Bonaparte's Guard at Marengo
"This was the first baptism of the Guard,
and a more bloody one it could not well have had."
- J. T. Headley

1. Consular Guard at Marengo.
2. The Guard enters the fight.
3. Face off between the French Guard
- - and the Austrian 'Legion Infernale'.

4. French Emigrées attacked Guard's flank.
5. Comments on Guard at Marengo.
- - - Composition of the Guard at Marengo. >
- - - Time of Arrival. >
- - - Action before 3pm ? >
- - - Sources for the "Destruction" of the Guard. >
- - - Casualty Reports. >
- - - My Opinion. . >
6. Sources and Links.




Guard grenadiers at Marengo.
Picture by Auguste Raffet
The Austrian 51st Infantry advanced forward
and fired volley after volley by platoons.
Bonaparte's Guard Grenadiers held their ground.
Both sides were separated only by the small Cavo ditch.
At approx. 50 paces away from the Guard,
the Austrians halted and engaged in a hot exchange of musketry.
The musketry continued for some time with the Guard
being supported by 4 guns and the Austrians by 6 guns.
The fire from several thousands muskets
created a tremendous noise and smoke.

The grenadiers of Consular Guard performed prodigies
until it too fell back before superior numbers.

Consular Guard at Marengo.
" ... les 800 grenadiers de la Garde Consulaire,
avaient recu mission d’arreter les progres
de l’armee autrichienne" - Alain Pigeard

"At the day's end the Guard set down their packs before the castle of Baron di Garofoli, a long pile of masonry crowned with a campanile, where the First Consul was lodging. Numb with cold and absolutely soaked, in mud up to their ankles, the grenadiers and chasseurs emptied the provision wagons of bread ... Two leagues and a half away, on the road from Tortona to Alessandra, was the village of Marengo where General Victor was encamped with Gardanne and Chambarlhac. Lannes was on his right. The ground between was dotted with copses. ...
The men slept with one eye open in the three farm houses in San Giuliano. On 14 June they were 'awakened by a reveille of gunfire', according to Joseph Petit of the horse grenadiers. The Croats were massacring two pickets. Dawn was breaking; they had breakfast; it was the same menu as the night before - bread." (Lachoque - "The Anatomy of Glory" p 15)

Battle of Marengo, 1800 Marengo was a village (in today NW Italy) near Alessandria. It was the site of a famous clash between 32.000 Austrians led by Melas and 24.000 Frenchmen under Bonaparte.

The Austrians (30,000 men and 100 guns) advanced across the Bormida River by two bridges debouching in a narrow bend of the river. This prevented any rapid development of their attack.
The Austrian advanced guard (3,000 under O'Reilly), pushed French advance posts back and deployed to become the right wing.
The Austrian center (19,000 under Melas) advanced towards Marengo until halted by Gardanne's infantry division deployed in front of the Fontanone stream.
On the Austrian left (8,000 men under Ott) headed for the village of Castel Ceriolo well to the north of the French positions. This maneuver threatened either an envelopment of the French right, or a further advance to cut the French line of communication with Milan.

Gardanne's division held up the Austrian deployment for a considerable time. General Victor then pulled Gardanne's exhausted men back behind the Fontenone and committed his second division under Chambarlhac. The French held the line until noon, with both flanks not being well protected.

Austrian General Melas then hurled Haddick's division at Victor. When Haddick was killed and his troops repulsed, the Austrian commander sent in Kaim's division. Finally, as the French position was reinforced, Morzin's Grenadier Division was sent in to attack Marengo. Melas also detached 2,300 Hungarian hussars to block Suchet's corps, which was mistakenly reported to be approaching Alessandria from the south.

View of battle of Marengo Bonaparte finally recognized that the Austrian maneuvers were not a diversionary attack to cover the anticipated retreat. Meanwhile French Generals Lannes and Murat had brought their troops up in support of Victor's corps. Lannes' corps (Watrin's infantry division, Mainoni's infantry brigade and Champeaux's cavalry brigade) had deployed on the right flank. Kellermann's heavy cavalry brigade and the 8th Dragoons took up a position on the left, smashing an attempt by Pilati's light dragoon brigade to envelop Victor's flank. On the right, Champeaux was killed trying to stop the progress of Ott's column.

