Battle of Marengo

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Battle of Marengo
Part of the War of the Second Coalition, War of the French Revolution
Lejeune - Bataille de Marengo.jpg
The Battle of Marengo, by Louis-François Lejeune.
Date14 June 1800
44°53′N8°41′E / 44.883°N 8.683°E / 44.883; 8.683 Coordinates: 44°53′N8°41′E / 44.883°N 8.683°E / 44.883; 8.683
Result Decisive French victory [1] [2]
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg France Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Austria
Commanders and leaders
Napoleon Bonaparte
Louis Desaix  
Michael von Melas
Peter Ott
24 guns [3]
100 guns
Casualties and losses
1,100 killed
3,600 wounded
900 missing or captured [4]
Total: 5,600 [5]
6,000 dead or wounded
8,000 captured
40 guns captured
15 colours captured [4]
Total: 14,000 [6]

The Battle of Marengo was fought on 14 June 1800 between French forces under Napoleon Bonaparte and Austrian forces near the city of Alessandria, in Piedmont, Italy. Near the end of the day, the French overcame Gen. Michael von Melas's surprise attack, driving the Austrians out of Italy and consolidating Napoleon's political position in Paris as First Consul of France in the wake of his coup d’état the previous November. [7]

French First Republic Republic governing France, 1792–1804

In the history of France, the First Republic, officially the French Republic, was founded on 22 September 1792 during the French Revolution. The First Republic lasted until the declaration of the First Empire in 1804 under Napoleon, although the form of the government changed several times. This period was characterized by the fall of the monarchy, the establishment of the National Convention and the Reign of Terror, the Thermidorian Reaction and the founding of the Directory, and, finally, the creation of the Consulate and Napoleon's rise to power.

Austrian Empire monarchy in Central Europe between 1804 and 1867

The Austrian Empire was a Central European multinational great power from 1804 to 1867, created by proclamation out of the realms of the Habsburgs. During its existence, it was the third most populous empire after the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom in Europe. Along with Prussia, it was one of the two major powers of the German Confederation. Geographically, it was the third largest empire in Europe after the Russian Empire and the First French Empire. Proclaimed in response to the First French Empire, it partially overlapped with the Holy Roman Empire until the latter's dissolution in 1806.

Alessandria Comune in Piedmont, Italy

Alessandria is a city and comune in Piedmont, Italy, and the capital of the Province of Alessandria. The city is sited on the alluvial plain between the Tanaro and the Bormida rivers, about 90 kilometres southeast of Turin.


Surprised by the Austrian advance toward Genoa in mid-April 1800, Bonaparte hastily led his army over the Alps in mid-May and reached Milan on 2 June. After cutting Melas’ line of communications by crossing the River Po and defeating Feldmarschallleutnant (FML) Peter Karl Ott von Bátorkéz at Montebello on 9 June, the French closed in on the Austrian army, which had massed in Alessandria. Deceived by a local double agent, Bonaparte dispatched large forces to the north and south, but the Austrians launched a surprise attack on 14 June against the main French army under Gen. Louis Alexandre Berthier. [8]

Genoa city in Liguria, Italy

Genoa is the capital of the Italian region of Liguria and the sixth-largest city in Italy. In 2015, 594,733 people lived within the city's administrative limits. As of the 2011 Italian census, the Province of Genoa, which in 2015 became the Metropolitan City of Genoa, counted 855,834 resident persons. Over 1.5 million people live in the wider metropolitan area stretching along the Italian Riviera.

Alps Major mountain range system in Central Europe

The Alps are the highest and most extensive mountain range system that lies entirely in Europe, and stretching approximately 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) across eight Alpine countries : France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia. The mountains were formed over tens of millions of years as the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided. Extreme shortening caused by the event resulted in marine sedimentary rocks rising by thrusting and folding into high mountain peaks such as Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. Mont Blanc spans the French–Italian border, and at 4,810 m (15,781 ft) is the highest mountain in the Alps. The Alpine region area contains about a hundred peaks higher than 4,000 metres (13,000 ft).

Milan Italian city

Milan is a city in northern Italy, capital of Lombardy, and the second-most populous city in Italy after Rome, with the city proper having a population of 1,395,274 while its metropolitan city has a population of 3,259,835. Its continuously built-up urban area has a population estimated to be about 5,270,000 over 1,891 square kilometres. The wider Milan metropolitan area, known as Greater Milan, is a polycentric metropolitan region that extends over central Lombardy and eastern Piedmont and which counts an estimated total population of 7.5 million, making it by far the largest metropolitan area in Italy and the 54th largest in the world. Milan served as capital of the Western Roman Empire from 286 to 402 and the Duchy of Milan during the medieval period and early modern age.

