The combat of Ospedaletto (11 April 1809) was the first significant fighting during the War of the Fifth Coalition, and saw the Austrians under Archduke John push back part of the French Army of Italy during the early stages of their invasion of Italy.
When the war began the French Army of Italy was already concentrated in the north east of the Kingdom of Italy, with one division at Udine and Broussier's division on the Tagliamento River, with outposts in the Fella valley to the north.
Archduke John, with two corps of regular troops, or around 50,000 men, was sent across the Julian Alps to invade Italy. This was about half as many men as Napoleon had expected the Austrians to send into Italy, but it would still prove to be a large enough army to cause the French a great deal of discomfort.
The first contact came on 10 April, when the Austrians attacked Broussier's outposts in the Fella valley and captured Chiusaforte. Broussier responded by ordered his division to concentrate at Ospedaletto, on the left (east) bank of the Tagliamento, in a position where it could block the best road down the river and out of the mountains. Two battalions were left 4 miles to the south at Osoppo.
The Austrians reached the new French position at eight in the morning of 11 April. Broussier was apparently outnumbered by two-to-one, and the Austrian artillery was described as 'formidable'. Despite these disadvantages the French were able to hold on for most of the day. At about three in the afternoon Broussier received orders from Eugène de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy, to retreat across the bridge at Dignano to the west (right) bank of the Tagliamento. Broussier was too hard pressed to obey this order, and when night fell his division was still on the left bank of the river, covering the bridge.
That night Prince Eugène ordered his army to concentrate to the west of the Tagliamento, where he hoped to make his stand. Broussier crossed the river on the night of 11-12 April, and took up a new position on the west bank of the river, but it soon became clear that the Austrians were too strong to be held by the forces then available, and Prince Eugène was forced to order a concentration further west, on the Livenza River around Sacile. From here he would launch a counterattack against the Austrians that ended with the first major French defeat of the war, the battle of Sacile of 16 April 1809.
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