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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter X


No news arrived of Moreau, nor of the Army of Italy, nor of the detachment from Bobbio, which ought to have come up behind the enemy's right. It was clear from the position of the Austro-Russians in front of us that they felt no uneasiness as to their rear. We had been very much weakened; we had scarcely any general or commissioned officers left, hardly any ammunition, 'a formidable army before us, the batteries of Piacenza, as well as another considerable one on the other side of the Po, barring our road (the survivors of the battle at Modena, reinforced by some troops from the blockade of Mantua, who had come up on our rear near Piacenza)—such was our situation. We must infallibly be attacked next morning, and if we were beaten, all would be lost. I had done my utmost to effect a junction; my efforts were fruitless. We had to preserve the remaining two-thirds of the army in order to get out of this very awkward position, and try our fortune elsewhere. It was, of course, painful to leave a battlefield where the Army of Naples had so much distinguished itself, and acquired so much glory; but its safety was the first consideration. The Generals having explained to me their fears, the superiority of the forces opposed to them, the want of ammunition and provisions, I reluctantly decided upon retiring from this bloody field, and orders were given for the movement to be made at midnight precisely, on the 2 Messidor (June 20).

Our army was to march in three columns, leaving behind the main-guard and outposts to form a curtain to cover their movement, until the enemy attempted to advance, when they were to fall hack upon their respective corps. Montrichard's division was sent forward to open up the road that we were to follow towards Parma and Modena. It was necessary to avoid the battery on the Po and to get round Piacenza; a road was made during the night. After I had assured myself that all my orders had reached their destination and would be fully carried out, the army moved noiselessly at midnight precisely to recross the Nura the point at which the three columns were to join was Cadeo. Scarcely had Montrichard's division gone a few miles ahead of us, scarcely had the right and centre columns passed the Nura and formed up beyond it, when the main-guard appeared, as well as the small body that was observing the castle of Piacenza, followed by the leading troops of the enemy. It would have been very fortunate for us if we could have passed this defile without being harassed; but unhappily Victor's division, which, with the flank company of General Calvin, made up the third column, only started at six in the morning, instead of at midnight. Thus they lost a start which would have been as valuable to them as it was to the others, and also the precious advantage of putting the defile of the Nura between them and the enemy; the bridges could easily have been defended by a few troops. The enemy, as yet unprepared to attack, noticed this retrograde movement, pursued the column, and discovered that there were only a few scouts left along the whole line.

General Victor was pursued and hard pressed, as I could hear plainly, being only a short distance off; but I imagined that the battle was taking place on both banks of the Nura An aide-dc-camp from the General came to beg me for help. In order to rescue him, I caused the whole centre column to recross the river, half to drive back the enemy in front, and the other half to execute a flank attack on their left. We succeeded. Being thus freed, both crossed the Nura once more, and continued, Without being much harassed, their movement upon Cadeo, where the threecolumns were to join. Those of the right and centre arrived there, but the left tarried; however, hearing no firing, I concluded that the movement was being quietly carried out. Our troops were resting, when some horsemen appeared at full gallop from the direction of the left column, followed by a crowd of fugitives in such terror that I preferred allowing them to go by to attempting to stop them. A staff-officer of General Victor at length rode up to ask for help. I immediately sent my reserve, but on reaching the point mentioned, it found neither friends nor enemies, only all the artillery abandoned by the column. The troops had been scattered and fled, some into the mountains, carrying alarm to Genoa, others, as I afterwards heard, to Castel Arquato.

One of the regiments lost its flags ; I have forgotten how. On hearing of this incident, I sent out a number of artillery horses, and rescued all the guns belonging to the column, which were brought back to me by the reserve sent to the assistance of General Victor, who was nowhere to he found. Then we continued our march without further annoyance till the morning.

General Montrichard, who led the march, informed me that the enemy were in front of him, but not stationary. It was important to secure the passage of the Taro, and I sent him word to hasten his advance. At length I had intelligence from General Victor, who stated briefly that his troops, sorely pressed by the enemy, had dispersed, that the rout had begun, and that, to his great regret, he had lost his artillery; that, unless he received contrary instructions, he should make for Borgo San l)onino. That was the very place for which I was bound.

'Set your mind at rest,' I replied, 'as to your artillery. The detachment that I sent to your help, when you begged for it at Cadeo, where I then was, reached the spot where you ought to have been, and found neither friends nor foes; but I caused your guns to he brought in without opposition. I will restore them to you the first time we meet.'

