The Force of Destiny, 10 May 1796.
Rather than attack the Austrians head-on, Bonaparte outflanked them, marching down the Po with his grenadiers. Beaulieu’s army had already departed, leaving 9,600 men under General Sebottendorf to cover the bridge at Lodi. Austrian cannon dominated the 250-yard span. Beaumont with 1600 cavalry rode upstream to ford the Adda and outflank them. Bonaparte launched the grenadiers and carabiniers onto the causeway. Facing a storm of Austrian canister, again and again the column failed. Finally in the dense smoke, they caught the Austrians by surprise. The defenders reeled back, while Cervoni and Joubert followed Dallemagne across the bridge. Sebottendorf retreated in good order toward Beaulieu, leaving behind 150 killed, 1700 prisoners and sixteen guns. The French lost 400.
Wurmser’s Relief of Mantova, 5 August 1796.
Austrian Field Marshal Dagobert von Wurmser marched with the first of 25,000 veteran reinforcements through the Alps by the Brenner Pass, reaching Trent on the River Adige on June 30th. He prepared a new offensive to wipe away everything Bonaparte had achieved in four months of campaigning. To meet this threat, Bonaparte received a few thousand reinforcements with which to hold the Po valley, anchored on the “Quadrilateral” fortresses of Peschiera, Verona and Legnano. An Austrian garrison held the remaining fortress of Mantova, suffering under a long siege. The relief of Mantova would be the prime objective of Wurmser’s operations.
Queen of the Quadrilateral, 1796-97.
The French invested the fortress of Mantova in early June. In August,the French were forced to abandon the siege and Mantova was relieved. Wurmser resupplied and reinforced the fortress, then retired through the mountains to Bassano via the Brenta valley. From there he would mount the second relief of Mantova from the northeast. After his victory at Bassano in early September, Bonaparte chased the bulk of the Austrian army into Mantova. The garrison now counted 30,000 men. A new commander József Alvinczi led the third attempt in November, marching on Mantova from the northeast, with Davidovich’s column descending from the north. Alvinczi defeated Bonaparte twice and stood at the gates of Verona. Davidovich drubbed his French opponent in the Adige valley, but Bonaparte crossed the Adige behind Alvinczi at the town of Arcole.
Image: Surrender of Mantua, by Hippolyte Lecomte
Crossing the Adige, 15-17 November 1796.
By daybreak on the 15th, the French had a pontoon bridge connected to the causeway across the marshland along the north bank of the Adige. Augereau was the first to cross, while Massena brushed with Provera’s advance guard of 3,000, capturing the village of Porcile. As Augereau approached the bridge at Arcole, the Austrian flank guard pinned them down from the dike on the left bank of the Alpone. Leading Augereau’s men forward Bonaparte fell into a canal, and had to be dragged to safety. Guieu’s gallant 3,000 captured the town of Arcole at seven in the evening, only to abandon it later. Alvinczy responded by reinforcing Provera’s command against Porcile and stationed Hohenzollern with 10,000 on his right, while consolidating his remaining 24,000 men at Villanuova and San Bonifacio. This took the pressure off of Verona for the moment.
Battle of the Osteria Gorge, 14-15 January 1797.
For the final relief attempt Alvinczi advanced his main army from the north while sending two smaller columns to threaten the French from the northeast. Alvinczy’s second advance was stopped in the foothills far from the withering garrison of Mantova. French General Joubert advanced to drive back three Austrian columns totaling some 12,000. Lusignan’s column suddenly appeared along the ridge south of Rivoli, cutting off French reinforcements. The 18th demi-brigade was detailed to reopen the road. Meanwhile in the Osteria gorge, Austrian grenadiers threatened to break through Joubert’s exhausted force. Bonaparte rushed back to the northern edge of the plateau to face the regrouped columns of Koblos and Liptay, splitting the Austrian army into two parts and then turned his attention against the flanking columns. Rey’s arriving Frenchmen and Massena’s reserve brigade caught Lusignan’s division between them, taking 3,000 prisoners. Leaving two divisions to finish off Alvinczi, Bonaparte rapidly drew near Mantova in time to destroy the last Austrian column before advancing into the Alps, toward Vienna. Wurmser surrendered the fortress in early February.