After Napoleon had gathered his army of 40,000 men in the Alessandria region he had to cross the Po River with the Austrian army on the other side. He decided to cross at Piacenza, fifty miles to the east of Valenza on the 6th of May. Knowing full well that the Austrians would see any major movement of French troops across the Po and react accordingly, Napoleon created a diversion to draw the Austrians away from Piacenza. Massena and Sérurier were ordered to fake a major crossing of the Po at Valenza while a smaller group of French soldiers made the crossing at Piacenza. The diversion worked for two days until Beaulieu learned of the French army’s intent. Beaulieu was at Piacenza by the 7th.
The French army’s successful crossing of the Po River forced Beaulieu
to retreat north to Lodi, on the Adda River, as he sought to put a river between
his forces and those of the French. Bonaparte continued pursued the Austrians
and fell upon Lodi on the 10th. By then, General Beaulieu had all of his army
across the Adda River and had left 10,000 men under the command of General
Sebottendorf to block the bridge passing at Lodi. Napoleon’s forces stormed
the bridge decimating Sebonttendorf’s defense. The Austrian general rapidly
retreated to Beaulieu’s main army leaving 153 casualties, 1700 prisoners and
sixteen guns. Napoleon lost 350 men in the process of gaining control of the bridgehead.
On the 15th of May, Napoleon marched his army through the
streets of Milan as the citizens gave him a hero’s welcome.
French army could not rest long with Beaulieu and his forces still in the
region. After a week’s pause, Bonaparte set out after Beaulieu again on the 22nd
of May with 30,000 men. The Austrian general had 28,000 men fortified in
garrisons along the west bank of the
Mincio River, flanked by Lake Garda to the north and the Po River to the south.
After considering the numerous crossing points across the Mincio River,
Napoleon chose to push through Beaulieu’s forces at Borghetto, the center of
the Austrian defense, just across the river from Vallégio. The attack would be
aided in part by a feint crossing at Peschiera to the north. This maneuver was
intended to force Beaulieu’s troops north from Mantova.
On the 30th, the French army successfully stormed the
bridgehead at Borghetto, forcing Beaulieu, in turn, to retreat north
and east across the Adige River. The French army continued to press the
Austrians with Augereau’s division advancing on Peschiera, Sérurier’s
division taking Mantova, and Massena’s troops occupying Verona. General
Beaulieu had no choice but to continue his retreat up the east
side of Lake Garda.
In only seven days, the French Army of Italy had secured their position in the Po
Valley and had gained control of all of the southern approaches to the Alpine
passes. Beaulieu eventually retreated up to Trento as Napoleon commenced his
siege on the fortress of Mantova, still in Austrian control. Napoleon’s
successes in the Po Valley brought an end to the second phase of the Italian
Chandler, David G. (1966). The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: MacMillan
Publishing Co., Inc.
Britt, Albert Sydney (1986). Atlas for Wars of Napoleon. Wayne, N.J. : Avery Publishing Group.