1704 – Siege of Verrua
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The siege lasted from October 1704 to April 1705
At the start of the campaign of 1704 in Piedmont, the Duc de Vendôme wanted to immediately lay siege to Verrua and thus open his way to Turin which he planned to capture during the same campaign. However, Louis XIV considered Vendôme's plan as too rash and instructed him to capture Vercelli and Ivrea before turning his attention on Verrua.
In June 1704, Vendôme laid siege to Vercelli which surrendered on 21 July. He then invested Ivrea which capitulated on 29 September.
Although precious time had been wasted and the season was already well advanced, Vendôme was finally authorised to undertake the siege of Verrua.
Verrua is located along the northernmost foothills of the heights covering the region between the Po River and the Stura Valley, which fall steeply towards the Po and are therefore only accessible from the south, where stand the heights of Carbignano, Monte di Pietra, di Vigna and Piole.
Duke Victor Amadeus had chosen Verrua as the core of his defensive positions because of its strength. However, it was only through its connection with the fortified camp at Crescentino that Verrua acquired such a decisive importance for the outcome of war in Piedmont. The ability to freely move from one bank of the river to the other, allowed the Allies to involve considerable forces in combat and to easily relieve the weary garrison of Verrua. On the other hand, the Po prevented the French from making concerted actions against the Allied camp at Crescentino and the Fortress of Verrua.
Vendôme mistakenly considered Verrua as the more important objective and the camp at Crescentino as a secondary target. This mistake explains the inordinately long resistance of the fortress.
The fortifications of Verrua were designed to defend the place from an attack from the southern heights. They were articulated around the castle, standing at the extreme edge of rocky cliffs with its dungeon and barracks towering over the entire area. The castle was an old stone fortress with crenelated walls, surrounded by four bastions.
The walled town of Verrua; with its quarters for the officials, its place, the house of the governor, the barracks near the church, the Church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, patron of the town, and the Soccorso barrack; was located to the southeast of the castle. Bomb-proof warehouses containing weapons and ammunition were located at the centre of the fortresss. There was only one gate, the Soccorso Gate, linking the fortress to the plain.
Taking advantage of the slope of the terrain, three bastioned ramparts rose one above the other. They were linked to the walls by caponiers. A “fausse braie” stood in front of the outermost main rampart. It had been reinforced by a contre-garde protruding from the nearest bastion. To the southeast a very deep dry moat surrounded these defensive works. The general aspect of the fortress was that of an elongated heptagon following the shape of the ridge. From the bastions of San Carlo and Santa Maria, facing the line of advance of the attackers, there were three stories deep mine galleries.
However, the height of Carbignano offered an excellent position to an attacker. Consequently, this height had been crowned by the hexagonal “Fort Royal,” which had been reinforced with a hornwork facing Monte Piola and a redoubt to the west. The Allies had formed an entrenched camp in the space between “Fort Royal” and the fortress.
The “Bas-Fort,” a bricked crownwork located at the foot of the cliff of the Castle of Verrua, secured the access to the Po River. The Wallis Redoubt, a bastioned earthwork, linked the “Bas-Fort” to the Po. The bridge on the Po led first over a dead arm of the river to an island, which was dominated by an earthwork, the four-sided bastioned redoubt “Tutti Santi.” The bridge itself was secured by an earthwork. The southern sides of these two earthworks were closed to ease their defence.
Because of its location in the Po valley, the Allied camp at Crescentino on the opposite bank of the Po River was insanitary and troops encamped there were prone to fever. Therefore, a large part of the Allied infantry had been moved to the camp near “Fort Royal”. The breastworks protecting the camp started from “Fort Royal” and extended up to the glacis of the fortress, along the edge of the ridge. An attack against Verrua was impossible until the camp near Carbignano had been taken. The “Fort Royal” was defended by picked troops from Regal Infantry under the command of Colonel Max Starhemberg.
Nowadays, only the dungeon and the Soccorso Bridge have been preserved.
On 9 October, Vendôme's Army marched to Santhià where Vendôme rejoined it.
On 10 October, Vendôme's Army marched to Vercelli.
On 11 October, Vendôme's Army marched to Trino while he himself went to Gabiano and reconnoitred the entrenchments of the Allies at Carbignano), which were covering Verrua.
On 12 October, Vendôme's Army sojourned at Trino.
