Page:EB1911 - Volume 11.djvu/198

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[ITALY 1793-97

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.

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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