The Battle of the Balagna - Day 1
Excerpts from Merganser Publishing's "Rebellion!" Series #24: The Corsican Revolution
The buildup of French forces in the Balagna did not catch the rebels by surprise. They were well informed of the arrival of the third wave of French troops, and Lieutenant-General Marquis Louis de Frétat de Boissieux
was took his time to deploy the new forces, arrange for the army's supply, and brief his commanders. In the north, his operational commander was Maréchal de Camp Jean-Charles de Gaultier de Girenton, Marquis de Chateauneuf le Rouge, Seigneur de Rousset
His infantry forces were under the overall command of Brigadier Louis Georges Erasme, Marquis de Contades
, while the two squadrons of hussars were under the command of their Hungarian colonel-proprietor Maréchal de Camp Baron Georges de Rattsky
In total, this represented a force of roughly 3,000 combat personnel, a force that on its own was the largest and best-trained force to face the rebels since the imperial intervention in 1733-4.
The overall Corsican commander in the Balagna, Captain-General Marquis Simone Fabiani
, understood that his position was difficult. King Theodore
had sent all his regular forces (save his personal Leibgarde
) to aid Fabiani, but these amounted to only some 700-800 men. He was reliant mainly on the provincial militia, which consisted of around 1,600 Balagnese and some 800 militia from Caccia, Canale, Niolo, and Guicelina. Another force of around 600 men from Talcini, Niolo, and Vico under Theodore's cousin Lieutenant-General Baron Johann Friedrich Caspar von Neuhoff zu Rauschenburg
was operating in the mountains to the south, having spent the past month launching raids on Franco-Genoese positions in the western Balagna. Around May 18th, just days before the beginning of Rousset's offensive, another 400 men of Caotera and Rostino arrived to reinforce Fabiani's position; the men were well-armed and enthusiastic, but largely untrained and lacking experienced officers.
The "front," as it were, stretched all the way from Corbara in the north to Zilia in the south. The ridge above Zilia, however, which extended northwest to Capo di Bestia, effectively limited the French approach to the space between Corbara and Cateri, less than four miles wide. Fabiani believed that the most likely French attack would concentrate on the north, where they could use their naval dominance to their advantage, and for that reason continued concentrating his forces between Pigna and Corbara has he had done previously at the Battle of Corbara.
Rousset, however, considered the heights of Corbara to be too costly to attack directly, and instead planned an attack with a southerly emphasis. In his plan, Brigadier Claude François d'Alboy, Sieur de Montrosier
would launch an attack on the far left of the rebel force at Cateri. Meanwhile, Brigadier Contades would command Colonel Charles de Béziade, Marquis d’Avaray
, to make a demonstration against Fabiani's strong point with his battalion and the field artillery, while his remaining two battalions under Colonel Pierre Emmanuel de Crussol, Marquis de Florensac
would make an oblique move to the south and then cross the Nonza River to attack Aregno and Praoli.
Fabiani was not blind to French troop movements, and when infantry and cavalry were reported near Lavatoggio on the 20th he considered that an attack on his far left might be more likely than anticipated. He continued to believe that it was more likely to be a feint, however, and was concerned about deploying too far south; his primary aim was to protect Isola Rossa in the north, and if his right flank collapsed the French would be between him and the port. He also was counting on Rauschenburg to reinforce his left flank, but through a miscommunication or misunderstanding Rauschenburg was still at Muro on the day of the attack, more than two miles south of Cateri. On the morning of the French attack, only three militia battalions under Brigadier Giuliano di Muro
held the southern half of the line, while virtually all of the regulars were in the north with Fabiani.
The effect of this miscalculation was disastrous. On the 22nd, the French opened fire with their artillery against Fabiani's positions in the north, and D'Avaray advanced over the low ground as instructed. His advance, however, was deliberately slow; it was intended only to occupy Fabiani's attention. Crussol'a battalions moved upstream and instead attacked Muro's militia battalions to the south. Fabiani observed this movement, but hesitated; ultimately he agreed with the urging of Adjutant-General Edward Sarsfield, Viscount Kilmallock
to dispatch the Corsican Guard to the left flank.
