Trooper of the Lusitania Regiment of Spanish Dragoons at Lezegno in 1744
On August 14th, the army of King Carlo Emanuele III
of Sardinia was defeated by the Gallispan invaders at the Battle of Lezegno, dooming the king’s efforts to relieve the besieged fortress of Ceva, which finally surrendered nine days later. It was a clear setback for the king and the cause of the Pragmatic Allies more generally; a great obstacle between the Bourbons and the Piedmontese plain was removed, and Ceva’s fall secured the Gallispan advance through Liguria. Such a victory had not come without cost. The garrison commander General Karl Sigmund Friedrich von Leutrum
had led a tenacious defense which had dragged out the siege for three weeks, and the Ceva campaign thus far (including the engagement at Lezegno) had cost the invaders more than 5,000 casualties. Knowing that his supply of both soldiers and time was limited, the French commander Marshal Daniel François de Gélas, Vicomte de Lautrec
was growing steadily more anxious. Yet his victories were much celebrated in Paris, and with the long-awaited signature of a treaty with Genoa on the 20th, just five days before Ceva’s surrender, Lautrec could expect a fresh infusion of manpower.
With steady progress, Lautrec imagined he would soon force Carlo Emanuele to sue for peace, or at least gain sufficient control of Piedmont to winter his army there at the king’s expense.
Yet the ship of Bourbon military fortune was destined to run aground on the shoals of Bourbon political incoherence. Although the French had ultimately agreed to launch their invasion via Liguria despite their own misgivings and delays caused by Genoa’s vacillation, the eventual union of Paris and Madrid on operational matters concealed a vast chasm between them in terms of grand strategy. The French still insisted that the primary purpose of the 1744 campaign was the neutralization of Piedmont, as Turin’s submission would leave Vienna without allies in Italy. But the Spanish did not see it that way. Queen Elisabetta Farnese
had a monomaniacal obsession with taking Spain’s objectives, Parma and the Milanese, as soon as possible, and saw the French preoccupation with Sardinia at least as timidity, and at most a betrayal of Bourbon family solidarity. Her son the Infante Felipe de Borbón
, who was to rule these liberated provinces, was in nominal command of the Spanish army, and the actual commander Jaime de Guzmán-Dávalos, Marqués de la Mina
was entirely devoted to the Queen’s wishes.
Felipe de Borbón, Infante of Spain, second son of Felipe V of Spain and Elisabetta Farnese
The Spanish command had only grudgingly agreed to the siege of Ceva, as Lautrec had made a compelling case that to leave the fortress in Sardinian hands would greatly endanger Gallispan supply lines through Liguria. Ever since the Battle of Lezegno, however, La Mina had received literally dozens of letters from the Queen urging him to march on the Milanese and catch the Austrians, who were now known to be preparing their retreat from the Roman countryside, in a vise. As soon as Ceva fell, Felipe and La Mina took their leave of Lautrec and began a march towards Genoa. Lautrec was furious, but he would not be following them no matter what; he had strict orders from Paris that not one French battalion shout support the Spaniards in their precipitous push eastwards. The “Gallispan army” had ceased to exist.
La Mina’s plan was to take his 12,000 men through the pass of Bochetta north of Genoa, known somewhat generously as the “Thermopylae of Liguria,” and march northwards from there to the fortified city of Tortona, which the Savoyard monarchy had only acquired in 1738 after the War of Polish Succession. With this city in hand there would be nothing stopping the Spaniards from descending into the Milanese proper. This would not only block the retreat of the army of Georg Christian, Fürst von Lobkowitz
, but would prevent him from assisting the Sardinians. Just as importantly from a Spanish perspective, it would secure Felipe’s principality and give the army plenty of prime Milanese farmland to sustain them over the winter. Taken on its own it was not a bad plan, but the means required to realize it - splitting the Gallispan force - was strategically dubious. It also compelled the Spanish to make an additional march back through Liguria with a dwindling campaign season. Reaching Bochetta required not only a march overland to Savona over bad roads but a further jaunt down the coast to Genoa, 30 miles of seaside trail where the British lay in wait.
If this strategy was to succeed it would rely heavily on the Republic of Genoa, which had now formally entered the war. Although the Genoese had no interest in fighting the Austrians, they very much wanted Tortona for themselves; they had requested it at the Aranjuez negotiations but had been forced to settle for vague assurances from the French and no explicit mention of the city’s fate. The Spanish, however, cared nothing for appeasing Sardinia, and would be happy to deliver it into Genoese hands. Tortona was also much closer to Genoa itself and easier to access for the logistically challenged Genoese army. It must furthermore be recalled that Genoa’s subsidies promised by the Treaty of Aranjuez, to the tune of 30,000 piastres per month (£5,375), were being paid entirely by Madrid, an arrangement which must have seemed like a good deal for the French at the time but gave the Spanish considerably more leverage over the cash-strapped Republic.