On 13 October, Vendôme's infantry passed the Po on the bridge of Trino and encamped with its right at Moncestino and its left at the height of Poggia (maybe Piagera).
On 14 October
- When Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy was informed of the march of Vendôme’s Army on Verrua, he transferred the 11 Imperial bns from Crescentino to the entrenched camp of Carbignano, where there were already 4 Savoyard bns. The cavalry along with picked Imperial and Savoyard foot, remained in the camp of Crescentino, under the command of Major-General Lothringen.
- FML Daun was appointed commander of the camp of Carbignano and of “Fort Royal.”
- Major-General Max Starhemberg and General Count la Rocca commanded in “Fort Royal.”
- Colonel Regal commanded in the hornwork.
- In the morning, Vendôme's infantry marched in two columns towards Verrua. The Duc de Vendôme personally led the left column while the right column, marching along the Po was placed under the command of M. de Las Torres.
- Albergotti marched with all his troops to Montesollo (unidentified location), a village located within cannon-shot from Verrua.
- At 10:00 a.m., the two columns of infantry effected a junction at Montesollo.
- Around noon, the French reached San Giovanni. Immediately, Vendôme ordered to seize the three heights (Monte di Pietra, Monte di Vigna and Monte Piola) located within half a musket-shot from the entrenchments of the Allies at Carbignano.
- MM. de las Torres, Chartogne and Bonezane advanced at the head of 10 grenadier coys, supported by a few bns. They soon made themselves masters of the first height under the eyes of the Duke of Savoy, who had taken position between this height and his entrenchments.
- The two other heights were captured by MM. de Chamillart and d'Imecourt.
- Entrenched outposts were established on these heights and most of the infantry encamped under their cover.
- Lieutenant-General Albergotti launched 12 grenadier coys under the command of MM. de Guerchy and de Bourck against a few farmsteads on Monte Pisello, south of Carbignano.
- During these attacks, Vendôme's cavalry, which was still encamped at Trino, passed the Po and joined the infantry.
- Vendôme's Army was deployed with 1 dragoon rgt posted at its extreme right on the Po at the height of Moncestino; its extreme left, composed of 3 cavalry brigades anchored on Brusasco; 3 cavalry brigade were encamped with their right to the Po and their left towards the mountain facing Chivasso; the rest of the cavalry was placed in second line behind the infantry; 2 bns and 13 sqns under the command of M. de Ruffey guarded the bridge at Trino, protected navigation on the Po and prevented any incursion of the Allies in the Duchy of Milan.
In the night of 14 to 15 October, the French infantry remained under arms to prevent a sortie of the defenders.
During these operations, the Duke of Savoy did not make any attempt to hinder Vendôme's manoeuvres. His army, including the Imperial contingent, remained in their camp at Crescentino.
Siege of the entrenched camp at Carbignano
On 15 October
- Vendôme’s infantry encamped behind the heights of Monte di Pietra, Monte di Vigna and Monte Piola, well protected from the fire of Allied artillery.
- Vendôme posted cavalry detachments from Moncestino to Brusasco to secure the neighbouring country, and other detachments to cover the crossing of the Po near Chivasso. The rest of his cavalry joined his infantry in his camp near Verrua.
In the nights of 15 to 16 October and 16 to 17 October, the French perfected their entrenchments, built communications between the heights, which they occupied, and erected batteries on these same heights.
On 17 October, Vendôme received a first convoy of artillery and batteries were planted on each of the three heights previously captured.
On 20 October, Vendôme's troops took position on another height located near the farmsteads previously captured by Albergotti, west of San Giovanni, and another battery of 6 heavy guns was planted on this height.
On 22 October around noon, French troops drove an Imperial detachment from its entrenched outpost on Monte Pisello and began to erect a battery.
On the night of 22 to 23 October, Vendôme opened trenches in front of Carbignano. The task was assigned to M. de Las Torres, seconded by MM. de Chartogne and d'Orgemont, with 100 workers, 12 grenadier coys, 7 bns and 150 horse. This operation was covered by 300 fusiliers posted on one the heights.
On the night of 23 to 24 October, a second parallel was established along the front of the entrenchments of the Allies, from Monte Piola and Monte Pisello, within 600 m. of the palisade of “Fort Royal.” During these two first nights, Vendôme lost only 10 men killed and 30 wounded.
On 24 October at daybreak, a Spanish battery (8 artillery pieces) established on Monte Piola opened unopposed against the bridge on the Po and the camp of Carbignano.
