1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/French Revolutionary Wars
FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS (1792-1800), the general name for the first part of the series of French wars which went on continuously, except for some local and temporary cessations of hostilities, from the declaration of war against Britain in 1792 to the final overthrow of Napoleon in 1815. The most important of these cessations—viz. the peace of 1801-1803—closes the “Revolutionary” and opens the “Napoleonic” era of land warfare, for which see Napoleonic Campaigns, Peninsular War and Waterloo Campaign. The naval history of the period is divided somewhat differently; the first period, treated below, is 1792-1799; for the second, 1799-1815, see Napoleonic Campaigns.
France declared war on Austria on the 20th of April 1792. But Prussia and other powers had allied themselves with Austria in view of war, and it was against a coalition and not a single power that France found herself pitted, at the moment when the “emigration,” the ferment of the Revolution, and want of material and of funds had thoroughly disorganized her army. The first engagements were singularly disgraceful. Near Lille the French soldiers fled at sight of the Austrian outposts, crying Nous sommes trahis, and murdered their general (April 29). The commanders-in-chief of the armies that were formed became one after another “suspects”; and before a serious action had been fought, the three armies of Rochambeau, Lafayette and Lückner had resolved themselves into two commanded by Dumouriez and Kellermann. Thus the disciplined soldiers of the Allies had apparently good reason to consider the campaign before them a military promenade. On the Rhine, a combined army of Prussians, Austrians, Hessians and émigrés under the duke of Brunswick was formed for the invasion of France, flanked by two smaller armies on its right and left, all three being under the supreme command of the king of Prussia. In the Netherlands the Austrians were to besiege Lille, and in the south the Piedmontese also took the field. The first step, taken against Brunswick's advice, was the issue (July 25) of a proclamation which, couched in terms in the last degree offensive to the French nation, generated the spirit that was afterwards to find expression in the “armed nation” of 1793-4, and sealed the fate of Louis XVI. The duke, who was a model sovereign in his own principality, sympathized with the constitutional side of the Revolution, while as a soldier he had no confidence in the success of the enterprise. After completing its preparations in the leisurely manner of the previous generation, his army crossed the French frontier on the 19th of August. Longwy was easily captured; and the Allies slowly marched on to Verdun, which was more indefensible even than Longwy. The commandant, Colonel Beaurepaire, shot himself in despair, and the place surrendered on the 3rd of September. Brunswick now began his march on Paris and approached the defiles of the Argonne. But Dumouriez, who had been training his raw troops at Valenciennes in constant small engagements, with the purpose of invading Belgium, now threw himself into the Argonne by a rapid and daring flank march, almost under the eyes of the Prussian advanced guard, and barred the Paris road, summoning Kellermann to his assistance from Metz. The latter moved but slowly, and before he arrived the northern part of the line of defence had been forced. Dumouriez, undaunted, changed front so as to face north, with his right wing on the Argonne and his left stretching towards Châlons, and in this position Kellermann joined him at St Menehould on the 19th of September.
Valmy. Brunswick meanwhile had passed the northern defiles and had then swung round to cut off Dumouriez from Châlons. At the moment when the Prussian manœuvre was nearly completed, Kellermann, commanding in Dumouriez's momentary absence, advanced his left wing and took up a position between St Menehould and Valmy. The result was the world-renowned Cannonade of Valmy (September 20, 1792). Kellermann's infantry, nearly all regulars, stood steady. The French artillery justified its reputation as the best in Europe, and eventually, with no more than a half-hearted infantry attack, the duke broke off the action and retired. This trivial engagement was the turning-point of the campaign and a landmark in the world's history. Ten days later, without firing another shot, the invading army began its retreat. Dumouriez's pursuit was not seriously pressed; he occupied himself chiefly with a series of subtle and curious negotiations which, with the general advance of the French troops, brought about the complete withdrawal of the enemy from the soil of France.
Jemappes. Meanwhile, the French forces in the south had driven back the Piedmontese and had conquered Savoy and Nice. Another French success was the daring expedition into Germany made by Custine from Alsace. Custine captured Mainz itself on the 21st of October and penetrated as far as Frankfurt. In the north the Austrian siege of Lille had completely failed, and Dumouriez now resumed his interrupted scheme for the invasion of the Netherlands. His forward movement, made as it was late in the season, surprised the Austrians, and he disposed of enormously superior forces. On the 6th of November he won the first great victory of the war at Jemappes near Mons and, this time advancing boldly, he overran the whole country from Namur to Antwerp within a month. Such was the prelude of what is called the “Great War” in England and the “Épopée” in France. Before going further it is necessary to summarize the special features of the French army—in leadership, discipline, tactics, organization and movement—which made these campaigns the archetype of modern warfare.
At the outbreak of the Revolution the French army, like other armies in Europe, was a “voluntary” long-service army, augmented to some extent in war by drafts of militia.
The French army, 1792-1796. One of the first problems that the Constituent Assembly took upon itself to solve was the nationalization of this strictly royal and professional force, and as early as October 1789 the word “Conscription” was heard in its debates. But it was decreed nevertheless that free enlistment alone befitted a free people, and the regular army was left unaltered in form. However, a National Guard came into existence side by side with it, and the history of French army organization in the next few years is the history of the fusion of these two elements. The first step, as regards the regular army, was the abolition of proprietary rights, the serial numbering of regiments throughout the Army, and the disbandment of the Maison du roi. The next was the promotion of deserving soldiers to fill the numerous vacancies caused by the emigration. Along with these, however, there came to the surface many incompetent leaders, favourites in the political clubs of Paris, &c., and the old strict discipline became impossible owing to the frequent intervention of the civil authorities in matters affecting it, the denunciation of generals, and especially the wild words and wild behaviour of “Volunteer” (embodied national guard) battalions.
When war came, it was soon found that the regulars had fallen too low in numbers and that the national guard demanded too high pay, to admit of developing the expected field strength. Arms, discipline, training alike were wanting to the new levies, and the repulse of Brunswick was effected by manœuvring and fighting on the old lines and chiefly with the old army. The cry of La patrie en danger, after giving, at the crisis, the highest moral support to the troops in the front, dwindled away after victory, and the French government contented itself with the half-measures that had, apparently, sufficed to avert the peril. More, when the armies went into winter quarters, the Volunteers claimed leave of absence and went home.
But in the spring of 1793, confronted by a far more serious peril, the government took strong measures. Universal liability was asserted, and passed into law. Yet even now whole classes obtained exemption and the right of substitution as usual forced the burden of service on the poorer classes, so that of the 100,000 men called on for the regular army and 200,000 for the Volunteers, only some 180,000 were actually raised. Desertion, generally regarded as the curse of professional armies, became a conspicuous vice of the defenders of the Republic, except at moments when a supreme crisis called forth supreme devotion—moments which naturally were more or less prolonged in proportion to the gravity of the situation. Thus, while it almost disappeared in the great effort of 1793-1794, when the armies sustained bloody reverses in distant wars of conquest, as in 1799, it promptly rose again to an alarming height.
Universal service of the “Amalgam.”
While this unsatisfactory general levy was being made, defeats, defections and invasion in earnest came in rapid succession, and to deal with the almost desperate emergency, the ruthless Committee of Public Safety sprang into existence. “The levy is to be universal. Unmarried citizens and widowers without children of ages from 18 to 25 are to be called up first,” and 450,000 recruits were immediately obtained by this single act. The complete amalgamation of the regular and volunteer units was decided upon. The white uniforms of the line gave place to the blue of the National Guard in all arms and services, The titles of officers were changed, and in fact every relic of the old régime, save the inherited solidity of the old regular battalions, was swept away. This rough combination of line and volunteers therefore—for the “Amalgam” was not officially begun until 1794—must be understood when we refer to the French army of Hondschoote or of Wattignies. It contained, by reason of its universality and also because men were better off in the army than out of it—if they stayed at home they went in daily fear of denunciation and the guillotine—the best elements of the French nation. To some extent at any rate the political arrivistes had been weeded out, and though the informer, here as elsewhere, struck unseen blows, the mass of the army gradually evolved its true leaders and obeyed them. It was, therefore, an army of individual citizen-soldiers of the best type, welded by the enemy’s fire, and conscious of its own solidarity in the midst of the Revolutionary chaos.
After 1794 the system underwent but little radical change until the end of the Revolutionary period. Its regiments grew in military value month by month and attained their highest level in the great campaign of 1796. In 1795 the French forces (now all styled National Guard) consisted of 531,000 men, of whom 323,000 were infantry (100 3-battalion demi-brigades), 97,000 light infantry (30 demi-brigades), 29,000 artillery, 20,000 engineers and 59,000 cavalry. This novel army developed novel fighting methods, above all in the infantry. This arm had just received a new drill-book, as the result of a prolonged controversy (see Infantry) between the advocates of “lines” and “columns,” and this drill-book, while retaining the principle of the line, set controversy at rest by admitting battalion columns of attack, and movements at the “quick” (100-120 paces to the minute) instead of at the “slow” march (76). On these two prescriptions, ignoring the rest, the practical troop leaders built up the new tactics little by little, and almost unconsciously. The process of evolution cannot be stated exactly, for the officers learned to use and even to invent now one form, now another, according to ground and circumstances. But the main stream of progress is easily distinguishable.
The earlier battles were fought more or less according to the drill-book, partly in line for fire action, partly in column for the bayonet attack. But line movements required the most accurate drill, and what was attainable after years of practice with regulars moving at the slow march was wholly impossible for new levies moving at 120 paces to the minute. When, therefore, the line marched off, it broke up into a shapeless swarm of individual firers. This was the form, if form it can be called, of the tactics of 1793—“horde-tactics,” as they have quite justly been called—and a few such experiences as that of Hondschoote sufficed to suggest the need of a remedy. This was found in keeping as many troops as possible out of the firing line. From 1794 onwards the latter becomes thinner and thinner, and instead of the drill-book form, with half the army firing in line (practically in hordes) and the other half in support in columns, we find the rear lines becoming more and more important and numerous, till at last the fire of the leading line (skirmishers) becomes insignificant, and the decision rests with the bayonets of the closed masses in rear. Indeed, the latter often used mixed line and column formations, which enabled them not only to charge, but to fire close-order volleys—absolutely regardless of the skirmishers in front. In other words, the bravest and coolest marksmen were let loose to do what damage they could, and the rest, massed in close order, were kept under the control of their officers and only exposed to the dissolving influence of the fight when the moment arrived to deliver, whether by fire or by shock, the decisive blow.
Cavalry. Artillery. Engineers.
The cavalry underwent little change in its organization and tactics, which remained as in the drill-books founded on Frederick’s practice. But except in the case of the hussars, who were chiefly Alsatians, it was thoroughly disorganized by the emigration or execution of the nobles who had officered it, and for long it was incapable of facing the hostile squadrons in the open. Still, its elements were good, it was fairly well trained, and mounted, and not overwhelmed with national guard drafts, and like the other arms it duly evolved and obeyed new leaders.
In artillery matters this period, 1792-1796, marks an important progress, due above all to Gribeauval (q.v.) and the two du Teils, Jean Pierre (1722-1794) and Jean (1733-1820) who were Napoleon’s instructors. The change was chiefly in organization and equipment—the great tactical development of the arm was not to come until the time of the Grande Armée—and may be summarized as the transition from battalion guns and reserve artillery to batteries of “horse and field.”
The engineers, like the artillery, were a technical and non-noble corps. They escaped, therefore, most of the troubles of the Revolution—indeed the artillery and engineer officers, Napoleon and Carnot amongst them, were conspicuous in the political regeneration of France—and the engineers carried on with little change the traditions of Vaubanand Cormontaingne (see Fortification and Siegecraft). Both these corps were, after the Revolution as before it, the best in Europe, other armies admitting their superiority and following their precepts.
In all this the army naturally outgrew its old “linear” organization. Temporary divisions, called for by momentary necessities, placed under selected generals and released from the detailed supervision of the commander-in-chief, soon became, though in an irregular and haphazard fashion, permanent organisms, and by 1796 the divisional system had become practically universal. The next step, as the armies became fewer and larger, was the temporary grouping of divisions; this too in turn became permanent, and bequeathed to the military world of to-day both the army corps and the capable, self-reliant and enterprising subordinate generals, for whom the old linear organization had no room.
The starting point of modern warfare.
This subdivision of forces was intimately connected with the general method of making war adopted by the “New French,” as their enemies called them. What astonished the Allies most of all was the number and the velocity of the Republicans. These improvised armies had in fact nothing to delay them. Tents were unprocurable for want of money, untransportable for want of the enormous number of wagons that would have been required, and also unnecessary, for the discomfort that would have caused wholesale desertion in professional armies was cheerfully borne by the men of 1793-1794. Supplies for armies of then unheard-of size could not be carried in convoys, and the French soon became familiar with “living on the country.” Thus 1793 saw the birth of the modern system of war—rapidity of movement, full development of national strength, bivouacs and requisitions, and force, as against cautious manoeuvring, small professional armies, tents and full rations, and chicane. The first represented the decision-compelling spirit, the second the spirit of risking little to gain a little. Above all, the decision-compelling spirit was reinforced by the presence of the emissaries of the Committee of Public Safety, the “representatives on mission” who practically controlled the guillotine. There were civil officials with the armies of the Allies too, but their chief function was not to infuse desperate energy into the military operations, but to see that the troops did not maltreat civilians. Such were the fundamental principles of the “New French” method of warfare, from which the warfare of to-day descends in the direct line. But it was only after a painful period of trial and error, of waste and misdirection, that it became possible for the French army to have evolved Napoleon, and for Napoleon to evolve the principles and methods of war that conformed to and profited to the utmost by the new conditions.
Those campaigns and battles of this army which are described in detail in the present article have been selected, some on account of their historical importance—as producing great results; others from their military interest—as typifying and illustrating the nature of the revolution undergone by the art of war in these heroic years.
Campaigns in the Netherlands
The year 1793 opened disastrously for the Republic. As a consequence of Jemappes and Valmy, France had taken the offensive both in Belgium, which had been overrun by Dumouriez’s army, and in the Rhine countries, where Custine had preached the new gospel to the sentimental and half-discontented Hessians and Mainzers. But the execution of Louis XVI. raised up a host of new and determined enemies. England, Holland, Austria, Prussia, Spain and Sardinia promptly formed the First Coalition. England poured out money in profusion to pay and equip her Allies’ land armies, and herself began the great struggle for the command of the sea (see Naval Operations, below).
In the Low Countries, while Dumouriez was beginning his proposed invasion of Holland, Prince Josias of Saxe-Coburg, the new Austrian commander on the Lower Rhine, advanced with 42,000 men from the region of Cologne, and drove in the various detachments that Dumouriez had posted to cover his right. The French general thereupon abandoned his advance into Holland, and, with what forces he could gather, turned towards the Meuse. The two armies met at Neerwinden (q.v.) on the 18th of March 1793. Dumouriez had only a few thousand men more than his opponent, instead of the enormous superiority he had had at Jemappes. Thus the enveloping attack could not be repeated, and in a battle on equal fronts the old generalship and the old armies had the advantage. Dumouriez was thoroughly defeated, the house of cards collapsed, and the whole of the French forces retreated in confusion to the strong line of border fortresses, created by Louis XIV. and Vauban. Dumouriez, witnessing the failure of his political schemes, declared against the Republic, and after a vain attempt to induce his own army to follow his example, fled (April 5) into the Austrian lines. The leaderless Republicans streamed back to Valenciennes. There, however, they found a general. Picot (comte de) Dampierre was a regimental officer of the old army, who, in spite of his vanity and extravagance, possessed real loyalty to the new order of things, and brilliant personal courage. At the darkest hour he seized the reins without orders and without reference to seniority, and began to reconstruct the force and the spirit of the shattered army by wise administration and dithyrambic proclamations. Moreover, he withdrew it well behind Valenciennes out of reach of a second reverse. The region of Dunkirk and Cassel, the camp of La Madeleine near Lille, and Bouchain were made the rallying points of the various groups, the principal army being at the last-named. But the blow of Neerwinden had struck deep, and the army was for long incapable of service, what with the general distrust, the misconduct of the newer battalions, and the discontent of the old white-coated regiments that were left ragged and shoeless to the profit of the “patriot” corps. “Beware of giving horses to the ‘Hussars of Liberty,’” wrote Carnot, “all these new corps are abominable.”
France was in fact defenceless, and the opportunity existed for the military promenade to Paris that the allied statesmen had imagined in 1792. But Coburg now ceased to be a purely Austrian commander, for one by one allied contingents, with instructions that varied with the political aims of the various governments, began to arrive. Moreover, he had his own views as to the political situation, fearing especially to be the cause of the queen’s death as Brunswick had been of the king’s, and negotiated for a settlement. The story of these negotiations should be read in Chuquet’s Valenciennes—it gives the key to many mysteries of the campaign and shows that though the revolutionary spirit had already passed all understanding, enlightened men such as Coburg and his chief-of-staff Mack sympathized with its first efforts and thought the constitution of 1791 a gain to humanity. “If you come to Paris you will find 80,000 patriots ready to die,” said the French negotiators. “The patriots could not resist the Austrian regulars,” replied Coburg, “but I do not propose to go to Paris. I desire to see a stable government, with a chief, king or other, with whom we can treat.” Soon, however, these personal negotiationsAssembly of the Allies.were stopped by the emperor, and the idea of restoring order in France became little more than a pretext for a general intrigue amongst the confederate powers, each seeking to aggrandize itself at France’s expense. “If you wish to deal with the French,” observed Dumouriez ironically to Coburg, “talk ‘constitution.’ You may beat them but you cannot subdue them.” And their subjugation was becoming less and less possible as the days went on and men talked of the partition of France as a question of the moment like the partition of Poland—a pretension that even the émigrés resented.
Coburg’s plan of campaign was limited to the objects acceptable to all the Allies alike. He aimed at the conquest of a first-class fortress—Lille or Valenciennes—and chiefly for this reason. War meant to the burgher of Germany and the Netherlands a special form of haute politique with which it was neither his business nor his inclination to meddle. He had no more compunction, therefore, in selling his worst goods at the best price to the army commissaries than in doing so to his ordinary customers. It followed that, owing to the distance between Vienna and Valenciennes, and the exorbitant prices charged by carters and horse-owners, a mere concentration of Austrian troops at the latter place cost as much as a campaign, and the transport expenses rose to such a figure that Coburg’s first duty was to find a strong place to serve as a market for the countryside and a depot for the supplies purchased, and to have it as near as possible to the front to save the hire of vehicles. As for the other governments which Coburg served as best he could, the object of the war was material concessions, and it would be easy to negotiate for the cession of Dunkirk and Valenciennes when the British and Austrian colours already waved there. The Allies, therefore, instead of following up their advantage over the French field army and driving forward on the open Paris road, set their faces westward, intending to capture Valenciennes, Le Quesnoy, Dunkirk and Lille one after the other.
Dampierre at Valenciennes.
Dampierre meanwhile grew less confident as responsibility settled upon his shoulders. Quite unable to believe that Coburg would bury himself in a maze of rivers and fortresses when he could scatter the French army to the winds by a direct advance, he was disquieted and puzzled by the Austrian investment of Condé. This was followed by skirmishes around Valenciennes, so unfavourable to the French that their officers felt it would be madness to venture far beyond the support of the fortress guns. But the representatives on mission ordered Dampierre, who was reorganizing his army at Bouchain, to advance and occupy Famars camp, east of Valenciennes, and soon afterwards, disregarding his protests, bade him relieve Condé at all costs. His skill, though not commensurate with his personal courage and devotion, sufficed to give him the idea of attacking Coburg on the right bank of the Scheldt while Clerfayt, with the corps covering the siege of Condé, was on the left, and then to turn against Clerfayt—in fact, to operate on interior lines—but it was far from being adequate to the task of beating either with the disheartened forces he commanded. On the 1st of May, while Clerfayt was held in check by a very vigorous demonstration, Coburg’s positions west of Quiévrain were attacked by Dampierre himself. The French won some local successes by force of numbers and surprise, but the Allies recovered themselves, thanks chiefly to the address and skill of Colonel Mack, and drove the Republicans in disorder to their entrenchments. Dampierre’s discouragement now became desperation, and, urged on by the representatives (who, be it said, had exposed their own lives freely enough in the action), he attacked Clerfayt on the 8th at Raismes. The troops fought far better in the woods and hamlets west of the Scheldt than they had done in the plains to the east. But in the heat of the action Dampierre, becoming again the brilliant soldier that he had been before responsibility stifled him, risked and lost his life in leading a storming party, and his men retired sullenly, though this time in good order, to Valenciennes. Two days later the French gave up the open field and retired into Valenciennes. Dampierre’s remains were by a vote of the Convention ordered to be deposited in the Panthéon. But he was a “ci-devant” noble, the demagogues denounced him as a traitor, and the only honour finally paid to the man who had tided over the weeks of greatest danger was the placing of his bust, in the strange company of those of Brutus and Marat, in the chamber of deputies.
Another pause followed, Coburg awaiting the British contingent under the duke of York, and the Republicans endeavouring to assimilate the reinforcements of conscripts, for the most part “undesirables,” who now arrived. Mutiny and denunciations augmented the confusion in the French camp. Plan of campaign there was none, save a resolution to stay at Valenciennes in the hope of finding an opportunity of relieving Condé and to create diversions elsewhere by expeditions from Dunkirk, Lille and Sedan. These of course came to nothing, and before they had even started, Coburg, resuming the offensive, had stormed the lines of Famars (May 24), whereupon the French army retired to Bouchain, leaving not only Condé but also Valenciennes to resist as best they could. The central point of the new positions about Bouchain was called Caesar’s Camp. Here, surrounded by streams and marshes, the French generals thought that their troops were secure from the rush of the dreaded Austrian cavalry, and Mack himself shared their opinion.
Fall of Valenciennes.
Custine now took command of the abjectly dispirited army, the fourth change of command within two months. His first task was to institute a severe discipline, and his prestige was so great that his mere threat of death sentences for offenders produced the desired effect. As to operations, he wished for a concentration of all possible forces from other parts of the frontier towards Valenciennes, even if necessary at the cost of sacrificing his own conquest of Mainz. But after he had induced the government to assent to this, the generals of the numerous other armies refused to give up their troops, and on the 17th of June the idea was abandoned in view of the growing seriousness of the Vendéan insurrection (see Vendée). Custine, therefore, could do no more than continue the work of reorganization. Military operations were few. Coburg, who had all this time succeeded in remaining concentrated, now found himself compelled to extend leftwards towards Flanders, for Custine had infused some energy into the scattered groups of the Republicans in the region of Douai, Lille and Dunkirk—and during this respite the Paris Jacobins sent to the guillotine both Custine and his successor La Marlière before July was ended. Both were “ci-devant” nobles and, so far as is ascertainable, neither was guilty of anything worse than attempts to make his orders respected by, and himself popular with, the soldiers. By this time, owing to the innumerable denunciations and arrests, the confusion in the Army of the North was at its height, and no further attempt was made either to relieve Valenciennes and Condé, or to press forward from Lille and Dunkirk. Condé, starved out as Coburg desired, capitulated on the 10th of June, and the Austrians, who had done their work as soldiers, but were filled with pity for their suffering and distracted enemies, marched in with food for the women and children. Valenciennes, under the energetic General Ferrand, held out bravely until the fire of the Allies became intolerable, and then the civil population began to plot treachery, and to wear the Bourbon cockade in the open street. Ferrand and the representatives with him found themselves obliged to surrender to the duke of York, who commanded the siege corps, on the 28th of July, after rejecting the first draft of a capitulation sent in by the duke and threatening to continue the defence to the bitter end. Impossible as this was known to be—for Valenciennes seemed to have become a royalist town—Ferrand’s soldierly bearing carried the day, and honourable terms were arranged. The duke even offered to assist the garrison in repressing disorder. Shortly after this the wreck of the field army was forced to evacuate Caesar’s Camp after an unimportant action (Aug. 7-8) and retired on Arras. By this they gave up the direct defence of the Paris road, but placed themselves in a “flank position” relatively to it, and secured to themselves the resources and reinforcements available in the region of Dunkirk-Lille. Bouchain and Cambrai, Landrecies and Le Quesnoy, were left to their own garrisons.
With this ended the second episode of the amazing campaign of 1793. Military operations were few and spasmodic, on the one side because the Allied statesmen were less concerned with the nebulous common object of restoring order in France than with their several schemes of aggrandisement, on the other owing to the almost incredible confusion of France under the régime of Danton and Marat. The third episode shows little or no change in the force and direction of the allied efforts, but a very great change in France. Thoroughly roused by disaster and now dominated by the furious and bloodthirsty energy of the terrorists, the French people and armies at last set before themselves clear and definite objects to be pursued at all costs.
Jean Nicolas Houchard, the next officer appointed to command, had been a heavy cavalry trooper in the Seven Years’ War. His face bore the scars of wounds received at Minden, and his bravery, his stature, his bold and fierce manner, his want of education, seemed to all to betoken the ideal sans-*culotte general. But he was nevertheless incapable of leading an army, and knowing this, carefully conformed to the advice of his staff officers Berthelmy and Gay-Vernon, the latter of whom, an exceptionally capable officer, had been Custine’s chief of staff and was consequently under suspicion. At one moment, indeed, operations had to be suspended altogether because his papers were seized by the civil authorities, and amongst them were all the confidential memoranda and maps required for the business of headquarters. It was the darkest hour. The Vendéans, the people of Lyons, Marseilles and Toulon, were in open and hitherto successful revolt. Valenciennes had fallen and Coburg’s hussar parties pressed forward into the Somme valley. Again the Allies had the decision of the war in their own hands. Coburg, indeed, was still afraid, on Marie Antoinette’s account, of forcing the Republicans to extremities, and on military grounds too he thought an advance on Paris hazardous. But, hazardous or not, it would have been attempted but for the English. The duke of York had definite orders from his government to capture Dunkirk—at present a nest of corsairs which interfered with the Channel trade, and in the future, it was hoped, a second Gibraltar—and after the fall of Valenciennes and the capture of Caesar’s Camp the English and Hanoverians marched away, via Tournai and Ypres, to besiege the coast fortress. Thereupon the king of Prussia in turn called off his contingent for operations on the middle Rhine. Holland, too, though she maintained her contingent in face of Lille (where it covered Flanders), was not disposed to send it to join the imperialists in an adventure in the heart of France. Coburg, therefore, was brought to a complete standstill, and the scene of the decision was shifted to the district between Lille and the coast.