Initially their two assaults across the Fontanone stream near Marengo village were repelled, and Gen. Jean Lannes reinforced the French right. Bonaparte realized the true position and issued orders at 11:00 am to recall the detachment under Général de Division (GdD) Louis Desaix, while moving his reserve forward. On the Austrian left Ott's column had taken Castel Ceriolo, and its advance guard moved south to attack Lannes’ flank. Melas renewed the main assault and the Austrians broke the central French position. By 2:30 pm the French were withdrawing and Austrian dragoons seized the Marengo farm. [8] Bonaparte had by then arrived with the reserve, but Berthier's troops began to fall back on the main vine belts. Knowing Desaix was approaching, Bonaparte was anxious about a column of Ott's soldiers marching from the north, so he deployed his Consular Guard infantry to delay it. The French then withdrew steadily eastward toward San Giuliano Vecchio as the Austrians formed a column to follow them in line with Ott's advance in the northern sector. [8]

Spinetta Marengo is a town in Piedmont, Italy located within the municipal boundaries of the comune of Alessandria. The population is 6,417.

Jean Lannes Marshall Of France

Jean Lannes, 1st Duc de Montebello, Prince de Siewierz, was a Marshal of the Empire. He was one of Napoleon's most daring and talented generals. Napoleon once commented on Lannes: "I found him a pygmy and left him a giant". A personal friend of the emperor, he was allowed to address him with the familiar "tu", as opposed to the formal "vous".

Louis Desaix French general

Louis Charles Antoine Desaix was a French general and military leader. According to the usage of the time, he took the name Louis Charles Antoine Desaix de Veygoux.

Desaix's arrival around 5:30 pm stabilized the French position, as the 9th Light Infantry Regiment delayed the Austrian advance down the main road and the rest of the army reformed north of Cascina Grossa. As the pursuing Austrian troops arrived, a mix of musketry and artillery fire concealed the surprise attack of Général de Brigade (GdB) François Étienne de Kellermann’s cavalry, which threw the Austrian pursuit into disordered flight back into Alessandria, with about 14,000 killed, wounded or captured. The French casualties were considerably fewer, but included Desaix. The whole French line chased after the Austrians to seal une victoire politique (a political victory) that secured Bonaparte's grip on power after the coup. It would be followed by a propaganda campaign that sought to rewrite the story of the battle three times during Napoleon's rule. [8]

The 9th Light Infantry Regiment was a French army regiment. One of the most notable infantry regiments in the Napoleonic Wars, it was awarded the title "Incomparable" by Napoleon Bonaparte after their brilliant performance at the Battle of Marengo on 14 June 1800. The regiment went on to serve with distinction in the Ulm Campaign, at the Battle of Dürenstein, the Jena Campaign (1806), and the Battle of Friedland. The regiment then served in the Peninsular War taking a notable role at the Battle of Talavera 27–28 July 1809 and the Siege of Badajoz (1812). Battalions from the regiment also fought on the Wagram Campaign (1809), at the Battle of Leipzig, and Napoleon's campaigns in France (1814). During the Hundred Days the 9th Light fought at Battle of Ligny and the Battle of Wavre. The regiment was disbanded in the aftermath of the Bourbon Restoration.

François Étienne de Kellermann French cavalry general

François Étienne de Kellermann, 2nd Duc de Valmy was a French cavalry general noted for his daring and skillful exploits during the Napoleonic Wars. He was the son of François Christophe de Kellermann and the father of the diplomat François Christophe Edmond de Kellermann.


Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David David - Napoleon crossing the Alps - Malmaison2.jpg
Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David

The Battle of Marengo was the victory that sealed the success of Bonaparte's Italian campaign of 1800 and is best understood in the context of that campaign. By a daring crossing of the Alps [9] with his Army of the Reserve (officially commanded by Louis Alexandre Berthier) in mid-May 1800 almost before the passes were open, Bonaparte (who crossed on a mule) had threatened Melas' lines of communications in northern Italy. The French army then seized Milan on 2 June, followed by Pavia, Piacenza and Stradella, Lombardy, cutting the main Austrian supply route eastward along the south bank of the Po river. Bonaparte hoped that Melas' preoccupation with the Siege of Genoa, held by Gen. André Masséna, would prevent the Austrians from responding to his offensive. However, Genoa surrendered on 4 June, freeing a large number of Austrians for operations against the French. [8]

Pavia Comune in Lombardy, Italy

Pavia is a town and comune of south-western Lombardy in northern Italy, 35 kilometres south of Milan on the lower Ticino river near its confluence with the Po. It has a population of c. 73,086,. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of the Lombards from 572 to 774.

