Battles of Millesimo – Cosseria April 1796

Continuing with WR’s General Bonaparte’s early 1796 campaign, WR has posted the scenarios of Voltri, Monte Negino and Montenotte which leads WR swinging the French Army of Italy westwards for the next battle of Millesimo (Cosseria) on April 13, 1796.

Millesimo (Cosseria) was a small skirmish action around the area of Millesimo. The advancing French divisions of Augereau and Joubert pushed back the puny Austrian Auxiliary Corps under GM Provera and Piedmontese detachments of FML Colli towards Montezemolo and Ceva. Would be just a footnote in military history except for the heavy French casualties suffered on the slopes before an old dilapidated castle atop a hill. Cosseria castle was one of those battles… coup de main siege storming type which, on hindsight, should never have happened. But it did….

French Army of Italy advances from the victorious win at Montenotte to engage the Austro-Sardinian-Piedmontese at Millesimo and Dego. Note that “Montenotte Inferiore” should be a little further east of Montenotte named on this map diagram. Map location Montenotte represents “Cairo Montenotte” of modern times.

….‘Know’, he said, ‘that you are dealing with grenadiers, and that Piedmontese grenadiers never surrender.’ 

‘this blasted castle will force us to turn back to the Riviera.’

Those words from Colonel Del Carratto, the commander of the Piedmontese grenadiers and General Bonaparte during the Cosseria siege set the tone for April 13-14, 1796. A small garrison without supply and water, in a ruined hill castle, holding the French advance cold just after the battle of Montenotte. Very few war gamers even know of Del Carratto and his 3rd Piedmontese Grenadier battalion (composed of Monferrato, La Marina and Susa companies). You can drive right past this hilltop without even an upwards glance but back in April 1796 this was the center of General Bonaparte’s history making grand campaign plan. So a brief narrative of events back on April 13-14, 1796.

Fresh from the French victory at Montenotte Inferiore the day before, General Bonaparte gave orders to march from their central position around Carcare and Montenotte and start the campaign against the Sardinian – Piedmontese army under FML Colli near Ceva. General Massena was to march towards Dego and determine the strength of the Austrian positions that afternoon, General La Harpe to Cairo (Cairo Montenotte in modern times) from Montenotte Superiore after chasing the remains of FML Argenteau’s forces. General Augereau to Millesimo then attack today towards Montezemolo further west near Ceva along with General Joubert coming from Castelnuovo. General Serurier towards the southern flank of FML Colli’s entrenched position at Ceva. Take note… General Bonaparte was in a hurry, since for the last two days his supply train system was starting to break down and the marching French army was hungry. This will lead to French undisciplined behaviors at Dego in the very near future.

C. Vernet's painting of the French crossing bridge at Millesimo 1796. Cosseria is in background.

C. Vernet’s painting of the French crossing bridge at Millesimo 1796. Cosseria is in background.

Milesimo bridge present-day as seen in C. Vernet painting.

Millesimo bridge present-day as seen in C. Vernet painting. Town at left and the bridge is still a walkway over the enlarged riverbed.

Meanwhile that same morning, FML Colli has sent detachments to Montezemolo ridge and directed Colonel Del Carretto and his 3rd Grenadier battalion to join with FML Povera around Millesimo. FML Povera’s puny Auxiliary Corps (grenadiers from IR 44 Strassoldo, the IR 27 Belgioioso (3 btns.) and a few companies of Freicorps Gyulay) awoke to the rapid French advance towards Millesimo. FML Provera’s puny command was outnumbered and retired quickly towards Millesimo and Cosseria hill. While this was going on, Del Carretto and his grenadier battalion arrived in the middle of this action. Surprised by the near French, he directed two companies of the grenadiers (Monferrato) to attack the French army. WR would love to see that company commander’s face when that order was given, but with true grenadier honor, they lowered bayonets and charged. Del Carreto meanwhile saw the retiring Austrians going towards Cosseria castle ruin and joined FML Provera at the castle. With the soon scattering of IR 27 Belgioioso by the French outside, the garrison of the castle position was set…. four companies of the 3rd Piedmontese Grenadiers, some Freicorps Gyulay and whatever odd Austrians who arrived with FML Provera…. 892 men in total vs. the gathering French army.

