April 13, 1796, while the assault battle was raging below the bloody walls of Cosseria, General Bonaparte ordered General Massena’s divisions to reconnaissance the Austro-Sardinian positions near Dego. From the light skirmisher clashes during the day, the French learned of the Austro-Sardinian positions, entrenchments and redoubt artillery positions. Using the collected intelligence, and having fought at Dego in 1794 (see end of this blog post), General Massena that evening planned his battle to assault the defended Austro-Sardinian positions around Dego. The Battle of Dego II was set to begin on the afternoon of April 14 and continue into April 15, 1796 by the valiant but late counterattack by Colonel Vukassovich’s Austrian column.
As the French planned, the Austrians, with their Sardinian allies, looked at their bleak situation. FZM Beaulieu was in Acqui and trying to recover the situation. FML Argenteau had written him after the battle of Montenotte, “painting a pathetic status of his division” and saying the troops would need a day’s rest before they could move. FZM Beaulieu wrote that “Dego must be held for two or three days then he would arrive with his entire force, to remedy the previous reverses”. FML Argenteau know that Dego garrison was too weak to hold but made efforts by ordering reinforcements from Spigno to arrive on April 14th while himself and some weak former Montenotte battalions marched from Pareto. FML Argenteau wrote late to Colonel Vukassovich to march on Dego from Sassello but the latest of the despatch rider and distance caused Colonel Vukassovich to arrive on April 15th. FZM Beaulieu appealed to FML Colli to march and attack the French flank from Ceva, not knowing of the Cosseria battle and FML Colli’s standoff positioning. All this delayed despatch writing sealed the Austrian fate…. they arrived piecemeal as the concentrated French, under GD Massena and direction from General Bonaparte, true to his developing method of warfare, attacked Dego.
After the surrender of Cosseria castle ruins on the morning of April 14th, the French Army of Italy was on the move. GD Augereau and Serurier approached the fortified positions of FML Colli near Ceva. GD Massena with GD La Harpe and Meynier approached Dego during the morning hours from Rocchetta Cairo. GD Massena with GB Rondeau’s led 32nd DB and 14th Provisional DB fronted before Dego. A flanking force under GB La Salcette, 17th DB Legere and another unknown battalion swept eastward to flank the open Austro-Sardinian left flank near Girini. On the French left, GD La Harpe’s division was marching northward on the western side of the Bormida river along with a detachment of French cavalry under GD Stengel.
Watching the French approach, the defending Austro-Sardinian garrison of Dego positioned themselves along the Dego heights. Five weak battalions to hold the lengthy steep ridge positions, either in small redoubts armed with cannon, entrenchments, or the local stone building. Reinforcements will arrive during the afternoon hours and if Colonel Vukassovich’s column arrives, the Austro-Sardinian position would become strong, creating a shield for FZM Beaulieu to arrive with the bulk of the Austrian army.
But General Bonaparte would have none of the Austro-Sardinian plan. General Massena’s fast paced three-pronged assault completely broke the Austro-Sardinian position and, in the process, repulsed the southbound reinforcements that arrived near Dego on April 14th. GD La Harpe, crossing the Bormida river via a ford below Dego, marched up the western ridge flank through Plano after a hard stiff fight. GD Massena with GB Rondeau, held time and position as GB La Salcette’s infantry marched around the flank, then stormed forward across the Grillero stream, up the steep vineyard covered hill slope in skirmisher order and attacked the Austrian central position entrenchment and castle. Lastly, the right flanking column of GB La Salcette passed around and behind the Austro-Sardinian left flank. During their penetration of the Austro-Sardinian position, they surprised and fought a small prolonged battle holding off the Austrian reinforcements near Bric Caret. With no reinforcements arriving, the remaining Austro-Sardinian defenders along the ridge battled but slowly gave up all their entrenched positions and scattered towards the north (Spigno) in small groups or became prisoners.
