1702-02-01 – Storming of Cremona
Prelude to the Battle
On 31 January 1702, the Maréchal de Villeroy returned from Milan to his headquarters at Cremona. On his way he was informed that Prince Eugène had assembled some 4,500 men at Canneto and Ostiano on the Oglio. Fearing for his posts on the Lower Oglio, Villeroy ordered M. de Créqui to assemble his troops in these quarters while he made sure that 2,000 men of the garrison of Cremona would be kept ready to intervene. In fact, Prince Eugène had a very different project: he wanted to launch a coup-de-main on Villeroy's headquarters at Cremona.
The City of Cremona belonged to the Duchy of Milan. The south-west walls of the city ran along the banks of the Po River. The city was garrisoned by 12 bns and 12 sqns. It had good walls and a few bastions, the whole surrounded by a ditch that could be filled with water coming from a canal on the Oglio. However, at this time of the year, only the cunette (a trench sunk into the floor of the main ditch) was flooded. A strongly fortified castle was located at the western end of the city. To the south, a bridge had been established across the Po and its head, on the right bank of the river, protected by a reboubt.
Several gates gave access to the city. From the castle eastwards, there were the San Lucca Gate (present-day Milano Gate) defended by a bastion, the Aqueducts of Marchisana and Cremonella, the Tintoria Gate, the Church of Santa-Maria-Nova, the Ogni-Santi Gate, the Bastion of San Michele, the Santa-Margherita Gate (aka Nova Gate), the Mosa Gate defended by a crownwork and the Po Gate defended by a lunette. A battery of 8 heavy pieces had been established to the East of the Po Gate to cover the bridge of boats across the Po. At night each gate was guarded by a patrol of 25 men; however, no detachment patrolled the vicinity of the city.
The streets of Cremona were wide with large places; the buildings, solid construction, There were beautiful churches, a high belfry called the "Torrazzo" opposite the city hall on the "Piazza Grande" (Great Place present-day Piazza Cavour). The French had established their main post on the "Piazza Piccola" (Small Place).
Unknown to the French, the cellar of the rectory of the Reverend Antonio Cossoli, priest of the Church of Santa-Maria-Nova, located at the foot of the ramparts gave access to a narrow canal (about 0.5 m wide) leading to the ditch between San Lucca Gate and Ogni-Santi Gate. Cossoli had informed Prince Eugène of this possibility.
Description of Events
In the rainy night of January 31 to 1 February, Starhemberg's Corps set off from Ostiano an hour before dusk and passed the Oglio. It was accompanied by Prince Eugène and the Prince von Commercy. Besides the three commanders almost nobody knew where they were heading for. The corps marched as follows:
- advanced guard
- 25 grenadiers of Gschwind Infantry and 5 grenadiers from each of the 5 other grenadier coys
- first column
- Major Hoffmann von Eidlitz from Gschwind Infantry with a captain, a lieutenant, an ensign and the grenadiers of the same regiment; and 100 men of Kriechbaum Infantry
- Major Count Nazari from Lothringen Infantry with a captain, a lieutenant, an ensign and the grenadiers of the same regiment; and 100 men of Bagni Infantry
- Lieutenant-Colonel Count Kuefstein from Herberstein Infantry with his grenadier coy and 100 men of Gschwind Infantry
- Lieutenant-Colonel Scherzer from Gschwind Infantry with the grenadiers of Bagni Infantry, 100 men of Gschwind Infantry, 100 of Herberstein Infantry and 100 of Bagni Infantry
- Captain Lohr with a detachment of artillerymen
- second column in four divisions, each commanded by a captain, a lieutenant and en ensign, consisting of the rest of the infantry
- Lieutenant-Colonel Count Mercy from Lothringen Cuirassiers with 4 captains, 5 lieutenants, 4 cornets, 5 Wachtmeistern, 14 corporals and 225 troopers
- Lieutenant-Colonel Freiberg from Taaffe Cuirassiers with 6 standards, the kettle-drummer and 325 troopers
- Major Duhaux from Lothringen Cuirassiers with 6 standards, the kettle-drummer and the remaining troopers of his regiment
- Major Dupré from Pfalz-Neuburg Cuirassiers with the standards of his regiment, the kettle-drummer and all troopers of his regiment
- Colonel Paul Deák at the head of Deák Hussars
Furthermore, another Imperial corps (4,400 men) under M. Thomas de Vaudémont (the son of Prince Charles de Vaudémont, the Spanish governor of Milan) had also been instructed to approach by the right bank of the Po and to storm the French entrenchments protecting the bridge leading to Cremona.