Thither came Carnot, the engineer officer who was in charge of military affairs In the Committee of Public Safety and is known to history as the “Organizer of Victory.” His views of the strategy to be pursued indicate either a purely geographical idea of war, which does not square with his later principles and practice, or, as is far more likely, a profound disbelief in the capacity of the Army of the North, as it then stood, to fight a battle, and they went no further than to recommend an inroad into Flanders on the ground that no enemy would be encountered there. This, however, in the event developed into an operation of almost decisive importance, for at the moment of its inception the duke of York was already on the march. Fighting en route a very severe but successful action (Lincelles, Aug. 18) with the French troops encamped near Lille, the Anglo-Hanoverians entered the district—densely intersected with canals and morasses—around Dunkirk and Bergues on the 21st and 22nd. On the right, by way of Fumes, the British moved towards Dunkirk and invested the east front of the weak fortress, while on the left the Hanoverian field marshal v. Freytag moved via Poperinghe on Bergues. The French had a chain of outposts between Furnes and Bergues, but Freytag attacked them resolutely, and the defenders, except a brave handful who stood Dunkirk.to cross bayonets, fled in all directions. The east front of Bergues was invested on the 23rd, and Freytag spread out his forces to cover the duke of York’s attack on Dunkirk, his right being opposite Bergues and his centre at Bambeke, while his left covered the space between Roosbrugge and Ypres with a cordon of posts. Houchard was in despair at the bad conduct of his troops. But one young general, Jourdan, anticipating Houchard’s orders, had already brought a strong force from Lille to Cassel, whence he incessantly harried Freytag’s posts. Carnot encouraged the garrisons of Dunkirk and Bergues, and caused the sluices to be opened. The moral of the defenders rose rapidly. Houchard prepared to bring up every available man of the Army of the North, and only waited to make up his mind as to the direction in which his attack should be made. The Allies themselves recognized the extreme danger of their position. It was cut in half by the Great Morass, stretches of which extended even to Furnes. Neither Dunkirk nor Bergues could be completely invested owing to the inundations, and Freytag sent a message to King George III. to the effect that if Dunkirk did not surrender in a few days the expedition would be a complete failure.
As for the French, they could hardly believe their good fortune. Generals, staff officers and representatives on mission alike were eager for a swift and crushing offensive. “‘Attack’ and ‘attack in mass’ became the shibboleth and the catch-phrase of the camps” (Chuquet), and fortresses and armies on other parts of the frontier were imperiously called upon to supply large drafts for the Army of the North. Gay-Vernon’s strategical instinct found expression in a wide-ranging movement designed to secure the absolute annihilation of the duke of York’s forces. Beginning with an attack on the Dutch posts north and east of Lille, the army was then to press forward towards Furnes, the left wing holding Freytag’s left wing in check, and the right swinging inwards and across the line of retreat of both allied corps. At that moment all men were daring, and the scheme was adopted with enthusiasm. On the 28th of August, consequently, the Dutch posts were attacked and driven away by the mobile forces at Lille, aided by parts of the main army from Arras. But even before they had fired their last shot the Republicans dispersed to plunder and compromised their success. Houchard and Gay-Vernon began to fear that their army would not emerge successfully from the supreme test they were about to impose on it, and from this moment the scheme of destroying the English began to give way to the simpler and safer idea of relieving Dunkirk. The place was so ill-equipped that after a few days’ siege it was in extremis, and the political importance of its preservation led not merely the civilian representatives, but even Carnot, to implore Houchard to put an end to the crisis at once. On the 30th, Cassel, instead of Ypres, was designated as the point of concentration for the “mass of attack.” This surprised the representatives and Carnot as much as it surprised the subordinate generals, all of whom thought that there would still be time to make the détour through Ypres and to cut off the Allies’ retreat before Dunkirk fell. But Houchard and Gay-Vernon were no longer under any illusions as to the manœuvring power of their forces, and the government agents wisely left them to execute their own plans. Thirty-seven thousand men were left to watch Coburg and to secure Arras and Douai, and the rest, 50,000 strong, assembled at Cassel. Everything was in Houchard’s favour could he but overcome the indiscipline of his own army. The duke of York was more dangerous in appearance than in reality—as the result must infallibly have shown had Houchard and Gay-Vernon possessed the courage to execute the original plan—and Freytag’s covering army extended in a line of disconnected posts from Bergues to Ypres.
Against the left and centre of this feeble cordon 40,000 men advanced in many columns on the 6th of September. A confused outpost fight, in which the various assailing columns dissolved into excited swarms, ended, long after nightfall, in the orderly withdrawal of the various allied posts to Hondschoote. The French generals were occupied the whole of next day in sorting out their troops, who had not only completely wasted their strength against mere outposts, but had actually consumed their rations and used up their ammunition. On the 8th, the assailants, having more or less recovered themselves, advanced again. They found Wallmoden (who had succeeded Freytag, disabled on the 6th) entrenched on either side of the village of Hondschoote, the right resting on the great morass and the left on the village of Leysele. Here was the opportunity for the “attack in mass” that had been so freely discussed; but Houchard was now concerned more with the relief of Dunkirk than with the defeat of the enemy. He sent away one division to Dunkirk, another to Bergues, and a third towards Ypres, and left himself only some 20,000 men for the battle. But Wallmoden had only 13,000—so great was the disproportion between end and means in this ill-designed enterprise against Dunkirk.
|Redrawn from a map in Fortescue’s History of the British Army, by permission|
of Macmillan & Co., Ltd.
Houchard despatched a column, guided by his staff officer Berthelmy, to turn the Hanoverians’ left, but this column lost its way in the dense country about Loo. The centre waited motionless under the fire of the allied guns near Hondschoote. In vain the representative Delbrel implored the general to order the advance. Houchard was obstinate, and ere long the natural result followed. Though Delbrel posted himself in front of the line, conspicuous by his white horse and tricoloured sash and plume, to steady the men, the bravest left the ranks and skirmished forward from bush to bush, and the rest sought cover. Then the allied commander ordered forward one regiment of Hessians, and these, advancing at a ceremonial slow march, and firing steady rolling volleys, scattered the Republicans before them. At this crisis Houchard uttered the fatal word “retreat,” but Delbrel overwhelmed him with reproaches and stung him into renewed activity. He hurried away to urge forward the right wing while Jourdan rallied the centre and led it into the fight again. Once more Jourdan awaited in vain the order to advance, and once more the troops broke. But at last the exasperated Delbrel rose to the occasion. “You fear the responsibility,” he cried to Jourdan; “well, I assume it. My authority overrides the general’s and I give you the formal order to attack at once!” Then, gently, as if to soften a rebuke, he continued, “You have forced me to speak as a superior; now I will be your aide-de-camp,” and at once hurried off to bring up the reserves and to despatch cavalry to collect the fugitives. This Incident, amongst many, serves to show that the representatives on mission were no mere savage marplots, as is too generally assumed. They were often wise and able men, brave and fearless of responsibility in camp and in action. Jourdan led on the reserves, and the men fighting in the bushes on either side of the road heard their drums to right and left. Jourdan fell wounded, but Delbrel headed a wild irregular bayonet charge which checked the Hanoverians, and Houchard himself, in his true place as a cavalry leader, came up with 500 fresh sabres and flung himself on the Allies. The Hanoverians, magnificently disciplined troops that they were, soon re-formed after the shock, but by this time the fugitives collected by Delbrel’s troopers, reanimated by new hopes of victory, were returning to the front in hundreds, and a last assault on Hondschoote met with complete success.
Hondschoote was a psychological victory. Materially, it was no more than the crushing of an obstinate rearguard at enormous expense to the assailants, for the duke of York was able to withdraw while there was still time. Houchard had indeed called back the division he had sent to Bergues, and despatched it by Loo against the enemy’s rear, but the movement was undertaken too late in the day to be useful. The struggle was practically a front to front battle, numbers and enthusiasm on the one side, discipline, position and steadiness on the other. Hence, though its strategical result was merely to compel the duke of York to give up an enterprise that he should never have undertaken, Hondschoote established the fact that the “New French” were determined to win, at any cost and by sheer weight and energy. It was long before they were able to meet equal numbers with confidence, and still longer before they could freely oppose a small corps to a larger one. But the nightmare of defeats and surrenders was dispelled.
The influence of Houchard on the course of the operations had been sometimes null, sometimes detrimental, and only occasionally good. The plan and its execution were the work of Berthelmy and Gay-Vernon, the victory itself was Jourdan’s and, above all, Delbrel’s. To these errors, forgiven to a victor, Houchard added the crowning offence of failure, in the reaction after the battle, to pursue his advantage. His enemies in Paris became more and more powerful as the campaign continued.
Having missed the great opportunity of crushing the English, Houchard turned his attention to the Dutch posts about Menin. As far as the Allies were concerned Hondschoote was a mere reverse, not a disaster, and was counterbalanced in Coburg’s eyes by his own capture of Le Quesnoy (Sept. 11). The proximity of the main body of the French to Menin induced him to order Beaulieu’s corps (hitherto at Cysoing and linking the Dutch posts with the central group) to join the prince of Orange there, and to ask the duke of York to do the same. But this last meant negotiation, and before anything was settled Houchard, with the army from Hondschoote and a contingent from Lille, had attacked the prince at Menin and destroyed his corps (Sept. 12-13).
After this engagement, which, though it was won by immensely superior forces, was if not an important at any rate a complete victory, Houchard went still farther inland—leaving detachments to observe York and replacing them by troops from the various camps as he passed along the cordon—in the hope of dealing with Beaulieu as he had dealt with the Dutch, and even of relieving Le Quesnoy. But in all this he failed. He had expected to meet Beaulieu near Cysoing, but the Austrian general had long before gone northward to assist the prince of Orange. Thus Houchard missed his target. Worse still, one of his protective detachments chanced to meet Beaulieu near Courtrai on the 15th, and was not only defeated but driven in rout from Menin. Lastly, Coburg had already captured Le Quesnoy, and had also repulsed a straggling attack of the Landrecies, Bouchain and other French garrisons on the positions of his covering army (12th).
Houchard’s offensive died away completely, and he halted his army (45,000 strong excluding detachments) at Gaverelle, half-way between Douai and Arras, hoping thereby to succour Bouchain, Cambrai or Arras, whichever should prove to be Coburg’s next objective. After standing still for several days, a prey to all the conflicting rumours that reached his ears, he came to the conclusion that Coburg was about to join the duke of York in a second siege of Dunkirk, and began to close on his left. But his conclusion was entirely wrong. The Allies were closing on their left inland to attack Maubeuge. Coburg drew in Beaulieu, and even persuaded the Dutch to assist, the duke of York undertaking for the moment to watch the whole of the Flanders cordon from the sea to Tournai. But this concentration of force was merely nominal, for each contingent worked in the interests of its own masters, and, above all, the siege that was the object of the concentration was calculated to last four weeks, i.e. gave the French four weeks unimpeded liberty of action.
Houchard was now denounced and brought captive to Paris. Placed upon his trial, he offered a calm and reasoned defence of his conduct, but when the intolerable word “coward” was hurled at him by one of his judges he wept with rage, pointing to the scars of his many wounds, and then, his spirit broken, sank into a lethargic indifference, in which he remained to the end. He was guillotined on the 16th of November 1793.
After Houchard’s arrest, Jourdan accepted the command, though with many misgivings, for the higher ranks were filled by officers with even less experience than he had himself, equipment and clothing was wanting, and, perhaps more important still, the new levies, instead of filling up the depleted ranks of the line, were assembled in undisciplined and half-armed hordes at various frontier camps, under elected officers who had for the most part never undergone the least training. The field states showed a total of 104,000 men, of whom less than a third formed the operative army. But an enthusiasm equal to that of Hondschoote, and similarly demanding a plain, urgent and recognizable objective, animated it, and although Jourdan and Carnot (who was with him at Gaverelle, where the army had now reassembled) began to study the general strategic situation, the Committee brought them back to realities by ordering them to relieve Maubeuge at all costs.
The Allies disposed in all of 66,000 men around the threatened fortress, but 26,000 of these were actually employed in the siege, and the remainder, forming the covering army, extended in an enormous semicircle of posts facing west, south and east. Thus the Republicans, as before, had two men to one at the point of contact (44,000 against 21,000), but so formidable was the discipline and steadiness of manœuvre of the old armies that the chances were considered as no more than “rather in favour” of the French. Not that these chances were seriously weighed before engaging. The generals might squander their energies in the council chamber on plans of sieges and expeditions, but in the field they were glad enough to seize the opportunity of a battle which they were not skilful enough to compel. It took place on the 15th and 16th of October, and though the allied right and centre held their ground, on their left the plateau of Wattignies (q.v.), from which the battle derives its name, was stormed on the second day, Carnot, Jourdan and the representatives leading the columns in person. Coburg indeed retired in unbroken order, added to which the Maubeuge garrison had failed to co-operate with their rescuers by a sortie, and the duke of York had hurried up with all the men he could spare from the Flanders cordon. But the Dutch generals refused to advance beyond the Sambre, and Coburg broke up the siege of Maubeuge and retired whence he had come, while Jourdan, so far from pressing forward, was anxiously awaiting a counterattack, and entrenching himself with all possible energy. So ended the episode of Wattignies, which, alike in its general outline and in its details, gives a perfect picture of the character, at once intense and spasmodic, of the “New French” warfare in the days of the Terror.
To complete the story of ’93 it remains to sketch, very briefly, the principal events on the eastern and southern frontiers of France. These present, in the main, no special features, and all that it is necessary to retain of them is the fact of their existence. What this multiplication of their tasks meant to the Committee of Public Safety and to Carnot in particular it is impossible to realize. It was not merely on the Sambre and the Scheldt, nor against one army of heterogeneous allies that the Republic had to fight for life, but against Prussians and Hessians on the Rhine, Sardinians in the Alps, Spaniards in the Pyrenees, and also (one might say, indeed, above all) against Frenchmen in Vendée, Lyons, Marseilles and Toulon.
On the Rhine, the advance of a Prussian-Hessian army, 63,000 strong, rapidly drove back Custine from the Main into the valleys of the Saar and the Lauter. An Austrian corps under Wurmser soon afterwards invaded Alsace. Here, as on the northern frontier, there was a long period of trial and error, of denunciations and indiscipline, and of wholly trivial fighting, before the Republicans recovered themselves. But in the end the ragged enthusiasts found their true leader in Lazare Hoche, and, though defeated by Brunswick at Pirmasens and Kaiserslautern, they managed to develop almost their full strength against Wurmser in Alsace. On the 26th of December the latter, who had already undergone a series of partial reverses, was driven by main force from the lines of Weissenburg, after which Hoche advanced into the Palatinate and delivered Landau, and Pichegru moved on to recapture Mainz, which had surrendered in July. On the Spanish frontier both sides indulged in a fruitless war of posts in broken ground. The Italian campaign of 1793, equally unprofitable, will be referred to below. Far more serious than either was the insurrection of Vendée (q.v.) and the counter-revolution in the south of France, the principal incidents of which were the terrible sieges of Lyons and Toulon.
Campaign of 1794.
For 1794 Carnot planned a general advance of all the northern armies, that of the North (Pichegru) from Dunkirk-Cassel by Ypres and Oudenarde on Brussels, the minor Army of the Ardennes to Charleroi, and the Army of the Moselle (Jourdan) to Liége, while between Charleroi and Lille demonstrations were to be made against the hostile centre. He counted upon little as regards the two armies near the Meuse, but hoped to force on a decisive battle by the advance of the left wing towards Ypres. Coburg, on the other side, intended, if not forced to develop his strength on the Ypres side, to make his main effort against the French centre about Landrecies. This produced the siege of Landrecies, which need not concern us, a forward movement of the French to Menin and Courtrai which resulted in the battles of Tourcoing and Tournai, and the campaign of Fleurus, which, almost fortuitously, produced the long-sought decision.
The first crisis was brought about by the advance of the left wing of the Army of the North, under Souham, to Menin-Courtrai. This advance placed Souham in the midst of the enemy’s right wing, and at last stimulated the Allies into adopting the plan that Mack had advocated, in season and out of season, since before Neerwinden—that of annihilating the enemy’s army. This vigorous purpose, and the leading part in its execution played by the duke of York and the British contingent, give these operations, to Englishmen at any rate, a living interest which is entirely lacking in, say, the sieges of Le Quesnoy and Landrecies. On the other side, the “New French” armies and their leaders, without losing the energy of 1793, had emerged from confusion and inexperience, and the powers of the new army and the new system had begun to mature. Thus it was a fair trial of strength between the old way and the new.
In the second week of May the left wing of the Army of the North—the centre was towards Landrecies, and the right, fused in the Army of the Ardennes, towards Charleroi—found itself interposed at Menin-Courtrai-Lille between two hostile masses, the main body of the allied right wing about Tournai and a secondary corps at Thielt. Common-sense, therefore, dictated a converging attack for the Allies and a series of rapid radial blows for the French. In the allied camp common-sense had first to prevail over routine, and the emperor’s first orders were for a raid of the Thielt corps towards Ypres, which his advisers hoped would of itself cause the French to decamp. But the duke of York formed a very different plan, and Feldzeugmeister Clerfayt, in command at Thielt, agreed to co-operate. Their proposal was to surround the French on the Lys with their two corps, and by the 15th the emperor had decided to use larger forces with the same object.
Mack’s “annihilation plan.”
On that day Coburg himself, with 6000 men under Feldzeugmeister Kinsky from the central (Landrecies) group, entered Tournai and took up the general command, while another reinforcement under the archduke Charles marched towards Orchies. Orders were promptly issued for a general offensive. Clerfayt’s corps was to be between Rousselaer and Menin on the 16th, and the next day to force its way across the Lys at Werwick and connect with the main army. The main army was to advance in four columns. The first three, under the duke of York, were to move off, at daylight on the 17th, by Dottignies, Leers and Lannoy respectively to the line Mouscron-Tourcoing-Mouveaux. The fourth and fifth under Kinsky and the archduke Charles were to defeat the French corps on the upper Marque, and then, leaving Lille on their left and guaranteeing themselves by a cordon system against being cut off from Tournai (either by the troops just defeated or by the Lille garrison), to march rapidly forward towards Werwick, getting touch on their right with the duke of York and on their left with Clerfayt, and thus completing the investing circle around Souham’s and Moreau’s isolated divisions. Speed was enjoined on all. Picked volunteers to clear away the enemy’s skirmishers, and pioneers to make good difficult places on the roads, were to precede the heads of the columns. Then came at the head of the main body the artillery with an infantry escort. All this might have been designed by the Japanese for the attack of some well-defined Russian position in the war of 1904. Outpost and skirmisher resistance was to be overpowered the instant it was offered, and the attack on the closed bodies of the enemy was to be initiated by a heavy artillery fire at the earliest possible moment. But in 1904 the Russians stood still, which was the last thing that the Revolutionary armies of 1794 would or could do. Mack’s well-considered and carefully balanced combinations failed, and doubtless helped to create the legend of his incapacity, which finds no support either in the opinion of Coburg, the representative of the old school, or in that of Scharnhorst, the founder of the new.
Souham, who commanded in the temporary absence of Pichegru, had formed his own plan. Finding himself with the major part of his forces between York and Clerfayt, he had decided to impose upon the former by means of a covering detachment, and to fall upon Clerfayt near Rousselaer with the bulk of his forces. This plan, based as it was on a sound calculation of time, space, strength and endurance, merits close consideration, for it contains more than a trace of the essential principles of modern strategy, yet with one vital difference, that whereas, in the present case, the factor of the enemy’s independent will wrecked the scheme, Napoleon would have guaranteed to himself, before and during its development, the power of executing it in spite of the enemy. The appearance of fresh allied troops (Kinsky) on his right front at once modified these general arrangements. Divining Coburg’s intentions from the arrival of the enemy near Pont-à-Marque and at Lannoy, he ordered Bonnaud (Lille group, 27,000) to leave enough troops on the upper Marque to amuse the enemy’s leftmost columns, and with every man he had left beyond this absolute minimum to attack the left flank of the columns moving towards Tourcoing, which his weak centre (12,000 men at Tourcoing, Mouscron and Roubaix) was to stop by frontal defence. No rôle was as yet assigned to the principal mass (50,000 under Moreau) about Courtrai. Vandamme’s brigade was to extend along the Lys from Menin to Werwick and beyond, to deny as long as possible the passage to Clerfayt.
This second plan failed like the first, because the enemy’s counter-will was not controlled. All along the line Coburg’s advance compelled the French to fight as they were without any redistribution. But the French were sufficiently elastic to adapt themselves readily to unforeseen conditions, and on Coburg’s side too the unexpected happened. When Clerfayt appeared on the Lys above Menin, he found Werwick held. This was an accident, for the battalion there was on its way to Menin, and Vandamme, who had not yet received his new orders, was still far away. But the battalion fought boldly, Clerfayt sent for his pontoons, and ere they arrived Vandamme’s leading troops managed to come up on the other side. Thus it was not till 1 A.M. on the 18th that the first Austrian battalions passed the Lys.
On the front of the main allied group the “annihilation plan” was crippled at the outset by the tardiness of the archduke’s (fifth or left) column. On this the smooth working of the whole scheme depended, for Coburg considered that he must defeat Bonnaud before carrying out his intended envelopment of the Menin-Courtrai group (the idea of “binding” the enemy by a detachment while the main scheme proceeded had not yet arisen). The allied general, indeed, on discovering the backwardness of the archduke, went so far as to order all the other columns to begin by swerving southward against Bonnaud, but these were already too deeply committed to the original plan to execute any new variation.
The rightmost column (Hanoverians) under von dem Bussche moved on Mouscron, overpowering the fragmentary, if energetic, resistance of the French advanced posts. Next on the left, Lieutenant Field Marshal Otto moved by Leers and Watrelos, driving away a French post at Lis (near Lannoy) on his left flank, and entered Tourcoing. But meantime a French brigade had driven von dem Bussche away from Mouscron, so that Otto felt compelled to keep troops at Leers and Watrelos to protect his rear, which seriously weakened his hold on Tourcoing. The third column, led by the duke of York, advanced from Templeuve on Lannoy, at the same time securing its left by expelling the French from Willems. Lannoy was stormed by the British Guards under Sir R. Abercromby with such vigour that the cavalry which had been sent round the village to cut off the French retreat had no time to get into position. Beyond Lannoy, the French resistance, still disjointed, became more obstinate as the ground favoured it more, and the duke called up the Austrians from Willems to turn the right of the French position at Roubaix by way of a small valley. Once again, however, the Guards dislodged the enemy before the turning movement had taken effect. A third French position now appeared, at Mouvaux, and this seemed so formidable that the duke halted to rest his now weary men. The emperor himself, however, ordered the advance to be resumed, and Mouvaux too was carried by Abercromby. It was now nightfall, and the duke having attained his objective point prepared to hold it against a counter attack.
Kinsky meanwhile with the fourth column had made feints opposite Pont-à-Tressin, and had forced the passage of the Marque near Bouvines with his main body. But Bonnaud gave ground so slowly that up to 4 P.M. Kinsky had only progressed a few hundred paces from his crossing point. The fifth column, which was behind time on the 16th, did not arrive at Orchies till dawn on the 17th, and had to halt there for rest and food. Thence, moving across country in fighting formation, the archduke made his way to Pont-à-Marque. But he was unable to do more, before calling a halt, than deploy his troops on the other side of the stream.
So closed the first day’s operations. The “annihilation plan” had already undergone a serious check. The archduke and Kinsky, instead of being ready for the second part of their task, had scarcely completed the first, and the same could be said of Clerfayt, while von dem Bussche had definitively failed. Only the duke of York and Otto had done their share in the centre, and they now stood at Tourcoing and Mouvaux isolated in the midst of the enemy’s main body, with no hope of support from the other columns and no more than a chance of meeting Clerfayt. Coburg’s entire force was, without deducting losses, no more than 53,000 for a front of 18 m., and only half of the enemy’s available 80,000 men had as yet been engaged. Mack sent a staff officer, at 1 A.M., to implore the archduke to come up to Lannoy at once, but the young prince was asleep and his suite refused to wake him.
Matters did not, of course, present themselves in this light at Souham’s headquarters, where the generals met in an informal council. The project of flinging Bonnaud’s corps against the flank of the duke of York had not received even a beginning of execution, and the outposts, reinforced though they were from the main group, had everywhere been driven in. All the subordinate leaders, moreover (except Bonnaud), sent in the most despondent reports. “Councils of war never fight” is an old maxim, justified in ninety-nine cases in a hundred. But this council determined to do so, and with all possible vigour. The scheme was practically that which Coburg’s first threat had produced and his first brusque advance had inhibited. Vandamme was to hold Clerfayt, the garrison of Lille and a few outlying corps to occupy the archduke and Kinsky, and in the centre Moreau and Bonnaud, with 40,000 effectives, were to attack the Tourcoing-Mouvaux position in front and flank at dawn with all possible energy.
Battle of Tourcoing.
The first shots were fired on the Lys, where, it will be remembered, Clerfayt’s infantry had effected its crossing in the night. Vandamme, who was to defend the river, had in the evening assembled his troops (fatigued by a long march) near Menin instead of pushing on at once. Thus only one of his battalions had taken part in the defence of Werwick on the 17th, and the remainder were by this chance massed on the flank of Clerfayt’s subsequent line of advance. Vandamme used his advantage well. He attacked, with perhaps 12,000 men against 21,000, the head and the middle of Clerfayt’s columns as they moved on Lincelles. Clerfayt stopped at once, turned upon him and drove him towards Roncq and Menin. Still, fighting in succession, rallying and fighting again, Vandamme’s regiments managed to spin out time and to commit Clerfayt deeper and deeper to a false direction till it was too late in the day to influence the battle elsewhere.
V. dem Bussche’s column at Dottignies, shaken by the blow it had received the day before, did nothing, and actually retreated to the Scheldt. On the other flank, Kinsky and the archduke Charles practically remained inactive despite repeated orders to proceed to Lannoy, Kinsky waiting for the archduke, and the latter using up his time and forces in elaborating a protective cordon all around his left and rear. Both alleged that “the troops were tired,” but there was a stronger motive. It was felt that Belgium was about to be handed over to France as the price of peace, and the generals did not see the force of wasting soldiers on a lost cause. There remained the two centre columns, Otto’s and the duke of York’s. The orders of the emperor to the duke were that he should advance to establish communication with Clerfayt at Lincelles. Having thus cut off the French Courtrai group, he was to initiate a general advance to crush it, in which all the allied columns would take part, Clerfayt, York and Otto in front, von dem Bussche on the right flank and the archduke and Kinsky in support. These airy schemes were destroyed at dawn on the 18th. Macdonald’s brigade carried Tourcoing at the first rush, though Otto’s guns and the volleys of the infantry checked its further progress. Malbrancq’s brigade swarmed around the duke of York’s entrenchments at Mouvaux, while Bonnaud’s mass from the side of Lille passed the Marque and lapped round the flanks of the British posts at Roubaix and Lannoy. The duke had used up his reserves in assisting Otto, and by 8 A.M. the positions of Roubaix, Lannoy and Mouvaux were isolated from each other. But the Allies fought magnificently, and by now the Republicans were in confusion, excited to the highest pitch and therefore extremely sensitive to waves of enthusiasm or panic; and at this moment Clerfayt was nearing success, and Vandamme fighting almost back to back with Malbrancq. Otto was able to retire gradually, though with heavy losses, to Leers, before Macdonald’s left column was able to storm Watrelos, or Daendels’ brigade, still farther towards the Scheldt, could reach his rear. The resistance of the Austrians gave breathing space to the English, who held on to their positions till about 11.30, attacked again and again by Bonnaud, and then, not without confusion, retired to join Otto at Leers.
