Battle of Montenotte April 1796

After the opening campaign manuevers by Beaulieu at Voltri (see linked scenario), FML Argenteau had spent April 10th collecting his infantry battalions towards Montenotte Superiore while FZM Beaulieu marched on Voltri. During the morning of April 11th, FML Argenteau marched southward towards Savona, pausing at the open fields near Cascina Garbazzo. He pushed aside small French detachments near Montenotte Superiore till his afternoon progress was blocked at the French held Monte Negino redoubt. This useful defensive complex, originally built by the Austrians, was to go into history with one of the first grand gestures incorporated into Napoleonic legend; the swearing of an oath to fight to the death. The late afternoon struggle for this small mountain pimple and redoubt, with several assaults close and bitter, ended with the Austrian army retiring for the night and renewing the effort the next day.

A small Monte Negino mini scenario is at end of this post.

Attack on Monte Negino redoubt. Note the steep hillsides on each side of the redoubt complex which severely constrained the Austrian assault. Savona and the sea in the right distance.

Colonel Rampon, with 32nd DB Ligne flag in hand, holding the small Monte Negino redoubt. The oath….”It is here, my friends that we must conquer or die”.

General Bonaparte received word about the Austrian assault on Monte Negino (Legino) that April 11th afternoon. The scene is now set for the starting manoeuvre that really placed Bonaparte’s career as an independent commander, the outflanking and crushing of Argenteau’s force at Montenotte Superiore. Realizing his advantage of interior lines, he brought forward his own offensive battle plans and issued his march orders for rapid concentration of three divisions in the Bormida river valley, centered on Carcare. Two divisions under GD Massena (Meynier and La Harpe) would come from the south and east and one (Augereau) from the southwest. The former Voltri defenders (Cervoni brigade) will march westwards crossing the shoreline hills to reach Savona and rejoin Massena. This would give General Bonaparte 20-30,000 troops massed in a fairly small area, just south and near the junction of the two allied armies.

Theater map showing the April 11th dispositions. The yellow line marks the Ligurian mountain crest line.

Period map of region around Montenotte Superiore.

The only Austrian forces within range of the area of concentration were FML Argenteau’s 9,000 men, mostly engaged below Monte Negino, and GM Provera’s Auxiliary Corps numbering 2,000 near Millesimo. FZM Beaulieu’s Voltri campaign forces were returning back over the Ligurian mountain passes, marching to support Argenteau from distant Acqui. The small column under Colonel Vukassovich return marched along mountain ridge roads towards Sassello, with the aim to link up with FML Argenteau near Dego on April 15th. FML Colli and the Piedmontese army remained entrenched and stationary around Ceva with forward detachments at Montezemolo.

Battle of Montenotte area map showing initial contacts, battle and French flanking march.

Battle of Montenotte area map showing initial contacts, battle and French flanking march.

The French army spent the evening of April 11th marching in a heavy rain storm. GD La Harpe was ordered to reinforce the brave defenders of Monte Negino via Madonna di Savona’s narrow paths. GD Massena (Meynier) to Altare (including some of the battalions from Voltri) and GD Augereau marched to Mallare, delayed by a shoe distribution to his barefoot infantry and the weather. It was noted in diaries that many of the French infantry were lacking in arms, equipment and footwear.

Bicentenario Montenotte 1796-1996 taken in April as snow melts. (Google photogragh by Walter Carini). The wooded terrain on the hills behind has little changed.

The Austrians awoke April 12th to fog before Monte Negino with no French campfires visible. As the fog dispersed under the morning light, they saw the French reinforcements atop Monte Negino with light cannon. FML Argenteau immediately ordered his infantry to retire out of cannon range and repositioned atop Monte Pia, Monte San Giorgio, Bric Porassine and the road to Altare. French division La Harpe started their advance from Monte Negino as Massena’s (Meynier) leading infantry was reported advancing from Altare. The battle of Montenotte Superiore is about to begin.

Modern map showing the mountainous terrain around Montenotte Superiore. Mountain slopes were steep,  and with the rains and snow melt, the waterways treacherous. Narrow roads followed the mountain crest ridges.

Battle of Montenotte tabletop scenario map. Scaled to 600 yards to the square and 12 inch square on tabletop. See scenario notes link for more details.

Montenotte scenario map with starting position counters. Massena starts at Altare road entrance, Le Harpe on Monte Negino position.

Wikipedia link Montenotte gives basic summary of events and the march up to the actual battle on April 12, 1796.

