1705-08-16 – Battle of Cassano

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Battles and Encounters >> 1705-08-16 – Battle of Cassano

French tactical victory

Introduction

By August 1705, the Duke of Savoy had lost a large part of his territory which had been conquered and occupied by the Franco-Spanish army. Only Turin and the southern part of Piedmont were still in his possession.

The Imperialists under Prince Eugène de Savoie was trying to cross the Adda and come to the rescue of the isolated Savoyard army. The Duc de Vendôme with a mobile reserve of 20 sqns and 15 bns was closely following their movements along the opposite bank of the river.

On 14 August, the Imperialists started to work at a bridge near Cornate on the Adda and Vendôme took position nearby. Vendôme ordered his brother, the Grand Prieur to take position at Rivolta but the latter preferred to very disorderly concentrate his troops around the bridgehead, opposite Cassano, on the left bank of the Adda. His troops were intermingled with the baggage train. To the east, his positions were bordered by the Ritorto Canal and several secondary waterways branching out of it. In such positions, the Grand Prieur thought that he was safe from an attack.

On 15 August in the evening at his camp near Brembate, Prince Eugène made preparation for a quick advance towards Lodi by Treviglio.

Map

Battle of Cassano
 
Courtesy: Dinos Antoniadis
Battle of Cassano Legend.jpg

In the vicinity of Cassano, the left bank of the Adda was only slightly above the water level of the river, and was completely flat and devoid of any cover. The right bank sloped steeply towards the river and provided good positions for the French artillery to cover approaches on the opposite bank. These advantages were increased by the presence of the villages of Gropello, Cassano, San Bernardino and Albignano along the steep right bank, providing additional defensive posts.

The village of Cassano, was the most important of these villages located along the right bank of the Adda. There was a stone bridge on the Adda as well as a fortified castle in this village. Artillery posted in this castle could easily cover the approaches of the bridge which was also protected by a defensive work.

On the left bank, the terrain was crisscrossed by several small streams and irrigation canals delimiting a sort of island (the so-called “Ritorto Island”) and a natural bridgehead between the Adda and the broad and deep Ritorto Canal. This bridge was protected by a defensive work. Furthermore, dense woods bordered the right banks of these canals, providing good cover for defenders, while their left banks were totally devoid of any cover.

The Ritorto Canal, which covered the French left wing, was only passable at a few small bridges and footbridges.

The French right wing was covered by two successive canals: the Cremasca and the Pandina which were not easily passable.

Description of Events

On 16 August at 2:00 a.m., the Imperialists set off in two columns in the greatest silence from their camp near Brembate and marched in the direction of Treviglio. The cavalry formed the right column and the infantry the left one.

At daybreak, M. de Comenero and the Chevalier de Luxembourg informed Vendôme that the Imperialists had removed their bridge near Cornate during the night and were retiring. Vendôme was immediately convinced that the Imperialists were marching to attack the small force left at Cassano under the command of his brother, the Grand Prieur de Vendôme. He detached M. de Senneterre towards Cassano with his 4 dragoon rgts. The 15 bns that had joined Vendôme on the previous day soon followed under the command of M. de Colmenero and the Chevalier de Luxembourg. Vendôme had left only 4 bns and 1 dragoon rgt on the Upper Adda.

After having taken these measures, Vendôme personally set off from Cornate, along with Saint-Fremont, Chemerault and Broglie and rode towards Cassano.

At Treviglio, the Imperialist vanguard, under General-Quartermaster Baron Riedt, engaged enemy foragers, some were killed while other were captured along with many horses and mules. Prisoners informed the Imperialists that the Grand Prieur was posted with 20 bns and 30 sqns in front of Cassano on the opposite (left) bank of the Adda behind an impracticable canal.

At these news, Prince Eugène changed his plan and decided to attack the Grand Prieur in his narrow positions in the “island” formed by the Adda and the canals on its left bank.

Around 9:00 a.m., upon his arrival at Cassano, Vendôme learned that the Imperialists were only a few km away. He saw that the baggage train of the corps of the Grand Prieur was in the process of crossing the Adda on the stone bridge. Vendôme ordered the baggage to be thrown into the river to free the bridge.

Vendôme then formed a line with the available forces behind Ritorto Canal. Troops were also thrown into the defensive work. He also sent the Grand Prieur to Rivolta with 2 cavalry brigades and 1 infantry brigade.

Around 11:00 a.m., Prince Eugène deployed his army in order of battle between Treviglio and Cassano.

