First Italian War of Independence(Redirected from First War of Italian Independence)
The First Italian War of Independence (Italian: Prima guerra d'indipendenza italiana) was part of the Risorgimento. It was fought by the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont) and Italian volunteers against the Austrian Empire and other conservative states from 23 March 1848 to 22 August 1849 in the Italian peninsula.
|First Italian War of Independence|
|Part of the Wars of Italian Unification|
The Battle of Novara (1849)
| Kingdom of Sardinia
Italian Volunteer Army
Provisional Government of Milan
Republic of San Marco
Kingdom of Sicily
Grand Duchy of Tuscany
Duchy of Modena and Reggio
Duchy of Parma and Piacenza
| Austrian Empire
|Commanders and leaders|
|King Charles Albert||Josef Radetzky|
| 115.000 men
| 100,000 men
The conflict was preceded by the outbreak of the Sicilian revolution of 1848 against the House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. It was precipitated by riots in the cities of Milan (Five Days) and Venice, which rebelled from Austria and established their own governments.
The part of the conflict which was fought by King Charles Albert against Austria in northern Italy was a Royal war and consisted of two campaigns. In both campaigns, the Kingdom of Sardinia attacked the Austrian Empire and was defeated, losing the war as a result. The decisive events of the first and second campaigns were the battles at Custoza and Novara, respectively.
At the beginning of the royal war, the Kingdom of Sardinia was supported by the Papal States and the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, which then withdrew, having barely participated in the fighting at all. However, volunteers from the Papal and Neapolitan armies joined the other Italian volunteers and fought against Austria.
Alongside the royal war, revolutionary movements took place in various Italian states (Papal States, Tuscany, etc), part of the Revolutions of 1848 in the Italian states, which could not be reconciled with the Liberal ideals of Piedmont. Historiography treats these revolutions, as well as the Sicilian revolution of 23 March 1848, as a popular war, which also failed, ending in the restoration of traditional institutions and many rebels forced into exile.
In the popular war with the internal revolutionaries, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and the Papal States found themselves on the opposite side to the one they were on in the royal war, in which they initially supported Piedmont.
The popular war first gave prominence to the military commander, Giuseppe Garibaldi, but he was defeated, as was King Charles Albert, who abdicated at the end of the war in favour of his eldest son, Victor Emmanuel.
The revolutions of 1848
In 1848 revolutionary riots broke out in many parts of Europe, including numerous places in the Apennines and other parts of Italy. Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies was forced to grant a constitution on 23 January and his example was followed by Leopold II of Tuscany on 17 February, Charles Albert of Piedmont (Sardinia) on 17 February (the Albertine Statue), and Pius IX on 14 March (The Fundamental Statute. Charles II, Duke of Parma was ousted. Sicily, excepting Messina, revolted against the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
On 23 February, the French Revolution of 1848 broke out against Louis Philippe. In March, the revolts also spread into the Austrian Empire, where Milan (Five Days of Milan) and Venice (Republic of San Marco) rebelled from the House of Habsburg.
The battles were particularly heated in Milan, were the commander of the army of Lombardy-Venetia, Marshal Josef Radetzky, was forced to abandon the city. As a result of this, other revolts broke out in Lombardy-Venetia, such as that at Como. With Vienna itself in revolt, the Austrian Empire was tottering.
On 23 March, one day after the end of the Five Days of Milan, King Charles Albert of Sardinia declared war on Austria. King Charles Albert of Sardinia declared war on the Austrian Empire. He was probably spurred to this by the desire to avoid a revolution in his own country, which was itself a liberal monarchy, and by the hope that he could use the rebellions in Lombardy-Venetia as an opportunity to expand his own kingdom. Thus began the first Italian war of independence.
Summary of strategic situation and forces
As a result of the revolts of Milan and Venice, from 23 March 1848, the Austrians had to retreat into the Quadrilateral fortresses (Peschiera, Verona, Mantua, and Legnago) which formed the defensive nucleus of the Habsburg army in Lombardy-Venetia. To the east, west, and south of the Quadrilateral, forces of volunteers from the Italian states began to gather in order to fight against the Austrians. The Austrian forces only able to maintain links to the motherland via a corridor to the north, running along the east coast of Lake Garda.