Piacenza Comune in Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Piacenza is a city and comune in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, the capital of the eponymous province. The etymology is long-standing, tracing an origin from the Latin verb placēre, "to please." In French, and occasionally in English, it is called Plaisance. The name means a "pleasant abode", or as James Boswell reported some of the etymologists of his time to have translated it, "comely". This was a name "of good omen."

Stradella, Lombardy Comune in Lombardy, Italy

Stradella is a town and comune of the Oltrepò Pavese in the Province of Pavia in the northern Italian region of Lombardy. It is situated in the Padan Plain, about 5 km (3 mi) south of the river Po.

On 9 June Gen. Jean Lannes beat Feldmarschallleutnant Peter Ott in the Battle of Montebello. This caused Bonaparte to get overconfident. He became convinced that Melas would not attack and, further, that the Austrians were about to retreat. As other French forces closed from the west and south, the Austrian commander had withdrawn most of his troops from their positions near Nice and Genoa to Alessandria on the main Turin-Mantua road. [8]

Battle of Montebello (1800)

The Battle of Montebello was fought on 9 June 1800 near Montebello in Lombardy. During the lead-up to the Battle of Marengo, the vanguard of the French army in Italy engaged and defeated an Austrian force in a "glorious victory".

Nice Prefecture and commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Nice is the seventh most populous urban area in France and the capital of the Alpes-Maritimes department. The metropolitan area of Nice extends beyond the administrative city limits, with a population of about 1 million on an area of 721 km2 (278 sq mi). Located in the French Riviera, on the south east coast of France on the Mediterranean Sea, at the foot of the Alps, Nice is the second-largest French city on the Mediterranean coast and the second-largest city in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region after Marseille. Nice is approximately 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) from the principality of Monaco and 30 kilometres (19 mi) from the French-Italian border. Nice's airport serves as a gateway to the region.

Turin Comune in Piedmont, Italy

Turin is a city and an important business and cultural centre in northern Italy. It is the capital city of Piedmont and of the Metropolitan City of Turin, and was the first Italian capital from 1861 to 1865. The city is located mainly on the western bank of the Po River, in front of Susa Valley, and is surrounded by the western Alpine arch and Superga Hill. The population of the city proper is 875,698 while the population of the urban area is estimated by Eurostat to be 1.7 million inhabitants. The Turin metropolitan area is estimated by the OECD to have a population of 2.2 million.

Austrian plans and preliminary French moves

The Austrians planned to fight their way out eastward but—using a local double agent, usually known by his cover of François Toli—attempted to deceive Bonaparte into thinking they would try to march north, cross the Po and head for Milan, joined by the remaining troops marching up from Genoa. The spy would advise Bonaparte to march via Sale on the northern side of the plain, so that he could be engaged by the Austrian left wing; meanwhile the main force would move through Marengo village in the centre, turn north and fall into the French left flank. Ott arrived from Montebello of 13 June in a war council. The senior generals of the Austrian army strongly approved this plan, as the alternative would have meant that the army would have had to retreat along the River Po and leave Piedmont to the enemy without a fight. Nonetheless, by abandoning the San Giuliano plain, where the superior Austrian cavalry could have given him an edge, Melas probably made a serious mistake. [10]

Bonaparte knew that Ott had no way out from Alessandria, but he had no idea of Melas' position. Following his meeting with the spy and fearing that the Austrian general might try to escape, Bonaparte spread his army out in a wide net by sending Louis Desaix with Divisional General Jean Boudet's division (6,000 men) south to Novi Ligure and Divisional General Jean François Cornu de La Poype (3,500 men) north on the other bank of the Po. Further north, from Vercelli to Lake Maggiore, were stationed the divisions of Antoine de Béthencourt and Joseph Chabran and, further to the rear, north of Piacenza, Jean Thomas Guillaume Lorge's division. [3] Bonaparte's view was confirmed when Gen. Claude Victor-Perrin, supported by Divisional General Joachim Murat’s cavalry, swiftly evicted FML Andreas O'Reilly von Ballinlough’s Austrian brigade from Marengo village that afternoon. Victor then deployed divisional generals Gaspard Amédée Gardanne and Jacques-Antoine de Chambarlhac de Laubespin's divisions along the Fontanone stream. Austrian headquarters debated building a bridge to the north to outflank the French, but the lack of pontoons and time forced the Austrians to cross the River Bormida and then launch a single, direct assault across the Fontanone bridge. [8]



