Ars Bellica

Battles In Brief

Battle of Assietta

July 19, 1747

The opponents

Charles-Louis-Auguste Fouquet Count, later Duke of Belle-Isle (Agde September 19, 1693 - July 19, 1747 battle of Assietta)

Louis Charles Armand Fouquet, known as the Chevalier de Belle-Isle, was a French general and diplomat. He was the younger brother of Marshal Charles Louis Auguste Fouquet, duc de Belle-Isle.

He served as a young officer in the War of the Spanish Succession, and as sergeant in the campaign of 1734 on the Rhine and Moselle, where he gained the rank of Field Marshal. Was employed under the command of his brother in political missions in Bavaria and Swabia, between 1741 and 1742. In the period 1742-1743, he left the diplomatic efforts and attained the rank of lieutenant general, fighting in Bohemia, Bavaria and the Rhineland area. After the fighting, Marshal Belle-Isle, acquired full powers from the king of France and Emperor Charles VII, returned to the diplomatic tasks and brought with him his brother. Returning from Kassel, December 20, 1746 they were stopped for change their horses at a post station in the village of Elbingrode, belonged, at that time to Electorate of Hanover, and arrested with their retinue, as passing without a passport in a country in war with the France. Once released, Luois Charles was still under the orders of his brother in Piedmont, where Louis XV sent a strong army of 150 regiments of infantry, 75 squadrons of cavalry and two artillery brigades, under the command of the Chevalier de Belleisle and the Spanish Marquis de las Minas. On 19 July 1747, on the hills of Assietta was killed while trying to get glory on the field carrying an assault with the flag in his hands.

Giovan Battista Cacherano Count of Bricherasio (Bricherasio, November 14, 1706 - September 6, 1782)

Giovan Battista Cacherano Count of Bricherasio, was born in Bricherasio (Pinerolo) by Theodore III, captain of the regiment Monferrato, and Laura Caissotti Vigone, widow of the Earl of Villafaletto Chiaffredo Faletto. Launched in the military career as indeed his brothers Filiberto, Carlo and Gianmatteo, which will take in the second half of the eighteenth century the government of some fortresses and cities of Piedmont. He rose, at its own expense, in April 1734, the "regiment of the Vaudois", so named because the soldiers were recruited in the valleys of Pellice, of Chisone and St. Martin. Appointed, on April 9, as colonel of the brigade, which later change its name to "regiment of the Queen" in honor of Polyxena Christina of Hesse, wife of Charles Emmanuel III, he participated in the final stages of the war for the Polish Succession in Italy. But only later, in the course of military operations in defense of Savoy and the valleys of Casteldelfino, during the first phase of the War of Austrian Succession, the Bricherasio was able to show his abilities to the sovereign, gaining on January 22, 1744, the rank of brigadier of the army. Once left the valleys of the Pellice, in July, where he had been sent to prevent any attempts of Francophile sedition, he then participated, September 30, at the head of his regiment at the unfortunate battle of Madonna dell'Olmo, near Cuneo, in which he behaved honorably, but where was wounded on the field with his two brothers, Carlo and Gianmatteo. Carlo Emanuele III promoted him, May 9, 1745, as major general of the Astigiano infantry, transferring him, the following year, in Piacenza. From Piacenza, where he held, for few months, the military command, the Bricherasio moved in January 1747 to Savona as to rejoin the "regiment of the Queen" which had taken part, under the command of his brother, Lieutenant Colonel Gianmatteo, the siege of the castle, that fell in December 1746. Called by the governor of Savona and appointed suddenly, by the express will of the sovereign, to the rank of lieutenant general of infantry, on June 20, 1747, the Bericherasio assumed the chief command of the troops directed to flow in the valleys of Susa and Fenestrelle with the task of defend the borders against the French. The choice of Charles Emmanuel will appear particularly right to us, especially after his vicotry in the famous battle of Assietta.

Rewarded by Carlo Emanuele III with the Grand Cross of the Order of SS. Maurice and Lazarus Collar on September 19, 1748, then, on November 17, awarded with the commendation of the Holy Faith of Vercelli and the annual pension of 1,200 pounds, the Bricherasio assumed, on 11 May 1750 the task of tutor to the Duke of Chablais and the following year, 3 September 1751, was appointed representative of the sovereign, with the title of viceroy and captain general of the island of Sardinia, from which he returned four years later to assume, on July 16, 1755, the government of the city and county of Tortona. But with the passage three years later, April 24 1758, in the governorate of Alexandria, Bricherasio will be able to consolidate his political and administrative experience, as part of the line marked by Carlo Emanuele III for a bureaucratic-military government, but also to strengthen the institutions of the central administration and restriction of the privileges of the clergy. The political activity of the Bricherasio ended, however, with the lure in Turin in 1763 and the appointment on 15 October, for government of the citadel of Turin, which still follow, December 4, the contribution of the collar of the Supreme Order of the Annunciation and promotion, March 4, 1771, at large master general of infantry and artillery.

