|Vittorio Emanuele II, Napoleon III & Franz Joseph|
Obtaining an alliance with France, however, proved rather difficult. The French were willing but Napoleon III extracted a heavy price for his support which included the Savoy ceding their own heartland, the Duchy of Savoy as well as the County of Nice to France. The King also had to give his daughter, the petite Princess Clothilde, to the hulking Prince Jerome Bonaparte, the French Emperor’s cousin. In exchange, France would support the end of Austrian rule over Lombardy and Venice and the creation of an independent Kingdom of Italy on the northern half of the peninsula. This was, however, a defensive alliance and would only take effect if Austria attacked Piedmont. In Naples, the Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies did not figure into the issue. While still possessing a powerful army, it was geared entirely toward suppressing the local population, which had proven very prone to rebellion, and not to defending against foreign invasion. An alliance was proposed between Turin and Naples but King Francesco II of the Two-Sicilies had rejected it out of hand. They would play no part in the ensuing conflict.
|Austrian Imperial Army, 1859|
The Austrian Empire had come very near to total collapse in the Revolutions of 1848 but, thanks to the leadership of their new, young Emperor Franz Joseph and the victories of Graf Radetzky, they had weathered the storm and the Austrian Imperial Army seemed all the more robust and formidable. Austria did become a constitutional monarchy but it was a constitution that the Emperor accepted on his own terms and he pursued a policy since labeled “neo-absolutism”. There were problems though due to rivalries in the military leadership and a financial crisis which greatly effected military readiness. The politicians in Vienna always seemed prepared to sacrifice spending on the army before anything else and this meant that Austria could not maintain so large an army, or armies, on the Italian peninsula and, in the event of major trouble there, would have to divert forces from elsewhere in the empire if they were to maintain an overwhelming superiority. The Austrian Empire had also simply become overstretched. Aside from their own frontiers to the south and east, garrisons to keep troublesome populations in line within the empire, the Austrians had also been called upon to safeguard the Papal States and the Spanish Bourbons in Naples as well as their own Italian possessions. It was simply too much, particularly with a less than robust economy. The desire of Emperor Franz Joseph to reassert Austrian leadership in Germany also meant that neither Berlin or Moscow were, at the time, looking too favorable toward Vienna.
|Officers of the Savoyard army|
King Vittorio Emanuele II also ordered the mobilization of his army, at least gradually, which was sure to attract Austrian attention. The Austrians were certainly alarmed but also unsure how to respond. The Piedmontese had not actually made any aggressive move and a full mobilization of the Austrian Imperial Army was a costly exercise Vienna would wish to avoid if not strictly necessary. The Italians also had to be fully prepared before the war started given that, as per the agreement, they would be responsible for both paying for the French intervention on their behalf and keeping both armies supplied during the war, which would be no small task. The French also began moving their forces into position which alarmed the Austrians all the more. In April, 1859, however, everything almost came to ruin when the British government proposed an international congress to deal with the Italian situation. Thankfully, France and Italy were rescued by their Austrian adversary. Emperor Franz Joseph had sought out the retired elder statesman, Prince Klemens von Metternich, who immediately understood that the French and Italians were trying to provoke Austria into a war and he advised the Emperor that, whatever he did, do NOT send an ultimatum to Turin. The young Kaiser sheepishly had to admit that he had already sent one out.
|Kaiser Franz Joseph of Austria|
Feldzeugmeister Franz Graf Gyulai, commander of the Austrian Second Army in Lombardy, believed that his forces would have at least two weeks to crush the Italians before the French could intervene. He had on hand some 110,235 soldiers as well as another 59,000 deployed throughout Lombardy-Venetia to suppress any popular uprisings. The Italians could field only 77,348 men to meet them, however, they were very efficient and led by men who had learned from the mistakes of 1848. The Franco-Italian leadership had also carefully worked out the train schedules and necessary stockpiles of supplies to move the French into northern Italy as quickly as possible. The Austrians had previously assumed the French were not prepared to move because they had not been stockpiling supplies. However, this was because it had been left to the Italians to handle the logistics and, in the end, the French army was transported quickly with ample stores by the very efficient Piedmontese rail network.
|General Alfonso La Marmora|
Austrian naval strength was negligible, being about as large as the Piedmontese navy, far outmatched by the French fleet which was the second-largest in the world. In any event, the commander of the Austrian navy, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, had prepared only for the defense of the Adriatic and had no plans for offensive operations (and keeping in mind most of the sailors in the Austrian navy were Italians). As such, by rail and by sea the French were able to move their forces into Italy rapidly and freely. The Austrian army, likewise, inexplicably remained in place for days while their enemies massed against them. Gyulai claimed that Vienna had ordered him to wait while in Vienna they blamed Gyulai for not seizing the initiative. It is difficult to know who was in the right but it does seem that, having blundered into giving the Italians the war they wanted, Emperor Franz Joseph hoped, at the last minute, to be able to negotiate a solution or for the German states to rally in support of Austria. Of course, neither would be the case nor were such hopes frankly realistic. By May 1, with French deployments proceeding as scheduled, General La Marmora remarked to the commander of the Third Division at Novi, General Giovanni Durando (commander of the Papal Army in the First War) that the Austrian advance was “molto lentamente” (very slow).
