1701-07-09 – Combat of Carpi
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Prelude to the Battle
At the end of June 1701, during the Imperialist invasion of Northern Italy, Prince Eugène de Savoie had managed to pass the Lower Adige but he still had to gain access to the plain of Verona.
In the afternoon of 8 July, Eugène's troops were ordered to prepare for the march. However, only the highest ranking officers knew about his plan.
In the dark and rainy night of 8 to 9 July, with the usual precautions of secrecy (deceiving even his own army), Eugène marched from his camp at Castelguglielmo towards Castagnaro at the head of 11,000 men
On the other bank, M. de Saint-Fremont was posted at Carpi with a small French cavalry corps.
The village of Carpi was strategically located between the Adige and the Canalbianco in a position at the end of a narrow defile (some 2,500 paces wide) between the Adige and large marshes, defending the entry into the Verona Valley. This defile was the only point of access to the plain of Verona between the Po and the Lower Adige. From the walled cemetery of Carpi, a hill reached up to the banks of the Canalbianco.
The post of Carpi was defended by three entrenchments:
- at Castagnaro where an entrenchment extended from the cemetery and the church to the Canalbianco
- south of Carpi where the Canalbianco branched out of the Adige
- the village of Carpi itself
Description of Events
A first Imperial column of 2 infantry rgts (Alt-Starhemberg and Bagni), 6 cavalry rgts and 20 regimental guns, led by Prince Eugène, marched along the dam on the right bank of the Canalbianco from Castelguglielmo to the place where the Tartaro flowed into the Canalbianco. A bridge was thrown on the Tartaro near its mouth.
A second column of 2 infantry rgts and 5 cavalry rgts led by FML Commercy, marched from Castelguglielmo along the right bank of the Tartaro to Trecenta where it threw a bridge on the river.
Between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. on 9 July, both columns reached their assigned passage points and crossed the Tartaro almost simultaneously. Commercy's column some 3,000 pace to the west of the first column and, thus, closer to the French positions.
During this time, Colonel Count Daun at the head of Jung-Daun Infantry and Guttenstein Infantry with 20 field pieces advanced from Castelbaldo, passed the Adige and established himself at Villabona (unidentified location), in front of Castagnaro, where he started to entrench. Furthermore, FZM Börner planted his remaining 12 field pieces on the left bank of the Adige opposite Carpi.
The French did not notice any movement till Daun passed the bridge near Castagnaro.
Meanwhile, the rightmost column of the Imperialists had passed the Tartaro unhindered. Commercy's column bumped into a small detachment and easily drove it back.
Commercy subdivided his column, keeping command of the 2 infantry rgts and of 2 cavalry rgts, and placing 3 cavalry rgts of his leftmost column under the command of FML Pálffy.
Both columns had to cross a terrain criss-crossed with ditches and narrow roads and their march was delayed, preventing them to join Prince Eugène's column under Castagnaro.
At 6:00 a.m., the head of Eugène's column appeared in front of Saint-Fremont's entrenched outpost at Castagnaro. Their artillery (20 field pieces established at Villabona and 8 regimental pieces who had accompanied the infantry) opened on this outpost. The entrenchments were defended by 3 French fusiliers coys, supported by 3 grenadier coys.
M. de Saint-Fremont warned the Comte de Tessé, who was posted near Legnago with 8 bns, and 20 sqns. Tessé immediately set off for Carpi at the head of his piquets, instructing generals Langalerie and Praslin to follow as soon as they could with the rest of his corps. He was on his way when he was informed that Castagnaro had been lost. At once, Tessé sent orders to General de Bachivilliers at Legnano to gather all his forces and to hasten to his support.
The grenadier coys of Alt-Starhemberg and Bagni infantry led the attack followed by the 2 rgts. They stormed the entrenchments but soon a counter-attack of the French grenadier coys supported by 300 dragoons sent from Carpi by Saint-Fremont drove them back.
Tessé then received a second message stating that Castagnaro had been retaken. Accordingly, he sent new orders to Bachivilliers instructing him to advance up to Villa Bartolomea and then wait for further orders.
The Imperialist infantry advanced once more under a lively fire, supported by Savoyen Dragoons and Vaudémont Cuirassiers. After a brave resistance, the Imperialists finally stormed the outpost at Castagnaro. Hard pressed, Saint-Fremont was forced to evacuate the outpost and to retire towards Carpi, closely followed by the Imperialist cavalry. However, some French soldiers had taken refuge in the church and in the tower of Castagnaro from where they fired on the attackers. The latter threatened to set the church afire and the French deposited arms.
The Imperialists then easily made themselves master of a second entrenchment at Catarane, at the confluent of the Adige and the canal, which had been left undefended (the 300 French foot having all been posted at Castagnaro).
After these initial successes, Prince Eugène halted his army in front of Carpi, because his troops had become disorganised during their rapid advance. Furthermore, Eugène feared that the French could have reinforced Carpi. He reorganised his units in preparation for the attack on that place. These delays gave the French enough time to put Carpi in a state of defence and to make preparations for an eventual evacuation.
Prince Eugène then advanced with two infantry columns and some cuirassier columns on Saint-Fremont's main positions at Carpi. His advance was delayed by the difficult terrain criss-crossed by canals, marshes, paddyfields and bushes. While repeatedly crossing such obstacles, the Imperialists soon became disorganised.