This remark cut General Victor [Victor Perrin, created Marshal of France in 1807, and Duke of Belluno in 1808, after the Battle of Friedland.] to the quick, and I do not believe he has yet forgiven it.

I have never received a satisfactory explanation of this curious event. One grave fault was that of not quitting the battlefield at midnight, which would have given him six hours' start of the enemy. It seems that later on, while crossing the Nura, some disorder had occurred which had not been repaired, and that the appearance of a few Cossacks had sufficed to increase and turn it into a rout; for, although we were but a short distance away, we heard no sound of musketry. I have since heard that Moreau only came down from Genoa by the Bocchetta on the 2 Messidor, the very day on which I was leaving the Trebbia, that the AustroRussians retreated from the Nura, only leaving General Ott with a division, and possibly another small troop, to follow us. If the men of the third column were really as fatigued as General Victor declared, there were certainly no symptoms of it evident in their flight, and they would have been much safer had they held their ground.

On reaching Borgo San Donino, whither Victor had preceded me, I drew UI) fresh instructions for continuing our retrograde movement. The latter General was to return to the Apennines by the pass through which he had come, and troops were successively to hold all the outlets, menace the flank of the enemy that was pursuing me, and thus cover the march of the rest of the army, which was to make for Modena and Bologna with the baggage, place the guns taken from the enemy in Fort Urbino, draw thence fresh ammunition and provisions, take from the two principal towns sufficient food to last them for the five or six days necessary to cross the Apennines, and go to Pistoia and Lucca. It was the more important to guard the mountain passes, as it was indispensable that our junction should he effected near Genoa, and, if these passes were left undefended, the enemy, by taking possession of them, might reach Pontremoli and Sarzana before us, and again cut off our communications by superior forces. True, they might have forced these outlets, and thus isolated me from the Army of Italy I had foreseen this possibility, and determined to defend myself inch by inch. By my marches and movements I should have attrated a large body of troops to me in Tuscany, in the Roman States, even as far as Naples, by relying upon the strongholds. It was with this object that I had brought with me, and left in Rome, a pontoon train to enable me to cross the Garigliano and Volturno.

This movement, however, of the enemy's forces was not much to be feared, for the Army of Italy was certain to be doing something somewhere, and it was not likely that Generals Souvorof and Mélas, leaders of the Allied Armies, would risk themselves between two French armies; prudence, nevertheless, necessitated these dispositions; nothing should be left to chance, and, as time was precious, I lost none in having them carried out.

I sent for General Victor in order to have information from him first, as to why he had been so late in starting from the field of the Trebbia; and secondly, upon all that had taken place on each side of the Nura. He answered that he was busy settling his men in camp, and that he would come later. I wished also to communicate my new instructions to, and to come to a clear understanding with, him, as we were about to part. An hour or two having passed without his arrival, I sent again. He replied that he was tired, and had gone to bed. It was very obvious, therefore, that he wished to avoid a disagreeable explanation upon all that he had done. My instructions were therefore conveyed to him, and we continued our march; but scarcely had I left San Donino when an aide-dc-camp came up at full gallop to tell me that the division was attacked. We were not far away, and he begged me to suspend my movement, and even to come back to their help. General Vatrin, who was beside me, said

''Nonsense! it is only a few Cossacks, like the other day.'

This speech was repeated to General Victor as coming from me, and contributed not a little to increase his ill- humour. A few minites later I was told it was only a skirmish ; a piquet had kept a bad look-out, and had been surprised by the enemy.

I therefore answered merely, 'General Victor has his instructions; let him keep to them,' and continued my route.

I have, forgotten to say that we were constantly followed by a large and ever-increasing number of waggons, which added to our difficulties, notwithstanding my repeated orders to do away with them. Those who drove them, guessing that prompt measures would probably he taken, hastened to unharness and unload, and even to burn them.. Nearly all our wounded had becn deposited at Piacenza, and, as usual, recommended to the enemy's kindness; some few had, however, followed us. I had ordered that each baggage- waggon and cart should take one or two, and this had at first been done, but the proprietors of these vehicles had left the poor fellows in the places where we stopped for the night. I was indignant at this. Several of them were put under arrest, but nothing could be proved against them at the inquiry. They declared that the wounded could not bear the jolting of the waggons, and, unluckily, now it was too late to verify this statement. The burning of these carts freed us somewhat, and it was the real owners who suffered but it was a necessary sacrifice, because of the trouble they caused us. We kept, however, a few for the transportation of our wounded as far as the nearest towns.