Torre Garofoli, Napoleon's headquarters before the battle I-AL-Torre Garofoli.JPG
Torre Garofoli, Napoleon's headquarters before the battle

The battle took place to the east of Alessandria, on a plain crossed by a river forming meanders, the Bormida, over which the Austrians installed a bridgehead. On the plain were spread numerous hamlets and farms that represented strategic points. The three main sites of the battle formed a triangle, with Marengo in the west, Castel Ceriolo in the north and San Giuliano Vecchio in the east. A small stream, the Fontanone, passed between Marengo and the Bormida. The First Consul had established his headquarters at Torre Garofoli, which was further to the east. This headquarters, nowadays visitable, is situated in the street: "Strada Comunale Cerca" coordinates N44°53'37.01 E 8°48'14.12 [3]


The 30,000 Austrians and their 100 guns were initially opposed by 22,000 French and their 15 guns. Meanwhile, after the arrival of Desaix, 6,000 men would reinforce Bonaparte's army. [3]

The 1799 campaign had exhausted the Austrian army in Italy, casualties and disease reducing some regiments to 300 men. The largest component of the army was in Piedmont and the neighbouring Po valley; only a few units were moved to winter quarters in better-supplied areas. Long distances from the home bases, from which the regiments drew reinforcements, meant that troop transports had to endure miserable conditions, so only about 15% reached the field army. The army of March 1800 was scarcely larger than at the conclusion of the 1799 campaign. [11] Equipment and uniforms were improved and updated. Although a simpler uniform, with a leather helmet and smaller-caliber muskets, was introduced, little had reached the field armies by 1800. Efforts were made to standardize equipment, but many units used a variety of musket and saber patterns. [12] Melas split his army into three corps facing the Bormida, in front of Alessandria. In the north Ott commanded Friedrich Heinrich von Gottesheim's advance guard plus Joseph von Schellenberg and Ludwig von Vogelsang's divisions. In the south was Feldmarschallleutnant Andreas O'Reilly von Ballinlough's division. Melas himself took control of the center, with the divisions of Karl Joseph Hadik von Futak, Konrad Valentin von Kaim, Ferdinand Johann von Morzin and Anton von Elsnitz. [13]

In 1799 the 36,000 French troops in Italy were in a desperate state similar to that at the end of 1795. Supplies of all sorts were inadequate, discipline was breaking down, desertion was increasing and, on a few occasions, whole formations marched to the rear in search of food. The survivors would be of limited combat value. In establishing the Army of the Reserve in France, Bonaparte's first move was to overhaul the supply system to provide the troops with regular food and decent uniforms. Lacking the large superiority in infantry and artillery enjoyed in many Republican campaigns, the core of Bonaparte's reserve was 30,000 men, mostly from the Batavian Republic, who had been used under Guillaume Marie Anne Brune to crush the rebellion in the Vendée. Additional veteran troops came from the remains of the former Army of England. [14] The new military doctrine emphasised the offensive, mobility and the bayonet over linear firepower. [15] In front of the Austrian army were stationed, in and to the south of Marengo, the corps of Victor (Jacques-Antoine de Chambarlhac de Laubespin and Gaspard Amédée Gardanne's divisions), supported on the left by François Étienne de Kellermann's cavalry and, further to the northeast, by the corps of Lannes (François Watrin's division, Mainoni's brigade) together with two cavalry brigades. To the east of Castel Ceriolo took position Jean-Charles Monnier's division, supported by the Guard, which formed the reserve. Victor was the one who would bear the brunt of the Austrian attack. [16]


Austrian attack

Michael von Melas led the centre of the army during the attack, but he mistakenly believed that the battle was over before the arrival of Desaix. Michael von Melas.jpg
Michael von Melas led the centre of the army during the attack, but he mistakenly believed that the battle was over before the arrival of Desaix.

The Austrian troops advanced from Alessandria eastwards across the Bormida river by two bridges debouching in a narrow bend of the river (the river being not easily crossed elsewhere). Poor Austrian staff work prevented any rapid development of their attack and the entire army had to file through a narrow bridgehead. [17] The movement began about 6 am with the first shots fired around 8 am, but the attack was not fully developed until 9 am. [8]

The 1,200-man Austrian advance guard, under Colonel (Oberst) Johann Maria Philipp Frimont and a division of 3,300 men under FML O'Reilly, pushed the French outposts back and deployed to become the Austrian right wing, driving the enemy from Pedrabona farm, then heading south to tackle the French at La Stortiglione farm. [8] The Austrian centre (about 18,000 under Melas) advanced towards Marengo until halted by GdD Gardanne's French infantry deployed in front of the Fontanone stream. [18] On the Austrian left, 7,500 men under FML Peter Ott waited for the road to clear before heading for the village of Castel Ceriolo well to the north of the French positions. This move threatened either an envelopment of the French right, or a further advance to cut the French line of communication with Milan. [19]

