In early January, 1805, near the Alpine town of Trient, a small skirmish was fought between the Empire of France and the Austrian Empire. The French army, lead by Jean-Andre Massena, consisted of an artillery battery, two regiments of foot, and a cavalry regiment. Massena was an incredible military general who had fought brilliantly in Napoleon’s Italian campaign. The Austrian army attacking him was composed of a larger infantry force, more cavalry regiments, and an artillery battery. It was led by Karl Von Osterreich, considered one of Napoleon’s most formidable opponents.
The two armies met at an opening near a small village. The Austrian infantry line marched towards the French, who had made their line near the village. Massena sent his cavalry to flank around and engage the Austrian battery. It was guarded by Hungarian Hussars enlisted into the Austrian army. They made up a formidable cavalry regiment.
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The French cavalry flanked around and charged the Austrian battery, which had not yet unlimbered. The Austrian cavalry rushed to the defense, charging the French. In the clash which ensued, the French overpowered and defeated the Austrians, and annihilated the artillery battery.
Meanwhile, the French had their own battery set up and engaging the Austrian force. It had deployed on a hill to the left of the French line, and had a good line of sight on the Austrians as they marched towards the French line. The bombardment of the Austrian troops was deadly, taking them down as they crossed the field. In response, they swung a regiment round to move against the battery.
The two forces met and clashed. The French line waited until the Austrians came into range and then opened up with full force. The Austrian lines responded in kind, and many troops fell on both sides. Massena sat saddled in his horse behind his line, shouting words of encouragement and passing orders to officers.
The Austrians, larger in size, decided to try to overwhelm the French and charged their lines. The melee was brutal, hand to hand combat with bayonets is a deadly and gory business. The French Fusiliers, through courage and valor, managed to overcome the assault and push back the Austrian assault. As the Austrians fled, they formed into defensive formations and prepared for further attack.
While the Austrian infantry was in melee battle, their cavalry charged the French lines, trying to weaken the defense and send into disarray. The charge was powerful, and the thrust broke one of the lines. The Hungarian Hussars were courageous in their assault, but the French, secure in the square, were still stronger and repulsed the attack.
The Austrian infantry reform against the French, and engage them with musket. The French force is strong, however, and manages to withstand the incoming fire. They return fire, and after some back and forth of volleys the Austrian force was again shattered. It fled from the battle.
The Austrian assault was repulsed. The Hussars attacking the French were retreating, and the Austrian foot infantry was as well. The French cavalry, which had down the fleeing battery troops, had now returned to catch the Austrians in flight. They rounded up surrendering prisoners, and cut down those who refused to put down arms. The battlefield was covered in the fallen.
Massena saw the Austrian rout and wanted to get in on the action. He ordered his bodyguard detachment forward from behind the lines and into the thick of battle. As he rushed in, he helped bring down the fleeing enemy. Not all the Austrians were caught in disarray, and one of them brought down Massena’s horse with a bayonet thrust as it passed. Massena, knocked senseless from the crash, was seized by some of the enemy and killed.
The bodyguard, having fought for and recovered Massena’s body, now fled the battle. The Austrians had more cavalry to bring up, and the French infantry, cocky from the recent victory, was charged by another Hungarian regiment. As the charging horses approached, the French let off volleys of fire that brought some of their enemy down.
This fresh regiment of cavalry put up a fight, and they brought down a number of Frenchmen with their swords. The infantry not engaged in melee took upon their musket to shoot down the horsemen, and the Hussars were soon depleted in numbers and disengaged from the battle. The French cavalry attacked the Austrian bodyguard, which had moved close to the fight.
The horsemen fought brutally with each other, slashing with sword and shooting with pistol, Karl von Osterreich was in the middle of it. A bullet from a French pistol caught the general in the shoulder, and he was knocked off his horse. A bodyguard of his nearby immediately rushed to the fallen general, hoisted him upon his horse, and rode off from the battle. The French tried to follow in pursuit, but could not disengage from battle.
The French infantry brought down any stragglers and fleeing troops which passed within range. The battlefield was a bloody scene. For the French, the day had been won. The fleeing Austrian troops were in full retreat, and their troops were dispersing across the Alpine countryside and into the forests.
The day was a victory for France. In a battle which placed 2500 Austrian troops against 2000 French, the French had killed or captured 1300 of their enemy while the Austrians only 400. The Austrian force was in flight, and would no longer pose a threat in the region. Its general, a man of quite some military renown and a considerable threat, was placed out of action for the considerable future. His injuries were of quite severe extent. However, the loss of Jean-Andre Massena was an enormous loss for the French, who lamented heavily over their slain hero. He was a man who would have contributed heavily to the future campaigns Napoleon intended, and his loss was a serious setback.