Carlo Emanuele’s army at Lezegno had been about 24,000 strong, including 4,000 Austrians. He had since suffered losses, but retained around 20,000 men, to which was added some 10,000 hastily-raised Piedmontese militia. Over the whole theater this force was still seriously outnumbered, and the Sardinians would inevitably be required to split their attention between the French and Spanish advances. Once the Spanish plan was ascertained, Carlo Emanuele diverted 8,000 men eastwards to assist in the defense of Tortona. Carlo Emanuele thus possessed some 12,000 men (not counting the militia) against Lautrec’s 15,000. Lautrec had planned originally to place a holding force at Mondovi and advance his main army to Bene, where Carlo Emanuele was presently encamped, but the loss of the Spanish meant he no longer had the manpower to both contain the Mondovi garrison and advance northwards at the same time, and he could not leave the Mondovi garrison uncovered at his rear. Lautrec thus laid siege to Modovi with his whole army, hoping that the defenses would be quickly overcome.
Although slowed by British interference, La Mina progressed steadily to Bochetta, where he rendezvoused with the Genoese army of Giovanni Francesco Brignole Sale
around September 18th. It was a smaller force than he had hoped; despite promises of 10,000 men, the Genoese had managed to muster no more than 6,000 for the campaign, and these battalions were of relatively poor quality.
Nevertheless, the combined army forged the Bochetta pass with no trouble and began the siege of Tortona on the 24th. With only 8,000 men plus local militia and garrison units, the Sardinian general Alessio di Cinzano
could not seriously contest this combined advance, and Tortona surrendered on the 3rd of October after only nine days of siege. The gates of Lombardy now lay open. Cinzano took a defensive position to guard Piedmont, but this left the Spanish to march into the Milanese unopposed. The scant Austrian garrisons here stood little chance on their own.
The Austrian project to invade Naples had been ill-conceived from the start, and if there had ever been even the slightest chance of success it was spoiled by the halting and timid leadership of Lobkowitz. Save for a few irregulars who were dispatched to stir up a rebellion in Abruzzo that never materialized, the Austrian army had never even managed to set foot on Neapolitan soil. Earlier in the year the inferior Spanish army of Jean Thierry du Mont, comte de Gages
had retreated southwards in the face of Lobkowitz’s superior force, but that force had been sapped of its strength by disease and desertion, while Gages had been reinforced with several thousand Spaniards and the army of King Carlos
of Naples, who had repudiated the neutrality that Britain had earlier extracted from him by force. Finally bowing to reality and realizing the great danger their ally was in, Vienna had ordered the army to withdraw. Lobkowitz, however, was too feverish to lead it, and was evacuated to Livorno along with the rest of the sick and wounded by the British fleet. He would regain neither his command nor his health; the malarial fever that had already claimed some 2,000 of his men would prove lethal for the general as well, making him the second Austrian army commander to unexpectedly die in 1744 (after Khevenhüller in January).
The command defaulted to his subordinate Maximilian Ulysses, Graf von Browne
. With less than 13,000 men to face an approximately equal number of Spaniards and 6,000 Neapolitans, Browne extricated himself from the environs of Rome with great skill, using his irregulars and a feigned attack to break contact on the 14th of September with few casualties. Without invalids to slow him down, Browne made excellent time and kept it up despite periodic rearguard skirmishing between the Croats and the Spanish miquelets each day. Despite these clashes, the Spaniards were unable to come to grips with the Austrian main body, and were unable to stop Browne from crossing the Tiber over a pontoon bridge and then destroying it behind him.
Maximilian Ulysses, Graf von Browne, Austrian general
Browne’s actions were constrained by Vienna, which had already specified a route of retreat. He was to proceed northwards via Civita Castellana, Spoleto, and Foligno, where he would leave a detachment to delay the Spanish and proceed with the remainder of his force to Lombardy. He duly reached the outskirts of Civita Castellana on the 20th. Gages, who had initially been surprised by Browne’s speed, had pushed to catch up with him after crossing the Tiber and had done so, albeit only by pressing his men on a gruelling pace that put even Browne to shame. Gages was not far behind, and made his camp at Monterosi on the same day, six miles from Browne’s army.
