The Battle of Mentana - 3rd November 1867


Soldiers of The Papal States attack the Garibaldini

The Battle of Mentana was one of the last battles of the Risorgimento (translates "to rise again"), or as they are often called, The Italian Wars of Unification. Since the fall of the Roman Empire the "boot of Italy" had been a host of various kingdoms and city states, quite often at war with each other and often manipulated by larger European states for their own gain. In 1848 a whole host of uprisings and revolutions across Europe began. Italy was no exception, and a unification movement started by politicians was joined with the start of military action by the famous revolutionary Guiseppe Garibaldi and his "1000 redshirts". During the next 18 years there were intermittent wars between the new Italian Republican movement and Italy's kingdoms and northern foreign occupiers, Austria.


By 1867 Italy was one unified nation with one exception - Rome. The traditional capital of the nation was still an independent state known as The Papal States, ruled by the Pope and supported heavily by France. Garibaldi decided to take matters into his own hands and with a force of volunteers marched towards Rome. It had been plotted that an uprising would occur inside the city to distract the Papal military as Garibaldi attacked the city itself. However, the uprising did not go to plan and Garibaldi pulled his forces back to the small town of Mentana about 20km from Rome, in hope that either more volunteers would swell his ranks or that the unified Italian state would send its army too. Neither materialized, and on the 3rd November a joint army of Papal and allied French soldiers approached the town.


As always, we don't suggest specific rules for this battle, but rather give you a description of forces that you can adapt to your own preferred set.

FRANCO-PAPAL ARMY

General Kanzler - C-in-C - veteran, strategist

PAPAL COLUMN

General de Courten - Sub Commander - veteran

2 Battalions Papal Zouaves (1500 men) - 2 units of 30 figures - elite, percussion rifles

1 Battalion Carabineri (500 men) - 20 figures - regulars, trained, percussion rifles

1 Battalion Papal Infantry (500 men) - 20 figures - regulars, trained, percussion rifles

Papal Dragoons (200 men) - 8 figures - heavy cavalry, elite, swords, carbines

1 Artillery Battery (6 pieces) - 3 models - 4lb rifled muzzle loading cannon- regulars, trained

FRENCH COLUMN

General de Polhes - Sub Commander - veteran

1 Battalion Chaseurs a Pied (400 men) - 16 figures, elite, breech loading rifles

4 Battalions Line Infantry (1600 men) - 4 units of 16 figures, veteran, breech loading rifles

Chassuers a Cheval (100 men) - 4 figures - light cavalry, veteran, swords, carbines

1 Artillery Battery (4 pieces) - 2 models - 4lb rifled muzzle loading cannon - regulars, trained


GARIBALDINI ARMY

Guiseppe Garibaldi - C-in-C - elite, inspirational

4 Battalions Garibaldini - (1600 men) - 4 units of 16 figures, veteran, percussion riles

3 Battalions Garibaldini - (1200 men) - 3 units of 16 figures, veteran, percussion rifles

3 Battalions Garibaldini - (1200 men) - 3 units of 16 figures, trained, percussion rifles

3 Battalions Garibaldini - (1200 men) - 3 units of 16 figures, trained, percussion muskets

3 Battalions Garibaldini - (1200 men) - 3 units of 16 figures, trained, percussion muskets

Guides - (200 men) - 8 figures - light cavalry, veteran, swords, carbines

1 Artillery Battery - (6 pieces) - 3 models - 4lb rifled muzzle loading cannon - veteran



The opening positions of the battle Red= Garibaldini, Yellow= Papal, Blue= French

The battlefield should have the town of Mentana on a hill with a road diagonally across the table and through the town. The road should be in a shallow valley running either side and away from of the town.


THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

Garibaldi, advised of the enemy's advance from the south east positioned the majority of his force in the town, with his artillery on high ground behind. One brigade (3 battalions) he sent forward on the high ground to guard the road.

General Kanzier, before in sight of the town, dispatched the 1500 Elite Zouaves in an extra wide flanking move (not shown on the map above), heading west with orders to then advance north to behind the town. His remaining forces approached the town along the main road. Papal forces leading and the French approximately 5km behind.



Stage 1 of the battle - The Papal forces advance

The Papal forces engaged the advance units of the Garibaldini along the roadside and after some intense fighting they cleared the hills and advanced on to the town itself. On the southern hill, Monte Guarneri, they established their own artillery to support their advance. However the Papal advance was halted at the foot of the slopes to the town by intense rifle and musket fire, accompanied by the Garibaldini artillery on Monte San Lorenzo. Several attempts to scale the steep slopes failed and the assault began to grind to a halt.

The French column arrives

The Garibaldini began to launch an enveloping counter-attack on the Papal forces who were now becoming increasingly outnumbered and outgunned. It was at this point the French column which had been about 5km behind the Papal column, appeared on the field. Veteran troops armed with the new Chassept breech loading rifle and with an exceptionally long effective range, they advanced en masse in column and into the fight.


The French assault the slopes as the Papal Zouaves arrive behind the town.

It was at this point, perfectly timed, that as the French assaulted the slopes, the 1500 Papal Zouaves appeared behind the town having completed their flank march. The rapid and disciplined firepower of the French, coupled with the unexpected attack in the rear by the Zouaves proved to much for Garibaldi. Seeing his escape options narrowing he decided to leave, pulling his staff officers out the town too, they left the remaining soldiers to their fate. The defence of Mentana soon collapsed, with many fleeing and others taking refuge in the castle at one end of the town. The following morning those hiding in the castle surrendered.


Rome would remain an independent state for another three years; in 1870 with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, all French soldiers were recalled to France to defend their country. Soldiers from the united Italy entered the city a couple of months later and Italy became the fully unified country that we know today.

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