Battle of Ceva, 16-17 April 1796

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The battle of Ceva (16 April 1796) was a rare setback for Napoleon during the first stage of his campaign in Italy in 1796. At the start of the campaign Napoleon was faced with the problem of crossing the Alps or Apennine mountains in the face of a larger Austrian and Piedmontese army. He solved this problem by attacked across the Apennines into the gap between the two armies, and with a series of victories at Montenotte (12 April), Millesimo (13-14 April) and Dego (14-15 April) forced the two armies to retreat. This forced the Austrians to move north back towards their base at Alessandria while the Piedmontese had to pull back west through the mountains to Ceva.

The Piedmontese had a strong defensive position at Ceva. At its southern end, on the River Tanaro, was the citadel of Ceva and the walled town. An armed camp then stretched north for four miles along a steep sided ridge, reaching up to La Pedaggera (at the northern end of the ridge) and Bricchi Berico (possibly on a spur of the hills heading off to the north west, but this location is not easy to identify). On 16 April this strong series of fortifications was held by 6,000 men under the command of General Giuseppe Felice, count Vitali. The main Piedmontese army had moved further west, to a better placed fortified position at Mondovi.

Napoleon's entry into Italy, 1796
Napoleon's entry into
Italy, 1796

After the final victory at Dego on 15 April Napoleon split his forces. General Augereau's division, which had fought at Millesimo, continued to move west to press the Piedmontese. Napoleon himself spent most of the day making sure the Austrians were really retreating from Dego.

At midday on 16 April the French attacked the camp at Dego. The attack was made in several columns. Joubert's brigade was sent around the northern end of the line, two columns under Augereau attacked La Pedaggera and Bric Bastia and General Rusca attacked to the south. The French achieved some successes – Bric Bastia was temporarily captured, while Rusca's column found a gap in the Piedmontese line, but both of these successes were short lived.

At the end of the day the Piedmontese still held their original positions. The French had suffered 600 casualties, while the Piedmontese only lost 150 men, but on the night after the battle Vitali pulled out of the lines and joined Colli in the retreat towards Mondovi. Five days later the combined Piedmontese army suffered a heavy defeat there (battle of Mondovi, 21 April 1796) and two days later Colli requested an armistice. In the Armistice at Cheracso of 28 April 1796 Piedmont withdrew from the war, leaving Napoleon free to turn against the Austrians.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 January 2009), Battle of Ceva, 16-17 April 1796 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_ceva.html

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