By 11 a.m. Bonaparte was on the battlefield and had sent urgent recalls to his recently detached forces, and summoned up his last reserves. As they came up, Monnier's division and the Consular Guard were committed to extend and shore up the French right, rather than to try to hold Marengo where Victor's men were running short of ammunition. At 2 p.m. the French attacked Castel Ceriolo. Meanwhile Austrian General Ott defeated Monnier.

Bonaparte halts the retreat 
at Marengo in 1800 Marengo fell to the Austrians, Bonaparte's men fell back and attempted to regroup to hold the village of San Giuliano. With the French outnumbered and driven from their best defensive position, the battle was as good as won by the Austrians. Melas had almost won when Desaix arrived with fresh troops to bolster the French; Desaix lost his life, but the Austrians were completely defeated and retired to the Mincio River.
Marengo brought to a close the last of the French Revolutionary Wars and played a pivotal role in shaping Europe. The narrow French victory enabled Bonaparte to consolidate his power as First Consul of France.

Photo of Guard Grenadiers at Marengo (reenactment,
Battle of Marengo, 1800 (wargame,


"Retreating infantry passed along the road to Tortona;
it seemed as if the whole French line were giving way
But no, here came the grenadiers of the Guard,
drums beating, singing ‘On va leur percer le flanc’
- Henry Lachouque

The Guard enters the fight
"... he placed his Guard in line in the center
of the army and sent it forward.
They immediately held the line
- Captain Coignet

Marengo 1800 At Marengo have fought Bonaparte's Consular Guard (Gardes des Consuls). The grenadiers performed prodigies, until it too fell back before superior numbers. Most accounts indicate that the Guard infantry conducted a rearguard action but suffered very heavy losses (a third of its number !)
The regiment of grenadiers was under Bernard-George-Francois Frere and consisted of 2 battalions:
- I Battalion - Chef Soules
- II Battalion - Chef Tortel
Approx. 75 % of the foot guardsmen came from veterans of Garde du Corps Legislatif. They were elected representatives of the Garde National Sedentaire.
Approx. 25 % came from three other sources:
- veterans selected from the 120 foot soldiers of Garde a Pied du Directoire
- dashing foot guides who served in Egypt with Bonaparte
- men selected from the army for their actions, wounds, experience and bravery.
The grenadiers of Consular Guard were France's best foot troops. This regiment existed only few months, too short time for developing an exceptional esprit de corps, but the men and officers were outstanding.

The First Consul and the escort followed him across the battlefield and the fusilliade extended over a 5 mile front. The battle was roaring in full fury for hours. Retreating French infantry passed along the road to Tortona; it seemed as if part of the French line was giving way. The Guard grenadiers led by Soles moved forward to bolster the crumbling line where Gardanne's and Victor's troops were falling back. Napoleon feared that the Austrians from the centre and north will head for the gap. The Guard reached the area of fighting, distributed cartridges to Lannes' infantry and moved to his right.

Bonaparte's chief-of-staff, General Berthier, writes: "The grenadiers of the Guard were placed diagonally behind on the left of Castel-Ceriolo, the echelon of General Lannes diagonally behind on the left of grenadiers."

The Guard grenadiers emerged from the cover of farmers' cornfields (partially flattened by troops moving through this area earlier), and slammed into the Austrian lines. Their skirmishers rushed forward using trees and bushes along the road and the Cavo ditch for protection. The Austrian cavalry scouts could see the red plumes and tall bearskins of the Grenadiers.

Lobkowitz 10th Light Dragoons (495 men) charged the Consular Guard but fire from 4 guns and skirmishers threw them back. The Austrians were then counter-charged by Murat's dragoons and fled. According to Stutterheim who was a senior staff officer with Ott's formation "... Ott ordered Ob.Ltn. Graf Harrach to lead the charge against the Guard; after time-consuming preparations the dragoons set into step, then into trott, and finally into the gallop. The infantry of Consular Guard seemed to be close to disaster when musket shots by the French skirmishers the whole Dragoner-Regiment Nr. 10. turned about and ran away. Some French cavalry that had been watching these events from a position behind the Guard pursued our dragoons."
(Note: Stutterheim would have been able to see - from a long distance - this moment he was with the Schellenberg's column marching south.)

