Battle of Verona, 26 March 1799

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The battle of Verona (26 March 1799) was the first battle of the War of the Second Coalition in Italy, and saw the Austrians repel a French attack on Verona. At the end of the War of the First Coalition Austria had swapped her existing lands in northern Italy for a large part of the Veneto, Venice's land provinces in Italy. The border between the new Austrian province and the French backed Cisalpine Republic ran along the Adige River. This gave them a foothold across the Alps, and at the start of the War of the Second Coalition the Austrians had an army of 59,000 men under the command of Feldmarschalleutnant Paul Kray Freiherr von Krajova in Italy. A large Russian army was on its way to Italy, and Kray was under orders to wait for its arrival before going onto the offensive.

Kray was facing a French army 58,000 strong under General Barthélemy Schérer. The French were aware that Russian reinforcements were on their way, and Schérer was ordered to push the Austrians out of Verona and the Veneto before Suvorov and the Russians could reach the front.

By late March Kray's men were deployed along the Adige around Verona. A covering force of 8,000 men protected the gap between the Adige and the southern tip of Lake Garda at Pastrengo. 20,000 men in two divisions were based around Verona and a similar force was based around Bevilaqua on the Austrian left (just to the east of Lagnago and just over fifteen miles south east of Verona). Two pontoon bridges across the Adige connected the Austrian right and centre.

The French were also strongest on their left. Schérer had 23,000 men in three divisions on his left. This force was to attack the Austrian lines between Pastrengo and the Adige, then cross the river above Verona and attack the city. General Moreau, with 15,000 men in two divisions faced Verona while the French left wing was made up of one division of 9,000 men under General Joseph Perruquet de Montrichard.

When the battle began on 26 March both armies were thus strong on their left and weak on their right and this strongly influenced the outcome of the battle. Early in the morning the French left pushed the Austrian right back across the Adige above Verona and captured one of the pontoon bridges intact. The French began to cross the river but the intact pontoon bridge was then destroyed when it was hit by a riverboat. This forced Schérer to pause for five hours while the bridge was repaired.

The French centre didn't enter the fight until six in the evening, when Schérer finally ordered Moreau to advance. For three hours Moreau's 15,000 men clashed with Feldmarschalleutnant Konrad Freiherr von Kaim's 20,000 men without either side achieving significant success.

The main Austrian success came on their left. The single French division on their right made the first attack, but was then forced back when the two Austrian divisions on their left attacked in force. The French made a fighting retreat as far as St. Pietro (four miles north west of Legnago) but then broke and fled.

At the end of the day the French had suffered 4,500 casualties, the Austrians 6,500. Upstream of Verona the French were on the east bank of the Adige in strength while downstream the Austrians were on the west bank. Schérer realised that any further Austrian successes on their left would trap his own left wing beyond the Adige and was forced to retreat. Kray too pulled back from his most advanced positions and concentrated around Verona. Schérer returned to the attack in early April, but on 5 April suffered a heavy defeat at Magnano and was removed from command.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 February 2009), Battle of Verona, 26 March 1799 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_verona.html

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