With the retreat of the two sorely tried columns and the suspension of Clerfayt’s attack between Lincelles and Roncq, the battle of Tourcoing ended. It was a victory of which the young French generals had reason to be proud. The main attack was vigorously conducted, and the two-to-one numerical superiority which the French possessed at the decisive point is the best testimony at once to Souham’s generalship and to Vandamme’s bravery. As for the Allies, those of them who took part in the battle at all, generals and soldiers, covered themselves with glory, but the inaction of two-thirds of Coburg’s army was the bankruptcy declaration of the old strategical system. The Allies lost, on this day, about 4000 killed and wounded and 1500 prisoners besides 60 guns. The French loss, which was probably heavier, is not known. The duke of York defeated, Souham at once turned his attention to Clerfayt, against whom he directed all the forces he could gather after a day’s “horde-tactics.” The Austrian commander, however, withdrew over the river unharmed. On the 19th he was at Rousselaer and Ingelminster, 9 or 10 m. north of Courtrai, while Coburg’s forces assembled and encamped in a strong position some 3 m. west and north-west of Tournai, the Hanoverians remaining out in advance of the right on the Espierre.
Souham’s victory, thanks to his geographical position, had merely given him air. The Allies, except for the loss of some 5500 men, were in no way worse off. The plan had failed, but the army as a whole had not been defeated, while the troops of the duke of York and Otto were far too well disciplined not to take their defeat as “all in the day’s work.” Souham was still on the Lys and midway between the two allied masses, able to strike each in turn or liable to be crushed between them in proportion as the opposing generals calculated time, space and endurance accurately. Souham, therefore, as early as the 19th, had decided that until Clerfayt had been pushed back to his old positions near Thielt he could not deal with the main body of the Allies on the side of Tournai, and he had left Bonnaud to hold the latter while he concentrated most of his forces towards Courtrai. This move had the desired effect, for Clerfayt retired without a contest, and on the 21st of May Souham issued his orders for an advance on Coburg’s army, which, as he knew, had meantime been reinforced. Vandamme alone was left to face Clerfayt, and this time with outposts far out, at Ingelminster and Roosebeke, so as to ensure his chief, not a few hours’, but two or three days’ freedom from interference.
Battle of Tournai.
Pichegru now returned and took up the supreme command, Souham remaining in charge of his own and Moreau’s divisions. On the extreme right, from Pont-à-Tressin, only demonstrations were to be made; the centre, between Baisieux and Estaimbourg, was to be the scene of the holding attack of Bonnaud’s command, while Souham, in considerably greater density, delivered the decisive attack on the allied right by St Leger and Warcoing. At Helchin a brigade was to guard the outer flank of the assailants against a movement by the Hanoverians and to keep open communication with Courtrai in case of attack from the direction of Oudenarde. The details of the allied position were insufficiently known owing to the multiplicity of their advanced posts and the intricate and densely cultivated nature of the ground. The battle of Tournai opened in the early morning of the 22nd and was long and desperately contested. The demonstration on the French extreme right was soon recognized by the defenders to be negligible, and the allied left wing thereupon closed on the centre. There Bonnaud attacked with vigour, forcing back the various advanced posts, especially on the left, where he dislodged the Allies from Nechin. The defenders of Templeuve then fell back, and the attacking swarms—a dissolved line of battle—fringed the brook beyond Templeuve, on the other side of which was the Allies’ main position, and even for a moment seized Blandain. Meanwhile the French at Nechin, in concert with the main attack, pressed on towards Ramegnies.
Macdonald’s and other brigades had forced the Espierre rivulet and driven von dem Bussche’s Hanoverians partly over the Scheldt (they had a pontoon bridge), partly southward. The main front of the Allies was defined by the brook that flows between Templeuve and Blandain, then between Ramegnies and Pont-à-Chin and empties into the Scheldt near the last-named hamlet. On this front till close on nightfall a fierce battle raged. Pichegru’s main attack was still by his left, and Pont-à-Chin was taken and retaken by French, Austrians, British and Hanoverians in turn. Between Blandain and Pont-à-Chin Bonnaud’s troops more than once entered the line of defence. But the attack was definitively broken off at nightfall and the Republicans withdrew slowly towards Lannoy and Leers. They had for the first time in a fiercely contested “soldier’s battle” measured their strength, regiment for regiment, against the Allies, and failed, but by so narrow a margin that henceforward the Army of the North realized its own strength and solidity. The Army of the Revolution, already superior in numbers and imbued with the decision-compelling spirit, had at last achieved self-confidence.
But the actual decision was destined by a curious process of evolution to be given by Jourdan’s far-distant Army of the Moselle, to which we now turn.
The Army of the Moselle had been ordered to assemble a striking force on its left wing, without prejudicing the rest of its cordon in Lorraine, and with this striking force to operate towards Liége and Namur. Its first movement on Arlon, in April, was repulsed by a small Austrian corps under Beaulieu that guarded this region. But in the beginning of May the advance was resumed though the troops were ill-equipped and ill-fed, and requisitions had reduced the civil population to semi-starvation and sullen hostility. We quote Jourdan’s instructions to his advanced guard, not merely as evidence of the trivial purpose of the march as originally planned, but still more as an illustration of the driving power that made the troops march at all, and of the new method of marching and subsisting them.
Its commander was “to keep in mind the purpose of cutting the communications between Luxemburg and Namur, and was therefore to throw out strong bodies against the enemy daily and at different points, to parry the enemy’s movements by rapid Jourdan’s movement on Liége.marches, to prevent any transfer of troops to Belgium, and lastly to seek an occasion for giving battle, for cutting off his convoys and for seizing his magazines.” So much for the purpose. The method of achieving it is defined as follows. “General Hatry, in order to attain the object of these instructions, will have with him the minimum of wagons. He is to live at the expense of the enemy as much as possible, and to send back into the interior of the Republic whatever may be useful to it; he will maintain his communications with Longwy, report every movement to me, and when necessary to the Committee of Public Safety and to the minister of war, maintain order and discipline, and firmly oppose every sort of pillage.” How the last of these instructions was to be reconciled with the rest, Hatry was not informed. In fact, it was ignored. “I am far from believing,” wrote the representative on mission Gillet, “that we ought to adopt the principles of philanthropy with which we began the war.”
At the moment when, on these terms, Jourdan’s advance was resumed, the general situation east of the Scheldt was as follows: The Allies’ centre under Coburg had captured Landrecies, and now (May 4) lay around that place, about 65,000 strong, while the left under Kaunitz (27,000) was somewhat north of Maubeuge, with detachments south of the Sambre as far as the Meuse. Beyond these again were the detachment of Beaulieu (8000) near Arlon, and another, 9000 strong, around Trier. On the side of the French, the Army of the Moselle (41,000 effectives) was in cordon between Saargemünd and Longwy; the Army of the Ardennes (22,000) between Beaumont and Givet; of the Army of the North, the right wing (38,000) in the area Beaumont—Maubeuge and the centre (24,000) about Guise. In the aggregate the allied field armies numbered 139,000 men, those of the French 203,000. Tactically the disproportion was sufficient to give the latter the victory, if, strategically, it could be made effective at a given time and place. But the French had mobility as a remedy for over-extension, and though their close massing on the extreme flanks left no more than equal forces opposite Coburg in the centre, the latter felt unable either to go forward or to close to one flank when on his right the storm was brewing at Menin and Tournai, and on his left Kaunitz reported the gathering of important masses of the French around Beaumont.
Thus the initiative passed over to the French, but they missed their opportunity, as Coburg had missed his in 1793. Pichegru’s right was ordered to march on Mons, and his left to master the navigation of the Scheldt so as to reduce the Allies to wagon-drawn supplies—the latter an objective dear to the 18th-century general; while Jourdan’s task, as we know, was to conquer the Liége or Namur country without unduly stripping the cordon on the Saar and the Moselle. Jourdan’s orders and original purpose were to get Beaulieu out of his way by the usual strategical tricks, and to march through the Ardennes as rapidly as possible, living on what supplies he could pick up from the enemy or the inhabitants. But he had scarcely started when Beaulieu made his existence felt by attacking a French post at Bouillon. Thereupon Jourdan made the active enemy, instead of Namur, his first object.
The movement of the operative portion of the Army of the Moselle began on the 21st of May from Longwy through Arlon towards Neufchâteau. Irregular fighting, sometimes with the Austrians, sometimes with the bitterly hostile inhabitants, marked its progress. Beaulieu was nowhere forced into a battle. But fortune was on Jourdan’s side. The Austrians were a detachment of Coburg’s army, not an independent force, and when threatened they retired towards Ciney, drawing Jourdan after them in the very direction in which he desired to go. On the 28th the French, after a vain detour made in the hope of forcing Beaulieu to fight—“les esclaves n’osent pas se mesurer avec des hommes libres,” wrote Jourdan in disgust,—reached Ciney, and there heard that the enemy had fallen back to a strongly entrenched position on the east bank of the Meuse near Namur. Jourdan was preparing to attack them there, when considerations of quite another kind intervened to change his direction, and thereby to produce the drama of Charleroi and Fleurus—which military historians have asserted to be the foreseen result of the initial plan.
The method of “living on the country” had failed lamentably in the Ardennes, and Jourdan, though he had spoken of changing his line of supply from Arlon to Carignan, then to Mézières and so on as his march progressed, was still actually living from hand to mouth on the convoys that arrived intermittently from his original base. When he sought to take what he needed from the towns on the Meuse, he infringed on the preserves of the Army of the Ardennes. The advance, therefore, came for the moment to a standstill, while Beaulieu, solicitous for the safety of Charleroi—in which fortress he had a magazine—called up the outlying troops left behind on the Moselle to rejoin him by way of Bastogne. At the same moment (29th) Jourdan received new orders from Paris—(a) to take Dinant and Charleroi and to clear the country between the Meuse and the Sambre, and (b) to attack Namur, either by assault or by regular siege. In the latter case the bulk of the forces were to form a covering army beyond the place, to demonstrate towards Nivelles, Louvain and Liége, and to serve at need as a support to the right flank of the Ardennes Army. From these orders and from the action of the enemy the campaign at last took a definite shape.
When the Army of the Moselle passed over to the left bank of the Meuse, it was greeted by the distant roar of guns towards Charleroi and by news that the Army of the Ardennes, which had already twice been defeated by Kaunitz, was for the third time deeply and unsuccessfully engaged beyond the Sambre. The resumption of the march again complicated the supply question, and it was only slowly that the army advanced towards Charleroi, sweeping the country before it and extending its right towards Namur. But at last on the 3rd of June the concentration of parts of three armies on the Sambre was effected. Jourdan took command of the united force (Army of the Sambre and Meuse) with a strong hand, the 40,000 newcomers inspired fresh courage in the beaten Ardennes troops, and in the sudden dominating enthusiasm of the moment pillaging and straggling almost ceased. Troops that had secured bread shared it with less fortunate comrades, and even the Liégois peasantry made free gifts of supplies. “We must believe,” says the French general staff of to-day, “that the idea symbolized by the Tricolour, around which marched ever these sansculottes, shoeless and hungry, unchained a mysterious force that preceded our columns and aided the achievement of military success.”
Friction, however, arose between Jourdan and the generals of the Ardennes Army, to whom the representatives thought it well to give a separate mission. This detachment of 18,000 men was followed by another, of 16,000, to keep touch with Maubeuge. Deducting another 6000 for the siege of Charleroi, when this should be made, the covering army destined to fight the Imperialists dwindled to 55,000 out of 96,000 effectives. Even now, we see, the objective was not primarily the enemy’s army. The Republican leaders desired to strike out beyond the Sambre, and as a preliminary to capture Charleroi. They would not, however, risk the loss of their connexion with Maubeuge before attaining the new foothold.
Meanwhile, Tourcoing and Tournai had at last convinced Coburg that Pichegru was his most threatening opponent, and he had therefore, though with many misgivings, decided to move towards his right, leaving the prince of Orange with not more than 45,000 men on the side of Maubeuge-Charleroi-Namur.
Jourdan crossed the Sambre on the 12th of June, practically unopposed. Charleroi was rapidly invested and the covering army extended in a semicircular position. For the fourth time the Allies counter-attacked successfully, and after a severe struggle the French had to abandon their positions and their siege works and to recross the Sambre (June 16). But the army was not beaten. On the contrary, it was only desirous of having its revenge for a stroke of ill-fortune, due, the soldiers said, to the fog and to the want of ammunition. The fierce threats of St Just (who had joined the army) to faire tomber les têtes if more energy were not shown were unnecessary, and within two days the army was advancing again. On the 18th Jourdan’s columns recrossed the river and extended around Charleroi in the same positions as before. This time, having in view the weariness of his troops and their heavy losses on the 16th, the prince of Orange allowed the siege to proceed. His reasons for so doing furnish an excellent illustration of the different ideas and capacities of a professional army and a “nation in arms.” “The Imperial troops,” wrote General Alvintzi, “are very fatigued. We have fought nine times since the 10th of May, we have bivouacked constantly, and made forced marches. Further, we are short of officers.” All this, it need hardly be pointed out, applied equally to the French.
Charleroi, garrisoned by less than 3000 men, was intimidated into surrender (25th) when the third parallel was barely established. Thus the object of the first operations was achieved. As to the next neither Jourdan nor the representatives seem to have had anything further in view than the capture of more fortresses. But within twenty-four hours events had decided for them.
Coburg had quickly abandoned his intention of closing on his right wing, and (after the usual difficulties with his Allies on that side) had withdrawn 12,000 Austrians from the centre of his cordon opposite Pichegru, and made forced marches to join the prince of Orange. On the 24th of June he had collected 52,000 men at various points round Charleroi, and on the 25th he set out to relieve the little fortress. But he was in complete ignorance of the state of affairs at Charleroi. Signal guns were fired, but the woods drowned even the roar of the siege batteries, and at last a party under Lieutenant Radetzky made its way through the covering army and discovered that the place had fallen. The party was destroyed on its return, but Radetzky was reserved for greater things. He managed, though twice wounded, to rejoin Coburg with his bad news in the midst of the battle of Fleurus.
On the 26th Jourdan’s army (now some 73,000 strong) was still posted in a semicircle of entrenched posts, 20 m. in extent, round the captured town, pending the removal of the now unnecessary pontoon bridge at Marchiennes and the selection of a shorter line of defence.
Coburg was still more widely extended. Inferior in numbers as he was, he proposed to attack on an equal front, and thus gave himself, for the attack of an entrenched position, an order of battle of three men to every two yards of front, all reserves included. The Allies were to attack in five columns, the prince of Orange from the west and north-west towards Trazegnies and Monceau wood, Quasdanovich from the north on Gosselies, Kaunitz from the north-east, the archduke Charles from the east through Fleurus, and finally Beaulieu towards Lambusart. The scheme was worked out in such minute detail and with so entire a disregard of the chance of unforeseen incidents, that once he had given the executive command to move, the Austrian general could do no more. If every detail worked out as planned, victory would be his; if accidents happened he could do nothing to redress them, and unless these righted themselves (which was improbable in the case of the stiffly organized old armies) he could only send round the order to break off the action and retreat.
In these circumstances the battle of Fleurus is the sum rather than the product of the various fights that took place between each allied column and the French division that it met. The prince of Orange attacked at earliest dawn and gradually drove in the French left wing to Courcelles, Roux and Marchiennes, but somewhat after noon the French, under the direction for the most part of Kléber, began a series of counterstrokes which recovered the lost ground, and about 5, without waiting for Coburg’s instructions, the prince retired north-westward off the battlefield. The French centre division, under Morlot, made a gradual fighting retreat on Gosselies, followed up by the Quasdanovich column and part of Kaunitz’s force. No serious impression was made on the defenders, chiefly because the brook west of Mellet was a serious obstacle to the rigid order of the Allies and had to be bridged before their guns could be got over. Kaunitz’s column and Championnet’s division met on the battlefield of 1690. The French were gradually driven in from the outlying villages to their main position between Heppignies and Wangenies. Here the Allies, well led and taking every advantage of ground and momentary chances, had the best of it. They pressed the French hard, necessitated the intervention of such small reserves as Jourdan had available, and only gave way to the defenders’ counterstroke at the moment they received Coburg’s orders for a general retreat.
On the allied left wing the fighting was closer and more severe than at any point. Beaulieu on the extreme left advanced upon Velaine and the French positions in the woods to the south in several small groups of all arms. Here were the divisions of the Army of the Ardennes, markedly inferior in discipline and endurance to the rest, and only too mindful of their four previous reverses. For six hours, more or less, they resisted the oncoming Allies, but then, in spite of the example and the despairing appeals of their young general Marceau, they broke and fled, leaving Beaulieu free to combine with the archduke Charles, who carried Fleurus after obstinate fighting, and then pressed on towards Campinaire. Beaulieu took command of all the allied forces on this side about noon, and from then to 5 P.M. launched a series of terrible attacks on the French (Lefebvre’s division, part of the general reserve, and the remnant of Marceau’s troops) above Campinaire and Lambusart. The disciplined resolution of the imperial battalions, and the enthusiasm of the French Revolutionaries, were each at their height. The Austrians came on time after time over ground that was practically destitute of cover. Villages, farms and fields of corn caught fire. The French grew more and more excited—“No retreat to-day!” they called out to their leaders, and finally, clamouring to be led against the enemy, they had their wish. Lefebvre seized the psychological moment when the fourth attack of the Allies had failed, and (though he did not know it) the order to retreat had come from Coburg. The losses of the unit that delivered it were small, for the charge exactly responded to the moral conditions of the moment, but the proportion of killed to wounded (55 to 81) is good evidence of the intensity of the momentary conflict.
So ended the battle. Coburg had by now learned definitely that Charleroi had surrendered, and while the issue of the battle was still doubtful—for though the prince of Orange was beaten, Beaulieu was in the full tide of success—he gave (towards 3 P.M.) the order for a general retreat. This was delivered to the various commanders between 4 and 5, and these, having their men in hand even in the heat of the engagement, were able to break off the battle without undue confusion. The French were far too exhausted to pursue them (they had lost twice as many men as the Allies), and their leader had practically no formed body at hand to follow up the victory, thanks to the extraordinary dissemination of the army.
Tourcoing, Tournay and Fleurus represent the maximum result achievable under the earlier Revolutionary system of making war, and show the men and the leaders at the highest point of combined steadiness and enthusiasm they ever reached—that is, as a “Sansculotte” army. Fleurus was also the last great victory of the French, in point of time, prior to the advent of Napoleon, and may therefore be considered as illustrating the general conditions of warfare at one of the most important points in its development.
The sequel of these battles can be told in a few words. The Austrian government had, it is said, long ago decided to evacuate the Netherlands, and Coburg retired over the Meuse, practically unpursued, while the duke of York’s forces fell back in good order, though pursued by Pichegru through Flanders. The English contingent embarked for home, the rest retired through Holland into Hanoverian territory, leaving the Dutch troops to surrender to the victors. The last phase of the pursuit reflected great glory on Pichegru, for it was conducted in midwinter through a country bare of supplies and densely intersected with dykes and meres. The crowning incident was the dramatic capture of the Dutch fleet, frozen in at the Texel, by a handful of hussars who rode over the ice and browbeat the crews of the well-armed battleships into surrender. It was many years before a prince of Orange ruled again in the United provinces, while the Austrian whitecoats never again mounted guard in Brussels.
The Rhine campaign of 1794, waged as before chiefly by the Prussians, was not of great importance. General v. Möllendorf won a victory at Kaiserslautern on the 23rd of May, but operations thereafter became spasmodic, and were soon complicated by Coburg’s retreat over the Meuse. With this event the offensive of the Allies against the French Revolution came to an inglorious end. Poland now occupied the thoughts of European statesmen, and Austria began to draw her forces on to the east. England stopped the payment of subsidies, and Prussia made the Peace of Basel on the 5th of April 1795. On the Spanish frontier the French under General Dugommier (who was killed in the last battle) were successful in almost every encounter, and Spain, too, made peace. Only the eternal enemies, France and Austria, were left face to face on the Rhine,and elsewhere, of all the Allies, Sardinia alone (see below under Italian Campaigns) continued the struggle in a half-hearted fashion.
The operations of 1795 on the Rhine present no feature of the Revolutionary Wars that other and more interesting campaigns fail to show. Austria had two armies on foot under the general command of Clerfayt, one on the upper Rhine, the other south of the Main, while Mainz was held by an army of imperial contingents. The French, Jourdan on the lower; Pichegru on the upper Rhine, had as usual superior numbers at their disposal. Jourdan combined a demonstrative frontal attack on Neuwied with an advance in force via Düsseldorf, reunited his wings beyond the river near Neuwied, and drove back the Austrians in a series of small engagements to the Main, while Pichegru passed at Mannheim and advanced towards the Neckar. But ere long both were beaten, Jourdan at Höchst and Pichegru at Mannheim, and the investment of Mainz had to be abandoned. This was followed by the invasion of the Palatinate by Clerfayt and the retreat of Jourdan to the Moselle. The position was further compromised by secret negotiations between Pichegru and the enemy for the restoration of the Bourbons. The meditated treason came to light early in the following year, and the guilty commander disappeared into the obscure ranks of the royalist secret agents till finally brought to justice in 1804.
The Campaign of 1796 in Germany
The wonder of Europe now transferred itself from the drama of the French Revolution to the equally absorbing drama of a great war on the Rhine. “Every day, for four terrible years,” wrote a German pamphleteer early in 1796, “has surpassed the one before it in grandeur and terror, and to-day surpasses all in dizzy sublimity.” That a manœuvre on the Lahn should possess an interest to the peoples of Europe surpassing that of the Reign of Terror is indeed hardly imaginable, but there was a good reason for the tense expectancy that prevailed everywhere. France’s policy was no longer defensive. She aimed at invading and “revolutionizing” the monarchies and principalities of old Europe, and to this end the campaign of 1796 was to be the great and conclusive effort. The “liberation of the oppressed” had its part in the decision, and the glory of freeing the serf easily merged itself in the glory of defeating the serf’s masters. But a still more pressing motive for carrying the war into the enemy’s country was the fact that France and the lands she had overrun could no longer subsist her armies. The Directory frankly told its generals, when they complained that their men were starving and ragged, that they would find plenty of subsistence beyond the Rhine.
On her part, Austria, no longer fettered by allied contingents nor by the expenses of a far distant campaign, could put forth more strength than on former campaigns, and as war came nearer home and the citizen saw himself threatened by “revolutionizing” and devastating armies, he ceased to hamper or to swindle the troops. Thus the duel took place on the grandest scale then known in the history of European armies. Apart from the secondary theatre of Italy, the area embraced in the struggle was a vast triangle extending from Düsseldorf to Basel and thence to Ratisbon, and Carnot sketched the outlines in accordance with the scale of the picture. He imagined nothing less than the union of the armies of the Rhine and the Riviera before the walls of Vienna. Its practicability cannot here be discussed, but it is worth contrasting the attitude of contemporaries and of later strategical theorists towards it. The former, with their empirical knowledge of war, merely thought it impracticable with the available means, but the latter have condemned it root and branch as “an operation on exterior lines.”
The scheme took shape only gradually. The first advance was made partly in search of food, partly to disengage the Jourdan and Moreau.Palatinate, which Clerfayt had conquered in 1795. “If you have reason to believe that you would find some supplies on the Lahn, hasten thither with the greater part of your forces,” wrote the Directory to Jourdan (Army of the Sambre-and-Meuse, 72,000) on the 29th of March. He was to move at once, before the Austrians could concentrate, and to pass the Rhine at Düsseldorf, thereby bringing back the centre of the enemy over the river. He was, further, to take every advantage of their want of concentration to deliver blow after blow, and to do his utmost to break them up completely. A fortnight later Moreau (Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle, 78,000) was ordered to take advantage of Jourdan’s move, which would draw most of the Austrian forces to the Mainz region, to enter the Breisgau and Suabia. “You will attack Austria at home, and capture her magazines. You will enter a new country, the resources of which, properly handled, should suffice for the needs of the Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle.”
Jourdan, therefore, was to take upon himself the destruction of the enemy, Moreau the invasion of South Germany. The first object of both was to subsist their armies beyond the Rhine, the second to defeat the armies and terrorize the populations of the empire. Under these instructions the campaign opened. Jourdan crossed at Düsseldorf and reached the Lahn, but the enemy concentrated against him very swiftly and he had to retire over the river. Still, if he had not been able to “break them up completely,” he had at any rate drawn on himself the weight of the Austrian army, and enabled Moreau to cross at Strassburg without much difficulty.
The Austrians were now commanded by the archduke Charles, who, after all detachments had been made, disposed of some 56,000 men. At first he employed the bulk of this force against Jourdan, but on hearing of Moreau’s progress he returned to the Neckar country with 20,000 men, leaving Feldzeugmeister v. Wartensleben with 36,000 to observe Jourdan. In later years he admitted himself that his own force was far too small to deal with Moreau, who, he probably thought, would retire after a few manœuvres.
The archduke’s plan.
But by now the two French generals were aiming at something more than alternate raids and feints. Carnot had set before them the ideal of a decisive battle as the great object. Jourdan was instructed, if the archduke turned on Moreau, to follow him up with all speed and to bring him to action. Moreau, too, was not retreating but advancing. The two armies, Moreau’s and the archduke’s, met in a straggling and indecisive battle at Malsch on the 9th of July, and soon afterwards Charles learned that Jourdan had recrossed the Rhine and was driving Wartensleben before him. He thereupon retired both armies from the Rhine valley into the interior, hoping that at least the French would detach large forces to besiege the river fortresses. Disappointed of this, and compelled to face a very grave situation, he resorted to an expedient which may be described in his own words: “to retire both armies step by step without committing himself to a battle, and to seize the first opportunity to unite them so as to throw himself with superior or at least equal strength on one of the two hostile enemies.” This is the ever-recurring idea of “interior lines.” It was not new, for Frederick the Great had used similar means in similar circumstances, as had Souham at Tourcoing and even Dampierre at Valenciennes. Nor was it differentiated, as were Napoleon’s operations in this same year, by the deliberate use of a small containing force at one point to obtain relative superiority at another. A general of the 18th century did not believe in the efficacy of superior numbers—had not Frederick the Great disproved it?—and for him operations on “interior lines” were simply successive blows at successive targets, the efficacy of the blow in each case being dependent chiefly on his own personal qualities and skill as a general on the field of battle. In the present case the point to be observed is not the expedient, which was dictated by the circumstances, but the courage of the young general, who, unlike Wartensleben and the rest of his generals, unlike, too, Moreau and Jourdan themselves, surmounted difficulties instead of lamenting them.
On the other side, Carnot, of course, foresaw this possibility. He warned the generals not to allow the enemy to “use his forces sometimes against one, sometimes against the other, as he did in the last campaign,” and ordered them to go forward respectively into Franconia and into the country of the upper Neckar, with a view to seeking out and defeating the enemy’s army. But the plan of operations soon grew bolder. Jourdan was informed on the 21st of July that if he reached the Regnitz without meeting the enemy, or if his arrival there forced the latter to retire rapidly to the Danube, he was not to hesitate to advance to Ratisbon and even to Passau if the disorganization of the enemy admitted it, but in these contingencies he was to detach a force into Bohemia to levy contributions. “We presume that the enemy is too weak to offer a successful resistance and will have united his forces on the Danube; we hope that our two armies will act in unison to rout him completely. Each is, in any case, strong enough to attack by itself, and nothing is so pernicious as slowness in war.” Evidently the fear that the two Austrian armies would unite against one of their assailants had now given place to something like disdain.
