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Chapter LV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8


Napoleon appeals to the Corps Legislative - Garibaldi; his views; interview with Victor Emmanuel - Austrians cross the Ticino - Excitement in Italy - The Army of Victor Emmanuel - Napoleon Joins the Army - Ovation at Genoa - Battle at Genestrello - Montebello - 1Triumph of the Allied Armies - Victory at Palestro - Gallantry of Victor Emmanuel and the Zouaves - Battle of Magenta - Triumphal Entry into Milan - Proclamation of the King - Popularity of Cavour - Fight at Malegnano - Great Victory at Solferino - Garibaldi in Lombardy - Battle-field of Solferino after the Engagement - The Quadrilateral - Count Cavour and Napoleon - Truce at Villafranca; opposed by Cavour; his resignation - Basis of a Treaty of Peace - United Italy-Napoleon's Proclamation.
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On the 26th of April the French Foreign Minister made a statement in the Chamber of Deputies, explaining the course the Government had adopted. The mission of Lord Cowley to Vienna having failed, the proposal of a congress, and all other efforts to settle the differences existing between Austria and Sardinia having proved abortive through the obstinacy that power, and Piedmont being threatened with invasion, France, he said, could not hesitate to respond to the appeal of a nation, her ally, to which she was bound by common interests and traditional sympathies, regenerated by a recent confraternity in arms, and by the union contracted between the two reigning houses.

Again, on the 3rd of May, the Emperor caused a communication to be made to the Corps Legislative, in which he said that Austria "had brought matters to this extremity, that she must rule up to the Alps, or Italy must be free to the shores of the Adriatic; for in this country every corner of territory which remains independent endangers her power. Hitherto, " he said, "moderation has been the rule of my conduct; now energy becomes my first duty. Let France arm, and resolutely tell Europe, 1 desire not conquest, but I desire firmly to maintain my national and traditional policy. I observe the treaties on condition that no one shall violate them against me. I respect the territories and the rights of neutral powers; but I boldly avow my sympathies for a people whose history is mingled with our own, and who groan under foreign oppression." The Emperor proceeded to explain the object of the war in which he was about to engage. It was to restore Italy to herself - not to impose on her a change of masters; and we shall then have upon our frontiers a friendly people, who will owe to us their independence. " We do not," he said, " go into Italy to foment disorder, or to disturb the power of the Holy Father, whom we have replaced upon his throne, but to remove from him this foreign pressure, which weighs upon the whole peninsula, and to help to establish there order, based upon pure, legitimate, satisfied interests. We are going, then, to seek upon this classic ground, illustrious by so many victories, the footsteps of our fathers. God grant that we may be worthy of them! I am going soon to place myself at the head of the army. I leave in France the Empress and my son. Seconded by the experience and enlightenment of the last surviving brother of the Emperor, she will understand how to show herself equal to the grandeur of her mission. I confide them to the valour of the army, which remains in France to watch our frontiers and to protect our homes. I confide them to the patriotism of the National Guard; I confide them, in a word, to the entire people, who will encircle them with that affection and devotion of which I daily receive so many proofs. Courage, then, and union! Our country is again about to show the world that she has not degenerated. Providence will bless our efforts. That cause is holy in the eyes of God which rests on justice, humanity, love of country, and independence."

In this spirit the Emperor set out on his mission for the liberation of Italy " from the Alps to the Adriatic." His subjects responded with enthusiasm to the appeal to arm in the cause of oppressed nationalities.

Instead of obeying the order of the Austrian despot, Victor Emmanuel summoned Garibaldi to take the command of the little army of Volunteers, which included in its ranks members of the noblest families in Italy. Towards the middle of April the General appeared, at five o'clock in the morning, at the palace of Piazzo Cantillo, where he was ushered into the presence of Victor Emmanuel, Cavour, and Farini. " Well, General," said the Prime Minister, "the long-expected day is near at hand. We want you. The patience of Count Buol is nearly exhausted, and we are only waiting the moment when he will have lost it altogether."