Henri Lachouque gave slightly different version: "... here came the grenadiers and chasseurs of the Consular Guard, drums beating, singing ‘On va leur percer le flanc’ to the accompaniment of Guiardel’s bandsmen, as well as the 19th Légère of Monnier with Bonaparte leading the lot. Nine hundred bearskin bonnets formed a square between Lannes and Carra St. Cyr and stopped the charging Lobkowitz Dragoons in their tracks."


Once the deployment was finished the Austrians
advanced forward, firing volley after volley
by platoons. Bonaparte's Grenadiers (500-800 men)
held their ground and the attackers halted at
50 paces from them. Both sides were separated
only by the small Cavo ditch.

Face off between the French Guard
and Austrian 'Legion Infernale'.

The exchange of artillery and musket fire
(at 50 paces) went on for 15 minutes !

The Austrians have brought fresh troops to deal with the French. These for ces consisted of:
- Frohlich (28th) Infantry Regiment
- Mittrowski (40th) Infantry Reg.
- Splenyi (51st) Infantry Reg.
'Legion Infernale'
- Colloredo (57th) Infantry Reg.

Murat's dragoons (1er, 6e and 9e Dragons) chased the Light Dragoons until they were halted by battalion of Splenyi (51st) Line Infantry Regiment. Stutterheim wrote about the French cavalry that it received "...few shots and ran away". Loud battle-cry and a massive volley sent Murat's dragoons packing. Then the Romanians and Hungarians of Splenyi (51st) Regiment resumed their resolute march with their band playing. The colonel-in-chief of this unit was Feldmarschalleutnant Gabriel Splenyi von Mihaldy. Until 1800 their colonel was Jacques Augustinetz, then replaced with Oberst Ignaz von Novak.

Two battalions of Grenadiers deployed into battle-line along a country-road. Four guns were placed between the two battalions. The elite of Bonaparte's infantry waited for the Legion Infernale to get closer.

Shortly before 4 pm GM Sticker began deploying artillery and two battalions of 'Legion Infernale'). The two battalions were weak, they had total of only 700-900 men. Once the deployment was finished they advanced forward and fired volley after volley by platoons. Bonaparte's Grenadiers (500-800 men) held their ground and the attackers halted at 50 paces from them. Both sides were separated only by the small Cavo ditch.

At approx. 50 paces away from the 500-800 Grenadiers, the Austrians halted and engaged in a hot exchange of musketry. The cartridges were torn rapidly from the boxes and stuffed in the smoking muzzles, the rammers clashed and clanged, the men's hands grew grim and black with powder.
According to Dave Hollins (- "Marengo" p 78) the exchange of fire went on for 15 minutes (!) According to Henri Lachoque it was at 100 paces ("fired on at a hundred paces by Austrian infantry") The musketry continued for some time with the Guard being supported by 4 guns and the Austrians by 6 (or more) guns. The fire from several thousands muskets and dozen cannons created a tremendous noise and smoke. It was a hellish experience for both sides.


Brabant, a grenadier of uncommon strength,
took over an abandoned cannon
and served it alone for 30 minutes !

French Emigrées Charged Guard's Flank.
The Grenadiers were "... charged three times by the cavalry,
fusilladed by the infantry, they surrounded their colors,
and their wounded in a hollow square ..." - Petit

Austrian Bussy Horse Jägers Suddenly the Legion Infernale ceased fire as from the flank appeared Austrian cavalry. Oberst (Colonel) Frimont's cavalry consisted of two units:
- 300 men in 2 squadrons of of Kaiser (1st) Dragoon Regiment
- 186 men in 2 squadrons of Bussy Horse Jäger Regiment
(In this unit served many French émigrés who hated Bonaparte and new France. The Bussy jagers wore helmets and grey blueish jackets and breeches. See picture.

Frimont attacked Grenadiers' flank. The Legion Infernale fixed bayonets and joined the fight. Brabant, a grenadier of uncommon strength, took over an abandoned cannon and served it alone for 30 minutes ! "It seemed impossible that so small a body of men, forming but a mere speck on that vast plain, could resist the overwhelming squadrons." (- J. T. Headley)
After some hard fighting the Grenadiers began withdrawing. The battalion formation broken into desperate knots of frenzied men trying to extricate themselves from the trap. Although the victors were unable to capture the flag of the Grenadiers 400 prisoners were taken. (According to Hollins "over four hundred were taken prisoner". See - "Marengo", p 78)
Soules returned to the main French line with 200-250 grenadiers. For bravery at Marengo the infantry of Consular Guard was awarded with 24 awards for valor, and the Guard artillery with 8 awards.