This was due in all probability to the rapidity with which Moreau was driving the archduke before him. After a brief stand on the Neckar at Cannstadt, the Austrians, only 25,000 strong, fell back to the Rauhe Alb, where they halted again, to cover their magazines at Ulm and Günzburg, towards the end of July. Wartensleben was similarly falling back before Jourdan, though the latter, starting considerably later than Moreau, had not advanced so far. The details of the successive positions occupied by Wartensleben need not be stated; all that concerns the general development of the campaign is the fact that the hitherto independent leader of the “Lower Rhine Army” resented the loss of his freedom of action, and besides lamentations opposed a dull passive resistance to all but the most formal orders of the prince. Many weeks passed before this was overcome sufficiently for his leader even to arrange for the contemplated combination, and in these weeks the archduke was being driven back day by day, and the German principalities were falling away one by one as the French advanced and preached the revolutionary formula. In such circumstances as these—the general facts, if not the causes, were patent enough—it was natural that the confident Paris strategists should think chiefly of the profits of their enterprise and ignore the fears of the generals at the front. But the latter were justified in one important respect; their operating armies had seriously diminished in numbers, Jourdan disposing of not more than 45,000 and Moreau of about 50,000. The archduke had now, owing to the arrival of a few detachments from the Black Forest and elsewhere, about 34,000 men, Wartensleben almost exactly the same, and the former, for some reason which has never been fully explained but has its justification in psychological factors, suddenly turnedNeresheim. and fought a long, severe and straggling battle above Neresheim (August 11). This did not, however, give him much respite, and on the 12th and 13th he retired over the Danube. At this date Wartensleben was about Amberg, almost as far away from the other army as he had been on the Rhine, owing to the necessity of retreating round instead of through the principality of Bayreuth, which was a Prussian possession and could therefore make its neutrality respected.
Hitherto Charles had intended to unite his armies on the Danube against Moreau. His later choice of Jourdan’s army as the objective of his combination grew out of circumstances and in particular out of the brilliant reconnaissance work of a cavalry brigadier of the Lower Rhine Army, Nauendorff. This general’s reports—he was working in the country south and south-east of Nürnberg, Wartensleben being at Amberg—indicated first an advance of Jourdan’s army from Forchheim through Nürnberg to the south, and induced the archduke, on the 12th, to begin a concentration of his own army towards Ingolstadt. This was a purely defensive measure, but Nauendorff reported on the 13th and 14th that the main columns of the French were swinging away to the east against Wartensleben’s front and inner flank, and on the 14th he boldly suggested the idea that decided the campaign. “If your Royal Highness will or can advance 12,000 men against Jourdan’s rear, he is lost. We could not have a better opportunity.” When this message arrived at headquarters the archduke had already issued orders to the same effect. Lieutenant Field Marshal Count Latour, with 30,000 men, was to keep Moreau occupied—another expedient of the moment, due to the very close pressure of Moreau’s advance, and the failure of the attempt to put him out of action at Neresheim. The small remainder of the army, with a few detachments gathered en route, in all about 27,000 men, began to recross the Danube on the 14th, and slowly advanced north on a broad front, its leader being now sure that at some point on his line he would encounter the French, whether they were heading for Ratisbon or Amberg. Meanwhile, the Directory had, still acting on the theory of the archduke’s weakness, ordered Moreau to combine the operations with those of Bonaparte in Italian Tirol, and Jourdan to turn both flanks of his immediate opponent, and thus to prevent his joining the archduke, as well as his retreat into Bohemia. And curiously enough it was this latter, and not Moreau’s move, which suggested to the archduke that his chance had come. The chance was, in fact, one dear to the 18th century general, catching his opponent in the act of executing a manœuvre. So far from “exterior lines” being fatal to Jourdan, it was not until the French general began to operate against Wartensleben’s inner flank that the archduke’s opportunity came.
Amberg and Würzburg.
The decisive events of the campaign can be described very briefly, the ideas that directed them having been made clear. The long thin line of the archduke wrapped itself round Jourdan’s right flank near Amberg, while Wartensleben fought him in front. The battle (August 24) was a series of engagements between the various columns that met; it was a repetition in fact of Fleurus, without the intensity of fighting spirit that redeems that battle from dulness. Success followed, not upon bravery or even tactics, but upon the pre-existing strategical conditions. At the end of the day the French retired, and next morning the archduke began another wide extension to his left, hoping to head them off. This consumed several days. In the course of it Jourdan attempted to take advantage of his opponent’s dissemination to regain the direct road to Würzburg, but the attempt was defeated by an almost fortuitous combination of forces at the threatened point. More effective, indeed, than this indirect pursuit was the very active hostility of the peasantry, who had suffered in Jourdan’s advance and retaliated so effectually during his retreat that the army became thoroughly demoralized, both by want of food and by the strain of incessant sniping. Defeated again at Würzburg on the 3rd of September, Jourdan continued his retreat to the Lahn, and finally withdrew the shattered army over the Rhine, partly by Düsseldorf, partly by Neuwied. In the last engagement on the Lahn the young and brilliant Marceau was mortally wounded. Far away in Bavaria, Moreau had meantime been driving Latour from one line of resistance to another. On receiving the news of Jourdan’s reverses, however, he made a rapid and successful retreat to Strassburg, evading the prince’s army, which had ascended the Rhine valley to head him off, in the nick of time.
This celebrated campaign is pre-eminently strategical in its character, in that the positions and movements anterior to the battle preordained its issue. It raised the reputation of the archduke Charles to the highest point, and deservedly, for he wrested victory from the most desperate circumstances by the skilful and resolute employment of his one advantage. But this was only possible because Moreau and Jourdan were content to accept strategical failure without seeking to redress the balance by hard fighting. The great question of this campaign is, why did Moreau and Jourdan fail against inferior numbers, when in Italy Bonaparte with a similar army against a similar opponent won victory after victory against equal and superior forces? The answer will not be supplied by any theory of “exterior and interior lines.” It lies far deeper. So far as it is possible to summarize it in one phrase, it lies in the fact that though the Directory meant this campaign to be the final word on the Revolutionary War, for the nation at large this final word had been said at Fleurus. The troops were still the nation; they no longer fought for a cause and for bare existence, and Moreau and Jourdan were too closely allied in ideas and sympathies with the misplaced citizen soldiers they commanded to be able to dominate their collective will. In default of a cause, however, soldiers will fight for a man, and this brings us by a natural sequence of ideas to the war in Italy.
The War in Italy 1793-97
Hitherto we have ignored the operations on the Italian frontier, partly because they were of minor importance and partly because the conditions out of which Napoleon’s first campaign arose can be best considered in connexion with that campaign itself, from which indeed the previous operations derive such light as they possess. It has been mentioned that in 1792 the French overran Savoy and Nice. In 1793 the Sardinian army and a small auxiliary corps of Austrians waged a desultory mountain warfare against the Army of the Alps about Briançon and the Army of Italy on the Var. That furious offensive on the part of the French, which signalized the year 1793 elsewhere, was made impossible here by the counter-revolution in the cities of the Midi.
In 1794, when this had been crushed, the intention of the French government was to take the offensive against the Austro-Sardinians. The first operation was to be the capture of Oneglia. The concentration of large forces in the lower Rhone valley had naturally infringed upon the areas told off for the provisioning of the Armies of the Alps (Kellermann) and of Italy (Dumerbion); indeed, the sullen population could hardly be induced to feed the troops suppressing the revolt, still less the distant frontier armies. Thus the only source of supply was the Riviera of Genoa: “Our connexion with this district is imperilled by the corsairs of Oneglia (a Sardinian town) owing to the cessation of our operations afloat. The army is living from hand to mouth,” wrote the younger Robespierre in September 1793. Vessels bearing supplies from Genoa could not avoid the corsairs by taking the open sea, for there the British fleet was supreme. Carnot therefore ordered the Army of Italy to capture Oneglia, and 21,000 men (the rest of the 67,000 effectives were held back for coast defence) began operations in April. The French left moved against the enemy’s positions on the main road over the Col di Tenda, the centre towards Ponte di Nava, and the right Saorgio.along the Riviera. All met with success, thanks to Masséna’s bold handling of the centre column. Not only was Oneglia captured, but also the Col di Tenda. Napoleon Bonaparte served in these affairs on the headquarter staff. Meantime the Army of the Alps had possessed itself of the Little St Bernard and Mont Cenis, and the Republicans were now masters of several routes into Piedmont (May). But the Alpine roads merely led to fortresses, and both Carnot and Bonaparte—Napoleon had by now captivated the younger Robespierre and become the leading spirit in Dumerbion’s army—considered that the Army of the Alps should be weakened to the profit of the Army of Italy, and that the time had come to disregard the feeble neutrality of Genoa, and to advance over the Col di Tenda.
Napoleon in 1794. Napoleon’s first suggestion for a rapid condensation of the French cordon, and an irresistible blow on the centre of the Allies by Tenda-Coni, came to nothing owing to the waste of time in negotiations between the generals and the distant Committee, and meanwhile new factors came into play. The capture of the pass of Argentera by the right wing of the Army of the Alps suggested that the main effort should be made against the barrier fortress of Demonte, but here again Napoleon proposed a concentration of effort on the primary and economy of force in the secondary objective. About the same time, in a memoir on the war in general, he laid down his most celebrated maxim: “The principles of war are the same as those of a siege. Fire must be concentrated on one point, and as soon as the breach is made, the equilibrium is broken and the rest is nothing.” In the domain of tactics he was and remains the principal exponent of the art of breaking the equilibrium, and already he imagined the solution of problems of policy and strategy on the same lines. “Austria is the great enemy; Austria crushed, Germany, Spain, Italy fall of themselves. We must not disperse, but concentrate our attack.” Napoleon argued that Austria could be effectively wounded by an offensive against Piedmont, and even more effectively by an ulterior advance from Italian soil into Germany. In pursuance of the single aim he asked for the appointment of a single commander-in-chief to hold sway from Bayonne to the Lake of Geneva, and for the rejection of all schemes for “revolutionizing” Italy till after the defeat of the arch-enemy.
Operations, however, did not after all take either of these forms. The younger Robespierre perished with his brother in the coup d’état of 9th Thermidor, the advance was suspended, and Bonaparte, amongst other leading spirits of the Army of Italy, was arrested and imprisoned. Profiting by this moment, Austria increased her auxiliary corps. An Austrian general took command of the whole of the allied forces, and pronounced a threat from the region of Cairo (where the Austrians took their place on the left wing of the combined army) towards the Riviera. The French, still dependent on Genoa for supplies, had to take the offensive at once to save themselves from starvation, and the result was the expedition of Dego, planned chiefly by Napoleon, who had been released from prison and was at headquarters, though unemployed. The movement began on the 17th of September; and although the Austrian general Colloredo repulsed an attack at Dego (Sept. 21) he retreated to Acqui, and the incipient offensive of the Allies ended abruptly.
The first months of the winter of 1794-1795 were spent in re-equipping the troops, who stood in sore need after their rapid movements in the mountains. For the future operations, the enforced condensation of the army on its right wing with the object of protecting its line of supply to Genoa and the dangers of its cramped situation on the Riviera suggested a plan roughly resembling one already recommended by Napoleon, who had since the affair of Dego become convinced that the way into Italy was through the Apennines and not the Alps. The essence of this was to anticipate the enemy by a very early and rapid advance from Vado towards Carcare by the Ceva road, the only good road of which the French disposed and which they significantly called the chemin de canon.
Schérer and Kellermann.
The plan, however, came to nothing; the Committee, which now changed its personnel at fixed intervals, was in consequence wavering and non-committal, troops were withdrawn for a projected invasion of Corsica, and in November 1794 Dumerbion was replaced by Schérer, who assembled only 17,000 of his 54,000 effectives for field operations, and selected as his line of advance the Col di Tenda-Coni road. Schérer, besides being hostile to any suggestion emanating from Napoleon, was impressed with the apparent danger to his right wing concentrated in the narrow Riviera, which it was at this stage impossible to avert by a sudden and early assumption of the offensive. After a brief tenure Schérer was transferred to the Spanish frontier, but Kellermann, who now received command of the Army of Italy in addition to his own, took the same view as his predecessor—the view of the ordinary general. But not even the Schérer plan was put into execution, for spring had scarcely arrived when the prospect of renewed revolts in the south of France practically paralysed the army.
This encouraged the enemy to deliver the blow that had so long been feared. The combined forces, under Devins,—the Sardinians, the Austrian auxiliary corps and the newly arrived Austrian main army,—advanced together and forced the French right wing to evacuate Vado and the Genoese littoral. But at this juncture the conclusion of peace with Spain released the Pyrenees armies, and Schérer returned to the Army of Italy at the head of reinforcements. He was faced with a difficult situation, but he had the means wherewith to meet it, as Napoleon promptly pointed out. Up to this, Napoleon said, the French commanded the mountain crest, and therefore covered Savoy and Nice, and also Oneglia, Loano and Vado, the ports of the Riviera. But now that Vado was lost the breach was made. Genoa was cut off, and the south of France was the only remaining resource for the army commissariat. Vado must therefore be retaken and the line reopened to Genoa, and to do this it was essential first to close up the over-extended cordon—and with the greatest rapidity, lest the enemy, with the shorter line to move on, should gather at the point of contact before the French—and to advance on Vado. Further, knowing (as every one knew) that the king of Sardinia was not inclined to continue the struggle indefinitely, he predicted that this ruler would make peace once the French army had established itself in his dominions, and for this the way into the interior, he asserted, was the great road Savona-Ceva. But Napoleon’s mind ranged beyond the immediate future. He calculated that once the French advanced the Austrians would seek to cover Lombardy, the Piedmontese Turin, and this separation, already morally accomplished, it was to be the French general’s task to accentuate in fact. Next, Sardinia having been coerced into peace, the Army of Italy would expel the Austrians from Lombardy, and connect its operations with those of the French in South Germany by way of Tirol. The supply question, once the soldiers had gained the rich valley of the Po, would solve itself.
This was the essence of the first of four memoranda on this subject prepared by Napoleon in his Paris office. The second indicated the means of coercing Sardinia—first the Austrians were to be driven or scared away towards Alessandria, then the French army would turn sharp to the left, driving the Sardinians eastward and north-eastward through Ceva, and this was to be the signal for the general invasion of Piedmont from all sides. In the third paper he framed an elaborate plan for the retaking of Vado, and in the fourth he summarized the contents of the other three. Having thus cleared his own mind as to the conditions and the solution of the problem, he did his best to secure the command for himself.
The measures recommended by Napoleon were translated into a formal and detailed order to recapture Vado. To Napoleon the miserable condition of the Army of Italy was the most urgent incentive to prompt action. In Schérer’s judgment, however, the army was unfit to take the field, and therefore ex hypothesi to attack Vado, without thorough reorganization, and it was only in November that the advance was finally made. It culminated, thanks once more to the resolute Masséna, in the victory of Loano (November 23-24). But Schérer thought more of the destitution of his own army than of the fruits of success, and contented himself with resuming possession of the Riviera.
Meanwhile the Mentor whose suggestions and personality were equally repugnant to Schérer had undergone strange vicissitudes of fortune—dismissal from the headquarters’ staff, expulsion from the list of general officers, and then the “whiff of grapeshot” of 13th Vendémiaire, followed shortly by his marriage with Josephine, and his nomination to command the Army of Italy. These events had neither shaken his cold resolution nor disturbed his balance.
Napoleon in command.
The Army of Italy spent the winter of 1795-1796 as before in the narrow Riviera, while on the one side, just over the mountains, lay the Austro-Sardinians, and on the other, out of range of the coast batteries but ready to pounce on the supply ships, were the British frigates. On Bonaparte’s left Kellermann, with no more than 18,000, maintained a string of posts between Lake Geneva and the Argentera as before. Of the Army of Italy, 7000 watched the Tenda road and 20,000 men the coast-line. There remained for active operations some 27,000 men, ragged, famished and suffering in every way in spite of their victory of Loano. The Sardinian and Austrian auxiliaries (Colli), 25,000 men, lay between Mondovi and Ceva, a force strung out in the Alpine valleys opposed Kellermann, and the main Austrian army (commanded by Beaulieu), in widely extended cantonments between Acqui and Milan, numbered 27,000 field troops. Thus the short-lived concentration of all the allied forces for the battle against Schérer had ended in a fresh separation. Austria was far more concerned with Poland than with the moribund French question, and committed as few of her troops as possible to this distant and secondary theatre of war. As for Piedmont, “peace” was almost the universal cry, even within the army. All this scarcely affected the regimental spirit and discipline of the Austrian squadrons and battalions, which had now recovered from the defeat of Loano. But they were important factors for the new general-in-chief on the Riviera, and formed the basis of his strategy.
Napoleon’s first task was far more difficult than the writing of memoranda. He had to grasp the reins and to prepare his troops, morally and physically, for active work. It was not merely that a young general with many enemies, a political favourite of the moment, had been thrust upon the army. The army itself was in a pitiable condition. Whole companies with their officers went plundering in search of mere food, the horses had never received as much as half-rations for a year past, and even the generals were half-starved. Thousands of men were barefooted and hundreds were without arms. But in a few days he had secured an almost incredible ascendancy over the sullen, starved, half-clothed army.
“Soldiers,” he told them, “you are famished and nearly naked. The government owes you much, but can do nothing for you. Your patience, your courage, do you honour, but give you no glory, no advantage. I will lead you into the most fertile plains of the world. There you will find great towns, rich provinces. There you will find honour, glory and riches. Soldiers of Italy, will you be wanting in courage?”
Such words go far, and little as he was able to supply material deficiencies—all he could do was to expel rascally contractors, sell a captured privateer for £5000 and borrow £2500 from Genoa—he cheerfully told the Directory on the 28th of March that “the worst was over.” He augmented his army of operations to about 40,000, at the expense of the coast divisions, and set on foot also two small cavalry divisions, mounted on the half-starved horses that had survived the winter. Then he announced that the army was ready and opened the campaign.
The first plan, emanating from Paris, was that, after an expedition towards Genoa to assist in raising a loan there, the army should march against Beaulieu, previously neutralizing the Sardinians by the occupation of Ceva. When Beaulieu was beaten it was thought probable that the Piedmontese would enter into an alliance with the French against their former comrades. A second plan, however, authorized the general to begin by subduing the Piedmontese to the extent necessary to bring about peace and alliance, and on this Napoleon acted. If the present separation of the Allies continued, he proposed to overwhelm the Sardinians first, before the Austrians could assemble from winter quarters, and then to turn on Beaulieu. If, on the other hand, the Austrians, before he could strike his blow, united with Colli, he proposed to frighten them into separating again by moving on Acqui and Alessandria. Hence Carcare, where the road from Acqui joined the “cannon-road,” was the first objective of his march, and from there he could manœuvre and widen the breach between the allied armies. His scattered left wing would assist in the attack on the Sardinians as well as it could—for the immediate attack on the Austrians its co-operation would of course have been out of the question. In any case he grudged every week spent in administrative preparation. The delay due to this, as a matter of fact, allowed a new situation to develop. Beaulieu was himself the first to move, and he moved towards Genoa instead of towards his Allies. The gap between the two allied wings was thereby widened, but it was no longer possible for the French to use it, for their plan of destroying Colli while Beaulieu was ineffective had collapsed.
In connexion with the Genoese loan, and to facilitate the movement of supply convoys, a small French force had been pushed forward to Voltri. Bonaparte ordered it back as soon as he arrived at the front, but the alarm was given. The Austrians broke up from winter quarters at once, and rather than lose the food supplies at Voltri, Bonaparte actually reinforced Masséna at that place, and gave him orders to hold on as long as possible, cautioning him only to watch his left rear (Montenotte). But he did not abandon his purpose. Starting from the new conditions, he devised other means, as we shall see, for reducing Beaulieu to ineffectiveness. Meanwhile Beaulieu’s plan of offensive operations, such as they were, developed. The French advance to Voltri had not only spurred him into activity, but convinced him that the bulk of the French army lay east of Savona. He therefore made Voltri the objective of a convergingOpening movements. attack, not with the intention of destroying the French army but with that of “cutting its communications with Genoa,” and expelling it from “the only place in the Riviera where there were sufficient ovens to bake its bread.” (Beaulieu to the Aulic Council, 15 April.) The Sardinians and auxiliary Austrians were ordered to extend leftwards on Dego to close the gap that Beaulieu’s advance on Genoa-Voltri opened up, which they did, though only half-heartedly and in small force, for, unlike Beaulieu, they knew that masses of the enemy were still in the western stretch of the Riviera. The rightmost of Beaulieu’s own columns was on the road between Acqui and Savona with orders to seize Monte Legino as an advanced post, the others were to converge towards Voltri from the Genoa side and the mountain passes about Campofreddo and Sassello. The wings were therefore so far connected that Colli wrote to Beaulieu on this day “the enemy will never dare to place himself between our two armies.” The event belied the prediction, and the proposed minor operation against granaries and bakeries became the first act of a decisive campaign.
On the night of the 9th of April the French were grouped as follows: brigades under Garnier and Macquard at the Finestre and Tenda passes, Sérurier’s division and Rusca’s brigade east of Garessio; Augereau’s division about Loano, Meynier’s at Finale, Laharpe’s at Savona with an outpost on the Monte Legino, and Cervoni’s brigade at Voltri. Masséna was in general charge of the last-named units. The cavalry was far in rear beyond Loano. Colli’s army, excluding the troops in the valleys that led into Dauphiné, was around Coni and Mondovi-Ceva, the latter group connecting with Beaulieu by a detachment under Provera between Millesimo and Carcare. Of Beaulieu’s army, Argenteau’s division, still concentrating to the front in many small bodies, extended over the area Acqui-Dego-Sassello. Vukassovich’s brigade was equally extended between Ovada and the mountain-crests above Voltri, and Pittoni’s division was grouped around Gavi and the Bocchetta, the two last units being destined for the attack on Voltri. Farther to the rear was Sebottendorf’s division around Alessandria-Tortona.
On the afternoon of the 10th Beaulieu delivered his blow at Voltri, not, as he anticipated, against three-quarters of the French army, but against Cervoni’s detachment. This, after a long irregular fight, slipped away in the night to Savona. Discovering his mistake next morning, Beaulieu sent back some of his battalions to join Argenteau. But there was no road by which they could do so save the détour through Acqui and Dego, and long before they arrived Argenteau’s advance on Monte Legino had forced on the crisis. On the 11th (a day behind time), this general drove in the French outposts, but he soon came on three battalions under Colonel Rampon, who threw himself into some old earthworks that lay near, and said to his men, “We must win or die here, my friends.” His redoubt and his men stood the trial well, and when day broke on the 12th Bonaparte was ready to deliver his first “Napoleon-stroke.”
The principle that guided him in the subsequent operations may be called “superior numbers at the decisive point.” Touch had been gained with the enemy all along the long line between the Tenda and Voltri, and he decided to concentrate swiftly upon the nearest enemy—Argenteau. Augereau’s division, or such part of it as could march at once, was ordered to Mallare, picking up here and there on the way a few horsemen and guns. Masséna, with 9000 men, was to send two brigades in the direction of Carcare and Altare, and with the third to swing round Argenteau’s right and to head for Montenotte village in his rear. Laharpe with 7000 (it had become clear that the enemy at Voltri would not pursue their advantage) was to join Rampon, leaving only Cervoni and two battalions in Savona. Sérurier and Rusca were to keep the Sardinians in front of them occupied. The far-distant brigades of Garnier and Macquard stood fast, but the cavalry drew eastward as quickly as its condition permitted. In rain and mist on the early morning of the 12th the French marched up from all quarters, while Argenteau’s men waited in their cold bivouacs for light enough to resume their attack on Monte Legino. About 9 the mists cleared, and heavy fighting began, but Laharpe held the mountain, and the vigorous Masséna with his nearest brigade stormed forward against Argenteau’s right. A few hours later, seeing Augereau’s columns heading for their line of retreat, the Austrians retired, sharply pressed, on Dego. The threatened intervention of Provera was checked by Augereau’s presence at Carcare.
Montenotte was a brilliant victory, and one can imagine its effects on the but lately despondent soldiers of the Army of Italy, for all imagined that Beaulieu’s main body had been defeated. This was far from being the case, however, and although the French spent the night of the battle at Cairo-Carcare-Montenotte, midway between the allied wings, only two-thirds of Argenteau’s force, and none of the other divisions, had been beaten, and the heaviest fighting was to come. This became evident on the afternoon of the 13th, but meanwhile Bonaparte, eager to begin at once the subjugation of the Piedmontese (for which purpose he wanted to bring Sérurier and Rusca into play) sent only Laharpe’s division and a few details of Masséna’s, under the latter, towards Dego. These were to protect the main attack from interference by the forces that had been engaged at Montenotte (presumed to be Beaulieu’s main body), the said main attack being delivered by Augereau’s division, reinforced by most of Masséna’s, on the positions held by Provera. The latter, only 1000 strong to Augereau’s 9000, shut himself in the castle of Cossaria, which he defended à la Rampon against a series of furious assaults. Not until the morning of the 14th was his surrender secured, after his ammunition and food had been exhausted.
Argenteau also won a day’s respite on the 13th, for Laharpe did not join Masséna till late, and nothing took place opposite Dego but a little skirmishing. During the day Bonaparte saw for himself that he had overrated the effects of Montenotte. Beaulieu, on the other hand, underrated them, treating it as a mishap which was more than counterbalanced by his own success in “cutting off the French from Genoa.” He began to reconstruct his line on the front Dego-Sassello, trusting to Colli to harry the French until the Voltri troops had finished their détour through Acqui and rejoined Argenteau. This, of course, presumed that Argenteau’s troops were intact and Colli’s able to move, which was not the case with either. Not until the afternoon of the 14th did Beaulieu place a few extra battalions at Argenteau’s disposal “to be used only in case of extreme necessity,” and order Vukassovich from the region of Sassello to “make a diversion” against the French right with two battalions.
Thus Argenteau, already shaken, was exposed to destruction. On the 14th, after Provera’s surrender, Masséna and Laharpe, reinforced until they had nearly a two-to-one superiority, stormed Dego and killed or captured 3000 of Argenteau’s 5500 men, the remnant retreating in disorder to Acqui. But nothing was done towards the accomplishment of the purpose of destroying Colli on that day, save that Sérurier and Rusca began to close in to meet the main body between Ceva and Millesimo. Moreover, the victory at Dego had produced its usual results on the wild fighting swarms of the Republicans, who threw themselves like hungry wolves on the little town, without pursuing the beaten enemy or even placing a single outpost on the Acqui road. In this state, during the early hours of the 15th, Vukassovich’s brigade, marching up from Sassello, surprised them, and they broke and fled in an instant. The whole morning had to be spent in rallying them at Cairo, and Bonaparte had for the second time to postpone his union with Sérurier and Rusca, who meanwhile, isolated from one another and from the main army, were groping forward in the mountains. A fresh assault on Dego was ordered, and after very severe fighting, Masséna and Laharpe succeeded late in the evening in retaking it. Vukassovich lost heavily, but retired steadily and in order on Spigno. The killed and wounded numbered probably about 1000 French and 1500 Austrians, out of considerably less than 10,000 engaged on each side—a loss which contrasted very forcibly with those suffered in other battles of the Revolutionary Wars, and by teaching the Army of Italy to bear punishment, imbued it with self-confidence. But again success bred disorder, and there was a second orgy in the houses and streets of Dego which went on till late in the morning and paralysed the whole army.
