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ITALIAN WARS (1848–187o)

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Originally appearing in Volume V14, Page 914 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ITALIAN WARS (1848–187o), a generic name for the series of wars for Italian unity which began with the Milan insurrection of the 18th of March 1848 and closed with the capture of Rome by the Italians on the 2oth of September 187o. For their Italian political interest see ITALY: History. The present article deals with certain campaigns of distinctively military importance, viz. 1848–49, 1859 and 1866, in the first and third of which the centre of gravity of the nationalist movement was the Piedmontese Leopardi. Contemporary literature. regular army, and in the second the French army commanded by Napoleon III. On the other side the Austrian army was throughout the basis of the established order of things, settled at the Congress of Vienna on the theory that Italy was " a geographical expression." Side by side with these regular armies, each of which was a special type, there fought national levies of widely varying kinds, and thus practically every known form of military service, except the fully organized " nation in arms " (then peculiar to Prussia) made its appearance in the field. Further, these wars constitute the greater part of European military history between Waterloo and Koniggratz—a bridge—if a broken one—between Napoleon and Moltke. They there-fore present a considerable technical interest, wholly apart from their historical importance and romantic interest. AUSTRO-SARDINIAN WAR OF 1848-1849 From about 1846 the spirit of revolt against foreign domination had gathered force, and two years later, when Europe was on t41e verge of a revolutionary outburst, the struggle for Italian unity was initiated by the insurrection at Milan. At this moment the Austrian army in Lombardy, practically a highly-trained force of long-service professional soldiers, was commanded by Radetzky, one of the greatest generals in Austrian history. Being, however, virtually an army of occupation, it was broken up into many garrisons, and in all was not more than 70,000 strong, so that after five days' fighting in the streets of Milan, Radetzky did as Wellington had proposed to do in 1817 when his army of occupation in France was threatened by a national rising, and withdrew to a concentration area to await reinforcements. This area was the famous Quadrilateral, marked by the fortresses of Mantua, Verona, Peschiera and Legnago, and there, in the early days of April, the scattered fractions of the Austrians assembled. Lombardy and Venetia had followed the example of Milan, and King Charles Albert of Sardinia, mobilizing the Piedmontese army in good time, crossed the frontier, with 45,E regulars two days after the Austrians had withdrawn from Milan. Had the insurrectionary movements and the advance of the Piedmontese been properly co-ordinated, there can be little doubt that some, at any rate, of the Austrian detachments would have been destroyed or injured in their retreat, but as it was they escaped without material losses. The blow given to Austrian prestige by the revolt of the great cities was, however, so severe that the whole peninsula rallied to Charles Albert. Venice, reserving a garrison for her own protection, set on foot an improvised army I1,000 strong on the mainland; some 5000 Lombards and 9000 insurgents from the smaller duchies gathered on both sides of the Po; 15,000 Papal troops under Durando and 13,000 Neapolitans under the old patriot general Pepe moved up to Ferrara and Bologna respectively, and Charles Albert with the Piedmontese advanced to the Mincio at the beginning of April. His motley command totalled 96,000 men, of whom, however, only half were thoroughly trained and disciplined troops. The reinforcements available in Austria were about 25,000 disciplined troops not greatly inferior in quality to Radetzky's own veterans. Charles Albert could call up 45,000 levies at a few weeks' notice, and eventually all the resources of the patriot party. The regular war began in the second week of April on the Mincio, the passages of which river were forced and the Austrian advanced troops driven back on the 8th (action of Goito) and 9th. Radetzky maintained a careful defensive, and the king's attempts to surprise Peschiera (14th) and Mantua (19th) were unsuccessful. But Peschiera was closely invested, though it was not forced to capitulate until the end of May. Meantime the Piedmontese army advanced towards Verona, and, finding Radetzky with a portion of his army on their left flank near Pastrengo, swung northward and drove him over the Adige above Verona, but on turning towards Verona they were checked (action of Pastrengo 28th-30th April and battle of Santa Lucia di Verona, 6th May). Meantime the Austrian reinforcements assembled in Carniola under an Irish-born general, Count Nugent von Westmeath (1777-1862). and entered Friuli. Their junction with the field marshal was in the last degree precarious, every step of their march was contested by the levies and the townsmen of Venetia. The days of rifled artillery were not yet come, and a physical obstacle to the combined movements of trained regulars and a well-marked line of defence were all that was necessary to convert even medievalwalled towns into centres of effective resistance. When the spirit of resistance was lacking, as it had been for example in 1799 (see FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS), the importance of the walled towns corresponded simply to their material strength, which was practically negligible. But throughout the campaign of 1848–1849, the essential moral conditions of defence being present, the Austrians were hampered by an endless series of minor sieges, in which