On 25 October, the batteries planted on the three heights opened against the entrenched camp of Carbignano. The battery (6 artillery pieces) established on Monte Vigna concentrated its fire against the hornwork and the Soccorso Gate of Verrua.
In the night of 25 to 26 October, the besiegers dug a trench from Monte Pisello to Monte Piola, near the hornwork. They also established a second battery (6 artillery pieces) on Monte Pisello. French detachments took position closer to the isolated redoubt.
On 26 October, six batteries (including 4 batteries with 29 cannon and 2 mortars) opened against the defensive works of “Fort Royal” and Verrua.
On 27 October, the besiegers breached the wall of the hornwork. The defenders prepared for an assault, erecting an obstacle behind the breach and laying bomb-mines in the isolated redoubt. Despite the rocky ground, the trenches of the French were rapidly getting closer to the hornwork. A battery of mortars was established.
By 28 October, the trench was only 25 m distant from the palisade of the hornwork. The defenders retired most of their troops from the isolated redoubt, which they planned to blow out when the French would attack.
On 29 October
- Vendôme visited the siege works and decided to launch an assault against the covert way of the entrenched camp of Carbignano on the next day.
- Expecting an assault against the camp of Carbignano, the defenders took their field artillery pieces out of their entrenchments and kept them in reserve for the expected attack. The French had widened the breach in the hornwork and pushed their trenches within 10 paces from the covert way.
In the clear night of 29 to 30 October, the defenders were unable to repair the walls. In the evening, Allied grenadiers had attacked the trenches and managed to drive back workmen, to destroy part of the gabions before retiring.
On 30 October
- The Duc de Vendôme personally inspected the siege works and estimated that the covert way of the entrenched camp could now be attacked. He decided to launch his attack in broad daylight to take advantage of his batteries overlooking the entrenchments of the Allies.
- Assault on the hornwork
- Three attacks were launched at noon. Each of them was initiated by 1 sergeant and 10 grenadiers, closely followed by about 20 workers, supported by grenadiers coys and protected by musket fire from the trenches. At the signal (three bombs), they debouched from the trenches, marched upon the covert way, drove back the defenders and began to lodge themselves there. At this moment, the defenders exploded a mine near the hornwork. This did not stop the attackers who took advantage of the result to enter into this hornwork and to drive the defenders back.
- As they were retreating the defenders exploded other mines but without much success. Supporting grenadier coys entered into the hornwork and occupied it.
- One of the other attacks was repulsed but the attack on the left was successful. The Allies then abandoned the breach of their rightmost bastion and exploded additional mines. However, they soon counter-attacked and drove back the workers who were trying to establish a lodgment in the covert way.
- Soon all Allied infantry arrived and manned the entrenchments. Initially, its fire was very lively but fire from Vendôme's trenches and batteries soon became superior. M. de Chartogne, commanding in these quarters, took advantage of this moment to establish a lodgment on the salient of the covert way of the right bastion. By 4:00 p.m., the lodgment was completed.
- In this action, the Allies lost approx. 200 men killed or wounded; the French 3 officers and 21 men killed and 9 officers and 116 men wounded. The French losses included 21 grenadiers of Leuville Infanterie.
- During these attacks, Vendôme's cavalry made a diversion along the Po, above Verrua. Allied outposts were pushed back and the cavalry advanced towards the bridge of the Allies who detached a few bns from their entrenched camp at Carbignano.
On the night of 30 to 31 October, a lodgment was established in the parapet of the hornwork captured during the attack.
In the night of 1 to 2 November, French miners dug under the palisade of the two bastions of the hornwork, perfecting the lodgment and installing mines.
On 2 November, the French established a battery in the destroyed redoubt.
On 3 November, a breaching-battery (3 artillery pieces) opened against the left bastion of “Fort Royal.”
Vendôme then decided to launch another attack and to make a powerful diversion against a cavalry camp of the Allies on the opposite bank of the Po, between their bridge and their main camp at Crescentino, hoping to defeat the Allied cavalry before any infantry support could arrive from Carbignano. Vendôme assigned 20 bns and 7 sqns to this diversionary attack.
On 5 November in the evening, the 13 sqns left at Trino and 1,000 horse previously detached in the Province of Monferrato, joined Vendôme's main body for the planned attack on the cavalry camp of the Allies. All troops should pass the Po at various fords upstream from Verrua during the following night and march at daybreak upon the cavalry camp of the Allies. At 8:00 p.m., all troops were at the assigned rendezvous.