The Piedmontese army
The army of the Kingdom of Sardinia was mobilised on 1 March 1848, at the beginning of the revolt in Milan, and was at 4/5 strength, with about 65,000 men.
The Piedmontese army was headed by Charles Albert, Minister for War General Antonio Franzini, and General Eusebio Bava. The latter directly commanded the 1st armed corps, consisting of two divisions under Generals Federico Millet d'Arvillars and Vittorio Garretti di Ferrere. The 2nd armed corps was directed by Ettore De Sonnaz, with Giovanni Battista Federici and Mario Broglia commanding its two divisions. The 5th division, containing the reserves, was under the command of Charles Albert's heir Victor Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy. Finally, command of the artillery fell to Ferdinand of Savoy, Duke of Genoa.
Before crossing the Ticino river, which marked the border between the Kingdom of Sardinia and Lombardy-Venetia, Charles Albert decided that the war flag would be the Italian tricolor with the Savoyard arms at the centre.
Other Italian armies and Volunteers
All the other monarchies of the peninsula that had been forced to join the war against Austria due to public sentiment in their respective countries brought military contingents to Lombardy-Venetia, but without conviction.
The first to arrive was the Papal Army, with a contingent of 17-18,000 men (including roughly 900 cavalry soldiers and 22 cannons). It consisted of a regular division (10-11,000 men including 3-4,000 volunteers) under the command of the Piedmontese Giovanni Durando and a second division (around 7,000 men) made up of the Mobile Civic Guard and of volunteers under the republican Andrea Ferrari. The armed corps entered Lombardy-Venetia from the Apostolic legation of Ferrara. A group of around 130 volunteers, called the Bersaglieri del Po also came from Ferrara.
The Grand Duchy of Tuscany entered the war on 21 March and sent a corps of around 6,400 men to Mantua, partially regular troops and partially volunteers. The contingent was commanded initially by Ulisse d'Arco Ferrari and subsequently by Cesare de Laugier. These troops had little technical training but were highly enthusiastic, especially the so-called "Battalion of Students", led by Astronomy professor Ottaviano-Fabrizio Mossotti.
In Parma and Modena, the respective dukes, Charles II and Francis V, had abandoned the throne in the face of popular riots, allowing the formation of provisional governments. A few hundred volunteers set out for Lombardy-Veneto.
The major contribution to the war was to be made by Ferdinand II of Two Sicilies, who promised to send a corps of 25,000 men. This contingent did not leave on time and when it was sent in March it contained around 11,000 men. King Ferdinand II was politically very far from the Piedmontese liberal ideology and his highest priority was the reconquest of Sicily, which had revolted on 26 March 1848 under the leadership of Ruggero Settimo. Commanded by Guglielmo Pepe, the Neapolitan troops arrived in the theatre of war only in mid-May, when, as they were crossing the Po from the south, they received the order to return home. Only a few units loyal to Guglielmo Pepe entered Veneto and participated in the fighting.
However, the anti-Austrian coalition could rely on other forces. There were Lombard volunteers (4,500 men), Neapolitan volunteers (1,600 men), and Venetian volunteers from the Republic of San Marco. The last group consisted of around 9,000 men, organised as regular units by Daniele Manin and directed principally against the enemy forces which had crossed the Soča from the east in order to reinforce the Habsburg troops in Lombardy-Venetia. They were commanded by generals Carlo Zucchi and Alberto della Marmora.
All these armies were completely uncoordinated with one another and were motivated by very different political ideals, ranging from those who sought to unite with the Kingdom of Sardinia, to those who desired an Italian republic.
The Austrian army
The Austrian army in Lombardy-Venetia was commanded by the 81-year-old General Josef Radetzky, a man whose past experience had earned him exceptional autonomy from the Viennese bureaucracy. He had organised the army in Italy according to his own ideas, including the idea that army training was necessary even in times of peace - a theory that few followed in this period. The result was that when the war broke out his soldiers were ready and, in particular, were familiar with the territory in which they would need to fight.
