Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Battle of Montenotte, 1796 Napoleon's First Battle!

Napoleon as General. Lead Medal 1796. " Battle of Montenotte." by Gayrard and Jeuffroy. UNC.

 Battle of Montenotte 
Part of the French Revolutionary War Attack On Monte Legino Redoubt.jpgAttack on the redoubt of Monte-Legino by Guiseppe Pietro Bagetti (1764-1831)
Date 12 April 1796
Location Montenotte Superiore, present-day Italy


France French Republic
Habsburg Monarchy Habsburg Austria
 Kingdom of Sardinia  

Commanders and leaders: 

Napoleon Bonaparte
André Masséna 
Amédée Laharpe 
Antoine Rampon
Eugène Argenteau
Mathias Rukavina 

Strengths  10,000,18 guns, 4,500, 12 guns 
Casualties and losses 880, vs. 2,500

In his first independent command, 26-year-old General Bonaparte used surprise, maneuver, hard marching, and the inspiration of his personal charisma (plus the lure of rich loot to be had in prosperous Lombardy) to lead the rag-tag Army of Italy to a series of astonishing victories over the more numerous and better-equipped Austrian and Piedmontese armies.

On 11 April 1796, an Austrian column of 9,000 men under the command of d'Argenteau attempted to force its way south through these hills, the "Appenino Savonese," to the town of Savona on the Mediterranean in order to cut off the French right wing threatening Genoa. Colonel Rampon, with one battalion each from the 1st Légère and 21st Ligne (about 1,200 men) made an heroic stand on Monte Legino, blocking the road and bottling up d'Argenteau's column in the valley. Masséna, advancing from Altare in the Bormida valley, hit the right flank and rear of d'Argenteau's column at Montenotte Superiore on 12 April, inflicting 1,000 casualties and sending the survivors reeling over the hills in disorderly retreat. When asked in later years about his bloodline, Napoleon simply remarked, "My nobility dates from Montenotte."

Colonel Rampon Defending Monte Legino Redoubt by René Théodore Berthon (1776-1859)

Montenotte fought on 12 April 1796 was the first battle where Bonaparte was not only in command, but executed a battle plan that proved he was worthy of his position. Although he was planning an offensive the Austrians got the jump on him by executing their own. They made a three prong attack on the French in early April and the center column under Argenteau caught his attention when they failed to break through at Monte Negino (incorrectly referred to as Monte Legino by some sources).

Bonaparte believed Argenteau would fall back to the area around Montenotte that was just north of Monte Negino and sent Rampon to attack the left flank of the Austrians and La Harpe would conduct a frontal assault. Masséna would then attack the right flank.

An early morning fog played right into Bonaparte's hands. Masséna was able to attack and take Bric Castlas before Argenteau could even see him. Realizing his right flank was now gone Argenteau quickly ordered a withdrawal.

The approximate size of the available forces were 6,000 Austrians and 9,000 French. The next day Argenteau was barely able to muster 700 men.

Topographic map showing the rugged hills between Montenotte Superiore (top) and Monte Negino (Legino) (south of the red compass rose). From Valli del Bormida/Appenino Savonese, in the series Carta dei Sentieri e Rifugi 1:25000, Istituto Geografico Militare, Firenze.


During the spring of 1796, the politically connected Bonaparte arrived to take over the Army of Italy, his first army command. His Austrian opponent, Feldzeugmeister Johann Beaulieu was also new to the Italian theater of operations. Beaulieu's ally, the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont also fielded an army against the French.

Bonaparte planned to advance from the Ligurian coast to drive a wedge between Beaulieu's 28,000-man Austrian army to the northeast and Feldmarschal-Leutnant (FML) Michelangelo Colli's 21,000-strong Austro-Sardinian army to the northwest. Colli, an Austrian on loan to the Sardinian army, shared a friendship with Beaulieu.

However, the Austrian government secretly warned Beaulieu not to trust his Sardinian ally. This made it difficult for the two allied leaders to agree on a joint strategy. Colli feared an attack that would split the allied armies, exactly the plan that Bonaparte was contemplating. He argued for the allied armies to concentrate in the center. But Beaulieu became convinced that the French intended to seize Genoa, and he intended to thwart that possibility with an attack of his own.

