Battle of Castel Bolognese (Faenza) Feb 1797

The Battle of Castel Bolognese, also called the Battle of Faenza in several accounts, was a rare engagement between the forces of the French Republic and the Papal States. Few players even think of the Papal States during the French Republican and later French Imperial war periods. They didn’t exactly have a winning war record or successfully resisted against the several French invasions, being allied with other italian states (Kingdom of Naples) or Austria at times. After being run over, looted, territory taken, the Papal States disappeared as a sovereign state from 1808 till 1815, becoming the French Tibre and Trasimene governmental departments.


Pope VI.

Pope VI.

Back in time to Year 1797. The siege of Mantua finally comes to an end on 2 February 1797, when Austrian Feldmarschall Dagobert Sigismund von Würmser capitulated to the army of General Napoleon Bonaparte. Only 16,000 members of the Austrian garrison were capable of marching out as prisoners of war after their long siege. Leaving General of Division Sérurier to handle the details of surrender, General Bonaparte rode south and invades the Emilia-Romagna of the Papal States, using the Franco-Italian troops under the command of General Victor-Perrin, residing in the nearby Italian city-state of Modena. Several of Bonaparte’s new rising star leaders, Generals Lannes and Junot, joined him at Modena.

Before the discussion on the brief battle of Castel Bolognese (or Faenza), background on the Papal and French armies involved is warranted. Lots can be read about the French Army of Italy under General Bonaparte but the Papal States is generally unknown.

Surrender of Mantua fortress 1797 by Lecomte.

Surrender of Mantua fortress 1797 by Lecomte.

The Papal army was led by Austrian Feldmarschall-Leutnant Michelangelo Alessandro Colli-Marchi, a veteran of the Seven Years’ War. Colli-Marchi had served in the army of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont from 1793 to 1796 and had faced Bonaparte in last year’s Montenotte Campaign before rejoining the Austrian army under FML Beaulieu. He was an intelligent and capable officer, diplomatic and cautious at times, but well suited for the mannerism of the ancient regime Papal States army.

Old print by G. Lazareus showing FML Colli taking command of Papal States army.

Old print (G. Lazareus) has FML Colli-Marchi taking command of Papal States army from Pope Pius VI.

Finding ready available information on the Papal States army, organization , and uniforms is a love of research. Digging into the WR library book shelves gives little in return. Two books from the library to highlight. The “Tavole dal Codice Cenni” has several 1790’s era plates on the Papal army alongside the plates covering the later reformed 1815 army. The “Napoleon Bonaparte 1st campagne d’Italie” book by J Tranie & J.C. Carmigniani has one uniform plate of Papal uniforms and pages 198 to 206 on the February 1797 campaign.

The actual order of battle for the Papal States army at Castel Bolognese is unknown to WR. The best WR can give for justifying his scenario roster is to outline his thoughts:

1. The Papal States army is basically several “permanent regiments” and organized town or region trained militia battalions or cavalry squadrons called out on need. Typical of many minor Italian state armies of this period including the Sardinian-Piedmontese army defeated by Bonaparte in 1796. The army included several identified fortress garrison battalions, tasked with defending the state fortresses dotting the seacoast, ports and major towns.

2. Doubtful that the fabled “Swiss Guard” or similar “personal household units” would travel away from Rome or the Vatican immediate area.

3. Removing the static fortress garrison battalions and the majority of town or regional militia battalion stationed in unaffected southern Papal States regions, you are left with only the standing permanent army regiments, i.e. battalions, the northern or Romagna regional fortress, town or provincial militia, the provincial cavalry, and limited artillery train to consider at Castel Bolognese.

4. Sources speak of 7,000 Papal troops at the Battle of Castel Bolognese. Assume 700 per unit, the math works out for ten units. Cavalry units would be smaller in size compared to the infantry therefore increases the unit count a bit.. Artillery crews for the 14 captured cannon would number no more than 200 men. Those cannon might be battalion attached cannon and not independent foot field batteries. If 2 cannon per battalion, the 14 cannon captured could translate to 7 battalions. Should note not all the fielded cannon may have been captured by the French.