While the French were marching past Cosseria, into Millesimo, towards Montezemolo and during this day scouted out the Dego positions, the first French emissary approached Cosseria castle at 9 am. FML Provera, 60 years old and a veteran of Kolin, thought  it was best to have active command given to Del Carretto. Del Carretto’s courtly rebuff sent the French emissary away. With that, the small band of allies set about to create their defenses, rebuilt some walling and gathered rocks and stones as the French advanced up the hill. In short terrain notes, the French had only one castle side to assault since the other side was high walls and steep drop-off slopes. At start, they didn’t mind…. 6000+ Frenchmen soon surrounded the castle.

The embedded pictures and diagrams below give a grand view of the Cosseria position.

Cosseria castle ruins with French and Sardinian positions.

Cosseria castle ruins with French and Sardinian positions marked by small flags. Model at the SHAF.

Plan of Cosseria castle in 1796.

Plan of Cosseria castle in 1796 showing the layout and the three French assault points. The plan trace scale is 5 meters per segment or 30 meters in total.

At least three distinct French attacks occurred. General Bonaparte by now had arrived and inspected the castle from afar. He gave the order to assault and the 18th DB Ligne under General Banel duly advanced at the pas de charge. Waiting under Del Carretto’s orders to volley at twenty paces, the first French assault became a bloody shambles and lasted only twenty minutes. About 11 am, another assault, ending with the same bloody result left the French firing from a distance for five minutes before retiring again. French soldier bodies laid across the hill slope from these attacks as the Piedmontese garrison held their positions.

Old post card showing the French and Sardinian-Piedmontesse battle at Cosseria castle ruin. French uniforms are of a later imperial period.

Old post card showing the French and Sardinian-Piedmontese battle at Cosseria castle ruin. French uniforms are of a later imperial period.

Sometime after 11 am FML Provera received a letter signed by Bonaparte, couched in the ritual formula: “You are surrounded on all sides. Your resistance would only cause the spilling of blood without gaining any advantage. If in a quarter of an hour you do not all give yourselves up as prisoners, I shall show mercy to no one.” FML Provera treated it with the contempt it deserved, and chose to make the French wait for several hours before giving a reply. During this time, FML Colli’s detached troops near Cengio (just north of Millesimo) started a skirmishing action with the French. This drew General Bonaparte’s attention so he left the Cosseria area leaving General Augereau in command. Some light 4lb artillery was dragged forward but had limited effect on the ruins or garrison. FML Provera’s reply given at 2 pm reiterating that he intended to defend to the last extremity, unless given free passage for his troops.

Another French assault started at 4 pm. Three columns: General Joubert led the central column with the 11th DB Legere, General Banel with 51st DB Ligne and 4th DB Ligne assaulted to his east while General Quenin came from the west with the 18th DB Ligne again. The Piedmontese grenadiers again held their volleys till point-blank range. More crumpled Frenchmen below the castle walls. Del Carretto led upfront, climbing a low stone, personally despatched a couple of attackers with his sword before being killed by a musket ball. With ammunition running short, the freicorp Croats and grenadiers used desperate measures to defend themselves. Slowly the French retired from the heavy cost below the walls once again. General Joubert wounded by a rock, General Quenin and Banel either dead or dying, the colonel of the 18th among the dead along with many more French soldiers.

Another letter with emissary, another rejection. A counter-offer to evacuate with arms and baggage and not serve against France until an appointed time rejected. With daylight fading, the French settled down for a siege, both sides collecting the wounded, as the generals thought about their next course of actions. General Bonaparte knew this had to be resolved quick, his army was already showing signs of starving and he didn’t have current information on Beaulieu’s Austrian army positions since Voltri. His quote above sums up his inter thoughts during the night of April 13-14.

