1704 – Siege of Ivrea
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The siege lasted from August to 30 September 1704
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.
On 25 May, Vendôme received a letter from Louis XIV, disapproving his project against Verrua. Louis XIV ordered to Vendôme to concentrate his attention on the blockade of the Allied army entrenched at Crescentino and to let M. de Las Torres, with some reinforcements, lay siege to Vercelli.
The Siege of Vercelli lasted from June to 21 July, when the garrison of Vercelli surrendered as prisoners of war.
Vendôme then took dispositions to march towards the Dora Baltea to lay siege to Ivrea. And to be in a position to effect a junction with the army of the Duc de la Feuillade, operating in Savoy. However, it took some time to assemble the necessary provisions and ammunition at Vercelli. De la Feuillade soon informed him that he considered a junction as impossible.
The Duke of Savoy sent 18 guns and some infantry to reinforce the garrison of Ivrea (5 bns).
On 28 July, the situation having improved in Savoy, the Duc de la Feuillade informed Vendôme that, from the 29 bns in Provence and Savoy, he would march with 10 bns and 3 dragoon rgts to effect a junction with Vendôme's Army.
Vendôme took dispositions to ease this junction and fixed the rendezvous for 25 August on the Little Dora (probably the Dora Riparia).
On 1 August near Novara, a party of Ebergényi Hussars attacked a convoy destined for the siege of Ivrea, but they were unable to bring it back to Crescentino.
On 12 August, while Vendôme's Army (36 bns, 79 sqns) was marching from Vercelli to San Germano, Vendôme received a letter from Louis XIV, informing him that the king would prefer to give priority to the siege of Ivrea before undertaking the siege of Verrua.
The Duc de Vendôme then informed the Duc de la Feuillade of his new project and told him to postpone the planned junction until Ivrea would have surrendered.
Ivrea was located on a height linked to hills extending up to the Alps towards Switzerland. The Forte Castiglio, a quadrangular castle in brick with four round towers at the corners and surrounded by several stone outworks, stood on another height separated from the town of Ivrea by a small valley. This castle communicated with Ivrea by a palisaded entrenchment. An old citadel also stood on a height on the right bank of the Dora Baltea. This citadel had been repaired and protected by a covert way and by entrenchments.
The garrison of Ivrea (9 bns for a total of approx. 2,000 men) consisted of:
- Piemonte Infantry (1 bn)
- German Schulembourg Infantry (2 bns)
- Fucilieri Infantry (1 bn)
- Nizza Infantry (1 bn)
- Maffei Milizia (1 bn)
- Trinità Milizia (1 bn)
- Swiss Reding Infantry (2 bns)
The army of the Duc de Vendôme consisted of 47 bns, 92 sqns, 12 large siege mortars and 64 pieces of field artillery for a total of 24,000 men.
Description of Events
The French march to Ivrea
On 21 August, the Duke of Savoy and Field Marshal Starhemberg went to Ivrea to inspect the fortifications in preparation for the expected siege. Major-General Baron Kriechbaum was appointed commander of the place.
On 23 August, Vendôme detached M. de Chemerault with the 16 sqns of his reserve to Santhià. From there, this detachment escorted a convoy to Azeglio, on Lake Viverone and half-way between Santhià and Ivrea. De Chemerault met many difficulties on his way to Azeglio. The Allies had blocked the mountain road with rocks and abatis. M. de Chemerault lost time clearing these obstacles away. The mountain road proved to be very difficult and many wagons broke down. When his detachment finally reached Lake Viverone, it camped on the shores, stripping houses and farmhouses of everything. The peasants of those places joined groups of hussars of the garrison of Ivrea and began a fierce guerrilla war. In retaliation, the Franco-Spanish set fire to the villages of Palazzo, Bollengo and Burolo. From Ivrea, flames could be seen rising in the sky.
On the same day (23 August), Major-General Baron Kriechbaum, accompanied by Imperialist officers, left Crescentino and went to Ivrea.
On 24 August, Vendôme's Army marched from San Germano to Cavaglià. Vendôme himself remained at Santhià with 20 sqns, 9 bns and all hussars.
On 26 August, M. de Chemerault finally reached Azeglio, and a second convoy set off from Santhià for Azeglio.
On 28 August, a third convoy set off from Santhià for Azeglio. Vendôme marched to Viverone with the troops, which he had kept with him at Santhià while the main body of the army remained at Cavaglià.
By 29 August, everything was assembled at Azeglio for the projected siege of Ivrea.
On 30 August, Vendôme marched from Viverone with his corps and with the reserve, arriving the same day in front of Ivrea. A skirmish took place between the head of Vendôme's Corps and an Allied reconnoitring party consisting of hussars and cavalry under Major-General Kriechbaum near the Convent of the Capuchins. In this encounter, the Savoyard Colonel Blaviol was mortally wounded. Vendôme's troops then made themselves masters of the Convent of the Capuchins. A small Savoyard detachment of 50 musketeers precipitously abandoned the entrenchments of Monte Stella and Monte Giuliano, overlooking the city. However, 40 other Savoyard musketeers under the Marquis of Pianezza stubbornly defended their entrenchments at Boselletto. They would hold their position for 18 days...