Gardanne's men gave a good account of themselves, holding up the Austrian deployment for a considerable time. When Gardanne's division was exhausted, Victor pulled it back behind the Fontanone and committed his second division under GdD Chambarlhac (this officer soon lost his nerve and fled). The French held Marengo village and the line of the Fontanone until about noon, with both flanks in the air. First, at 8 am, Melas hurled FML Karl Joseph Hadik von Futak's division (four battalions) at Victor's defenses, supported by Frimont's advance guard battery along the stream. [8] Forced into a funnel by the bad ground and Fontanone stream, Hadik's attack came under fire from two sides and failed, with Hadik being killed. The Austrian commander then committed FML Konrad Valentin von Kaim's division but this attack was also thwarted by 11 am. Finally, as the French position was reinforced by François Étienne de Kellermann's cavalry and Jean Lannes's formation was on the way, FML Ferdinand Johann von Morzin's elite grenadier division was sent in to attack Marengo village. [20] Melas also committed a serious tactical blunder, detaching Generalmajor (GM) Nimptsch's brigade of 2,300 hussars and two artillery batteries back over the Bormida bridge to block the corps of General Louis Gabriel Suchet, which was mistakenly reported around 9 am from Acqui Terme to be approaching Alessandria from the south. [21] Besides delaying the crossing of the Austrian left wing, this also meant that, being 30 kilometers away, Nimptsch's brigade would play no part in the battle. [20]

Stalemate in the centre around Marengo

Francois Etienne de Kellermann played an important role during the battle. Kellermann, Francois Etienne.jpg
François Étienne de Kellermann played an important role during the battle.

It took Bonaparte (5 kilometers away from Marengo) until about 10 am to recognize that the Austrian activity was not a diversionary attack to cover the anticipated retreat by Melas. His subordinates had brought their troops up in support of Victor's corps. Lannes's corps had deployed on the crucial right flank. GM Friedrich Joseph Anton von Bellegarde’s part of Kaim's division had crossed the Fontanone north of Marengo and occupied La Barbotta farm. Lannes directed Watrin's infantry to drive Bellegarde back. They briefly crossed the Fontanone before Austrian reserve guns drove the French back. Kellermann's heavy cavalry brigade and the 8th Dragoons took up a covering position on the left, smashing an attempt by GM Giovanni Pilatti's light dragoon brigade which attempted to cross the steep-sided Fontanone at its southern end to envelop Victor's flank. [20] On the right, GdB Pierre Champeaux was killed trying to stop the progress of Ott's column. A small part of the 6ème Légère (6th Light Infantry Regiment) occupied Castel Ceriolo to the north, but soon Ott's lead units took it around 11:30 am and began putting pressure on the French right flank. Ott could not see any sign of the expected main French advance from Sale (to the northeast), so he sent GM Friedrich Heinrich von Gottesheim’s reinforced advance guard to outflank Lannes north of Marengo. [20] By 11 am Bonaparte was on the battlefield. He sent urgent recalls to his recently detached forces and summoned up his last reserves. As they came up, GdD Jean-Charles Monnier's division and the Consular Guard were committed to extend and shore up the French right, rather than to try to hold Marengo where Victor's men were running short of ammunition. [22]

Austrian breakout across the Fontanone

Toward 12:30 pm Lannes moved the rest of his force to face Gottesheim in a hook shape, while Kaim attacked again, but this time against Victor's wings. A Laufbrücke (small bridge) was thrown over the Fontanone and supported by reserve artillery. GM Christoph von Latterman’s grenadiers crossed to engage Olivier Macoux Rivaud de la Raffinière’s two demibrigades defending Marengo village, while Bellegarde and Frimont's four squadrons split Watrin off. Although Rivaud retook the village, O’Reilly had taken Stortiglione by 2:00 pm, and in the north, Ott prepared to send FML Joseph von Schellenberg’s column to support Gottesheim. After securing the Fontanone bridge, Pilatti's cavalry crossed but were again charged and defeated by Kellermann. However, Victor could no longer hold his positions and withdrew southeast to the main vine belt (grape vines slung among mulberry trees), Lannes mirroring the move. The Marengo farm garrison was abandoned and at around 2:30 pm Melas led two cavalry squadrons to capture them. [20]

Johann Frimont's troops destroyed the Consular Guard infantry. Johann Maria Philipp Frimont.png
Johann Frimont's troops destroyed the Consular Guard infantry.