He died in Bricherasio 6 September, 1782, leaving nine children, including four girls, from the marriage (which took place February 28, 1734) with Maria Vittoria Ripa di Meana.

The War of the Austrian Succession

The War of the Austrian Succession was determined in 1740 by the dimming of the Austrian Habsburg family, ruling over the empire, with the death of the last male representative of the race, Charles VI. These had provided to the succession from 1713 until the Pragmatic Sanction: european states had declared perpetual and indivisible; the succession was granted also to females, once missing males heirs. The law was proclaimed only in 1724, after the approval of the provincial states. And Charles VI, having no hope of a male heir, claimed his first-born heir Maria Teresa (born in 1717), to the detriment of the daughters of his elder brother.

The European powers traded a long time for the recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction, forcing the emperor to give up on the various European issues, debated between 1715 and 1740. But in that year the death of Charles VI of Austria reopened the issue with the king of Prussia, Frederick II, who claimed the Prussians rights. He wanted to seize the favorable opportunity: Austria, after the wars of the previous years, the Polish and Turkish ones, was exhausted and unable to sustain a conflict, even the others European powers were unprepared.

Thanks to his diligence in going down the battlefield, Frederick II managed to have allies only after the strenuous and bloody victory over the Austrian army of Neipperg at Mollwitz (10 April 1741). After the Treaty of Breslau (5 June 1741), more precisely on August 7, Frederick II came solemnly in Wroclaw, the army of the new French ally under Marshal Belleisle, crossed the Rhine and joined the Bavarians who entered Austria. At the same time, Sweden, driven by the same France, declared war on Russia. Even Saxony, with the Treaty of Frankfurt (September 19, 1741), adhered to Bavaria, as well as the Piedmont, which seemed to support France in the hope of participating in the dismemberment of Austria with the goal of occupying Lombardy. Maria Teresa found herself surrounded by enemies. Just the England looked friendly to Maria Teresa, promising a subsidy: 300,000 pounds a year.

Thanks to a truce with the Prussians, obtained with the secret treaty of Kleinschnellendorf (9 October 1741), the Austrian Marshal Neipperg could then run to ward off the attacks of the Franco-Bavarian, just arrived at few tens of kilometers from Vienna. The Austrian situation, improved gradually in the spring of 1742, when a new Austrian army under Marshal Khevenhüller, a skilled commander, driven by the warm word of the queen, reoccupied Linz and Passau. Soon after, the Bavaria was invaded, and the same Munich occupied. Even in Italy the events in 1742 took a course favorable to Austria. Carlo Emanuele III, initially adhering to anti-Austrian block, was afraid of the Spanish "attentions" for Lombardy, especially after the landing of an army under the Duke of Montemar, which joined the forces of Charles III in Naples. so he agreed with Maria Teresa, pledging to defend, by the Bourbons, Milan, subject of his potential rights. Then, he made regular alliance. While the Franco-Spanish forces threatened the Savoy, the Sardinian army occupied Parma, chased away from Modena the Duke favorable to France, and, at Camposanto sul Panaro, together with Austrian forces, beat the Spaniards under the Gages (8 February 1743), while an English fleet forced the King of Naples to return to the neutrality.

The situation improved even more of Maria Theresa in 1743. England passed, with the government of Lord Carteret, in a more energetic policy, and increased the annual subsidy for Maria Theresa to 500,000 pounds; British diplomacy also intervened actively in the anti-French feeling in Petersburg (Russia). It pushed the Netherlands against France, and tried to substantiate agreements between Turin and Vienna. In March 1743, George II with an army of English, Hanoverians, and Austrians Hessian, advanced from the Austrian Netherlands on the Rhine, marched on Frankfurt, and forced first the French and then the Bavarian to retreat. In the summer of 1743 the British diplomats also saw the completion of the Austro-Sardinian agreement: in Worms was signed a treaty (September 14) in which Maria Teresa promised to Carlo Emanuele III Vigevano and the the territories on the right side of the Ticino and Lake Maggiore, in the region at south of the Po, Bobbio and Piacenza and on the Riviera, the Marquis of Finale. In return, the king recognized the Pragmatic Sanction, abandoned the idea to assert his rights over Milan and undertook, with British financial subsidies, to keep 45,000 men in arms.

