Battle of Dego, 14-15 April 1796

The two day long battle of Dego (14-15 April 1796) was the decisive moment in the first stage of Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in Italy in 1796. Having created a gap between the Austrian and Piedmontese armies with his victory at Montenotte on 12 April, Napoleon was still facing two large enemy armies. The Austrians (under the overall command of General Beaulieu) occupied a strong position to his north at Dego in the Bormida valley, while the Piedmontese were to the west, at Millesimo and Ceva.

Although Napoleon is famous for defeating his enemies in detail, on this occasion he chose to attack both positions at the same time. General Augereau (with Menand and Joubert under his command) was sent west to attack the Piedmontese position and meet up with General Serurier, who was advancing from Ormea. Generals Masséna and Laharpe were ordered to advance north up the Bormida valley to take the Austrian position at Dego.

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

Sources differ as to the size of the forces involved at Dego. The Austrians had between 3,000 and 6,000 men on each day of the battle, and were facing twice that number of French troops. Despite being outnumbered the Austrians put up a good fight on the first day of the battle (14 April), but were eventually forced out having suffered 350 casualties. The French also took at least 1,500 prisoners.

The exhausted French troops settled down to pillage Dego, while Masséna disappeared, either to find loot or to visit a women. While he was absent a second Austrian force, under General Philipp Freiherr Vukassovich arrived to the north of Dego. On the morning of 15 April Vukassovich attacked and drove the French back out of Dego.

Napoleon responded by gathering reinforcements. Masséna, Leharpe and Victor were then sent to attack the reoccupied Austrian line. This time the Austrians put up a much better fight. Only on their third attack, having taken 600 casualties, were the French able to push the Austrians out of Dego for the second and final time. The Austrians suffered 650 casualties and lost 1,000 prisoners during the second day of the battle.

In the aftermath of the defeat at Dego, General Beaulieu decided to pull back to the north, abandoning any attempt to defend the line of the Apennines. This move protected his lines of communication back across northern Italy, but left the Piedmontese vulnerable to Napoleon. On 13-14 they had already been pushed out of Millesimo. Over the next few days they were also pushed out of fortified camps at Ceva (16-17 April) and Mondovi (21 April), and on 23 April they sued for peace. Napoleon was free to turn east to deal with the Austrians.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 January 2009), Battle of Dego, 14-15 April 1796 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_dego_1796.html

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