Colmenero had passed the bridge of Cassano with 12 of his 15 bns to join Vendôme’s forces on the left bank.

Around 1:00 p.m., the Imperialists started their advance towards the French positions.

Around 1:30 p.m., after an artillery preparation, a column on the right wing of the Imperialists, under G.d.C. Count Leiningen, launched an attack against the Ritorto bridge. This first impact was so violent that the 8 French grenadier coys defending the position were pushed back from the bridge on their reserve, and thrown against the bridgehead on the Adda.

The Imperialists closed a lock on the upper Ritorto Canal to diminish the level of water in the canal.

New French battalions emerged from the bridgehead and in a fierce combat regained the lost ground, recaptured the Ritorto Bridge and reopened the lock. Many Imperialist soldiers, who were in the process of fording the canal, drowned.

Each army was now deployed face to face, only separated by the deep and wide Ritorto Canal. The Imperialists made preparations for a new attack.

The Imperialists gained control of the sluice gates of the canal. They also made themselves masters of a farmstead where Vendôme had thrown 1 bn. They closed the sluice gates, the water level of the canal was reduced by 1 m. It was now possible to ford the Ritorto Canal.

Around 2:00 p.m., Prince Eugène sent two new columns forward. A column tried to ford the Ritorto Canal while the other launched a new assault against the Ritorto bridge. The evolution of the column advancing against the narrow bridge was difficult. The ammunition of the column trying to ford the Ritorto were completely soaked and these troops had to attack with cold steel.

The fire of the artillery posted along the right bank of the Adda as well as the stubborn resistance of the Franco-Spanish troops deployed in it “Ritorto Island,” forced the Imperialist column trying to ford the canal to retire to the right bank of the Ritorto. Count Leiningen was killed during this failed attack. Meanwhile, the other Imperialist column fighting to conquer the bridge was virtually annihilated by the violent fire of the enemy.

Prince Eugene then ordered to launch a third assault across the Ritorto Canal. His troops advanced with such impetuosity that a detachment of French dragoon broke and fled. Only a few of them managed to jump off their horse and take refuge in bushes.

More and more Imperialist troops managed to cross the Ritorto Canal and to deploy in order of battle. The Franco-Spanish troops trying to oppose them were cut down and some detachments were thrown back into Adda and drowned.

The capture of the bridgehead defending the passage of the Adda was the true objective of the Imperialists. The first attack failed but, before retiring with heavy casualties, the Imperialists had managed to clear away the wagons used as defence and the palisades in the ditch and on the berm. Some of their grenadiers had even managed to climb the breastwork and to plant the Imperial colours on it.

Such an example inspired Imperialist troops. Soon a second detachment knocked down the barricade on the causeway and was about to penetrate into the bridgehead. The fate of Vendôme’s Army depended on the outcome of this struggle. If Vendôme lost the bridgehead, his whole force would be trapped in the “Ritorto Island” and doomed to annihilation.

D’Albergotti sent a few bns to reinforce the French around the bridgehead. Together with the artillery fire from the Castle of Cassano, these bns managed to put a stop to the advance of the troops of the Imperialist right wing, closely packed outside the bridgehead became the target of the flanking fire of the French artillery. Whole rows were mowed down and with the arrival of Franco-Spanish reinforcements from Cassano, the possibility to capture the bridgehead soon vanished.

As his right wing had been crossing the Ritorto Canal and advancing against the bridgehead, Prince Eugène had instructed the Prince von Anhalt to cross the Cremasca Canal located in front of his left wing. However, the attack of the Prussians was delayed because the soaked ammunition were unusable after the crossing of the Cremasca Canal.

The Prussian General Hülsen then sent 6 of his sqns across a bridge on the Pandina Canal near the “Casine dei Poveri” farmstead to drive the enemy bns back. His attack succeeded but he was soon counter-attacked by the French cavalry, supported by a murderous musketry fire, and forced to retire.

In the centre, the Prince of Anhalt had passed the Creamaca and Pandina Canals, suffering heavy losses during the crossing. He then managed to break through the French centre in the area defended by the Grancey and Bourke brigades but was soon driven back at the point of the bayonet behind the canal by these same brigades.

Thus the left wing and the centre of the Imperialist army had retired between the Cremasca and Pandina Canals, an area which had been cleared from enemy troops. However, the French had destroyed the bridge over the Pandina Canal.

