Battle of Tarvis (1797)

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Battle of Tarvis (1797)
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
The photo of snow skiers shows the terrain near Tarvisio.
Date21–23 March 1797
Result French victory
Flag of France.svg France Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Habsburg Austria
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Napoleon Bonaparte
Flag of France.svg André Masséna
Flag of France.svg Jean Joseph Guieu
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Archduke Charles
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Adam Bajalics
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Joseph Ocskay
Units involved
Flag of France.svg Army of Italy Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Austrian Army
11,000 8,000
Casualties and losses
1,200 4,500, 25 guns
400500 wagons

The Battle of Tarvis was fought during March 21-23, 1797 near present-day Tarvisio in far northeast Italy, about 12 kilometres (7 mi) west-by-southwest of the three-border conjunction with Austria and Slovenia. In the battle, three divisions of a First French Republic army commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte attacked several columns of the retreating Habsburg Austrian army led by Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen. In three days of confused fighting, French divisions directed by André Masséna, Jean Joseph Guieu, and Jean-Mathieu-Philibert Sérurier succeeded in blocking the Tarvis Pass and capturing 3,500 Austrians led by Adam Bajalics von Bajahaza. The engagement occurred during the War of the First Coalition, part of the French Revolutionary Wars.

Tarvisio Comune in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy

Tarvisio is a comune in the Province of Udine, the northeastern part of the autonomous Friuli Venezia Giulia region in Italy.

Italy republic in Southern Europe

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a European country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Alps and surrounded by several islands. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean sea and traversed along its length by the Apennines, Italy has a largely temperate seasonal climate. The country covers a total area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi), and land area of 294,140 km2 (113,570 sq mi), and shares open land borders with France, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and the enclaved microstates of Vatican City and San Marino. Italy has a territorial exclave in Switzerland (Campione) and a maritime exclave in the Tunisian Sea (Lampedusa). With around 60 million inhabitants, Italy is the fourth-most populous member state of the European Union.

Austria Federal republic in Central Europe

Austria, officially the Republic of Austria, is a country in Central Europe comprising nine federated states. Its capital, largest city and one of nine states is Vienna. Austria has an area of 83,879 km2 (32,386 sq mi), a population of nearly nine million people and a nominal GDP of $477 billion. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The terrain is landlocked and highly mountainous, lying within the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 m (1,640 ft), and its highest point is 3,798 m (12,461 ft). The majority of the population speaks local Bavarian dialects as their native language, and German in its standard form is the country's official language. Other regional languages are Hungarian, Burgenland Croatian, and Slovene.


After Bonaparte's capture of the fortress of Mantua in early February 1797, he cleared his south flank by crushing the army of the Papal States. Reinforced with forces from the Rhine front, Bonaparte was determined to drive the Austrian army from northeast Italy. His offensive began in March and consisted of a secondary drive through the County of Tyrol by Barthélemy Catherine Joubert's left wing and an eastward thrust by Bonaparte's main army.

Papal States Territories mostly in the Appenine Peninsula under the sovereign direct rule of the pope between 752–1870

The Papal States, officially the State of the Church, were a series of territories in the Italian Peninsula under the direct sovereign rule of the Pope, from the 8th century until 1870. They were among the major states of Italy from roughly the 8th century until the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia successfully unified the Italian Peninsula by conquest in a campaign virtually concluded in 1861 and definitively in 1870. At their zenith, the Papal States covered most of the modern Italian regions of Lazio, Marche, Umbria and Romagna, and portions of Emilia. These holdings were considered to be a manifestation of the temporal power of the pope, as opposed to his ecclesiastical primacy.

Rhine Campaign of 1796 Last campaign of the War of the First Coalition, part of the French Revolutionary Wars

In the Rhine Campaign of 1796, two First Coalition armies under the overall command of Archduke Charles outmaneuvered and defeated two French Republican armies. This was the last campaign of the War of the First Coalition, part of the French Revolutionary Wars.

County of Tyrol Former county of Austria

The (Princely) County of Tyrol was an estate of the Holy Roman Empire established about 1140. Originally a jurisdiction under the sovereignty of the Counts of Tyrol, it was inherited by the Counts of Gorizia in 1253 and finally fell to the Austrian House of Habsburg in 1363. In 1804 the Princely County of Tyrol, unified with the secularised Prince-Bishoprics of Trent and Brixen, became a crown land of the Austrian Empire in 1804 and from 1867 a Cisleithanian crown land of Austria-Hungary.