Montenotte scenario notes (.doc), including scenario set up, terrain notes, weather, order of battle, victory conditions and optional special event cards: Montenotte Scenario notes

Montenotte scenario rosters (.xls): Austro-French Montenotte Rosters

Period engraving of the Battle of Montenotte April 1796.

Cascina Garbazzo pictured in early 1900’s and nearby to Montenotte Superiore.

Il Purazzin near Montenotte Superiore with seasonal snow. (Google photograph by Walter Carini)

After GD Massena’s success at Montenotte Superiore, the French Armée d’Italie was marched towards Dego and Millesimo, against FML Colli-Marchi’s Piedmontese army at Ceva, and GM Provera’s small Austrian Auxiliary Korps linking the Piedmontese and FM Beaulieu’s Austrian army. Augereau’s division easily pushed back GM Provera’s weak brigade in the battle of Millesimo on April 13th. To cover the retreat, GM Provera and the Piedmontese grenadier Colonel Del Carretto, with 1,000 picked troops, occupied a ruined hilltop castle at Cosseria which is where WR will leave this campaign narrative (for now) with Colonel Del Carretto’s famous quote…“Know…that you are dealing with grenadiers, and that Piedmontese grenadiers never surrender.”

Interesting and comparative Montenotte scenario done by Les Grognards wargaming group: Part I, Part II and Part III links. It should be noted that the French Second Amalgamation was changing many of the demi-brigade numbers during and just before this campaign causing much confusion and informational minefield for modern-day wargamers. Even the WR is still confused. Bonaparte’s last-minute changing about his divisional structures doesn’t help the situation either.

Web sources: Pictures of terrain features at: Montenotte pictures. Google maps has many additional pictures taken about the Montenotte Superiore area.

Nafigzer OOB file: 796DAC. Wikipedia OOB for Montenotte campaign: Wikipedia OOB

Some of the references WR used towards scenario creation and the “feel” for the campaign in general. Nafziger’s booklet (upper left) is loaded with terrain notes and opening Montenotte campaign information. Napoleon book has several uniform and location plates while Castiglione gave in-depth organizational information for the theater of operations. Road to Rivoli covers not just the opening movements but the entire 1796 campaign across the Po river valley with easy reading details.

References used with Montenotte and Voltri 1796 scenarios.

Colonel Rampon’s defense of Monte Negino….

Since WR had the information for the epic Monte Negino action on hand, WR quickly designed, wrote up, and rostered a small scenario to reflect the attempted April 11, 1796 late afternoon assault by the Austrian Ligurian column under FML Argenteau.

Mini scenario for Monte Negino battle (.doc), including scenario set up, terrain notes, weather, order of battle, victory conditions and optional special event cards: Monte Negino scenario notes

Monte Negino Austro-French rosters (.xls): Austro-French Monte Negino Rosters

Monte Negino position and view of narrow approach. Note the fog or mountain mists in background present on April 12, 1796 morning. (Picture by Walter Carini 1996)

The Montenotte April 1796 scenario presently is scheduled for the local HMGS-PSW “October surprise” historical miniatures convention (October 20, 2012 Azusa CA). If in Los Angeles area on that date, stop by and see WR. Everybody with an itch to use early period Austrians and their cool kasket headgear or ragged French republicans singing Le Marseillaise are welcome to join in. Details on the HMGS-PSW convention can be seen at HMGS-PSW.

Cheers from the warren.



2 thoughts on “Battle of Montenotte April 1796

  1. Really interesting stuff; I’ve always had trouble clearl;y understanding the maneuvers at the begining of Bonbaparte’s 1796 campaign. A really good map is essential to grasp the nature of the terrains and the passable routes for troops!

    • Hi Peter,
      Glad to heard your written words again. The terrain for Montenotte is so different from the normal “flat lands” of most pre-Napoleonic battles. I drew 3 maps attempts before the finalized version. I hope it works for the actual game planned soon. Austrian miniatures are ready…just need those late republican Frenchmen with their standards (flags in painting dept) to show up.
      Moving on to Dego II for next scenario…then Mondovi 1796 to finish this first series. Back to early Peninsular Spain for a while then pick up again Bonaparte’s travels across the Po river valley.
      One “small advantage” for these battles….the forces involved are so small compared to the mainsteam Napoleonic battles. 5-10k per side is a “big battle”. Divisional level for the normal battles of the period.
      I will have a post up soon covering the painted 25/28mm 1796 era Austrians….stomping their feet outside of Cassina Gabazzo while waiting for those frenchmen.

      Cheers from So Cal….land of high gas prices…$4.60 for regular today.
      Michael aka WR

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