Prince Eugene - George Upton

The Italian Campaign

The French now wished to make up in Italy what they had lost in Germany. The prospects for this seemed very good. The Hungarians, under the daring Count Alexander Karolyi, were gathering in the neighborhood of Vienna; while in Italy the imperial troops were starving.

The Emperor Leopold the First had grown old and indifferent, and his characteristic indecision and lack of self-confidence had increased. The faithful artillery General, von Heister, drove the Hungarians before him, and Eugene was again sent to Italy to restore order and if possible clear the way. There was one favorable circumstance. His uncle, Duke Victor Amadeus, had at last broken his compact with the French and had come over to the Emperor's side. He had not received much benefit from his friendship with the French. "Hands off here, hands off there," had been the cry, and there was no regard for ties of relationship.

In Italy the two brothers, the Duke of Vendome and the Grand Prior, were in command. Eugene had first to deal with the latter, who was not particularly brilliant. By means of marches and counter-marches he kept him busy, eluding him cleverly when the Grand Prior thought to have surely entrapped him. But this could not long continue. Eugene soon became disgusted with the comedy. In August, 1705, he confronted the Grand Prior at the town of Cassano on the Adda. The position of the enemy was excellent, while Eugene, besides the eight thousand Prussians under Prince Leopold of Dessau, possessed but a small army. Still he wished to attack the Grand Prior, who had no idea that the enemy was so close until he was enlightened by messengers from his brother, the Duke. He was now all the more alert, fearing a severe reprimand. He placed his troops behind several canals and garrisoned the island in the Adda, as well as a large stone building which commanded the island and the bridge leading to it, called the Osteria.

A heavy artillery fire from Eugene's side opened the battle. Then the infantry fell in line, taking the Osteria in a quick assault and endeavoring to close the sluices of the canals. Just as they were occupied with this difficult and to them puzzling piece of work, the imperial troops were surprised by a vigorous attack of the French regiments, by which they were driven back and the Osteria taken from them. The Austrians again captured the bridge and building, but were obliged to give them up again and again. At the head of his men Eugene stormed the position for the third time, drove the enemy's ranks into the river, and prepared to take the entrenchments. But he was received with a heavy grenade fire which swept away whole lines, so that he was obliged to retire again.

In the meantime the Duke of Vendome appeared on the battle-field with fresh troops. It was Prince Leopold who bore the first shock of their attack. His soldiers had waded through the canals in order to reach the enemy the sooner, and had attacked them with their bayonets. But they were met by such a murderous hail of bullets, great and small, that the Prussians were obliged to withdraw. It was only for a short time, however, just long enough to take breath; for Dessau was not the man to be so quickly repulsed. "He is a cowardly dog who deserts his general!" he cried in a voice of thunder, and was the first to plunge again into the canal, followed by his grenadiers. Thus they victoriously advanced and passed through two canals, and were getting nearer and nearer to the foe, when for the second time they were driven back by the furious fire of the French cannon and rifles; and late in the afternoon they took refuge with Eugene's exhausted troops in a secure camp.

It was at Cassano that the "Dessau March" originated, a piece of music which was composed in honor of Leopold, and which still enjoys great popularity.

The day at Cassano was a disastrous one for the Germans, for more than a fifth of their army lay dead or wounded on the battle-field. For a long time Eugene was obliged to play at hide and seek with the enemy, being now too weak to engage in open warfare. But wherever he could injure the French, we may be sure he did so. Eugene's bloody partisan warfare is remembered to this day in Lombardy.

But in Paris they were evidently not quite satisfied with the operations of the firm "Vendome brothers." Both of them were recalled and Duke Philip of Orleans and Marshal Marsin intrusted with the command of the army. This spurred Eugene on to measure his strength with these new representatives. Turin was the last refuge of Duke Victor Amadeus of Savoy; this time-server had been thus driven to extremity. Starhemberg held the city with seven thousand men. A French army forty thousand strong now appeared to besiege it. But Eugene arrived on the ground before them. He crossed the Po with thirty thousand men, passed around the French entrenchments, crossed the Dora also, and went into camp between this river and the Stura.