This was perhaps the crisis of the campaign. Even now it was not certain that the Austrians had been definitively pushed aside, while it was quite clear that Beaulieu’s main body was intact and Colli was still more an unknown quantity. But Napoleon’s intention remained the same, to attack the Piedmontese as quickly and as heavily as possible, Beaulieu being held in check by a containing force under Masséna and Laharpe. The remainder of the army, counting in now Rusca and Sérurier, was to move westward towards Ceva. This disposition, while it illustrates the Napoleonic principle of delivering a heavy blow on the selected target and warding off interference at other points, shows also the difficulty of rightly apportioning the available means between the offensive mass and the defensive system, for, as it turned out, Beaulieu was already sufficiently scared, and thought of nothing but self-defence on the line Acqui-Ovada-Bocchetta, while the French offensive mass was very weak compared with Colli’s unbeaten and now fairly concentrated army about Ceva and Montezemolo.
On the afternoon of the 16th the real advance was begun by Augereau’s division, reinforced by other troops. Rusca joined Augereau towards evening, and Sérurier approached Ceva from the south. Colli’s object was now to spin out time, and having repulsed a weak attack by Augereau, and feeling able to repeat these tactics on each successive spur of the Apennines, he retired in the night to a new position behind the Cursaglia. On the 17th, reassured by the absence of fighting on the Dego side, and by the news that no enemy remained at Sassello, Bonaparte released Masséna from Dego, leaving only Laharpe there, and brought him over towards the right of the main body, which thus on the evening of the 17th formed a long straggling line on both sides of Ceva, Sérurier on the left, écheloned forward, Augereau, Joubert and Rusca in the centre, and Masséna, partly as support, partly as flank guard, on Augereau’s right rear. Sérurier had been bidden to extend well out and to strive to get contact with Masséna, i.e. to encircle the enemy. There was no longer any idea of waiting to besiege Ceva, although the artillery train had been ordered up from the Riviera by the “cannon-road” for eventual use there. Further, the line of supply, as an extra guarantee against interference, was changed from that of Savona-Carcare to that of Loano-Bardinetto. When this was accomplished, four clear days could be reckoned on with certainty in which to deal with Colli.
The latter, still expecting the Austrians to advance to his assistance, had established his corps (not more than 12,000 muskets in all) in the immensely strong positions of the Cursaglia, with a thin line of posts on his left stretching towards Cherasco, whence he could communicate, by a roundabout way, with Acqui. Opposite this position the long straggling line of the French arrived, after many delays due to the weariness of the troops, on the 19th.[P2:. added] A day of irregular fighting followed, everywhere to the advantage of the defenders. Napoleon, fighting against time, ordered a fresh attack on the 20th, and only desisted when it became evident that the army was exhausted, and, in particular, when Sérurier reported frankly that without bread the soldiers would not march. The delay thus imposed, however, enabled him to clear the “cannon-road” of all vehicles, and to bring up the Dego detachment to replace Masséna in the valley of the western Bormida, the latter coming in to the main army. Further, part at any rate of the convoy service was transferred still farther westward to the line Albenga-Garessio-Ceva. Nelson’s fleet, that had so powerfully contributed to force the French inland, was becoming less and less innocuous. If leadership and force of character could overcome internal friction, all the success he had hoped for was now within the young commander’s grasp.
Twenty-four thousand men, for the first time with a due proportion of cavalry and artillery, were now disposed along Colli’s front and beyond his right flank. Colli, outnumbered by two to one and threatened with envelopment, decided once more to retreat, and the Republicans occupied the Cursaglia lines on the morning of the 21st without firing a shot. But Colli halted again at Vico, half-way to Mondovi (in order, it is said, to protect the evacuation of a small magazine he had there), and while he was in this unfavourable situation the pursuers came on with true Republican swiftness, lapped round his flanks and crushed him. A few days later (27th April), the armistice of Cherasco put an end to the campaign before the Austrians moved a single battalion to his assistance.
The “Napoleon touch.”
The interest of the campaign being above all Napoleonic, its moral must be found by discovering the “Napoleon touch” that differentiated it from other Revolutionary campaigns. A great deal is common to all, on both sides. The Austrians and Sardinians worked together at least as effectively as the Austrians, Prussians, British and Dutch in the Netherlands. Revolutionary energy was common to the Army of Italy and to the Army of the North. Why, therefore, when the war dragged on from one campaign to another in the great plains of the Meuse and Rhine countries, did Napoleon bring about so swift a decision in these cramped valleys? The answer is to be found partly in the exigencies of the supply service, but still more in Napoleon’s own personality and the strategy born of it. The first, as we have seen, was at the end of its resources when Beaulieu placed himself across the Genoa road. Action of some sort was the plain alternative to starvation, and at this point Napoleon’s personality intervened. He would have no quarter-rations on the Riviera, but plenty and to spare beyond the mountains. If there were many thousand soldiers who marched unarmed and shoeless in the ranks, it was towards “the Promised Land” that he led them. He looked always to the end, and met each day as if with full expectation of attaining it before sunset. Strategical conditions and “new French” methods of war did not save Bonaparte in the two crises—the Dego rout and the sullen halt of the army at San Michele—but the personality which made the soldiers, on the way to Montenotte, march barefoot past a wagon-load of new boots.
We have said that Napoleon’s strategy was the result of this personal magnetism. Later critics evolved from his success the theory of “interior lines,” and then accounted for it by applying the criterion they had evolved. Actually, the form in which the will to conquer found expression was in many important respects old. What, therefore, in the theory or its application was the product of Napoleon’s own genius and will-power? A comparison with Souham’s campaign of Tourcoing will enable us to answer this question. To begin with, Souham found himself midway between Coburg and Clerfayt almost by accident, and his utilization of the advantages of his position was an expedient for the given case. Napoleon, however, placed himself deliberately and by fighting his way thither, in an analogous situation at Carcare and Cairo. Military opinion of the time considered it dangerous, as indeed it was, for no theory can alter the fact that had not Napoleon made his men fight harder and march farther than usual, he would have been destroyed. The effective play of forces on interior lines depends on the two conditions that the outer enemies are not so near together as to give no time for the inner mass to defeat one before the arrival of the other, and that they are not so far apart that before one can be brought to action the other has inflicted serious damage elsewhere.
Neither condition was fully met at any time in the Montenotte campaign. On the 11th Napoleon knew that the attack on Voltri had been made by a part only of the Austrian forces, yet he flung his own masses on Montenotte. On the 13th he thought that Beaulieu’s main body was at Dego and Colli’s at Millesimo, and on this assumption had to exact the most extraordinary efforts from Augereau’s troops at Cossaria. On the 19th and 20th he tried to exclude the risks of the Austrians’ intervention, and with this the chances of a victory over them to follow his victory over Colli, by transferring the centre of gravity of his army to Ceva and Garessio, and fighting it out with Colli alone.
It was not, in fact, to gain a position on interior lines—with respect to two opponents—that Napoleon pushed his army to Carcare. Before the campaign began he hoped by using the “cannon-road” to destroy the Piedmontese before the Austrians were in existence at all as an army. But on the news from Voltri and Monte Legino he swiftly “concentrated fire, made the breach, and broke the equilibrium” at the spot where the interests and forces of the two Allies converged and diverged. The hypothesis in the first case was that the Austrians were practically non-existent, and the whole object in the second was to breach the now connected front of the Allies (“strategic penetration”) and to cause them to break up into two separate systems. More, having made the breach, he had the choice (which he had not before) of attacking either the Austrians or the Sardinians, as every critic has pointed out. Indeed the Austrians offered by far the better target. But he neither wanted nor used the new alternative. His purpose was to crush Piedmont. “My enemies saw too much at once,” said Napoleon. Singleness of aim and of purpose, the product of clear thinking and of “personality,” was the foundation-stone of the new form of strategy.
In the course of subduing the Sardinians, Napoleon found himself placed on interior lines between two hostile masses, and another new idea, that of “relative superiority.” reveals itself. Whereas Souham had been in superior force (90,000 against 70,000), Napoleon (40,000 against 50,000) was not, and yet the Army of Italy was always placed in a position of relative superiority (at first about 3 to 2 and ultimately 2 to 1) to the immediate antagonist. “The essence of strategy,” said Napoleon in 1797, “is, with a weaker army, always to have more force at the crucial point than the enemy. But this art is taught neither by books nor by practice; it is a matter of tact.” In this he expressed the result of his victories on his own mind rather than a preconceived formula which produced those victories. But the idea, though undefined, and the method of practice, though imperfectly worked out, were in his mind from the first. As soon as he had made the breach, he widened it by pushing out Masséna and Laharpe on the one hand and Augereau on the other. This is mere common sense. But immediately afterwards, though preparing to throw all available forces against Colli, he posted Masséna and Laharpe at Dego to guard, not like Vandamme on the Lys against a real and pressing enemy, but against a possibility, and he only diminished the strength and altered the position of this containing detachment in proportion as the Austrian danger dwindled. Later in his career he defined this offensive-defensive system as “having all possible strength at the decisive point,” and “being nowhere vulnerable,” and the art of reconciling these two requirements, in each case as it arose, was always the principal secret of his generalship. At first his precautions (judged by events and not by theRelative superiority. probabilities of the moment) were excessive, and the offensive mass small. But the latter was handled by a general untroubled by multiple aims and anxieties, and if such self-confidence was equivalent to 10,000 men on the battlefield, it was legitimate to detach 10,000 men to secure it. These 10,000 were posted 8 m. out on the dangerous flank, not almost back to back with the main body as Vandamme had been, and although this distance was but little compared to those of his later campaigns, when he employed small armies for the same purpose, it sufficed in this difficult mountain country, where the covering force enjoyed the advantage of strong positions. Of course, if Colli had been better concentrated, or if Beaulieu had been more active, the calculated proportions between covering force and main body might have proved fallacious, and the system on which Napoleon’s relative superiority rested might have broken down. But the point is that such a system, however rough its first model, had been imagined and put into practice.
This was Napoleon’s individual art of war, as raiding bakeries and cutting communications were Beaulieu’s speciality. Napoleon made the art into a science, and in our own time, with modern conditions of effective, armament and communications, it is more than possible that Moreaus and Jourdans will prove able to practise it with success. But in the old conditions it required a Napoleon. “Strategy,” said Moltke, “is a system of expedients.” But it was the intense personal force, as well as the genius, of Napoleon that forged these expedients into a system.
The first phase of the campaign satisfactorily settled, Napoleon was free to turn his attention to the “arch-enemy” to whom he was now considerably superior in numbers (35,000 to 25,000). The day after the signature of the armistice of Cherasco he began preparing for a new advance and also for the rôle of arbiter of the destinies of Italy. Many whispers there were, even in his own army, as to the dangers of passing on without “revolutionizing” aristocratic Genoa and monarchical Piedmont, and of bringing Venice, the pope and the Italian princes into the field against the French. But Bonaparte, flushed with victory, and better informed than the malcontents of the real condition of Italy, never hesitated. His first object was to drive out Beaulieu, his second to push through Tirol, and his only serious restriction the chance that the armistice with Piedmont would not result in a definitive treaty. Beaulieu had fallen back into Lombardy, and now bordered the Po right and left of Valenza. To achieve further progress, Napoleon had first to cross that river, and the point and method of crossing was the immediate problem, a problem the more difficult as Napoleon had no bridge train and could only make use of such existing bridges as he could seize intact. If he crossed above Valenza, he would be confronted by one river-line after another, on one of which at least Beaulieu would probably stand to fight. But quite apart from the immediate problem, Napoleon’s intention was less to beat the Austrians than to dislodge them. He needed a foothold in Lombardy which would make him independent of, and even a menace to, Piedmont. If this were assured, he could for a few weeks entirely ignore his communications with France and strike out against Beaulieu, dethrone the king of Sardinia, or revolutionize Parma, Modena and the papal states according to circumstances.
Milan, therefore, was his objective, and Tortona-Piacenza his route thither. To give himself every chance, he had stipulated with the Piedmontese authorities for the right of passing at Valenza, and he had the satisfaction of seeing Beaulieu fall into the trap and concentrate opposite that part of the river. The French meantime had moved to the region Alessandria-Tortona. Thence on the 6th of May Bonaparte, with a picked body of troops, set out for a forced march on Piacenza, and that night the advanced guard was 30 m. on the way, at Castel San Giovanni, and Laharpe’s and the cavalry divisions at Stradella, 10 m. behind them. Augereau was at Broni, Masséna at Sale and Sérurier near Valenza, the whole forming a rapidly extending fan, 50 m. from point to point. If the Piacenza detachment succeeded in crossing, the army was to follow rapidly in its track. If, on the other hand, Beaulieu fell 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 post on the line of communication, and on the main defensive front less than 30,000 men were disposed at various points between La Corona and Legnago (30 m. apart), and at a distance of 15 to 20 m. from Mantua. The strength of such a disposition depended on the fighting power and handiness of the troops, who in each case would be called upon to act as a rearguard to gain time. Yet the lie of the country scarcely permitted a closer grouping, unless indeed Bonaparte fell back on the old-time device of a “circumvallation,” and shut himself up, with the supplies necessary for the calculated duration of the siege, in an impregnable ring of earthworks round Mantua. This, however, he could not have done even if he had wished, for the wave of revolt radiating from Milan had made accumulations of food impossible, and the lakes above and below the fortress, besides being extremely unhealthy, would have extended the perimeter of the circumvallation so greatly that the available forces would not suffice to man it. It was not in this, but in the absence of an important central reserve that Bonaparte’s disposition is open to criticism, which indeed could impugn the scheme in its entirety, as overtaxing the available resources, more easily than it could attack its details.
If Bonaparte has occasionally been criticized for his defensive measures, Wurmser’s attack procedure has received almost universal condemnation, as to the justice of which it may be pointed out that the object of the expedition was not to win a battle by falling on the disunited French with a well-concentrated army, but to overpower one, any one, of the corps covering the siege, and to press straight forward to the relief of Mantua, i.e. to the destruction of Bonaparte’s batteries and the levelling of his trench work. The old principle that a battle was a grave event of doubtful issue was reinforced in the actual case by Beaulieu’s late experiences of French élan, and as a temporary victory at one point would suffice for the purpose in hand, there was every incentive to multiply the points of contact. The soundness of Wurmser’s plan was proved by the event. New ideas and new forces, undiscernible to a man of seventy-two years of age, obliterated his achievement by surpassing it, but such as it was—a limited use of force for a limited object—the venture undeniably succeeded.
The Austrians formed three corps, one (Quasdanovich, 18,000 men) marching round the west side of the Lake of Garda on Gavardo, Salo and the Brescia road, the second (under Wurmser, about 30,000) moving directly down the Adige, and the third (Davidovich, 6000) making a détour by the Brenta valley and heading for Verona by Vicenza.
On the 29th Quasdanovich attacked Sauret at Salo, drove him towards Desenzano, and pushed on to Gavardo and thence into Brescia. Wurmser expelled Masséna’s advanced guard from La Corona, and captured in succession the Monte Baldo and Rivoli posts. The Brenta column approached Verona with little or no fighting. News of this column led Napoleon early in the day to close up Despinoy, Masséna and Kilmaine at Castelnuovo, and to order Augereau from Legnago to advance on Montebello (19 m. east of Verona) against Davidovich’s left rear. But after these orders had been despatched came the news of Sauret’s defeat, and this moment was one of the most anxious in Napoleon’s career. He could not make up his mind to give up the siege of Mantua, but he hurried Augereau back to the Mincio, and sent order after order to the officers on the lines of communication to send all convoys by the Cremona instead of by the Brescia road. More, he had the baggage, the treasure and the sick set in motion at once for Marcaria, and wrote to Sérurier a despatch which included the words “perhaps we shall recover ourselves ... but I must take serious measures for a retreat.” On the 30th he wrote: “The enemy have broken through our line in three places ... Sauret has evacuated Salo ... and the enemy has captured Brescia. You see that our communications with Milan and Verona are cut.” The reports that came to him during the morning of the 30th enabled him to place the main body of the enemy opposite Masséna, and this, without in the least alleviating the gravity of the situation, helped to make his course less doubtful. Augereau was ordered to hold the line of the Molinella, in case Davidovich’s attack, the least-known factor, should after all prove to be serious; Masséna to reconnoitre a road from Peschiera through Castiglione towards Orzinovi, and to stand fast at Castelnuovo opposite Wurmser as long as he could. Sauret and Despinoy were concentrated at Desenzano with orders on the 31st to clear the main line of retreat and to recapture Brescia. The Austrian movements were merely the continuation of those of the 29th. Quasdanovich wheeled inwards, his right finally resting on Montechiaro and his left on Salo. Wurmser drove back Masséna to the west side of the Mincio. Davidovich made a slight advance.
Relief of Mantua. In the late evening Bonaparte held a council of war at Roverbella. The proceedings of this council are unknown, but it at any rate enabled Napoleon to see clearly and to act. Hitherto he had been covering the siege of Mantua with various detachments, the defeat of any one of which might be fatal to the enterprise. Thus, when he had lost his main line of retreat, he could assemble no more than 8000 men at Desenzano to win it back. Now, however, he made up his mind that the siege could not be continued, and bitter as the decision must have been, it gave him freedom. At this moment of crisis the instincts of the great captain came into play, and showed the way to a victory that would more than counterbalance the now inevitable failure. Sérurier was ordered to spike the 140 siege guns that had been so welcome a few days before, and, after sending part of his force to Augereau, to establish himself with the rest at Marcaria on the Cremona road. The field forces were to be used on interior lines. On the 31st Sauret, Despinoy, Augereau and Kilmaine advanced westward against Quasdanovich. The first two found the Austrians at Salo and Lonato and drove them back, while with Augereau and the cavalry Bonaparte himself made a forced march on Brescia, never halting night or day till he reached the town and recovered his depots. Meantime Sérurier had retired (night of July 31), Masséna had gradually drawn in towards Lonato, and Wurmser’s advanced guard triumphantly entered the fortress (August 1).
The Austrian general now formed the plan of crushing Bonaparte between Quasdanovich and his own main body. But meantime Quasdanovich had evacuated Brescia under the threat of Bonaparte’s advance and was now fighting a long irregular action with Despinoy and Sauret about Gavardo and Salo, and Bonaparte, having missed his expected target, had brought Augereau by another severe march back to Montechiaro on the Chiese. Masséna was now assembled between Lonato and Ponte San Marco, and Sérurier was retiring quietly on Marcaria. Wurmser’s main body, weakened by the detachment sent to Mantua, crossed the Mincio about Valeggio and Goito on the 2nd, and penetrated as far as Castiglione, whence Masséna’s rearguard was expelled. But a renewed advance of Quasdanovich, ordered by Wurmser, which drove Sauret and Despinoy back on Brescia and Lonato, in the end only placed a strong detachment of the Austrians within striking distance of Masséna, who on the 3rd attacked it, front to front, and by sheer fighting destroyed it, while at the same time Augereau recaptured Castiglione from Wurmser. On the 4th Sauret and Despinoy pressed back Quasdanovich beyond Salo and Gavardo. One of the Austrian columns, finding itself isolated and unable to retreat with the others, turned back to break its way through to Wurmser, and was annihilated by Masséna in the neighbourhood of Lonato. On this day Augereau fought his way towards Solferino, and Wurmser, thinking rightly or wrongly that he could not now retire to the Mincio without a battle, drew up his whole force, close on 30,000 men, in the plain between Solferino and Medole. The finale may be described in very few words. Bonaparte, convinced that no more was to be feared from Quasdanovich, and seeing that Wurmser meant to fight, called in Despinoy’s division to the main body and sent orders to Sérurier, then far distant on the Cremona road, to march against the left flank of the Austrians. On the 5th the battle of Castiglione was fought. Closely contested in the first hours of the frontal attack till Sérurier’s arrival decided the day, it ended in the retreat of the Austrians over the Mincio and into Tirol whence they had come.
Lonato and Castiglione.
Thus the new way had failed to keep back Wurmser, and the old had failed to crush Napoleon. Each was the result of its own conditions. In former wars a commander threatened as Napoleon was, would have fallen back at once to the Adda, abandoning the siege in such good time that he would have been able to bring off his siege artillery. Instead of this Bonaparte hesitated long enough to lose it, which, according to accepted canons was a waste, and held his ground, which was, by the same rules, sheer madness. But Revolutionary discipline was not firm enough to stand a retreat. Once it turned back, the army would have streamed away to Milan and perhaps to the Alps (cf. 1799), and the only alternative to complete dissolution therefore was fighting.
As to the manner of this fighting, even the principle of “relative superiority” failed him so long as he was endeavouring to cover the siege and again when his chief care was to protect his new line of retreat and to clear his old. In this period, viz. up to his return from Brescia on the 2nd of August, the only “mass” he collected delivered a blow in the air, while the covering detachments had to fight hard for bare existence. Once released from its trammels, the Napoleonic principle had fair play. He stood between Wurmser and Quasdanovich, ready to fight either or both. The latter was crushed, thanks to local superiority and the resolute leading of Masséna, but at Castiglione Wurmser actually outnumbered his opponent till the last of Napoleon’s precautionary dispositions had been given up, and Sérurier brought back from the “alternative line of retreat” to the battlefield. The moral is, again, that it was not the mere fact of being on interior lines that gave Napoleon the victory, but his “tact,” his fine appreciation of the chances in his favour, measured in terms of time, space, attacking force and containing power. All these factors were greatly influenced by the ground, which favoured the swarms and columns of the French and deprived the brilliant Austrian cavalry of its power to act. But of far greater importance was the mobility that Napoleon’s personal force imparted to the French. Napoleon himself rode five horses to death in three days, and Augereau’s division marched from Roverbella to Brescia and back to Montechiaro, a total distance of nearly 50 m., in about thirty-six hours. This indeed was the foundation of his “relative superiority,” for every hour saved in the time of marching meant more freedom to destroy one corps before the rest could overwhelm the covering detachments and come to its assistance.
Wurmser’s plan for the relief of Mantua, suited to its purpose, succeeded. But when he made his objective the French field army, he had to take his own army as he found it, disposed for an altogether different purpose. A properly, combined attack of convergent columns framed ab initio by a good staff officer, such as Mack, might indeed have given good results. But the success of such a plan depends principally on the assailant’s original possession of the initiative, and not on the chances of his being able to win it over to his own side when operations, as here, are already in progress. When the time came to improvise such a plan, the initiative had passed over to Napoleon, and the plan was foredoomed.
By the end of the second week in August the blockade of Mantua had been resumed, without siege guns. But still under the impression of a great victory gained, Bonaparte was planning a long forward stride. He thought that by advancing past Mantua directly on Trieste and thence onwards to the Semmering he could impose a peace on the emperor. The Directory, however, which had by now focussed its attention on the German campaign, ordered him to pass through Tirol and to co-operate with Moreau, and this plan, Bonaparte, though protesting against an Alpine venture being made so late in the year, prepared to execute, drawing in reinforcements and collecting great quantities of supplies in boats on the Adige and Lake Garda. Wurmser was thought to have posted his main body near Trent, and to have detached one division to Bassano “to cover Trieste.” The French advanced northward on the 2nd, in three disconnected columns (precisely as Wurmser had done in the reverse direction at the end of July)—Masséna (13,000) from Rivoli to Ala, Augereau (9000) from Verona by hill roads, keeping on his right rear, Vaubois (11,000) round the Lake of Garda by Riva and Torbole. Sahuguet’s division (8000) remained before Mantua. The French divisions successfully combined and drove the enemy before them to Trent.
There, however, they missed their target. Wurmser had already drawn over the bulk of his army (22,000) into the Val Sugana, whence, with the Bassano division as his advanced guard, he intended once more to relieve Mantua, while Davidovich with 13,000 (excluding detachments) was to hold Tirol against any attempt of Bonaparte to join forces with Moreau.
Thus Austria was preparing to hazard a second (as in the event she hazarded a third and a fourth) highly trained and expensive professional army in the struggle for the preservation of a fortress, and we must conclude that there were weighty reasons which actuated so notoriously cautious a body as the Council of War in making this unconditional venture. While Mantua stood, Napoleon, for all his energy and sanguineness, could not press forward into Friuli and Carniola, and immunity from a Republican visitation was above all else important for the Vienna statesmen, governing as they did more or less discontented and heterogeneous populations that had not felt the pressure of war for a century and more. The Austrians, so far as is known, desired no more than to hold their own. They no longer possessed the superiority of moral that guarantees victory to one side when both are materially equal. There was therefore nothing to be gained, commensurate with the risk involved, by fighting a battle in the open field. In Italien siegt nicht die Kavallerie was an old saying in the Austrian army, and therefore the Austrians could not hope to win a victory of the first magnitude. The only practicable alternative was to strengthen Mantua as opportunities offered themselves, and to prolong the passive resistance as much as possible. Napoleon’s own practice in providing for secondary theatres of war was to economize forces and to delay a decision, and the fault of the Austrians, viewed from a purely military standpoint, was that they squandered, instead of economizing, their forces to gain time. If we neglect pure theory, and regard strategy as the handmaiden of statesmanship—which fundamentally it is—we cannot condemn the Vienna authorities unless it be first proved that they grossly exaggerated the possible results of Bonaparte’s threatened irruption. And if their capacity for judging the political situation be admitted, it naturally follows that their object was to preserve Mantua at all costs—which object Wurmser, though invariably defeated in action, did in fact accomplish.
When Masséna entered Trent on the morning of the 5th of September, Napoleon became aware that the force in his front was a mere detachment, and news soon came in that Wurmser was in the Val Sugana about Primolano and at Bassano. This move he supposed to be intended to cover Trieste, being influenced by his own hopes of advancing in that direction, and underestimating the importance, to the Austrians, of preserving Mantua. He therefore informed the Directory that he could not proceed with the Tirol scheme, and spent one more day in driving Davidovich well away from Trent. Then, leaving Vaubois to watch him, Napoleon marched Augereau and Masséna, with a rapidity he scarcely ever surpassed, into the Val Sugana. Wurmser’s rearguard was attacked and defeated again and again, and Wurmser himself felt compelled to stand and fight, in the hope of checking the pursuit before going forward into the plains. Half his army had already reached Montebello on the Verona road, and with the rear half he posted himself at Bassano, where on the 8th he was attacked and defeated with heavy losses. Then began a strategic pursuit or general chase, and in this the mobility of the French should have finished the work so well begun by their tactics.
But Napoleon directed the pursuers so as to cut off Wurmser from Trieste, not from Mantua. Masséna followed up the Austrians to Vicenza, while Augereau hurried towards Padua, and it was not until late on the 9th that Bonaparte realized that his opponent was heading for Mantua via Legnago. On the 10th Masséna crossed the Adige at Ronco, while Augereau from Padua reached Montagnara. Sahuguet from Mantua and Kilmaine from Verona joined forces at Castellaro on the 11th, with orders to interpose between Wurmser and the fortress. Wurmser meantime had halted for a day at Legnago, to restore order, and had then resumed his march. It was almost too late, for in the evening, after having to push aside the head of Masséna’s column at Cerea, he had only reached Nogara, some miles short of Castellaro, and close upon his rear was Augereau, who reached Legnago that night. On the 12th, eluding Sahuguet by a detour to the southward, he reached Mantua, with all the columns of the French, weary as most of them were, in hot pursuit. After an attempt to keep the open field, defeated in a general action on the 15th, the relieving force was merged in the garrison, now some 28,000 in all. So ended the episode of Bassano, the most brilliant feature of which as usual was the marching power of the French infantry. This time it sufficed to redeem even strategical misconceptions and misdirections. Between the 5th and the 11th, besides fighting three actions, Masséna had marched 100 m. and Augereau 114.