At about 2:00 pm the French attacked Castel Ceriolo and delayed the advance of Schellenberg's column by attacking its tail. [20] Aided by Frimont, Ott defeated Monnier and forced two-thirds of his command to retreat to the northeast. About the same time, Marengo had fallen to the Austrians, forcing Napoleon's men into a general retreat. [23] As Austrian troops crossed the Fontanone, their guns bombarded the French infantry in the vines. In a bid to further delay Schellenberg's advance, Bonaparte committed his main Guard battalion and its artillery, which moved to flank the column. After driving off Austrian dragoons with the aid of GdB Champeaux's remaining cavalry (under Joachim Murat), they engaged the head of the column. After a 15-minute firefight around 4:00 pm the Guard were surprised and destroyed by Frimont's cavalry. [20]

The French fell back c. 3 km and attempted to regroup to hold the village of San Giuliano. With the French outnumbered and driven from their best defensive position, the battle was as good as won by the Austrians. Melas, who was slightly wounded, and 71, handed over command to his chief-of-staff, General Anton von Zach, and Kaim. The Austrian centre formed into a massive pursuit column in order to chase the French off the battlefield, with the advance guard commanded by GM Franz Xaver Saint-Julien. The column formed up around Spinetta, southeast of Marengo, and advanced down the New Road. However, delays in the flanks led to the Austrian army forming a crescent shape with a thinly stretched central sector. [20] On the Austrian right wing, O'Reilly wasted time hunting down a 300-man French detachment led by Achille Dampierre (which was finally captured) and moved southeast. This took his troops out of supporting distance from the Austrian main body. [24] On the Austrian left, Ott hesitated to press hard against the French because GdB Jean Rivaud's small brigade of French cavalry hovered to the north. [25]

French counter-attack

However, Desaix, in charge of the force Bonaparte had detached southwards, had hastened his advance and reached a small road junction north of Cascina Grossa (3 kilometers west of San Giuliano). [20] Shortly before 5:00 pm, he reported to Bonaparte in person with the news that his force (6,000 men and 9 guns of Boudet's division) was not far behind. The story goes that, asked by Bonaparte what he thought of the situation, Desaix replied: "This battle is completely lost. However, there is time to win another." [26]

The French were fast to bring up and deploy the fresh troops in front of San Giuliano, and the Austrians were slow to mount their attack. Boudet and the 9ème Légère (9th Light Infantry Regiment) were quickly moved on to the exit from the main vine belt, where they surprised the head of Saint-Julien's column. As the Austrian infantry deployed on the south side of the road, the 9ème Légère conducted a steady withdrawal for 30 minutes back to Desaix's position. There he had placed GdB Louis Charles de Guénand's brigade on the north side while most of the remaining French army (Monnier and Lannes) were forming up north from there. The Austrians deployed three artillery batteries on the north side of the road supported by a dragoon regiment. [20] GdB Auguste de Marmont massed the remaining French cannon against the Austrians as they advanced. Boudet's division advanced in line of brigades against the head of the Austrian column, defeating Saint-Julien's leading Austrian brigade. Zach brought forward GM Latterman's grenadier brigade in line and renewed the attack. Faced with a crisis, Napoleon sent Desaix forward again and ordered a cavalry charge requested by Desaix. The 9ème Légère halted to face the main Austrian advance and Marmont's guns blasted the Austrians with grapeshot at close range. [20] Further back, an Austrian ammunition limber exploded. In the temporary heightening of confusion, Lattermann's formation was charged on its left flank by Kellermann's heavy cavalry (ca. 400 men) and disintegrated. At the decisive moment of the battle, Desaix was shot from his horse. [20] Zach and at least 2,000 of his men were taken prisoners. [27]

Napoleon is presented the body of Desaix Broc.jpg
Napoleon is presented the body of Desaix

Murat and Kellermann immediately pounced on the supporting Liechtenstein Dragoons who were too slow to respond and routed them as well. [20] The fleeing Austrian horsemen crashed into the ranks of Pilatti's rattled troopers and carried them away. As the mob of terrified cavalry stampeded past them, the exhausted Austrian infantry of the main body lost heart, provoking a wild rush to the rear. The gun teams fled, pursued by French cavalry, while their whole infantry line advanced westward. [28] The second grenadier brigade under GM Karl Philippi von Weidenfeld and some unpanicked cavalry delayed Boudet's advance long enough for O’Reilly's cavalry to return, and together with Frimont, they mounted a last defense around Marengo village as night fell, allowing the Austrian centre to reach safety behind the Bormida. [29] Ott with the Austrian left failed to intervene and found his retreat through Castel Ceriolo blocked by French troops advancing northwest from the centre, but managed to fight his way back to the Bormida bridgehead. [30]

