Battle of Borghetto

Last updated
Battle of Borghetto
Part of French Revolutionary Wars
Date30 May 1796
LocationNear Valeggio sul Mincio, Italy
Result French victory
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg France Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Austria
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Napoleon Bonaparte Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Johann Beaulieu
28,000 [1] 19,000 [2]
Casualties and losses
500 [3] 572, 4 guns [4]

The Battle of Borghetto, near Valeggio sul Mincio in the Veneto of northern Italy, took place during the War of the First Coalition, part of the French Revolutionary Wars. On 30 May 1796, a French army led by General Napoleon Bonaparte forced a crossing of the Mincio River in the face of opposition from an Austrian army commanded by Feldzeugmeister Johann Peter Beaulieu. This action compelled the Austrian army to retreat north up the Adige valley to Trento, leaving the fortress of Mantua to be besieged by the French.

Valeggio sul Mincio Comune in Veneto, Italy

Valeggio sul Mincio is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Verona in the Italian region Veneto, located about 120 kilometres (75 mi) west of Venice and about 25 kilometres (16 mi) southwest of Verona. It is crossed by the Mincio river.

Veneto Region of Italy

Veneto is one of the 20 regions of Italy. Its population is about five million, ranking fifth in Italy. The region's capital is Venice.

War of the First Coalition effort to contain Revolutionary France

The War of the First Coalition is the traditional name of the wars that several European powers fought between 1792 and 1797 against the French First Republic. Despite the collective strength of these nations compared with France, they were not really allied and fought without much apparent coordination or agreement. Each power had its eye on a different part of France it wanted to appropriate after a French defeat, which never occurred.



In early May, Bonaparte's French army won the battles of Fombio and Lodi and overran the Austrian province of Lombardy. Beaulieu evacuated Milan except for a 2,000-man garrison that he left in the citadel. [5] In mid-May, the French occupied Milan and Brescia. At this time, the army had to pause to put down a revolt in Pavia. At the village of Binasco, the French atrociously massacred the adult male population. [6] Beaulieu pulled his army back behind the Mincio, with strong patrols west of the river. He urgently tried to put the fortress of Mantua into a state where it could sustain a siege.

Battle of Fombio

The Battle of Fombio was fought between the French Army of Italy led by Napoleon Bonaparte and the Austrian army under Feldzeugmeister Johann Peter Beaulieu between 7 and 9 May 1796. It was the decisive strategic point of the campaign, as Bonaparte crossed the Po River at Piacenza in Beaulieu's rear, threatening both Milan and the Austrian line of communications. This threat forced the Austrian army to withdraw to the east.

Battle of Lodi battle of the Napoleonic Wars

The Battle of Lodi was fought on 10 May 1796 between French forces under Napoleon Bonaparte and an Austrian rear guard led by Karl Philipp Sebottendorf at Lodi, Lombardy. The rear guard was defeated, but the main body of Johann Peter Beaulieu's Austrian Army had time to retreat.

Lombardy Region of Italy

Lombardy is one of the twenty administrative regions of Italy, in the northwest of the country, with an area of 23,844 square kilometres (9,206 sq mi). About 10 million people, forming one-sixth of Italy's population, live in Lombardy and about a fifth of Italy's GDP is produced in the region, making it the most populous and richest region in the country and one of the richest regions in Europe. Milan, Lombardy's capital, is the second-largest city and the largest metropolitan area in Italy.


The Mincio River exits Lake Garda at Peschiera del Garda and winds its way south for 30 kilometers. At a point 8 km before it arrives at Mantua, it veers to the east. The river was a maximum of 40 meters wide, but in May the snow-melt from the Alps made it difficult to ford. Between Lake Garda and Mantua there were only four bridges, from north to south, at Peschiera, Borghetto, Goito, and at Rivalta near the bend in the river. Near Peschiera and Borghetto there are a series of moraines that form ridges, which can conceal troop movements. In the area of Goito and Mantua, the terrain is flat. To the north, Lake Garda extends about 50 km to its northern tip at Riva del Garda. [7] Other noteworthy locations are the towns of Castelnuovo del Garda six km east of Peschiera, Valeggio sul Mincio on a hill one km east of Borghetto, Salionze six km north of Valeggio, Campagnola two km southwest of Valeggio, and Villafranca di Verona eight km east of Valeggio.

