Piemonte Reale Cavalleria
Origin and History
Since medieval times, the Duchy of Savoy had a unit of Gendarmi (Gens d'Armes), known as the “Cavalleria dello Stato” (aka Cavalleria Paesana). The organisation and strength of this unit fluctuated through time but it was always formed from men of the regions of Piedmont and Savoy. Every village had to provide a number of young men with horses. By the end of the 16th century, this units consisted of two squadrons.
On 24 March 1691, during the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697), Duke Victor Amadeus II called the “Squadrone di Piemonte”, belonging to the Cavalleria dello Stato, to the army. This squadron consisted of 8 companies of Gens d'Armes, coming from all regions of the duchy> These companies were organised in two brigades:
- first brigade (4 companies)
- Sua Altezza Reale
- di Savoia
- di Piemonte
- di Monferrato
- second brigade (4 companies)
- del Saluzzo
- del Chiablese
- del Faucigny
On 23 July 1692, in Turin, the Cavalleria dello Stato was reorganised in two regiments of cavalry, the “Reggimenti d'Ordinanza”. The Gens d'Armes from the eight disbanded companies formed the kernel of the new regiments, which each consisted of 9 companies (50 men each). These new regiments were initially known by the name of their colonel. In the case of the present regiment, “Reggimento di Cavaglià.” However, the name of this regiment was soon changed to “Reggimento di Cavalleria Piemonte Reale.” In wartime, the regiment was organised in 3 squadrons of 2 companies each, and 1 squadron of 3 companies, for a total of 9 companies.
As its twin, the Savoia Cavalleria, this regiment was formed from troopers of the two squadrons of the disbanded Gendarmi (Gens d'Armes) of the Duchy of Savoy. These two squadrons were raised respectively in the Principality of Piedmont and the Duchy of Savoy.
The successive commanders of the regiment were:
- from 23 July 1692 to 9 April 1728: Colonel Giacinto Gonteri, Marquis di Cavaglià
Service during the War
In 1701, the regiment was among the contingent that the Duke of Savoy sent to campaign with the Franco-Spanish army against the Austrians in Lombardy. In mid-July, the regiment arrived at the camp of Goito. On 1 September, the regiment was present at the Battle of Chiari where it was part of the rearguard and got involved only at the end of the battle, suffering some losses. After this battle, the regiment took part in skirmishes where its major, Major Tommaso Birago di Roccavione, distinguished himself. On 12 November, the regiment set off for his winter-quarters in Piedmont, arriving on 8 December.
In 1702, 3 squadrons of the regiment were once more part of the Savoyard Contingent sent to assist the Franco-Spanish army in Northern Italy. The fourth squadron remained at Turin. On 15 August, these 3 squadrons were present at the Battle of Luzzara where they were part of the left column along with two Savoyard dragoon regiments. They deployed behind Luzzara close to the banks of the Po River as part of the Reserve. The regiment took an active part in the battle, launching furious charges against the Imperialists and stopping them. In this battle, the regiment lost Major Count Trotti, Captain Count Pallavicini, Lieutenant La Costa and 12 troopers. In December, the regiment took up its winter-quarters in Piedmont.
In 1703, the regiment was not part of the contingent sent to assist the Franco-Spanish army in Northern Italy. It remained in Piedmont and thus avoided the fate of many Savoyard regiments, which were taken prisoners by the French at San Benedetto on 29 September, when the Duke of Savoy changed allegiance. The duke made new levies (the Savoyard cavalry was exclusively based on citizens of the duchy, and were very loyal to the duke). In the autumn, the Duke of Savoy, now allied with the Austrians, decided to increase the forces of the present regiment, which now counted 10 companies, organised in 5 squadrons for a theoretical strength of 700 men.
By 7 March 1704, the regiment was almost at full strength, counting 688 men and 685 horses.
In 1704 and 1705, mixed detachments of Savoyard cavalry were very active, participating in countless skirmishes, contrarily to its French counterpart. However, it is difficult to find out the precise composition of these detachments.
Between 14 and 21 May 1705, the Duke decided to launch a raid with 500 horse which would advance from Chivasso towards the Ticino River. To draw the attention of the French away from this raid, he ordered 300 horse (from the present regiment and the Dragoni di Sua Altezza Reale) under the Count de Santena to make a diversionary raid in the region of Monferrato, in southeastern Piedmont. On 19 May, Santena’s detachment reached Alessandria. They then advanced towards Castell'Alfero, where 2 French cavalry regiments (Grammont, Chérisey) arrived in the night of 20 May, coming from Acqui and heading towards Casale. Furthermore, 2 companies of Irish infantry were garrisoning the Castle of Sant'Alfero. Not expecting an attack so far from the front, the garrison as well as the French cavalrymen started to drink together. The Count de Santena then split his forces, posting 200 men in the woodland over the village and 100 others left to guard the horses and to capture those of the French. The Piedmontese managed to enter into the church where the French officers were sleeping and where the standards of the 2 regiments were kept. They captured Colonel Chérisey, 8 officers, all the standards and the kettle-drums of the regiment. When the French finally started to react to the attack, the 200 men of Santena’s detachment withdrew, while the 100 other men captured as many horses as possible, hamstringing many others. In this action, the regiment lost 1 men killed and 4 wounded. Santena’s detachment then returned to Chivasso, bringing with them 300 captured horses. From May to August, the regiment made several raids towards Malone and Stura. On 17 June, it repulsed an attack directed against Chivasso, suffering some losses. On 30 June, it took part in skirmishes around Chivasso, suffering some more casualties. On 6 July, the regiment made a raid toward San Maurizio Canavese, losing 8 men killed and at least 20 men wounded in this action. On 28 July, it lost 10 men killed and around 20 men wounded in another combat. On 30 July, 2 men of the regiment were killed while defending Chivasso; and on 1 August, 4 other men killed. In October, the duke decided to send his cavalry away from Chivasso to Turin.