Before the insurrections at Milan and Venice, Radetzky had 70,000 men in two armies: the 1st in Lombardy and the 2nd in Venetia, containing a total of 61 battalions of infantry. After the revolt, as a result of casualties, surrenders, and desertions, this was reduced to 41 effective battalions. There were also 35 squadrons of cavalry and 100 pieces of artillery. Given that the average force of the Austrian battalions was around 1,000 men, Radetzky had a total of around 50,000 men at the start of the war. He further ordered that a reserve force of 20,000 soldiers be gathered in a hurry under the command of Laval Nugent von Westmeath from the Austrian side of the Soča and from Carinthia.
The initial phase of the first campaign (March-May 1848)
Piedmontese advance towards the Quadrilateral (23 March - 7 April 1848)
On 23 March, the Kingdom of Sardinia declared war on the Austrian Empire. On 25 and 26 March, two advance guards crossed the river Ticino, entering enemy territory. The body of the army crossed on 29 March. That same day, the first three divisions entered Pavia, where they were acclaimed by the people. At Lodi, where some divisions arrived on the same day, they learnt that enemy forces had gathered at Montichiari, 20 km southeast of Brescia, on the river Chiese. Charles Albert decided to ignore these and advance towards Cremona on the Po. From there they advanced to Marcaria and crossed the Oglio on 7 April, some twenty kilometres from Mantua, the southernmost fortress of the Quadrilateral.
Only one of the advance guards was sent to Bresica - this consisted of a brigade of infantry, a regiment of cavalry, and a battery of cannons and was commanded by general Michele Giuseppe Bes (1794-1853), who had already crossed the Ticino at Boffalora and entered Milan. Bes' troops reached Brescia on 31 March. That same day, Radetzky retreated to Peschiera and two days after that to Verona. On 8 April, the majority of his troops (the 1st Army), was stationed in the Quadrilateral at Villafranca. The Piedmontese army, on the other hand, was arrayed along the west bank of the Mincio.
The slow advance of the Piedmontese army across Lombardy gave the Austrian army plenty of time to withdraw, a factor which attracted criticism both at the time and subsequently.
Crossing the Mincio River (8-27 April 1848)
Since all the bridges over the Mincio were still held by the Austrian rear-guard, on 8 April, general Bava ordered the divisions of general d'Arvillars to seize the Bridge at Goito. After sharp clashes, during which the Austrian engineers managed to partially demolish the bridge, regiments of the Bersaglieri and the navy managed to breakthrough to the other bank. Around 4pm the work of the Piedmontese engineers, enabled the passage of another 3 battalions, while the Austrians withdrew to Villafranca. In this first clash of the war, colonel Alessandro La Marmora, founder of the bersaglieri, was seriously wounded.
On 9 April, the Piedmontese took control of the bridge at Monzambano to the north. On 11 April, the Austrians finally abandoned the east bank of the Mincio and withdrew to Verona. The Piedmontese occupied Valeggio.
Further east, on 17 April, the new Austrian army under Nugent crossed the Isonzo with two goals: to reinforce Radetzky and to reoccupy Veneto. On 23 April, Nugent entered Udine. Meanwhile, on 26 April, half the Piedmontese army crossed the Mincio. Two days later, another two divisions crossed and the whole army was deployed in an arc to blockade Pescheria, which the Piedmontese began to besiege on 27 April, and to simultaneously threaten Verona. The disposition also threatened the Austrian army, arrayed along the Adige and the main road from Verona to Trento and Austria.
Piedmontese advance towards the Adige (30 April 1848)
In the face of the Piedmontese threat, Radetzky had occupied an advance position at Pastrengo on the west bank of the Adige. On 30 April, the 2nd Army under De Sonnaz advanced to eliminate the enemy bridgehead (14,000 Piedmontese against 8,000 Austrians). For three hours, from 11 am until 2 pm, the advance was slow and difficult. Charles Albert, growing impatient, pushed forward with three squadrons of mounted carabinieri, between the "Cuneo" brigade and the "Piemonte" brigade. At that moment, the Piedmontese advance revived and some carabinieri came under Austrian fire. After a moment of confusion, Major Alessandro Negri di Sanfront spurred on the three squadrons of carabinieri against the enemy, with the king and his bodyguard joining the charge. The Austrian line was broken; the Piedmontese infantry forced the enemy to retreat.