the effort expended was out of all proportion to the success achieved. Nugent, however, pressed on, though every day weakened by small detachments, and, turning rather than overpowering each obstacle as it was encountered, made his way slowly by Belluno Radetzky to Vicenza and Treviso and joined Radetzky at Verona on the 25th of May. The latter then for a moment took in the the offensive, passing around the right flank of the loyal Quadrlarmy by way of Mantua (actions of Curtatone, 29th May, lateral. and Goito, 30th May), but, failing of the success he expected he turned swiftly round and with 30,000 men attacked the 20,000 Italians (Papal troops, volunteers, Neapolitans) under Durando, who had established themselves across his line of communication at Vicenza, drove them away and reoccupied Vicenza (9th June), where a second body of reinforcements from Trent, clearing the Brenta valley (Val Sugana) as they advanced, joined him, the king meanwhile being held in check by the rest of Radetzky's army. After beating down resistance in the valleys of the Brenta and Piave, the field marshal returned to Verona. Charles Albert had now some 75,000 men actually in hand on the line of high ground, S. Giustina-Somma Campagna, and made the mistake of extending inordinately so as to cover his proposed siege of Mantua. Napoleon, fifty years before on the same ground (see FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS), had only with great difficulty solved this same problem by the economical grouping and resolute handling of his forces, and Charles Albert, setting out his forces en cordon, was weak at all points of his long front of 45 M. Thus Radetzky, gathering his forces opposite the king's centre (Sona, Somma Campagna), was able to break it (23rd July). The Piedmontese, however, fell back steadily, and 25,000 of them collected at Villafranca, whence on the 24th they counter-attacked and regained the heights at Custozza and Somma Campagna that they had lost. Radetzky, however, took the offensive again next morning and having succeeded in massing half of his army opposite to one quarter of the Piedmontese, was completely victorious (first battle of Custozza, 24th-25th July). Pursuing vigorously, the Austrians drove the king over the Mincio (action of Volta, 26th-27th), the Chiese, the Adda and the Ticino into his own dominions, Milan being reoccupied without fighting. The smaller bands of patriots were one after the other driven over the borders or destroyed. Venice alone held out to the end. Besieged by land and water, and bombarded as well, she prolonged her resistance until October 1849, long after the war had everywhere else come to an end. The first campaign for unity had ended in complete failure, thanks to the genius of Radetzky and the thorough training, mobility and handiness of his soldiers. During the winter of 1848-1849—for, to avoid unnecessary waste of his precious veterans, Radetzky let the Piedmontese army retire unmolested over the Ticino—Charles Albert took energetic measures to reorganize, refit and augment his army. But his previous career had not fitted him to meet the crisis. With aspirations for unity he sympathized, and to that ideal he was soon to sacrifice his throne, but he had nothing in common with the distinctively revolutionary party, with whom circumstances had allied him. Radicalism, however, was a more obvious if a less real force than nationalism, and Charles Albert made it a fatal concession in appointing the Polish general Albert Chrzanowski (1788-1861) his principal adviser and commander-in-chief—an appointment that alienated the generals and the army, while scarcely modifying the sentiments of distrust with which the Liberal party regarded the king.' In March the two main armies were grouped in the densely intersected district between Milan, Vercelli and Pavia (see sketch map below), separated by the Ticino, of which the out-posts of either side watched the passages. Charles Campaign Albert had immediately in hand 65,000 men, some 25,000 of more being scattered in various detachments to right and Novara. left. Radetzky disposed of 70,000 men for field operations, besides garrisons. The recovery of Milan, the great city that had been the first to revolt, seemed to the Italians the first objective of the campaign. It was easier indeed to raise the whole country in arms than to crush the field-marshal's regulars, and it was hoped that Radetzky would, on losing Milan, either retire to Lodi and perhaps ' Several of the French generals—Lamoriciere, Bedeau, Changarnier and others—who had been prominent in Algeria and in the 1848 revolution in France had been invited to take the command, but had declined it. to Mantua (as in 1848), or gather his forces for battle before Milan. ready, it may be presumed, to grapple an enemy coming from Radetzky himself openly announced that he would take the offensive, 1 and the king's plans were framed to meet this case also. Two-thirds of the army, 4 divisions, were grouped in great depth between Novara, Galliate and Castelnuovo. A little to the right, at Vespolate and Vigevano, was one division under Durando, and the remaining division under Ramorino was grouped opposite Pavia with orders to take that place if possible, but it Radetzky advanced thence, to fall back fighting either on Mortara or Lomello,' while the main body descended on the Austrian flank. The grouping both of Ramorino and of the main body—as events proved in the case of the latter—cannot be seriously criticized, and indeed one is almost tempted to assume that Chrzanowski considered the case of Radetzky's advance on Mortara more carefully than that of his own advance on Milan. But the seething spirit of revolt did not allow the army that was Italy's hope to stand still at a foreign and untried general's dictation and await Radetzky's coming. On the 