Page:EB1911 - Volume 11.djvu/205

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ITALY 1793-97]
193
FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS

indeed more tactical expedients than before, but calculating chiefly on the fighting powers of his men and on the exhaustion of the enemy. Masséna again advanced on Porcile, Robert’s brigade on Arcola, but the rest, under Augereau, were to pass the Alpone near its confluence with the Adige, and joining various small bodies which passed the main stream lower down, to storm forward on dry ground to Arcola. The Austrians, however, themselves advanced from Arcola, overwhelmed Robert’s brigade on the causeway and almost reached Ronco. This was perhaps the crisis of the battle, for Augereau’s force was now on the other side of the stream, and Masséna, with his back to the new danger, was approaching Porcile. But the fire of a deployed regiment stopped the head of the Austrian column; Masséna, turning about, cut into its flank on the dike; and Augereau, gathering force, was approaching Arcola from the south. The bridge and the village were evacuated soon afterwards, and Masséna and Augereau began to extend in the plain beyond. But the Austrians still sullenly resisted. It was at this moment that Bonaparte secured victory by a mere ruse, but a ruse which would have been unprofitable and ridiculous had it not been based on his fine sense of the moral conditions. Both sides were nearly fought out, and he sent a few trumpeters to the rear of the Austrian army to sound the charge. They did so, and in a few minutes the Austrians were streaming back to S. Bonifacio. This ended the drama of Arcola, which more than any other episode of these wars, perhaps of any wars in modern history, centres on the personality of the hero. It is said that the French fought without spirit on the first day, and yet on the second and third Bonaparte had so thoroughly imbued them with his own will to conquer that in the end they prevailed over an enemy nearly twice their own strength.

The climax was reached just in time, for on the 17th Vaubois was completely defeated at Rivoli and withdrew to Peschiera, leaving the Verona and Mantua roads completely open to Davidovich. But on the 19th Napoleon turned upon him, and combining the forces of Vaubois, Masséna and Augereau against him, drove him back to Trent. Meantime Alvintzi returned from Vicenza to San Bonifacio and Caldiero (November 21st), and Bonaparte at once stopped the pursuit of Davidovich. On the return of the French main body to Verona, Alvintzi finally withdrew, Wurmser, who had emerged from Mantua on the 23rd, was driven in again, and this epilogue of the great struggle came to a feeble end because neither side was now capable of prolonging the crisis.

Alvintzi renewed his advance in January 1797 with all the forces that could be assembled for a last attempt to save Mantua. At this time 8000 men under Sérurier blockaded Mantua, Masséna (9000) was at Verona, Joubert (Vaubois’s successor) at Rivoli with 10,000, Augereau at Legnago with 9000. In reserve were Rey’s division (4000) between Brescia and Montechiaro, and Victor’s brigade at Goito and Castelnuovo. On the other side, Alvintzi had 9000 men under Provera at Padua, 6000 under Bayalič at Bassano, and he himself with 28,000 men stood in the Tirol about Trent. This time he intended to make his principal effort on the Rivoli side. Provera was to capture Legnago on the 9th of January, and Bayalič Verona on the 12th, while the main army was to deliver its blow against the Rivoli position on the 13th.

Rivoli.

