14 June, 1800
Guides for Northern Italy
confidence in your own abilities is essential to a general.
Not fearing your enemies is another.
his victories over the Austrians and their Allies in 1796,
and having just ended a strategically brilliant and perilous
crossing of the Alps to surprise his enemies, an over confident
Napoleon Bonaparte spread
his forces thinly to prevent them escaping.
He neglected, however, to plan for any aggressive movement
from the Austrians under the elderly, but competent, General
arrogance almost cost him his army as Melas launched an
early-morning attack that Bonaparte initially dismissed
as a feint but, as his forces came under more pressure,
he realised he was in serious trouble.
riders to recall two divisions he had sent earlier to flank
the Austrians when they "retreated", Bonaparte then set
about trying to hold off the vastly superior enemy.
several hours of fighting and with no reserves, Bonaparte's
position was parlous and, at about 2pm, the French line
began to give way.
The French commander, however, was fortunate and two events
occurred that swung the battle in his favour.
Melas made the decision to leave the field and left his
troops under General Zach.
the supremely talented General
Louis Desaix had heard the cannons firing and had turned
around his divisions and "marched to the sound of the guns".
Arriving back at the field of Marengo he approached Bonaparte
and said that while the battle was lost, there was still
time to win another.
a counterattack closely supported by a wedge of cannon,
Desaix's men threw themselves at the Austrians.
The assault cost Desaix his life, but won the day against
the Austrians who broke and fled leaving behind 14,000 casualties.
The French suffered 7000.