Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter VIII

While in the thick of these preparations, I heard at one and the same time of the declaration of war, of the loss of a battle, of the retreat of the Army of Italy, and received orders to advance immediately, leaving garrisons in such forts and fortresses as I proposed to retain in the two States, and especially taking steps to keep possession of Rome. My foresight had been of the utmost service. I only needed to recall the divisions concentrated in the provinces of Lecce and Bari and the flying columns. I hastily summoned the members of the Neapolitan Government, who were terror-stricken on hearing of what had happened on the Adige and of my marching orders. I begged them to remain at their posts under the protection of the forts and of the national guard. Not one of them, not one even of my own men, had divined the secret of my preparations. I am not now sure if I even confided them to Abrial, the Government commissioner.

The troops returned by forced marches to camp. Scarcely had those who held Brindisi left it, when the French man-of-war, the Généreux, which had escaped from the fatal battle of Aboukir Bay (1798), came to cast anchor there, feeling convinced that it was yet in our hands. She tried to force an entrance, and was fired upon by such guns as had not been rendered useless. The firing was heard by our retiring troops ; they turned back immediately and saved the ship, which set sail again at once, and the troops reached their destination, followed, however, by large crowds of insurgents, who compelled them to face about several times. The latter collected at Avellino, but their proximity was so dangerous for Naples, and kept the camp so constantly on the alert, that I determined to attack them. I did so. They made no resistance, and were speedily put to flight. This is the site of the ancient Caudine Forks, where a Roman host laid down their arms and passed under the yoke.

Meanwhile we were hurrying on the victualling of the castles of Naples, and the fortresses of Capua and Gaëta, of the Castle of Sant'-Angelo at Rome, of Civita-Castellana, and of Civita-Vecchia and Ancona. A certain amount of baggage and artillery, and a pontoon train and other encumbrances, were forwarded to Rome.

I received dismal intelligence of the .results of the battle of the Adige, and of the retreat of the Army of Italy, of risings in the Cisalpine Republic, in Tuscany, in the Roman States, and in the Abruzzi provinces. Every despatch, while informing me of these occurrences, exhorted me to hasten my movements. I was, of course, most anxious to do this, but I could not make greater speed. I had already sent forward some troops into Tuscany, echeloning them from Rome to Florence. A number of empty ammunition-waggons under convoy had started through the Marches for Italy; they were compelled to retire upon Rome. Many of my orders were rendered nugatory, or were misunderstood by other Generals, especially by the one in command in the Roman States. No one considered or thought of anything but his own immediate business, without any regard for unity of plan.

Instructions had been issued to the commandants of all the strongholds and castles, which prescribed for them carefully their conduct in every extremity. I told them that they could only he invested, and not attacked, as there were no regular troops to fear, and the Neapolitan artillery had been assembled at Capua. I further told them to collect all the provisions they could about them, and, as far as lay in their power, to be careful how they were used. I added that I would soon come to their relief, imagining that France was about to make great efforts to help the Army of Italy, and that by our junction we ought to be soon able to regain our preponderance and repulse the enemy.

With this object, in the event of our being victorious, or of my being prevented from passing into Tuscany, I had taken endless pains to form a pontoon train, wherewith I could cross the Garigliano and Volturno, after defending the ground inch by inch. My one fear was that I might be unable to effect my junction with the Army of Italy. This army had been repulsed in Piedmont, and the risings, fomented by the enemy, were increasing. General Gauthier, commanding in Tuscany, had but few troops, and the detachments that I had been able to send up were but very feeble reinforcements. My instructions to him were to fall back upon me in case he found it necessary to evacuate the territory.

Having thus provided for the garrisons charged with the double task of ensuring the safety of our numerous sick and wounded, and of providing me with places of retreat in case I were beaten back, I crossed the Volturno, and marched in two columns on Rome, having with me only twenty-four battalions and squadrons. The right column met with severe resistance at Lisola, but succeeded in forcing its way; the left rounded the Pontine Marshes, which I myself crossed, and we reached Rome, whence troops were continually starting for Florence. There I learned that the Army of Italy hoped to make a stand UOfl the Ticino, which encouraged me; I learned at the same time that a strong detachment which was evacuating the Abruzzi by way of Sulmona had had much difficulty in forcing its way past Rocca d'Anzo. I think it had lost three hundred men, together with artillery, baggage, and provisions; the bridges had been destroyed, and the roads encumbered with obstacles of all kinds that had only been surmounted with difficulty.

