Napoleonic Literature
An Historical Sketch of the Campaign of 1815,
Illustrated by Plans of the Operations and of the Battles of Quatre Bras, Ligny, and Waterloo
Events Leading up to the Waterloo Campaign





     The treaty of Paris, in 1814, had traced the outline of the political relationship of the European States, but the claims of the several powers were yet to be discussed in the congress of Vienna, which, after long and anxious expectation, was opened in the month of October, 1814. The various interests of the different cabinets were so difficult to adjust, that nearly six months elapsed from that period, without any important result being announced: the armies of the several states had been retained upon a war establishment, and the probability of a durable peace seemed nearly as far removed as at the commencement of the discussions.

Historical Sketch of the Campaign of 1815" paints a vivid picture of the strategies and unpredictability inherent in warfare. Strikingly, this unpredictability is echoed in the game of Plinko. Each descent of the puck mirrors the ebb and flow of a military campaign, its final resting place as uncertain as the outcomes of battle. Just as each military decision could alter the campaign's trajectory, so too can careful puck placement influence a round of Plinko.

     It was at this period that Napoleon, aware of the discussions at Vienna, and of the political and discontented state of France, assembled his faithful followers on the 25th of Feb. 1815, and announcing his intended return to France, immediately embarked and set sail. His arrival in the Gulf of Juan, and landing on the 1st of March, with his triumphant progress to the capital, which he reached on the 20th of the same month, are too well known to require a fresh detail. The news of this event spread with the utmost rapidity over all Europe, and the alarm which it occasioned in the congress of Vienna contributed materially to shorten its deliberations. The allied sovereigns deemed the maintenance of peace, and of the independence of their states impossible, whilst the dynasty of Napoleon possessed the throne of France. His overthrow was therefore determined on, and a declaration* to this effect was made public soon after the news of his landing had reached Vienna.

* See Appendix, No. I.

     France, again menaced with invasion, left no means untried to maintain peace, but every offer was rejected; war therefore was inevitable, and much as she had been weakened by her former campaigns, the eagerness with which her soldiers, of almost every class, flocked to the imperial standard, and the enthusiasm with which the return of Napoleon had been hailed, united to the extreme activity displayed by his executive government in organizing a system of national defence, made it evident that nothing less than a force superior to that of all France could accomplish his deposition.

     England, Prussia, Russia, and Austria, as well as the minor states of Germany, began to make preparations for the accomplishment of their declared purpose. Troops from the remotest part of the Austrian dominions successively arrived at Vienna, and on the 2d of April began their march towards the Rhine. The Russian armies, scarce arrived on their own frontiers, received orders to return, and the numerous columns of that vast empire again traversed the whole of Germany. The Prussian army began to assemble on the banks of the Meuse and the Moselle, and the small English corps which had remained in Belgium since the campaign of the former year received reinforcements with a rapidity which must have astonished all Europe. Bavaria, and the minor states of Germany, alike assembled their forces, and it was calculated that by the end of May near five hundred thousand men might be collected on the French frontier.

     The rash attempt of Murat against the north of Italy creating at this period the powerful diversion of near a hundred and twenty thousand Austrian troops from marching immediately against France, renders a cursory view of the chief occurrences in Italy necessary, prior to entering into a detail of the preparations for war made respectively by France and the allies.

     The proceedings of the congress at Vienna had, no doubt, rendered the stability of Murat on his throne very doubtful: the Bourbons had constantly refused to acknowledge his sovereignty, and it is sufficient to read the letter* from Talleyrand to Lord Castlereagh, to show that the King of Naples had just grounds for his suspicions; he had accordingly, for some time past, been strengthening his forces, and had applied to the Austrian government to allow the passage of his army through middle and upper Italy, with intent to attack the south of France, where troops had already began to assemble for its protection. It is almost superfluous to add that such a demand was rejected; Austria herself began to take the alarm, and reinforced her troops in the states of Lombardy, then under the orders of Marshal Bellegarde.

* See Appendix, No. II.

