1705 – Siege of Chivasso

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Sieges >> 1705 – Siege of Chivasso

The siege lasted from 16 June to 30 July 1705.

Introduction

After the fall of Verrua at the beginning of April 1705, the Duc de Vendôme reorganized his exhausted army in preparation for the siege of Chivasso, planning to lay siege to Turin immediately after the capture of this small fortress.

In April, the Allied army, after the loss of 24 bns taken prisoners at the sieges of Vercelli, Ivrea and |Verrua, was reduced to only 26 bns and 19 cavalry or dragoon rgts. The main body of infantry was entrenching itself at Chivasso while other units were posted between the Dora Baltea, the Alps and the Po.

For their part, the French, according to a letter from a French officer intercepted by the Savoyard cavalry, considered that “We are in a country where every day we are confronted with new fortresses that we would not have imagined existed the day before.”

In May, Vaubecourt prepared ammunition depots at Crescentino for the planned siege of Chivasso, and at Casale for the planned siege of Turin. He also supervised the demolition of all the Piedmontese places which had been captured during the previous campaign, including Verrua. On 14 May, an Allied corps (2,000 foot, 4,000 horse and some artillery pieces) assembled between Chivasso and the Dora Baltea.

In mid-June, the Duke of Savoy was still encamped with his army near the Dora Baltea on a height opposite Saluggia. As Vendôme’s Army approached, the Allied army rapidly retired to Chivasso.

Map

Map of the siege of Chivasso in 1705 – Copyright: Dinos Antoniadis

The town of Chivasso was located on the left bank of the Po, about 20 km from Turin, and was a strategically important place for its position at the crossroads of the communication routes between Turin, Vercelli, Monferrato and Canavese.

The town was surrounded by a wall with four bastions at the corners, a palisaded covert way and a wide and deep wet moat. It was reinforced with earthworks: ramparts, a covert way, ravelins and half-moons . These new fortifications were connected to the hills, on the other bank of the Po, with a covered road that crossed the river by two pontoon bridges and joined another defensive line of outposts equipped with artillery that went up the steep sides of the hill of Castagneto to the village of the same name.

Description of Events

On 16 June

  • Franco-Spanish
    • At 6:00 a.m., the army of the Duc de Vendôme set off from Torazzi and marched in two columns to Chivasso where it deployed in order of battle within cannon range of the place.
    • Meanwhile, the Duc de Vendôme personally crossed the Po on the bridge established upstream from San Sebastiano and went to the camp of M. d’Arène. He then reconnoitre the positions of the Allies on both sides of the Po.
    • D’Arène posted detachments in entrenched posts in front of Castagneto and the Chapel of San Grasse.
    • Vendôme’s Army encamped in front of Chivasso between Berri (unidentified location) and the Po.
    • A bridge was thrown on the Po to communicate more rapidly with d’Arène’s Corps.
    • In the evening, Vendôme sent a reinforcement of 2 bns to M. d’Arène who was instructed to establish a battery in front of Castagneto.
  • Allies
    • The Fortress of Chivasso was garrisoned by 3 bns.
    • The Allied cavalry was deployed in order of battle, its right anchored on a communication established between Chivasso and the Po, and its left at the Orco. The communication was occupied by 7 or 8 bns. On the right bank of the Po, the head of the bridge of Chivasso was covered by the Castle of Contrabuc (unidentified location). On the ridge extending from this castle to the village of Castagneto ran an entrenchment. An Allied force (14 bns, 20 sqns) defended the right bank of the Po River. Another Allied force (including 3 sqns of Serényi Dragoons) defended Castagneto. Overall the Allies had 4,500 foot and 3,000 horse.

On 17 June as darkness fell, d’Arène launched an attack on two farmsteads along the entrenchments near the Castle of Contrabuc. His troops made themselves master of these positions but in the confusion the fired on each other and were forced to retire, losing 80 men killed or wounded.

On the night of 19 to 20 June, the Duc de Vendôme launched a new attack against the entrenchments near the Castle of Contrabuc at the head of two columns. The first column under M. de Carcado comprised 100 carabiniers, 28 grenadier coys and 1 infantry brigade; the second, under M. d’Orgemont, 8 grenadier coys, 3 bns and 3 dismounted dragoon rgts.

On 20 June

  • Franco-Spanish
    • At daybreak, the two French columns sent against the entrenchments near the Castle of Contrabuc, made themselves master of a part of these entrenchments. The Allies sent reinforcements which arrived too late and took position on another height facing the entrenchments.
    • Vendôme then gave orders to entrench these new positions and transferred six 24-pdrs from his battery in front of Castagneto.
    • D’Arène then remained on the right bank of the Po with 13 bns and 1 dragoon rgts while Vendôme returned to the left bank with the rest of the troops who had taken part in the attack.
    • On the left bank, the French made themselves masters of the Capuchin Monastery and of a few farmsteads near Chivasso. M. d’Albergotti opened the trench with 4 bns and 5 sqns.