The French and Austrian views of what happened is somehow different.

French author Petit wrote that the Grenadiers were "... charged three times by the cavalry, fusilladed by the infantry, they surrounded their colors, and their wounded in a hollow square, exhausted all their cartridges with slow and regular steps, fell back and joined our astonished ranks."

Austrian author Stutterheim wrote:
"Then under a continuous artillery and small arms fire and although many men fell on both sides these two lines marched against each other with so much order and vigour that it was difficult to say who would win.
Then suddenly behind the Guard the whole French army was on the retreat and a swarm of our cavalry came from Marengo and fell into Guard's rear and let only a few escape. Also their 4 guns fell into our hands."

Bonaparte sent in the cavalry of the Consular Guard to stabilize the front line. This force consisted of the following troops:
- 200 Horse Grenadiers of the Consular Guard
- 160 Horse Chasseurs of the Consular Guard

General Berthier: "A body of the reserve of the enemy cavalry prepared to charge the right of the division Boudet; but General Bessires commanding the grenadiers and chasseurs cheval of the guard, seizes this occasion of glory; and jealous for the troop of elites that he commands; he takes the honor of the last charge, it preempts the enemy, rushes, bends back this body and throws him into disorder in the brook; he discovers there the flanks of the infantry and causes a general retreat, by carrying confusion and the dismay in the enemy ranks."

Bessieres then rushed with the cavalry of the Consular Guard. Escadrons ... en avant ... marche ! Claks slung diagonally across their shoulders, carrying their sabers high, they advanced at a slow trot because their horses were tired. Chargez ! and they swooped down upon the Austrian cavalry and pursued it to the brink of a ditch where the enemy broke in disorder.
Horse grenadiers at Marengo.
Picture by Job. Schmitt, a trumpeter of the Horse Grenadiers, surrounded by enemies and called on to surrender, killed one. The others wounded him, smashing his trumpet over his haunch. But thanks to his horse, the hero succeeded in rejoining his squadron.
The whole army swept forward and the battle was won. Desaix was dead. The Guard returned to its headquarters at San Giuliano. On 17 June, the First Consul departed for Milan, escorted by the Guard Chasseurs. He traveled long and without pause.

On July 6 the Guard received its rewards and promotions. Aune, the bravest grenadier, a legendary hero as full of holes as a colander who possessed a sword of honor and was ensign of the grenadiers, had his hat perforated by bullets as well. Amazingly, he did not suffer the slightest scratch. (He died three years later of consumption and Bonaparte granted a pension of 500 francs to his widow.)

Arriving from Italy after 29 days of forced marches, the dusty Guard entered Paris on 13 July. The capital was en fete. After a week of impatience, a million Parisians honored Bonaparte and his Guard. The pomp was strictly military and military orchestras played.


Comments on the Guard at Marengo.

Our visitors sent us additional information on the Consular Guard at Marengo. (We obtained permission to post it on our website although author of the text wished to remain anonymous.)