5. WR’s proposed scenario Papal States roster and in scenario notes (.doc) link below. This roster has roughly half the infantry as field battalions, the other half somewhat trained provincial militia. The weak cavalry as small converged squadrons from major towns. Artillery as two weak positional field batteries and attached battalion cannon for the field battalions:

Field battalions: Bologna, Presidio di Ferrara, Forte di S. Leo, Forte di Sinigaglia, Forte di Ascoli; each with battalion cannon attached.

Btn. de Corsi for light troops.

Provincial militia from: Ferrara, Marca, Romagna, Umbria, Urbino.

Militia cavalry companies formed into weak squadrons: Ferrara, Marca, Romagnia, Urbino.

Two positional foot field batteries of six positional 8lb cannon.

Another Political satire on the Papal State army.

Another Political satire on the Papal State army.

Supportive information and units noted in the Ordinamento del 1796 (link below):

Truppe in Romagna e nelle Marche:

  • 1º Reggimento di Romagna su 2 battaglioni (Ancajani)
  • Squadrone cavalleria Reali in Romagna
  • Compagnia d’artiglieria Porti in Romagna
  • Battaglione della Marca (Biancoli) a Cesena
  • Battaglione Borosini in Romagna
  • Battaglione di Ancona (Gavardini)

Truppe a Roma e Civitavecchia:

  • Reggimento delle Guardie su 2 battaglioni
  • Battaglione di Castel Sant’Angelo
  • Battaglione dei Corsi (Grassi)
  • 1º e 2º Battaglione Granatieri(di formazione)
  • Reggimento del Contestabile Colonna su 2 battaglioni
  • Cavalleria (2 compagnie)
  • Artiglieria (2 compagnie)
  • Battaglione di Guarnigione

Some uniform information and units: Stati Preunitari nel 1700: Lo Stato Pontificio 

Basic organization information: Stati della Chiesa organization (Wikipedia)

Two more book uniform plates found in WR collection. From the book Napoleon 1st Campagne by J Traine showing Papal uniforms and a second book well known as Tavole dal Codice Cenni: Uniform Papal states Naples Venice 1790s, and Tavole dal Codice Cenni Papal.

pont006 pont009 pont010

Note: The Papal States were also known as the Papal State (although the plural is usually preferred, the singular is equally correct as the polity was more than a mere personal union). The territories were also referred to variously as the State(s) of the Church, the Pontifical States, the Ecclesiastical States, or the Roman States (Italian: Stato Pontificio, also Stato della Chiesa, Stati della Chiesa, Stati Pontifici, and Stato Ecclesiastico; Latin: Status Pontificius, also Dicio Pontificia). Enjoy your research….

Information on the French forces is little better in scope with detail on the French units campaigning in the region. The french text “Napoleon Bonaparte 1st campagne d’Italie” states 8,600 men present, with “4,000” Lombards (Lombardy legion) commanded by General Victor, squadron or two of hussars under General Junot and a force of “advance guard reserves” under command of General Lannes. The old “History of the Campaigns in 1796, 1797, 1798, and 1799 in Germany, Italy, Switzerland…,” has its relevant section in .doc format here; Detail on Battle of Castel Bolognese 1797, unknown combatant numbers but mentions the Lombard legion. Since the Lombard legion was under the administration of the recently created Cisalpine Republic, their strength was separately stated from the French Army of Italy muster rolls WR guesses.

Nafigzer OOB 797CAA  March 5, 1797 list has: “8th Division: Général de division Victor; Brigade Lanusse 5th Légère Demi-brigade, 18th Légère Demi-brigade, Brigade Rusca 57th Demi-brigade Brigade. Chambarlhiac Foot Cavalry, 7th Hussar Regiment, 18th Dragoon Regiment, artillery: gunners (189) (23 guns).” This covers the time period just after the campaign in the Papal States conclusion.

Nafigzer OOB 797CAB March 10, 1797 list has: States “Mobile Column & Reserve Corps: Général de division Victor (in Foligno, Perugia, Tolentiono, Bevaqua & Ancone are; Infantry (6,841), cavalry (324), artillery (189), cannon (23).”