The first day of Dego thus closed for the Austro-Sardinians as night fell, but for the hungry French the night brought just as much disorder among the victors. Discipline now completely broke down, starved and hungry soldiers went on a rampage of looting and search for food. GB La Salcette wrote of, “the lack of regularity in the food supply produced many marauders”. Disintegration and abandonment of duty which officers and generals were unable to contain. Churches were looted, the town of Dego searched and sacked from end to end for food and valuables. The long cold and rainy night added to slackening professional vigilance, encouraging the French looters to remain under shelter of the town houses.
A foggy rainy dawn broke on April 15th, the juncture of Colonel Vukassovich’s arriving Austrian column and the unwary French set the stage for Vukassovich’s moment in history. Marching with Colonel Vukassovich was five battalions; Carlstadter Grenz (2 btns.), IR 19 Alvinczy, IR 39 Nadasdy, and IR 24 Preiss. Capturing French pickets and numerous stragglers during the march, these prisoners confirmed that Dego had fallen and one enemy officer even said 20,000 French were in the area. Brave Colonel Vukassovich decided to find out the enemy strength for himself. Vukassovich’s small army arrived like a bolt from the blue on the sleeping and undisciplined French. Meeting very limited French opposition and scattering French pickets left and right, the Austrian columns met the formed French 32nd DB in rain and fog on the heights of Dego. French muskets misfired due to wet musket powder causing the 32nd to retire or became prisoners. GB Rondeau managed to rally some men, contested some of the redoubts and Magliani area for a while. GB Rondeau then fell wounded, and the French morale broke into a precipitate retreat. Hundreds were taken prisoner while other decamped towards the south. In the chaos, GB La Salcette shut himself in the castle with a handful of 17th DB Legere infantry. By late morning, Colonel Vukassovich controlled the position, pressed some grenadiers(?) into becoming instant artillerymen (manned the cannon in the redoubts) and firing into the retreating French. GB La Salcette broke out of the surrounded castle and lead his loyal band of French defenders southward ending the Austrian morning counterattack.
The morning French disaster ended about 10 am with the Austrians holding their former Dego positions. By 11 am, a late arriving GD Massena reached the fleeing French infantry near Rocchetta Cairo, fresh from an “habitual reconnaissance” or as the tale goes…. from his personal camp follower. Massena was both womanizer and a rapacious plunderer of the times along with being a first class general at the peak of his powers. Massena didn’t delay to rectify the situation, he rallied the fleeing French infantry, lead them back towards II Colletto (just off map) and formed up…. back at square one as stated in the sources.
Near midday the weather improved and the rain stopped. GD Massena proceeded to tongue lash the 32nd DB and others in hearing range. General Bonaparte joined GD Massena in fiery speeches and having ordered GD La Harpe’s division to retrace its westward march and join in the renewed attack on Dego. Colonel Vukassovich’s attack was unknown force to the French high command and seemed to be very determined.
With General Bonaparte watching, GD Massena’s infantry surged forward up the steep hill behind Dego. Bitter, close range musketry slowed the French assault over yesterday’s cold and that morning’s still warm bodies. This was a no finesse assault….. brutal, up the steep vineyard covered hill slope, frontal attempts with several repulsed as leaders fell. Brave single Frenchmen or a small group with their officers clawed up the hill. These Austrian devils were not like the Austrians of yesterday. Platoons fought platoons, companies exchanged musketry in the smoke of battle as Austrian redoubt cannon lashed apart French formations. GD La Harpe’s infantry forded the Bromida river again as the previous day, losing General Causse in a reckless assault near Plano as the battle raged. Victor’s troops spread out as skirmishers and gave support, a counterattack by brigadier Leczeny forced back the 51st DB. General Massena was everywhere on foot, leading, pushing, returning Frenchmen into the brawl as Colonel Vukassovich was likewise cheering forward his brave infantry while cursing Austrian senior command in the same breath. This struggle on the steep hillside continued past 4 pm till finally the French 4th DB Legere pushed around the Austrian left flank (like La Salcette’s infantry the day before).