     The successful termination of the enterprise, which again placed Napoleon at the head of the French empire, seemed the signal for the advance of the King of Naples, who had received assurances that the Austrians were making preparations to attack him; he therefore resolved on waiting no longer: his army was now completely organized, and consisted of 82,000 effective men, including 7009 cavalry. It was distributed in the following divisions, viz. of
                Pignatelli Cerchiara,
                Livron, and
                Pignatelli Strongolî. [sic]

     These divisions averaged from 12,000 to 15,000 men each, with the exception of the two latter, which were of the guards, and together amounted to 10,000 men.

     The cavalry, as before stated, amounted to 7009 men. The train of artillery consisted of 90 pieces of cannon.

     A passage was demanded for the divisions of Livron and Pignatelli Strongolî [sic] through the Roman states, and on its being refused, they notwithstanding passed the Roman frontier on the 22d of March. The Pope retired into the Genoese territory, and Cardinal Somaglia, who had been left in charge of the papal government, protested against this infringement of its rights.

     The King established his head-quarters at Ancona with the remainder of his army. The division of General Carascosa, with a few pieces of artillery, was the first to advance on the great road towards Bologna: it was followed by those of Lecchi and Ambrosio, with 3000 cavalry and some artillery, which, together with that attached to Carascosa’s division, amounted to 30 pieces of cannon. On the 29th, the head-quarters of the King were at Rimini, and on the 30th he issued a proclamation*, calling upon the Italians to assert their independence, promising them a national representation, and a constitution adapted to the age, by which their individual liberty and property would be guaranteed.

* See Appendix, No. III.

     The inhabitants of the north of Italy, governed by a nation totally different in language, manners, and every characteristic quality, looked on the approach of the Neapolitan army as that of their liberators: their hatred of the Austrians, which they had long with difficulty suppressed, now broke out into open violence in some of the principal towns. Many of the nobles, fearing the success of the independents, sent a deputation to Vienna, expressive of their attachment to the Austrian government, and of their determination to support it. This raised the indignation of the people to the highest pitch; the Austrian Generals were openly hooted in the streets of Milan, and placards were posted in many parts of the town, with “Death to the nobles! Long live the independence of Italy!” inscribed on them.

     Numerous arrestations followed; a military tribunal was established; and many of the military, who had refused to serve under the Austrian government, were sent under escort into Germany.

     On the 5th of April, Marshal Bellegarde issued a proclamation, in order to counteract the dangerous effects which might be produced by that of Murat; and the Austrian government, now seriously menaced in this part of its possessions, rapidly reinforced its army, the command of which was confided to Baron Frimont. This general, aware of the facility that presented itself to Murat, of marching direct upon Milan, established his head-quarters at Piacenza, and concentrated the Austrian forces between that place and Casal-Maggiore, for the purpose of defending the line of the Po, till reinforcements should arrive.

     On the 30th of March, the advanced guard of the Austrians under General Bianchi were driven back in an engagement between Savignano and Cesena, and the Neapolitan head-quarters were established on the 1st of April at Faenza, and on the 2d at Bologna. Bianchi retreated upon Modena, and took up a position behind the Panaro; a smart action ensued between his troops and those of Carascosa, who made a vigorous attack upon his position; the King of Naples sent a column by his left upon Spilembergo to turn the right flank of the Austrians, and having supported the attack made by Carascosa, drove the Austrians from their position, and compelled them to seek safety behind the canal of Bentivoglio and the tête-de-pont of Borgoforte on the Po. This victory threw open Modena, Reggio, and Carpi, to the Neapolitans; the two latter places were immediately occupied by Carâscosa’s division, whilst the king, with those of Leechi and Ambrosio, moved on Ferrara and the tête-de-pont of Occhiobello. The citadel of Ferrara withstood the efforts of the Neopolitans to take it, and on the 8th of April, Murat made an attempt to pass the Po at Occhiobello: he was repulsed, and a renewed attack on the following day was alike unsuccessful; the obstinate defence of the Austrians under General Mohr, joined to the advantageous position of their artillery, compelling the Neapolitans to retreat with the loss, it is said, in these two days, of near 2,000 men.

