Battle of Saorgio

Last updated
Battle of Saorgio
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
Saorge vue generale.jpg
Saorge looking north toward the Col de Tende
Date24 to 28 April 1794
Result French victory
Flag of France.svg France Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Habsburg Austria
War Ensign of the Kingdom of Sardinia (1785-1802).svg  Kingdom of Sardinia
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Pierre Dumerbion
Flag of France.svg André Masséna
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Joseph De Vins
War Ensign of the Kingdom of Sardinia (1785-1802).svg Michelangelo Colli
20,000 8,000
Casualties and losses
1,500 2,800

The Battle of Saorgio was fought from 24 to 28 April 1794 between a French First Republic army commanded by Pierre Jadart Dumerbion and the armies of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont and the Habsburg Monarchy led by Joseph Nikolaus De Vins. It was part of a successful French offensive designed to capture strategic positions in the Maritime Alps and Ligurian Alps, and on the Mediterranean coast. Tactical control of the battle was exercised by André Masséna for the French and Michelangelo Alessandro Colli-Marchi for the Coalition. Saorge is located in France, about 70 kilometres (43 mi) northeast of Nice. At the time of the battle, the town was named Saorgio and belonged to Piedmont.

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.

Pierre Jadart Dumerbion or Pierre Jadart du Merbion joined the French army as a junior officer in 1754 and fought in the Seven Years' War. As an experienced officer, he was promoted to colonel in 1792 at the start of the French Revolutionary Wars. He soon became a general officer and found himself commanding the Army of Italy. In April 1794 he won the Battle of Saorgio over the armies of Habsburg Austria and the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont by using a strategic plan drawn up by his newly appointed artillery officer, Napoleon Bonaparte. Though he was the victor, Dumerbion was unable to personally take the field because of his age and poor health. In September 1794, his army again beat the Coalition forces at the First Battle of Dego. He retired in 1795 and died in 1797. DUMERBION is one of the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe on Column 23.

Habsburg Monarchy former Central European empire (1526–1804)

The Habsburg Monarchy, also called the Austrian Monarchy or Danubian Monarchy, is an unofficial umbrella term among historians for the kingdoms and countries in personal union with the Habsburg Archduchy of Austria between 1526 and 1804, when it was succeeded by the Austrian Empire. The Monarchy was a composite state of territories within and outside the Holy Roman Empire, and was united only in the person of the monarch. The dynastic capital was Vienna, except from 1583 to 1611, when it was moved to Prague. From 1804 to 1867 the Habsburg Monarchy was formally unified as the Austrian Empire, and from 1867 to 1918 as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.


Since September 1792, the Piedmontese defenses around Saorge had resisted capture. In early April 1794, the French struck northeastward along the Italian Riviera, quickly seizing the small port of Oneglia. From there, Masséna struck north to capture two towns in the upper Tanaro valley before turning west to outflank the positions around Saorge. After some fighting, the Austro-Piedmontese withdrew to the north side of the Col de Tende (Tenda Pass) which the French occupied. Dumerbion's troops also seized a large portion of the Italian Riviera. The action occurred during the War of the First Coalition, part of the French Revolutionary Wars. The engagement is significant in military history because a newly appointed artillery general by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte drew up the plans for the offensive.

Italian Riviera Riviera in Liguria, Italy

The Italian Riviera, or Ligurian Riviera is the narrow coastal strip which lies between the Ligurian Sea and the mountain chain formed by the Maritime Alps and the Apennines. Longitudinally it extends from the border with France and the French Riviera near Ventimiglia eastwards to Capo Corvo which marks the eastern end of the Gulf of La Spezia and is close to the regional border between Liguria and Tuscany. The Italian Riviera thus includes nearly all of the coastline of Liguria. Historically the "Riviera" extended further to the west, through what is now French territory as far as Marseille.

Oneglia human settlement in Imperia, Province of Imperia, Liguria, Italy

Oneglia was a town in northern Italy on the Ligurian coast that was joined to Porto Maurizio to form the Comune of Imperia in 1923.