On 6 November
- At 3:00 a.m., heavy rains having swelled the Po, Vendôme cancelled the operation and sent troops back to their camps. The 1,000 horse returned to Monferrato.
- In the morning, Vendôme was informed that the Allies, fearing to be trapped in their camp at Carbignano, were precipitously evacuating it repassing the Po. In fact, French deserters had informed the Duke of Savoy of Vendôme's design against the cavalry camp and the duke had decided to retreat.
- Fearing that the Duke of Savoy would soon hear about the cancellation of this attack. Vendôme exploded the mines installed in the hornwork and launched an assault on the entrenchments surrounding Carbignano. His troops were soon masters of the abandoned camp.
- Ironically, Vendôme's aborted attack against the cavalry camp of the Allies had produced the same results as those expected from a successful attack.
By that time, the defence of the outworks of Verrua and of the camp of Carbignano had cost the Allies 6 officers and 363 men killed; and 14 officers and 397 men wounded.
Siege of the Fortress of Verrua
|Garrison of Verrua|
On 7 November, the French brought artillery into the fortified camp of Carbignano, in preparation for the attack of Verrua.
On the night of 7 to 8 November, trenches were opened in front of Verrua, the first parallel was at less than 300 m. from the place. Meanwhile, Vendôme had three batteries erected: the rightmost of 10 pieces; the leftmost of 20 pieces; and the one in the centre of 12 mortars.
Constant heavy rain seriously delayed siege works and made the subsistence of Vendôme's cavalry difficult.
By 9 November, the French had already established two batteries (a total of 10 cannon and 12 mortars) and a third (for 20 cannon) was being prepared.
On 11 November
- Vendôme was forced to send his cavalry to the Province of Monferrato under the command of the Comte d'Estaing. Vendôme kept only the hussars and 200 horse with him. Horse were rotated each four days. Most of his infantry also took cantonments in houses around Verrua and the rest barracked. Artillery mules and horses were sent towards Trino, soldiers being used to move the artillery pieces. Terrain was so terribly soaked by rain that 200 men were necessary to move a single 24-pdr gun. Ammunition were also transported by soldiers and peasants.
- The Savoyard cavalry marched from its camp at Crescentino and took cantonments near Chivasso.
On 13 November, the defenders opened fire with 20 artillery pieces from the bastions of San Carlo and Santa Maria against the workmen erecting the new French battery.
On 14 November, the Imperial cavalry set off from Crescentino and took cantonments near Chivasso. The Duke of Savoy now had only 600 horse, the Savoyard infantry and the Imperial infantry at his camp at Crescentino.
Vendôme's Army was exhausted by the intensive campaign conducted since the month of May. Trenches were manned by detachments of 36 men per battalion and by only 4 grenadier coys because his units were too depleted.
On the night of 14 to 15 November, rain having ceased, siege work resumed.
On 16 November, Vendôme's batteries bombarded the town of Verrua with 14 cannon and 6 mortars but caused little damage, only one house being set afire. The defenders had 20 pieces in these quarters maintaining a continuous fire. By evening, the defenders’ artillery had silenced 8 guns.
On 17, 18 and 19 November, a thick fog prevented any intensive artillery action. However, it eased the works of the attackers who advanced their trenches up to the glacis and opened a second parallel.
On 20 November around noon, the fog lifted and the artillery duel resumed.
In the night of 22 November, two parties of 100 defenders made a sortie against the right and left wings of the siege works. The right party managed to reach the second parallel and workmen filled the trench. However, the left attack failed lamentably, only 20 men coming back.
On 22 and 23 November a thick fog favoured the attackers, who established a battery on a height to destroy the bridge on the Po maintaining communications between Verrua and the camp of the Allies at Crescentino. Another battery was established in the second parallel at 160 m. from the palisades to fire on the covert way.
On 24 November, the fog lifted and the French opened a lively fire against the bridge and the fortress. The artillery of the defenders answered and silenced the new battery established in the second parallel.
On 25 and 26 November, the artillery duel continued.
By 26 November, the trenches were only at 30 m. from the covert way. In Verrua the magazine storing fuses was set afire. However, the fire was extinguished before it could cause any substantial damage. A bomb of the defenders blew out the powder magazine established in the second parallel. French miners started to dig at the edge of the glacis.
