This series has three easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Cavour’s Diplomatic Maneuvers.
Since the fall of Rome a millennium earlier, the Italians had yearned to be united once again under a peaceful, prosperous, and (wait for it) indigenous government. The first war for independence in 1848 had ended badly. This second one would put Italy on the path towards national unity.
During the Crimean War (1853-1856) Austria remained neutral, while the Italian Kingdom of Sardinia joined Great Britain, France, and Turkey against Russia. The power of Austria still kept despotic sway over the States of Italy, and it was the aim of Victor Emmanuel, King of Sardinia, to throw off this hindrance to Italian liberty and union. It was the opinion of Count Cavour, Victor Emmanuel’s minister, that, by acting with the allies against Russia, Sardinia would increase her prestige with the European Powers, and thereby promote the movement for independence. The success of the allies in the Crimean War confirmed the prescience of Cavour.
Napoleon III wished to secure for France supremacy in southern Europe. In 1855 he inquired of the Sardinian minister, “What can I do for Italy?” The Crimean War ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1856. At the congress which concluded that peace Cavour presented the case of Italy against Austria. Not long after this it became evident that Napoleon was prepared to espouse the Italian cause. In 1858 it was agreed that he should do this.
Sardinia now prepared for war. Austria sent an ultimatum demanding a reduction of the Sardinian army to a peace footing, This demand was refused. In January, 1859, Austria mobilized fresh troops on the Italian frontier, and Cavour requested Garibaldi to organize a volunteer corps to be called Cacciatori delle Alpi (“Hunters of the Alps”). Still Cavour disclaimed a warlike policy, denying that the hostile initiative was taken by Sardinia, although in this position he was opposed by some members of his own Parliament. Nevertheless Cavour declared: “I believe I am justified in proclaiming aloud, in the presence of Parliament, of the nation, and of Europe, that if there has been provocation it was offered by Austria.” As shown by Orsi, the Italian historian, the great minister maintained this attitude as long as it was possible to hold back from the actual conflict.
This selection is Modern Italy 1748-1898 by Pietro Orsi, published in 1899 For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Pietro Orsi was an Italian Senator and historian.
Place: Northern Italy
Cavour insisted that Austria must be the aggressive party, for in the treaty with Napoleon III it had been stipulated that France would come to the help of Sardinia only in case of the latter being attacked by Austria. Hence Cavour was obliged to seek every means of putting his country into the attitude of the provoked party. How many disappointments, uncertainties, and anxieties crowded those days, from February to the end of April, 1859! In order to understand the enormous difficulties overcome by Cavour it would be necessary to follow literally, day by day, the history of that period. In March he repaired to Paris to ascertain Napoleon’s action: it was too evident, however, that French public opinion was unfavorable to war, and the Emperor was wavering. Russia and England suggested that the question should be solved by a congress, to which proposal Napoleon III acceded: Cavour now believed all was lost, since Sardinia could not refuse without putting herself in the wrong. Fortunately, the difficulty was solved by Austria boldly insisting that Sardinia should disarm before being represented at the congress, and on April 23d this demand was enforced by an ultimatum, to be answered within three days.
Now ensued a genuine declaration of hostilities, and most joyfully did Victor Emmanuel make the following announcement to his troops: “Soldiers! Austria, who masses her armies on our frontiers and threatens to invade our country because liberty and order rule there; because concord and affection between sovereign and people — and not force — sway the State; because there the anguished cry of oppressed Italy is listened to–Austria dares to tell us, who are armed only in our own defence, to lay down those arms and put ourselves in her power. Such an outrageous suggestion surely merits a condign response, and I have indignantly refused her request. I announce this to you in the certainty that you will make the wrong done to your King and to your nation your own. Hence mine is a proclamation of war: arm yourselves therefore in readiness for it!
“You will be confronted by an ancient enemy who is both valiant and disciplined, but against whom you need not fear to measure your strength, for you may remember with pride Goito, Pastrengo, Santa Lucia, Sommacampagna, and, above all, Custozza, where four brigades fought for three days against the enemy’s five corps d’armee. I will be your leader. Your prowess in action has already been tested in the past, and when fighting under my magnanimous father I myself proudly recognized your valor. I am convinced that on the field of honor and glory you will know how to justify, as well as to augment, your military renown.
“You will have as comrades those intrepid French troops — the conquerors in so many distinguished campaigns–with whom you fought side by side at Tchernaya, whom Napoleon III, always prompt to further the defense of a righteous cause and the victory of civilization, generously sends in great numbers to our aid. March then, confident of success, and wreathe with fresh laurels that standard which, rallying from all quarters the flower of Italian youth to its threefold colors, points out your task of accomplishing that righteous and sacred enterprise–the independence of Italy, wherein we find our war-cry.”
The Austrian army to the number of one hundred seventy thousand men — besides those remaining in the Lombardo-Venetian fortresses–was commanded by General Gyulai, the successor of Radetzky, who had died the year before, at the age of ninety-one. Gyulai meant to attack and rout the Sardinian army before it could join its French allies. On April 29th. he crossed the Ticino; then spreading out his forces along the Sesia, he reconnoitred as far as Chivasso. These districts abound in cultivated rice-fields and are intersected by many canals: it was therefore easy, by flooding the ground, to hinder the march of the Austrian troops on Turin.
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