While he had been instructed to flee with all haste, it did not come naturally to Browne. Although perhaps not the equal of military minds like King Friedrich of Prussia and the French prodigy Maurice de Saxe
, Browne was the polar opposite of the idle and faint-hearted Lobkowitz. Aggressive, headstrong, and impatient, he chafed at Vienna’s fetters, and he had been mulling over the notion that the best way to fulfill the spirit of the Queen’s orders was to “disobey” them and attack instead of retreating. If Gages were beaten, after all, Browne would enjoy the freedom to move northwards without covering his rear, to say nothing of denying the Spaniards the use of Gages’ army in the north. The opportunity to do so, however, had not presented itself, and since the balance of forces was manifestly not in his favor he would require a very considerable opportunity indeed.
When Gages encamped his army at Monterosi, Browne’s interest was piqued. He considered this encampment at the bottom of a valley to be a very bad position, and subsequent observation indicated that Gages had been unaccountably lax. The Napolispan camp was densely crowded and split by a creek, both of which would hinder the army’s mobilization, and Gages had been shoddy in covering his approaches with observation posts. Browne concluded that Gages did not anticipate an attack - and why should he, when his army outnumbered that of Browne by a ratio of three to two? When Browne floated this idea among his staff, they did not respond well. Only Feldmarshall-Lieutenant Ferdinand Charles, Comte d'Aspremont-Lynden
strongly supported the idea. Without the cover of his council of war, any failure would fall heavily upon Browne’s shoulders.
He was willing to risk it. As dusk fell, with the Croats at Nepi screening his movements and keeping enemy piquets back, Browne maneuvered the main body of his force to the west and within four miles of the enemy camp. Later that night, two Austrian columns of 5,000 men (led by Browne and Aspremont) circled around the ravines west of Nepi, bypassing the Spanish pickets, and encountered the Spaniards encamped by Lake Monterosi at around 6 in the morning. Browne’s column was spotted just before the attack, and the Spanish hurriedly rushed to form lines to repel him. Just as this fight was breaking out, however, Aspremont’s column arrived from the northwest, led by 1,500 heavy cavalry. The Austrian horsemen scattered the assembling Spanish troops and charged headlong into the enemy camp. Some men were cut down immediately upon leaving their tents. As Browne had predicted, the camp was thrown into utter chaos and Gages could not muster an organized defense. Crowds of tired and panicked Spanish soldiers milled about, trying to figure out what to do or where to go. Some battalions fought where they stood; others surrendered wholesale, or fled south in a panic. The Neapolitans, encamped south of the creek, did not engage at all.
The battle lasted less than two hours, and by 8:00 in the morning Gages’ army was utterly routed. Gages himself only narrowly avoided capture. Reynaldo Macdonald
, one of his generals, was not so lucky.[A]
That the better part of the Spanish force was not wiped out may be only because the Austrians, having put the Spaniards to flight, soon began looting the army’s baggage. The Neapolitans remained in good order, but with the rest of the army fleeing they had no choice but to withdraw. Browne unleashed twelve squadrons of Hungarian hussars upon them, who pursued Gages’ army until mid-afternoon. Their contribution is often overlooked, but their inglorious work of picking off stragglers substantially increased Gages’ losses.[B]
Although small by the standards of the great battles of the German theater - Mollwitz had involved around 40,000 men in total, and Chotustiz 60,000 - the Battle of Monterosi was among the most lopsided of the war in terms of losses. About 700 Spaniards were killed and 1,300 wounded during the raid, compared to around 250 dead and 800 wounded Austrians. But Browne had not only captured virtually all of the Spanish wounded, but whole battalions of largely uninjured men, amounting to nearly 3,000 prisoners. At least a thousand Spaniards and Neapolitans were killed or recorded as missing in the aftermath of the battle, having either taken the opportunity to desert or been picked off by Browne’s hussars. In total, Gages had lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 men, nearly a third of his force.
Technically Gages still possessed a marginally larger army, but there was no possibility of continuing the pursuit. The Austrians had captured virtually the entire Spanish baggage, including provisions, magazines, artillery, and horses (as well as Gages’ own personal effects - it was later said that some Austrian grenadiers plundered his carts and wore the general’s wigs as a jest). Gages had to return all the way to Neapolitan territory to resupply, and with the season already far advanced there was no question that he would have to go into winter quarters in the south. This was the greatest consequence of Monterosi, for while the Bourbon powers could easily replace 5,000 men (Gages had, in previous years, lost at least that many to desertion alone), the neutralization of Gages’ army gave Browne complete freedom of action for the remainder of the campaign. He no longer had to guard his back against a powerful Napolispan army, nor did he have to divert significant forces to protect Tuscany or Modena. The Austrians marched immediately for Lombardy with all due haste, but it would be nearly a month before their arrival.