Tanaro river in northwestern Italy

The Tanaro, known as Tanarus in ancient times and Tane or Tani in piedmontese language, is a 276-kilometre (171 mi) long river in northwestern Italy. The river begins in the Ligurian Alps, near the border with France, and is the most significant right-side tributary to the Po in terms of length, size of drainage basin, and discharge.


The Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont stood at a disadvantage in a war with France because two of its territories lay on the French side of the Alps. These lands were the County of Nice on the Mediterranean coast and the Duchy of Savoy in the north. Aware of his awkward situation, King Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia attempted to secure an alliance with Habsburg Austria at the same time as he held diplomatic talks with the French. [1] In spring 1792, war broke out between the French First Republic and Sardinia. The French government ordered General Anne-Pierre, marquis de Montesquiou-Fézensac to invade Savoy on 15 May, but that officer decided that he needed more time to prepare. During the summer, King Victor Amadeus frantically haggled with Austria to get military assistance. On 22 September, Austria finally agreed to provide an Auxiliary Corps of 8,000 troops under Feldmarschallleutnant Leopoldo Lorenzo Count of Strassoldo. However, the Convention of Milan came too late. [2]

County of Nice countship

The County of Nice is a historical region of France located around the south-eastern city of Nice, and roughly equivalent to the modern arrondissement of Nice.

Duchy of Savoy State in Western Europe that existed from 1416 to 1860

From 1416 to 1860, the Duchy of Savoy was a state in Western Europe. It was created when Sigismund, King of the Romans, raised the County of Savoy into a duchy for Amadeus VIII. The duchy was an Imperial fief, subject of the Holy Roman Empire with a vote in the Imperial Diet. From the 16th century, Savoy belonged to the Upper Rhenish Circle. Throughout its history, it was ruled by the House of Savoy and formed a part of the larger Savoyard state.

Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia King of Sardinia

Victor Amadeus III was King of Sardinia from 1773 to his death. Although he was politically conservative, he carried out numerous administrative reforms until he declared war on Revolutionary France in 1792. He was the father of the last three mainline Kings of Sardinia.

King Victor Amadeus III Vittorio Amedeo III di Savoia.jpg
King Victor Amadeus III

On 21 September 1792, Montesquiou invaded Savoy and resistance collapsed. The general reported to his government that the people welcomed his army. [3] The town of Chambéry was occupied on 24 September. Sardinian General Lazary, a 70-year-old relic, proved unable to mount an effective defense. [4] A second French force captured Nice without bloodshed on 27 September and went on to seize Villefranche-sur-Mer two days later. At the behest of its leaders, Savoy was incorporated into France on 27 November. [3] On 23 September, a French naval squadron under Rear Admiral Laurent Jean François Truguet sailed to the Piedmontese port of Oneglia where an 800-man battalion disembarked. The troops sacked the town and murdered some monks before taking to their ships again. [5] On 18 November 1792, the Sardinians repulsed their adversaries at Sospel (Sospello). The French retreated to L'Escarène and went into winter quarters. [6]

Chambéry Prefecture and commune in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Chambéry is a city in the department of Savoie, located in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in eastern France.

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 département. 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.

Villefranche-sur-Mer Commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Villefranche-sur-Mer is a commune in the Alpes-Maritimes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region on the French Riviera and is located near the French~Italian border next to the Principality of Monaco.

Dismayed by the incapacity of his generals, King Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia begged the Austrians to send a commander to direct the combined Austrian and Piedmontese armies. The Austrian government appointed Feldzeugmeister Joseph Nikolaus De Vins to fill the post on 21 December 1792. Even so, Austria was aware that the French were trying to negotiate a peace with the Sardinians, and the Austrians did not fully trust their ally. The execution of King Louis XVI of France on 21 January 1793 appalled the other crowned heads of Europe and further isolated France. [7]

Louis XVI of France King of France and Navarre

Louis XVI, born Louis-Auguste, was the last King of France before the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution. He was referred to as citizen Louis Capet during the four months before he was guillotined. In 1765, at the death of his father, Louis, son and heir apparent of Louis XV, Louis-Auguste became the new Dauphin of France. Upon his grandfather's death on 10 May 1774, he assumed the title "King of France and Navarre", which he used until 4 September 1791, when he received the title of "King of the French" until the monarchy was abolished on 21 September 1792.