Nafigzer’s OOB 797CAC March 11, 1797 has:  “In Route from Ancone: 8th Division under Général de Division Victor (5,700), 5th Légère Demi-brigade, 57th Line Demi-brigade, 7th Hussar Regiment, 8th Hussar Regiment.”

The Cisalpine Republic organized two legions in 1796. The Lombard legion and Napoleone in Italia sites give legion uniform details. The Legion had six cohorts (battalions), each of five centre companies and a grenadier company. Legion included one company of chasseurs a’ cheval, a detachment of sappers, and a small battery of four cannon. The other Cisalpine Republic legion was the Cispadane legion with six cohorts, a company of chasseurs a’ cheval, and the legion four cannon battery. Recruiting strength for both volunteer legions was projected 7,000 infantry and 300 cavalry. Organizational information found in Lombard legion OOB gives the legion strength on January 16, 1797 as: Four cohorts (1st – 349 men, 2nd – 302 men, 3rd – 286 men, 6th – 278 men), 60 artillerymen, and 24 chasseurs a’ cheval cavalrymen. Totals only 1299 men vs. the mentioned “4000” Lombard troops in the named source above.

italiano tricolor0034

Lombard legion from blog linked above in text. Artwork by Valerio Gibellini.

Combining the French and Cisalpine Republic force data. In recap, the French contingent had infantry (6,841), cavalry (324), artillery (189), cannon (23) and the Lombard legion with four cohorts (1st – 349 men, 2nd – 302 men, 3rd – 286 men, 6th – 278 men), 60 artillerymen, and 24 chasseurs a’ cheval cavalrymen. Combined, the totals are; 8,056 infantry, 348 cavalry, and 249 artillerymen with 27 cannon. The only missing puzzle piece are the those mentioned “advance guard reserves” under General Lannes. Maybe General Bonaparte came south from Mantua with a fast marching battalion or two of his converged elite companies, commanded personally by General Lannes. Would give the French their assault force for forcing the bridge at Senio River crossing against the entrenched Papal defenders thinks WR.

The Battle of Castel Bolognese on 3 February 1797 saw a 7,000 man force from the Papal States commanded by Michelangelo Alessandro Colli-Marchi face a 8,600-9,000 strong French corps under General Claude Victor-Perrin. General Victor-Perrin’s march along the Via Emilla from Modena to Imola brought Colli-Marchi’s troops to battle across the Senio River, just east of Castel Bolognese towards Faenza.

Google map of the area between Imola and Faenza with Castel Bologese between the two towns.

Google map of the area between Imola and Faenza with Castel Bologese between the two towns. Via Emilia is the pale yellow highway line from Imola, to Castel Bolognese, and on to Faenza.

The French made short work of their adversaries. How the French republican assault was tactically performed isn’t directly mentioned in WR’s sources. Bridge columnar assault like Lodi in 1796? Was the Senio River shallow in places so a broader frontal assault at several locations concurrent with the bridge assault? For an admitted loss of about 100 casualties, General Victor’s soldiers inflicted 800 killed and wounded on the Papal troops. In addition, the French captured 1,200 men, 14 artillery pieces, eight caissons, and eight colors. Victor’s corps included an “advance guard – grenadier reserve” force commanded by General of Brigade Jean Lannes. General Bonaparte was directing the French military advance into the Papal territories but his whereabouts during the actual battle are unknown. His appearance at the brief siege and storming of nearby Faenza after the battle seems to indicate his presence at the Castle Bolognese battlefield.

Google map of the battlefield.

Google map of the battlefield. The Via Emilla is the “yellow S59 road” showing left to right. Castel Bolognese & Imola towns are off the upper left side, Town of Faenza is off map to the lower right.

Notes for Battle of Castel Bolognese or Faenza Feb 2-3, 1797.

From the History of Campaigns in the Years 1796, 1797, 1798. and 1799 in Germany, Italy and Switzerland…. in four volumes. Volume I I think, pages 354-367. The battle date seems to infer February 2nd in the text below. Other sources give the date as February 3, 1797 for the battle and Faenza action. Maybe February 3rd is the date of surrender of Faenza to General Bonaparte and marks the conclusion of the battle in contemporary accounts.

