MARENGO, a village of north Italy, on the road between Alessandria and Tortona, and 4! m. E.S.E. of the gates of the former. It is situated on the Fontanone brook, a small affluent of the Tanaro which marks the western edge of the plain of Marengo, the scene of the great victory won by Napoleon over the Austrians under Baron Melas (1729-1806) on the 14th of June 1800. The antecedents of the battle are described under FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS).
The French army, in ignorance of its opponent's position, had advanced westward from the Scrivia towards Alessandria on the 12th, and its outposts had reached the Bormida on the evening of the 13th. But contact with the main Austrian army was not obtained, and on the assumption that it was moving towards either Valenza or Genoa Napoleon weakened his army by considerable detachments sent out right and left to find the enemy and to delay his progress. Unknown, however, to Napoleon Melas's army was still at Alessandria, and on the morning of the 14th of June it filed out of the fortress and began its advance into the great plain of Marengo, one of the few favourable cavalry battle-grounds in north Italy.
The dispersion of the French army allowed only a fragmentary, though most energetic, resistance to be offered to the Austrian onset. The latter, considerably delayed at first by the crossing of the river Bormida, broke up into two columns, 1 which advanced, the right by the main road on Marengo, the left on Castel Ceriolo. The former, personally commanded by Melas, was 20,000 strong, and General Victor, its immediate opponent, about 10,000, or including some 5000 of Lannes' corps who fought on his right, about 15,000 strong; the Austrians were, moreover, greatly superior in guns and cavalry. The French disputed every yard of ground, holding their first line until they had by fire and counter-attack forced practically the whole of the Austrian right to deploy, and two hours passed before the Austrians managed to reach the Fontanone brook. But Victor's troops, being disorganized and short of ammunition, had then to retire more rapidly across the plain. The retreat was orderly, according to Victor's report, and made in 6chelon from the centre, ^ A third column was sent out to the extreme right (3000 under I'Reilly). This destroyed a small French detachment on the extreme left, but took little or no part in the main battle.
and it is certain that at any rate the regiments held together, for the 6000 Austrian sabres found no opportunity to charge home. Many guns and wagons were, however, abandoned.
On the French right, opposed to the column of Lieut. - FieldMarshal Ott, was Lannes, with some 4000 men (excluding Watrin's division which was with Victor) against 7500. He too was after a time forced to retire, with heavy losses. Thus, about ii a.m. the First Consul, who was at some distance from the field, was at last convinced that he had to deal with Melas's army. At once he sent out his staff officers to bring back his detachments, and pushed forward his only reserve, Monnier's division, to support Lannes and Victor. But before this help arrived Lannes had been driven out of Castel Ceriolo, and Victor and Watrin forced back almost to San Giuliano. A little after 2 p.m. Monnier's division (3500) came into action, and its impetuous advance drove the Austrians out of Castel Ceriolo. But after an hour it was forced back in its turn, and by 3 p.m. therefore, the 20,000 French troops, disordered and exhausted, and in one line without reserves, 2 held a ragged line of battle to the right and left of San Giuliano. The best that could be expected was a prolongation of the struggle till nightfall and a fairly orderly retreat. The Austrian general, believing that the battle was won, returned to Alessandria, leaving a younger man, his chief of staff Zach, to organize the pursuit.
Then followed one of the most dramatic events in military history. Of the two detachments sent away by Napoleon in search of the enemy, one only received its orders of recall. This was Boudet's division of Desaix's corps, away to the south at Rivalta and at noon heading for Pozzolo-Formigaro on the Alessandria-Genoa road. At i p.m. a brief message, " Revenez, au nom de Dieu!" altered the direction of the column, and between 4 and 5, after a forced march, the division, headed by Desaix, came on to the battle-field. It was deployed as a unit and moved forward at the word of command along the main road Alessandria-Tortona, the sight of their closed line giving fresh courage to the men of Lannes and Victor. Then, while on the other side Zach was arraying a deep column of troops to pursue along the main road, Napoleon and Desaix, themselves under fire, hastily framed a plan of attack. All. arms were combined. First, Marmont with eight of Boudet's guns and ten others (the rest had been abandoned in the retirement) came into action on the right of the road, replying to the fire of the Austrian guns and checking their advanced infantry; close in rear of the artillery was Desaix's infantry with the remnants of Lannes' and Victor's troops rallying on its right and left; on Lannes' right, still facing Ott's column, was Monnier, supported by the Consular Guard of horse and foot; lastly 400 sabres of Kellermann's cavalry brigade, which had already been engaged several times and had lost heavily, formed up on the right of Desaix. About 5 p.m. Desaix advanced against the head of the Austrian main column formed by Zach. He himself fell in the attack, but the onset of his intact troops drove back the leading Austrians upon their supports, and at the critical moment when the attack of Boudet's single weak division had almost spent its force, Kellermann with his 400 sabres sallied out of the French line. Marmont had brought up two guns to assist the infantry, and as he fired his last round of case-shot the cavalry raced past him to the front, wheeled inwards against the flank of the great column, and rode through and through it. Zach was taken prisoner with more than 2000 men, and Kellermann, rallying some of his troopers, flung himself upon the astonished Austrian cavalry and with the assistance of the Consular Guard cavalry defeated it. The " will to conquer " spread along the whole French line, while the surprise of the Austrians suddenly and strangely became mere panic. Lannes, Victor and Monnier advanced afresh, pushing the Austrians back on Marengo. A few Austrian battalions made a gallant stand at that place, while Melas himself, as night came on, rallied the fugitives beyond. Next day the completely exhausted, but victorious, 1 The Austrians, too, fighting in " linear " formation had few reserves. About one-third only of the imperial forces in Italy was actually engaged in the battle.
French army extorted from the dazed Austrians a convention by which all Italy up to the Mincio was evacuated by them. The respective losses were: French about 4000, Austrians 9500. See the French official Campagne de I'armee de reserve, vol. ii., by C. de Cugnac.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)