When Tessé arrived near Carpi with his piquets, Saint-Fremont outpost at Castagnaro had already been taken and the Imperialist columns were approaching the village. Tessé took command of Saint-Fremont's cavalry force (4 cavalry sqns and 9 dragoon sqns) and advanced against the disorganised Imperial columns. Hampered by the difficult terrain, d'Estrades Dragons and Vérac Dragons dismounted to fight. Tessé sent Ruffey Cavalerie to charge frontally the Imperial troops advancing on Carpi. On the left wing of Eugène's column, the Pfalz-Neuburg Cuirassiers were forming to attack. Tessé threw the Albert Dragons against the left flank of the Pfalz-Neuburg Cuirassiers and simultaneously sent Mauroy Cavalerie to attack them frontally. Tessé, Saint-Fremont, Cambout and d'Albert then bravely placed themselves at the head of the first squadron of Albert Dragons, charging without firing a single shot. The Pfalz-Neuburg Cuirassiers were totally surprised by the flank attack and were rapidly attacked from all sides. The Chevalier d'Albert, colonel of Albert Dragons, was killed during this charge. The Pfalz-Neuburg Cuirassiers were driven back upon the infantry of their left wing. The fire of this infantry combined with the arrival of Vaudémont Cuirassiers stopped the advance of the French cavalry and prevented the encirclement of the Pfalz-Neuburg Cuirassiers.
A general engagement ensued where both sides fought with great courage. The Albert Dragons still launched a couple of successful charges. Similarly Ruffey Cavalerie and Mauroy Cavalerie charged repeatedly with similar success. But the steady fire of the Imperial foot supporting the cavalry inflicted heavy casualties to these three French regiments and stopped all their charges.
The Imperialists started to contain the French everywhere and advanced impetuously on Carpi.
Tessé then abandoned Carpi and effected an orderly retreat to San-Pietro di Legnago covered by his dragoons who occupied the defile. M. de Ranes launched a last charge against the head of a column of Imperial grenadiers.
At Villa Bartolomea, the requested reinforcements (6 bns and all his cavalry) made a junction with Tessé's forces but it was too late to save Carpi. Tessé's entire corps then retired to Legnano.
Prince Eugène occupied Carpi and the neighbouring French camp.
The combat had lasted till 9:00 a.m.
On the French side, Colonel d'Albert, Lieutenant-Colonel de Caldré (of Ruffey Cavalerie), Colonel Brémont and about 18 officers were killed in action; the Marquis de Cambout was mortally wounded. Overall, the French lost more than 50 officers, 300 men dead or wounded, and 9 officers and 100 men taken prisoners.
Prince Eugène received a minor wound at a knee. He lost Lieutenant-Colonel Count Thürheim (of Pfalz-Neuburg Cuirassiers), 1 cornet and 40 men dead; 6 officers and about 45 men wounded.
The Imperialists captured a standard of Mauroy Cavalerie, a pair of kettle-drums and 200 horses.
Eugène had now successfully established his army on the other bank of the Canalbianco, ready to operate against the Duchy of Mantua. Most importantly, he had secured and simplified his lines of communication.
Order of Battle
Imperialist Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Prince Eugène de Savoie
Summary: 66 sqns, 14 bns with 58 artillery pieces for a total of 10,500 foot and 6,600 horse
Prince Eugène's column
- Alt-Starhemberg Infantry (4 bns)
- Bagni Infantry (3 bns)
- Savoyen Dragoons (6 sqns)
- Vaudémont Cuirassiers (6 sqns)
- Pfalz-Neuburg Cuirassiers (6 sqns)
- two unidentified mounted units (12 sqns) from the list of units below
Prince de Commercy's column
- Guido Starhemberg Infantry (4 bns)
- Herberstein Infantry (3 bns)
- six unidentified mounted units (36 sqns) from the list of units below
Cavalry (present at the combat but we don't know to which column they were attached)
- Serény Dragoons (6 sqns)
- Dietrichstein Dragoons (6 sqns)
- Pálffy Cuirassiers (6 sqns)
- Lothringen Cuirassiers (6 sqns)
- Taaffe Cuirassiers (6 sqns)
- Corbelli Cuirassiers (6 sqns)
- Visconti Cuirassiers (6 sqns)
- Alt-Hessen-Darmstadt Cuirassiers (6 sqns)
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: M. de Saint-Fremont soon superseded by the Comte de Tessé
Summary: 16 sqns, 300 foot for a total of approx. 1,200 men
Cavalry (16 sqns)
- Ruffey Cavalerie (2 sqns)
- Mauroy Cavalerie (2 sqns)
- Albert Dragons (3 sqns)
- d'Estrades Dragons (3 sqns)
- Vérac Dragons (3 sqns)
- Grenadiers of Bretagne Infanterie (1 coy)
- Unidentified detached grenadiers (2 coys)
- Detached fusiliers (3 coys for a total of 150 men)
This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Abtheilung für Kriegsgeschichte des k. k. Kriegs-Archives: Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen, Series 1, Vol. 3, Vienna 1876, pp. 191-197
- Vault: Mémoires militaires relatifs à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV, Vol. 1 pp. 274-279
- Arneth, Alfred Ritter von: Prinz Eugen von Savoyen, Vol. 1, Vienna, 1864, pp. 141-142
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