Battle of Novi (15 August 1799)

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Battle of Novi by Alexander Kotzebue

Novi

A major battle between French and Austro-Russian armies near the town of Novi in the Italian Piedmont. As the Allies liberated Lombardy and Piedmont, the French Directory made a new effort to turn the tide of the war by appointing a new commander in chief, the young and energetic General Barthélemy Joubert, to the Armée d’Italie. The French advanced in early August from Genoa, and by 15 August they approached the Allied position at Novi. Joubert was surprised to find that he faced superior Allied forces, as Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov massed more than 50,000 men on the battlefield against 35,000 French and enjoyed a great superiority in cavalry. The French command spent the night vacillating, and, as a result, the French troops had no clear orders for the coming battle. On the Allied side, Suvorov was impatient to attack. At 8:00 P. M. on 14 August, he ordered Austrian Feldzeugmeister Paul Kray Freiherr von Krajova to begin movement during the night so that the troops could attack at dawn.

The Austrians (27,000 men) launched an assault on the French left flank at 5:00 A. M. Hearing the exchange of small arms fire, Joubert rode to observe the action and was instantly killed by a musket ball. His death was kept secret from the army, and General Jean Moreau assumed command in his place. An experienced commander, Moreau realized the dangers and kept his troops on the defensive. Meanwhile, as Kray continued his attack on the French left, generals Peter Bagration and Mikhail Miloradovich attacked the French positions in the center. For the next several hours, the Russians launched desperate charges on the town of Novi, where the French had established strong positions and expertly arranged their batteries on three levels. After seven hours of fighting, the Allies failed to break through the French positions but, around 3:00 P. M., Suvorov launched a flanking attack with General der Kavallerie Michael Freiherr von Melas’s troops, while Bagration attacked Novi and Kray assaulted the left flank.

Despite their stubborn defense, the French right flank was swept away, allowing Bagration to capture Novi and pierce the central positions of the French. The Allies now threatened to encircle the French left wing, which hurriedly withdrew toward Pasturano. The retreating French packed the narrow streets of the village, while Allied troops opened fire on them from the nearby heights. Moreau’s men fled in confusion, leaving their artillery and supplies. Generals Emmanuel, marquis de Grouchy and Catherine Dominique Pérignon tried to organize some sort of resistance, but both were wounded and captured. Feldmarschalleutnant Michael Freiherr von Colli was surrounded and forced to surrender with 2,000 men and 21 guns. Only General Laurent Gouvion St. Cyr’s troops retreated in good order and covered the rest of the army. The exhausted Allied troops did not pursue the French and bivouacked on the battlefield.

The next morning, Suvorov intended to resume the pursuit, but his troops were still exhausted and could not move. Moreau exploited the Allied inactivity and successfully extricated the remaining troops to the Riviera. The Battle at Novi was a decisive Allied victory. The French army was shattered, having lost almost 6,500 killed and wounded, 4,600 captured, including 4 generals, 84 officers, 4 flags, and most of the artillery. The Russians lost 1,900 killed and wounded, while Austrian casualties amounted to 5,800 men.

References and further reading Clausewitz, Karl von. 1833. Die Feldzuge von 1799 in Italien und der Schweiz. Berlin: N. p. Duffy, Christopher. 1999. Eagles over the Alps: Suvorov in Italy and Switzerland, 1799. Chicago: Emperor’s. Gachot, Edouard. 1903. Les campagnes de 1799: Souvarow en Italie. Paris: Perrin. Longworth, Philip. 1965. The Art of Victory: The Life and Achievements of Generalissimo Suvorov, 1729-1800. London: Constable. Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky, Alexander, and Dmitri Miliutin. 1852-1853. Istoriia voini Rossii s Frantsiei v 1799 godu. St. Petersburg: Tip. Shtaba voenno-uchebnykh zavedenii. Orlov, Nikolay. 1895. Suvorov na Trebbii v 1799 g. [Suvorov on Trebbia in 1799]. St. Petersburg: N. p.—,ed. 1898. Pokhod Suvorova v 1799 g.: Po zapiskam Gryazeva [Suvorov’s Campaign of 1799: Gryazev’s Notes]. St. Petersburg: N. p.

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