Capture of La Spezia


October 20, 2021

The capture of La Spezia was a military episode linked to the sixth coalition's campaign in Italy, which took place between 25 and 26 March 1814 between the French garrison of eastern Liguria and a British expeditionary force. It ended with the victory of the coalition, which dealt a severe blow to the Napoleonic forces in Liguria and laid the foundations for the siege of Genoa.

Strategic context

At the beginning of 1814, in the height of the Italian campaign, the viceroy Eugene of Beauharnais had news that an Anglo-Sicilian expeditionary force under the command of Lieutenant General William Bentinck was being set up in Sicily (British base since 1806) to occupy Livorno and Genoa. He therefore ordered General Maurizio Ignazio Fresia to reach the Ligurian capital, to replace the sick General Louis Antoine Choin de Montgay at the head of the 28th Division. approximately soldiers, moreover distributed among La Spezia, Bardi, Gavi, Borgo Val di Taro, Pontremoli, Genoa, Savona and in coastal strongholds; he immediately sent a request for reinforcements, which were however denied him. Caught off guard, he arranged a series of hasty reinforcement works on the fortifications and detached Brigadier General Jean Victor Rouyer to defend the line of the Magra river and also cover Pontremoli with a section drawn from the Levante reserve.

Course of the battle

The coalition prepares the landing

General Rouyer knew the territory well since in August 1799 he had garrisoned and recaptured the Cisa pass, thus protecting the retreat of the Neapolitan division of Francesco Macdonald of the French army. The coalition prepared the landing in March, while the tactical framework became critical for the French, as acknowledged by Brigadier General Baron Jean-François Porson in a letter, dated Genoa March 13, to General Martin Vignolle, Chief of Staff of the Army of Italy: Porson continued: Porson again in Vignolle: Porson's letter highlighted an important question: imprisoned in the Lazzaretto del Varignano there were more than 600 convicts sent to build the fortifications wanted by Napoleon. The question was what to do with them. The general suggested: Porson therefore proposed to house the convicts on some old vessel that was in the gulf and to take them to the high seas. Meanwhile, on March 17, the troops of the Coalition resumed the strategic junction of Pontremoli, forcing the sub-prefect Giorgio Gallesio to quickly abandon the city to take refuge in his Finalborgo, in western Liguria. On March 19 Porson sent another dispatch to Vignolle enclosing a letter, to be submitted urgently to the attention of Camillo II Borghese, VI Prince of Sulmona, with which General Fresia emphasized the opportunity to abandon the Gulf of La Spezia to prevent a landing of the British and their allies on the coast of Rapallo could cut the way of retreat to the units deployed on the Magra and in the gulf. Porson was unaware, however, that two days earlier Pontremoli had been reconquered by the Coalition and therefore the retreat of Fresia up the Cisa would no longer be possible. General Frédéric François Guillaume de Vaudoncourt, born in Vienna but very loyal to Napoleon, added: De Vaudoncourt continued: The British were preparing the invasion of Liguria with the armies encamped around Pisa and Lucca, but were waiting for the arrival of a new convoy from Spain carrying five battalions of landing troops.

The attack and capture of the city

While from the Magra the coalition was preparing to attack the city, on March 24 the French, to protect the retreat, had tried to strengthen their defensive lines by placing some canno

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