On the night of 20 to 21 June, the Comte d’Estaing relieved d’Albergotti with 4 bns and 5 sqns to resume work at the trenches in front of Chivasso.

On 21 June, a cavalry engagement took place in front of the trenches at Chivasso

  • In the morning some Allied cavalry appeared in front of the French trench at Chivasso.
  • The Prince d’Elbeuf, commanding the 5 sqns guarding the trenches, sent 3 sqns across a navigation canal to engage the Allies.
  • The 3 sqns sent by d’Elbeuf drove back the Allied cavalry but were counter-attacked by some Allied sqns hidden in the woods nearby.
  • The Prince d’Elbeuf managed to send back 1 sqn across the canal but the 2 remaining sqns were overwhelmed and destroyed. The prince was killed during the engagement.

On the night of 21 to 22 June, the Comte d’Aubeterre led work at the trenches in front of Chivasso.

On 22 June, the Duc de Vendôme extended his right closer to the Orco and started to work at a circumvallation line. A large part of the terrain surrounding Chivasso had been flooded by the defenders, but Vendôme identified the San Bernardino Bastion as the sole possible point of attack. Indeed it was the only point in the north-east where the water that flooded all the land around the city could flow.

On the night of 22 to 23 June, the Duc de Vendôme opened the trench at the selected point of attack and the work moved within 200 m of the covert way of the Fortress of Chivasso. The left of the parallel was anchored on the road leading from Crescentino to Chivasso while the right was secured by a redoubt. Two batteries were also established on the left bank of the Po to batter the entrenchments of Castagneto and a farmstead near the bridge of the Allies.

On the night of 23 to 24 June, the French artillery opened fire on the town and the entrenchments on the hill while working at their trenches.

On 24 June, M. de Lapara arrived in front of Chivasso to supervise the siege works. He represented to the Duc de Vendôme that the two newly established batteries were useless. These batteries were removed and a new battery of 12 artillery pieces was erected on the left bank of the Po to batter the communication between the Fortress of Chivasso and the Po.

On 26 June, the new battery opened on the communication between the Fortress of Chivasso and the Po.

On 28 June, the trenches in front of Chivasso were within a stone throw of the covert way.

On 30 June

  • Franco-Spanish
    • At 1:00 p.m., two French detachments set off to attack the two farmsteads protecting the bridge that the Allies had on the Po at Castagneto. The first division (13 grenadier coys and 3 bns) was charged to attack from upstream; and the second of 4 bns, from downstream. The battery (12 pieces), which had opened on 26 June on the communication between Chivasso and the Po, had already seriously damaged the entrenchments around these farmsteads but the Allies had broken all roads and paths and built an abatis. The French grenadiers managed to reach the foot of the entrenchments but the Allies seized a ridge and fired in their flank, forcing them to retire. The French bns then attacked but were repulsed too. In this affair, the French lost 140 men killed or wounded.
    • In the evening, work began at a trenches leading to the entrenchments at Castagneto. Soon, 100 men were posted in a lodgement near these entrenchments. In addition, a battery (4 x 24-pdrs) was established on a plateau overlooking the farmsteads.

By 2 July, the trenches in front of Chivasso were within 7 m. from the palisade of the covert way of the great angle. However, this angle was mined and M. de Lapara decided to wait for his miners to explode this mine. The same day, the bell tower of the collegiate church of Santa Maria, from where the defenders could fire on the French batteries, was cut off by cannon fire.

On the night of 3 to 4 July, Lapara’s miners successfully exploded the mine under the great angle of the San Bernardino Bastion. Work immediately began on breaching batteries.

On 4 July, 300 Allied grenadiers and an infantry corps tried to dislodge the French from the great angle. But they were forced to retire into Chivasso after a combat of three hours.

On 5 July

  • Franco-Spanish
    • In the morning, 12 artillery pieces began to fire on the fortifications of Chivasso.
    • The Duc de Vendôme was informed that his brother, the Grand Prieur de Vendôme had failed to contain the Imperialist army of Prince Eugène which had crossed the Oglio and entered the Duchy of Milan. He immediately gave orders to the Duc de La Feuillade to effect a junction with his own army.

On 6 July in the evening, the Comte d’Estaing was detached from Chivasso with 20 grenadier coys and 3,000 horse to effect a junction with La Feuillade’s Corps near the Cirié Forest.

On 9 July early in the morning, the Duc de La Feuillade and the Comte d’Estaing marched to Rivarolo and Feletto on the right bank of the Orco where they met the Chevalier de Forbin, who had been detached by the Duc de Vendôme with 1 grenadier coy and 400 horse to get some news. The Chevalier de Forbin escorted the Duc de La Feuillade to Chivasso.