On 12 May 1706, the French Army advanced from Chivasso towards Turin to lay siege to the capital of the Duchy of Savoy. The cavalry that tried to contain the French slowly withdrew in front of the huge French Army that then passed the Stura River. Some cavalry units broke down the bridges over the Dora River and took refuge in the town of Collegno, close to Turin.
In the first phase of the siege Allied cavalry troops (in general) were split. One part still operated mounted and made some raids towards Crocetta, while another part (528 men contributed by all cavalry regiments) remained in the bastions of Turin (378 men) or served the cannon (150 men).
On 17 June, the Duke with all the cavalry (excluding the 528 aforementioned men) left Turin and took position at Cherasco to make a series of raids, hoping to draw the French away from Turin. Of these raids, one in particular concerns the present regiment: on 20 June, around 150 troopers of the regiment arrived in Carmagnola (35 km south of Turin), where they were left as rearguard against the attacks of the French under the command of the Lieutenant-Colonel Marquis de Garessio; on 21 June this detachment clashed against a strong French Cavalry column that was chasing the Duke. The detachment of the regiment managed to stop the French and then retreated to Sommariva Bosco, where they received a reinforcement of 150 additional troopers (probably of the present regiment). This action allowed the Duke to go to Cherasco and Bra where he arrives on 23 June.
Another very important episode happened on 7 July in front of the town of Saluzzo. The French wanted to catch up with the forces of the Duke. To do so, they tried to pass the Varaita River with 40 squadrons, 5 battalions and 40 cannon. However, the Savoyards had destroyed the bridges and only the French cavalry was able to pass the river near Borgo Duomo. As the first columns of French horse appeared, the detachment (the present regiment under the command of the Marquis Birago), which had been left behind to guard the passage, attacked the French. This violent attack forced the French to dismount 500 dragoons of General Perceux, who tried to open a passage through the Piemonte Reale cavalry at the point of the bayonet. The troopers of the Piemonte Reale cavalry fell back and barricaded themselves in Borgo Duomo, fighting for three hours, house by house. Meanwhile, 15 French squadrons under General Mauroy manoeuvred to outflank Borgo Duomo. The Count Birago then decided to retreat, supported by the rest of the regiment under Count Vittorio Piossasco di Virle. Heavy fighting ensued but the regiment managed to retreat towards Borgo Sant'Agostino where the Duke had left 2 Imperial squadrons. A total of 600 Allied horse now stood in Borgo Sant'Agostino, where they were attacked by the French brigade of General Savine. At this point, the duke decided to come to the relief of the Piemonte Reale cavalry. He managed to drive back the French towards Saluzzo and to relieve the courageous regiment. In this action, the Savoyards lost 47 men killed and 30 wounded.
Additional actions followed until the Battle of Turin, but it is not clear if the present regiment took part in them, although it is probable.
On 7 September, 4 squadrons of the regiment fought in the Battle of Turin, where they were deployed in the first line of the cavalry left wing. They took part in several charges during the battle. One squadron of the regiment had served dismounted in the defence of Turin throughout the siege, losing 20 men.
In 1707, the regiment took part in the unsuccessful expedition against Toulon. During the retreat of the Allied army towards Nice, between 22 August and 1 September, the regiment along Savoia Cavalleria was involved in several rearguard operations to cover the main army.
In 1708, the regiment took part in the reconquest of the Duchy of Savoy and in an offensive in Dauphiné, when the Allied army crossed the Alps in two columns: one passing by Moncenisio and the other, by the Vallée Blanche. These 2 columns entered the Duchy of Savoy, made a junction and then invaded Dauphiné. The Allies were forced to retreat but they managed to capture several forts in the Alps: Fenestrelle, Exilles, Perosa. For this campaign, the regiment was attached to the column which advanced by way of Moncenisio.
In 1709, the regiment was stationed in Alessandria and saw no action.
In 1710, the regiment participated in another attempt to reconquer the Duchy of Savoy. The main column (including the present regiment) advanced by the Aosta Valley. Once more, the Allies were unable to recapture the Duchy.
In 1711, the regiment saw no action.
In 1712, the Duke of Savoy penetrated into France at the head of an army. The regiment was part of the vanguard (3,000 horse). A French columns counterattacked at Valvaraita, heading towards Saluzzo. On 12 September, the French surprised part of the Savoyard army, including a few squadrons of the present regiment, near Villanovetta. These squadrons were forced to retire but soon other squadrons of the regiment along with squadrons of Savoia Cavalleria came to their support and counterattacked under the command of Major d'Alinges d'Aspremont. In a brief and violent encounter the drove the French back to France. In this action, the Savoyard lost 8 men killed and 20 wounded.
On 27 March 1713, during the ongoing peace negotiations, the regiment was reduced to just 8 companies organised in 2 squadrons,
Michele Savasta Fiore for the initial version of this article