For three hours, the Prince of Anhalt repeatedly tried to pass the deep Pandina Canal but every attempt failed. Indeed, apart from the extremely strong position of the French right wing, well protected by the Pandina Canal, Vendôme's main force was also assembled there.

During the same time, Prince Eugène on the right wing had to sustain the fire from the bridgehead and from the Castle of Cassano and his losses gradually increased.

The intense firefight lasted until 5:00 p.m., none of the belligerents being able to gain the upper hand. During the fighting Prince Eugène was wounded twice and had to leave the field. FZM Baron Bibra then assumed command of the Imperialist forces.

At the end of the day, each army returned to its initial positions. The Imperialists retired to Treviglio where they anchored their right, extending their left up to Calvenzano, covered by two canals.

Outcome

The French prevented the Imperialists from crossing the Adda.

The Franco-Spanish force lost approx. 5,500 men killed or captured. Furthermore, MM. De Moyria and de Forbin were killed; and MM. de Praslin, de Colmenero and de Vaudrey were wounded.

The Imperialists lost approx. 1,919 men killed (1,199 Austrians, 613 Prussians, 107 Palatines); 2,025 men wounded (1,356 Austrians, 491 Prussians, 178 Palatines). Furthermore, the Count von Leiningen, Colonel de Schenoy, Colonel Willstorff, Lieutenant-Colonel Kopenhagen was killed; and Prince Eugène de Savoie, Prince Joseph von Lothringen, FML Count Reventlau, Major-General Prince Alexander von Württemberg and Major-General von Harsch were wounded.

Order of Battle

Franco-Spanish Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Louis Joseph Duc de Vendôme

Summary: 20 bns and 30 cavalry sqns for a total of approx. 22,000 men

We have not yet found a complete order of battle for the French forces.

First Line Second Line
Right Wing under Medavi
Mirabeau Infanterie (? bns)

Perche Infanterie (? bns)
Ponthieu Infanterie (? bns)
Vendôme Infanterie (? bns)

Albigeois Infanterie (? bns)

Angoumois Infanterie (1 bn)
Gâtinais Infanterie (? bns)
Médoc Infanterie (1 bn)
Quercy Infanterie (1 bn)

Centre under Ravend
Grancey Infanterie (? bns)

Fitz-Gerald Infanterie (? bns)
Galmoy Infanterie (? bns)

Bourke Infanterie (? bns)

Limousin Infanterie (? bns)
La Sarre Infanterie (1 bn)

Left Wing under Praselin
Chemerault Brigade

Colmenero Brigade

Auvergne Brigade

Rearguard Cavalry under Albergotti

  • unidentified units (26 sqns)

Imperialist Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Prince Eugène de Savoie

Summary: 43 bns and 66 sqns for a grand total of 24,000 men.

First Line Second Line
Right Wing
G.d.C. Count von Leiningen

Major-General Prince von Lothringen

  • Herbeville Dragoons (4 sqns)
  • Savoyen Dragoons (3 sqns)
  • Roccavione Cuirassiers (4 sqns)
  • Vehlen ??? (3 sqns)
  • Pfalz-Neuburg Cuirassiers (4 sqns)
FML Marquis Visconti

Major-General Baron von Falkenstein

Centre
FZM Baron Bibra

Brigade (4 bns)

Brigade (6 bns)

Brigade (2 bns)

  • Palatine Sachsen-Meiningen Infantry (2 bns)

Brigade (4 bns)

Prussian Brigade (8 bns)

  • Kanitz Infantry (2 bns)
  • Anhalt Infantry (2 bns)
  • Markgraf Christian Ludwig Infantry (2 bns)
  • Markgraf Philipp Infantry (2 bns)
Left Wing
Lieutenant-General Prince von Anhalt
  • Prussian Wartensleben Horse (3 sqns)
  • Prussian du Portail Horse (3 sqns)
  • Darmstadt ??? (3 sqns)
  • Falkenstein Cuirassiers (4 sqns)
  • Vaubonne Dragoons (1 sqn)
  • Trautmansdorf Dragoons (4 sqns)
Major-General von Panewitz

References

This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Pelet and François Eugène de Vault: Mémoires militaires relatifs à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV, Vol. 5 pp. 330-334
  • Abtheilung für Kriegsgeschichte des k. k. Kriegs-Archives: Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen, Series 1, Vol. 7, Vienna 1881, pp. 215-223

Other sources

Wikipedia – Battle of Cassano (1705)

Acknowledgements

Michele Savasta Fiore for additional info on the French order of battle