Siege of Cuneo, 18 November-4 December 1799

The siege of Cuneo (18 November-4 December) saw the Austrians capture the last French stronghold on the northern Italian plains at the end of a year that has seen the French position in Italy collapse. The defence of Cuneo had been the main concern of General Championnet, the commander of the French Army of Italy from September 1799, but he suffered a major defeat at Genola, to the north-east of the city, on 4 November, and by mid-November the last French troops had been forced back from the area.

Cuneo was defended by 3,000 men under General Clement. Cuneo was protected by octagonal defences, with strong bastions and external works, and had withstood sieges in 1691 and 1744, but Clement was in a weak position. As well as the garrison the city contained around 800 wounded from Genola, and in the weeks before the siege Championnet had been forced to use the stores in the city to keep his army in the field.

The conduct of the siege was given to the Prince of Lichtenstein, with around 15,000 men and 5,000 local workers. The blockade began on 18 November. Three days later the Austrians cut the channel of the Stura River which powered the watermills inside the city, further worsening the supply situation. The formal siege began on the night of 26-27 November, when work began on the first trench, opposite the part of the walls between the Stura and Gesso Rivers. Despite the near-frozen ground enough progress was made on the first night to protect the works. On 27 November the defenders conducted a heavy but ineffective bombardment of the siege works. Clement conducted an active defence within his limited means, and was even able to restore the canal, but work on the trenches continued at some speed. By the night of 29-30 November the first gun batteries were in place, and the first parallel was complete by 1 December. Nineteen gun batteries were mounted on the night of 1-2 December, and the bombardment began on the morning of 2 December.

The bombardment was very effective. By midday the defenders had been forced to abandon the last outer works, and one of the redoubts had been destroyed by a powder explosion. On the night of 2-3 December the French managed to gain a foothold in that redoubt, and began work on the second parallel. On the next morning, with part of the town on fire and most of his guns out of use, Clement realised that his situation was hopeless, and opened negotiations to surrender. Terms were agreed very quickly. The 2,800 surviving men of the garrison and 800 lightly wounded were to march out on 4 December with the full honours of war, pile up their guns and go into captivity. They would be followed by the more seriously wounded once they had recovered.

The loss of Cuneo meant that the French no longer had any strongholds on the northern Italian plains. They had also been driven out of the foothills of the Alps and Apennines in most places, so Melas and the Austrians were able to enjoy a relatively peaceful winter, secure from any serious French attack.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 January 2010), Siege of Cuneo, 18 November-4 December 1799 ,

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