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The Battle of Mentana, November 3, 1867

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.

Account of the Battle

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

Afterword: Excerpt from the Letters of Colonel Ardant du Picq, August 23, 1868

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.

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