Having reached the Adige, the Piedmontese were stopped by Radetzky, who had responded to the enemy advance with an attack on the centre of the Piedmontese formation. The attack was easily parried, but succeeded in diverting Charles Albert from attempting to cross the Adige. The Battle of Pastrengo thus ended in a Piedmontese victory which raised the morale of the Savoyard troops, but their success in eliminating the Austrian bridgehead was incomplete since the east bank of the Adige remained firmly under Radetzky's control.
Withdrawal of the Papal States
In this situation, Pope Pius IX gave the address Non semel ("Not once") to the Papal consistory on 29 April 1848, in which he disavowed his army's invasion of the Veneto. The change of position resulted from the impossibility of fighting a major Catholic power like Austria. Pius feared the possibility of a schism with the Austrian catholics, declaring, "We have learnt also that some enemies of the Catholic religion have taken this opportunity to inflame the minds of the Germans against the unity of this Holy See."
The Papal troops and their commander, Giovanni Durando, ignored the wishes of the Pope and continued the campaign, but the impact of Pius' action was considerable. Report of the speech reached the Piedmontese general staff on 2 May, producing great concern. Charles Albert was most effected of all by it, writing to minister Ottavio Thaon di Revel, "The Pope's speech is an act which could have immense consequences. Certainly, it will do damage to the cause of Italian independence."
Battle of Santa Lucia (6 May 1848)
As a result of Pastrengo, Charles Albert had brought his left wing up to the Adige. Now he sought to push the Austrians back to Verona with a spectacular battle, so that he could announce a brilliant success in time for the start of the new session of the Chamber of Deputies. The army he faced was divided into three parts: the first on the east bank of the Adige up to Pastrengo to the north, the second in the villages west of Verona, and the third part inside the walls of Verona itself.
It seemed to the Piedmontese that they could pretty easily defeat the Austrian forces in front of Verona, ignoring or underestimating the fact that the villages had been skillfully and systematically fortified by the Austrians. At Charles Albert's request, General Bava prepared a plan, which was then modified by Franzini, for an "armed reconnaissance" in the direction of Verona in order to provoke a battle in the open. The 1st Army, the reserve division and the 3rd division of the 2nd Army (i.e. 4/5 of the whole Piedmontese army) were to take part in the attack, whose principle target was the village of San Massimo. On 6 May 1848, the Piedmontese army began its advance. The movement of the various units was not synchronised. At the village of San Massimo, where the main attack was to be concentrated, the Royal Brigade from the 1st division of the 1st Army came under heavy enemy fire. The other brigade in its division, the Aosta Brigade, also encountered heavy fire in front of the village of Santa Lucia, which became the focus of the Piedmontese assault as a result the breakdown of the plan of attack..
Since Charles Albert was in an exposed forward position, General Bava contravened the plan which required him to wait for the other units and attacked Santa Lucia at 10 am with the Aosta Brigade, exposing it to intense Austrian fire. Only at 11 am, did the Guard Brigade from the reserve division arrive to assist. With this he was able to flank the village. Parts of the Royal Brigade and the 2nd division of the 1st Army began to arrive between 12 and 1:30 pm, at which point Bava launched an assault, which was focused on the cemetery of Santa Lucia, doggedly defended by the Austrians. However, the latter were overcome by the enemy and eventually had to abandon their positions and withdraw to Verona.