The Austrians fell back into Alessandria, having lost about half the forces they had committed. The Austrians had lost heavily in the 12 hours of fighting: 15 colours, 40 guns, almost 8,000 taken prisoner, and 6,500 dead or wounded. [31] French casualties (killed and wounded) were on the order of 4,700 and 900 missing or captured, but they retained the battlefield and the strategic initiative. [4] Desaix's body was found among the slain. [32]


Bonaparte needed to depart for Paris urgently and the next morning sent Berthier on a surprise visit to Austrian headquarters. [30] Within 24 hours of the battle, Melas entered into negotiations (the Convention of Alessandria) which led to the Austrians evacuating northwestern Italy west of the Ticino river, and suspending military operations in Italy.

Bonaparte's position as First Consul was strengthened by the successful outcome of the battle and the preceding campaign. [30] After this victory, Napoleon could breathe a sigh of relief. The generals who had been hostile to him could see that his luck had not abandoned him. Thus, he had surpassed Schérer, Joubert, Championnet, and even Moreau, none of whom had been able to inflict a decisive blow on the Coalition. Moreau's victory at Hohenlinden, which was the one that in reality had put an end to the war, was minimised by Bonaparte who, from then on, would pose as a saviour of the fatherland, and even of the Republic. He rejected offers from Louis XVIII, who had considered the Consulate to be a mere transition towards the restoration of the king. Thanks to the victory at Marengo, Napoleon could finally set about reforming France according to his own vision. [33]


Rue de Marengo in Paris is named to commemorate the battle. Rue de Marengo, Paris.JPG
Rue de Marengo in Paris is named to commemorate the battle.

A last-gasp victory in reality, Marengo was mythologised in an army bulletin and three increasingly glamourised "Official Reports" during Bonaparte's reign. Tales were invented about the Guard and the 72ème demibrigade, which had been under his direct control throughout. [30]

General François Kellermann distinguished himself at Marengo. Melas, trapped in Alessandria with his hopes of breaking through to the east shattered, sent the same evening to Vienna a message in which he explained that the "charge of Kellermann had broken the soldiers and this sudden and terrible change of fortunes finished by smashing the courage of the troops. The disorder of the cavalry which had disorganised our infantry precipitated its retreat." [34] At the same time, Murat was writing to Berthier: "I especially have to tell you about Kellermann; through a powerful charge he managed to tilt the balance in our favour." [34] However, in the Bulletin de l'armée issued the following day, Napoleon sought to counterbalance Kellermann's charge with Jean-Baptiste Bessières's: "The chef de brigade Bessières, in front of the reckless grenadiers of the guard, executed a charge with as much activity as valour and penetrated the line of the enemy cavalry; this resulted in the entire rout of the army." [35]

Another piece of work which attempted to justify the retreat maneuver and to present it as a highly strategic calculation was Berthier's Relation de la bataille de Marengo, published in 1804. Berthier suggests that time had to be given to Desaix and Boudet's division to occupy their positions: "The enemy general misinterpreted this maneuver and thought the army was in full retreat, while in reality it was only executing a movement of conversion." [34] However, it is known that Desaix's arrival, while definitely expected, was not certain before the retreat. The bulletin explains that Desaix's forces were waiting in reserve with artillery pieces, which in reality was false, because they arrived late in the battle. Several participants to the fighting reveal the precarious condition of the army throughout the day, including Marmont in his Memoirs, Captain Coignet: "We were retreating in good order but all ready to start running at the earliest sign of danger", Captain Gervais: "In this battle, we were many times on the verge of being defeated. The enemy cavalry, on a terrain favourable to this arm, charged us repeatedly. We were often obliged to concentrate and even to retreat", and General Thévenet: "There is no doubt that a part of the French army was repelled up to the Scrivia". [36]


Marengo museum

The Museum of Marengo "Museo della Battaglia di Marengo" is located in Via della Barbotta, Spinetta Marengo, Alessandria. This is exactly the place where most of the fights between the French and Austrian armies took place. It is a part of Villa Delavo, with the park of the museum surrounding the village of Marengo.[ citation needed ]