On his way, Prince Eugène met scouts returning to Ostiano to inform him that Villeroy was probably back in Cremona and that the Franco-Spanish troops, who had been previously detached on the other bank of the Po, had returned to Cremona.
Around 2:30 a.m., Prince Eugène, Prince Commercy and Guido Starhemberg, who had preceded the column, arrived unnoticed at a farmhouse located near the walls of Cremona. Eugène had no news from Vaudémont's advance on the right bank of the Po.
Around 5:30 a.m., estimating that by this time Vaudémont should have appeared in front of the bridgehead defending the crossing of the Po, Eugène sent ahead Major Hoffmann with 125 grenadiers of Gschwind Infantry, 100 men of Kriechbaum Infantry. At a sign from Cossoli, Hoffmann's detachment descended into the ditch, silently passed the cunette on boards and posts, and entered into the canal leading to Cossoli's rectory. Cossoli had with him messengers familiar with the city to guide each individual detachment. Hoffmann's detachment was closely followed by Nazari's and Kuefstein's. As long as the three detachments had not been assembled in the rectory, strict silence was maintained. Each detachment had its particular objective.
Hoffmann's detachment had to made itself master of the Santa-Margherita Gate, to open the doors and to make a signal from the walls to indicate that the gate was in their hands and their troops could now enter. Nazari for his part was charged to reach the Small Place as rapidly as he could, to attack the guards posted there, then to make himself master of the City Hall on the Great Place and to maintain his position. Finally, Kuefstein was instructed to capture Vice-Governor Don Diego de Conchia, lodged in the Casa Chinquinella, and to maintain his position.
As soon as Hoffmann would open the Santa-Margherita Gate, Lieutenant-Colonel Count Mercy with his cuirassiers should swiftly march through the city towards the Po Gate to open its door and thus allow Vaudémont's Corps to penetrate into the city. Lieutenant-Colonel Scherzer should closely follow Mercy's detachment and secure the Po Gate and the bridge. For his part, Lieutenant-Colonel Freiberg should reach Piazza Santa-Agata (present-day Piazza Garibaldi) and stop any reinforcement coming from the castle. To do so, he would sent 20 men patrols in the neighbouring streets. Major Duhaux would occupy the Great Place and the Small Place with his troopers. All these detachments had been instructed to establish communications between each other as soon as possible. Major Dupré was ordered to remain at the Santa-Margherita Gate and to send two patrols of 25 men into the city to his left and right. Finally, Paul Deák with his hussars should take post at a small bridge (probably the bridge on the Cerca Naviglio at Baracconi) outside the town near the Santa-Margherita Gate to watch for the possible arrival of Créqui's Corps.
Around 7:00 a.m., the three detachments, now ready, set off from Cossoli's rectory.
Hoffmann rushed along the ramparts towards the Ogni-Santi Gate and the Santa-Margherita Gate. General Crenan's cook was the first Frenchman to see the Austrians. He ran to wake up his master who would not believe him. Nevertheless Crenan dressed himself to check by himself. Meanwhile, the guards at the Ogni-Santi Gate realised, too late, that they were under attack. They barely had time to fire a few shots before being overwhelmed and slaughtered. Hoffmann immediately moved against the Santa-Margherita Gate making himself master of it at the point of the bayonet after a brief resistance. Hoffmann then occupied the gate while the carpenters of his detachment opened the doors to let a few artillerymen of Captain Lohr's detachment enter into the city, climb onto the walls and fire the appropriate signal in the darkness of this winter morning.
Cremona then came to life. A few shots could be heard coming from the Small Place, it was Nazari's detachment who had come to contact with the guards on this place. However, Kuefstein was unable to locate the house of the vice-governor. He then turned his attention against the San Lucca Gate. Meanwhile, with the doors of the Santa-Margherita Gate now open, Mercy's cuirassiers burst into town at full gallop heading toward the Po Gate sword at hand, closely followed by Freiberg's and Duhaux's detachments. Lieutenant Colonel Scherzer could not keep pace with these Austrian mounted detachments rushing towards the Po Gate. Nonetheless, he marched as fast as possible to reach his assigned position.
Rouergue Infanterie, which was posted near the Santa-Margherita Gate, was totally surprised by the Austrians and had many men taken prisoners.