Lake Garda lake in Italy

Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy. It is a popular holiday location in northern Italy, about halfway between Brescia and Verona, and between Venice and Milan on the edge of the Dolomites. Glaciers formed this alpine region at the end of the last Ice Age. The lake and its shoreline are divided between the provinces of Verona, Brescia (south-west), and Trentino (north). The name Garda, which the lake has been seen referred to in documents dating to the eighth century, comes from the town of the same name. It is the evolution of the Germanic word warda, meaning "place of guard" or "place of observation."

Peschiera del Garda Comune in Veneto, Italy

Peschiera del Garda is a town and comune in the province of Verona, in Veneto, Italy. When Lombardy-Venetia was under Austrian rule, Peschiera was the northwest anchor of the four fortified towns constituting the Quadrilatero. The fortress is on an island in the river Mincio at its outlet from Lake Garda.

Goito Comune in Lombardy, Italy

Goito is a comune of Lombardy, northern Italy, part of the Province of Mantua, from which it is some 20 kilometres (12 mi), on the road to Brescia. It is on the right bank of the Mincio River near the bridge. The town is part of the region known as Alto Mantovano (Upper Mantuan).


The death of Amédée Emmanuel François Laharpe at the Battle of Fombio caused Bonaparte to reorganize his army. The three divisions were commanded by Generals of Division André Masséna (9,481), Pierre Augereau (6,089), Jean-Mathieu-Philibert Sérurier (9,075), while the 6,262 picked troops and cavalry of the advance guard were led by Charles Edward Jennings de Kilmaine. General of Division Hyacinthe François Joseph Despinoy with 5,278 blockaded the citadel of Milan and 5,500 more garrisoned different places in northwest Italy. [8]

Amédée Emmanuel François Laharpe French general

Amédée Emmanuel François Laharpe fought in the armies of the First French Republic during the French Revolutionary Wars, led a division in Italy under Napoleon Bonaparte, and died after being hit by friendly fire.

André Masséna French military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

André Masséna, 1st Duc de Rivoli, 1st Prince d'Essling was a French military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He was one of the original eighteen Marshals of the Empire created by Napoleon, with the nickname l'Enfant chéri de la Victoire.

Pierre Augereau general, Marshal of France

Charles Pierre François Augereau, 1st Duc de Castiglione was a soldier and general and Marshal of France. After serving in the French Revolutionary Wars he earned rapid promotion while fighting against Spain and soon found himself a division commander under Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy. He fought in all of Bonaparte's battles of 1796 with great distinction. During the Napoleonic Wars, Emperor Napoleon entrusted him with important commands. His life ended under a cloud because of his poor timing in switching sides between Napoleon and King Louis XVIII of France. Napoleon wrote of Augereau that he "has plenty of character, courage, firmness, activity; is inured to war; is well liked by the soldiery; is fortunate in his operations."

To bring Mantua's large fortress up to a defensible level, Beaulieu assigned the brigades of General-Majors Gerhard Rosselmini, Mathias Rukavina von Boynograd, and Josef Philipp Vukassovich to defend the city. Altogether, Feldmarschall-Leutnant Josef Canto d'Irles had 12,800 men in his garrison, though many of these soldiers soon became ill after their hard service in the Montenotte Campaign and the Lodi campaign. [9]

Major general is a military rank used in many countries. It is derived from the older rank of sergeant major general. The disappearance of the "sergeant" in the title explains the apparently confusing phenomenon whereby a lieutenant general outranks a major general while a major outranks a lieutenant.

Gerhard Ritter von Rosselmini or Gerhard Rosselmini or Gerhard Roselmini became a general officer in the Austrian army during the French Revolutionary Wars and fought in several actions against Napoleon Bonaparte's French army during the 1796 Italian campaign.