Feldzeugmeister Alvintzi was now appointed to command a new army of relief. This time the mere distribution of the troops imposed a concentric advance of separate columns, for practically the whole of the fresh forces available were in Carniola, the Military Frontier, &c., while Davidovich was still in Tirol. Alvintzi’s intention was to assemble his new army (29,000) in Friuli, and to move on Bassano, which was to be occupied on the 4th of November. Meantime Davidovich (18,000) was to capture Trent, and the two columns were to connect by the Val Sugana. All being well, Alvintzi and Davidovich, still separate, were then to converge on the Adige between Verona and Legnago. Wurmser was to co-operate by vigorous sorties. At this time Napoleon’s protective system was as follows: Kilmaine (9000) investing Mantua, Vaubois (10,000) at Trent, and Masséna (9000) at Bassano and Treviso, Augereau (9000) and Macquard (3000) at Verona and Villafranca constituting, for the first time in these operations, important mobile reserves. Hearing of Alvintzi’s approach in good time, he meant first to drive back Davidovich, then with Augereau, Masséna, Macquard and 3000 of Vaubois’s force to fall upon Alvintzi, who, he calculated, would at this stage have reached Bassano, and finally to send back a large force through the Val Sugana to attack Davidovich. This plan practically failed.
Instead of advancing, Vaubois was driven steadily backward. By the 6th, Davidovich had fought his way almost to Roveredo, and Alvintzi had reached Bassano and was there successfully repelling the attacks of Masséna and Augereau. That night Napoleon drew back to Vicenza. On the 7th Davidovich drove in Vaubois to Corona and Rivoli, and Alvintzi came within 5 m. of Vicenza. Napoleon watched carefully for an opportunity to strike out, and on the 8th massed his troops closely around the central point of Verona. On the 9th, to give himself air, he ordered Masséna to join Vaubois, and to drive back Davidovich at all costs. But before this order was executed, reports came in to the effect that Davidovich had suspended his advance. The 10th and 11th were spent by both sides in relative inaction, the French waiting on events and opportunities, the Austrians resting after their prolonged exertions. Then, on the afternoon of the 11th, being informed that Alvintzi was approaching, Napoleon decided to attack him. On the 12th the advanced guard of Alvintzi’s army was furiously assailed in the position of Caldiero. But the troops in rear came up rapidly, and by 4 P.M. the French were defeated all along the line and in retreat on Verona. Napoleon’s situation was now indeed precarious. He was on “interior lines,” it is true, but he had neither the force nor the space necessary for the delivery of rapid radial blows. Alvintzi was in superior numbers, as the battle of Caldiero had proved, and at any moment Davidovich, who had twice Vaubois’s force, might advance to the attack of Rivoli. The reserves had proved insufficient, and Kilmaine had to be called up from Mantua, which was thus for the third time freed from the blockaders. Again the alternatives were retreat, in whatever order was possible to Republican armies, and beating the nearest enemy at any sacrifice. Napoleon chose the latter, though it was not until the evening of the 14th that he actually issued the fateful order.
The Austrians, too, had selected the 15th as the date of their final advance on Verona, Davidovich from the north, Alvintzi via Zevio from the south. But Napoleon was no longer there; leaving Vaubois to hold Davidovich as best he might, and posting only 3000 men in Verona, he had collected the rest of his small army between Albaro and Ronco. His plan seems to have been to cross the Adige well in rear of the Austrians, to march north on to the Verona-Vicenza highway, and there, supplying himself from their convoys, to fight to the last. On the 15th he had written to the Directory, “The weakness and the exhaustion of the army causes me to fear the worst. We are perhaps on the eve of losing Italy.” In this extremity of danger the troops passed the Adige in three columns near Ronco and Albaredo, and marched forward along the dikes, with deep marshes and pools on either hand. If Napoleon’s intention was to reach the dry open ground of S. Bonifacio in rear of the Austrians, it was not realized, for the Austrian army, instead of being at the gates of Verona, was still between Caldiero and S. Bonifacio, heading, as we know, for Zevio. Thus Alvintzi was able, easily and swiftly, to wheel to the south.
The battle of Arcola almost defies description. The first day passed in a series of resultless encounters between the heads of the columns as they met on the dikes. In the evening Bonaparte withdrew over the Adige, expecting at every moment to be summoned to Vaubois’s aid. But Davidovich remained inactive, and on the 16th the French again crossed the river. Masséna from Ronco advanced on Porcile, driving the Austrians along the causeway thither, but on the side of Arcola, Alvintzi had deployed a considerable part of his forces on the edge of the marshes, within musket shot of the causeway by which Bonaparte and Augereau had to pass, along the Austrian front, to reach the bridge of Arcola. In these circumstances the second day’s battle was more murderous and no more decisive than the first, and again the French retreated to Ronco. But Davidovich again stood still, and with incredible obstinacy Bonaparte ordered a third assault for the 17th, using 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.
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 way to the Lahn, where for the last time in the history of these wars, there was an irregular widespread battle. But Hoche, in this his last campaign, displayed the brilliant energy of his first, and delivered the “series of incessant blows” that Carnot had urged upon Jourdan the year before. Werneck was driven with ever-increasing losses from the lower Lahn to Wetzlar and Giessen. Thence, pressed hard by the French left wing under Championnet, he retired on the Nidda, only to find that Hoche’s right had swung completely roundLeoben. him. Nothing but the news of the armistice of Leoben saved him from envelopment and surrender. This general armistice was signed by Bonaparte, on his own authority and to the intense chagrin of the Directory and of Hoche, on the 18th of April, and was the basis of the peace of Campo Formio.
Napoleon in Egypt
Within the scope of this article, yet far more important from its political and personal than from its general military interest, comes the expedition of Napoleon to Egypt and its sequel (see also Egypt: History; Napoleon, &c.). A very brief summary must here suffice. Napoleon left Toulon on the 19th of May 1798, at the same time as his army (40,000 strong in 400 transports) embarked secretly at various ports. Nelson’s fleet was completely evaded, and, capturing Malta en route, the armada reached the coast of Egypt on the 1st of July. The republicans stormed Alexandria on the 2nd. Between Embabeh and Gizeh, on the left bank of the Nile, 60,000 Mamelukes were defeated and scattered on the 21st (battle of the Pyramids), the French for the most part marching and fighting in the chequer of infantry squares that afterwards became the classical formation for desert warfare. While his lieutenants pursued the more important groups of the enemy, Napoleon entered Cairo in triumph, and proceeded to organize Egypt as a French protectorate. Meantime Nelson, though too late to head off the expedition, had annihilated the squadron of Admiral Brueys. This blow severed the army from the home country, and destroyed all hope of reinforcements. But to eject the French already in Egypt, military invasion of that country was necessary. The first attempts at this were made in September by the Turks as overlords of Egypt. Napoleon—after suppressing a revolt in Cairo—marched into Syria to meet them, and captured El Arish and Jaffa (at the latter place the prisoners, whom he could afford neither to feed, to release, nor to guard, were shot by his order). But he was brought to a standstill (March 17-May 20) before the half-defensible fortifications of Acre, held by a Turkish garrison and animated by the leadership of Sir W. Sidney Smith (q.v.). In May, though meantime a Turkish relieving army had been severely beaten in the battle of Mount Tabor (April 16, 1799), Napoleon gave up his enterprise, and returned to Egypt, where he won a last victory in annihilating at Aboukir, with 6000 of his own men, a Turkish army 18,000 strong that had landed there (July 25, 1799). With this crowning tactical success to set against the Syrian reverses, he handed over the command to Kléber and returned to France (August 22) to ride the storm in a new coup d’état, the “18th Brumaire.” Kléber, attacked by the English and Turks, concluded the convention of El Arish (January 27, 1800), whereby he secured free transport for the army back to France. But this convention was disavowed by the British government, and Kléber prepared to hold his ground. On the 20th of March 1800 he thoroughly defeated the Turkish army at Heliopolis and recovered Cairo, and French influence was once more in the ascendant in Egypt, when its director was murdered by a fanatic on the 14th of June, the day of Marengo. Kléber’s successor, the incompetent Menou, fell an easy victim to the British expeditionary force under Sir Ralph Abercromby in 1801. The British forced their way ashore at Aboukir on the 8th of March. On the 21st, Abercromby won a decisive battle, and himself fell in the hour of victory (see Alexandria: Battle of 1801). His successor, General Hely Hutchinson, slowly followed up this advantage, and received the surrender of Cairo in July and of Alexandria in August, the débris of the French army being given free passage back to France. Meantime a mixed force of British and native troops from India, under Sir David Baird, had landed at Kosseir and marched across the desert to Cairo.
The War of the Second Coalition
In the autumn of 1798, while Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition was in progress, and the Directory was endeavouring at home to reduce the importance and the predominance of the army and its leaders, the powers of Europe once more allied themselves, not now against the principles of the Republic, but against the treaty of Campo Formio. Russia, Austria, England, Turkey, Portugal, Naples and the Pope formed the Second Coalition. The war began with an advance into the Roman States by a worthless and ill-behaved Neapolitan army (commanded, much against his will, by Mack), which the French troops under Championnet destroyed with ease. Championnet then revolutionized Naples. After this unimportant prelude the curtain rose on a general European war. The Directory which now had at its command neither numbers nor enthusiasm, prepared as best it could to meet the storm. Four armies, numbering only 160,000, were set on foot, in Holland (Brune, 24,000); on the Upper Rhine (Jourdan, 46,000); in Switzerland, which had been militarily occupied in 1798 (Masséna, 30,000); and in upper Italy (Schérer, 60,000). In addition there was Championnet’s army, now commanded by Macdonald, in southern Italy. All these forces the Directory ordered, in January and February 1799, to assume the offensive.
Jourdan, in the Constance and Schaffhausen region, had only 40,000 men against the archduke Charles’s 80,000, and was soon brought to a standstill and driven back on Stokach. The archduke had won these preliminary successes with seven-eighths of his army acting as one concentrated mass. But as he had only encountered a portion of Jourdan’s army, he became uneasy as to his flanks, checked his bold advance, and ordered a reconnaissance in force. This practically extended his army while Jourdan was closing his, and thus the French began the battle of Stokach (March 25) in superior numbers, and it was not until late in the day that the archduke brought up sufficient strength (60,000) to win a victory. This was a battle of the “strategic” type, a widespread straggling combat in which each side took fifteen hours to inflict a loss of 12% on the other, and which ended in Jourdan accepting defeat and drawing off, unpursued by the magnificent Austrian cavalry, though these counted five times as many sabres as the French.
The French secondary army in Switzerland was in the hands of the bold and active Masséna. The forces of both sides in the Alpine region were, from a military point of view, mere flank guards to the main armies on the Rhine and the Adige. But unrest, amounting to civil war, among the Swiss and Grison peoples tempted both governments to give these flank guards considerable strength.
Masséna in Switzerland.
The Austrians in the Vorarlberg and Grisons were under Hotze, who had 13,000 men at Bregenz, and 7000 commanded by Auffenberg around Chur, with, between them, 5000 men at Feldkirch and a post of 1000 in the strong position of the Luziensteig near Mayenfeld. Masséna’s available force was about 20,000, and he used almost the whole of it against Auffenberg. The Rhine was crossed by his principal column near Mayenfeld, and the Luziensteig stormed (March 6), while a second column from the Zürich side descended upon Disentis and captured its defenders. In three days, thanks to Masséna’s energy and the ardent attacking spirit of his men, Auffenberg’s division was broken up, Oudinot meanwhile holding off Hotze by a hard-fought combat at Feldkirch (March 7). But a second attack on Feldkirch made on the 23rd by Masséna with 15,000 men was repulsed and the advance of his left wing came to a standstill.
Behind Auffenberg and Hotze was Bellegarde in Tirol with some 47,000 men. Most of these were stationed north of Innsbruck and Landeck, probably as a sort of strategic reserve to the archduke. The rest, with the assistance of the Tirolese themselves, were to ward off irruptions from Italy. Here the French offensive was entrusted to two columns, one from Masséna’s command under Lecourbe, the other from the Army of Italy under Dessolle. Simultaneously with Masséna, Lecourbe marched from Bellinzona with 10,000 men, by the San Bernadino pass into the Splügen valley, and thence over the Julier pass into the upper Engadine. A small Austrian force under Major-General Loudon attacked him near Zernetz, but was after three days of rapid manœuvres and bold tactics driven back to Martinsbrück, with considerable losses, especially in prisoners. But ere long the country people flew to arms, and Lecourbe found himself between two fires, the levies occupying Zernetz and Loudon’s regulars Martinsbrück. But though he had only some 5000 of his original force left, he was not disconcerted, and, by driving back the levies into the high valleys whence they had come, and constantly threatening Loudon, he was able to maintain himself and to wait for Dessolles. The latter, moving up the Valtelline, by now fought his way to the Stelvio pass, but beyond it the defile of Tauffers (S.W. of Glurns) was entrenched by Loudon, who thus occupied a position midway between the two French columns, while his irregulars beset all the passes and ways giving access to the Vintschgau and the lower Engadine. In this situation the French should have been destroyed in detail. But as usual their speed and dash gave them the advantage in every manœuvre and at every point of contact.
Lecourbe and Dessolles in Tirol.
On the 25th Lecourbe and Dessolles attacked Loudon at Nauders in the Engadine and Tauffers in the Vintschgau respectively. At Nauders the French passed round the flanks of the defence by scrambling along the high mountain crests adjacent, while at Tauffers the assailants, only 4500 strong, descended into a deep ravine, debouched unnoticed in the Austrians’ rear, and captured 6000 men and 16 guns. The Austrian leader with a couple of companies made his way through Glurns to Nauders, and there, finding himself headed off by Lecourbe, he took to the mountains. His corps, like Auffenberg’s, was annihilated.
This ended the French general offensive. Jourdan had been defeated by the archduke and forced or induced to retire over the Rhine. Masséna was at a standstill before the strong position of Feldkirch, and the Austrians of Hotze were still massed at Bregenz, but the Grisons were revolutionized, two strong bodies of Austrians numbering in all about 20,000 men had been destroyed, and Lecourbe and Dessolles had advanced far into Tirol. A pause followed. The Austrians in the mountains needed time to concentrate and to recover from their astonishment. The archduke fell ill, and the Vienna war council forbade his army to advance lest Tirol should be “uncovered,” though Bellegarde and Hotze still disposed of numbers equal to those of Masséna and Lecourbe. Masséna succeeded Jourdan in general command on the French side and promptly collected all available forces of both armies in the hilly non-Alpine country between Basel, Zürich and Schaffhausen, thereby directly barring the roads into France (Berne-Neuchâtel-Pontarlier and Basel-Besançon) which the Austrians appeared to desire to conquer. The protection of Alsace and the Vosges was left to the fortresses. There was no suggestion, it would appear, that the Rhine between Basel and Schaffhausen was a flank position sufficient of itself to bar Alsace to the enemy.
It is now time to turn to events in Italy, where the Coalition intended to put forth its principal efforts. At the beginning of March the French had 80,000 men in Upper Italy and some 35,000 in the heart of the Peninsula, the latter engaged chiefly in supporting newly-founded republics. Of the former, 53,000 formed the field army on the Mincio under Schérer. The Austrians, commanded by Kray, numbered in all 84,000, but detachments reduced this figure to 67,000, of whom, moreover, 15,000 had not yet arrived when operations began. They were to be joined by a Russian contingent under the celebrated Suvárov, who was to command the whole on arrival, and whose extraordinary personality gives the campaign its special interest. Kray himself was a resolute soldier, and when the French, obeying the general order to advance, crossed the Adige, he defeated them in a severely fought battle at Magnano near Verona (March 5), the French losing 4000 killed and wounded and 4500 taken, out of 41,000. The Austrians lost some 3800 killed and wounded and 1500 prisoners, out of 46,000 engaged. The war, however, was undertaken not to annihilate, but to evict the French, and, probably under orders from Vienna, Kray allowed the beaten enemy to depart.
Suvárov appeared with 17,000 Russians on the 4th of April. His first step was to set Russian officers to teach the Austrian troops—whose feelings can be imagined—how to attack with the bayonet, his next to order the whole army forward. The Allies broke camp on the 17th, 18th and 19th of April, and on the 20th, after a forced march of close on 30 m., they passed the Chiese. Brescia had a French garrison, but Suvárov soon cowed it into surrender by threats of a massacre, which no one doubted that he would carry into execution. At the same time, dissatisfied with the marching of the Austrian infantry, he sent the following characteristic reproof to their commander: “The march was in the service of the Kaiser. Fair weather is for my lady’s chamber, for dandies, for sluggards. He who dares to cavil against his high duty (der Grosssprecher wider den hohen Dienst) is, as an egoist, instantly to vacate his command. Whoever is in bad health can stay behind. The so-called reasoners (raisonneurs) do no army any good....” One day later, under this unrelenting pressure, the advanced posts of the Allies reached Cremona and the main body, the Oglio. The pace became slower in the following days, as many bridges had to be made, and meanwhile Moreau, Schérer’s successor, prepared with a mere 20,000 men to defend Lodi, Cassano and Lecco on the Adda. On the 26th the Russian hero attacked him all along the line. The moral supremacy had passed over to the Allies. Melas, under Suvárov’s stern orders, flung his battalions regardless of losses against the strong position of Cassano. The story of 1796 repeated itself with the rôles reversed. The passage was carried, and the French rearguard under Sérurier was surrounded and captured by an inferior corps of Austrians. The Austrians (the Russians at Lecco were hardly engaged) lost 6000 men, but they took 7000 prisoners, and in all Moreau’s little army lost half its numbers and retreated in many disconnected bodies to the Ticino, and thence to Alessandria. Everywhere the Italians turned against the French, mindful of the exactions of their commissaries. The strange Cossack cavalry that western Europe had never yet seen entered Milan on the 29th of April, eleven days after passing the Mincio, and next day the city received with enthusiasm the old field marshal, whose exploits against the Turks had long invested him with a halo of romance and legend. Here, for the moment, his offensive culminated. He desired to pass into Switzerland and to unite his own, the archduke’s, Hotze’s and Bellegarde’s armies in one powerful mass. But the emperor would not permit the execution of this scheme until all the fortresses held by the enemy in Upper Italy should have been captured. In any case, Macdonald’s army in southern Italy, cut off from France by the rapidity of Suvárov’s onslaught, and now returning with all speed to join Moreau by force or evasion, had still to be dealt with.
Suvárov’s mobile army, originally 90,000 strong, had now dwindled, by reason of losses and detachments for sieges, to half that number, and serious differences arose between the Vienna government and himself. If he offended the pride of the Austrian army, he was at least respected as a leader who gave it victories, but in Vienna he was regarded as a madman who had to be kept within bounds. But at last, when he was becoming thoroughly exasperated by this treatment, Macdonald came within striking distance and the active campaign recommenced. In the second week of June, Moreau, who had retired into the Apennines about Gavi, advanced with the intention of drawing upon himself troops that would otherwise have been employed against Macdonald. He succeeded, for Suvárov with his usual rapidity collected 40,000 men at Alessandria, only to learn that Macdonald with 35,000 men was coming up on the Parma road. When this news arrived, Macdonald had already engaged an Austrian detachment at Modena and driven it back, and Suvárov found himself between Moreau and Macdonald with barely enough men under his hand to enable him to play the game of “interior lines.” But at the crisis the rough energetic warrior who despised “raisonneurs,” displayed generalship of the first order, and taking in hand all his scattered detachments, he manœuvred them in the Napoleonic fashion.
On the 14th Macdonald was calculated to be between Modena, Reggio and Carpi, but his destination was uncertain. Would he continue to hug the Apennines to join Moreau, or would he strike out northwards against Kray, who with 20,000 men was besieging Mantua? From Alessandria it is four marches to Piacenza and nine to Mantua, while from Reggio these places are four and two marches respectively. Piacenza, therefore, was the crucial point if Macdonald continued westward, while, in the other case, nothing could save Kray but the energetic conduct of Hohenzollern’s detachment, which was posted near Reggio. This latter, however, was soon forced over the Po, and Ott, advancing from Cremona to join it, found himself sharply pressed in turn. The field marshal had hoped that Ott and Hohenzollern together would be able to win him time to assemble at Parma, where he could bring on a battle whichever way the French took. But on receipt of Ott’s report he was convinced that Macdonald had chosen the western route, and ordering Ott to delay the French as long as possible by stubborn rearguard actions and to put a garrison into Piacenza under a general who was to hold out “on peril of his life and honour,” he collected what forces were ready to move and hurried towards Piacenza, the rest being left to watch Moreau. He arrived just in time. When after three forced marches the main body (only 26,000 strong) reached Castel San Giovanni, Ott had been driven out of Piacenza, but the two joined forces safely. Both Suvárov and Macdonald spent the 17th in closing up and deploying for battle. The respective forces were Allies 30,000, French 35,000. Suvárov believed the enemy to be only 26,000 strong, and chiefly raw Italian regiments, but his temperament would not have allowed him to stand still even had he known his inferiority. He had already issued one of his peculiar battle-orders, which began with the words, “The hostile army will be taken prisoners” and continued with directions to the Cossacks to spare the surrendered enemy. But Macdonald too was full of energy, and believed still that he could annihilate Ott before the field marshal’s arrival. Thus the battle of the Trebbia (June 17-19) was fought by both sides in the spirit of the offensive. It was one of the severest struggles in the Republican wars, and it ended in Macdonald’s retreat with a loss of 15,000 men—probably 6000 in the battle and 9000 killed and prisoners when and after the equilibrium was broken—for Suvárov, unlike other generals, had the necessary surplus of energy after all the demands made upon him by a great battle, to order and to direct an effective pursuit. The Allies lost about 7000. Macdonald retreated to Parma and Modena, harassed by the peasantry, and finally recrossed the Apennines and made his way to Genoa. The battle of the Trebbia is one of the most clearly-defined examples in military history of the result of moral force—it was a matter not merely of energetic leading on the battlefield, but far more of educating the troops beforehand to meet the strain, of ingraining in the soldier the determination to win at all costs. “It was not,” says Clausewitz, “a case of losing the key of the position, of turning a flank or breaking a centre, of a mistimed cavalry charge or a lost battery ... it is a pure trial of strength and expense of force, and victory is the sinking of the balance, if ever so slightly, in favour of one side. And we mean not merely physical, but even more moral forces.”
To return now to the Alpine region, where the French offensive had culminated at the end of March. Their defeated left was behind the Rhine in the northern part of Switzerland, the half-victorious centre athwart the Rhine between Mayenfeld and Chur, and their wholly victorious right far within Tirol between Glurns, Nauders and Landeck. But neither the centre nor the right could maintain itself. The forward impulse given by Suvárov spread along the whole Austrian front from left to right. Dessolles’ column (now under Loison) was forced back to Chiavenna. Bellegarde drove Lecourbe from position to position towards the Rhine during April. There Lecourbe added to the remnant of his expeditionary column the outlying bodies of Masséna’s right wing, but even so he had only 8000 men against Bellegarde’s 17,000, and he was now exposed to the attack of Hotze’s 25,000 as well. The Luziensteig fell to Hotze and Chur to Bellegarde, but the defenders managed to escape from the converging Austrian columns into the valley of the Reuss. Having thus reconquered all the lost ground and forced the French into the interior of Switzerland, Bellegarde and Hotze parted company, the former marching with the greater part of his forces to join Suvárov, the latter moving to his right to reinforce the archduke. Only a chain of posts was left in the Rhine Valley between Disentis and Feldkirch. The archduke’s operations now recommenced.
Charles and Hotze stood, about the 15th of May, at opposite ends of the lake of Constance. The two together numbered about 88,000 men, but both had sent away numerous detachments to the flanks, and the main bodies dwindled to 35,000 for the archduke and 20,000 for Hotze. Masséna, with 45,000 men in all, retired slowly from the Rhine to the Thur. The archduke crossed the Rhine at Stein, Hotze at Balzers, and each then cautiously felt his way towards the other. Their active opponent attempted to take advantage of their separation, and an irregular fight took place in the Thur valley (May 25), but Masséna, finding Hotze close on his right flank, retired without attempting to force a decision. On the 27th, having joined forces, the Austrians dislodged Masséna from his new position on the Töss without difficulty, and this process was repeated from time to time in theAction of Zurich. next few days, until at last Masséna halted in the position he had prepared for defence at Zürich. He had still but 25,000 of his 45,000 men in hand, for he maintained numerous small detachments on his right, behind the Zürcher See and the Wallen See, and on his left towards Basel. These 25,000 occupied an entrenched position 5 m. in length; against which the Austrians, detaching as usual many posts to protect their flanks and rear, deployed only 42,000 men, of whom 8000 were sent on a wide turning movement and 8000 held in reserve 4 m. in rear of the battlefield. Thus the frontal attack was made with forces not much greater than those of the defence and it failed accordingly (June 4). But Masséna, fearing perhaps to strain the loyalty of the Swiss to their French-made constitution by exposing their town to assault and sack, retired on the 5th.
He did not fall back far, for his outposts still bordered the Limmat and the Linth, while his main body stood in the valley of the Aar between Baden and Lucerne. The archduke pressed Masséna as little as he had pressed Jourdan after Stokach (though in this case he had less to gain by pursuit), and awaited the arrival of a second Russian army, 30,000 strong, under Korsákov, before resuming the advance, meantime throwing out covering detachments towards Basel, where Masséna had a division. Thus for two months operations, elsewhere than in Italy, were at a standstill, while Masséna drew in reinforcements and organized the fractions of his forces in Alsace as a skeleton army, and the Austrians distributed arms to the peasantry of South Germany.
In the end, under pressure from Paris, it was Masséna who resumed active movements. Towards the middle of August, Lecourbe, who formed a loose right wing of the French army in the Reuss valley, was reinforced to a strength of 25,000 men, and pounced upon the extended left wing of the enemy, which had stretched itself, to keep pace with Suvárov, as far westward as the St Gothard. The movement began on the 14th, and in two days the Austrians were driven back from the St Gothard and the Furka to the line of the Linth, with the loss of 8000 men and many guns. At the same time an attempt to take advantage of Masséna’s momentary weakness by forcing the Aar at Döttingen near its mouth failed completely (August 16-17). Only 200 men guarded the point of passage, but the Austrian engineers had neglected to make a proper examination of the river, and unlike the French, the Austrian generals had no authority to waste their expensive battalions in forcing the passage in boats. No one regarded this war as a struggle for existence, and no one but Suvárov possessed the iron strength of character to send thousands of men to death for the realization of a diplomatic success—for ordinary men, the object of the Coalition was to upset the treaty of Campo Formio. This was the end of the archduke’s campaign in Switzerland. Though he would have preferred to continue it, the Vienna government desired him to return to Germany. An Anglo-Russian expedition was about to land in Holland, and the French were assembling fresh forces on the Rhine, and, with the double object of preventing an invasion of South Germany and of inducing the French to augment their forces in Alsace at the expense of those in Holland, the archduke left affairs in Switzerland to Hotze and Korsákov, and marched away with 35,000 men to join the detachment of Sztarray (20,000) that he had placed in the Black Forest before entering Switzerland. His new campaign never rose above the level of a war of posts and of manœuvres about Mannheim and Philippsburg. In the latter stage of it Lecourbe commanded the French and obtained a slight advantage.