A first convoy of artillery arrived soon afterwards. Meanwhile, the main body of Vendôme’s Army had decamped from Cavaglià and advanced between Azeglio and Viverone. The depot for the hospital was established at Albiano. All castles to the right of the mountains were also occupied.
Vendôme's troops encamped in two lines on a small meadow. The place was not invested on the right bank of the Dora Baltea where the Allies had some troops under Major-General Fels posted near a bridgehead and a cavalry corps near Strambino 11 km downstream from Ivrea, on the road leading to Chivasso.
In the night of 30 August, the defenders threw a wooden bridge over the Dora Baltea to establish communication between Fort Castiglio with the Citadel. The artillery of Ivrea prevented Vendôme from opening the trench.
On 31 August, a few infantry brigades with the rest of the artillery joined Vendôme in front of Ivrea.
The Duc de Vendôme decided to make a single attack against Ivrea and to open the trenches near the Convent of the Capuchins within a musket-shot from the palisades.
During the last days of August, the governor of Ivrea had demolished San Lorenzo, which was located front of the Caulero Bastion and could become a dangerous advanced position for the besiegers, as had already happened in the previous siege of the city, during the Piedmontese Civil War of 1644.
On 1 September, Vendôme established batteries on various heights overlooking Ivrea. In the evening, 6 artillery pieces opened against the place.
By 2 September, everything was ready to start the siege and four batteries opened against the town of Ivrea. Other batteries were being erected: one on the Monte Giuliano. another above the Madonna del Monte, the Three Kings, San Lorenzo and the Capuchins. A Savoyard detachment occupied the Convent of Santa Chiara and the Convent of San Michele. These two convents soon became the target of some of Vendôme's batteries.
On the same day (2 September), Vendôme was informed of the disaster which had occurred in Germany: the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Blenheim, the evacuation of Bavaria and the retreat of the French army to the Rhine. It became obvious that the Emperor would soon be able to send reinforcements to Italy. The Duc Vendôme also received instructions from the king to send a reinforcement of 10 bns and 10 sqns to the Grand Prieur de Vendôme in Lombardy. Immediately, 13 sqns set off from Vendôme's Army for Lombardy.
On the night of 2 to 3 September
- Trenches were opened in front of Ivrea near the Convent of the Capuchins by 600 men detached from their units and 8 grenadier coys under the command of M. de Vaubecourt.
- The defenders made a sortie to destroy the Chapel of San Nazario, which covered the siege works of the Franco-Spanish.
- The Duke of Savoy sent ammunition, fascines, and wine to Ivrea. He also sent the Bagosy Hayducks to join the garrison of Ivrea.
The Defence of the City
On 4 September 4, Vendôme's artillery (12 mortars and 64 guns) began cannonading and shelling the fortress at a rate of about 1,400 rounds per day.
On the same day (4 September), the defenders demolished houses in the Piazza Ulderico because they stood in the way of their batteries established in the bishop's garden and in the garden of San Michele, both intended to prevent the passage of the Dora Baltea by the French. The demolition was completed on 7 September. The Duke of Savoy arrived from Turin and established his headquarters a few km south of Ivrea, in the village of Strambino.
On the night of 4 to 5 September, the defenders made another sortie to complete the destruction of the Chapel of San Nazario.
By 5 September, Vendôme had already completed his second parallel before Ivrea and the contregarde of the covert way had been breached.
On 6 September, the artillery of Ivrea was silenced. With the siege proceeding better than anticipated, Vendôme decided to extend the investment to the right bank of the Dora Baltea to prevent the garrison from escaping.
In the night of 6 to 7 September, a small reinforcement (2 bns) managed to enter Ivrea. Vendôme threw a bridge on the the Dora Baltea River, upstream from Ivrea.
On 7 September, Franco-Spanish foot and cavalry picquets occupied the heights on the right bank of the Dora Baltea.
On 8 September, Vendôme's troops made themselves master of the covert way of Ivrea. The breach in the contregarde of the covert way was 3 m. wide. The bastion of the Vercelli Gate and the Diavolo Tower had also heavily suffered from artillery fire. Furthermore, Vendôme sent 3,000 Spaniards to occupy Montalto Dora, north of Ivrea, thus cutting all communication from the Aosta Valley.
In the night of 8 to 9 September, the French twice managed to take the San Nazario Redoubt, but counter-attacks of the entire garrison, led by San Martino and Kriechbaum, drove them back on both occasions. They were strongly supported by their battery at San Michele, which made a great slaughter among the besiegers surprised in the open. In this action, the Franco-Spanish lost 150 men and the Allies had 10 men killed and 150 wounded.
On 10 September, a last convoy reached Vendôme's camp. The troops posted at Azeglio and Albiano under M. de Medavi, to the exception of 1 infantry brigade and 1 Spanish dragoon rgt, then joined the main army.
By 11 September, there were two large breaches in the bastion which had been the target of Vendôme's attack.