" I am always ready to serve my country," replied Garibaldi, " and you know that I shall put all my heart into the work. Here, in the presence of our Be Galantuomo, I must, however, be permitted to speak my mind freely. Am I to understand that you are going to summon all the forces of the country, and, declaring war against Austria, to attack her with the irresistible power of a national insurrection? "

" That is not precisely our plan," answered the Count; " I have not illimitable faith in the power of the insurrectionary element against the well-drilled legions of Austria. I think, moreover, our regular army too small to match the 200,000 men our enemy has massed on the frontier. We must, therefore, have the assistance of a powerful ally, and this is already offered. You will now fully understand the meaning of (the words addressed by the French Emperor to the Austrian ambassador on the 1st of January."

" Although my principles are known both to you and to the King," Garibaldi is reported to have answered, " I feel that my first duty is to offer my sword to my country. My war-cry shall therefore be - ' Italian unity under the constitutional rule of Victor Emmanuel.' Mind, however, what you are about; and do not forget that the aid of foreign arms must be paid for dearly. As for the man who has promised to help us, I ardently wish he may redeem himself in the eyes of posterity by achieving the noble task of Italian liberation."

At this moment the King took Garibaldi by the hand, and assured him that Louis Napoleon had always desired to see Italy free and happy, stating that it was his conviction of the good intentions of the Emperor that induced him to give his daughter to Prince Napoleon.

The Volunteers had got the general whom of all others they preferred, and whose name had magic power with all Italian patriots. Piedmont stood prepared for the threatened invasion by Austria. That false step was taken on the 27th of April, 1859, when the Austrian commander-in-chief, Gyulai, ordered two columns of his army to cross the Ticino at Granillane. The news of this event produced a great sensation in Paris. After some days of painful suspense, during which the Emperor was silent, the capital was thrown into a delirium of joy by the appearance of a proclamation, in which he said - "Austria, in causing her army to enter the territory of the King of Sardinia, our ally, declares war against us. She thus violates treaties and justice, and invades our frontiers." All was now excitement and bustle throughout Prance. On the roads to Italy, soldiers of all arms, and officers of all ranks, were seen promiscuously crowding the wayside inns, embracing one another, and shouting " Vive l'Italie!" " Mort aux Autrichiens!" Piedmont was in a blaze of enthusiasm. The proud capital of the future kingdom of Italy resounded with the clanging of arms and the din of horsemen. Crowds gathered to see the war-trains drawn by three or four locomotives, or the commissariat carriages under the windows of the barracks. " I shall never forget," says Count Arribavene, " a scene which touched me exceedingly as I was crossing the Piazzo San Carlo. It was Sunday. A company of Lombard Volunteers was coming from church - a company of boys and greyheaded men banded together for the defence of their country. As the patriot troop was passing, the crowd dashed along through the piazzo shouting with joy; the ladies at the windows threw sweet bunches of May flowers upon them, and the air was filled with a glad yet solemn tumult. Above those sounds of rejoicing, one name seemed to be borne aloft in a manner which showed that the happy people of Turin knew well to whom they were indebted for their rising fortunes. Above the sublime monotony of the popular acclamations, I could distinctly hear the words - "Long live Cavour! Long live Cavour! "