On 27 November, the attackers linked their siege works in front of the San Carlo Bastion with those before the Santa Maria bastion.
On the night of 29 to 30 November, heavy rain having swelled the Po, the bridge of the Allies was carried away. They also lost their bridge on the Dora Baltea. Vendôme's bridges at Trino and Casale were also broken and the trenches in front of Verrua completely flooded. All work was interrupted.
Miners of both parties then dug mines and counter-mines in a hidden underground contest.
Informed that the Duke of Savoy had boats sailing downstream from Turin to repair his bridge, Vendôme detached M. de Chemerault in a vain attempt to intercept them.
On 3 December, the Allies re-established their bridge on the Po.
The Duke of Savoy sent a cavalry detachment in the Province of Biella to induce the peasants to take arms. This detachment should also bring back 2,500 horses bought in Switzerland to remount the Allied cavalry. Vendôme immediately sent a detachment towards Biella where it dispersed the Allied detachment and submitted the entire province.
On 4 December, weather improving, siege works resumed around Verrua.
On 5 December, Vendôme's batteries reopened on Verrua.
In the night of 5 to 6 December, the French exploded a mine under the salient of the covert way and then established a lodgment.
In the night of 6 to 7 December, Vendôme launched an attack which was driven back. The defenders blew out a mine in front of the right bastion, causing additional casualties.
On 8 December, the Duc de Vendôme sent 11 sqns to reinforce the Grand Prieur de Vendôme in Lombardy.
In the night of 8 to 9 December, the French launched a new assault against the two other angles of the covert way. At 10:00 p.m., 4 grenadier coys attacked but were repulsed. Colonel Blagnac with 130 Savoyard soldiers counter-attacked and burnt a few gabions. After midnight, the grenadiers renewed their attack, followed by workmen. They took position in front of the palisade of the covert way and then drove back the defenders. During these combats, Blagnac was mortally wounded and taken prisoner. The besiegers had now reached the counterscarp. On that night, the French lost 22 men killed and 8 officers and 84 men wounded.
On 9 December, the defenders blew out mines in the counterscarp, interrupting the work of the besiegers.
During the following days, Vendôme established batteries on the covert way to fire on the two bastions that he wanted to attack. Meanwhile, lodgments were improved and mines dug under the ditch.
On 13 December, the defenders blew out a mine which destroyed part of a breaching-battery.
On 14 December, Vendôme completed his breaching-battery.
On 15 December, Vendôme put 5 cannon in the breaching-battery.
On 16 December in the morning, the breaching-battery opened. The artillery of the defenders soon dismounted 3 cannons.
On 18 December, the French had 8 cannon in their breaching-battery.
In the night of 18 to 19 December, the French concentrated their fire on the San Carlo Bastion.
In the night of 19 to 20 December, the defenders blew out a mine which destroyed 2 cannon of the breaching-battery.
On 20 December, the French exploded a mine which destroyed part of the wall of the “fausse braie.”
On 21 December, the French exploded a mine which destroyed part of the wall of the counterscarp.
On 22 December, Vendôme established a new breaching-battery in front of the Santa Maria Bastion.
On the night of 23 to 24 December, Vendôme's batteries (20 cannon) on the covert way, being finally completed, opened on the targeted bastions, silencing the “Batterie Royale” located in the San Carlo Bastion.
The siege work had progressed so far that the fall of Verrua seemed very close. It was high time, to take advantage of the secured line of communication between the main Allied army and the fortress, if the Allies wanted to delay the siege.
The Duke of Savoy and Field Marshal Starhemberg decided to launch a sortie on 26 December to destroy part of the siege works and thus delay the capture of the place. For their part, the French kept only small detachments, totaling some 700 soldiers, to cover the workmen in the trenches.
On 25 December, the Duke of Savoy gave the following orders:
- Major-General Max Starhemberg and General Saint-Rémy, who commanded 1,000 men in the “Bas-Fort” would assemble their troops, gain the heights west of Verrua shortly after midnight and launch an assault against the left flank of the trenches while the garrison of Verrua would make a sortie
- Major-General Fels and General Count Monasterol would assemble the Allied cavalry along the Po near Porto di Verolengo and, upon a signal from Verrua, cross the Po and advance along the river towards Verrua and attack the besiegers in flank and rear.
To confuse the enemy, the Allies had spread since a few days the rumour that they planned to evacuate Verrua.