1. Composition of the Garde Consulaire a Pied at Marengo.

The Garde Consulaire was formed by decree of 3 janvier 1800 (13 nivôse an VIII). The Garde a pied was to be composed of some 1300 infantrymen, in 2 batallions of 6 compagnies each of grenadiers (under chefs des bataillons Soules and Tortel, respectively) and a company of chasseurs a pied. The following were the sources for the gardes:
- The Garde du Corps législatif : nominally 1200 men in 12 companies, elected representatives of the Garde national sedentaire
- Garde du Directoire : 120 men in 2 companies, chosen from the army's veterans
- Guides : perhaps some 2 dozen or so guides a pied who had managed to return from Egypt New selectees from the army : « La garde des consuls sera recrutée parmi des hommes qui se seront distingués sur le champ de bataille. » It is unknown how many such selectees were incorporated into the Garde before Marengo. Several officer biographies indicate such a selection in early 1800, but the number of selected gardes that could have made the Marengo campaign appears to be very limited (perhaps to less than 50 men).
The company of chasseurs a pied (nominally about 100 chasseurs) was formed somewhat later than the grenadiers and, if present at Marengo, seems to have been fielded without a seperate command. The biographical sketch of Soules taken from his Legion d'Honneur service record (Fastes de la Légion d'Honneur – T2. p 173.) says that he commanded 500 grenadiers or chasseurs at Marengo. Tortel is noted in a revue of 3 mai 1800 at Dijon as marching with a total of 305 members of the Garde a pied, including 3 captains.
The total given by most sources, including Berthier's order of battle, is 800 for the Garde a pied at Marengo. It is thus tempting to conclude that Soules commanded a batallion of 6 companies, likely the soldiers most fit for active service, and that Tortel led a reduced or half batallion of 3 companies. The remaining gardes would have stayed in Paris, where the commander of the Garde a pied, chef de brigade Frère, seems to have remained. Interestingly, a unit of veterans de la Garde was formed shortly after Marengo, as those unfit for active service were removed from the ranks of the Garde Consulaire. Thus the composition of the gardes at Marengo would have been, in the majority and perhaps up to 3/4 of the total, former members of the Garde du Corps législatif – elected (!) representatives of territorial "home defense" units !
Assuming such an organization meshes nicely with several incidents and reports of the battle itsself. We can see Tortel's command in the gardes who passed out a re-supply of ammunition to Coignet's regiment if we wsh ot credit the old gronard's memory, while Soules' batallion is deployed on the far right of the French positions. Also, we might make the conjecture that the appointment of adjudant général (equivalent rank to a chef de brigade) Léopold Stabenrath to lead the Garde a pied in the evening counter-attack indicates that the forces of Soules (by then reduced in numbers) and Tortel had been united.
- The Garde a pied had a large musique – at least 55 members at the time of Marengo. How many, if any at all, of these made the campaign is unknown.
- The artillery of the Garde included 4 pieces that were attached to Soules command on the far right. These would be served by 40-odd gunners and perhaps another 40-odd members of the very newly created (militarized) train de artillery.

Together with some 15-20 officers of the batallion, and perhaps some additional officiers "a la suite" from among the the rather large general staff of the garde, it is easy to see how Soules' command might be reported a totalling some 600, as is seen in some accounts of the action on the French extreme right.

2.Time of Arrival.

A recent chronology of the battle of Marengo (D. Hollins, "The Battle of Marengo" , Osprey, p. 72) have Bonaparte and the Garde Consulaire arrving on the battle field at about 3pm. This "late arrival" scenario, based on the availbale time, tends to to limit the role of Garde a pied (and Bonaparte) to something less (and less "heroic") then many previous accounts of the battle. However, an earlier chronology has strong primary source support. Among others, Coignet, Soult, Marmont, Berthier and Eugene all clearly indicate an arrival time at or before mid-day.
Eugene : around midday "beginning to take an active part"
Coignet : just before noon , handing out cartridges, their view inspiring him
Berthier's morning map : shown at Poggia
Soult : [morning positions] "Les deux divisions du général Victor avec la brigade de cavalerie du général Kellermann reslè rent ainsi en position à Pedra-Bona et à Marengo. Le général Lannes forma en seconde ligne, à six cents toises en arrière, ses deux divisions et la brigade de cavalerie commandée par le général Champeaux. La garde des consuls et une brigade d'infanterie, commandée par le général Carra Saint-Cyr, étaient en réserve à la troisième ligne, et le général de cavalerie Rivaud fut détaché à Sale."

Now, in the nature of source criticism, these accounts can be dismissed as mistaken, or written later using published chronologies for guidance. On the other hand, there is no – repeat no – primary source support for the later time of arrival of which I am aware. In fact, since according to Marmont for example, the sound of fighting was audible at the headquarters bivouac and at least two officers had reported the fighting from early in morning, it requires an assumption that Bonaparte sat unpresponsively through the morning to support the later chronology. This seems to me a counter-intuitive assumption, or one crafted to minimize the role of the First Consul. The simpler assumtpion, that Bonaparte and/or the Garde moved to the battlefield by about mid-day, seems the simpler assumption and does not require that the several reports of his arrival at that time be dismissed.