I was in a state of terrible anxiety and worry, owing to the position in which I had left so many French people in the State of Naples, so many persons devoted to our cause, who would be exposed to the vengeance of the Court, now in exile in Sicily, if our efforts were to fail. In Rome difficulties of organization occupied me several days, though they did not retard the march of my troops. The risings in Naples had extended over the entire Roman States, as over Tuscany, and, in fact, the whole of Italy was disaffected. Despite my letters and apparent confidence, I had good reason to fear that we should he stopped on the road by this state of things ; for our communications, already interrupted on the right bank of the river Po, were interrupted also between Florence and Genoa. I at length quitted Rome, after encouraging the French authorities, as well as those of the Republic, to show a bold face in these times of difficulty. I left a garrison, a small one I admit, together with a few Roman troops, upon whom I did not count, especially if they once met with a reverse. I left there the pontoon train, baggage, and various things which only encumbered my march. A party had preceded us Without an escort, among whom were the family of Méchin. They had all been seized on the road by the insurgents.

General Monnier, who commanded the district of Ancona, the only man who did his duty, had sent to me for instructions. I merely answered:

'You know what honour requires and what the law demands; I leave it to you.'

On the supposition that all my efforts were going to fail, and that I was going to be completely stopped on my march, I intended to occupy a strong position, and to keep the enemy in check as long as I could, for I felt sure that they would never dare to venture into the Roman and Neapolitan Republics as long as the Army of Italy was not obliged to recross the Alps. In the contrary event, I determined to dispute every foot of ground, falling back gradually upon Rome and the Neapolitan forts, to defend myself to the last gasp, convinced that France would spare no efforts to reinforce the Army of Italy, and attempt fresh diversions in order to set us free.

General Moreau, on his side, tried to check the enemy, but mere pluck could do nothing against forces superior in number and flushed with victory. His communications being hampered, he ought, in my opinion, to have managed to stretch out a hand towards me while falling back upon Genoa. This junction could alone have enabled us, if not to resume the offensive, at any rate to await assistance from France; but he preferred to maintain his communications through Piedmont, which was already disturbed, instead of by the Cornice road. This last plan could have served the double purpose of covering that road and of preventing any obstacles being placed in the way of our junction in Tuscany. Instead of executing a manoeuvre at once so simple, so natural, and so useful to our cause, finding himself compelled to abandon the Ticino, he threw himself into Piedmont in order, as it was said, to attract thither the Austro-Russians, and to return by a forced march from Ceva to Genoa, I believe. The latter place capitulated to a band of insurgents, so that, deprived of this outlet, he was obliged to abandon part of his equipment, and to make his way over the mountains.

I had left Rome in the hope that the Ticino would be held long enough for me to effect a junction, and on reaching Florence, or on my way thither, I learnt the position into which the Army of Italy had been thrown. My plan had been bold, hazardous perhaps; but it was of the kind that often succeeds in war. I had never shown all my hand. Communication between Florence and Genoa had been cut off, and it was not safe to trust to the sea; no ship was ready at the port of Lerici, in the Gulf of Spezzia. I knew also that Mantua was, in all probability, invested ; it was a very strong position, well garrisoned, I had reason to believe, well provisioned, and commanded by General Latour-Foissac, father of the present Major-General of that name.

I made for Pistoia, and my first proceeding was to take up a position on the Apennines and guard all the passes. I made an attack on the enemy at Sarzana and Pontremoli. Both places were carried, and communication with Genoa re-established. General Dessole, chief of the staff of the Army of Italy, separated, I forget how, from General Moreau, gave me all the sad details just related. Montrichard and Victor had posted their divisions, one at Bologna, and the other not far from Genoa. I had matured my undeveloped scheme, which was to bring about a junction between the two, if they were placed under my orders, and to precipitate myself from the summit of the Apennines against the enemy's left wing, which was posted in the valley of the Po at the foot of the passes, and the principal body of which was covering Modena.