At 7:00 a.m., Villeroy, still in bed at the Offredi Palace, heard gunshots fired at the Ogni-Santi Gate, close to his house. One of his servant burst into his room shouting: “The Germans are in the city.” Villeroy sprang out of bed, requesting a horse and instructing his secretary to immediately burn the cipher key and all his correspondence. Villeroy then sent the small detachment guarding his house to support the guards at the gates. He then dressed quickly and jumped on his horse to reach the Great Place. He still thought that all this noise was caused by an uprising and that some inhabitants were trying to open the gates of the city to the Imperialists.
One hour before daybreak, Eugène's troops were already established in the centre of Cremona. Here and there shots could be heard, the guard posted on the Small Place defending itself against Nazari's detachment who advanced to the Great Place, made itself master of the City Hall and took position at the windows. The Domo Place and the Macello Place were also occupied by the Austrians.
Prince Eugène, Guido Starhemberg and Commercy, at the head of the second column, entered into Cremona by the Santa-Margherita Gate immediately after Scherzer's detachment.
When Villeroy finally reached the Great Place, his guards were already under attack. He finally realized that he was not facing a mere uprising. His guards were soon surrounded by soldiers of Bagni Infantry pouring from the streets adjoining the place. Villeroy fell from his horse and was taken prisoner by Captain McDonell from Bagni Infantry, an Irishman in the Imperial service. Don Diego de Conchia, the Spanish Governor of Cremona, who had come to the Great Place to receive Villeroy's orders, was thrown down from his horse and severely wounded.
It was now about 9:00 a.m. and the French started to organise themselves. The regiments of the garrison, distributed in several quarters, tried to assemble and ran to the various gates and places. I./Royal des Vaisseaux Infanterie, by some coincidence, was preparing for a review under the Chevalier d'Entragues. M. d'Arène took the lead of d'Entragues' battalion and marched towards the Great Place.
Freiberg's cuirassiers had by then reached their assigned position at Piazza Santa-Agata to block any reinforcement sent from the castle to the Great Place. For their part, Prince Eugène, Starhemberg and Commercy had established their quarters in the City Hall. They had not yet been informed of Villeroy's capture.
Indeed, d'Arène and d'Entragues advancing towards the Great Place bumped into Freiberg's cuirassiers on the Piazza Santa Agata. The grenadiers of Royal des Vaisseaux led the attack against these cuirassiers, opening fire at point blank and forcing them to retire into the adjacent streets. Then, d'Arène and d'Entragues resumed their advance towards the Great Place which was already occupied by Duhaux's Austrian cuirassiers.
Once more, the soldiers of I./Royal des Vaisseaux Infanterie fired a devastating salvo against Duhaux's cuirassiers who gave way. The soldiers of I./Royal des Vaisseaux Infanterie then barricaded the street and took position in adjoining houses. During the ensuing firefight against the grenadiers of Gschwind Infantry, the Chevalier d'Entragues was wounded and the Sieur d'Héricourt, captain of the grenadiers of Royal des Vaisseaux, killed. At this moment, the Marquis de Crenan and M. de Montandre arrived on the Great Place with 2 additional companies of Royal des Vaisseaux and a detachment of Royal Comtois Infanterie. However, Imperial troops had already taken post in the City Hall and in adjoining houses commanding the Great Place. They opened fire on the French troops occupying the Great Place. De Crenan was almost immediately mortally wounded.
During this time, the Comte de Revel, who was in another quarter of Cremona far from the Great Place, tried to advance towards Villeroy's house with Médoc Infanterie. He soon realised that all streets leading to Villeroy's quarters were occupied. He then ordered to all officers whom he met on his way to gather their units and to rendez-vous on the esplanade of the castle.
For its part, Mercy's detachment, sent against the Po Gate, had found it guarded by an Irish officer and 35 men. Mercy decided to wait for the arrival of Scherzer's infantry detachment before attacking the gate and to redirect his attack against the battery (8 guns) located on the ramparts to the east of the gate. This battery covered the bridge. Vaudémont's Corps could still not be seen at its assigned station on the opposite bank of the Po. Furthermore, Scherzer's infantry detachment had not been able to march through the city as fast as expected. He was constantly bumping into small French patrols who seriously delayed his advance towards the Po Gate.
Meanwhile, M. d'Arène had taken command of Dillon Infanterie (under Major Daniel O'Mahoney) and Bourke Infanterie who were advancing towards the Po Gate. Mercy's detachment had already made itself master of the battery located near San Pietro Place.
