Peter Vitus Freiherr von Quosdanovich, 1738-1802

Early Career
War of the First Coalition
Italy, 1796-97

Early Career

Peter Vitus Freiherr von Quosdanovich (1738-1802) was an experienced Austrian general who is best known for his part in the four unsuccessful Austrian attempts to raise the siege of Mantua in 1796-97. Quosdanovich joined the Austrian army in 1752, aged only 14. For the first part of his career he was a cavalryman. Having originally joined the Warasdiner Hussars, he became commander of the Karlstadt Grenz Hussar Regiment No.40 in 1773 and of the Slavonian Grenz Hussar Regiment No.43 in 1779. In his early career Quosdanovich gained a reputation for daring and courage. By the end of the Seven Years War he had been promoted to captain, and in 1773 he rose to Oberstleutnant.

He enhanced his reputation during the short War of the Bavarian Succession (1778-79). Although the war lacked any major battles, Quosdanovich played a part in defeating Prussian attacks at Hradecz, Weisskirchen (26 November 1778) and Taubnitz. On 19 May 1779 he was rewarded with the Knight's Cross of the Maria Theresa Order, was promoted to Oberst, and was given command of the Slavonian Grenz Hussar Regiment No.43.

More successful followed in the Austro-Turkish War of 1787-92 where he was promoted to Generalmajor (1788) and played a prominent part in the victory at Berbir

War of the First Coalition

At the start of the War of the First Coalition Quosdanovich commanded a brigade. By the end of 1793 he had been promoted to Feldmarschalleutnant and given command of a division in the Army of the Upper Rhine. In the summer of 1794 Quosdanovich's division was moved to the Austrian Netherlands, where the war was approaching a crisis. At the battle of Fleurus (26 June 1794) he had command of one of five Allied columns involved in the attack on the French lines around Charleroi, but he made little progress against General Morlot's troops around Gosselies. The battle ended in a French victory, and the Austrian position in Belgium rapidly unravelled.

In the autumn of 1795 Quosdanovich played an important part in preventing the French from achieving a major victory on the Rhine. Two French armies (Jourdan and Pichegru) attacked across the Rhine. Pichegru unexpectedly captured Mannheim, which gave the French a chance of capturing General Clairfayt's main magazine at Heidelberg. Pichegru sent Ambert's and Dufour's divisions towards Heidelberg, but on 22 September they were defeated by Quosdanovich at Handschuhsheim. The French were forced to retire back across the Rhine. Clairfayt was then able to break the siege of Mainz, while Würmser (with Quosdanovich under his command) recaptured Mannheim (22 November).

Italy, 1796-97

In mid 1796 Würmser and Quosdanovich were moved from the Rhine to Italy with orders to lift the siege of Mantua and restore the situation in northern Italy, where Napoleon Bonaparte had just won a series of dramatic victories, knocked Piedmont out of the war and captured Milan.

Quosdanovich was involved in all four Austrian attempts to raise the siege of Mantua, suffering a continuous series of defeats. In July-August 1796 he commanded the right (western) wing during Würmser's first attempt to reach Mantua. His role was to move down the western side of Lake Garda to threaten Napoleon's lines of communication with Milan. On 30 July he emerged from the mountains and captured Brescia. Napoleon responded to this threat by concentrating his army at the southern end of Lake Garda. Würmser took advantage of this to reach Mantua, but this move left Quosdanovich vulnerable. On 31 July he was defeated in the first battle of Lonato and was forced to pull back from Brescia. On 3 August he attempted to break through Napoleon's lines to reach Würmser, but was defeated for a second time at Lonato. This left Napoleon free to turn around and defeat Würmser (battle of Castiglione, 5 August 1796).

Würmser's second relief attempt was even less successful. He decided to leave one army in the Tyrol, while he led the main army east down the Brenta Valley. Würmser hoped to join up with a third Austrian army at Bassano and then turn south west to reach Mantua. This move coincided with a French advance up the Adige valley towards Trento. When Napoleon reached Trento he discovered what Würmser was planning, and set off in pursuit. Quosdanovich had command of the rearguard of the Austrian army, and on 7 September he was caught and defeated at Primolano, just inside the mountains. On the next day the French emerged from the Brenta Valley and inflicted a second defeat on Würmser's forces at Bassano. While Würmser escaped west, eventually seeking safety in Mantua, Quosdanovich was forced to retreat east towards Treviso.

Würmser was replaced by Joseph Alvinczy Freiherr von Berberek. Alvinczy also decided to split his army, but this time both forces would advance towards Mantua. General Davidovich was to advance down the Adige Valley, while Alvinczy and Quosdanovich advanced from Friuli. The two armies were to meet at Verona and then advance on Mantua. Once again this plan gave Napoleon a chance to defeat the two Austrian armies separately, although this time he came close to defeat. Alvinczy's force repelled a French attack at Caldiero (12 November 1796) and it was only Napoleon's daring decision to risk an attack on the Austrian left and rear that led to his victory at Arcola (15-17 November 1796).

Alvinczy's second and final relief attempt came in January 1797. Once again two separate armies were used, and once again one advanced from the Tyrol down the Adige Valley while the other threatened Mantua from the north-east. Quosdanovich commanded one of the divisions in Alvinczy's main army in the Adige.

On 13 January the Austrians ran into General Joubert's division at Rivoli. Alvinczy decided to launch an attack in six columns, hoping to completely destroy Joubert's force. On the night of 13-14 January Napoleon reached Rivoli, closely followed by Masséna's division, and the Austrian plan began to unravel. Quosdanvich was given command of the second from left column, which advanced along the west bank of the Adige with most of the Austrian artillery and cavalry. On his left was General Vukassovich on the far side of the Adige, while to his right were the three columns of the centre, but Quosdanovich was separated from these divisions by a high ridge and then by the steep slopes alongside the Adige.

During the battle of Rivoli (14 January 1797) Quosdanovich was forced to attack uphill towards the French forces on the Rivoli plateau. At first he had some success, and his advanced troops reached the edge of the plateau, but Napoleon was then able to launch an attack on Quosdanovich's exposed flanks, and he was forced to retreat. This allowed the French to defeat the Austrian centre and then a sixth column that had been sent around the west of the battlefield. Over the next few days the Austrian army virtually fell apart, and Alvinczy escaped with less than half of his original force.

The French victory at Rivoli was followed by the destruction of part of the second Austrian army at Favorita (16 January 1797), and by the surrender of Mantua on 2 February. In the same month Quosdanovich retired. His 'age and frailty' are sometimes blamed for Quosdanovich's failures in Italy, but at the time of his retirement he was 59, three years younger than Alvinczy and fourteen years younger than Würmser. A more valid criticism was his lack of education, perhaps inevitable in a man who joined the army when aged only 14. His failures in Italy owed far more to the poorly though out plans of his superiors. Quosdanovich died in 1802 in Vienna, aged 64.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (6 February 2009), Peter Vitus Freiherr von Quosdanovich, 1738-1802 ,

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