I communicated this plan to General Dessole, and he approved it, at the same tune, however, advising me to suspend its execution until the arrival of General Moreau at Genoa, an event which was shortly to take place. The operation, if successfully carried out, would paralyze the left wing of the enemy, if it did not utterly destroy it, and would separate it from the main army by cutting off its communications with it, and driving it across the Po. Proceeding up the right bank of the river, threatening to proceed to raise the siege of Mantua, I hoped by that means to disengage the Army of Italy by forcing the enemy to retreat along the left bank, after which I should have effected my junction with Moreau at Parma or Piacenza.

Meanwhile, I had made preparations to suppress a rising in Arezzo, but postponed it, as I required all my forces.

It might perhaps have been better to effect the junction by the Cornice; at any rate, it would then have been managed without obstacles, as it eventually turned out; but I think I have already explained that there were not sufficient ships in the harbour of Lerici to transport all the artillery and baggage to Genoa, and the Cornice was then nothing but a mule-track. However, in proceeding to carry out the other plan, we did not neglect to supply plenty of transports in case of defeat, which later on saved our most precious war- material.

If, on the other hand, the expedition succeeded it would bring about results of even greater importance. The gain of a single battle would enable us to reconquer all we had lost, and would put a stop to the insurrections, which would no longer have the countenance and support of the enemy; but to prevent failure, the simultaneous action of both• armies was necessary, albeit at a great distance apart. The sequel will show how it failed owing to Moreau's irresolution.

All our reports tended to prove a determination on the part of the enemy to keep their position before Modena, and to prevent the Army of Italy from quitting the passes of the Apennines. Montrichard's division, stationed as I have said at Bologna, as well as Victor's, at Pontremoli, I think, were placed under my command. General Lapoype, with 3,000 or 4,000 men, was at Bobbio. The important matter was to retain Florence and Leghorn in my absence, and the State of Tuscany, being almost in arms, necessitated the presence of a force sufficiently imposing to maintain order and give us security. General Gauthier took the command. [I think I have made a mistake in quoting the Ticino for the Bormida. It was behind the latter river that Moreau had retired, and whence he was driven during my march from Rome to Florence. It will not seem strange to you, my son, if, writing as I do from memory, after so many years crowded with events, you find here and there little slips that you can easily correct by examining my journals and correspondence, which I have not by me, and which, even if I had them, are in such confusion that they would he no real help to me. Moreover, I am writing for you alone, to give you a sketch of my military career. I shall presently be compelled to have recourse to some of my old journals, because an important event which took place soon afterwards, the Battle of the Trebbia, has given rise to much controversy, and will require more detail. —Note by Marshal Macdonald.]

General Moreau, unaware of these exigencies, and imagining that I was marching with all my troops, expected that I should collect about 40,000 men, including those belonging to his army, from Tuscany and Genoa, that is to say, with Montrichard's, Prignon's, and Victor's divisions; but of the Army of Naples I left in that kingdom and in the Roman States from 14,000 to 15,000 men, including sick, and 4,000 or 5,000 in Tuscany. General Pérignon's division could not act with me, for it was only later, on reaching Piacenza, that I heard that the small body belonging to General Lapoype at Bobbio would be at my disposal. The Army of Naples was now able to take the offensive, as with Montrichard's and Victor's divisions it reached the total of 25,000 men, well equipped.

After so long a forced march as that from Brindisi into Tuscany, the need of a few days' rest, and for repairs to material, clothing, harness, ironwork, etc., etc., will be easily understood. The army therefore took up a position. I had only very doubtful information regarding the strength and position of the enemy, and it would have been imprudent to risk anything.

We expected, and hoped, that the Mediterranean squadron, commanded by Admiral Bruix, was on its way with a reinforcement of 15,000 men ; if this were the case, and they could be disembarked either at Spezzia or Genoa, and there joined to all the men whom Moreau could collect round the town, we might hope for some success, and look forward to repairing our losses ; but these rumours were unfounded.