In the meantime, Montrosier had thrown his two battalions against the Corsican left at Cateri, a position occupied by the recently-arrived Rostino militia under Lieutenant-Colonel Ignazio Caponi. Caponi had difficulty controlling his troops, and they were soon thrown into chaos by this strong attack and fled en masse
down into the Regino valley. With the rebel left collapsing, the way was open for Baron Rattsky to lead his 200 horse across the saddle of Cateri and into the flank of a the Balagnese battalion holding Aregno, which was already hard-pressed or perhaps even beginning to retreat in the face of Crussol's assault. Caught between the French and the Hungarians, this force was all but destroyed; its commander, Colonel Albertini
, was killed, and it was thereafter every man for himself, with the militia fleeing in all directions to try and avoid being cut down by Rattsky's sabres. The only Corsican commander to do himself any credit in the south was Colonel Felice Giuseppe
, a veteran of the Battle of San Fiorenzo, who stood his ground against the French attack until he saw Albertini's battalion evaporate to his south, and then withdrew in an orderly fashion up the ridge towards Muro's command post at San Antonino.
Actions in the morning
Once Crussol attained the ridge, he ordered an immediate attack on San Antonino, where Muro's command had been reduced to Giuseppe's battalion; his soldiers were winded after fighting up 1,400 feet of elevation, but Crussol hoped to take advantage of his momentum and the retreat of the Corsicans to carry the position, which if taken would render Fabiani's entire position untenable. By that time, however, the Guard had reached the village, and Muro had been relieved by Kilmallock. The hilltop village was a formidable defensive position which was now held by a force equivalent to Crussol's battalions, and it was a testament to the discipline and courage of the French that they made good headway against it, to the point where Corsican soldiers were fighting them from the windows and rooftops. At the village's edge, however, the attack seemed to run out of steam, and Kilmallock led a counter-charge by the Guard with fixed bayonets which sent the French streaming back down the hill. Crussol still held the ridge to the south, but his gambit had failed, and he was now compelled to pause.
In the far south, Montrosier now seemed to be without opposition. Leaving the Flandre Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Textorix[A]
to hold Cateri, he advanced northwards towards Crussol's position to size up the situation. Baron Rattsky, in the meantime, descended into the valley to the southeast to scout the upper Regino and harass Caponi's retreating battalion. It was fortunate for the French that he did, for he found not only Caponi's men but Rauschenburg's highland battalions, which had advanced northwards after hearing gunfire from the north. Rattsky skirmished in the woods near Avapessa with the Corsicans, but found himself heavily outnumbered and pulled back to the saddle. The French were aware of Rauschenburg's presence in the area but had seriously underestimated his numbers, which—now reinforced by part of Caponi's command—now numbered some 800-900 men. Although out of contact with Fabiani, Rauschenburg decided to attack towards Cateri; Rattsky hurriedly sent out riders to inform Textorix and Montrosier, and his dismounted squadrons managed to delay the rebels long enough for the Flandre Infantry to arrive. Unsure as to the overall situation of the battle or how many troops Textorix and Rattsky actually had, Rauschenburg opted to pull back after an hour-long skirmish.
Actions in the afternoon
With the arrival of Brigadier Montrosier and the Chaillou battalion, Crussol wanted to order another attack on San Antonino. Upon surveying the situation, however, Montrosier opined that the position was too strong and impossible to flank. His reluctance may have been in part a command issue; Colonel Crussol was under Brigadier Contades' command, and taking the heights at San Antonino had been Contades' responsibility. Contades was technically senior to Montrosier, and had been placed in overall command of Rousset's infantry, but Contades had not advanced up from the valley and Crussol himself could not give orders to a superior officer. Perhaps Montrosier really did see the attack as hopeless, or perhaps he wanted to preserve both his battalion and his own reputation from association with the failure of Crussol, and by extension Contades, to take the village. He delayed until the arrival of a rider from Rattsky informing him of the situation to the south, which was his cue to return to Cateri to defend against the "large force" of Corsicans that had been reported. Rauschenburg, however, had already called off his attack and was withdrawing up the Regino valley to try and re-establish contact with Fabiani and avoid the possibility of being flanked.
