by Donald Dool
During the Napoleonic Wars the northern Italian city of Mantua was besieged twice. In 1797 the French laid siege and in 1799 they were the besieged.
The first siege began on June 4, 1796 as a move against Austria, who had joined the First Coalition against France. Austrian and Russian attempts to break the siege failed, but the French forces were spread so thin that the siege was abandoned on July 31. The French resumed the siege on Aug. 24 and in early February 1797, the city surrendered and the region came under French administration. Two years later the city was again under siege. This siege was a four-month effort by the Austrian army to regain a presence in northern Italy having been excluded from that region by the French through the successful French Siege of Mantua in 1797.
In April 1799, the Austrians placed a military blockade around Mantua as part of the War of the Second Coalition with the intent of withering the French by attrition. The fortress, which was in poor shape, was commanded by viscount lieutenant general François-Philippe de Foissac-Latour.
Foissac-Latour, an engineer, was convinced that the fortress would be indefensible in any serious siege. At first the Austrians simply blockaded the fortress. With artillery duels and occasional skirmishes the Austrians were winning the siege by attrition. While the diminishing food supplies and losses weakened the French army, the Austrians received reinforcements and attacked on July 4, 1799. By the end of the month, the French agreed to surrender.
Under the terms of surrender most of the French soldiers were to be released, the officers after three months and the troops had to pledge not to take up arms until they were exchanged for Austrian prisoners. The Polish Legion and Austrians who had fought with the French were treated differently. The Poles were either forced to enlist in the Austrian army or be deported to a partitioned Poland. The Austrians demanded full sovereignty over deserters from the Austrian army or former Austrian soldiers serving in the Cisalpine Republic Army. When the French and allied troops left the fortress they were split into French and non-French units, the Austrian soldiers observing the marching non-French garrison troops were given permission to physically assault those recognized as deserters and most of them were eventually arrested.
Since my last trip to South America was in 2015, my medal collections have been stagnant. There was a San Martin medal on eBay for three or four years listed by a dealer in Italy. It was way over priced and I repeatedly advised the dealer that there was only one collector of San Martin medals on eBay –me- and that he needed to lower the price. Finally it became almost reasonable, so I finally bought it. I might not have found this one on a South American trip as it commemorates the San Martin monument in Rome although I do have three Spanish medals, one French medal, one Canadian and one United States San Martin inaugural medal that I acquired in Argentina.
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