Battle of Caldiero, 12 November 1796

The battle of Caldiero (12 November 1796) was a rare French defeat during Napoleons' campaign in Italy in 1796-97, and saw an Austrian army under General Joseph Alvinczy repel a French attempt to push them back from the approaches to Verona during the third Austrian attempt to lift the siege of Mantua.

Alvinczy had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Austrian armies in Italy after the disastrous end of Field Marshal Würmser's second attempt to lift the siege of Mantua, which saw Würmser forced to seek refuge in the city he had been attempting to save. Alvinczy inherited a divided army. General Davidovich had 17,000-20,000 men in the Tyrol, while General Quosdanovich had 27,000-30,000 men at Friuli, at the north eastern corner of the north Italian plain. Alvinczy decided to use both armies in his attempt to lift the siege. At the start of November he led Quosdanovich's army south west toward Vicenza, while Davidovich advanced down the Adige valley. The two Austrian armies were to unit at Verona and then turn south to reach Mantua.

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

At first the Austrian plan was successful. Davidovich was able to force General Vaubois to retreat down the Adige Valley, while Masséna and Augereau were defeated on the Brenta River (6 November) and were forced back towards Verona, where they were joined by Napoleon.

By the end of 11 November Alvinczy's army was stretched out along the Verona-Vicenza road, with the head of the army at Caldiero and the tail six miles to the east at Villanova. Napoleon, with Masséna's and Augereau's divisions, was advancing east from Verona.

The French attack began in poor weather on the morning of 12 November. Masséna attacked the Austrian right (north) at Colognola, while Augereau attacked their left around the town of Caldiero. At the start of the battle the Austrians were slightly outnumbered, with around 4,000 men under Friedrich Franz Fürst von Hohenzollern on the left and a similar number of Grenzer (border troops) on the right.

Both French attacks began well. After a series of attacks Augereau captured Caldiero at about noon, while Masséna was able to force the Austrian right back on the heights above Colognola. An attack on this new Austrian position failed, partly because the French were attacking straight into a snow storm and partly because of a lack of artillery.

By noon sizable Austrian reinforcements were arriving. Alvinczy decided to attack around the French right (south), using Schubirz's and Provera's brigade in an attempt to envelope the entire French army. If the Austrians had managed to force their way around the French right, then Masséna and Augereau might have been trapped in the Illasi valley, which runs north from Caldiero into the mountains. Realising this, Napoleon ordered a general retreat, and the French pulled back towards Verona. The French suffered around 2,000 casualties during the battle, slightly more than the Austrians.

Napoleon was now in a very dangerous position. Further up the Adige River Davidovich was slowly pushing Vaubois back towards Verona, while Alvinczy was advancing west towards the fortified city. A more conventional leader than Napoleon would have been faced with a choice between abandoning the siege of Mantua and pulling back to the west or attempting to resist a siege within Verona, but Napoleon found a third alternative. While Alvinczy moved slowly west towards Verona, Napoleon slipped away to south bank of the Adige, then advanced east to launch an attack of Alvinczy's vulnerable lines of communication at Villanova (battle of Arcola, 15-17 November 1796). Napoleon's victory at Arcola ended any real chance that the two Austrian armies could unit, and Alvinczy was soon forced to retreat back to the north east.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 February 2009), Battle of Caldiero, 12 November 1796, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_caldiero.html

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