This is a little-known battle fought during the Risorgimento, involving Garibaldi's forces, which had invaded the Papal territory, facing off against the Papal army and a French expeditionary force (Napoleon's empress was very keen on defending the Papacy against the Republican threat). Ultimately, Rome was not to fall until 1870. The battle is perfect for tabletop representation, involving as it does a reasonable number of units, and contrasting the better-equipped and motivated Franco-Papal forces with the more numerous Garabaldini.
Led by Garibaldi - recently escaped from Caprerra - the Republicans approached to within 3 miles of Rome, after capturing the town of Monte Rotondo. They delayed their attack, however, waiting for insurgents within Rome to start an uprising, which, in the event, proved abortive. When the French arrived at Civita Vecchia the Garibaldini pulled back to wait for other divisions of their army to arrive. They hoped that the Papalini and French might be drawn into conflict with the Italian army, which had crossed the frontier into the Papal territory (with the stated intent of arresting Garabaldi!), but this did not occur. Instead, the Papal and French forces marched out to fight, meeting the Garibaldini ten miles from Monte Rotondo, at the village of Mentana.
The terrain is described as being fairly rough, as is typical in that part of Italy. The village of Mentana is walled, and is built around a medieval castle that sits atop a very steep promontory dotted with brush. All approaches to the village from the south should reflect the difficulty of this terrain.
The Franco-Papal forces marched in column up the Via Nomentana from Rome, arriving at Mentana in the early afternoon. A few miles from the village, three companies of the Papal zouaves were sent deep around the Garibaldini's right flank, to march up the valley of the Tiber and come upon the road between Mentana and Monte Rotondo. The main column was led by the Papal contingent, with the dragoons rode in the vanguard. The French followed a mile behind.
The first column went directly into action, driving in the Garibaldian forward positions in the woods and around the Santucci vineyard. Here, three battalions of the Garibaldini were deployed on both sides of the road, in the woods, on the heights of Monte Guarneri, and in protected positions within the Santucci compound. The attack carried on to the Conventino. By two o'clock in the afternoon the enemy had been driven from these positions, and the Papal artillery established on Monte Guarneri.
The main body of the Garibaldini (Frigyesi, Valanzia, Cantoni, and Elia) were deployed in and around the walled village and castle on the hilltop, in fortified positions. Their artillery was deployed behind the town on the heights of Monte San Lorenzo. They managed to stop the advance of the Papal forces as they approached up the steep slopes to the village (a series of assaults and counter-assaults from both sides lasted until nightfall). With the Papal column halted, the Garibaldini launched an enveloping counter-attack on both flanks.
The French came up and were deployed, stopping the Garibaldini counter-attacks. Subsequently, the Papal zouaves' flank march arrived to cut the road to Monte Rotondo. Garibaldi fled to Monte Rotondo with his staff before his retreat was cut off, but left his army to continue the fight.
At the same time, the French fought their way around the Garibaldian left flank. The position in the village essentially collapsed, with some of the Garibaldini troops fleeing to Monte Rotondo, and others retreating into the castle. The Franco-Papal forces slept on their arms that night in the village, taking the surrender of the Garibaldini remaining in the castle the following day.
Garibaldi tried many times to "liberate" Rome - he was involved in the 1849 seige, and was stopped from marching on Rome in August of 1862 at Aspromonte, by the Piedmontese/Sardinians. This represented his third attempt, in which he was again opposed by the Italian government. The Garibaldini involved in this action represented only one of three columns invading the Papal States, but the battle at Mentana proved decisive - the other columns faded back across the frontiers. Garibaldi himself fled, accompanied by 5,000 of the men from the column engaged at Mentana.
Orders of Battle
Commander: General Kanzler
First Column(approx 3000 men)
Commander: General de Courten
2 battalions Papal Zouaves (1500)
Battalion, Carabineri Esteri (520)
Battalion, Legion d'Antibes (540)
Squadron, Papal Dragoons (106)
Company Engineers (80)
Battery of Artillery (6 guns, presumably rifled muzzle-loaders equivalent to French 4#)
Second Column (approx 2100 men)
Commander: General de Polhes
Battalion, 2nd Chaseurs a Pied [French] (400)
Battalion, 1st Line Infantry [French] (400)
Battalion, 29th Line Infantry [French] (400)
2 battalions, 59th Line Infantry [French] (800)
Troop, Chassuers a Cheval [French] (50)
Troop, Papal Dragoons (50)
Half Battery of Artillery [French] (3 or 4 guns, presumably French 4# rifled muzzle-loaders)
Notes: All strengths are approximate. The French units were reported as being understrength, reflected in the numbers here. These would be veteran troops, armed with the Chassepot. The Papal troops were made up of many Dutch, Belgian, French and other Catholic volunteers, many of them veterans also, but these units are armed with percussion rifles. The Papal Zouaves were highly motivated, and could be considered an elite formation. Note that Papal uniforms were generally modelled after those of the French, with the Papal Zouaves dressed in grey - including the kepi - but with red trim. (The Carabinieri Esteri, or Swiss Carabiniers, were dressed and equipped as for the earlier conflicts of 1860: a uniform similar to that of French chasseurs a pied - dark blue coatee and kepi trimmed yellow, with light-blue trousers - and armed with a rifled carbine. I suspect the Legion d'Antibes was probably uniformed like French line, being composed of French soldiers. The dragoons had a combed "Italian" helmet, and wore a green coatee with red distinctions.)