3. Action before 3pm ?

If one allows the Garde a pied to have taken the field from mid-day, there then remains some 2-3 hours for them to act. Here is it easy to adduce numerous eye-witness acounts of their resisting Austrian cavalry – the number of charges variously given a 3 to 5. This "standard version" of Garde a pied at Marengo : the "block of granite". It appears in Victor, Berthier, Coignet, the contempory (and anti-Bonapartist) italian historian Botta, Soules service record, Soult, Eugene, Marmont, Petit and so on, ad infinitum.
In addition to the criticism that the were not yet on the battlefield, which was discussed above, there is a sceond critical point made : that there were no such Austrian cavalry available to (repeatedly) charge the Garde a pied. I have never seen exactly how this assertion is supported, if at all.
For example, there is … Brigade Johann Graf Nobili. 12 escadrons : 1873 hommes …Dragoner-Regiment 3. Erzherzog Johann – 6 escadrons – Oberst Joseph Graf (de) Gavre (emigré, de Flandres) – rekrutierte aus Innerosterreich (Steiermark und Keurnten)
…Dragoner-Regiment 9. Fuerst Lichtenstein – 6 escadrons – Oberst Carl-Michael Marchese Belcredi (de Pavie) – ex-Stabs-Dragoner Regiment in Italien
These are said to have had trouble crossing the bridge to enter the battlefield proper …. which seems odd given that tehy had about 4-6 hours to make the crossing !

4. Sources for the "Destruction" of the Garde a pied.

The following have been variously claimed as "primary" or "based on primary" sources for the alleged destruction of the Garde a pied.

ITEM No. 1
Undated handwriiten notes which no longer exist but were reproduced in their regimental history (by which time they were named differently ) Pizzighelli, Cajetan. Geschichte des k.u.k. Husaren-Regimentes Wilhelm II. Koenig von Wurttemberg Nr.6. 1734-1896 / im Auftrage des Regimentscommandos zusammengestellt von Cajetan Pizzighelli. Rzeszow, Selbstverl. des Regimentes, 1897. viii, 853 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Clearly, the notes, if they existed at all, could have been written at any time up to 1896 and by anyone and for any reason. This is NOT a primary source.

ITEM No. 2
The description written by Mras in 1822/23, working at the Austrian archives (1823 edition of Osterreichische Milierische Zeitschrift). This version in reprinted in de Cugnac. It is clearly not itself a primary source, and there is no reason to believe it is based on anything other than the manuscripts discussed below.

ITEM No. 3
Stutterheim A and B
Two manuscripts, printed finally in about 1900, said to be the work of Major Joseph Stutterheim. He was on Melas' staff and is said to have gone forward against Lannes with Schellenberg's column. As noted below, he claims to have himself seen the "destruction" of the Garde a pied, and this may be so. His first manuscript is of 1811 deposited at the Austrian achives. The second, it appears, was a cleaned up version of the first of about 1823. Unfortunately, it appears that Stuuterheim was rather , er, ah … dead (!) at this point, so the second or B version has a bit of a cloud on its claim to be a primary source.

Stutterheim A
"… A few minutes before this deciding moment the Guard infantry came marching on the road from Sale to the center. With these chosen men Bonaparte hoped if not to restore the battle to stop us for a while and to protect his other troops that were already on the verge of flight. In column with opened divisions the Guard marched across open field and had individual skirmishers accompany her march at a distance of some 60 paces. There could not have been a more desirable sight for our cavalry. Ott whom the Guard passed ordered Lobkowitz DR10 to blow rapel and to attack as soon as all were assembled. Alone there were circumstances – above all Oberst Fürst Taxis could not be found – such that Ott ordered Oberst-Lieutenant Graf Harrach to lead the charge against the Guard; after time-consuming preparations DR10 set into step, then into trot, finally into the gallop. The Consular Guard infantry seemed to be close to disaster when at a few musket shots from its skirmishers the whole DR10 turned about and ran away. Some French cavalry that had been observing this from a position behind the Guard pursued our dragoons. The situation for Ott's infantry seemed desperate as in midst of the coverless plains she had been deserted by her only cavalry. Alone the same as the Consular Guard had pursued its march without being scared by the Austrian cavalry deployed in line Spleny IR51 advanced now in midst the plains headlong against the French cavalry which like ours some moments before turned about after a few shots and ran away. The same battalion[s] Spleny IR51 supported by a battalion of Fröhlich IR28 then advanced against the Consular Guard. The Guard formed up by divisions into a line. Then under a continuous artillery and small arms fire and although many men fell on both sides these two lines marched against each other with so much order and vigour that it was difficult to say who would triumph. Then suddenly while behind the Guard the whole French army was on the retreat a swarm of Imperial cavalry came galloped from Marengo fell into its rear and let only a few escape. Also their 4 guns fell into our hands. Although the French hide this incident and try to highlight the prior deeds of the Guard, Major Stutterheim has seen this whole incident which by any means does not dishonour the Guard; and a short time after the battle he received from several Guard officers the confession that but 100 of them returned who were increased to 500 only by those returning from Austrian captivity."