The Austrians slowly gave ground, surrendering the redoubts again with their cannon. Near Bric del Caret even the future Marshal Lannes joined the French all-star cast, showed up leading the 51st DB into the fight against the retiring Austrians. Colonel Vukassovich’s command was quickly eroding, after 10 hours of fighting the Austrians withdrew towards Spigno then Acqui, having seen no support from the senior Austrian commanders. Thus the gallant Vukassovich’s attack ended, having little direct effect on the French except for a day’s delay and a deep impression on the French infantry who fought on that steep hillside, some who also heard about the carnage on the slopes of Cosseria. General Bonaparte spent several days being very circumspect of FMZ Beaulieu’s Austrian movement till his march on FML Colli was well underway.
Their recent experiences far from over, the French infantryman were wary, cold, staving and exhausted from the “marching” mode of warfare under General Bonaparte. The local countryside again suffered a mass of hungry infantry looting and pillaging. The 4th DB Legere carabiner company hadn’t seen any rations for three days straight was a common sight and compliant. What supply trains which arrived found the train mules sold or spirited away…. no doubt found later in the cooking pots. General Bonaparte was concerned, the balance of the army was on edge, and that faulty supply trains were doing great damage to morale and order. Having dealt the Austrian army several body blows, General Bonaparte rushed his ragged French army westward again…. the campaign against the Piedmontese army of FML Colli was entering the final stage. The French marched…. their new General Bonaparte leading or, maybe for food it seemed, as the distant Po fertile plains beckoned their wanting eyes. But first, Piedmontese entrenchments, the fortress of Ceva…. battles at Ste. Michelle, Mondovi, and more marching awaited both armies.
Dego scenario notes and tidbits….
Battle of Dego was very difficult scenario to design and write. Dego was a unique battle fought over two different days with the French winning one afternoon handily, same French becoming completely unprofessional that night, then running away on the next morning, finished with again the same French successfully counter-attacking that afternoon. Poor weather (rain), French army ill discipline and lack of professional vigilance during the night, Austrian doggedness on the second day, some foolhardy assaults, the time periods between the three major battlefield periods, all rolled into one battle. WR cannot think of a similar battle like Dego during the revolutionary or napoleonic wars so the scenario design challenge was given. Marengo was somewhat similar but was fought on one day, good weather and avoided the French ill discipline actions. WR’s play test of this scenario is going to be fun, but be advised that improvements from the play test game are a given. WR always takes comments about his written scenarios.
Battle of Dego scenario design notes for both days (April 14th and April 15th) and including scenario set up, terrain notes, weather, order of battle, victory conditions and optional special event cards: Dego April 1796 Scenario notes
Scenario rosters (.xls): Austro French Dego rosters
Many of our scenario game aspects and rules can be found at this link: Napoleonic Rules, files and videos.
Some additional notes: One of the interesting things which WR has to face is the confusing starting locations of various Austrian or Sardinian (Piedmontese) battalions from the sources. On the morning of April 14th, Dego garrison had IR 49 Pelligini, IR 50 Stain and several companies of Freikorps Gyualai, fresh from their Montenotte Superiore defeat plus either two, three or four battalions of Sardinian infantry. La Marina (2 btns.) and maybe Monferrato regiment (1 or 2 btns.). One source placed the regiment Monferrato up at Spingo (16 km north) on the 14th and marching south via Monte Alto with the IR 4 Deutchmeister battalion. For the Austrian battalions marching to reinforce Dego garrison under FML Argenteau, the total number could be 2 or 4 battalions plus the above group from coming from Spingo (1 to 3 battalions, depending on sources). Summarized below in notes.
Battle of Dego II Wikipedia link for those having interest.
Vitual tour of the Dego battlefield with some photos: Dego photos
The riddle of Dego is which Austrian and Sardinian units were at Dego during the morning hours or marching towards Dego during the afternoon. WR has complied a short text below for each of the possible Austrian and Sardinian battalions mentioned in the several sources used. One day WR hopes a scholastic source sheds light on Austrian dispositions during the first two weeks of April 1796. Codes used below are: (RtR) Road to Rivoli book, (N) Nafziger’s First Phase of Napoleon’s 1796 Campaign in Italy book, Wikipedia which used Digby Smith The Napoleonic Wars Data book. Sources above are all covered at end of my Battle of Voltri scenario post.