Meanwhile, although too weak to confront Lautrec directly, Carlo Emanuele’s army and its associated militiamen posed a major threat to the diminished French army and its attempts to reduce Mondovi. The city had finally fallen at the end of September after innumerable French setbacks at the hands of irregular partisans, and the looming presence of the king’s army had prevented Lautrec from devoting more than a portion of his force to the siege itself. Originally Lautrec had hoped to push west from Mondovi, severing Cuneo from the rest of Piedmont and forcing the Sardinians to evacuate the Col di Tende or be trapped there, but this was impractical without a screening force at Mondovi and Ceva to prevent the Sardinians from flanking this march and Lautrec did not have the men to do that. He could only move north against Bene, where Carlo Emanuele was encamped, to either force a favorable confrontation or reduce this fortress, among the last major obstacles before Turin. But Carlo Emanuele would not come to grips with him, and the strengthened garrison of Bene prepared for another siege.
Tortona’s fall gave Lautrec some cause for hope. The Sardinians had retreated beyond the Tanaro River and hoped now to offer a defense of Alessandria, but their numbers were still depressingly few. Spanish pressure there might force Carlo Emanuele to make detachments from his army, making Lautrec’s job easier and perhaps even allowing him to cut off Cuneo as planned. Perhaps the king, who would surely now be close to despair, would ask for an armistice before winter. La Mina, however, had orders straight from Madrid to proceed to Milan without delay. Lautrec warned him that doing this would endanger his supply lines, but as the Spanish intended to live off Milanese bounty for the winter this did not greatly discomfit la Mina or the infante
. For a moment, the Spanish seemed poised to strike west, but then a Spanish advance column crossed the Po and took Pavia by surprise on the 8th of October.
The news of Monterosi had reached la Mina shortly before the fall of Tortona, but initial reports were misleading. Gages, perhaps to obscure his own disgrace, admitted the defeat but did not immediately report that he was calling off the year’s campaign. Accordingly, la Mina assumed that Gages was still a force with which the Austrians had to reckon. Browne could either retreat towards Lombardy and thus allow Gages to reach Liguria and combine the armies, or he could occupy himself with defending Tuscany and Parma from Gages which would give la Mina a free hand in Lombardy. Either result was satisfactory. It was thus with considerable surprise that la Mina received word on October 10th, just two days after the fall of Pavia, that not only was Gages not
pursuing the Austrians, but he had gone into winter quarters in the Campagna. Worse still, the Austrians had reached Modena and were now less than a week’s march away from the Spanish advance columns.
Browne had since been relieved by Ludwig Ferdinand, Graf von Schulenburg-Oeynhausen
, Vienna’s military ambassador to Turin and the Queen’s choice to replace the unfortunate Lobkowitz. The Austrians had been reinforced by garrison units in Parma and the Romagna (whose presence was less necessary after the removal of Gages as a threat) and now numbered around 13,000 men. La Mina had fielded a far superior force against Tortona, but now the Genoese contingent, which had made up nearly a third of his army, was of little use to him. Genoa quixotically hoped that it might maintain good relations with Vienna despite actively abetting a Spanish invasion of Austrian lands and confine its hostilities to Sardinia. As such, General Brignole Sale refused outright to contribute any forces to the Spanish in the Milanese, citing the recent treaty. The Genoese garrisoned Tortona and contributed forces to the Spanish battalions watching Cinzano’s division (along with thousands more militia) across the Tanaro, but withdrew several of their battalions to Liguria, as the then-ongoing siege of Bastia (which would fall on the 15th) had seriously alarmed the Genoese government and stoked fears of British naval attacks on the Ligurian shore. This left la Mina with no more than 11,000 men to face Schulenburg’s 13,000.
Schulenburg, although no sluggard like Lobkowitz, lacked Browne’s impetuous aggression. He was also mindful of his orders from Vienna, which placed more emphasis on defending Habsburg territories than seeking a decisive confrontation with the enemy. Thus, despite Browne and Aspremont urging him to quickly strike west and cut the Spanish line of retreat to Liguria, Schlenburg approached with deliberation and then broke north over the Po to shield Milan. A Spanish column had approached quite close to the city, led by the Infante
himself who intended to be crowned as “King of Lombardy” once there, but the presence of Schulenburg’s army quashed this ambition. Felipe retreated towards Pavia. La Mina now found this position untenable as it was at the tip of a vulnerable salient, and withdrew with Felipe towards Tortona.