Duke of Biron Armand Louis de Gontaut (1747-1793), French nobleman.jpg
Duke of Biron

On 28 February 1793, 12,000 French troops under Lieutenant General Armand Louis de Gontaut, Duke of Biron battled with 7,000 Sardinian soldiers under Charles-François Thaon, Count of Saint-André at Levens. In this French success, each side lost 800 casualties. In addition, the French captured two of their enemy's six cannons. [8] The Sardinian army held a powerful defensive position at Saorge (Saorgio), blocking access to the strategically important Col de Tende (Tenda Pass). [7] On 8 June 1793, the Army of Italy under General of Division Gaspard Jean-Baptiste Brunet won a minor victory over the Sardinians in the area of L'Aution Peak west of Saorge. The forces clashed again in the First Battle of Saorgio on 12 June. This time the French were defeated. The Sardinian units involved in these fights were two battalions each of the Cacciatori and Swiss Christ Infantry Regiments, one battalion each of the Saluzzo, Sardinia, and Lombardy Infantry Regiments. Also engaged were two companies of French volunteers, the Cacciatori de Canale, Light Infantry, 1st, 3rd, and 5th Grenadier Battalions, and the Vercelli, Casale, and Acqui Provincial Regiments. [9] The attack was "ill-conceived" and ended in "disaster". [10]

Armand Louis de Gontaut French general

Armand Louis de Gontaut, Duc de Lauzun, later duc de Biron, and usually referred to by historians of the French Revolution simply as Biron was a French soldier and politician, known for the part he played in the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary Wars. In 1773, he was Grand second warden of Grand Orient de France.

Charles-François Thaon, Count of Saint-André Italian soldier (1725-1807)

Charles-François Thaon de Revel et de Saint-André was an army commander for the Kingdom of Sardinia during the War of the First Coalition. He fought in the War of the Austrian Succession and during the years of peace gained promotion until he was made major general in 1780. He was forced to abandon Nice to the invading Republican French army in 1792. The following year he defeated the French at Saorgio. He played a minor part in 1799 during the War of the Second Coalition. He went to Sardinia after the end of that conflict and died at Cagliari.

Levens Commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Levens is a commune in the Alpes-Maritimes département in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in southeastern France.

Fighting occurred at Utelle on 21 October 1793. Utelle 0545.JPG
Fighting occurred at Utelle on 21 October 1793.

The allies tried to mount a counteroffensive, but this effort was crippled by the new commander's slowness. De Vins planned to recapture both Savoy and Nice, which a number of officers objected to. Because he suffered badly from gout, De Vins planned to control both offensives from the capital of Turin. The Duke of Montferrat, who led the counter-invasion of Savoy, was to follow strict daily orders from De Vins. Since Turin was 45 miles (72 km) distant, the arrangements were impractical. [11] In the event, a French force under General of Division François Christophe de Kellermann repulsed Lieutenant General Cordon's Savoy column at the Battle of Epierre on 15 September 1793. The French suffered 500 casualties out of 8,000 troops, while the Sardinians lost 1,000 men out of 6,000 engaged. [12]

The Count of Saint-André was directed to advance on Nice from Saorgio. This effort was made difficult by tension between Saint-André and his Austrian subordinate Feldmarschallleutnant Michelangelo Alessandro Colli-Marchi. Meanwhile, De Vins' chief of staff, Eugène-Guillaume Argenteau managed to get himself on bad terms with most of the Piedmontese officer corps. At this time, portions of southern France rebelled against the revolutionary government. Large French republican forces had to be sent to suppress the revolt at the Siege of Toulon, giving Piedmont a chance to recover its lost territory. King Victor Amadeus and De Vins left the capital in August to oversee the southern front where they planned to start operations on 7 September. [13] On 18 October, six Piedmontese battalions of the Aosta, Guardia, and Piedmont Infantry Regiments defeated the French at Gilette. Three days later there was an inconclusive skirmish at Utelle involving the 5th Grenadiers. [14] The offensive ended when heavy snow fell in the mountains, forcing the king to give up the campaign and return to his capital in November. [15]


This map shows the Battle of Saorgio campaign in April 1794. The progress of the French offensive is displayed with flags and dates where known. While Dumerbion's main army probed at the Coalition lines, Massena's wing launched a wide right hook that outflanked the enemy defenses. Saorgio 1794 Campaign Map.jpg
This map shows the Battle of Saorgio campaign in April 1794. The progress of the French offensive is displayed with flags and dates where known. While Dumerbion's main army probed at the Coalition lines, Masséna's wing launched a wide right hook that outflanked the enemy defenses.

At the start of 1794, the Piedmontese occupied a formidable defensive position that ran from Roquebillière on the west through the Col de Raus, L'Aution Peak, and Colle Basse to Saorge. From Saorge, the line ran northeast to Cima di Marte, Col Argente, and Monte Saccarello. The line was so strong that an outflanking move to the east seemed the obvious move. Sardinian General Dellera feared that the French might seize the Colle di Nava northwest of Oneglia. He wanted to occupy Briga Alta northeast of Saorgio but De Vins refused to authorize it. However, Dellera convinced the army commander to move an Austrian force from the Po River valley to Dego. In addition, De Vins ordered 4,000 Sardinian troops to protect the area around Oneglia. [16]

French General Pierre Jadart Dumerbion commanded the Army of Italy. Competent but old, he had seen too many generals sent to the guillotine for failing or for having the wrong political views. [17] Two of his predecessors suffered this fate, Brunet on 15 November 1793 [18] and Biron on 31 December 1793. [19] In order to stay out of trouble, Dumerbion determined to consult the all-powerful Representatives on mission before acting. At this time, the representatives were Augustin Robespierre and Antoine Christophe Saliceti and both were influenced by freshly-promoted General of Brigade Napoleon Bonaparte, the army's new artillery chief. Bonaparte drew up a strategic plan and Dumerbion listened. Bonaparte planned to launch a drive northeast along the coast to capture Oneglia, a nest of Sardinian privateers that preyed on the Genoa-to-Nice grain trade. [17] From Oneglia, the French would turn north to seize Ormea, outflanking the enemy's defenses from the east. While these moves were implemented, the main army would distract the Coalition defenders by advancing directly on Saorge. Of Dumerbion's 43,000-man field army, 20,000 men formed the attacking force, divided into three columns and a reserve. [20]

Town of La Brigue Rio sec.jpg
Town of La Brigue

On 6 April 1794, Dumerbion opened the offensive. Crossing neutral territory belonging to the Republic of Genoa, the French seized the port of Oneglia on the 9th. Argenteau, who commanded the local Piedmontese division, occupied Ormea and strung out his 10 battalions in an attempt to link the Saorge defenses in the west with Dego in the east. The French advance, led by General of Division André Masséna, brushed aside Argenteau's men and captured Ormea around 17 April and Garessio on the 19th. Colli, the newly appointed commander at Saorge, now found that his position was outflanked. [21] De Vins advised Colli to hold the position but to send back any forces not needed for immediate defense. Relations between the allies were so bad at this time that some Piedmontese officers believed that De Vins was plotting to betray them. On the French side, Auguste Marmont claimed that the ailing Dumerbion stayed in Nice during the entire operation. [22]

On 24 April there was a clash at Saorge, as the French main army advanced north. Colli's defenders included three battalions of the Alvinczi Infantry Regiment Nr. 19, the 3rd Battalion of the Strassoldo Infantry Regiment Nr. 27, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Archduke Anton Infantry Regiment Nr. 52, and the 2nd and 9th Battalions of the Karlstadt Grenz infantry regiment. On the same day, Masséna successfully attacked the Col Argente with General of Brigade Amédée Emmanuel François Laharpe's division. [23] On 27 April, the French seized La Brigue, inflicting heavy losses on the Sardinians. These belonged to the Cacciatori, Guardia, and Tortona Infantry Regiments, the 1st Grenadier Battalion, two companies of French volunteers, and the Cacciatori di Pandini company. [24]