The army continued its movement, occupying the Apennines, or marching with the baggage along the highroads. We had to seize Reggio, and fight at Modena and Sassuolo. Had we not been compelled to obtain provisions to take us over the Apennines, I should have avoided every engagement at these last places; but as the Ajennines offered no resources, I took up my position at Modena, after opening the road to Reggio. The enemy, who had at first displayed but few troops, attacked my entire line with a force superior to mine, and menaced the road to Pistoia, where General Calvin was. However, they made no stand, and retired into the mountains. My aide-de-camp, Lacroix, followed them, and carried Sassuolo at the Point of the bayonet, an affair which gained him much honour; he compelled 600 men to lay down their arms, took two flags and two pieces of cannon, and thus opened the communication for us who were engaged at Modena. We also gained a victory there, and maintained our position. Meanwhile, we collected provisions, and levied a contribution (which brought in very little) to punish the town for a rising that had taken place, in which many soldiers had been assassinated and pillaged; some of them could thus be indemnified. The combat finished at nightfall. The enemy had passed the river Crossolo at three or four points, but had always been repulsed. We also made a few prisoners.

Before daybreak the aririy continued its march, leaving its positions to return to the Apennines. Montrichard's division, passing by Bologna, was to bring away the ammunition from Fort Urbino, and to leave there the artillery and military chests taken from the enemy. I do not remember what became of the prisoners; they were perhaps returned, to the number of 500 men, for on such a march they were a serious inconvenience, as they had to be watched and fed. (They were meant to have been exchanged later on for a similar number of our men.) We thus regained our former positions in the Apennines, without being molested, although we were followed. My headquarters were established at Pistoia while waiting for news of General Montrichard and the Army of Italy, whom I presumed to have made a movement towards Tortona, as they had not debouched on the side where I expected them.

We succeeded in reopening communications with Moreau and the Army of Italy. The latter had descended the Apennines by the Bocchetta, and had, at the foot of the mountains, a battle with one of the divisions of the great Allied Army on the very day upon which I retreated from the Trebbia. Had they come down sooner, it is probable that all the forces of Generals Souvorof and Mélas would not have attacked me, as they would have feared for their right flank, placed between two fires, as it would have been had the corps under General Bellegarde been forced.

General Moreau has never explained his conduct, although I have often pressed him to do so by word of mouth, by letter, officially, and by public summons. Why these delays? I am sure there was no ill-will on his part, but merely hesitation, which was part of his nature. I cannot say the same for his advisers. Among them was one man in particular who had great influence, and was inspired by an unjust animosity—it was more than unfriendliness— against me. It was this man, I have since been told, who principally contributed to augment this natural tendency to delay. What matters any detriment to the public weal, so long as private spite can be gratified An explanation of this will corrie in good time, and I will not anticipate it. Moreau returned to the positions whence he had started, having been warned that Generals Souvorof and Mélas were retracing their steps with a portion of their forces in order to effect a junction with General Bellegarde.

While at Lucca I received a note from the Commandant of the fortress of Mantua, informing me that he was blockaded, but not attacked; that he had a strong and courageous garrison, and that the place was sufficiently well provisioned to stand a long siege. I hastened to communicate this reassuring report upon the condition of a place so important to us. We continued our retreat in order to concentrate ourselves with the Army of Italy within the boundaries of Liguria. All our baggage was embarked at Lerici, on the Gulf of Spezzia; the infantry and cavalry passed over the Cornice road, and I vent to Genoa, whither I had been summoned by Moreau to consult as to our future operations, although I was under his orders.

My health was at this time in a very bad state; my wounds were not yet healed, I spat blood, I had violent pains in my chest, and a sort of general inflammation, caused by the vexations and annoyances to which I had been abandoned, by long nights and excessive work, under most difficult circumstances; and I was worried by many different events which, with a little goodwill, loyalty, and honesty, could not have failed to be productive of the best results.

The concentration of the two armies in the neighbourhood of Genoa was decided upon. It was not without keen sorrow that we found it necessary to abandon to themselves the garrisons of the territories of Naples and Rome, to evacuate Elba, Tuscany and Lucca. Instead of sending us the reinforcements of which we stood so sadly in need, a fresh army was formed on the Var or at Chambry, under the command of General Championnet. It was called, I believe, the Army of the Alps. I insisted more strongly than before upon the fusion of the two armies, and upon the necessity of leave of absence to recruit my health.


 


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