Sunrise on April 14th saw the two sides in the same positions. But without any water source and low ammunition levels, the defender saw little hope unless FML Colli approached from Ceva. General Bonaparte knew the garrison’s plight from wounded Piedmontese so in the morning hours of April 14th both sides watched and waited. While the waiting game was going on, the first day battle at Dego was fought (WR’s next installment). Other French commands bypassed Cosseria and approached Montezemolo and FML Colli’s advanced positions. So, FML Provera having obtained the honours of war, an agreement was made for the surrender and at midday the reduced garrison of Cosseria marched out, with muskets and standards held high, leaving the much-admired Del Carretto in a grave crowned by roses.

French losses?  General Bonaparte wrote of “a battle at Millesimo” to the Directory….but it was a castle storming…not a battle. French 600 dead? 1000 dead? plus all the wounded and numerous senior officers killed or wounded. A classical “to lie like a bulletin” situation. Piedmontese and Austrian losses maybe 150 killed and wounded plus the gallant Del Carretto. It was the end of an episode that was remarkably costly for the French, perhaps even pointless. Why not just cordon the castle and march around, basically what General Bonaparte did at Ceva a few day later? Maybe General Bonaparte learnt from the affair at Cosseria, and history records his cordon around Ceva fortress.

Poster from Italian Division "Cosseria" showing surrender.

Poster from Italian Division “Cosseria” showing surrender in 1796.

A small fun scenario for the castle storming, including scenario set up, terrain notes, weather, order of battle, victory conditions:  Battle of Cosseria April 1796 scenario

For some fun WR ran the above scenario and recorded for the benefit of those interested. There are eight video segments chronicling the entire scenario tabletop game play.

Part I,  Part II,  Part III,  Part IV,

Part V,  Part VI,  Part VII,  Part VIII

Battle of Millesimo (Cosseria) Wikipedia link

Yep, the French fought up that hill grade. Photo by Watler Carini.

Yep, the French fought up that hill grade. Photo by Walter Carini.

Cosseria castle ruins. Photo by Walter Carini.

Cosseria castle ruins. Photo by Walter Carini.

Cosseria castle gateway ruins in late winter. Photo by Walter Carini

Cosseria castle gateway ruins in late winter. Photo by Walter Carini

Cosseria castle ruin gateway. Photo by Walter Carini.

Cosseria castle ruin gateway. Photo by Walter Carini.

Battle of Cosseria (link) period uniformed reenactment April 2012 photos below the actual present day Cosseria castle.

Re-enacter Sardinian Piedmont grenadiers at Cosseria

Re-enactor Sardinian Piedmont grenadiers at Cosseria event.

Re-enacter Sardinian Piedmont at Cosseria

Re-enacter Sardinian Piedmontese at Cosseria event.

Cheers from warren. Next installment will cover the two days of the Battle of Dego (April 14-15, 1796).

Note: Source material used found on the bottom of the Battle of Voltri April 1796 blog posting:   Voltri 1796



15 thoughts on “Battles of Millesimo – Cosseria April 1796

    • AL,
      Thank you for the supportive comment. Reading the background material, I was under the first impression the French just rolled on…. but there was several points the French advance could have broken down for several days… like the next point at Dego. Stay near the warren….

      Michael aka WR

  1. Another excellent post Michael. The background and all those wonderful photos is most edifying and the step by step ‘instructional’ video was really interesting. These keep getting better and better–what rabbits will you pull from hats when you do Dego, I wonder?!

  2. The report that Bonaparte wrote to the French government regarding the actions that took place around Millesimo, and which he called “The Battle of Millesimo” is confusing, and perhaps even deliberately misleading, as it is probable that Bonaparte did not want to reveal at the time how serious French casualties had been, and how close he had been to having his plans seriously compromised. There was, in fact, no real battle at Millesimo itself, but rather a confused action on 13 April, in which a number of small enemy units were driven back, followed by a short but very costly siege of the castle of Cosseria, which was defended by only about a thousand Austrians and Piedmontese under Provera and Del Carretto. It was only after the defenders had been forced to surrender the castle on 14 April, due to lack of ammunition, food and water, that the French advance inland could continue in safety. Bonaparte later admitted to the Piedmontese chief-of-staff, Colonel Joseph Costa that the siege of Cosseria had been a mistake and had been due to his impatience. It was probably because he wanted to cover up this mistake that Bonaparte’s report of the “Battle of Millesimo” was so misleading.

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