In the night of 25 to 26 December, the defenders re-established the “Batterie Royale.”
On 26 December
- To reinforce the impression that they were preparing to evacuate Verrua, the Allies retired a few artillery pieces from their batteries.
- The French destroyed the “Batterie Royale.” The face of the San Carlo Bastion was breached. The defensive works of the two bastions were almost entirely ruined.
- Vendôme did not expect any sortie. He gave his orders and retired for the night.
In the night of 26 to 27 December
- Sortie from Verrua
- Taking advantage of a thick fog, Major-General Max Starhemberg ascended the height near Montalto with his infantry and advanced against the abandoned entrenchments near Carbignano. Meanwhile, the recently recovered Colonel Regal advanced with part of the garrison of Verrua out of the trenches towards the covert way. Major-General Count de la Rocca assembled the Allied infantry still present in the camp of Crescentino to occupy the bridge on the Po River. The Duke of Savoy and Field Marshal Starhemberg took position in the dungeon of Verrua to coordinate the attacks.
- When Vendôme heard the din of combat, he hurriedly led the nearest troops to support the detachments posted in the trenches. He also ordered to assemble the infantry quartered nearby.
- At his first attempt, Major-General Max Starhemberg managed to capture the battery in the first parallel and to occupy “Fort Royal.” The attackers soon drove back the French troops defending the third parallel.
- General Chartogne with 6 grenadier coys stopped the attackers in the middle of the second parallel and sent Langeron back with 100 men to reinforce the detachment guarding the battery. However, Colonel Regal soon broke Chartogne's resistance. Mortally wounded, Chartogne was taken prisoner by the attackers, while his troops abandoned the siege works.
- While the Allies occupied the siege works, the gunsmiths and workers, who had been held in readiness, began to destroy the siege works and to render the guns unusable.
- During this time, Major-General Fels arrived in the vicinity of Verrua. He sent Lieutenant-Colonel Count Breuner forward with 100 horse to reconnoitre. This detachment noticed that the attack was already underway. The detachment climbed the height and drove back the French guards defending the headquarters at San Giovanni. However, the French soon realised that they were only facing a small force. They sent their cavalry and 1 grenadier coy against Breuner’s detachment, which was forced to retire, bringing back 11 prisoners.
- In a relatively short time, the surprised French managed to assemble a large force. The Lyonnais, Marine, Normandie and Langeron brigades immediately advanced against the battery and “Fort Royal.” After a fierce combat, the Allies were forced to gradually evacuate the siege works and to return to their initial positions.
- The combat had lasted nearly four hours. The Allied rearguard held the last parallel and the covert way until midnight. Major-General Fels retired to Verolengo with the Allied cavalry. During the attack, the Allied workmen had filled a large part of the third parallel and some mines. They had also placed a mine to destroy the mine galleries. However, the nailing of the guns had not been as successful as desired.
- Vendôme's troops started to repair siege works, guns and mortars.
- In this affair, the Austrians lost 5 officers and 83 men killed; 7 officers and 124 men wounded; and 60 men taken prisoners. For their part, the Savoyards lost 1 officer and 38 men killed; and 1 officer and 43 men wounded. The French lost 2 maréchaux de camp (Chartogne and d’Imécourt), 70 men killed and 130 wounded. The Allies took 1 maréchal de camp, 2 staff officers, 4 officers and approx. 25 men prisoners.
On 27 December
- To the astonishment of the Allies, all of Vendôme's batteries reopened against Verrua. Out of the 22 guns and 11 mortars present in the siege works before the attack, the French were able to reuse 14 guns and all mortars.
- The defenders blew out the mine placed in the trench, destroying the mine gallery threatening the bastion.
Vendôme wanted to intensify the siege of Verrua while Louis XIV was urging him to prepare for the siege of Turin which he wanted to begin in February. Vendôme represented that he could not lay siege to Turin before the end of April.
In the first days of January 1705, the troops of the Duc de Vendôme worked intensively to repair the damages caused to their siege works during the sortie of the garrison of Verrua on 26 December 1704.
By 4 January, Vendôme's artillery had breached the two bastions of the outer wall targeted by the attack. The two inner wall were also seriously damaged.
Meanwhile, the Allies had sent heavy guns to replace dismounted guns at Verrua. Their fire was so lively that they imposed their superiority to the batteries planted on the covert way. Simultaneously, the Allies reinforced their line of communication between their bridge on the Po and Verrua, placing there 1 Imperial bn and 2 Savoyard bns. They also destroyed most of the siege works recently erected.