By May 12 the Emperor Napoleon III had arrived in Genoa. Armed with some thoughtful advice from retired General Baron Antoine-Henri Jomini (a veteran of his famous uncle’s army), Napoleon met with King Vittorio Emanuele II at Alessandria to work out their offensive against the Austrians. It would be too much to say the Franco-Italian forces took the initiative from the Austrians as the Austrians never seemed to have held it in the first place but Napoleon III and Vittorio Emanuele II were certainly willing to seize it where it lay. They did, however, pass up an opportunity to strike the Austrians while Gyulai was redeploying his forces but an overall strategy was still being well executed. The famous Giuseppe Garibaldi, given rank as a Lt. General in the Piedmontese army after pledging allegiance to “Vittorio Emanuele and Italy”, was to harass the Austrian right, brushing the Alps. He had originally intended to lead the effort to foment unrest in the central duchies but this job was instead given to Prince Jerome Bonaparte and his French troops, which was deemed preferable to the authorities in Turin as Garibaldi, a lifelong republican and former Mazzinian, was still not regarded as being sufficiently loyal to the Savoy monarchy to be absolutely trusted. Garibaldi in the north and Prince Jerome in the south would threaten the Austrian position from the left and right, they would be intimidating but not part of the major action.
|French line infantry|
When an armed reconnaissance by General Enrico Cialdini, commander of the Piedmontese fourth division, found minimal Austrian resistance at Vercelli the following day, the French Emperor and Italian King could see that Gyulai was shifting away from the north, giving them an opportunity to come at the Austrians from that direction. Garibaldi was also proving effective at keeping the Austrians off-balance. On May 26 at the Battle of Varese, his Cacciatori delle Alpi routed the Austrians, forcing them to keep more troops deployed in the north as the aggression of the Italians again caused the Austrians to overestimate their strength. The next day Garibaldi and his men defeated another Austrian contingent at the Battle of San Fermo, forcing the Austrians to withdraw from Como.
|King Vittorio Emanuele rallies the Zouaves at Palestro|
|The Battle of Magenta|
This latest defeat was the last straw for Emperor Franz Joseph who had seen his forces do nothing but retreat, be outmaneuvered and defeated often by forces inferior to their own. He dismissed Gyulai and took command of the Austrian Imperial Army himself. With the Quadrilateral fortress cities secure but the enemy in command of the surrounding countryside, his position was similar to that of Graf Radetzky in 1848. However, “Papa Radetzky” was a veteran, unflappable commander and Emperor Franz Joseph was not. Determined to take the offensive and crush the enemy, he abandoned his strong position and moved out on June 23 to take on the Franco-Italian armies. The result was the bloody Battle of Solferino the following day. Once again both sides were about evenly matched with roughly 130,000 soldiers each.
|Emperor Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino|
|Battle of San Martino|
|French & Austrian Emperors meet at Villafranca|
The result of this was that Austria gave up Lombardy to the House of Savoy but retained control of Venetia. It was not the total victory that Italian nationalists had wanted and many were bitter about the result. The French had gained Savoy and Nice but had backed out before the total liberation of northern Italy had been achieved. Many, given how close Austria had come to collapse in 1848, thought they would not put up so strong a fight. However, despite being weakened by budget cuts, the Austrian military was much more effective than Austrian diplomacy had been. Things would have gone very differently if the Austrians had not managed to offend the Russians, Prussians, the minor German states and the French all at the same time. Not only did this isolate Austria but it also gave the Prussians room to further gain prestige among the German states, standing as the defenders of German rights while Austria was focused on keeping control of Italians, Slavs and Magyars.
|King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia|
The result of all of this was that Austria lost Lombardy, which joined with Piedmont-Sardinia, Tuscany, Parma and Modena to form the Kingdom of Italy, soon joined by the south and the Papal States outside of Rome. Austria remained friendless and increasingly overshadowed by Prussia and the French were not seen by the Italians as stalwart allies but as rather fair-weather friends who likewise kept troops in Rome. The French had gained battlefield laurels but would also find themselves without friends going forward just as the Austrians had because of their determination to maintain some level of control over Italy, continuing a cycle which had been going on for many, many centuries and which would continue until the fall of Napoleon himself in 1870. Italy had gained much from the Second War for Independence but not so much as to not require a third war. The Austrian loss did not seem too significant but it actually was. In trying to maintain control of Italy, Austria would ultimately lose their place in Italy and their place at the had of Germany to the Kingdom of Prussia. It would be no coincidence then that the Third War of Italian Independence would see Italy and Prussia on the same side.