Commander: Giuseppi Garibaldi
I have not found much exact information on the Garibaldini at Menatana. There were six brigades, commanded by Salomone, Lieutenant-Colonel Frigyesi (4 battalions), Major Valanzia (3 battalions), Major Cantoni (3 battalions), Paggi, and Colonel Elia (3 battalions). Each was made up of three or four battalions, with known brigade strengths as noted. Additionally, there was a squadron of mounted Guides, probably around 100 strong, commanded by Ricciotti Garibaldi. There was a single battery of four guns, probably 2 rifled field guns similar to the French 4# and 2 smooth-bore 6#. Judging from ammunition supplied to the Garibaldini, at least two-thirds of the force was equipped with percussion rifles, the balance with percussion muskets. These troops would be half veterans of earlier Garabaldian campaigns, or volunteers from the Italian army, who would generally be solid soldiers. The other half was reportedly made up of less competent volunteers, lured by the prospect of loot or the popularity of the cause. The total strength is most often given as 10,000 men.
Notes: Some sources list the Garabaldini strength as low as 4,000. If we assume approximately 20 battalions of Garibaldini, this would put them at only 200 men apiece. Given the popularity of Garibaldi's cause in Italy in this time, and the flood of volunteers he received, I think it very likely that the Garibaldini battalions were stronger than this, although historically they were often weaker than those of the Italian army of the time. (If we take the army that fought at the Volturno as a guide, battalions generally numbered about 350 men.) Some reports say that the Garibaldini suffered from poor morale, due to the arrival of the French and the retreat back to Monte Rotondo. Consequent desertion may account for low estimates of their strength. The force was supposedly 10,000 strong, less casualties suffered earlier in the campaign and desertion, but it was also reinforced to some extent, giving a probable strength of 400-500 per battalion (if the 10,000 figure can be believed).
The uniforms of the Garibaldini were very similar to those of the combatants in the American Civil War, making conversions easy: red kepi (with light blue band) and red blouse or short jacket, with grey or light blue trousers, and white leggings. A brimmed hat is sometimes seen in place of the kepi. Equipment was generally light - sometimes just a cartridge box and haversack, sometimes with slung blanket roll. Contemporary accounts describe many of the Garibaldini as going to war in civilian dress. (For those who don't wish to do conversions, 25mm figures for all of the combatants are available through Mirliton, in Italy, including a mounted Garabaldi figure. Shipping outside Europe can get expensive, but there is now a US distributor as well.)
The above account and order of battle comes partly from notes made some years ago, and the material from which they were drawn was subsequently destroyed in a spring flood. In more recent searching, I discovered the following excerpt. It must be understood that du Picq was a strong proponent of aimed fire-at-will. There are several interesting points in the passage below, but among them would seem to be evidence that the French force numbered 2,500 men, which might be accounted for by the inclusion of a third battalion of the 59th Infantry. It is interesting to note that he was not using the chassepot, but instead the older percussion rifle.
November 3, at two in the morning, we took up arms to go to Monte-Rotondo. We did not yet know that we would meet the Garibaldians at Mentana.
The Papal army had about three thousand men, we about two thousand five hundred. At one o'clock the Papal forces met their enemies. The Zouaves attacked vigorously, but the first engagements were without great losses on either side. There is nothing particular in this first episode. The usual thing happened, a force advances and is not halted by the fire of its adversary who ends by showing his heels. The papal Zouaves are marked by no ordinary spirit. In comparing them with the soldiers of the Antibes legion, one is forced to the conclusion that the man who fights for an idea fights better than one who fights for money. At each advance of the papal forces, we advanced also. We were not greatly concerned about the fight, we hardly thought that we would have to participate, not dreaming that we could be held by the volunteers. However, that did not happen.
It was about three o'clock. At that time three companies of the battalion were employed in protecting the artillery--three or four pieces placed about the battle-field. The head of the French column was then formed by the last three companies of the battalion, one of the 1st Line Regiment; the other regiments were immediately behind. Colonel Fremont of the 1st Line Regiment, after having studied the battle-field, took two chasseur companies, followed by a battalion of his regiment and bore to the right to turn the village.
Meanwhile the 1st Line Regiment moved further to the right in the direction of Monte-Rotondo, against which at two different times it opened a fire at will which seemed a veritable hurricane. Due to the distance or to the terrain the material result of the fire seemed to be negligible. The moral result must have been considerable, it precipitated a flood of fugitives on the road from Mentana to Monte-Rotondo, dominated by our sharpshooters, who opened on the fugitives a fire more deadly than that of the chassepots. We stayed in the same position until night, when we retired to a position near Mentana, where we bivouacked.
My company was one of the two chasseur companies which attacked on the right with the 1st Line Regiment. My company had ninety-eight rifles (we had not yet received the chassepots). It forced the volunteers from solidly held positions where they left a gun and a considerable number of rifles. In addition, it put nearly seventy men out of action, judging by those who remained on the field. It had one man slightly wounded, a belt and a carbine broken by bullets.
There remained with the general, after our movement to the right, three companies of chasseurs, a battalion of the 29th, and three of the 59th. I do not include many elements of the Papal army which had not been engaged. Some of my comrades told me of having been engaged with a chasseur company of the 59th in a sunken road, whose sides had not been occupied; the general was with this column. Having arrived close to the village, some shots either from the houses or from enemy sharpshooters, who might easily have gotten on the undefended flanks, provoked a terrible fusillade in the column. In spite of the orders and efforts of the officers, everybody fired, at the risk of killing each other, and this probably happened. It was only when some men, led by officers, were able to climb the sides of the road that this firing ceased. I do not think that this was a well understood use of new arms.
The fusillade of the 1st Line Regiment against Monte-Rotondo was not very effective, I believe negligible. I do not refer to the moral result, which was great.
The Garibaldians were numerous about Monte-Rotondo. But the terrain like all that around Italian villages was covered with trees, hedges, etc. Under these conditions, I believe that the fire of sharpshooters would have been more effective than volleys, where the men estimate distances badly and do not aim.