French Army Order of Battle

Army of Italy (France): Napoleon Bonaparte (42,717 in the field, 64,356 total)
  • Cavalry: General of Division Henri Christian Michel de Stengel 
    • 1st Cavalry Division: Henri Stengel (3,090)
      • General of Brigade: Marc Antoine de Beaumont
      • 1st Hussar Regiment (4 squadrons)
      • 10th Chasseur Regiment (4 squadrons)
      • 22nd Chasseur Regiment (4 squadrons)
      • 25th Chasseur Regiment (3 squadrons)
      • 5th Dragoon Regiment (3 squadrons)
      • 20th Dragoon Regiment (3 squadrons)
    • 2nd Cavalry Division: General of Division Charles Edward Jennings de Kilmaine (1,778)
      • 7th Hussar Regiment (4 squadrons)
      • 13th Hussar Regiment (3 squadrons)
      • 24th Chasseur Regiment (4 squadrons)
      • 8th Dragoon Regiment (3 squadrons)
      • 15th Dragoon Regiment (3 squadrons)
  • Advance Guard: General of Division André Masséna
    • 1st Division: General of Division Amédée Emmanuel François Laharpe (8,614)
      • Generals of Brigade: Jean Joseph Magdelaine Pijon, Philippe Romain Ménard
      • 17th Light Demi-Brigade (3 battalions)
      • 22nd Light Demi-Brigade (3 battalions)
      • 32nd Line Demi-Brigade (3 battalions)
      • 75th Line Demi-Brigade (3 battalions)
    • 2nd Division: General of Division Jean Baptiste Meynier (9,526)
  • Not organized into corps:
    • 3rd Division: General of Division Pierre Augereau (10,117)
      • Generals of Brigade: Martial Beyrand, Claude Perrin Victor, Pierre Banel , Jean-Baptiste Dominique Rusca
      • 4th Light Demi-Brigade (2 battalions)
      • 29th Light Demi-Brigade (2 battalions)
      • 4th Line Demi-Brigade (3 battalions)
      • 18th Line Demi-Brigade (3 battalions)
      • 14th Line Demi-Brigade (1 battalion)
    • 4th Division: General of Division Jean-Mathieu-Philibert Sérurier (9,448)
    • 5th Division: General of Division François Macquard (3,690)
      • Generals of Brigade: Jean David, Claude Dallemagne
      • old 22nd Line Demi-Brigade (1 battalion)
      • old 100th Line Demi-Brigade (3 battalions)
    • 6th Division: General of Division Pierre Dominique Garnier (3,136)
      • Generals of Brigade: Jean Davin, Guilin Bizanet, Joseph Colomb
      • old 20th Line Demi-Brigade (3 battalions)
      • old 7th Provisional Demi-Brigade (2 battalions)
    • 7th Division: General of Division André Mouret (4,808)
      • Generals of Brigade: Emmanuel de Serviez, Gaspard Amédée Gardanne, Pierre Verne
      • old 83rd Line Demi-Brigade (3 battalions)
      • old 13th Line Demi-Brigade (1 battalion)
      • old 10th Provisional Demi-Brigade (2 battalions)
      • Grenadiers (1 bn)
    • 8th Division: General of Division Raphael Casabianca (3,125)
      • Generals of Brigade: François Parra, François Guillot
      • old 15th Light Demi-Brigade (3 battalions)
      • old Jura and Hérault Demi-Brigade (1 battalion)
    • 9th Division: General of Division Antoine Casalta (1,045)
      • old 12th Line Demi-Brigade (1 battalion)
      • old 56th Line Demi-Brigade (1 battalion)
    • Reserve: (1,900)
      • 5 battalions


  • Note: It is unknown which brigadiers to whom the demi-brigades were assigned.
  • old = The old numbers of the infantry units. In March 1796, the French army reorganized the demi-brigades and assigned new numbers. Boycott-Brown gives the new numbers while Smith gives the old ones. For example, the new 51st Line Demi-Brigade was formerly the 99th Line.