By 10:00 a.m., the Imperialists were masters of the Santa-Margherita Gate and the Ogni-Santi Gate but had not yet been able to capture the San Lucca Gate and the Mosa Gate which was bravely defended by Captain Linch of Dillon Infanterie with a few men. They were also masters of the Small Place, Great Place, Erbe Place, Mercato Place, Bestie Place and the Place of the Slaughterhouse. They occupied most of the east part of the city. Most of the Imperialist infantry was posted at the San Lucca Gate under the command of Kuefstein; at the City Hall where Prince Eugène, Starhemberg and Commercy had established themselves; in the street leading to the Po Gate; and at the Santa-Margherita Gate where a large of the reserve occupied neighbouring houses to protect communication with this gate. The rest of the reserve was sent to reinforce troops involved in street fighting in different locations.
Two coys of Montpeyroux Cavalerie were unable to leave their barracks to join the other French units gathering near the castle. Most of their troopers along with two standards and two pairs of kettle-drums were captured.
By this time, Revel assembled all the units that he could muster on the esplanade of the castle. Then leaving 1 squadron and Cambrésis Infanterie (1 bn) on the esplanade to keep communication open with the castle, he marched along the rampart on the Santa-Maria-Nova Chapel. On his way, he sent order to I./Royal des Vaisseaux Infanterie, which was still fighting on the Great Place, to join him on the ramparts near the chapel. Near the Ogni-Santi Gate, the 2 other battalions of Royal des Vaisseaux joined Revel's force.
At the Po Gate, the two Irish regiments retook the battery and occupied the San Salvador Church. During the action, they were attacked by 1 squadron of Imperial cuirassiers who inflicted them some losses before retiring towards the Santa-Margherita Gate. D'Arène also posted Beaujolais Infanterie at the Po Gate.
Around 11:30 a.m., Villeroy was transferred to a house neighbouring the Santa-Margherita Gate where the Prince of Commercy paid him a short visit. The latter ordered Captain McDonell to transfer Villeroy and Crenan to a farmhouse outside the city.
Around 1:00 p.m., once Dillon, Bourke and Beaujolais properly posted at the Po Gate, M. d'Arène saw Vaudémont's Imperial Corps appear in front of the bridgehead on the opposite bank of the Po. The Irish proposed him to break the bridge but M. d'Arène did not dare to do so without proper orders. He rather sent 100 fusiliers of Beaujolais Infanterie to reinforce the bridgehead.
While M. d'Arène was supervising the deployment of Beaujolais Infanterie, he was called by Lieutenant-Colonel O'Hacob of Bourke Infanterie who presented him an Irish officer (McDonnell again) sent by the Imperialists to offer to the Irish regiments to pass in the Imperial service where they would receive the same pay as Swiss troops in France. O'Hacob and his officers had already answered to the envoy of the Imperialists that they would rather die in the service of the king of France. The envoy was sent to the castle and treated as a prisoner of war.
Revel first stormed the chapel which was occupied by 150 Imperialists who surrendered as prisoners of war. He then relieve the defenders of the San Lucca Gate and, at the head of Royal des Vaisseaux, Médoc, Royal-Comtois and part of Croy, gradually drove back Kuefstein's detachment back on the Ogni-Santi Gate. During this action, M. de Montandre was wounded while leading I./Royal des Vaisseaux.
M. d'Arène personally set off from the Po Gate to meet the Comte de Revel at the Ogni-Santi Gate which the latter had just retaken. Revel, informed of the situation at the Po Gate, sent 1 troop of cavalry to support the Irish. He also sent forward the Marquis de Praslin to take command in these quarters with instructions to dismantle the bridge on the Po.
However, the Imperialists were still master of the Santa-Margherita Gate and M. d'Arène proposed to the Comte de Revel to lead an attack against this gate. Revel gave his authorisation and d'Arène marched at the head of Royal des Vaisseaux, Médoc and Royal-Comtois. During the attack of the Santa-Margherita Gate, d'Arène was wounded and transported to the castle. This gate was well defended with troops in a tower and in a nearby redoubt and three French attacks were driven back.
Once arrived at the Po Gate, M. de Praslin gave instructions to break the floating bridge leading to the right bank of the Po.
Around 1:30 p.m., Villeroy was sent to Ostiano, escorted by 100 horse.