On 12 September, 25 sqns passed the Dora Baltea and joined the infantry occupying its right bank, thus completing the investment of Ivrea. Another force of 10 sqns and 1 infantry brigade took position on the left bank of the Dora Baltea upstream from Ivrea.
On 12 September, the defenders made a daring and ferocious sortie. Kriechbaum had ordered to prepare large quantities of sickles with long handles, and wooden boards with long protruding nails. Burning wooden beams were also thrown on the besiegers.
On 13 September, the defenders made another sortie using the same stratagems.
On 14 September, Ivrea was submitted to a heavy battering fire and mines exploded.
In the night of 14 to 15 September, the defenders made another sortie. Hand-to-hand combat was becoming more and more ferocious, desperate.
On September 15, Vendôme finally made himself master of the San Nazario Redoubt, which had strenuously resisted for 15 days. However, as soon as the French took possession of the redoubt, the defenders blew it up, killing 160 men on the spot and wounding another 140. Nevertheless, the defensive system of the Fortress of Ivrea was now collapsing.
In the night of 15 to 16 September, Major-General Lothringen at the head of a strong detachment attacked the escort of a French convoy near Azeglio. However a reinforcement of 600 horse was immediately sent from the French camp and Lothringen retired.
By 16 September, the besiegers were masters, after fierce fighting without quarter, of all outworks and almost all bastions. The walls were so ruined by bombing that they could no longer be defended. The garrison of Ivrea asked to negotiate the terms of the capitulation for the town. Vendôme insisted that these terms should include the castle and the citadel. This clause being rejected the cannonade resumed.
On 18 September in the morning, Kriechbaum evacuated the town of Ivrea and demolished the bridge. 32 officers and 600 men took refuge in Fort Castiglio, while Kriechbaum retired to the citadel and the castle with 148 officers and 1,630 men. M. de Chemerault immediately entered Ivrea and dispositions were taken to attack the castle.
In the citadel, 1,283 soldiers barricaded themselves, including 16 gunners. They were under the command of Baron Schulemberg and Count of Trinity. Meanwhile, Perrone di San Martino and Kriechbaum had taken refuge in the castle which was provided with some provisions (90 bags of flour, 50 carts of wood, 3,000 rations of biscuit, 7 bags of rice, and salt, pork, cheese, wine, olive oil, candles, brandy and vinegar).
The French established 4 new batteries in the city: at Ortasso, on the banks of the Dora Baltea, on the banks of the Lungo Dora and on the rocky spur of the Castellazzo.
On the night of 19 to 20 September, Vendôme opened the trench in front of the Castle of Ivrea. The garrison made a sortie but was driven back by the grenadiers. Vendôme directed another attack against the entrenchments defending Fort Castiglio.
On 20 September, Vendôme's batteries opened against the suburb and Fort Castiglio.
On 22 September, Lord of Saluggia led another desperate sortie against the Franco-Spanish siege works.
On 25 September, the breach in the entrenchments of the suburb in front of Fort Castiglio was large enough to consider an assault.
On 26 September in the morning, MM. de Medavi and de Chartogne stormed the suburb at the head of 8 grenadier coys and 600 selected fusiliers. The defenders took refuge in Fort Castiglio whose garrison (1,400 men, 148 officers and 230 sick and wounded) soon surrendered as prisoners of war.
On September 27, the Borghetto and the Citadel surrendered, after a resistance of 9 days. There were 193 wounded collected at the Borghetto. However, the old castle still resisted even if constantly battered by the French artillery established at Monte Giuliano and Crist.
On 28 September, the garrison of the castle of Ivrea (600 men and 32 officers) was summoned, being warned that it was Vendôme's last offer and that no quarter would be given if he had to storm the place.
On 29 September in the morning, the garrison of the Castle of Ivrea surrendered. Ivrea was immediately garrisoned by 4 bns and 1 dragoon rgt under the command of M. d'Arène.
On 30 September, the entire garrison of Ivrea was escorted to Vercelli by 1,200 foot and 1,000 horse. This escort brought back provisions and ammunition to Ivrea to supply the place for three months.
During the siege of Ivrea, the Franco-Spanish army had lost about 400 men killed or wounded; and the Allies 350 men killed, 400 wounded and 800 deserters.
After 32 days of siege (Vendôme had expected to seize the place within eight days), Ivrea was in the hands of the French and the capital Turin had lost its northern line of communication with Switzerland and Germany.
The capture of Ivrea allowed the Duc de Vendôme to advance into the Aosta Valley and made possible a junction with the army of the Duc de la Feuillade.
The desolation in Ivrea was impressive. Trees, including vines and fruit trees, had been cut down to be used in the defensive works, entire farmsteads had been burned or demolished, houses destroyed or looted.
Dassano, Fabrizzio: Assedio e cadutta della citta di Ivrea, 20 Agosto – 30 Settembre 1704
Dassano, Fabrizzio: Assedio e cadutta della citta di Ivrea, 20 Agosto – 30 Settembre 1704
N.B.: a large part of this articles is derived from information initially presented in our article 1704 – Campaign in Piedmont
Dinos Antoniadis for the research, the map and the initial version of this article