On the 2nd of May the King called the nation to arms. He was himself commander-in-chief. The infantry were in five divisions, under Generals Durando, Fanti, Mollard, Cialdini, and Cuchiarri. The division of cavalry was commanded by General Lamburg. In the meantime three Austrian corps d'armée were encamped on the plains of Piedmont, on both banks of the Po; and it was expected that an attempt would be made to take Turin by a coup de main before the arrival of the French. But these were hurrying to the field of battle from the slopes of Mont Cenis and Mont Genevre. This was the direction taken by the third and fourth corps. The first and second, with the Imperial Guard and the war material, had started from Toulon to Genoa; and having crossed the Apennines, they occupied the valley of the Scrivia. The Imperial Guard was commanded by General Regnault de Sant Jean d'Angley, and the other divisions by Generals M'Mahon, Canrobert, Niel, and Prince Napoleon. The French Emperor enjoyed an ovation at Genoa, where he passed under triumphal arches, and amidst floral decorations, prepared by the hands of beautiful and delighted women. At Alessandria a still more glorious reception awaited the liberator of Italy. At the gate of Porta Marengo, leading to the field of battle made famous by the First Consul, an arch was erected, adorned with flowers and flags, on one of which was emblazoned the words, "To the Heir of the Conqueror of Marengo!" The Emperor had been met and conducted to the royal palace by the King, mounted on a bay charger, with a martial bearing worthy of one who aspired to be the sovereign of United Italy. Most interesting and picturesque were the scenes, whose wild gaiety contrasted with the stern grandeur of the old city, with its half- ruined palaces and decaying mediaeval churches. Groups of Zouaves, bands of Hussars and Lancers, mingled with the lovely women and admiring girls of the city, singing and embracing each other with uncontrollable effusions of patriotic joy. Ladies of rank took the arms of young officers of the Imperial Guard, and whispered to them tender words of welcome and gratitude. " Priests and soldiers talked together, ate together, and sang together, under the glowing impulse of the nation's re-awakened life."

It is recorded that on arriving at the royal palace, the Emperor was greatly moved at finding on his table the very maps on which the First Napoleon had traced the movements of his army before the battle of Marengo. In the joy of victory the map was forgotten, and it became the treasure of the family of the Marquis del Garofalo.

Space forbids any attempt to give the details of the battles between the two mighty armies, furnished with all the terrible appliances of modern warfare. The Austrians had taken up their ground at leisure, and occupied strong positions. The allied army was drawn up in a large crescent, which extended, without interruption, from Vercelli to Voghera. The first engagement with the enemy began on the 20th of May, at Genestrello, from which, after some hours' hard fighting, the Austrians were driven out. They then took up a fresh position at Montebello. There they were attacked - though 20,000 strong - by a body of about 6,000 infantry and six squadrons of Sardinian cavalry, by which they were routed in a few hours. General Forey was the commander of the French troops in this battle, and was the chief hero of the first victory over the Austrians. The Austrian general was completely outmanoeuvred by the Emperor and the King. Unknown to the enemy, the allied army changed its line of battle, turning on its left wing from the right bank of the Po to the left. Thus this army of 200,000 men extended its undulating lines like an immense serpent, which had its head at Cameriano, its tail at Casale, and its centre at Palestro, on the other side of the Sesia. By this means the allied generals were enabled to effect movements which compelled the enemy to retreat to the left bank of the Sesia. This river was crossed on the 30th by General Cialdini. The King, followed by his whole army, also crossed on a bridge of boats. The Austrians were strongly fortified at Vinzaglio, on elevated ground, with ten field guns and two howitzers. The position was boldly attacked by General Cialdini. soon us his men got within twenty paces of the entrenched camp, they rushed on and carried the position at the point of the bayonet, after showers of bullets had thinned their lines. As the Austrians were supported by reserves pouring in from the roads leading to the camp, the contest assumed a deadly character, and Cialdini would have been compelled to retire had not a second brigade been despatched to support him. In less than an hour, however, the victory was his - the enemy retreating towards Novara, leaving 300 muskets, with a considerable number of prisoners and wounded. A similar fate attended the Austrians posted at Casalino. The Sardinians won a still more brilliant victory at the village of Palestro, which caused the enemy to retreat on Robbio.