At 2:00 p.m., Vaudémont's Imperial corps finally advanced against the bridgehead but the bridge had already been broken. Vaudémont turned back and on his way to the positions of the Imperialists, he made attempts against the French outposts at Monticelli, Roccabianca and Busseto, each guarded by 100 men. He was repulsed at the first two places but managed to make himself master of Busseto.
Meanwhile, street fighting inside Cremona had continued. Revel sent orders to the Irish to attack the Mosa Gate, which he thought to be under the control of the Imperialists but had been in fact successfully defended by a small detachment. Lieutenant-Colonel O'Hacob left 100 men at San Pietro and advanced against the Mossa Gate with Dillon Infanterie and Bourke Infanterie. On their way, they clashed with a detachment of Imperialists and were forced to retire on the San Pietro Place.
Still trying to make himself master of the Santa-Margherita Gate, Revel had sent men to bring back two guns who opened on the enemy positions. He then ordered Fimarcon Dragons to dismount and to attack the gate. They finally managed to recapture this gate. Nevertheless, the stubborn resistance of the defenders of the Santa-Margherita Gate gave enough time to the Imperialists to evacuate Cremona.
Street fighting had lasted for 10 hours and the Imperialists had slowly been driven out of the ramparts and city centre. As nightfall was approaching, Prince Eugène and M. de Commercy decided to retreat to Ostiano. They brought back with them all the artillery horses of the French.
The Imperialists lost 806 men dead, wounded or taken prisoners (26 officers killed or taken prisoners, including the Count de Mercy, and 11 wounded; 240 men killed, 189 wounded and 340 taken prisoners). Nevertheless, the Imperialists had managed to capture 5 standards, 3 colours, 2 pairs of kettle-drums and about 500 horses.
The French lost 546 soldiers and 16 officers killed, 493 soldiers and 75 officers wounded and 239 soldiers and 62 officers taken prisoners (including Villeroy). Don Diego de Conchia, the Spanish Governor of Cremona, was mortally wounded during the combats.
To reward his troops, who had behaved with great valour, King Louis XIV gave one month of pay to all soldiers; the Comte de Revel was admitted in the Ordre du Saint-Esprit and received the government of Condé; M. de Praslin was promoted to lieutenant-general; M. d'Arène promoted to maréchal de camp; MM. de Fimarcon, de Marcellin and de Beaulieu promoted to brigadiers.
Ironically, the capture of Villeroy induced Louis XIV to sent one of his best generals, the Duc de Vendôme, to Italy. From then on, Prince Eugène would have to face a more serious opponent.
Order of Battle
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Maréchal de Villeroy
Infantry (12 bns)
- Royal des Vaisseaux 3 bns) quartered in the castle
- Royal-Comtois (2 bn)
- Médoc (1 bn)
- Cambrésis (1 bn) quartered in the castle
- Croy (1 bn)
- Beaujolais (1 bn)
- Dillon (1 bn) quartered near the Po Gate
- Bourke (1 bn) quartered near the Po Gate
- Rouergue (1 bn) quartered near the Santa-Margherita Gate
Cavalry (12 sqns)
- Dauphin (3 sqns)
- Narbonne (2 sqns)
- Viltz (2 sqns)
- Montpeyroux (2 sqns)
- Fimarcon Dragons (3 sqns)
Imperial Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Prince Eugène de Savoie seconded by M. de Commercy
Guido Starhemberg's Corps (about 2,500 foot and 1,200 horse)
- Gschwind Infantry (500 men)
- Herberstein Infantry (400 men)
- Bagni Infantry (400 men)
- Lothringen Infantry (400 men)
- Kriechbaum Infantry (300 men)
- Converged grenadiers (500 men) from the preceding rgts
- Pfalz-Neuburg Cuirassiers (400 men)
- Taaffe Cuirassiers (400 men)
- Lothringen Cuirassiers (400 men)
- Deák Hussars
Thomas de Vaudémont's Corps (about 2,000 foot and 2,400 horse)
- Guido Starhemberg Infantry (about 1,000 men)
- Jung-Daun Infantry (about 1,000 men)
- Vaudémont Cuirassiers
- Alt-Hessen-Darmstadt Cuirassiers
- Dietrichstein Dragoons
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. 4, Vienna 1877, pp. 88-108
- Pelet and François Eugène de Vault: Mémoires militaires relatifs à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV, Vol. 2 pp. 153-157, 658-688
Ryam, Sean: Battle of Cremona retrieved on April 30, 2020