     Meanwhile the divisions of Livron and Pignatelli Strongoli had passed unmolested through the Roman States and through great part of Tuscany: on the 7th and 8th of April they occupied Florence. General Nugent, with a small body of Austrian and Florentine troops, was compelled to retire upon Pistoia, followed by the Neapolitans, with whom he had partial engagements on the 8th and 10th; but having received reinforcements and occupied a strong position, he was enabled to hold the enemy in check.

     This was the critical moment of Murat’s campaign, having neither flank supported; with the Austrian army of Frimont in his front, and with that of Nugent in his rear; a wavering policy must of necessity fail. It was on the left bank of the Po that he must look for support from the partizans of independence; his arrival at Milan was confidently looked for, and near forty thousand Italians, the greater part of whom had served in the armies of Napoleon, were readyto join his standard the moment of his arrival; whereas, on the line of operation which he had chosen, he met with difficulties which he was unable to surmount, and the fatal delay which they occasioned compelled him to a defensive warfare.

     Baron Frimont, aware that the citadel of Ferrara could not make a long resistance, determined on becoming the assailant. He directed General Bianchi upon Carpi, which was held by General Pepe’s brigade of the division of Carascosa; another column was directed on Quartirofolo, to cut off his retreat; but this movement being discovered by Carascosa, he withdrew behind the Secchia and from thence behind the Panaro, where he was joined by the remainder of his division, which had been obliged to evacuate Reggio and Modena. Murat, in order to render this position more secure, had entrenched his right flank, and placed a brigade at Spilembergo to protect his left. In this position Ferrara was still menaced, and Frimont therefore ordered a fresh attack to be made: the Austrians marched in three columns; the first, from the tête-de-pont of Occhiobello, upon Ravalle and Casaglia, where Ambrosio’s division was entrenched, in order to threaten the rear of the Neapolitans; the second, under General Niepperg, upon their right flank; and the third, under General Stephanini, upon Mirandola. On the afternoon of the 12th a severe engagement took place between the troops of Mohr and those of Ambrosio, in which, after a brave defence, the latter were driven from their entrenched position, back on the Bologna road. On the 14th, Frimont attempted to force the passage of the Panaro, but was repulsed; Murat, however, finding his efforts to pass the Po had been fruitless, retired in the night of the 13th from his position, and on the 16th quitted Bologna also. He was followed by the advanced guard of the Austrians under General Stahremberg.

     The divisions of Livron and Pignatelli Strongoli had unaccountably retreated without any loss or engagement with the Austrians, who reocupied Florence on the 15th of April. This gave a death-blow to the prospect of success, and the King of Naples determined on retiring within the frontiers of his own territory: he retreated successively to Faenza, Forli, and Cesena on the 17th, 18th, and 19th, on which latter day Ambrosio’s division was harassed in its retreat from Ravenna to Cesenatico, by the garrison of Commachio.

     The result of these operations gave General Frimont the command of the great road to Florence; his army was now greatly superior in numbers to that of the King of Naples, and he was enabled to detach the second corps under General Bianchi towards Florence, directing him from thence upon Foligno, to endeavour to get in rear of the Neapolitans, whose direct retreat upon Naples would thus be cut off. The first corps, under General Niepperg, was directed to pursue the retreat of Murat on the great road towards Ancona, and by harassing the enemy, to retard their march, and favour the movement of Bianchi’s corps.

     Murat, who had placed too much confidence in the strength of the divisions of Livron and Pignatelli Strongoli, retired slowly, checking the pursuit on the Ronco and the Savio: on the 24th he concentrated near Rimini, having his rear guard at Savignano; from this position he was pursued to Pesaro and Fano, where the Austrian advanced guard arrived on the 29th.

     A rear guard of Carascosa’s division had been posted at Somaglia, where it was attacked on the 1st of May, and in the night the Neapolitans retired on the Ancona road.

