Friday, 6 April 2018

Executioner and butcher of Stans: Joseph Mainoni, native from Lugano

Joseph Antoine Marie Michel Mainoni was born in Lugano (for some sources the place of birth was rather Porlezza), in 1754, the Canton Ticino, in Switzerland, and died in Italy in 1807. He became a General in the Napoleon French army. Unfortunately, his name is synonymous of war crimes, committed in Nidwalden and Stans (Central Switzerland), against the civil population during the French occupation in 1799.

Mainoni came from a wealthy family from Lombardy. He was a son of Bernardo Giuseppe Mainoni (1727-1786) and Francesca Grossi. His wife, Francesca Clara Schweitzer (1755-1791), was the daughter of an Italian businessman and banker Franz Maria Schweitzer (1722-1812). According to Wikipedia the family Schweitzer was also close related to the lineage Brentano, which we discussed on the article about Konrad Adenauer.

Joseph Mainoni
Little is known about his childhood and school years in Lugano. But, in 1770, Joseph Antoine Mainoni began working in the family business, created by his grandfather Giuseppe Antonio Mainoni (1704-1776), in Strasbourg. Then, he moved to Frankfurt in order to run the new family shop in the city, while his father staying in Strasbourg to manage a second store. In Frankfurt, he married, in 1777, Francesca Clara Schweitzer with whom he had six children.

After the death of his father, in 1786, he took over the family business in Strasbourg, being forced to liquidate the Frankfurt store in 1788. He entered military service on October 18, 1790, as a soldier in the National Cavalry of Bas-Rhin, going successfully through the ranks, becoming rapidly a captain on August 6, 1792. 

In October, he was promoted to Commander of the 6th battalion of volunteers in Bas-Rhin. On April 11, 1793, while at the headquarters at Mainz, as brigade commander, he was wounded in the leg during a raid. From August to November 1793, Mainoni was appointed as a National Officer for the District of Strasbourg. 

Then, he became President of the Revolutionary Court of Strasbourg and held the position until January 1794. On July 30 of the same year, he took the lead of the 92nd demi-brigade. In July 1795, he was arrested and imprisoned in Strasbourg for having committed abuses as President of the Revolutionary Tribunal, but charges were dropped, and he was acquitted on September 12. He was appointed later as a Brigade Commander on February 17, 1796, in the 44th demi-brigade. He served with distinction diverse armies of the Vosges, the Center, and the Rhine.

Mainoni distinguished himself at the Battle of Biberach (Baden-Württemberg) on October 2, 1796, between 1796-97, he was active in the Rhine, and under command of Napoleon during the Italian campaign. In June 1798, Mainoni with his troops entered the city of Basel in Switzerland. The return to his motherland would become for him a real tour-de-force, after Basel, he moved his troops to Kloten, Olten, Solothurn and Langenthal. Halted briefly in Bern, he continued moving towards to Thun, Meiringen and the Brünig Pass. His troops amounted to approximately 8'000 soldiers. The main battle in Nidwalden was held in Kerns, between Sarnen and Alpnach, on September 9, 1798.

The battle lasted fours days, resulting in a complete defeat of the Swiss Nidwalden troops. Mainoni's horde retaliated heavily, killing and raping the local population. In the German language, there is an expression for these acts: Schreckenstage von Nidwalden which means literally "Horror days of Nidwalden". Mainoni's presence in Nidwalden lasted till the end of October 1798, with widespread negative consequences for the locals. According to Swiss sources, around 100 villages had been burned, many civilians tortured and raped: 435 deaths among which 118 women and 25 children.

French attack on Drachenried-Ennetmoos, Nidwalden @Wikipedia

Mainoni continued his tour-de-force to the South, meantime, being promoted to the rank of Brigadier General on November 19, 1798. Once passed the Gotthard Pass in Airolo, Mainoni arrived in Lugano, his native town, leaving behind him a trail of blood and war-crimes. Here again, his troops persisted in the war-crimes, committing violence and abuses everywhere in the Southern Ticino: Arbedo, Malvaglia, Lumino, Lugano, Mendrisio and Chiasso.

Mainoni was then asked to leave Ticino, heading for the Canton Grisons. He was captured, in March 1799, by the Austrians, but his captivity didn't last long. After four months of imprisonment in the Graz Fortress, he was exchanged in August 1799 for the Austrian General Franz Xaver von Auffenberg (1744-1815).

Second Battle of Zurich 1799
On August 16, 1799, he returned to France and was engaged within the Danube army on September 9. On September 25, he fought the passage of Linth, commanding the right wing of the Marshal General Jean-de-Dieu Soult (1769-1851) division, his action was decisive for the French victory at the Second Battle of Zurich. 

Then, he was transferred to the command of the 110th demi-brigade in Berne. In December, he moved to the command of the troops stationed in the Canton Valais, Switzerland, under the command of General Louis Antoine Choin de Montgay (1747 - 1814).

On March 18, 1800, he was assigned to the reserve army, and, on May 10, commanded the vanguard of the infantry division of General Jean Lannes (1769-1809) in Italy. Most likely Mainoni fought and played a role at Battle of Montebello. Montebello was a lead-up to the battle of Marengo. At Marengo he remained in the defence of the right bank of the River Po in Italy. Being a Commander of three battalions of the division of General Francois Watrin (1772-1802), he placed his troop along the river, leaning on the dikes and the marshes behind San Cipriano. He was then engaged in a long and vigorous resistance, which gave valuable time to General Jean Lannes. On June 14, 1800, at nightfall, Mainoni was seriously wounded in the chest by gun fire.

On July 1, 1801, he was redeployed to the Cisalpine Army and was appointed a Major General on August 27, 1803. He took command of the troops of Mantua Square on October 3. He was received to the Legion of Honor on December 1, 1803, and became the Commander of the order on 14 June, 1804. He died on December 12, 1807, in Mantua, as a result of his wounds, received in Marengo. He was buried in the chapel of Castello di San Giorgio in Mantua.

Mainoni belongs to five Swiss Generals whose names have been engraved on the Arc de Triomphe (column 26 for M.) in Paris. The other Generals by alphabetic order are: Girard dit Vieux (Geneva 1750 - Arras 1811), Gressot (Delémont 1770 - Saint-Germain-en-Laye 1848), Laharpe (Rolle 1754 - Codogno 1796), and Reynier (Lausanne 1771 - Paris 1814). 

  • Francesco Bertoliatti, Fu il luganese generale Mainoni veramente "il boia di Stans"?,Rivista militare della Svizzera italiana, 23 (1951), first and secondt part, p.62-67 (Link)
  • Arc de Triomphe Paris, Joseph Antoine Marie Michel Mainoni, Column 26
  • To be verified if Mainoni is still buried in the Chapel of Castello San Giorgi Mantua, Italy
  • Monumento Allweg in 6372 Ennetmoos
  • The "Museo della Battaglia di Marengo" is located in Via della Barbotta, in Spinetta Marengo, Alessandria. This is exactly the place where most of the fights between the French and Austrian armies took place.