Then snow and rain delayed work for an additional eight days. Vendôme's batteries had been almost completely silenced. He put his men to work to repair some of his guns and mortars and ordered to send 20 additional pieces from Alessandria, Casale and Vercelli. Another 20 pieces arrived from France through Genoa. Vendôme also erected two redoubts to protect the left flank of his attack. He also ordered to the Comte d'Estaing to advance the cavalry on the right bank of the Po towards Chivasso and sent him 5 bns to support his enterprise.
On 15 January, the Comte d'Estaing took cantonments in front of Chivasso. In this position, d'Estaing seriously threatened the line of communication of the Allies between Turin and their main camp at Crescentino, depriving them of any navigation on the Po.
On 16 January, the Count d'Estaing even marched towards Turin with part of his cavalry to reconnoitre the country.
On 23 and 24 January, weather getting better, Vendôme's troops started to repair the siege works around Verrua. Despite all these efforts, they were able to plant only six pieces on the covert way.
On 25 January, Vendôme's weak artillery opened on the first and second wall. Mine galleries were unusable and were abandoned.
Vendôme then directed his attention to the line of communication between Verrua and the camp of Crescentino. On his left wing, he moved his siege works closer to the Po. A redoubt and two batteries were erected in these quarters.
By 27 January, the works on Vendôme's left wing were completed.
On 28 January, snow started to fall again and continued for six days, filling the trenches. All operations were interrupted.
During this period, the new artillery sent from France arrived at Vendôme's camp.
On 2 February, snow stopped falling.
On the night of 2 to 3 February, Vendôme's troops cleaned out the trenches and prepared the batteries of the left wing.
On 6 February, the batteries of the left wing opened on the fort located on an island of the Po and on the work at the foot of the dungeon. Six mortars were added to these batteries and bombarded the bridge on the Po. A breach was also created in the third wall. Meanwhile, the Comte d'Estaing, having consume all fodder in the country which he occupied, marched back to the neighbouring of Verrua.
On 9 February, the Comte d'Estaing marched from Verrua with the cavalry and took quarters at Asti and on the right bank of the Tanaro. The 5 bns, which he had previously received from Vendôme, rejoined the army. At Verrua, the breaches in the first two walls were now practicable and the works protecting communications with Crescentino were heavily damaged. However, the third wall had yet suffered little damage.
On 10 February, 12 grenadier coys from Vercelli, Ivrea and the Aosta Valley joined Vendôme's Army at Verrua, in preparation for as general assault. M. de Lapara, a famous engineer, arrived at Verrua at Vendôme's request.
Lapara's first initiative was to reinforce the batteries directed against the third wall. The other batteries were also re-established and four new galleries were opened.
By 22 February, there were 28 guns and 13 mortars in the batteries around Verrua.
On 24 February, all batteries opened against Verrua.
By 28 February, all breaches, except those in the third wall, were practicable.
Capture of the line of communication
The Duc de Vendôme then decided to attack the fort on the island and the bridgehead. MM. de Las Torres et de Vaubecourt were charged of these two attacks. De Las Torres (24 grenadier coys and 8 bns) would lead an attack upstream along the Po; Vaubecourt (24 grenadier coys and 8 bns), downstream. Meanwhile, M. de Besons (about 60 grenadiers) would launch a diversionary attack against the walls; M. de Chemerault (600 horse) would guard the fords on the Po; and M. de Guerchy would take position along the river with 8 guns to contain any troops who might come out of the camp of Crescentino. Since this enterprise required absolute secret, the Duc de Vendôme established a chain of officers around his camp to stop any deserter.
On 2 March at 2:00 a.m., Vendôme's troops launched the attack at the agreed signal of twelve cannon-shots. The rightmost attack (Vaubecourt) was delayed by ditches full of water; but the leftmost attack (Las Torres), marching in five columns, reached the fort of the island in just an hour. It immediately attacked and stormed the fort. Most of the 2 bns defending this fort were put to the sword; the rest (the commander of the fort, 22 officers and 200 men) were taken prisoners. Vaubecourt reached the fort at the end of the attack. The bridgehead was stormed too and dismantled. Meanwhile, M. de Besons made himself master of the first and second walls but was unable to penetrate the third wall. His mission accomplished, he retired. Vendôme left 24 grenadier coys in the island to cut retreat to any troops coming from Verrua.
