was a tactical success in the highest sense, in that the principles of his tactics rested on psychology—on the “sublime” part of the art of war as Saxe had called it long ago. The spirit produced the form, and Lodi was the prototype of the Napoleonic battle—contact, manœuvre, preparation, and finally the well-timed, massed and unhesitating assault. The absence of strategical results mattered little. Many months elapsed before this bold assertion of superiority ceased to decide the battles of France and Austria.
Next day, still under the vivid tactical impressions of the Bridge of Lodi, he postponed his occupation of the Milanese and set off in pursuit of Beaulieu, but the latter was now out of reach, and during the next few days the French divisions were installed at various points in the area Pavia-Milan-Pizzighetone, facing outwards in all dangerous directions, with a central reserve at Milan. Thus secured, Bonaparte turned his attention to political and military administration. This took the form of exacting from the neighbouring princes money, supplies and objects of art, and the once famished Army of Italy revelled in its opportunity. Now, however, the Directory, suspicious of the too successful and too sanguine young general, ordered him to turn over the command in Upper Italy to Kellermann, and to take an expeditionary corps himself into the heart of the Peninsula, there to preach the Republic and the overthrow of princes. Napoleon absolutely refused, and offered his resignation. In the end (partly by bribery) he prevailed, but the incident reawakened his desire to close with Beaulieu. This indeed he could now do with a free hand, since not only had the Milanese been effectively occupied, but also the treaty with Sardinia had been ratified.
But no sooner had he resumed the advance than it was interrupted by a rising of the peasantry in his rear. The exactions of the French had in a few days generated sparks of discontent which it was easy for the priests and the nobles to fan into open flames. Milan and Pavia as well as the countryside broke into insurrection, and at the latter place the mob forced the French commandant to surrender. Bonaparte acted swiftly and ruthlessly. Bringing back a small portion of the army with him, he punished Milan on the 25th, sacked and burned Binasco on the 26th, and on the evening of the latter day, while his cavalry swept the open country, he broke his way into Pavia with 1500 men and beat down all resistance. Napoleon’s cruelty was never purposeless. He deported several scores of hostages to France, executed most of the mob leaders, and shot the French officer who had surrendered. In addition, he gave his 1500 men three hours’ leave to pillage. Then, as swiftly as they had come, they returned to the army on the Oglio. From this river Napoleon advanced to the banks of the Mincio, where the remainder of the Italian campaign was fought out, both sides contemptuously disregarding Venetian neutrality.
It centred on the fortress of Mantua, which Beaulieu, too weak to keep the field, and dislodged from the Mincio in the action of Borghetto (May 30), strongly garrisoned before retiring into Tirol. Beaulieu was soon afterwards replaced by Dagobert Siegmund, count von Wurmser (b. 1724), who brought considerable reinforcements from Germany.
At this point, mindful of the narrow escape he had had of losing his command, Bonaparte thought it well to begin the resettlement of Italy. The scheme for co-operating with Moreau on the Danube was indefinitely postponed, and the Army of Italy (now reinforced from the Army of the Alps and counting 42,000 effectives) was again disposed in a protective “zone of manœuvre,” with a strong central reserve. Over 8000 men, however, garrisoned the fortresses of Piedmont and Lombardy, and the effective blockade of Mantua and political expeditions into the heart of the Peninsula soon used up the whole of this reserve.
Moreover, no siege artillery was available until the Austrians in the citadel of Milan capitulated, and thus it was not till the 18th of July that the first parallel was begun. Almost at the same moment Wurmser began his advance from Trent with 55,000 men to relieve Mantua.
Siege of Mantua.
The protective system on which his attack would fall in the first instance was now as follows:—Augereau (6000) about Legnago, Despinoy (8000) south-east of Verona, Masséna (13,000) at Verona and Peschiera, with outposts on the Monte Baldo and at La Corona, Sauret (4500) at Salo and Gavardo. Sérurier (12,000) was besieging Mantua, and the only central reserve was the cavalry (2000) under Kilmaine. The main road to Milan passed by Brescia. Sauret’s brigade, therefore, was practically a detached
- On entering the territory of the duke of Parma Bonaparte imposed, besides other contributions, the surrender of twenty famous pictures, and thus began a practice which for many years enriched the Louvre and only ceased with the capture of Paris in 1814.