The column at Marengo I-AL-Marengo3.JPG
The column at Marengo

Napoleon sought to ensure that his victory would not be forgotten, so, besides the propaganda campaign, he entrusted General Chasseloup with the construction of a pyramid on the site of the battle. On 5 May 1805, a ceremony took place on the field of Marengo. Napoleon, dressed in the uniform he wore on 14 June 1800, together with Empress Joséphine seated on a throne placed under a tent, oversaw a military parade. Then, Chasseloup gave Napoleon the founding stone, on which was inscribed: "Napoleon, Emperor of the French and King of Italy, to the manes of the defenders of the fatherland who perished on the day of Marengo." [37] This pyramid was actually part of a very ambitious project meant to glorify Bonaparte's conquests in Italy. The field of Marengo was supposed to become the site of a "city of Victories" whose boulevards, named after Italian battles, would converge to the pyramid. In the event, the project was abandoned in 1815 and the stones recovered by the peasants. The column erected in 1801 was also removed, only to be restored in 1922. [37]

Napoleon ordered that several ships of the French Navy be named Marengo, including Sceptre (1780) , Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1795) , Ville de Paris (1851) and Marengo (1810) . In 1802, the Marengo department was named in the honour of the battle. [38] Furthermore, Napoleon's mount throughout the battle was named Marengo and further carried the Emperor in the Battle of Austerlitz, Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, Battle of Wagram, and Battle of Waterloo. [39]

After Bonaparte's fall, Marengo County, Alabama, first settled by Napoleonic refugees with their Vine and Olive Colony, was named in honour of this battle. Since then, numerous settlements were named Marengo in Canada and the United States (see places named Marengo). [40]

Presently, a museum of the battle exists on the outskirts of Alessandria. Re-enactments are also organised every year to commemorate the event. [41]


  1. Brauer; William E. Wright (1 December 1990). Austria in the Age of the French Revolution: 1789–1815. Berghahn Books. p. 34. ISBN   978-1-57181-374-9 . Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  2. Holger Afflerbach; Hew Strachan (26 July 2012). How Fighting Ends: A History of Surrender. Oxford University Press. p. 215. ISBN   978-0-19-969362-7 . Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Benoît, p. 117
  4. 1 2 3 Benoît, p. 122
  5. Chandler, David G.. The Campaigns of Napoleon, New York, 1966, ISBN   0-02-523660-1, p. 296, gives: 25% total casualties.
  6. Chandler, David G.. The Campaigns of Napoleon, New York, 1966, ISBN   0-02-523660-1, p. 296, gives: 15 colours, 40 guns, 8,000 captured and 6,000 killed. Asprey, Robert. The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, Basic Books, 2001, ISBN   0-465-04881-1, p. 387, gives: 6,000 killed or wounded and another 6,000 captured; 15 flags, 40 cannon.
  7. Hollins, Encyclopedia, pp. 605–606
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Hollins, Encyclopedia, p. 606
  9. Shosenberg, p. 63
  10. Pigeard, p. 521
  11. Hollins, The Battle of Marengo 1800, p. 16
  12. Hollins, The Battle of Marengo 1800, p. 15
  13. Benoît, pp. 117–118
  14. Hollins, The Battle of Marengo 1800, p. 17
  15. Hollins, The Battle of Marengo 1800, p. 18
  16. Benoît, p. 118
  17. Arnold, p. 146
  18. Arnold, p. 149
  19. Benoît, p. 119
  20. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Hollins, Encyclopedia, p. 607
  21. Arnold, p. 151
  22. Arnold, p. 158
  23. Arnold, p. 162
  24. Arnold, p. 160
  25. Arnold, p. 173
  26. Chandler, p. 269
  27. Arnold, pp. 177–180
  28. Hollins, Encyclopedia, pp. 607–608
  29. Arnold, pp. 180–181
  30. 1 2 3 4 Hollins, Encyclopedia, p. 608
  31. Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. The French Revolutionary Wars, Routledge: New Edition, 2001, ISBN   978-1-57958-365-1, p.56, gives 6,000 casualties and 8,000 prisoners, 40 guns. Similarly, Chandler and Asprey.
  32. Benoît, p. 137
  33. Benoît, pp. 124–125
  34. 1 2 3 Benoît, p. 123
  35. Benoît, p. 124
  36. Benoît, pp. 123–124
  37. 1 2 Benoît, p. 138
  38. Vosgien, Lyon et Paris. "Les départements de l'Empire Français en 1809". Archived from the original on 21 September 2010. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  39. Hamilton, Jill. "MARENGO, the Myth of Napoleon's Horse" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 July 2011. Retrieved 13 September 2010. p. 32
  40. "Alabama Counties: Marengo County". "Alabama Department of Archives and History". Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  41. Hicks, Peter. "Marengo Museum: opening weekend" . Retrieved 13 September 2010.

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