France, that after the death of Cardinal Fleury (29 January 1743) was more than ever dominated by the warlike tendencies, allied with Spain and reinforced the link with Prussia of Frederick, who, in the meantime, was planning an attack on all the vast fronts against Austria and its allies. The Austrian Netherlands were attacked by France with great forces, Bohemia, by the Prussians. They then waged a violent attack on Austria, that however, lacked of the necessary contemporaneity in military operations, and after a series of victories of the anti-Austrian troops were forced to return on the starting positions.

At the beginning of 1745, the situation was, therefore, altogether, in favor of the tenacious Maria Theresa. France, however, had in the meantime found a new ally in Genvoa, irritated against Piedmont and against Austria for the threat to his possession of the Finale (Treaty of Aranjuez May 7, 1745). With the help of the Genoese, the two armies of the French-Spanish under Maillebois and Gages, came in Piedmont from the Riviera, defeated the Austro-Piedmontese at Bassignana (September 28), occupied successively Tortona, Piacenza, Parma, Pavia, then Alessandria, Asti, Casale, while Philip of Bourbon came finally in Milan, December 19, 1745. Even in the Netherlands, France was in charge. The valiant Marshal Maurice de Saxe won the Anglo-Dutch at Fontenay (11 May 1745) and occupied Tournai (May 22), Ghent (July 10), Bruges (July 18), Oudenarde (July 21), Ostend (July 23). To threaten England and force it to think for the safe of its kingdom, the French organized, in the summer of 1745, the landing of Charles Edward Stuart in Scotland (August 4).

Meanwhile, in Germany, the French influence was almost null, while England, threatened by Stuart, tried to reconcile once again Maria Theresa and Frederick II. The latter, however, due to the stagnation of diplomatic negotiations to fight back: won the Austrians in Bohemia, invaded Saxony, won Kesselsdorf (December 15), occupied Leipzig and Dresden. So achieved his goal: Maria Teresa gave up Silesia and made peace (Treaty of Dresden, December 25, 1745).

The conflict thus was simplified: France was supported by Spain, Naples, Genoa, and Austria, had as ally the kingdom of Sardinia, England, the Netherlands. The landing of the Stuart in Scotland determined, in the autumn of 1745, a general uprising of the Scots and caused terrible panic in London. But this uprising termined with the battle of Culloden (April 16, 1746). The only consequence was the opportunity, given to Maurice of Saxony, to extend the involvement of the Austrian Netherlands, beating an Austrian army in Rocoux in September, and threatening Netherlands. On the other hand, Carlo Emanuele III took up the arms in agreement with Maria Theresa. So he reoccupate Asti on March 8, 1746, expelled the Franco-Hispanic from Piedmont and Lombardy, won in battle of Piacenza (June 16) that caused the enemy's retreat in Genoa. At this time, the King Philip V of Spain died (July 9) and his successor, Ferdinand VI, was inclined to peace and the withdrawal of his troops from Italy. The Austro-Sardinian pressed the enemy down on the Riviera, and here, the Marshal Botta Adorno, occupied Genoa on September 7, while Carlo Emanuele III blocked Savona, took Finale and pursued to Varo the Franco-Hispanic. Genoa underwent three months of harsh occupation of Austria, but got rid of it due to a violent popular uprising, adroitly directed by the genoese government (5-10 December 1746). Meanwhile, Carlo Emanuele III was instead able to occupy Savona (18 December). From Vienna, he asked an expedition against Naples to chase away even from there the Bourbons. But England did not want an absolute Austrian domination in Italy. So, Provence was invaded, the military port of Toulon was occupied and France was forced to halt its operations in the Netherlands. The Austro-Sardinian forces advanced until Antibes, then retreated (February 1747).

In the fall of 1746, beginned the peace negotiations between France, England and Netherlands. But France, to influence more on the discussions, while treating in Germany to awaken an opposition to Maria Theresa, sent an army against the Netherlands and did occupy Maastricht while preparing an action in Italy against the Kingdom of Sardinia.

The prelude

The fortunes of war were not always favorable to the Austro-Piedmontese: and when a Franco-Spanish army moves from the Dauphiné against the Piedmontese, while other armies attacked from the side of the Varo, the monarchy itself seemed to fall. At the approach of the Franco-Hispanic, the King of Sardinia could deploy on that front just ten infantry battalions and 30 squadrons. Therefore, were erected quickly in the Assietta plain, trenches, particulary on the spur between the hill of Sestriere and the Head of the Gran Serin, which separates the valley of Chisone from that of the Dora Riparia. The command was given to Lieutenant-General the count of Bricherasio while, to guard the nearby positions it was the militia of the province of Pinerolo and those of the upper valley of the Chisone, called Pragelato. Four Austrian battalions, under General Colloredo, one of the many Italian militants in Austria, did not arrive until the last moment to reinforce the positions. The French, once massed around Barcellonette, crossed the border divided into two parts, the hill of Montgenevre and that of Bourget.