II FLume Senio da Pointe del Castello. Photo by EER.

II FLume Senio da Pointe del Castello. Photo by EER. The Senio River could be shallow at points to allow aggressive French infantry to cross and engage the defensive Papal State defenders.

“On the 1st of February, Bonaparte made himself master of Imola; and marched the next day to attack Faenza, in front of which the Papal troops were entrenched, behind the river Senio. These troops, which had never before been in action, ventured never-less to wait the conquerors of the Austrians, and were desirous of showing that report had not done justice to them. As soon as the French appeared on the left bank of the Senio, they were cannonade from the batteries which the troops of the Pope has erected on the opposite bank. Bonaparte brought against them a legion of Italians, which he had raised in Lombardy (Lombard legion?): This body of troops, which, like its opponents, had never been before engaged, but which was supported by the French, attacked, in concert with them, this little [Papacy] army, which was quickly broken and put to flight. It lost 14 pieces of cannon, 1000 prisoners, and 400 killed or wounded. the French lost only 40 men, such, at least, was the account of Bonaparte, who also asserted, that several priests had been killed in the field of battle.

Via Emilla at Ponte del Castello near Senio River crossing. Photo by EER.

Via Emilla at Ponte del Castello near Senio River crossing. Photo by EER.

Modern day Ponte del Castello photo taken by EER.

Modern day Ponte del Castello in photo taken by EER.

A brief background to events leading up and afterwards plus the paragraph detail above Detail on Battle of Castel Bolognese 1797 (.doc). This is the only account describing the campaign and battle in brief terms which WR has.

Papal cavalry column meets up with the French.

Papal cavalry column meets up with the French in 1797.

Proposed scenario for the Battle of Castel Bolognese February 1797. WR’s scenario notes (.doc) file below covers the scenario design and tabletop action. The scenario maps shows the starting command locations and tabletop terrain layout. Lastly there are the two roster (xls) files, French and Papal States, for each side. For miniature representation, since WR doubts gamers acutal would paint up actual Papal States miniatures, any basic early white and some blue coated bicorne miniature can represent them on the tabletop. Their brown coated artillerymen look similar to Austrian of the 1790’s era.

Scenario notes (.doc):  Castel Bolognese 1797 scenario notes

Scenario rosters (.xls): French Castel Bolognese roster,  Papal States Castel Bolognese roster


Battle of Castel Bolognese or Faenza Feb 1797 scenario map. Scale is 1 square = 12″ or 600 yards (50 yds/inch).

Map counter identification has French HQ – A1 map square, Victor-Perrin’s division – A1, Lombard legion – A1, Lannes Advance Guard – B2, and Junot’s cavalry – B2. For the Papal States HQ – D3 map square, HQ artillery – C3, Left Flank command – B3, and Right Flank command – C2. Papal States entrenchments not shown on scenario map.


Battle of Castel Bolognese of Faenza Feb 1797 scenario map with starting command locations. See scenario notes file (.doc) for additional information.

After the brief battle at the Senio river (Castel Bolognese), the French quickly marched forward towards the town of Faenza. Faenza was an old Italian walled town with several gates positioned around the town walls. The source continues the story….

“After the easy victory, then French arrived under the walls of Faenza, the inhabitants of which assembled at the sound of the tocsin, and flew to arms. Bonaparte forced the gates of the city with cannon; he had not the barbarity to put in execution the threats contained in his proclamation, and did not give up the town to pillage…..”

Assault on Faenza February 1797.

Assault on Faenza February 1797. Cannon unlimbered to bash in the city gates.

Faenza old city wall near the western Tolosano gate on Via Emilla.

Faenza old city wall near the western Tolosano gate on Via Emilla.

Faenza old southern wall or Le Mura Manfredlane.

Faenza old southern wall or Le Mura Manfredlane.

The French march south afterwards. The fortress port of Ancona surrendered to General Victor on February 9th with its Papal garrison of 1,200 men and 120 fortress cannon. There were no French casualties mentioned. By the Treaty of Tolentino signed later on 19 February, Pope Pius VI was forced to deliver works of art, treasures, territory, and 30 million francs to France.