Stutterheim B:
" … when one discovered in a depression the march of a small column with big red plumes, the characteristic of the guard, which moved through a field of high standing corn to prolong the line of General Lannes. When FML Ott discovered this he hurried to order Lobkowitz DR10 to mount an attack against this column. Alone the forming up of the DR10 was delayed and a volley from the guard threw disorder in its ranks. French cavalry from the center tried to take advantage of the withdrawal of DR10 when a battalion of Spleny IR51 left the deploying Austrian column stormed headlong against this French cavalry which surprised and dispersed by the musket fire also turned back and took to its heels. After these cavalry combats had ended without any result General Gottesheim was charged to attack with the other battalions of Spleny IR51 and one of Fröhlich IR28 the Guard infantry that strove to cover the right flank of the French army. Attack and defense changed here in peleton fire and whole volleys like on parade ground. … […..description of the taking of Marengo farm …] … Near Marengo the rolling musket fire had already decreased and drawn to the Austrian left wing where Gottesheim was still fighting the Guard and Vogelsang Carra Saint-Cyr when a few squadrons of Nauendorf HR8 [Note : more likely this was Dragoon Regiment No. 1] and Bussy Jager Regiment [emigre French] came on, gallopped from the main road and fell into the rear of the Guard. This attack decided and ended all fighting. Many of the Guard were sabered down, the bigger part, and the four guns surrendered. The French totally conceal this incident in their reports and hardly mention their guard that defended itself with so much glory in midst of the plains. The author witnessed this whole incident and summons all who have been present with the Consular Guard at Marengo if they could dispute this account."

For the French:
From Soules' Legion d'Honneur records : " …. Passé comme chef de bataillon dans les grenadiers à pied de la garde consulaire le 13 nivose an VIII, Soulès suivit le premier Consul en Italie. Lors de la bataille de Marengo, où il commandait 500 grenadiers ou chasseurs à pied de la garde, il reçut l'ordre de se porter sur la droite de l'armée. Il n'y lut pas plutôt arrivé, qu'il eut à soutenir suecessivement cinq charges de la cavalerie ennemie , mais il les repoussa vigoureusement et lui fit essuyer de grandes pertes. Pendant cinq heures consécutives, il se maintint, dans cette position, malgré les efforts réitérés d'une colonne de 8,000 Autrichiens qui cherchait l'en débusquer, et il ne se retira que sur l'ordre formel du général en chef qui l'envoya protéger le mouvement rétrograde de l'armée, avec environ 200 hommes qui lui restaient. A six heures du soir, il reçu l'ordre de reprendre l'offensive, ce qu'il exécuta en dirigeant son attaque sur un corps de 3,000 hommes qui cherchait à tourner notre droite, et dont il coupa la retraite par l'habileté et l'audace de ses manœuvres. A la suite de cette mémorable journée, le premier Consul lui décerna un sabre dèhonneur ; l'arrêté du 17 thermidor an IX qui le lui confère est conçu en ces termes : «Bonaparte, [etc.], d'après le compte qui lui a été rendu de la conduite du citoyen Soulès, chef de bataillon dans la garde des consuls, qui, dans toutes les campagnes de l'armée d'Italie, où il servait dans le même grade, a constamment donné des preuves du plus grand courage, ainsi qu'a la bataille de Marengo, ou il commiandait le détachement de la garde des consuls, lui décerne, à titre de récompense nationale, un sabre d'honneur.» Chef de brigade dans les chasseurs à pied de la garde le 15 frimaire an x, …."
Grenadier Petit, grenadiers a cheval, standing to the right of the main road : "… charged three times by the cavalry, fusilladed by the infantry, they surrounded their colors, and their wounded in a hollow square, exhausted all their cartridges and with slow and regular steps, fell back and joined our astonished ranks."