The Piedmontese stalled rather than taking advantage of the situation. At 2pm they received notice that the 3rd division of the 2nd Piedmontese Army's attack on the hamlets of Croce Bianca and Chievo had failed. The news led Charles Albert to order a retreat. Simultaneously, an energetic Austrian counter-offensive was launched, in which Radetzky's men made it to Santa Lucia, which they found abandoned by the Piedmontese. At 6 pm the battle was over. The Austrians had rebuffed the enemy attack, suffering 72 dead, 190 wounded, and 87 captured. The Piedmontese had lost 110 men and suffered 776 wounded. The failure marked the loss of Piedmontese initiative, which now passed to the Austrians.
Arrival of Austrian reinforcements
The Crossing of the Soča (17-29 April 1848)
While Charles Albert was fighting in the Quadrilateral, another conflict took place in parallel in Veneto, which remained completely separate from the Piedmontese campaign. The government of the Republic of San Marco barely managed to keep the various local comittees co-ordinated. Searching for a commander to organise their troops, they obtained the Piedmontese general Alberto La Marmora..
On the other side, the Austrian general Laval Nugent, concentrated his forces at Gorizia and crossed the Soča into Veneto on 17 April 1848 with 12-13,000 men. He substantially outnumbered the forces opposing his passage. That same day, Nugent locked down Palmanova, moving on to Udine which surrendered on 22 April after an artillery bombardment. On 23 April, the Austrians occupied the city. Nugent then moved on towards Tagliamento.
La Marmora had just 1,300 men at the river against the Austrian force, which had grown to 16-17,000 men. After destroying a bridge, he decided to withdraw west to the Piave. Meanwhile, Giovanni Durando crossed over the Po and arrived at Ostiglia on 23 April with the 10-11,000 Papal regulars, while Andrea Ferrari was also on the way with volunteers and the Papal national guard (7,000 men).. Durando and his men proceeded to Treviso on 29 April, while La Marmora was ordered to defend eastern Venetia. Pius IX's order to withdraw was made the same day, but Durando and the troops chose to ignore it.
Battle of Cornuda (8 May 1848)
In the north, the Austrians entered Belluno on 5 May and on 6 May a brigade crossed the Piave at Feltre. Meanwhile, the first divisions of Ferrari's force arrived at Treviso. Convinced that the Austrians were advancing on Bassano del Grappa from the north, Durando stationed his troops there and arranged for Ferrari and his forces to be stationed near Montebelluna.
On the afternoon of 8 May, however, Nugent's vanguard of 1,000 men made contact with an advance force of Ferrari, 300 men stationed at Onigo, which was 10 km northwest of Montebelluna. Ferrari pulled back a little bit to Cornuda hill, the last natural obstacle between the enemy and the plain. On the morning of 9 May, the battle began anew: 2,000 Austrians with 6 cannons attacked the Papal troops, who had not yet received any reinforcements from Ferrari or Durando. The latter hesitated for some time before sending a note at 12:30pm, saying "Vengo correndo" (I'm coming in a hurry)..
While Nugent further reinforced his soldiers, Ferrari sent a battalion to his men from Montebelluna and ordered 50 dragoons to charge the Austrians in order to buy some time. They were nearly all killed, but they managed to stall the Austrian advance. Subsequently, the Austrians received further reinforcements and began to turn about from Feltre towards Cornuda. There were now 6,000 Austrian troops facing 2,000 very tired Papal soldiers, who were in danger of being surrounded. At 5pm, after the battle had been going on for 12 hours without any reinforcements from Durando, Ferrari decided to order the troops to withdraw. The retreat was disordered and continued all the way to Treviso..
Austrian advance to Verona (9-25 May 1848)
After the Battle of Cornuda, the situation in Veneto was very grave for the Italians. However, Josef Radetzky insisted that Nugent immediately bring his forces to Verona in order to join up with his army. But on 17 May, the aggravation of an old wound forced Nugent to hand command of his forces over to General Georg Thurn Valsassina. On 18 May, with no more than 4,000 men in the field, Durando returned to Treviso with a few units to defend it from the Austrians. Thurn took advantage of the withdrawl of Durando's troops from Piazzola in order to cross the river Brenta and attack Vicenza, which repelled the attack. There were 5,000 men defending the city, mostly Papal forces. They were reinforced by forces from various parts of Veneto, forces from Durando, and the battalion of General Giacomo Antonini, a member of Young Italy who had recruited a diverse group of volunteers in France..