At daybreak on the seventh of September, 1706, the troops of the allied armies broke camp. They were divided into eight columns, of which four formed the first and four the second division. Scarcely had the French commanders noted Eugene's plan when they sent large reinforcements to the threatened spot and began a heavy cannonading. Of course the imperial batteries did not remain silent. This artillery battle thundered for more than two hours. Meanwhile, in Turin, Count von Daun was making ready with twelve battalions, four hundred grenadiers, five hundred cavalrymen, and six fieldpieces for a timely sortie. The inhabitants of Turin witnessed the progress of the battle from the walls and the roofs of the houses and churches, praying devoutly for the success of the German arms.

The Prussian troops had scarcely come up when they were ordered to attack. Prince Leopold at their head, they advanced upon the enemy as though they were on the parade-ground, with erect, firm bearing and without firing a shot. A terrific fire greeted them; the enemies' bullets swept them in front and in the flank, and although they answered with a very rapid battalion fire, the battle was too unequal and they were obliged to retire. As soon as Eugene noticed this he hurried to the spot, to the support of the brave Prussian regiments, with the remainder of the left wing, which was soon followed by the centre and the right wing. The fighting broke out all along the long line of battle. Both sides fought recklessly, neither advancing, but on the other hand neither giving way.

Eugene's attention was centred on the Prussians; the Prince of Dessau, his valiant ally of Hochstadt and Cassano, seemed to him the right man to strike a tremendous blow. It needed but a few words. Leopold, the "bull-dog," as Eugene is said to have called him, threw himself with his already much decimated battalions with terrific fury upon the enemy's entrenchments. Nothing intimidated the faithful fellows, nothing could stop them. They crossed the moat, took the redoubts, and intrenched themselves therein. Eugene was in the midst of them. His horse was shot under him and he fell to the ground. The terror of death was upon him. But no!—immediately he arose and hurried on, at the head of his men.

Simultaneously with this brilliant success, the Prince of Wurttemberg penetrated the entrenchments from the opposite side. Eugene's positive orders were that the left wing should occupy the entrenchments which had been taken until the right wing and the centre had also taken the entrenchments. But alas! in the enthusiasm of victory the left wing hurried after their advancing brothers, and the fortifications remained unprotected. But Eugene was watching the progress of the battle. Starhemberg's regiment was called upon, occupied the fortifications, turned the captured French cannon about and shelled the fleeing enemy with them. The French at the centre fought just as doggedly. There Philip of Orleans and Marsin were in command. Three times the entrenchments were taken by the allies; three times they were recaptured by the French, until, at last, the Duke of Savoy took them for the fourth time—and held them.

Thus the French were repulsed at all points. In great disorder they hurried toward the Po and the Dora. It was now the faithful Daun's turn. He received them, not with open arms, but with powder and lead instead, took part of them prisoners and drove the rest into the cold waters of the river, to cool the heat of their flight.

Thus the rule of the French in Milan was overthrown. Amidst the boundless rejoicings of the delivered city, Eugene made his entry into it, as its imperial governor. From this time the plans of Louis the Fourteenth were frustrated. He must have been sick enough with rage at the little abbe, for the pills he had had to swallow in Italy were bitter as gall. And still the triumphs of Germany over the French were not complete. While a small imperial force marched straight to Naples to harass the French there, Eugene and Victor Amadeus made ready to carry the war into Southern France. After an extremely arduous march over the Alps, they reached Valette, which lies about a half-hour's march from Toulon, and went into camp there. During the following days Toulon was shelled by the Austrians. Nothing more was done, however, as the French were gathering in ever increasing numbers; so Eugene wisely withdrew. The fall of Toulon was the dearest wish of the English and Hollanders, but Eugene preferred not to burn his fingers in their interests. Besides, from the standpoint of the soldier, his retreat through the enemy's country was a greater feat than the storming of Toulon would have been. On the road he casually took Susa; and he arrived again in Vienna in the Autumn of 1707, where he was greeted at court, as well as by the people, as the deliverer of Italy. He met with a brilliant and extremely friendly reception.