5. Casualty Reports.

> Murat's report a few days later : 121 wounded & killed — one would think perhaps this is meant as "severely wounded and not re-joined the ranks"
> Petit : 25 (unwounded ?) prisoners returned the day after the battle
> Brossier (captain, engineering staff): 260 total casualties
> Lauriston : about 1/3 casualties (thus, similar to Brossier)

6. My Opinion.

Here is speculation, analysis, summary — call it what you will. The garde a pied arrived on the field about mid-day. 500-600 men under Soules took position on the extreme French right. Here they successfully resisted repeated cavalry charges, over some hours, likely adopting square from time to time. To deny this flies in the face of some dozen-odd primary accounts. All of these cannot be lying, mistaken, copying, propoganda, etc.

Despite the well-deserved praise for this defense, it was no miracle – the ability of steady infantry to resisit unsupported and ill-co-ordinated cavalry assaults is well documented in the period (as are the deficiencies of Austrian cavalry doctrine). In the later afternoon, they saw off a charge by Dr 10 in open column and then were finally caught, while in line in a firefight with 4 fresh enemy batallions supported by guns, and charged in the flanks and rear by 4 or more squadrons of light horse (DR 1 and Bussey Jagers) under Frimont.

Their defense, likely now very exposed as the remainder of the French had retreated, crumbled immediately or very quickly. Likely orders were sent about this time for them to retreat, but these were un-necessary / overtaken by events. Similarly, their likely quite depleted ammunition condition was neither a surpirse nor decisive. The key elements to the evetual success of the Austrians against the Garde was:
(i) more-or-less accidentally creating a viable combined arms attack
(ii) gross weight of numbers
(iii) the "morale fatique" of the defenders in an isolated position.

Of the 500-600 under Soules, some 200 retreated in something like good order, in something like hollow square around the colors, under Soules' direction. Another 100-odd likely just ran like stink !

There was no mass surrender, and few unwounded prisoners were taken.
Four attached guns were lost.
No colors were lost.

Stutterheim A is too "excited" on this topic – the tone of which is much reduced in Stutterheim B. Stutterheim A is the only source produced which could possibly be read as to imply a substantial surrender, and such is not explicitly stated even there. Some 250-odd gardes were killed or wounded up to and including this "destruction" (a few additional casualties would have to be added for the evening counter-attack). Of these, about half were seriously wounded or killed.

The rallied members of Soules' command and the command of Tortel (total perhaps 500 men) were united for the evening counter-attack, under Stabenrath. The "heroic" reputation for the Garde a pied was completely earned and merited for their performance at Marengo, especially so considering the actual composition of their ranks at the time (largely elected representatives from home defense national guard units). The lavish level of awards of armes de honneur to them was in to no way other than fully appropriate.

The inaction of the grenadiers a cheval is noteworthy.
Bessieres is reported by Eugene as halting a charge by the chasseurs a cheval that had been requested/ordered by Lannes. One wonders if he was being similarly "careful" in his use of the grenadiers a cheval at the time of Frimont's charge.

The use of the word "destroyed" is at least problematic in this context. Clearly large losses were incurred by Soules' command while on the extreme right of the French disposition (upwards of 50%). But equally, they stayed in the battle to participate in the evening counterattack. Perhaps the motto of the Lauzun hussards applies : "Perit sed in armis".

Sources and Links.

Hollins - "Marengo 1800"
Chandler - "On the Napoleonic Wars"
Coignet - "The Note-Books of Captain Coignet"
Lachouque and Brown - "The Anatomy of Glory"
Simmons Games
Simmons Games has begun posting Napoleonic source material on-line, which might be of interest to our readers. Current offerings are related to the battle of Marengo:

  • "Campagne de L'Armée de Réserve en 1800", by Cugnac (partial)
  • "Relation de la Battaile de Marengo", by Berthier (French and English)
  • 1:25,000 topographic map of the Marengo Battlefield (circa 1880), by the Italian Istituto Geografico Militare.
  • 1:200,000 topographic map set of Northern Italy (circa 1880), by the Italian Istituto Geografico Militare.
    Additional material is still being added.

    Relation of the Battle of Marengo by Bonaparte.
    "Marengo Debates."
    Jean Lannes.
    Travel to Marengo.

    Bonaparte's Consular Guard at Marengo 1800

    Napoleon's Imperial Guard at Waterloo 1815

    Napoleon, His Army and Enemies