Lieutenant-Colonel Karl Christian Drevitz
, in command of the foreign regiment, had urged Fabiani to counterattack against D'Avaray's position in the Nonza valley as it became clear that the bulk of the French forces was to the south, but Fabiani was reluctant to give up his high ground or to launch a frontal attack over open ground directly into the French artillery. Several companies of militia were diverted to the south to further strengthen Kilmallock, but no further assault was forthcoming. Contades, arriving at Aregno late in the afternoon, attempted to gather forces for an assault but found that Montrosier had already descended into the Regino valley, and by the time contact was reestablished it was too late in the day to make another attempt at San Antonino. Rattsky's hussars had moved south to the village of Muro, which had been Rauschenburg's headquarters that morning, and his men disarmed the inhabitants.
All forces now withdrew to quarters for the night. Contades set up pickets on the ridge and made his own headquarters at Caferi, while Montrosier camped near Muro along with Rattsky's regiment. Towards the end of the day, several companies from Sasselange's reserve brigade joined Rousset's command to shore up his position in the north, and a Genoese company arrived to occupy Lavatoggio. Fabiani maintained his position, but withdrew Colonel Giuliani's
Balagnese battalion to the ridge to act as a reserve in the following day, capable of reinforcing where necessary. Survivors of Albertini's battalion and bands of local and "foreign" (that is, non-Balagnese) irregulars who had gravitated towards the battle over the course of the day gathered at Poggio, behind the ridge, in an effort to organize reinforcements. Rauschenburg withdrew up the valley and, finally getting back in contact with Fabiani, encamped his men so as to oppose any flanking maneuver around San Antonino.
Positions at the end of the day
Rousset had clearly won the day. Although excuses can be made for Fabiani, who was bound by his need to guard Isola Rossa above all else and was not well-supported by Rauschenburg, he was nevertheless out-generaled by Rousset on the first day of the battle. Although the rebels outnumbered the French overall, Rousset managed to concentrate four regular battalions (and two hussar squadrons) against three battalions of militia with predictable results. The Corsicans had taken heavy losses, particularly in Albertini's battalion, which was largely destroyed; some remnants remained and were reorganized, but many other survivors simply deserted, and the unit ceased to exist as a fighting force. The well-executed withdrawal of Giuseppe's militia and the timely intervention of Kilmallock and the Guard, however, prevented the French from using the momentum from their victory to carry away the rebel position entirely. Contades and Montrosier may also deserve some blame; the former, for leading from too far behind, preventing him from promptly taking advantage of opportunities, and the latter for declining an attack on San Antonino and chasing after Rauschenburg in the valley instead of waiting for new orders from Contades.
The most unfortunate senior Corsican commander (aside from Albertini, who was killed) was undoubtedly Brigadier di Muro, who had now presided over both the loss of Madonna della Serra in February and the collapse of the Corsican left in the first day of the battle for the Balagna. This latter defeat was arguably not his fault; it would have taken an unparalleled military genius to hold off Rousset's offensive with the forces Fabiani had assigned to Muro's sector. Nevertheless, the association of his name with two serious defeats permanently destroyed his reputation, and for the remainder of the battle he was effectively little more than an aide-de-camp to Kilmallock.
 "Maréchal de camp" is often - but erroneously - translated into English as "field marshal." The rank of maréchal de camp
was equivalent to a British major-general, ranking above a brigadier (which was not considered a true general rank) and below a lieutenant-general like Boissieux. Lieutenant-generals were outranked only by a Maréchal de France
, of which there were none on Corsica during the intervention.
 A Hungarian cavalry officer originally in imperial service, Ráttky György (rendered in French as "Georges Rattsky" or "Rattzky") was a participant in the failed anti-Habsburg Rákóczi Uprising (1703-11) and one of the founding commanders of the French hussars, who were at this time still an "ethnic" unit of Hungarian cavalrymen rather than merely a descriptor of a type of light cavalry. Because Hungary proper was not available for French recruiting, however, the French could raise these men only from among emigres (like Rattsky) and Hungarian populations under Ottoman control (principally in Wallachia and Serbia). Correspondingly, their numbers were quite limited. They were considered good light troops, excellent for scouting, raiding, and skirmishing in terrain which proper cavalry might find unsuitable, which made them perfect for the Corsican theater.
[A] This seems like it should be the name of an Asterix character, but no, it's the name of an actual French officer.