On 22 May, Radetzky changed his mind about the urgency of linking up the forces in light of the changed situation after the Battle of Santa Lucia and ordered Thurn to attack Vicenza, which now contained 11,000 men in addition tot he National Guard and the citizens. The battle took place between the night of 23 May and the morning of 24 May. The Austrians attacked the city from the west, but were blocked by flooding caused by the defenders who resisted and counter-attacked tenaciously. An Austrian force sent via the Berici Hills and no better luck. At 9 am Thurn ordered a retreat to Verona. Thurn's forces finally met up with Radetzky's on 25 May 1848..
The second phase of the first campaign (May-August 1848)
Simultaneously, in Naples, Ferdinand II decided, as a result of riots in the capital on 15 May, to withdraw from the war - before his troops had even encountered the enemy. This decision arose from political considerations (such as the failure to form an Italian League), the departure of Pope Pius IX from the war, and the need to reconquer Sicily, which had declared itself an independent state, the Kingdom of Sicily.
On 21 May 1848, a few hours after the departure of the first brigade of the Neapolitan expedition from Bologna to Ferrara, the commander of the troops, Guglielmo Pepe, received the order to return immediately to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
Despite the resistance of General Pepe, the withdrawal was inevitable. Only a single body of the Bourbon expedition remained, the 10th Regiment "Abruzzo", which had already linked up with the Piedmontese troops. This regiment withdrew to Naples after the Battle of Goito.
In Romagna, a decision was not easy for the different Bourbon officials. The case of colonel Carlo Francesco Lahalle was particularly dramatic - split between his duty to his king and his ideals, he committed suicide. In this context, a small portion of the Neapolitan forces under the leadership of Pepe and a group of young officers including, Luigi Mezzacapo, Carlo Mezzacapo, Enrico Cosenz, Cesare Rosaroll, Girolamo Calà Ulloa, and others, arrived in Venice, where they contirbuted to the Republic of San Marco's war effort until the end of the conflict.
The French enter
The kingdom of the Two Sicilies also retired, but the general Guglielmo Pepe refused to return to Naples and instead went to Venice to protect it against the Austrian counter-offensive. King Ferdinand II's retreat was mainly due to the ambiguous behaviour of Charles Albert of Piedmont, who had not clearly refused the proposal to obtain the Sicilian crown received from representatives of the rebellious island.
The French did not enter the First War for Italian Independence in 1848. When the Piedmontese Army under Carl Albert King of Sardinia marched into Austrian held Italy with the intent of linking up with the revolutionaries of Venice, the Piedmontese met the large Austrian Army under Field Marshal Josef Radetzky. At the Curtatone on May 29, 1848, the Austrians attacked a combined force of Piedmontese and Tuscan troops. Although the Austrians won the battle, the resistance offered at Curtatone allowed the Piedmontese troops to regroup and win the Battle of Goito the next day—May 30, 1848.
The Piedmontese Army was defeated by Radetzky and the Austrians at Custoza on July 25, 1848. The defeat of the Piedmontese at Custoza was followed up by the capture of Milan on August 6, 1848. While not a total Austrian victory, the spirit of King Charles Albert and of his generals was all but broken.
An armistice was signed on August 9, 1848 between Austria and Sardinia at Vigevano. The Piedmontese Army retreated within the borders of the Kingdom of Sardinia. This armistice, however, lasted less than seven months, before Charles Albert denounced the truce on March 12, 1849. The Austrian army took the military initiative in Lombardy and heavily defeated the Piedmontese at Novara on March 23, 1849. After this victory the Piedmontese were driven back to Borgomanero at the foot of the Alps, and the Austrian forces occupied Novara, Vercelli, Trino and Brescia after the revolt of the people of the last city, with the road to the Piedmontese capital, Turin, lying open to them. The attempt to renew the war was a disaster. It resulted in another victory for Radetzky and the effective end of the First Italian War of Independence; all the rebellious provinces returned to Austrian rule.
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