seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Battle of Cremona

The Irish Brigade of France adds to its growing reputation as elements of the Brigade fight at the Battle of Cremona on February 1, 1702 during the War of the Spanish Succession between a French force under François de Neufville, duc de Villeroy, and an Imperial/Austrian army led by Prince Eugene of Savoy.

The Duchies of Milan and Mantua are strategically important as the key to southern Austria. The French take possession of both in early 1701 but Emperor Leopold then sends Prince Eugene to recapture them. He is an extremely capable general who easily out manoeuvres his French counterparts, winning battles at Carpi and Chieri, after which his army takes up winter quarters in the pro-French Duchy of Mantua. Lack of funds and supplies from Vienna means Eugene has to improvise; since campaigning in the winter months is not usually done, he hopes to take the French by surprise.

Eugene has a contact inside Cremona, a priest named Cuzzoli. On the night of January 31, 1702, he admits a party of Imperial grenadiers by means of a hidden culvert and they seize control of the St. Margaret Gate. Once open, approximately 4,000 troops led by Prince Eugene in person take the French by surprise, many being killed as they emerge from their barracks, and François de Neufville captured in his quarters.

A second and larger force under Charles Thomas, Prince of Vaudémont intends to storm the Po gate and the Citadel but is late in arriving. This gives the garrison time to destroy a vital bridge and prepare, the assault being repulsed by two units of the Irish Brigade, the Régiment de Dillon and the Régiment de Bourke. The defenders now regroup and counter-attack. With daylight and a French relief force arriving, Prince Eugene orders his troops to withdraw, the Austrians having suffered an estimated 1,600 casualties, the French around 1,100.

The two Irish units lose an estimated 350 out of 600 men engaged. Their commander, Major Daniel O’Mahoney, is later presented to Louis XIV and knighted by the Stuart exile James III. He goes on to have a distinguished career, fighting in Spain and Sicily. He ends as a Lieutenant-General and dies in Ocaña, Spain in 1714.

François de Neufville is soon released but his capture is commemorated in verse; Par la faveur de Bellone, et par un bonheur sans égal, nous avons conservé Crémone et perdu notre général (By the favour of Bellone, and a happiness without equal, we saved Crémone and lost our general).

The battle is also commemorated as a march entitled ‘The Battle of Cremona’ later used in the Irish Brigade.


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The Battle of Castelfidardo

Elements of the St. Patrick’s Battalion of the Papal army fight in the Battle of Castelfidardo on September 18, 1860.

The battle takes place at Castelfidardo, a small town in the Marche region of Italy. It is fought between the Sardinian army, acting as the driving force in the war for Italian unification, against the Papal States.

On September 7, Camillo Benso, Prime Minister of Piedmont, sends an ultimatum to the Pope Pius IX demanding that he dismiss his foreign troops. When he fails to do this, 35,000 troops cross the border on September 11, with General Enrico Cialdini advancing along the Adriatic coast and General Enrico Morozzo Della Rocca leading another troop across Umbria. Papal troops are caught by surprise and thrown into confusion. Some of the Papal troops surrender the same day and some retreat to Ancona, which falls on September 29, 1860 after a short siege.

As a result of this battle, the Marches and Umbria enter in the Kingdom of Italy and the extent of the Papal States is reduced to the area of what is today known as Lazio.

The battle is remembered for being bloody and for the highly disparate numbers of troops — less than 10,000 papal soldiers to 39,000 Sardinians. The papal army is composed of volunteers from many European countries, amongst whom the French and Belgian nationals constitute a Franco-Belgian battalion. Among the French volunteers are a notable number of nobles from western France. After the battle, while consulting the list of dead and wounded members of the papal army, the Sardinian general Cialdini is reported to say in an example of rather black humor, “You would think this was a list of invites for a ball given by Louis XIV!”

The Franco-Belgian, Austrian and Irish battalions later join the Papal Zouaves corps, an infantry regiment of international composition that pledges to aid Pope Pius IX in the protection of the Papacy for the remainder of the Italian unificationist Risorgimento. The battle is commemorated by the Italian ironclad Castelfidardo, built in the 1860s and the 26th Bersaglieri Battalion “Castelfidardo.”