Lautrec had found the capture of Bene to be impossible with a superior Piedmontese force in waiting, for the arrival of the Austrians in Lombardy had allowed Carlo Emanuele to bolster his army in Piedmont proper. With his supply lines, magazines, and even field hospitals coming under incessant raiding by irregulars and Carlo Emanuele’s refreshed army maneuvering for advantage, Lautrec too was forced to pull back. The Bourbon retreat was now general. Lautrec managed it rather well, retaining Ceva with the help of a Genoese garrison and using this strong point to shield his retreat over the Appenines; Carlo Emanuele lacked the time to take the fortress and settled into winter quarters at Fossano once the French were over the mountains. The Spanish were much less successful, finding themselves under close pressure from the Austrians and Sardinians. They were forced to vacate Tortona, and in the disastrous retreat that followed their army lost thousands of men to desertion and aggressive skirmishing by Austrian hussars, Croats, and Piedmontese militiamen. The tattered remnants of la Mina’s army stumbled over the Bochetta pass in November, while the Austrians returned to Pavia to winter in Lombardy.
Despite the fact that neither Lautrec nor la Mina had lost a single battle, by the coming of winter the invasion had come to almost complete ruin. The grand Gallispan force had marched into Piedmont with more than 30,000 men; by November, they could field scarcely half that, and all they had to show for such appalling losses was the County of Nice, the town of Oneglia, and the fortress of Ceva. Monterosi had been decisive, but not as decisive as the disunion between the Bourbon courts, and the failure of 1744 only stoked the acrimony between Paris and Madrid. In Genoa, there was disbelief and despair. Their government had been inveigled into the war with promises of protection and profit and the expectation that Bourbon arms would sweep the enemy before them with mere auxiliary support from the Republic. Now Genoa found itself with furious armies encamped upon its border who waited only for the coming of Spring to satiate their vengeance upon perfidious Liguria.[C]
 The Treaty of Aranjuez committed the Republic of Genoa to provide 10,000 men to the allied cause, but not all of these were to be employed offensively. The Republic’s expeditionary force which would fight alongside the Gallispan armies in Piedmont and Lombardy did not amount to more than 6,000 men.
 In Genoa’s defense, it was fighting with a brand new army. Less than a decade previously, the Genoese army had been an antiquated assembly of independent companies, capable of guarding fortresses but wholly unsuited for large operations. Only after the reforms of 1738 was there any such thing as a Genoese “battalion,” and even after this the Genoese government and its military apparatus was quite unsuited and unused to organizing and supplying a large field army.
[A] Yes, one of Gages’ generals was really an Irishman named Ronald McDonald.
[B] This battle could have happened IOTL. With the Spaniards at Monterosi and the Austrians at Ronciglione, just a few miles west of Civita Castellana, Browne and Aspremont noted the weak position of the Spanish camp and urged Lobkowitz to attack, using a night march to take the enemy by surprise. Lobkowitz declined; in his defense, most of his senior staff disagreed with Browne and Aspremont and voted to continue the retreat. Whether it would have worked will never be known, but Browne wasn’t just dreaming. He had done something similar at the Second Battle of Velletri, where he led a column of 6,000 men in a night march around Velletri and took the garrison completely by surprise. His men came within a hair’s breadth of capturing the King of Naples, who had to flee in his nightshirt. Browne only failed on that instance because his troops began looting (and drinking) too soon, and the majority of the Spanish-Neapolitan army was posted outside
the city and soon came to drive Browne back out; nevertheless, he managed to take 2,100 prisoners. ITTL, Browne executes a similar night march leading to a dawn assault, but without urban terrain (and lootable houses) to slow him down, and without a large Spanish reserve army to chase him out again. Austrian plundering still happens, and ruins their chance of truly destroying the Spanish army, but it’s still an impressive victory.
[C] Well, there you have it. I feel this is a fairly plausible result for a campaign which, despite initial promise, had several very serious flaws from the outset. While a “Ligurian strategy” proved successful in 1745 IOTL, it was then attempted with far more men (as the death of the Bavarian Emperor in early 1745 meant that the Franco-Austrian part of the war was over and France was no longer fielding an army in Germany). Franco-Spanish quarrelling ended up ruining that venture too, as just as ITTL the Spanish raced off to Milan while the French were still vainly trying to take Ceva (and IOTL they took all the Genoese siege artillery with them!). Here, with far fewer troops, a much-delayed start caused by Genoa's temporizing, and just a spot of bad luck at Monterosi as a result of Lobkowitz’s illness, the result is Bourbon collapse. The war is far from over and one must never underestimate the power of Early Modern France, but this round goes - barely - to the Worms Allies.