IR 4 Hoch und Deutschmeister (1 btn.): Starts at Lodi at end of March 1796 (RtR). Two battalions noted (RtR) as marching from Spigno with Sardinian IR Monferrato regiment (1 or 2 btns.*). This is confusing… WR thinks the “four battalions of IR #4 Deutschmeister and IR Monferrato” is really only two battalions in total, one from each regiment since only one IR #4 battalion was known and present in area. The other battalion of IR Monferrato therefore is starting at Dego (N). Sources note that this force was blocked by the French flanking column under GB La Salcette. If there was four battalions actually present, WR thinks the French flanking column would have been hard pressed to stop this larger Austro-Sardinian column. But if only two battalions were present there is a greater possibility for this smaller column be repulsed by the French flanking column per (RtR & N) sources. WR placed one battalion of IR 4 Deutschmeister and IR Monferrato with this marching column and the other IR Monferrato battalion at Dego for his scenario design. See comments on IR Monferrato below.
IR 8 Huff (2 btns.): Starts at Pavia (RtR) at March 1796 end. Mentioned to have marched south of the Po river towards Acqui during GM Pittoni’s Voltri march. No details of any movement westward so WR has these battalions not involved at Dego.
IR 16 Terzi (1 btn.): This 3rd battalion at Montenotte on April 12th, severely handled by the French, but for some unknown reason retired to Malvicino (RtR) beyond Pareto. Another IR 16 Terzi battalion noted and stationed at Acqui (RtR & N). The last IR 16 Terzi battalion was with GM Pittoni at Voltri. Only the battered 3rd battalion Terzi at Malvicino was ordered towards Dego with IR Alvinczy from Pareto. WR has 3rd Terzi battalion involved by marching towards Dego.
IR 23 Toscana (1 btn.): Stated as being at Dego at end of March 1796 (RtR, W), marched to join FML Provera on April 6th, marched “closer” to the Piedmontese positions on April 9th then ordered to march to Sassello on April 10th. WR has this battalion not involved at Dego.
IR 26 Wilhelm Schroder (2 btns.): Starts at Pavia at March 1796 end. No mention of any movement south of the Po river per all sources so WR has these battalions not involved at Dego unlike Digby Smith as present.
IR 39 Nadasdy (2 btns.): 1st week of April at Tortona then marched to Carrosio and Mornese / Spezza (just north of Voltri). One battalion with GM Pittoni’s column. WR has one battalion arriving with Colonel Vukassovich at Dego on April 15th.
IR Monferrato (2 btns.): Mentioned to be at Dego or Spigno (RtR & N)….or one battalion at each maybe. Some notes state there was only one Monferrato battalion in area. Very confusing. So WR placed one battalion at Dego with IR La Marina (the three Sardinian battalions) and the other Monferrato battalion with IR 4 at Spigno. WR has both battalions involved at Dego for this designed scenario, one starting at Dego and the other marching towards. Interesting side note… Spigno on modern maps is now called Spigno Monferrato.
The following Austrian battalions either started at Dego from the battle of Montenotte or marched towards Dego (April 14th) per the sources. Starting at Dego were; IR 42 Pellgrini (1 btn.), IR 50 Stain (1 btn.), Freikorps Gyulay (3 co.). Added to this garrison is Sardinian IR La Marina (2 btn.) and IR Monferrato (1 btn.). Marching towards Dego during the day was (per notes above); IR 4 Deutschmeister (1 btn.), IR 19 Alvinczy (1 btn.), IR 16 Terzi (the 3rd btn.), IR 52 Erzherog Anton (2 btns.) and IR Monferrato (1 btn.).
Lastly, someplace in the area was two squadrons of Austrian hussars (Erdody). WR has them as outlying pickets and scouting patrols so not included in the Dego battles unless special event card used.
After WR play tests this Dego scenario a bit more (fine tune so to speak), the 1796 campaign saga will finally see the Sardinian army under FML Colli at Ste. Michelle and Mondovi next month.
* The first Battle at Dego was fought on September 21, 1794 between the forces of General Massena (18,000) and GM Oliver, Count of Wallis (8,000). Ended with a French victory before the French later retired back to the Army of Italy positions where General Bonaparte took command. General Bonaparte was present at this first battle and his correspondence is linked here. Correspondence