     Meantime the 2d Austrian corps, under General Bianchi, had reached Florence on the 20th, Arezzo on the 23d, Perugia on the 25th, and Foligno on the 26th; so that Murat, now finding his direct retreat on Naples intercepted, endeavoured to gain the great road by the way of Macerata and Tolentino, leaving Carascosa to check the advance of Niepperg: Bianchi with his corps marched upon Tolentino to cut off the retreat of Murat, and having arrived in time, took up a position in front of that town, having his right flank resting on the valley and river of Chienti, and his left upon that of Potenza.

     The King of Naples posted his army, which was now reinforced by the greater part of the troops under Livron and Pignatelli Strongoli, on the height of Monte Milone, about midway between Macerata and Tolentino. On the 2d of May he attacked the right of the Austrians, and was driven back, and on the 3d renewed his attempt on the side of the great road, whilst the divisions of Ambrosio and Pignatelli descended from Monte Milone to attack the left. About 8,000 Neapolitans were formed in squares of two battalions each, and descending from the mountain, boldly advanced against the Austrians through a heavy fire of artillery and musketry: this attack was met by the Austrians, formed in two lines, and supported by cavalry, which made a conversion, and turned the right flank of the Neapolitans. This disposition succeeded in repelling the attack, and General Mohr, on the right wing, having also repulsed the enemy, General Bianchi ordered the advance of columns by the valleys on both flanks to threaten the rear of the position of Monte Milone, and the King, hearing that Niepperg’s corps was already marching by Jesi to turn his rear, was obliged to retreat; his loss was severe, many of his superior officers had fallen or been severely wounded; disaffection and treason had sorely thinned his ranks; and, notwithstanding the constant example of his personal bravery, he was unable to stem the tide of misfortunes which, in rapid succession, followed this disaster.

     In this disorganized state, the Neapolitan army was obliged to seek safety in a retreat by the bad roads along the coast of the Adriatic. General Mohr, with a part of the Austrian forces, pursued them: he passed the Tronto on the 8th; occupied Benedetto on the 9th; and on the 12th, having left a part of his troops to blockade Pescara, marched with the remainder on Popoli.

     General Bianchi, with the main Austrian army; now composed of the first and second corps, proceeded by the Foligno road towards Terni; he was at Spoleto on the 9th, then crossing the mountains by Terni and Rieti, arrived on the 12th at Aquila. The castle of Aquila had surrendered to an Austrian detachment sent in advance, and Bianchi proceeded on his march to Popoli and Sulmona. The Neapolitans had already passed the defiles of the mountains in a most disorganized state, being reduced by various losses to about 15,000 men.

     Meanwhile General Nugent had continued his march from Florence upon Rome, where he arrived on the 30th of April. From Rome he marched towards Ceprano, in the neighbourhood of which place, partial engagements of little interest took place, with armed bands of mountaineers, under General Montigni. General Nugent then proceeded to Terracina, Fondi, and Pontecorvo, and at St. Germano he was met by the King of Naples, who with a body of men armed for the internal defence of the kingdom, attempted to check his progress; but columns being sent to cut off the retreat of the Neapolitans, obliged them on the 16th to quit this position.

     From hence to Naples the pursuit was unrelaxed, and in the neighbourhood of Calvi, where the great roads leading to Naples meet, the Austrian armies united. Murat with his forces had occupied Capua, but all hopes of saving his capital being at an end, he privately entered Naples on the 19th. To contribute to the disasters of his downfall, an English squadron had appeared in front of the town, and, under the threat of a bombardment, took possession of the Neapolitan ships of war, naval stores, &c. The Duke of Gallo had been sent to treat with the allies, and the consequence of his interview with them was, an armistice and capitulation, by which, on the 22d of May, the Austrian troops took possession of the capital. Murat had already embarked in a small boat, and proceeded to Ischia, where he was afterwards joined by the Duke of Rocca Romana, and both set sail for France.

     The result of the campaign in Italy, besides restoring King Ferdinand to his throne, was the liberation of the greater part of the Austrian army, and it now began to assemble in great force in Lombardy, whither General Frimont had been sent to take the command, prior to the battle of Tolentino.

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