After a few skirmishes with the Waldensian militia, in the morning of 19 July, they were in front of the weak and improvised trenches of the Piedmontese army. The disproportion of forces was quite remarkable. On the one hand, more than 40 big battalions equipped with artillery, on the other hand, 13 battalions of Piedmontese and 4 Austrian without guns, without means and with little ammunition, so, at least, less than 7,400 men.

The battle

The positions of Piedmont stretched almost a semicircle on a narrow ridge and relied on two cornerstones: the Assietta Head and the Head of the Gran Serin, distant as the crow flies 1500 feet. One overlooked the other. The French were aware of the great superiority of their forces. Therefore, after opening fire of the artillery, they attacked resolutely at 16:30, with great forces, in front and on a side, on three strong pillars. Repeated attacks of their left against the plain of Assietta were rejected by the musketry of the Piedmontese, so the decimated French, had to retreat in disorder with heavy losses. The French achieved partial success against the entrenchments on the extreme northern of the plateau, but even here they were ultimately repelled. Meanwhile, the central column assaulted the forces on the Head of Assietta, arriving almost at a distance of a gun shot. The assault was conducted with great vigor, but the heroic obstinacy of the company of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, later reinforced by the grenadier company of the provincial regiment of Casale, stopped the momentum of the assailants. In the long struggle, the Piedmontese grenadiers, exalted by to the heroic example of their commander, Lt. Col. count of S. Sebastian, did not backward, in any point, though threatened from all sides. The Belle-Isle, grasped his flag, threw himself forward so to desperately animate his men and even if wounded twice, did not quit until another shot killed him.

Like their leader, fell many officers, including Field Marshal D'Arnault. The French, replacing fighters with fresh troops, insisted in the assault, but the grenadiers of Piedmont, now devoid of ammunition, always standing on the parapets, massacred the French just by throwing versus them many hundred of stones.

Meanwhile, on the left, on the position of the Gran Serin Head, defended by two battalions of Piedmont, it was launched the attack of a strong French column, which seemed to involve in the fight the entire Piedmontese defense. The Count of Bricherasio, rushed there, let intervene the reserves and sent orders to the defenders of the Head of Assietta to fall back and move to the defense of Gran Serin. Some troops, not engaged, moved according to the orders, but the Count of St. Sebastian did not repeat to his men the same orders and showed the dangers of abandoning the position. Even after a third peremptory order (apparently written) he would not again - or could no longer - execute the orders, due to another and more fierce French attack. With the nightime closing, the Piedmontese grenadiers, reinforced by units of an auxiliary battalion, completely broke the enemies attacks on the Head of Assietta, while the three repeated French assaults against the Gran Serin were also vain, and the French were forced to retreat with heavy losses. At sunset, the entire French army, unpacked, fall back in disarray, leaving with explicit application to humanity of the winners, their dead and wounded. The losses in this battle - equally honorable for both fighters - were huge for the French: 5,300 soldiers, 439 officers, including two generals, five sergeants and nine colonels. The Piedmontese had only 7 officers and 185 soldiers dead, Austrian losses were just 2 officers and 25 soldiers.

The aftermath

The battle of Assietta was the last relevant battle of the war of succession of Austria and had a wide resonance in Europe. For long years, and until recently, the memory of this bloody battle lasted between mountain dwellers of the region, and still today - says From Bormida - the shepherds repeated with monotonous rhythm of the verses full of irony, in which an unknown bard of the Alps sang, in French, about the Italian victory of Assietta.

Even giving tribute to the fallen French general, with the words:

"Belisle, leur commandant,

Veut avoir l'avantage

On the premier avancer

Comme un vaillant guerrier ... "

the song, playnig on the meaning of the word, says:

"Six mille fantassins

Y ont laissé la vie

Voulant tremper leurs doigts

Dans l'Assiette des Vaudois ... ".

The battle of Assietta, from a strategic point of view, marked the stalemate of the war operations in Italy, while from a military point of view, declared the failure of the French combat tactics, based on the bayonet assaults in column without sufficient support of covering fire. For both sides, particularly in the French army and the Savoy, the campaign of 1747 finally dried material and human reserves, forcing Louis XV and Carlo Emanuele III to reconsider the peace negotiations, then the following year, the Peace of Aachen, marked the end of the whole war of the Austrian Succession. So, in Italy beginned, a long period of stability that will be shaken only at the end of the century due to the involvement of the peninsula in the facts related to the French Revolution and the epic Bonapartist.