19th of March orders were issued to the main body for the advance on Milan and on the loth one division, led by the king himself, crossed the Ticino at San Martino. But no Austrians were encountered, and such information as was available indicated that Radetzky was concentrating to his left on the Pavia-Lodi road. Chrzanowski thereupon, abandoning (if indeed he ever entertained) the idea of Radetzky's retirement and his own triumphal march on Milan, suspended the advance. His fears were justified, for that evening he heard that Ramorino had abandoned his post and taken his division across the Po. After the war this general was shot for disobedience, and deservedly, for the covering division, the fighting flank-guard on which Chrzanowski's defensive-offensive depended, was thus withdrawn at the moment when Radetzky's whole army was crossing the Ticino at Pavia and heading for Mortara.' The four Austrian corps began to file across the Ticino at noon on the loth, and by nightfall the heads of Radetzky's columns were at Zerbolo, Gambolo and La Cava, the reserve at Pavia, a flank-guard holding the Cava-Casatisma road over the Po against the contingency of Ramorino's return, and the two brigades that had furnished the outposts along the Ticino closing on Bereguardo. Chrzanowski, however, having now to deal with a foreseen case, gave his orders promptly. To replace Ramorino, the 1st division Action of was ordered from Vespolate through Mortara to Trumello; A the 2nd division from Cerano to push south on Vigevano; Mortara. the reserve from Novara to Mortara; the remainder to follow the znd division. Had the 1st division been placed at Mortara instead of Vespolate in the first instance the story of the campaign might have been very different, but here again, though to a far less culpable degree, a subordinate generals default imperilled the army. Durando (21st March), instead of pushing on as ordered to Trumello to take contact with the enemy, halted at Mortara. The reserve also halted there and deployed west of Mortara to guard against a possible attack from San Giorgio. The Sardinian advanced guard on the other road reached Borgo San Siro, but there met and was driven back by Radetzky's II. corps under Lieut. Field Marshal d'Aspre (1789-1850), which was supported by the brigades that now crossed at Bereguardo. But the Italians were also supported, the Austrians made little progress, and by nightfall the Sardinian II., III. and IV. divisions had closed up around Vigevano. Radetzky indeed intended his troops on the Vigevano road to act simply as a defensive flank-guard and had ordered the rest of his army by the three roads, Zerbolo-Gambolo, Gropello-Trumello and Lomello-San Giorgio, to converge on Mortara. The rearmost of the two corps on the Gambolo road (the I.) was to serve at need as a support to the flank-guard, and, justly confident in his troops, Radetzky did not hesitate to send a whole corps by the eccentric route of Lomello. And before nightfall an important success had justified him,, for the II. corps from Gambolo, meeting Durando outside Mortara had defeated him before the Sardinian reserve, prematurely deployed on the other side of the town, could come to his assistance. The remaining corps of Radetzky's army were still short of Mortara when night came, but this could hardly be well known at the royal headquarters, and, giving up the slight chances of success that a counterstroke from Vigevano on Mortara offered, Chrzanowski ordered a general concentration on Novara. This was effected on the 22nd, on which day Radetzky, pushing out the II. corps towards Vespolate, concentrated the rest at Mortara. That the Italians had retired was clear, but it was not known whither, and, precisely as Napoleon had done before Marengo (see FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS), he sent one corps to seize the king's potential line of retreat, Novara-Vercelli, kept one back at Mortara Students of Napoleonic strategy will find it interesting to replace Ramorino by, say, Lannes, and to post Durando at Mortara-Vigevano instead of Vespolate-Vigevano, and from these conditions to work out the probable course of events. z Ramorino's defence was that he had received information that the Austrians were advancing on Alessandria by the south bank of the Po. But Alessandria was a fortress, and could be expected to hold out for forty-eight hours; moreover, it could easily have been succoured by way of Valenza if necessary. Vigevano—and engaged the other three in a singe long column, widely spaced out, on the Novara road. Thus it came about that on the 23rd d'Aspre's II. corps encountered Charles Albert's whole army long before the III. and Reserve could join it. The battle of Novara was, nevertheless, as great an event in the history of the Imperial-Royal Army as Marengo in that of the French. First the IT. corps, and then the II. and III. together attacked with the utmost resolution, and as the hours went by more and more of the whitecoats came on the field until at last the Novara. IV. corps, swinging inward from Robbio, came on to the flank of the defence. This was no mere strategical triumph; the Austrians, regiment for regiment, were more than a match for the Italians and the result was decisive. Charles Albert abdicated, and the young Victor Emmanuel II., his successor, had to make a hasty armistice. After Novara, the first great struggle for Italian unity was no more than a spasmodic, if often desperate, struggle of small bodies of patriots and citizens of walled towns to avert the inevitable. The principal incidents in the last phase were the siege of Venice, the sack of Brescia by the merciless Haynau and the capture of Rome by a French eipeditionary corps under General Oudinot.
End of Article: ITALIAN WARS (1848–187o)

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