That same year, rebellions broke out in both Piedmont-Sardinia and the Two-Sicilies and Austrian troops were dispatched to both to suppress them. In Turin, the rebels did not try to bring down the monarchy but demanded a constitution, which Prince Carlo Alberto gave them, as he had taken control of the government when King Vitttorio Emanuele I abdicated in favor of his brother King Carlo Felice who was out of the country at the time. King Carlo Felice, with his loyal regiments and the Austrians, regained control of the country and restored the absolute monarchy, exiling Prince Carlo Alberto to France. In Naples, Austrian troops suppressed the rebels and restored King Ferdinando IV to power. This, however, only strengthened the hand of the radicals who argued against constitutional monarchy and in favor of radical republicanism. This faction was led by Giuseppe Mazzini who had no use for kings at all and would make great use in his propaganda for every time a monarch on the Italian peninsula granted a constitution at a time of weakness only to revoke it once they had an Austrian army behind them.
|King Carlo Alberto & Kaiser Franz Joseph|
1834 and 1838 had seen revolutionary outbreaks across Italy but in 1848 revolution began to sweep across multiple countries throughout Europe. In January the Sicilians rose up and overthrew the authority of the king in Naples, by March the Austrian Empire was engulfed in rebellion with uprisings in Milan, Venice, Budapest, Cracow, Prague and even Vienna itself. The regime of Kaiser Ferdinand was suddenly threatened by independence movements by the Hungarians in the east and the Italians in the west. In Milan, after five days of bitter struggle, the Austrian authorities were driven out while at the same time the Austrians were expelled from Venice in an uprising led by Daniele Manin. The Habsburg Grand Duke of Tuscany, the Habsburg Duke of Modena, the Bourbon King of the Two Sicilies and the Bourbon Duke of Parma were all forced by popular uprisings to grant constitutions. Likewise, in Rome, political reforms were demanded of Pope Pius IX who had initially favored the nationalist cause, to the point of liberating from prison and appointing to high office a succession of revolutionaries whom his predecessor, Pope Gregory XVI, had arrested.
So it was that with only 68,000 troops at his disposal and no immediate prospect for reinforcement for Radetzky that the Italian nationalists saw their chance and men such as Camillo di Cavour, Cesare Balbo and Massimo d’Azeglio urged King Carlo Alberto to take the lead and attack the Austrians before the republicans took control of the uprising. The King agreed and on March 29 led his small but highly proficient army of 28,000 men across the Ticino River with the aim of moving on Milan. With so many of their forces tied down all across Lombardy-Venetia trying to suppress rebellion, for the time being, the Austrian and Piedmontese forces would be about evenly matched. Further, as soon as word came that King Carlo Alberto had crossed the frontier, nationalist support for the Savoy monarchy erupted all across the Italian peninsula. Not wanting King Carlo Alberto to claim all the glory of liberating Italy for himself, Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany and King Ferdinando II of the Two-Sicilies likewise dispatched forces to join him in a joint war-effort against the Austrians. Even Pope Pius IX sent his support. The vision of independence and unification by way of a coalition of the princes of Italy seemed to be coming true.
|Uprising in Milan|
On March 29, to great public fanfare, King Carlo Alberto entered Milan at the head of his troops. He marched on and his army pushed the Austrian rearguard across the Mincio River. The Austrian withdrawal caused the Piedmontese to push ahead before their allies from the south had arrived. Durando and the Papal Army was still south of the Po, Pepe and the Neapolitans were further north and the division from Tuscany was still on the march. King Carlo Alberto, seeing the Austrians retract, was determined to keep up the pressure on them and push forward, crossing the Mincio in mid-April toward Verona. On April 30 he met the Austrians at the Battle of Pastrengo and won a solid victory. Peschiera was besieged and the King was still pushing forward toward Verona. Graf Radetzky was finally compelled by this to take action and do something to take the initiative away from the Italians. An Austrian contingent was ordered to strike out from the city and on May 6 they administered a sharp sting at Santa Lucia that forced King Carlo Alberto to divert to the southwest of Verona, to Villafranca, to wait for further Piedmontese reinforcements and his allies from the south to join him.
|Sardinian Grenadiers at Goito|
The Savoy star was still shining brightly, however, the situation was far from favorable. What little support that had been available from Tuscany, Naples and the Papal States was now completely gone and even with the many volunteers from across Lombardy and reinforcements from Piedmont, King Carlo Alberto had only 75,000 men which would be insufficient to launch a major offensive into Venetia or to mount a proper siege of the fortress cities of Mantua or Verona. King Carlo Alberto had no option but to remain at Villafranca and watch. At the same time, unflustered as usual, Graf Radetzky was methodically carrying on and was also finally receiving reinforcements from the rest of the Austrian Empire. The window of opportunity of Austrian weakness had closed on the Italians and Radetzky was able to launch a serious offensive of his own, descending on the Italians with two armies at the Battle of Custozza .
|Austrian attack at the Battle of Custozza|
For the Austrians, the war had been one crisis among many. They had gained a new monarch in the young and determined Kaiser Franz Joseph, more laurels for a genuine war hero in Graf Radetzky and though they had come close enough to disaster to look it directly in the eye, that disaster had been averted and the Austrian Empire would survive, though ultimately concessions would be made to the Hungarians. Nothing of the sort would be forthcoming for the Italians however who continued to be ruled in the same manner that they had been before. The Kaiser even became somewhat cross with his younger brother, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, when, as Viceroy of Lombardy-Venetia, he attempted to win over the Italians rather than flog them into submission. There was even talk that the Archduke himself entertained thoughts of uniting the Italian peninsula himself. He was soon put in his place and made no more than a ceremonial figure so that he began to look toward Mexico for a place to prove himself. In short, despite coming so close to defeat, the Austrians were determined to change nothing in regards to Italy.
|Abdication of King Carlo Alberto|