Italian Campaign of Napoleon 1796–97

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Italian Campaign of Napoleon (1796–97)


military operations of the French troops of General Napoleon Bonaparte against Austro-Sardinian troops in northern Italy during the war of 1792–97 between France and the First Coalition (including Austria, Great Britain, Prussia [up to 1795], Russia, Sardinia, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies).

In 1796 the French command prepared to move against Austria with the armies of Generals J. B. Jourdan and J. V. Moreau (155, 000 men) on the Rhine River. The secondary task of seizing northern Italy was assigned to Bonaparte’s Army of Italy (about 42, 000 men). As the campaigns developed, however, Italy became the decisive theater. In early April 1796, the main forces of the Army of Italy (35, 000) held the coast of the Gulf of Genoa, facing the Sardinian Army of General Colli (22, 000) and the Austrian Army of Field Marshal J.-P. Beaulieu (30, -000). The mountain passages from Piedmont to France were secured by the French Army of the Alps, commanded by General F. C. Kellermann (20, 000), which was opposed by the Duke of Aosta’s Sardinian troops (20, 000). On April 11 the French troops took the offensive. Concentrating superior forces in succession against the separate enemy forces stretched out along a broad front, Bonaparte defeated them one by one at Mon-tenotte (April 12) and at Ceva and Mondovì (April 22). On April 28, Sardinia concluded an armistice with France, followed on May 5 by a peace treaty.

Bonaparte then forced Austrian withdrawals first from the Po River, then from the Adda. The French troops were victorious at Lodi on May 10, occupied Milan on May 15, and blockaded Mantua on June 4. Other French forces advanced on Tuscany and on June 29 occupied Livorno, a British naval base. The battle for Mantua, the chief strong point in Italy, began at the end of July. The Austrian command (under General Wurmser from May to October and then under Field Marshal Alvinczy) made four attempts to relieve the fortress but was frustrated in battles at Castiglione (August 5), Rovereto (September 5), Bas-sano (September 8), Arcole (November 15–17), and Rivoli (Jan. 13–15, 1797). On February 2, Mantua capitulated. In March the French invaded Austria and began an assault on Vienna. On April 18 the Leoben Armistice was signed, followed on October 17 by the Treaty of Campo Formio of 1797.

In the course of the campaigns, several republics were formed and bourgeois reforms instituted. However, the French Army, while destroying the feudal order, at the same time pillaged conquered territories, cruelly suppressing popular discontent. The new strategy employed by the French troops, combining columns with extended order, and Bonaparte’s skill as a military leader were the main factors in the French success. Boldly maneuvering his limited forces, he was able to attain a numerical supremacy in the decisive areas, while the Austrians blindly followed the canons of cordon strategy and line tactics.


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Bogdanovich, M. I. Pokhod 1796 g. Bonaparta v Italii. St. Petersburg, 1860.
Clausewitz, K. ItaVianskii pokhod Napoleona Bonaparta 1796 g. Moscow, 1939.
Levitskii, N. A. Polkovodcheskoe iskusstvo Napoleona. Moscow, 1938.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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