Mathias Rukavina von Boynograd Austrian general

Mathias Rukavina von Boynograd, also Mathias Rukawina, Mathias Ruccavina, Mate Rukavina, was a Croatian general in the Habsburg Monarchy imperial army service. He joined the army in 1755 and fought against the Kingdom of Prussia, Ottoman Turkey, and the First French Republic. For most of his career he served with the light infantry from the military border with Turkey. He earned the rank of general officer during the French Revolutionary Wars, distinguishing himself at Loano. During the 1796 Italian campaign, he commanded a brigade in several battles against the French army led by Napoleon Bonaparte. He was Inhaber (Proprietor) of an Austrian infantry regiment in 1803–1804.

Beaulieu posted General-major Anton Lipthay de Kisfalud with 3,049 infantry and 779 cavalry at Peschiera. Feldmarschall-Leutnant Michelangelo Alessandro Colli-Marchi held the crossing at Goito with a 3,558-man division consisting of Rukavina's 2,583 infantry plus Austrian and Neapolitan cavalry. Canto d'Irles and his large garrison covered the Rivalta bridge. In the center, Feldmarschall-Leutnants Michael von Melas and Karl Philipp Sebottendorf jointly commanded 8,169 infantry and 2,086 cavalry to defend the Mincio near Valeggio. [10]

Anton Lipthay de Kisfalud, also Anton Liptai or Anton Liptay, served in the Austrian army, attained general officer rank, and fought in several battles against the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte during the French Revolutionary Wars.

Michelangelo Alessandro Colli-Marchi, or Michele Angelo Alessandro Colli-Marchei or Michael Colli, joined the Austrian army, became a general officer, and led the army of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont for three years, including its unsuccessful campaign against Napoleon Bonaparte in 1796.

Kingdom of Naples former state in Italy

The Kingdom of Naples comprised that part of the Italian Peninsula south of the Papal States between 1282 and 1816. It was created as a result of the War of the Sicilian Vespers (1282–1302), when the island of Sicily revolted and was conquered by the Crown of Aragon, becoming a separate Kingdom of Sicily. Naples continued to be officially known as the Kingdom of Sicily, the name of the formerly unified kingdom. For much of its existence, the realm was contested between French and Spanish dynasties. In 1816, it was reunified with the island kingdom of Sicily once again to form the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.


Bonaparte determined to use the bridge at Borghetto for his crossing. To misdirect the Austrians, he ordered a feint attack in the direction of Peschiera. [11] He sent General of Brigade Jean-Baptiste Dominique Rusca to Salò on the west shore of Lake Garda, where the French began to collect boats. To hide his true intentions, Bonaparte held his three combat divisions well to the west of the Mincio.

Beaulieu reacted as the French commander hoped. Instead of concentrating his forces at the bridges, the Austrian commander attempted to set up a cordon defense on the river between Peschiera and Goito. In the center, Beaulieu deployed 4,500 soldiers in the brigades of General-major Peter Gummer and Oberst Ernst Beust at Salionze and Oliosi, General-major Franz Nicoletti's 2,600-man brigade at Campagnola and Pozzolo, and General-major Philipp Pittoni von Dannenfeld's 3,100-strong brigade in and around Valeggio. [12]

In the midst of this movement, Beaulieu became ill. On 29 May, a series of confusing orders emanated from Austrian headquarters, throwing the army into disarray. This proved to be a lucky break for Bonaparte because the French advance began early in the morning of 30 May. The French commander ordered Kilmaine to advance from Castiglione delle Stiviere to Borghetto via Solferino, with Masséna's division in support. Augereau covered the left flank while Sérurier moved up on the right flank. [13]


Battle of Borghetto map, 30 May 1796 Borghetto Battle Map 30May1796.JPG
Battle of Borghetto map, 30 May 1796

Kilmaine's troops pushed back the Austrian hussar outposts and reached the bridge about 9 am. When the retreating horsemen reached the bridge, there was a jam on the narrow span. A number of Austrians left the roadway and crossed the river, betraying the fordable points to the French. Only single battalions of the Strassoldo Infantry Regiment Nr. 27 and Jordis Infantry Regiment Nr. 59 were available to defend the span. Under the direction of Pittoni, the badly outnumbered Austrians put up a spirited fight. But, with Beaulieu's army in some disorder, few reserves arrived to help the defenders and soon French troops led by Chef de Brigade Gaspard Amédée Gardanne forded the river and pushed the defenders uphill toward Valeggio. [14]

After some fighting, the French cleared Valeggio but the Austrian cavalry prevented them from advancing beyond the town. Meanwhile, General-major Prince Friedrich Franz Xaver of Hohenzollern-Hechingen rallied the defeated Austrians and even mounted a counterattack on the town. Sometime in the afternoon, some Austrian hussars rode into the town and nearly captured Bonaparte. [15] This incident persuaded the French commander to form a cavalry bodyguard called the Guides and place Jean-Baptiste Bessières in charge. Eventually, this unit would evolve into the Chasseurs à Cheval of the Imperial Guard. [16]

The Austrians reacted slowly to the crisis. At nearby Campagnola, Sebottendorf's gaze remained riveted on some French troops in his front and he failed to send reinforcements to Valeggio. Farther north at Salionze, aggressive French patrols also distracted Melas from Bonaparte's true purpose. From distant Goito, Colli alertly marched his entire force to the north to help the center, but he arrived too late to help. Beaulieu ordered the army to retreat to the north. [17]

Sebottendorf tried to recapture Valeggio, was repulsed, and retreated to Villafranca. Colli sent Rukavina's brigade back to rejoin the Mantua garrison and took his cavalry to Villafranca. Melas gathered up the troops of the right center and fell back to Castelnuovo. He was soon joined by Hohenzollern's force. Lipthay soon abandoned Peschiera, pursued by the French. When one of Augereau's units got too close, Lipthay's cavalry cut it to pieces, inflicting 100 casualties for a loss of only nine Austrians. [18]


That night, Beaulieu's units marched north from Castelnuovo and Villafranca. By the next morning, most units reached safety at Dolcè in the Adige valley. The Austrians admitted 572 soldiers killed, wounded, or captured. [19] French losses are estimated at 500. [20] In June, the French invested the now-isolated fortress of Mantua. Over the next month, the Austrian army received significant reinforcements from Germany and several new division and brigade commanders. In addition, Feldmarschall Dagobert von Wurmser replaced Beaulieu as army commander. From June 1796 until February 1797, all the major engagements in northern Italy would revolve around the Siege of Mantua. [21]


One authority wrote, "Beaulieu had fallen into the error of trying to guard all possible crossings over the Mincio, and in consequence his over-extended army was without a reserve." [22]


  1. Chandler, Dictionary, p 64. Boycott-Brown's total is 31,000
  2. Chandler, Dictionary, p 64. Apparently, this figure does not include the Mantua garrison.
  3. Smith, p 113
  4. Boycott-Brown, p 356
  5. Fiebeger, p 7
  6. Chandler, Campaigns, p 86
  7. Boycott-Brown, p 346-347
  8. Boycott-Brown, p 338. Strengths are from 30 May returns.
  9. Boycott-Brown, p 333
  10. Boycott-Brown, p 350-351
  11. Chandler, Campaigns, p 86
  12. Boycott-Brown, p 348 and 350-351. These are estimates, based on the author's information.
  13. Boycott-Brown, p 351.
  14. Boycott-Brown, p 352-353.
  15. Boycott-Brown, p 354.
  16. Chandler, Campaigns, p 87
  17. Boycott-Brown, p 353-354.
  18. Boycott-Brown, p 355.
  19. Boycott-Brown, p 356
  20. Smith, p 113
  21. Boycott-Brown, p 361
  22. Chandler, Campaigns, p 86

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See also

Coordinates: 45°21′00″N10°44′00″E / 45.3500°N 10.7333°E / 45.3500; 10.7333