Battle of Borgetto, 30 May 1796

The battle of Borgetto (30 May 1796) was the final French victory in the second stage of Napoleon's campaign in Italy in 1796-97, and forced the Austrian army of Field Marshal Jean-Pierre Freiherr Beaulieu to retreat into the Tyrol, temporarily abandoning most of northern Italy to the French.

The first stage of Napoleon's campaign, in April 1796, had seen him knock Piedmont out of the war, leaving the Austrians to defend the line of the Po. At the start of May Napoleon outflanked the Austrians, crossing the Po at Piacenza, east of their main positions. Beaulieu was forced to retreat east. An attempt to hold the line of the Adda was foiled when Napoleon's men fought their way across the bridge at Lodi (10 May 1796), and Beaulieu retreated to the line of the River Mincio.

Napoleon's crossing of the Po, 1796
Napoleon's crossing
of the Po, 1796

This was potentially a very good defensive position. The Austrian left was protected by the fortress of Mantua, soon to resist a French siege for eight months. The right was protected by Lake Garda and the fortress of Peschiera. Only four bridges crossed the Mincio, including one at Borgetto. The only weakness in the Austrian position was that their line of retreat ran behind their right flank, up the valley of the Adige into the Tyrol. This forced Beaulieu to concentrate most of his men on his right flank, between Valeggio and Peschiera. A detached force under General Colli was posted further south at Goito.

Napoleon decided to cross the river using the bridge at Borgetto, opposite the left wing of the main Austrian force at Valeggio. The French attack began from a starting point at Castiglione (ten miles to the west of Valeggio). General Kilmaine with Masséna in support was sent east to capture the bridge. Augereau's division was sent north east to threaten Peschiera and General Sérurier was sent south east to Guidizzolo.

The bridge at Borgetto was defended by a single battalion, the Infantry Regiment Strassoldo, with only two guns, but despite this the Austrians managed to hold onto this vital position for two hours. The deadlock was broken by General Gaspard Gardanne, who led a force of grenadiers across a weakly defended ford further down stream and attacked the Austrian left flank.

The Austrians pulled back into Valeggio, and it took several hours of street fighting to clear them out, but by noon both banks of the river were in French hands. Napoleon himself may have come close to being captured during the fighting in Valeggio, and it was after this battle that he established his headquarters escort.

Beaulieu was now forced to begin his retreat up the Adige. A number of successful charges by the Neapolitan cavalry, and a counterattack by the Austrian infantry reserve helped win him time, but the line of Napoleon's attack, around the Austrian left, made Beaulieu's task easier.

Beaulieu's retreat into the Tyrol left Mantua as the only Austrian stronghold left in Italy. The long siege of Mantua began on 4 June, and would stretch into the following year. The Austrians would make four attempts to lift the siege, each of which ended in failure.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 January 2009), Battle of Borgetto, 30 May 1796 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_borgetto.html

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