On 10 July, d’Estaing returned to his camp with his own detachment and with the 10 bns and 3 dragoon sqns that the Duc de La Feuillade had brought with him from Savoie. A lodgement was established at 20 m. from the farmsteads defending the line of communication of the defenders of Chivasso with the Po.

On 11 July, the Duc de Vendôme sent 9 bns and 10 sqns to reinforce the Army of Lombardy.

On 12 July, the Duc de La Feuillade replaced the Duc de Vendôme as commander-in-chief of the Franco-Spanish army in front of Chivasso (40 bns and 52 sqns for a total of approx. 21,000 men) while the duke hurried towards Lombardy to put a stop at the advance of Prince Eugène’s Army.

On 15 July, three French breaching batteries opened against a bastion of Chivasso while the miners reached the counterscarp.

To reinforce his army in front of Chivasso, the Duc de La Feuillade transferred 3 bns and 3 sqns from the vicinity of Acqui, Asti and the Aosta Valley. He also recalled the grenadier coys of the rgts stationed at Verrua, Crescentino and Montmélian. He completed the line of circumvallation and started to work at a line of contravallation. Finally, the Duc de La Feuillade asked the Court for a reinforcement of 4 bns and 6 sqns, but this request was rejected.

On 16 July, the breaching batteries opened fire on Chivasso while a parallel was established on the glacis.

On 23 July, the French managed to establish a lodgement on the covert way in front of Chivasso.

The Duc de La Feuillade was now confident that he would soon be master of Chivasso. He decided to attack the Allied cavalry which was encamped at Brandizzo to force it to retire on Turin.

On 26 July

  • Franco-Spanish
    • At daybreak, the Duc de La Feuillade crossed the Orco with 46 sqns (including Hautefort Dragons, Dauphin Dragons, Languedoc Dragons), 11 bns and 5 grenadier coys which he had recalled from Crescentino, Verrua and from the blockade of Montmélian.
    • M. de Lapara remained in the line of countervallation with 20 bns and 2 dragoon rgts to continue the siege of Chivasso. In the evening, he threw 2 grenadier coys against the demi-lune which they took. They then made a lodgement to prepare the assault against the left bastion.
    • M. d’Arène remained on the right bank of the Po with 11 bns.
    • De La Feuillade encamped near Cerclo and had a bridge built on the river to communicate with the troops which he had left at Chivasso.
  • Allies
    • The Allied cavalry corps encamped at Brandizzo precipitously retired to Settimo.

By 27 July, Lapara had 53 cannon and 22 mortars aimed at the town of Chivasso, and another 20 cannon deployed in the batteries on the hill of Castagneto. Lapara estimated that he had fired 25,000 24-pounder cannonballs, 16,000 8-pounder cannonballs and 26,000 mortar shells on the defensive works.

On 29 July

  • Franco-Spanish
    • Around 4:00 a.m., the Duc de La Feuillade detached the Prince de Robecq to Volpiano with 1,200 horse (including the carabiniers) and 500 grenadiers to give the impression that it was a foraging party.
    • In the morning, the Duc de La Feuillade marched on Settimo to attack the Allied cavalry. At 8:30 a.m., his own cavalry caught up with the rearguard of the Allies which was retiring from Settimo. The Prince de Robecq was delayed and arrived at the end of the engagement. The French took 150 prisoners, 200 horses, 2 kettle-drums and 2 standards from Vaubonne Dragoons. The French lost 20 men killed or wounded.
    • De La Feuillade left M. de Vergetot at Settimo with 3 bns and the Saint-Mico cavalry brigade. He posted his grenadiers and Châtillon Dragons at Brandizzo and then returned to his camp at Cerclo with the rest of his cavalry and 8 bns.

In the night of 29 to 30 July, leaving a garrison in Chivasso, Duke Victor Amadeus retreated with his troops towards San Mauro and Turin. Meanwhile, the Allied troops posted at Castagnetto marched by San Mauro to Turin.

On 30 July, the Duc de La Feuillade entered Chivasso. M. de Lapara remained in Chivasso to fill the trenches and to repair the breaches. De La Feuillade returned to his camp of Cerclo.

Aftermath

The unexpected resistance of the small town of Chivasso had seriously delayed the advance of the Franco-Spanish army on Turin. The Duc de La Feuillade was now at the head of an exhausted and decimated army and was unable to capture Turin before winter.

Orders of Battle

Allied Army

Commander-in-Chief: Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy

French Army

Commander-in-Chief: Louis Joseph, Duc de Vendôme, replaced on 12 July by the Duc de La Feuillade

For the moment, we have an incomplete order of battle based solely on the mention of the siege of Chivasso in various regimental histories of the French Army.

References

Pelet and François Eugène de Vault: Mémoires militaires relatifs à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV Vol. 5, pp. 111, 130-218

Wikipedia – Italian Edition – Assedio di Chivasso

Acknowledgements

Dinos Antoniadis for the research and the initial version of this article