Battle of Bassano, 8 September 1796

The battle of Bassano (8 September 1796) was a French victory won at the point where the River Brenta emerged from its mountain valley onto the plains north-west of Venice, and which ended the second Austrian attempt to lift the siege of Mantua. That attempt had begun at the start of September when Field Marshal Würmser led two divisions down the Brenta valley from Trento. His aim was to join up with a third division (General Mészáros) at Bassano, and then turn south-west towards Legnago and Mantua.

At exactly the same time Napoleon had begun an advance up the Adige valley, heading for Germany to join up with the Army of the Rhine. When he reached Trento Napoleon discovered Würmser's plan. Rather than retrace his steps down the Adige valley, Napoleon decide to follow Würmser down the Brenta, taking advantage of his army's superior speed to catch him. One French division (Vaubois) was left around Trento to watch Davidovich's covering army.

Austrian Relief of Mantua, 1796-97
Austrian Relief of Mantua,
1796-97

By the end of 6 September the Austrians were badly strung out. Mészáros had been sent ahead to Vicenza, Sebottendorf's division was at Bassano, and Quosdanovich was at Primolano, fourteen miles inside the mountains. Early on the next day Napoleon's leading units caught up with Quosdanovich (battle of Primolano, 7 September 1796), taking several hundred prisoners. After this first success the French spent the rest of the day completing their march through the mountains, and on the morning of 8 September they were ready to attack the Austrian positions around Bassano.

When Würmser discovered that Napoleon was close behind him he decided to continue his march towards Vicenza. Quosdanovich and General Adam Bajalich were left behind to cover the approaches to Bassano, taking up positions about a mile upstream of the town, just at the start of the high ground. Behind them the river curves around to the west, with Bassano on the east bank.

At dawn on 8 September the French advanced down both banks of the river, Masséna on the western (right) bank and Augereau on the eastern (left) bank. Both French attacks were successful. Masséna forced Bajalich back to the bridge at Bassano, splitting the Austrian force in two. Augereau forced his way into the town, where the Austrian retreat turned chaotic. Quosdanovich was forced to retreat east to Treviso, while Würmser and the larger part of the army escaped south west to Vicenza.

The French claimed to have taken 5,000 prisoners at Bassano, probably more Austrians than had actually been involved. On the day before the battle Würmser's merged army had been 20,000 strong. Six days later he reached Mantua with around 12,000 men. 1,700-2,000 had been left at Legnago, and a larger force escaped with Quosdanovich, suggesting that the figure was somewhat lower, but even so Napoleon had taken at least 3,000 prisoners, split the Austrian army in two, and foiled the second Austrian attempt to lift the siege of Mantua.

In the aftermath of the battle Würmser managed to reach safety at Mantua, despite pausing for a day at Legnago. On 14-15 September he turned and fought another battle outside the defences (battle of San Giorgio), but was defeated again and had to take refuge inside the besieged city.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (30 January 2009), Battle of Bassano, 8 September 1796 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_bassano_1796.html

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