Battle of Montebello

Arc de Triomphe: MONTEBELLO

June 9, 1800

Hoping to thwart Austrian advances in Italy, First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte had led the Army of the Reserve over the Alps and into Italy in a surprise offensive. General Lannes, leading the advance guard of the French army, made contact with the Austrian General Ott's 17,000 soldiers and 35 guns at the villages of Casteggio and Montebello at dawn on June 9th. Despite having orders to not attack the enemy and instead hold a defensive position and await reinforcements, Lannes immediately launched into an attack on the Austrian positions with General Watrin's division of 6000 soldiers. The Austrians had placed most of their artillery on the heights south of Casteggio, and held the majority of their forces around Casteggio itself.

Map of the Battle of Montebello

Lannes launched a three pronged attack, with one force charging directly at Casteggio, another moving north of Casteggio to flank it, and a third moving south to attempt to silence the Austrian artillery position. While the French had considerable momentum, their inferior numbers of three to one odds kept them from making significant progress. At three in the afternoon, General Victor and his 6000 troops arrived to reinforce Lannes. Victor did not hesitate to turn over his command to Lannes, despite the fact that he held higher authority. Lannes immediately began to utilize Victor's reinforcements, and the addition of fresh troops boosted the French momentum enough that they were able to push the Austrians out of Casteggio. As the Austrians streamed back from Casteggio, the French pursued them through Montebello, then stopped to rest and regroup at Montebello.

The French advance guard, with initially only one third of the size of the Austrian contingent, and then later only two thirds, had won quite the victory, taking numerous prisoners. Unfortunately for the French, this success would contribute to Napoleon's incorrect interpretation of Austrian movements as he began to suspect that the Austrians were retreating from his forces. When the Austrians attacked less than a week later at Marengo, Napoleon was caught completely off guard.

Eight years later Lannes was rewarded by Napoleon with the title of Duke of Montebello for the victory, and Lannes thanked Victor for the title, crediting Victor's qualities as a general and his timely reinforcement as the deciding factor in the victory.


Updated February 2014

© Nathan D. Jensen