Suvárov’s last exploit in Italy coincided in time, but in no other respect, with the skirmish at Döttingen. Returning swiftly from the battlefield of the Trebbia, he began to drive back Moreau to the Riviera. At this point Joubert succeeded to the command on the French side, and against the advice of his generals, gave battle. Equally against the advice of his own subordinates, the field marshal accepted it, and won his last great victory at Novi on the 13th of August, Joubert being killed. This was followed by another rapid march against a new French “Army of the Alps” (Championnet) which had entered Italy by way of the Mont Cenis. But immediately after this he left all further operations in Italy to Melas with 60,000 men and himself with the Russians and an Austrian corps marched away, via Varese, for the St Gothard to combine operations against Masséna with Hotze and Korsákov. It was with a heavy heart that he left the scene of his battles, in which the force of his personality had carried the old-fashioned “linear” armies for the last time to complete victory. In the early summer he had himself suggested, eagerly and almost angrily, the concentration of his own and the archduke’s armies in Switzerland with a view, not to conquering that country, but to forcing Jourdan and Masséna into a grand decisive battle. But, as we have seen, the Vienna government would not release him until the last Italian fortress had been reoccupied, and when finally he received the order that a little while before he had so ardently desired, it was too late. The archduke had already left Switzerland, and he was committed to a resultless warfare in the high mountains, with an army which was a mere detachmentSuvárov ordered to Switzerland. and in the hope of co-operating with two other detachments far away on the other side of Switzerland. As for the reasons which led to the issue of such an order, it can only be said that the bad feeling known to exist between the Austrians and Russians induced England to recommend, as the first essential of further operations, the separate concentration of the troops of each nationality under their own generals. Still stranger was the reason which induced the tsar to give his consent. It was alleged that the Russians would be healthier in Switzerland than the men of the southern plains! From such premises as these the Allied diplomats evolved a new plan of campaign, by which the Anglo-Russians under the duke of York were to reconquer Holland and Belgium, the Archduke Charles to operate on the Middle Rhine, Suvárov in Switzerland and Melas in Piedmont—a plan destitute of every merit but that of simplicity.
It is often said that it is the duty of a commander to resign rather than undertake an operation which he believes to be faulty. So, however, Suvárov did not understand it. In the simplicity of his loyalty to the formal order of his sovereign he prepared to carry out his instructions to the letter. Masséna’s command (77,000 men) was distributed, at the beginning of September, along an enormous S, from the Simplon, through the St Gothard and Glarus, and along the Linth, the Züricher See and the Limmat to Basel. Opposite the lower point of this S, Suvárov (28,000) was about to advance. Hotze’s corps (25,000 Austrians), extending from Utznach by Chur to Disentis, formed a thin line roughly parallel to the lower curve of the S, Korsákov’s Russians (30,000) were opposite the centre at Zürich, while Nauendorff with a small Austrian corps at Waldshut faced the extreme upper point. Thus the only completely safe way in which Suvárov could reach the Zürich region was by skirting the lower curve of the S, under protection of Hotze. But this detour would be long and painful, and the ardent old man preferred to cross the mountains once for all at the St Gothard, and to follow the valley of the Reuss to Altdorf and Schwyz—i.e. to strike vertically upward to the centre of the S—and to force his way through the French cordon to Zürich, and if events, so far as concerned his own corps, belied his optimism, they at any rate justified his choice of the shortest route. For, aware of the danger gathering in his rear, Masséna gathered up all his forces within reach towards his centre, leaving Lecourbe to defend the St Gothard and the Reuss valley and Soult on the Linth. On the 24th he Battle of Zürich. forced the passage of the Limmat at Dietikon. On the 25th, in the second battle of Zürich, he completely routed Korsákov, who lost 8000 killed and wounded, large numbers of prisoners and 100 guns. All along the line the Allies fell back, one corps after another, at the moment when Suvárov was approaching the foot of the St Gothard.
Suvárov in the Alps.
On the 21st the field marshal’s headquarters were at Bellinzona, where he made the final preparations. Expecting to be four days en route before he could reach the nearest friendly magazine, he took his trains with him, which inevitably augmented the difficulties of the expedition. On the 24th Airolo was taken, but when the far greater task of storming the pass itself presented itself before them, even the stolid Russians were terrified, and only the passionate protests of the old man, who reproached his “children” with deserting their father in his extremity, induced them to face the danger. At last after twelve hours’ fighting, the summit was reached. The same evening Suvárov pushed on to Hospenthal, while a flanking column from Disentis made its way towards Amsteg over the Crispalt. Lecourbe was threatened in rear and pressed in front, and his engineers, to hold off the Disentis column, had broken the Devil’s Bridge. Discovering this, he left the road, threw his guns into the river and made his way by fords and water-meadows to Göschenen, where by a furious attack he cleared the Disentis troops off his line of retreat. His rearguard meantime held the ruined Devil’s Bridge. This point and the tunnel leading to it, called the Urner Loch, the Russians attempted to force, with the most terrible losses, battalion after battalion crowding into the tunnel and pushing the foremost ranks into the chasm left by the broken bridge. But at last a ford was discovered and the bridge, cleared by a turning movement, was repaired. More broken bridges lay beyond, but at last Suvárov joined the Disentis column near Göschenen. When Altdorf was reached, however, Suvárov found not only Lecourbe in a threatening position, but an entire absence of boats on the Lake of the Four Cantons. It was impossible (in those days the Axenstrasse did not exist) to take an army along the precipitous eastern shore, and thus passing through one trial after another, each more severe than the last, the Russians, men and horses and pack animals in an interminable single file, ventured on the path leading over the Kinzig pass into the Muotta Thal. The passage lasted three days, the leading troops losing men and horses over the precipices, the rearguard from the fire of the enemy, now in pursuit. And at last, on arrival in the Muotta Thal, the field marshal received definite information that Korsákov’s army was no longer in existence. Yet even so it was long before he could make up his mind to retreat, and the pursuers gathered on all sides. Fighting, sometimes severe, and never altogether ceasing, went on day after day as the Allied column, now reduced to 15,000 men, struggled on over one pass after another, but at last it reached Ilanz on the Vorder Rhine (October 8). The Archduke Charles meanwhile had, on hearing of the disaster of Zürich, brought over a corps from the Neckar, and for some time negotiations were made for a fresh combined operation against Masséna. But these came to nothing, for the archduke and Suvárov could not agree, either as to their own relations or as to the plan to be pursued. Practically, Suvárov’s retreat from Altdorf to Ilanz closed the campaign. It was his last active service, and formed a gloomy but grand climax to the career of the greatest soldier who ever wore the Russian uniform.
Marengo and Hohenlinden
The disasters of 1799 sealed the fate of the Directory, and placed Bonaparte, who returned from Egypt with the prestige of a recent victory, in his natural place as civil and military head of France. In the course of the campaign the field strength of the French had been gradually augmented, and in spite of losses now numbered 227,000 at the front. These were divided into the Army of Batavia, Brune (25,000), the Army of the Rhine, Moreau (146,000), the Army of Italy, Masséna (56,000), and, in addition, there were some 100,000 in garrisons and depots in France.
Most of these field armies were in a miserable condition owing to the losses and fatigues of the last campaign. The treasury was empty and credit exhausted, and worse still—for spirit and enthusiasm, as in 1794, would have remedied material deficiencies—the conscripts obtained under Jourdan’s law of 1798 (see Conscription) came to their regiments most unwillingly. Most of them, indeed, deserted on the way to join the colours. A large draft sent to the Army of Italy arrived with 310 men instead of 10,250, and after a few such experiences, the First Consul decided that the untrained men were to be assembled in the fortresses of the interior and afterwards sent to the active battalions in numerous small drafts, which they could more easily assimilate. Besides accomplishing the immense task of reorganizing existing forces, he created new ones, including the Consular Guard, and carried out at this moment of crisis two such far-reaching reforms as the replacement of the civilian drivers of the artillery by soldiers, and of the hired teams by horses belonging to the state, and the permanent grouping of divisions in army corps.
The Army of Reserve.
As early as the 25th of January 1800 the First Consul provided for the assembly of all available forces in the interior in an “Army of Reserve.” He reserved to himself the command of this army, which gradually came into being as the pacification of Vendée and the return of some of Brune’s troops from Holland set free the necessary nucleus troops. The conscription law was stringently reenforced, and impassioned calls were made for volunteers (the latter, be it said, did not produce five hundred useful men). The district of Dijon, partly as being central with respect to the Rhine and Italian Armies, partly as being convenient for supply purposes, was selected as the zone of assembly. Chabran’s division was formed from some depleted corps of the Army of Italy and from the depots of those in Egypt. Chambarlhac’s, chiefly of young soldiers, lost 5% of its numbers on the way to Dijon from desertion—a loss which appeared slight and even satisfactory after the wholesale débandade of the winter months. Lechi’s Italian legion was newly formed from Italian refugees. Boudet’s division was originally assembled from some of the southern garrison towns, but the units composing it were frequently changed up to the beginning of May. The cavalry was deficient in saddles, and many of its units were new formations. The Consular Guard of course was a corps d’élite, and this and two and a half infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade coming from the veteran “Army of the West” formed the real backbone of the army. Most of the newer units were not even armed till they had left Dijon for the front.
Such was the first constitution of the Army of Reserve. We can scarcely imagine one which required more accurate and detailed staff work to assemble it—correspondence with the district commanders, with the adjutant-generals of the various armies, and orders to the civil authorities on the lines of march, to the troops themselves and to the arsenals and magazines. No one but Napoleon, even aided by a Berthier, could have achieved so great a task in six weeks, and the great captain, himself doing the work that nowadays is apportioned amongst a crowd of administrative staff officers, still found time to administer France’s affairs at home and abroad, and to think out a general plan of campaign that embraced Moreau’s, Masséna’s and his own armies.
The Army of the Rhine, by far the strongest and best equipped, lay on the upper Rhine. The small and worn-out Army of Italy was watching the Alps and the Apennines from Mont Blanc to Genoa. Between them Switzerland, secured by the victory of Zürich, offered a starting-point for a turning movement on either side—this year the advantage of the flank position was recognized and acted upon. The Army of Reserve was assembling around Dijon, within 200 m. of either theatre of war. The general plan was that the Army of Reserve should march through Switzerland to close on the right wing of the Army of the Rhine. Thus supported to whatever degree might prove to be necessary, Moreau was to force the passage of the Rhine about Schaffhausen, to push back the Austrians rapidly beyond the Lech, and then, if they took the offensive in turn, to hold them in check for ten or twelve days. During this period of guaranteed freedom the decisive movement was to be made. The Army of Reserve, augmented by one large corps of the Army of the Rhine, was to descend by the Splügen (alternatively by the St Gothard and even by Tirol) into the plains of Lombardy. Magazines were to be established at Zürich and Lucerne (not at Chur, lest the plan should become obvious from the beginning), and all likely routes reconnoitred in advance. The Army of Italy was at first to maintain a strict defensive, then to occupy the Austrians until the entry of the Reserve Army into Italy was assured, and finally to manœuvre to join it.
Moreau, however, owing to want of horses for his pontoon train and also because of the character of the Rhine above Basel, preferred to cross below that place, especially as in Alsace there were considerably greater supply facilities than in a country which had already been fought over and stripped bare. With the greatest reluctance Bonaparte let him have his way, and giving up the idea of using the Splügen and the St Gothard, began to turn his attention to the more westerly passes, the St Bernard and the Simplon. It was not merely Moreau’s scruples that led to this essential modification in the scheme. At the beginning of April the enemy took the offensive against Masséna. On the 8th Melas’s right wing dislodged the French from the Mont Cenis, and most of the troops that had then reached Dijon were shifted southward to be ready for emergencies. By the 25th Berthier reported that Masséna was seriously attacked and that he might have to be supported by the shortest route. Bonaparte’s resolution was already taken. He waited no longer for Moreau (who indeed so far from volunteering assistance, actually demanded it for himself). Convinced from the paucity of news that Masséna’s army was closely pressed and probably severed from France, and feeling also that the Austrians were deeply committed to their struggle with the Army of Italy, he told Berthier to march with 40,000 men at once by way of the St Bernard unless otherwise advised. Berthier protested that he had only 25,000 effectives, and the equipment and armament was still far from complete—as indeed it remained to the end—but the troops marched, though their very means of existence were precarious from the time of leaving Geneva to the time of reaching Milan, for nothing could extort supplies and money from the sullen Swiss.
Napoleon’s plan of campaign.
At the beginning of May the First Consul learned of the serious plight of the Army of Italy. Masséna with his right wing was shut up in Genoa, Suchet with the left wing driven back to the Var. Meanwhile Moreau had won a preliminary victory at Stokach, and the Army of Reserve had begun its movement to Geneva. With these data the plan of campaign took a clear shape at last—Masséna to resist as long as possible; Suchet to resume the offensive, if he could do so, towards Turin; the Army of Reserve to pass the Alps and to debouch into Piedmont by Aosta; the Army of the Rhine to send a strong force into Italy by the St Gothard. The First Consul left Paris on the 6th of May. Berthier went forward to Geneva, and still farther on the route magazines were established at Villeneuve and St-Pierre. Gradually, and with immense efforts, the leading troops of the long column were passed over the St Bernard, drawing their artillery on sledges, on the 15th and succeeding days. Driving away small posts of the Austrian army, the advance guard entered Aosta on the 16th and Châtillon on the 18th and the alarm was given. Melas, committed as he was to his Riviera campaign, began to look to his right rear, but he was far from suspecting the seriousness of his opponent’s purpose.
Infinitely more dangerous for the French than the small detachment that Melas opposed to them, or even the actual crossing of the pass, was the unexpected stopping power of the little fort of Bard. The advanced guard of the French appeared before it on the 19th, and after three wasted days the infantry managed to find a difficult mountain by-way and to pass round the obstacle. Ivrea was occupied on the 23rd, and Napoleon hoped to assemble the whole army there by the 27th. But except for a few guns that with infinite precautions were smuggled one by one through the streets of Bard, the whole of the artillery, as well as a detachment (under Chabran) to besiege the fort, had to be left behind. Bard surrendered on the 2nd of June, having delayed the infantry of the French army for four days and the artillery for a fortnight.
The military situation in the last week of May, as it presented itself to the First Consul at Ivrea, was this. The Army of Italy under Masséna was closely besieged in Genoa, where provisions were running short, and the population so hostile that the French general placed his field artillery to sweep the streets. But Masséna was no ordinary general, and the First Consul knew that while Masséna lived the garrison would resist to the last extremity. Suchet was defending Nice and the Var by vigorous minor operations. The Army of Reserve, the centre of which had reached at Ivrea the edge of the Italian plains, consisted of four weak army corps under Victor, Duhesme, Lannes and Murat. There were still to be added to this small army of 34,000 effectives, Turreau’s division, which had passed over the Mont Cenis and was now in the valley of the Dora Riparia, Moncey’s corps of the Army of the Rhine, which had at last been extorted from Moreau and was due to pass the St Gothard before the end of May, Chabran’s division left to besiege Bard, and a small force under Béthencourt, which was to cross the Simplon and to descend by Arona (this place proved in the event a second Bard and immobilized Béthencourt until after the decisive battle). Thus it was only the simplest part of Napoleon’s task to concentrate half of his army at Ivrea, and he had yet to bring in the rest. The problem was to reconcile the necessity for time, which he wanted to ensure the maximum force being brought over the Alps, with the necessity for haste, in view of the impending fall of Genoa and the probability that once this conquest was achieved, Melas would bring back his 100,000 men into the Milanese to deal with the Army of Reserve. As early as the 14th of May he had informed Moncey that from Ivrea the Army of Reserve would move on Milan. On the 25th of May, in response to Berthier’s request for guidance, the First Consul ordered Lannes (advanced guard) to push out on the Turin road, “in order to deceive the enemy and to obtain news of Turreau,” and Duhesme’s and Murat’s corps to proceed along the Milan road. On the 27th, after Lannes had on the 26th defeated an Austrian column near Chivasso, the main body was already advancing on Vercelli.
The march to Milan.
Very few of Napoleon’s acts of generalship have been more criticized than this resolution to march on Milan, which abandoned Genoa to its fate and gave Melas a week’s leisure to assemble his scattered forces. The account of his motives he dictated at St Helena (Nap. Correspondence, v. 30, pp. 375-377), in itself an unconvincing appeal to the rules of strategy as laid down by the theorists—which rules his own practice throughout transcended—gives, when closely examined, some at least of the necessary clues. He says in effect that by advancing directly on Turin he would have “risked a battle against equal forces without an assured line of retreat, Bard being still uncaptured.” It is indeed strange to find Napoleon shrinking before equal forces of the enemy, even if we admit without comment that it was more difficult to pass Bard the second time than the first. The only incentive to go towards Turin was the chance of partial victories over the disconnected Austrian corps that would be met in that direction, and this he deliberately set aside. Having done so, for reasons that will appear in the sequel, he could only defend it by saying in effect that he might have been defeated—which was true, but not the Napoleonic principle of war. Of the alternatives, one was to hasten to Genoa; this in Napoleon’s eyes would have been playing the enemy’s game, for they would have concentrated at Alessandria, facing west “in their natural position.” It is equally obvious that thus the enemy would have played his game, supposing that this was to relieve Genoa, and the implication is that it was not. The third course, which Napoleon took, and in this memorandum defended, gave his army the enemy’s depots at Milan, of which it unquestionably stood in sore need, and the reinforcement of Moncey’s 15,000 men from the Rhine, while at the same time Moncey’s route offered an “assured line of retreat” by the Simplon and the St Gothard. He would in fact make for himself there a “natural position” without forfeiting the advantage of being in Melas’s rear. Once possessed of Milan, Napoleon says, he could have engaged Melas with a light heart and with confidence in the greatest possible results of a victory, whether the Austrians sought to force their way back to the east by the right or the left bank of the Po, and he adds that if the French passed on and concentrated south of the Po there would be no danger to the Milan-St Gothard line of retreat, as this was secured by the rivers Ticino and Sesia. In this last, as we shall see, he is shielding an undeniable mistake, but considering for the moment only the movement to Milan, we are justified in assuming that his object was not the relief of Genoa, but the most thorough defeat of Melas’s field army, to which end, putting all sentiment aside, he treated the hard-pressed Masséna as a “containing force” to keep Melas occupied during the strategical deployment of the Army of Reserve. In the beginning he had told Masséna that he would “disengage” him, even if he had to go as far east as Trent to find a way into Italy. From the first, then, no direct relief was intended, and when, on hearing bad news from the Riviera, he altered his route to the more westerly passes, it was probably because he felt that Masséna’s containing power was almost exhausted, and that the passage and reassembly of the Reserve Army must be brought about in the minimum time and by the shortest way. But the object was still the defeat of Melas, and for this, as the Austrians possessed an enormous numerical superiority, the assembly of all forces, including Moncey’s, was indispensable. One essential condition of this was that the points of passage used should be out of reach of the enemy. The more westerly the passes chosen, the more dangerous was the whole operation—in fact the Mont Cenis column never reached him at all—and though his expressed objections to the St Bernard line seem, as we have said, to be written after the event, to disarm his critics, there is no doubt that at the time he disliked it. It was a pis aller forced upon him by Moreau’s delay and Masséna’s extremity, and from the moment at which he arrived at Milan he did, as a fact, abandon it altogether in favour of the St Gothard. Lastly, so strongly was he impressed with the necessity of completing the deployment of all his forces, that though he found the Austrians on the Turin side much scattered and could justifiably expect a series of rapid partial victories, Napoleon let them go, and devoted his whole energy to creating for himself a “natural” position about Milan. If he sinned, at any rate he sinned handsomely, and except that he went to Milan by Vercelli instead of by Lausanne and Domodossola (on the safe side of the mountains), his march is logistically beyond cavil.
Napoleon’s immediate purpose, then, was to reassemble the Army of Reserve in a zone of manœuvre about Milan. This was carried out in the first days of June. Lannes at Chivasso stood ready to ward off a flank attack until the main army had filed past on the Vercelli road, then leaving a small force to combine with Turreau (whose column had not been able to advance into the plain) in demonstrations towards Turin, he moved off, still acting as right flank guard to the army, in the direction of Pavia. The main body meanwhile, headed by Murat, advanced on Milan by way of Vercelli and Magenta, forcing the passage of the Ticino on the 31st of May at Turbigo and Buffalora. On the same day the other divisions closed up to the Ticino, and faithful to his principles Napoleon had an examination made of the little fortress of Novara, intending to occupy it as a place du moment to help in securing his zone of manœuvre. On the morning of the 2nd of June Murat occupied Milan, and in the evening of the same day the headquarters entered the great city, the Austrian detachment under Vukassovich (the flying right wing of Melas’s general cordon system in Piedmont) retiring to the Adda. Duhesme’s corps forced that river at Lodi, and pressed on with orders to organize Crema and if possible Orzinovi as temporary fortresses. Lechi’s Italians were sent towards Bergamo and Brescia. Lannes meantime had passed Vercelli, and on the evening of the 2nd his cavalry reached Pavia, where, as at Milan, immense stores of food, equipment and warlike stores were seized.
Napoleon was now safe in his “natural” position, and barred one of the two main lines of retreat open to the Austrians. But his ambitions went further, and he intended to cross the Po and to establish himself on the other likewise, thus establishing across the plain a complete barrage between Melas and Mantua. Here his end outranged his means, as we shall see. But he gave himself every chance that rapidity could afford him, and the moment that some sort of a “zone of manœuvre” had been secured between the Ticino and the Oglio, he pushed on his main body—or rather what was left after the protective system had been provided for—to the Po. He would not wait even for his guns, which had at last emerged from the Bard defile and were ordered to come to Milan by a safe and circuitous route along the foot of the Alps.
At this point the action of the enemy began to make itself felt. Melas had not gained the successes that he had expected in Piedmont and on the Riviera, thanks to Masséna’s obstinacy and to Suchet’s brilliant defence of the Var. These operations had led him very far afield, and the protection of his over-long line of communications had caused him to weaken his large army by throwing off many detachments to watch the Alpine valleys on his right rear. One of these successfully opposed Turreau in the valley of the Dora Riparia, but another had been severely handled by Lannes at Chivasso, and a third (Vukassovich) found itself, as we know, directly in the path of the French as they moved from Ivrea to Milan, and was driven far to the eastward. He was further handicapped by the necessity of supporting Ott before Genoa and Elsnitz on the Var, and hearing of Lannes’s bold advance on Chivasso and of the presence of a French column with artillery (Turreau) west of Turin, he assumed that the latter represented the main body of the Army of Reserve—in so far indeed as he believed in the existence of that army at all. Next, when Lannes moved away towards Pavia, Melas thought for a moment that fate had delivered his enemy into his hands, and began to collect such troops as were at hand at Turin with a view to cutting off the retreat of the French on Ivrea while Vukassovich held them in front. It was only when news came of Moncey’s arrival in Italy and of Vukassovich’s fighting retreat on Brescia that the magnitude and purpose of the French column that had penetrated by Ivrea became evident. Melas promptly decided to give up his western enterprises, and to concentrate at Alessandria, preparatory to breaking his way through the network of small columns—as the disseminated Army of Reserve still appeared to be—which threatened to bar his retreat. But orders circulated so slowly that he had to wait in Turin till the 8th of June for Elsnitz, whose retreat was, moreover, sharply followed up and made exceedingly costly by the enterprising Suchet. Ott, too, in spite of orders to give up the siege of Genoa at once and to march with all speed to hold the Alessandria-Piacenza road, waited two days to secure the prize, and agreed (June 4) to allow Masséna’s army to go free and to join Suchet. And lastly, the cavalry of O’Reilly, sent on ahead from Alessandria to the Stradella defile, reached that point only to encounter the French. The barrage was complete, and it remained for Melas to break it with the mass that he was assembling, with all these misfortunes and delays, about Alessandria. His chances of doing so were anything but desperate.
On the 5th of June Murat, with his own corps and part of Duhesme’s, had moved on Piacenza, and stormed the bridge-head there. Duhesme with one of his divisions pushed out on Crema and Orzinovi and also towards Pizzighetone. Moncey’s leading regiments approached Milan, and Berthier thereupon sent on Victor’s corps to support Murat and Lannes. Meantime the half abandoned line of operations, Ivrea-Vercelli, was briskly attacked by the Austrians, who had still detachments on the side of Turin, waiting for Elsnitz to rejoin, and the French artillery train was once more checked. On the 6th Lannes from Pavia, crossing the Po at San Cipriano, encountered and defeated a large force, (O’Reilly’s column), and barred the Alessandria-Parma main road. Opposite Piacenza Murat had to spend the day in gathering material for his passage, as the pontoon bridge had been cut by the retreating garrison of the bridge-head. On the eastern border of the “zone of manœuvre” Duhesme’s various columns moved out towards Brescia and Cremona, pushing back Vukassovich. Meantime the last divisions of the Army of Reserve (two of Moncey’s excepted) were hurried towards Lannes’s point of passage, as Murat had not yet secured Piacenza. On the 7th, while Duhesme continued to push back Vukassovich and seized Cremona, Murat at last captured Piacenza, finding there immense magazines. Meantime the army, division by division, passed over, slowly owing to a sudden flood, near Belgiojoso, and Lannes’s advanced guard was ordered to open communication with Murat along the main road Stradella-Piacenza. “Moments are precious” said the First Consul. He was aware that Elsnitz was retreating before Suchet, that Melas had left Turin for Alessandria, and that heavy forces of the enemy were at or east of Tortona. He knew, too, that Murat had been engaged with certain regiments recently before Genoa and (wrongly) assumed O’Reilly’s column, beaten by Lannes at San Cipriano, to have come from the same quarter. Whether this meant the deliverance or the surrender of Genoa he did not yet know, but it was certain that Masséna’s holding action was over, and that Melas was gathering up his forces to recover his communications. Hence Napoleon’s great object was concentration. “Twenty thousand men at Stradella,” in his own words, was the goal of his efforts, and with the accomplishment of this purpose the campaign enters on a new phase.
