Battle of Palestrina, 9 May 1849

The battle of Palestrina (9 May 1849) was the first of two victories won by Garibaldi over a Neapolitan force that was taking part in the siege of Rome (30 April-2 July 1849).

Pius IX had supported the Italian revolutions of 1848 and even sent an army to northern Italy where it played a minor part in the unsuccessful campaign against the Austrians. The situation in Rome soon turned against him, and in November the city broke into revolution. His chief 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.

Several Catholic powered decided to restore the Pope. The French sent an army commanded by Charles Oudinot, the son of Napoleon's Marshal Nicholas Oudinot. Ferdinand II of Naples also sent an army, which arrived outside Rome at about the same time as the French. The Austrians and the Spanish also sent troops. On 30 April, with days of arriving, the French launched an attack on the city, but this attack was repulsed.

Having defeated the first French attack, the Republican leaders decided to turn on Ferdinand II of Naples, whose army was camped in the Alban Hills, south-east of Rome. Although the French had been repulsed, they were still dangerously close, and so Garibaldi could only be given 2,300 troops, some from his own Redshirt volunteers and some from other regiments of volunteers.

Ferdinand II had 10,000 men in the Alban Hills and although the Neapolitan army had a dreadful reputation Garibaldi realised that he couldn't risk a frontal assault on this force. Instead he decided to head for Palestrina, to the north-east of the Neapolitan army, from where he could threaten their right flank and divert their attention from Rome. In order to decide his opponents Garibaldi's men left Rome on 4-5 May and headed towards Tivoli, five miles further to the north. He then turned south and camped at Palestrina, from where his men probed south, brushing up against the Neapolitans.

Ferdinand decided to send around 7,000 of his men to dislodge Garibaldi from the walled town, under the command of General Lanza. Lanza decided to attack in two columns – one towards the Valmontone Gate at the south-east of the town and one towards the Roman Gate at the south-west.

The attack on the Valmontone Gate failed very quickly. Garibaldi's commander on his left, Manara, led a charge down the hill and the Neapolitans broke and fled. This meant that Garibaldi was able to use his reserves against the more dangerous attack on his right.

General Lanza made his main effort against the Roman Gate, which was defended by Garibaldi. On this wing the Neapolitans did rather better, capturing some houses just below the gate. Garibaldi's men launched a counterattack, and forced the Neapolitans out at bayonet point. After three hours of fighting the Neapolitans retreated. Lanza pulled back to Colonna on 9 May then to Frascati on 10 May.

Garibaldi and his men remained in Palestrina on the night after the battle and for most of the following day. They were then called back to Rome, where the French appeared to be on the verge of another attack. This was a false alarm, and on 15 May temporary armistice negotiations began. The French were only playing for time, but this did give the Romans time to make a second attack on the Neapolitans, winning a second battle at Velletri (19 May 1849).  

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 Palestrina, 9 May 1849 ,

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