seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Castiglione

arthur-dillonArthur Dillon‘s regiment of the Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Castiglione on September 8, 1706. The battle takes place near Castiglione delle Stiviere in Lombardy, Italy during the War of the Spanish Succession. The French army of 12,000 attacks a Hessian corps of 10,000 that is besieging the town, forcing them to retreat with heavy losses.

By the end of 1705, France and its allies control most of Northern Italy, as well as the Savoyard territories of Villefranche and the County of Savoy, now in modern-day France. The main French objective for 1706 is to capture the Savoyard capital of Turin. To prevent Imperial forces in Lombardy intervening, Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme, attacks at Calcinato on April 19 and drives them into the Trentino valley. On May 12, Marshall La Feuillade and an army of 48,000 men reach Turin, completing their blockade of the city on 19 June 19. The Imperial commander Prince Eugene of Savoy returns from Vienna and takes the remaining troops into the Province of Verona to await the German contingents. By early July, there are 30,000 Imperial soldiers around Verona facing 40,000 French spread between the Mincio and Adige rivers.

The French position looks very strong but defeat at Ramillies in May means Vendôme and any available troops are sent to Northern France. The siege of Turin continues and although the Hessians have not yet arrived, by mid-July Prince Eugene can no longer delay marching to its relief. Count of Médavy and 23,000 men are left to guard the Alpine passes.

The Hessians finally cross the Alps in July, under the command of Frederick of Hesse-Kassel. As they arrive too late to join Prince Eugene’s march to Turin, the Hessians are tasked with preventing Médavy disrupting his supply routes. On August 19, Frederick sends 2,000 men under Major-General Wetzel to Goito, a small town with a bridge across the Mincio and the French garrison evacuates the town. Castiglione is strongly defended and they have to wait for the heavy artillery to arrive from Arco. Frederick leaves 1,500 men outside the town with the rest positioned near Medole, allowing him to monitor Médavy’s main force at Cremona and the crossing at Goito.

The withdrawal from Goito is part of a plan by Médavy to assemble a field army without alerting Frederick by removing garrisons from key strongpoints like Cremona. He puts together a force of 8,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, crosses the Oglio river at Marcaria and attacks on September 8. Dividing his corps leaves Frederick outnumbered. The first assaults are repulsed but a cavalry charge led by the Irish exile Arthur Dillon catches the Hessian left wing as they are changing position and the line collapses. Médavy then turns his attention to those outside Castiglione, many of whom surrender. French casualties are estimated as 1,000 killed or wounded, the Hessians losing around 1,500 killed or wounded plus 2,500 captured.

The remainder fall back on Valeggio sul Mincio. In a letter of September 11 to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Frederick claims his forces were reduced by sickness but although they initially drove the French back, lack of artillery forced him to retreat.

Médavy’s victory leaves the strategic position unaltered. The Battle of Turin on September 7 had broken the siege and after Ramillies France can no longer spare the resources to continue fighting in Italy. Castiglione slightly improves their bargaining position but French garrisons in Lombardy are isolated and cannot be reinforced, their surrender being only a matter of time.

To the fury of the English and Dutch, in March 1707 Emperor Joseph signs the Convention of Milan withdrawing all French troops from Northern Italy in return for free passage back to France.

(Pictured: Arthur Dillon, Colonel of Dillon’s Regiment in the Irish Brigade of France)


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The Battle of Cassano

battle-of-cassanoUnits of the Irish Brigade of France fight at the Battle of Cassano on August 16, 1705, during the War of the Spanish Succession. The battle is fought at the town of Cassano d’Adda, in Lombardy, Italy, between a French army commanded by Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme and an Imperial army under Prince Eugene of Savoy.

By August 1705, the French occupy most of Savoy, with the exception of Turin. In order to relieve the pressure, Prince Eugene tries to cross the river Adda at Cassano, and threaten Milan. Although the French are taken by surprise, they manage to hold the bridge after six hours of intense conflict, both sides suffering heavy casualties.

The deep and fast-flowing river Adda has limited crossing points, especially for large bodies of men. The town of Cassano is on the right bank, with a stone bridge protected by a small fortification or redoubt. The area is also divided by numerous small streams and irrigation channels, the most significant being the Retorto, an irrigation canal running parallel to the Adda. This is connected to the left bank by another bridge, protected by another strongpoint.

Assuming Prince Eugene is still heading for Mantua, Vendôme orders his brother Philippe to leave his positions around Cassano and intercept him. In fact, the Imperial troops had marched overnight from Romanengo and are approaching the town when spotted by one of Vendôme’s cavalry patrols early the next morning. Realising their intentions, Vendôme heads to Cassano, along with approximately 2,000 reinforcements.

On arrival, he finds Philippe’s troops unprepared and in an extremely dangerous position, the bulk of their force caught between the Retorto canal and the Adda, and the main bridge blocked by their transport. Vendôme orders the baggage thrown into the river and forms a line running from the Retorto on the left, his centre around the main bridge, and his extreme right resting on the road leading to the nearby village of Rivolta d’Adda. Armand St. Hilaire, the French artillery commander, positions his guns inside the town, allowing him to fire directly on the bridge.

Around 2:00 in the afternoon, Austrian grenadiers attack the French positions around the Retorto. They initially succeed in capturing the bridge before being repulsed by St. Hilaire’s guns and a counter-attack. Vendôme sends four regiments of the French Irish Brigade to reinforce his left, but after a fierce struggle, the Imperialists capture the canal’s sluice gates. After these are closed, the water level in the canal is lowered enough for men to wade across it.

Prince Eugene orders Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, and his Prussians into the canal to assault the French left. They manage to seize the further bank but suffer heavily in doing so. The battle surges back and forth across the river for several hours, in the course of which Vendôme has his horse killed under him, while Prince Eugene is wounded twice and has to leave the field. The fighting lasts another four to five hours, until ended by sheer exhaustion, with the opposing forces back at their starting positions.

The battle is inconclusive. While the French prevent the Imperialists crossing the Adda, Prince Eugene succeeds in delaying an assault on Turin until June 1706. Combined with having to transfer forces to Northern France following their defeat at Ramillies in May 1706, the French siege is broken in September, and fighting in Northern Italy ends in March 1707.

(Pictured: The battle of Cassano 1705 (War of the Spanish Succession), painted by Jean Baptiste Martin (1659-1735). Oil on canvas, Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna, Austria)