Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Battle of Arcole, or Battle of Arcola (15–17 November 1796)!

Title: Battle of Arcole
Start Time: 11:30 am
Host: Tom Garnett
Rules: Carnage and Glory II (Computer assisted)
Scale: 28 mm
Number of Players: 6 Table Size: 10’ x 6’

Event Description:
Battle of the Bridge of Arcole
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
Arcole vernet.jpg
Napoleon Bonaparte leading his troops over the bridge of Arcole, by Horace Vernet.
Date15 to 17 November 1796
LocationArcole, present-day Italy
ResultFrench victory
France FranceHabsburg Monarchy Austria
Commanders and leaders
Napoleon BonaparteJózsef Alvinczi
Casualties and losses
3,500 dead or wounded
1,300 captured or missing
2,200 dead or wounded
4,000 men & 11 guns captured
The Battle of Arcole, or Battle of Arcola (15–17 November 1796), saw a bold manoeuvre by Napoleon Bonaparte to outflank the Austrian army under József Alvinczi and cut its line of retreat. This French victory occurred during the third Austrian attempt to lift the Siege of Mantua during the French Revolutionary Wars

You can see more on the siege of Mantua here;

Siege of Mantua, 1796-97: Vauban's Wars playtest

Arcola 1796 Campaign Order of Battle

In the Battle of Arcola on 15 to 17 November 1796, the French Army of Italy commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte won a victory over the army of Austria led by Jozsef Alvinczi. The battle was part the third relief of the Siege of Mantua in which Alvinczi's army repulsed Bonaparte at the Second Battle of Bassano on 6 November and at the Battle of Caldiero on 12 November. Meanwhile, Paul Davidovich's Austrian Tyrol Corps clashed with Claude Vaubois' French division at Cembra on 2 November. Davidovich defeated Vaubois at the Battle of Calliano on 6-7 November and Rivoli Veronese on 17 November. After Bonaparte's triumph at Arcola, he turned on the Tyrol Corps, beat it at Rivoli on 21 November, and forced it to retreat north into the mountains.

Infamous General Brian surveys the field asking "What's a Dyke, and how the Hell does one move on these things?

Arcole -- the dyke This view shows the dyke along which General Augereau's division had to advance in order to try and cross the bridge, which is just to the left of the camera

On Saturday, June 4th, I had the privilege of attending the game of Arcole/Arcola at the NOVAG Games Day in Chantilly, VA. The game was originally scheduled to be the "Battle of Rivoli" as I mentioned in a previous post, but was rescheduled due to time constraints. Once again Tom Garnett provided everything and was an excellent host and GM. He even treated me to dinner after the battle was over.  It doesn't get more gracious than that! The scenario was for the third day of the battle;

Third day

On 17 November, Alvinczi withdrew Hohenzollern to Caldiero, closer to his main body. Again, Provera held Belfiore while Mittrowsky defended Arcole. During the night, Bonaparte's engineers floated some pontoons into the Alpone where they built a bridge near its mouth. Augereau's division crossed the bridge and began fighting its way along the eastern dike. A French battalion and some cavalry also set out from Legnago and joined Augereau later in the day. Meanwhile, two of Masséna's demi-brigades led by BG Jean Robert attacked along the western dike.

By early afternoon, Masséna drubbed Provera near Belfiore again. Alvinczi recalled both Provera and Hohenzollern toward the east and began feeding some of the latter's troops into the combat at Arcole. There, the battle went back and forth all day. At 3 pm, a large column of Austrian reinforcements surged out of Arcole and drove back the troops under Robert. Augereau's men on the east bank saw this development and also fell back. By 4 pm, Augereau's rattled division pulled back across the pontoon bridge to the west bank.

Just when the day seemed lost, Masséna appeared with reinforcements from the western flank. With these, he ambushed the Austrians on the western dike and sent them reeling back toward Arcole. Heartened, Augereau's men recrossed to the east bank of the Alpone and renewed the fight. Masséna and Augereau finally battled their way into Arcole around 5 pm. A lieutenant and 25 Guides aided the final attack by riding into the Austrian rear area and blowing several bugles to create the impression of a large force. The French followed up their success by advancing north and threatening to block the main east-west highway. Alvinczi threw in Schübirz's brigade to hold off the French, and this allowed Provera's division to escape.

French Army

Napoleon Bonaparte

Austrian Army

József Alvinczi

Arcole / Arcola initial Austrian positions!

Arcole -- the bridge The modern bridge at Arcole, looking over the Alpone to the village itself.

The famous bridge along the dykes leading from Arcole (The French Left Flank)!

A view of all the dykes leading to the city. I'll command the Left Flank under Massena, while General Brian commands the Right Flank.
The River Alpone at Arcole The Alpone seen from the bridge at Arcole, looking northwards. The narrowness of the watercourse may not be obvious from the picture. Taken on a grim day in June.

The view from the Austrian lines. (Initial setup)

A view from General Brian's positions.

My troops first move ending positions on the dyke. 

A closer view of Tom's beautiful troops which are a pleasure to play with.

The Austrians prepare to defend!

General Brian's troops (Augereau) come up to skirmish first turn.

As reinforcements come up the dyke, bringing much needed guns!

Popular lore;

This action of the 1796 Italian campaign concerned much more than the crossing of a bridge, though the bridge tends to figure largely in paintings of the battle, usually for dramatic reasons. It seems likely that the paintings that show Bonaparte actually crossing the bridge owe more to artistic interpretation than fact. Not that being on the bridge itself would have been any more heroic: several of the men standing around Napoleon at the time were killed and wounded, and he was extremely lucky to escape unharmed, though according to one source he was toppled from his horse and ended in the mud at the edge of the marsh. Bonaparte's aide-de-camp, who was killed on the first day of the battle, later had the French frigate Muiron named after him.