On the 8th of June, Lannes’s corps was across, Victor following as quickly as the flood would allow. Murat was at Piacenza, but the road between Lannes and Murat was not known to be clear, and the First Consul made the establishment of the Napoleon’s disposition.connexion, and the construction of a third point of passage midway between the other two, the principal objects of the day’s work. The army now being disseminated between the Alps, the Apennines, the Ticino and the Chiese, it was of vital importance to connect up the various parts into a well-balanced system. But the Napoleon of 1800 solved the problem that lay at the root of his strategy, “concentrate, but be vulnerable nowhere,” in a way that compares unfavourably indeed with the methods of the Napoleon of 1806. Duhesme was still absent at Cremona. Lechi was far away in the Brescia country, Béthencourt detained at Arona. Moncey with about 15,000 men had to cover an area of 40 m. square around Milan, which constituted the original zone of manœuvre, and if Melas chose to break through the flimsy cordon of outposts on this side (the risk of which was the motive for detaching Moncey at all) instead of at the Stradella, it would take Moncey two days to concentrate his force on any battlefield within the area named, and even then he would be outnumbered by two to one. As for the main body at the Stradella, its position was wisely chosen, for the ground was too cramped for the deployment of the superior force that Melas might bring up, but the strategy that set before itself as an object 20,000 men at the decisive point out of 50,000 available, is, to say the least, imperfect. The most serious feature in all this was the injudicious order to Lannes to send forward his advanced guard, and to attack whatever enemy he met with on the road to Voghera. The First Consul, in fact, calculated that Melas could not assemble 20,000 men at Alessandria before the 12th of June, and he told Lannes that if he met the Austrians towards Voghera, they could not be more than 10,000 strong. A later order betrays some anxiety as to the exactitude of these assumptions, warns Lannes not to let himself be surprised, indicates his line of retreat, and, instead of ordering him to advance on Voghera, authorizes him to attack any corps that presented itself at Stradella. But all this came too late. Acting on the earlier order Lannes fought the battle of Montebello on the 9th. ThisMontebello. was a very severe running fight, beginning east of Casteggio and ending at Montebello, in which the French drove the Austrians from several successive positions, and which culminated in a savage fight at close quarters about Montebello itself. The singular feature of the battle is the disproportion between the losses on either side—French, 500 out of 12,000 engaged; Austrians, 2100 killed and wounded and 2100 prisoners out of 14,000. These figures are most conclusive evidence of the intensity of the French military spirit in those days. One of the two divisions (Watrin’s) was indeed a veteran organization, but the other, Chambarlhac’s, was formed of young troops and was the same that, in the march to Dijon, had congratulated itself that only 5% of its men had deserted. On the other side the soldiers fought for “the honour of their arms”—not even with the courage of despair, for they were ignorant of the “strategic barrage” set in front of them by Napoleon, and the loss of their communications had not as yet lessened their daily rations by an ounce.
Meanwhile, Napoleon had issued orders for the main body to stand fast, and for the detachments to take up their definitive covering positions. Duhesme’s corps was directed, from its eastern foray, to Piacenza, to join the main body. Moncey was to provide for the defence of the Ticino line, Lechi to form a “flying camp” in the region of Orzinovi-Brescia and Cremona, and another mixed brigade was to control the Austrians in Pizzighetone and in the citadel of Piacenza. On the other side of the Po, between Piacenza and Montebello, was the main body (Lannes, Murat and part of Victor’s and Duhesme’s corps), and a flank guard was stationed near Pavia, with orders to keep on the right of the army as it advanced (this is the first and only hint of any intention to go westward) and to fall back fighting should Melas come on by the left bank. One division was to be always a day’s march behind the army on the right bank, and a flotilla was to ascend the Po, to facilitate the speedy reinforcement of the flank guard. Farther to the north was a small column on the road Milan-Vercelli. All the protective troops, except the division of the main body detailed as an eventual support for the flank guard, was to be found by Moncey’s corps (which had besides to watch the Austrians in the citadel of Milan) and Chabran’s and Lechi’s weak commands. On this same day Bonaparte tells the Minister of War, Carnot, that Moncey has only brought half the expected reinforcements and that half of these are unreliable. As to the result of the impending contest Napoleon counts greatly upon the union of 18,000 men under Masséna and Suchet to crush Melas against the “strategic barrage” of the Army of Reserve, by one or other bank of the Po, and he seems equally confident of the result in either case. If Genoa had held out three days more, he says, it would have been easy to count the number of Melas’s men who escaped. The exact significance of this last notion is difficult to establish, and all that could be written about it would be merely conjectural. But it is interesting to note that, without admitting it, Napoleon felt that his “barrage” might not stand before the flood. The details of the orders of the 9th to the main body (written before the news of Montebello arrived at headquarters) tend to the closest possible concentration of the main body towards Casteggio, in view of a decisive battle on the 12th or 13th.
But another idea had begun to form itself in his mind. Still believing that Melas would attack him on the Stradella side, and hastening his preparations to meet this, he began to allow for the contingency of Melas giving up or failing in his attempt to re-establish his communication with the Mantovese, and retiring on Genoa, which was now in his hands and could be provisioned and reinforced by sea. On the 10th Napoleon ordered reserve ammunition to be sent from Pavia, giving Serravalle, which is south of Novi, as its probable destination. But this was surmise, and of the facts he knew nothing. Would the enemy move east on the Stradella, north-east on the Ticino or south on Genoa? Such reports as were available indicated no important movements whatever, which happened to be true, but could hardly appear so to the French headquarters. On the 11th, though he thereby forfeited the reinforcements coming up from Duhesme’s corps at Cremona, Napoleon ordered the main body to advance to the Scrivia. Lapoype’s division (the right flank guard), which was observing the Austrian posts towards Casale, was called to the south bank of the Po, the zone around Milan was stripped so bare of troops that there was no escort for the prisoners taken at Montebello, while information sent by Chabran (now moving up from Ivrea) as to the construction of bridges at Casale (this was a feint made by Melas on the 10th) passed unheeded. The crisis was at hand, and, clutching at the reports collected by Lapoype as to the quietude of the Austrians toward Valenza and Casale, Bonaparte and Berthier strained every nerve to bring up more men to the Voghera side in the hope of preventing the prey from slipping away to Genoa.
On the 12th, consequently, the army (the ordre de bataille of which had been considerably modified on the 11th) moved to the Scrivia, Lannes halting at Castelnuovo, Desaix (who had just joined the army from Egypt) at Pontecurone, Victor at Tortona with Murat’s cavalry in front towards Alessandria. Lapoype’s division, from the left bank of the Po, was marching in all haste to join Desaix. Moncey, Duhesme, Lechi and Chabran were absent. The latter represented almost exactly half of Berthier’s command (30,000 out of 58,000), and even the concentration of 28,000 men on the Scrivia had only been obtained by practically giving up the “barrage” on the left bank of the Po. Even now the enemy showed nothing but a rearguard, and the old questions reappeared in a new and acute form. Was Melas still in Alessandria? Was he marching on Valenza and Casale to cross the Po? or to Acqui against Suchet, or to Genoa to base himself on the British fleet? As to the first, why had he given up his chances of fighting on one of the few cavalry battlegrounds in north Italy—the plain of Marengo—since he could not stay in Alessandria for any indefinite time? The second question had been answered in the negative by Lapoype, but his latest information was thirty-six hours old. As for the other questions, no answer whatever was forthcoming, and the only course open was to postpone decisive measures and to send forward the cavalry, supported by infantry, to gain information.
On the 13th, therefore, Murat, Lannes and Victor advanced into the plain of Marengo, traversed it without difficulty and carrying the villages held by the Austrian rearguard, established themselves for the night within a mile of the fortress. But meanwhile Napoleon, informed we may suppose of their progress, had taken a step that was fraught with the gravest consequences. He had, as we know, no intention of forcing on a decision until his reconnaissance produced the information on which to base it, and he had therefore kept back three divisions under Desaix at Pontecurone. But as the day wore on without incident, he began to fear that the reconnaissance would be profitless, and unwilling to give Melas any further start, he sent out these divisions right and left to find and to hold the enemy, whichever way the latter had gone. At noon Desaix with one division was despatched southward to Rivalta to head off Melas from Genoa and at 9 A.M. on the 14th, Lapoype was sent back over the Po to hold the Austrians should they be advancing from Valenza towards the Ticino. Thus there remained in hand only 21,000 men when at last, in the forenoon of the 14th the whole of Melas’s army, more than 40,000 strong, moved out of Alessandria, not southward nor northward, but due west into the plain of Marengo (q.v.). The extraordinary battle that followed is described elsewhere. The outline of it is simple enough. The Austrians advanced slowly and in the face of the most resolute opposition, until their attack had gathered weight, and at last they were carrying all before them, when Desaix returned from beyond Rivalta and initiated a series of counterstrokes. These were brilliantly successful, and gave the French not only local victory but the supreme self-confidence that, next day, enabled them to extort from Melas an agreement to evacuate all Lombardy as far as the Mincio. And though in this way the chief prize, Melas’s army, escaped after all, Marengo was the birthday of the First Empire.
One more blow, however, was required before the Second Coalition collapsed, and it was delivered by Moreau. We have seen that he had crossed the upper Rhine and defeated Kray at Stokach. This was followed by other partial victories, and Kray then retired to Ulm, where he reassembled his forces, hitherto scattered in a long weak line from the Neckar to Schaffhausen. Moreau continued his advance, extending his forces up to and over the Danube below Ulm, and winning several combats, of which the most important was that of Höchstädt, fought on the famous battlegrounds of 1703 and 1704, and memorable for the death of La Tour d’Auvergne, the “First Grenadier of France” (June 19). Finding himself in danger of envelopment, Kray now retired, swiftly and skilfully, across the front of the advancing French, and reached Ingolstadt in safety. Thence he retreated over the Inn, Moreau following him to the edge of that river, and an armistice put an end for the moment to further operations.
This not resulting in a treaty of peace, the war was resumed both in Italy and in Germany. The Army of Reserve and the Army of Italy, after being fused into one, under Masséna’s command, were divided again into a fighting army under Brune, who opposed the Austrians (Bellegarde) on the Mincio, and a political army under Murat, which re-established French influence in the Peninsula. The former, extending on a wide front as usual, won a few strategical successes without tactical victory, the only incidents of which worth recording are the gallant fight of Dupont’s division, which had become isolated during a manœuvre, at Pozzolo on the Mincio (December 25) and the descent of a corps under Macdonald from the Grisons by way of the Splügen, an achievement far surpassing Napoleon’s and even Suvárov’s exploits, in that it was made after the winter snows had set in.
In Germany the war for a moment reached the sublime. Kray had been displaced in command by the young archduke John, who ordered the denunciation of the armistice and a general advance. His plan, or that of his advisers, was to cross the lower Inn, out of reach of Moreau’s principal mass, and then to swing round the French flank until a complete chain was drawn across their rear. But during the development of the manœuvre, Moreau also moved, and by rapid marching made good the time he had lost in concentrating his over-dispersed forces. The weather was appalling, snow and rain succeeding one another until the roads were almost impassable. On the 2nd of December the Austrians were brought to a standstill, but the inherent mobility of the Revolutionary armies enabled them to surmount all difficulties, and thanks to the respite afforded him by the archduke’s halt, Moreau was able to see clearly into the enemy’s plans and dispositions. On the 3rd of December, while the Austrians in many disconnected columns were struggling through the dark and muddy forest paths about Hohenlinden, Moreau struck the decisive blow. While Ney and Grouchy held fast the head of the Austrian main column at Hohenlinden, Richepanse’s corps was directed on its left flank. In the forest Richepanse unexpectedly met a subsidiary Austrian column which actually cut his column in two. But profiting by the momentary confusion he drew off that part of his forces which had passed beyond the point of contact and continued his march, striking the flank of the archduke’s main column, most of which had not succeeded in deploying opposite Ney, at the village of Mattempost. First the baggage train and then the artillery park fell into his hands, and lastly he reached the rear of the troops engaged opposite Hohenlinden, whereupon the Austrian main body practically dissolved. The rear of Richepanse’s corps, after disengaging itself from the Austrian column it had met in the earlier part of the day, arrived at Mattempost in time to head off thousands of fugitives who had escaped from the carnage at Hohenlinden. The other columns of the unfortunate army were first checked and then driven back by the French divisions they met, which, moving more swiftly and fighting better in the broken ground and the woods, were able to combine two brigades against one wherever a fight developed. On this disastrous day the Austrians lost 20,000 men, 12,000 of them being prisoners, and 90 guns.
Marengo and Hohenlinden decided the war of the Second Coalition as Rivoli had decided that of the First, and the Revolutionary Wars came to an end with the armistice of Steyer (December 25, 1800) and the treaty of Lunéville (February 9, 1801). But only the first act of the great drama was accomplished. After a short respite Europe entered upon the Napoleonic Wars.
(C. F. A.)
The naval side of the wars arising out of the French Revolution was marked by unity, and even by simplicity. France had but one serious enemy, Great Britain, and Great Britain had but one purpose, to beat down France. Other states were drawn into the strife, but it was as the allies, the enemies and at times the victims, of the two dominating powers. The field of battle was the whole expanse of the ocean and the landlocked seas. The weapons, the methods and the results were the same. When a general survey of the whole struggle is taken, its unity is manifest. The Revolution produced a profound alteration in the government of France, but none in the final purposes of its policy. To secure for France its so-called “natural limits”—the Rhine, the Alps, the Pyrenees and the ocean; to protect both flanks by reducing Holland on the north and Spain on the south to submission; to confirm the mighty power thus constituted, by the subjugation of Great Britain, were the objects of the Republic and of Napoleon, as they had been of Louis XIV. The naval war, like the war on land, is here considered in the first of its two phases—the Revolutionary (1792-99). (For the Napoleonic phase (1800-15), see Napoleonic Campaigns.)
The Revolutionary war began in April 1792. In the September of that year Admiral Truguet sailed from Toulon to co-operate with the French troops operating against the Austrians and their allies in northern Italy. In December Latouche Tréville was sent with another squadron to cow the Bourbon rulers of Naples. The extreme feebleness of their opponents alone saved the French from disaster. Mutinies, which began within ten days of the storming of the Bastille (14th of July 1789), had disorganized their navy, and the effects of these disorders continued to be felt so long as the war lasted. In February 1793 war broke out with Great Britain and Holland. In March Spain was added to the list of the powers against which France declared war. Her resources at sea were wholly inadequate to meet the coalition she had provoked. The Convention did indeed order that fifty-two ships of the line should be commissioned in the Channel, but it was not able in fact to do more than send out a few diminutive and ill-appointed squadrons, manned by mutinous crews, which kept close to the coast. The British navy was in excellent order, but the many calls made on it for the protection of world-wide commerce and colonial possessions caused the operations in the Channel to be somewhat languid. Lord Howe cruised in search of the enemy without being able to bring them to action. The severe blockade which in the later stages of the war kept the British fleet permanently outside of Brest was not enforced in the earlier stages. Lord Howe preferred to save his fleet from the wear and tear of perpetual cruising by maintaining his headquarters at St Helens, and keeping watch on the French ports by frigates. The French thus secured a freedom of movement which in the course of 1794 enabled them to cover the arrival of a great convoy laden with food from America (see First of June, Battle of). This great effort was followed by a long period of languor. Its internal defects compelled the French fleet in the Channel to play a very poor part till the last days of 1796. Squadrons were indeed sent a short way to sea, but their inefficiency was conspicuously displayed when, on the 17th of June 1795, a much superior number of their line of battle ships failed to do any harm to the small force of Cornwallis, and when on the 22nd of the same month they fled in disorder before Lord Bridport at the Isle de Groix.
Operations of a more decisive character had in the meantime taken place both in the Mediterranean and in the West Indies. In April 1793 the first detachment of a British fleet, which was finally raised to a strength of 21 sail of the line, under the command of Lord Hood, sailed for the Mediterranean. By August the admiral was off Toulon, acting in combination with a Spanish naval force. France was torn by the contentions of Jacobins and Girondins, and its dissensions led to the surrender of the great arsenal to the British admiral and his Spanish colleague Don Juan de Lángara, on the 27th of August. The allies were joined later by a contingent from Naples. But the military forces were insufficient to hold the land defences against the army collected to expel them. High ground commanding the anchorage was occupied by the besieging force, and on the 18th of December 1793 the allies retired. They carried away or destroyed thirty-three French vessels, of which thirteen were of the line. But partly through the inefficiency and partly through the ill-will of the Spaniards, who were indisposed to cripple the French, whom they considered as their only possible allies against Great Britain, the destruction was not so complete as had been intended. Twenty-five ships, of which eighteen were of the line, were left to serve as the nucleus of an active fleet in later years. Fourteen thousand of the inhabitants fled with the allies to escape the vengeance of the victorious Jacobins. Their sufferings, and the ferocious massacre perpetrated on those who remained behind by the conquerors, form one of the blackest pages of the French Revolution. The Spanish fleet took no further part in the war. Lord Hood now turned to the occupation of Corsica, where the intervention of the British fleet was invited by the patriotic party headed by Pascual Paoli. The French ships left at Toulon were refitted and came to sea in the spring of 1794, but Admiral Martin who commanded them did not feel justified in giving battle, and his sorties were mere demonstrations. From the 25th of January 1794 till November 1796 the British fleet in the Mediterranean was mainly occupied in and about Corsica, securing the island, watching Toulon and co-operating with the allied Austrians and Piedmontese in northern Italy. It did much to hamper the coastwise communications of the French. But neither Lord Hood, who went home at the end of 1794, nor his indolent successor Hotham, was able to deliver an effective blow at the Toulon squadron. The second of these officers fought two confused actions with Admiral Martin in the Gulf of Lyons on the 16th of March and the 12th of July 1795, but though three French ships were cut off and captured, the baffling winds and the placid disposition of Hotham united to prevent decisive results. A new spirit was introduced into the command of the British fleet when Sir John Jervis, afterwards Earl Saint Vincent, succeeded Hotham in November 1795.
Jervis came to the Mediterranean with a high reputation, which had been much enhanced by his recent command in the West Indies. In every war with France it was the natural policy of the British government to seize on its enemy’s colonial possessions, not only because of their intrinsic value, but because they were the headquarters of active privateers. The occupation of the little fishing stations of St Pierre and Miquelon (14th May 1793) and of Pondicherry in the East Indies (23rd Aug. 1793) were almost formal measures taken at the beginning of every war. But the French West Indian islands possessed intrinsic strength which rendered their occupation a service of difficulty and hazard. In 1793 they were torn by dissensions, the result of the revolution in the mother country. Tobago was occupied in April, and the French part of the great island of San Domingo was partially thrown into British hands by the Creoles, who were threatened by their insurgent slaves. During 1794 a lively series of operations, in which there were some marked alternations of fortune, took place in and about Martinique and Guadaloupe. The British squadron, and the contingent of troops it carried, after a first repulse, occupied them both in March and April, together with Santa Lucia. A vigorous counter-attack was carried out by the Terrorist Victor Hugues with ability and ferocity. Guadaloupe and Santa Lucia were recovered in August. Yet on the whole the British government was successful in its policy of destroying the French naval power in distant seas. The seaborne commerce of the Republic was destroyed.
The naval supremacy of Great Britain was limited, and was for a time menaced, in consequence of the advance of the French armies on land. The invasion of Holland in 1794 led to the downfall of the house of Orange, and the establishment of the Batavian Republic. War with Great Britain under French dictation followed in January 1795. In that year a British expedition under the command of Admiral Keith Elphinstone (afterwards Lord Keith) occupied the Dutch colony at the Cape (August-September) and their trading station in Malacca. The British colonial empire was again extended, and the command of the sea by its fleet confirmed. But the necessity to maintain a blockading force in the German Ocean imposed a fresh strain on its naval resources, and the hostility of Holland closed a most important route to British commerce in Europe. In 1795 Spain made peace with France at Basel, and in September 1796 re-entered the war as her ally. The Spanish navy was most inefficient, but it required to be watched and therefore increased the heavy strain on the British fleet. At the same time the rapid advance of the French arms in Italy began to close the ports of the peninsula to Great Britain. Its ships were for a time withdrawn from the Mediterranean. Poor as it was in quality, the Spanish fleet was numerous. It was able to facilitate the movements of French squadrons sent to harass British commerce in the Atlantic, and a concentration of forces became necessary.
It was the more important because the cherished French scheme for an attack on the heart of the British empire began to take shape. While Spain occupied one part of the British fleet to the south, and Holland another in the north, a French expedition, which was to have been aided by a Dutch expedition from the Texel, was prepared at Brest. The Dutch were confined to harbour by the vigilant blockade of Admiral Duncan, afterwards Lord Camperdown. But in December 1796 a French fleet commanded by Admiral Morard de Galle, carying[P2: typo? carrying?] 13,000 troops under General Hoche, was allowed to sail from Brest for Ireland, by the slack management of the blockade under Admiral Colpoys. Being ill-fitted, ill-manned and exposed to constant bad weather the French ships were scattered. Some reached their destination, Bantry Bay, only to be driven out again by north-easterly gales. The expedition finally returned after much suffering, and in fragments, to Brest. Yet the year 1797 was one of extreme trial to Great Britain. The victory of Sir John Jervis over the Spaniards near Cape Saint Vincent on the 14th of February (see Saint Vincent, Battle of) disposed of the Spanish fleet. In the autumn of the year the Dutch, having put to sea, were defeated at Camperdown by Admiral Duncan on the 11th of October. Admiral Duncan had the more numerous force, sixteen ships to fifteen, and they were on the average heavier. Attacking from windward he broke through the enemy’s line and concentrated on his rear and centre. Eight line of battleships and two frigates were taken, but the good gunnery and steady resistance of the Dutch made the victory costly. Between these two battles the British fleet was for a time menaced in its very existence by a succession of mutinies, the result of much neglect of the undoubted grievances of the sailors. The victory of Camperdown, completing what the victory of Cape Saint Vincent had begun, seemed to put Great Britain beyond fear of invasion. But the government of the Republic was intent on renewing the attempt. The successes of Napoleon at the head of the army of Italy had reduced Austria to sign the peace of Campo Formio, on the 17th of October 1797,and he was appointed commander of the new army of invasion. It was still thought necessary to maintain the bulk of the British fleet in European waters, within call in the ocean. The Mediterranean was left free to the French, whose squadrons cruised in the Levant, where the Republic had become possessed of the Ionian Islands by the plunder of Venice. The absence of a British force in the Mediterranean offered to the government of the French Republic an alternative to an invasion of Great Britain or Ireland, which promised to be less hazardous and equally effective. It was induced largely by the persuasion of Napoleon himself, and the wish of the politicians who were very willing to see him employed at a distance. The expedition to Egypt under his command sailed on the 19th of May 1798, having for its immediate purpose the occupation of the Nile valley, and for its ultimate aim an attack on Great Britain “from behind” in India (see Nile, Battle of the). The British fleet re-entered the Mediterranean to pursue and baffle Napoleon. The destruction of the French squadron at the anchorage of Aboukir on the 1st of August gave it the complete command of the sea. A second invasion of Ireland on a smaller scale was attempted and to some extent carried out, while the great attack by Egypt was in progress. One French squadron of four frigates carrying 1150 soldiers under General Humbert succeeded in sailing from Rochefort on the 6th of August. On the 22nd Humbert was landed at Killala Bay, but after making a vigorous raid he was compelled to surrender at Ballinamuck on the 8th of September. Eight days after his surrender, another French squadron of one sail of the line and eight frigates carrying 3000 troops, sailed from Brest under Commodore Bompart to support Humbert. It was watched and pursued by frigates, and on the 12th of October was overtaken and destroyed by a superior British force commanded by Sir John Borlase Warren, near Tory Island.
From the close of 1798 till the coup d’état of the 18th Brumaire (9th November) 1799, which established Napoleon as First Consul and master of France, the French navy had only one object—to reinforce and relieve the army cut off in Egypt by the battle of the Nile. The relief of the French garrison in Malta was a subordinate part of the main purpose. But the supremacy of the British navy was by this time so firmly founded that neither Egypt nor Malta could be reached except by small ships which ran the blockade. On the 25th of April, Admiral Bruix did indeed leave Brest, after baffling the blockading fleet of Lord Bridport, which was sent on a wild-goose chase to the south of Ireland by means of a despatch sent out to be captured and to deceive. Admiral Bruix succeeded in reaching Toulon, and his presence in the Mediterranean caused some disturbance. But, though his twenty-five sail of the line formed the best-manned fleet which the French had sent to sea during the war, and though he escaped being brought to battle, he did not venture to steer for the eastern Mediterranean. On the 13th of August he was back at Brest, bringing with him a Spanish squadron carried off as a hostage for the fidelity of the government at Madrid to its disastrous alliance with France. On the day on which Bruix re-entered Brest, the 13th of August 1799, a combined Russian and British expedition sailed from the Downs to attack the French army of occupation in the Batavian Republic. The military operations were unsuccessful, and terminated in the withdrawal of the allies. But the naval part was well executed. Vice-admiral Mitchell forced the entrance to the Texel, and on the 30th of August received the surrender of the remainder of the Dutch fleet—thirteen vessels in the Nieuwe Diep—the sailors having refused to fight for the republic. In spite of the failure on land, the expedition did much to confirm the naval supremacy of Great Britain by the entire suppression of the most seamanlike of the forces opposed to it.
- For the following operations see map in Spanish Succession War.
- Coburg refrained from a regular siege of Condé. He wished to gain possession of the fortress in a defensible state, intending to use it as his own depot later in the year. He therefore reduced it by famine. During the siege of Valenciennes the Allies appear to have been supplied from Mons.
- Henceforth to the end of 1794 both armies were more or less “in cordon,” the cordon possessing greater or less density at any particular moment or place, according to the immediate intentions of the respective commanders and the general military situation.
- In the course of this the column from Bouchain, 4500 strong, was caught in the open at Avesnes-le-Sec by 5 squadrons of the allied cavalry and literally annihilated.
- One of the generals at Maubeuge, Chancel, was guillotined.
- Each of the fifteen armies on foot had been allotted certain departments as supply areas, Jourdan’s being of course far away in Lorraine.
- Liguria was not at this period thought of, even by Napoleon, as anything more than a supply area.
- Vukassovich had received Beaulieu’s order to demonstrate with two battalions, and also appeals for help from Argenteau. He therefore brought most of his troops with him.
- We have seen that after Tourcoing, taught by experience, Souham posted Vandamme’s covering force 14 or 15 m. out. But Napoleon’s disposition was in advance of experience.
- The proposed alliance with the Sardinians came to nothing. The kings of Sardinia had always made their alliance with either Austria or France conditional on cessions of conquered territory. But, according to Thiers, the Directory only desired to conquer the Milanese to restore it to Austria in return for the definitive cession of the Austrian Netherlands. If this be so, Napoleon’s proclamations of “freedom for Italy” were, if not a mere political expedient, at any rate no more than an expression of his own desires which he was not powerful enough to enforce.
- 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.
- See C. von B.-K., Geist und Stoff, pp. 449-451.
- The assumption by later critics (Clausewitz even included) that the “flank position” held by these forces relatively to the main armies in Italy and Germany was their raison d’être is unsupported by contemporary evidence.
- For this expedition, which was repulsed by Brune in the battle of Castricum, see Fortescue’s Hist. of the British Army, vol. iv., and Sachot’s Brune en Hollande.
- He afterwards appointed Berthier to command the Army of Reserve, but himself accompanied it and directed it, using Berthier as chief of staff.
- Only one division of the main body used the Little St Bernard.
- When he made his decision he was unaware that Béthencourt had been held up at Arona.
- This may be accounted for by the fact that Napoleon’s mind was not yet definitively made up when his advanced guard had already begun to climb the St Bernard (12th). Napoleon’s instructions for Moncey were written on the 14th. The magazines, too, had to be provided and placed before it was known whether Moreau’s detachment would be forthcoming.
- Six guns had by now passed Fort Bard and four of these were with Murat and Duhesme, two with Lannes.
- It is supposed that the foreign spies at Dijon sent word to their various employers that the Army was a bogy. In fact a great part of it never entered Dijon at all, and the troops reviewed there by Bonaparte were only conscripts and details. By the time that the veteran divisions from the west and Paris arrived, either the spies had been ejected or their news was sent off too late to be of use.
- On the strength of a report, false as it turned out, that the Austrian rearguard had broken the bridges of the Bormida.