On the 30th of May the King issued the following address to his army: - " Soldiers! - Our first battle has been our first victory. Your heroic courage, the admirable order of your ranks, and the valour and sagacity of your chiefs, have this day triumphed at Palestro; Vinzaglio, and Casalino. The enemy, repeatedly attacked, has, after an obstinate defence, left his strong positions in your hands. This campaign could not commence under more favourable auspices. The triumph of this day is a sure pledge that you have other victories in reserve for the glory of your king and the fame of the brave Piedmontese army. Soldiers! the country exultingly expresses its gratitude "to you, through me, and already points out to history the names of its heroic sons, who for the second time have bravely fought for it on the memorable 30th of May."

Victor Emmanuel is silent about his own part in these victories; but the French accounts did justice to his heroism. A telegram published in the Moniteur stated that on the 30th the Austrians in great force energetically attacked the King of Sardinia, and tried to hinder the French troops from passing the river; but the Sardinians, supported by the division of Trochu - which, however, took little part in the engagement - valiantly repulsed the Austrians. The 3rd Regiment of Zouaves, which was attached to the Sardinian division, performed wonders. Although unsupported, and in front of an Austrian battery of eight guns, which was served by the infantry, the Zouaves crossed the canal, ascended the heights, which were very steep, and charged the Austrians with the bayonet. More than 400 of the enemy were drowned in the canal, and five pieces of cannon were taken by the Zouaves, and three by the Austrians. General Cialdini was at the head of this gallant regiment, the King commanding the division in person. He pressed forward where the fight was most furious, the Zouaves vainly striving to restrain him.

The actions of the war followed one another with astounding rapidity. Bulletin after bulletin, telegraphed " from the Emperor to the Empress," announced a succession of signal triumphs for the French arms. One of the greatest of these victories was won on the 4th of June, at Magenta, when 5,000 Austrians were taken prisoners, and 15,000 killed or wounded. The loss of the French was about 2,000 placed hors de combat. The routed Austrians transferred their head-quarters to Abbiate Grasso, while the allies marched on Milan. That city had risen against the Austrian garrison, which evacuated the place precipitately, leaving their cannon and the treasure of the army behind them. On the 8th of June the Emperor and the King made their triumphal entry into the city, where they were received with unbounded joy. Victor Emmanuel immediately assumed the authority of sovereign by universal acclamation. He appointed a governor and issued ordinances for the regulation of its affairs. Louis Napoleon, on his part, hastened to explain to the Italians the object he had in view in breaking the chains of Austrian domination in Italy. He accordingly issued the following proclamation: - "Italians! the fortune of war having brought us into the capital of Lombardy, I am about to tell you why 11 am here. When Austria unjustly attacked Piedmont, I resolved to support my ally, the King of Sardinia, the honour and the interest of Prance making it a duty for me to do so. Your enemies, who are also mine, endeavoured to diminish the sympathy which was felt in Europe for your cause, by making it be believed that I only made war from personal ambition, or to aggrandise the territory of Prance. If there are men who do not comprehend this epoch, I am not of the number. In the enlightened state of public opinion there is more grandeur to be acquired by the moral influence which is exercised, than by fruitless conquests; and that moral influence I seek, with pride, in contributing to restore to freedom one of the finest parts of Europe. Your reception has already proved to me that you have understood me. I do not come here with the preconceived design of dispossessing the sovereign, nor to impose my will on you. My army will only occupy itself with two things - to combat your enemies and maintain internal order. It will not throw any obstacle in the way of the legitimate manifestation of your wishes. Providence sometimes favours nations as well as individuals, by giving them a sudden opportunity for greatness; but it is on condition that they know how to profit by it. Profit, then, by the fortune which is offered to you to obtain your independence. Organise yourselves militarily. Ply to the standard of King Victor Emmanuel, who has already so nobly shown you the path of honour. Remember, that without discipline there can be no army. Be to-day only soldiers, and to-morrow you will be the free citizens of a great country!"

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Pictures for Chapter LV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8

Victor Emmanuel
Victor Emmanuel >>>>
The Emperor Napoleon
The Emperor Napoleon >>>>

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