Battle of Velletri, 19 May 1849

The battle of Velletri (19 May 1849) was the second of two victories won by the defenders of Rome over a Neapolitan force that was taking part in the siege of the Rome of April-July 1849).

At first Pope Pius IX had supported the Italian revolutions of 1848 and the efforts to expel the Austrians from northern Italy, but the army he sent to support Piedmont-Sardinia was ineffective, and he began to lose support in Rome. A revolt broke out in November. The papal minister was murdered on the steps of the Vatican, and the Pope fled into exile at Gaeta, a Neapolitan fortress city. Rome was declared a republic on 9 February 1849, with power shared between a triumvirate that included the republican leader Giuseppe Mazzini.

The new republic quickly gained powerful enemies. The French sent an army under Charles Oudinot (the son of Napoleon's Marshal Nicholas Oudinot), while Ferdinand II of Naples, the Austrians and the Spanish also sent troops.

The first French attack was repulsed on 30 April. After a debate within the Roman leadership it was decided to turn on the Neapolitans next. Garibaldi was sent out with 2,300 men to harass them, taking up a position at Palestrina. On 9 May the Neapolitans attacked Garibaldi's position, but were repulsed (Battle of Palestrina, 9 May 1849). On the following day Garibaldi was recalled to Rome, where a fresh French attack was feared, but on 15 May an envoy arrived from France to open temporary armistice negotiations. The French aim was to win enough time to allow reinforcements to reach Italy, but their move did give the defenders of Rome the chance to inflict another defeat on the Neapolitans.

This time the Republicans felt able to send out a much larger force, 10,000 men under General P. Roselli, their commander-in-chief and a respectable regular soldier. Garibaldi was given command of a division, and tended to act as the advance guard of the army (although he was officially in command of the central division).

Roselli adopted a similar overall plan to that of Garibaldi's earlier expedition. The Roman army moved east towards the town of Valmontone, to the north-east of the Neapolitan positions (on their rear-right).

Faced with such a large force the Neapolitans abandoned their positions in the Alban Hills and began to retreat south-east through Velletri. Garibaldi, acting as the advance guard, found the retreating Neapolitans, and realised that if he didn’t act quickly they would escape. He ordered the advance guard to attack the Neapolitans and try and delay them until the central division could reach the scene.

The Roman advance guard was 2,000 strong and included many of Garibaldi's own men. The Neapolitans were forced to turn left and attempt to drive off the Roman forces in an attempt to shield their retreat. The Roman advance guard held their own for several hours and even managed to push the Neapolitans back towards Velletri. The Neapolitans were unable to make their escape, and when the first part of the main Roman army began to arrive during the afternoon their fate looked to be sealed. Luckily for Ferdinand II Garibaldi wasn't in command of the entire Roman army. When Roselli arrived on the scene he refused to authorise an attack on the town, and that night the Neapolitans were able to escape away to the south. Early the next morning the Romans discovered that the town was empty.

In the aftermath of this minor success Garibaldi managed to convince the Roman leadership to let him lead half of the army south towards Naples, in the belief that Ferdinand could easily be toppled. Garibaldi's men were met with uncertainty when they crossed the Neapolitan border, but before his theory could be tested Garibaldi was recalled to Rome to deal with the Austrians, who were threatening the city. 

The Pope’s Army – The Papacy in Diplomacy and War, John Carr. A military and political history of the Papacy, from the earliest years under Roman rule, through the long period where the Pope was also the temporal ruler of the Papal States, through the unification of Italy and on to the present day. An entertaining dash through the almost two thousand long life of one of the oldest institutions in the world (Read Full Review)
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 January 2013), Battle of Velletri, 19 May 1849 ,

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