The first marches of this scheme were duly carried out, and several days elapsed before Napoleon was able to discern the direction of the real attack. Augereau fell back, skirmishing a little, as Provera’s and Bayalič’s advance developed. On the 11th, when the latter was nearing Verona, Alvintzi’s leading troops appeared in front of the Rivoli position. On the 12th Bayalič with a weak force (he had sent reinforcements to Alvintzi by the Val Pantena) made an unsuccessful attack on Verona, Provera, farther south, remaining inactive. On the 13th Napoleon, still in doubt, launched Masséna’s division against Bayalič, who was driven back to San Bonifacio; but at the same time definite news came from Joubert that Alvintzi’s main army was in front of La Corona. From this point begins the decisive, though by no means the most intense or dramatic, struggle of the campaign. Once he felt sure of the situation Napoleon acted promptly. Joubert was ordered to hold on to Rivoli at all costs. Rey was brought up by a forced march to Castelnuovo, where Victor joined him, and ahead of them both Masséna was hurried on to Rivoli. Napoleon himself joined Joubert on the night of the 13th. There he saw the watch-fires of the enemy in a semicircle around him, for Alvintzi, thinking that he had only to deal with one division, had begun a widespread enveloping attack. The horns of this attack were as yet so far distant that Napoleon, instead of extending on an equal front, only spread out a few regiments to gain an hour or two and to keep the ground for Masséna and Rey, and on the morning of January 14th, with 10,000 men in hand against 26,000, he fell upon the central columns of the enemy as they advanced up the steep broken slopes of the foreground. The fighting was severe, but Bonaparte had the advantage. Masséna arrived at 9 A.M., and a little later the column of Quasdanovich, which had moved along the Adige and was now attempting to gain a foothold on the plateau in rear of Joubert, was crushed by the converging fire of Joubert’s right brigade and by Masséna’s guns, their rout being completed by the charge of a handful of cavalry under Lasalle. The right horn of Alvintzi’s attack, when at last it swung in upon Napoleon’s rear, was caught between Masséna and the advancing troops of Rey and annihilated, and even before this the dispirited Austrians were in full retreat. A last alarm, caused by the appearance of a French infantry regiment in their rear (this had crossed the lake in boats from Salo), completed their demoralization, and though less than 2000 had been killed and wounded, some 12,000 Austrian prisoners were left in the hands of the victors. Rivoli was indeed a moral triumph. After the ordeal of Arcola, the victory of the French was a foregone conclusion at each point of contact. Napoleon hesitated, or rather refrained from striking, so long as his information was incomplete, but he knew now from experience that his covering detachment, if well led, could not only hold its own without assistance until it had gained the necessary information, but could still give the rest of the army time to act upon it. Then, when the centre of gravity had been ascertained, the French divisions hurried thither, caught the enemy in the act of manœuvring and broke them up. And if that confidence in success which made all this possible needs a special illustration, it may be found in Napoleon’s sending Murat’s regiment over the lake to place a mere two thousand bayonets across the line of retreat of a whole army. Alvintzi’s manœuvre was faulty neither strategically in the first instance nor tactically as regards the project of enveloping Joubert on the 14th. It failed because Joubert and his men were better soldiers than his own, and because a French division could move twice as fast as an Austrian, and from these two factors a new form of war was evolved, the essence of which was that, for a given time and in a given area, a small force of the French should engage and hold a much larger force of the enemy.

The remaining operations can be very briefly summarized. Provera, still advancing on Mantua, joined hands there with Wurmser, and for a time held Sérurier at a disadvantage. But hearing of this, Napoleon sent back Masséna from the field of Rivoli, and that general, with Augereau and Sérurier, not only forced Wurmser to retire again into the fortress, but compelled Provera to lay down his arms. On the 2nd of February 1797, after a long and honourable defence, Mantua, and with it what was left of Wurmser’s army, surrendered.

The campaign of 1797, which ended the war of the First Coalition, was the brilliant sequel of these hard-won victories. Austria had decided to save Mantua at all costs, and had lost her armies in the attempt, a loss which was not compensated by the “strategic” victories of the archduke. Thus the Republican “visitation” of Carinthia and Carniola was one swift march—politically glorious, if dangerous from a purely military standpoint—of Napoleon’s army to the Semmering. The archduke, who was called thither from Germany, could do no more than fight a few rearguard actions, and make threats against Napoleon’s rear, which the latter, with his usual “tact,” ignored. On the Rhine, as in 1795 and 1796, the armies of the Sambre-and-Meuse (Hoche) and the Rhine-and-Moselle (Moreau) were opposed by the armies of the Lower Rhine (Werneck) and of the Upper Rhine (Latour). Moreau crossed the river near Strassburg and fought a series of minor actions. Hoche, like his predecessors, crossed at Düsseldorf and Neuwied and fought his