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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

Dislodged their foes from the village of Fombio


Time

was thus gained for a considerable number of French to cross the river in boats or by the ferry. Working under the eye of their leader, the French conquered all obstacles: a bridge of boats soon spanned the stream, and was defended by a _tete de pont_; and with forces about equal in number to Liptay's Austrians, the republicans advanced northwards, and, after a tough struggle, dislodged their foes from the village of Fombio. This success drove a solid wedge between Liptay and his commander-in-chief, who afterwards bitterly blamed him, first for retreating, and secondly for not reporting his retreat to headquarters.

It would appear, however, that Liptay had only 5,000 men (not the 8,000 which Napoleon and French historians have credited to him), that he was sent by Beaulieu to Piacenza too late to prevent the crossing by the French, and that at the close of the fight on the following day he was completely cut off from communicating with his superior. Beaulieu, with his main force, advanced on Fombio, stumbled on the French, where he looked to find Liptay, and after a confused fight succeeded in disengaging himself and withdrawing towards Lodi, where the high-road leading to Mantua crossed the River Adda. To that stream he directed his remaining forces to retire. He thereby left Milan uncovered (except for the garrison which held the citadel), and abandoned more than the half of Lombardy; but, from the military point of view, his retreat to the

Adda was thoroughly sound. Yet here again a movement strategically correct was marred by tactical blunders. Had he concentrated all his forces at the nearest point of the Adda which the French could cross, namely Pizzighetone, he would have rendered any flank march of theirs to the northward extremely hazardous; but he had not yet sufficiently learned from his terrible teacher the need of concentration; and, having at least three passages to guard, he kept his forces too spread out to oppose a vigorous move against any one of them. Indeed, he despaired of holding the line of the Adda, and retired eastwards with a great part of his army.

Consequently, when Bonaparte, only three days after the seizure of Piacenza, threw his almost undivided force against the town of Lodi, his passage was disputed only by the rearguard, whose anxiety to cover the retreat of a belated detachment far exceeded their determination to defend the bridge over the Adda. This was a narrow structure, some eighty fathoms long, standing high above the swift but shallow river. Resolutely held by well-massed troops and cannon, it might have cost the French a severe struggle: but the Imperialists were badly handled: some were posted in and around the town which was between the river and the advancing French; and the weak walls of Lodi were soon escaladed by the impetuous republicans. The Austrian commander, Sebottendorf, now hastily ranged his men along the eastern bank of the river, so as to defend the bridge and prevent any passage of the river by boats or by a ford above the town. The Imperialists numbered only


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