Battle of Magnano, 5 April 1799

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The battle of Magnano (5 April 1799) was a French defeat early in the War of the Second Coalition that ended any chance of their expelling the Austrians from northern Italy before Russian reinforcements could reach the area.

At the end of the War of the First Coalition Austrian had gained all of the Veneto (the land provinces of Venice) east of the Adige River, while the French occupied much of the rest of northern Italy. At the start of the War of the Second Coalition France and Austria each had just under 60,000 men facing each other across the Adige, the French under General Barthélemy Schérer, the Austrians under Feldmarschalleutnant Paul Kray Freiherr von Krajova, while a large Russian army under Field Marshal General Suvorov was on its way to Italy.

The French Directory ordered Schérer to go onto the offensive and to push the Austrians out of Verona and the Veneto before the Russians could arrive. The first French attack came on 26 March (battle of Verona). Schérer managed to cross the Adige above Verona but was forced to withdraw on the day after the battle after his weak left wing was defeated.

Schérer then decided to cross the Adige downstream of Verona, a move that could have isolated the Austrians, but the river crossing proved to be more difficult than expected. Schérer then discovered that the Austrians had come out of Verona and decided to alter his plan. Rather than cross the river the French turned north and advanced towards Verona.

The French advanced in three columns. On the left were 20,000 men in three divisions, two under General Moreau and one under General Sérurier. In the centre was a single division of 7,000 men under General Delmas, and on the right were 14,000 men in two divisions under Generals Victor and Grenier.

Kray had indeed come out of Verona, intending to attack the French as they crossed the river. He now reorganised his force into three small columns of 7,000 men and two reserve columns 10,000 strong. The left and right Austrian columns were thus much weaker than the French forces opposing them, but one of the Austrian reserve columns, under General Hohenzollern, was posted just behind the Austrian right (west).

At first the French were successful. The Austrian left (General Mercandin) ran into Victor and Grenier at Pozzo, south east of Verona. After an inconclusive clash between the French and Austrian infantry a French cavalry attack forced Mercandin to retreat.

In the centre General Kaim advanced through Magnano and ran into Delmas a little further south at Buttapietra. This was the only clash between equal forces, but Delmas was soon joined by part of Moreau's force and Kaim was also forced to retreat.

On the French left Moreau's remaining men were strong enough to stop General Zoph's column, while Sérurier's division clashed with Hohenzollern's reserve force around Isolalta.

At this point honours were about even, but the French were now completely committed while Kray still had the 10,000 men of his central reserve. Part of this reserve was used to reinforce Mercandin, who then made a new attack on Grenier's division while another part attacked Grenier from the west, hitting his left flank. The French right wing was forced to retreat in some confusion.

Elsewhere the French held their ground or pushed the Austrians back, but by the end of the day the French had suffered 4,000 casualties and lost 4,500 prisoners. The Austrians also suffered about 4,000 casualties, but on the day after the battle it was the French who retreated, pulling back across the Oglio River, leaving garrisons in Mantua and Peschiera.  

After the battle Schérer resigned and was replaced by Moreau, while Kray was rewarded with promotion to Field Marshal. In mid April Suvorov and the Russians arrived, and the Allied army advanced west towards Milan. At the end of April Moreau was defeated at Cassano and the Allied entered Milan. In one month Napoleon's conquests of 1796 had been undone.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 February 2009), Battle of Magnano, 5 April 1799 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_magnano.html

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