Vendôme then built a new line of entrenchments linking his left wing with the fort on the island. This line was strengthened with three redoubts. A similar operation was undertaken between the right wing and the bank of the Po, thus completing the circumvallation of Verrua.
Vendôme then recalled 800 horse along the bank of the Po to prevent an attack through the fords by the Allied cavalry detachment (300 horse) posted behind a palisaded entrenchment. He also had 400 horse for trench service.
With Verrua invested from all sides, Vendôme vainly summoned the commander of the place. After this refusal, Vendôme established guns in the entrenched communications and in the fort of the island to fire on Verrua and 4 mortars to bombard the camp of Crescentino.
By 11 March, the breach in the third wall of Verrua was finally practicable.
On 14 March in the morning, the Duke of Savoy retired from the camp of Crescentino with the Allied army and set his old camp afire. Vendôme, who was preparing an attack on the camp with 20 grenadier coys, 15 bns and 50 sqns, immediately passed the Po with 7 grenadier coys and 250 horse, rapidly making himself master of the town of Crescentino. He also ordered to move the bridge recently constructed at Moncestino upstream on the Dora Baltea. Vendôme was now master of all the country between the left bank of the Dora Baltea, the Alps, the Po and the Sesia.
The Duke of Savoy retired to Turin while the Field Marshal Starhemberg entrenched his corps at Chivasso and the cavalry was posted along the right bank of the Dora Baltea.
On 18 March, Vendôme sent back his cavalry to its quarters, disposed in such a way as to allow assembly of 50 sqns within 36 hours. He kept only 10 troopers per company and all hussars with his main army
On the night of 25 to 26 March, the French arrested a corporal of an Imperial unit who was deserting from Verrua. In fact, he was a spy sent to Verrua by Starhemberg to inform the governor of the place that, in eight days, the Duke of Savoy would advance on Verrua with his cavalry and part of his infantry; that he would take position in the island; and that, at this moment, the governor, should explode all his mines and come out of the place.
Vendôme, taking no chance, established another line of entrenchments across the plain, from the mountain of Carbignano to the Po, defended by 8 guns, 1,000 horse and an infantry corps that could be supported by 17 bns. Furthermore, he sent 2 cavalry and dragoon rgts to Crescentino; and a party of cavalry and hussars to secure the road to Chivasso.
On 31 March, officers of the Allied army advanced to the mouth of the Dora Baltea to reconnoitre Vendôme's new entrenchments. The fire from the artillery defending Verrua intensified, suggesting that the Allies planned to exhaust all ammunition before leaving the place.
At Versailles, Louis XIV feared that the Allies would be able to resist in Verrua until the arrival of an Imperialist army in Lombardy, thus jeopardizing his plan to capture Turin. Accordingly, he sent orders to Vendôme to storm Verrua as soon as possible.
On 6 April at 10:00 a.m. (Louis XIV's orders had not yet reached Vendôme), the garrison of Verrua asked to capitulate with honourable conditions. Vendôme answered that the garrison had to surrender as prisoners of war. The governor of Verrua rejected these conditions and all batteries reopened against Verrua.
On 8 April, the garrison asked once more to surrender but Vendôme considered their conditions as unacceptable. Seeing this, the governor exploded all the mines which had been installed under the three walls of the fortifications and retired into the dungeon with the garrison.
On 9 April, the garrison of Verrua finally surrendered as prisoners of war.
On 10 April, the garrison (1,250 men including officers) came disarmed out of Verrua. They were escorted to the Duchy of Milan. There were still 270 sick or wounded in Verrua where only 17 guns and 5 mortars were still operational. Verrua was a heap of ruins.
Vendôme gave orders to repair the inner wall of Verrua and garrisoned this town with 2 bns. Louis XIV sent instructions to entirely destroy the place and to keep only the dungeon.
During the siege of Verrua, which had lasted six months, Vendôme lost about 3,000 men killed or wounded.
This article incorporates texts from the following book which is now in the public domain:
- Vault, François Eugène de: Mémoires militaires relatifs à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV, Vol. 4 pp. 278-309
- Abtheilung für Kriegsgeschichte des k. k. Kriegs-Archives: Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen, Series 1, Vol. 6, Vienna 1879, pp. 252-268
- French Archives, Vol. 1873, No. 290 (through the Nafziger Collection)