Liste des généraux de la Révolution et du Premier Empire

Allied Army Order of Battle

Austrian Army: Feldzeugmeister Johann Peter Beaulieu (32,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry, 148 guns)
  • Division: Feldmarschallleutnant Eugène-Guillaume Argenteau
  • Division: Feldmarschallleutnant Karl Philipp Sebottendorf
    • Brigade: Oberst (Colonel) Karl Wetzel (Tortona)
      • Wenzel Colloredo Infantry Regiment Nr. 56 (2 battalions)
      • Mészáros Uhlan Regiment Nr. 1 (2 squadrons)
    • Brigade: Oberst Karl Salisch (Alessandria)
      • Terzi Infantry Regiment Nr. 16 (1 battalion)
      • Lattermann Infantry Regiment Nr. 45 (1 battalion)
      • Stein Infantry Regiment Nr. 50 (1 battalion)
  • Unattached brigades:
    • Brigade: General-Major Wilhelm Kerpen (Pavia)
      • Archduke Anton Infantry Regiment Nr. 52 (2 battalions)
      • Wilhelm Schröder Infantry Regiment Nr. 26 (1 battalion)
      • Huff Infantry Regiment Nr. 8 (1 battalion)
    • Brigade: General-Major Franz Nicoletti (Lodi)
      • Thurn Infantry Regiment Nr. 43 (3 battalions)
      • Michael Wallis Infantry Regiment Nr. 11 (1 battalion)
      • Jordis Infantry Regiment Nr. 59 (1 battalion)
    • Brigade: General-Major Gerhard Rosselmini (Lodi)
      • Deutschmeister Infantry Regiment Nr. 4 (1 battalion)
      • Strassoldo Infantry Regiment Nr. 27 (2 battalions)
    • Cavalry Brigade: General-Major Anton Schübirz von Chobinin (Pavia)
      • Archduke Joseph Hussar Regiment Nr. 2 (10 squadrons)
      • Mészáros Uhlan Regiment Nr. 1 (? squadrons)
    • Brigade: General-Major Philipp Pittoni (Near Novi Ligure)
      • Reisky Infantry Regiment Nr. 13 (3 battalions)
      • Nádasdy Infantry Regiment Nr. 39 (2 battalions)
      • Terzi Infantry Regiment Nr. 16 (1 battalion)
      • Lattermann Infantry Regiment Nr. 45 (1 battalion)
      • Szluiner Grenz Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
    • Neapolitan Cavalry Brigade: Prince di Cuto (Lodi)
      • Rey Cavalry Regiment (4 squadrons)
      • Regina Cavalry Regiment (4 squadrons)
      • Principe Cavalry Regiment (4 squadrons)

Sardinian Army

Sardinian Army: Feldmarschallleutnant Michelangelo Alessandro Colli-Marchi

  • Austrian Auxiliary Corps: Feldmarschallleutnant Giovanni Marchese di Provera[18]
    • Belgiojoso Infantry Regiment Nr. 44 (3 battalions)
    • Strassoldo Grenadier battalion
    • Gyulai Freikorps
  • Division (at Ceva): General Brempt
    • Colonel Colli-Ricci's Light Infantry (1 battalion)
    • Genevois Infantry Regiment
    • Royal Grenadiers Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
    • Royal Allemand Infantry Regiment
    • Acqui Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
  • Division (at Ceva): General Guiseppe Felice, Count Vital
    • Foot Chasseurs
    • Savoy Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
    • Stettler Infantry Regiment (3 battalions)
    • Royal Grenadiers Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
    • Oneglia Infantry Regiment (2 battalion)
    • Piedmontese Freikorps
    • Mondovì Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
  • Division (at Ceva): General Count di Torneforte
    • Tortona Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
    • Mondovì Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
    • Acqui Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
  • Others in the campaign:
    • Commanders: General Jean Dichat de Toisinge , General Count de la Chiusa
    • La Marina Infantry Regiment (2 battalions)
    • Montferrat Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
    • 3rd Grenadiers (1 battalion)


  • Note that Colli-Marchi was an Austrian fighting in the Sardinian army.

Full names of Austrian generals by Digby Smith, compiled by Leopold Kudrna

The "Field of Battle"

French to the (L) Austrians on the (R). Note: Red & Blue markers are for initial setup visibility of 400 paces due to Fog.

French Initial deployments! Note: My Napoleon as First Consul figure. His & the figures first battle.

View towards the Left Flank!

The outskirts of Montenotte. Note: Austrians are not yet deployed.


A better view of my initial deployments & markers, "Not knowing where Austrians were".

View from French L flank to R flank.

A closer view of my secondary axis of advance.

Overall view prior to starting!

1st turn forces arrive. Note: NAPOLEON in Red, plus first Austrian units visable to me so far.

The photo shows the thick woods that covered the area around Montenotte. In the centre of the image are the remains of an old fortification, consisting of stones laid in a circle. The photograph was taken in April 1996, and note that there was still snow on the ground in places.


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