After dispatching his orders, the First Consul directed the
whole army to wheel its front upon the left wing of its centre, moving its
right wing forward at the same time. By this movement he effected the double
object of turning all the enemy's troops who had continued the pursuit of our
broken left wing, and of removing his right to a distance from the bridge which
had proved so fatal to it in the morning. There is no accounting for the motive
which the general commanding the left of the Austrian army may have had for
neglecting to prevent so decisive a movement ; but whether he did not
anticipate it, or waited for orders, he merely sent some bodies of cavalry to
intercept our retreat, not deeming it possible that we could have any other
object in view than to secure it. Though placed in such a position as to enable
him to dispute, with doubtful success at least, the First Consul's manoeuvre,
he did not even attempt to obstruct it.
Whilst General Desaix was engaged in conversation with the
First Consul the Austrians had not been inactive. Their march had been so
rapid, that, when he rejoined his corps, he found them already firing upon his
rear : he sent skirmishers against them, and hastened to make his arrangements.
His troops, to the number of nine battalions, were ranged upon three lines, a
little to the rear of the small village of Marengo, close to the high road from
Tortona to Alexandria. The First Consul had deprived General Desaix of his
artillery in order to unite it to the artillery of the guard, and thus form an
overwhelming battery in the centre,
It was now three o'clock: very few musket-shots were heard:
the two armies were manoeuvring, and preparing for a last effort
General Desaix's division occupied the point which came
nearest in contact with the enemy, who were advancing in close, deep columns
along the road from Alexandria to Tortona, leaving the latter town on their
left. They had nearly come up to us, and we were only separated by a vineyard
lined by the ninth light infantry, and a small corn-field, which the Austrians
were entering. We were not more than a hundred paces apart, and could
distinguish each other's features. The Austrian column halted on perceiving
Desaix's division, the position of which became so unexpectedly known to them.
The direction of its march would infallibly bring it upon the centre of our
first line. It was no doubt endeavouring to ascertain our strength previously
to opening its fire. The position was becoming every moment more critical. "You
see how matters stand," said Desaix to me; "I can no longer put off the attack
without danger of being myself attacked under disadvantageous circumstances: if
I delay I shall be beaten, and I have no relish for that. Go then in all haste
and apprise the First Consul of the embarrassment I experience; tell him I
cannot wait any longer; that I am without any cavalry,* and that he must direct
a bold charge to be made upon, the flank of that column, whilst I shall charge
it in front."
I set off at full gallop, and overtook the First Consul, who
was causing the troops placed to the right of the village of Marengo to execute
the change of front which he had directed along the whole line. I delivered my
message to him, and after listening to it with attention, he reflected a
moment, and addressed me in these words: " Have you well examined the column ?"
" Yes, General (he went by this title at the time I speak of)." "Is it very
numerous?" " Extremely so. General." "Is Desaix uneasy about it?" " He only
appeared uneasy as to the consequences that might result from hesitation. I
must add his having particularly desired I should tell you that it was useless
to send any other orders than that he should attack or retreatone or the
other; and the latter movement would be at least as hazardous as the first."
* He had no more than two hundred hussars of the first
" If this be the case" said the First Consul, " let him
attack: I shall go in person to give him the order. You will repair yonder
(pointing to a black spot in the plain), and there find General Kellermann, who
is in command of that cavalry you now see ; tell him what you have just
communicated to me, and desire him to charge the enemy without hesitation as
soon as Desaix shall commence his attack. You will also remain with him, and
point out the spot through which Desaix is to debouch ; for Kellermann does not
even know that he is with the army."
I obeyed, and found Kellermann at the head of about six
hundred troopers, the residue of the cavalry which had been constantly engaged
the whole day. I gave him the orders from the First Consul. I had scarcely
delivered my message when a fire of musketry was heard to proceed from the left
of the village of Marengo; it was the opening attack of General Desaix. He
rapidly bore down with the 9th light regiment upon the head of the Austrian
column: the latter feebly sustained the charge; but its defeat was dearly
purchased, our general having fallen at the very first firing. He was riding in
the rear of the 9th regiment, when a shot pierced his heart: he fell at the
very moment when he was deciding the victory in our favour.
Kellermann had put himself in motion as soon as he heard the
firing. He rushed upon that formidable column, penetrated it from left to
right, and broke it into several bodies. Being assailed in front, and its
flanks forced in,* it dispersed, and was closely pursued as far as the Bormida.
* General Berthier had a picture painted of this battle. The
painter, who is a military officer, is unquestionably a man of talent, but,
following up the rules of his art, he has removed the charge to the right flank
of the column, whereas it took place on its left. This does not affect the
merit of the painting, and I only make the observation in adherence to
The large masses of troops that were in pursuit of our left
no sooner perceived this defeat than they retreated, and attempted to reach the
bridge in front of Alexandria; but the corps of Generals Lannes and Gardanne
had accomplished their movement: those masses had no longer any communication
with each other, and were compelled to lay down their arms.
The battle, which until mid-day had turned against us, was
completely won at six o'clock.
As soon as the Austrian column was dispersed I quitted
General Kellermann's cavalry, and was returning to meet General Desaix, whose
troops were debouching in my view, when the colonel of the 9th light regiment
informed me that he had been killed. I was at the distance of only a hundred
paces from the spot where I had left him: I hastened to it, and found the
general stretched upon the ground completely stripped of his clothes, and
surrounded by other naked bodies. I recognised him, notwithstanding the
darkness, owing to the thickness of his hair, which still retained its tie.
I had been too long attached to his person to suffer his
body to remain on this spot, where it would have been indiscriminately buried
with the rest.
I removed a cloak from under the saddle of a horse lying
dead at a short distance, and wrapped General Desaix's body in it, with the
assistance of an hussar, who had strayed on the field of battle, and joined me
in the performance of this mournful duty. He consented to lay it across his
horse, and to lead the animal by the bridle as far as Gorrofolo, whilst I
should go to communicate the misfortune to the First Consul, who desired me to
follow him to Gorrofolo, where I gave him an account of what had taken place.
He approved what I had done, and ordered the body to be carried to Milan for
the purpose of being embalmed.
Being only an aide-de-camp to General Desaix. at the battle
of Marengo, my personal observations were limited to what the duties of that
situation enabled me to see ; whatever else I have mentioned was related to me
by the First Consul, who felt a pleasure in recurring to the events of this
action, and often did me the honour to tell me what deep uneasiness it had
given him until the moment when Kellermann executed the charge, which wholly
altered its aspect.
After the fall of the Imperial government some pretended
friends of General Kellermann have presumed to claim for him the merit of
originating the charge of cavalry. That general, whose share of glory is
sufficiently brilliant to gratify his most sanguine wishes, can have no
knowledge of so presumptuous a pretension. I the more readily acquit him, from
the circumstance that, as we were conversing one day respecting that battle, I
called to his mind my having brought to him the First Consul's orders, and he
appeared not to have forgotten that fact. I am far from suspecting his friends
of the design of lessening the glory of either General Bonaparte or General
Desaix: they know, as well as myself, that there are names so respected that
they can never be affected by such detractions ; and that it would be as vain
to dispute the praise due to the chief who planned the battle, as to attempt to
depreciate the brilliant share which General Kellermann had in its successful
result. I will add to the above a few reflections.
From the position which he occupied General Desaix could not
see General Kellermann: he had even desired me to request the First Consul to
afford him the support of some cavalry. Neither could General Kellermann, from
the point where he was stationed, perceive General Desaix's division : it is
even probable that he was not aware of the arrival of that general, who had
only joined the army two days before, Both were ignorant of each other's
position, which the First Consul was alone acquainted with ; he alone could
introduce harmony into their movements; he alone could make their efforts
respectively conduce to the same object.
The fate of the battle was decided by Kellermann's bold
charge: had it, however, been made previously to General Desaix's attack, in
all probability it would have had a quite different result. Kellermann appears
to have been convinced of it, since he allowed the Austrian column to cross our
field of battle, and extend its front beyond that of the troops we had still in
line, without making the least attempt to impede its progress. The reason of
Kellermann's not charging it sooner was, that it was too serious a movement,
and the consequences of failure would have been irretrievable; that charge,
therefore, could only enter into a general combination of plans to which he was
necessarily a stranger.
The check recently suffered by the Austrian army was too
severe not to be attended with disastrous consequences. General Melas had
consumed that time in fighting which he ought to have employed in regaining the
Po by way of Turin and Placentia. The favourable opportunity was lost, and that
object was no longer attainable.
Massena, having been reinforced by the small corps commanded
by General Suchet, had re-entered Piedmont, and might look forward to obtain
successes over a defeated army like that of M. de Melas. Ours, on the contrary,
was intoxicated with its victory, and ardently desired to give the Austrians a
finishing blow. Had M. de Melas hesitated in coming to some resolution, he
would have been irretrievably destroyed.
He was in a disagreeable position, more particularly after
his triumphant entry into Genoa. He was compelled, however, to submit to
necessity, and have recourse to negotiations. He sent a flag of truce to the
head-quarters at Gorrofolo. General Zach, the chief of his staff, was still
there. Having been taken prisoner on the preceding day, he had held a long
conversation with the First Consul; and was acquainted with the desire felt by
the latter for peace, and with his intention not to make a bad use of his
victory, by imposing conditions upon the Austrian army which their honour would
compel them to reject.
General Bonaparte proposed that he should go and acquaint M.
de Melas with his intentions. M. Zach accepted the proposal: he departed with
the flag of truce, joined his commander-in-chief, and hastened back to report
that the latter accepted the bases transmitted to him. General Berthier
immediately repaired to Alexandria, and concluded with M. de Melas a
convention, in virtue of which the latter engaged to retire behind the Adige by
filing off through our ranks: he was also to evacuate the fortified towns of
Piedmont, and restore to our possession those of Italy as far as the Mincio.
This convention having been ratified, the First Consul took his departure for
Milan, and left to General Berthier the care of seeing it carried into effect.
Some difficulties arose with respect to the article relating to Genoa. Massena
had received orders to occupy that city, which had been only a few days out of
his possession. He demanded it back of the Prince of Hohenzollern, who had been
left as its governor by General Melas with a large body of troops. The prince,
feeling wounded at such an act of humiliation, refused to comply. Massena made
his report of this untoward event; but the Austrian army had already quitted
Alexandria to repair to the Adige. The question was a delicate one.
Nevertheless, as the stipulations were quite positive as the Prince of
Hohenzollern's corps formed part of the army which was to evacuate Italy, and
as Genoa was one of the cities the restoration of which was agreed upon, it
became the duty of M. de Melas to put an end to the opposition lately raised :
he acted on the occasion with a frankness which did him honour; he summoned the
prince to obey, and declared, that if he persisted in his refusal, he should
abandon him and his troops to the consequences that must be the result of his
obstinacy. Being summoned in so peremptory a manner, Hohenzollern dared not
persist in disowning the capitulation; he delivered up the city, and followed
the road taken by the Austrian army.