Treaty of Tolentino (outline):

19 of February of 1797 the general Napoleón Bonaparte and the ambassador of France before Santa Sede, Fran1cois Cacault, fit an agreement with the envoys of Pío I SAW: cardinal Alessandro Mattei, monsignor Lorenzo Caleppi, Duke Luigi Braschi Onesti and Marquess Camillo Massimi, in the following conditions:
1. Official recognition of the French possession of Venaissin County and the city of Avignon, occupied militarily from 1790.
2. Perpetual cession of the legations of Bologna, Roman Ferrara and . Ancona would hand over French until the end of the war.
3. Negation of aids and closes of the ports of Santa Sede the enemies of France.
4. Satisfaction of the amounts decided in the armistice of Bologna: 10 million tornesas pounds in species and 5 million in Diamantes would have to be pleased before the 5th of March, Another15 million would have to be paid before April, along with 800 horses and other so many head of cattle.
5. To the receipt of the decided amounts, the French army would evacuate the occupied territories (except the mentioned ones before).
6. Liberation of the political prisoners.
7. Reestablishment of the commercial relations between both countries.

Braun Ancona in 1593

Old map of Ancona, port, and fortress by G Braun 1593.

Ancona fortress

Ancona in 17th century. Note the Pentragol fortress or Lazzaretto and the missing outlined citadel on the hilltop..

Map of cittadella Ancona

Detail map of Ancona citadel atop hill and Lazzaretto fortress guarding the harbor port

Skipping a bit forward in history. In February 1798, the French again invaded the Papal States, motivated by the killing of French general Mathurin-Léonard Duphot in December 1797. After the successful invasion, the reduced Papal States became a French satellite state renamed the Roman Republic 1798-1799. However, the republic did not last long and popular support for it was low. Following a Neapolitan invasion on 30 September 1799, the Papal States were restored under Pope Pius VII in June 1800 with French agreement. The French invaded the Papal States again in 1808, after which it was divided between France and the Kingdom of Italy until the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.

During the Neapolitan invasion period of 1799, Ancona understood a siege by Austrians, Russians, and even a small Ottoman force. During the siege the Ottoman fleet mistakenly bombarded the Russian vessels. Interesting reading… see Enrico Acerbi’s link below.

The excellent article on the defense of Ancona in 1799 by Enrico Acerbi on the Napoleon series. While reading, note the information on the Roman Republic army organization… Legions…, shades of the old Roman Republic and Empire:  Defense of Ancona 1799 

Bonaparte seizing the Italian relics. A political cartoon of the era.

Bonaparte seizing the Italian relics. A political cartoon of the era.

Bonaparte displaying the Italian artwork in Paris.

Bonaparte displaying the Italian artwork in Paris.

Cheers from the Italian carrot room.




5 thoughts on “Battle of Castel Bolognese (Faenza) Feb 1797

    • Peter,
      Sort of stumbled on this battle. Was intrigued by Bonaparte’s little trip into the Papal States and after seeing short notes on this battle… called Castel Bolognese, or Faenza, or Imola, the fun was trying to find out additional info. I am sure the Vatican sources have more details unavailable to me but hopefully my scenario has some favor of the event. Thanks again for the warren stop over.

      Michael aka WR

      P.S. You have a chance to read Erico’s article link on the Roman Republican/ French. Ottomans, Russian, and distant K. of Naples interference of action / siege at Ancona 1799? Another slice of history many gamers are unaware of.

    • Warming up to re-tackle my continued scenario storyline of the 1796 campaign…. Battle of Mondovi for sure, maybe the brief action at La Pedaggera near Ceva too. Since I painted my Sardinia-Piedmont 1796 25/28mm army last year, I have to find a use for them on the tabletop.Then into the Po River valley following the path of Bonaparte.

      Thanks again for stopping in at the local warren. Michael

      • I’m loving the articles. I’ve got a number of French command groups being painted up this very minute. How long the armies will take, I’m not so sure!
        Looking forward to reading about those battles!

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