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The Battle of Marengo was fought on 14 June 1800 between French forces under Napoleon Bonaparte and Austrian forces near the city of Alessandria, in Piedmont, Italy. The French overcame General Michael von Melas's surprise attack near the end of the day, driving the Austrians out of Italy, and enhancing Napoleon's political position in Paris as First Consul of France in the wake of his coup d’état the previous November.

Surprised by the Austrian advance toward Genoa in mid-April 1800, Bonaparte had hastily led his army over the Alps in mid-May and reached Milan on 2 June. After cutting Melas’s line of communications by crossing the river Po and defeating Feldmarschallleutnant (FML) Peter Karl Ott von Bátorkéz at Montebello on 9 June, the French closed in on the Austrian army, which had massed in Alessandria. Deceived by a local double agent, Bonaparte dispatched large forces to the north and south, but the Austrians launched a surprise attack on 14 June against the main French army under General Louis Alexandre Berthier.

Initially, their two assaults across the Fontanone stream near Marengo village were repelled, and General Jean Lannes reinforced the French right. Bonaparte realised the true position and issued orders at 11:00 am to recall the detachment under Général de Division (GdD) Louis Desaix, while moving his reserve forward. On the Austrian left, Ott’s column had taken Castel Ceriolo, and its advance guard moved south to attack Lannes’s flank. Melas renewed the main assault and the Austrians broke the central French position. By 2:30 pm the French were withdrawing and Austrian dragoons seized the Marengo farm. Bonaparte had by then arrived with the reserve, but Berthier’s troops began to fall back on the main vine belts. Knowing Desaix was approaching, Bonaparte was anxious about a column of Ott’s soldiers marching from the north, so he deployed his Consular Guard infantry to delay it. The French then withdrew steadily eastward toward San Giuliano Vecchio as the Austrians formed a column to follow them in line with Ott’s advance in the northern sector.

Desaix’s arrival around 5:30 pm stabilised the French position as the 9th Light Infantry Regiment delayed the Austrian advance down the main road and the rest of the army re-formed north of Cascina Grossa. As the pursuing Austrian troops arrived, a mix of musketry and artillery fire concealed the surprise attack of Général de Brigade (GdB) François Étienne de Kellermann’s cavalry, which threw the Austrian pursuit into disordered flight back into Alessandria, with about 14, 000 killed, wounded, or captured. The French casualties were considerably fewer, but included Desaix. The whole French line chased after the Austrians to seal une victoire politique (a political victory) that secured Bonaparte’s grip on power after the coup. It would be followed by a propaganda campaign, which sought to rewrite the story of the battle three times during Napoleon’s rule.


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