The main French army soon drove the archduke's forces into headlong retreat while Joubert battled with Wilhelm Lothar Maria von Kerpen in the Tyrol. Charles tried to hold the Tarvis Pass against the French by sending three columns of reinforcements, but they found the pass held by Masséna's French forces. While many Austrian troops fought their way out, the last column was trapped between three converging French divisions and compelled to surrender. A subsequent advance brought the French within 75 miles (121 km) of the Austrian capital of Vienna. In mid-April, Bonaparte proposed and the Austrians agreed to the Preliminaries of Leoben. Most of the terms were ratified by the Treaty of Campo Formio in October 1797, ending the long war.

Wilhelm Lothar Maria, Freiherr von Kerpen joined the army of Habsburg Austria and rose to the rank of general officer during the French Revolutionary Wars. He led a brigade under Prince Josias of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld during the War of the First Coalition. In the spring of 1796 he transferred to Italy where he commanded a brigade at the start of the Montenotte Campaign. Later that year he was ordered to help defend the County of Tyrol. After being promoted to Feldmarschall-Leutnant, he led a force against Barthélemy Catherine Joubert's French corps at Salorno, Klausen, and Brixen in March 1797. That year he became Proprietor (Inhaber) of Infantry Regiment Nr. 49, a position he held until his death.

Vienna Capital of Austria

Vienna is the federal capital, largest city and one of nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primate city, with a population of about 1.9 million, and its cultural, economic, and political centre. It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants. Today it is the second largest German-speaking city after Berlin and just before Hamburg. Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC. The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary. These regions work together in a European Centrope border region. Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants. In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Treaty of Campo Formio 1797 treaty between Napoleonic France and Habsburg Austria

The Treaty of Campo Formio was signed on 18 October 1797 by Napoleon Bonaparte and Count Philipp von Cobenzl as representatives of the French Republic and the Austrian monarchy, respectively. The treaty followed the armistice of Leoben, which had been forced on the Habsburgs by Napoleon's victorious campaign in Italy. It ended the War of the First Coalition and left Great Britain fighting alone against revolutionary France.


Fall of Mantua

On 2 February 1797, the Siege of Mantua ended when Feldmarschall Dagobert Sigmund von Wurmser surrendered the fortress of Mantua. In recognition of his doughty defense, Wurmser, his staff, and an escort of 700 soldiers were allowed free passage to Austrian lines. An additional 20,000 Austrians were paroled on the promise that they would not fight against France until exchanged. The siege cost the garrison 16,333 killed, wounded, or died of disease. The French captured 325 artillery pieces in Mantua and recovered 179 of their own guns that were lost earlier in the siege. [1]

Dagobert Sigmund von Wurmser austrian marshall

Dagobert Sigismund, Count von Wurmser was an Austrian field marshal during the French Revolutionary Wars. Although he fought in the Seven Years' War, the War of the Bavarian Succession, and mounted several successful campaigns in the Rhineland in the initial years of the French Revolutionary Wars, he is probably most remembered for his unsuccessful operations against Napoleon Bonaparte during the 1796 campaign in Italy.

Mantua Comune in Lombardy, Italy

Mantua is a city and comune in Lombardy, Italy, and capital of the province of the same name.

General of Division Napoleon Bonaparte was not present for the capitulation, having left a few days earlier to press the war against the Papal States. Following instructions from Bonaparte, General of Division Jean-Mathieu-Philibert Sérurier refused to amend the initial French surrender proposals. At length, Wurmser acquiesced and accepted Bonaparte's terms. Columns of disarmed Austrians marched out of Mantua on 4, 5, and 6 February. [2]

Jean-Mathieu-Philibert Sérurier French soldier and political figure who rose to the rank of Marshal of France

Jean-Mathieu-Philibert Sérurier, 1st Comte Sérurier led a division in the War of the First Coalition and became a Marshal of France under Emperor Napoleon. He was born into the minor nobility and in 1755 joined the Laon militia which was soon sent to fight in the Seven Years' War. After transferring into the regular army as an ensign, he was wounded at Warburg in 1760. He fought in the Spanish-Portuguese War in 1762. He married in 1779 after a promotion to captain. A newly minted major in 1789, the French Revolution sped up promotion so that he was colonel of the regiment in 1792. After leading Army of Italy troops in a number of actions, he became a general of brigade in 1793 and a general of division the following year.

French offensive

Meanwhile, important events were taking place elsewhere. On 3 February, a 9,000-man French column under General of Division Claude Perrin Victor crushed a 7,000-strong Papal States force led by Feldmarschall-Leutnant Michelangelo Alessandro Colli-Marchi in the Battle of Faenza (Battle of Castel Bolognese). For the loss of only 100 men, the French inflicted 800 killed and wounded on their enemies and captured 1,200 soldiers, 14 guns, 8 colors, and 8 caissons. On 9 February, the 1,200-man Papal States garrison of Ancona surrendered to Victor. [1] Bonaparte soon forced the Pope to agree to the Treaty of Tolentino, compelling the Papal States to disgorge 30 million francs. [3]

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.

The Battle of Faenza or Battle of Castel Bolognese on 3 or 4 February 1797 saw a 7,000-man force from the Papal States commanded by Michelangelo Alessandro Colli-Marchi who faced a 9,000-strong French corps under Claude Victor-Perrin. The veteran French troops decisively defeated the Papal army, inflicting disproportionate casualties. The town of Castel Bolognese is located on the banks of the Senio River 40 kilometres (25 mi) southeast of Bologna. The city of Faenza is also nearby. The action took place during the War of the First Coalition, part of the French Revolutionary Wars.

Ancona city and seaport in central Italy

Ancona is a city and a seaport in the Marche region in central Italy, with a population of around 101,997 as of 2015. Ancona is the capital of the province of Ancona and of the region. The city is located 280 km (170 mi) northeast of Rome, on the Adriatic Sea, between the slopes of the two extremities of the promontory of Monte Conero, Monte Astagno and Monte Guasco.

Napoleon Bonaparte 1801 Antoine-Jean Gros - Bonaparte on the Bridge at Arcole.jpg
Napoleon Bonaparte

During 1796, the campaign in Germany had received priority in terms of French troop reinforcements. But after a significant lack of success in the Rhine theater, the French government in Paris belatedly decided to send reinforcements to Italy. Generals of Division Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte and Antoine Guillaume Delmas were transferred to the Italian front with their troops.

Although the new Austrian commander in Italy, Feldmarschall Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen had 50,000 troops, they were distributed over a wide front. Bonaparte was determined to attack Charles before the Austrians were ready. Having 60,000 men available, Bonaparte planned to attack through Friuli with two-thirds of these troops. The French commander posted General of Division Barthélemy Joubert with about 20,000 troops to protect the Tyrol against a possible Austrian attack in that quarter. If no threat developed, Joubert was ordered to rendezvous with Bonaparte in the Drava River valley. [4]

With General of Division Pierre Augereau on leave, General of Division Jean Joseph Guieu assumed command of his division. Generals of Division André Masséna, Bernadotte, and Sérurier also marched with Bonaparte's main body. At the end of February, the French advance began with he crossing of the Brenta River. [4] The weather enforced a suspension of operations, but on 10 March, the French drove forward again in two columns. Bonaparte took 32,000 troops through Sacile, aiming for Valvasone. Guarding the left flank were Masséna and 11,000 more men. Charles deployed his main force between Spilimbergo and San Vito al Tagliamento. On the 14th, Masséna clashed with a small force of Austrians under General-major Franz Joseph, Marquis de Lusignan. [5]

On 16 February 1797, the divisions of Guieu and Bernadotte attacked across the Tagliamento River under cover of artillery fire. [5] In the Battle of Valvasone, the French inflicted 700 casualties on their foes and captured six guns. The next day, Bernadotte scored a coup at Gradisca d'Isonzo when he cut off and forced a 2,500-man enemy column to surrender. Three battalions of the Hoch und Deutschmeister Infantry Regiment Nr. 4, one battalion of the Splényi Infantry Regiment Nr. 51, 10 guns, and 8 colors fell into French hands. [6]

Meanwhile, about 300 kilometres (186 mi) to the west, Joubert and 18,000 men clashed with Feldmarschall-Leutnant Wilhelm Lothar Maria von Kerpen's 12,000 troops on 20 March at St. Michael, [7] near present-day Salorno, Italy. Kerpen's Austrian force included five battalions in two regular infantry regiments plus elements of a third, three squadrons of dragoons, and 5,000 Tyrolese militia. In the battle, Joubert's troops routed their opponents inflicting losses of 300 killed and wounded plus 3,500 captured, while suffering 200 French killed and wounded. [6]


Andre Massena played a key role in trapping the Austrians. Renault - Andre Massena, duc de Rivoli, prince d'Essling, marechal de France (1756-1817).jpg
André Masséna played a key role in trapping the Austrians.

As Masséna pushed toward Tarvisio (Tarvis), driving Lusignan before him, the Archduke sent three divisions to hold the pass. However, as they arrived in the vicinity the Austrians found themselves caught between Masséna and Bonaparte's other divisions which operated against their rear. [5] In the first clash on 21 March, Masséna's advance guard pushed General-major Joseph Ocskay von Ocsko's Austrians out of Tarvis, blocking the escape route. Later that day, General-major Charles Philippe Vinchant de Gontroeul appeared with another column and drove the French from Tarvis. Masséna launched a heavy assault on the 22nd, dispossessing Gontroeul of the town and forcing him to withdraw toward Villach. [8]

This left Feldmarschall-Leutnant Adam Bajalics von Bajahaza's Austrian column on the wrong side of the pass. Bajalics and General-major Samuel Köblös de Nagy-Varád battled on 22 March against the divisions of Masséna, Guieu, and Sérurier. The next day they surrendered 4,000 Austrian soldiers, 25 artillery pieces, and 500 wagons. [8] According to another source, the French captured 3,500 Austrians, 25 guns, and 400 vehicles. In the different clashes, the French suffered 1,200 casualties while inflicting a loss of 1,000 killed and wounded on their opponents. [6]

The 3rd Battalion of the Klebek Infantry Regiment Nr. 14, 4th Battalion of the Archduke Anton Infantry Regiment Nr. 52, and Khevenhüller Grenadier Battalion were captured. Other Austrian units involved in the fighting were two battalions of the Fürstenburg Infantry Regiment Nr. 36, three battalions of the Nadásdy Infantry Regiment Nr. 39, Rüdt Grenadier Battalion, four squadrons of the Erdödy Hussar Regiment Nr. 11, and one squadron of the Toscana Dragoon Regiment Nr. 26. [6]


Archduke Charles proved unable to stop Bonaparte's offensive. Archdukecharles1.jpg
Archduke Charles proved unable to stop Bonaparte's offensive.

While Bernadotte pursued the part of Charles' army that retreated toward Ljubljana (Laybach), General of Division Charles Dugua occupied the port of Trieste with a cavalry column. With his supply line lengthening, Bonaparte created a new center of operations at Palmanova. [5] To prevent his strategic left flank from being molested, Bonaparte ordered Joubert to secure Brixen. At this time General of Division Louis François Jean Chabot took over the division of Sérurier, who was ill. On 29 March, divisions of Masséna, Guieu, and Chabot captured Klagenfurt. [9]

With too few troops available for an offensive, Bonaparte changed his center of operations to Klagenfurt and ordered the independent columns of Joubert, Bernadotte, and Victor (from the Papal States) to join him there. General of Brigade Louis Friant was assigned to hold Trieste with 1,500 soldiers. On 31 March Bonaparte sent a letter to Archduke Charles asking for an armistice. He hoped that this would gain time for General of Division Jean Victor Marie Moreau's offensive in Germany to get started. To bluff Charles into thinking the French were in great strength, Bonaparte drove his men forward. On 7 April they seized Leoben, only 75 miles (121 km) from Vienna. On that day the Austrians agreed to a five-day suspension of hostilities. [9]

After securing an additional five-day truce on the 13th, Bonaparte proposed the start of negotiations on 16 April, even though he had no authority to do so. Aware that the French were on the brink of launching an offensive on the Rhine, the Austrians signed the Preliminaries of Leoben on the 18th. Most of the terms of this agreement were confirmed by the Treaty of Campo Formio on 17 October 1797. [10] The armistice was followed by pointless fighting on the Rhine. On the 18th, a French army under General of Division Lazare Hoche defeated Feldmarschall-Leutnant Franz von Werneck's forces at the Battle of Neuwied. Moreau's army finally lurched into action on 20 and 21 April when it drove back the troops of Feldmarschall-Leutnant Anton Count Sztáray de Nagy-Mihaly in the Battle of Diersheim. [11]

During the fighting at Tarvis, Joubert's column continued to advance. The French general repulsed an attack by General-major Johann Ludwig Alexius von Loudon at Neumarkt on 21 March. Dropping off Delmas' 5,000-man division to guard his supply line, Joubert pressed forward to Klausen where he again defeated Kerpen on the 22nd. The Austrian retreated northeast to Mittenwald where he was beaten again on 28 March and pushed out of Sterzing. With the Tyrolese militia turning out in droves to fight the French invaders, Joubert was compelled to fall back to Brixen. On 31 March, Kerpen attacked the French at Brixen but was unable to dislodge them. After being reinforced to 12,000 men by the arrival of Laudon's brigade, Kerpen again assaulted Brixen on 2 April without success. Nevertheless, under continuing pressure, Delmas withdrew from Bolzano (Bozen) on 4 April. The next day, Joubert set out for Villach and the appointed junction with Bonaparte. After continuous skirmishing with the Tyroleans, his column reached there on 8 May, well after the Leoben agreement. During Joubert's campaign French losses may have reached as high as 8,000 men. [12]


  1. 1 2 Smith (1998), 132-133
  2. Boycott-Brown (2001), 521-522
  3. Chandler (1966), 121
  4. 1 2 Chandler (1966), 122
  5. 1 2 3 4 Chandler (1966), 123
  6. 1 2 3 4 Smith (1998), 133-134
  7. Sargent (1895), 140
  8. 1 2 Smith & Kudrna, Köblös de Nagy-Varád, Samuel
  9. 1 2 Chandler (1966), 124
  10. Chandler (1966), 125
  11. Smith (1998), 134-135
  12. Smith & Kudrna, Kerpen, Wilhelm Lothar Maria von

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