The French seized Saorgio on 28 April after Colli withdrew. He abandoned the Col de Tende and retreated to Limone Piemonte, just north of the pass. In early May, Colli fell back to Borgo San Dalmazzo near the fortress of Cuneo. [22] On the coast, the French advanced to seize Albenga and Loano. [20] General of Division François Macquard occupied the Col de Tende, while farther east Masséna deployed his troops to hold the ridges between Ormea and Loano. [25] In the fighting near Saorge, historian Digby Smith stated French losses as 1,500 killed and wounded, while the allied casualties numbered 2,800. Losses for the other battles are not given. [23]

Bonaparte and the representatives on mission proposed a new operation to exploit the victory, but it was vetoed by Lazare Carnot. The defeat shocked the Austrians and Sardinians into signing a treaty on 29 May. The Sardinians promised to hold the Alpine passes while the Austrians pledged to defend the coast. [25] The next action in the area was the First Battle of Dego on 21 September 1794. [26]


  1. Boycott-Brown, 73-74
  2. Boycott-Brown, 74-75
  3. 1 2 Durant & Durant, 49
  4. Boycott-Brown, 75
  5. Smith, 27
  6. Smith, 33
  7. 1 2 Boycott-Brown, 75-76
  8. Smith, 42
  9. Smith, 47-48
  10. Boycott-Brown, 77
  11. Boycott-Brown, 77-78
  12. Smith, 56
  13. Boycott-Brown, 78
  14. Smith, 59-60
  15. Boycott-Brown, 80
  16. Boycott-Brown, 88-89
  17. 1 2 Chandler, 30
  18. Broughton, Gaspard Brunet
  19. Broughton, Biron
  20. 1 2 Chandler, 31
  21. Boycott-Brown, 90
  22. 1 2 Boycott-Brown, 91
  23. 1 2 Smith, 74
  24. Smith, 75
  25. 1 2 Boycott-Brown, 92
  26. Smith, 92

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The First Battle of Saorgio saw a Republican French army commanded by Gaspard Jean-Baptiste Brunet attack the armies of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont and Habsburg Austria led by Joseph Nikolaus De Vins. The local Sardinian commander in the Maritime Alps was Charles-François Thaon, Count of Saint-André. Though the French were initially successful in this War of the First Coalition action, their main assaults against the strong defensive positions on the Massif de l'Authion and the Col de Raus failed with serious losses. Saorge is now located in France about 70 kilometres (43 mi) northeast of Nice, but in 1793 Saorgio belonged to Piedmont. In April 1794 the French seized the positions from the Austro-Sardinians in the Second Battle of Saorgio.

Battle of Epierre

The Battle of Epierre was part of a larger War of the First Coalition campaign that pitted a Republican French army led by François Christophe de Kellermann against a numerically stronger Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont army commanded by the Prince Maurizio, Duke of Montferrat. Under the overall leadership of the Austrian commander in chief Joseph Nikolaus De Vins, Montferrat launched an offensive in mid-August 1793 to recapture the Duchy of Savoy from the French. Because the French were preoccupied with the Siege of Lyon, the Piedmontese recovered most of the Maurienne and Tarentaise Valleys, but they were stopped just short of Albertville and the reconquest of Savoy. In September, Kellermann launched a counteroffensive in which he adroitly switched his troops between valleys in order to drive back the Piedmontese. At Épierre, the French under Jean-Denis Le Doyen defeated the Marquis of Cordon in a local action. By 8 October the Piedmontese abandoned all their gains and withdrew to the crests of the Graian Alps. In spite of his victory, the suspicious politicians in Paris put Kellermann in arrest and he was imprisoned until November 1794.


Coordinates: 43°59′18″N7°33′11″E / 43.9883°N 7.5531°E / 43.9883; 7.5531