Neapolitan War: Battle of Tolentino

Fighting at Tolentino
Battle of Tolentino. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Tolentino - Conflict:

The Battle of Tolentino was the key engagement of the 1815 Neapolitan War.

Battle of Tolentino - Date:

Murat fought the Austrians on May 2-3, 1815.

Armies & Commanders:

Naples

  • Joachim Murat, King of Naples
  • 25,588 men
  • 58 guns

Austria

  • General Frederick Bianchi
  • General Adam Albert von Neipperg
  • 11,938 men
  • 28 guns

Battle of Tolentino - Background:

In 1808, Marshal Joachim Murat was appointed to the throne of Naples by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Ruling from afar as he participated in Napoleon's campaigns, Murat deserted the emperor after the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813. Desperate to save his throne, Murat entered into negotiations with the Austrians and concluded a treaty with them in January 1814. Despite Napoleon's defeat and the treaty with the Austrians, Murat's position became increasingly precarious after the Congress of Vienna convened. This was largely due to increasing support to return the former King Ferdinand IV.

Battle of Tolentino - Backing Napoleon:

With this in mind, Murat elected to support Napoleon upon his return to France in early 1815. Moving quickly, he raised the Kingdom of Naples' army and declared war on Austria on March 15. Advancing north, he won a series of victories over the Austrians and laid siege to Ferrara. On April 8-9, Murat was beaten at Occhiobello and forced to fall back. Retreating, he ended the siege of Ferrara and reconcentrated his forces at Ancona.

Believing the situation to be in hand, the Austrian commander in Italy, Baron Frimont, sent two corps south to finish off Murat.

Battle of Tolentino - The Austrians Advance:

Led by Generals Frederick Bianchi and Adam Albert von Neipperg the Austrian corps marched towards Ancona, with the former moving through Foligno with the goal of getting in Murat's rear.

Sensing the danger, Murat sought to defeat Bianchi and Neipperg separately before they could unify their forces. Sending a blocking force under General Michele Carascosa to stall Neipperg, Murat took the main body of his army to engage Bianchi near Tolentino. His plan was thwarted on April 29 when a unit of Hungarian hussars captured the town. Recognizing what Murat was trying to accomplish, Bianchi began to delay the battle.

Battle of Tolentino - Murat Attacks:

Establishing a strong defensive line anchored on the Tower of San Catervo, Rancia Castle, the Church of Maestà, and Saint Joseph, Bianchi awaited Murat's attack. With time running out, Murat was forced to make to first move on May 2. Opening fire on Bianchi's position with artillery, Murat was achieved a minor element of surprise. Attacking near Sforzacosta, his men briefly captured Bianchi necessitating his rescue by Austrian hussars. Concentrating his army near Pollenza, Murat repeatedly attacked the Austrian positions near Rancia Castle.

Battle of Tolentino - Murat Retreats:

The fighting raged throughout the day and did not die out until after midnight. Though his men failed to take and hold the castle, Murat's troops had gotten the better of the day's fight.

As the sun rose on May 3, a heavy fog delayed action until around 7:00 AM. Pressing forward, the Neapolitans finally captured the castle and the Cantagallo hills, as well as forced the Austrians back into the Chienti Valley. Seeking to exploit this momentum, Murat pushed forward two divisions on his right flank. Anticipating a counterattack by the Austrian cavalry, these divisions advanced in square formations.

As they neared the enemy lines, no cavalry emerged and the Austrian infantry unleashed a devastating barrage of musket fire on the Neapolitans. Beaten, the two divisions began falling back. This setback was made worse by the failure of a supporting attack on the left. With the battle still undecided, Murat was informed that Carascosa had been defeated at Scapezzano and that Neipperg's corps was approaching.

This was compounded by rumors that a Sicilian army was landing in southern Italy. Assessing the situation, Murat began breaking off the action and withdrawing south towards Naples.

Battle of Tolentino - ​Aftermath:

In the fighting at Tolentino, Murat lost 1,120 killed, 600 wounded, and 2,400 captured. Worse, the battle effectively ended the Neapolitan army's existence as a cohesive fighting unit. Falling back in disarray, they were unable to stop of the Austrian advance through Italy. With the end in sight, Murat fled to Corsica. Austrian troops entered Naples on May 23 and Ferdinand was restored to the throne. Murat was later executed by the king after attempting an insurrection in Calabria with the goal of retaking the kingdom. The victory at Tolentino cost Bianchi around 700 killed and 100 wounded.