On 30th March 1815, after he had occupied Tuscany, Marche and Romagna, Joachim Murat, king of Naples, issued the Proclamation of Rimini, which can be considered as the first manifesto of Italian independence.
Yet, being outnumbered by Austrian troops, after a few victorious combats he was obliged to slowly withdraw towards the south. Murat’s choice of Tolentino as a battlefield was clearly intentional, as it was the best way to keep the two Austrian columns of marshal Bianchi (12,000 men) and of general Neipperg (11,000 men) separated by means of the Appenines. Murat’s army also had to contend with the problems of keeping themselves supplied with provisions and of recuperating from fatigue, as well as of scarcity of means, due to a long and extenuating campaign.
A troop of Hungarian cavalry (47 troopers), having come near Adriana tower-gate under gunfire from the Neapolitan Gendarmerie garrisoning Tolentino (about 40 soldiers), succeeded in taking the town; later in the evening it was reinforced by another one hundred and twenty Hungarian troopers.
The ranging of the troops
The Austrian vanguard (560 cavalry and 4,000 infantrymen) entered Tolentino and prepared for the arrival of the main force. The Neapolitan army was established in Macerata, which Murat reached later in the evening and where he was received by cheers from the whole army.
Bianchi’s Austrian army, (12,000 footmen, 1,500 horses and 28 guns) was encamped around Tolentino and around its reservoir. Headquarters were established in the Tower of San Catervo, with flank guards established at Rancia castle (14 artillery pieces), at the church of Maestà (currently a cemetery) and at Saint Joseph (2,000 men and one battery of 6 guns), in order to protect the army from attacks from San Severino and from the Potenza. The Neapolitan army numbering some 15,000 infantrymen, 3,800 cavalry and 28 guns, was positioned around Macerata with outposts up to the Tavern of Sforzacosta and to Tribbio of Pollenza, whence the first artillery shots were fired.
The battle begins
At dawn, both sides began an artillery bombardment on the valley leading to Sforzacosta. In this initial stage Bianchi himself was captured by the Neapolitan troops but he was subsequently freed by a squadron of Hussars near Sforzacosta. The Neapolitan army was now concentrated around Monte Milone (currently Pollenza), after fierce struggles near Villa Lauri and near the village. The Neapolitan army then succeeded in occupying the ditch of Cantagallo but they were unable to occupy Rancia castle, even if they took it and lost it. The combats lasted until 1 a.m. and the Neapolitan troops had the upper hand. After the first day’s fights, Bianchi decided for a defence strategy, since he had excellent positions on the battlefield; nevertheless, he didn’t exclude the possibility of withdrawing to Serravalle, which was already prepared for that.
The second and last day of the battle
A thick layer of fog prevented operations from beginning as early as Murat wished, but by 7 a.m. his army was in movement and succeeded in capturing the hills of Cantagallo and in forcing the Austrians back into the Chienti valley. Rancia castle, which had been conquered by the Neapolitans, was both the site of a fierce struggle and the starting point of another attack that allowed Murat’s troops to occupy the Casone after hard combats and aim their cannons at Porta Marina
The Austrians were positioned in defence on the hills of Cantagallo and dominated the valley. The Neapolitans decided to form the squares, but this strategy proved unsuccessful to the rest of the battle. In fact the absence of the cavalry allowed the Austrians to win important combats and to hit the squares with their artillery fire. The Neapolitans were then forced to withdraw towards Monte Milone.
The outcome of the battle was still uncertain; on the battlefield the Neapolitans seemed to have the upper hand. 3rd May – The second day of the battle Two messages reached Murat, one being that general Carrascosa was now withdrawing towards the river Tronto, instead of fighting general Neipperg’s troops at Cesano. The other message falsely informed the king that the Austrian army was entering Abruzzi and approaching Campania. Murat decided to retreat his army in order to avoid being cut off from Naples and being caught between the two Austrian armies. That was how he lost a battle that could almost be considered as a victory; it was also the end of the first dream of Italian independence.
The losses were: 1,120 men on the Neapolitan side, 700 men on the Austrian side