I learned at the same time news that had better foundation in fact, namely, the appearance off Ancona of a Turco-Russian fleet, conveying troops to he disembarked; but I was quite at ease, knowing the promptitude of General Monnier. Besides, the Italian business would have to be settled before the reduction of that town, which would take several months. I thought that I might place the same reliance upon the commandants left in the kingdom of Naples, but shortly after my departure they allowed themselves to be intimidated by masses of insurgents, supported by some English detachments, and yielded one after another. What was not the least unfortunate part of the matter was that they abandoned Fort Sant'-Elmo, giving U their compatriots to the vengeance of their sovereign, and Admiral Nelson did not hesitate to tarnish his glory and reputation by causing the unfortunate Admiral Caracciolo to he hanged at his own mast-head. Other patriots were courageous enough to blow themselves up in the little fort called, I think, the Maddalena, near Naples, on the road to Castellarnare. I have never heard that after the French reoccupied this kingdom, which became that of Joseph Bonaparte and Murat, any steps were taken to honour this act of devotion.

While the troops were taking up the positions assigned to them, the work of making and distributing necessary articles was pushed on as fast as possible; provisions were collected, either to cross the Apennines or to fall back upon Genoa. I discussed with General Dessole the advantages and drawbacks of an offensive movement; if Moreau returned to Genoa with the rest of his troops, and we acted in concert, we might count upon a force of about 60,000 men. In any case, I urged upon General Dessole the advisability of sending all ships at his disposal from Genoa to Spezzia, and I sent thither all mine from Leghorn. The event proved that this was a wise precaution.

I had just heard that the citadel of Ferrara had capitulated, and that Fort Urbino was about to be attacked. General Montrichard was at Bologna. I did not know him personally, but presumed he was a man of talent and courage, as he had appeared to possess a reputation upon the banks of the Rhine, a reputation no doubt usurped, as I learned to my cost. I had praised him, never dreaming that he had been the principal cause of the loss of the Commander-in-chief, Schérer, on the Adige, that he had retired from Legnano almost without a blow, thus leaving the passage open to the enemy. This had compelled the unlucky Schérer to retreat, and his original acceptance of the command had been severely commented upon without justice. He was reproached with severity, even with harshness, I know not on what ground. I have never found cause in him for anything but praise, and certainly his misfortunes did not arise from want of skill. During his ministry he had quarrelled with General Bonaparte, and consequently with the Army of Italy. When the latter started for Egypt with its chief, and was replaced by other troops from the Rhine and the interior, the hostile feeling remained, and took root in the Italian soil.

My troops continued their march to take up their position at the mouth of all the passes of the Apennines, and I established my headquarters at Lucca, after deciding with the commandant and the Government Commissioner at Florence upon the best means for keeping open communications in Tuscany. This had become a difficult matter, owing to the partial insurrections, particularly that at Arezzo.

I think I have already said that Pontremoli had been retaken. I caused Sarzana to be occupied, so as to help and support communications with Genoa. I received good news from Naples, but none from any of the fortresses. The squadron under Admiral Bruix, which I believed to be holding the Mediterranean, was at Toulon without any troops. Porto-Ferraio, in the island of Elba, was besieged and clamouring for help, but I had none to give. I begged the General commanding in Corsica to see to it Want made itself universally felt, even at Genoa. I visited Leghorn. Victor's division came to Sarzana to replace the troops from Naples. I had not been warned of this movement, which necessitated a change of position. The civil agents with the two armies [The divisions of Montrichard and Victor, put provisionally at the disposal of Macdonald, had not ceased to belong to Moreau's army. They kept alive a spirit of dangerous rivalry with the Army of Naples.] could not agree. Worn out with these quarrels as much as with my work, and considering it hopeless to bring all parts of the service into harmony —it even seemed impossible to keep a friendly feeling between the Generals of the two armies owing to their jealousy—I explained the situation to the Directory, proposing to it to unite the two under one Commander, that of the Army of Italy, at the same time offering to resign and serve in the line. I thus sacrificed myself to the public good, but it was long ere my offer of patriotic devotion reached its destination and I obtained an answer. Meanwhile, the crisis was becoming more acute; something had to be done to stop the advance of the enemy and the constant risings of the people.


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus