Siege of Mantua (1796–1797)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Siege of Mantua
Handover of the city
Handover of the city
date June 4, 1796 to February 2, 1797
place Mantua
output French victory
Parties to the conflict

Habsburg MonarchyHabsburg Monarchy Austria

France 1804First French Republic France


Habsburg MonarchyHabsburg Monarchy Josef d'Irles Dagobert Wurmser
Habsburg MonarchyHabsburg Monarchy

France 1804First French Republic Napoleon Bonaparte Jean Sérurier

Troop strength
First phase until the beginning of August: 14,000, then 16,400, since September 13th 28,000 men First phase until the beginning of August: 12,000 siege army, 32,000 observation army
The information on troop strength and losses can differ significantly in the literature.

The siege of Mantua was part of Napoleon Bonaparte's Italian campaign , which was primarily directed against Austria . Mantua assumed a key strategic position because it dominated the access to Tyrol and was ultimately the last Austrian bastion in northern Italy. The siege began at the beginning of June 1796. Due to the approach of an Austrian relief army, Napoleon had to lift the siege on July 31st. Napoleon remained victorious in various skirmishes and battles, so that he had the city blocked again from the end of August. Further attempts at relief by the Austrians failed, and Field Marshal Dagobert Wurmser , now in command of the city, surrendered on February 2, 1797. The siege cost numerous victims not only through direct acts of war, but above all through epidemics on both sides.

Starting position

On March 27, 1796, Bonaparte had taken command of the Italian army . On April 28, the Kingdom of Sardinia had to conclude an armistice and thus withdrew from the war. Napoleon then fought against the Austrians. The Austrian general Jean-Pierre de Beaulieu suffered a defeat a short time later at the Bridge of Lodi . Even at this time Mantua was an important strategic destination for Napoleon, as the city covered the access to Tyrol. From there he hoped to advance to Bavaria and proposed joint action with the Rhine Army against the core of the Holy Roman Empire .

On May 15, Napoleon had conquered almost all of Lombardy with Milan , where only the citadel was in Austrian hands . From May 23, he advanced eastwards against the Austrian army under Beaulieu. On May 30, 1796, Napoleon and his approximately 31,000-strong army succeeded in outmaneuvering the Austrians and crossing the Mincio River unhindered. As a result, the Austrian army divided. Beaulieu withdrew with one half northwards.

Situation in Mantua

Fortifications of Mantua (state around 1866)

The other half reinforced the garrison of the heavily fortified city of Mantua. Thus the crew under General Canto d'Irles was 13,000 men who had 500 cannons. Ammunition and other weapons were plentiful, and apart from wine and horse fodder, provisions were available for three months.

Mantua then had about 25,000 inhabitants. The city received modern fortifications in 1714. However, these had largely disintegrated and were not repaired until 1795. The city was partially protected by the river Mincio, which expanded like a lake. On the land side to the west and south, the city had three gates, the Porta Pradella, the Porta Cerese and the Porta Pusterla. The gates were secured by special protective measures. In addition, partially marshy meadows made the approach difficult. In the north there were two gates, Porta Molina and Porta St. Giorgio. The Mühlendamm crosses the river from Porta Molina. The north end of the dam was protected by the city's citadel. A dam also ran from Porta Giorgio as a connection to the suburb of St. Giorgio. This was comparatively weakly protected.

Blockade and siege of Mantua

Jean Sérurier directed the actual siege on the French side

On June 4th, the French under Jean Sérurier began the confinement, initially with 9,000 men. Further troops totaling over 40,000 men were in the area to repel Austrian attacks. A considerable part of the troops had to cover the roads from Tyrol in the direction of Mantua against enemy attacks. On June 7th the fortress was enclosed on all sides. So far, however, it has been a blockade, and there was no heavy artillery for a real siege.

In the meantime Napoleon had received an order from Carnot not to march into Tyrol. Instead, he should turn to central Italy. On June 5th there was an armistice with the Kingdom of Naples and on June 14th there was peace with Sardinia. Peace was also made with the Pope. Ultimately, Napoleon had removed all of Italy from the anti-French coalition. Also with a view to ruling the Adige Valley, from where relief for Mantua could come, Verona was occupied - a city that belonged to the neutral Republic of Venice . Meanwhile in Milan the serious siege of the citadel began. After the citadel surrendered on June 29th, the heavy French siege guns were brought to Mantua. The possession of this city still stood in the way of ruling all of Italy.

After Napoleon returned to Roverbella , the French headquarters near Mantua, the serious siege began with the construction of gun emplacements to bombard the city. The Austrians made a sortie out of the citadel on July 6th. On the other hand, Napoleon also gave up a surprise attack. An Austrian sortie carried out on July 16 from the Porta Pradella was only partially successful because it did not succeed in destroying the French positions.

The French began bombarding the city on the night of July 19. In addition, it was possible to open the first parallels (trenches). Attack attempts were missing, however. The bombardment continued at different intensities during the night, while the French repaired the damage caused by the defenders' guns during the day. Further attempts by the French to attack also failed. The Austrians refused a request to hand them over on July 20. The bombardment by all batteries began on July 29th.

Relief attempt and abandonment of the siege

Dagobert Wurmser forced Napoleon to lift the siege, but later had to hand over the city

In the meantime, the Austrians, divided into two separately marching armies, were advancing from Tyrol into northern Italy. One of them, led by Peter Vitus von Quosdanovich , marched west of Lake Garda along the Chiese river. The stronger one under Dagobert Wurmser followed the course of the Adige . Together the two armies were stronger than Napoleon's. If the two Austrian armies managed to take coordinated action against Napoleon, his situation would be untenable. In the first skirmishes, the Austrians proved to be superior. They drove the French out of Brescia . André Masséna had to retreat behind the Mincio with heavy losses . Napoleon found himself in a difficult position, but at the urging of Charles Pierre François Augereau decided to attack the opponents separately. Napoleon was therefore forced to break off the siege of Mantua on June 31, 1796. The guns were left behind and boarded up and the baggage burned. The Austrians used the opportunity to bring new provisions, repair the damage to the fortifications and salvage the cannons left behind by the French.

The abandonment of the siege with the surrender of the laboriously brought guns was certainly not an easy decision for Napoleon. But in this way he could defeat the relief armies of the Austrians one after the other with full force. Napoleon's calculation worked. He first attacked Quosdanovich, beat him at Lonato and forced his troops to retreat to Tyrol. Then Napoleon defeated Wurmser near Castiglione ( Battle of Castiglione ). Wurmser was also forced to withdraw. He gathered his troops again near Trento .

Another blockade and attempts at relief

Since a proper siege was not possible without heavy artillery, Napoleon had Mantua blocked from the end of August.

Battle of the Arcole Bridge

Emperor Franz II had given Wurmser the express order to try again to bring relief to Mantua. He marched with part of the Austrian army through the valley of the Brenta with the aim of interrupting Napoleon's supply lines, while Paul von Davidovich was supposed to stay on the Adige and employ the French. Napoleon reacted with an advance against Tyrol and pushed Davidovich back behind Trento. Then he turned in forced marches against Wurmser and defeated them at Caliano and Bassano . Wurmser withdrew to Mantua on September 13 with his remaining 12,000 men. He tried to keep outside the walls, but was defeated in the battle at St. Giorgio and had to retreat to the city itself. The relief attempt resulted in Austrian losses of 11,000 men and numerous guns. From September 29th, Mantua was again blocked by the French on all sides.

The Austrians raised new troops. Davidovich had 18,000 men in Tyrol and Quosdanovich in Friuli over 30,000 men. The supreme command was held by Joseph Alvinczy von Berberek . Once again the Austrians were outnumbered. Again Napoleon threatened an attack from two sides. In a first meeting at Caldiero , the French were defeated and had to retreat to Verona. Napoleon reacts by reducing the troops in front of Mantua and elsewhere to a minimum and by approaching the enemy with an army of 20,000 men and winning the Battle of Arcole . Davidovich's troops were also driven back to Tyrol. On November 23, Wurmser attempted another sortie when the relief troops were already in retreat.

After the Austrians advanced again in northern Italy in early 1797, their defeat in the battle of Rivoli on January 14th and 15th, 1797 decided the fate of the city of Mantua. Some of the Austrian troops came to Mantua, but had to surrender. Meanwhile, hardship prevailed in the fortress. Wurmser surrendered on February 2, 1797. The field marshal and 500 men were given free retreat. About 16,000–20,000 men were taken prisoners of war. 6000 of them were sick. In addition, the French captured numerous cannons.


About 18,000 men died on the Austrian side and 7,000 men on the French side during the siege. Most of the victims were due to epidemics. Malaria and later also typhus and dysentery cost a particularly large number of victims. Including the city dwellers, an estimated 20,000 people died. Possibly brought into Italy by the French troops, the typhus epidemic spread from Mantua to other cities.

After northern Italy was conquered with the fall of Mantua, Napoleon turned first against the Papal States and then to the north against Austria itself.

Individual evidence

  1. Johannes Willms: Napoleon. A biography. Munich 2005, p. 111, p. 118
  2. Johannes Willms: Napoleon. A biography. Munich 2005, p. 122.
  3. ^ Christoph V. Albrecht: Geopolitics and philosophy of history . Berlin 1998, p. 81
  4. ^ August Fournier: Napoleon I. A biography. 4th edition Vienna / Dresden 1922, p. 108
  5. ^ August Fournier: Napoleon I. A biography. 4th edition Vienna / Dresden 1922, p. 109f.
  6. ^ August Fournier: Napoleon I. A biography. 4th edition Vienna / Dresden 1922, p. 113f.
  7. ^ Matthew Smallman-Raynor, Andrew David Cliff: War epidemics: an historical geography of infectious diseases in military conflict and civil strife, 1850-2000 Oxford 2004, p. 102
  8. George C. Kohn: Encyclopedia of plague and pestilence: from ancient times to the present . New York 1995, p. 204


  • David Eggenberger: An encyclopedia of battles: accounts of over 1,560 battles from 1479 BC to the present. New York 1985, pp. 261f.
  • Bernhard von Poten (Ed.): Concise dictionary of the entire military sciences. Volume 6, Bielefeld, Leipzig 1878, pp. 303-304
  • Wilhelm Rüstow: Napoleon Bonaparte's first campaigns in Italy and Germany in 1796 and 1797. Zurich 1867
  • Viktor Hortig: Bonaparte before Mantua. End of July 1796. The first attempt at relief. Dissertation, Rostock 1903 online version